Theater Reviews: Scarcity, The Conquest of the South Pole, The Value of Names, Flight 

Also, Sweeney Todd, Sherlock’s Last Case and more

Wednesday, Oct 28 2009

THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE German playwright Manfred Karge’s 1988 fantasia about a quartet of unemployed men re-enacting Roald Amundsen’s 1911 trek to the South Pole. Rory C. Mitchell’s nicely animated staging remains tethered by lapses of acting technique. Elephant Performance Lab, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through November 22. (323) 960-4429. A Smith and Martin Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

GO  CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’ adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Craig Bilknap stages the work crisply with technical aplomb, though it’s all a bit actorly. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep; through December 17. (818) 240-0910 Ext. 1. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

GO  THE END OF CIVILIZATION doesn’t entail an-end-of-the-world holocaust, though it might feel that way to Harry (Eric Curtis Johnson) and Lily (Jaime Andrews), the middle-class couple at the nub of Canadian George F. Walker’s ominously dark comedy. One of six in Walker’s “Motel Series” of plays, it takes place against the backdrop of a national financial crisis, which has left Harry — and millions more — jobless. The prescient Walker wrote this in late 1998. For reasons never entirely clear, Harry has opted to job-search from a seedy motel room rather than his comfortable suburban digs, which are now in danger of foreclosure. Leaving their kids with her sister, Lily has accompanied him as a show of support, but her confidence — along with the raison d’être for her entire existence — is teetering, as Harry’s behavior grows progressively more erratic and rage-driven. Their new, nightmarish existence roils out of control when two detectives (Phillip Simone and Bob Rusch) — one of whom is obsessively fixated on Lily — show up, suspecting Harry of having murdered three men. Keeping track of this plot is not always easy, as events are presented in nonchronological order, and it’s not till the end that we become privy to the story’s point of departure, from which the shattering climax ensues. Under James Sharpe’s direction, Johnson and Andrews display their marital torments in persuasive three dimensions. Gemma Massot is spot-on as the take-no-prisoners hooker next door, while Simone and Rusch are also effective. Yet the punch the production lands only puts us on the ropes; with a bit more timing and finesse it could knock us to the floor. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through November 29. (818) 838-3006. A SkyPilot Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman)

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FLIGHT These six short plays by EM Lewis are minimalist, and four are downright slight. In “Leonard’s Voice,” directed by Darin Anthony, Leonard (Michael Lorre) is tormented by a voice (Stephanie Erb) in his head, urging him to stab his mother (Helen Slayton Hughes). Michael Shutt directs “This Isn’t About Love,” in which Eric (Jon Amirkhan) wants his lunch-hour tryst with Kate to become something more, but Kate (Laura Buckles) doesn’t. Drug-addicted prodigal sister Shelley (Maya Parish) comes home to try to touch brother Alex (Rob Nagle) for money in “Sing Me That Leonard Cohen Song Again,” directed by Emilie Beck. In “Reveille,” directed by Julie Biggs, a father (Richard Ruyle) is furious with his son (Casey Nelson) for enlisting in the military after 9/11. The other two plays are a bit more substantial: “The Incident Report,” directed by Lee Wochner, centers on two airline passengers (Shutt and Brian P. Newkirk) who are being questioned by a security agent (Erb) about a violent incident on their flight. In “Six Bottles of Heineken After the Silverado,” a couple (Daria Balling and Ruyle) find their brief encounter developing into something richer. The productions are all excellent, but they feel more like appetizers than dinner. Son of Semele Theatre, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m., through November 8. (323) 666-3259 or movingarts.org. Produced by Moving Arts. (Neal Weaver)

GO  JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom’s world premiere comedy is a delight — an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece that is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but rundown country house in Upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid’s beautiful, detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art — which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife, Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger), are in the twilight of their careers but regret nothing about a life spent on the road, performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a “rest” from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically “artsy” family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family’s estranged eldest daughter, Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiancé, Jimmy (David Garver), to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly — but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self-indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior, and director Gary Imhoff’s subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration that underscore the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive yet comically charged, with Frederick’s calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis’ increasingly angry Betsy. Heller’s leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger’s actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (dark Thanksgiving weekend); through December 20. (310) 392-7327. A Rainbow Theatre production. (Paul Birchall)

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