Theater Reviews: Bleeding Through, Answer the Call, Exit Strategy, The Changeling 

Also, Growing Up With Uncle Miltie, No Man’s Land, Saturn Returns and more

Wednesday, Nov 4 2009

ANSWER THE CALL This well-meaning musical deserves credit for espousing universal respect and genuine family values (not the ersatz right-wing kind), but it’s otherwise an awkward effort. Writers Michael Antin and Leonard Bloom — music and lyrics by Antin — build their story around an 11-year old boy’s school assignment to learn more about his family. Offspring of a mixed marriage — a Gentile songwriter father, Sam (Derel Maury Friedman) and a Jewish mom, Jill (Josie Yount) — Eddie (Spencer Price) seeks his curmudgeonly maternal granddad, Gordon (Lou Briggs), who is also a songwriter. Gordon is happy to shower Eddie and his sister Becky (Haley Price) with anecdotes about his military service, his horse thief uncle, his heady times in Nashville, his rural childhood, his beach frolicking days and so on. Unfortunately, these ramblings don’t coalesce. Even in a genre that often plays fast and loose with narrative logic, this piece comes off woefully short. Grandma Hannah (L.B. Zimmerman) dances with a healing broken hip. Never-before-known secrets are revealed — Sam had a brutal childhood, Gordon’s brother was tragically murdered — then swiftly forgotten, as we move to the next riff or song. The best of these is the self-descriptive “Crap on the Golden Years.” Others less interesting include one sung by the caregiver (Shamarrah E. Pates) about having car trouble. The vocals are passable, and under Friedman’s direction, the performances conform to cliché. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 22, plays411.com/answerthecall. (323) 960-7735. (Deborah Klugman)

BEAU FIB This musical, credited to playwright Myles Nye and composers John Graney and Andy Hentz, is steeped in the dramatic tradition of the Tragic Clown. And, really, few clowns are more tragic than Christopher Young’s Beau Fib, a sweet-natured young hobo and pathological liar who, at the play’s opening, is afflicted with some kind of amnesia. Haunted by the sound of a distant jazz band, Master Fib commences a journey to figure out why he’s inexplicably dressed in his best pair of shoes. Along the way, he is befriended by a young soldier (Scott Palmason), a jaded prostitute (Cat Davis) and a disenchanted drunkard preacher (Chris Sheets). After a run-in with demonic anticlown St. Clownie (Christopher Karbo, as a fiendish Bozo), the heroes are tricked by bizarre circumstance into descending to Hell to steal the little toe from the King of the Underworld himself (Mike Kindle). Before this can occur, Fib makes some appalling discoveries about himself. If for no other reason, Nye’s musical is exceptional because of his use of the word sardoodledom (Google it) in the program notes. However, in terms of execution, the work is never able to evade the sense of being an early draft. The story drifts from idea to idea in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The book (both dialogue and lyrics) is ponderous and dry, full of cerebral and academic puns that probably seemed droll and arch on the page but which come off as dreary and pompous on the stage. Director Andy Goldblatt’s intimate, halting production may gel later in the run, but I observed klutzy blocking and ill-timed pacing. That said, Young’s Fib is a likable young rascal. Sheets’ growelly old priest is hilariously bitter, and Davis’ flaxen-haired hooker is simultaneously sleazy and innocent delight. Graney and Hentz’s Tom Waits–like score possesses amiably folksy and ironic undercurrents that are occasionally soulful. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through November 21. latensemble.com. An LA Theater Ensemble production. (Paul Birchall)

BETTER ANGELS Playwright Wayne Peter Liebman may be no Pastor Weems, but this wincingly hagiographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln (James Read) certainly suggests postgraduate work in the Weems school of exalted and fanciful presidential kitsch. Liberally sprinkled with tidbits of beloved Lincolnalia, the play introduces the Great Emancipator through the flashbacked reminiscences of John Hay (David Dean Bottrell), as Lincoln’s now elderly biographer and former private secretary delivers a university lecture on the man behind the myth. To illustrate Lincoln’s deceptively complex blend of folksy political wiles, razor-sharp intellect and more earthbound emotional needs, Hay relates the meeting of minds between Lincoln and the Wisconsin Angel, Cordelia Harvey (McKerrin Kelly), as the bloody carnage of Chickamauga unfolds. A war widow and real-life champion of better care for the Civil War’s wounded, Mrs. Harvey visits the White House (amid Victoria Profitt’s stately set pieces) to persuade the commander in chief to establish military hospitals in the North. For Lincoln, the attractive, personable lobbyist offers a flirtatious respite from the cares of office, as well as from his offstage “harpy” of a first lady. The encounter also provides the president the opportunity to test his Gettysburg Address and disambiguate his position on emancipation (yes, his intention was always to free the slaves). Despite Liebman’s romantic whimsy (and a particularly cloying postscript), Read turns in an engagingly sly, avuncular Lincoln, abetted by director Dan Bonnell’s handsome staging and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s elegant period costumes. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through November 22. (818) 558-7000. (Bill Raden)

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