Theater Reviews: K2, The Train Driver | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Theater Reviews: K2, The Train Driver 

Also, Venice, On Emotion, FDR and more

Thursday, Oct 21 2010

EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT Teenage Charlotte (Alana Dietze) is intense, emotional and not attractive in a conventional sense. Her problems multiply when her mother dies, and she's left to deal with the dismissive contempt of her dad (Christopher Fields), who resents her for not being his now lost, beautiful wife. To cope, the unglamorous teen immerses herself in the legend of Helen of Troy, using that myth as a springboard for her fantasies of sexual power and irresistible lovability. Written by Mark Schultz, the piece sets anchor in the realm of absurdity, where Charlotte operates as a clueless narcissist, as carelessly cruel toward others as they are toward her. Schultz extracts questionable humor from her mucked-up priorities — her career goal is to be a porn star — and from the snarky abuse that several characters inflict on each other. Under John Lawler's direction, Dietze's sullen adolescent displays a mulishness that seems dull and depthless, but for a few exceptional moments. The most vivid and moving occurs when, narrating Hermione's futile wait for the return of her mother, Helen, the unhappy Charlotte breaks down. The capable supporting ensemble includes Liz Fenning as her chirpy gal pal and Bobby Campo as the oily dude who won't give her a second glance, except for a blow job. Designers Frederica Nascimento's set and Jared A. Sayeg's lighting contribute to the drama's discomfitingly cold and surreal ambiance. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (877) 369-9112. An Echo Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman)

ON EMOTION "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson is apropos for both the Son of Semele Ensemble and for its latest offering from Mick Gordon and neuropsychologist Paul Broks. Their collaboration centers on a question voiced early on by cognitive behavioral therapist Stephen (Michael Nehring), who asks, "Are we just puppets of our emotions?" The subject of the question and his experiment is Anna (Melina Bielefelt), a disturbed artist who has been befriended by Stephen's daughter Lucy (Sami Klein), who herself is experimenting with older men. It is also no coincidence that Anna makes puppets; her latest creation is an astronaut puppet for Stephen's autistic son Mark (Alex Smith), who is obsessed with stars and Star Trek. Mark, sadly, does not repay her in kind, as his inadvertent experiments with his eidetic memory bring to light uncomfortable truths. Director Matthew McCray utilizes Adam Flemming's clever video design, Sarah Krainin's awesome "starry floor" and Ian Garret's lighting to full effect in the transitions between scenes, which are nicely choreographed. However, the script's lack of stakes and character empathy make McCray's job difficult within the scenes, which are filled with tepid emotions that feel manufactured. But while the result of this theatrical experiment is not wholly successful, the ensemble is to be commended for embodying the words of Erasmus Darwin: "A fool is a man who never tried an experiment in his life." Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon., 7 p.m. (Nov. 8 and 15); no perf Oct. 31; through Nov. 15. (213) 351-3507. (Mayank Keshaviah)

FDR From the moment he rolls onstage in a wheelchair until his labored exit, 90 minutes later, with cane in hand, Ed Asner does a phenomenal job of channeling — himself. But in all fairness to this accomplished actor, giving dramatic life to a towering figure such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt is no easy task. For all of 15 minutes, Mr. Asner makes a valiant attempt at studied mimicry, speaking with a tinge of that East Coast patrician accent that characterized Roosevelt; then he lapses into his own raspy voice and speech mannerisms, with just a touch of Lou Grant. The production, an adaptation of a decades-old work by Dore Schary, is basically a sketchy retrospective of Roosevelt's presidency. The script surveys Roosevelt's bout with polio, a litany of congressional races, lots of mock press conferences, some key incidents in his life and some perspectives on the events of the time. For the most part, it's quite dry, and Asner's delivery vacillates from the clinical to the rambling conversational. The most engaging part of the evening is the segment about America's entry into World War II, including Roosevelt's famous declaration of war. Had there been more substance to Schary's script, or a more skilled director, the production would certainly make more of an impression. The good news is that the performance is the first for some time on the economically fragile boards of the Pasadena Playhouse. 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 7. (626) 356-PLAY. (Lovell Estell III)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ED KRIEGER - The Train Driver
  • The Train Driver

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GO  K2 When asked in 1923 why he wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world, English mountaineer George Mallory replied, "Because it's there." This somewhat apocryphal quote, often called the three most famous words in mountaineering, easily could have been the motivation for the two climbers in Patrick Meyers' play. With the world's second-highest mountain as its terrifyingly harsh backdrop, this intimate story revolves around life-or-death decisions made on a ledge at 27,000 feet where Taylor (Jake Suffian) and Harold (Sean Galuszka) are trapped after an accident that cost them Harold's leg, as well as one of only two climbing ropes they had. While Taylor desperately tries to recover the lost rope, he and Harold converse on a range of topics, from the mundane to the profane to the profound. The palpable sense of danger throughout the piece is realized through a powerful combination of the actors' performances, designer Laura Fine Hawkes' bare-bones mountain set, and Leigh Allen's icy-blue lighting. Even the decision to keep the theater below room temperature adds to the ambience. Director Damen Scranton successfully pushes his actors to the limit, eliciting from Galuszka quiet moments of introspection that contrast with Suffian's volcanic outbursts of emotion — both of which reveal the characters gaining perspective while paradoxically losing their sanity. Ellie Follett's authentic costumes complete the picture, with her choices of snow gear effectively taking us back to 1977. So why should you see this play? Because it's there. Underground Theater, 1314 N. Wilton Place, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (800) 838-3006. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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