Laraine Newman, Jennifer Tilly and Roger Bart take on the stars in "Celebrity Autobiography"

The War Cycle: Gospel According to the First Squad
The War Cycle: Gospel According to the First Squad
Rafael Tongol

Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble brings back its Gospel According to the First Squad (from its War Cycle trilogy), in what critic Rebecca Haithcoat describes as an "electrifying" production.

Celebrity Autobiography has an erratic schedule at Santa Monica's Broad Stage: Larain Newman, Jennifer Tilly and Roger Bart perform "in-their-words" impersonations of the important and self-important in the movie biz, which Amy Nicholson finds both ironic and amusing.

Many recommends of shows seen over the weekend: Circle X's Freak Machine -- a satire of open mic night at the Atwater Village Theater; a strong revivalof On Golden Pond at the Colony Theatre in Burbank; Bill Bozzone's comedy, Rose Cottages at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon. For all CAPSULE THEATER REVIEWS of shows seen over the weekend, go the jump.

Coming Wednesday night, my long-form feature on the art of the very prevalent solo performance: Joe Hernandez-Kolski's Awake at Bootleg; and Jed Mills' Choices at Theatre/Theater

NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication August 4, 2011

GO CELEBRITY AUTOBIOGRAPHY Here's the thing about celebrities: They become convinced that their every word is fascinating, which makes celebrity autobiographies fascinatingly candid, when say, Marilu Henner doesn't pause before prattling on about how her Taxi co-star Danny DeVito must be a great lover because he's the right height to pleasure a woman while standing. At the start of Celebrity Autobiography, creator Eugene Pack stresses that every word is exactly as published, a reminder to cling to, if you find yourself doubting Melissa Gilbert threatened cheating boyfriend Rob Lowe, "You don't fuck with America's Sweetheart!" (And then obliviously bragged about it in print.) The "celebrity" in the title is two-fold; the authors are famous and so are the reciters, a cast of comedians that includes Laraine Newman, Jennifer Tilly and Roger Bart. While the words themselves need no embellishments, some performers like Cheri Oteri can't resist, adding a yowling, swaggering accent to Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino that sounds nothing like the Jersey Shore star. But the best bits come when the actors read with a devastating deadpan delivery, like Fred Willard's wry recounting of David Hasselhoff's Broadway bow ("I had to prove I was something more than a guy in a Speedo running in slow motion"), or Illeana Douglas' genius for transforming Barbra Streisand's dull accounting of the vegetables in her home garden into a riot of smug self-satisfaction. The show climaxes with four mash-ups: an assault of poetry by Suzanne Somers, a seminar in stage divas, a treatise in disordered eating, and a Rashomon-esque rehashing of the Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton love knot. Whose account to believe? No one and everyone -- when Tilly's Taylor cocks an eyebrow, truth is beside the point. The Broad Stage, 1310 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; call for schedule: (310) 434-3200. (Amy Nicholson)


Laraine Newman, Jennifer Tilly and Roger Bart take on the stars in "Celebrity Autobiography"
Rafael Tongol

Our first mistake was writing the country's founding fathers as demigods in American history textbooks. Generations grew up believing George Washington was the equivalent of Christ himself -- neither did anything wrong, according to the bibles of both church and state. Vietnam veterans learned the hard way that life did not imitate the Gospels, but for every Born on the Fourth of July, there was another patriotic rally that elevated service to the country with service to God. Tom Burmester's electrifying, tight world premiere, the third in the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's War Cycle series (read Steven Leigh Morris' cover story from last August), not only confronts the error and crushing weight of ascribing immortality to mere men, but also examines the catch-22 of the fraternity of soldiers. Yes, it's another war play, but the first act moves so swiftly and the themes are presented so seamlessly, you find yourself gasping rather than groaning. Burmester's characters could easily slip into caricature: Eric Anderson's redneck PFC Jackson is a southern Christian's nightmare, quoting scripture and lecturing another soldier about his porn collection moments before he gleefully joins the terrifying, ritualistic chanting of, "Fuck that bitch!" But they all feel so familiar, and you begin to realize these soldier stereotypes are like all stereotypes, true on some level. Director Danika Sudik (aided by Burmester) controls the pace while allowing for necessary outbursts of the tightly coiled emotion and energy inside each solider, all of which are scary in a primal way. Which is, after all, the point. The army, like all fraternities, encourages herd mentality. It doesn't elevate man; it reduces him to his most animalistic instincts -- or so the military hopes, because only when men stop reflecting can they do what must be done to win. The entire ensemble is terrific, but special mention goes to Jonathan Redding's calm-before-cracking sergeant. Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St.; Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 396-3680. (Rebecca Haithcoat)


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