Did You Do Your Homework, Snow White, Fiesta, and other new reviews . . .
Lloyd B. Schwartz
We learned yesterday that Dany Margolies was let go as editor of L.A. branch of Back Stage in a management trim-down. She's about as dedicated and disciplined and supportive of local theater as anybody in town. This is upsetting news for the local arts organizations.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, Published on January 12, 2012
GO DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? In his solo play, Aaron Braxton marshals his skills as writer, actor, singer and director to relate his experience as a substitute teacher in urban schools. Economically Braxton, who is black, is not that different from his students, but his teacher mother taught him solid middle-class virtues, which prove to be both a blessing and a bane. He learned what he needed to teach, but the values and language of inner-city African-American kids were as foreign to him as to any white teacher. Braxton has to overcome the communications gap and challenge the ingrained notion that a black man who learns to speak and write correctly is just "acting white." And he must find a way to check disruptive behavior and impose order without seeming like a wuss. Braxton enlivens his tale with an array of funny and touching characters, acted with exuberant affection and veracity. Kiki B. Productions at Theatre Asylum, 1078 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 5. 800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/210970. (Neal Weaver)
GO FIESTA Xylophone playing, ice skating and traditional Mexican hat dancing are just a few of the talents displayed by Bob Baker's marionettes in this south-of-the-border celebration. A favorite production at Baker's theater since its premiere in 1964, the show shines brightest when the colorful puppets interact with children in the audience, like when two peck-happy ostriches provide particularly hearty giggles by gobbling little heads. The whole show is one big happy dance featuring two-stepping cacti, smiling skeleton showgirls and a chicken/rooster duet that's a scream. The ever-present puppeteers disappear during a black-light segment in which flying puppets provide slightly spooky thrills. A piñata is broken near show's end, but no candy is in sight. This wrong is quickly righted with a post-show ice cream social. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., dwntwn.; Sat.-Sun., Jan. 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, 2:30 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 13, 20 & 27, 10:30 a.m.; see website for more dates. 213-250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com. (Amy Lyons)
FILTHY TALK FOR TROUBLED TIMES
Paul M. Rubenstein
Director Frederique Michel's intriguing reinvention of this early drama by playwright Neil LaBute is set in a high-end art gallery, where a trio of beautiful women (nude save some cunningly draped hat boxes) are the prime exhibit. Several horny male "art admirers" wander about the exhibits and engage in conversations about "fuckin' " those "bitches" over there, even as chardonnay-wafting cocktail waitresses mull over the men who have boinked and abused them. LaBute's play was originally set in a strip club, and Michel's new setting in an art gallery allows the otherwise unpleasant ramblings to morph into an amusingly ironic commentary about the thin line between aesthetics and sexual desire. Sadly, though, the adaptation adds little luster to the sometimes irritatingly shrill characters, who are acted gamely if stiffly by the cast. LaBute often has been accused of depicting misogynist attitudes in an attempt to critique male behavior, but in this early work, the unpleasant toxicity of his language is so over-the-top and repetitive, it becomes numbing and tedious. City Garage, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through Feb. 25. 310-319-9939, citygarage.org. (Paul Birchall)
GROUNDLINGS: SCIENCE FAIR This 19-sketch offering from the Groundlings is a hit-and-miss affair, though the signature improv segments that accompany the show are consistently funny and well performed. Director Karen Maruyama frequently amps up the physical comedy, but the payoff isn't impressive, such as the overdone "Pan Am Constellation," in which a pair of mustached pilots struggles with severe turbulence, and "Dating Life," where two ladies feverishly try to stuff their rears into size-small jeans. Lazy writing appears in many of the sketches, such as "Renewing our Vows," where Jill Sachoff and Timothy Brennen entertain guests at a knot-tying ceremony with low-voltage gags and dialogue, and "French Woman Don't Get Fat," which is dull and over-long. Performances also are spotty, the exceptions being Scott Beehner and Michael Naughton. Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through Jan. 28. 323-934-4747, groundlings.com. (Lovell Estell III)
THE LOVER No matter the arguments those in "open relationships" put forth for their arrangement, at some point someone is going to get jealous. It's human nature, and Harold Pinter is a master prober of that nature. This 1962 play toyed with the idea of overtly taking lovers other than your significant other before it was acceptable to do so, while also addressing the growing fissures in the idealistic image of domestic bliss. It begins with a man, dressed for work, asking his wife, "Is your lover coming today?" Pinter wrote in short, simple sentences; the long silences he inserted in his plays carry just as much meaning as the words. Unfortunately, Katharina Magdalena doesn't quite have the depth yet to play a role so heavily dependent on what's not said. Peter Le Bas fares better, but the success of Pinter's play -- like any relationship -- is contingent upon two, not one. Directed by Chris Covics. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 & 10 p.m.; through Jan. 29. 303-541-1031. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
In Adam Szymkowicz's play, the saying that misery loves company is played out in a NYC dive bar where Elliot (Adam Silver) and Susan (Anna Rubley) meet on their first date and eventually connect over their shared misfortune. Each is tentative and awkward in first date fashion; however, the comedy that typically ensues from such miscues is diminished by Elliot's uncharacteristic forwardness and hyperawareness. Susan also unexpectedly zags in a dark direction when she pulls a Bowie knife from her purse so that Elliot can carve their initials into the table. Surprises and heightened realism are common currency in drama; in fact, without them, the form strays into tedious verisimilitude. But when such surprises both seem out of character and don't clearly connect to a deeper subtext, they create confusion and hinder engagement with the characters. Director Michael Matthews doesn't ameliorate the situation because he allows the actors to project their awkwardness without embodying it, and his tight rein on the pacing of an already short show stifles the breathing room needed to let the comedic moments land. While the emotions in the piece don't always resonate, Stephen Gifford's set does, with its surprisingly authentic Wurlitzer jukebox streaming Cricket S. Myers' fittingly hipster-ish '80s soundscape. El Centro Theater - Chaplin Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. 6avenue.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO NOISES OFF A Noise Within reprises its popular 2009 comedy production for the third time, this time in its new Pasadena digs, with Michael Frayn's riotous and beautifully constructed British farce playing as well as ever. The fantastic two-story set (designed by Adam Lillibridge) is less of a tight fit thanks to the roomier venue. Over the course of three acts we, the audience, become privy to the backstage shenanigans of a touring theater company's nonsensical farce. As the play progresses from the dress rehearsal in Act One, to an opening night one month into the tour, to another evening later in the run, we watch the entire production unravel thanks to disorganized and disorderly actors, complicated by various fraught dalliances and jealousies. There are plenty of well-executed pratfalls and hilarious costume mishaps. Mikael Salazar is excellent as the incoherent Garry while Emily Kosloski is perfect as the busty, ditzy blonde Brooke. Everyone's comic timing -- essential for a successful farce -- is on point. Stick around in the auditorium for both act changes as the hardy stagehands nimbly reverse and reposition the large set within the 10-minute intermissions. A Noise Within, 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Fri., Jan. 6 & 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 7, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 8 & 15, 2 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 14, 8 p.m. 626-356-3100, anoisewithin.org. (Pauline Adamek)
SEATBELTS REQUIRED In this Rashomon of familial dramas, an evil mother has died and her three estranged daughters by three men reunite at the old homestead to sift through her things and their bad, bad memories -- none of which match up. The bitter eldest (Elizabeth Kimball) claims mom was the devil, the favored youngest (Chelsea Pitillo) argues she was a saint and the neglected middle (Cynthia Manous) just wants to make peace. The first act is spent fighting. So, too, is the second, only now there's a bottle of tequila and Pitillo's vow to "let every fucking cat out of every fucking bag." The play is structured like a roller coaster with a dozen detours, but author Kimberly Demmary (who hints that her story is semi-autobiographical) has a steady hand on the psychological beats. Still, the emotions are too often overplayed -- the cast is capable enough that director John Barker could scale back on the eye rolls. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Feb. 12. 818-506-3903. (Amy Nicholson)
PICK OF THE WEEK: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS This musical adaptation of the fairy tale classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs offers plenty of opportunity for children's participation -- and that is its strongest appeal. In this amiably revised version, the Queen (Susan Morgenstern) is upset to learn that she's no longer considered the land's fairest -- but her remedy is relatively benign. Instead of plotting to kill Snow White (Caitlin Gallogly), she transports her out of the kingdom. Instead of feeding her a poisoned apple, she laces one with tryptophan. Instead of seven dwarves protecting the heroine, the script features one jolly performer (Anthony Gruppuso) abetted by enthusiastic helpers drafted from the audience. Neither the book (Scott Martin) nor the songs (music by Rob Meury, lyrics by Richard Brent) are especially memorable, but Gallogly is cute and charismatic, and Paul Denniston scores laughs doubling as the wise-cracking magic mirror and the puffed-up prince. For adult spectators, observing the kids' delight is the best entertainment. Storybook Theatre at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles; Sat., 1 p.m.; through Feb. 25. (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org (Deborah Klugman)
THE TROJAN WOMEN There is an oft-quoted line on acting attributed to Jimmy Cagney that goes something like, "Learn your lines, plant your feet and tell the truth." Director-adaptor Steven Sabel gets it two-thirds right. In tackling Euripides' immortal antiwar drama, his actors know their lines and speak timeless truths, but the unceasing stage wandering that Sabel substitutes for cogently focused blocking in his period-dress (costumes by Sarah Kay Morris) production all too often vitiates the classic's high poetical voltage. Part of the problem is that Sabel's otherwise condensed adaptation also individualizes the chorus (to the point of assigning them each names). While this provides opportunities for some singular supporting performances (the fine Josefine Petersen and Constance Strickland are standouts), at times his intimate staging can feel like the 405 at rush hour. Fortunately, Sabel anchors it all to an unusually powerful and memorable Hecuba; the whiskey-voiced Alla Poberesky's sonorous and silky delivery could melt even the most hardened of Argive hearts. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., dwntwn.; Thurs-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.; through Feb. 4. 213-237-9933, archwayla.com. (Bill Raden)
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