Short Eyes, King of the Desert, The Lonesome West, and more New Stage Reviews . . .
Miguel Pinero's 1970s prison play Short Eyes nabs this week's Pick of the Week.
Good notices also for Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West at Santa Monica's Ruskin Theatre Group; Rene Rivera's King of the Desert at Casa 0101 in East L.A.; and Molly Smith Metzer's new play, Elemeno Pea at South Coast Rep. Here are all the latest New Stage Reviews, or you can find them after the jump. This week's stage features include reviews of Oswald: The Actual Interrogation, at Write Act Rep in Hollywood, and an interview with William Shatner, as he's about to take his one-man show to Broadway before bringing it back to the Pantages. The coming week's Stage Listings are coming tomorrow.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication February 9, 2012
Joe Musso's play offers a skewed update of Oscar Wilde's Salome, set in the sleazy New Orleans underworld during the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. Wilde's Herod becomes Rod (Boston Stergis), a bullying fence of stolen goods and proprietor of a down-scale strip club, with a letch for his nubile stepdaughter Celie, i.e. Salome (Lauren A. Nelsen). Herodias becomes Rod's trashy wife, Greta (Denise Devlin), who strips in his club. When a demented street preacher called the Prophet (Philip J. Wheeler) begins denouncing Greta for her iniquity, she develops an intense hatred for him and wants Rod to kill him. During a birthday party for Rod, she persuades Celie to dance for him in her faux tiger-skin bikini, as a ploy to persuade him to off the Prophet. The result is a thundering Grand Guignol melodrama, with plenty of sex and violence to satisfy aficionados of horror-flick blood-and-gore-all-over-the-floor. ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Neal Weaver)
The title refers to the psychic scars borne by the two intensely troubled souls in Cindy Lou Johnson's hyperreal drama. Shivering and distraught, bedraggled bride Rosannah (Tessa Ferrer) bursts into a remote cabin in Alaska, having abandoned her bridegroom at the altar and then arbitrarily driven straight north from Arizona. The stark, snow-enveloped homestead belongs to Henry (Andy Wagner), a haunted young recluse living in self-judgmental exile. Both Rosannah and Henry are desperate, traumatized people; both harbor secrets and are afraid of intimacy, yet they are attracted to each other. Compelling at key junctures, the reiterative script comes packed with long-winded monologues, its fantastical premise posing an especial challenge to performers. Wagner is persuasive as a caring man petrified of contact, but Ferrer can't quite transcend the extraordinarily difficult parameters of her role. Modest production values, including Jeff Polunas' sound design and L. Godley's discriminating lighting, serve the story well. John Hindman directs. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru March 11. (323) 469-9988, brillianttracesplay.com. (Deborah Klugman)
GO ELEMENO PEA
Katrina Lenk and Jamison Jones
Exposure to excessive wealth warps reality for one member of a sister duo in Molly Smith Metzler's lively play. Hailing from blue-collar Buffalo, 20-something Simone (Melanie Lora) has fled to Martha's Vineyard to play personal assistant to Michaela (Katrina Lenk), an intensely neurotic, love-starved woman-child prone to fits of rage over minutiae. A visit from Simone's sister, Devon (a quick-witted Cassie Beck), a down-to-earth genius working at Olive Garden and living in her parents' basement, turns into a surreal romp through an amoral world in which money is God. As Devon bears baffled witness to her sister's sold soul, she stumbles through countless comic attempts to drag Simone from the increasingly ugly clutches of Michaela's opulent, deceit-filled life, only to find that Simone and her spoiled-brat boyfriend, Ethan (Jamison Jones), are arguably more despicable than Michaela. Metzler has a strong ear for dialogue and she brings a human touch to the sisters, scripting a loving bond balanced with authentic doses of judgment and jealousy. Her peripheral characters sometimes veer into caricature, and the message about money as a sinister force wears thin, but the sisterly love story with all its jagged edges is winning. Ralph Funicello's set nails Martha's Vineyard elite, and Lap Chi Chu's lighting nicely re-creates myriad beachfront hues. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Wed. & Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (714) 708-5555, scr.org. (Amy Lyons)
GO KING OF THE DESERT Bellowing, wildly gesticulating and posturing, René Rivera gives an athletic, at times manic performance in his autobiographical and bilingual one-man show (written by his wife, Stacey Martino) that examines his upbringing, noble ancestry and career struggles. From playing an avocado as a kiddie in a school pageant to acting studies at Juilliard in New York, where his dreams of inhabiting the great Shakespearean roles are tempered but not quashed, the Mexican-American actor battles disappointment, typecasting and addictive behaviors. Interestingly self-reflexive, at times Rivera examines the dramatic elements of his own story and play as it unfolds and finds it wanting. Vividly describing his childhood in a San Antonio barrio, characterized as "the circle," from which he is falsely warned he will never escape, Rivera invokes his scrappy infancy with childlike wonderment and glee. His hometown is beautifully realized by set designer Danuta Tomzynski, with graffiti and flowers painted across the adobe walls, as well as a forlorn Madonna imprisoned behind metal bars. Jeremy Pivnick's colorful lighting design melds well with Mat Hale's gorgeous video projections. The sound design by Jade Puga and Richard Montes evokes Rivera's most tempestuous experiences. It's a rage-fueled rant of a show, at times exhausting to watch, but nonetheless entertaining throughout. Casa 0101, 2102 E. First St, Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org (Pauline Adamek)
GO THE LONESOME WEST
Martin McDonagh's comedy is set in a village in western Ireland, which seems to be a hot-bed of murder, suicide and rampaging Irish eccentricity. It centers on two brothers, Valene (Jonathan Bray) and Coleman (Jason Paul Field), who are locked in implacable hostility. Coleman has shot their father in what he claims was an accident. The only witness was Valene. But Valene has refused to testify on Coleman's behalf unless Coleman agrees to give his share of their inheritance to Valene. Consequently, Valene now owns everything and Coleman is left with nothing -- but that doesn't prevent him from storing up resentment and cadging Valene's poteen (Irish moonshine) and Taytos Potato Crisps. Their fraternal warfare has escalated to absurd heights of malice and malevolence. The hard-drinking local priest, Father Welsh (Conor Walshe), appalled by their constant conflicts, tries desperately to make peace between them. But it soon emerges that their forgiveness can be as lethal and competitive as their fights. Bray's Valene is a study in buttoned-up smugness, while Field's Coleman is a disreputable, unregenerate layabout. Director Mike Reilly has assembled an impeccable cast, including Rachel Noll, and directs them with a sharp eye for comic possibilities. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 4. (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
PLANE TALK Here's a collection of brief, one-act plays set in airports and airplanes, and while some of the mostly comic pieces are first-class in terms of comic sensibility and imagination, others are unevenly paced, narratively slight and turbulently executed. The most amusing of the plays are those that most explicitly make the connection between a stay at an airport terminal and a trip to hell itself. For instance, in Julianne Homokay's delightful "Diane Miller, Please Press '9' on the Red Courtesy Phone," a harassed traveler (a lovely, prissy Chera Holland) discovers the satanic reason for the hellish treatment she's enduring in an airport waiting room. In Mike Rothschild's amusing "Don't Believe the Truth," a paranoid housewife (Jennie Floyd) confronts a spooky airport security guard about X-Files-like rumors of a terrifying conspiracy, which may or may not be true. As a venomous flight attendant who appears in a couple of the vignettes, Mackenzie English perfectly assays the terrifying professional snap-on smile. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (800) 838-3006, skypilottheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
RICHARD III A minimalist staging of a play by Shakespeare puts the onus of success exclusively on the strength of the performances. So it is with director Ben Rock's production of Richard III, which crashes on the shoals of mediocrity from the start. Gregory Sims' performance in the title role displays flashes of actorly integrity, but for most of this three-hour marathon, he projects the nature of a mischievous, spoiled brat, rather than a vicious, cunning adult set to murder friends, family and even children to ascend to the crown. This absence of menace dilutes the play's dynamics. Rock doesn't manage his sizable cast of 19 members especially well, an absolute necessity when working with limited space. There are some stars in this otherwise subdued constellation: Leon Russom is outstanding as the Duke of Buckingham, as are Cynthia Beckert as the Duchess of York and Kimberly Atkinson as Queen Elizabeth. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 Heliotrope Drive, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perfs Thurs., Feb. 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 19, 7 p.m.); thru Feb. 25. (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org. (Lovell Estell III)
PICK OF THE WEEK: SHORT EYES
As Dostoevsky keenly observed, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." By that measure alone, playwright Miguel Piñero's Short Eyes, an unflinchingly brutal and surprisingly poignant scapegoating drama, remains just as relevant and unflattering to American pretensions of moral leadership today as when it premiered in 1974. Fortunately, director Julian Acosta's riveting and muscular revival (which has reopened for a six-week extension) matches Piñero's indictment of contemporary social savagery blow for blow with some of the finest ensemble work of recent memory. Set in a day room at New York's Rikers Island jail (on Geronimo Guzman's institutionally distressed set), the play examines the racially determined caste system and rigid "criminal code" that defuses the tripwire violence of prison life. Its population is divided into three tribes: the Puerto Ricans, led by both the brooding but upstanding Juan (David Santana) and the sexually predatory Paco (Jason Olazabal); the blacks, whose elder statesman is veteran con and unrepentant junkie Ice (Carl Crudup); and the minority whites, represented by the swaggering and unscrupulous Longshoe (Mark Rolston). It's a volatile tinderbox just waiting for a match, which Piñero dutifully strikes in the form of hapless "fresh fish" and accused child molester Clark (Sean Escalante). Urban Theatre Movement at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 11. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org (Bill Raden)
For better and for worse, showman-playwright David Belasco's one-act tearjerker from 1900 has cast a long shadow over the West. It inspired Puccini's sumptuous, sentimental and crowd-pleasing perennial Madama Butterfly, but it also bequeathed to us its selfless geisha heroine, Cho Cho San (Kazumi Zatkin), whose absurdly submissive, compliant and Caucasian-adoring "China doll" stereotype has been the bane of Asian-American women ever since. To his credit, director Aramazd Stepanian cleans up the play's comic-strip pidgin, and his elegant production makes as affecting a frame for Belasco's antique prejudices as one could hope for. Particularly inspired is Stepanian's prologue of backstory tableaux, featuring soprano Mayuko Miyata's haunting rendition of a Puccini aria. But even a mesmerizing performance by Sachiyo K as Cho Cho San's indefatigably loyal maidservant, Suzuki, or the fine Toshi Toda as the marriage broker Nakado can't quite rehabilitate the work from being a slur on the good name of self-sacrificing doormats everywhere. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (818) 450-4801, itsmyseat.com. (Bill Raden)
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