Theater Reviews: Groundlings Singles Cruise,The Next Fairy Tale, 'Til Death Do Us Part 

Also, The Young Man From Atlanta, Oh, Momma and Obama and more

Thursday, Mar 17 2011

THE FRYBREAD QUEEN Murder. Suicide. Secret liaisons. Child sexual abuse. Homicidal ghosts. Just when you think playwright Carolyn Dunn's plot has been stretched to its melodramatic max, she tosses in yet another sensational element. Set on a Navajo reservation, the story concerns the family tensions smoldering among Jesse (Jane Lind), a Native American matriarch, her two daughters-in-law, Carlisle (Shyla Marlin) and Annalee (Kimberly Norris Guerrero), and her granddaughter, Lily (Elizabeth Frances). The ladies have good reason to be on edge: Only a week earlier, Jesse's son Paul splattered his brains all over her kitchen's ceiling and walls. We learn this in little ways via dialogue between Carlisle and Annalee; otherwise it's scarcely evident in anyone's demeanor that such an overwhelmingly bloody and traumatic event has taken place. Instead, there's heated discussion about who makes the best fry bread (a Native American staple). While it's clear there's something else going on beneath this rivalry of housewives, the raw pain engendered by the recent violent death of everyone's son, father, ex-husband or former lover doesn't seem to be it. Directed by Robert Caisley, the performers struggle in vain to make an implausible scenario — which includes possession by Paul's demonized spirit — seem real, with only Marlin attaining some credibility as the least neurotic among them. What does work are four monologues, one from each woman, presented at various junctures throughout the play, in which a recipe for fry bread becomes a metaphor for their Indian pride and their womanhood. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m., thru March 27. (323) 667-2000, autry-museum.org. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  GROUNDLINGS SINGLES CRUISE Sketches by the Groundlings' "A" cast of master improv artists reliably fall into three categories: "inspired" — in which all the right notes of exaggeration, situation and universal recognition ignite an uncontrolled chain reaction of belly laughs; "merely great" — in which an incisive caricature carries the potential for critical comedy frisson but melts down before the finish; and "back to the workshop" — or not recommended for public viewing at this time. Fortunately, this edition racks up enough of the first and so few of the last that it warrants a medical warning for laugh-induced abdominal cramps. At the top of the heap are the pieces that bear the writing credits of Andrew Friedman, Michael Naughton or Mitch Silpa. In "Honeymoon," Friedman and Silpa's irritating preteen ghost twins, Kevin and Kyle, hilariously connect the horrors of The Shining to the hauntings of Eros-deflating parenting. With "Q&A," Naughton and Friedman expertly excoriate the absurd insipidity of play readings and those who attend them. "The Terrys" features Jillian Bell and Silpa striking satiric pay dirt in the surreal fashion faux pas and entertainment non sequiturs perpetrated by TV comedy variety shows of the early '70s. Charlotte Newhouse, Lisa Schurga, Jill Matson-Sachoff and Edi Patterson all shine in respective leaps into the perverse depths of depraved feminine grotesquerie. And director Mikey Day keeps it all moving at a comedy-conducive clip — not counting the tediously long scene blackouts, when audiences must bide their time with the tasty licks of musical director Willie Etra and his jam-seasoned band. Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 8 & 10 p.m., thru April 23. (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com. (Bill Raden)

HAVING IT ALL At Gate B26 in an airport convincingly designed by Stephen Gifford, five women sit judging each other's clothing. The lady in Prada pumps (Jennifer Leigh Warren) assumes the woman in sneakers (Shannon Warne) must be an immature free spirit; the woman in sneakers is convinced that Prada pumps is a rotten mother. The entrance of a country girl in awkward heels (Kim Huber) provokes condescension; a hipster with crutches (Lindsey Alley) moves Warren to sneer she's a "30-year-old yenta dressed up like the cast of Rent." And when a dizzy hippie (the very funny Alet Taylor) bops in with her yoga mat, the ladies are aghast that she's barefoot. Still, between snipes, each looks at the others and sighs, "How I'd love to be in her shoes." The metaphor of footwear for femmepowerment is staler than the olives at Carrie Bradshaw's fave martini bar, but at least David Goldsmith and Wendy Perelman's well-intentioned musical about the hair-pulling pressure to "have it all" is blessed with a gifted cast, which Richard Israel directs with energy and bite. The ensemble sings numbers about motherhood, marriage, J-Date and downward-facing dog. It's all pleasant, but the show is held back by the homogeneity of the songs, in both John Kavanaugh's music and Gregory Nabours' musical direction, which takes five strong voices and molds them all to the same Broadway bombast. The audience for the musical already knows everything it aims to say; it's simply an excuse to rally a gang of girlfriends for a night at the theater, which seems to suit this production just fine. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 24. (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com. (Amy Nicholson)

  • Photo by Tony Dontscheff

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