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THEATER REVIEWS: THE AUTUMN GARDEN, VON BACH, DIVING NORMAL 

ALSO, HEAD: THE MUSICAL, THE AUTUMN GARDEN

Thursday, Nov 4 2010
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GO  ATTACK OF THE ROTTING CORPSES Zombie Joe's short, fun offering is a chaotic mix of Night of the Living Dead and Hotel, with just a smattering of old-school SNL. The mise-en-scene is a swanky Caribbean condominium called 50 Peachtree, where "luxury living is the way we live life." But the residents here are more like escapees from the puzzle house: Liz (Spy Kitten) is a cauldron of lustful excess who prances around in a skimpy bikini, Cindy (Oriko Ikeda) is a full-blown neurotic with an obnoxious pooch and Blane (Lauren Salandra) is a chatty handyman with repressed lesbian tendencies. Their hilarious antics and their staccato, ribald banter provide the lion's share of laughs. The blood starts flowing and the bodies pile up after a bacterium is released into the water supply, turning everyone into flesh-eating zombies. Stealing the show are Rod Switzer's Vic, who is afflicted with terminal satyriasis and works the front desk in a state of manic frenzy, and Denise Devin as his co-worker Mack, who is the most "normal" of the bunch. As usual, director Zombie Joe ratchets up the gore meter with an array of colorful carnage. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., thru Nov. 6. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)

GO  THE AUTUMN GARDEN Lillian Hellman was in her mid-40s when she wrote this astute comedy about the pitfalls and perils of middle age and the accompanying sense of loss that filters through our lives. A kind of Chekhovian group portrait, it takes place in 1949 in a genteel boarding house on the Gulf of Mexico coast. The establishment caters exclusively to the longtime friends of its sweet-natured, spinsterish proprietress, Constance (Lily Knight), still pining for beau Nick (Stephen Caffrey), who left her high and dry 20 years ago for his still current wife, Nina (Jane Kaczmarek). Nick is now an artist of some renown, and his return for a brief visit stirs excitement, especially for Constance's friend Rose (Faye Grant), a simpering Southern coquette whose marriage is on the rocks. The play's secondary motif — the masquerade of ignorance surrounding homosexuality in the mid-20th-century South — emerges in the engagement between Constance's French niece, Sophie (Zoe Perry), and Frederick (Joe Delafield), the son of Constance's prim and proper friend Carrie (Jeanie Hackett). Directed by Larry Biederman, the production begins somewhat stiffly before gathering steam as the multiple plotlines unwind, then coalesce, and the intimacies — especially between the married couples — are finessed. As Constance, Knight's touching vulnerability draws you in. Perry is excellent as the shrewd, long-suffering Sophie; so is Anne Gee Byrd as Carrie's mother, a deliciously sardonic grand dame who minces no words. As the story's villainous roué, Caffrey's skill is unimpeachable, but his drunken predator is so unappealing that it's hard to see how he might ever have charmed anyone. (The production is double-cast.) Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 506-1983. antaeus.org (Deborah Klugman)

GO  DIVING NORMAL A 2006 New York Fringe Festival favorite, playwright Ashlin Halfnight's tale of an unlikely romantic triangle between a trio of Manhattan misfits might be more aptly titled Three Compelling Characters in Search of a Play. Which is not to say that director Neil H. Weiss' production doesn't pack its share of panache and charm. In fact, it's difficult to recall when a script so deeply flawed boasted such uniformly flawless and engaging performances. Graphic novelist Fulton (Philipp Karner)lives a Manichaean fantasy of his own making. His delusional dualism, in which people are either good or evil, is straight from the pages of the superhero comics with which he makes his living. Not surprisingly, his sole friend is his neighbor with Asperger's syndrome, Gordon (the marvelous Scotty Crowe), whose guilelessness and comically over-literal and inappropriate truth-telling sustains Fulton's black-and-white worldview. All that is upended when Fulton's high school dream girl, Dana (Carly Pope), steps out of his past and onto his doorstep fresh from a mugging, the details of which don't quite add up. Dismissing Gordon's Cassandra-like misgivings, Fulton plunges blindly into romance only to discover too late that his idealized damsel in distress is decidedly damaged goods. And though Fulton's characterization lacks the complex edges for the role of dramatic fulcrum assigned him, a superb cast, along with set designer Jeff McLaughlin's ingenious lights and Leeahd Goldberg's emblematic, shapeshifting posters, comes tantalizingly close to compensating for the manifold deficits of their text. SFS Theater, 5636 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Wed. & Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 960-5521 or divingnormal.com. (Bill Raden)

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