Robert Reimer's Sotto Voce (Zombie Joe's Underground), Elizabeth Meriwether's The Mistakes Madeline Made (Lounge Theatre) and Kate Fodor's 100 Saints You Should Know (Elephant Stages) landed on this week's recommended list. For all NEW THEATER REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press the More tab at the bottom of this page.
Was in NYC this weekend and checked out Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem at The Music Box on Broadway. An import from the Royal Court Theatre, it's a big, messy play about of contemporary England featuring a breathtaking performance by Mark Rylance. See Theater feature on Wednesday.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication June 2, 2011
NEW REVIEW COME TOGETHER: A BEATLES CABARET This homage to the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo has some terrific moments, but director John Carey and his cast have some rough edges to smoothen. The show is all about the Fab Four's love songs, and Carey has selected a cross section of songs that are fit for the occasion. The music is provided via recording and incorporates a range of musical styles. The cast of three men and three women (Scott Charles, Barret Crake, Sheryl Kramer, Amy Tanya Shuster, Heather Stewart, and John Szura) do many of the songs justice, but there are a number of instances where the singing isn't up to par. Inconsistency is the glaring fault with this show, with two of the cast members either struggling to hit the notes, or not singing loudly enough to project the lyrics. The gender balance in the ensemble makes for some wonderful duets, none more so than Szura and Kramer teaming up for "In My Life" Crake and Shuster's "And I Love Her" -- amidst other impressively rendered songs. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru. June 17. attictheatre.org/tickets (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW DIARY OF A MID-LIFE CRISIS
Written, directed and produced by Susan Lee, this indulgent and tedious autobiographical play chronicles a woman's recovery as she rebuilds her life during her 40s. Lee has fashioned a navel-gazing show based on her six-year blog where she tried to make sense of the conclusion of her 16-year long emotionally abusive marriage and the quest to regain her voice. Essentially a one-woman act, Lee has Eileen O'Connell playing "Jane" while four other frumpy actors in jeans and black tee-shirts illustrate the monologue Greek Chorus style, occasionally playing clowns with red noses or sock puppets to represent the undermining voices in Jane's head. Clearly, Lee is striving for whimsy but it all plays out like bad improv with poorly constructed props. Lee sledgehammers her point home with an astounding lack of insight, such as the occasional waving of red flags that grow in size when aggression rears its head. The genuinely terrifying husband is reduced to three repetitive yet sinister catchphrases, "You have so much to learn," "I will never hurt you" and "I will never leave you." Fragments of girly pop tunes occasionally blast out and amateurish slides play on a screen upstage. When it (and Jane) announces, "Time for Bad Poetry Corner" your heart plummets. At 70 minutes sans intermission, this shallow exercise in soul-searching is actually shorter than it seems. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 4. (818) 508-3003. eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Pauline Adamek)
NEW REVIEW DRIVE A psychological thriller tiptoes a thin line between delicious anticipation and skin-crawling aggravation. When executed well, as in M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, or Rogue Machine's latest, John Pollono's Small Engine Repair, the tease might be drawn out even until the final act, but the delayed reveal is satisfying, having been shored up by a foundation of strong, intriguing storytelling. Unfortunately, writer-director Laura Black's world premiere play was set to fail before it even hit the stage: With little attention given to constructing a compelling back story and to developing the characters' relationships, asking the audience to invest is a pointless pursuit. Peggy (Jane Hajduk) is chauffeuring her spinster friends (Beth Robbins and Susan Sommer) to San Francisco when they have a car accident. The three then attempt to recall what actually happened. The circuitous, vague nature of the dialogue ("You've been giving this too much power," "It's the question that brings the answers") is mind-numbingly frustrating. Scenes that are supposed to mimic the floating pieces of Peggy's memory stumble clumsily into each other. Inane refrains ("lemon pudding") keep reemerging for no reason. But the biggest missing piece of the puzzle is why we're even supposed to care about the two women in the backseat, other than that they gave Peggy money for a business that remains unnamed for the duration of the play. The final insult is the pat, Public Service Announcement that stands in for a climax. Presented by Playwrights 6 and Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru June 8. openfist.org (Rebecca Haithcoat)
NEW REVIEW GO THE MISTAKES MADELINE MADE
Ensconced in a basement office at the home of an affluent Manhattan hedge fund manager, his neurotic wife and spoiled child, Edna (Kiki Lambden) is one of 15 assistants for the obsessively orderly household. (The family has its own policy and procedures manual.) That she works in such a dungeon-like atmosphere is fitting since she is punishing herself over a personal tragedy. Despite this bleak backdrop, playwright Elizabeth Meriwether's one-act is a hilariously uplifting study on forgiveness, redemption, and showering. Edna's boss/warden is Beth (director Kimberly Yates), who controls her minions with a criminal perkiness and on whom Edna fixates her rage. In flashbacks we meet Edna's brother Buddy (Armand DesHarnais), a reporter whose gruesome experiences covering an unnamed war-ravaged country have led to his crack-up, manifested in a fear of bathing. Ironically seeking refuge in Edna's bathtub, Buddy rails on a country and its people, Edna included, who are responsible for the horrors he's witnessed. In response to her own trauma, Edna mirrors her brother's ailment and appends it with desperate yet comical dalliances with three disparate writers (all portrayed winningly by John Paul Karliak.) But can another psychologically damaged co-worker (Troy Blendell), whose copy-machine mimicry and awkward attempts to endure Edna's increasingly noxious aroma grate on Edna, though perhaps aid in her healing? Yates' staging and cast are ideal and an added plus to an engaging tale. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd.; Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 4. (323) 960-1054. plays411.com/mistakesmadelinemade. (Martín Hernández)
NEW REVIEW NAZI HUNTER SIMON WIESENTHAL
Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal was a controversial figure - a hero to many, a liar to some. Unlike most European Jews, who resettled on other continents after World War II, Wiesenthal remained in Austria, working to relocate and reunite Jewish families, and to track down Nazi criminals even as the U.S. government and other official entities were preparing to bury the past. But Wiesenthal had enemies: those who challenged his veracity and who cast especial doubts on his integrity when, in 1995, he defended Austrian chancellor Karl Waldheim from allegations of complicity in war crimes. Writer-performer Tom Dugan sets his solo biopic in 2003, on a hypothetical day when the retiring Wiesenthal will shutter his humble office after 58 years. A visit from a group of students prompts the indefatigable nonagenarian to recount his colorful past, periodically interrupted by calls from his wife (don't forget the milk, dear) and by communications about his latest quarry, a guy named Bruner who now tortures for the Syrians. A compact and solid chronicle, Dugan's script is particularly effective when it takes a position against vigilantism -- Wiesenthal strongly supported courtroom justice -- and most eloquent when it calls upon us to join him in remembering the dead. The production's cardinal problem, under Jenny Sullivan's direction, is Dugan's kitschy rendering of his subject; under 50, the performer has ably transformed his appearance to add nearly half a century, but his old man shuffle along with other benign Yiddisher mannerisms are laid so heavily over the narrative that they distract from and dilute its power. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun.-Tues., 7:30 p.m. (no perf. June 5); thru June 21. (310) 364-0535. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW GO 100 SAINTS YOU SHOULD KNOW
All of the characters in Kate Fodor's play, now receiving its West Coast premier, are searching for some sort of validation, though they seek it in counter-productive ways. Single mom Theresa (Cheryl Huggins) cleans houses to support her randy teen-aged daughter Abby (Kate Huffman). When she takes a job at the local Catholic Church, her rudimentary faith is revived, and she becomes convinced that the priest, Father Matthew (Brendan Farrell), can provide some answers. But Matthew has problems too: he's finding it impossible to pray, and he's been suspended from his parish because of some George Platt-Lynes photos of male nudes found in his room. He takes refuge in the home of his mother, Colleen (Pamela Roylance), a conventionally devout Irish Catholic. There he encounters Garrett (Marco Naggar), the touchingly naïve young man who delivers Mom's groceries. Garrett fears he might be gay, and seeks out Matthew because his Dad said Matthew's a fag. When skeptical Abby (she equates Bible stories with Babar the Elephant) meets up with Garrett and a bottle of hooch, the stage is set for disaster. Director Lindsay Allbaugh deftly mines the rich comedy provided by Fodor's quirky characters, and elicits lovely performances from all her actors. The Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 26. (877) 369-9112. elephanttheatrecompany.com. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW GO SOTTO VOCE
Words to the wise: Never, but never take a vacation with playwright Robert Riemer and director Zombie Joe. In last year's A Memory of What Might Have Been, the team transformed an isolated Baja tourist court into a hair-raising, metatheatrical midnight of the soul for a pair of fugitive lovers. Now, with Sotto Voce, Riemer and ZJ visit the big island of Hawaii for a delirious, one-act, 55-minute tour of a tortured mind. (Think: Agnes of God on holiday with Ken Russel's The Devils.) Set in a demented convent of the damned, circa 1965, the psychological thriller follows Wendy (Vanessa Cate), a traumatized, id-twisted novice who has been sequestered away by a mother (Lori Hunt) intent on keeping family skeletons secreted safely in their closet. Unfortunately for Wendy, her bare cell and contemplative life come with a particularly malevolent Mother Superior (Brenda Marlene Uribe) and the kind of cloister that permits unfettered access by the ghosts of her sexually abusive father (Skip Pipo) and brother (Anthony Marquez). And though Wendy finds temporary solace in the arms of fellow neurotic Patsy (a delightfully manic Heather Roberts), the lines between reality and Wendy's inner demons soon tangle in an inevitable and bloody dénouement. Along the way, Zombie Joe pushes the boundaries of melodrama to their Gothic extreme in a weirdly poetic staging that nimbly bridges tender pathos and the darkest of depraved psychopathology. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru June 11. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Bill Raden)