Theater Reviews: It Ain't All Confetti, Tracers, Road to Saigon 

Also, Crimes of the Heart, The Maids, Skylight and more

Thursday, Jun 3 2010

CHASING MONSTERS The eruption of laughter that opens Gabriel Gomez's drama is one of the few light moments in what is otherwise a relentlessly bleak tale. Dominic (Richard Azurdia) is celebrating with his friend Sandra (Deborah Geer) his pending nuptials at his favorite bar, anticipating a happy future. In the next scene, with a vicious, alcohol-fueled argument between Dominic and his bride-to-be Amy (Carolyn Zeller), the bottom drops out of the future, and the play. Utilizing an overlay of dreamy flashbacks, Gomez attempts to provide context to this story of generational family dysfunction. We learn of Dominic's early dependency on alcohol, his conflicted relationship with his emotionally unstable mother, Vanessa (Monica Sanchez), and brother (Xavi Moreno), and his confusion and rage toward his absentee father. Gomez and director Armando Molina show us what lies behind this family's torments but fails to eloquently or convincingly probe underlying causes that address the "why." More importantly, he fails to establish emotionally vibrant, credible connections between these characters, which makes empathy next to impossible. Dominic becomes nothing more than a hard-luck loser drunk, and everyone else just people plagued by nasty problems. Things turn painfully melodramatic after one character's terminal medical prognosis, transforming the play into a lugubrious vigil. There's no argument with the performances, which are uniformly good. Natalya Oliver rounds out the cast. Company of Angels at Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd.; L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., through June. 13. Sonofsemele.org. (Lovell Estell III)

CRIMES OF THE HEART The Magrath sisters are all back home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, to take care of another family crisis. Mama hanged herself, Granddaddy is in the hospital and now Babe's gone and shot her husband. Yes, it's all funny; and if they didn't laugh, they might never stop crying. There are some subtle touches that do a Southern girl's heart good in the South Coast Repertory's version of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize–winning play: Chick (Tessa Auberjonois) sucks her finger to prevent any lipstick from bleeding onto her teeth; Babe (Kate Rylie) mixes two parts sugar to one part water in her lemonade. Under Warner Shook's direction, though, the care that Henley took to spin a delicately layered cocoon around the black-fisted blow of suicide, abuse, mental illness and racism is trampled by one-note screeching that drowns out any nuance in the script. The 1978 play is still relevant — Southern women stuck in the South resort to desperate measures on a daily basis — but this production not only rips out its heart but also its head. Henley's sharp-knifed social commentary (the sisters pity the "half-Yankee" children of a townie who married a Northerner) is dulled by an ensemble whose crimes are bad accents and brittle insouciance, and those Southern stereotypes suddenly seem true and offensive. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Sun., Tues., Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through June 6. (714) 708-5555. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GO  IT AIN'T ALL CONFETTI! "Rip Taylor? Isn't he dead?" opined an unkind family member upon learning that this weekend I was reviewing the new one-man show written and starring Rip Taylor, the comedian and pop culture "character." TV viewers of A Certain Age (and older) will doubtless recall Taylor, an omnipresent fixture of the 1970s, familiar from countless appearances on game shows like Match Game and Password, and also a Vegas go-to opening act for stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland and Eleanor Powell. With his masterfully mugging schtick, bugging eyes, waggling tongue and silly one-liners, Taylor's style wasn't for anyone — and it was easy to dismiss his "character" as a rube. Yet, as his solo effort (directed by David Galligan) aptly indicates, any performer who has managed to have as big a career for as many decades as he has clearly possesses a mighty amount of talent — and steel willpower. In the opening moments of Galligan's fast-moving, intimate production, Taylor strides onto the stage, clearly somewhat frail but still every inch the showman. His flapping toupee perches hilariously askew, as his pointy mustache waves. Next, he whips out a thick pile of file cards, each containing an individual one-liner — and, in a dizzying display of jaw-dropping gagsmanship, he goes through every one, more than 80 in all, within the show's first 10 minutes. From there, Taylor rips off his toupee, tosses it behind him, and switches to more serious subject matter (with barely a joke in sight), as he describes his troubled childhood, his early successes as an emcee on the Atlantic City strip-club circuit, his discovery while performing at the Catskills and subsequent appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and the gradual honing of his carefully calculated stage persona, which has been his bread and butter for more than half a century. Many of Taylor's revelations are fairly surface-level, dealing with his interactions with the stars he's come across — and he often seems so in control over what he's saying, you could starve to death waiting for any "behind-the-mask" information about the performer. The show is ultimately a compelling presentation of a life — and it's as much a must-see for students and historians of the comedy of a certain era as it is for folks who just want to share a warm laugh with a thoroughly amiable performer. El Portal Theatre, 11206 Waddington St., N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 6. elportaltheatre.com, (866) 811-4111. (Paul Birchall)

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF EL PORTAL THEATRE - It Aint All Confetti
  • It Aint All Confetti

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