Stage Raw: Bohemian Cowboy

Stage Raw: Bohemian Cowboy

BOHEMIAN COWBOY is this week's Pick of the Week

Crossing the Center Line

A father heads into the desert, never to return

By Steven Leigh Morris

The original title of Raymond King Shurtz's one-man show was The Gospel of Irony ― which would have been a particularly ironic title, had it stuck, since there's not a trace of irony in Shurtz's unwaveringly sincere family memoir, now called Bohemian Cowboy. It's all hinged to his efforts to understand the mystery of his father's disappearance three years ago. The elder Shurtz drove six miles into the Nevada desert in his pickup, got out and, evidently, started walking. And now the younger Shurtz is trying to fathom whether this was suicide, or homicide and just some freak turn of events. The older man was not the best of fathers, his son explains through shards of poignant stories that are as compassionate as they are  gracefully written, and spoken. And the father was feeling some humiliation from the physical aftereffects of treatments for a form of cancer not specified in the play. The uncredited set contains raw wood slabs of some nondescript interior; when not showing family photographs, an overhead video monitor frames the action with an image of the boundless Mojave. Under Kurt Brungardt's tender direction, background sounds to Shurtz's fantastical mystery tour to the scene of his father's disappearance include howling wind, the rat-tat-tat of search-and-rescue helicopters. The father was a musician, and Shurtz juxtaposes his saga with moving ballads from his memory, as well as his own original compositions. Near the beginning, Shurtz quotes William Styron saying that depression is the inability to grieve. Shurtz's performance is, indeed, an elegy, a theater-poem of Styron-esque insight and elegance. He describes his playwright mother as a poet, while his father was merely "poetical." He meets Jesus in the desert, a figure "with ebony eyes and crooked teeth," while Hamlet accompanies him for some of the drive across the expanse. Hamlet, he says, does not care for Shurtz's song honoring Ophelia. Shurtz performs all this with gentle, wistful intelligence while avoiding the morose or the melodramatic. Through this deeply personal story of fathers and sons, and marriages gone awry, Shurtz has stumbled onto a romantic allegory, not only for a man lost in the wilderness but for a country, dangerously tipsy, swerving over the broken center line of an open road, as though between nostalgia and despondency. Overhead, the canopy of stars remains, as ever, oblivious. Elephant Lab Theatre, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perfs March 13-14); through March 21. (323) 960-7744. A Theatre 4S Production 

At your fingertips: This week's THEATER FEATURE on Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still at the Geffen Playhouse; the 30th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards NOMINEES; and where to PURCHASE tickets.

Reviewed OVER THIS WEEKENDThe Increased Difficulty of Concentration at the Lounge Theatre; Raymond King Shurtz's new play, Bohemian Cowboy at the Elephant Performance Space; Alive Theatre's Cherry Poppin' Festival of new works; Tartuffe at Theater @ Boston Court; Daniel Berrigan's The Trial of the Catonsville Nine at Actors' Gang; Black Women - State of the Union at Company of Angels; The Taming of the Shrew presented by Circus Theatricals at the Odyssey Theatre; Bridezilla Strikes Back! at the Zephyr; Nick Mills' new romantic thriller, American Guilt at Theatre Unlimited; and Phil Olson's musical, A Don't Hug Me County Fair at Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre

These NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded within this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, which can be accessed by pressing the Continue Reading tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for February 27-March 5, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)

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


CAROL CHANNING: THE FIRST 80 YEARS ARE THE HARDEST See GoLA., $75. The Magic Castle, 7001 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Mon., March 2, 8 p.m.; Tues., March 3, 8 p.m.. (323)-851-3313.

ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT Jeff Daniels' comedy about deer hunters in upstate Michigan. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; opens Feb. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (310) 512-6030.

FALLING UPWARD Meet the locals at an Irish pub, courtesy Ray Bradbury. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 28; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (866) 811-4111.

LAWS OF SYMPATHY Oliver Mayer's Somali-in-America romance. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (213) 627-4473.

MADAME BUTTERFLY: THE ORIGINAL PLAY The 1999 Secret Rose cast reunites for the play that inspired Puccini's opera. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (866) 811-4111.

MAKIN' HAY World-premiere musical about a wealthy cowboy by Matthew Goldsby, based on Moliere's 1668 comedy George Dandin. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; opens Feb. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 462-8460.

SIX YEARS Sharr White's story of a World War II GI's return to his hometown. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; opens Feb. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 871-1150.


GO CANDIDA If Kathleen F. Conlin's staging of George Bernard Shaw's romantic comedy isn't perfect, it's sure close. One "fine morning in October, 1894," a self-satisfied local pastor Morell (Mark Deakins), who also happens to be a socialist, finds himself competing with a callow, 18-year-old "nervous disease" poet named Marchbanks (Johnathan McClain) for the affections of the pastor's wife, Candida (Willow Geer). Let your ideas compete with mine, then let her choose, the twitchy/arrogant young man challenges his senior. By the time Shaw's comedy has spun to is final, playful scene, everybody has lost something, and everybody has won something, and everybody, except Candida perhaps, has been charged and convicted of presumptuousness and hypocrisy. The themes haven't aged a day, the dialects are pitch perfect, yet this production hangs on the rare, meticulous brilliance of McClain's Marchbanks. His performance is a tour-de-force of physical comedy, a compendium of tics and an unceasing, and ceaselessly entertaining dance of belligerent attacks and coy withdrawals, each rolling atop the next with split-second timing. Deakins' pastor is a glorious counter presence, a handsome rock of vigorous pomposity, an emblem of privilege too sure of his so-called magnanimous ideas, and ideals. The joy is in watching them crumble, and watching him struggle with his own dignity. Grand turns also by Kate Hillinshead's love-smitten secretary, by Matthew Henerson's as Candida's blustery father, and Gabriel Diani's foundling-turned-aristocrat. In the title role, the elegant and beautiful Geer is slightly mannered in Act 1, but finds her confidence soon after. Michael C. Smith's drawing-room set comes packed with fastidious detail, as do Sherry Linnell's costumes. (SLM) Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Feb. 14 & 21, 3 p.m. and Feb. 26 & March 5, 8 p.m.); through March 8. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15.

ELLA Jeffrey Hatcher's musical biography of Ella Fitzgerald, starring Tina Fabrique. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 22. (949) 497-2787.

THE FULL MONTY Steelworkers turn strippers, music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrance McNally. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Manhattan Beach & N. Redondo Beach blvds., Manhattan Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 372-4477.

GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's farce about a city dweller's move to a farm house. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (562) 494-1014.

IXNAY Deceased Japanese-American says no way to reincarnation as a Japanese-American, in Paul Kikuchi's play. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (213) 625-7000.

MAN OF LA MANCHA Dale Wasserman's adaptation of Don Quixote, music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 825-2101.

MINSKY' S The raid of Minsky's Burlesque house on New York's Lower East in 1925 - initiated when dancer Mary Dawson of Pennsylvania removed her top and then allowed her bare breasts to sway -- was the basis of William Friedkin's 1968 movie, The Night They Raided Minsky's.Historically, the whole thing was a publicity stunt by club owner Billy Minsky in order to draw crowds to his club, which presented a genre of entertainment that was on the ropes at the time -- wedged between moribund vaudeville and burgeoning Broadway. From a business standpoint, it was pretty good stunt that propelled a whole audience to the club when Minsky moved it uptown later that year. Bob Martin, Charles Strouse and Susan Birkenhead's new musical, Minsky's, at the Ahmanson (original book by Evan Hunter) bears as little resemblance to the film (it makes no claim to be a film adaptation) as it does to the historical record. The time has been flung forward a decade from the Roaring '20s to Depression-Era '30s, presumably to ramp up its relevance to our own hard times - which are echoed in lyrics sung by chorus girls: "Everyone wants an escape now/The country's in terrible shape now/Every time another bank fails/We go and polish our nails." This is the story of Billy Minsky (Christopher Fitzgerald), and his love-hate affair with the daughter (Katharine Leonard) of the prim city councilman (George Wendt), who's on a morality crusade to shut down all the burlesque houses in town. Minsky'sis a clever, romantic musical that ambles along in no particular direction on the power of its charm, until it tries to fool us into believing that its pedestrian ambitions contain some higher purpose. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; Through March 1. (213) 628-2772.

NOISES OFF Michael Frayn's backstage comedy. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (714) 708-5555.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a scarred recluse and the diva he adores. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.. (213) 365-3500.

GO PIPPIN I know we're on the cusp of a Depression and that theater audiences ache for frivolity and distraction, but this one really vexes, largely because it's so damnably seductive. First, Roger O. Hirson's book and Stehen Schwartz's music and lyrics combine into what has been one of the most produced musicals in colleges and high schools in the past 30 years. Add to that Jeff Calhoun's hyper-theatrical staging and choreography of a topflight ensemble in a style designed to accommodate the hearing-impaired actors of co-presenter Deaf West Theater, and you've got a extremely glossy carny show in which the central role is bifurcated between the hangdog charm of deaf actor Tyrone Giordano, and his voiced alter-ego, Michael Arden. The pair share the stage with a huge ensemble, one revealing through the physicality the agony of bliss of Charlamegne's son, Pippin, as he searches for the purpose of life, while the other gives voice to those expressions through a dextrous vocal interpretation and Schwartz's somewhat sappy songs rendered here with effervescent beauty. This is the latest in a series of Candide riffs (much searching for purpose these days), in which Pippin fights in a war, learns about sex as well as domesticity, commits patricide, serves as king, screws up by being benevolent to the peasants and dismantling the army while an Enemy Beyond encroaches. Silly boy. Shut up, go home and till your garden. Let smarter people take care of the empire. Your adopted son will dream and make the same mistakes. Pardon me, but this is crap posing as wisdom, truisms posing as truth, especially at a moment in our history when doing nothing but tending our garden has landed us collectively in the biggest sand trap in American history. I couldn't join the standing ovation on press night. I just couldn't, I was so pissed off - politically, philosophically. If this were just diversion, I'd have risen to my feet. I love diversion as much as anybody. But I felt in this production a creepy, reactionary underpinning that's even out of touch with our new government's position on everybody taking responsibility to pull each other up, collectively. And for this shimmering magic act to close out by cautioning us about the seductive qualities of veneer is a fraud of the first rank. The show is so well done, see it for yourself, and see if you're as annoyed as me. (SLM) Deaf West Theatre and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; (Jan. 31 perf at 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 17 perf at 7:30 p.m.; no perfs Feb. 18-20); through March 15. (213) 628-2772.

RABBIT HOLE David Lindsay-Abaire's story of a family turned upside-down. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 589-1998.

RENT Young artists struggle to avoid AIDS, in Jonathan Larson's Broadway hit. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (213) 365-3500.

GO STORMY WEATHER Mirrors mirrors on the walls. That's what you're seeing all over the stage in James Noone's set as Lena Horne (Leslie Uggams), now aging in the 1980s, observes her younger self (Nikki Crawford) through the travails of a difficult life. Her torments include having to surrender custody of her one, infant son, Teddy, to her estranged husband (Phil Attmore), as she chooses to leave New York to accept an offer by MGM Studios in Hollywood. For a light-skinned African-American chanteuse swimming upstream towards stardom in post WWII America, the cross currents she encounters include the kind of stock bigotry (lobbying not to play maids in the movies) and gossip surrounding her secret, tempestuous marriage to Jewish arranger, Lennie Hayton (Robert Torti). Another mirror image includes the resentful adult Teddy (Joran Barbour) and Horne's father, Teddy, Sr. (Cleavant Derricks). Ensnared in Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunt of the '50s, and thereby shunned by the Hollywood studios, Horne finds employment in France (of course) and on Broadway. The despondency caused by waking up one day and realizing that she's lost all the men in her life, including Teddy from kidney disease, raises the question of how one endures life's tempests. (As Linda says in Death of a Salesman, "Life is a casting off.") Such are the metaphysics of Sharleen Cooper Cohen's musical, suggested from the Horne' biography, Lena Horne, Entertainer, and punctuated by over two dozen classic jazz-pop hits, including "Come Rain or Come Shine," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Hooray for Hollywood," "When You're Smiling," and the eponymous "Stormy Weather" -- all accompanied by a 12-person orchestra perfectly conducted by musical director Linda Twine, and beautifully sung by members of the large ensemble. In her adaptation, Cohen frames Horne's journey down memory pain via conversations with her life friend and rival, Kay Thompson (Dee Hoty). Though Horne's snyde attitude towards this "friend," once attached to the Hollywood studio that betrayed her, creates a brittle and nicely unsentimental repartee, their conversations -- being locked in the past tense -- bog things down dramatically, making the musical feel longer than it otherwise might. Michael Bush's staging compensates for this drawback with sheen, partly because the songs are often so nicely tethered to Randy Skinner's sleek choreography, must mostly because of Crawford's knockout voice and sexy charisma, and the tender-sassy interpretations by Uggams. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 8. (626) 356-7529.

SURVIVING SEX is a pretty good, facile sitcom by David Landsberg about the plight of romantic nebbish accountant Stan (Jeff Marlowe), trying to steer his battered life-raft through the cross currents of his own docility and inertia, and the presumed desire of the women in his life for real man who knows how to degrade them. That isn't really the life they want, but it's the romantic performance they want from their fellas. Nice guys finish last. Woody Allen has handled all this with more astuteness and aplomb, nonetheless Landsberg has crafted some witty, satirical riffs on the double-standards set by women that emerge from Stan's mouth in hilarious, furious crescendos. Marlowe is an accomplished comic whose droll reactions to the mayhem surrounding him produce some intoxicating moments. This is the kind of guy who financially supports his girlfriend -- foxy, aspiring actress, Denise (Amy Handelman). Stan then has to endure watching her rehearse in his own living room a sizzling love scene with her stud, scene partner (Steve Coombs). After Denise dumps him, Stan finds himself manacled to the kitchen table with new date (Dana Green) who's trying out her dominatrix fantasies. There's a pleasing performance by Mandy June Turpin, as the wife of Stan's best friend, Larry (Peter Story) -- particularly when she has to handle her hubbie's announcement that he's in love with Stan. The farce trips over itself, under Susan Morgenstern's otherwise fine direction, with strains of plausibility, such as Stan opening his front door with his trousers wrapped around his ankles, just so Larry can check to see how his date is going. When looking to have some sex toys delivered, Stan checks the phone book. Does anyone under 40 even use a phone book anymore? ISLM) Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 1. (818) 955-8101.

THE THREEPENNY OPERA Saucy satire by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (562) 436-4610.

TIME STANDS STILL is Donald Margulies' newest work, being given its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. It would be nice to see our institutional theaters dip a bit deeper into the lake of American playwrights (perhaps lesser-known ones) so that, as with the National Theatre of Great Britain for example, the theaters can take credit for promoting new voices, rather than just riding on the coattails of the established ones, but that's not the world we live in. It is, nonetheless, a relief and a pleasure to see such thoughtful and well-crafted new writing on the stage. Margulies is a compassionate observer of human behavior, and his play concerns a photo journalist (Anna Gunn), just returned to her Brooklyn digs from a German hospital after being struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She barks at her life partner who's a reporter (David Harbour) over his concerned reluctance to offer her a cup of coffee in public; her pithy attack seems on the surface to be over nothing but a cup of coffee. The play is actually about all that lies underneath -- the morality of her career as a photo-journalist that feeds on the miseries on the world, and spews it back in the form of coffee-table books. One of Margulies' sourer points is the service such journalists provides to liberal consumers who use bad news in the press to fuel their outrage over injustice, and to assuage their guilt over doing nothing about it. But would the world really be better without such journalists, and without those images? (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 15. (310) 208-5454.

A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD Based on the kids' books by Arnold Lobel, music by Robert Reale, book and lyrics by Willie Reale. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; thru March 1. (714) 708-5555.

ARMSTRONG'S KID A schoolteacher is falsely accused of child molestation, written by and starring Stanley Bennett Clay. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (323) 293-1356.

A CELEBRATION OF BLACK HISTORY: A JOURNEY IN FOUR PARTS Honoring African-American history, every Saturday in February. Presented by Ebony Repertory Theatre. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 964-9766.

VERONICA Workshop production of John Patrick Shanley's world-premiere romantic comedy. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 595-4849.


ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big city.". Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 465-0800.

GO BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS: A NOT-SO ROMANTIC COMEDY OF BAD MANNERS Rob Mersola's extravagant farce extracts its laughs from its characters' miseries and sexual misadventures: self-loathing, murderous competitiveness, anonymous erotic encounters. Mersola is a clever writer, who exploits the tried-and-true farce structure to engineer a funny final scene in which all the characters are brought together to have their lies, deceptions and shenanigans unmasked. A skillful cast meticulously mines the laughs in this crowd-pleasing date show. (NW). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7829.

GO BATTLE HYMN In a fit of passion and adoration, young Martha (Suzy Jane Hunt), has a fling with a pretty (and pretty oblivious) school chum, Henry (Bill Heck), as he's about to join the Union army during the Civil War (despite the couple's Kentucky home). Finding herself pregnant and alone, Martha eventually learns that Henry finds other men more attractive than her. After being spurned by her minister father (William Salyers), who banishes her to relatives far away, Jim Leonard's lovely new play, a variation on Voltaire's Candide, follows Martha as she traverses the country and the century, finding herself in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of Love, still pregnant, still waiting for "the right time" to bring her infant into the world. Leonard's play is more emotionally moving that intellectually rigorous - a compendium of symbols that add up to a century of clashes between America's founding principles and the betrayals of those principles that show up through history - from slavery to gay rights to religious hypocrisy. This land is our land? Hardly. And yet the prevailing symbol is that of birth, and re-birth, of ourselves. Leonard's structure has a few problems. Dwelling on the Civil War era through Act 1, and then racing through time in Act 2, its surrealism would be less jarring if the play's motion were more carefully proportioned. He's been given a first rank production with John Langs' quasi-cinematic staging, featuring some moving musical backdrops composed by Michael A. Levine. Bryan Sidney Bembridge's set and lighting have just the right amount of visual animation, without too much glib winking. Hunt simply charms as Martha, with a wide-eyed conviction that's largely blind to the betrayals that lurk around every corner; John Short and Robert Manning, Jr. complete the finely textured ensemble. (SLM) [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 7. (323) 461-3673. A Circle X Production.

BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY John Patrick Shanley's memory play about an Irish-American family. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (800) 838-3006.

BENCHES, SKETCHES OF THE 1930S Two one-acts: Black, Bold & Beautiful, the story of opera singer Marian Anderson, and Let Me In, about Gone With the Wind's Hattie McDaniel. KSLG Playhouse Theater Players, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Sat., 6 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 227-5410.

BILL W. AND DR. BOB The story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7827.

NEW REVIEW BLACK WOMEN: STATE OF THE UNION Judging from this uneven assortment of comedy sketches, dramatic playlets and poetry performance pieces, the state of identity politics for black women in the age of Obama hasn't appreciably changed since Ntozake Shange's landmark, 1975 choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Buoyed by a talented ensemble and briskly directed by Nataki Garrett and Ayana Cahrr, the show is at its best when its political agenda gets leavened with incisive humor or sharply observed characterizations. These include Lisa B. Thompson's whimsical "Mother's Day," a satire of African-American, maternal archetypes in the form of pre-programmed, nanny-bot androids Tamika Simpkins, Lee Sherman and the comically gifted Kila Kitu, who play, respectively, an overly doting Aunt Jemima mammy, a Condoleezza Ricean hyper-achiever and a vintage, 1970s black power militant; Nia Witherspoon's "The Messiah Complex," which takes a more serious tack as a lesbian rap star (Lony'e Perrine) recalls her younger, gender-confused, adolescent self (Sherman) and how a troubled relationship with her estranged father (Paul Mabon) informed her sexual and artistic awakening; and Sigrid Gilmer's clever "Black Girl Rising," in which a wannabe super heroine (Simpkins) comes to Kitu's Identity League to be assigned crime-fighting powers only to discover the roles allowed a black girl are somewhat less than empowering. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., downtown; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 15. (323) 883-1717. (Bill Raden)

BLUES FOR CENTRAL AVENUE Willard Manus's play with music is a spirited glimpse at downtown L.A. of yore and folklore, of Central Avenue's storied era of jazz clubs and nightspots where the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and others were frequent headliners. The action unfolds in and around the famous Dunbar Hotel, where Lowell Smith (Wallace Demarrià), fresh from a stint in the army with plans on starting a record label, discovers the singing prowess of the lovely Roberta Youngblood (Christian Omari) during a night out on the Avenue. She grudgingly allows the aspiring businessman to guide her career, but when her prodigious talents attract the attention of a Hollywood mogul (Charles Anteby), jealousy and racial fault lines emerge, changing the lives of those involved. The story is not overly engaging, and Manus and director Ken Crosby do less than an artful job of telling it. Some of Manus's characters are only slightly deeper than caricatures, and his writing often lacks polish. Crosby's clunky direction make a play that clocks in at ninety minutes feel like three hours. These problems are somewhat mitigated by good acting, Lou Briggs serves up snappy music and splendid accompaniment on the piano, and stylish dancing by Barkia A. Croom and Jackie Marriot, proves that choreographer Anne Mesa has done her homework. (LE3)The Little Company Hollywood Civic Light Opera at Write Act Theatre, 6125 Yucca Ave., Hollywood; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through March 7. (323) 469-3113.

NEW REVIEW PICKOF THE WEEK BOHEMIAN COWBOY The original title of Raymond King Shurtz's one-man show was The Gospel of Irony- which would have been a particularly ironic title, had it stuck, since there's not a trace of irony in Shurtz's unwaveringly sincere family memoir. It's all to his efforts to understand the mystery of his father's disappearance three years ago. The elder Shurtz drove six miles into the Nevada desert in his pickup truck, got out and, evidently, started walking. And now the younger Shurtz is trying to fathom whether or not it was suicide, homicide and just some freak turn of events. The older man was not the best of fathers, his son explains through shards of poignant stories that are as compassionate as they are gracefully written, and spoken. And the father was feeling some humiliation from the physical after-effects of treatments for a form of cancer not specified in the play. The uncredited set contains raw wood slabs of some nondescript interior; when not showing family photographs, a video monitor overhead frames the action with an image of the boundless Mojave. Under Kurt Brungardt's tender direction, background sounds to Shurtz's fantastical mystery tour to the scene of his father's disappearance include howling wind, the rat-tat-tat of search-and-rescue helicopters. The father was a musician, and the son juxtaposes his saga with moving ballads from his memory, as well as his own original compositions. Near the beginning, Shurtz quotes William Styron saying that depression is the inability to grieve. Shurtz's performance is, indeed, a elegy, a theater-poem of Styron-esque insight and elegance. He describes his playwright mother as a poet, while his father was merely "poetical." He meets Jesus in the desert, a figure "with ebony eyes and crooked teeth," while Hamlet accompanies him for some of the drive across the expanse. Hamlet, he says, does not care for Shurtz's song honoring Ophelia. Shurtz performs all this with gentle, wistful intelligence that avoids pitfalls of moroseness and melodrama. Through this deeply personal story of fathers and sons, and marriages gone awry, Shurtz has stumbled onto a romantic allegory, not only for a man lost in the wilderness, but for a country, dangerously tipsy, swerving over the broken center-line of an open road, as though between nostalgia and despondency, beneath a canopy of stars. Elephant Lab Theatre, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perfs March 13-14); through March 21. (323) 960-7744. A Theatre 4S Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW BRIDEZILLA STRIKES BACK! In August of 2002, Cynthia Silver, a struggling actress, was informed by her wedding "event designer" that a British film company, September Films was creating a "documentary series" called "Manhattan Brides," that followed couples through the preparation of their nuptials. Her fiancé, Matt Silver (who still works as a production stage manager on Broadway), was less than impressed and, according to Cynthia's confession, said he didn't like the silky tone of the British producers, and didn't trust them. "It's a reality TV show," he told her. "No, hon," she replied, "It's a documentary series. It's like Nova, but about weddings." Similarly confusing "exposure" with "acting," she also believed that the experience might jump start her performing career. Silver performed her show in the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival; she's now visibly pregnant, and has regained the 15 pounds she says she lost after the gdocumentaryh was aired. Much of Bridezilla is pedestrian, as Silver regales us - on and around Giulio Perrone's wedding cake set piece - about her filmed hysterics while trying to find a wedding dress that would disguise her weight; and her spunky on-film ruminations about the cruel, exploitive ambitions of the wedding industry. Then comes the section that's irrefutably absorbing, when Silver finally realizes the betrayal that we've suspected all along. Months after filming has been completed comes the email from Britain that the gdocumentaryh has been sold to Fox, which is turning into a reality show. The core of her identity crisis is her obsession with what others think of her. As her husband aptly puts it, "Why do you care? They're idiots!" But she does care, and her endearing confession of the profound insight she's learned rings ever so slightly hollow through her tears. She is, after all, still doing this show, still confessing in front of strangers in a film and TV industry town. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-7774. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Stage Raw: Bohemian Cowboy


Bridezilla Strikes Back

BESOS Solo performance about domestic violence, by Adelina Anthony. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 860-7300.

DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3). Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 954-9795.


GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner), a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City. These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without "representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies. Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision, based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out," there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-1056.

ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

GO FILM Local playwright Patrick McGowan's new play has no right to be as good as it is. The central character is the late theater director Alan Schneider (Bill Robens) -- known for staging some of the best plays by Absurdist authors, including Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, and introducing almost all of Samuel Beckett's plays to the American stage. Film has no right to be so good because Schneider, in this play, is an insufferable, flailing bully. The play is Schneider's nightmare -- an Absurdist nightmare, naturally -- a comedy and inexplicably scintillating entertainment about artistic failure. This biographical story, set in 1965 New York, features Schneider trying to make a film from a screenplay by Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward), who has come to New York to work with Schneider. Joining them to star in the slogging, portentous film, also named Film (now regarded by some historians as a "masterpiece") is Beckett's favorite comedian, Buster Keaton (Carl J. Johnson), long past his prime, spiritually at ease with his station in life, and willing to play along with the clueless intellectuals and a film crew whose patience gets sorely tested. Ward's Beckett is a delightfully rueful, awkward and solitary figure, aching in vain (of course) for the affections of the star-struck yet savvy prop mistress (the lovely Deana Barone). Johnson's Keaton (Mandi Moss handily plays the comedian in his younger days) has a pleasingly bemused perspective on Schneider's insane temper tantrums. Framing the story are slivers of Waiting for Godot in both French and English, and, in another nod to Beckett, a vaudeville in front of a curtain, featuring a kind of Mutt and Jeff routine, here played out by Schneider and the source of his envy, director Mike Nichols (who grabbed the job directing the movie of Virginia Woolf), portrayed here as a figure of rare competence by Trevor H. Olsen. Despite his production being slightly too long, director Trevor Biship knows exactly what he's doing, astutely staging the action with supplementary archived film clips on Sarah Palmrose's emblematic set of a stage within a stage within a stage, each with its own curtain, and together depicting the multiple, clashing realities inside Schneider's tormented brain. (SLM) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 21. (323) 856-8611.

FLIGHT: THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH Garth Wingfield's bio-drama about the famous American aviator is more like a overstated, cautionary tale about the perils of being a celebrity. Rather than presenting a structured story with a plot or dramatic arc, the writer gives us a montage of scenes that come across like a collection of news headlines and interviews. Gerald Downey does a fine turn as the Everyman pilot, whose 1927 flight from New York to Paris gave him instant acclaim. And then there's the matter of the kidnapping of baby Charles, and Lindy's foot-in-mouth debacle as a Nazi sympathizer, all of which occurred in the span of 14 years, turning Lindbergh from hero to heel. Wingfield doesn't probe these events in depth, doesn't provide a meaningful context or perspective, which is too bad because we miss a true sense of Lindbergh and his life. (He was also an author, scientist and environmentalist.) Instead, the picture here is of a likable but cranky "aw-shucks," fellow slyly exploited by a bevy of rapacious reporters (played by Eric Charles Jorgenson), who is badly in need of a P.R. man. The acting is spotty at best, but Robin Roy is passable as Anne Lindbergh. James Carey provides good direction. (LE3) Attic Theater & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 14. (323) 525-0600.

FORKING! Daniel Heath's play, in which you, the audience, get to choose your own adventure. FYI: The full title is "Fork Off Down Your Own Forking Adventure Which You've Forked.". Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 962-0046.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

THE GRADUATE College grad gets his freak on, adapted by Terry Johnson, from the 1967 film and the Charles Webb novel. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 460-4443.

GRAND MOTEL The real star of Michael Sargent's new farce is the set - Chris Covics' stunningly realistic back yard of a Palm Springs men-only nudist motel, replete with lawn chairs and lawn, swimming pool containing little rubber duckies, the motel's stacco walls and a sliding door to the room facing the pool. Early in Act 1, aging "degenerate southern playwright" Cornelius Coffin (Dennis Christopher) staggers from that room into the 95 degree heat at 10 a.m., dressed in a white shroud, like Tennessee Williams or "like the men wear in Morocco." As though jolted by a surge of electricity, he flails backwards upon entering the heat, shielding his eyes from the glare and staggering back into his room to retrieve his sunglasses. It's one in a series of funny, small jokes, nicely staged by the author. Coffin is hiding from the East Coast premiere of his latest play, or at least hiding from the reviews that are due out any moment. There's a suicide pact he makes with a male model (Andy Hopper) who insists he has a girlfriend, while Coffin's so called friend, Maria St. Juiced (Shannon Holt), arrives by scaling an eight-foot wall. Holt offers a performances of nicely timed tics and wiggles that reveal her character's idiosyncratic insanity. Another wall-hopper is the local, prancing male escort (Nick Soper). The motel's co-owners (Craig Johnson and Erik Hanson) are struggling to keep the place afloat, though we hear that the competition across the street, another male nudist motel called The Deep End, is fully booked. Nice comedic cameos also by Bruce Adel and Nathaniel Stanton as an aging couple , respectively named Low Hangers and Papa Smurf, who come to P.S. to reinvigorate their otherwise flaccid love life. There is a plot about things not being what they seem, but this is essentially a comedy of manners. Sargent's structure is so languid that once the jokes about the atmosphere tumble away, the play is left wearing mere threads, not unlike its characters. (SLM) Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 28. (323) 466-7781.

HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept - stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast) and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper) entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original, perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . It's slightly paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming, that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly all profiles in courage. (SLM) Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 15. (323) 960-4443.

THE HIGH High school drama, "from OMG to LOL.". COMEDYSPORTZ, 733 N. Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 856-4796.

GOHOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.

NEW REVIEW THE INCREASED DIFFICULTY OF CONCENTRATION Absurdist playwright, militant anti-Communist and human rights advocate Vaclav Havel is unique as the only working playwright who was also a head of state: he was president of both Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. This piece, translated by Stepan S. Simek, centers on social scientist Dr. Edward Hummel (Scott Rognlien), who's writing an earnest treatise on the nature of happiness and human needs. In private life, however, he's an egocentric male chauvinist, liar and sexual philanderer. In addition to his neglected wife (Kristina Hayes), he has a flamboyant mistress (Sarah Wolter), and makes passes at his secretary (Whitney Vigil). He's also participating in a crack-brained research project conducted by the sex-starved academic Dr. Betty Balthazar (Amy Stiller), her odd-ball assistants (Steve Hamill and Eric Normington), her eccentric supervisor (Bobby Reed), and a temperamental computer named Putzig. Though all the absurdist elements are present -- a fractured chronology, emblematic characters and bizarre events -- it seems like a conventional sex comedy grafted onto a philosophical farce. Director Alex Lippard has assembled an able cast, and the results are often funny, but the play's over-schematic structure makes for arid patches. (NW) The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 28. Produced by The Next Arena. (323) 960-7788.

THE ISLAND South African prison drama by John Kani, Winston Ntshona and Athol Fugard. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 293-1356.

GO THE JAZZ AGE The title phrase, coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the desperate frivolity of the post WWI era, captures the spirit if not the style of Allan Knee's fascinating, melodramatic fantasy of life. The play shows the intersecting lives of Fitzgerald (Luke Macfarlane), his troubled southern belle wife Zelda (Heather Prete), and literary rival Ernest Hemingway (Jeremy Gabriel). Fitzgerald is at the apex of his career when he tries to woo the reluctant, soon-to-be poster boy for machismo into his world. Opposites in style, but with both being enthusiastic expats in Paris, the hard-drinking womanizers bond, spar and occasionally hint at urges toward homoeroticism through more than a decade of rocky friendship. With their live performance of exhilarating period (and some original) music, Ian Whitcomb and his Bungalow Boys punctuate much of the play. Director Michael Matthews and the fine cast follow Knee's heavy-handed writing with fierce dramatics that effectively play like the most overarching characterizations of 1940s plays by Tennessee Williams - with Prete's powerful Zelda resembling Blanche. Kurt Boetcher's set evocatively transforms The Blank's tiny space, pairing masculine wood frames with panels of effete Tiffany's blue. (TP) 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Bvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 661-9827. The Blank Theatre.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT Moises Kaufman's dramatization of the Matthew Shepard murder. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 465-0800.

LET THE EAGLE SOAR Merchandise Productions presents sketch comedy with a dash of video, music and dance. I.O. WEST, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 962-7560.

GO LIGHT UP THE SKY Moss Hart's sharp, hard-boiled 1946 farce is the quintessential backstage tale of the mid-20th century. His characters are often based on real people: fast-talking producer Sidney Black (Benjamin Burdick) and his sassy ice-skater wife, Frances (Andrea Syglowski), are almost certainly meant to suggest Mr. and Mrs. Billy Rose. The characters are types, but Hart transmutes them into archtypes, readily recognizable to those too young to remember the era they represent. We meet them in a hotel in Boston, where they're preparing for the out-of-town opening of a show they hope will go off "like a roman candle in the tired face of show business." There's the self-dramatizing star Irene (Laura Flanagan), her dim-bulb husband (Richard Michael Knolla), and her earthy, disenchanted mother (Barbara Schofield). The pretentious, over-emotional director (Colin Campbell) is said to cry at card-tricks, and the callow young playwright (Dominic Spillane) must undergo his theatrical baptism by fire. Hart's script crackles with wit and wise-cracks, and, under the clever direction of Bjorn Johnson, the laughter is near-constant on Victoria Profitt's art-deco set. Burdick is a dynamo of verbal pyrotechnics, and he's evenly matched by most of the cast, who make the most of Hart's cynical/sentimental Valentine to show business. (NW) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 7. (323) 882-6912.

LOVE BITES - VOLUME 8.0 Eight new plays debut in Elephant Theatre Company's annual short-form festival. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 960-4410.

GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 960-4442,

A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR Tennessee Williams' comedic drama about a woman awaiting matrimony. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 939-9220.

GO MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS The fury of reading through piles of crappy screenplays for exploitive wages has to be what motivated this vicious comedy series. As playwright Jon Robin Baitz once said, L.A. theater offers a response to the "toxicity of living in a company town," and Magnum Opus Theatre is a very strong response to just that. In director Joe Jordan's crisp as toast style, a company of nine performs this excruciating screenplay with unfettered mockery, with Your Host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe, a.k.a. "Thursty" (Brandon Clark, in red dinner jacket and the droll pomposity of Alistaire Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre) reading all the stage directions, including misspellings. This is the story of a chubby girl named Amber (Franci Montgomery, who is not chubby at all, which is part of the joke), abused like Cinderella by her beer-swilling aunt (CJ Merriman), who curses her, slaps her and calls her a pig -- a Punch and Judy show by any other name. Amber has a fantasy lover, the ghost of a Hollywood actor (Michael Lanahan) accidentally slain during the filming of a gangster gun battle. Through plot convolutions to tedious to enumerate, Amber winds up in Hollywood, in a movie about her travails, for which she receives an Academy Award. As the plot slid into its final trajectory, the crowd shouted out "noooooh", as it became cognizant of where this was heading. Any play can be ridiculed simply by employing theatrical devices used here: Whenever "Thursty" reads: "Jeff gives her a passionate kiss," Lanahan uses his fingers to withdraw a sloppy kiss from his mouth, which he then palms off to Montgomery's hand, who then slips the "kiss" into her blouse. But even this wildly presentation brand of theatrical ridicule can't disguise the artlessness of the dialogue and stage directions. What emerges through the event's cruelty, besides the mercifully unnamed screenwriter's ineptitude, is a portrait of the writer, for whom Amber is an obvious standin. As the lampoon wears itself out, we're left with something underneath that's gone beyond parody to the pathetic - the reasons that somebody would have written such a story in the first place, and the hollow, generic fantasies that serve as balm for her feelings of isolation. Watching this show is like watching well trained runners pushing somebody out of a wheelchair. That's a comic bit from old sketch TV shows, but 90 minutes of it leaves you feeling that the company's comic fury is so strong, and its skills so sharp, the joke has been propelled beyond its target to a very dark place indeed. (SLM) Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; through Feb. 27. (310) 281-8337.

GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer) and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more roll-with-the-punches pal. (DK) Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through March 8. (800) 595-4849. Note: Roles alternate.

THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 965-9996.

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Charles Ludlam's gothic horror farce. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 20. (323) 969-1707.

GOPOINT 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.

GO POOR, POOR LEAR In her one woman Shakespeare show-within-a-show, Nina Sallinen nearly triples her age to play a 90-year-old Finnish diva, returning to the stage after decades away to perform King Lear wit just a hat, a doll, and a flower to represent the king's three ill-fated daughters. The aged actress is seemingly in constant motion, thrilled to back in the spotlight, but her overactive mouth, her limbs and, on occasion, her mind are betraying her. When her stubborn legs and distracted brain cause her to freeze up on stage, it's as electric as her shock of white hair that shakes loose in wild directions. A solo performance of King Lear is a vanity piece, however cleverly slummed up with nice touches like the hairdryer Sallinen clicks on so that she can deliver the king's "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" speech into its tinny gale. But what's really at stake for the ancient drama queen is that her estranged daughters -- and the evening's guests of honor -- have instead gone to the movies, spinning her into a manic depression where she acknowledges the parallels between her characters and herself. A shattered second act soliloquy over-explains what we've enjoyed intuiting, but when Sallinen's actress drops her facade and asks the audience to see her for who she really is, the moment is so kinetic that we forget we're still looking at a fictional creation. (AN) The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 1. (818) 430-4835.

POPE JOAN Christopher Moore's musical (he wrote the book, lyrics and music), here directed and choreographed by Bo Crowell, hasn't quite been in development since 800 A.D., which is when the eponymous female pope (whose existence floats on rumor and speculation), but it must feel that way to the creators of a show that's been over a decade in the making. There are some really interesting ideas at the core here, but they're not brought into focus by Moore or Crowell. Priest "John" (a woman in disguise) lives a life of piety to God, which in her mind includes exercising her hearty libido, while the Church parades its wares in any number of different disguises. This all provides the possibilities of an intriguing fable about authenticity and artifice. What we're served up instead is a largely tedious historical epic about a naïve female child, tenderly played by Whitney Avalon, driven from England to a French monarch's bed. Through an intricate web of fortune and alliances, not to mention her uncanny skill to raise the dead, she gets elected Pope, under the name "John." (Yes, a few know her secret but have political reasons not to reveal it.) It takes until the middle of Act 2 for her actually to make it into Pontiff's garb, which is when her callowness comes to the surface; her insistence on feeding the peasants while she's surrounded by power-mongering clerics is not so far removed from politics in Washington right now. It it were about her naïve piety, this could be a musical remake of Shaw's St. Joan, but this work's larger purpose is too muddied to draw that conclusion. Moore seems so determined to tell a biographical-history (including opening, largely irrelevant sequences devoted to the fall of the Roman empire and the birth of Christianity, and one cumbersome chunk of expository backstory that rounds out Act 1). The effect of all this lumbering narrative, that includes dreadful, archaic dialogue, is that the one striking visual symbol of the central character, stripped and with a crucifix resting on her naked back, isn't really the essence of much that's actually being dramatized. There a six-piece band onstage that isn't well served by voices that can barely hold a tune (the chorales have the strongest effect), too many supporting actors have scant stage presence, Crowell's "choreography" is simply movement for non-dancers, and Brent Mason's set of medieval walls and platforms stifle the allegorical potential rather than giving it the flight of, say, Arthurian legend. Most of whatever glimmers of magic appears on the stage comes from Shon LeBlanc's gorgeous costumes. (SLM) Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 960-4412.

ROMEO AND JULIET Young lovers get all emo. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (800) 838-3006.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Tribute to the early years of SNL. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 465-0800.

SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 281-8337.

SIN, A CARDINAL DEPOSED Prosecutor demands answers from a cardinal about sexual abuse in his archdiocese, by Michael Murphy, based on actual court transcripts. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 2. (323) 960-4442.

SONGS TO OFFEND ALMOST EVERYONE Sharon McNight performs politically incorrect tunes, not the least of which is Chet Atkins' "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex.". Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 957-1884.

SOUTHERN GIRLS By Sheri Bailey and Duran Temple. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7822.

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.

YENTA: STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH Annie Korzen critiques life. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 460-4443.


NEW REVIEW AMERICAN GUILT Starting from the ending and then working its way back, Nick Mills' take on the Bonnie and Clyde archetype deals with 20-somethings who are searching for meaning in their lives and try to find it through acts of defiance. The story centers on the relationship between Sara (Liz Vital) and Jonah (Eduardo Porto Carreiro), the former a nymphomaniac who ironically refuses to curse and the latter a socially awkward depressive who has been seeing his therapist, Jane (Nicole DuPort), for seven years. Also in the mix are Sara's friends Evan (Jeff Irwin) and Hannah (Venessa Perdua), who end up as enablers in Sara and Jonah's scheme and as a result are grilled by Keller (Sean Spann), a police detective investigating the devastating results of it. While there are a few genuine moments of humor and introspection in the writing, most of it ends up sounding like a pseudo-intellectual whine punctuated by pop-culture debates, further exacerbated by the typical early-20s rapid-fire ADD-esque way in which much of it is delivered. Though Mills' directing his own work may have been a mistake, the cast members, especially Spann and DuPort, have good energy and throw themselves into the material fully. Theatre Unlimited Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 14. (847) 800-1762. A Vitality Productions Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Familytone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 2. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.


CALL ME MISTER FRY As a teacher, Jack Fry was once written up by an L.A. Unified bureaucrat for flourishing an elongated pink balloon in his classroom. The fifth grade instructor was accused of violating the district "zero tolerance for violence" policy; his job threatened, he ultimately escaped with a reprimand. The anecdote furnishes a highlight in Fry's solo piece based on his teaching experiences in South L.A., where beleaguered teachers cope daily with troubled kids on the one hand and administrative idiocy on the other. Much of this autobiographical chronicle focuses on Fry's relationship with two particular students to whom he reached out - Anthony, the disruptive offspring of two deaf-mute parents; and Jasmine, a needy child whose single mother could never find time to show up at school. The writer-performer also includes confidences about his own troubled romance and his personal struggles for self-fulfillment. Any veteran of an urban public school system (as I am) is sure to empathize, and Fry's wry self-deprecatory manner offers an engaging plus. His bristling references to "No Child Left Behind" also score points. Having said that, the story sometimes comes off disjointed; the script needs pruning, shaping and polishing, while the various characters Fry depicts could be more crisply delineated. Jeff Michalski directs. (DK) Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 899-2985.

GO THE DINING ROOM A.R. Gurney's engaging, bittersweet 1982 play details life in a dining room -- or, rather, several dining rooms -- inhabited by a multitude of characters. Short, overlapping vignettes transpire around a dining room table: a birthday party, illicit meetings, student projects, and, of course, family gatherings. Most of the bits present snapshots of family dynamics stressing the universality of what happens around a table, despite the WASPy leanings of the material. With minimal costume changes, the actors use vocal mannerisms to carve out distinct characters, often with physical transformations to suggest age and vitality. Particularly memorable vignettes include an architect trying to convince a psychiatrist to tear down the walls of the dining room to make an office, two teenagers drinking gin mixed with vodka and Fresca, a Thanksgiving dinner interrupted by a mentally failing matriarch and a student filming an old-fashioned aunt for an anthropology class. The events take place on Vandy Scoates expansive, well-appointed set, and the six actors (Matthew Ashford, Mimi Cozzens, Robert Briscoe Evans, James Greene, Tracy Powell and Amanda Tepe) all demonstrate colorful versatility. Kay Cole's fluid direction is most in evidence when vignettes overlap one another without distracting the audience from the dialogue. (SR) Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. thru March 1. (818) 765-8732. An Interact Theatre Company production.

NEW REVIEW GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes, and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife, Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter. Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative, borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke machine with a mind of its own. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Mar. 29. (818) 700-4878 (NW)

DRACULA Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's erotic take on Bram Stoker's vampire tale. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 22. (818) 508-7101.

HUNTER GATHERERS Though it poses as a Buñuelian comedy of manners, San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's broad suburban satire is to the Surrealist master's dissections of bourgeois hypocrisy what a baseball bat is to a surgeon's scalpel. Nachtrieb's comic meat is the venerable dinner party gone-bad. Pam (Sara Hennessy) and Richard (Doug Newell) play host to high-school chums Wendy (Vonessa Martin) and Tom (Steven Schub) to observe the couples' mutual, twelfth wedding anniversary. That there is little to celebrate becomes quickly apparent. The priapic, ex-jock Richard is an insatiable carnivore with a literal blood lust (the play opens with him slaughtering a lamb on the living room floor for the evening roast) that disgusts the sexually repressed Pam. The concupiscent, maternally frustrated Wendy loves flesh (especially, as it turns out, Richard's), much to the dismay of the salad-eating, sexually impotent Tom. If such unlikely marital mismatches and simmering sexual yearnings are the stuff of comic dynamite, Nachtrieb never finds the fuse. Blame an overdeveloped taste for the obvious. Nachtrieb's characters are too immediately transparent and one-note; they muster neither the dignity to feed a farce nor the dimensionality to sustain the most superficial of sitcoms. Director Dámaso Rodriguez's puzzling inability to stage the surfeit of visual and physical gags allows the audience to get so far ahead of the punch lines the laughter never quite catches up. (BR) Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (626) 356-PLAY. A Furious Theatre Company production.

THE ILLUSTRATED BRADBURY Tobias Andersen's (non-tattooed) solo performance piece, inspired by Ray Bradbury's story The Illustrated Man. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 960-4429.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show's efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and - with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers' questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow's intense Kazan, Mary McDonald's bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone's flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi's sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner's non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. (DK) Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (866) 811-4111.

IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.

LA RONDE Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (818) 500-7200.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Roger Corman's carnivorous-plant musical, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (818) 508-3003.

A LOVELY PLACE FOR A PICNIC Ladislav Smocek's antiwar play, reset in the jungles of Vietnam by Pavel Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru March 24. (866) 811-4111.

MISCONCEPTIONS Seven short plays by Art Shulman. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.

NOSE TALES The Zombie Joe Underground sniffs out "five lovable fools.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 19. (818) 202-4120.

GO A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Playwright Martin McDonagh -- a four time Tony nominee is known for his rhythmic, ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with past grievances that neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't even involve them. Here, a part time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney), are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered how she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say, flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the killer that could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story; the focus is on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spins itself into an obsession with fairness where characters glower," Now I have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull down set converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as Higgin's thighs are thick. (AN) Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.

NEW REVIEW TARTUFFE As Madame Pernelle (Judith Scarpone) is giving her imperious farewell lecture to the family, parading in a peach pantsuit with flowing scarves (costumes by Leah Piehl), about a dozen of her suitcases drop from the rafters. They hit with violent thuds, eliciting a blithe response from the family. Such is the lunacy in this present-day San Fernando Valley suburb (set by Ken McKenzie), modernized by director Josh Chambers from Moliere's 17th century Parisian estate setting. Meanwhile, Pernelle's son and master of the house, Orgon (Tim Cummings), stands on a platform high in the sky, dressed like a CIA agent and being caressed by an identically dressed twin, white-gloved figure in a grey ski mask. The double is the interloper-impostor Tartuffe (Antonio Anagaran). Orgon speaks all of Tartuffe's lines through a microphone, so that the pair are entwined psychologically as well as physically. Their movements are a kind of choreographed duet, and Chambers' direction contains many operatic elements. Though the physicalization simply renders austere what's more amusing (and self-evident) in Moliere's baroque farce - that Tartuffe is a demon who resides inside Orgon's soul - it's nonetheless one of many absorbing theatrical conceits. Another is the complicating reality that Pernelle's family is here lost in space. Granddaughter Mariane (Megan Heyn) lounges forlornly on one of the lawn chairs, inhaling fumes from aerosol cans that lie scattered at her feet. She's also in the habit of cutting herself - perhaps in response to the news that her insane father is pushing her to marry his beloved Tartuffe (i.e. himself?) -- yet Mariane's self-mutilation reveals layers of depressions that would go back years. Curiously, this gives some validity to Pernelle's screed against the family's spiritual malaise. Even Cleante (Matt Foyer) - Orgon's brother-in-law and the play's voice of reason - gives his nicely rendered if slightly tedious advice while lounging and swilling martinis. So we have an unhinged household threatened by the menacing hypocrisy of a pious zealot, whose appearances are accompanied by the dull rumble of Nathan Ruyle's sound design. Moliere's comedic indignation has been boiled down to a slightly glib nihilism. Donald Frame's faithful and full-bodied verse translation is completely at odds with Chambers' staging. The rhyming comes filled with whimsy, yet Chambers is tone-deaf to the humor inherent in the text. Moliere's is a humor of behavior; Chambers' is the humor of despondency. One almost wishes that Chambers would be bolder - staging a meditation on the play rather than the play itself, an opera based on the text rather than the full text itself. What we have instead is bloated austerity - a meringue pie filled with air, yet layered with steak and beans and banana cream. Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (626) 683-6883. (Steven Leigh Morris)

THE TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS Playwright Jonathan Tolins's drama of ethics is part moral debate and part family tragedy, in which righteousness comes into direct conflict with pragmatism. On Manhattan's Upper West Side, a young married couple allow their unborn child to undergo an experimental genetics test. The test comes back positive positive for probable homosexuality, that is. Much to the shock of wife's artistic gay younger brother, the couple seriously considers aborting the infant, rather than raise a gay son. Although director T.K. Kolman's straightforward production aptly conveys the subtext of hostility and mutual incomprehension lurking beneath the apparently happy family's relations, the staging often lacks nuance and comes across as stodgy. (PB). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 14. (800) 838-3006.

URBAN DEATH: A NEW DARKNESS Zombie Joe's "theatrical thrill ride of terrors, taboos and trepidations.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 7. (818) 202-4120.

NEW REVIEW GO WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Too often, fine actors with disabilities are barred from playing the roles their talents merit, so Blue Zone Theatre was founded to offer them opportunities that don't exist elsewhere. The result, in this case, is an eloquent and powerful production of Edward Albee's modern classic. It's undeniably disconcerting at first, to discover that three out of the four actors are visibly disabled. But we soon get past that, and this production is in many ways superior to the overly cozy one at the Doolittle Theatre a few years ago, with John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson, directed by Albee himself. These actors play from the gut, and the small theatre enables them to be subtle. There are tricky moments, as when the ditsy young wife Honey (Teal Sherer), seated in her wheelchair, declares, "I love to dance. I dance like the wind." But she makes it work, doing "interpretive" wheeling and zooming round the stage. Ann Colby Stocking, who's given us excellent work in the past, is an impassioned and brassy Martha, Jack Patterson keeps the fires raging beneath George's seeming submissiveness, Sherer finds ample comedy as the brandy-swilling Honey, and Paul Haitkin captures Nick's smug arrogance as well as his vulnerability. Noho Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 1. (323) 960-7711. (Neal Weaver)


BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's story of a woman dealing with the death of her gay best friend. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (310) 397-3244.

CAMPING Enrico Mario Falconi's poetic drama about a group of mountain hikers. (In Italian, with a pre-show synopsis in English.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Through Feb. 28, 8 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.


Friday night bill of its festival of new plays, Alive Theatre shows a

dogged determination to fathom the unfathomable Big Questions, through

Spartan theatricality and Absurdist jokes. Anthony Cretara and Jasper

Oliver's "The Adventure Play or Keep Them Babies Outta My Soup," is a

fairy tale - our Kierkegaard-quoting narrator (Calli Dunaway) holds a

wand, I think - that follows an earnest and bewildered traveler named

Zozza (nice turn by Jessica Culaciati) looking for his medieval

village, which is some place not like not unlike Oz. Zozza befriends a

Man (Eddie Chamberlain) who, with some jollity, considers the benefits

of smashing open his brain with the hook end of a hammer. In in a nifty

sliver of theatrical invention by director Jeremy Aluma, he does just

that, letting loose a demon (the rotund and jocular Paul Knox) - a

fellow who speaks with a Scottish brogue and refers to his own

"Mediterranean" dialect. With its cast of nine, the delightfully loony

one-act contains an internal battle between pretentiousness and farce.

The farce wins. There's also a shadow puppet play within the play,

designed by Robin Bott. Ryan McClary's "Under the Great Booby Hatch"

concerns a dissident radio host (Jasper Oliver) broadcasting from a

clandestine desert location and, with his tormented idealistic

assistant (Rebecca Patrick) is wrestling with the ethics of lying on

air, in order to boost pathetic ratings. In so doing, the play examines

the larger ramifications and ironies of truth-telling and story-telling

to a nation of loons. With its cartoon aesthetic, in settles upon the

view that there's redemption in craziness, that insanity is the only

reasonable response to the world as it is. Director Mike Dias works

with a devoted ensemble, though Oliver needs to stop mumbling, or the

playwright's point is just so much dead air. Royal Theatre on the Queen

Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach; in rep, Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m. (pre

show band plays at 7:30 p.m.); through March 8. (562) 508-1788. or An Alive Theatre production (Steven Leigh


CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY James M. Cain's noir thriller, adapted by Kathrine Bates. (In rep with Violet Sharp, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 15. (310) 364-0535.

GO FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family's isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin's wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen ten years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George's parents just happen to be out for the evening -- and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man. , who afterwards falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde's pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda's three act comedy occasionally falls pray to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox's psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner's gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship. Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man's memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks' inscrutable older beauty. (PB) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 28. (310) 822-8392.

HAMLET, THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE OF DENMARK Shakespeare's tragedy set to the music of Prince. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., March 14, 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 985-5526.

THE IMMIGRANT Mark Harelik's story of his Russian grandparents. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-4418.

INTIMATE APPAREL Lynn Nottage's story of an illiterate African-American seamstress. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (562) 494-1014.

LAUGH-OUT Tribute to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 433-3363.

LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 822-8392.

MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 28. (866) 468-3399 or Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

OUR LEADING LADY Charles Busch's comedy about the thespians at Lincoln's assassination. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar, Palos Verdes Peninsula; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (310) 378-9353.

TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue, and hilarious, yet believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's other plays, at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a run down Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly kitten-like Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that, although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. (PB) Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 477-2055.

NEW REVIEW THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy predates Neil Strauss' The Game by 400 years, during which audiences have yet to decide whether he's confirming or slyly eviscerating gender roles. (In this only recently post-Guantanamo climate, breaking Kate with starvation and sleeplessness and temporal disorientation seems less comic.) This staging seems more concerned with mounting a handsome production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stooges-style slapstick while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The set's minimal props and checkerboard floor underscore the sense of rootlessness - with characters standing by without much to do in a scene, the large ensemble looks like game pieces waiting to move. The cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those that choose naturalism fare best, particularly Geoffrey Owen's intelligent Tranio and Stehlin's shrew-taming Petruchio, who has the easy confidence of Clark Gable. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 26. (310) 477-2055. An Odyssey Theatre/Circus Theatricals production

   The Taming of the Shrew

NEW REVIEW GO THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE In May 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan (Andrew E. Wheeler ) and eight other peace activists seized 378 draft documents and publicly burned them with napalm to protest the Vietnam War and other American government atrocities. Drawing on court transcripts, this play is an account of their trial, which ended in conviction and prison terms for all defendants. The script - Saul Levitt's stage adaptation of Berrigan's original verse rendition - lays out an impassioned argument for following the dictates of one's conscience, even when it involves breaking the law. Each defendant relays what spurred them to take action: a nurse (Paige Lindsey White) who witnessed American planes bomb Ugandan villages, burning children, a couple in Guatemala (Patti Tippo and George Ketsios) who saw American money used to outfit the police while peasants starved, an Alliance for Progress worker (Corey G. Lovett) who became privy to CIA machinations in the Yucatan. Taking it all in is the presiding judge (Adele Robbins). Her sympathies, reflecting ours, lean toward the defendants, even as she rules against them. Under Jon Kellam's direction, cogent performances successfully counteract the script's didactic language and cumbersome progression, even though Robbins' performance lacks nuance. Perhaps most disturbing is the piece's reminder that the aggression and subterfuge of the Bush Administration constituted not a reversal of past policy, but a radicalized extension of it. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 838-4264. (Deborah Klugman)

UNBROKEN CIRCLES Greg Phillips' story of country-music clan the Moss Family Singers. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 477-2055.

VIOLET SHARP Playwright William Cameron structures his melodrama around a police inspector's obsessive pursuit of a kidnapping confession from Charles Lindbergh Violet's domestic Violet Sharp. The play scores points for its observations about women and class, but random blocking, gratuitous videography, a drab set and indifferent lighting underscore the more pivotal problems with the acting and David Coleman's direction. (DK). (In rep with Double Indemnity, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (310) 364-0535.


THE HAPPY ONES Staged reading of Julie Marie Myatt's story of a hardware-store owner and a Vietnamese refugee, circa 1975 Orange County. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Mon., March 2, 7:30 p.m.. (714) 708-5555.

LETTERS TO A STUDENT REVOLUTIONARY Correspondence between pen pals, one Chinese, one Chinese-American, culminating in the Tiananmen Square massacre, by Elizabeth Wong. Proceeds benefit Amnesty International. National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 111 N. Central Ave., L.A.; Sat., Feb. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 1, 3 & 7:30 p.m.. (310) 594-3068.

SETH MACFARLANE The guy behind Family Guy reveals his inner Stewie in this creative-process confession. Cal State Long Beach, Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Sat., Feb. 28, 8 p.m.. (562) 985-7000.

SHOSHINZ & TEN WEST Japanese comedy duo meets American comedy duo. On Tokyo maids Shoshinz: "They will not clean your house, but they will blow your mind.". Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; March 5-6, 8 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.


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