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 HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME
While R. Ernie Silva’s older brothers were doing hard drugs, he hid out in his room and watched Masterpiece Theater. Silva wasn’t a nerd; he break-danced, liked weed, and grew dreadlocks. But he lived in Bushwick, and to cops, bosses and his mom, being a young, black male in Bushwick meant you were and would always be just like everyone else. Railroaded into a life headed for rehab or death, Silva grabbed a boxcar heading west to go on an American walkabout. Silva is a charismatic talent with slender build and wide grin. The story of his travels, co-written with James Gabriel and directed by Mary Joan Negro, taps into his charm and energy, sending him up and around a set of simple black boxes, strumming his guitar, Savannah, and impersonating the noteworthy, from Richard Pryor and Jimi Hendrix to August Wilson. The travails of young artists and their search for self-definition are a familiar solo show trope, but even the heightened moments — the death of a brother, an auspicious visit from an eagle — feel earned, not manufactured. I expect we’ll see a lot more of Silva, and this very solid monologue is a good place to get acquainted.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 8. (310) 477-2055. (Amy Nicholson)
GO MONKEY MADNESS
In writer-director Daisuke Tsuji’s cracklingly clever tour de force, which takes place on a planet of apes from which Roddy McDowell is conspicuously absent, a group of actors playing monkeys schmutz up their hair, cover themselves with brown paint, squawk and go chee-chee-chee in the aisles, and even toss feces at the audience. (You can examine the contents for yourself. )Tsuji’s amusing and ironic play tells the story of a strapping young monkey (Randy Thompson), who dreams of becoming a human being. His main reason for this wish is so he can fall in love with a sweet, human girl (Olivia Choate), who, in turn, wishes only that she could become a sexy monkey gal. Act 1 consists of the monkey boy’s Siddhartha-like attempts to find his place in the world — he participates in what appears to be a simian rave (crisply and dynamically choreographed with dazzling Janet Jackson–esque moves by Anne Rene Brashier) and then heads to Monkey College. Just when one begins to suspect Monkey Madness is a one-concept piece, events in Act 2 take on a more mythic feel, as a creepy spirit (a towering, showstopping puppet from Cristina Bercowitz) offers both monkey and human the chance to realize their dreams — for a terrible price. Tsuji’s artfully and energetic staging is both smart and dazzling — spectacle here meshes engagingly with undercurrents of cerebral wit. A veteran of Cirque du Soleil, Tsuji uses shtick, choreography, a touch of Bunraku, and evocative acting — and the show sizzles with quirky antics and, ultimately, unexpected sadness. The ensemble enact their simian roles with ecstatic glee, particularly Dee Amerio Sudik’s monkey-elder lady in a performance so seductive, you forget you’re really watching a human. Thompson’s sweet monkey boy is equal parts Curious George and tragic boy-beast.
MY THREE SISTERS
John Walcutt directs his own adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters with decidedly mixed results. Set in West Texas during the Depression, Walcutt’s adaptation is accessible and, at times, clever. However, the flaws in this production outweigh the witty conceit of putting Russian émigrés in Dust Bowl Texas. Moreover, the adaptation suffers from too many anachronisms (“My brother — the loser”), and the liberal use of the word fuck detracts from the verisimilitude. Jimmy Nall gives the one standout performance as Alexander, the love interest of the adulterous middle sister, Masha (Kristina Kontor). As Olga, the eldest sister, Diana Elizabeth Jordan had pronounced delivery problems on the night I attended. (The show is double-cast.) While the youngest sister, Irina (Aidee Salgado), yearns desperately for New York (instead of Moscow, as in the original), two suitors (Jimmy Blakeney and Afshin Hashemi) vie for her attentions. Driving the plot are the actions of brother Andre (Andrew E. Tiles), a wastrel who, without telling his sisters, mortgages the ranch to pay off his gambling debts. In the meantime, Andre’s vulgar wife, Natalie (Dana Joiner), bullies everyone at the ranch to consolidate her own power. Walcutt’s direction is overly broad, at times verging on camp. And Andrew J. Traister hams it up as Ivan Romanich, a family retainer.
Actor’s Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through July 18. (323) 874-1733. (Sandra Ross)
GO ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES
For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets, one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it’s hard to imagine doing Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying staging of the Marxist maestro’s classic, anti-morality play, St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the 1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias’ costumes), the story cleverly inverts the Jeanne d’Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark (a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an antipoverty crusader whose “Warriors of God” mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse closings. Joan’s efforts to get the men back to work lead her to financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that Mauler is cynically using Joan’s appeals to further his scheme. When she subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped mission, she is cast into the street, where she belatedly realizes the pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by Peter Mellencamp’s vivid, new translation and an unerring ensemble (including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel Riordan), Rothhaar’s production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the principles of epic theater. (It’s also a showcase for the multitalented Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler’s scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & Co. not only prove that the old, dialectical dogmatist still has teeth but that Brecht’s bark and his bite are both wickedly entertaining.