Theater Reviews: Something to Crow About, Waiting fr Lefty and more 

Thursday, Sep 9 2010

BAIL ME OUT Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin Jr.) views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and betrayal. Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal rights he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted. So he's appalled — though not totally surprised — when his longtime buddy Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance Jones), a married man. Launched from this awkward encounter, the drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving homophobia, racism, noxious born-again religion, suicide, murder and abortion. There's no lack of misogyny, either — so viciously spouted by Joe's employee, Troy (Gary Wolf), that Joe appears comparatively enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos. Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution. Its main problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many events and too many contrivances packed into less than two hours. Directed by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and lighting. Carisa Engle as Joe's common-sense wife furnishes welcome respite from the Sturm und Drang elsewhere. And Jones overcomes the inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute while fiercely brawling the next. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.- Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.; through Oct. 10. (323) 960-7745. plays411.com/bailmeout (Deborah Klugman)

THE 19TH ANNUAL DENISE RAGAN WIESENMEYER ONE-ACT FESTIVAL For part of its 19th outing honoring company founder Denise Ragan Wiesenmeyer, the Attic Theatre has managed to nab two brief new playlets by Broadway veterans Lee Blessing and Wendy MacLeod. Neither of the two plays is particularly substantial, but the works' unexpected flashes of moral ambiguity and psychological nuance make their world premiere here worthy of note. In MacLeod's witty monologue "Undescended," a middle-aged coffeehouse barista and new mother (Jennifer Skinner) gets good news and bad news about her baby: The infant suffers from an unusual testicle ailment, and is also the Second Coming of the Messiah. Director Brian Shnipper's production, both intimate and ironic, possesses great coming timing — and Skinner's hard-boiled, crusty turn as the barista turned Virgin Mother is richly multidimensional. Blessing's dark, character-driven comedy "Into You" posits three disturbed female roommates, all of whom loathe men to various striking degrees, debating the propriety of one of them (Sandra Smith) injecting her one-night stand with her possibly HIV-tainted blood. Other than as a misogynist portrait of nightmare women, the actual point and purpose of Blessing's piece is elusive, and the plot is both contrived and wafer-thin. Director James Carey's sluggish staging is marred by some listless, underprojected performances. The quartet-bill is filled out by Allison M. Volk's "The Last Two People on the Platform," a charming if familiarly Pirandello-esque comedy about a man (Jacques Freydont) and a woman (Amber Flamminio) who mysteriously discover themselves atop a floating platform and come to realize they are characters in a play; and by Frank Anthony Polito's workmanlike "Blue Tuesday," which clumsily links a yuppie couple's marital woes, the activities of an angelic homeless man and the 9/11 attacks in an awkward way that trivializes all three elements. Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 19. (323) 525-0661. (Paul Birchall)

PHENOMENON OF DECLINE The force that drives a dramatic narrative can, in some respects, be described as a good mystery. When a solution is intentionally withheld, as in Peter Weir's groundbreaking 1975 mystery film Picnic at Hanging Rock, it can be to devastating effect. So playwright Joe Tracz's surreal 2005 student script, about a man who has been driven mad by the mysterious disappearance of his twin 15 years earlier, is nothing if not pregnant with possibility. Unfortunately, Tracz uses his nonsolution as a mere pry to open the can of psychological worms at the heart of what is, in fact, a conventional dysfunctional-sibling drama. After spending the intervening years holed up in a remote swamp cabin, 30-year-old Randolph (the brooding Stephan Madar), finds himself visited by his three surviving, albeit spectral sisters, who futilely cajole him into ending his guilt-ridden exile. These are eldest Olivia (Kiera Zoubek), an over-controlling psychotherapist; Lenora (Meredith Wheeler), a vampiric, lesbian party girl; and the angelic Misty (Alia Wilson), who seems equally haunted by the disappearance, though she was an infant at the time. Director Caitlin S. Hart seizes on the text's Gothic elements in a staging worthy of The Old Dark House (augmented by Adam Lillibridge's ratty cabin set, Morgan Edwards' spooky lighting and Brian Wood's eerie sound). But the earnest efforts of a talented cast and crew are not enough to redeem Tracz's squandered conceit or to breathe life into his play's profusion of halfhearted literary embroidery. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 12. (800) 838-3306 or brownpapertickets.com/event/122973. An AthroughZ Production (Bill Raden)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID MEISTRICH - Waiting For Godot
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