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Reviews of Way to Heaven, Waiting for Lefty, The Artificial Jungle, and more . . .

​Charles Ludlum's The Artificial Jungle, at the Lounge; and Waiting for Lefty, at the Art of Acting Studio. 

Also, check out the current extended STAGE FEATURES on John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown and Catherine Trieschmann's How The World Began; and the remainder of this week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS Check back on Thursday for long-form reviews of John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown (Ricardo Montalban Theater) andCatherine Trieschmann's How the World Began (South Coast Rep)
 
PICK OF THE WEEK WAY TO HEAVEN (HIMMELWEG) Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga's powerful psychological horror show takes as its inspiration Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp that was disguised as a charming town to fool visiting Red Cross investigators. The play opens with audience members being allowed to tour an onstage exhibit

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication, October 13, 2011

PICK OF THE WEEK WAY TO HEAVEN (HIMMELWEG)

Reviews of Way to Heaven, Waiting for Lefty, The Artificial Jungle, and more . . .
Enci

Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga's powerful psychological horror show

takes as its inspiration Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp that

was disguised as a charming town to fool visiting Red Cross

investigators. The play opens with audience members being allowed to

tour an onstage exhibit of actual items from the camp -- a pillar containing old posters

advertising fake cabaret shows in the nonexistent night club,

forinstance. When the performance itself starts, the actors use the

props and items we've just been examining, thus creating an

environmental experience that's perfect for director Ron Sossi's

evocative staging. A Red Cross worker (Michael McGee) relates his

memories of a tour of the fake concentration camp, which appeared to be

populated by a genially gentlemanly Prison Commandant (the chillingly

perfect Norbert Weisser) and a group of Jewish inmates, happily

portraying "villagers." Utilizing a lyrical structure that loops back

and forth through time, Mayorga relates the events from several

different points of view -- not just the Red Cross worker's, but also

that of the deranged, giggly insane commandant. Gentle scenes of

children playing onstage, or a young couple on a date, are replayed,

each time with increasing terror that suggests a rehearsal process for

which the stakes of a bad performance are death. As his tale unfolds,

Moyorga's disjointed, nonlinear structure (in David Johnston's taut

translation) avoids standard tropes of melodrama as the themes shifts

from the historical to a meditation on the nature of lying, and then on

to a subtle and rather chilling satire of the deceptive nature of

theater itself. Sossi crafts a mood of palpable onstage terror and

cracklingly compelling turns are offered by Weisser's terrifying

commandant, by Bruce Katzman's broken Jewish camp inmate and by McGee's

appalled Red Cross worker.  Odyssey Theater 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.,

W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (no perfs Oct. 24-30); thru Dec.

18 | (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)

GO  THE ARTIFICIAL JUNGLE

Reviews of Way to Heaven, Waiting for Lefty, The Artificial Jungle, and more . . .
Courtesy Art of Acting Studio

Of all the agit-prop plays of the 1930s, only this Clifford Odets work was potent enough to capture mainstream attention, launch Odets' career, validate the efforts of the fledgling Group Theatre and achieve semi-classic status. Dealing as it does with a taxi strike, it put the lives and pungent language of working-class people onstage as never before Ñ and seldom since. Though the play was historic, director Don K. Williams proves it isn't just a historical curiosity. He's assembled 21 fine actors and melded them into a stunning portrait of the times with obvious parallels to our own day. The play deals with the plight of taxi driver Joe (Jesse Steccato), lamed by World War I, who comes home from work to find his furniture repossessed, his children hungry and his wife (Katharine Brandt) in rebellion. Miller (Jeremy Ferdman) loses his job because he refuses to spy on a fellow worker. And Sid (Chase Fein) must break up with the girl he loves (Emily Jackson) because they can't afford to marry. A doctor (David Lengel) is fired by his hospital to make room for an incompetent senator's son. Corrupt union man Harry Fatt (Adam Bitterman) strives mightily to avert a strike, assisted by armed thugs, but the collective anger Ñ and the unmasking of a company spy Ñ defeat him. Union activist Agate (an impassioned Darren Keefe) brings things to a stunning climax with a furious call for action. Art of Acting Studio, 1017 N. Orange Drive; Sat., 8 p.m (added perf Oct. 22, 10:15 p.m.); through Oct. 22. (323) 876-5481, artofactingstudio.com. (Neal Weaver)

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