GO ART Playwright Yasmina Reza’s scintillating 1994 comedy debates a variety of ideas, and you find yourself agreeing with the last comment a character makes — until the next guy says something that is just as clever. Nouveau riche Parisian dermatologist Serge (Francois Chau) purchases a 200,000 franc painting by a trendy, modern artist. The trouble is, it’s a blank, white canvas — and no amount of describing it as a masterpiece of “plain magnetic monochrome” will prevent Serge’s prissy, aesthete best pal, Marc (Bernard White), from questioning his friend’s intelligence and sanity. When Marc and Serge’s amiable buddy Yvan (Ryan Wu) attempts to make peace between the squabbling pair, it becomes clear that deep-seated hostilities undercut the various relationships — and you know there’s going to be trouble when one character starts fingering his Magic Marker. For a play with such philosophical subtext, director Alberto Isaac’s crisp and smart production gives touching attention to the characters, assisted by Christopher Hampton’s glib yet emotion-packed translation. Alan E. Muraoka’s chic, white set — minimalist except for a few Top Design–esque pieces of furniture — perfectly captures the pseudotrendy art world. White’s uptight and slightly smug Marc is hilariously passive-aggressive, while Chau’s cheerfully upbeat Serge keeps you guessing whether he’s a genius or an idiot. However, Yu’s Yvan is the showstopper — a good-natured nebbish battling both his Bridezilla fiancée and his pals’ eventually revealed low opinion of him. The play’s brilliance lies in the way it has you believing that nothing is more important than settling the question of which of the three is right in their definition of art. David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru October 11. (213) 625-7000. An East West Players Production. (Paul Birchall)
GO CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD Most productions of Mark Medoff’s pioneering 1979 drama about the romance between a deaf student and her hearing-abled teacher are directed and staged from the point of view of a hearing audience, introduced to the world of the hearing-challenged. Yet, director Jonathan Barlow Lee’s haunting production of the play, staged by Deaf West Theater to celebrate the piece’s 30th anniversary and the epochal role the drama played in the advent of Deaf Theater, is compellingly told from the point of view of the deaf, with those who can hear being subtly poised as outsiders. The play tells the story of beautiful, deaf student Sarah (Shoshannah Stern), a pupil at a school for the deaf, who steadfastly refuses to learn how to communicate — either verbally or through ASL. Although Sarah’s choice exiles her from any contact with the hearing world, the young communications instructor assigned to her, James (Matthew Jaeger), finds her fiery spirit irresistible — and they eventually fall in love. Their romance is ultimately threatened by the stresses of their two hugely different worlds. Though Act 2’s focus on 1970s earnest-revolutionary issues inevitably causes the dramatic momentum to sag, Medoff’s play has aged less in terms of its activist stance for the deaf and more in terms of the tightening of protocol in teacher-student relationships over the decades: The romance between a teacher and his student now actually seems somewhat creepy, and we can’t help but wonder whether James’ kind concerns for his student would be so intense if he didn’t find her so physically attractive. Still, Lee’s production — orchestrated for audiences at all level of hearing ability — dazzles, and the ensemble, encompassing hearing, deaf and hard-of-hearing actors, offers beautiful, subtle acting turns. Stern’s ferocious performance as Sarah is particularly powerful. With the exception of one elementally searing moment, the actress doesn’t utter a sound — yet we’re struck by how much passion and love can be communicated via ASL during her operatic but paradoxically silent performance. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru October 11. (866) 811-4111. (Paul Birchall)
MATTHEW MODINE SAVES THE ALPACAS Oh, dear. How could Blair Singer’s comedy about a washed-out former celeb, Matthew Modine (played with tongue firmly in cheek by Matthew Modine), trying to crawl his way back onto the A-list by enlisting himself in a hip charity have gone so astray? Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (800) 745-3000. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
GO MOTHER Writer-performer Mary-Beth Manning’s mother, Joan, was a loving, mercurial and idiosyncratic woman, whose rapid mood changes sometimes bewildered her impressionable young daughters. The youngest of 15 children from a blue-collar Irish-American family, Joan — and her husband Ray, Mary-Beth’s father — grew up, married and reared their family in a small Massachusetts town. Lively and well-crafted, Manning’s show pays tribute to her mother’s expansive spirit, chronicling their complex relationship, from her own kindergarten years — when her parent loomed large and intimidating — through adulthood, when, as a struggling actress in New York and L.A., she still spoke regularly to her mom about her career and her love life (a habit for which she sought psychiatric intervention). The play takes a more somber turn after Joan is diagnosed with breast cancer. Emerging from the shadow of a strong-willed, colorful and/or influential parent is common, in literature and in life; under Diana Castle’s direction, Manning’s storytelling gifts, her timing and sense of irony for the most part create an entertaining and involving solo show that transcends the ordinary, though its 100-minute length, without intermission, is a strain. The preponderance of some anecdotes, especially in the production’s final third, dilutes what we already anticipate as the story’s poignant climax. Imagined Life Theatre, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru October 3. (866) 811-4111. (Deborah Klugman)