Ovation Awards to be announced; SCR reaches out to L.A. theater companies

Justin Tanner's "Day Drinkers" at the Odyssey Theatre
Justin Tanner's "Day Drinkers" at the Odyssey Theatre
Ed Krieger

Check out this week's Stage feature on Justin Tanner's Day Drinkers, and Cody Henderson's Wonderlust,. Also -- the current NEW THEATER REVIEWS, and this weekend's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS (go to the jump)

area. Companies that are interested in applying can submit letters of inquiry, as detailed on our website at http://www.scr.org/plays/overview/studioseries.aspx."

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Sept. 2 - 8, 2011

Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III,

Upcoming Events

Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman,

Amy Lyons, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill

Raden, and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following

cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller

Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller

Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any

play by title, using your computer's search engine

OPENING THIS WEEK:

California International Theatre Festival Presented in association with the Latino Theater Company. Schedule, tickets at thelatc.org. Thu., Sept. 8; Fri., Sept. 9; Sat., Sept. 10; Sun., Sept. 11. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111.

The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse David J's speculation on the Black Dahlia murder. Starting Sept. 8, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 1. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com.

The Comedy of Errors The Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents Shakespeare's comedy. Starting Sept. 3, Wed., Sat., Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Sept. 24. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-3680, latensemble.com.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Kristoffer Diaz's comedy about TV wrestling. Starting Sept. 7, Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.

An Evening With Kevin J. Thornton Mr. Thornton's "gay, obscene Prairie Home Companion." Fri., Sept. 2, 9 p.m. Cavern Club Theater, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A., (323) 969-2530, cavernclubtheater.com.

Jolson at the Winter Garden Re-creation of Al Jolson's Sunday concerts at Broadway's Winter Garden, by Bill Castellino and Mike Burstyn. Starting Sept. 6, Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat., Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Sept. 25, (877) 733-7529. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.

Madame President Elizabeth Montgomery's romantic comedy about the first female president. Starting Sept. 8, Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Oct. 2. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd., (866) 811-4111, elportaltheatre.com.

Milk Like Sugar Teenage girls enter into a pregnancy pact, by Kirsten Greenidge. Starting Sept. 6, Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Thru Sept. 25. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, (858) 550-1010, lajollaplayhouse.org.

Preposterous Jason Britt's world-premiere drama about "death, loss, heartbreak, music, drinking, debate, games, sex, laughter and love." Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

Stranger Things Ghost Road presents Ronnie Clark's mystery set in a remote inn. Starting Sept. 3, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Sept. 25. (No perf Sept. 17.) Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., (310) 281-8341, ghostroad.secure.force.com/ticket.

Trojan Women (After Euripides) Jocelyn Clarke's adaptation of the Euripides tragedy. Starting Sept. 8, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 1. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 440-7300, getty.edu.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

GO Beau Jest 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. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Glendale Center Theater, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale, (818) 244-8481.

California International Theatre Festival Presented in association with the Latino Theater Company. Schedule and tickets at thelatc.org. Thu., Sept. 8; Fri., Sept. 9; Sat., Sept. 10; Sun., Sept. 11. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Kristoffer Diaz's comedy about TV wrestling. Starting Sept. 7, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 3. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, lbph.com.

Jolson at the Winter Garden Re-creation of Al Jolson's Sunday concerts at Broadway's Winter Garden Theater, by Bill Castellino and Mike Burstyn. Starting Sept. 6, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25, (877) 733-7529. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.

Madame President Elizabeth Montgomery's romantic comedy about the first female president. Starting Sept. 8, Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2, (866) 811-4111. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.

Milk Like Sugar Teenage girls enter into a pregnancy pact, by Kirsten Greenidge. Starting Sept. 6, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla, (858) 550-1010, lajollaplayhouse.org.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie One-woman play taken from the writings of a 23-year-old America activist killed in Gaza (portrayed by Samara Frame), edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Private Lives Noel Coward's comedy about exes honeymooning in the same hotel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.org.

GO Rose Cottages With its towering trees, intermittent birdsong and starry ceiling, Theatricum Botanicum's bucolic amphitheater is a wonderfully ironic venue for a play set in a dumpy tourist motel in South Florida. Theatricum's production marks the West Coast premiere of playwright Bill Bozzone's slightly offbeat, somewhat sentimental comedy about the human urge to form replacement families when our families of origin and matrimony disappoint or disappear. Rose (an inspired Earnestine Phillips) fears her dilapidated motel will be shuttered when a health inspector (Maurice Shaw) notes faulty plumbing and other violations. Panicked and pissed off, Rose begins to rebuild hope when Jessie (Ellen Geer), a motel guest abandoned by her New Jersey cop son (Aaron Hendry) and his selfish, tarty wife (Savannah Southern Smith), befriends her. Enter Lydell (Graco Hernandez), a lonely teen with a knack for odd jobs, who completes the reconstructed family unit. Bozzone worked with Theatricum and rewrote the role of Rose as female, a choice that adds a nice layer of complexity to the already plucky script. Though the story veers toward oversimplification of human pain at times, Bozzone smartly redeems sappy situations with left-of-center humor. When Lydell reveals to Rose that his father is a complete zero, for instance, we expect tears and tales of tattered rainbows; instead we get an entirely unexpected story about dad's feigned shooting of Santa Claus, and it's a scream. The cast is solid across the board, with Geer and Phillips winning equal leading-lady kudos for layering their characters. Heidi Helen Davis directs with straightforward simplicity, though the pacing lags near play's end. (Amy Lyons). Sat., Sept. 3, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Steel Magnolias Bonnie Franklin stars in Robert Harling's play about friendship and community. Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, (805) 667-2900.

Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur In a sense, Molière's immortal skewering of religious hypocrisy is the Jaguar XK-E of high-performance stage comedies: Its classic lines and comic engineering are readily apparent even when parked, but it is only when humming in the hands of a skilled driver that its true genius finds full expression. Regrettably, with director-adaptor Ellen Geer behind the wheel, this out-of-tune Tartuffe sputters like it's blown a head gasket. Geer tricks out her period-dress (Val Miller's fine costumes), drawing-room production with a handful of original songs (Geer's music, Peter Alsop's lyrics) and the conceit that it is a command performance for Louis XIV, which cleverly sets up the deus ex machina dénouement. But lackluster laughs suggest the incisive, anarchic soul of Molière has all but eluded her. It's not for want of trying. Her ensemble of eminently capable, veteran classicists huff and puff their way through each slapstick Geer throws at them. Yet somehow, Orgon (Ted Barton) merely blusters, Dorine (Willow Geer) grates and Elmire (Misha Bouvion) fades in the clinches. Happily, Aaron Hendry's brilliantly realized Tartuffe is the show-saving exception. Hendry's expressions of agonized piety as he screws Orgon out of house and home is the evening's crowning and excruciatingly hilarious achievement. Daniel Billet also injects rousing physical comedy into his portrait of the hotheaded son, Damis. Even these performances finally prove powerless against Ellen Geer's penchant for filling every nook and cranny of the Botanicum's awkwardly expansive space with business. Her blocking alone suffocates Moliére's funniest set pieces and produces the most irritatingly drawn-out entrances and exits ever seen on a stage. (Bill Raden). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 1, 4 p.m. Continues through Sept. 30. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Trojan Women (After Euripides) Jocelyn Clarke's adaptation of the Euripides tragedy. Starting Sept. 8, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 440-7300, getty.edu.

The Underpants Steve Martin's take on dropped panties, adapted from Carl Sternheim's 1910 German farce Die Hose. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, lbph.com.

Richard III Following a couple of progressive festivals, RADAR LA and Hollywood Fringe, with a traditional staging of Shakespeare is like following a gastronomically experimental meal with a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream. It's fine, of course, but you really were hoping for the ice cream to taste like foie gras or something equally surprising. Maybe if Melora Marshall had been playing the title role --director Ellen Geer has employed cross-gender casting -- on opening night, the production wouldn't have seemed so pedestrian both conceptually and in pace. But the play, second only to Hamlet in length, needs the kind of sprightly staging that a theatre carved into the hills of Topanga Canyon just can't support. Unfortunately, the production seems to offset its innate weaknesses with overacting. From the opening monologue, Chad Jason Scheppner's Richard spends more time mugging for the audience than allowing Shakespeare's already wry verse and textual characterization of Richard as anti-hero do their work naturally -- a real shame, considering the glimpses of talent that peek out from beneath this schtick. A couple of actors fare better (notably Earnestine Phillips, whose dagger-throwing delivery works with the vitriol she spits), but none enough to make you glad you stayed for dessert. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sun., Sept. 4, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 17, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS

¡ASIáTICO!

Ovation Awards to be announced; SCR reaches out to L.A. theater companies
Courtesy 18 Might Mountain Warriors

Sketch

comedy seems to operate under the rule, "I can talk trash about my

family, but you can't." 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, self-proclaimed to

be "the world's most psychotic Asian American sketch comedy group," take

that premise to a new level in their latest, often funny production.

When any character, especially over 60, curses in any sketch, it's

always "Goddam," hissed multiple times. When Michael Chih Ming

Hornbuckle and Greg Watanabe perform their version of Saturday Night Live's

"Weekend Update," one joke is, "What do Asians and Latinos have in

common besides having extremely large penises? Vivid imaginations." With

a few exceptions, self-deprecation is the central theme of the scenes,

but the gag has trouble carrying the entire show. "Keeping Up with the

Kandelas," featuring a Filipino Kardashian clan, aims at too easy and

tired a target, and has too little depth to really make a dent in the

ludicrous family's armor: At this point, poking at them must go beyond

Kim's sex tape/big butt fame and her mother's role as pimp. "Aquaman,"

one of the few sketches that doesn't play the race card for laughs, is

the dud of the night, though it's admirable the troupe didn't take the

tried-n-true SNL homoerotic superhero direction. All sketch comedy troupes have "off" nights (or years -- SNL,

ahem) and The Warriors prove they know how to wrap scenes with winning

one-liners ("Hapa Club" and "Computer Dating"). They just need a few

more of those to land the next show. 18 Might Mountain Warriors at The

Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept.

4. (818) 900-2194, 18mmw.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GO Bakersfield Mist Jackson Pollock's most famous paintings have polarized critics since the artist first attacked a horizontal canvas. That polarization feeds writer-director Stephen Sachs' new play, which uses a Pollock painting as the central symbol of class war. Mouthy Maude (Jenny O'Hara) spends her days lapping up Jack Daniels and watching police procedurals in her kitsch-filled Bakersfield trailer, until a painting she buys at a yard sale steals her focus from the idiot box. Convinced the cheap buy is a bona fide Pollock, Maude summons erudite art expert Lionel (Nick Ullett) to assess the painting's authenticity and value. Immediately disgusted with the crass, tasteless Maude, Lionel aims to quickly view the so-called Pollock and flee the mobile-home scene. But Maude's initially undetectable cleverness sparks a game of one-upmanship. Sachs directs the two-hander with an abundance of spirit, smartly letting the outstanding actors brawl and emote with delightful abandon. O'Hara brings a gleeful raunchiness to Maude throughout, but forces her character out of hiding to confront the quiet sadness shrouded by all that brass. Ullett's finest moment comes in a frenzied monologue that mirrors Pollock's creative process. While Lionel tells Maude he is there to evaluate the painting, not her, the play winningly sets out to disprove this lie at every turn. Jeff McLaughlin's set makes trailer-park life seem at once enviously cozy and exhaustingly humiliating. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1525, fountaintheatre.com.

GO Blackbird Los Angeles premiere by David Harrower. Saturdays, Sundays, 5 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 12, (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., theatretheater.net. See Stage feature.

Camp Sunday All-new sketch and improv by the Groundlings Sunday Company. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse David J's speculation on the Black Dahlia murder. Starting Sept. 8, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com.

GO Dysnomia The play's title refers to a Greek goddess associated with disruption, which is just what befalls the family on display in Marja-Lewis Ryan's fine dramedy. Henry and Mary's (Heidi Sulzman and Trevor H. Olsen) longtime marriage has yielded good jobs, a comfortable suburban life and two attractive children. But angst and boredom have taken over Mary's life, and she can't shake the feeling that something is missing, until she has a casual chat with a friend's lesbian daughter (Ryan). It's obvious at this point what the missing "something" is in Mary's life, and she eventually decides to out herself to friends and family, resulting in moments of hilarity and disquieting expressiveness. Henry implodes into rage and steadfast denial; her friend Carol (Jessie Warner) nearly has a panic attack; Mary's troubled teenage son, John (Ryan Stathos), mirroring his father, becomes a cauldron of rage and resentment; precocious daughter Jodi (the outstanding Isabella Palmieri) handles the situation with seasoned, adult aplomb. Ryan's play is all about being true to oneself, and she makes the point without being shallow or preachy with a text that strikes just the right balance between darkness and light and also is refreshingly forthright. Cast performances are equally fine under Anthony Frisina's direction. It all unfurls neatly on Michael Fitzgerald's serviceable, lived-in kitchen set design. Rounding out the cast is Monroe Makowsky as Carol's husband, Scott. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10, plays411.com/dysnomia. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 469-9988.

An Evening With Kevin J. Thornton Mr. Thornton's "gay, obscene Prairie Home Companion." Fri., Sept. 2, 9 p.m. Cavern Club Theater, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A., (323) 969-2530, cavernclubtheater.com.

Facebook The weekly show formerly known as MySpace. Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702, losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.

GHOST OF A CHANCE

Ovation Awards to be announced; SCR reaches out to L.A. theater companies
Dlugolecki Photography

About

to remarry, a widow named Bethany (Kate McCoy) gets a visit from her

dead husband Chance (Flip Kobler), who ardently implores her to remain

true to him. No one else sees this persistent and annoying ghost, so her

conversations with him create a misunderstanding with her timorous

intended, Floyd (Nicaolas Smith), and his meddling mom, Verna (Marti

Hale). Written by Kobler and Cindy Marcus, and directed by Marcus, the

dusty premise spins off into a jumble of familiar gags and schmaltzy

bromides which, against all expectation, coalesce into a pleasant though

hardly hilarious or penetrating evening of humor. Several savvy

performances embroider this featherweight vehicle, which tiresomely

drifts into sappy Lifetime Channel turf before its predictably upbeat

finale. Chief among its saving graces is the talented Smith, who turns

the role of a stock schlemiel into a priceless comic portrayal. Hale

likewise elicits laughs with her parody of a closed-minded matron, and

Kobler misses nary a step as the improbably smarmy phantom. The story

plays out on designers' Billy Stone and John Lewis' unfussy but nicely

appointed set. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake;

Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (323) 667-0955, 18mmw.com. (Deborah Klugman)

Google My Tweet Second City alumni sketch comedy, directed by Marc Warzecha. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A., (323) 464-8542.

GO GUIDED CONSIDERATION OF A LAMENTABLE DEED

Ovation Awards to be announced; SCR reaches out to L.A. theater companies
Courtesy of NeedTheater

One

man's guilty conscience drives the action of Frank Basloe's outstanding

new play. It's the night before college graduation for the handsome Tim

(Ben Kurland), but there's something depressing about his post-coital

nudity. We quickly learn from an omniscient narrator (the effectively

even-handed Mattie Hawkinson) that Tim's sexual encounter took place

with an inebriated-to-the-point-of-unconscious girl. The rape kicks off

Tim's late-night, campus-wide quest for absolution, a sometimes

hilariously pseudo-philosophical journey amidst drunken undergrads

unready for the real world and childish faculty members modeling bad

behavior. The pot-smoking Jewish intellectual clique (led by a

hilariously pubescent-minded Edward Kiniry-Ostro) urges Tim to hunt for

justification for his foul deed in Genesis 9:20-25, in which the noble

Noah drinks too much wine and is, in one interpretation, sodomized by

his son. The campus security guard (Ronald Conner) offers no

consolation, as he's too busy getting joyless blowjobs from female

undergrads to hide his homosexuality. Basloe's cast of intellectually

superior characters lacking any signs of emotional depth is at once

alarming and hilarious. This failure of academia to supply students with

real-world skills is most comically represented in the character of

Peter Jennings (J.B. Waterman), who is preparing the next day's

commencement address, which promises to be riddled with useless

platitudes. Dylan Southard directs with clarity of vision, staging early

scenes upstage and pushing the action closer to the audience as

intimacy becomes essential. Chris Covics' winning lighting and set

design includes six moveable pillars of light that create shifting moods

throughout. NeedTheater at Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. thru Oct. 15. (323) 795-2215, needtheater.org. (Amy Lyons)

Keep it Clean ComedyHosted by JC Coccoli. Mondays, 10:30 p.m., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1739.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama set in purgatory. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (323) 960-1055, plays411.com. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., studio-stage.com.

Life on This Couch Remember the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie was grasping for column ideas and threw out socks missing their mates as a possible analogy? More than a whiff of that reaching clings to Laura Richardson's living room couch-centered new comedy in Open Fist's First Look Festival. The play begins with promise: Desiree (the likable Stephanie Erb) shows up at the apartment of her sister, Cece (Katy Tyszkiewicz), with a big bag and little explanation of how long she plans to stay. The dialogue is humorous, a thinly veiled tiptoeing around the real question you want to ask but can't of family houseguests: "How long are you going to interrupt my present with our past?" Director Benjamin Burdick controls the pace, making a rapid-fire duel over Cece's eating habits much funnier than the subject matter warrants. But while Richardson writes wacky but not unbelievable characters (as Cece's boyfriend, Conor Lane's sweetly goofy Skeez is a stoner Starbucks barista in acupuncture school) and captures their family dynamic, the story gets lost and never finds its way out. Too many storylines -- a flighty mother for whom Cece harbors irrational anger, a dying aunt, Cece's serious OCD, Desiree's carload of unresolved problems -- clutter up the stage, but the real problem is the lack of any one strong enough to carry the show. An unfunny dream sequence is supposed to absolve Desiree of her past, but the real groan comes after the weak comparison of Cece's couch to people. The sisters manage an unsatisfying resolution that ostensibly explains Cece's outrageous bitchiness, but more than a few quickie clean-ups are needed to salvage this Couch. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sun., Sept. 4, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 10, 2 p.m. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

GO Live Nude Groundlings The Groundlings stay fully dressed in their latest sketch comedy and improv show, and thank heaven: In the skit "Breathe Me," about two fumbling dancers with an overload of sexual tension, Annie Sertich places her face so close to Alex Stagg's leotard-clad crotch, it's a wonder she doesn't suffocate. (Don't worry, parents, you can't see anything through the fringe on his toga.) I'd call that sketch a standout, except that this is the most uniformly solid Groundlings show I've ever seen, thanks to its emphasis on eclectic ideas threaded by comedy that arrives with plain-spoken ease. Sometimes it even has a bite, as in "Marco," when a posh, bored couple (Michaela Watkins and David Hoffman) lasers in on charming their shy Latin waiter (Mikey Day). But when he gives in to their insistence that he have a drink at their table, the wife clutches at her purse. In "Career Placement," Day plays a seventh-grader depressed when a standardized test concludes that he should be a night floor manager at Michael's. And Sertich has another raw moment as a struggling actress trying to charm the casting agents (Staggs and David Hoffman) who want her to fess up to an embarrassing personal story for a cheese commercial. Like many a Hollywood lost soul, she can't gauge the difference between what's amusing and what's shockingly personal. Comediennes Watkins and Sertich own the show, and director Damon Jones makes sure neither is stuck playing the girlfriend. (He even gives them the first improv all to themselves.) In every skit, their characters are uniquely memorable and brazenly funny. Among the strong cast of six, only Day gives Watkins and Sertich a serious challenge, playing everything from a Death Star desk jockey kissing up to Darth Vader to a squealing girl at summer camp in a bit of drag that's strikingly accurate at capturing the mind of a swoony preteen. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

MADMAN WILLIAM Who was William Shakespeare and how

the heck did he ever come up with such clever and enduring stories? The

stacks are filled with erudite exegeses, epigonic tributes and prosaic

theses that in some way address such questions. Now comes playwright

Naomi Claire Wallace's underwhelming contribution to this towering Bard

babel: He was crazy. Sure -- crazy like a fox. Wallace's wheezing,

quasi-mystical mix of Rod Serling and Luigi Pirandello presents a

portrait of the artist (Luke LaGraff) as idiot savant -- a henpecked and

inarticulate 16th century insomniac whose creative fever to pen the

stories locked in his head approaches psychosis. Meanwhile, in a 21st

century London pub, Hamlet (Mike Gerdwagen), Macbeth (Dane H. Haines

II), Lear (Clyde F.T. Small) and Mercutio (Phillip J. Wheeler) gather

for their semi-regular reunion. Not actors, these are the characters

themselves, all garbed in ludicrous modern dress (by Maggie Dougher),

and grousing about the 400 years of indignities heaped upon them by

screwy scholars, harebrained directors and half-baked concept

productions. As the assembly expounds on their creator's

all-encompassing genius, in drifts the Bard in his nightshirt to offer

that it has something to do with dreaming. Wallace's wan satire

essentially amounts to an hour of wide-eyed wonder at the transcending

universal appeal of the Shakespearian imagination. An even bigger wonder

-- and a far more persuasive testament to Shakespeare's dramatic power

-- is that his reputation can so easily shrug off director Glen S.

Jimenez's wildly slapdash, miscast and under-rehearsed staging. Lounge

Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2

p.m., thru Sept. 18. (310) 383-6912, brownpapertickets.com/event/186559. (Bill Raden)

Magic Strings Bob Baker's marionette variety revue, featuring puppet horses on a merry-go-round, an opera diva on roller skates, a "Day at the Circus," and an all-American grand finale. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A., (213) 250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com.

The Next Best Thing Antonio Sacre's solo show. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632.

Over There: Comedy Is His Best Weapon 60 Miles North Productions presents P.J. Walsh's solo comedy show. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632.

PASSION Stephen Sondheim's 1994 musical, with book by

James Lapine, tells a turgid tale of erotic obsession in 19th century

Italy. Handsome soldier Giorgio (Nathaniel Reynolds) is sent to a remote

provincial outpost, commanded by Colonel Ricci (Duane Allen Thomas).

There he encounters the colonel's sickly, unattractive cousin Fosca

(Lindsay Zana), who is immediately, passionately attracted to him. She

stalks him ruthlessly, using appeals to his pity and devious

manipulations to ensnare him. He is initially angry and resentful,

trying to shake off her relentless pursuit, but he's a sucker for her

tricks, and eventually succumbs, shedding his married mistress, Clara

(Melissa Cook). This is all conceived in terms of high romance, but

another scenario is possible: He's a weak, passive man, waiting for

someone to take control of his life. The events may be credible, but the

spin the authors put on them fails to convince. There are competent

performances by the three principals, Reynolds, Zana, and Cook, but the

large set is awkward, and the staging, by director Marco Gomez,

remarkably inept, particularly in the earlier scenes. Sondheim's musical

genius is undeniable; less so his choice of libretti. Doma Theatre at

the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 3 p.m., thru Sept. 11. (323) 960-4443, domatheatre.com (Neal Weaver)


GO THE PITCHFORK DISNEY

Presley and Haley Stray (West Perkinson, Allison Bennett), are 28 year

old twins whose existence in a decrepit London consists mostly of

foraging for food --mainly chocolate -- and occasionally glimpsing

through a window( perhaps playwright Philip Ridley's nod to Samuel

Beckett's Endgame) onto a world that's presumably been

decimated by a nuclear explosion. Despite their age, they behave more

like children than adults. Haley clings to a doll for security, while

Presley frequently bursts into scampers of puerile revelry. Their only

sources of comfort are recollections of happier days when their parents

cared for them and dialogue that's as creepy as their cadaverous hues

and the dark circles around their eyes. Fear is at the heart of this

piece. At one point, Haley gives a chilling account of being chased by a

rabid pack of dogs, and in another, Presley discusses his encounter

with a monstrous snake. The outside world intrudes when the enigmatic,

cockroach-munching Cosmo Disney (Naomi Gibson), bursts in, and after

retching on the floor, indulges in an long, overtly seductive mind game

with Presley. As it turns out, Cosmo is one half of a bizarre, traveling

show, the other half being the masked Pitchfork Cavalier(Matt Dodge),

whose sudden entrance kicks the spooky quotient into high gear. The Pitchfork Disney

has a grotesque sort of charm, and despite its lack of action, Ridley's

writing is darkly evocative and wryly funny. The performances are of a

quality that matches the writing's virtues (though Bennett is leaving

the show). Gibson turns in a splendid performance that is equal parts

con-artist, seductress and gleeful tormenter. J.P. Rapozo provides solid

direction. The Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Sat. 8

p.m. thru Sep. 17. (559) 836-1186. (Lovell Estell III)

GO Point Break Live! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., thedragonfly.com.

GO Raised in Captivity 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. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (323) 960-7792, plays411.com/raised. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A., theactorsplaypen.com/.

So Damned Heavenly Bound/You Make Me Physically Ill 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. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10, (323) 960-7770, plays411.com/physicallyill. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., elephantstages.com.

GO STONES IN HIS POCKETS Tuta

Theatre West, the West Coast branch of Experimental Chicago theatre

company, Tuta Theatre, has collaborated with a pair of L.A. comedians

(The Groundlings' Andrew Friedman, and Jerry Richardson) who perform

multiple roles in Marie Jones' incisive comedy. When a major Hollywood

movie production barges in and takes over a small village in Ireland,

two locals, Jake and Charlie, try to milk their experience as movie

extras for all it's worth. Not only playing the two bickering friends,

the actors don hats, scarves and use various signifiers, including

altered physicality, to switch deftly from character to character,

sometimes with stupefying alacrity. Throughout, the pair portray 15

characters of various ages, race and genders, each well delineated by

their adroit personification. Frequently reverting back to the

thick-brogued central duo, they also portray the invading Americans: a

screaming assistant director, a campy production assistant and the

movie's Southern accented and revered leading lady. Just before the end

of the boisterous first act, tragedy strikes. This abrupt change in tone

is masterfully achieved by the two virtuosi, under Tuta artistic

director Zeljko Djukic's confident direction. Natasha Djukic's basic

costumes and spare yet versatile set design suggest a picturesque

country field, a pub, the star's trailer and more without even trying,

although the white wall upstage sets up an expectation of visual

projections that never eventuate. Tuta Theatre West at the Zephyr

Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 17.

(323) 960-7822, plays411.com/stones. (Pauline Adamek)

Stranger Things Ghost Road presents Ronnie Clark's mystery set in a remote inn. (No perf Sept. 17.) Starting Sept. 3, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25, (310) 281-8341, ghostroad.secure.force.com/ticket. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., AtwaterVillageTheatre.com.

Treat Yourself Like Cary Grant 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. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (323) 960-7745, plays411.com/carygrant. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

Trigger Playwright Kyle Jarrow tells the improbable tale of unfaithful husband Ryan (Michael Trucco) and his serial infidelities. During a night on the town, he picks up pretty blonde Jill (Jen Eldridge) and takes her back to her apartment for a night of sex. But when he makes a move on her, there's a loud clap of thunder, and a cellphone call from the police informs him that his wife, Karen (Lisa Brenner), was in a serious automobile accident at the moment of the first thunderclap. A local news anchor (Dana Kelly Jr.) reports a series of worldwide disasters, convincing him that his misdeeds have the power to trigger cataclysms. The accident leaves Karen paralyzed from the neck down, plunging Ryan into guilty despair. Devoutly religious hospital attendant Anton (Gugun Deep Singh) attempts to persuade him of the power of prayer. What seemed to be a satirical farce about religious superstition and delusions of grandeur abruptly turns into a drama about miracles, faith and the power of prayer. And with that turn, credibility goes out the window. Despite herculean efforts by director Damaso Rodriguez and his cast, the play remains fractured by its disparate elements and uncertainty of tone. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17, brownpapertickets.com/event/187180. The Blank's Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 661-9827, theblank.com.

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. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4, (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea. Mondays, 8 p.m., Free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 466-9917.

Wonderlust A recently jilted high school biology teacher instructs his students to study the science of love, by Cody Henderson. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com. See Stage feature

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

Bayside High School Musical Ren Casey's musical parody of '90s sitcom Saved by the Bell. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 26, baysidehighschoolmusical.com. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 841-5421, thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

GO Devils Love at Midnight As any longtime fan can testify, the Grand Guignol Gothicists of Zombie Joe's Underground could perform the phone book and make it look like a blood-curdling issue of EC Comics. Fortunately for this short, late-night evening of original playlets and poetry torn from the sketchbook of Zombie Joe himself, the featured texts are nothing so prosaic. Rather, the seven pieces (mostly -- and inventively -- directed by Jana Wimer) constitute a virtual key to comprehending the tortured, Catholic-guilt-twisted fatalism that both informs ZJU's aesthetic and provides their stage-zeit with its haunting, hallucinatory geist. Thus, in the opener, "Folly of Love Fulfilled," Davern Wright, Joanna Bartling and Kyle Clare enact a parable of love, family and fate, in which redemption is annulled through the irony of its reverse-sequenced narrative. "Only Ever One" explores love lost via an idiot-child trance channeler (a mesmerizing Amy Gotham) exploited for dubious, otherworldly comfort by her brokenhearted sister (Anne Westcott) and a bereaved pilgrim (Denny Zartman). "The Sad Soul-Searching Spirit of Sweet Lil' Violet Nantucket" takes a grotesque look at transgressive desire in its tale of two inmates from Serenity Farms Asylum (Zartman and Wright) grave-robbing the skull of a gruesomely abused and murdered former patient (Gotham). The evening's visual keynote is provided by "Procession of Devils," in which director Sebastian Munoz inflects ZJ's wry meditation on the veniality of his San Fernando Valley youth with Hieronymus Bosch-like theatrics. Shayne Eastin and Michael Maio illuminate the shorter verse pieces with their original score and engaging stage presence. (Bill Raden). Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

It's Just Sex Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com.

Next Window Please Five bank tellers and their nurturing manager, all female, are distraught when they learn of a bank merger bringing potential layoffs. The delicate balance of their workday relationships is further upset by the arrival of an ambitious, charming and handsome junior executive (Chris Wolfe) who, like a cat among the pigeons, shows up to observe for a week and then advise his superiors who should keep her job. Playwright Doug Haverty uses the small Santa Monica branch of a bank as the setting for his examination of the daily routine of these six vivacious, opinionated and financially strapped working women (Stephanie Colet, Kady Douglas, Bianca Gisselle, Trisha Hershberger, Shelby Kocee and Gina Yates). Scenes that chart their final workweek are intercut with insightful monologues as each character takes a turn in a spotlight to share personal confessionals with the audience. Though lazy theatrically, this device nonetheless permits the individual stories to sneak into our hearts. Creating a range of multicultural characters seems a good choice, but having three of the five tellers speak in broken English does not. Haverty's heartfelt comedy skirts its potential by substituting a feel-good tale of feminine camaraderie for conflict or a ruthlessness that would be far more reflective of the times. While the acting is mostly good, this production's pace is infuriatingly sluggish and protracted under Richard Alan Woody's direction. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.

Preposterous Jason Britt's world-premiere drama about "death, loss, heartbreak, music, drinking, debate, games, sex, laughter and love." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

Romeo & Juliet Zombie Joe Underground's "fast-paced, high-impact" take on Shakespeare's tragedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 8. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Interactive kids' musical. Saturdays, 11 a.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

GO To The New Girl From the Former Mrs._____: Sound Advice for My Husband's Wife or Mistress The trophy wife (Niki Nowak) of a prominent televangelist considers divorcing and/or exposing her husband for his affair with a gay man. A spoiled matron (Ashley Fuller, alternating with Jennie Floyd) berates the pretty young housekeeper who has complained of her spouse's sexual harassment. A woman who has suffered multiple miscarriages (Monica Lawson) excoriates her mate's new lover and casts a curse on the child they are expecting. An elderly woman (Rosina Pinchot), happily married for 57 years, shares the story of her marriage with her Alzheimer-stricken husband's new companion, a woman he fell in love with in a nursing home. Directed by Jeanette Farr, Samantha Macher's play relays the stories of 10 betrayed or forsaken women, each of whom speaks to the paramour who has ensnared her beloved's affections. Macher wrote this play at the request of this company's members to counterbalance the overwhelmingly male-oriented perspective of their past productions, a request for which they deserve credit. Not all the narratives are equally developed -- some trail off without sufficient resolution -- and some performances are of a notably higher standard than others. Still, Macher's writing reflects the humor and detail of an insightful storyteller. Pinchot captures the spotlight with a heartrending portrayal of a lost and cherished love. Also notable are Tifanie McQueen as an abused wife livid enough to murder her rival, and Shelby Janes as a pregnant gal bidding a welcome good riddance to her crackhead boyfriend. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (800) 838-3006, skypilottheatre.com. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

Urban Death Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

GO The Walworth Farce As the house lights darken, a lone spotlight lingers on the door of the set. One man, Blake (Cameron J. Oro), sniffs at a stretchy blouse and sprays it with air freshener before ironing it. Another, Dinny (Tim Cummings), sits center stage, slowly polishing his shoes. The last man, Sean (Adam Haas Hunter) rushes through the door, latches its four locks, races into the kitchen and freaks out as he unpacks his purchases. They're all prepping for an in-house performance, though you don't realize it yet. Your mind scrambles as the bizarre play-within-a-play unfolds -- is this some kind of crazy game? No, it's Enda Walsh's riveting black comedy. In a festering hole of a London flat (nicely detailed by Arthur MacBride), the father, Dinny, stars and directs sons Blake and Sean in a staging of a day from their past in Ireland. There's a conspicuous wackiness in Blake playing the female roles, and of Dinny casting himself as a brain surgeon. It's a comedy, right? Until the sky blackens with a sudden, violent outburst from Dinny. By the time an outsider (Brie Eley as the checkout girl from the grocery shop that Sean visits every day) enters the fray, you feel the play teetering ever closer to foreboding territory. In slicing open a deeply disturbed family, Walsh explores how a parent's fear and best intentions can warp and cripple the minds of his children. Yet the play also is a study of how people soothe and stabilize themselves with habit, and families mentally rewrite history in order to live with their past. Director Tim Byron Owen's excellent ensemble nimbly handles the aerobically taxing and emotional performance. As in the best of stories, the full impact of its implications slams you only after you close the book. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-5323, theatrebanshee.org.

The Yeomen of the Guard 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. (Tom Provenzano). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS

GO 4.48 Psychosis Playwright Sarah Kane's kaleidoscopic drama premiered shortly after her suicide in 2000. At the time, one British theater critic called the work a "70-minute suicide note" -- and, of course, even with the best will in the world, it is almost impossible to separate the intense and ferociously angry text of the work from the tragic real-world story surrounding it. This is particularly true when you consider that the lyrical writing overtly deals with issues of depression and mental illness from the point of view of the sufferer -- it may be one of the best plays to depict suicidal depression from the inside out. Set, as the program notes, "inside a deranged brain," the work consists of a series of fragmented exchanges that often take the form of inchoate expressions of rage twinned with frustrated awareness of a lack of control. A clearly unstable young woman (Cynthia Mance) sits center stage, bracketed by two figures in chairs behind her and another figure, a seemingly severed head in a bird cage -- all of whom mutter abrasive vituperations at the hapless girl. A pair of other performers portray the doctors attempting to treat her -- though they offer only the coldest comfort to the angst-ridden heroine, offering such utterances as "I know nothing of you, but I like you!" Frederique Michel's harrowing and edgy production, replete with eerie sound effects and dialogue interspersed with characters suddenly lurching into rhythmic spasms and twitching, hauntingly captures the state of mind of someone with tunnelvision perception in which all thoughts, excuses and opinions inevitably lead to one ultimate act of self-negation. Designer Charles Duncombe's sterile hospital room-like set and the percussive sound effects suggest the heroine's matter-of-fact view of her own madness and feelings of emptiness. The production delivers a disturbing and striking theatrical experience. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 3. City Garage, (310) 319-9939, citygarage.org.

GO Barrie: Back to Back: Two by J.M. Barrie 1912's Rosalind and 1917's The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-8392, pacificresidenttheatre.com. See Stage feature.

Bedtime Stories Roadkill Productions presents 10 short plays that all take place in a bed. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A., (310) 535-6007, psychicvisionstheatre.com/.

The Comedy of Errors The Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents Shakespeare's comedy. Starting Sept. 3, Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24, latensemble.com. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-3680.

GO Day Drinkers Justin Tanner's new comedy set in a dive bar. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 5, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. See Stage feature

Dolls: Not Your Usual Love Story Situated at the midpoint between Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker and Disney's Toy Story 3, this new musical -- from local theater stalwarts Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo -- explores the secret life of dolls. Despite a fascinating premise, the pairing of a simple love story and commedia dell'arte archetypes with high-flown wordplay and allusions results in a serio-comic tone that, rather than working on multiple levels, becomes a bit muddled. A menagerie of castoffs, squeezed into a cramped "toy box" decorated in pink Victoria's Secret stripes, mourn the maturation of their owner and wonder at the veracity of the legend that dolls in their situation are given the chance to become real children. As they await the moment when one of them may be chosen, they reveal their histories, fears, doubts and longings through song. Initially, the overuse of spotlights and the static, declamatory style of DeCarlo's blocking suggest a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Victorian "teapot stance." When that choice turns out to be more sincere than spoof, it becomes difficult to take seriously the more tender and philosophical moments in songs such as "Leaving" and "What Is a Child?," two of the most thematically interesting in the score. Still, the poised ensemble, decked out in colorful costumes by Ashley Hayes' (Rudie's pseudonym), is a memorable sight, especially Melissa Gentry, who nimbly executes the numerous changes required of Fussy Fanny. Nancy Dobbs Owen, as Valentina Ballerina, impresses with her body control, remaining en pointe or stone still for long stretches, and Serena Dolinsky, as Marguerite the Victoriana, has a wonderful expressiveness that highlights her skillfully crafted "cracked-face" makeup. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

End Days 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. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 7 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 9, 7 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 16, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

Genius From a Blue Collar Neighborhood With its reliance on the traditional tropes of the solo show genre, this autobiographical tale of a Midwestern heroine (writer-performer Maria Menozzi) who dreams of moving to the Big Apple and becoming a star runs the risk of being dismissed as somewhat trivial. However, it would be a mistake to do that, for the stock elements of Menozzi's show are unexpectedly leavened by undercurrents of pathos and wise melancholy -- a rarity in this kind of one-person effort. As she enters the stage, Menozzi, a clearly warm and laid-back figure, meets the eyes of almost every member of the audience, treating us less as passive viewers than as trusted friends and confidents. Her narrative, which unfolds gently in director Che'Rae Adams' intimate production, recounts memories of a blissfully happy Michigan childhood as the beloved daughter of working-class parents. While punctuating her stories with a series of Bruce Springsteen-like folk song numbers, Menozzi describes her brief sojourn in Manhattan before she returned home to Michigan after an illness and decided to go "straight" into careers in teaching and counseling. An interesting aspect of Menozzi's story is the underlying theme of forgiveness for decisions made and life paths chosen. Yet the details she presents do not necessarily make for compelling stagecraft -- it's hard to sustain much excitement during the description of Menozzi's flubbing a word during a spelling bee when she was 13, for instance. Additionally, her commendable message of midlife acceptance would be a lot more engaging if her story were not treated so guardedly -- we sense there is a lot of drama near, but the material Menozzi opts to share with us only hints at it. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2, geniusfromabluecollarhood.com. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

It Must Be Him What does a formerly successful TV writer do when he hits his 50s and can't sell a script? He writes a mildly amusing musical play about his woes. Although the medley of original songs (composed by Larry Grossman and Ryan Cunningham) doesn't appear until the last third of this 80-minute play, Kenny Solms' autobiographical comedy is mostly fun and frothy, and populated by just about every gay male stereotype you can name. Louie (David Pevsner) is all washed up. He's middle-aged, with a hot young boyfriend (Nick Cobey) who's leeching off him, a slacker assistant (Andy Fitzgerald), an irate agent (Stephen Marshall), a sassy, uncooperative Latina maid (Veronica Alicino) and an antsy bookie who needs to get paid (Jim Shipley). And if Louie can't sell his screenplay, he's going to lose his $2 million mansion. Problem is, Louie's script is an unconvincing romantic comedy. Pressured by the others, Louis deftly switches a character name and suddenly his show becomes a pornographic gay musical before his agent shuts it down. Solms keeps the mood light by injecting ghostly appearances from Louie's adorable Jewish parents (Michael Edelstein and Beth Lane) and high school girlfriend (Mor-gan Smith Feldman) into his tormented scenes of angst. While the show has an uneven and nightmarish mise en abyme quality (this time a screenplay within a play), there are plenty of sitcom gags, puns, one-liners and spiky banter. Director Brian Drillinger wrestles with a pastiche of styles, emphasizing broad comedy tinged with hysteria, while Stephan Smith Collins gives showstopping turns in various clichéd roles. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org.

Rabbit Hole David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winner about a family turned upside-down after the death of a child. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-1970, theatrepalisades.org.

Sganarelle, or The Imaginary Cuckold Molière's lusty farce suffers in the hands of an uneven ensemble that can't quite harness the collective high energy upon which the comedy relies. The text, a new version translated and adapted by Frederique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe, includes plenty of deliciously ridiculous material about prideful men and jealous women, but the production misses too many beats to do the material justice. Young Celia (Lena Kouyoumdjian) loves the dashing Lelio (Justin Davanzo) and the pair intend to wed, despite the protestations of Celia's father, Gorgibus (Tim Orona). Sganarelle (Bo Roberts) is happily married to Madeleine (Cynthia Mance). Trouble comes to all four lovers in the form of bad assumptions and faulty conclusions, errors in judgment that threaten to destroy their relationships. Shortsightedness leads to emotional reactiveness, which leads to giant, impassioned displays of terrible, toddler-like behavior. This would all be outlandishly hilarious were the pacing tight and the actors fully committed to their characters' folly. Roberts self-consciously inhabits the cuckolded Sganarelle because he struggles with the lines and with pacing that falls one step behind the rest of the cast. The standout performance comes from Davanzo, whose every appearance onstage infuses the show with the high-octane quick-handedness it requires. The women unspectacularly hold their own. Duncombe's overall production design is solid, but the lighting includes too many faces erroneously cast in shadow. (Amy Lyons). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4.  (310) 319-9939. citygarage.org

A SOUTHERN EXPOSURE Early in the first act of this entirely predictable Steel Magnolias-style

riff, young Callie Belle Hurt (understudy Heleya de Barros) loses

patience with her grandmother and two elderly aunts. Shouting out that

they're only capable of talking around what's important in life, she

implores them to just once tackle an issue head on. The same accusation

could be leveled at A Southern Exposure, Kelley Kingston-Strayer's play

that wants to say something significant about family bonds and the power

of cultural roots, but instead skirts both, largely through structural

flaws that gloss over every essential dramatic moment. Set in one living

room/kitchen in a small Kentucky town -- nicely rendered with down home

grandmotherly detail by designer Alexandra Dunn -- the play begins on a

momentous day for Callie Belle and the trio of garrulous and

overbearing sisters who've raised her --Hattie (Geraldine Fuentes), Ida

Mae (Linda June Larson) and Mattie (Cindy Shields). Mildly rebellious

Callie Belle has long suspected that her grandmother disapproves of her

life choices. Suddenly she's defying her altogether, quitting college to

follow a new Jewish boyfriend back to Brooklyn. Aside from one extended

digression about the unfathomable appeal of Lady Gaga, the balance of

the play feels like a cut and paste from 1987. The author won top prize

at an Appalachian theater festival with the work, even as her script

doesn't much credit the region, basing jokes on how Kentuckians can't

grasp modern art, homosexuality or vegetarianism. Under Gina Stickley's

untextured direction, the actors work to broaden the comedy. De Barros

gamely goes big, and some charm follows, but it is Shields who brings

unexpected flashes of nuance and absurdist flair by inhabiting her

dim-witted Mattie rather than merely performing her. Little Fish

Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

thru Sept. 10. (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.org. (Mindy Farabee)

Sylvia "Always remember your dog is a dog . . . and woman names make trouble," a stranger (Tom Ayers) warns Greg (Stephen Howard), an empty nester in the thrall of a Labradoodle named Sylvia (Tanna Frederick). The stray bitch solicited Greg at the park, bounded into his Manhattan apartment and immediately made enemies with his wife (Cathy Arden), a smart careerist blonde just getting settled into having the house - and her husband - to herself. Greg, naturally, struggles to stick to the man's advice. So, too, does the audience, as the dog is played by a redhead in a tutu who references The Odyssey and calls Greg her "knight in shining armor." What man could resist? Underneath the tutu, Frederick wears kneepads and with good reason: for two hours, she crawls, leaps, and tumbles with the humans taking turns dragging her around the stage. It's a showy gig and director Gary Imhoff has Frederick - an actress of boundless energy - frolic as if failure meant the pound. If you find Frederick too manic, as I certainly did, you soon side with the missus in wanting to call the dogcatcher. Playwright A.R. Guerney's decision to make a human play canine sharpens the love triangle between man, woman and beast. When Frederick sprawls spread-eagled on the ottoman, what wife wouldn't glare? But Gurney's smart observations about the cross-species bond clash with his sell-out, feel-good ending (was he afraid dog lovers would torch the building?), a flaw further thrown out of whack by Imhoff's need to earn laughs by any means necessary, even updating the 1995 script with Sarah Palin jokes and a dance break to Lady Gaga. By the time the cast takes their final bow to "Who Let the Dogs Out?" all but the most dog-obsessed are eager to vow their allegiance to Team Cat. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org.

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