Reprise Theatre Company's production of Cabaret opened on Wednesday at UCLA. Check back on Tuesday for the review, along with all productions seen over the weekend.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Sept. 16 - 22, 2011
Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III,
Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman,
Amy Lyons, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill
Raden, and Neal Weaver. The listings are 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
Abstract Concepts Late-night monologues by Eclectic Voices. Fri., Sat., 11 p.m. Thru Sept. 24. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
The Artificial Jungle Charles Ludlam's send-up of film noir. Starting Sept. 17, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Nov. 6. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-7863, plays411.com/jungle.
Bechnya Saviana Stanescu's war story. Starting Sept. 22, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 22. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-7721, plays411.com/bechnya.
The Behavior of Broadus Staged reading by comedy troupe Burglars of Hamm. Sat., Sept. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 7 p.m. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.
CarnEvil: A Gothic Horror Rock Musical Book and lyrics by Joe Fria and Michael Teoli, music by Michael Teoli. Fri., Sat., 11 p.m. Thru Oct. 22. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.
A Doll House Calista Flockhart, Gregory Itzin and JoBeth Williams headline this reading of Ibsen's classic drama, presented by L.A. Theatre Works. Thu., Sept. 22, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 2 & 7 p.m. James Bridges Theater, UCLA, 1409 Melnitz Hall, Westwood, (310) 827-0889, latw.org.
Equus Horseplay by Peter Shaffer. Starting Sept. 17, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-7519, morgan-wixson.org.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Doma Theatre Company's musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Oct. 2. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., (323) 960-7740, plays411.com/jacquesbrel.
Jimmy Stewart, A Humorous Look at His Life Legendary impressionist Rich Little's one-man show. Sun., Sept. 18, 3 p.m. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, (562) 467-8818, cerritoscenter.com.
Jimmy and Sam Retiree comedy by Michael Rhodes, Pat Harrington Jr. and Howard Storm. Starting Sept. 22, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 23. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.
Kvetch Steven Berkoff's Jewish family comedy. Starting Sept. 17, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 990-2324, seaglasstheatre.org.
Mommie Queerest Jamie Morris' all-male take on Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest. Starting Sept. 22, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 1. Ultra Suede, 661 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 960-7774, plays411.com/mq.
Norma Jean & Johnny Staged reading of Richard Setlowe's play starring Shelley Berman. Sun., Sept. 18, 2 p.m. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 938-2531, westsidejcc.org.
Poor Behavior Theresa Rebeck's tale of "lust and deception, marriage and fidelity." Starting Sept. 18, Tues.-Sun. Thru Oct. 16. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 628-2772.
Pride and Prejudice One of the most popular novels in English literature comes to the SCR stage in a lavish production centered on a bustling, enthusiastic and discombobulated family. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., Sun., 7:30 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.
Princes Don't Live in Cyberland Erika Jenko's quest for Mr. Right. Tue., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A., (323) 871-1193, comedysportzla.com.
Shooting Star Steven Dietz's romantic comedy. Starting Sept. 17, Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs., Fri., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org.
Surprises: Stories of Fortunes, Fate and Food Short works by Mark Harvey Levine. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Grove Theater Center, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank, (818)-528-6622, gtc.org.
That's Amore! An American Italian Songbook Written by Gilmore Rizzo, musical direction by Bryan Miller, directed by Ginny McMath. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Oct. 23. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com.
3 "Three women connected by history and friendship," by Danielle Monet Truitt. Fri., Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 6 p.m. The Living Room, 7647 Hayvenhurst, Ste. 31, Van Nuys, daniellemonetruitt.com.
The Unauthorized Afterlife of Eugene O'Neill A portrait of the playwright, written by and starring James Cady. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theater.) Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 2 p.m. Thru Sept. 25. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
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.
The Behavior of Broadus Staged reading by comedy troupe Burglars of Hamm. Sat., Sept. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 7 p.m. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.
Cabaret The classic, reprised appropriately by the Reprise Theatre Company. Directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood, (310) 825-2101.
A Doll House Calista Flockhart, Gregory Itzin and JoBeth Williams headline this reading of Ibsen's classic drama, presented by L.A. Theatre Works. Thu., Sept. 22, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 2 & 7 p.m., (310) 827-0889, latw.org. James Bridges Theater, UCLA, 1409 Melnitz Hall, Westwood.
GO THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY
Goldwyn is famously quoted as snarling, "If you want to send a message,
use Western Union." As demonstrated by Kristoffer Diaz's vibrant and
vastly entertaining satire of TV wrestling, sometimes a stage will do
just fine. In fact, Diaz's play is all about messages, specifically the
incendiary and rabble-rousing kind producers use to boost ratings for
the small screen's most popular pseudo-sport. In the case of Diaz's THE
Wrestling franchise, no cultural stereotype is too low or harebrained
for exploitation. For wrestler Macedonio "Mace" Guerra (Desmin Borges),
that makes working for THE's supercilious promoter, Everett K. Olson
(Steve Valentine), a mixed blessing. Though Mace is little more than
ring dressing to make THE's untalented but charismatic marquee name,
Chad Deity (Terence Archie), look good, the Puerto Rican Guerra is a
wrestling purist. Even as a child in the Bronx he understood that,
beneath the bombastic spectacle, wrestling is the kind of narrative art
form with which he can "tell stories." He finally gets his chance when
he recruits swaggering hoops sensation Vigneshwar "VP" Paduar (Usman
Ally), a second-generation South Asian from Mumbai, who is a
street-savvy, polyglot chameleon on Brooklyn's melting-pot courts. The
pair become overnight TV stars, but only after Olson rechristens them as
crudely demeaning pastiches of Muslim-terrorist-communist anti-American
bogeymen. Though buoyed by an outstanding ensemble, it is Borges'
spirited and captivating portrait of the artist as a frustrated
storyteller that carries the show. Director Edward Torres' taut staging
rarely falters in a production graced by Brian Sidney Bembridge's
wonderfully hyperbolic wrestling-ring set, Jesse Klug's glitzy and
glossy lights and costumer Christina Haatainen Jones' marvelously kitsch
creations. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri.,
8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m; thru Oct. 9. (310)
208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Bill Raden)
Jimmy Stewart, A Humorous Look at His Life Legendary imitator Rich Little's one-man show. Sun., Sept. 18, 3 p.m. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, (562) 467-8818, cerritoscenter.com.
GO JOLSON AT THE WINTER GARDEN
nostalgic musical, written by Bill Castellino and Mike Burstyn,
starring Burstyn in the title role, is a hagiographic biography of
singer-actor Al Jolson, featuring many of his trademark songs. Burstyn
captures Jolson's distinctively brassy voice and vocal mannerisms with
almost phonographic accuracy, and he's ably supported by a trio of
backup singers: Jacqueline Bayne, Laura Hodos and Wayne LeGette. There
is a wisp of a plot to provide a framework, but it's the songs that
matter. They range from the novelty ditty from the early Jolson hit
Robinson Crusoe, called "Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on
Saturday Night?" performed by Burstyn and LeGette, with interpolated
vaudeville shtick, to Jolson standards like "Swanee," "Toot Toot
Tootsie," "You Made Me Love You," the schmaltzy "Sonny Boy" and,
inevitably, for a finale, "My Mammy." Burstyn's Jolson is genial,
laid-back and marked by arrogance and egotism as well as high energy and
magnetism. The show is slickly directed and choreographed by Castellino
on Timothy R. Mackabee's lavish, glitzy set, with sharp musical
direction by Christopher McGovern. There's clearly still a remarkable
amount of affection for Jolson, even among the majority of audiences too
young to have heard him in his heyday. El Portal Theatre, 5269
Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat & Sun., 2
p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (877) 733-7529, ElPortalTheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
LAUREL AND HARDY You'd expect a play about early Hollywood's famous comedy duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, to have audiences rolling in the aisles with mirth. Instead, Tom McGrath's bittersweet biographical play has the pair of characters posthumously taking turns in relating their life stories, from their disparate childhoods to when they became a comedy team in vaudeville, silent movies and talkies, through to the adulatory obituary read by fellow
silent comedy star Harold Lloyd at Laurel's funeral. Both also perform various characters from their separate and joint experiences, which are interspersed with classic comedy sketches. Kevin Blake and Paul C. Vogt give good approximations of Laurel and Hardy, respectively. For fans, there's plenty of familiar funny dialogue and physical business (Stan whimpering and scratching his head, Ollie bashfully wiggling his tie). Robert Petrarca accompanies the show on a tinny upright piano upstage and occasionally gets into the act, lending a hand with some sight gags. McGrath's play is a charming assembly of bio material, marionettes, shadowplay, songs, dance numbers and comedy bits. These include the pair as bumbling piano movers, a disastrous attempt to glue posters that turns vindictive, and famous routines including a cream pie in the face and an obstreperous seltzer bottle. But proceeding at a relaxed pace
(and running for two hours and 20 minutes), all this reminiscing proves turgid. With too few pratfalls and slapstick, the laughs are sporadic, even if the gentle humor is, at times, delightfully juvenile. Creative staging by Dimitri Toscas makes good use of a large backcloth,
projecting silent movie-style title cards during some sketches as well as a whimsical routine involving Hardy and the manipulated image of Jean Harlow. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com (Pauline Adamek)
Madame President Elizabeth Montgomery's romantic comedy about the first female president. 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. 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
Corrie was 23 when she died facing down a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.
What happened is still hotly contested: Her fellow peace activists claim
it was murder, the Israeli government countered it was an accident, the
Russian immigrant behind the wheel said, "I scooped up some earth, I
couldn't see anything. I pushed the earth, and I didn't see her at all."
As for what Rachel saw, we'll never know -- her death is the one moment
in this solo show where the words aren't hers. The rest of the show is
constructed from her emails and letters and journals, edited by actor
Alan Rickman into an arc that follows Corrie as she leaves Olympia,
Wash., a restless do-gooder, lands in Palestine an eager aid worker and
dies a politicized martyr just seven weeks later. As played by Samara
Frame, Corrie is theatrically precocious, slender and manic, a sprite
who blurts out lists of her heroes (Jesus and Zelda Fitzgerald
included), sings Russian drinking songs to herself on a riverbank, and
still considers middle school the defining moment of her personality.
Corrie talks -- or rather, yelps, as Frame has to fight to be heard over
the crickets -- as though she's aware her time on earth is short and
she's in a race to speak a lifetime's worth of words. Director Susan
Angelo so amps up Corrie's personality that she doesn't feel like a real
person. And a choppy video where Frame swings through the Theatricum's
forest while recounting the time Corrie tried to take mental patients to
get ice cream doesn't work at all. Angelo's intention is to contrast
Corrie's early effervescence with the sudden, somber reckoning that
greets her in Palestine when she's immediately told to rescue bodies
from a gun battle and she befriends the families whose houses and lives
are under continual threat from bombs and bulldozers. But it's the
strength she later shows that makes the play compelling. When Corrie
lands in Israel, the play detours with a long and careful preface where
she makes clear to the audience that she's entering the conflict
apolitically -- she makes a firm divide between Jewish people and
Israeli policy. But 15 minutes later, she ties on a keffiyeh and her
sympathies are clear. (The theater, however, hedges its bets. At the end
of every performance is a talkback featuring advocates like the
national vice chairman of the Zionist Organization of America, and in my
press packet was a brochure titled "My Name Is Rachel Corrie
Does Not Tell the Whole Story.") Still, Corrie herself seems inspired by
a purer, yet motivationally murkier force: She stays in Palestine
because she's ashamed of what she calls her "international white-person
privilege." That she could go back to her hippie enclave of Olympia when
the Palestinians are trapped weighs her with guilt, and that her
presence in an orange flak jacket can stop a gun dares her to step in
front of more guns ... and bulldozers. And the world knows what happened
next. Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga;
Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 22. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com. (Amy
Poor Behavior Theresa Rebeck's tale of "lust and deception, marriage and fidelity." Starting Sept. 18, Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 16. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org.
Pride and Prejudice One of the most popular novels in English literature comes to the SCR stage in a lavish production centered on a bustling, enthusiastic and discombobulated family. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.
GO Private Lives Director Luke Yankee skillfully showcases the musicality of Noel Coward's wry dialogue in this spot-on production. A fine ensemble pulls off perfect pacing and further steadies Yankee's sure hand. Elyot (a wonderfully fluid Freddy Douglas) is honeymooning with his new wife, Sibyl (Jennice Butler), when he bumps into his first wife, Amanda (an arresting Caroline Kinsolving), who also is honeymooning, with second husband Victor (Adam J. Smith). Elyot and Amanda had a fiery marriage, the heat of which has not cooled, and their new spouses are wet blankets. Though they try to convince themselves that safe and dull is better than upsetting and chaotic, Elyot and Amanda surrender to passion and flee together. Coward's 1930 script feels fresh here, despite the sometimes one-dimensional characters it engenders. The fact that each character is a simple type -- Elyot the urbane playboy, Amanda the modern minx, Sibyl the dippy people-pleaser and Victor the gutless good guy -- the deft actors bring humanity to the text without neglecting the gleefully frivolous comedy that comes with playing stock roles. And Coward's talent for hanging witty descriptors on dark urges is a sheer delight -- when Sibyl annoys Elyot, he semi-politely threatens to cut off her head with a meat ax; when Victor asks Amanda about her fights with Elyot, she proudly boasts that she once "broke four gramophone records over his head," an experience that was "very satisfying." Bill Georges' lighting is as detail-oriented as the entire, precise production. (Amy Lyons). 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.
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). 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.
The Ride Down Mount Morgan Isabell Mejias Fox directs this Arthur Miller play, starring Richard Johnson as Felt. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 589-1998. theatricum.com
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. 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.
Seascape A lizard couple has to decide between evolution into the human world or remaining in their scaly existence in this Pulitzer Prize winning comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.
Shooting Star Steven Dietz's romantic comedy. Starting Sept. 17, Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org.
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. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 440-7300, getty.edu. See Stage feature
The Unauthorized Afterlife of Eugene O'Neill A portrait of the playwright, written by and starring James Cady. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theater.). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
The Vault: Unlocked The Latino Theatre Company presents an original multi-disciplinary theatrical show, described as genre-bending as well as culturally and politically relevant. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 8. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.
A Widow of No Importance Shane Sakhrani's comedy about an Indian widow turned cougar. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A., (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
The Artificial Jungle Charles Ludlam's send-up of film noir. Starting Sept. 17, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Nov. 6, (323) 960-7863, plays411.com/jungle. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..
THE B-SIDE This short collection of vignettes by
director John Miyasaki and the Hereandnow Theatre Company has moments
that are exquisitely sublime and expressive, but they can't redeem this
terribly flawed production. In the press notes it's stated that the show
"examines the often overlooked and under-told stories of people of
color in America," but there isn't much storytelling here. Most of the
pieces feature music, dance, spoken word and movement, all lacking in
consistent precision and polish. Of the 15 or so selections, only a
handful are memorable. The best include "Eel," a beautiful Hawaiian
folktale about a brother, a sister and a fisherman, an enchanting sketch
featuring Verwin GatPandan and Eileen Soong. "Good/Bad" has the
ensemble reciting a hilarious litany of what's good and bad about being
Asian or Latino, but lines frequently are stepped on, subverting the
comic timing. Other ensemble pieces are "Traditions," a humorous and
heart-wrenching recitation of holiday practices across a multi-ethnic
spectrum, and "Fields of Plenty," a beautifully evoked homage to the
lives and struggles of migrant farm workers. Hereandnow Theatre Company
presented by Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel. 501 S. Spring St.,
third floor, dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (call for added perfs); thru
Sept. 18. (626) 375-5219, hereandnowtheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
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.
Bechnya Saviana Stanescu's war story. Starting Sept. 22, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 22, (323) 960-7721, plays411.com/bechnya. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..
Beirut Alan Browne story of "love in the face of sexual disease, social disorder and government oppression." Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through Sept. 23. Tre Stage Theatre, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A., trestage.webs.com.
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.
CarnEvil: A Gothic Horror Rock Musical Book and lyrics by Joe Fria and Michael Teoli, music by Michael Teoli. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 22. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.
GO THE CHANTEUSE AND THE DEVIL'S MUSE
In co-creators David J and Ego Plum's speculative take on the Black
Dahlia murder, the silhouettes of the three musicians -- J on vocals and
guitar, Plum on keyboards, drums and backing vocals and Ysanne Spevack
on strings -- can be glimpsed as they perform on a scaffolding tower
behind a scrim. Onto this screen are projected dreamy, surreal visuals,
as well as images of the tragic Elizabeth Short. There's even a screened
excerpt from the noir movie Kiss Me Deadly, which occupies a
substantial chunk of the one-act's lean 50-minute running time. A
conspicuously low budget means that a strobe-lit dance sequence, in
which two dancers portray the severed, mutilated corpse, isn't nearly as
macabre as intended (we should be but aren't horrified when the two
halves separate). Best is the Butoh dance sequence brilliantly performed
throughout by Vangeline. Dressed in white tulle like a demented
ballerina-bride, with blackened eyes, powdered skin and a grotesque
grimace, she embodies the tormented spirit of Short, whose lingering
presence slowly builds to a cathartic climax. When Daniele Watts as Ms.
Comfort steps up to the mic, she gives a breathtaking rendition of a
torchy blues song. The narrative is weak, but the song and spectacle are
worthwhile. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat.,
7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com (Pauline
D3LiNQUENTZ One-woman "comedic experience" by Stefany Northcutt. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 4 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 4 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2, d3linquentz.com. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A., (323) 469-3113, writeactrep.org.
Dreams in Variation Written and directed by Kristen Boule, based on music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim & Jule Styne, Stephen Schwartz, Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, Cy Coleman & Ira Gasman, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Mel Brooks, Elton John & Tim Rice, Alan Menken & Jack Feldman, Richard Alder & Jerry Ross, Jerry Herman, John J Bucchino, David Yazbek, Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, Jason Robert Brown, Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus, Jacques Levy & Steven Margoshes, Charlie Smalls. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, (323) 960-7740, plays411.com/dreamsinvariation. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., hudsontheatre.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.
Falsettos The Third Street Theatre's first production will be this Tony award-winning musical, directed by Richard Israel. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, (888) 718-4253, showclix.com. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., L.A..
GO Guided Consideration of a Lamentable Deed 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, campuswide 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 movable pillars of light that create shifting moods throughout. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 15, (323) 795-2215, needtheater.org. Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A..
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Doma Theatre Company's musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2, (323) 960-7740, plays411.com/jacquesbrel. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., theMETtheatre.com.
Just Imagine Tim Piper's John Lennon impersonation, including performances of Beatles hits and Lennon's solo work. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (310) 213-6955, thehayworth.com.
Keep it Clean Comedy Hosted 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.
The Leopard John F. Goff depicts Ernest Hemingway near the end of his life as he reflects back on achievements and adventures in far-flung parts of the world. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9, (323) 960-7784, plays411.com/theleopard. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A., workingstage.com.
Life in the Middle Ages Writer-standup comic Steve Ochs' mega-personal solo show about the inevitable outcome of aging. Fri., Sept. 16, 7 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 29, 7 p.m. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A., theatreasylum-la.com.
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, 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), 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 Shakespearean 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., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; through 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, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Making Love Over There Tom Dugdale's collection of short works, starring Patrick Riley and Zoe Chao. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1, brownpapertickets.com/event/197285. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.com.
The Next Best Thing Writer/performance artist Antonio Sacre calls himself a storyteller rather than a comic, but that doesn't mean he isn't funnier than most of the comics around -- a lot more. In his solo show, written in collaboration with Jim Lasko and directed by Paul Stein, he tells about his delight and ecstasy at finding his perfect woman when both were working in a Chicago theatre. They got married, and he felt no resentment even when her career in TV and film took off and he was reduced to the nonentity walking behind her on the red carpet. When she suddenly told him she no longer loved him and wanted a divorce, he was devastated. But his ironic edge and self-deprecating wit allow him to be funny even in despair. He describes the perils of returning to the dating scene as well as his adventures as a performer for prison inmates, where his traditional material died on him and he had to forge a new approach. He tells us a Russian fairy tale and regales us with his bizarre encounters with self-help gurus and the eccentricities of his Mexican father and Irish mother. His stories feel authentic even when they veer into fantasy, and his view is fresh, quirky and unpredictable. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.com.
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, theatreasylum-la.com.
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), a world that presumably has 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; 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. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 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, www.theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., thedragonfly.com.
Princes Don't Live in Cyberland Erika Jenko's quest for Mr. Right. Tue., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A., (323) 871-1193, comedysportzla.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., www.theactorsplaypen.com/.
GO GO Stones in His Pockets Tuta Theatre West, the West Coast branch of experimental Chicago theater company Tuta Theatre, has collaborated with a pair of L.A. comedians (Jerry Richardson and the Groundlings' Andrew Friedman) 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 and 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.; through Sept. 17. (323) 960-7822, plays411.com/stones. (Pauline Adamek)
The Stories of Isaac Leib Peretz Performer Matt Chait interprets a selection of stories by one of the greatest Yiddish writers of the 20th century, performed with a klezmer score by Israeli violinist Lior Kaminetsky. Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 10, (323) 960-7780, plays411.com/peretz. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., complexhollywood.com.
Stranger Things In a barren, northern clime, Helga (Christel Joy Johnson) and her mother (Katharine Noon) have converted their farmhouse into a makeshift inn; male travelers who stay the night can check out any time they like, but they can never leave. Instead, Helga and her mother kill them for their money, dreaming of saving enough to escape this winter wasteland and live by the ocean. Into this bleak house steps Johan (Doug Sutherland), the prodigal son who returns home after decades, accompanied by his partner, Matt (Brian Weir). Helga's bitterness at Johan's abandonment, Johan's desire to reconnect with his family and the fate of all men who enter the inn combine to creates the dramatic tension that ensues. While the basic story is that of Albert Camus' Le Malentendu (The Misunderstanding) , the removal of this adaptation from its 1943 Vichy France backdrop strips it of its crucial philosophical underpinnings. When the only questions become whether Johan will reveal himself and whether his mother and sister will kill him, the larger question of "civilized" people abandoning their humanity is supplanted by a less interesting whodunit. Sure, the proper ambience is achieved by David O's piano tremolos and Cricket S. Myers' barren "windscape" punctuated by reverberating chords. Also fitting are Johnson's biting tone, which is as cold as the weather, and Noon's ghostly demeanor as she drifts about the place. But the bones of this piece -- mirrored in Maureen Weiss' slatted set -- are all that director Ronnie Clark gleans from Camus. The soul? Well, that is another matter altogether. (Mayank Keshaviah). (No perf Sept. 17.) 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.
Super Sidekick A new children's musical from rising L.A. playwright Gregory Crafts. Sundays, 2 & 4 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.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. 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.
What Happened in Mayville? 2 Christina Joy Howard's sequel to her one-act horror play. Starting Sept. 17, Saturdays, 9 p.m.; Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., No. 105, L.A., (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com.
GO WHAT THE MOON SAW, OR "I ONLY APPEAR TO BE DEAD"
Despite their target audience of children, more than a tinge of the
macabre colors fairy tales. A salivating wolf hunts down a little girl
on the way to her grandmother's; another little girl freezes to death
while selling matches. Inspired, then, is Stephanie Fleischmann's
decision to intersect the paths of one of the most famous fairy-tale
authors, Hans Christian Andersen, and New York City, circa 9/11, in her
world-premiere play. Stringing together the four stories, all riffs on
classic Andersen tales, is another of the Dane's works, "What the Moon
Saw," in which the moon overlooks a civilization in decline -- which is
personified here by Leah Harmon, who hangs over the action playing a
pearlescent accordion. That's just one of the excellent design team's
fanciful touches, which lend the production the delightful feel of a
children's pop-up book: Work boots hold stage lights; when the "sky
falls," a bucketful of sand suspended from the ceiling is tipped over;
cutouts and silhouettes dance behind a scrim. Though many of
Fleischmann's ideas are earthy, director Matthew McCray allows a
tendency toward preciousness. In "Friction/Steadfast," Michael Nehring
gets shrill as a cross-dressing aunt, and during "Match or Spooky Action
at a Distance," Allie Costa and Whitton Frank strip the text of its
drama by adding too much into the acting. Still, the latter vignette,
inspired by one of Andersen's most heart-wrenching tales, "The Little
Match Girl," is the most striking of the night. As a member of the NYFD
(a terrifically restrained Alex Smith) digs through the aftermath of
9/11, he says he thinks about the "molecular composition of the
firemen's indestructible rubber boots." The contrast between that image
and time, 10 years of which have blown away like ash, is a reminder far
more indelible than the phrase "Never forget." Son of Semele Theater,
3301 Beverly Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (213)
351-3507, sonofsemele.org (Rebecca Haithcoat)
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.
GO WHAT'S WRONG WITH ANGRY?
In 1993, when this play was first produced, the British age of consent for same-sex activity was 21 (16 for straight people) and speaking positively about homosexuality in schools was legally proscribed. Playwright Patrick Wilde's drama takes place in an insular suburb of
London and revolves around a gay teen named Steven (Daniel Taylor) who confidently embraces his sexuality even as he endures the homophobic
barbs and brutal beatings of his classmates. One day, requenting the public loo, he has a sexual encounter with his school's star jock, John
(Miles Heymann), a boy he has long had a crush on. The remainder of the play charts the duo's on-again/off-again relationship, a behind-closed-doors affair based on real affection and caring but circumscribed by John's inability -- unlike Steven -- to acknowledge his
feelings, either publicly or to himself. Director Michael Matthews' cogent staging underscores the strengths of a piece that breaks no new ground but handles familiar themes with sensitivity and skill. Particularly appealing is the group portrait of adolescence that rings true above and beyond any political message. The ensemble does fine work all around, but Heymann is particularly affecting as the troubled John, and Kelly Schumann frequently steals the limelight as Linda, Steven's savvy and stalwart teen confidante. Matthew Henerson also deserves note
in his double role of headmaster and Steven's father, both of whom stand in for the forces of intolerance. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. ; thru Oct. 26. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
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
The World's Worst Play, Ever Ryan Paul James' comedic play-within-a-play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 8. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-5068, theatre68.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
Abstract Concepts Late-night monologues by Eclectic Voices. Fridays, Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
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.
I'm Just Wild About Harry Gary Lamb and William A. Reilly's musical adaptation of Brandon Thomas' Charlie's Aunt. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17, brownpapertickets.com/event/176073. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, (818) 745-8527, nohoartsdistrict.com/theatreweb/crowncity.htm.
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.
Kowalski Brando auditions for A Streetcar Named Desire, in Gregg Ostrin's play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com. See Stage feature.
Kvetch Steven Berkoff's Jewish family comedy. Starting Sept. 17, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, seaglasstheatre.org. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 990-2324, whitefiretheatre.com.
Love, Lust & Lunacy: The Naked Truth About Relationships Written and performed by comedian/talk show host Debi Gutierrez. Sun., Sept. 18, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 7 p.m., (323) 960-5772, plays411.com/lovelustlunacy. Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, icehousecomedy.com.
The Merchant of Venice The Porters of Hellgate present Shakespeare's tragic comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (818) 325-2055. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. See Stage feature.
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. Continues through Sept. 17. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.
Preposterous There is a lesson taught to beginner playwrights that falls under the rubric of "engaging the audience." The idea is that a narrative derives its urgency not from the charm of the characters or the quirks of their situation but from some question or mystery vital to them that lies tantalizingly just offstage. It isn't necessary for Godot to make an entrance, but without him in the play, the audience is waiting -- and exasperatingly -- only for the final curtain. In playwright Jason Britt's drifting and digressive slice-of-life drama, that wait can seem endless. Six incestuously close-knit 20-somethings come together for three boozy backyard bacchanals (on Michael Harris' uninspired back-porch set). There is the brooding Allen (Britt), the volatile Kevin (John Klopping) and his doting girlfriend, Jackie (Laura Lee Bahr), the free-spirited John (Erik Saari) and his girl, Wendy (Rachel Kanouse), and the reserved and enigmatic Miranda (Angela Landis). They carouse. They reminisce. They play drinking games. They mourn. They break up. They hook up. (Not necessarily in that order.) And, when the opportunity presents itself, they cheat on one another. Unable to find a discernible through-line that might tie together the evening's inaction, director Taylor Ashbrook lets her actors off the leash to mug what they can from Britt's amiable but aimless scenes. Though Britt touches on some weighty themes -- i.e., commitment and the contradictory ways of love -- the fact that he could cut any one of the play's three acts with little effect suggests that those thoughts ultimately lead nowhere. (Bill Raden). 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.
Richard III Lisa Wolpe directs and stars in this gender-bending production of Shakepeare's classic tale. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Studio Theatre at Cal Poly Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave., Building 25, Pomona, (909) 869-3900.
GO Romeo & Juliet Director Denise Devin is having quite a run staging abridged versions of the classics over at Zombie Joe's. Not long ago, there was a hilarious version of Hamlet, cum vampires and zombies, and then an equally entertaining version of Tartuffe -- turbo-injected. Now comes the Bard's timeless fable of bickering families and star-crossed lovers spiced with an ample amount of jokes, and clocking in at just over an hour. Despite the compressed format, the play's essential elements are melded into a smoothly flowing, coherent narrative, mostly employing Shakespeare's text. As with most of the shows here, the production values are minimal. There are some crates of varying sizes and a small but mighty scaffold, which provides the necessary support for the balcony scene; Jeri Batzdorff has designed neatly understated, serviceable costumes. Devin marshals her 11-member cast around this small stage. Robert Walter's boyish good looks and charm serve him well as Romeo. Alexis Justman complements nicely as Juliet, although she could dial down the pubertal giddiness a notch. Also noteworthy are Rafael Goldstein and Curtiss Johns as, respectively, Mercutio and Benvolio. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 8. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
Salome Oscar Wilde's biblical tragedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Mosaic Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 457-5293, lizardtheater.com.
September 10 Art Shulman's study of the aftermath of 9/11 on a husband and wife, a tagger, a sportswriter, a street vendor, a fireman, an evangelist, and others. Sat., Sept. 17, 2 p.m. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.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.
Surprises: Stories of Fortunes, Fate and Food Short works by Mark Harvey Levine. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Grove Theater Center, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank, (818)-528-6622, gtc.org.
The Tempest Zombie Joe's takes on the Shakespearean classic. Directed by Denise Devin. Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through Oct. 28. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
That's Amore! An American Italian Songbook Written by Gilmore Rizzo, musical direction by Bryan Miller, directed by Ginny McMath. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 23. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com.
3 "Three women connected by history and friendship," by Danielle Monet Truitt. Fri., Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 6 p.m., daniellemonetruitt.com. The Living Room, 7647 Hayvenhurst, Ste. 31, Van Nuys.
To Carry the Child Ashley, a struggling young artist, returns to the bosom of her dysfunctional family on Carapace Isle after being abandoned by her lesbian lover. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, (323) 860-6569, plays411.com/thechild. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, ravenplayhouse.com.
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.
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
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.; Thu., Sept. 29, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-8392, pacificresidenttheatre.com. See Stage feature.
GO The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity can trace elements of its storyline back to Plautus' The Brothers Menechmi, but director Drew Shirley's robustly farcical production of the play offers just as much of a debt of gratitude to Bozo the Clown and the Super Mario Brothers. Antipholus of Syracuse (the gymnastic Mark Schroeder) and his slave Dromio (Cy Brown) arrive in Ephesus for a visit and are immediately mistaken for their long-lost twins (Roger Stewart and Jesse Sharp, respectively). Antipholus of Syracuse is given a golden necklace and invited to a pleasant dinner with his sexy wife, Adriana (Caity Engler), while Antipholus of Ephesus is subjected to beatings, accused of theft and locked out of his own house. Before all can be made clear, there are many pratfalls, Three Stooges-esque acts of "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk"-ery and Keystone Kops-like chases. The pacing feverishly crackles, with the performers milking the dialogue for every mugging opportunity, spit-take and leering innuendo. You can tell everyone is having a great time as the mood mixes Shakespearean eloquence with frenetic groping and mummery worthy of Benny Hill. Many of the gags demonstrate both cast and director's assured comic sensibility -- for instance, shtick involving Greyson Lewis' creepy executioner (who might just be the same character as the sultry courtesan) is hilarious. Elsewhere, though, the lack of an editorial eye to temper the endless reflexive jokes suggests a lack of faith in the original text. Nevertheless, elements such as joyfully agile turns by the likable Schroeder, by Stewart as his more uptight brother and by Engler as Antipholus of Ephesus' ferocious shrew of a wife allow this to coalesce into a wonderfully clear and accessible production. (Paul Birchall). 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 Set in the kind of downtown L.A. bar (set by Gary Guidinger) that has denizens pounding on the door at 9 a.m. to be let in and start drinking, Justin Tanner's best comedy in years is a deceptively facile look at what draws people to and from each other. Old Mick (Tom Fitzpatrick) is enamored with Val (Danielle Kennedy), cashing out a retirement account to buy her a $7,000 ring, which Val pawns for a pittance and puts up little resistance to the seductions of Mick's son, Bradley (Jonathan Palmer). Meanwhile, barkeep Daniel (Todd Lowe) can't even get wife Jenny (Chloe Taylor) to kiss him anywhere near the lips, because of a recent fling she had with her stud brother-in-law, Caleb (Cody Chappel). Maile Flanagan and Melissa Denton pass through, as a pair of lesbians en route to a family gathering in Lodi -- can their marriage endure the pressures of the trip, or of each other? Beneath what looks like the stuff of almost nothing, couched in marvelous physical humor under Bart DeLorenzo's direction, and a string of very funny one-liners, emerges a clear and larger vision. This is a love story (or stories) in which so many core decisions are made from perceived opportunity and economics. Bradley shows up for the sole purpose of preventing his geezer dad from squandering the potential legacy of his last remaining funds. Despite what looks like a romantic reunion in a troubled marriage, Jenny tells Caleb that if she were 10 years younger, she'd leave her barkeep husband, but now she's put whatever money she had into the bar. Whether their marriage endures or doesn't, that bitter truth will underlie it, meaning her husband is doomed if he harbors any serious hope for reciprocated affections. If you read between the lines and the laughs, there's a fury at work, a rage at cold-hearted self-interest that is, and always was, the driving engine of most societies. The rest is garbage, and few writers can satirize garbage with Tanner's skill. It's hard to tell if the balance between comedy and anger that so delicately keeps insight from teetering into petulance comes as much from the writing as from DeLorenzo's taut staging. As comedy ensembles go, the eight actors are like the well-oiled cylinders in a fine old gas-guzzling Caddie, blowing smoke in our eyes, masking roadkill and other horrors of the highway. (Steven Leigh Morris). 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.
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.; 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.
Equus Horseplay by Peter Shaffer. Starting Sept. 17, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-7519, morgan-wixson.org.
GO Gospel According to the First Squad Our first mistake was profiling the country's founding fathers as demigods in American history textbooks. Generations grew up believing George Washington was the equivalent of Christ himself -- neither did anything wrong, according to the bibles of both church and state. Vietnam veterans learned the hard way that life did not imitate the Gospels, but for every Born on the Fourth of July, there was another patriotic rally that elevated service to the country with service to God. Tom Burmester's electrifying, tight world premiere, the third in the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's War Cycle series (read Steven Leigh Morris' cover story from last August), not only confronts the error and crushing weight of ascribing immortality to mere men, but also examines the Catch-22 of the fraternity of soldiers. Yes, it's another war play, but the first act moves so swiftly and the themes are presented so seamlessly, you find yourself gasping rather than groaning. Burmester's characters could easily slip into caricature: Eric Anderson's redneck PFC Jackson is a Southern Christian's nightmare, quoting scripture and lecturing another soldier about his porn collection moments before he gleefully joins the terrifying, ritualistic chanting of, "Fuck that bitch!" But they all feel so familiar; you begin to realize these soldier stereotypes are, like all stereotypes, true on some level. Director Danika Sudik (aided by Burmester) controls the pace while allowing for necessary outbursts of the tightly coiled emotion and energy inside each solider, all of which are scary in a primal way. Which is, after all, the point. The army, like all fraternities, encourages herd mentality. It doesn't elevate man; it reduces him to his most animalistic instincts -- or so the military hopes, because only when men stop reflecting can they do what must be done to win. The entire ensemble is terrific, but special mention goes to Spencer Kramber's calm-before-cracking sergeant. Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., Sept. 22-25, 8 p.m. (310) 396-3680. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
L.A. Cafe Plays Ruskin Group Theatre concocts five short plays in 10 1/2 hours. Third Sunday of every month, 7:30 & 9 p.m. Continues through Dec. 18. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica, (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com.
Mommie Queerest Jamie Morris' all-male take on Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest. Starting Sept. 22, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1, (323) 960-7774, plays411.com/mq. Ultra Suede, 661 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, factorynightclub.com.
Naked Short Sales Marvin Kruege's contemporary comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 15, (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/196481. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, santamonicaplayhouse.com.
Norma Jean & Johnny Staged reading of Richard Setlowe's play starring Shelley Berman. Sun., Sept. 18, 2 p.m. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 938-2531, westsidejcc.org.
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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.
Ripe Wendy Hammers' dramedy about the loss of a friend and her "big, fat, Jewish ass." Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 19, ripetheplay.com/tickets.html. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.
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.; Fri., Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 4, 5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 20. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666.