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Theater Reviews: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk, They Call Me Mister Fry, Bones 

Also Streep Tease: An Evening of Meryl Streep Monologues and more

Thursday, Aug 5 2010
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GO  BONES Childhood sexual abuse may no longer be the unmentionable topic it once was, but that hasn't lessened its horror or salved the terrible scars borne by its victims. Powered by blistering performances under Gordon Edelstein's direction, playwright Dael Orlandersmith's one-act pivots around a confrontation between an unrecalcitrant alcoholic named Claire (Khandi Alexander) and her two grown children. Twins Leah (Tessa Auberjonois) and Steven (Tory Kittles) have both been maimed by a dark and baneful past. At Leah's bequest, the three meet after a five-year separation in an airport motel room — a sterile environs (designer Takeshi Kata's tidy set) that contrasts sharply with the histrionic outpourings that soon follow. Leah's motive for summoning her mother and brother is to purge the obsessive rage that consumes her; in her recollection both had physically and/or sexually abused her. That recollection doesn't jibe with her brother's memory of things, nor with her mother who claims her own victim status and insists it was she who tried — but failed — to protect Leah from her pernicious, predatory dad. In Rashomon-like fashion, each recalls their own Stygian scenario, although all focus on the omnipresent ghost of Claire's drunken, fornicating partner whom she shared with the man's legally married wife. Highlighted by lighting designer Lap-Chi Chu's shifting shadows, Adam Phalen's sound, and the jarring lament of jazz musicians Doug Webb and Nedra Wheeler's live sax and bass, the story ripples with past and present time permutations. It's an hour-plus of maelstromlike intensity, with a star ensemble that never loses control. Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through August 8. (213) 628-2772. (Deborah Klugman)

THE EXISTENTS All the world's a rock band, and all the men and women merely players. That could have been one of the many quotes that is projected across the multiple screens in James Spencer's set. Another, from Buddha: "The whole secret of existence is to have no fear." And there is a fearless quality to composer-lyricist/performer Ty Taylor's new musical about the rise, fall and resurrection of a rock band. The book is by Douglas Crawford, Taylor and Jason Wooten, and the musical is part of Open Fist Theatre's First Look Festival. At its current stage, the play's ambition is to spin the domestic tensions among the band — which soars in the stratosphere of fame for a while before imploding — as an allegory for family. So when Orion (Taylor) seduces the female drummer, Ella (Laura Jane), after his friend/artistic inspiration, Travis (Jason Paige), had composed her love song, it's Betrayal — allegorical and cosmic. Or when Sky (Chase Matthews) slips back into an old drug habit as tensions within the group escalate, it's the essence of Despondency. The arbitrary death of one of the players in a traffic accident is the working of Destiny, the representative of all the tragedy that lands upon any of us, for no explicable reason. What the creators haven't yet solved is the distinction between the allegorical and the generic. Under Martha Demson's simple, sleek direction, the earnestly told story and its twists of fate are variations on the general trajectories of almost all rock bands, of all kids trying to be both artist and superstar. I waited somewhat patiently for hints of satire, or some larger oppression against which this band is rebelling. This is a group desperately in need of a jerk, to rattle some cages. What destroys most bands are contract disputes and raging egos, and there's nothing of that here. When they get famous, there are no wry allusions to the absurdities or caprices of professional success. I kept thinking of Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage, on this same stage, also about a perplexed rock musician, and its stink bombs directed at the conformity of the age, and at the disconnect between celebrity and accomplishment. Tyler's musical floats on the all myths Joe's Garage kicked in the balls. The four-piece band provides fine accompaniment to some sweet pop songs, performed by the amiable ensemble. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; in rep, through August 22. (323) 882-6912. (Steven Leigh Morris)

LIVE NUDE BECKETT First off, an answer to the obvious question raised by directors Harry Kakatsakis and Jordan Davis' provocative title: Yes, the six-member cast in this selection of short works by Samuel Beckett are costumed solely in their birthday suits — that is if you don't count production designer Gary Klavans' Day-Glo–painted stripes and masks that, under technical director Zane Cooper's all-ultraviolet lighting, gives the actors the appearance of wearing garishly fluorescing and (alas!) opaque, stick-figure body suits. From the program notes, the nudity conceit seems to be nothing more than a punning afterthought, arising from the production's aim of "stripping" the pieces "to their 'bare' essence." While such extreme departures from the exacting intentions of a playwright so notorious for being fastidiously protective of his work might seem a sacrilege to some, the true disservice here is to the ensemble. Such dim and distorting black light obscures too much of the actors' expressive faculties, particularly in the evening's mime pieces, in effect forcing them literally to work in the dark. Still, even in such brutalized Beckett, occasional glimpses of the maestro's mordant wit and eloquent anguish shine through, especially via Davis and Amy McKenzie, who give tantalizing hints of the Beckettian voice both in 1975's Footfalls, as well as (with Natalie Rose) in the 1966, three-character "dramaticule," Come and Go. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., 2nd flr., L.A.; Sat., 9:45 p.m.; through August 21. (917) 340-5895, (818) 720-9651. (Bill Raden)

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF 2K PRODUCTIONS - Live Nude Beckett
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF 2K PRODUCTIONS
  • Live Nude Beckett

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