Michael Hollinger's mystery "Ghost-Writer" at Long Beach's International City Theatre is this week's Pick. Nice notices also for Coeurage Theatre's Assassins, Elephant Room at the Kirk Douglas, The Gronholm Method at the Falcon, and more. You can find all the latest New Theater Reviews after the jump
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 30, 2012:
GO ASSASSINS America does offer equal opportunity for all when it comes to gun violence. That's the disquieting motif of Stephen Sondheim's brutally funny musical (book by John Weidman), which celebrates the horrific deeds of history's most infamous murderers. The phrase "guns at the ready" is certainly appropriate here; and the gallery of rogues who pull the triggers are an unsettling, colorful lot. Ryan Wagner blends poet and madman as John Wilkes Booth, musing over his "legacy" and the reasons for Lincoln's murder. As Charles Guiteau, Nick Rocz skillfully evidences madness and religious obsession while climbing the gallows after killing President Garfield. Also present is Leon Czolgosz (Jonas Barranca), in a creepy turn, who, before blasting President McKinley, shares an intimate moment with anarchist Emma Goldman (Sammi Smith). And there is more than enough humor, not only from Sondheim's dark, saucy lyrics but also from Nicole Monet and Kim Reed as Sara Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. This is all neatly framed and accented by a circuslike atmosphere, which director Julianne Donelle keeps at a modulated pitch throughout, with outstanding management of her large cast. Aimee Karlin is a standout as the proprietor, as is Travis Dixon as the Balladeer. Coeurage Theatre Company at Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 9. coeurage.org. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE BLUE IRIS
Athol Fugard's latest play in its U.S. premiere at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; See Stage feature.
GO ELEPHANT ROOM
With this tour de force of magic and comedy (created by Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle and Steve Cuiffo) performed by a trio of big-haired, bug-eyed magicians wearing black-light-art-covered shirts and resembling the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers -- and staged on a set suggesting a circa 1980s shag-rug-and-vomit-green-wall-lined suburban recreation center -- one might be tempted to dismiss the work as cheesy kitsch. However, such an interpretation would do a disservice to the innovative nature of this fast-paced, hilariously oddball performance piece, which, amidst renditions of '80s rock standards, allows magicians to alternately dazzle and subvert our expectations through the use of deconstructed magic tricks. Resplendent in his Tom Selleck mustache, aspiring magic "legend" Dennis Diamond transforms a bowl of grape Kool-Aid back into powder and then magically uses it to create a portrait of the Dalai Lama. Mullet-haired Daryl Hannah makes eggs appear out of thin air and cooks up an omelet without heat. Much of the '80s gestalt provides a layer of misdirection: Distracted by the shag rug, you're then suddenly surprised by a dazzling magic trick that elevates the prosaic surroundings into something rare and strange. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Sept. 16. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org. (Paul Birchall)
In an informal poll of the "most despicable words" conducted earlier this month by a writer at The Atlantic, "foodie" made the cut, demonstrating that playwright David J. Duman's skewering of restaurant culture is at least timely. Set in an upscale fish house specializing in organic, sustainable (can we nominate those words, too?) cuisine, he focuses on two servers' boredom, the manager's and chef's attempt at romance and a couple who get off sexually on food. The show is funniest when it exaggerates the foodie customers' obsessive, infuriating questions ("Your grilled squid -- is it fried?"). It also touches on a theme we've long hoped someone would tackle: how service-industry professionals became some of the most monetarily valued workers in our society. "You make more money than people with actual skills," one server says to another. Performances are mostly more than fine (Chase McKenna could stand to dial it way down, however). Yet Duman couldn't decide between witty vignettes and a full-blown play, so the show succeeds on neither front. Shame, because the timing for a takedown is so perfect. Archway Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 22. (213) 237-9933, brownpapertickets.com/event/260879. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
PICK OF THE WEEK: GHOST-WRITER
Michael Hollinger's world-premiere play has been billed as a spine tingler, but nothing could be further from the truth. What this psychological and, at times, lyrical drama accomplishes is far more interesting than raising goose bumps .Brilliant stenographer Myra Babbage (Paige Lindsey White) knows how to anticipate her employer's every em dash and full stop. But when that employer, novelist Franklin Woolsey (Leland Crooke), dies unexpectedly, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript, the diligent amanuensis types on, claiming to be receiving dictation from beyond the grave. Whether these kindred spirits might actually share an otherworldly connection, or whether Myra is voicing her own frustrated romantic and creative ambitions, are questions the production explores with humor and dignity. Early versions of the script cast Ghost-Writer as a one-woman play. Under caryn desai's canny direction, the central character retains every inch of her full complexity. White imbues Myra with so much vivacious intelligence, every keystroke reverberates with wit and longing. Hollinger based the story on true incidents following the death of Henry James, wisely trading the likely homosexual 19th-century writer for a fictional counterpart. Crooke brings diffident warmth to the unhappily married Woolsey. Cheryl David completes the triangle as the jealous wife. International City Theatre at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 16 (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.com (Jenny Lower)
GO THE GRO NHOLM METHOD
In Spanish playwright Jordi Galceran Ferrer's sly, serpentine one-act, four corporate jobseekers engage in humiliating hijinks to test who among them is the toughest and the meanest. Frank (the excellent Jonathan Cake) appears to be the most ruthless and remorseless; he arrives first, then is startled when he's joined by the soft-spoken but no less wily Rick (Stephen Spinella). Later comes Carl (Graham Hamilton), every inch a youthful scion of privilege, and Melanie (Lesli Margherita), the group's tough, token female. Arriving in a pale, uncluttered boardroom (designer Brian Webb's impeccably impersonal set) in anticipation of a company official, the quartet discover themselves alone (albeit surveyed, they suspect, by hidden cameras). A cabinet door eerily opens to deliver a series of directives that demand they partake in demeaning games and reveal embarrassing personal secrets, or else forfeit the competition. Directed by BT McNicholl, the play furnishes a caustic, chilling commentary on corporate soullessness and savage ambition. That said, not every onstage turn played persuasively for me, although some of the reasons for that emerge in the (almost!) final twist. Cake's glittering aggressor dominates throughout, while Spinella's nuanced performance is faultless. Hamilton and Margherita are both very good but could sharpen their edges even more. Falcon Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; through Sept. 30. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
AN INCIDENT AT THE BORDER
For anyone who has ever survived an undergraduate playwriting class, the five most ominous opening words in any stage script may well be, "lights up on a park bench." By its suggestion of anywhere, the park-bench play is effectively set nowhere -- a perilously abstract and generic arena for even an absurdist allegory like playwright Kieran Lynn's. Idling in the park in the midst of a civil war, Olivia (Jennifer Robyn Jacobs) and her husband, Arthur (Hank Ostendorf), quickly find themselves occupying the same bench but on opposite sides of the new international boundary that is laid out in masking tape by border guard Reiver (Christopher Frontiero). As a metaphor for a bankrupt marriage, the conceit delivers some pointed ironies, but it exhausts its comic incongruities far, far too quickly. Director Tracy Woodward's indifferent staging and an anemic production design prove unable to take up the slack. A Transatlantic Theatre Company production. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Sept. 9. (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org /an-incident-at-the-border. (Bill Raden)
GO THE PARA ABNORMALS
A trio of paranormal investigators has several close encounters with menacing spirits in Thomas J. Misuraca's comedy thriller, now playing at Zombie Joe's Underground Theater in NoHo. Just the opening moments of this low-budget supernatural chiller manage to offer far more effective shivers and scares than the recent staging of The Exorcist over at the Geffen. Three wannabe ghostbusters, college students Jill (Jessica Amal Rice), Stan (Tyler McAuliffe) and Chuck (Tucker Matthews), zero in on homes and libraries that report inexplicable activity. Armed with their smartphones, the team attempts to communicate with and document the elusive evidence of ghostly entities. They seem to be making some progress when one of their own becomes possessed. Meanwhile, an intense and eccentric gypsy medium, Chai Tea (Lauren Parkinson), seems to be conjuring up spirits of her own. There's a lot of screaming in the dark and quite a few genuine scares in this mostly hilarious one-hour play. The ghostly apparitions range from a Victorian doll that springs to life to creepy blood-drenched ghouls and wheezy zombies. The show is especially effective when the lighting is reduced to the soft glow from the trio's smartphones, permitting all kinds of surprise appearances. Silly jokes and spiky banter are often one-two gags such as, "You seem to attract the paranormal, Chuck..." "And yet repel womenÉ," Chuck replies. It's funny stuff. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Sept. 29. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Pauline Adamek)
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UNDER THE DESERT
Raymond King Shurtz's mystical drama centers on Tom (Sean Thomas), a wanderer in the Southwestern desert and a self-ordained priest. He arrives at a remote and isolated diner, presided over by waitress Ellie (Alana Dietze). Though he's a stranger to her, he seems to know a great deal about her, and a past she doesn't want to talk about. When he departs, leaving her with a mysterious present, she's fascinated enough to follow him to his cave, where there's much talk of God, metaphysical speculation and revelations about both their pasts. The mysteries are intriguing for a time, but ultimately Shurtz's approach is frustratingly subjective and hermetic. Director Kiff Scholl gives the piece a carefully measured production on the impressive desert set by Joel Daavid and Marine Walton. Dietze and Thomas bring a sinewy, un-actorish reality that holds our interest even when the script turns murky. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 16. (323) 960-7776, plays411.com/underthedesert. (Neal Weaver)