Expecting to walk dogs and clean cages, Tim Maddock left Los Angeles to volunteer with animal rescue services in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As Maddock and Lotti Louise Pharris’ play makes clear, Maddock was in for more — much more, like wading through muck and climbing into collapsing buildings to rescue pets left behind by their owners. Though the play never underestimates the human toll of the disaster, it does give a raw, moving, emotional voice to the nonhuman victims of Katrina. When not rescuing dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and snakes, Maddock helps reunite animals with distraught owners who seek solace in reclaiming pets after having lost everything else. And as with FEMA, the bureaucracy of the animal-rescue unit leaves something to be desired. Some of the volunteers are “crazy animal people” so angry that people have left pets behind that they claim them as their own. (Maddock reports spending considerable time tracking down a Chihuahua dognapped by a volunteer.) The Katrina victims, the volunteers and even some of the animals are given voice by a first-rate ensemble: Tisha Terrasini Banker, Rufus Bonds Jr., Lanai Chapman, LeShay Tomlinson and Colin Walker. Much of the dialogue is darkly humorous, and Emilie Beck’s assured direction helps make it crackle. Act 2 could use some judicious editing, but that’s a quibble in an otherwise superior production. WEIRDSMOBILE PRODUCTIONS at the LOUNGE THEATRE, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (818) 786-5834.
GO FENCES The starpower behind this revival of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning drama is bright but never blinds us to the story’s ferocious generational conflicts or its judgment of American racism. Big-talking, hard-drinking Troy Maxson (Laurence Fishburne) is a former Negro League baseball star now married to pious Rose (Angela Bassett) and to tossing garbage cans in 1957 Pittsburgh. His hostility to sports and life in general is focused on his son, Cory (Bryan Clark), a high-school football player with a shot at a college scholarship, whom he treats with furious scorn. The play has everything: A guilty family secret worthy of Arthur Miller (Troy’s home was paid for with medical payments intended for his disabled brother, Gabriel [Orlando Jones]), a red herring involving Troy’s being given a driver’s job even though he has no license, and a punishment for infidelity that comes with overtones of Greek tragedy. Although Troy and Rose remain vital middle-aged figures, fatigue has soaked into their very bones, and director Sheldon Epps has his actors articulate this in the way Bassett sinks into a chair or Fishburne seems to drag the weight of those trash cans whenever he strides onto the family porch. Epps directs this production with consummate finesse, and the actors make the most of their T-bone roles, but it is Fishburne’s Robeson-esque performance that dominates the evening. PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 1 (added perf. Sept. 20, 2 p.m.). (626) 356-PLAY or www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. (Steven Mikulan)
THIS IS OUR YOUTH Kenneth Lonergan’s first play begins with a sloppy guy named Dennis Ziegler (Jason Ciok) sitting in his sloppy New York apartment, hypnotized by a small television set. Enter Warren Straub (David Huynh), later described as a “rich little pot-smoking burnout rebel.” Warren has just stolen $15,000 from his abusive lingerie tycoon father and flown the coop, landing at Dennis’ house. Act 1 is largely devoted to Dennis and Warren’s debate over how to spend their newfound riches, their two most appealing options being girls and drugs. Lonergan’s dialogue is peppered with cruel jabs, but these two actors play up the hate in their relationship to such a degree that it’s difficult to fathom how they became friends in the first place. Ciok’s Dennis is one-note, yelling through every line, and Huynh’s Warren is so tail-between-the-legs nervous that their interactions are painful to watch. The play itself is funny, but this production lacks any semblance of humor. When Jessica Goldman (Kim Kutner) breaks onto the scene, her entry provides some salvation. Kutner’s whip-smart yet inexperienced Jessica is refreshingly layered, and she manages to draw some depth out of Huynh as well. Sadly, however, Jessica leaves toward the middle of Act 2, and the final scene is interminable. THE ACTOR’S PLAYPEN, 1514 N. Gardener St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 848-2184. (Stephanie Lysaght)