Theater Reviews; The Comedy of Errors, The Birthday Boys, The Woodpecker | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Theater Reviews; The Comedy of Errors, The Birthday Boys, The Woodpecker 

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Thursday, Mar 10 2011

GO  THE COMEDY OF ERRORS A strongman, a ventriloquist, three showgirls and a mimic with 1,000 voices make up just half of the Burlesque on Brand troupe, which enters, grandstands and immediately plunges into Shakespeare's shortest and most slapstick comedy about two pairs of long-lost twins crisscrossing in Ephesus. Here, servant Dromio (Jerry Kernion) wears a plaid toga, argyle socks and saddle shoes. (The four credited costumers have done fantastic work.) When Dromio vents to hero Antipholous (Bruce Turk) that the chubby kitchen wench (Gibby Brand) who claims she's his betrothed "is spherical, like a globe — I could find out countries in her," their banter smacks of Abbott and Costello. Director Michael Michetti's dynamite ensemble is held together by Turk's leading man, who, like his Errol Flynn mustache and the production itself, is playful and self-mocking, but never ironic. Michetti inventively turns bereft father Egeon's (Michael Stone Forrest) tale of how he lost his four sons — the longest speech in Shakespeare's canon — into a silent black-and-white film, but the director's not above showing a pie in the face. And he even gets laughs for Adriana (Abby Craden) and Luciana (Annie Abrams) in their usually thankless roles. In the first few scenes, the play threatens to become a musical, but once past the momentary misstep of two musical numbers, the production settles into the most droll and deft staging of The Comedy of Errors I've seen in a decade. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, check website for schedule. (818) 240-0910, (Amy Nicholson)

GO  THE BIRTHDAY BOYS Stop me if you've heard this one: Three U.S. Marines walk into an Iraqi storage room. OK, they don't walk. They get dragged into it. Point being, there are three of them, and they're together in this room. "Seems a bit dark and serious a scenario for a punch line," you think to yourself, but you would be wrong, because Aaron Kozak, who won the "Fringe First" award at last year's Hollywood Fringe Festival for this play, makes it much funnier than you would expect. Without being disrespectful to the gravity of military service or the war in Iraq, Kozak finds dark humor in the humanity of three Marines —privates Chester Gullette (Gregory Crafts), Lance Tyler (Sean Fitzgerald) and Colin Carney (Jim Martyka) — who have been captured from Al Asad air base by members of the Mahdi Militia. All three are bound hand and foot with duct tape and blindfolded, which limits their interactions but generates some solid physical comedy, such as when Lance tries to fight Colin and they end up writhing around like angry inchworms. Director Jacob Smith's spot-on timing effectively modulates transitions from lighter discussions of women and home lives to darker topics such as war and impending doom. Fitzgerald, as the most intense and combative of the three, genuinely makes us dislike him at times; Martyka, though quiet for long spells, believably exudes shame for attempting to abandon his brothers; Crafts, as the most mature and levelheaded of the men, pleasantly subverts the stereotypical Marine. And to top it all off, there's an unexpected twist that takes the comedy to a whole new level. A Theatre Unleashed production. NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru March 27. (818) 849-4039, (Mayank Keshaviah)

BRENDAN O'LENIHAN LEAVES THREE DAUGHTERS After novelist Brendan O'Lenihan's massively successful literary career spawns "the greatest novel in history" (as one of O'Lenihan's daughters puts it), the writer becomes a recluse, delves into alternative spirituality and cuts off contact with his three daughters. They've congregated for his funeral, and the family dynamic that playwright William Norrett has constructed has the potential to be much more interesting than standard sister fare. Socially speaking, he's hit the dramatic jackpot: Kathleen (Jonica Patella) is a ghostwriter for rappers, Annebeth (Jana Wimer) is an Oscar-winning producer who shrinks behind her filmmaker husband, and Maureen (Bethany Orr) is a teacher in South Africa, with a Ph.D. in physics. Yet while the disparate paths the sisters have taken could more than satisfy the need for conflict required in such a play, Norrett's confidence seems to have faltered, leading him to build on a silly, ultimately irrelevant inheritance premise, the climax of which defies the very term. Though the male ensemble generally succeeds in its supporting roles, it's difficult to decide if the sisters' brittle, forced emotion and general disconnect from the material are the result of being miscast or under-rehearsed. Underground Annex Theater, 1308 N. Wilton Place, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru March 27. (818) 688-1219. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

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I GET KNOCKED DOWN When writer-performer Evan McNamara first appears in this one-man show, he's wearing a T-shirt that reads "ARISE" and pointy elf ears. He is, he tells us, a member of an elf clan, and his sister, Raven, is a vampire who for years drained him of vitality. He then assumes the role of a Guardian Angel who revels in his own self-esteem. "God loves me," he claims, "because I make heaven look so cool." The elf tells about the woman he loved, hard-hearted Hannah, who married him and bore him two children, but then announced she'd been unfaithful from the start. We then meet Evan's other suffering alter egos: a prisoner shackled till he frees himself through an act of will, a martyr who embraces his pain, a scholar who alternates between raging against his fate and philosophic acceptance, a clown who wraps himself in a cloak of protective humor, and a hipster in stylish shades who doesn't contribute much to the story. McNamara is an appealing and energetic actor, but his bromidic ending is announced (self-knowledge is the key) rather than dramatized, so the show, though pleasant, seems both short (40 minutes) and slight. Director John Coppola might have been wise to insist on more substance. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; variable schedule, thru April 24. (Neal Weaver)

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