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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

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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