Theater Reviews: Blank, Palomino, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying 

Also, Four Places, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, 1951-2006 and more

Thursday, May 20 2010

GO  BLANK In his deceptively simple, powerful solo show, playwright Brian Stanton describes the process of reuniting with the birth mother who gave him up for adoption when he was an infant. Although material of this sort could easily founder on reefs of melodramatic cliché, the piece is instead deeply moving, and Stanton launches us on an existentialist journey as his inner debate over meeting his mother shifts into Hamlet-like musing on the nature of self-definition and the heartfelt needs we may not even be aware of. The play charts the paroxysm of the self-analysis that occurs after Stanton, an appealing young performer who looks as though he is central casting for the happy-go-lucky next-door neighbor on a TV sitcom, learns his birth mother's name. When he subsequently discovers the horrific incidents that led to his being put up for adoption in the first place, the knowledge takes on the force of Greek tragedy, as Stanton must come to grips with the fact that he is, in his own words, "part victim, part monster." In director McKerrin Kelly's brisk, passionate production, Stanton's writing is simultaneously dramatic and erudite, eloquently juxtaposing the philosophy of Plato and Buddha along with his own not-to-be-disparaged poetic turn of a phrase — and he demonstrates a flair for creating unexpected images out of the most minimalist concepts, such as a sequence in which he imagines a conversation between himself and the ghost image of his rapist biological father, who is depicted as a coldly smiling prophet of evil. Stanton's skill in balancing a profoundly personal tale with classical underpinnings ultimately hints at the evocative idea that all our lives are full of events and incidents that touch on the mythic and the timeless. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.; through May 23. (323) 960-5770. A Lone Star Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)

THE DEVIL'S EYE Even among avowed Bergman-philes, the late Swedish auteur's 1960 film, The Devil's Eye, is considered a middling effort, a footnote, really, to a financing deal for Virgin Spring (1960), which required him to deliver a comedy in addition to the austere, medieval morality tale he wanted to make. While the movie is deceptively theatrical, it must have been an act of sheer hubris that led director Michael Moon to separate even a minor Bergman script (translated by Moon and Anna Lerbom) from the eloquence of the maestro's cinematic mise-en-scène for the Demon Theater's inaugural production. The result is an occasionally amusing though oddly flat, pseudo-Shavian story about the confrontation between innocence and worldliness. Tormented by the impending marriage of a chaste minister's daughter (Lerbom), Satan (a Broderick Crawford–like Craig Patton) sends Don Juan (Dave Buzzotta) and his manservant, Pablo (Omar Leyva), back to Earth to claim the country maiden's virginity. Juan sets about seducing the girl by using sophisticated wiles, as Pablo makes a more direct assault on the marital fidelity of the minister's disaffected wife (Jolene Adams). While virtue eventually triumphs, albeit in ironic ways, it is no thanks to Moon's anemic staging and an almost cripplingly indifferent production design (Lerbom's bedroomless, bedroom-farce set, Matt Richter's problem-plagued lights). Inspired comic turns by John Combs as the simpleminded father and Ebb Miller as a mincing, Edward Everett Horton–esque demon aren't enough to salvage this fundamentally misguided endeavor. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 5. (323) 960-7863. A Demon Theater Production. (Bill Raden)

GO  FOUR PLACES The family outing on display in Joel Drake Johnson's unsettling comedy resembles a gathering of ornery, wounded jackals. Siblings Warren (Tim Bagley) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart) motor to their parents' Chicago home to take their diminutive, gray-haired mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) out for a what is presumably a pleasant lunch. At first blush, this seems innocent enough, but something about Ellen's painful, labored smile as she hugs the wheel, and Warren's cold, mummified expression, suggest that something is amiss. It isn't long before the moral underbelly of this clan emerges along with some ugly revelations. Mom's harmless exterior drips away with each rum and Coke she knocks back (and every trip to the bathroom, where she pees blood), and there emerges a subtly vicious female, a practiced manipulator who delights in tormenting her children with reminders of their lacerating miseries and failures. But an even darker secret surfaces concerning Peggy's alcoholic, invalid husband (who never appears onstage but is a towering presence, nevertheless), and rumors that she is abusing, and even attempting to murder him. The manner in which Drake tells this story — blending humor and stark ugliness, while exploring themes of sibling rivalry, marital infidelity and even euthanasia — is thoroughly engaging and held in sharp balance by director Robin Larsen. The characters are fully fleshed out, both in the writing and the performances, as disturbing for their and their vulnerabilities as for their anger. Rounding out a superb cast is Lisa Rothschiller. Rogue Machine in Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 13. (323) 960-4424, roguemachine.com (Lovell Estell III)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CRAIG SCHWARTZ - David Cale as Kieren in Palomino: just a gigolo
  • David Cale as Kieren in Palomino: just a gigolo

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