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Theater Reviews: Bach at Leipzig, Bingo With the Indians, La Didone 

Also, Notes From Underground, Dame Edna: My First Last Tour and more

Tuesday, Jun 16 2009
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APARTMENT 6 & 9 These two one-acts, written and directed by Matt Morillo, deal with contemporary romantic/sexual conflicts and collisions. In “All Aboard the Marriage Hearse," Amy (Jessica Moreno) and Sean (Keenan Henson) have lived together happily for three years, till she decides they’re going to get married, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t, and the resulting battle, verbal and physical, radically changes their lives while maintaining the status quo. Some of the marriage debate seems overly familiar, but the piece is clever, nicely directed, and beautifully played. In “Stay Over,” adapted from a play by Maria Micheles, Michelle (Moreno) gives her lover Mark (Tom Pilutik) permission, for reasons that are never made clear, to have an affair with someone else. She hits the ceiling, however, when she discovers he’s bedded her kittenish dancer friend Lily (JessAnn Smith). Michelle is a bullying shrew, Mark is a manipulative two-timer, and Lily is a determined baby vamp, willing to go to any lengths — including performing a very naked modern dance number — to win Mark for herself. The result is an evening of over-the-top bickering that soon becomes tiresome. The Lounge Theatre, 6021 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through July 5. (No perf. July 4.) (323) 960-5521 (Neal Weaver)

BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor, Itamar Moses’ sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century, who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for for erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Four composers named Georg and three Johanns vie for the post as Leipzig’s organ master, a position that would guarantee the winner the power to shape the musical, cultural (and, it seems political) fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire — at least the valuable German parts. Intrigues, reality show–style alliances and betrayals abound as the composers plot and prepare for an all-important audition. Between connivances they spout literate, self-conscious oratory covering the artistic soul in and out of relation to the growing feud between Lutheranism and Calvinism. An interesting descent into farce is undercut by the author’s too-precious self-comparison to Molière. Director Darin Anthony serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. The best moments, though, come from Ron Nagle’s powerhouse performance as the only thoughtful character, and from Henry Clarke, who perfectly balances swagger and foppishness as a womanizing nobleman. The production is visually stunning, through an array of exquisite period costumes and wigs designed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (310) 477-2055. (Tom Provenzano)

BINGO WITH THE INDIANS This West Coast premiere of Adam Rapp’s comedy-drama features the powerful up-close ambiance of a grimy New Hampshire motel (no set designer credited but the lighting design is by Michael Redfield), and suffocatingly good performances by the ensemble. A renegade troupe of thespian-criminals, up from New York, seeks to raid a local bingo hall for petty cash. The comedy of the opening scene is something like an American cross between Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and Pulp Fiction. The motel is run by a simple-minded woman, Mrs. Wood (Ann Bronston), and her teenage son, Steve (a partcularly sensitive and nuanced performance by Brian Norris, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Ron Howard). Most of the drama is about the manner in which the visiting trio — two gays and a lesbian (Patrick Flanagan, West Liang and Melissa Paladino) — toy with Steve, who’s clearly aching to follow them back to New York. The heart of the matter is Wilson (Liang) seducing and then sodomizing Steve, capitalizing on his upset that his “girlfriend” (Carryn Cummins) has left him for another woman. (Other than Mrs. Wood, in this play you can’t find a heterosexual with a Geiger counter.) Wilson and his comrade, Dee (Paladino) treat eager-to-please Steve with gratuitous and almost inexplicable cruelty over the young man's reluctance to engage in a sadistic hazing rite in order to join their theater troupe. Steve’s just not man enough for them. Under Andrew Block’s direction, the actors filled their roles with startling truthfulness, but I couldn’t buy that a theater company would behave with the violence of a Mafia clan, or why they would need to treat gentle Steve with such derision. To reject an actor, “Thank you, next” usually does the job. Spitting on him and wielding pistols seems excessive. Perhaps it was simply a brand of humor that, for reasons in the staging or my own sensibilities, crept right by me. Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater. Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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GO  DAME EDNA: MY FIRST LAST TOUR Dr. Barry Humpries AO. C.B.E has for years been terrorizing audience members near the front of the stage, in the guise of the irrepressible Australian diva, Dame Edna. She sports a mauve do, more glittering baubles than a Vegas show queen, and gleeful imperiousness (“You adore me because I adore myself, and it’s contagious”), as she slices through the dignity of anyone she encounters with the tenderness of a lawnmower. (“What a lovely color you’ve got on. I’m sure that very soon it’ll be back.”) She reflects on her late husband, Norm, who suffered from a “prostate murmur” that got ever louder until the neighbors were complaining. “Oh, the years I spent with that man’s prostate hanging over my head.” She delivers her standup act, dragging audience members onto the stage to participate, and even her “daughter” (Erin-Kate Whitcomb), on furlough from the correctional facility, who croons one song. This is humor with mocking kindness and concern, a kind of genteel sassiness, with barbs on aging, appearance and fashion delivered in silky tones, along with the gladioli stems that she hurls into the crowd. Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 21. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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