ECLIPSED Playwright Danai Gurira powerfully dramatizes the ugly realities of women caught up in the Liberian Civil War. The action unfolds circa 2003, inside a derelict jungle compound occupied by the kidnapped “wives” of a guerrilla commander. Bahni Turpin, Edwina Findley and Miriam Glover pass the time chatting, grooming hair, scrounging for food, and, offstage, mechanically satisfying the sexual needs of the General. The wives are known simply as numbers, bluntly emphasizing their lack of autonomy and dehumanized condition. Turpin (No. 1) is by turns sweet and caustic, a comforter and authority figure to the younger girls. Findley, pregnant with the General’s child, possesses an infectious sense of humor, while Glover (No. 4), is a study in childlike naiveté. The dynamics change when a former captive turned fighter (Kelly M. Jenrette) convinces Glover to join the cause, which puts them at odds with a government peacekeeper (Michael Hyatt), whose own daughter was kidnapped. Cast performances are quite good, even though it is difficult at times to understand the dialogue through the affected West African accents. Sibyl Wickersheimer’s jungle set piece is stunning, and Robert O’Hara provides sensitive direction for this production, which in spite of its dearth of action and bleak subject matter, conveys the resilience of the human spirit. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through October 18. (213) 628-2772. (Lovell Estell III)
GOGOL PROJECT Director Sean T. Cawalti’s production of playwright Kitty Felde’s adaptation of three short stories by Russian Absurdist Nikolai Gogol is a whirligig of ferocious creativity. In “The Nose,” a pompous small-town politician (Tom Ashworth) wakes up to discover that his nose has decided to go AWOL, and he’s frustrated when the wandering member transforms into an enormous schnoz capable of rescuing dogs from wells and romancing local lovelies. “Diary of a Madman” shows a low-level drone of a civil servant (Ben Messmer, wonderfully bug-eyed) spurned in love and going insane, imagining he hears local dogs sending each other love letters. In “The Overcoat,” a mild-mannered postal clerk (Kristopher Lee Bicknell, sweetly channeling Charlie Chaplin) buys a new overcoat, which ultimately brings him nothing but tragedy. Performers caparisoned in Pat Rubio’s stunning Commedia-style masks interact with the dazzling puppets designed by the production’s six-person mask crew in a manner that often suggests a spooky Russian tragic version of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The astonishing, Big Bird–sized nose puppet, snorting up Danishes provided by the town baker, is a particular delight. Elsewhere, the show’s imagination is best showcased in details, from the sequence in which a murderous barber’s fantasies of killing his client are projected in shadow puppet form on the wall behind him, to the scenes involving the talking dogs, whose beautiful puppet forms are manipulated Bunraku-style with masked puppeteers. Ultimately, though, Felde’s workmanlike script is so broad and perfunctory, we feel little emotional connection to the characters or the situations, and the production’s admittedly gorgeous artifice essentially upstages the storytelling. The end result is an experience that is undeniably provocative but also assaultive and occasionally hyperactive. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m. Call theater for additional performances; through November 1. (800) 838-3006 or rogueartists.org. A Rogue Artists Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)
GO MEDEA Lenka Udovicki directs Annette Bening and Angus Macfadyen in the Euripides classic. UCLA Live, Ralph Freud Playhouse, Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 18. (310) 825-2101. See Theater feature.
GO THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP It’s been 18 years since this manor mystery was the No. 1–produced play in America, and it hasn’t worn out its welcome. In a dreary, rural house, the widowed master (Kevin Remington) has brought home a bride (Michael Lorre), a tremulous blond actress who might not have the wits to survive the local vampires and werewolves (or the grudging maid and infatuated stable boy). Charles Ludlam’s fleet-footed thriller comedy is in the key of camp, but this production tampers down the winks and nudges, staging it as an exercise in theatrical imagination. Lorre’s sparse set design is a model of how to turn a small budget into an asset. The furniture and decorations are drawn with thin, white lines on flat, black-painted wood, and the actors set the tone by first finishing the final touches with chalk. Irma Vep is always staged as a play for two performers, and Remington and Lorre (who also directs) are great sports, changing from a bumpkin with a wooden leg to a bare-breasted Egyptian princess in less time than it takes to tie your shoes. The actors’ physicality is great, but dresser Henry Senecal and stage manager Akemi Okamura also take deserved bows at the end. WeHo Church, 916 N. Formosa Ave., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 11. (323) 667-1304. A Deconstructed Productions production. (Amy Nicholson)