Theater Reviews: Liquid, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, The New Testament/Helter Skelter 

Also, This Is My F-Ing Wedding, Influences of the Spirit and more

Wednesday, Aug 26 2009

GO  ANITA BRYANT DIED FOR YOUR SINS The title of Brian Christopher Williams’ Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins suggests a slick, sassy gay comedy, and so it is — but it is much more than that, something far richer. Growing up during the Nixon era, deeply closeted 11-year-old gay boy Horace (a terrific Wyatt Fenner) develops a monstrous crush on his hunky gym teacher (Nick Ballard). Horace and his family weather the Vietnam War, and big brother Chaz (Nick Niven) flees to Canada to escape the draft. In the recession of the 1970s, Dad (Tony Pandolfo) has economic reverses, and Mom (Jan Sheldrick) loses her job. And when Anita Bryant (Madelynn Fattibene) launches her militant campaign against gay rights, Horace learns that there are people who will hate him for who he is. He must come out to his loving but irascible parents, and he’s overcome by jealousy when he realizes his adored teacher is having an affair with a neighbor (Sara J. Stuckey). He retaliates by betraying the teacher, in a way he knows is shameful. Williams’ play becomes a funny and touching family saga, as well as the tale of a bright gay kid striving to grow up. Richard Israel provides wonderfully nuanced direction, and the entire cast is splendid. West Coast Ensemble, El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 4. (323) 460-4443 or tix.com. (Neal Weaver)

BABES & BRIDES From the “what could they have been thinking?” department comes this mystifyingly erratic revival of satirist Eric Berlin’s tepid 1992 suite of one-act misfires on Clinton-era mating mores. In “The Line That’s Picked Up 1,000 Babes (And How It Can Work for You!),” Berlin parses the semantics of a suburban singles wilderness in which a successful pickup depends less on what is said than the raw desperation of his alienated sexual explorers to connect, however briefly, to another human being. If the play’s elliptical, quick-cut structure and shallow, sexual mentors (Asa Holley and Jennifer Flynn) paired with bitterly skeptical neophytes (Evan Olman and Heather Fox) seems familiar, it may have something to do with Berlin’s near-plagiaristic looting of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago. For the bottom-billed “The Midnight Moonlight Wedding Chapel,” Berlin shifts the action to Las Vegas and the theme to marital commitment as a tourist (Holley) and a casino waitress (Flynn) drunkenly persuade a chapel owner (Julie Mann) to legitimize their one-night connubial lark. Without a suitable Mamet to mine this time around, however, Berlin’s anemic characterizations and feeble situational contrivances seem almost incidental to the didactic moralizing that passes for dialogue. Marc Morales’ every-actor-for-himself staging proves especially hard on Holley and Mann, who seem cut adrift rather than directed, while terrific, commanding turns by the obviously talented Flynn and Fox transform an otherwise forgettable evening into something approaching a gross injustice. NoHo Actor’s Studio, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through August 29. (303) 329-3683. (Bill Raden)

GO  GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP Just when you thought it was safe to swear off laughing forever, the Groundlings have unleashed another solid show. Under Mikey Day’s direction, the best bits are weighted toward the beginning: John Connor’s sidekick meets his own protective Terminator, an 18-inch dancing robot; two octogenarian ’70s sitcom stars radiate diva ’tude while fumbling through a commercial for the AARP; and, my favorite, a postchampionship rally for the Lakers, where a fan opens up to Kobe Bryant via the news, looking into the camera and vowing, “You could make me learn to trust again.” Director Day keeps things moving at a nice clip, staying on top of five funny improv exercises, despite loud insistence from a tipsy audience member (who wanted more of her suggestions used) that everyone else in the crowd was a plant. In a uniformly good cast, Jeremy Rowley’s Kobe obsessive stands out, as do both ladies, Stephanie Courtney and Charlotte Newhouse, the latter of whom braved an instantly embarrassed theatergoer’s improv prompt that she speak “Asian.” Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700. (Amy Nicholson)

click to flip through (3) TY DONALDSON - Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins
  • Ty Donaldson
  • Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins

IN ARABIA WE’D ALL BE KINGS Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is a poet laureate of the insulted and injured, exploring the dark underbelly of urban society. Here, he examines the suckers, wannabes, lowlifes and losers who inhabit a seedy bar in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, unaware that they’re about to be driven out by the forces of gentrification. His writing is compassionate yet objective, but it also offers a safe, vicarious walk-on-the-wild-side for theatregoers who lead more sheltered lives. Director Jeremy Aluma expertly puts his large cast through their paces, though the vastness of the performance space saps intensity and compromises audibility. Among the fine performances are Frank Stasio as an ex-con who craves more respect than he can earn, and Tracy Ali as his elegant former girlfriend. Andrew McReynolds plays a hapless, drug-addled junkie, Bri Price scores as a gun-toting Latina who tries to support her baby via prostitution, and Andrew Bloch is persuasive as an old boozer still mourning his late wife. Jessica Diz plays a flamboyant crack whore, and Sharif Nasr is a bartender who turns to petty theft when his job disappears. It’s all very well-done, but largely due to the problems of the venue, the play may be more fun for the actors than for the audience. Old Expo Furniture Warehouse, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Sept. 12. An Alive Theatre production. (562) 818-7364. (Neal Weaver)

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