Theater Reviews: Hot Pants, Cold Feet, Liberty Inn, Side by Side by Sondheim 

Also, Rock 'n Ridicule, The Story of My Life, Tales of an Urban Indian and more

Thursday, Mar 18 2010

GO  EXTROPIA Imagine how sonically colorless a world without traditional music would be. Actually, not very, according to the "retro-utopia" environment of this show, created and originally produced by the Seattle-based company Collaborator. Though its residents inhabit a future drained to such grayness that it's not even as cool as The Matrix, Foster (Sam Littlefield) wakes one morning to discover he's been slipped a red pill that allows him to "hear too well." Fortunately, Arial (Alexandra Fulton) has long been dancing to the beat of the, uh, plastic straw squeaking in and out of the fast-food cup lid, and they orchestrate all kinds of funk out of frogs croaking, birds chirping and rocks skipping. While the performers are, as they say in this show, "sufficient," music director Mark Sparling and musician Miho Kajiwara deserve credit for making the show a marvel. Relying on sounds from such "found objects" as a hairbrush, a wooden spoon and a skillet cover (okay, and of course, the omnipresent MacBooks), they provide live sound effects for everything from tooth-brushing to factory machine-whirring, and turn it into music. Extropia optimistically believes in our innate need to create, and in our ability to scrounge something out of nothing when those Macs are taken away, though it is actually a protest against the yanking of public-arts funding. In that spirit, this production plans to perform pro bono in various L.A.-area schools. Night performances are followed by live acts such as On Blast, Bullied by Strings, The Naked and Cherry Boom Boom. King King, 6553 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sun., 8 p.m.; through April 18. (323) 960-7721. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GO  GROUNDLINGS SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN In this sprightly, very funny revue, The Groundlings again show why they are L.A.'s go-to company for sketch comedy. Of course, the sketches, in director Mikey Day's crisply paced, surgically focused production, hew to a number of rules that are familiar by now to Groundlings fans. One rule: First dates will never turn out well — such as the one in which a woman (Lisa Schurga) self-sabotages a promising romance by making a series of appallingly unsuitable, compulsive personal revelations, or the one in which a hilariously dorky pair of teens on prom night (Jim Rash and Annie Sertich) paw and stumble their way through their loss of virginity. Another rule: Folks who have facial hair are invariably ripe for ridicule, be it the creepy, whiskery pair of recovered addicts (Nat Faxon and David Hoffman) delivering a not entirely convincing testimonial at a rehab clinic, or the woefully white bread, mustachioed aspiring dancers auditioning ineptly for a spot on an MTV show. Judging from this outing, the company's sensibility seems to be evolving into slightly edgier terrain, with characters who sometimes appear darker and more nuanced than we've seen before. The ensemble work is tight and often brutally funny — but particular standouts include some brilliantly versatile turns from Steve Little, as a monstrous office worker with a gluttonous appetite for break-room animal crackers, from Annie Sertich, as the world's least-coherent restaurant waitress, and from the ever-astonishing Jim Cashman, assaying a variety of roles, including half of a screechingly dysfunctional gay couple, to a dippy dude trying to create a "flash mob" video of one. Director Day commendably cuts the generally uneven "audience participation" sketches that are frequently a Groundlings show downfall. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through April 24. (323) 934-4747. (Paul Birchall)

HARAM IRAN Jay Paul Deratany's dramatization of the real-life trial and execution of two teenagers convicted of being gay in Iran in 2005. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 4. (323) 957-1884. See Theater feature.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN DEMITA - Liberty Inn
  • Liberty Inn

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HOT PANTS, COLD FEET This compendium of sketches, written and performed by Will Matthews and Cassandra Smith, with direction by Leonora Gershman, zeros in on the subject of marriage, from the disastrous proposal to the hyperkinetic ring bearer on a sugar high. The show combines live action with videos, enabling the actors to catch their breaths between sketches, and eliminate dead time. Video passages include a proposal in which attempts to create a romantic mood are punctured by nosebleeds and projectile vomiting, and an audition tape by a cornball, down-market wedding band. Other sketches focus on the difficulties of making a seating plan for the wedding dinner, a confrontational visit to a wedding boutique with Matthews as the bitchy proprietress and difficulties with rival caterers. Hip and zippy one-liners fly thick and fast, and a very friendly audience was kept in stitches. (It appeared that on the night I attended, many of those in the audience were participants in the filmed sequences.) It's a short program at about 30 minutes, but the admission price includes a full evening of performances by various sketch-comedy and improvisational groups. I.O. West, 5366 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues., 8 p.m.; through April 20. (323) 962-7560. (Neal Weaver)

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