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Theater Reviews: How Katrina Plays, Mom’s the Word, Elections and Erections, To Kill a Mockingbird 

Also, Secrets of a Soccer Mom, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Illusion, and more

Wednesday, Oct 7 2009
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PARADE Alfred Uhry, Jason Robert Brown and Harold Prince’s musical based on a miscarriage of justice against Leo Frank (T.R. Knight), a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year-old Mary Phalen (Rose Sezniak) in the pencil factory where she worked, and where Frank was superintendent. Rob Ashford’s sumptuous staging, and Brown’s caressing ragtime/pop score, are in the service of what’s aiming to be tragedy of mythic proportions. Uhry’s predictable storytelling, however, invites us to react to the obvious rather than reflect on the mysterious, turning the entire event into child’s play. Christopher Oram’s set, featuring a shape-shifting Confederate mural, under Neil Austin’s lighting, is gorgeous to look at. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through November 15. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

THAT PERFECT MOMENT What is it about rock & roll that makes it so stubbornly resistant to conventional dramatic representation? Perhaps it’s that the rock metanarrative — the collective absurdity of backstage misbehavior, egocentric pettiness and self-destructive excess that is somehow transcended in the artistry and catharsis of the live performance — runs so close to self-parody that it can only be captured in documentary or satire (or both, i.e., This is Spinal Tap). Whatever the reason, playwrights Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper’s warmed-over band-reunion dramedy misses the mark by an L.A. mile. When ponytailed, 60-something literature professor, Mark Vanowen (Tait Ruppert), hears that a label is interested in his former, never-signed, ’60s protest band, The Weeds, for an oldies compilation, he promptly recalls his old bandmates to discuss reforming for a support tour. The problem is former drummer Skip (Bruce Katzman), now a prosperous Republican with a McMansion in Calabasas, who holds the song rights along with a vindictive grudge against Mark for jumping ship at the moment of The Weeds’ almost-success. Complicating matters is Mark’s wife, Sarah (Kelly Lester), who abruptly walks out after he chucks his department’s chairmanship for a last stab at rock & roll glory. Though director Rick Sparks elicits spirited performances from a stellar cast (including Sha Na Na’s Guerin Barry and the comically gifted John Bigham), neither Adam Flemming’s sterile apartment set nor the play’s atonal text musters the authenticity needed to make this production rock. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. plays411.com/perfect. (323) 960-7745. (Bill Raden)

GO  SECRETS OF A SOCCER MOM Playwright Kathleen Clark’s comedy is a funny and touching tale about rekindling lost dreams or letting them go. It’s another soccer Sunday and three middle-class, suburban housewives are teamed up against their 8-year-olds in a mom-versus-son tournament. Nancy (Jennifer L. Davis) is a 40-ish former model seemingly resigned to a less glamorous life, Lynn (Tammy Taylor) is a 30-something who single-handedly and thanklessly runs the local PTA, and Allison (Michelle Coyle) is in her 20s and new to the unnamed neighborhood, as well as to soccer — she totes a copy of Soccer for Dummies. Despite Allison’s protests, they decide to throw the game so their kids can feel good, a choice they later realize is a metaphor for how they sacrifice their own goals and feelings for the sake of their families. “How can you feel trapped by what you love?” one of them laments as they reveal their true feelings and end up bonding as a team, both on and off the field. Clark’s balance of snappy one-liners and serious reflection (especially an Act 2 monologue delivered by Davis) makes up for the play’s predictability. The cast is exceptional under Donald Shenk’s first-rate direction. StillSpeaking Theatre, 2560 Huntington Drive, San Marino; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 18. (626) 292-2081. (Martín Hernández)

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel suffers from a lack of narrative drive due to the inclusion of an adult narrator. In the much-beloved story, Scout (Rachel Arnold), her brother, Jem (Dalton O’Dell), and friend Dill (Taylor Cosgrove Scofield) spend a long, hot summer in 1935 Macomb, Alabama, trying to get Boo Radley (Price Carson) to come out of his house. Scout also observes how her lawyer father, Atticus (Jim Gleason), handles a trumped-up rape charge against a black man named Tom Robinson (Myron Primes), levied by the racist Bob Ewell (David Wells) and his daughter Mayella (Hayden Wyatt). Although well-intentioned, this adaptation’s use of a both 7-year-old Scout and her adult self (Penny Louise Moore, who also directs) gives the play a strained earnestness. However, the acting can’t be faulted, and director (and set designer!) Moore astutely marshals the large cast on the small stage, which also benefits from her set design. The child actors are terrific, particularly Scofield. Gleason achieves the right gravitas as Atticus, and Wells makes an outstanding snarling villain. Actors Repertory Theater at Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 25. brownpapertickets.com/event/74143. (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)

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