Moliere's lesser-known comedy The Bungler
This week's Stage feature finds similarities between Val Kilmer's study of Mark Twain, in a workshop production of a play (Citizen Twain) that Kilmer wrote and performed in (closing Thursday at the Masonic Lodge in Hollywood Forever Cemetery), and Matthew McCray's new scifi play, Eternal Thou, about the effects of rapidly changing technology.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication April 12, 2012
Tom Meleck's grungy noir lighting and Alex Rodrigo and Jonathan Harrison's melancholy set design persuasively conjure the shabby late-1950s Germany of Willard Manus' Cold War spy game Berlin Cowboys. The rest of the production, however, fails to cast the same spell. Incorporating familiar tropes without succumbing to the pleasures of the genre, the plot instead twists around ideological clashes among the Americans, reducing the CIA's audacious plan at the nominal center of the play Ñ to wiretap Moscow communications by digging a tunnel into Soviet territory Ñ to little more than a long scene listing impressive stats. This focus on office politics effectively raises some larger political points, but the characters' moral dimensions aren't rendered with enough subtlety to generate dramatic momentum, an issue further exacerbated by some extraneous organizational backstory presented as clunky exposition. Performances are by and large solid, but it is Marc Cervania who moves us with his nimble portrayal of the disillusioned East German Wolfgang Mueller, trampled by history and desperate to prevent his countrymen from being buried alive behind the Iron Curtain. Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., April 22, 4 p.m.; through April 22. (323) 469-3113, brownpapertickets.com, writeactrep.org. (Mindy Farabee)
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE BUNGLER
Employing playful and
inventive staging, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott maximizes the
Italian commedia dell'arte roots of Molière's zany farce. Exposing the
acting troupe's dressing rooms upstage, concealing certain incidental
characters with masks and enlisting attention-seeking lighting effects
(courtesy of designer Ken Booth) all adds to the madcap fun. Richard
Wilbur's translation of Molière's obscure comedy, circa 1655, slightly
updates the language while preserving the rhyming couplets and witty
wordplay. In the dazzlingly convoluted scenario, wily manservant
Mascarille (JD Cullum) concocts numerous, elaborate schemes to help his
dimwitted master, Lelie (Michael A. Newcomer), win the girl of his
dreams, Célie (Emily Kosloski), away from the wealthy old gentleman to
whom she is promised. But the ingenuous Lelie has a gift for
interfering, continually undoing all of Mascarille's best-laid plans,
much to the latter's hair-tearing frustration. Mascarille's unscrupulous
talents include deft pickpocketing and elaborate improvised lies, while
his ruses include a feigned funeral and hilariously adopting the
disguise of a Swiss boarding-house landlord. Rodriguez-Elliott sprinkles
the play with original musical interludes (all composed by David O) and
makes good use of a roving tuba player (Kabin Thomas) who amusingly
punctuates various comedic moments. There's a lot going on throughout,
but The Bungler is a fun-filled romp guaranteed to give you hysterics. A
Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; in rep, call for
schedule; thru May 27. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org (Pauline Adamek)
GO EARLY AND OFTEN
Not since the anticapitalist plays of Brecht have we seen such a savage and cynical send-up of Chicago as that presented in this amusingly sour comedy by Barbara Wallace and Thomas R. Wolfe. On the eve of JFK's election, a state senator (Mat Lageman) in debt to the mob meets an unpleasant end -- and the unexpected vacancy prompts ambitious party worker Art Ruck (Bryan Bertone) to seek the nod of local party leader Flannery (Bjorn Johnson) for the position. However, Flannery has other plans -- and Ruck's attempts to scheme his way to the top are complicated by an unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend (Catherine Urbanek), the dead senator's scathingly bitter widow (Amanda Weier) and the disappearing corpse of the senator himself. Director Ron West's production, with a crisp pace and perfect comedic timing, artfully crafts a world where venom spews and "politics" turns out to be another word for "thuggery." Bertone's wonderfully weaselly party hack is strangely likable for all his pathological lying. Excellent turns also are offered by Weier as the amusingly embittered, Dorothy ParkerÐlike pragmatic widow, by Urbanek as Ruck's panicky girlfriend, and by the entire supporting ensemble of scoundrels and rogues who look as though they would not be out of place in a 1960s police lineup. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 26. openfist.org. (Paul Birchall)
Matthew McCray's new play about the effects of rapidly changing technology. Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (added perfs Thurs., April 12 & Mon., April 23, 8 p.m.); through April 23, eternalthou.eventbrite.com See Stage feature.
FEEDBACK Am I a cool person or a pathetic loser? Is my life worth
something or am I taking up space? Jane Miller's dark comedy pivots
around directionless Holly (April Grace Lowe), who pays $15,000 to a
suspiciously Orwellian corporation for a personality makeover. Holly's
"rebranding" involves submitting to a humiliating observation and
"assessment" procedure under the hawkeye supervision of her impersonal
case manager, Elizabeth (Angela Ryskiewicz), and the omnipresent
direction of the company's intimidating guru, Judith (Dorrie Braun).
Canny in its exploration of power and self-doubt, the play reflects on a
worldview that condemns living day by day and instead demands goals,
accomplishments and likability to justify one's existence. It also
challenges a value system in which appearance equates with substance.
Miller has etched her characters with irony and insight, but their
realization under Craig Jessen's direction is not as crisp or as cogent
as it might be. The onstage chemistry between Holly and her ex-boyfriend
(Cody Roberts) is especially in need of shoring up. And the play itself
would be strengthened if we knew more about Holly's recently deceased
mom, whose death has kindled her daughter's quest. Lyric Theatre, 520 N.
La Brea Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., April 15 & 22, 2 p.m.;
Doug Kaback's new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play sometimes feels like a soap opera. Kaback's script and direction pushes this socially conscious play into exaggerated melodrama, and the inflated acting style diminishes Ibsen's critique of 19th-century religion, social class, gender roles and sexual mores. Playing the widow Mrs. Alving, Michelle Danner flies into hysterics at the radical revelations in her family. Her free-thinking son, Osvald (Nate Golon), struggles to reconcile his imaginary ideal of his father with the ongoing repercussions of Captain Alving's promiscuous past, and her maid, Regina (Lucy Honigman), considers leaving her respectable position to become a prostitute. The drunkard Engstrand (James Giordano) exposes the hypocrisy of middle-class morality, but with too much of a knowing wink to the audience. Most of the actors seem to ham for a nonexistent video camera, although Pastor Manders (Paul Stroili) does much to ground this beautifully designed production. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through May 27. (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org. (Sarah Taylor Ellis)
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GO THE VAULT: BANKRUPT
This amusing parody about the recent financial meltdown and uber consumerism gives new meaning to the expression "blood bank." Henry Reynolds (Sam Golzari) is a middle-school teacher with a yearning for some of the finer things in life, so he visits the Dream America Bank to secure funds, but is immediately caught up in a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare. The "staff" of this institution aren't button-down business types but ashen-faced vampires, all of whom are prodded on in their bloodlust by the bank president (Fidel Gomez, in laugh-a-minute Bela Lugosi mode). Soon after, Henry is caught up in a surreal world where he visits a queen's banquet, is thrown in the slammer and encounters aliens, nasty cops and rapping gangbangers. It gets messy and difficult to comprehend, but the rambling plot doesn't detract from the laughs or fun. Directed by Vault Ensemble members Aaron Garcia and Gomez, the cast performances, if not entirely polished, are energetic and engaging. Ensemble member Jasmine Orpilla provides a suitably creepy musical score. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; through April 21. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Lovell Estell III)