ALMOST, MAINE Love is very much in the air in the idyllic community of Almost, Maine, the setting for John Cariani’s homage to Cupid’s often strange, unpredictable machinations. The play is formatted as a series of star-filled, romantic encounters that are mostly sugary sweet, with a sprinkling of salt for good measure. Director Ashley Archambeau does a fine job marshaling the cast of 18, all of whom turn in good performances. This more than makes up for the sillier, vacuous moments that spring up during some of these vignettes. A good example: “They Fell,” with Erol Dolen and Adam Sandroni as two pals whose underlying sexual attraction for each other causes them to fall on the floor. It’s funny for all of 10 seconds, but the skit lasts far longer. Ditto for “This Hurts,” where a bout of head bashing with ironing boards turns gratingly sentimental and silly. “Where It Went” is a heart-wrenching meditation on love lost with Luke Wright and Arianna Arias as a couple whose once magical attraction has evaporated. “Sad and Glad” tosses in a bit of the mysterious with Greyson Lewis and Lauren Andrea as strangers brought together by a misspelled tattoo. Neo Acro Theatre Company at the Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through January 30, NeoAcroTheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
GO BLOOD AND THUNDER In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Marcus (Keith Arthur Bolden) isn’t scared of the newly arrived hurricane, Katrina. Marcus is an expert on everything — at least, he watches a lot of TV — and vows the water won’t rise above 10 feet. But Marcus’ theories and conclusions have always gotten him, brother Quentin (Tony Williams) and Marcus’ girlfriend, Charlie (Candice Afia), in over their heads with one bad hustling scheme after another. Still, Marcus is convinced he’s the brains of the group, even if he has to badger Quentin and Charlie until they agree. When Quentin limps in, sopping wet, still wearing his orange prison jumpsuit with a bullet hole in his thigh, the two siblings have a violent score to settle. Terence Anthony’s taut one-act drama is effective agony. Two character twists may not add up, but while the audience perches practically in the living room of Jorge I. Velasquez’s realistic, dingy set, with the rain hammering down, the tension is as thick as the storm clouds we imagine overhead. Solid performances keep the spell going, particularly by Afia as the strong-willed girlfriend trying to break free of Marcus’ emotional abuse. Sara Wagoner directs. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through February 28. (323) 666-3259. (Amy Nicholson)
GO AN OAK TREE On the simplest storytelling level, actor-performer Tim Crouch’s play is the tale of a hypnotist falling apart at the seams, who after accidentally striking and killing a young girl with his car, one day finds the victim’s father on his stage. Wrenching stuff. But on a conceptual level, the event takes this very emotional saga and uses it as a kind of ping-pong ball to bat around the idea of suspension of disbelief — realities that we create through suggestion. In order to accomplish this, for each performance he employs a different actor, whom he meets less than one hour before the performance, and who reads the role of the father from a script. And so, through a frame of hypnotism that’s just one of the play’s many artifices, begins a breathtaking examination of the blurred line between what is real and what is suggested, of how we live in dream worlds in order to get by, and how theater itself is a kind of hypnosis that serves this very same purpose. Its brilliance is unfettered, and inexplicably moving, for being such a head trip. Odyssey Theater, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through February 14. (310) 477-2055. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
ORDINARY DAYS Though meant to be ironic because it is a story of New York City, which, of course, is always extraordinary, the title is actually prophetic about Adam Gwon’s light, predictable pop-musical “ode to New York,” which only occasionally rises above the ordinary. Four whimsical young characters (played by Nick Gabriel, Deborah S. Craig, David Burnham and Nancy Anderson) try to navigate the turbulence of Manhattan, searching for love and purpose. Unfortunately most of the 18 songs are pattery ditties that give the talented cast little to work with. Only Burnham gets to let loose with his belting voice. At one point, in the Metropolitan Museum, Gwon’s composition actually moves into high gear with some complicated rhythms — beautifully handled by musical director Dennis Castellano — which actually sound like an homage to Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George. The characters are in simple situations of youthful angst — though a moving tribute to 9/11 stops the show with unearned emotion. The evening’s best aspect is Fred Kinney’s mechanical stage design of Manhattan architecture, complemented by Jason H. Thompson’s clever projections. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; through January 24. (714) 708-5555. (Tom Provenzano)