Theater Reviews: More Lies About Jerzy, Second, Supernova 

Also, U.S.S. Pinafore, Den of Thieves, Man Verses Moon and more

Thursday, May 27 2010

BEHIND THE GATES Annika Marks delivers a mesmerizing performance as an angry American teenager whose exposure to an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in Israel revolutionizes her life. A crack baby who grows into a problem child, the 17-year-old punkish Bethany (Marks) harbors venomous rage toward her adoptive middle-class parents. Unable to cope, they ship her off to an Israeli boarding school for girls, where they hope she'll absorb some modesty and discipline. One day, wandering the Jerusalem streets, Bethany encounters a rabbi (Oren Rehany) from the fundamentalist Haredi community; he invites her home for Shabbas dinner. The susceptible girl is struck by the seeming harmony within his family; later, she undergoes a ritualistic conversion and joins their sect. All this emerges at the top of playwright Wendy Graf's discrepant drama: The central character turns out not to be Bethany but her mother, Susan (Keliher Walsh), whose psyche radically transforms as she searches for her lost daughter within the strangulating confines of the Haredi ghetto. Directed by David Gautraux, the play deals with the spell ancient Jerusalem casts on some; most fascinating is the glimpse it offers into a cultish antifeminist society — measuring its values against the strengths and weaknesses of our own. Unfortunately, these thematic virtues are undermined by a soap-operatic element that plays out around Susan's marital problems and her personal insecurities. Walsh offers a sensitive portrayal, but other performances are weaker and less nuanced. Ultimately, the narrative never recoups its initial power, despite Walsh's efforts. Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960- 5772. (Deborah Klugman)

BOOM An underground lab, a central fish tank and an adjoining control booth with a timpani (meticulously designed by Kurt Boetcher) provide the setting for Julia Duffy's silent entrance in the L.A. premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play. Duffy arrives filled with a sense of exasperated sarcasm as she peeks at the audience and then begins to manipulate computers, operate switches and pound on the drum. It is soon apparent that she is a godlike figure controlling the actions of a young biologist (Nick Cernoch) and the woman (Megan Goodchild) he lures to his lab through a sexual-encounter ad. She is naturally surprised when he announces his homosexuality, and doubtful as he predicts a worldwide catastrophe. Duffy then prevents any escape from this lunatic situation. The mood and situation quickly darken, as the nonsexual relationship deteriorates, but there is always a sense of sly comedy, and irony ultimately wins out in what is essentially an unsatisfying 90-minute sketch in the vein of The Twilight Zone. Still, the appeal and skills of the three actors under Dámaso Rodriguez's airtight direction create such an enjoyable theatrical evening, one might even forgive the script's many, probably purposeful holes. Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Drive, Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 7:30 p.m.; through June 20. (626) 792-7116. furioustheatre.org. (Tom Provenzano)

DEN OF THIEVES Stephen Adly Guirgis' comedy is a loony fairy tale, which whimsically combines addiction support groups and 12-step programs with benevolent thieves who use their ill-gotten gains to support libraries and book mobiles in impoverished neighborhoods. Hyper Puerto Rican would-be wise guy Flaco (Eric Ritter) plans to rob a local nightclub of $750,000, and enlists his former girlfriend Maggie (Jessica Lightfoot), an accomplished fellatrix named Boochie (Victoria Truscott), and Paul (Sean Hill), a supposedly reformed safecracker who is addicted to addictions (he belongs to more than a dozen support groups for everything from thieves to overeaters). What they don't realize is that the club is run by Mafioso Big Tuna (Jason Adkins), his son Little Tuna (Josh Cormier), and trigger-happy henchman Sal (Carlos J. Castillo). The incompetent would-be thieves are apprehended by the Tunas, tied to chairs, force-fed donuts, and face mob-style execution. Guirgis' play contains some funny stuff, but it's haphazardly constructed, and director James Madeiros made the curious decision to add music to the mix. The songs, written and performed by James Babb, are pleasant enough, but they're stylistically at odds with the play and tend to stop the action in its tracks. The result is slapdash but amusing. Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Boulevard, N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through May 29. A New Acro Theatre Company production. neoacrotheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ED KRIEGER - Behind the Gates
  • Behind the Gates

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DISILLUSIONED: CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL MAGICIAN Matt Marcy has been entertaining people with his trademark blend of comedy and magic for decades. He showcases his skills in this 90-minute production, which features some amazing feats. Marcy's charm and wit are matched by his self-effacing humor. If you think you've seen card tricks, you're in for a few surprises. Early on he performs what he calls "the world's simplest card trick," which will leave you scratching your head in wonder. Ditto for the trick he performs at show's end, with a sword he fashions from a balloon, then uses to cut an apple in half and spear a card from a deck thrown into the air — which happens to be the exact one selected by an audience member minutes into the show. Marcy also gives us a brief, sketchy account of his life, touching upon his childhood in Santa Monica, high school crushes and antics, and his early years as an amateur magician. He and director Nicole Blaine aren't nearly as effective here, as many of these narrative digressive segments are gratuitously silly; they also rely too heavily on video media. But these shortcomings pale in comparison to Marcy's mind-blowing sleights of hand. Jules Hartley is equally engaging as Marcy's assistant. Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 19. (800) 838-3006, disillusionedshow.com. (Lovell Estell III)

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