Theater Reviews: The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Crucible, Goodbye, Louie ... Hello 

Also, Tartuffe, Silent Sky, The Bluest Eye and more

Thursday, Apr 14 2011

THE BLUEST EYE People often use others to mirror themselves. Pecola (Sola Bamis), the pivotal figure in Lydia R. Diamond’s stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel, is a dark-skinned black child perceived as ugly by others — and, unfortunately, by herself as well. Growing up in Ohio in 1941, she longs for blue eyes to help redeem her from her pariah status. Eventually she obtains them — but not before she’s undergone a series of brutal, self-annihilating events. Diamond’s narration-laden script hews to the book, telling much of the story from the vantage of other characters, chiefly Pecola’s kind and more fortunate friend, Claudia (Tekquiree Spencer), and Claudia’s sister, Frieda (Tiffany Danielle). The result is a talky drama in which the most horrific — yet most dramatic — elements are pushed into the shadows. (One reason may be that the play initially was created for young audiences.) Perhaps a more consummate ensemble would have transcended these shortcomings, but as directed by Janet Miller, they appear obvious. Shamika Franklin is notable for her crisp, three-dimensional portrait of Pecola’s wounded mother, while Kwesiu Jones and Willie Mack Daniels are uniformly professional in various roles. One highly enjoyable scene involves Danika Butler making a splash as the pretty light-skinned middle-schooler whom everyone envies. But Bamis’ ingenuous victim needs nuance, and Spencer, carrying the burden of language, does an able job but without the polish and pacing needed to keep us rapt. Phantom Projects, Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun, 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m., thru April 24. (714) 690-2900, phantomprojects.com. (Deborah Klugman)

THE CHAIRS Eugene Ionesco’s slice of absurdity and futility receives a faithful staging at A Noise Within. Over the course of this 80-minute, one-act play, an aging couple drags out dozens of decrepit chairs to accommodate a crowd of distinguished guests — who prove imaginary. Old regrets surface from the depths of their memories, and the Old Man lapses into melancholy and grief when recalling the loss of his mother. Company members Deborah Strang and Geoff Elliott (directed by ANW Artistic Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott) seldom evoke amusement, even when lewdly flirting with their invisible visitors. A gloomy mist pervades a set of dingy, peeling gray walls. Stephen W. Gifford’s set and prop design and Ken Booth’s lighting suggest a postapocalyptic setting (supported by a single line in the play) and the sense they are isolated in a circular building surrounded by water. Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin clothes the two leads in layers of rags and ratty furs, once sumptuous, now shabby. Ionesco’s fixation with solitude, nothingness and the insignificance of human existence results in a stark experience. I prefer theater — even absurdist comedies about the end of the world — to come with at least some levity and relief from the obvious. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule, thru May 21. (818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org. (Pauline Adamek)

GO  THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN If you think Los Angeles is an unkind city, you should try Inishmaan, the seemingly quaint and picturesque Irish village setting of Martin McDonagh’s compelling drama. There, the villagers’ otherwise adorable eccentricities have abraded on each other to the point of sparking near-psychotic frustration. By rights, the play should be a sentimental tale, but McDonagh’s ferocious writing artfully skewers expectations of stereotypes, instead crafting a character-driven toxic dance of hope and despair. In this tiny island town, circa 1934, young orphan Crippled Billy (Tadhg Murphy) has been raised by two spinster “aunties” (Dearbhla Molloy and Ingrid Craigie), following his parents’ tragic death at sea years ago. Within his claustrophobic and incredibly impoverished community, Crippled Billy’s dreams have not gone much further than the hope of a kiss from bad-tempered (and possibly psychotic) town floozy Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne), the Egg Man’s assistant. However, when Hollywood moviemakers arrive on a nearby island to make a film about the “real” Ireland, Crippled Billy pulls out the stops to become a star — though the results of his scheme take an unexpectedly tragic turn. McDonagh’s gorgeously lyrical dialogue is full of one-liners, quirky wit and biting irony, while also capturing the understated sorrow of people who believe life is nothing but suffering punctuated by loss. Like the writing, director Garry Hynes’ taut, often explosive yet intimate staging boasts both impeccable comic timing and heartrending pathos — often within a few seconds of each other. Galway’s Druid Theatre Company cast is extraordinary, crafting an ensemble of small-village archetypes who appear lovable at first but whose seething undercurrents of spite and malice become all too evident. Murphy offers a sweet and idealistic turn as Crippled Billy, but the supporting figures are startlingly multidimensional as well, from Craigie’s tough Aunt Kate to Dunne’s abjectly terrifying Helen, and including Dermot Crowley in a hilarious, towering turn as the town’s reprehensible gossip. A Druid Theatre Company and Center Theatre Group presentation. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m., thru May 1. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org. (Paul Birchall)

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