BEST WISHES The untimely death of a matriarch occasions a reunion of disaffected siblings in Bill Barker’s family comedy, first presented locally in 1984. Del Shores used a similar scenario, with more comedic panache in his Daddy’s Dyin, Who’s Got the Will. A comfortable house in tiny Liberal, Kansas, becomes a battleground when Elda (Joanne McGee), Crystal (Nadya Starr), Dorie (Carol Jones), Vera (Ann Bronston), Gil (Dana Craig) and Denny (Barker) assemble to bury their mother and settle the estate. It isn’t long before familial fault lines emerge. Dorie, always the dutiful daughter, is bitter about her vacuous life and wears her feelings on her sleeve. She constantly clashes with Vera, who has escaped small-town anonymity and boredom for the big city but is a drinker and party girl. Wife and mother Elda is a good-natured pleaser but a dingbat, and Crystal remains an emotional and psychological mystery. There are stabs at humor and lots of squabbling, much of it mundane and pointless. This may be the point, but still ... Either the play, or Hollace Star’s staging of this revival fails to say much incisive about these characters or make them emotionally accessible. Gil and Denny emerge as ciphers, and only Fanny (Peggy Lord Chilton), the town quidnunc, is consistently engaging. Crown City Theater on the campus of St. Matthew’s Church; 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 19. (818) 745-8527 (Lovell Estell III)
GO DESPERATE WRITERS: THE FINAL DRAFT This demented farce by Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber should be catnip for those who love Hollywood in-jokes. Ashley (Kate Hollingshead) and David (Brian Krause) are lovers and writing partners; though they’ve been toiling for years, they’ve never sold a script. Ashley’s convinced that producers never actually read their scripts, so she kidnaps three of them (writers Grenrock and Schreiber, and Andrew Ross Wynn) at gunpoint, and locks them in a wire cage in her living room (built before our eyes by trusty techies). She prepares a gourmet meal for the producers, while David reads them — despite their protests — a new script. The reading is punctuated by phone calls from agent Vanessa (Jennifer Taub), a death by apoplectic fit, an earthquake, a resurrection and a home invasion by a pair of robbers (Scott Damian and Stephen Grove Malloy), who drop off their pix and résumés on their way out. And, oh, yes, the rental agent (Vivian Bang) arrives to show the house to prospective tenants (Damian and Eden Malyn). The actors are game and skillful, and director Kay Cole keeps the action spinning along on Françoise-Pierre Couture’s set, cleverly designed as an architect’s blueprint. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., through May 10. (800) 838-3006 or http://desperatewriters.com. (Neal Weaver)
DESTRUCTION OF THE 4TH WORLD Playwright Murray Mednick made his name here as pillar of new-play development, running the annual Padua Hills Playwrights Festival from the late ’70s to the mid-’90s as a shrine to whatever linguistic and mythical fonts of creativity might be surging through the resident scribes. The foci of his own creative interests have been Native American folklore and his Jewish heritage. A poet first and structuralist later, Mednick uses mere voices as his point of entry into a new work — an approach used by Caryl Churchill and Suzan-Lori Parks, as well as the late Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, whose end-of-the-world metaphysics and vaudeville aesthetic clearly informs Mednick’s work. Destruction of the 4th World swirls around the grief of a father, Caleb (Michael Shamus Wiles), over the Holocaust-related suicide of his wife, Sarah (Yvette Wulff), who appears throughout as dancing figure/ghost presence. She’s supplemented by another phantom, a Hopi prankster named Coyote (Kelly van Kirk), a figure who appears in many of Mednick’s plays, here attired in a blend of Native-American and Orthodox Jewish attire.
Also grief-stricken is Caleb’s precocious misfit son, young teen Bernie (Mike Lion), who finds sanctuary in the self-imposed isolation of his room, where electronics forms the entirety of his communication with and comprehension of the outside world. This kind of isolation is the implicit cause of the looming, falling sky, though this is not a world of causes and effects but of deeds and events that combine in a swirl of farce and ennui. Add to the mix Caleb’s spitfire mother, Rosie (Laura James), drifting away in a nursing home, pursuing Nazi War criminals in a Rio de Janeiro of her mind; and Caleb’s older son and his wife (Scott Victor Nelson and Kim Fitzgerald).
Despite these spirited performances, Kristi Schultz and Brian Fretté’s staging does little visually to shape the elliptical script or to help clarify its purpose. Matt Aston’s set design is entirely functional. (We see Bernie surrounded by electronics, though the door to his room is 2 feet tall. He crawls through it, the adults don’t.) The mostly realistic acting style — in conjunction with the venue’s exposed brick wall, and a couple of nondescript platforms that have been tossed up on the sides — merely flatten Mednick’s poeticism. The play deserves some sense of visual design and style. Art Share, 801 E. Fourth Place, downtown; in rep, call for schedule; through April 19. (213) 625-1766. A Zoo District production. (Steven Leigh Morris)