Alan Alda's Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie, Christmas 4 Bukowski, and Other New Reviews
Michael LamontAlan Alda's "Radiance. . . " at the Geffen Playhouse
Alan Alda's play, Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie is this week's Pick of the Week, running alongside a recommended review
of Christmas 4 Bukowski presented by Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood.
For all the latest New Theater Reviews, go to the jump. Also watch for this week's feature on America's playwrights recalling some unique moments with Gil Cates, Producing Director of the Geffen Playhouse who died of an apparent heart attack October 31.
Here are the results of the Ovation Awards, held on Monday night at the Orpheum Theatre. (courtesy Back Stage)
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication November 18, 2011
BRIDGE There is much to like about Willard Manus' bleak drama about a musician with a knack for saving lives. William Stanford Davis turns in a solid performance as a rehabilitated junkie and saxophone maestro who plays nightly in an isolated, graffiti-smattered area near a bridge. Unfortunately, the place also is the favored spot for suicide leaps, and he soon finds himself playing guardian angel and confessor to a despondent junkie (Josie Martineaux), a guilt-ridden survivor of the Japanese tsunami (Yuki Matsuzaki) and a transvestite with AIDS (Donald Roman Lopez). The series of duologues exhibit the author's notable facility for sharp, gritty language, but this doesn't fully offset the heavy pall of tedium that sets in, especially during Act 2. Ruby Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (323) 960-7740, plays411.com/bridge. (Lovell Estell III)
BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL
"Welcome to the Thunderdome," growls Jackson High queen bee Danielle (Adrienne Warren) to ex-cheer squad captain Campbell (Taylor Louderman), who's been ousted from her suburban school to one with -- gasp! -- metal detectors, either via redistricting or subversive cheerpolitik. Not how you remember the 2000 comedy? The two share only a title and pompoms. The self-aware characters know their white-girl-earns-krunking-cred story is a cliche even as they do backflips to ready the new crew for nationals. So do we, and neither of us are getting much help from the bare-bones music and set, which is made up of just four TV screens and low-hanging rafters that threaten the airborne tumblers. In the words of second-in-command Skyler (Kate Rockwell), by the end, "Everyone has gone through, like, personal growth." If our culture insists on milking recent classics for anemic spectacles, I'm compelled to note that the very capable Louderman is the spitting image of Cher in Clueless. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtwn.; Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (213) 972-4400, centertheatregroup.org (Amy Nicholson)
GO CHRISTMAS 4 BUKOWSKI
Josh T. Ryan
At first blush, the notion of casting L.A.'s late poet laureate of the sordid in the role of Santa makes about as much sense as, say, erecting a snow-flocked winter wonderland display under the palm trees in one's front yard. But as director Josh T. Ryan's short Charles Bukowski sampler kicks into gear, the genius of employing the writer's hardboiled poems and prose as a caustic corrective to the season's commercially corrupted yuletide schmaltz soon emerges. The staging is simple. Guitarist Jessica Lynn Verdi warbles treacly classic carols as Ryan's finely honed ensemble cuts through the Christmas corn with scythe-like sweeps of Bukowski's decidedly unsentimental, scatological and misanthropic language. Highlights include the two-part "Death of a Father," in which the author's gin-soaked alter ego Henry Chinaski (a riveting Wasim Nomani) uses his father's funeral to enact some outrageously funny Oedipal revenge; Brian Robert Harris' chiseled rendition of a two-bit fight manager giving a breathless blow-by-blow of his brain-rattled pug's bone-crunching Pyrrhic victory in "The Winner"; and Andy Babinski, whose edgy, electrifying reading of Bukowski's selected sardonic verse savagely exorcises any remaining ghosts of Christmas past from the stage. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; through Dec. 16. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Bill Raden)
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS It's all fun and games until someone loses a twin in director Rebecca Gatward's pratfall-filled production of Shakespeare's merry comedy, in which Antipholus and his slave Dromio arrive on the beautiful island of Ephesus, where they are mistaken for their long-lost twin brothers. The gorgeous opening is staged like a Mediterranean carnival, with performers entering in exotic masks and singing what sound like Greek folk songs. When the play begins in earnest, though, the execution sadly turns lackluster. Energetic line readings possess the wonderful clarity of classical British Shakespearean productions, but the comic timing falters, particularly during the show's tired and clumsy Three Stooges-esque brawls. Elsewhere, the show boasts the ambitious if not necessarily original idea of having the same actors who play Antipholus of Syracuse (Bill Buckhurst) and Dromio of Syracuse (Fergal McElherron) also play their twins, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. This should lend itself to a variety of kooky stage tricks and fast-paced costume changes, but the gimmick turns out to be half-hearted and unsatisfying. Although the performers' crafting of separate characterizations is immaculate, scenes in which both sets of twins appear together are sloppy, and a misbegotten gimmick sabotages the show's usually tender ending. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre at the Broad Stage, 1311 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Wed. & Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (310) 434-3200, thebroadstage.com (Paul Birchall)
CRUMBLE (LAY ME DOWN, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)
Sheila Callaghan's yuletide tale of a house divided explores the hole created by the loss of a man who was father, husband and caretaker. In the wake of his death, his wife, Clara (Carrie Keranen), desperately tries to connect with her alienated 11-year-old daughter, Janice (Kate Wronowski). Clara's cat-hoarding sister, Barbara (understudy Lisa Rothschiller in the performance reviewed), offers support, but Clara really only finds comfort in her fantasies of Harrison Ford (John Halbach). Likewise, daughter Janice conjures Justin Timberlake (also Halbach), in between dark conversations with her dolls and brewing chemical potions in her bedroom. Even the apartment in which they live (personified by Brendan Hunt) tries to connect with its inhabitants. The one missed connection, however, is with the audience, which is surprising given Callaghan's pedigree and Sacred Fools' track record of unearthing hidden gems. Callaghan's poetic language is flecked with elegance and cleverness, but the piece lacks stakes, and Jeremy Aluma's direction, a mix of languid stretches and bursts of jarring intensity, never pulls taut the threads of the story. The result, despite a Christmas cracker of a climax, is a lot of tinsel, but not enough tree. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (Dec. 18 only); thru Dec. 18. (310) 281-8337. sacredfools.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
ESTHER'S MOUSTACHE Maddie (Joanna Strapp), the author of a comic strip for a magazine named Raunch, doesn't leave her house and converses with the main character of her cartoon, a curvy, sex-crazed goddess (scene-stealer Mara Marini). Writer-director Laurel Ollstein had the premise for a hit sitcom on her hands even before she added in the over-accented, statuesque German messenger (Burt Grinstead) who crushes on Maddie and the Jewish grandmother (Ellen Ratner) who moves in with a trunk full of family baggage. Some sharp writing ("Draw it circumcised," the goddess commands as Maddie begins to accept her Jewish heritage) and funny, bantering relationships lead the play in a comic direction, but Ollstein tries to give the script an emotional load it can't carry all at once; it would be better played out over a season of 30-minute installments. The snappy cast and artful, clean set by Maureen Weiss will travel into TV land just fine. Studio/Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (323) 960-7792. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE In Julia Cho's lovely, lyrical play, a man dedicated to preserving languages is unable to summon the words to save his marriage. George (Ryun Yu) is a distracted scholar, blind both to the unhappiness of his wife, Mary (Kimiko Gelman), and the love-smitten glances of his assistant, Emma (understudy Lovelle Liquigan, in a skilled and endearing performance). Offered one last chance to hold on to Mary by declaring his love, George falters. At work he interviews an odd elderly couple, Resten (Nelson Mashita) and Alta (Jeanne Sagata), who hack away at each other in English -- the language, they say, of anger. Whimsical yet pensive, Cho's lilting script speaks to the nature of love and language -- illuminating the latter's bounty while underscoring how often it fails to relay our deepest desires. Yet the production stumbles, the play's full pathos unexplored, under Jessica Kubzansky's direction. Yu does fine expressing distraction, but neither he nor Gelman communicates a profound or essential sense of loss. In plum comic roles, Resten and Sagata settle for play-it-for-laughs caricature. East West Players at Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.; through Dec. 4. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: RADIANCE: THE PASSION OF MARIE CURIE
While researching the life of Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who discovered and isolated radium, playwright Alan Alda went to France, hoping to inspect Curie's letters -- but after more than a century, they're still radioactive. In the early days of their research, Curie (the strong Anna Gunn) and her husband, Pierre (John De Lancie), were unaware of the dangers of radioactivity, and both paid the price. That was only one of the many obstacles Curie faced. The scientific establishment discouraged her experiments, and when she succeeded, they refused to award the Nobel to a woman, presenting it to Pierre instead. She also survived attacks by male chauvinists and the death of her husband. But her toughest struggle occurred when, after Pierre's death, she had an affair with a married man (Dan Donohue). His ruthless and abusive wife (Sarah Zimmerman) discovered the affair, stole and published their letters and threatened to kill Curie. Alda's play tells the story enchantingly -- well-directed by Daniel Sullivan, and well-acted on Thomas Lynch's ingenious set. --Neal Weaver. Geffen Playhouse, 10866 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (310) 208-54564, geffenplayhouse.com (Neal Weaver)
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