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Theater Reviews: The Cradle Will Rock, Alceste, 100 Days 

Also Love Letters to Women, Dangerous Beauty, Camino Real and more

Thursday, Feb 17 2011
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GO  ALCESTE Euripides' version of a Greek myth serves as ground zero for playwright B. Walker Sampson's surreal comedy about the otherworldly journey of two long-term lovers separated by death. Imaginatively staged on a small proscenium by director Darin Dahms, the comic-strip action takes place in a strange dreamscape (set and prop design by Naomi Kasahara) peopled with hooded figures, squabbling ghosts, outsized heroines and supernaturally powerful villains. Foreseeing the imminent death of Adamet (Trevor Olsen, in drag), her beloved Alceste (Lorianne Hill), a gentle accepting soul, follows the sinister counsel of an unearthly scoundrel named Man With Blazing Necktie (Lynn Odell), who proposes to take Alceste's life instead. Soon, a cloaked ferryman (Ezra Buzzington) is escorting a timorous Alceste to the netherworld, while a lonely and bewildered Adamet fends off the seductive embraces of Man's titillating oracle, Woman in Bright Bathing Suit (Jennifer Flack). Meanwhile, a secondary story line tracks the exploits of a comical superheroine named Frigga Brenda (Julia Prud'homme), who boldly slays giants and monsters but comes undone at the hands of the dastardly Man and his female cohort. Oblique dialogue and the seemingly lateral movement of the plot make the first part of the play slow going — but even this slack stretch comes bolstered by well-crafted performances and striking production values, including lighting and sound design by Michael Roman and Ryan Brodkin, respectively, along with Jeremy McDonald's backdrop animation and Takashi Morimoto's inspired costumes. Most memorable within the adept ensemble are Prud'homme and Odell, in blazing command of their outrageous characters. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through March 12. (323) 856-8611. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  THE BLACK VERSION When it comes to black comedians satirizing white movie clichés, the gold standard remains Eddie Murphy's SNL sketch "White Like Me" (watch it at hulu.com). Turning the tables on John Howard Griffin's civil rights–era potboiler Black Like Me, Murphy puts on whiteface to hilariously skewer and underscore well-founded African-American paranoia while speaking to this society's very real racial divide. And while this like-minded evening rarely matches Murphy's comic aim or political grasp, its all-black ensemble of improv all-stars scores more than its share of belly laughs. Audience suggestions target a beloved Hollywood film — this night it was John Hughes' 1985 teen hit The Breakfast Club. Director Karen Maruyama recasts the roles as African-American, and the comedians take it from there, attacking iconic scenes with their considerable improvisational chops. Act 2 revisits the just-minted "black version," this time via the deluxe DVD box set's audience-shouted "bonus features" — deleted scenes, outtakes, auditions, commentary tracks. Phil LaMarr and Gary Anthony Williams proved especially red-hot, with the versatile LaMarr pulling off the comic coup during an Oprah segment in which his cantankerous character of principal Chuck was played by a now semi-senile Whitman Mayo. Williams and Daniele Gaither were inventive standouts belting out the song parodies (backed up by musical director Willie Etra and drummer Howard Greene), with Cedric Yarbrough giving an inspired psychotic twist to the boy band's R&B closer. Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave, L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 21. (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com. (Bill Raden)

GO  CAMINO REAL Told that the rarely performed play was by one of the great 20th-century playwrights, you'd guess the author was Tom Stoppard before Tennessee Williams. The 40-character limbo-land puzzler mashes up Don Quixote (Lenny Von Dohlen), Casanova (Tim Cummings), Lord Byron (Michael Aurelio) and the Hunchback of Notre Dame's gypsy femme fatale Esmeralda (Kalean Ung) in the town of Camino Real (pronounced KA-mino REE-al, à la gringo, so as to distinguish it from the country of CaMIno ReAL just next door). Inside the gates, the hamlet is divided further still between the Haves, who sip brandy with Gutman (Brian Tichnell) at his sumptuous hotel, and the Have-Nots, who lay their heads at the fleabag Ritz Men Only, or worse. Between them, there are enough liars and whores that a chipper innocent like Kilroy (the fantastic Matthew Goodrich), a former boxing champ with a heart as big as a baby, is humbled within 10 minutes of hitting town. But this isn't about his escape. It's about his destruction and whether he — and the rest of the captives — will be able to face their fate when the murderous cleaners (Frank Raducz Jr. and Murphy Martin) come to sweep them away. The only people not trying to leave town are the people too damaged to try, a motley crew of pawnbrokers, pickpockets and a taco salesman whom director Jessica Kubzansky keeps in motion, each slipping out in time to pop up in another role. Camino Real is most famous for bombing on Broadway in 1953 and temporarily tarnishing the careers of Williams and director Elia Kazan. (There's even a play about the flop, The Really Big Once, which opened last fall in New York.) Williams' episodic structure lacks momentum, particularly in the second act during a long scene between Kilroy and Esmeralda (who needs more heat). But the decades have given us a better perspective on the questions Williams, then at the anxious peak of his stage career, was asking himself: Can you still love when you're old and cynical? Can art survive amid crass capitalism? And is being a former talent a source of pride or shame? Kubzansky's ensemble is outstanding, even wringing a knowing chuckle from the faux-naif line, "Why does disappointment make people unkind?" With all technical contributions including Silvanne E.B. Park's costumes hitting high marks, Camino Real is a curiosity that you're not likely to see again — let alone this well. Theater @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 13. (626) 683-6883, bostoncourt.com. (Amy Nicholson)

click to flip through (3) NR1: DANGEROUS BEAUTY Photo by Jim Cox
  • NR1: DANGEROUS BEAUTY Photo by Jim Cox
   
 

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