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Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more

"Blackbird," extended at Rogue Machine
"Blackbird," extended at Rogue Machine
John Flynn

The Big Lag: It's taking six years for a number of provocative new plays to land here from overseas: David Harrower's Blackbird (extended at Rogue Machine) premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005, and arrived here in June after productions in New York and Chicago. (See Stage Feature) Alan Rickman's My Name is Rachel Corrie, opening at Theatricum Botanicum on September 1, opened at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2005 and created explosive upset over whether the New York Theatre Workshop would or wouldn't produce it, shortly after; Len Jenkin's Margo's Veil opened a couple of weeks ago at the Odyssey Theatre, six years after its New York premiere at the Flea Theatre.

Judith Chapman stars as Vivien Leigh in Rick Foster's Vivien , Pauline Adamek gives it a mixed report in this week's capsule NEW THEATER REVIEWS (go to the jump )

Also, check out the current COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, and the expanded STAGE FEATURE on  D. Hunter Smith's Quake at Open Fist Theatre

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 25, 2011

GO BEAU JEST

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Tim Dietlein

So what's an attractive Jewish girl supposed to do when she's dating a man who's a gentile but doesn't want her parents to know about it? The solution to that dilemma provides ample comic fodder in James Sherman's 1990 romantic comedy in this fine revival by director Martin Lang. Sarah Goldman (Alison Robertson) is a single woman leading a seemingly happy life that includes a job as a teacher and a budding romance with the affable Chris Cringle (Shawn Cahill). However, her parents, Miriam (Elaine Rose) and Abe (Mario Di Gregorio), are pressuring her to find an eligible Jewish bachelor to marry. After consoling them with a fantasy of the perfect husband she claims to be dating, and with a family dinner on the agenda, she hires an out-of-work actor to stand in for her invention. Enter the handsome Bob Schroeder (Kelly Flynn), aka Dr. Ben Steinberg, who seems to save the day. The scheming and scamming Sarah perpetrates to maintain the ruse furnish most of the laughs here. Playwright Sherman milks the situation for every bit of comic potential. The performances are top-down solid under Lang's equally strong direction. Rounding out the cast is Danny Michaels as Sarah's therapist brother, Joel. Glendale Center Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., some performances Wed., 8 p.m., and Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m. (call for dates); through Sept. 24. (818) 244-8481. glendalecentretheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)

GO DANCING AT LUGHNASA

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Ron Frederick

Irish playwright Brian Friel admires and has adapted plays by Anton Chekhov. And like so many gentle comedies by the Russian master, Friel's bittersweet period drama is less concerned with events than with the emotional survival of ordinary folk in a formidable and changing world. Friel's quasi-autobiographical play is set in an Irish village in August 1936 and revolves around five impoverished and unmarried sisters. Narrating their fortunes is the now-grown illegitimate son of the youngest sibling, Christina (Molly Leland), Michael (Gino Costabile); he is the playwright's alter ego. Having neither money nor romance, Michael's mother and aunts gather comfort from each other, along with a bit of joy from their recently acquired "wireless," a cantankerous appliance that intermittently furnishes music they can dance to. One significant event is the return from Africa of their elder brother, a priest named Jack (Donal O'Sullivan). After 25 years, his muddled metamorphosis from Catholic missionary into humanist and celebrator of Dionysus is startling to everyone. Another ripple in their lives is created with the brief reappearance of Christina's lover, Gerry (ZackaRya Santoro), the father of her child. But even as the couple dance in each other's arms, their son, Michael, is describing the twilight destiny of their liaison, and of his family as well. Directed by Aaron Morgan, this is a solid production that captures the play's considerable heart and depth, despite the miscasting of one performer and other still unperfected performances on opening night. As the lovely Christina, Leland radiates with inner life, while Suzy Harbulak draws a skilled portrait of the reserved sister, Agnes. Costabile furnishes the piece with a firm anchor, an understated yet persuasive storyteller, he is equally adept in his role as a 7-year-old boy. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 960-7711, plays411.com/lughnasa. (Deborah Klugman)

END DAYS

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Enci

Verisimilitude, psychological depth and emotional truth aren't necessarily requisites for a winning stage comedy. But they help. So do a measure of genuine wit, a certain subtlety of craft and, well, some occasional belly laughs. Stint on too many of these and the result could easily resemble playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer's seriously unfunny fractured-family fable. Laufer's one-note joke rests on the character of Sylvia Stein (Abigail Revasch), a supremely self-involved and over-controlling Jewish mother whose history of phobic manias have produced a dour, resentful and rebellious outcast of a punk-rock teen daughter, Rachel (Zoe Perry). Worse, Sylvia's recent conversion to Rapture-proselytizing, evangelical Christianity has made Rachel's home life a living hell and sent her father (Loren Lester) into a near-catatonic depression (the less said of his nonsensical brush with 9/11, the better). Sylvia's religious hysteria also has provided her with her own personal savior -- a figment of Jesus (the hilarious Andrew Ableson) that follows her around, vamping poses from kitschy fundamentalist Christ paintings (in the production's sole, genius sight gag). For the rest of the family, the Messiah proves to be Rachel's dweebish, love-struck classmate, Nelson (Charlie Saxton), a fellow outcast in an Elvis jumpsuit whose sympathetic, nonjudgmental guilelessness inexplicably redeems the household. Unfortunately, such feeble whimsies rarely rise above the implausible and are more commonly reduced to shrill caricature by director Lisa James. Designer Jeff McLaughlin's clumsy kitchen-sink set hampers rather than helps either the ensemble or the comedy, while Jeremy Pivnick's lighting runs the gamut of illumination, from off to on. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 31, Sept. 14 & 21, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 8 & 29, Oct. 6 & 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 2 p.m.; through Oct. 13. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Bill Raden)

GO RAISED IN CAPTIVITY

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Tony Maesto

Though Henry David Thoreau observed, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," the desperate characters in Nicky Silver's dark comedy are never quiet about it. They shriek, rage and caterwaul, and a good, miserable time is had by all. Sebastian (director Alejandro Romero) has lost his mother (Betina Mustain) to a freak plumbing accident, his lover has died of AIDS, and now he's fallen in love with Dylan (Marco Dapper), a murderer on death row. When he decides to part company with his longtime therapist (Mustain again), she's plunged into an orgy of hysterical self-loathing and self-mutilation. Sebastian's twin sister, Bernadette (Krystal Kennedy), is married to a dentist (Anthony Trexler) who hates teeth and decides to abandon his profession to become a painter, but their plans are skewed when she discovers she's pregnant -- and things swerve toward magic surrealism when her baby starts walking at 4 months. Director Romero gives the piece a stylishly over-the-top production, though we could do with a little less screaming. The actors inhabit their roles with skill and abandon, while Dapper and Mustain shine in their dual roles. The Renegade Theatre, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Sept. 18. (323) 960-7792, plays411.com/raised. (Neal Weaver)

SO DAMNED HEAVENLY BOUND/YOU MAKE ME PHYSICALLY ILL

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Roger Mathey

Roger Mathey makes clear in the program notes to his one-act, You Make Me Physically Ill (Mathey also directs) that his purpose is to bring closure to the lunacy of a former romantic but unconsummated relationship. Yet there are serious doubts as to whether his personal catharsis comedy translates into a more commonly understood language about the essences of what makes men and women tick together, or not. Mathey's stand-in is a guy named Will (an earnest and sweetly bewildered performance by Karl Wade), visiting the family of his perky love interest, Jennifer (Emily Tisler). The pipe-voiced Tisler plays the role with a kind of caffeinated good nature that melts into a defiant defense to Will of her family, whose abusive, incestuous lunacies form the many, many butts of one joke. Before making their escape, Will's friends (Claire Moles and Steve Garza) make clear that he's about to go down the rabbit hole; the only remaining suspense in what's directed as a '50s sitcom with laughtrack is how Orton-esque perverse this family can be. Upon Will's arrival, Dad (Mathey) offers Will a back rub, having emerged from the back room from a romp on the bed with all his kids. Thereafter, Dad makes several reappearances from the bathroom with fly open while teen daughter Sally (Amanda Castruita) wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. Meanwhile, Jennifer is deaf to Will's pleas that her family is nuts, culminating in her eponymous accusation. Though, to his credit, Mathey takes pains not to demonize his ex, for inquiring minds, his comedy only raises the larger question of what actually happened, since the relentless, and ultimately threadbare, farcical condemnation of her family is more peevish than persuasive. The bill opens with Patty Wonderly's So Damned Heavenly Bound, also directed by Mathey, about three sisters squabbling over their entitlement to the estate of their just deceased father. Despite attempts at jocular repartee, the play takes seriously what Del Shores ridiculed so pointedly in his farce Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will? As one of the characters emoted through a monologue of sibling rivalry, one audience member groaned involuntarily out loud, "Oh ... God," which tidily sums up the entire experience. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 10. (661) 212-0241, plays411.net. (Steven Leigh Morris)

SUN SISTERS

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Lui Sanchez

By the time Vasanti Saxena's mother-daughter drama begins to traverse complex emotional terrain, it's almost a case of too little too late. Riddled with conversational platitudes and hinging on a generic conflict rooted in a tired treatment of the generation gap, Act 1 fails to deliver any semblance of dramatic stakes. Near play's end, however, a rare authorial rallying occurs, resulting in a few narrative payoffs that, though not revelatory, stand on firm dramaturgical ground. Jessica (Andrea Lwin) comes home to take care of her cancer-stricken mother, Angie (Momo Yashima). As the two women pick through boxes in the attic, Angie also pokes around in Jessica's personal life, bemoaning her daughter's lesbian lifestyle and decision to have a baby with her partner. The dull squabble goes on far too long before Angie succumbs to dementia and the first of many flashbacks affords a glimpse into Angie's past. Young Angie (Elaine Kao), as it rather predictably turns out, shares several of Jessica's, ahem, interests. The dramatic irony runs thin as it becomes increasingly clear that secrets will not be kept for long. But the flashbacks introduce the most engaging character in the play. Evelyn (an effectively restrained Jully Lee) is a woman born before her time, and it's her narrative that lends the entire story an element of refreshing unpredictability. Company of Angels at the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, downtown; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 489-3703, companyofangels.org. (Amy Lyons)

TREAT YOURSELF LIKE CARY GRANT

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Randolph Adams

Thomas (Kim Estes), a black man, sits on death row for murdering his white wife after she filed for divorce. With weeks to go before his execution, it looks bleak -- except to the dogged young attorney Roberta (Erin Carufel), hair clenched in a tight French twist, who hounds Thomas' cell demanding he help her prove his innocence. Her problems are twofold: The convict insists he's actually Cary Grant, and worse, he's uninterested in escaping the gallows. "Death row is one nonstop par-tay!" Estes chirps in his best imitation of Grant. (It's decent, but he's done no favors by writer-director Rick Pagano's call to run clips of the real Grant on the wall behind him, reminding us of the impossibility of capturing Grant's cavalier cool.) The fundamental problem of Pagano's play is that the dead man walking is merrily sauntering toward death. The only person desperate to keep him alive in this cast of seven is his workaholic lawyer, and she doesn't even like him much; to her, the man is just an obstacle in the case she wants to win. Even the play doesn't seem to care much if Thomas survives till Christmas -- it's preoccupied with how this incarcerated kook will heal Roberta's love life and her daddy issues, and the solutions feel a bit culturally musty. When she asks Thomas, "Why are you aspiring to be a dead white man?" his counter is, "Why are you trying to be a live one?" And his advice that she should loosen up, let her hair down, wear lipstick and be a woman comes across doubly retrograde with 70-year-old classic romances projected around the room like instructional manuals, and the ghost of Thomas' dead wife (Christine Syron) silently slinking around in an ultra-femme dress to give her man coffee and shoulder massages. Pagano knows there are some intriguing racial and cultural issues buried in his story, but his efforts to sweat them out aren't working. Is Thomas' Cary Grant shtick insanity or just his idealization of a life that transcends his prison? We're led to flip-flop back and forth. By the time the play clutches at some implausible coincidences, you're ready to go home and slip on a DVD of Bringing Up Baby to watch a heroine with real strength and substance. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 18, (323) 960-7745, plays411.com/carygrant. (Amy Nicholson)

VIVIEN Daytime drama star Judith Chapman adopts the troubled persona of Vivien Leigh in Rick Foster's hagiographic one-woman bio-play in its Los Angeles premiere. Foster attempts to illustrate a luminous career undermined by mental illness and a rocky marriage, and introduces us to Leigh two months before her death from tuberculosis, as she's about to undertake rehearsals for Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. As Leigh reminisces, she conducts imaginary (one-sided) conversations with others that figured in her life, such as the thorn-in-her-side savage critic Kenneth Tynan, paramour Peter Finch and, of course, Laurence Olivier, her actor husband of 20 years. Startling us with occasional profanity, Chapman perfectly mimics the actress's distinctive clipped British accent and the exaggerated intonation of this fragile and mercurial leading lady. As Foster's scenes seem random in their progression, Chapman's performance is similarly unpredictable and tinged with insanity. Yet hers is a restless interpretation, bouncing around the stage and constantly gesticulating as if to stave off possible boredom. Viewed by today's standards, Leigh had a tendency to overact. In opting for an overly melodramatic though arguably apt rendition, Chapman outdoes Leigh's rampant theatricality, which is topped by an expressive and dramatic mad scene to rival Lucia di Lammermoor. Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Sat., Aug. 27, perf is at 5 pm. Sun., Aug. 28, perf at 3 p.m.; added perf Mon., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.); through Sept. 4. (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)

THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD

Judith Chapman, in Rick Foster's Vivien; Deborah Zoe Laufer's End Days; Roger Mathey's You Make Me Physically Ill; and more
Lia Perason

It's not all silly patter and comically exaggerated melodrama in Gilbert and Sullivan's relatively grim story of wrongful imprisonment, forced marriages and the tears of a clown -- all taking place in the Tower of London. Set in the year of Queen Elizabeth's death, the libretto mocks Shakespearean speech, mostly achieved through plenteous thees and thous -- well matched by Shon LeBlanc's decorative period costuming and designer Edward Haynes Jr.'s heavy stone set. Director Eugene J. Hutchins and musical director Brian Asher Alhadeff make the most of a mix of performers who range from impressive amateurs to fine professionals. The title character, who escaped unjust execution into the arms of a wandering singer (excellent soprano Michelle Caravia), is played with energetic charm and a gorgeous tenor voice by Joseph Gárate. But the standout of the overstating is the extremely boyish Matthew Welch as tragic jester Jack Point, who gambols through the proceedings with an endearingly exaggerated cockney dialect before letting loose with a heartbreakingly powerful baritone that seems nearly impossible from his compact physique. Some of the staging, and especially the fight choreography, was not quite ready for opening night, but the enthusiasm of the participants made up for most shortcomings. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Sept. 24. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Tom Provenzano)


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