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Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face


CURRENT STAGE FEATURE ON DEL SHORES' YELLOW

NEW REVIEW

TI RECORDI, AMORE MIO (D0 YOU REMEMBER, MY LOVE?)

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Blue in the Face ensemble; photo courtesy of Santa Monica Playhouse

A small bit of the Roman spring came to the Santa Monica Playhouse this month with the brief visit from Italy's Blue In The Face Theatre Company, which performs an annual residence as part of a partnership with the beach-city theater. Artistic director Enrico Maria Falconi's theater company boasts a group of vivacious and talented young performers whose wit and playfulness smash the language barrier, creating a show here that's acrobatic, intelligent and colorful. Although the group's website rather pretentiously channels, as its motto, a quote from auteur director Peter Brook on the nature of theater, the sweetly sentimental, energetic play that the company actually presented was simply joyful and unassuming. With the exception of perhaps the words cappuccino and rigatoni, I don't speak a blessed word of Italian. And, to be honest, the English language synopsis provided in the program is garbled to the point of being its own performance art project. Still, playwright Falconi's beguiling mix of Pirandello and Fellini-esque elements was assayed with crisp, acrobatic clarity. While exploring a dark, abandoned theater, two young couples stumbled on a derelict fellow (Falconi, in a splendidly Falstaffian clown suit) snoozing in the back of the stage. He's a long-forgotten playwright, of course - and, before you could say pastafazole, he brought to life some of his famous characters - a convict, a fop, a soldier, and a couple of saucy women. There was plenty of dancing, as the characters spread out into the audience and dragged some of them onstage - but there was also some pathos, as the clown-playwright searched his past for a long lost lover (Maria Delores Mogavero), who, when she appeared, glows with a ferocious Mediterranean sexiness. The production crackled with dance and song, and the cast was beguiling, even when one of the actresses leapt off the stage to slap a clown nose on this reviewer's face. This is Italian family theater at its best - playful, energetic, with a hint of wisdom as it explores the stage as a place of dreams and romance. Although the group's brief local visit ended last weekend, they'll reportedly be back next year and are well worth keeping on your theatrical radar. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica. CLOSED. (Paul Birchall)

For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below.



COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for June 18-24, 2010


Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were 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

BLOOD RED LOST DEAD HEAD FALCON: THE NIBELUNGEN Referencing The Nibelungenlied's ancient tale of magic, love, loyalty and revenge, while deconstructing it in a wild, collaged, mash up performance piece., 310-453-1755. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., June 25, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

CHiPS THE MUSICAL Take a journey down the 405 circa the 1970s, where you'll find those super-flashy stewards of safety and suave-ness., $26-$46. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens June 25; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru July 25. 818-955-8101.

A CHORUS LINE The classic musical about 17 Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line., $23, $18 students/seniors. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens June 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 25. 310-828-7519.

COMEDY OF ERRORS The Kingsmen Shakespeare Company kicks off its 14th Annual Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival with this tale of mistaken identity involving two sets of identical twins separated at birth., $15. California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks; opens July 1; Thurs.-Sat., 6:45 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 6:45 p.m.; thru July 18. 805-493-3455.

EVANGELINE, THE QUEEN OF MAKE-BELIEVE Explore the late '60s East L.A. through the eyes of a devout daughter by day and a Hollywood go-go dancer by night., free. Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road, L.A.; Sat., June 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 3 p.m.. 626-396-0920.

FESTIVAL OF NEW PLAYS Native Voices presents readings of three new works: Tombs of the Vanishing Indian, Time Immemorial, and On the Mangled Beam., $10. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Sat., June 26, 1 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 1 & 4 p.m.. (323) 667-2000.

A FRENCH CABARET SHOW with dancers, aerialists, acrobats and a smoky torch singer., $35 Tuesday-Wednesday, $55 Thursday-Sunday. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 1; Thurs., July 1, 8:30 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 25. 818-508-4200.

KING LEAR The Antaeus Company presents Shakespeare's tale of madness, tyranny, loyalty and love. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens June 26; Sat., June 26, 8 p.m.;

Sun., June 27, 4 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. 818-506-1983.

LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE Center Theatre Group presents this black comedy about a hard-boiled terrorist lured home by the news that his cat is in poor health., $20-$65. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens June 30; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., July 4, 1 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7. (213) 628-2772.

THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT Jean Giraudoux's comedy about greedy corporation heads who scheme to drill for oil under a Paris neighborhood., free. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sun., June 27, 7 p.m.. 323-851-7977.

THE REALITIES Brandon Sharkey's play about reality TV contestants' journeys back to the real world., $15-$20. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., June 26, 8 p.m.. 310-394-7997 ext 1.

SHOT IN THE DARK The American Cultural Youth Ambassadors present a dramedy inspired by four random black and white photos., $5. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs., July 1, 2 & 6 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.

THE SLUMBER OF REASON A multi-disciplinary dance theater work inspired by Spanish painter Francisco de Goya's prints, Los Caprichos., $35, $15 students and seniors. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., June 26, 8 p.m.. 213-489-0994 ext. 107.

TAP CHICKS Young-at-heart dancers perform to Broadway tunes to 40s favorites to contemporary songs., $20, $17 seniors, $12 children under 12. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sun., June 27, 7 p.m.. (626) 256-3809.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

GO DEMENTIA Anyone who survived the deadly HIV plague years of the '80s, when the best and brightest of the arts community were wiped out by the disease, can't help but be moved by the pathos of playwright Evelina Fernández's AIDS melodrama. While the play's urgency might have diminished somewhat in the intervening years of antiretroviral successes, director José Luis Valenzuela's restaging of the Latino Theater Company's acclaimed, 2002 production has lost none of its rousing panache or theatrical luster. Sal López reprises his tour de force performance as Moises, a flamboyant theater director drifting in and out of consciousness on his deathbed in 1995. He spends his lucid moments planning his final exit scene in a party to be attended by his close associates, which include his lifelong friend, gay hairdresser, Martin (the excellent Danny de la Paz), best straight friend/writing partner, Eddie (Geoffrey Rivas), and Eddie's wife, Alice (Lucy Rodriguez). Moises' less-coherent spells are spent in phantasmagoric dialogues with his conscience and drag-queen alter ego, Lupe (Ralph Cole Jr. in a showstopping performance), who belts out disco dance hits in between haranguing Moises about coming clean with his ex-wife, Raquel (Fernández), on the circumstances surrounding their 15-year-old breakup. A first-rate production design, including Francois-Pierre Couture's evocative lights, Nikki Delhomme's Mackie-inspired gowns and Christopher Ash's expressionist-surrealist set, underscores Fernández's Eros-trumps-conventional-morality theme with elegance and eloquence. A Latino Theater Company Production. (Bill Raden). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (213) 489-0994.

THE EMPORER'S NEW CLOTHES Audience-participation musical for children and their families, music by Phil Orem, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz and David Wechter. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 851-7977.

NEW REVIEW  GO GRACE AND GLORIE

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo by Michael Lamont


Sensitive

direction by Cameron Watson and distinguished performances by Beth

Grant and Melinda Page Hamilton transform playwright Tom Ziegler's

predictable tear-jerker into genuinely compelling theater. In a

virtuoso turn with not a false note, Grant portrays Grace, an

illiterate and opinionated nonagenarian who's outlived her husband and

five sons, and is now living and dying alone in her backwoods

Appalachian cabin. Enter Glorie (Hamilton), a hospice volunteer with an

MBA from Harvard (and a wardrobe from Bloomingdale's), determined to

care for the crotchety old lady despite her cantankerous objections.

Grace's primitive living conditions and trust-in-the-Lord philosophy

dismay the sophisticated Glorie, whose do-good resolve falters after

she burns herself on Grace's wood-burning stove and confronts a rodent

under the sink. The holy-rolling Grace, on the other hand, is appalled

by Glorie's blasphemous language and feminist thinking. Gradually,

these two very different people find common ground as they uncover each

other's secrets and become open to mutual solace and support. Because

Grant's character has the best lines and the choicest opportunity for

laughs, she frequently steals the limelight, but Hamilton's less

flamboyant persona is no less skillfully drawn. Designer Jeff

McLaughlin's admirably detailed set, embellished with props by

MacAndME, enfolds the drama with a rich atmospheric dimension. Colony

Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 18. (818) 558-7000. (Deborah Klugman)

HAMLET

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo by Ian Flanders

It's

anyone's guess what vision might have guided director Ellen Geer's

fervent but unfocused, Medieval-dress version of Shakespeare's most

baroque and psychologically nuanced tragedy. There's certainly little

hint of the Oedipal undercurrents or political allegorizing that have

been a mainstay of 20th-century productions. Nor is there much sign of

the paralyzing conflict between faith in purpose and intellectual

certainty, which traditionally drives its hero's famously agonized

inaction. In the case of Mike Peebler's Hamlet, neither his mission nor

its justness ever seems in doubt; Peebler attacks the role with the

zeal and righteous wrath of the recently converted. Even his

soliloquies are delivered at the audience as if from a pulpit. Gertrude

(Melora Marshall) in turn appears more pissed off at her son's

increasingly antic disposition than aggrieved by what it might imply

about his sanity. Claudius (Aaron Hendry), by contrast, comes off as

positively good-natured, a guy caught with his hand in the cookie jar

rather than his fingerprints all over a nefarious regicide. Willow Geer

is convincing as a feisty yet vulnerable Ophelia, though even here the

method of her madness seems more a response to the murder of Polonius

(a very broad Carl Palmer) than any jilting by Hamlet. Director Geer

keeps it all moving at a fast clip, but some exasperatingly eccentric

blocking divides the focus of too many critical turning points -- most

egregiously in the mousetrap scene -- all but obliterating their

dramatic purpose. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga

Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep, call for schedule; note: some roles

double-cast; through Oct. 2. (310) 455-3723. (Bill Raden)

HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS: THE LIFE OF BIG MAMA THORNTON Sunday Scott is singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 11. (562) 494-1014.

IN THE HEIGHTS Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's creator, composer-lyricist and Broadway star, reprises his lead role in the 2008 Tony winner. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru July 11. (213) 365-3500.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM In rep with Hamlet. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., June 27, 3:30 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 5, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 12, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 8 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

A SHAYNA MAIDEL Barbara Lebow story of a Polish immigrant reunited with her sister. Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., July 3, 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (562) 432-5934.

THE SOCIALIZATION OF RUTHIE SHAPIRO Anyone with personal memories of the 1960s might be forgiven

for not recognizing the lunar landscape that playwright Barbara Nell

Beery's colorless coming-of-age drama passes off as 1967 L.A. For a

watershed year in such a culturally iconic decade, one could reasonably

expect to find at least one issue of Tiger Beat or even a Davy Jones pinup in the bedroom of Beery's 12-year-old heroine, Ruthie (Claire Partin). But designer Jeff Rack's

generic jumble of set pieces is as devoid of character-defining details

as Ruthie is of the hormone-roiled obsessions of real-world

adolescence. Instead, Beery's "memory play" about a secular-Jewish math

prodigy's quest for popularity at her new junior high school is the

kind of anodyne, life-in-a-vacuum fairy tale seemingly designed to

reassure parents that their little darlings aren't dreaming up anything

darker than comically corny routines for the school talent show.

Beery's cumbersome device of having Partin step out of character as the

adult Ruth to redundantly re-narrate already-played scenes proves

hazardous to director Susan Morgenstern's

attempt at close-focus intimacy. Worse, it wastes valuable stage time,

which would have been better spent developing the implicitly imploding

marriage of Ruthie's mother (Constance Mellors)

and an absentee father. By the time Ruthie pays the price of being

popular -- by ostracizing her naively bigoted outcast of a best friend

(Heather Keller) -- the moment feels like a forced, bathetic footnote

rather than the innocence-shattering act of cruelty that the grown-up

Ruth claims it to be. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 11. (No perf July 4.)

(323) 851-7977. (Bill Raden)


GO  SOUTH PACIFIC So this tragic hero, a stern, sensible Princeton-educated U.S. Marine named Lt. Joseph Cable (Anderson Davis ) finds himself in the South Pacific amidst a herd of guys from the U.S. Navy.

He'd love to get some intel on what the Japs are up to, because World

War II is still in play. On the nearby mystical island of Bali

Ha'i (mystical because that's where all the young daughters of the

local French families are hiding), Cable falls for a native daughter

named Lait (Sumie Maeda),

who looks about 12 years old, but she's sure a good kisser who gently

strokes his hair -- and probably other parts as well. "I know what

you're thinking," he chides skeptical onlookers; sure he does, because

it is what we're thinking, too: You're a perv, dude. She's Cable's

fantasy lover because she gazes at him adoringly and doesn't talk back.

In fact, she doesn't talk at all, which is even better. Cable's

anthem-in-song of love to barely pubescent Lait is "Younger Than

Springtime," which is sort like an homage to the trafficking of

children from exotic, faraway places. Rodgers' and Hammerstein's

musical classic, presented by Lincoln Center Theater,

is almost stunning for the window it offers onto the perverse America

psyche, with its gardens of optimism, salvation complexes and sexual

fantasies that come wrapped in a kind of national can-do solipsism. Michael Yeargan's

classical storybook sets come with a backdrop of the expansive Pacific,

idyllic and isolating, to unify the various settings and to conjure an

American homeland far beyond the horizon. Barlett Sher's staging is a

gift for a number of reasons. From this production, you can almost

understand how we got into the quagmires of Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

Furthermore, his terrific ensemble performs with a vivacity that's

nonetheless bereft of the showboating that comes attached to so many

musicals. Even with Christopher Gattelli's

musical staging with choreography that sashays and snaps, there's a

sobriety and sincerity that reveal the musical for exactly what it is,

and the 1950s era of Americana that spawned it. Terrific leading

performances by Rod Gilfry and Carmen Cusack

as the expat Frenchman and U.S.Navy ensign/nurse who play out the

boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl -- maybe they stick to the formula, maybe

they don't. Ahmanson

Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8

p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through July 17. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Through June 27, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 4, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., July 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 17, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 18, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., July 24, 4 p.m.; Sat., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723.

TRANSITIONS Three thematically related stories by Kellie Roberts. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru June 27. (213) 489-0994.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS


THE ALICE PROJECT: AN ORIGINAL WONDERLAND EXPERIENCE Vesper Theatre Company's "absurd fantasy world.". Vesper Theatre Company, 120 N. Santa Fe Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (213) 260-1613.

ANGELOS Tony Perzow's new comedy set in a neighborhood barber shop; preceded by Dating Stories. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru July 11, angelostheplay.com. (310) 807-4842.

BACK TO BABYLON Gregg Tomé's one-person, one-act, comedic-drama set in the New York suburban town of Babylon. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 6 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 11:45 a.m.. (323) 856-8611.

BASIC TRAINING Kahlil Ashanti's drama/comedy/rap-dance. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 3 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 5 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 8 p.m., kahlilashanti.com. (866) 811-4111.

THE BEAUTIFUL ONES World-premiere play by Tory Scroggins. Village Theater, 4305 Degnan Blvd., L.A.; Through June 27, 8 p.m.. {323) 293-1230.

BEHIND THE GATES Annika Marks delivers a mesmerizing performance as an angry American teenager whose exposure to an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in Israel revolutionizes her life. A crack baby who grows into a problem child, the 17-year-old punkish Bethany (Marks) harbors venomous rage toward her adoptive middle-class parents. Unable to cope, they ship her off to an Israeli boarding school for girls, where they hope she'll absorb some modesty and discipline. One day, wandering the Jerusalem streets, Bethany encounters a rabbi (Oren Rehany) from the fundamentalist Haredi community; he invites her home for Shabbas dinner. The susceptible girl is struck by the seeming harmony within his family; later, she undergoes a ritualistic conversion and joins their sect. All this emerges at the top of playwright Wendy Graf's discrepant drama: The central character turns out not to be Bethany but her mother, Susan (Keliher Walsh), whose psyche radically transforms as she searches for her lost daughter within the strangulating confines of the Haredi ghetto. Directed by David Gautraux, the play deals with the spell ancient Jerusalem casts on some; most fascinating is the glimpse it offers into a cultish antifeminist society -- measuring its values against the strengths and weaknesses of our own. Unfortunately, these thematic virtues are undermined by a soap-operatic element that plays out around Susan's marital problems and her personal insecurities. Walsh offers a sensitive portrayal, but other performances are weaker and less nuanced. Ultimately, the narrative never recoups its initial power, despite Walsh's efforts. (Deborah Klugman). Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 960- 5772.

BORN TO BE ALIVE "Diminutive actress/writer/burlesque artist/stand-up comic/fashion model/activist" Selene Luna stars in the story of her life. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 860-7302.

BROOKLYN, USA A true story based on real events of Murder Incorporated, the enforcement arm of America's crime syndicate. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (323) 469-3113.

BROWNSVILLE Bred Elaine Del Valle's one-woman show. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Sat., June 26, 2:15 p.m.; Sun., June 27, noon, brownsvillebred.com. (323) 856-8611.

CARMEN MIRANDA: THE LADY IN THE TUTTI-FRUTTI HAT World-premiere musical tribute to the Brazilian film icon. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27, plays411.com/carmen. (323) 960-7740.

CHRISTMAS IN BAKERSFIELD Les Kurkendaal's one-man holiday comedy. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 11 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 3 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW

GO 

DRUNK TALK Welcome to McSwiggins. For the motley assortment of career

barflies, neighborhood hotheads, Walmart Casanovas and lovelorn

alcoholics who make it their home away from home, the old-school

Hollywood watering hole is the kind of place where everybody knows your

name (or soon will, though you'll probably regret it long before last

call). Playwright Lance Whinery's irresistibly goofy, one-act parody of

the hallowed saloon sitcom takes the form into the kind of seedy,

low-rent dramatic neighborhood where the denizens of Cheers were never

drunk enough to tread. Its intentionally insipid plot, cliché-ridden

characters and wincingly corny one-liners are frighteningly familiar.

And in Thomas Blake's environmental staging, where the audience has

ostensibly joined the regulars to toast the beloved bar's final night

in business, the manner in which the actors shamelessly cheat their

punch lines toward the spectators creates the impression of being a

captive member of a live TV-studio audience. Then the other shoe drops:

As the story and the drinking progress, and the characters'

alcohol-fueled belligerence morphs into an increasingly maudlin and

effusive bonhomie, Blake unleashes his cast of expert ad libbers and

insult comics (standouts include David Alfano, Tobias Jelinek and Kim

Estes) into the audience to harass and humiliate. But there won't be

any hard feelings -- because in true sitcom logic any conflicts that

erupt or are miraculously resolved will be mercifully nullified in the

amnesiac haze of the morning's hangover. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, http://brownpapertickets.com/event/111874. (910) 367-6735. (Bill Raden)


ECO-FRIENDLY JIHAD By Irish comedian Abie Philbin-Bowman. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Sat., June 26, 8:15 p.m., abielaughs.com. (323) 856-8611.

THE EVENT A play by John Clancy. Paul G. Gleason Theatre, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., June 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 7:30 p.m., needtheater.org. (617) 899-4283.

FEELING SORRY FOR ROMAN POLANSKI Sue Cargill's comic tragedy. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 2:30 p.m.; Mon., June 28, 5:30 p.m., brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.

FORBIDDEN ZONE: LIVE IN THE 6TH DIMENSION "What was banal can, with the passage of time, become fantastic," Susan Sontag famously noted. At least such is the hope of adaptor Michael Holmes and director Scott Leggett in their anarchic musical tribute to film director Richard Elfman and composer Danny Elfman's failed, 1980 dadaist sci-fi fantasy, Forbidden Zone. A crude, lewd and urgently outr attempt at a John Waters-like burlesque of middle-class mores, the movie stands as an exercise in clownish impudence; its story of a Venice Beach family's adventure in a bizarre, Alice in Wonderland dimension they enter via a portal in their basement, is almost beside the point. Holmes happily excises some of Elfman's more gratuitous racial and anti-Semitic caricatures while contributing judicious narrative tweaks, primarily in expanding the character of Satan (a leering Marz Richards) into a lipsticked, vamping, Tim Curry-esque narrator/emcee. Leggett and his talented production-design team provide the polish, including the glam dazzle of Wes Crain's costumes and Kat Bardot's makeup, and the cartoon razzle of Tifanie McQueen's scatological set. The pleasure comes courtesy of musical director Ryan Johnson and his 14-piece band, Natasha Norman's Max Fleischer-inspired choreography, and an enthusiastic cast that sings and dances the collection of mainly early-20th century pop tunes only lip-synched in the movie (Bryan Krasner's rendition of the Yiddish Theater classic, "Giter Brider Itzik," is a standout). The problem is in Holmes' cultist fidelity to his source, which carries over into Elfman's sneering contempt for his characters, thus robbing the show of the heart and pathos it so desperately needs. (Bill Raden). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337.

4 CLOWNS Conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma, presented by Alive Theatre. ArtWorks Theatre, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through June 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 2 p.m.. (562) 508-1788.

THE FUNERAL CRASHER Stacy Mayer's funeral-home comedy. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 5 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN

Gods are no help to man in Bertolt Brecht's bleak parable of a play (translated by Eric Bentley with music by Elizabeth Swados). The question Brecht poses: How does one stay a good person in a bad world? The hapless pivotal character Shen Te (Lauren Lovett)

is a former prostitute, who uses her limited funds to help anyone who

asks for it -- and everyone does. Her most shameless exploiter is her

lover, Yang Sun (Benny Wills),

who feels no compunction about draining her of her last penny. To

protect herself, the lovesick Shen Te devises an alter ego: She poses,

in male drag, as her tougher-minded capitalist cousin, Shui Ta,

who takes over her affairs when she's "away." The ruse works for a

time, but eventually Shen Te must abandon it and continue opting to do

others' will even when it runs counter to her self-interest -- which it

always does. Director Charles Otte

has assembled a panoply of impressive technical and onstage talent to

present an ambitious and artful staging that communicates the chaos,

corruption and senseless suffering inherent in the playwright's vision.

Most striking are Alex Wright and Dean Mora's

sound design and original music, respectively (the music is live), and

the arresting video imagery (Otte's design), which at times even

simulates the town of Setzuan's drenching melancholic rain. The problem

is that Brecht's epic theater deals with archetypes, and that's the

plane on which Lovett and most of the ensemble so capably perform. The

result is a dramatic piece worthy of respect rather than one to which I

responded emotionally. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd.,

L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 17. (323) 882-6912.

(Deborah Klugman)

GROUNDLINGS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT In a departure from the Groundlings' trademark irreverent, take-no-prisoner sketch comedy that made laughing as involuntary as breathing, this new show, directed by Karen Maruyama, is distinctly low-key and only funny in patches. The evening's biggest disappointment were the two improv segments that bracket the show, where comedians do routines based on audience suggestions. The absence of ease, craft and imagination was palpable. These failings were apparent in other sketch routines as well. "Caltech" has a crew of seismic scientists engaging in silly wisecracking and a overwrought spate of physical comedy and demolition derby with their chairs. "Next Step" finds Charlotte Newhouse and Scott Beehner as teenagers trying to get their sexual desires in sync, but there isn't much wit. A husband becomes vexed trying to relate to his wife in "I'm Listening," which is equally unfunny. "Concert Footage" is a pleasant surprise. After a Taylor Swift concert, Damon Jones playing a P.R. guy interviews and coolly insults members of the audience. Michael Naughton is still one of the funniest guys around, and his talents are evident in "Mirror Image," where a special software program allows you a glimpse of what you'll look like in the future, and "Animal Stars," where he is one of a pair of animal trainers. (Lovell Estell III). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 934-9700.

THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.

HARLOW GOLD: EAST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. The Bordello, 901 E. First St., L.A.; Sun., 10 p.m.. (213) 687-3766.

HEPBURN SINGS! Kevin Dulude IS Katharine Hepburn!. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 18, plays411.com. (323) 654-0680.

His Minute Hand Stephen Kaliski's tragedy about the decay of friendship and family. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through June 27, 3 p.m.; Through June 26, 7 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

I AM A TREE "An unstable new comedy" by Dulcy Rogers. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 17. (323) 962-0046.

GO  I MADE OUT WITH HIM ANYWAY Sex and the City 2

has nothing on this show. For less than the price of a movie ticket,

you can enjoy a night of dating tales from the dark side, which recall

the freshness and hilarity of the HBO

show's first couple seasons, without any of the melodrama or fabricated

storylines characteristic of both its last season and the

beating-a-dead-horse-for-the-money film adaptations. What you get

instead are two veterans of improv and sketch comedy, Evie Peck and Kirsten Eggers,

describing their romantic maledictions -- and male additions -- in

eminently quotable ways. The laugh lines are edgy, sexy and scandalous

at times but always delivered with an understated, wide-eyed honesty

that is reminiscent of both Phoebe from Friends and Flight of the Conchords. Evie and Kirsten break into song to describe their bad romances, seamlessly accomplished by the onstage appearance of Jon Lee,

who co-wrote the numbers and provides the folksy guitar strumming. The

transitions into and out of these songs, as well as between bits, is

smoothly orchestrated by director Nick Hoffa, who keeps the show moving

at brisk clip. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kim West's

airline-safety card diagrams of proper tongue technique that provide

the perfect backdrop to a compact show (running one hour) that, unlike

the aforementioned franchise, actually made me want a sequel. The Lost

Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. & 10:30

p.m.; through June 24. (323) 960-1055, plays411.com/imadeout. (Mayank Keshaviah)

I'M NOT HERE ANYMORE W.Colin McKay's journey through the eyes of a returning Gulf War Veteran., $10. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 14. 323-468-8062.

IT'S A MUSICAL WORLD Bob Baker's 1978 marionette revue, with stops at an Enchanted Toy Shop, a teddy bear's picnic, and an Independence Day finale. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 11. (213) 250-9995.

NEW REVIEW

GO THE JESUS HICKEY

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo by Ed Krieger


Billboards,

potato chips, freeway underpasses, tree stumps and pigeon coops are

just some of the places Christ's image has appeared, or alleged to

appear, in recent years. In Luke Yankee's ticklish comedy, the

Savior-sighting takes place in the Emerald Isle city of Sligo, and

comes by way of a girl as pure as the Virgin mother herself. Agnes

Flynn (Anastasia Lofgren) is a wholesome teenager who shares a home

with her imperious grandmother (Barbara Tarbuck), and her gruff, barfly

father Sean (Harry Hamlin). They seem like a happy bunch, in spite of

money problems due in large measure to Sean's drinking and troubles on

the job. But a miracle is in the offing, as one night Agnes and her

young beau Seamus (Aaron Leddick) slip away for some quiet time

together, and he plants a "love bite," on her neck. As it turns out,

the hickey is the face of Jesus and has miraculous healing powers, even

curing the dim-witted Father Boyle (Tom Killam) of chronic back pain.

In Act 2, we see Agnes transformed into an angelic figure and a media

sensation, with all that implies, making the rounds in Europe -- and

making a lot of money for her avaricious father. Unfortunately, the

fame comes with a price for all concerned that may be too much to pay.

Yankee's well-written script nimbly skirts the boundaries between

morality play, satire and comedy. Performances are quite good under

Yankee's direction. Tarbuck is especially engrossing as a saintly woman

with a penchant for foul language. Katselas Theatre Company at the

Skylight Theater, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., LA., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; through July 18. (310) 358-9936. (Lovell Estell III)


KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT The aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard, by Moisés Kaufman and membes of the Tectonic Theatre Project. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 7. (323) 465-4446.

NEW REVIEW GO

LEIRIS/PICASSO "We try not to have so many guests.  It disturbs what's

left of the neighbors," says Michel as he stumbles around his Paris

home in the dark, falling down stairs, knocking over crudités, and

scalding himself on a hot teakettle.  It's all rather amusing . . .

until you realize that it's 1944 and there's a Nazi patrol outside. 

This just the sort of dark humor that characterizes writer and director

David Jette's farcical take on an actual evening at the house of Michel

Leiris (Michael Bulger) when notable members of the French Resistance

produced Pablo Picasso's final work: a play entitled Desire Caught by the Tail

Picasso's play itself is nonsensically awful (but oh, how the man could

paint), so Jette has instead created a play about the circumstances

surrounding its production, a sort of play without a play, except that

we do see part of Picasso's piece during Act 2. What comes before,

however, is the preparation, as Leiris, his wife Zette (Jenny Byrd),

Albert Camus (Tyler Jenich), Jean-Paul Sartre (Patrick Baker), Simone

de Beauvoir (Amy K. Harmon), and Picasso's mistress Dora Maar (Melissa

Powell) scramble to set up while they wait for the master.  Besides

their own petty but hilarious squabbles, they also have to deal with a

Nazi (Joseph L. Roberts) who keeps popping up, as well as the leader of

the resistance, Sam Beckett (Dan Gordon); Beckett's men steal a

six-foot swastika from the Louvre and bring it as a gift for Picasso. 

When Picasso (Fred Ochs) finally arrives, the craziness comes to a

climax, and costumes are handed out in the staging of a ridiculous work

that features characters such as Onion, Big Foot, Fat Angst and Thin

Angst.  Jette's direction keeps all the moving parts well synchronized

as the actors enter and exit Juliana de Abreu's well-designed,

multi-door set, complemented by Sarah Krainin's properties and Andres

Thiels' set dressing.  The ensemble is strong overall, though Baker's

over-the-top bombastic caricature of Sartre's and Bulger's sincerity as

the put-upon host stand out.  And while Jette's work doesn't pretend to

be historically accurate in the least, it succeeds for that very reason

because, as Camus says, sometimes "happiness feels better than truth." 

Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

July 24. (213) 290-2782.   http://www.BrimmerStreet.org (Mayank Keshaviah)

THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv, directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

LOVE, SEX & VIOLENCE TOO Written by Helena Weltman. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., noon.; thru June 27. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW GO MAGNUM OPUS: SURF DOGS UNITE!

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo by C.M. Gonzalez


No

writer is credited for Magnum Opus Theatre, and it's for his or her own

protection. Every week, the ensemble mines one of L.A'.s richest

natural resources --- terrible unsolicited screenplays -- and gives the

unknown author's words a sweet, brief life. And they use every word.

When the description calls for "a beat," the cast beat-boxes

"oonce-oonce-oonce." As host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro Smythe

(Brandon Clark) vows, "We didn't change a thing." Yes Virginia, someone

sincerely wrote Surf Dogs Unite!, a bitchin', brawlin' morality

play about a debauched biker (Troy Vincent) and a bible-toting sand

dune disciple (Eric C. Johnson), who wrassle for the souls of

promiscuous surfer Dan (Michael Lanahan) and friends Swave (Victor

Issac) and Little Rad (Colin Wilkie). "To surf, or not to surf? Intense

question," opines Dan, but Jonas Oppenheim's direction suffers no lack

of purpose. Crisp and assured, it's so funny, the proselytizing writer

might be tempted to take a bow. But judging by a few loud audience

members who hissed whenever Joshua flogged John 3:16, maybe not. The

Paul Gleason Theater, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028 (6/18

& 6/25); thru June 25. (310) 281-8337. (Amy Nicholson)


MAN VERSES MOON In a theater, a playwright-director named Federico Lorca (Adrian Kaley) is trying to work actors through an interpretation of a play that looks very much like Blood Wedding, while being warned that soldiers are poised to arrest him as a dissident. This theater is no haven. And writer-director Dan Oliverio's collage of Lorca's play, his poems, classical mythology and homegrown surrealism sends Lorca and his company into netherworlds and moonscapes. The "theater" itself is claustrophobic and barren -- compared to when the set's "walls" roll away to reveal a dreamscape of cascading sheets and kaleidoscopic lighting. Designer Chris Covics employs rigs and pulleys and actors to move drapery and flats into some scintillating compositions. And Dan Mailley's costumes -- grounded in the 1930s but also taking off into flights of fancy -- front-load the event with exotic appeal. This is conspicuously a labor of love on Oliverio's part, an homage to Lorca and the various agonies he suffered -- including what's generally believed to be his execution at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. But the portrait and the purpose are lost in the coming together of texts and styles, so that the result is less an understanding than a feeling: one of lunacy (to borrow from the play's dominant image of the moon) that's nonetheless locked in one of the prisons of 1930s Spain. The event presumes a depth of knowledge that would be better teased out in the piece itself. The kind of romantic/surreal horrors Lorca wrote about are no strangers to our century. What's so odd about this production is that they appear to belong to place and time far away and long ago. (Steven Leigh Morris). Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (323) 466-7781.

MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Mary Lynn Rajskub's new one-woman show. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (323) 666-4268.

GO MORE LIES ABOUT JERZY This West Coast premiere of David Holmes' fascinating drama about whether truth lies in facts or in fiction hangs on the title performance of Jack Stehlin as Jerzy Lesnewski -- obviously based on the late Polish novelist-screenwriter Jerzy Kosinski, and the scandals surrounding what he eventually claimed was his fictional Holocaust memoir, The Painted Bird. Either by omission or design, Kosinski neglected to clarify at the outset that the memoir was anything but autobiography -- until, according to Holmes, Poles from his past (Jordan Lund and Cameron Meyer) showed up in New York, peeved that the famous author was discrediting the very people who had protected young Jewish Jerzy from the Nazis. Aside from a swirl of wives and mistresses (Meyer and Kristin Malko) orbiting the womanizing author, the play drives along the investigation by journalist Arthur Bausley (Adam Stein) -- once a fan and eventually an investigator -- clearly troubled by Jerzy's continuing penchant to play fast and loose with the facts. They won't ask if he lying, Arthur goads him, They're only going to ask why is he lying. Holmes plays just as nimbly with the facts as Kozinski did, which would be an affront if Holmes were really out to discredit his protagonist, as the Village Voice did in 1982. (That discrediting is a central issue in the play, which anachronistically unfolds between 1972 and 1974.) In the Voice, Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont-Smith published an article accusing the five-time best-selling author not only of having denied co-authorship or editor credit to the English "translators," who may have actually written The Painted Bird, based on Kozinski writings in Polish, but they also claimed that Kozinski plagiarized his short story (made into film), Being There, from 1932 Polish best seller The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma -- which few people outside Poland knew about. Holmes' Jerzy has a potent defense and an almost tragic downfall -- made all the more so by Stehlin's gregarious, petulant and charismatic interpretation, with just the right tinge of Polish dialect. Argues Jerzy: Truth does not lie in facts but in symbols and myths and legends -- an argument he could have lifted from W.B. Yeats, who said much the same. Holmes' journalist tries to psychoanalyze why Jerzy would make stuff up so habitually -- perhaps a war trauma or something -- and Jerzy ridicules that process as petty psychoanalysis. The degree to which Jerzy may be right is the degree to which this play gets very interesting, veering from its dangerous trajectory of celebrity bashing. David Trainer directs an efficient production with enough momentum to compensate for its tangled relationships. But it's the play, and Stehlin, that are stage center. And speaking of truth, they probably shouldn't clink those plastic champagne tumblers when toasting. That rings even less true than many of Jerzy's excuses. (Steven Leigh Morris). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (213) 389-9860.

MY PENIS IN AND OUT OF TROUBLE Antonio Sacre's solo show. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 5:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 8:30 p.m.. (323) 962-1632.

NEW YORK ANIMALS In rep with Four Places. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 3. (323) 960-4424.

THE OBLIVION SERIES Justine Warrington's look at the modern world as seen by the modern woman. Plus: comedian Ruthy Otero's one-woman show Crazy Is What Crazy Does. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 465-4446.

OKLAHOMA! The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, presented by Musical Theatre of Los Angeles.

MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 960-7735.

OPUS Michael Hollinger's behind-the-scenes look at a "high-strung" string quartet. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 25. (323) 663-1525.

THE PACKER New Zealand actor Jay Ryan's production, "full of twists and turns, queers and queens, westies and wannabes.". Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Sat., June 26, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 2 p.m.. (323) 856-8611.

PHIL THE VOID: THE GREAT BRAIN ROBBERY Phil van Hest's philosophical comedy. I.O. West, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru June 26. (866) 811-4111.

THE PINK CHATROOM Latina lesbian musical, book by June Vertucci and Trudy Ardizzone, music by June Vertucci. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 11, casa0101.org. (323) 263-7684.

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). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

POT! THE MUSICAL Book by Diane Shinozaki, lyrics by Steven Huber and Diane Shinozaki, music by Steven Huber. Directed and choreographed by Keith Wright. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Sun., June 27, 1 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/143. (866) 811-4111.

REHAB! THE MUSICAL Helene Udy's world-premiere musical about a drug addict, a prostitute and a serial killer. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Sun., June 27, 12:30 a.m.. (323) 856-8611.

SERIAL KILLERS - THE PLAYOFFS Eight serials face off, with a time limit of five minutes each, and only two will be chosen, by your vote, to continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS AND SOMETIMES . . . LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 6, 7:30 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 769-5566.

SIT 'N' SPIN Spin Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity; www.sitnspin.org., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m.. (323) 960-5519.

SODA POP 1950s musical comedy spoof by The Knightsbridge Theatre's Youth Company. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 667-0955.

SORORITY QUEEN IN A MOBILE HOME Michael DiGaetano and Kevin A. Mahoney's "Rashomon on cement blocks.". Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru July 15. (323) 882-6912.

SPIKE HEELS Theresa Rebeck's four-sided love triangle.". Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27, facebook.com/spikeheels. (323) 467-6688.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS Robert Harling's story of six Southern women. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; thru July 11, (No perf July 4.)...

The Stories of Cesar Chavez Fred Blanco's bilingual portrayal of the civil rights activist and labor leader. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., June 26, 2:30 p.m.. (323) 962-1632.

ST. NICOLAS Written by Conor McPherson, performed by Michael McGee. SFS Theatre, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru July 24. (323) 463-7378.

T-O-T-A-L-L-Y Los Angeles artist Kimleigh Smith's autobiographical one-woman show. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 8:30 p.m.; Through June 27, 4:15 p.m., totallykimleigh.com. (323) 856-8611.

TAXI STORIES Written and performed by David O'Shea. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 9 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 3 p.m., theatremania.com. (866) 811-4111.

THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.

GO TRACERS Thirty years after its Los Angeles debut, writer John DiFusco's antiwar drama retains its relevance and power. Written collaboratively in the 1970s by DiFusco and seven other Vietnam vets, and directed by Christina Howard with insight and skill, it portrays the trauma of young military recruits plucked from mainstream American life and thust -- inadequately trained and poorly equipped -- into the nightmare of combat. Howard, displaying a metaphysical perspective, stages the production on a deep, cavernous proscenium. Prior to curtain, an intense, almost suffocating, scent of incense permeates the theater; meanwhile, for perhaps 20 minutes, the six "trainees" jog in military unison, the rhythms of their booted tread being ominous and haunting. When at last the performers do, individually, speak, it's in a darkness resourcefully illuminated by handheld flashlights; indeed, throughout the play, the lighting design (consultant Tiger Reel) registers as a quintessential element of the spectacle. The talents of Howard's adept ensemble collectively emerge in a sequence depicting the recruits' initial training under the command of an abusive drill sergeant (the terrific Tucker Smallwood), who addresses them as "maggots" while forcing them to undergo arbitrary punitive discipline. Once in Vietnam, the men medicate their brutalized psyches with dope, alcohol and infantile horseplay -- understandable given their tasks, which include sorting through body parts to try to match limbs with torsos. While not every component of this production is unimpeachable -- the sound design (Howard) and vocal sound track, effective in part, can be intrusive -- the imaginative production is compelling. (Deborah Klugman). L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 27, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.

TWELFTH NIGHT/JULIUS CAESAR Theatre Unleashed presents Shakespeare's comedy. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

UNBUTTONED Andreas Beckett's one-man musical-comedy-drama. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., June 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 2 p.m.. (323) 469-9988.


GO THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE In its many incarnations, Gloria Naylor's episodic novel about struggle and triumph among a disparate group of African-American women in a dilapidated urban project anywhere in the country, circa 1975, offers moving, character-driven drama, comedy and social commentary. Tim Acito's musical adaptation captures much of Naylor's storytelling brilliance through his series of mostly solo songs. These explore the women's individual lives in a structure that resembles Studs Terkel's musical, Working. The stories ultimately meet, as the women turn to one another both in anger and for support. Acito eschews the temptation to pigeonhole the music into 1975 black genres, instead allowing such rhythms to infuse his more classical 20th-century musical-theater styles. The result is a stirring hybrid of emotionally charged and simply fun songs that give the extraordinary cast of singer-actors exciting material to perform. Musical director Gregory Nabours works expertly with the strong cast, as he does with his skilled musicians, to create a production of immense scale in this tiny venue. Scenic designer Kurt Boetcher offers just enough set to suggest the slum conditions but stays out of the way of the actorsm and it's all nicely supported by Naila Aladdin Sanders' delightful costume design. (Tom Provenzano). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 957-1884.


GO YELLOW

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo by Rosemary Alexander


The world premiere of Del Shores' intolerance drama. Coast

Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; opens June 11;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 27,

http://yellowbydelshores.com... See Theater feature









.

YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVALTwelve plays by American teenagers. Schedule at youngplaywrights.com. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27, . (323) 661-9827.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

ALL MY SONS Wasatch Theatrical Ventures presents Arthur Miller's first play. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 25. (323) 960-4420.

AMADEUS Peter Shaffer's Mozart tale. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (800) 838-3006.

ARCADIA Written by Tom Stoppard. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 31. (626) 256-3809.

BABY Music by David Shire, lyrics by Richald Maltby Jr., book by Sybille Pearson, based on a story by Susan Yankowitz. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 11. (818) 700-4878.

BARELY A BEAR A children's play about a bear cub raised by humans and a girl raised by bears who team up to save the forest from developers. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru June 26. (877) 620-7673.

FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF Ntozake Shange's 1975 choreopoem. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7, plays411.com/forcoloredgirls. (818) 990-2324.

THE GOLDEN ARORA Steve Fechter's story of love between a man and man's best friend. Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (818) 284-6799.

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). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.

GO  MADAGASCAR JT Rogers'

intriguing drama is set at various times in a hotel in Rome and begins

with three ostensibly unconnected monologues. A 20-something woman

named June (Deana Barone) expounds with intensity about individuals who mysteriously disappear. A condescending matriarch, Lillian (Taylor Gilbert), confides how she copes with life's unpleasant realities. And a rumpled economist, Nathan (Sam Anderson),

reveals his social awkwardness and professional limitations,

contrasting his gracelessness with the brilliant charm of his colleague

Arthur, sought after by governments and multinational companies.

Gradually the links between these troubled people emerge. Haunting all

three is the anguishing specter of June's twin brother, Paul, who,

obsessed over by his mother and sister, escaped to Africa and then

vanished without a trace. Rogers'

rich, dense dialogue winds back and forth over decades, and comes full

of twists and turns that startle the characters, as well as the

audience. This provocative and enthralling ride is facilitated by three

memorable performances (Anderson's confounded and melancholy paramour

is indelibly moving). Director Brendon Fox's elegant staging works with Helen Harwell's set, Christian Epps' lighting, and David B. Marling's sound design to form the integral elements of this accomplished production. Road Theatre Company at the Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; in rep through June 26. (866) 811-4111, RoadTheatre.org. (Deborah Klugman)

THE MAIDS French poet, playwright, novelist and thief Jean Genet, dubbed a criminal/saint by Jean-Paul Sartre, was an eternal outsider who embraced themes of oppression, betrayal, transgression and opposition to accepted social values. Here, he tells the bizarre tale of two sisters, Solange (Rachel Kanouse) and Claire (Nicole Erb) who are employed by Madame (Meagan English) as maid/servants. Corroded with self-loathing, they bitterly resent their menial existence, and become enmeshed in an intense love/hate relationship with each other and with their employer, whom they hate, envy, adore and fantasize about murdering. They have already, via an anonymous letter, sent Madame's lover to jail, and whenever she is out, they act out sadistic fantasies of murder and rebellion. Inevitably the end-game is lethal. Director Armina LaManna begins the piece with Edith Piaf recordings and a choreographic interlude that establishes the perverse erotic bond between the sisters. The actors skillfully and meticulously navigate the shoals of shifting fantasy and reality. J.C. Gafford provides a handsomely baroque set, all red velvet, flowers and ornate porcelain. Rachel Sachar's costumes cleverly dress the sisters in positive and negative variations on the same uniform. However, Genet is so subjective and personal that there are no apertures the mind can slip in through. (Neal Weaver). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 27. (818) 508-3003.

NEW REVIEW GO  A MEMORY OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo courtesy of Zombie Joe's Underground


George

Bernard Shaw wrote that "men and women are made by their own fancies in

the image of the imaginary creatures in [their] youthful fictions, only

much stupider." Life imitates art, in other words, and usually very

badly. Or so it goes in playwright Robert Riemer's wickedly funny

assault on the myth of romantic love. A day and a half after walking

out on their respective marriages and families, middle-aged fugitive

lovers Gordon (Joseph Aaron Campbell) and Nina (Jackie Quinones) wake

up in a cheap Baja California motel room to take stock of their

impetuous flight to rekindle their onetime teenage romance. In the

sobering light of day, however, spent passions can't conceal doubts

festering under the blazing Ensenada sun. For one thing, the

tempestuous, now-alcoholic Nina is no longer the winsome flower of

Gordon's memory. For another, the motel's resident mad playwright, Tony

(the antic Hunter Greene), and his creepy idiot-child of a Mexican

fishing guide, Mayolo (the hilarious Jonica Patella), have not only

been eavesdropping on their neighbors but Tony is appropriating their

tryst for a romantic tragedy that uncannily anticipates Gordon and

Nina's every thought and deed. Worse, he has already determined the

denouement to be a bloody crime of passion. As the affair careens to

its catastrophic conclusion, Zombie Joe's stylish direction of a crack

ensemble on Jeri Batzdorff's appropriately seedy set leavens Riemer's

grim romantic fatalism with touches of manic absurdity and simmering

suspense. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through June 26. (818) 202-4120. (Bill Raden)

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Vanguard Repertory Company's irreverent adaptation of William Shakespeare's comedy. Byrnes Amphitheater, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, 440 St. Katherine Dr., La Canada Flintridge; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru July 11, vanguardrep.com. (818) 745-3327.

PRAYING SMALL Clifford Morts' study of addiction. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 18. (818) 508-7101.

PRISCILLA'S PERFECT DAY Family musical about magical crayons, book by Diana Martin, songs by Richard Levinson. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 a.m.; thru July 17. (818) 700-4878.

URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.. (818) 202-4120.

USS PINAFORE In addition to directing this production, Jon Mullich also did the adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore to the Starship Enterprise. This obviously includes restringing the lyrics and even song titles, so that "He Is an Englishman" becomes "He Is an Earthling Man." The concept is a mash-up of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest -- with accompanying jokes on both -- all played upon designer Tony Potter's terrific starship brig set. The transference of Gilbert and Sullivan's social satire into a few quips on our pop culture feels like a reduction of scale but nothing compared to the reduction served up in the tinny sound track. Delivering the goods with confident glee, this excellent ensemble deserves better. In fact, this would be a sinking ship were it not for the ensemble's charisma and the first-rate performances and voices of some key players, including James Jaeger's physically nimble, sonorously voiced Dick Deadeye -- imagine French Stewart as a lizard man. Jesse Merlin's Captain Corcoran is also magnificent, the embodiment of swagger, with facial muscles locked into a smirk and a voice that just keeps going. Ashley Cuellar's musical chops are similarly apparent as the Captain's daughter, Josephine. Her stage presence is perfectly adequate, but her voice hits the moon. (Steven Leigh Morris). Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. 1-800-838-3006.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS

ALL CAKE, NO FILE "Johnny Cash Prison Tribute Comedy Cooking Show/Concert," written and performed by Donna Jo Thorndale. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 838-4264.

GO THE ARSONISTS In Max Frisch's trenchant work of surreal irony, which may be better known by its alternate (and perhaps more whimsically satisfying) title, Biedermann and the Firebugs, decent people invite evil into their homes, try to befriend it, ignore its obvious nature -- and, by doing nothing, are ultimately complicit in its wicked goals. When Frisch wrote the dark comedy in 1958, he was clearly attempting to craft a metaphor for the rise of Nazis amongst the otherwise sensible German population one to two decades prior. Alistair Beaton's new translation amplifies certain of the text's thematic undercurrents of moral blindness to put us in mind of the paranoia and impotence suffusing the so-called War on Terror. Mild-mannered hair-tonic dealer Biedermann (Norbert Weisser) has been told to be on the lookout for a band of diabolical arsonists sweeping through the neighborhood, setting houses ablaze. Yet, this doesn't stop him from inviting into his home a brutish goon named Schmitz (John Achorn), who shows up on his doorstep asking for food and lodging. We quickly deduce that Schmitz has a certain pyromaniacal bent -- and even Biedermann and his primly brittle, suburban wife (Beth Hogan) start to twig that something is wrong when Schmitz and his seemingly psychotic pal, Eisenring (Ron Bottitta), move huge barrels of fuel and bomb detonators into their home's attic. Yet, Biedermann, complacent in his "it can't happen to me" attitude, refuses to see what's happening right in front of him. The performances, as well as the flames, crackle in Ron Sossi's slyly sardonic staging -- performances that combine perfect comic timing with dense, rich personalities. Weisser's nervous (and increasingly delusional) Biedermann and Hogan's uptight wife are hilarious -- but the true scene-stealers are Achorn's rubber-faced, diabolical Schmitz and Bottitta's ghoulish Eisenring, who are simultaneously so chillingly funny and matter of fact, you almost want to invite them to dinner yourself, despite the potentially blazing ramifications. Set designer Birgitte Moos' beautiful two-level set (1950s-style living room and attic) is ingenious, while Sean Kozma's eerie sound design adds a beautifully sinister atmosphere to the goings-on. (Paul Birchall). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 477-2055.

BACKSTREET: THE MUSICAL Evelyn Rudie, Chris DeCarlo and Matthew Wrather's

musical tells the story of a group of Jewish prostitutes working in the

red light district of turn-of-last-century Manhattan. It's not a bad

idea for a musical -- after all, even Sholom Aleichem must have needed a

"happy ending (with release)" once in a while -- but the sugary effort

is unable to overcome the intrinsically bizarre disconnect between its

chipper plot and the unexpectedly distasteful thematic underpinnings.

In the discreet ghetto manse that serves as the best little whorehouse

on Hester Street, several prostitutes primp and pose in their

delightful gowns (lush designs by Ashley Hayes),

seemingly never entertaining a single client. Meanwhile, hard-boiled

brothel owner Uncle (Chris DeCarlo, nicely vile) exploits his girls

with matter-of-fact glee, while scheming to gain social respectability

by attempting to marry off his inexplicably virginal daughter, Rivkele (Serena Dolinsky), to the local moyle's

son, even though she truly loves grocery-store clerk Eli (Brad Geyer).

The writers strive uphill to make a story about brothels that's

family-friendly. However, director DeCarlo's occasionally awkward

staging suffers from superficial, simpering performances, additionally

hampered by Rudie

and Wrather's densely packed lyrics and obvious melodies (which are

themselves prerecorded and sound tinny over the horrible music system).

The ensemble, some of whom have lovely voices, gamely prance their way

through the goings-on, mugging and thereby creating a creepy,

sentimental mood that jars with the tawdry facts of the plot. Although

Rudie, in the role of the brothel's chief den mother and madame,

manages to limn a character who melds pragmatic good humor with her

character's melancholy, other performers demonstrate their relative

theatrical inexperience with static, clumsy acting -- particularly

during the moments in which they're watching other people onstage. The

Other Place at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through June 20. (310) 394-9779, ext 1. (Paul Birchall)

CASH ON DELIVERY Michael Cooney's farce about a Social Security cheat. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 11. (310) 454-1970.

NEW REVIEW

THE CLEAN HOUSE  Playwright Sarah Ruhl's bittersweet farce consists of

quickly shifting emotional extremes -- at times characters may burst

out laughing, but then they start weeping from sorrow midchortle.

Kind-hearted Brazilian comedienne Matilde (Elizabeth Liang) might very

well be the funniest woman in the world (in her native Portuguese), but

she emigrates to the United States and gets a job working as the maid

to sourpuss doctor Lane (Colette Kilroy), who is understandably

perturbed that her servant prefers cracking jokes to swabbing the

floors. When she learns that her surgeon husband Charles (Don Fischer)

has fallen in love with one of his mastectomy patients (Denise Blasor),

Lane's world crumbles -- but she gets help and support from Matilde and

from Lane's emotionally fragile sister Virginia (Shawna Casey), who, as

it happens, has a cleanliness fetish. It's awkward, but the theme of

emotional extremes extends to the two acts of Ruhl's play: In

co-directors Stefan Kruck/Ron Sossi's uneven production, Act 1 is

crisp, involving, and scathingly funny, while Act 2 meanders, miring

itself in a self indulgently sentimental tone, random plotting and

aimless pacing. However, when Kuhl's comedy is strong, it delights with

sharp dialogue, brittle characterizations, and smart ironic

juxtapositions, such as the exchanges between Kilroy's hilariously

uptight Lane and Liang's wonderfully inscrutable Matilde. The play is

not so much a standard depiction of the American class system, as it

touches on the idea that individuals contain an fixed core of self

which is either happy or miserable -- whatever situation arises in

life, their ultimate default emotional reaction surfaces.  It's just a

shame that the show goes off the rails midway through, into terrain of

forced and surreal fragments. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (after July 3, no Thursday

performances); through July 18. (Paul Birchall)


JESSE BOY Plenty of writers have trodden down the thickets of dysfunction, which apparently overrun the rural South (my own little Southern hometown must be the lone exception). Certainly, there are families with histories of secrets buried so deep you'd need a backhoe to unearth them. But to cram a play to bursting with every last and most lurid of them, as does Robert Mollohan, playwright and star of this world premiere, feels like little more than shock value for the sake of shock value. Richie (Mollohan), an Elvis impersonator/car salesman and Abigayle (Jaimi Paige), his girlfriend/former lady of the night, live in a state of vague dissatisfaction dotted with bouts of uneasy peace. The tension in their trailer home is pulled rubberband-tight by Abigayle's live-in mentally handicapped brother, Jesse (the excellent Zach Book), Jesse's physically handicapped stripper/babysitter Mary-Lou (Kathleen Nicole Parker), and Richie's homeless uncle, Red (Chris Mulkey). The performances are, across the board, as impressive and nuanced as the range of Southern accents the cast employs. But as the second act hurriedly pulls tricks out of its hat and as the build to the predictable climax barrels toward the audience, the characters' emotional evolutions get lost. Richie's chance for at least a moment of sympathy is especially squandered -- if you're going to stack every card in the deck against a character, you have to give the audience a reason to care much earlier than the last 15 minutes of the play. Karen Landry directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 397-3244.

HARLOW GOLD: WEST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. Harvelle's, 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs.. (310) 395-1676.

GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece which is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but run down country house in upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger) are in the twilight of their careers, but regret nothing about a life spent on the road performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiance Jimmy (David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior -- and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration underscoring the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive, yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 399-3666.

LONDON'S SCARS The preshow announcement in the style of the London Underground's famous "mind the gap" admonition takes us to Thurloe Square, the site of a recent bus bombing in the world premiere of Richard Martin Hirsch's latest work. The bombing is discussed by psychologists Bronwyn (Imelda Corcoran) and Margaret (Ann Noble); the former is an art therapist and becomes saddled with Mary (Meredith Bishop), a young woman who witnessed the tragedy and is consequently a person of interest to MI5 field agent Dowd (Rob Nagle). In their sessions, Mary is initially reticent, responding only with book quotations. As Bronwyn uses art to delve into Mary's psyche, however, Mary opens up, revealing her occupation as a call girl and her association with Habib (Ammar Ramzi), the Pakistani man thought to be responsible for the bombing. Hirsch's ear for the British idiom, especially London slang, is undeniable, and his characters are fascinating -- especially the tortured souls of Mary and Habib. However the simmering tension Hirsch strives to build into "explosive" (sorry) moments unfortunately lacks the requisite danger and menace to keep us in anticipation. Director Darin Anthony employs creative staging of the numerous flashbacks and movements in space and time, aided by Christie Wright's nimble lighting, Stephen Gifford's flexible set, and Bill Froggatt's soundscape of London calling. The solid cast is punctuated by standouts Nagle, notable for his chameleonic shifts in playing two other minor characters as well, and Bishop, whose tortured intensity is palpable. A Coffeehouse Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 477-2055.

GO SARAH, SARAH In playwright Daniel Goldfarb's family drama, the generation gap is not so much a gap as it is a gaping crevasse. In 1961, fearsome Jewish mama Sarah Grosberg (played by Cheryl David with battle-ax aplomb) invites the mousy fiancée (Robyn Cohen) of her beloved son, Artie (Patrick J. Rafferty), for tea and strudel, ostensibly so the two ladies can get to know each other but really so the possessive mamutchka can talk the girl out of marrying her son. As the intimidating matriarch tears into the younger girl like a glutton gnawing on kugel, it falls to Sarah's kindly housekeeper (Bart Braverman) to save the day with an unexpected revelation about his boss. Years later, Sarah's granddaughter Jennifer (also played by David, in such a different, breezy, open turn that she's almost unrecognizable) journeys to China to adopt an orphan, who turns out to be ill and possibly mentally handicapped. Goldfarb's play is mainly set dressing for David's splendid tour de force twin performances as the steely matriarch and her neurotic, insecure granddaughter, turns that are beautifully nuanced and complex. As Sarah, David depicts an immediately familiar type, who's as much a creature of her era as is the more immature-seeming, emotionally drifting Jennifer. Director Howard Teichman's deceptively simple production adroitly captures the mood and feel of two eras, exemplified by different body languages and physical behavior. Braverman is also deft in his two characters -- he excels as Jennifer's supportive yet pessimistic father in the play's second half. (Paul Birchall). Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27...

NEW REVIEW TWO FIGURES

Stage Raw: Blue in the Face

Photo courtesy of Ahimsa Collective


If television shows like The Wonder Years, My So-Called Life, and Felicity

already hadn't gone undercover and revealed the truth of the teenage

experience; or if Matthew Chester had explored why his lead female, a

motherless 17-year-old virgin, has sexual domination fantasies, this

new play might break new ground. In its current form, however, it's

just a well-acted rerun of one of the more predictable, albeit racier,

teen dramas. Bethany Esfandiari, who actually looks like the adorable

love-child of Kevin Arnold and Felicity, plays petulant and puppy-dog

cute equally well as Penny, an emotionally isolated high-school student

with artistic ambitions. It's only a matter of time before she tumbles

head-over-heels in love with her socially awkward, professionally

frustrated art teacher, Mr. Sacher (a soft-pedaled, pitch-perfect

characterization by Noah Silverstein). Chester deserves credit for

pushing culturally defined boundaries and for challenging accepted

notions of appropriate sexual behavior. The resulting affair elicits

more tenderness toward the couple than discomfort until Mr. Sacher

casually mentions his age near the end of the play; the couple's sweet

Alicia Keys' sing-along then transitions abruptly into sadistic

role-playing -- and just as abuptly, I was squirming in my seat. But

Chester's attempt to draw a parallel between breaking the rules in

artistic mediums and the couple's taboo relationship is a stretch.

"There never really were any [rules]," Mr. Sacher says in a lecture,

and you realize he's as much of a teenager as Penny. Ahimsa Collective,

Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.;

through June 20. (213) 674-6682 (Rebecca Haithcoat)

NEW REVIEW  GO THE WICKED WILDE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL: THE

IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Lisa Wolpe's traditional but silky-smooth

production of Oscar Wilde's crowd-pleasing comedy is a gender-bender --

at least partially. Jack and Algernon are played by women (Wolpe and

Cynthia Beckert), Lady Bracknell is performed by a man (John Achorn),

and the remaining roles are given gender-appropriate casting. Wolpe and

Beckert are stylish and elegant, though Wolpe is more convincingly

male. Achorn's Lady Bracknell is a sort of Wagnerian bulldog, masking

iron determination behind a relentless mask of respectability. Katrinka

Wolfson gives us a haughtily kittenish Gwendolen, and Laura Covelli

daintily captures Cecily's faux naiveté and maidenly modesty. Kevin

Vavasseur doubles as the two butlers, playing Lane as an urbane and

perfect servant, and sketching Merriman as a more rural bumpkin. Linda

Bisesti's Miss Prism is coyly demure, and Mark Bramhall's Dr. Chasuble

is a gallant, plummy-voiced clergyman. Wolpe's production is briskly

played, running a bit more than 90 minutes without intermission, and

she leads her cast in faithfully playing the situations as well as the

lines. The simple formalized sets are by Mia Torres, and the terrific

Victorian costumes are by Allison Leach, who's particularly to be

commended for the men's tailoring. The Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130

Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica; performed in rotating rep as part of

The Wicked Wilde Shakespeare Festival, through June 27; check schedule

at lawsc.net. A production of the L.A. Women's Shakespeare Company.

(800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com. (Neal Weaver)


THE WICKED WILDE SHAKEPEARE FESTIVAL: A TYRANT'S TALE Pared to 80 minutes, writer-director Lisa Wolpe's breakneck adaptation of The Winter's Tale opens with a fatal temper tantrum. King Leontes (Scott McRae) believes his wife (Heidi Rose Robbins) is hugely pregnant with the child of his friend -- and now, sworn enemy -- Polixenes (Andrew Heffernan). In short order, the king has banished or doomed nearly his entire court, though before she's hauled off and declared dead, Robbins, whose character is weak from torture and tall with dignity, commands the stage with a killer last speech. Miraculously, Apollo will set this right, but en route, the actors rush, shout and muddy their lines with needless accents, and risk losing the audience in so doing. In such a taut tragedy, Wolpe could easily cut the scene of comic relief between a shepherd (McRae) and his idiot son (David Glasser) and amp up the heat, especially in the steamy dance of love between a prince (Glasser) and a secret princess (Laura Covelli). With tweaks, this very likable staging could be a pocket-sized success. (Amy Nicholson). Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sun..; thru June 27, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.