New Theater Reviews

DECEIT Since Bruce Kimmel’s melodrama hinges entirely on misinformation and gimmicks, it’s impossible to describe his murder mystery without giving the game away. Who is killed and why is a vexing question. In Act 1, we see a grisly murder (committed, oddly enough, with a lady’s safety razor). It soon ­appears that two out of the three characters are dead, though there’s still an act to go. It’s the audience who’s being deceived, and nothing is as it appears to be. This bogus plotting might be redeemed if the scenes were tautly written, and the characters well developed. Jeffery (Greg Albanese), supposedly already dead when the play begins, is or was a jealous husband obsessed with eating cake, and his wife/widow Kate (Tammy Minoff) is an actress who can’t act. Handsome friend Michael (Matthew Ashford) displays enough sinister charm to guarantee that he’s up to no good, and everybody’s busily deceiving everybody else. The actors strive in vain to flesh out sketchy characters, but set designer Matt Scarpino provides a handsome and clever interior, with a scrim wall that allows us to see the offstage skullduggery. Kritzerland Theater Company at El Portal Forum Theater, 5269 Lankershim Ave., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (800) 595-4849. (Neal Weaver)

GO  DO YOU FEAR WHAT I FEAR? Watching David Jahn’s sparkling one-man show, I couldn’t help thinking of a jarring segment during Fahrenheit 9/11, where filmmaker Michael Moore explores the culture of fear that permeates the national psyche. As it turns out, Jahn knows quite a bit about the subject and the deleterious impact it can have on one’s life. Coming from a conservative Midwestern city, his first dose of paralyzing fear was administered by a well-meaning but zealous teacher who instructed him about the dangers of provoking God’s wrath. Not long afterward, an ulcer ensued, followed by family changes, Ritalin therapy, the myriad traumas of being a teenager, a love affair with his best friend and the gradual, ­painful journey to self-acceptance as a gay male. Through the bleak subject matter, Jahn, a Groundlings vet, skillfully mimics a gallery of characters and spices the show with outrageously funny singing and dancing, under Robert and Ian Tucker’s sharp direction. Jeffrey Osaka works magic on the keyboards. Elephant Asylum Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb 12. (323) 960-4412. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER On the heels of his wildly successful Avenue Q, Jeff Whitty’s new, commissioned comedy provides the seduction of presenting literary characters, and some very funny jokes from the way they intersect. Act 2, for instance, opens with a rowboat named African Queen containing the kerchiefed slave Mammy (Kimberly Scott), from Gone With the Wind, having the best of times with Steven and Patrick (Patrick Kerr and Dan Butler), a datedly swishy, ’60s gay couple from Boys in the Band, while Hedda Gabler’s fastidious, bespectacled husband, George Tesman (Christopher Liam Moore), sits in the back rowing. And the image of smirky, perennially suicidal Hedda (Susannah Schulman) in an ankle-to-neck black mourning dress, sipping sternly from a bright yellow smiley-face coffee mug, is one of those Christopher Durang–type jokes that could upend Hedda Gabler for anyone who ever took it seriously. The premise is that these literary characters endure in misery because that’s how classical lit characters suffer — which is why they’re immortal. Here, Hedda and Mammy start respective campaigns for happiness. If they succeed, we’ll drop them as literary signposts. If we drop them, they die. (Characters slipping from our memory crash from the sky to their deaths throughout this production.) And so Whitty seeks to dramatize the relationship of their misery to our need to have them miserable. From this wondrous flight of fancy, Whitty’s play falls, like Icarus, from the effects of the blazing reality that whatever his ending, Hedda and Mammy and Medea (Kate A. Mulligan) will still be there, miserable, when we re-enter the street. This inevitability leads to a predictable, slapdash, ­provocative morass of a romp, keenly staged by Bill Rauch. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (714) 708-5555. (Steven Leigh Morris)

HOW I RUINED EVERYTHING In writer-director Natasha Levinger’s lightweight romantic comedy, men are from Mars, women Venus, and actors must come from a loopy satellite spinning just past Pluto. So discovers 20- something Kate (Laura Lee Bahr) when she ditches her staid but affectionate husband (subtle scene-stealer Terry Shusta) for Jack (Jonathan Scott Meza), a melodramatic artist who demands more from life than the Discovery Channel and takeout Chinese — other women, for example. Levinger offers up an approachable tussle between passion and contentment that approaches, but never achieves, airy fun or social farce. The largest stumbling block is its leading lady’s grating performance that suggests more evil twin Meg Ryan than Molière. Cast as a charmless, high-pitched egotist, Kate’s an unlikely fulcrum for any love triangle, which belabors the play’s inevitable thud of romantic redemption. Eclectic Company Theater, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 18. (818) 508-3003. (Amy Nicholson)

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700 SUNDAYS Billy Crystal’s one-man show is a loving family memoir of growing up in the 1950s and ’60s on Long Island — and a tribute to sentimental self-indulgence. At two hours and 40 minutes, Crystal’s peformance feels as though it needs a semester break instead of an intermission. See Theater feature next week. Wilshire Theater, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 18 (no perfs Jan. 30-Feb. 5). (213) 365-3500. (Steven Mikulan)

SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO David Mamet made a successful landing with his caustically humorous 1974 one-act exploring a skirmish on the Chicago front of the war between the sexes. While the piece is no longer as shocking as when it opened, its take on how young men’s juvenile attitudes toward women and sex can stunt emotional development still rings true. “The way to get laid is to treat ’em like shit” is the advice Bernie (Jeremy Sean) imparts to his buddy, Danny (Nick Ballard). For Deb (Jen Eldridge) and roommate Joan (Michelle Welton), men are out for just one thing, but it’s not always the same thing. When Danny meets what may be the right woman in Deb, however, his efforts to build a meaningful relationship are thwarted by Bernie’s misogynistic rants, Joan’s bitter distrust of men and Danny’s own emotional immaturity. While Mamet displays sparks of his storied knack for terse and profane dialogue, the play consists of such brief scenes that, while funny and disturbing, the vignette structure stifles character development. Within that frame, director Paul Wagar’s cast delivers satisfactory yet superficial performances. Ark Theater Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd.; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (323) 969-1707. (Martín Hernández)

PICK GO  SOUTHERN BAPTIST SISSIESPlaywright Del Shores has a visceral hatred for the rigidity, intolerance and homophobia of the Baptist Church, but his loathing is tempered by a nostalgic love for the Texas church he grew up in, and these conflicted feelings make his play both funny and moving. He centers his tale on four gay boys (David Ojalvo, Ted Detwiler, Rich Delia and Scott Presley) whose lives are blighted by the self-hatred the church engenders. One becomes a gay militant, one goes into deep denial, one becomes a lip-synching drag diva and one is utterly destroyed. Their fire-and-brimstone preacher (Newell Alexander) rages against Satan, sodomy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and loving-but-clueless mothers (all played by Rosemary Alexander) compound the difficulties. A parallel plot concerns a pair of hilariously melancholy barflies, Odette (Dale Dickey) and her sidekick, naughty gay elf Peanut (Leslie Jordan). These two, superbly reprising their roles in the 2000 production, are finer, funnier and more poignant than ever. As a director, Shores is a consummate showman, assembling a well-nigh perfect cast, and punctuating the church scenes with sly verbal wit, a male stripper (David Kirkpatrick), songs, disco dancing and passionate monologues. Far From Right Productions at the Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru March 5. (800) 595-4849. Note: Several roles are double-cast. (Neal Weaver)

STUCK Michael Traynor’s feeble direction and unfocused performances weaken Jessica Goldberg’s new play about two girls trying to escape their Midwestern town. Though wickedly powerful in its second half, the play itself founders in the beginning as Lula (Ana Kelley) and Margaritah (Danette Sigut) move from one scene in which they demonstrate their ­utter lack of direction to the next. When the play does start moving, though, the disparate trajectory of its protagonists — one toward self-revelation, and one toward the complete denial of it — is a fascinating portrait of wasted youth. Traynor’s staging seems at times to counter rather than complement the action. A profusion of props and awkwardly placed set pieces crowd the performers on this already diminutive stage. And the payoff of a chilling denouement falls flat from the production’s misunderstanding of the story’s irony, and the cast’s penchant for mugging. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., Unit 3, W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 5. (323) 445-6632. (Luis Reyes)

GO  TRIPTYCH opens in a heavily scented backstage dressing room, where an actress named Clarissa (Linda Slade) stretches and primps while awaiting her opening call for a production of Duchess of Malfi. Enter, incognito, her lover’s caustically jealous wife, Pauline (Susan Clark). Their encounter sets off Edna O’Brien’s savvy, three pronged one-act, a lyric work that explores a woman — or women — scorned. Along with Pauline’s cheeky daughter, Brandi (Rosemary Morgan), the two rivals desperately compete for the attentions of Pauline’s elusive, adulterous husband, Henry — described as a charismatic Lothario who, tellingly, never appears. Under Robin Gammell’s direction, this smart, polished production registered solidly on track opening night with a satisfying destination not yet in sight. While Slade delivers all the subtleties of a vain, willful but ultimately vulnerable “other woman” — aptly reflecting for us her lover’s image, Morgan and an inarguably skillful Clark still skirt their roles’ emotional core, leaving this passionate conflict strangely cool. Laura Fine’s set and Jeffrey A. Burke’s lighting create an elegant, uncluttered ambiance that contrasts with the ladies’ tortuous passions, while Gelareh Khalioun’s varying costumes artfully complement each character. Some roles are double cast. Nomad Theater Company at the Matrix Theater, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (866) 966-6623. (Deborah Klugman)


GO 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS In their widely produced and presumably autobiographical story, playwrights Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt sometimes ruefully, always humorously, recount their childhood years chained to the piano, including all the sacrifices (sports and girls specifically) that they had to make. Its charm comes from its simplicity: Two actor-musicians (Richard Carsey and Tom Frey) playing beautifully on two grand pianos while rushing in and out of scores of characters. They parody eccentric music teachers who range from incompetent to insufferable. Large scrims surrounded by fancy picture frames offer grotesque shadows of angry parents, through Steve Lucas’ ingeniously understated set and lighting. Co-author Greenblatt directs with a slickness that initially robs us of some of the show’s gentle moments, but soon the actors settle into a sincerity that’s challenging when doing so many characters. Finally, this play is about the music, and the performers provide that with skill. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 5. (949) 497-2787. (Tom Provenzano)

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