Theater Reviews: A Lie of the Mind, Mercy Warren’s Tea, Molly, Extinction 

Also, Chatsworth, Grace Kim & the Spiders From Mars, Post, and more

Wednesday, Dec 2 2009

GO  BLACK LEATHER Photographer Robert Krapplethorpe — an unmistakable twist on Mapplethorpe — is a brazen narcissist. Manic when he’s coked up, marginally less so when he isn’t, he’s an outsized provocateur who revels in outraging others with abrasive remarks and abusive behavior. As portrayed by playwright Michael Sargent, the sexually promiscuous Robert interacts with the world — “finguratively” speaking — with a permanently erect and extended middle finger. In this raucous satire, directed and designed by Chris Covics, the people at the receiving end of Robert’s umbrage include his well-heeled lover and patron Sam (Jan Munroe); a gallery owner named Jilly (Kathy Bell Denton), with lots of money to lose if Robert should screw up; his African-American S&M partner, Milton (Kevin Daniels); his assistant, Ed (Dustin David); and his gal pal and former sweetheart, ostensibly modeled after Patti Smith, Ratty Spit (Liz Davies). Only with Ratty does Robert evince the barest trace of genuine love and care. Not for the prim or classical-minded, the production — aptly billed as a “comedy of desperation” — features lots of bare ass and graphic simulation of rough, homoerotic sex. Between and sometimes during scenes, cacophonous music throbs. The ensemble is solid, although the frenetic pace, reverberating noise and the main character’s grating persona create a distraction from appreciating the fragile humanity beneath the clatter. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through December 19. (323) 466-7781. (Deborah Klugman)

CHATSWORTH Matt Robertson’s study of living in the margins of the megalopolis — a commune of actors, models and assorted showbiz wannabes who have gravitated to the San Fernando Valley — might be defined as weirdly Chekhovian, with its tangle of unrequited loves and the often farcical romantic-erotic escapades of its characters on their road to nowhere. Chekhov’s inebriating snuff here gets translated into coke — the function is the same. Or maybe this is closer to Gorky’s The Lower Depths. Director Roger Mathey plays the central role, Matthew (same name as the playwright, huh) — a corpulent fellow and one-hit-wonder screenwriter who’s as spiritually bankrupt as his so-called career — an insight he’s trying to keep to himself. Skinny new kid in town (Ry Higdon) gets hooked on amateur photographer (Dana Wing Lau), who toys and then steps on the callow guy. Mathey’s staging is clumsy: The actors must fling open curtains on the side of the stage to reveal their hidden bedrooms, or wherever. Sometimes that’s just for a peek at some gratuitous nudity, including a moment of urophilia in case you were drifting off. The guy who yearns to be peed on is the cad playing several women at once — which is a nice insight. If only the actor weren’t so transparently a player. The theme of breaking or broken dreams doesn’t resonate because, well, in Chatsworth, what else would one expect? It’s just all a little too obvious and a touch too leering to rise above the pedestrian. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wed., 8 p.m; through Dec. 16. plays411.com/chatsworth. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  EXTINCTION Gabe McKinley’s play begins as a fast, funny, hip buddy comedy but grows steadily darker. Fast-talking hedonist and prosperous businessman Max (Michael Weston) regards women as disposable and interchangeable, and has no use for marriage, monogamy or fidelity. His real connection is to his male buddies — including grad student Finn (James Roday). Max is fixated on their college days of boozing, snorting, gambling and chasing girls, so he arranges a spectacular weekend with Finn in Atlantic City. Finn, however, has outgrown Max’s kind of self-indulgence. When he reveals that he’s married and expecting a child, Max sees this as a betrayal, and a dangerous threat to his own self-image. He cajoles, threatens, manipulates and bribes Finn into joining his revels, and brings in a couple of working girls (Amanda Detmer and Stefanie E. Frame) to spice things up. But enforced fun proves to be a kind of hell, leading to disillusion, brutality and several kinds of extinction. Weston and Roday give finely etched and contrasting performances, and Wayne Kasserman directs with a skillful but unobtrusive hand this merciless evisceration of whatever it means to have character. Kurt Boetcher provides the clever, beautiful, black-and-white set. Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through December 13. (323) 960-7784 or plays411.com/extinction. Produced by Red Dog Squadron. (Neal Weaver)

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