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Theater Reviews: Friends Like These, The Crossing, Peace, Somebody’s Somebody 

Also, F*ucking Men, The Kingdom Come, The Golden Gays and more

Tuesday, Sep 15 2009
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GO  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY Tracy Letts’ 2007 Great American Family Drama, or so we’d believe from the national press, four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, has pulled in at last to the Ahmanson Theatre in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production, handily staged by Anna D. Shapiro. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through October 18. (213) 972-4400. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

GO  THE CROSSING Whatever might be meant by a “Scottish national voice,” say something between the Romantic lyricism of Robert Burns and the sentimental whimsy of filmmaker Bill Forsyth, writer-performer Rachel Ogilvy certainly speaks it fluently. Her hourlong, first-person dramatic monologue fairly bristles with the saccharine-dipped eccentrics and evocative local colors of her story’s Edinburgh setting. Chiefly, though, it echoes in the melodious burr of her hard-nosed, high-strung heroine, Rose. A young substitute math instructor who finds herself throughst into the stress-torquing environs of a new job among hostile, teacher-eating 14-year-olds, Rose is not what one would call a “people person.” Blame a severe, emotionally distant mother and the childhood trauma of her loving, half-remembered father’s mysterious suicide, which has left her a haunted, withdrawn outsider primed for a nervous breakdown. Rather than heading for the nearest psychoanalyst’s couch, Rose embarks on the somewhat quixotic pursuit of winning over her disinterested students by turning to her late father’s obsession with the Golden Gate Bridge as the centerpiece of an elaborate lesson plan in analytic geometry. The effort quickly turns into a harrowing journey of relived memories; it takes her to Edinburgh’s Forth Rail Bridge — the site of her father’s fatal leap and a perilous emotional precipice of unresolved guilt. She must cross it to survive. Ogilvy uplifts her potentially weighty tale with brittle humor and a sweetly effective performance in a production benefited by Paul Christie’s fluid, economical direction. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; (added perfs Thurs., Sept. 17 & 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 20 & 27, 2 p.m.); through October 3. (818) 558-5702. (Bill Raden)

GO  FRIENDS LIKE THESE Playwright Gregory Crafts’ drama is billed as a show about teen violence, conjuring images of gangs with guns or distraught loners firing wildly into a crowd of peers. In fact, while the latter event eventually finds its way into Crafts’ story, that’s not its central focus. Instead, the play is mostly about some of the pernicious perils of adolescence — specifically the targeting of geeks by jocks, and the painful experience of the outcast in a teen community worshipful of its own rigid standard of “coolness.” At the heart of the plot is the blossoming friendship between Garrett (Matthew Scott Montgomery), a sullen geeky kid, and Nicole (Sarah Smick), a pretty cheerleader who has just called it quits with her boyfriend, Jesse (Alex Yee). Disgusted by Jesse’s arrogance and infidelity, Nicole finds herself drawn in by Garrett’s candidness and unassuming manner. To the surprise of all, and the chagrin of some, their relationship blooms. Especially disturbed are Jesse — stunned that Garrett has become his rival — and Diz (Sari Sanchez), Garrett’s former girl chum, who believes him to be her soul mate and now seethes with jealousy. Understated from the top, Montgomery’s performance deepens and expands as his character gradually undergoes changes. Smick is likewise layered and sympathetic, and Sanchez plays her one-note role exceptionally well. Yee, and Ryan J. Hill as everyone’s buddy are also effective. Designer Andrew Moore’s visually grating and incongruent backdrop needs rethinking. Sean Fitzgerald and Vance Roi Reyes co-direct. The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 17. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Deborah Klugman)

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GO  F*CKING MEN Ah, the late 1980s, the halcyon days of male nudity, when the promise of onstage gay promiscuity and frontal views were sure-fire ticket sellers throughout the world of waiver — well, those days are back in Joe DiPietro’s all-male rendition of Arthur Schnitzler’s classic 1900 play of sexual mores, La Ronde. Ten scenes pair two strangers becoming intimate, with one of the duo moving on to the next scene until the circle is completed. DiPietro keeps to his generally middle-of-the-road style of dialogue (well-known from oft-produced Over the River and Through the Woods and I Love You You’re Perfect, Now Change), which actually brings a subtle reality to the more sordid moments of gay indiscretions. Director Calvin Remsberg has gathered a fine ensemble, mostly perfectly cast from the nearly infantile, stoned sexiness of college boy Kyle (Michael Rachlis) to the nervous, violent energy of GI Steve (Johnny Kostrey). Only the fine Chad Borden is miscast as a closeted action-movie star — his characterization is just so obviously gay. Tom Buderwitz’s scene-design concept with moving screens and furniture pieces is initially fascinating but becomes clumsy and distracting. However, sound by Lindsay Jones, lighting by Jeremy Pivnick and costumes by Daavid Hawkins are all sharp and collaborative. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 25. (323) 957-1884. (Tom Provenzano)

GO  THE GOLDEN GAYS Even non-fans of The Golden Girls will be amused by John Patrick Trapper’s uproarious play with music, which simultaneously spoofs the TV series and the neuroses of aging gay men. Diagnosed with Sitcom Affective Disorder by the unconventional Dr. Leche (Aaron Barerra), four gay men turn to drag in order to work out their identification with characters from The Golden Girls. Samuel (David Romano) identifies with the acid-tongued tongued Sophia, mother of the imperious Dorothy, who’s impersonated by Damien (John W. McLaughlin). Promiscuous Blanche is played by the equally promiscuous Blaine (John Downey III), and Roger (Irwin Moskowitz) rounds out the quartet as the ditzy Rose. The plot is secondary to the reprise of various scenes from the much-beloved TV show. The uncredited costumes are hilarious, particularly Dr. Leche’s get-ups, with additional kudos for dragographer ChaCha Cache. Trapper’s lyrics make the musical numbers equally hilarious, thanks in part to musical director Robert Glen Decker. Lori J. Ness Quinn’s over-the-top direction matches perfectly with the outrageous material, which includes lots of Bea Arthur jokes. The actors turn in superior performances, with a special nod to McLaughlin’s Dorothy. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 10. plays411.com/thegoldengays. (323) 969-2530. Wild Stance Productions. (Sandra Ross)

GO  THE MATCHMAKER When playwright Thornton Wilder lifted the character Frosine from Molière’s The Miser, and transplanted her in his adaptation of a 19th-century Viennese farce by Johan Nestroy, he can’t have realized that he was launching her as one of the most enduringly popular characters in 20th-century American theater. Renamed Dolly Gallagher Levi, she became the formidable protagonist of both The Matchmaker and Hello, Dolly!, Jerry Herman’s musical version. The play remains a delicious piece of faux Americana, which doesn’t need the songs to be a zany theatrical warhorse. Dolly (Amanda Carlin) is playing matchmaker for wealthy Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (James Gleason), but she’s actually out to capture him for herself. When Horace heads to Manhattan to woo the widow Mrs. Molloy (Alyss Henderson), his two clerks, Cornelius (Patrick Rafferty) and Barnaby (Colin Thomas Jennings), take advantage of his absence to run off for a Manhattan adventure of their own. Comic confusions, mistaken identities and multiple romances result. Director Dave Florek’s production is sturdy rather than brilliant, but he elicits plenty of charm from his large, engaging cast. Particularly noteworthy are Don Fischer and James Greene in goofy featured roles. Jeff McLaughlin’s sets and Sherry Linnell’s costumes capture the period flavor. The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m.; through October 18. Produced by Interact Theatre Company. (818) 765-8732. (Neal Weaver)

GO  PEACE If you don’t like your walking peace symbol to be a slightly bewildered pot-smoking goofball (John Fleck), who, during an entirely gratuitous interlude, leads the crowd in a ditty that literally sings the praises of masturbation (“It felt so nice, I did it twice”), look elsewhere. Low comedy doesn’t come any lower than this: huge balloon phalluses poking out from tunics, or bashing audience members as the characters parade through the crowd. We’re talking Aristophanes here — the child prodigy class-clown playwright of ancient Greece (the “class” may be overstated) who loathed corrupt authority figures almost as much as Molière would a couple millennia later. We’re also talking Culture Clash, the Latino sketch-comedy trio (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza) — Montoya penned this adaptation of Aristophanes’ Peace with his compatriots — who sprung from Bay Area standup clubs with a then-unique brand of politically charged humor, a much ruder, cruder prelude to Jon Stewart, both politically correct and incorrect in the same breath, filled with indignation over rudimentary violations of civil rights and civil liberties. The blending of ruthless parody with self-confident and at times simple interpretations of Right and Wrong has proven to be a rare, sustaining formula, and it’s on full display here, under Bill Rauch’s animated and often whimsical staging. Trygaeus, or Ty Dye (Fleck), ventures to heaven on a “dung beetle” to free Peace (a statue) from lockup in Heaven. A noisy neighbor diva (Amy Hill) turns in a very big cameo. Montoya, in one of Shigeru Yaji’s many stunning costumes and Lynn Jeffries’ puppet masks that somehow reproportion the human body) plays the war machine, a thug who tries to stifle Ty Dye’s efforts at every pass. Heaven is, of course, the Getty Villa, directly behind the amphitheater stage, also decorated with free-rolling Yoga balls, and a huge, portable mound of pop culture (or poop culture) detritus referred to as a “shit pile.” (Set by Christopher Acebo.) There’s a joke for every corner of the region, from Montebello to Malibu, and Montoya has reconfigured the play’s finale so that Aristophanes’ happy ending with a marriage is tossed for the visit of a sweet, silent child, who faces down War. The update is a fine idea, particularly as the sheer energy of the high jinks starts to wear down. Yet it takes us no further than the classic Vietnam War photograph of a female hippie protestor facing down a National Guard bayonet with a daisy. And that was at least four American wars ago. If war is so bad, why do we love it so much? To trace the warring impulse to father issues, as this adaptation does, keeps the show enshrined in the same pop psychology that it mocks so well throughout. The production is beautifully accompanied by the femme-trio mariachi band, Las Colibri. Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 3. (310) 440-7300. (Steven Leigh Morris)

RUBY, TRAGICALLY ROTUND The theater-in-the-round set for Boni B. Alvarez’s dramedy about a Filipina college student named Ruby (Ellen D. Williams, in a great performance) puts its actress on a center pedestal and encourages the audience to take in a 360-degree view of a self-described “fat girl” as she tries to wriggle into her tightest jeans. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera confronts the audience head on with Williams’ weight: She strips, straddles her boyfriend (Kacy-Earl David) and above all, stands with confidence, daring us to deny her sex appeal — which is hard to when she struts her vamp walk. Her mother, Edwina (Fran De Leon), however, disagrees. A former Miss Manila, she’d rather hide Ruby away like a fairy-tale beast while she presses her more timid daughter, Jemmalyn (Marc Pelina), to practice around the clock for first prize in the Miss Sunnyvale Pageant. Backed by her sassy chorus of junk food–loving friends (Angel Felix, Alison M. De La Cruz and Regan Carrington), Ruby vows to take the crown herself, even if her imposed group diet turns her posse into the Lord of the Fries. Alvarez’s play has an up-with-Ruby cheer that undermines its call for equality and empowerment: Ruby’s quest for the crown reveals her care only about the swimsuit, not the talent or the interview, and Jemmalyn’s legit argument that she alone has put in the effort to win is dismissed by the playwright as being petulant. A subplot in which Edwina betrays her husband, Jepoy (Robert Almodovar), with wealthy white neighbor Kline (Mark Doerr) hints that beautiful women are limited by their reliance on looks but largely seems designed only to give the gorgeous villain more stage time. Alvarez and Rivera’s climax obliges in a Grand Guignol finale that turns this into a play about child abuse, not fat pride. Though riveting and well-acted, the alternately chipper and dark play feels as bipolar as the undiagnosed Edwina herself. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 11. (213) 489-0994. A Playwrights Arena production. (Amy Nicholson)

SOLITUDE Inspired by Octavio Paz’s collection of essays, “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” Evelina Fernández’s drama with music attempts to explore core issues of family, love, death and cultural identity, but the result fails to make much of an impression. On the occasion of his mother’s funeral, an emotionally distraught Gabriel (Geoffrey Rivas) invites a small group of friends who attended the ceremony to his luxurious penthouse for an after party. Present are a character simply called The Man (Robert Beltran), Johnny (Sal López), Angel (Fidel Gomez), Ramona (Fernández) and Gabriel’s wife, Sonia (Lucy Rodríguez). Amidst the revelry, the sad story of Gabriel’s relationship with his mother slowly emerges. She was a woman he abandoned years before her death because he was ashamed of her poverty. Other secrets come to the fore during the long evening, which reveal startling connections between the guests, and force them to confront the painful realities of their past and present. Fernández is adept at writing with cheeky humor but is less able to explore the substance and soul of her characters. Much of what transpires appears as narrative convenience or airy contrivance, particularly the lead-heavy emotional finale, which features a moving song by Lopez in Spanish. Urbanie Lucero’s choreography is attractive, but the colorful Mexican dancing is sometimes laid on too thick by director Jose Luis Valenzuela. The performances are good, however, particularly Beltran, who has a formidable stage presence. Semyon Kobialka’s cello accompaniment is flawless, and Francois-Pierre Couture’s skewed picture-frame scenic design effectively suggests how we’re skewed by our experiences. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 3. (213) 489-0994. (Lovell Estell III)

SOMEONE’S SOMEBODY Regina Louise’s monodrama centers on her role as a black child in search of a family. She was abandoned by both her mother and father. Over the years she was sent to more than 30 foster homes, most of which she fled. A counselor in a children’s home where she was sent loved her and wanted to adopt her — but the authorities forbid it, since the counselor was white, and they insisted she needed a black upbringing. She desperately wanted to be with someone who cared about her, but that didn’t concern the bureaucrats. It’s a fascinating rags-to-riches tale (she eventually wrote and sold a successful autobiography), but there’s something slightly schizophrenic about the way she tells it. She talks about her utter powerlessness to control her own destiny, yet she emerges as a highly confident, competent and savvy young woman. Would be nice to know how she got there. She tells us she has a son, but we never learn the circumstances of his birth, or the identity of the father. Louise is a deft writer-actor and singer who threads songs through her narrative. But I kept ruminating on the story’s crucial aspects she left out. Lee Sankowich directs. The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through October 5. (323) 960-7738 or plays411.com/someones somebody. (Neal Weaver)

THY KINGDOM COME In his theatrical debut, playwright Jarad Sanchez explores a little-known corner of Mexican history, dramatizing how the inhabitants of the village of Yanga overthrew their colonial masters and became the first free town in the Americas. While the African slave Yanga (Joel Virgil), for whom the town was named, primarily orchestrated the battle against Spain, a fierce Aztec slave named Santiago (Ryan De Mesa) becomes the focus of the play’s action when he is forced to care for the infant of a colonial master who is killed during a revolt. Despite the rich source material, and the important story, the heavy-handed exposition and the lack of depth in both the dialogue and character relationships fail to mask the fact that Sanchez initially wrote this for the screen. Elizabeth Otero’s direction similarly doesn’t theatricalize the material effectively, with her brisk pacing of the short scenes leaving one hungry for higher stakes and fuller character exploration, as well as greater use of nonverbal nuance. Tony Carranza’s costumes, however, are both aesthetically appealing and appear historically accurate. As always, CASA 0101 fulfills an important role in the community and should be applauded for presenting a story that, with some adjustments, has the potential to dramatize powerfully the intersection of African and Latino colonial history. CASA 0101, 2009 E. First St., East L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 4. (323) 263-7684. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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