GO BUST "Reveal no personal information," orders an organizer to prison volunteer Lauren Weedman in the return of her hilarious and brutally frank one-woman show. The chipper blonde is a goofball who would fess up to anything for a laugh, but her riotous anecdotes have an acid tinge. Pertly insensitive yet continually apologetic, Weedman uses humor as a deflection device — and she's smart enough to know it. Directed crisply and incisively by Allison Narver, Weedman admits she enlisted as an inmate life-coach partially because she wanted to be the prettiest girl in the room, and the joke has a whiplash honesty. As she skewers herself and the Through the Looking Glass logic of the California prison system, Weedman shows a spot-on ear for characters, bringing into sharp relief everyone from a meth-addicted prostitute to a candy-coated manipulator at Glamour magazine who persuades Weedman to sell her darkest secret — only to spin her shame into a public uproar. Though the characterization of herself as a narcissistic mess has you thinking she's got more in common with the women on the other side of the Plexiglas divide, after Weedman hits bottom and realizes she has to fight to survive, the Glamour disaster sinks her even lower. Yet we watch her claw back from the brink as she finds that sometimes comedy — and vulnerability — is strength. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; perfs Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 5. (213) 389-3856 or www.bootlegtheater.com. (Amy Nicholson)
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Carnage, a Comedy
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The Golden State
CARNAGE, A COMEDY Playwrights Tim Robbins and Adam Simon's ferocious satire on the hypocrisy of American televangelism crackles with philosophical awareness and imaginative stagecraft. Yet, even in director Beth F. Milles' tightly paced production, the play hasn't aged well, with a satire that inevitably feels not as relevant or as fresh as it was when the piece was first staged in 1987. Televangelist Cotton Slocum (V.J. Foster) is a corpulent, corrupt old preacher as fond of money as he is of saving the souls of the viewers of his regular church TV show. Wanting to raise even more money, Slocum commences a marathon "holy" walk through the desert — but disaster strikes, and Slocum is left alone, wondering if he is the only person left behind following the Rapture. One theme running through Robbins and Simon's work is how the clownishness of televangelists has lead to the wicked excesses of the neoconservatives. However, the piece's scattershot storyline — part heavy-handed tirade against religion and part symbolically overburdened surrealism — is messy and hard to follow, and the work's insistence on preaching to the converted undermines the parody's effectiveness. Still, the cast's perfect comic timing goes a long way toward enlivening the tired material. Foster's charismatic as the blowhard preacher, and Justin Zsebe is increasingly disturbing as his creepy, fundamentalist apprentice. Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (310) 836-4264. An Actors' Gang production. (Paul Birchall)
GO THE COMMON AIR The Asylum Theatre, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 960-4443. A SoulArt and Elephant Stageworks Production. See Theater feature.
THE $4 MILLION GIVEAWAY Set in a two-room suite at New York's Knickerbocker Arms, Art Shulman's "mystery" examines what large amounts of money make people do. Jesse Morgan (Chris Winfield), a terminally ill man who enjoys playing games, decides to give away his fortune, but the catch is that the four eligible recipients have to vote among themselves to decide which two will get $2 million each. His ex-wife, Jennifer (Renee Gorsey); his former employer, Karl (Richard Tirrell); his ex-best friend, Ken (Charles O'Hair); and a homeless man named Woodrow (Disraeli Ellison) vie for the prize, while Jesse and his nubile, young attorney Kimberly (Alyse Courtney) watch from the next room via television monitor. Though the characters are often stereotypically drawn and Act 1 is a bit of a snooze filled with obvious exposition, the appearance of Jesse's mentally impaired adult daughter, Emily (Trisha Hershberger), in Act 2 and a plot twist at the end of it raise the stakes and salvage the piece somewhat. Ellison provides most of the comedy by fully embodying his eccentric character, and Hershberger, who plays her role with touching sensibility, gives the piece heart. Kristina Lloyd's direction unfortunately lacks dynamism, and until the second act, Winfield's naturalistic set is the most captivating thing onstage. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 8. (818) 700-4878. (Mayank Keshaviah)
THE GOLDEN STATE Northern California's Dell'Arte theater troupe gets physical again, this time with company member Lauren Wilson's modern spin on Moliere's The Miser. Here, the setting is poolside at the L.A.-area home of Gertrude Hopper (Joan Schirle), a wealthy skinflint who hates illegal immigrants (including the underpaid ones she employs) and who hatches an idea to make her two layabout adult children pay their way. This involves getting gay son Cubby (Tyler Olsen) to donate his sperm to fertilize the frozen eggs of Gertrude's sexagenarian golfing pal, Bunny Schimpf (John Achorn). The wombless Bunny won't have to carry the baby to term — under Gertrude's plan, that service would be provided by Gertrude's 39-year-old daughter, Sylvia (Barbara Geary). Swirling around this sometimes madcap, sometimes gross-out plot are romances, separated families and wildfires. For all its slapstick and social commentary, however, Wilson's surprisingly long play (nearly two hours' running time) hangs on only about 45 minutes of story and necessary dialogue. The rest of the show consists of extraneous scenes that politically pander to the chorus, and much of the production's physicality seems abrupt and unconnected from one moment to the next. The eight-member ensemble, directed by Michael Fields, has fun in this romp about greed, materialism and decrepit bodies, with Schirle being a real hoot as the demented reactionary who keeps her money closer to her than anyone could imagine. 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (800) 838-3006. A Dell'Arte Company production. (Steven Mikulan)
HAMLET Redcat, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 10. (213) 237-2800. A Wooster Group production. See Theater feature.
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Satan Says . . . Amber Flamminio and Elias Gallegos
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THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME This adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel (book and lyrics by Gary Lamb, music by William A. Reilly) is more like an old-fashioned operetta (with a dash of 19th-century melodrama thrown in) than a modern musical. There's something enduringly touching about the hopeless love of the hideous, deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo (Bill Mendieta), for the beautiful Gypsy girl Esmeralda (Amy Bloom), who misguidedly loves Phoebus (Derek Knight), the caddish captain of the guard. But the adapters have been too faithful to the original novel: The Gypsy is so totally deceived by the transparently vicious guardsman that she often seems like a ninny, and the obsessed Archdeacon Frollo (Vsev Krawczeniuk) is so relentlessly villainous he strains credibility. In Act 2, the piece focuses in on the hunchback's shy adoration of Esmeralda and becomes quite moving. Mendieta, with the assistance of an eloquent, knobby mask created by Joanne McGee and Lamb, achieves genuine nobility. This rendition, directed by Thomas W. Ashworth and Lamb, is more concise and stripped down than the production 12 years ago at the Ivy Substation, but loses some impact without the spectacle and richness of musical resources. There are solid performances by Alissa-Nicole Koblentz and Melissa Bailey. St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; indef. Info@crowncitytheatre.com. A Crown City Theatre Company production. (Neal Weaver)
THEATER PICK SAY YOU LOVE SATAN "Hell holds a special place for people who work on Disney musicals," observes Jack, the devil-may-care hunk in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's impish comedy. And, as the self-admitted son of Satan, Jack (Elias Gallegos) should know. Just why this disco-hopping demon has chosen to mate with the smart but rather doughy Andrew (Doug Sutherland) forms the play's spooky mystery. This question nags Andrew, a budding Dostoyevsky scholar, but not enough for him to lay off Jack's ripped torso. Part of the answer is that Andrew, though a decent man, is clearly longing for something wilder and more wicked in life than he gets from his demanding fag-hag girlfriend, Bernadette (Amber Flamminio), his insufferable ex, Chad (Drew Droege), and the romantic but impossibly virtuous do-gooder, Jerrod (Eric Jorgenson). Written in the I Married a Witch vein of catty 1940s film farces, but with just enough foreboding to whisper Rosemary's Baby, this two-act offers a charming and thoughtful twist on Faustian mythology. Although packed with bitchy gags about gay life and pop fashions (and in need of a somewhat sharper ending), the play also highlights the tension created by a subculture obsessed with youth and appearances on the one hand, and the need for spiritual nourishment on the other. Brian Shnipper directs an excellent cast with an ear finely tuned to the dialogue's nuances and an eye focused on emotional detail. Attic Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (323) 525-0600, Ext. 2 or "Reserve Line." (Steven Mikulan)
GO TALKING WITH ANGELS Performer Shelley Mitchell's one-woman show is adapted from the diaries of Gitta Mallasz. Being a childhood athlete and Olympic swimming contender for Hungary gave her the status to pull off the remarkable stunt of managing a shirt factory near Budapest in 1944-45 that was actually a secret refuge for Jewish women hiding from German Nazis, and the even more notorious Hungarian Nazis. This is a long way from The Diary of Anne Frank, however. The core of the memoir is the story of Mallasz's camaraderie with three nonpracticing Jewish friends (Mallasz was not Jewish) — one of whom received visitations from a series of "angels" offering psychic and spiritual counsel to the quartet as the Holocaust cut its swath across Europe. In the performance, Mitchell portrays the elderly Mallasz at a lecture hall in 1991, ambling and speaking haltingly with wisps of humor — a portrayal with such leisurely, lifelike timing, its antitheatricality insists that the audience enter the old woman's zone. It's both an imposition and a prerequisite for absorbing what's to come — a channeling of specters for which Mitchell transforms into something between a dancer and a shaman. The guiding spirits are often impish, gentle and curt in a single breath. Nothing "airy fairy" about these angels, Mallasz rightly notes. Tomomi Itakura's set includes a downstage menorah and a translucent cream curtain that plays nicely off Robert Ted Anderson's tender lighting design and the unobtrusive sound design by Scot Thiessen. (Archival recordings of Hitler, and radio news broadcasts of the time, are used so sparingly as to prevent this play's descent into melodrama.) The performance does not invite easy emotions; rather, it's an intellectually, spiritually and poetically rigorous journey into the larger meanings of life, death and incomprehensible malice. Its excruciating beauty derives from its simplicity, its purity and the veracity of its harrowing stories, yet the venue is far too claustrophobic for a conjuring of this scale. Robin Fontaine directs soulfully, and meticulously. The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 10. (323) 960-5774 or www.plays411.com/angels. (Steven Leigh Morris)
XXXTUBE.COM LIVE: PLEASURE, POLITICS, PERFORMANCE, PORN Sometimes even Highways loses its edge. Promised a clever rip on the new private, instant porn so available and prevalent online, dozens of artsy, aging males filed into the famed den of the avant-garde last weekend for what turned out to be an evening of adolescent humor and sexual tittering. Reputedly live, online sex acts were projected onto the back of the stage while five artists (or spiritualists) switched between sophomoric erotic jokes and banal preaching about sexual freedom. The best of a bad outing was Ian Mackinnon's filmed segment in which ex-Groundling Drew Droege critiqued amateur sex videos from sites like XTube. Clint Steinhauser's viscerally upsetting "Shamanistic Fisting" combined spiritual enlightenment with visuals that shocked even this open-minded crowd. The audience response moved quickly and understandably from fascinated anticipation to palpable disappointment as the acts proceeded. Highways Performance Space and Gallery, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Closed. (310) 315-1459. (Tom Provenzano)