Theater Reviews: Mercury Fur, Breaking the Code, A Grand Guignol Cabaret 

Also, Groundlings Enchanted Forest, Always and Forever and more

Wednesday, Jun 3 2009

ALWAYS AND FOREVER It’s easy to see what drew playwright-director Michael Patrick Spillers to write this painfully precious if somewhat flat tribute to Mexican-American culture. That’s because the only times Spillers’ otherwise soporific, magical-realism soap opera springs to life are when it touches on the subjects closest to the playwright’s heart: Mexico’s folkloric cult of the “narco saint,” Jesús Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers, and the narcocorridos, the heroic ballads that celebrate the traffickers’ exploits. Though admittedly fascinating cultural artifacts, they are but footnotes to the tale Spillers intends to carry the dramatic load. That story concerns the rebellious 15-year-old, Alma (Dalia Perla), who is forced by her controlling, older sister Celia (Michelle Castillo) on a journey from Norwalk to Tijuana to join their extended family for the traditional fitting of Alma’s quinceañera gown. Alma, who is much more interested in meeting heartthrob corridista singer Adán Sánchez, conjures the mischievous spirit of Malverde (Arturo Medina) to aid in her quest. Once south of the border, the group is joined by Nardo (Ezequiel Guerra), a narcoleptic proselytizer for corridos, but it is the news of Sánchez’s fatal car accident that finally reconciles Alma to her quinceañera and magically resolves the play’s other half-dozen subplots. Not surprisingly, it is the footnotes — and funny turns by Medina and Guerra — that steal the show in this otherwise indifferently staged production. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 14. (323) 263-7684. (Bill Raden)


GO  BREAKING THE CODE Brilliant, eccentric mathematician Alan Turing (Sam R. Ross) did vital work for British intelligence during World War II, breaking the Nazi Enigma Code, which saved thousands of Allied lives, and materially helped defeat the Axis powers. But because his efforts were top secret, he received only posthumous public recognition. (Later, building on his work on the code machines, he pioneered the modern computer.) But as playwright Hugh Whitemore observes here, he broke other codes as well: moral, legal, professional and personal, including the homosexual’s 20th-century code of silence. Gay, guileless, awkward, ruthlessly honest and socially inept, he was often oblivious of his effect on others. When a sexual encounter with a bit of rough trade (Adam Burch) led to a police investigation, he rashly admitted to the inspector (Armand DesHarnais) that he had sexual relations with the young man. He found himself, like Oscar Wilde, prosecuted for “gross indecency,” his life and career wrecked. Writer Whitemore and actor Ross provide an eloquent, touching, richly detailed portrait of Turing, and director Robert Mammana has assembled a fine supporting cast, including Sarah Lilly as Turing’s garrulous, loving mother, and David Ross Patterson as a hilarious dim-bulb bureaucrat. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 20. www.­theprodco.com or (800) 838-3006. The Production Company (Neal Weaver)


A GRAND GUIGNOL CABARET Evoking the raucous, freeform ambiance and style of a 1920s underground Berlin cabaret, director Amanda Haney’s show scores big on variety, less so on quality. Hosted by the charming, garrulous Gunter (Carlos Peñaranda), the evening opens with a lukewarm ditty called “When the Special Girlfriend,” followed by a riotously funny “chair dance,” salaciously performed by the female members of the ensemble to the music of Wagner’s Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) which concludes with the gals spouting water from their mouths like fountain sculptures. Such visual engagement is the cabaret’s strength, imaginatively choreographed by Vanessa Forster. Peñaranda’s turn as a drag queen and his German-accented rendition of “Ol’ Man River,” cum overalls and straw hat, don’t cut it. Two short plays are also on the bill. Haney, Dani O’Terry and Forster created “The Little House in Friedrichstadt,” a delightful grotesquerie artfully rendered in mime, which tells of fiendish, bloody goings-on in a brothel. Eddie Muller’s “Orgy in the Lighthouse,” adapted from Alfred Marchand’s play, is about two brothers who entertain a pair of whores on a holy day; this version is painfully insipid. Sunset Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 28. www.brownpapertickets.com or www.legrandguignolkabaret.com (Lovell Estell III)


GROUNDLINGS ENCHANTED FOREST This well-executed evening of comedy consists of a random collection of skits by company member Laird Macintosh and various co-writers. In “One-Fifth Is All You Need,” a man (Steve Little) who believes himself to be of Irish extraction lands in Native-American heaven, where he discovers he’s one-fifth Native-American and immediately acquires skills in weaving, archery and hand-to-hand combat. In the predictable but nicely performed “Be Grateful for the Good Times,” a couple (Macintosh and Wendi McLendon-Covey) on the cusp of an amiable divorce end up at each other’s throats, while a mollycoddling divorce counselor (Ben Falcone) tries to mediate. “Soft Butt Firm” finds Melissa McCarthy on-target as a sugar-tongued huckster of her recently acquired product — a superabsorbent toilet paper. An alcoholic Dad (Little), drunk and abusive at a Thanksgiving get-together, is urged by one and all to hit the road, in “Giving Thanks.” Directed by Roy Jenkins, the ensemble proves uniformly adept; while the material is generally amiable and entertaining, none of the segments delivers a knockout comedic punch. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through July 18. (323) 934-9700. (Deborah Klugman)

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