Pound of Flesh

David Mauer and Joel Polis in Pound of Flesh (Photo by Ron Sossi)

Playwright-director Michael Peter Bolus’ absorbing drama takes place in 1945 at a U.S. military prison where poet Ezra Pound awaits trial for treason. During the war, Pound was charged with giving comfort to the enemy by making a series of radio broadcasts blasting the U.S. In his cell-like room, Pound (Joel Polis) is guarded by a pleasant, intellectually uncurious young soldier (David Mauer), who alternates between being the poet’s confidante and his middlebrow tormentor. Worse than the possibility of being hanged, Pound regards his true punishment as having to submit to the judgment of mediocre minds, and, while waiting for news of his destiny, he rages against democracy, egalitarianism and anti-intellectualism. Polus’ drama, which ultimately suffers from a lack of propulsion, bears a strong resemblance to Ronald Harwood’s better-known Taking Sides — a play that explored similar themes of an artist’s collaboration with a totalitarian authority. Yet, Bolus’ work is cracklingly written and thought-provoking. It’s unusual to see such a play of ideas — and Polis is splendidly intense, rattling off Pound’s beliefs at 90 miles per hour, understandably smug while sliding along a razor blade that splits genius from paranoia. Odyssey Theater Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (schedule varies, call for details); thru June 18. (310) 477-2055.

—Paul Birchall

ALL STEPS NECESSARY Director Jim Ortlieb’s staging of Michael Halperin’s Third Reich one-act is visually authentic, thanks to Valerie Laven-Cooper’s detailed costume work, but the production displays a reckless indifference to the story’s intrinsic drama. It takes place in Hermann Göring’s Berlin home, days after the pogrom that became known as Kristallnacht, where a group of top Nazis convene to thrash out the Jewish Question. Göring (Richard V. Licata), along with government allies Walther Funk (Ben Shields) and Ernst Wörmann (Tom Carroll), argues for a somewhat less-than-final solution, one that would strip German Jews of their property but nevertheless permit them to live within proscribed communities. The field marshal’s personal and political enemies, Joseph Goebbels (Michael Oberlander) and Reinhard Heydrich (Larry Reinhardt-Meyer) object to the “live” part of that proposal, though they mostly refrain from articulating the genocidal plan that would become policy four years later. Halperin’s script lacks momentum — the principals bicker over who is harder on the Jews from the moment pastries are served, and that’s about it. Possibly attempting to underscore the banality of these men, Ortlieb goes overboard by letting the performances drift along a one-dimensional plane. Perhaps worse, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with actors when they aren’t speaking; it’s more than distracting to watch a Nazi staring into the audience holding a glass of brandy. Inkwell Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 4 (closing perf June 4, 7 p.m.). (866) 811-4111. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.

INTERNET DATING: The Musical This is like an updated inversion of Prince/Sondheim’s Company, but instead of being a Candide-like journey of a fellow floating through New York while his friends try to hitch him up, we get a Dating Game saga of single Jenny (the attractive and affable Ali Spuck), a 31-year-old office clone who wants to hook a nice guy in L.A. Her colleagues (Ali Pomerantz and Sandy Shimoda) persuade her to enter the eccentric and brutal world of Internet dating, though it’s probably no less brutal than the former decades’ gamesmanship of personal ads and bar pickups. Online, Jenny meets a cast of stick figures, from a sweet, lonely penguin researcher in Antarctica (Trip Hope) to a two-timing bisexual cad (David Eldon). Writer-composer Ron Weiner offers a screen door rather than a window onto our romantic age, teasing us with shuttered insight. The best tweaks of perception come with lyrics such as “I’m going to Google you like you’ve never been Googled before,” and “You’re cute, but you don’t know how to spell.” But when it tries to be human, the musical rings as thin as some of the singers’ voices. And though the cast comport themselves with vivacity and humor, Annie Oelschlager’s production jams midgear between satire and sentimentality. There are, however, some nice choral fugues amidst the generic blur of pop ballads that cry for some melody and sophistication. Art/Works Theater, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 4. (323) 960-4418. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO LITTLE EGYPT Celeste (Sara Rue) is a misfit egghead who returns from university to her mid-America hometown, where she meets her perfect match in sweet, dim-witted security guard Victor (French Stewart), but family and a cruel friendship complicate their romance. For the first half hour, this musical by playwright Lynn Siefert and composer Gregg Lee Henry seems just annoying and cloyingly offbeat with over-the-top trashy characters occasionally exiting their semi-reality to burst into rock songs. Then, almost without warning, the story becomes riveting in its weirdness as Stewart turns into a powerful tragic clown on par with Buster Keaton. Mere moments separate his uproarious physical comedy and devastating emotional breakdowns. Rue’s brainiac innocence provides Stewart with an excellent foil as the pair tries to move past their shared social retardation. Misty Cotton and Henry are also very effective as Celeste’s sister and Victor’s dubious buddy, while Jenny O’Hara and John Apicella try to fill out two-dimensional roles as old folks. This extremely original production is completely frustrating in that there are so many dull patches in what is often a searing piece of theater. One hopes the writers and director Lisa James are looking at this world premiere as a workshop. Some play development would be a great investment. Matrix Theater, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 11. (323) 852-1445. (Tom Provenzano)

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