David Lindsay-Abaire's Tony-nominated play about class rifts in America, Good People, now playing at the Geffen, is this week's Pick of the Week, by Neal Weaver.
Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes has won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama for the second play in her "Elliot trilogy," Water by the Spoonful, about a U.S. soldier returning from Iraq to his hometown, Philadelphia, and working in a doughnut shop. That trilogy's opening play, Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue, was a Pulitzer finalist in 2007. Water by the Spoonful nudged out two other excellent finalists, Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities, about the political reverberations within a Palm Springs family; and Stephen Karam's comedy about capricious tragedy, Sons of the Prophet. (Yours truly chaired this year's nominating drama jury, which included Newsday's theater critic, Linda Winer; CUNY;s David Savran; Rohan Preston, theater critic of the Minneapolis Star Tribune; and last year's Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, Bruce Norris.)
Check out this coming week's stage feature on Waiting for Godot at the Taper, Billy Elliot at the Pantages and In Paris at the Broad.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication April 19, 2012
THE BEWILDERED HERD
Pity poor Charlie "Bingo" Bingham, master political flak and product salesman extraordinaire, who finds his comfortable life derailed by the unforgiving hand of fate. After his father's unexpected death, Charlie's dementia-stricken mother, Helen (Lisa Richards), moves in; his daughter, Miranda (Corryn Cummins), takes up with Todd (Derek Manson), a musician who's not only much older than she but also a zany 9/11 conspiracy buff; and his dishwater-dull wife, Annie (Trace Turville), suspects him of having an affair. There is abundant material here for an entertaining play, but playwright Cody Henderson doesn't use it effectively. This is an exceptionally "chatty" play, and the major problem is a grossly overwritten script that's in need of skillful, prudent revision. There's also a manifest absence of a compelling, unifying dramatic arc. However, John Getz does a fine turn as Charlie, and the performances are good under Laurie Woolery's direction. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 6. greenwayarts.tix.com. (Lovell Estell III)
DAMES AT SEA
Frothy nonsense involving a diva, an irascible stage director, a handful of plucky chorines and two handsome sailors, Dames at Sea is a peachy-keen tap musical. First staged in the late 1960s, the sweet and mildly racy show sends up the lavish '30s Busby Berkeley-style movie musicals where an understudy steps into a lead role on Broadway, gaining instant stardom. A major joke is that the parody is achieved with a cast of just six, a tiny stage and two pianos plus percussion (performing offstage). You can only imagine the frantic quick changes going on backstage as the performers switch characters and costumes. Fresh off the bus from Centerville, bright-eyed cutie-pie Ruby (Tessa Grady) falls in love, has her heart broken, regains love and debuts in a (hilariously relocated) Broadway musical, all within a whirlwind 24 hours. Sixteen pretty songs include the forlorn "Raining in My Heart." While the tapping could have been crisper, everyone is in fine voice. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 13. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org. (Pauline Adamek)
PICK OF THE WEEK GOOD PEOPLE
David Lindsay-Abaire's Tony-nominated play, having its L.A. premiere, takes an oblique look at the issue of class in America. Margie (Jane Kaczmarek), like the playwright, grew up in a tough, South Boston neighborhood. Her daughter is severely retarded, and Margie, a single mom, has just been fired from her job as cashier at the Dollar Store. To try to find a job, she looks up Mike (Jon Tenney), who went to high school with her but now is a successful doctor with an upscale house in Chestnut Hill. For most of act one, the piece feels like a funny but slight character comedy. But in act two, when blue-collar Margie pays an unexpected visit to the now-genteel Mike and his elegant, privileged wife from Georgetown (Cherise Boothe), conflicts erupt. Director Matt Shakman skillfully unleashes the comedy, and deftly leads his fine cast in meticulous exploration of the loaded emotional issues. Kaczmarek's Margie is a tough-but-tender rough diamond, while Tenney is limited by a character who's essentially a charming-but-craven heel. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 13. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com (Neal Weaver)
The main problem facing Ivanov, Anton Chekhov's messy first foray into playwriting, is Ivanov, as in Nikolai, the sulky one-note at the center of everybody's bad time in this boisterous tragicomic romp. Not that the rest of the crew -- penny-pinching, self-absorbed, scheming -- don't gleefully contribute to the ill will, but at least they have a measure of dynamism. Overmortgaged and middle-aged, Nikolai has grown tired of his tubercular wife, Anna, and lost all interest in life to boot. He endures parties at the Lebedevs, a wealthy local family trying to collect on the large sums he's borrowed, and is caught in a compromising position with their much-younger-than-he daughter, Sasha. The ensemble tears into the play with gusto -- in particular, Barry Del Sherman finds the soul in the "soulless and egoistical" Nikolai, Tom Fitzpatrick deftly shades the manic comic relief of his Count Shabelsky, and Danielle Kennedy's Avdotya Nazarovna, in her short time onstage, simply sparkles. Bart DeLorenzo's seamless directing holds the production together, adroitly navigating the play's lurches in tone. Evidence Room and the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., April 15, 5 p.m.; through June 3. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Mindy Farabee)
JACOB AND JACK Yet another Valentine to our favorite art form, James Sherman's marital farce celebrates the Yiddish theater by bending time across dressing rooms. In the present day, Jack (Bruce Katzman), a commercial actor, has been asked by his mother (Nan Tepper) to portray Yiddish theater star Jacob Shemerinsky for a Chicago benefit. Joining him are his estranged thespian wife, Lisa (Veronica Alicino), and alluring ingénue Robin (Deb Knox), all of whom are held together (and apart) by Jack's manager, Ted (Matt Gottlieb), and stage manager Don (Matthew Scott Montgomery). These characters simultaneously play 1935 versions of themselves getting ready for a big opening. The movement between past and present is smoothly managed by director Lee Sankowich and facilitated by Joanna Leskow's clever costumes, which the actors change in and out of with aplomb. Katzman and Montgomery stand out in crafting distinct dual personas, yet despite adept execution, Sherman's script remains amusing but unremarkable, veering too often into "teachable moments" of exposition and leaning on canned, shtick-y humor. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 6. (323) 465-0693, zephyrtheatre.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
LAURA When Vera Caspary wrote this romantic suspense novel in 1942, the idea of a career-driven woman was still unconventional. Sixty years later, lead character Laura's independence, and the subsequent uneasy relationships she has with the men in her life, are still the most intriguing aspects of this stage adaptation. Laura (Julie Lancaster) is a successful advertiser in New York who is presumed dead when a body, face blown off by a shotgun, is found in her apartment, in her clothes. The mystery unfolds as a morally sound detective (Grinnell Morris) probes both Laura's fiancé (Blake Boyd) and her effeminate friend and admirer (Robert Mackenzie) for motive until the real Laura returns from the countryside. Yet director David McClendon does the material (which likely was fantasy fodder for many women in the '40s) and the relationship dynamics (which even now are complex) a disservice by playing it as a straight murder mystery -- this one is not so elementary. Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills; through April 29; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (310) 364-0535. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO LAST OF THE KNOTTS
Some solo shows are so personal, it's difficult to separate the production from the protagonist's autobiography -- and that might be one of the challenges in reviewing playwright-performer Doug Knott's fascinatingly complex and morally nuanced one-man show. An intense, deeply personable man in his late 60s, Knott enters expressing his obvious pleasure that he's the last of his family line -- a spiteful choice he made when he was a boy to take revenge on his abusive father. Fleeing his stern and rigid family wasn't enough rebellion for Knott, who spent much of the rest of his life living the Peter Pan-like life of a Hollywood bohemian. It was in his 30s, when Knott's cocaine-dealer girlfriend became unexpectedly pregnant with their child, that Knott was forced to evaluate his long-ago decision. In director Eric Trules' simple yet intimate production, Knott addresses the audience as if they're honored guests in his home -- a straightforward approach that allows the dark eddies and disturbing undercurrents to show through with unexpected pathos. Asylum Lab Theater, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; call theater for schedule. (323) 467-0067, brownpapertickets.com (Paul Birchall)
PHANTOMS GO DOWN
Ariel Shepherd-Oppenheim's muddled play portrays a dysfunctional family, but the causes of that dysfunction are never made clear. The story follows three siblings who travel to Baja to scatter their mother's remains. Their ceaseless squabbling is juxtaposed with flashbacks to their childhood, supposedly revealing an eccentric, unstable mom and a distant dad. The most front-and-center character, elder sister Kate (Kellie Matteson), is a bossy, disgruntled woman who refused to attend her mother's funeral and who reacts with resentment and indignation to any situation, past or present (this grows old quickly). Along the way her ditzy younger sister Rosalind (Clementine Ford) snorts their mom's ashes, becoming imbued with her ghost in what is supposed to be (but isn't) a clever and humorous plot point. Instead of sharp-edged and interesting, the characters are rather dull. The production's problems are compounded by drab lighting changes and a boring set. Cindy Marie Jenkins directs. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Westlake; Sun., 2:30 & 6:30 p.m.; through April 22. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.org. (Deborah Klugman)
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SLOW DANCE IN MIDTOWN
The leap from the small screen to the legitimate stage can be a formidable hurdle. The art forms are, to paraphrase Shaw, like two countries separated by a common language. For series-television veteran Elizabeth Sarnoff (Deadwood, Lost, creator of Alcatraz), whose pair of intimate one-acts marks her debut as a playwright-director, it boils down to a problem of translation. Two sets of estranged friends meet in a bar to hash out their past differences. For NYPD detective Frank (Don Swayze) and his foster brother-turned-mobster Sal (Nick Stabile), fraternal bonds and filial love cannot transcend the rival codes each lives by. For Kate (Tricia Small) and Maria (the fine Meredith Scott Lynn), romantic attraction comes too late to expunge a wounding personal betrayal. Though packed with the kind of punchy plot twists that are the lingua franca of TV, Sarnoff's plays never take poetic flight; her pedestrian dialogue feels as literal and cluttered as Tom Buderwitz's photorealist barroom set. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 12. (818) 990-2324, slowdanceinmidtown.com, (Bill Raden)