By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
GO TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED The audience members toss in a couple of suggestions at the start of the show, from which Impro Theater spins a full-length improvised drama in the style of Tennessee Williams. Clearly the types are pre-set. Floyd Van Buskirk’s “Daddy” is a compendium of Night of the Iguana’s ex-the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s Big Daddy. Director Brian Lohmann’s Marquis is a flat-footed, slightly neurotic fellow tossed out of service in World War II by a 4F Army classification. His withering self-respect is crushed beneath the boot of Buddy (Dan O’Connor), home from the service and suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.
There’s an offstage Veterans Day Parade for atmosphere (one of the audience suggestions was “November,” so there you go.) Tenderly comedic performances also by Jo McKinley as the repressed Widow Oleson and by Tracy Burns as the town slut, Loretta, and especially by Lisa Fredrickson as the smart, aging romantic, Charlene. Is there any hope of enduring romance in this isolated mush pot of Williams’ universe? The company guides the drama into a savvy bittersweet resolution. This is a tougher challenge than the company’s prior effort, Jane Austen Unscripted, because the types of repression that form the essences of the comedy are comparatively languid in Williams, whereas the Austen send-up sprang from the starched collars and feelings that couldn’t be expressed — because that would have been impolite.
Williams’ characters say what’s on their minds, usually two or three times in various poetical incarnations: That’s the detail these actors nail on the head. Once that joke has arrived, the challenge is to avoid making a glib mockery of Williams’ drawling explications and the sometimes ham-fisted poetry. It’s a trap the company studiously avoids, so that the event lingers somewhere between satire and homage. It’s a very smart choice. Nice cameo also by Nick Massouh. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Apri 26. (800) 838-3006. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO THE WAR CYCLE: SURVIVED Playwright Tom Burmester’s powerful drama, the second installment of his “war cycle” about the Iraqi War, mostly reigns in any implied disapproval for America’s Misbegotten 21st Century Foreign Adventure to focus on more universal themes of family grief. It’s been about a year since U.S. soldier Mike Harper was killed during an Iraqi ambush, and the dead man’s family is still coping — or, more accurately, not coping — with their sorrow. Dad Sam (James W. Sudik) is holed away in his cellar, designing an annex to the family home for Sophia (Melissa Collins), the dead boy’s shattered widow, to live in, even though the idea flatly appalls her.
Meanwhile, Mom Lilith (a nicely brittle Dee Amerio Sudik) engages in a fierce and totally irrelevant feud with Sophia about what to do with the dead soldier’s ashes. Into this already semi-toxic atmosphere unexpectedly comes Sgt. Taylor (Jonathan Redding), a former war buddy of Mike’s, bringing tragic details of his pal’s death, which further rattle the family. Burmester’s drama, co-directed with Danika Sudik, displays unusual skill at articulating a family’s shaky façade of icy normalcy, as it gives way to rage and despair.
Although the piece sometimes falls prey to some stock thematic tropes of the “War Story Genre” (the work occasionally feels as though the playwright wants to be writing about the Vietnam War, a very different military action), the emotions still ring true.
Collins’ Sophia, bewildered by sadness even as she makes tentative gestures at moving on, is particularly compelling — as is Redding, who offers a complex, disturbing turn as the war buddy. Powerhouse Theater, 3112 2nd Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 25. (800) 595-4849. A Los Angeles Theater Ensemble production. (Paul Birchall)