This week our critics liked Euripides' Helen at the Getty Villa, adapted for today's celebrity age, plus the new Groundlings Sunday night show, the 24th Street Theatre's play Rome at the End of the Line, and a new political dance performance from the Indian company Navarasa Dance Theatre.
In our theater feature this week, Steven Leigh Morris looks at the Antaeus Company's policy of casting two actors in each role, and whether that's a good thing.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 20, 2012
A BROOKLYN LOVE STORY Chiara Montalto's solo-drama is a valentine to her 92-year-old, widowed grandfather, Pop, with whom she lived for 10 years. It's affectionate, pleasantly sentimental and short; it goes down easily but it plumbs no depths, examines no motives and breaks no new ground. Montalto tells us about Pop's pastimes (he likes Law & Order and going to bed early, and he saves all used candles for use in an emergency), his desire to find her a husband and her dating misadventures. Though her characters are broadly drawn, and amusing in predictable ways, she performs them skillfully under Ronnie Marmo's tight, brisk direction. The most surprising aspect of the production is Danny Cistone's fanciful set — a huge spiral of manuscript pages that coils down to support Pop's leather-covered recliner. To either side of it, we see Pop's basement, with jukebox, neon Budweiser sign and other curious clutter. Theatre 68, 5419 W. Sunset Blvd., E. Hlywd. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 6. (323) 960-5068, plays411.com/brooklyn. (Neal Weaver)
GO ENCOUNTER Often the more specific something is, the more universal it feels. As such, this dance drama by Navarasa Dance Theatre, about Indian farmworker-turned-freedom fighter Dopdi Mejhen (Aparna Sindhoor), could just as easily have taken place in Rwanda, El Salvador or China. Mejhen, husband Dulna Majhi (Anil Natyaveda) and their fellow adivasis (indigenous tribals) are victims of the Indian military, who orchestrate "encounters" to kill or torture so-called enemies of the state. Interestingly, both groups are played by the same actors/dancers. The story is simple but powerful, especially when the dancers' acrobatics, together with Jeremy Pivnick's sublime lighting, create tableaux that showcase both the menace of human villainy and the strength of the human spirit in the face of it. When Boston-based Navarasa first performed a 30-minute excerpt from the piece here last year, the condensation of the material gave the piece an even more palpable energy. This full-length version (even at a compact 75 minutes) has some slower stretches that potentially curtail the work's raw potency, even as they provide humor and lighter moments. Nonetheless, Navarasa's blend of bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance), theater and kalarippayattu (ancient South Indian martial arts) tells an important story through a unique art form rarely seen on L.A. stages. East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., dwntwn; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 7. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO Euripides' Helen Euripides' fanciful version of the legend of Helen of Troy (the beauty whose abduction triggered a 10-year war between the Trojans and the Achaeans) was first produced in 412 B.C. In it he posits that Helen was supplanted by a phantom (fashioned by the mischievous gods) to ensure a war while the real Helen was spirited away to exile on a remote Egyptian island. Playwright Nick Salamone has reimagined Helen for a contemporary, movie-savvy audience, taking vast liberties with the text in order to grant it a late-20th century Hollywood setting. Thus, instead of a dusty old slab of classic theater, we get a visually splendid romp (striking video design is by Adam Flemming) and a Greek chorus of Hollywood starlets (representing three facets of Helen), including Jayme Lake as a breathy Marilyn type. Salamone also successfully maximizes the humor, alleviating the moderate discomfort of enduring 90 minutes of backless seating in the otherwise gorgeous setting of the Getty Villa amphitheater. Lovely songs, composed by David O, are rendered ethereal by soulful harmonies. Rachel Sorsa is great as the titular Helen, even if her outrage is too often tempered by comedic flourishes. Maxwell Caulfield is good as hunky Menelaos, and his evidently dedicated workouts prepared him for the almost-naked role. Getty Villa's Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Pacific Palisades. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 29. (310) 440-7300, getty.edu. (Pauline Adamek)
GO THE GROUNDLINGS: YARD SALE THIS SUNDAY! On balance, director Karen Maruyama and the Groundlings' Sunday Company comics do a solid job of mining these 20-plus sketch routines for laughs. That's not to say that all of the material here is good; there are a handful of instances where the writing lacks the imaginative kick to be effective. "Colonial Penn" is a bad spoof on the insurance company's TV ad, with Nate Clark and Tom Fonss as ultra-satisfied customers, while "The Spirit," a silly take on faith healing, is nothing more than a lot of flopping around onstage. But the improv segments that are standard with every Groundlings show were amazing, and there are more than enough knee-slappers in other sketches. "Chemical Attraction," with Chris Eckert and Courtney Pauroso as highly educated, fussy lovers is hilarious. "Dublin Heights," with plenty of Irish brogue, is a humorous twist on the murder mystery. Fonss and Matt Cook kick up laughs as a pair of fanatical gamers with issues in "Mark, Marty & Minecraft." Also among the evening's best are "Closing Ceremonies," where Navaris Darson and Keri Safran combine rap and opera for the Olympics, and "The Bachelor," a bawdy take on the reality TV show, with Misty Monroe as a mouthy skank. Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Fairfax. Sun., 7: 30 p.m.; runs indefinitely. (323) 934-4747, groundlings.com. (Lovell Estell III)
Reclining Nude on La Cienega Comedian Jann Karam has a delightfully bubbly stage persona and some solid material about her abusive, uncommunicative father and her string of likewise loutish boyfriends. But this one-woman show is the wrong vehicle for Karam: Her talent gets buried under an ineffective experiment that finds her literally painting her way through the story of her life. The narrative starts with Karam's childhood in Superior, Ariz., which she paints as a beige strip of flat boredom topped with a few squiggly mountains. Her lifelong quest for an artists' colony leads to repeated disappointments and some successes, including a slew of appearances on late-night television. While Karam's stories are the stuff of solid stand-up, they turn into a bland set of disconnected ramblings here, and she often seems lost as she dashes from one easel to the next, slapping paint on paper while struggling to remember her material and make it jell with the paintings. It's a case of more being less; if Karam just told the jokes, she likely would shine. Adam Haas Hunter's scenic design is inventive. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 7. (323) 960-7792. plays411.com/recliningnude. (Amy Lyons)
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GO ROME AT THE END OF THE LINE What's life without friends and dreams? A train runs through the backwater Mexican town where playmates Emilia (Julieta Ortiz) and Evangelina (Norma Angelica) reside. Regularly the girls hike to the tracks, where they thrill to the speeding train and plot their escape to the faraway city of Rome. Mexican playwright Daniel Serrano's lovely play goes on to depict these characters at five more junctures in their lives, from adolescence to old age. Each time these women meet, we learn more about their frustrations, their men and the disparity between life as they have lived it and life as they had wanted it to be. That last, universal theme seems all the more poignant given these ladies' guileless vision of the world. Under Alberto Lomnitz's direction, Ortiz and Angelica deliver highly physical performances, while always reflecting the core truth of their characters. Sound designers Alejandro López Velarde and Javier de la Peza's thundering locomotive, Adriana Olivera's layered costumes and Isabel Romero's choreographed movement lend texture to the story. The play is performed in Spanish with English subtitles, though one small problem for non-Spanish speakers is that the dialogue and captions are not always in synch. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., University Park. Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 7. (213) 745-6516, 24thstreet.org. (Deborah Klugman)