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An Abu Ghraib Musical That's 'Thoughtful...and Theatrically Thrilling'; Plus All The Latest New Theater Reviews

Anthony Manough (standing), Sean Spann, James Black, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Ian Merrigan and Mueen Jahan (seated) star in the Circle X Theatre Company world premiere production of Bad Apples
Anthony Manough (standing), Sean Spann, James Black, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Ian Merrigan and Mueen Jahan (seated) star in the Circle X Theatre Company world premiere production of Bad Apples
Jeff Galfer

Circle X Theatre Company roars again with a new musical about Abu Ghraib, Bad Apples, by Jim Leonard, Rob Carins and Beth Thornley. It's also this week's Pick of the Week. For all the latest new theater reviews, see below, after the jump.

In this week's stage feature, Yours Truly looks at "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" with reviews of Londoner Joe Penhall's Brit psychiatric drama Blue/Orange at the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena, and John Hurt in Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, presented by Dublin's Gate Theatre, at the Kirk Douglas.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication October 18, 2012

PICK OF THE WEEK: BAD APPLES Anybody concerned that Circle X's new musical about America's most notorious prisoner-torture atrocity was going to be some sort of Abu Ghraib: The Musical! can rest easy; Bad Apples is a thoughtful, penetrating and theatrically thrilling meditation on the all-too-human dimensions of what Hannah Arendt famously called the banality of evil.No mere docu-musical, playwright Jim Leonard's nonlinear book is more a palimpsest of the newspaper headlines in which real names and relationships have been freely overwritten, not to protect the innocent but to drive home the point that, when it comes to the psychodynamics of unchecked power and authority, nobody is innocent. James Black gives a powerful performance as the seductively charismatic military prison guard who draws both an uneducated subordinate (an outstanding Kate Morgan Chadwick) and his immediate superior (the fine Meghan McDonough) first into a sadomasochistic ménage a trois and then into scandal and criminal disgrace. Director John Langs' electrifying cabaret staging (on François-Pierre Couture's stylish tier-block set) and Cassandra Daurden's dynamic choreography make the three-hour show fly. The evening's real star however, may be the supremely accomplished rock score by composer-lyricists Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley. It is their tortured torch songs, hip-hop metal arias and soaring love ballads whose wit, poetry and memorable pop hooks elevate the grotesquely abhorrent into the profoundly universal. Circle X Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 1. (323) 644-1929, circlextheatre.org

 GO BLUE/ORANGE

Blue/Orange
Blue/Orange
Patrick Viall Photography

Joe Penhall's 2000 psychiatric drama, presented by Player King Produtions at the Dance Conservator of Pasadena. See our stage feature.

The Fainting Couch
The Fainting Couch
Zombie Joe

GO  THE FAINTING COUCH

A love quadrangle among a ballerina, two fools and their evil boss, the Magician, lies at the heart of playwright Robert Riemer's twisted revisiting of the Stravinsky ballet Petrushka. With themes like manipulation and doubling, the play shares much with the original, and direct references to the Russian ballet abound, from props to set design to its meta-underpinnings. But the play's most stylish riff emerges in the way director Zombie Joe choreographs the proceedings as one demented pas de deux after another. It's a challenging approach, which his small cast matches note for note. Rehyan Rivera's Magician stalks the stage with the right edge of unhinged menace, and Natalie Hyde puts the broken-toy physicality of her deceptively fragile Ballerina to disconcerting use. The story really belongs to the two fools, however, as Ricky Lacorte's dim Large Fool embodies the dark, absurdist soul of the play, while Donna Noelle Ibale brings an existential flavor to the comedic terror of her vaudevillian Small Fool. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Nov. 3. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Mindy Farabee)

FLIPZOIDS Ralph B. Peña's drama develops around an elderly Filipina named Aying (Becca Godinez), who lives in Anaheim but longs to be back in the Philippines. She spends hours alone on the beach, recalling folk tales and practicing familiar rituals that make her feel closer to her culture. One day she's espied by Redford (Maxwel S. Corpuz), a flamboyant gay man with wild platinum hair, who camps out in a nearby public restroom. Unlike her daughter Vangie (Ellen D. Williams), who is mortified by her mom's erratic behavior, Redford is intrigued by Aying, perceiving her as a seer and possibly a personal savior. Pena's script transcends the typical immigrant-experience play to explore the realm of lost souls. But the production, under Jon Lawrence Rivera's overly stylized direction, misses its mark. Godinez's performance, while skillful, emerges as more caricature than character; like designer Bob Blackburn's punctuating sound, it rings too hollow for this intimate story. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; through Oct. 28. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Deborah Klugman)

GHOST LIGHT

John Hurt in Krapp's Last Tape
John Hurt in Krapp's Last Tape
The Visceral Company

In Dan Spurgeon's one-act scare fest, two couples break into a small studio theater on a stormy Halloween night. Would-be horn-dog Josh (Nick Echols) is hoping to put the moves on sorority girl Kelly (Stacy Snyder), who'd rather be at the party at the Beta house. Mike (Curtiss Johns) is hoping for a really scary evening, while his date, Julia (Stefani Davis), is nervous about the whole thing. Mike tells a spooky story about a guy named Wesley, who died in the theater, and brings out a Ouija board. Wesley seems to be speaking to them via the Ouija, and other strange happenings proliferate, until the lights go out and all hell breaks loose. The plot is minimal and the characters are sketchy, but director John B. McCormick keeps the chills and thrills coming thick and fast. Judging by the screams, laughter and nervous giggles, the audience was happily terrified. The Visceral Company at Underground Theatre, 1312 N. Wilton Place, Hlywd.; Fri. -Sat., 10:30 p.m.; through Oct. 27. thevisceralcompany.com. (Neal Weaver)

G ( ) D ( ) T Admirers of Samuel Beckett's work will find a few moments of humor (and some answers, of a sort) in Steve Gough's riff on the absurdist classic Waiting for Godot. Here, the enigmatic Mr. Godot (good performance by Nicolaus Mackie) is a bewhiskered, elderly Brit with a quirky disposition, inclined to obtuse philosophical musings, outbursts over the fate of tramps Vladimir and Estragon, and pacing about in his windowless "office." He is joined by Snook (Tyson Turrou), his "personal assistant," who, when he isn't pandering to Godot's inconstant moods, bangs away on an antique typewriter and papers the walls with his useless missives. Time is reduced to a painful abstraction here, where the only challenge is to find meaning to it all. Unfortunately, Gough's plodding script doesn't offer much in the way of engagement. Like the original tramps, this pair also is waiting, but for what isn't really clear. Ilmar Taska directs, and Max Ruether rounds out the cast as the messenger. The Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 18. (800) 838-3006, themettheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)

 GO KRAPP'S LAST TAPE

John Hurt in Krapp's Last Tape
John Hurt in Krapp's Last Tape
Craig Schwartz

John Hurt stars in Samuel Beckett's monodrama. A presentation of Gate Theatre, Dublin at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. See our stage feature.

 GO  MANNISH BOY There's a reason Ralph Harris' solo show is returning to L.A. yet again. After earlier incarnations at the Stella Adler in 2008 and 2009 (the former under the title North Philly), this hugely entertaining, autobiographical account of a 40-something ladies' man facing possible fatherhood opens its longest run yet at Stage 52. Harris made his name in stand-up, and he skillfully delivers belly laughs throughout. But the paternity scare wrought by a long-lost ex-girlfriend is really just a frame on which to hang a richly woven tapestry of the people and experiences that have made him, in the end, more mannish than boyish. Harris is a marvel of mannerisms and verbal tricks, conjuring vivid, affecting portraits of his hot-tempered father, a crack-smoking uncle, his Burt Bacharach-loving grandfather and even the sensual, cocoa butter-rubbing friend of his mother, Miss Betty. Harris disappears so utterly into his characters that, even for the audience, resurfacing feels like waking from a dream. The show runs a shade long at 90 minutes without intermission, though director Oz Scott keeps things moving. In one of the evening's highlights, Harris channels his 7-year-old self in a whirling dervish of a monologue. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 4. (310) 671-6400, stage52la.com. (Jenny Lower)

ROOM 105: THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF JANIS JOPLIN It takes singer Sophie B. Hawkins a song or two to perfect Janis Joplin's gravelly growl, but she gets there just in time and maintains the requisite throaty cackle of the bad-girl icon throughout. Though Hawkins' girl-next-door prettiness needs a bit more roughing up to achieve a true Joplin metamorphosis, her singing carries the show. But writer-director Gigi Gaston's thin storyline tells us nothing new about Joplin and veers into caricature territory far too often. Fans of the Joplin songbook likely will enjoy the covers, but those expecting any glimpses beyond the streetwise flower-girl public persona Joplin perfected before her untimely death will feel shortchanged. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 28. (323) 654-0680, machatheatre.org. (Amy Lyons)


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