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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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GO  EAST OF BERLIN Inspired by real-life stories (from writers Peter Sichrovsky’s “Born Guilty” and Dan Bar-On’s “Legacy of Silence: Children of the Third Reich”), Hannah Moscovitch’s involving psychological drama revolves around an SS doctor’s son and his struggle to live with the knowledge of his father’s crimes. Teenage Rudi (Russell Sams) grows up in Paraguay oblivious to his parent’s past, until a more jaundiced classmate named Hermann (James Barry) — also the son of a Nazi — decides to wise him up. Profoundly disturbed, Rudi leaps into an affair with Hermann but soon decides to flee the country for Germany. There he takes on a new name and falls in love with a Jewish-American girl named Sara (Carolyn Stotes) whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. (Is this real passion, or is he just looking for a way to atone? the play asks.) For fear of losing her, he conceals his lineage — a circumstance that brings his guilt into even more agonizing focus, even more so when she learns about it anyway. Effectively staged by co-directors C.B. Brown and Sara Botsford, the script’s strongest and most persuasive element is Rudi’s monologue, a vivid piece of storytelling that serves as the work’s compelling spine. With his mien of wry detachment, Sams delivers a credible performance that nonetheless lacks the depth and nuance that make for powerful drama. Stotes is extremely appealing as his love interest, and the scenes between them are among the best. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 19. (818) 508-7101. (Deborah Klugman)

HEDDA GABLER In Henrik Ibsen’s protofeminist classic, poor Hedda (Julie Granata) marries dull professor George (Darrel Guilbeau), and soon has reason to regret it, as she’s not remotely suited for the stultifying life he offers her. With few career or personal options, the bored and bitter hausfrau finds joys in manipulating her former lover Loveborg (Zack Hamra) and school pal Thea (Shanti Bowes) — not merely for her own amusement but also because she dreams of living vicariously through them. Tragedy results. Director Les Miller’s decision to reset the play in the 1950s raises some awkward minor anachronistic issues — after all, if Hedda had lived in the ’50s, she could have sublimated her boredom with a job or by getting an only slightly scandalous divorce. The production is frankly more noteworthy for its intriguing depiction of Hedda herself. In Granata’s at times ferociously angry turn, we are treated to Hedda as Mean Girl — a former high school bully and shallow party gal, as much Hedda Locklear or Paris Gabler, whose breathy smiles and glitteringly insincere simpers over her husband turn into venomously terrifying rictuses of rage the moment his back is turned. Sadly, Miller’s production ultimately feels one-sided, and Grenata’s multidimensional, harrowingly brittle Hedda often feels as though she’s in a totally different play from the one inhabited by the blander supporting cast. Still, Bowes’ sniveling Thea is just the sort of girl whom one can see Hedda smacking around in school. Also engaging is Peter Colburn’s effortlessly oily turn as increasingly sleazy family friend Judge Brack. Ark Theatre at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 11. (323) 969-1707. (Paul Birchall)

THEATER PICK  LA DIDONE NYC’s Wooster Group, in partnership at REDCAT, has built its reputation on director Elizabeth LeCompte’s high-tech juxtapositions of video images and live performance. The company’s Hamlet, for example, showed clips of Richard Burton’s recorded rendition against live-action impersonations of the scenes being shown, so that the line between what was living and what was recorded grew deliberately fuzzy. There was also a haunted quality to Burton’s image occasionally skipping back or forward by a millisecond, or disappearing into static, before returning. This was more than the sense of receiving a transmission as though from outer space, it was a 3-D rumination of the essence of mortality and memory, perfectly woven into the play’s themes. The company’s latest, La Didone, does this, and more, by transposing Fracesco Cavalli’s and Giovanni Francesco Busenello’s 1641 Italian opera about widowed African queen Dido’s (the glorious mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn), whose heart becomes possessed with love for the Trojan warrior, Aeneas (John Young), set against Mario Bava’s mid-’60s cult sci-fi flick, Planet of the Vampires, in which a spaceship crew is marooned on a planet, finding that the souls of the crew are becoming possessed by aliens. Possessed souls are the linking thread; the two universes collide and careen with a split-second precision that is intellectually precocious, slightly campy and indescribably moving. Much of the emotion comes from the beautiful and beautifully sung music, and Bruce Odland’s magnificent adaptation of it, employing the electric guitar, accordion and ukulele, as well as period instruments. REDCAT, Disney Hall, 631 W. Second St., southwest corner; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through June 21. (213) 237-2800. A Wooster Group and St. Anne’s Warehouse production.

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