Theater Reviews: Of Grapes and Nuts, Paradise Park, The Web | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Theater Reviews: Of Grapes and Nuts, Paradise Park, The Web 

Thursday, Sep 23 2010
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THE BIRTHDAY BOYS In Aaron Kozak's drama, three young soldiers performing routine guard duties in Baghdad's Green Zone are kidnapped by several swarthy, kaffiyeh-wearing thugs, who whisk them to a creepy warehouse for "interrogation." Tied up, blindfolded and left on their own in a filthy storeroom, the three young men desperately struggle to escape, while also attempting to resolve rising resentments among them. Angry young Private Lance (Trevor St. John David) is furious with his best buddy, Private Carney (Nando Betancur), for trying to cut and run, while a third hostage, Private Guillette (James Ryen), tries to figure out a sensible way to save their skins. However, the stakes rise as a sinister terrorist goon (Ali Saam) arrives to break down the three military men. To director Kozak's credit, the production's claustrophobic, boiler-room-like trappings and the increasing desperation of the hostages artfully establish a taut, suspenseful mood. As the three soldiers wriggle, curse and fret, we share in real time the sense of foreboding that nothing good is going to happen to them. Yet Kozak's work as a playwright rarely rises above the workmanlike, and the piece's dismayingly bloated writing and slight incidents strain to fill out the show's two acts. Worse, without giving too much away, the final scenes rely on a clumsy plot twist that's so contrived, it undercuts almost any goodwill the cast might have built up to that point. The play ultimately turns into an overlong episode of Scare Tactics, but with fewer dramatic incidents. Still, the ensemble work is appealing, with Betancur's shy Carney, a character who discovers unexpected depths of bravery when confronted with appalling circumstances, nicely offset by Saam's lusciously wicked terrorist. Theater Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (800) 838-3006. (Paul Birchall)

DEAR HARVEY Playwright Patricia Loughrey was commissioned by San Diego's LGBT Diversionary Theatre to create this tribute to San Francisco gay activist, organizer and political figure Harvey Milk on the 30th anniversary of his death. Loughrey chose a documentary format, relying entirely on primary sources: Milk's writings and speeches, and the testimony of his ardent supporters — including fellow activist and creator of the AIDS Quilt, Cleve Jones, and Milk's campaign adviser Anne Kronenberg — and occasionally his passionate detractors. The all-black set, wreathed in votive candles, suggests a memorial service, with emphasis on celebration rather than grief. Many events are familiar: Milk's successful campaign to defeat Proposition 6, which would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in California schools; his alliance with San Francisco Mayor Moscone; their deaths at the hands of disgruntled homophobe Dan White; the massive outpouring of rage when White received a minimal sentence due to the infamous "Twinkie" defense. But the use of the words of people who were there lends color, humor and authenticity. For director Anthony Frisina and his large, able ensemble, this Beat Project production is clearly a labor of love, assisted by a musical score by Thomas Hodges. John Meeks plays Milk throughout, with other roles divided among the ensemble. Lee Strasberg Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 960-7782 or plays411.com/dearharvey. (Neal Weaver)

DON GIOVANNI TONIGHT, DON CARLO TOMORROW Fans of Robert Altman may take a kinder view of playwright Dennis Miles' sprawling, minimally plotted comedy than this critic, who found his spoof of a company of opera singers to be a meandering letdown. The action unfolds backstage in a concert hall and concerns the neurotic obsessions and carryings-on among the various players. A jealous feud between singers Maria (Jennifer Kenyon) and Claudia (Kimberly Atkinson) comes to an end when the bombastic company manager (Joseph Back) fires Claudia for miming her lyrics instead of singing them. A voluptuous tease (Marianne Davis) parades her body nonstop for her lover (Pete Caslavka) and, when he's not around, for anyone else. An existentially minded player (Gregory Sims) obsesses to one and all about aging and death; a bearded stage veteran (Greg Wall) bursts into an impassioned non sequitur monologue about a man unjustly incarcerated in a 19th-century prison for 30 years. Under Kiff Scholl's direction, each role is skillfully played, with Wall's speech — perhaps the meatiest juncture in the script — an emotional highlight. Overall, however, the storylines are so skimpy, the characters so thin and the humor so tame that there's just so much the performers can do to compel our attention. The production aims for a Bruegel-like canvas effect, with most of the large ensemble onstage all the time, pretending to some activity. Terence McFadden's set is artful in its shabby disarray, but its cluttered busyness only compounds the challenge to find a focus. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 281-8337. (Deborah Klugman)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PAUL RUBENSTEIN - Paradise Park
  • PHOTO BY PAUL RUBENSTEIN
  • Paradise Park

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