Theater Reviews: Lemon Durang Pie, Hyperbole: Origins, Lucia Mad 

Also, Into the Woods, Barrymore and more

Thursday, Nov 11 2010

BARRYMORE William Luce's (The Belle of Amherst) 1996 two-character play studies the rakish actor John Barrymore (Jack Betts). In 1941, Barrymore's best days are behind him. Having settled into a desperate routine of drinking and caricaturing himself, he decides to revive his successful 1920 production of Shakespeare's Richard III. In a rented theater, he runs lines with fellow actor Frank (Darin Dahms). But Barrymore can neither remember his lines nor concentrate. He just wants to find the whiskey Frank has hidden. Barrymore reminisces about his beloved grandmother, Louisa Drew; his mother, who died when he was very young; and his dissolute father, Maurice. He waxes cynical about his four wives, his rivalry with brother Lionel and his resentment of sister Ethel's attempts to lure him away from Hollywood and back to the theater. Performing snippets of Shakespeare while he swans about in his Richard costumes, Barrymore strikes picturesque attitudes, until Frank finally rebels and tells him some home truths. Betts has enormous authority, under the slick direction of Carlyle King, and at moments he conjures up an uncanny resemblance to Barrymore, all scurrilous, boozy charm. Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (323) 960-7863, plays411.com/barrymore. (Neal Weaver)

HERALDS Setting: A bustling office with phones ringing off the hook, constant interruptions announcing yet another sale, barely lidded excitement; a newspaper. Wait, a newspaper? Yes, down to the inevitable transfer to news online and a tryst sparked by a woman's arousal over the executive editor's "power," Jon Cellini's play feels a little dated. After all, dailies have already transitioned through a couple of stages of grief over the imminent demise of the "way they were," and have settled into grimacing acceptance of the uncertain future. To give Cellini credit, he does nod to the obsoleteness of his subject matter when a character comments on how "we philosophize after our expired lives — ironic considering this show, right?" Still, he uses the now-tired controversy over a cartoon about creationism as a launching pad for a discussion on the dangers of the religious right advocating censorship. Though he's spliced this humdrum dilemma with visits from a Socrates who watches TMZ, a Galileo who scoffs at LeBron James and a Goebbels who blames Saturday Night Live for America's "weak" men, Cellini also rests on tired stereotypes such as a Godfather-esque queenpin of a church secretary (Maia Danziger). Director Stuart Rogers smooths the busy show to a nice flow, but he allows too much slack in the pace precisely when it's in dire need of tautness. The play's not bad, but all the good stuff is buried in the back pages. It would be remiss not to mention the able-bodied cast, especially the restrained, excellent performance of Heather Robinson as Gert. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

HOT A handful of well-written plays have forged gripping dramatic material from an apocalyptic scenario: Alan Bowne's somewhat dated AIDS-era drama Beirut and Henry Murray's Treefall, recently staged here at Theatre/Theater, artfully probed the complexities and bonds of human relationships in a ruined world. Here, playwright Daniel Keleher is more interested in laughs and low farce. In the midst of a murderous pandemic, Jones (Gregory Myhre) and Benny (James Jordan) seem to be doing fine, ensconced in a ruddy apartment with plenty to drink, engaging in loads of pointless frat-boy banter. The play's pulse is felt when Horn (fine performance by Shawn Colten), whose job entails disposing of the dead, drops in and agrees to procure a woman for Benny, which he soon after does, dragging her onstage in a sack. From here, under Mel Shapiro's lax direction, it only gets worse. Act 2 opens with Benny decked out in a tux with his equally spruced-up comatose lover, and Jones tending to his near-dead fiancée in a wheelchair. There is a feeble attempt at gravitas made toward the end involving the sudden appearance of a vaccine, and the morality of euthanasia, but by then, one is past all caring. Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 969-1707. (Lovell Estell III)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROGUE THEATRE ENSEMBLE - Hyperbole: Origins
  • Hyperbole: Origins

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GO  HYPERBOLE: ORIGINS It's not easy to wrap sentences around this fantastical storytelling spectacle created by a collaboration of artists under Sean T. Calwelti's direction, and presented by Rogue Artists Ensemble. The launching point is the mid–20th century and a laboratory whose apparatus is the "origin" machine, a fanciful contraption reminiscent of sci-fi circa the 1940s and 1950s. The machine is operated by a conscientious engineer and his somewhat airheaded assistant, who, like Icarus, dreams of strapping on wings and taking flight. Each time the machine is activated, it precipitates an oblique and fanciful tale about the origin of something: music, fire, sin, love/lava (jealousy), the chicken and the egg, the rabbit in the moon — and creation itself. Each narrative is presented with wordless mime, elaborated on by a profusion of lighting, sound, videography, puppetry, masks and music. As impressive as these technical elements are, they never outrun the stories themselves, each of which offers a quirky fable about some aspect of the human condition. The superb production values (overseen by tech director Daniel Geesing) include designer Katie Polebaum's expressive masks, so many of which capture the essence of a singular sentiment or passion, as well as Kerry Hennessy's imaginative costumes and John Noburi's indispensably animating audio design. A terrific seven-person ensemble displays amazing versatility in presenting this plethora of parables and yarns. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Dec. 12. (323) 461-3673. (Deborah Klugman)

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