A three-person series of sketches about Laotians in America, Refugee Nation
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication June 7, 2012:
ASTRAL DICK No need to read Kierkegaard or Camus -- playwright James Mathers neatly breaks down the trio of resolutions at which the absurdist philosophers believed humans arrive during their search for meaning in the world. In some distant future, two detectives investigate a death they believe is tied to a cult-like religious sect worshipping the "AnarChrist." It's a by-the-book interpretation of absurdism: subtitling his world premiere "a play in three acts," Mathers clicks off suicide, religion and, finally, acceptance that life is meaningless. Kaytlin Borgen's luminous, wild-eyed performance is exhilarating, providing the thrill that motivates most of us to press on (or check out) despite the general monotony of life. Mathers' strict adherence to form is -- like life -- often tedious, though that's probably the point. Directed by Hanna Hall. Carbon Copy Productions at Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Lodge, Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 10. electriclodge.org. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO COMPLEAT FEMALE STAGE BEAUTY
In 1661, King Charles II permitted women to perform as actresses on British stages and decreed that males were no longer allowed to assume those roles. This was dismal news for the boys and young men whose theater careers consisted of portraying classical female heroines. Jeffrey Hatcher's literate and well-researched historical dramedy explores this subject, focusing on real-life Edward Kynaston (the excellent Ben Rovner). A celebrity of the London stage, "Mr. K" has a quick tongue and an irreverent, wicked wit. He not only falls out of favor with the court but, following some well-timed public satire, also suffers a serious comeuppance from some powerful enemies. The tonal shifts of Hatcher's ribald and, at times, sexually explicit play are beautifully orchestrated; he seems unafraid of plumbing the dramatic depths of his protagonist's plight. Cameron Daxon is good as the ever-scribbling Samuel Pepys (the diarist and "blogger" of his day). Michelle Page has fun as the vulgar yet influential strumpet Nell Gwynn, despite a wobbly Cockney accent. Her opening scene features some delightfully handled nudity and her overacting is comedically sound, reminiscent of the character Bubble from TV's Absolutely Fabulous. Dean Cameron's ingenious set design and lavish period costumes elevate the production values, as does Zad Potter's thoughtful lighting design. William A. Reilly directs. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 1. (818) 745-8527, brownpapertickets.com, crowncitytheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)
HAIR The smell of weed wafts through the air and hippies mingle with audience members in The Tribe Productions' commendable staging of this American tribal love-rock musical. The energetic ensemble of 20-somethings wholeheartedly embraces the communal vibe of the 1960s, which makes for an enjoyable evening's entertainment even though the cast sometimes falls short in vocal and acting chops. Fortunately, performances by Milo Shearer as the wild and woolly Berger, Christopher Chase as conflicted Vietnam draftee Claude and William Potter as the endearing Woof consistently impress. George Chavez gives a stellar drag performance as Margaret Mead, and Dominyque Dickson-Thorpe's soaring vocals elevate the production. While Chase's direction could use refining, Leanna Dindall's choreography often injects innovative life into the musical. Hair occasionally feels like a talent showcase for a group of young friends, but the ensemble's enthusiastic performance ultimately lets the sun shine in, leaving the audience smiling, singing and dancing along. The Tribe Productions at El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through June 24. (323) 960-4418, plays411.net/HAIR. (Sarah Taylor Ellis)
HANDS ON A HARDBODY
Book by Doug Wright, lyrics by Amanda Green, music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, based on the documentary film about an east Texas Nissan dealership's contest for winning a truck, by S. R. Bindler and Kevin Morris. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7: p.m.; through June 17. (858) 550-1010, lajollaplayhouse.org. See Stage feature Wednesday eve.
THE INVENTOR, THE ESCORT, THE PHOTOGRAPHER, HER BOYFRIEND AND HIS GIRLFRIEND Writer-director Matt Morillo's tale about the sexcapades of a quintet of New Yorkers in an apartment building during a snowstorm has some stretches of outsized hilarity, and others that are not so. In Act 1, we meet Jeffrey (fine performance by Jaret Sacrey), a shy, monied originator of bizarre sexual aids, who hires Julia (Jessica Durdock-Moreno), a pricey escort, for an evening of kinky role-playing. The dialogue is delightfully raunchy, and the laughs pile up when Jeff's sex toys appear and explanations are given for their use. Notwithstanding the predictable, saccharine conclusion to this encounter, it's a highly enjoyable romp, and the performances are good. In Act 2, Karen (Isidora Goreshter) and John (Jeffrey Cannata) are in the midst of making up after a voluntary "break," when in pops Molly (Jenni Halina), who not only has been screwing John in the interim but is also Karen's cousin. The secondary complications aren't that engaging, and the only really funny moments in this act come via a naughty, dominatrix-inspired sexual encounter between Karen and John. The Lounge Theater 2, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd.; Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through July 8. (323) 960-7712, plays411.com/escort. (Lovell Estell III)
GO pool (no water)
It has been said that the true measure of any drama is the degree to which it implicates its audience. If so, British playwright Mark Ravenhill's unflinching 2006 flaying of artistic pretense must be judged a harrowing and hilarious triumph. Though the target of Ravenhill's satire is "the Group," a close-knit circle of nameless, 30-something artists, his subject is the corrosive yet universal human reflex of envy at the success of even the dearest of friends. Especially the dearest of friends. In the case of the Group, the bitterness is directed at a former comrade (Jessica Lamprinos) whose art has catapulted her into the stratosphere of art-world superstardom. When a weekend of skinny-dipping at the art star's opulent home puts her into a coma, the Group conspires in a malicious revenge that only makes explicit the pettiness of soul that has condemned them to artistic obscurity. Monkey Wrench Collective director Dave Barton's inventive staging (a remount of the company's acclaimed 2010 production) uses rock tunes and choreography (by Angela Ann Lopez and Lee Samuel Tanng) to shape the Group into a kind of predatory, 10-person Greek chorus and put a delirious knife edge on Ravenhill's somewhat abstract but wickedly incisive text. Flight Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 17. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/238689. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: REFUGEE NATION
Few Americans know a lot about Laos and Laotian-Americans, ignorance addressed in Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng's charming and edifying Refugee Nation. Directed by Armando Molina and Rena Heinrich, with the participation of Litdet Viravong, this three-performer piece informs about the people of Laos while honing in on the experience of Laotian refugees and their American-born children. The grim backdrop of these stories makes one anticipate a dark narrative. Instead, the writers approach their material wryly, intent on portraying humanity's comic foibles as much as its tragic desperation. One sketch features Viravong, in hilarious drag, as a shallow, 17-year-old beauty contestant flashing "Choose me!" smiles while speaking about her mom's struggle to feed their family. Another, more visceral sketch depicts a hapless victim of the civil war (Saopeng) jailed and tormented by the army's youthful soldiers. My favorite is a monologue by an immigrant mom (Chan) that intersperses her numerous opinions about Texas, Los Angeles and the TV show Survivor with a description of her problems with her wayward,now-incarcerated son. Chan, who brings an endearing ingenuousness to all her characters, is especially delightful to watch. Kimo Keoke's fight choreography and Kedar Lawrence's videography add style and flavor, respectively. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through June 24. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org (Deborah Klugman)
GO SLEEPING UGLY
No one could accuse veteran screenwriter-playwright Arnold Schulman (Goodbye Columbus, Funny Lady, And the Band Played On) of languishing in one genre. So it's fitting that this late-career play is a dramaturgic stew -- part kabuki/commedia and part Neil Simon sitcom, seasoned with a dash of Christopher Durang absurdism. This insane hodgepodge proves engaging, though it lags slightly in the home stretch. Why exactly has the meet-cute encounter between lonely bachelor Stanley (Chuck Raucci) and his disarming but klutzy neighbor, Judy (Jaimi Paige), failed to spark a lasting romantic bond? Is dentist Stanley gay, commitment-phobic or simply an uptight loser? The surprising answer leads to uproarious complications. Raucci, a splendid farceur, has us rooting for this schmuck, while the hilarious and captivating Paige seems right at home as a rom-com ingénue -- vintage Goldie Hawn. Chris DeCarlo's imaginative staging boasts a multimedia flair and is graced with a crackerjack ensemble serving as bit characters, walls, furniture and props, comprising an often silent but ever-expressive Greek chorus. The Attic Room's clever, cartoon-style projections enhance the merriment. Further salutes are due to Serena Dolinsky's movement direction, James Cooper's lighting and set, Ashley Hayes' costumes, Timothy Chadwick's graphic design and Linn Yamaha Hirschman's sound effects. Santa Monica Playhouse, The Other Space, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 17. (310) 394-9779, ext. 1, santamonicaplayhouse.com. (Les Spindle)
GO VERY STILL AND HARD TO SEE
Steve Yockey's series of haunted tales is strung together with expert eeriness by director Michael Matthews. Inspired in part by Japanese folktales and lit to chilling effect by Tim Swiss, the stories center on a hotel in which angry ghosts terrorize the guests, causing lifelong mental anguish or worse. The horror begins when the hotel's architect (Andrew Crabtree) strikes a deal with a sinister supernatural force (a deliciously menacing CB Spencer), a bargain that flings open the hotel's doors to ghoulish forces. Marriages and friendships are ruined in the creepy suites, and checking out doesn't end the terror. The ensemble is solid, with standout performances by Adeye Sahran as a reluctant vacationer and Katherine Skelton as a betrayed housewife who comes unhinged on the kitchen floor, where an otherworldly hellhole widens as she scrubs. The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 7. (323) 871-1150. (Amy Lyons)
WOMAN IN MIND
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An avowed master of facile comedies of English middle-class manners by the mid-'80s, Alan Ayckbourn decided it was time to get serious -- a risky business for any comic playwright. One result was this archly whimsical, 1985 treatment of a South London housewife's descent into madness. Following a banal gardening accident, a concussed Susan (a powerfully poignant Sharon Sharth) discovers her emotionally arid and purgatorial existence married to a priggish vicar (the fine David Hadinger) increasingly invaded by the idealized and romantic creations of her elaborately constructed fantasies. In the hands of Pinter, such a premise would have led to the saturnine depths of the comic grotesque. Since this is Ayckbourn, however, what we get is a kind of time-expanded pratfall that packs all the profundity of a funhouse hall of mirrors. Director Christian Lebano and a flawless ensemble mount a ravishing revival (on Matthew G. Hill's clever garden set), but Ayckbourn's sporadic cleverness lapses into predictability long before intermission. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through July 7. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Bill Raden)