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Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street


Cover Story on LATE's The War Cycle


2011 MARK TAPER FORUM SEASON ANNOUNCED

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

John Lithgow Photo by Nigel Perry


John Lithgow will ring in the New Year spinning yarns in Stories By Heart, previously produced at the Lincoln Center and at the National Theatre of Great Britain.  Jane Fonda stars in Moisés Kaufman's 33 Variations (to be performed at the Ahmanson). The docket also includes Lanford Wilson's Burn This and Theresa Rebeck's family drama, The Novelist. Closing the season is Morris Panych's Vigil, directed by the author and starring Olympia Dukakis "in a clever pas de deux that re-defines the word droll"

CITY GARAGE BIDS FAREWELL TO THE ALLEY BEHIND THE MALL

City Garage artistic director Frederique Michel said that due to a major funder ceasing subsidy to the company next year, 2010 will mark the final year of the theater at its Fourth Street, Santa Monica location, that it's held for 15 years. Charles Mee's Paradise Park will be the closing production there. Relocation plans for 2011 are unclear, at this point.

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 27-Sept. 2, 2010


Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III,

Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman,

Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis

Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by

Derek Thomas

Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following

cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller

Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller

Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for

any play by title, using your computer's search engine.

OPENING THIS WEEK

ASIMPROV from Tyrone Giordano's workshop., $10. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sept. 2-4, 8 p.m....

THE CLEAN HOUSE "Sarah Ruhl's unpredictable and sublime rumination on

the importance of laughter and mess in our lives.". International City

Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens Aug. 27; Fri.; Sat.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (562) 436-4610.

LAST FARE A one-man mystery written and performed by Dominic

Hoffman., $20. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat., Aug.

28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 2, 8 p.m.. (310)

306-1854.

THE MEN OF MAH JONGG Richard Atkins' comedy about four mature Jewish

men finding happiness through the ancient Chinese game of mah jongg.

Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly

Hills; opens Sept. 1; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26.

(310) 364-0535.

NAACP FESTIVAL OF 10-MINUTE PLAYS Produced by the Beverly

Hills-Hollywood NAACP., $10. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring

St., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 3 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 3 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.

NEIGHBORS Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' story of a family of rowdy actors

who move next door to an upwardly mobile academic. Directed by Nataki

Garrett., $25. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28,

7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 2:30 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.. (323)

852-1445.

PHI'LA Jamal Y. Speakes' musical addressing "overwrought racial

contention" between friends, centered on a black teenager who moves

from Philadelphia to L.A., $20. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S.

Spring St., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.

SACRED FOOLS' CREEPY CARNIVAL! Carny-style madness to kick off the

company's 14th season., $15. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope

Dr., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

SURFIN' TIKI VARIETY SHOW Stories, music, acts and art from the

Captured Aural Phantasy Theater crew., $10. The WHERE Gallery, 1519

Griffith Park Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m....

TAPE Stephen Belber's acclaimed three-person motel-room drama,

directed by Joelle Arqueros., $20. Bill Becker's NoHo Stages, 4934

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 2; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.;

thru Sept. 30. 323-839-0023.

TITUS REDUX Circus Theatricals and Not Man Apart Physical Theatre

Ensemble co-produce this high-energy adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.

Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens Aug.

29; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (213) 628-2772.

TRANSITIONS A trilogy of one-acts dealing "ordinary people

struggling with a call from God"., $20. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514

S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.

THE WOMEN Short stories by L.A.'s "best female writers . . .

performed by top film, television and stage actors.". MBar Supper Club,

1253 N. Vine, L.A.; Fri., Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m....

CONTINUING PERFORMANCESIN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

GO FREE MAN OF COLOR A young, well-spoken and

highly educated black man is tapped to become the leader of a nation.

But it's not who you think. The year is 1828, the place is Athens,

Ohio, and the man is John Newton Templeton (Kareem Ferguson), a freed

slave whose education is facilitated by the Rev. Robert Wilson (Frank

Ashmore). Wilson, a strictly principled man, enrolls John in Ohio

University. Wilson's wife, Jane (Kathleen Mary Carthy), initially cold

to Templeton when he comes to live with them, softens over time;

however, she plants doubts in Templeton's head about Wilson's plan to

make him the governor of Liberia. Charles Smith's spare three-character

study unfolds through intimate moments and intellectual discourse,

powerfully examining the issues of its day, as well as questions

surrounding citizenship and belonging, which continue to occupy us. The

dialogue is especially refreshing for its crisp diction, for which the

credit goes to both the cast and director Dan Bonnell. The show also

appeals visually, as David Potts' set, consisting of stark silhouettes,

brings to mind both the popular 18th century portraiture and African

woodcuts. Similarly, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's authentically plain

costumes avoid the dual pitfalls of theatrical period garb, which is

often either too showy or simply looks fake. The cast is stellar all

around, taking us on a journey that stresses the urgency of fulfilling

the promises upon which our country was built. (Mayank Keshaviah).

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (818) 558-7000.

HAMLET It's anyone's guess what vision might have guided director

Ellen Geer's fervent but unfocused, Medieval-dress version of

Shakespeare's most baroque and psychologically nuanced tragedy. There's

certainly little hint of the Oedipal undercurrents or political

allegorizing that have been a mainstay of 20th-century productions. Nor

is there much sign of the paralyzing conflict between faith in purpose

and intellectual certainty, which traditionally drives its hero's

famously agonized inaction. In the case of Mike Peebler's Hamlet,

neither his mission nor its justness ever seems in doubt; Peebler

attacks the role with the zeal and righteous wrath of the recently

converted. Even his soliloquies are delivered at the audience as if

from a pulpit. Gertrude (Melora Marshall) in turn appears more pissed

off at her son's increasingly antic disposition than aggrieved by what

it might imply about his sanity. Claudius (Aaron Hendry), by contrast,

comes off as positively good-natured, a guy caught with his hand in the

cookie jar rather than his fingerprints all over a nefarious regicide.

Willow Geer is convincing as a feisty yet vulnerable Ophelia, though

even here the method of her madness seems more a response to the murder

of Polonius (a very broad Carl Palmer) than any jilting by Hamlet.

Director Geer keeps it all moving at a fast clip, but some

exasperatingly eccentric blocking divides the focus of too many

critical turning points -- most egregiously in the mousetrap scene --

all but obliterating their dramatic purpose. (Bill Raden). Will Geer

Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Aug.

28, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 3:30 p.m.; Sat.,

Sept. 18, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 5 p.m.;

Sat., Oct. 2, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

LIFE COULD BE A DREAM Writer-director Roger Bean's doo-wop jukebox

musical. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach;

Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29.

(949) 497-2787.

GO LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE Ilene Beckerman's

book, on which Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron based their "intimate

collection of stories," is the kind you'd grab from the display near

the register at a Barnes and Nobles, to serve as a dressy envelope for

a birthday check to your goddaughter or an upgraded Mother's Day card.

But if the recipient read it instead of tossing in onto a pile of

similarly gifted minibooks, she'd find a classy little number, a J.

Peterman catalog minus the pretentiousness. With sparse text and

barebones sketches, Beckerman records her history through the clothes

she and her female relatives wore. Director Jenny Sullivan constructs

the stage version in much the same way: The star-studded ensemble wears

black (there's an ode to the color, every woman's old faithful) while

sitting in a straight line; and Carol Kane, who reads as Beckerman,

handles the main prop, a "closet" full of the book's renderings

situated on wire clothes hangers. But this is Nora Ephron, and

chumminess quickly trumps austerity. The scenes themselves are

ruminations on relationships thinly veiled as (mostly) funny riffs on

clothes -- Tracee Ellis Ross almost runs away with the show every time

the spotlight's hers but particularly so with "The Shirt." Kane, who

must be one of the most endearing actors ever, dances her monologues'

transitions so delicately and adroitly you can only marvel. There are a

couple of moments ("The Bathrobe," "Brides") during which all but those

with a particularly voracious emotional appetite will find themselves

choking on the syrup. Fortunately, though, the Ephron sisters have

nimbly stitched together the scenes so that there's far more head

nodding than eye rolling. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Geffen Playhouse, 10886

Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8

p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (310) 208-5454.

NEW REVIEW GO

MASTER CLASS

In the wooded Theatricum Botanicum, though

the crickets are competing to hit the high "C," they can't rattle Ellen

Geer's imperious turn as Maria Callas -- the soprano is used to swatting

down her rivals. Today, her targets are the overconfident Julliard

students in her master class: they're too soft, too simple. When it

comes to la Divina and her precious time, these three coeds (Elizabeth

Tobias, Meaghan Boeing and Andreas Beckett) can't win. Weak voices are

an insult, better voices an affront. Would you expect hugs from a

scrapper who saw even the audience as her enemy? Terrence McNally's

fanged comedy is gleeful schadenfreude when Callas destroys these

hopefuls and burnishes her own legend but sublime when discussing the

art of opera -- after she's shredded the students' egos, she gifts them

a foundation to rebuild. But while director Heidi Helen Davis helps

Geer sharpen her knives, both are lost in McNally's too on-the-nose

inner monologues. These are meant to expose Callas' vulnerability,

particularly in her memories of Aristotle Onassis, who by the play's

setting had already dumped the diva for Jackie Kennedy. Here, these raw

pains ring like fluttery pop psychology -- if Callas heard them, she'd

shriek. "This isn't just opera, this is your life," she commands, and

like Tosca and Medea, she is the heroine of her own tragedy. Will Geer

Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Aug.

28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat.,

Sept. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 4 p.m.

(310) 455-3723. (Amy Nicholson)

NEW REVIEW GO

ON THE VERGE (OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF YEARNING)

When you receive the hieroglyphic text,

"omg r u going to b here l8r?" from your mother, not your preteen

cousin, the days of spitting at the spelling of "Quik," or "E-Z," seem

positively quaint. Indeed, "language takes a beating in the future,"

says Harriet Whitmyer as Fanny, one of three spirited, prefeminist

explorers in Eric Overmyers' time-tripping, word-whirling play. For

those greedy geeks of us who've always gobbled sentences faster than

they're written, Overmyer offers the equivalent of a buffet table

buckling under the weight of one of each of Jonathan Gold's "99 Things

to Eat in L.A. Before You Die": All deserve your undivided attention,

but the next tastes equally as delicious as the last. Yet the true coup

is that Overmyer actually says something with all those lovely words.

Though the women (a terrific Anna Kate Mohler and Susan E. Taylor

complete the trio) are trekking -- lustily, not fearfully -- through

"terra incognita," they are unmitigatedly familiar with their internal

ranges. This is an Eden where women can take nips of liquor from their

own flasks, eat "bear chops and moose mousse" and wield knives and guns

with the ease of gangsters, while simultaneously bemoan "life without a

loofah" and sweat over the sight of a man (the funny Diego Parada).

Fear steadily increases, as the future begins to tumble into their

consciousnesses but so does their inclination to embrace it, for better

or worse. Daniel Bergher's and Sean Gray's light and sound designs

nicely complement the dialogue-thick script. Andrew Vonderschmitt

directs. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.; Long Beach.

Fri.-Sat., 8:00 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through September 18. (562)

494-1014 (Rebecca Haithcoat)

SMOKE & MIRRORS Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera's mystery, set

on a desert island filming location. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E.

Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (562)

494-1014.

SPEAK OF ME AS I AM It's easy to understand why singers and dramatic

artists would want to portray the legendary Paul Robeson. Actor,

athlete, intellect and man of principle, Robeson fearlessly battled for

justice -- and paid the price. This solo show, featuring opera baritone

KB Solomon, meshes some of the highlights of Robeson's life with

renditions of the songs ("Old Man River," "Going Home") for which he's

most famous. The (uncredited) script relays information about Robeson's

life in no particular order but repeatedly returns to his battle with

HUAC's hearings and their painful aftermath. Directed by Jeffrey

Anderson-Gunter, Solomon (whose bio lists music credits but no acting)

spins an expository monologue that remains on the surface and seems

most suitable for youthful audiences unfamiliar with the material.

Designer Michael Boucher has crafted a low-budget but attractive set,

and Joyce S. Long's lighting adds professional sheen. (Deborah

Klugman). Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Through Sept. 5.; thru Aug. 29. (323)

960-5772.

THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer

Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Fri., 8

p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30

p.m.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723.

apertickets.com/event/121721. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW GO

A WITHER'S TALE

The Troubadour Theatre Company, led by

writer-director and chief jester Matt Walker, is renowned for witty

mash-ups of Shakespeare with pop tunes. Watching this lampoon of A

Winter's Tale and Bill Withers, die-hard Troubie fans may lament the

less-than-usual ratio of comedy to drama. Combining a handful of

Withers' gentle pop hits with Shakespeare's problematic play (is it a

drama? is it a romantic comedy?) makes for a more low-key experience

than usual. Echoing Othello, an irrationally jealous King (Matt Walker)

incarcerates his pregnant wife, Hermione (Monica Schneider), on

suspicion of fraternizing with his best friend, King Polixenes (Matt

Merchant), and orders the execution of their baby girl. The somber saga

builds to Walker's showstopping rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine,"

enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's elegant lighting design. Clocking in at 90

minutes (no intermission), this show's strength lies in the plaintive

musical numbers. The five-strong band is superb and features some

haunting underscoring and solos from John Krovoza on cello and violin.

The entire cast sing, harmonize and dance exquisitely -- credit Ameenah

Kaplan for her deceptively simple yet tight choreography. Sets for a

Troubie show are typically spartan, which makes Sharon McGunigle's

luscious period costumes particularly noteworthy. Falcon Theatre, 4252

Riverside Drive, Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through

September 26. (818) 955-8101. A Troubadour Theatre Company production

(Pauline Adamek)

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

AS THE GLOBE WARMS Solo performer Heather Woodbury creates elaborate worlds. For her performance What Ever,

Woodbury elasticized herself into 100 characters for a sprawling

American epic. This follow-up is a semi-political soap opera that will

run a new installment every weekend for three months, and, gauging by

its launch, Woodbury's interested in charting the rise and fall of the

artistic class and the crystallization of the divide between the two

Americas. On the 4th of July 1985, a cowed girl picks up a video camera

and discovers she's an artist; 25 years later, she's dead and her

brother is attempting to describe her archive of tapes to a barbecue of

gentrified Californian creatives who deign to do their own sculpting

rather than hiring interns for the "dirty" work. On the other coast, a

preacher, his shrewish Tea Party wife and their daydreamy teen daughter

fret about the BP oil spill and a species of endangered frogs that

might prevent them from expanding their church's parking lot. Woodbury

has little patience for both blues and reds and loves to skewer the of

hypocrisies of both camps. To help her stay true to her own voice, she

could use a director (none is credited) to help her shape and simplify

her frantic character changes; she has a capable range of accents but

spends scenes shifting wildly around in her chair to make sure we're

following who's who. Besides the chair, the only prop onstage is a

handycam that records each episode for the internet and streams it live

on a screen against the wall. It's unclear yet if the distraction will

prove purposeful, but what's certain from the starting gate is that the

enthusiastic Woodbury has energy for miles (and months). (Amy

Nicholson). Echo Curio, 1519 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

Oct. 2. (213) 977-1279.

ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings

Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30

p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

NEW REVIEW GO

CHESS IN CONCERT

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

Photo by Gabriel Griego

This rock opera, with lyrics by Tim Rice,

book by Richard Nelson, and music by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus

of ABBA, was first produced as a concept album. Now, after a number of

unsatisfactory theatrical variations, Rice has wisely named the concert

version as the official one. Like the game of chess, the show is

abstract, and the concert version matches that, putting the focus on

the characters, their emotional conflicts and the virtuosity of the

performers. The action is set at the international chess championship

matches. Act 1 pits Soviet champ Anatoly (Peter Welkin) against the

willful, petulant, show-boating American, Frederick (Blake McIver

Ewing). Anatoly wins but immediately defects to England, setting the

stage for the dynamic Act 2. Defector Anatoly is pitted against a

high-powered Soviet player (Christopher Zenner). Soviet official

Molokov (Gregory North) is hell-bent on making sure the disloyal

Anatoly loses and will do anything to make realize that outcome,

including psychological warfare, blackmail and ruthless meddling with

the personal lives of Anatoly, his estranged wife (Emily Dykes) and his

Hungarian girlfriend, Florence (Nicci Claspell). Director Robert Marra

provides a crisply elegant production, musical director/conductor Greg

Haake impeccably renders the challenging score, and the performers are

terrific, including Gil Darnell, Rich Brunner and the excellent chorus.

Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through

August 29. (323) 960-7735. Produced by The Musical Theatre of Los

Angeles. (Neal Weaver)

COMEDY DETH RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

EAT THE RUNT A satirical comedy written by Avery Crozier, where

office politics, sexual harassment, religion, political correctness,

and societal and cultural norms are all up for grabs. In each

performance audiences decide what roles the actors will play. Theatre

of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs..; thru Sept. 9.

(323) 856-8611.

THE EINSTEIN PROJECT Paul d'Andrea and Jon Klein's atomic bomb play. Plus: The Face of Jizo

by Hisashi Inoue. Junction Theatre, Barbarella Neighborhood Bar &

Kitchen, 2609 N. Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

thru Sept. 4, brownpapertickets.com...

THE EXERCISE Lewis John Carlino's 1968 play centers on a series of

improvisations, conducted by the Actor (Daniel LaPratt, alternating

with Keith Wyffels) and the Actress (Anadel Baughn, alternating with

Susan Hanfield) in an attempt to solve some troubling acting problems.

Initially, it seems they're only casual acquaintances, but as they

work, it becomes clear that they have had a traumatic personal

relationship. Soon, they are at loggerheads in an age-old conflict:

He's concerned with simulating emotion to show the audience, while she

wants to use her acting to explore her own identity and achieve

gut-level emotional truth. He regards her as a self-indulgent emotional

masturbator, and she sees him as a coward who can never allow himself

to lose control. Eventually, she challenges him to meet her on her

terms. Though the premise is a fascinating one, the production doesn't

always work. Baughn is constantly convincing, but it's not until Act 2

that LaPratt achieves the same emotional conviction. And there's

something murky here, whether it's inherent in the script or due to a

lack of clarity in director Kenn Schmidt's production. Nevertheless,

the piece is always interesting to watch, and there's excellent work

from both actors. (Neal Weaver). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 29,

plays411.com/theexercise. (323) 960-7724.

FIRST LOOK FESTIVAL OF NEW Schedule at openfist.org. Open Fist

Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Sept. 18. (323)

882-6912.

FLAT: A PLAY ABOUT SMALL BREASTS AND EVERYTHING ELSE THAT'S GREAT IN

LIFE In a tween's world, having or not having breasts is usually the

first experience of the grass being greener. For every generously

gifted fifth grader covertly and desperately binding her rapidly

blooming chest with an Ace bandage, there's a Judy Blume character

begging God for "something" to fill her training bra. Ellen Clifford

never received that something. Heavily influenced by Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues,

Clifford's autobiographical show recounts past and present episodes,

most of which gleefully celebrate her breasts, or lack thereof. The

problems arise less from the subject matter -- several of the

monologues could run as essays on the popular sort-of feminist Web

site, Jezebel -- than with the adolescent-awkward construction and

execution. She employs accents where none are needed (the "these my ho

boots" bit, confusing in that it's supposed to introduce her struggle

with anorexia, is especially cringe-inducing, bordering on offensive)

and interacts with the audience by passing around the gel inserts from

her push-up bra. Given that this is a show about, well, her, Clifford

seems surprisingly uncomfortable throughout the performance, which is

exacerbated by a clenched-teeth gaiety. Neither do the two unnecessary

performers accompanying her -- the precise, talented mime, Mitchel

Evans, and director Lora Ivanova, who only serve to slow the

already-bumpy pace -- benefit her. Though some refreshing confessionals

("I'm a terrible Dolly Parton impersonator," she says after

lip-synching "9 to 5") provide a smile here and there, ultimately the

show feels as artificial as a boob job. (Rebecca Haithcoat). The Black

Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

Aug. 28...

GO FOUR PLACES The family outing on display in

Joel Drake Johnson's unsettling comedy resembles a gathering of ornery,

wounded jackals. Siblings Warren (Tim Bagley) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart)

motor to their parents' Chicago home to take their diminutive,

gray-haired mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) out for a what is presumably a

pleasant lunch. At first blush, this seems innocent enough, but

something about Ellen's painful, labored smile as she hugs the wheel,

and Warren's cold, mummified expression, suggest that something is

amiss. It isn't long before the moral underbelly of this clan emerges

along with some ugly revelations. Mom's harmless exterior drips away

with each rum and Coke she knocks back (and every trip to the bathroom,

where she pees blood), and there emerges a subtly vicious female, a

practiced manipulator who delights in tormenting her children with

reminders of their lacerating miseries and failures. But an even darker

secret surfaces concerning Peggy's alcoholic, invalid husband (who

never appears onstage but is a towering presence, nevertheless), and

rumors that she is abusing, and even attempting to murder him. The

manner in which Drake tells this story -- blending humor and stark

ugliness, while exploring themes of sibling rivalry, marital infidelity

and even euthanasia -- is thoroughly engaging and held in sharp balance

by director Robin Larsen. The characters are fully fleshed out, both in

the writing and the performances, as disturbing for their and their

vulnerabilities as for their anger. Rounding out a superb cast is Lisa

Rothschiller. (Lovell Estell III)., (323) 960-4424. Theatre/Theater,

5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

thru Aug. 29. (323) 422-6361.

GAYS R US $14. THE IMPROV, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; First Wednesday of every month, 8 p.m.. (323) 651-2583.

THE GOOD NEGRO A black minister (Phrederic Semaj) stands at his

pulpit, exhorting his congregation to fight racial injustice. A member

of a "citizen's patrol" (Brian E. Smith) brutally beats a black woman

(Theresa Deveaux) for taking her child into the whites-only restroom.

These opening scenes in playwright Tracey Scott Wilson's fictionalized

account of the early civil rights movement are among its most

effective. Wilson strives to bring the pages of history into human

focus by portraying the infighting among a group of activists

struggling to organize nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama, in 1963.

At the center of the effort is the minister, James Lawrence, a

committed and charismatic leader with a beautiful, devoted wife (Numa

Perrier) -- and an adulterous penchant for pretty women. Spied upon by

the FBI, the organization is also hampered by contentiousness within

its ranks, with Lawrence's fiery second-in-command (Damon Christopher)

and a new tactical organizer from out of state (Austen Jaye) at each

others' throats. While the play offers a compelling reminder of the

vicious racism in our not-so-distant past, the script's docudrama

flavor and uncomplicated characters require much finessing on the part

of the ensemble. Under Sam Nickens' direction, that hasn't yet

happened, with performances, on opening night, ranging from serviceable

to over-the-top. The exceptions include Perrier, intense and authentic

as Lawrence's betrayed wife; and Deveaux, whose character suffers great

personal loss, and whose portrayal of sorrow ably brings home the

tragedy of events. Upward Bound Productions. (Deborah Klugman). Stella

Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3

p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (323) 960-1054.

Greater Tuna Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard's small-town

Texas comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra

Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 25. (626)

256-3809.

NEW REVIEW GO GRIFFITH PARK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

Photo by Ivy Augusta

Don

John (Sean Pritchett) is such a bastard. Really. He's the bastard son

of Don Pedro (Luis Galindo), prince of Aragon. Imagine smearing the

reputation of an innocent bride, Hero (Mary Alton) in order to cast

doubts in the mind of her groom, Claudio (Erwin Tuazon) -- who believes

the worst without fact-checking. If this weren't a comedy, it would

look a whole lot like Othello. Oh, that's funny,

what a coincidence: This same company just did that play earlier this

summer, also al fresco in Griffith Park. Independent Shakespeare

Company's artistic director and managing director, respectively,

Melissa Chalsma and David Melville (also husband and wife in real life)

play the dubiously romantic couple, Beatrice and Benedick, cousins who

pleasure in hurling insults at each other with echoes of the Taming of the Shrew.

That love resides beneath such hostility is an unflinchingly optimistic

idea in an unflinchingly optimistic comedy. Melville's Benedick is a

comedic masterpiece -- surly while lampooning his own world-weariness,

in the tradition of English comedian Gerard Hoffnung. Chalsma, like the

rest of the ensemble, bounces every syllable off the highest leaf of

the farthest tree. No microphones. This is what old cranks like me call

training. Director Ron Bashford throws in a Commedia parade, with masks

and music. Characters who are hiding do so amongst the audience of

picnickers. On the eve I attended, there were hundreds in the crowd,

absorbing the multiple players of wit like a sponge. Independent

Shakespeare Company in Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, L.A.;

Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through August 29. Free. (323) 913-4688. (Steven

Leigh Morris)

GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTURE Despite evidence of comic timing, this

Groundlings sketch comedy-improv show lacks the kind of comedic

distinction that has made the troupe's reputation. Directed by Damon

Jones, this outing is a tepid series of scripted sketches, broken up by

four improvised sequences where an emcee calls on the crowd for cues.

Early on, the audience seemed predisposed to have a good time, judging

by the hysterical laughter that seemed disproportionate to the comic

stylings onstage. Half-baked routines included a sketch depicting a

daffy Stephenie Meyers in drag, which poked fun at the popular author

and her fans, and a familiar bit involving couples playing a guessing

game called "Taboo." A three-piece band kept the mood vibrant by

playing during the interludes, while the cast slipped into yet another

fright wig or costume. But as the evening wore on, the long musical

breaks between routines provided useful opportunities for people to

check their devices. By the third improv sequence, the emcee was

fielding facetious suggestions from the audience. That, disassembling

improvs, plus some lazy writing, made for a disappointing night.

(Pauline Adamek). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8

p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (323) 934-9700.

THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes

comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m..

(323) 668-0318.

I'M NOT HERE ANYMORE W. Colin McKay has cast his play in the form of

a mystery. Josh (Dayton Knoll) is a former GI who has served multiple

tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffers from combat trauma upon his

return home. He has frightening flashbacks, which can drive him to

violence, and he's haunted by two people (or are they hallucinations?)

from his time in the Gulf. Kim (Casey Fitzgerald) is a girl who was

killed by a roadside bomb, and Eddie (Sal Landi) is his former buddy,

whom he believes aims to kill him if he reveals dark secrets about his

time in the combat zone. There are also two doctors, Mel (Brian

Connors) and David (Dig Wayne), who are at odds about Josh's treatment.

But there are too many mysteries, and too few reliable "facts" for us

to know precisely what's going on. Josh is clearly an unreliable

narrator, the two ghosts/hallucinations have agendas of their own, and

so perhaps do the doctors. We can never be certain whether Josh is

dogged by psychotic fantasies, or telling uncomfortable truths the army

wants to keep under wraps by committing him to a mental hospital. Good

work from the actors and director Al Bonadies, but the script is

perplexing. (Neal Weaver). Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. 323-468-8062.

JEWTOPIA Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson's story of two single men: a

gentile obsessed with dating Jewish women and a Jew obsessed with

dating gentile girls. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave.,

L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept.

19. (323) 655-7679.

NEW REVIEW  

GO

KARMA THE MUSICAL

Is Hindsight really 20-20? In this

engaging musical, a baby boomer named Christine (book writer Susan C.

Hunter) travels back to the 1960s to counsel her younger self on how to

avoid error and heartbreak. Supremely confident, perky college-age

Chris (Katie McConaughy) dismisses Christine's cautionary exhortations

("You're old!" she snaps at the woman she will become), then treks off

to a rock concert to hook up with peace marcher Greg (Trevor Murphy),

who will father -- and later abandon -- their child. Bolstered by

composer Les Oreck's spirited score and lyrics, the play cruises

through several decades, tracking Chris' struggles as a single mom

while noting, Forrest Gump-like, the broad societal changes our nation

undergoes. One funny scene depicts the hippie "commitment" ceremony

that Greg persuades Chris is as binding as a marriage. It isn't. The

piece also replays the bitterness surrounding the Vietnam war,

integrating that conflict via Chris' brother Frank (Matt Pick), a

marine who resents Greg's politics. And the production gains traction

from Liz Heathcoat's lively choreography, executed by an enthusiastic

ensemble, and from videographer Scott Hunter's background montage of

cultural icons. That said, the show has multiple rough edges, including

an uneven standard of performance and vocals that need improving.

Director Michael Eiden does a respectable job of maneuvering a large

cast in a small space, but this show does require more room. Among the

ensemble, Brittany Beaudry stands out as Chris' supercool pal, Gloria.

Heathcoat as Greg's sanctimonious mom and Pick as the upstanding Frank

are notable in smaller roles. Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca

Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 28. (323) 469-3113.

(Deborah Klugman)


KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House,

1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

LA TOOL & DIE: LIVE! Stage version of Sean Abley's 1970s gay

porn film. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (323) 957-1884.

LIFE OF EASE Phillip William Brock's story of an Oklahoma

grandmother and her grandson. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; Through Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat.,

Sept. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 2 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 9, 8

p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 2 p.m.; Through Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18,

2 & 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub

cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about

childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman.

Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer

first describes -- then graphically illustrates -- how she abandoned

her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An

unexpected pregnancy alters her life -- though not her smug irreverence

leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and

fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted

by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of

infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor

that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or

offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness

of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey

a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities

and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or

insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there

were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's

bitter, hollow message. (Deborah Klugman)., $20. Steve Allen Theater,

at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat.,

8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 666-4268.

GO MEDEA Euripides' tragedy concerning a betrayed

woman and her monstrous revenge remains a timeless examination of

humanity's struggle with its darker, primal urges. With the exception

of a misstep at play's end, Travis Terry brilliantly directs a superb

cast, relocating the story to a contemporary lunatic-asylum setting.

The text reveals a few contemporary words -- and ,i\>trash -- while

preserving the antique language that's so rich with imagery and

passion. Adalgiza Chermountd's Medea is first heard wailing from behind

a white paper wall, part of designer Dionne Poindexter's central set

piece of Medea's quarters, which rotates with ease. "Whipping her

grief-tormented heart into a fury," Chermountd has a disheveled yet

formidable presence, and her multihued interpretation ranges from

coherent and ferocious to deranged. Her unspeakable deed is chillingly

depicted. Commenting in unison, the chorus of young girl (Shaina

Vorspan), mother (Lauren Wells) and grandmother (Karen Richter) double

as asylum orderlies, with Shaina Vorspan giving an especially

expressive performance. There are some welcome moments of levity in R.

Benito Cardenas' playful interpretation of Aegeus, one of Medea's

fellow lunatics. A highlight is the scene when Medea's duplicitous

ex-husband, Jason (Max Horner), attempts to "correct her exaggeration"

with his version of events. Aside from a tacked-on happy ending that

feels utterly false, this unpretentious production holds many rewards.

(Pauline Adamek). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 667-0955.

GO THE MYSTER OF IRMA VEP It's been 18 years since

this manor mystery was the No. 1 produced play in

America, and it hasn't worn out its welcome. In a dreary, rural house,

the widowed master (Kevin Remington) has brought home a bride (Michael

Lorre), a tremulous blond actress who might not have the wits to

survive the local vampires and werewolves (or the grudging maid and

infatuated stable boy). Charles Ludlam's fleet-footed thriller comedy

is in the key of camp, but this production tampers down the winks and

nudges, staging it as an exercise in theatrical imagination. Lorre's

sparse set design is a model of how to turn a small budget into an

asset. The furniture and decorations are drawn with thin, white lines

on flat, black-painted wood, and the actors set the tone by first

finishing the final touches with chalk. Irma Vep is always staged as a

play for two performers, and Remington and Lorre (who also directs) are

great sports, changing from a bumpkin with a wooden leg to a

bare-breasted Egyptian princess in less time than it takes to tie your

shoes. The actors' physicality is great, but dresser Henry Senecal and

stage manager Akemi Okamura also take deserved bows at the end. (Amy

Nicholson). SPACE916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-1304.

GO OPUS Because classical music can be such a

sublime art form, one tends to regard those musicians as inhabiting a

more celestial sphere than the rest of us. Playwright and classically

trained violist Michael Hollinger confutes that notion with this

percipient drama, which examines the political and emotional fracas

within a string quartet. In Hollinger's canny script, the tensions

generated among members of a prominent musical group have been

exacerbated by an affair between two of them: Elliot (Christian

Lebano), a domineering egotist with little tolerance for opposition;

and Dorian (Daniel Blinkoff), a supersensitive artist with a history of

emotional problems. When Dorian up and quits prior to a prestigious gig

at the White House, he is replaced by Grace (Jia Doughman), a

conscientious novice with tremendous talent and the inner aplomb to

withstand Elliot's needling and increasingly truculent demands.

Directed by Simon Levy, the drama begins with a studied manner before

launching into full dynamism, as the particulars of the players'

dilemmas and entanglements come into focus. In a solid ensemble,

Doughman is noteworthy for her character's impeccable truth; likewise

Cooper Thornton is highly effective as Alan, the down-to-earth second

violinist who reacts with growing consternation and dismay to

snowballing events. The performers mime their concerts in admirable

sync (sound design is by Peter Bayne, with input from musical advisers

Roy Tanabe and Larry Sonderling). Complemented by designer Ken Booth's

lighting, Frederica Nascimento's backdrop, with its cubes in autumnal

colors, seems reflective of the quartet's rich but cloistered world.

(Deborah Klugman). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 663-1525.

GO PARASITE DRAG As screwed-up families go, the

one on exhibit in Mark Roberts' ultra-dark comedy makes a serious run

for the top prize. The first glimpse of Gene (Robert Foster) reveals a

sullen man hunched over a kitchen table, with an ice pad on his eye, as

he nurses a shiner he got from his wife, Joellen (Mim Drew); she sits,

staring out of the door, wryly commenting on the impending tornado

about to strike their tiny Midwestern town. Eight years without sex,

and trapped in a loveless marriage, they are bonded only by the

conventions of small-town propriety, shallow pretense and Gene's

fanatical Christian beliefs. The real twister, however, comes in the

form of Gene's boorish, foul-mouthed brother, Ronnie (the outstanding

Boyd Kestner), and his countrified wife, Susie (Agatha Nowicki), who

drop in unexpectedly. Apparent from the outset is the seething

resentment between Gene and Ronnie, which Roberts' fine script slowly

heats to critical mass, uncovering a dark undercurrent of shared

emotional and psychological mutilation. Sordid revelations emerge about

the family's troubled past, their mother's bloody suicide and the

sexual molestation of a drug-abusing sister, who is now dying of AIDS

in a hospital. The final plot turn is raw and dirty. Notwithstanding

the play's bleak tapestry, Roberts instills plenty of comic relief into

his writing. The characters are well sketched and without a trace or

urbanity. David Fofi delivers spot-on direction and draws very good

performances from his cast, particularly Nowicki, who artfully blends

Southern charm and simplicity with trailer-trash attitude. (Lovell

Estell III). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat..; thru Sept. 18. (213) 614-0556.

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless

skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary

Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an

audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's

damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and

George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

REDHEAD CUBAN HAUSFRAU HUSBAND Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were

pioneer celebrities who set the standard for clean, white-bread

television comedy. They also were one of Hollywood's original power

couples amassing a fortune from ownership of their own studios. But in

his self-described musical homage to the I Love Lucy show,

writer-director Fletcher Rhoden falls short of telling their story or

of telling any story that's the least bit compelling. The herky-jerky

script contains no semblance of narrative cohesiveness or flow, though

it comes spiced here and there with historic details about Ms. Ball's

life. Performer Joan Elizabeth Kennedy fails to channel Lucy

convincingly, and is consistent only in singing off-key. Ditto for

Derek Rubiano, whose Cuban accent wobbles in a remedial performance.

Rhoden's music and lyrics are competent though without a hint of any

Latin-American origins or influence in the music. Rhoden's direction

does little to shore up the holes in his script. Jodi Skeris and

Michael Anthony Nozzi are presumably standing in for other actors as

the zany neighbors, but that's hard to tell from the program. (Lovell

Estell III). Mount Hollywood Theater, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-9113.

NEW REVIEW SAD HAPPY SUCKER

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

Photo courtesy of Lyric Hyperion Theatre

If the devil is truly to be found in the

details, then playwright Lee Kirk's painfully pallid homage to French

Absurdist master Eugène Ionesco isn't in need of a dramaturg so much as

an exorcist. The play begins promisingly enough, with the introduction

of Eddie (Eddie Bell), a young suburbanite whose feet have become

mysteriously rooted in place where he stands in the back yard of his

dotty Mother (Lauri Johnson). It's the kind of patently surreal premise

whose real-world, life-and-death consequences Ionesco would have

explored with a deliriously relentless logic to foreground a deeper,

ontological inquiry. However, unlike on planet Earth, where the first

responders to such a crisis might be an EMT unit or the fire

department, Kirk sends in a spectacularly inept doctor (Valentine

Miele), who somehow still makes house calls. When the physician becomes

likewise immobilized but is told no rope is available for an attempted

winch to freedom, even that obstacle is given the lie by an ignored,

albeit handy garden hose pointlessly ornamenting Christian Zollenkopf's

incongruously realistic backyard set (convincingly accented by Alicia

Ziff's diurnal lighting). Director Sean Gunn and his supremely gifted

cast do manage to milk Kirk's situational ludicrousness for sporadic

laughs. But these are not enough to finally push the text's

bantamweight dramatic stakes (the characters' imperiled dignity) and

non sequitur-laden plot into the heavyweight division of Ionescan

existential despair. Lyric Hyperion Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver

Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 10. (323)

342-2261. 

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES . . . LOVE Monologues on all of

the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's

Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 6, 7:30 & 9 p.m.; thru

Sept. 26. (323) 769-5566.

SHAKE A man named Bill (Jo Egender) and his ex, Peggy (Alina

Phelan), stand eight uneasy feet apart after a chance encounter in a

park. She's homeless; he's a lapsed alcoholic. What turned their love

upside-down? Joshua Fardon's chronological play ticks backward every

month for a year, from August 2002 to September 10, 2001, and unpacks

the affairs and betrayals and guilts sprung from strangers named Matt

(Troy Blendell), Julia (Michelle Gardner) and Robin (Bridgette

Campbell). The mystery comes in the reverse momentum. Told forward,

it's a soap opera -- going back, a parlor game. We know this drama

traces back to the fall of the towers, but when we get there, we

realize Bill and Peggy's relationship was already headed to destruction

-- 9/11 simply changed the route. More catastrophic is the entrance of

Claire (Hiwa Bourne), a femme fatale who uses the disaster for her own

ends, though even she, too, is scrabbling for a purpose. Kiff Scholl's

direction knows that with every scene, the characters know less and

hope more. Under his guidance, Phelan's New York naif is especially

heartbreaking. She's a girl with simple dreams, and within the year,

even those are impossibly far away. (Amy Nicholson). Theatre of NOTE,

1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru

Sept. 5. (323) 856-8611.

SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT $20, seniors $15, children under 2 free. Bob

Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30

p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Sept. 26. (213) 250-9995.

STILL STANDING Playwright Shyla Martin sets out to tell the tale of

Laura (Venessa Peruda), a Los Angeles woman who discovers a startling

letter while sorting through the belongings of her deceased father. In

it, the writer, Celeste Ellis (Monique McIntyre), informs Dad that she

has borne him a daughter, and asks for child support. Laura is

thunderstruck to discover that she has a half-sister. Her Aunt Sarah

(Eileen T'Kaye) urges her to go to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to track

down the mysterious sister. But the meeting with that sister, Tracey

(Nichelle Hines), proves awkward because, though both women had white

fathers and African-American mothers, Laura is ostensibly white and

Tracey is recognizably black. When the two women eventually form a

bond, it's threatened by unforeseen events. The story is potentially

interesting, but Martin's naive dramaturgy dilutes its power. Many

short scenes, in different locales, make for long, debilitating scene

changes; plot details emerge in haphazard, confusing fashion; and there

are red herrings: Tracey's brother (Rondrell McCormick) elaborately

hides a mysterious packet, which is never explained or referred to

again. Director Nick Mills has assembled a capable cast, but the play's

fragmentary scenes and shifting focus defuse their efforts. (Neal

Weaver). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun..;

thru Sept. 12. (323) 960-7863.

GO STREEP TEASE "Meryl Streep, gay icon?" I asked

Google. She's no Judy Garland, but enough affirmative results returned

that, when considered alongside creator Roy Cruz's all-male review of

some of Streep's finest screen scenes, she seems well on her way. In

her roles, she's checked off, among others, driven activist,

"guilty-until-proven-innocent" outsider, and frost-bitten bitch. In her

"real" life, she's eschewed ascribing to Hollywood's rigid standards of

beauty, becoming successful on her own terms. Cruz and director Ezra

Weisz have constructed a well-structured, tight show that's over almost

before you want it to be, even though the theater is stuffy to the

point of sweaty (further proof of their sense of humor -- hand-held

fans emblazoned with Streep's face are given as trivia prizes). In case

you lack an "inner Streep," Cruz prefaces each monologue with a

synopsis of the movie. Mimicking the Academy Awards' setup, a swell of

music sweeps the performer down the aisle and up the stage, and he

poses dramatically as the lights fade. Since the cast chose their own

pieces, they're all well reenacted; naming a favorite is really more

about your own favorite "Meryl moment." That said, Trent Walker's scene

from Silkwood is white-trashtastic; and Taylor Negron's from Sophie's Choice

coalesces the audience into one being, collectively holding our breaths

and back our tears. The show's great affection for the un-diva is best

revealed in its gentle ribbing, though: Mike Rose's re-creation of a

scene from The River Wild should be included if Ms. Streep

ever gets a roast. (Rebecca Haithcoat). BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave.,

L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 653-6886.

STRIPPED (A COMEDY ABOUT A DRAMA) Who'd have guessed that the gaudy

neon sign around the corner advertising Psychic Readings could be

hiding a theater. There is indeed a tiny space upstairs for

storytelling that is probably more real that the storytelling going on

downstairs. In this case, the story is Kirsten Severson's tale of the

tumultuous end to her five-year relationship with "The Prince."

Accompanied onstage by two video screens, Severson describes the good

times in their relationship (including the clever "Peas in a Pod" video

montage) before transitioning to the fateful voice mail that begins her

descent into insecurity and heartbreak. Originally a solo show titled . . . I Think You Went a Little Far With the Herpes Thing . . . ,

the piece has since been developed into a feature film, and now returns

as a half-film/half-staged solo show. The combination of media

unfortunately doesn't gel, and despite some good lines and moments,

director Carlos Velasco's pacing drags in a number of spots and

Severson's stage presence feels halfhearted at times. Instead the video

sequences -- which are well lit and crisply edited -- are the show's

most engaging aspect. As a short film it could prove visually

arresting; as a piece of theater, however, it's little more than

another love story gone awry. (Mayank Keshaviah). Psychic Visions

Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310)

535-6007.

GO A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT A new L.A.-based

ensemble called Psittacus Productions is extending a performance of A

Tale Told by an Idiot from the Hollywood Fringe at Son of Semele

theater. It's a mash-up of Shakespeare's Macbeth that includes the

character of Guy Fawkes, which suggests an influence from Bill Cain's Equivocation.

Every scene of the hour-long piece is a plot against somebody's life or

a murder, starring -- among the very strong ensemble -- the lighting plot

of designer Dan Weingarten. The action unfolds behind a scrim and is

lit entirely with pin lights, some on the floor, some held by the

performers. We see only faces, shifting eyes and shadows creeping

across scrims and walls. The three witches (Casey Fitzgerald, Madeleine

Hamer and Liz Saydah) appear in masks, and all we see are those masks,

or three hands crawling up a wall, or feet tremulously stepping. In

some scenes we just see two daggers, barely illuminated, and little

more. With composer Graham Galatro's composition, the effect is

mesmerizing, culminating in the closing line, that comes in Macbeth

right before the more famous "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of

sound and fury, and signifying nothing." The line that lingers is that

line's direct predecessor: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no

more." This is the lucid essence of the piece. Fine performances also

by Casey Brown, Louis Butelli, Lisa Carter, Daryl Crittenden, Darin

Dahms and Chas LiBretto. Robert Richmond directs. Psittacus Productions

at . Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29...

[TITLE OF SHOW]"Musical about making a musical." Music and lyrics by

Jeff Bowen, book by Hunter Bell. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 11.

(323) 957-1884.

GO TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Lincoln and Booth are bizarre

monikers for a pair of siblings. In this solid revival of Suzan-Lori

Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, capably directed by Martin

Papazian, names aren't the only ironic peculiarity here. Lincoln (A.K

Murtadha) and Booth (M.D. Walton) are African-Americans, named by a

neglectful, long-gone father as a joke; they now cling to one another

for survival yet harbor volcanic resentments toward each other. The

play's potency lies in this attraction-repulsion dynamic and the

resultant venomous acrimony, which Parks so neatly dissects. Lincoln,

the oldest, is kicked out by his wife and forced to move into Booth's

sleazy, trash-strewn apartment. Life isn't unbearably wretched for him;

he has a "real" job as an arcade attraction playing the Great

Emancipator -- complete with whiteface, fake beard, stovepipe and

trashy overcoat -- while patrons shoot him for recreation. Once a

master of the three-card monte street hustle, he now salves what's left

of his dignity with false hopes and Jack Daniels. His pistol-packing

brother, however, dreams of being the ultimate monte player, seeing the

game as his ticket out of poverty and an affirmation of his manhood.

Parks sketches an ugly portrait of thwarted urban life, sibling rivalry

and crippling self-delusion. Though not much happens in this two-hour

comedy, the writing is thoroughly engaging. Yet it's Walton and

Murtadha's rugged, emotionally charged performances that work the

magic. (Lovell Estell III). Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.,

L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (323)

960-7719.

WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY?  Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent

standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt

Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill,

6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917. GO 

GO A WOLF INSIDE THE FENCE "You can't lose your

way in a history class. You can only go backwards," says Linus McBride

(Arthur Hanket), a history teacher who seems to be losing his passion,

and possibly his marbles. The target of the advice is Marion McNeely

(Charlotte Chanler), a troubled transfer student at McBride's public

Oregon high school. With dark secrets of his own, Linus cultivates an

attachment to Marion. At the same time, Judy cultivates an interest in

the girl, with whom she shares more than she would care to admit, while

losing interest in her boyfriend, Math teacher Harold Carson (Colin

Walker). What develops is an intense series of events as these wounded

animals become entwined in each other's lives. Playwright Joseph Fisher

weaves a rich tapestry of dark chocolate secrets and twisted desires,

pairing it perfectly with a dry champagne wit that sparkles in the

mouths of this talented cast. Hanket, particularly, wields Fisher's

rapier wit with impeccable comic timing and an understated manner that

leads to some devastatingly funny lines. The credit for this must, of

course, be shared with director Benjamin Burdick, who strikes a fine

balance between the piece's humor and horror. The minimally staged

performance is a good reminder that when fancy sets, lighting and other

aspects of modern stagecraft are put away, the heart of good drama is

compelling characters and a well-crafted text. (Mayank Keshaviah). Open

Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 29, 2 p.m.;

Through Sept. 3, 8 p.m.; Through Sept. 11, 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies,

once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the

country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have

been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out

alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer:

change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco

or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow

is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its "disease-of-the-week" dimension

surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellow

is a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores'

precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs.

(Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 5...

CONTINUING PERFORMANCESIN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AMADEUS Written as Theophilus (from the Greek) on his birth

certificate, Mozart's middle name can be interpreted as either "lover

of God" or "loved by God." Antonio Salieri clearly believed the latter,

and his jealousy of Mozart fuels the drama in Peter Shaffer's 1979

award-winning play. As court composer, Salieri (Peter Swander) has the

favor of Emperor Joseph II (David Robert May) and admires Mozart's

music -- until he meets the young prodigy. Mozart's (Patrick Stafford)

sexuality and vulgarity drive the devout Catholic wild, and as Salieri

can't reconcile the philistine with the ethereal music he creates, he

becomes determined to destroy Mozart. In that quest, Swander often

speaks of passion, yet it rarely feels as if his character possesses

the passion his words suggest. Part of this may have been director

August Viverito's desire for a slow build, even though it does

eventually pay off in Act 2. Stafford's Mozart, on the contrary, is id

perfectly personified, with occasional glimpses of the genius hiding

behind the schoolboy pranks. Danielle Doyen, who plays his wife,

Constanze, pairs well with Stafford, and like the rest of the cast, is

capable. However, her 1980s, Madonna-style outfits, along with Mozart's

gold pants and the emperor's raspberry zoot suit, are questionable

choices by designer Shon LeBlanc. While for Salieri "a note of music is

either right or it's wrong," for me the show had a pleasant melody but

not one that stuck with me for long. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler

Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

Aug. 28. (800) 838-3006.

BECOMING NORMAN Utah native Norman P. Dixon has had two coming-out

parties: first, as a gay man and second as an artist. At times, he's

been one or the other -- say, when he graduated with a drama degree

from BYU -- but this solo show marks the 45-year-old's insistence on

claiming both after spending the last 15 years toiling in office work

and retail. The first half of the night follows the artist as pretty

blond boy slowly learning that (a) there was a closet, and (b) he was

in it. No quick revelation in Orem, Utah, a town, as Dixon describes,

"where people didn't even think Boy George was gay." Dixon is a

handsome blond with a theatrical voice, and he powers through his life

story with a blend of self-congratulation and insecurity. This serves

him less well when his autobiography decamps from Salt Lake to Los

Angeles and we hit waves of tales wherein his talents are spotted, he's

offered a semi-big break and he sabotages himself in fear. Dixon's

journey is both topical and familiar -- who hasn't moved out to L.A.

with big dreams? -- and its only surprises come from his warm support

network. When the former Mormon sent out four dozen letters announcing

he was gay, only two respondents were upset. Between anecdotes, Dixon

belts out songs he wrote about his struggle, built around words like dreams and wings and flying.

We're happy he's happy. Debra De Liso directs. (Amy Nicholson). NoHo

Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (800) 595-4849.

BOYS' LIFE Watching director Dan Velez's uninspired production, it

might seem hard to believe that Howard Korder's acerbic vignettes of

slackers and their caddish sexcapades was a Pulitzer finalist in 1988.

Which is not to denigrate either the judgment of the Pulitzer committee

or the efforts of a clearly capable cast but merely to question the

vision behind a revival that steamrolls the pathos and ulterior probing

of an astute script into a pancake-flat excuse for sketch-comedy

laughs. Jack (Ben Rovner), Don (David Rispoli) and Phil (Jason Karasev)

are a trio of 30-something buddies stuck on the pot-addled threshold

between perennial adolescence and defining themselves as men. The

group's enabler is the married, albeit savagely cynical Jack, who goads

his bachelor comrades into misadventures with women who invariably

prove more than their equal. Phil is the most plaintively romantic of

the bunch and therefore the most tragically susceptible to Jack's

self-serving manipulations. Only slightly more resilient is Don, who

surmounts a potentially fatal infidelity to finally break free of

Jack's corrupting influence, thanks mainly to the understanding and

maturity of his fiancée (Tori Ayres Oman). Rovner gives a standout

performance, but Jack's underlying strains of fear and despair -- the

comedy's critical dramatic ballast -- are too often lost in the saucy

surfaces of Velez's staging. Tanya Apuya's costumes lend occasional

wit, but barely perfunctory (and uncredited) lighting and Sarah

Kranin's impoverished set prove more hindrance than help. (Bill Raden).

Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8

p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (818) 745-8527.

THE GOOD BOOK OF PEDANTRY AND WONDER Moby Pomerance's witty story of

a 19th-century editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Boston Court,

70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru

Sept. 5. (626) 683-6883.

IN & OUT: THE U.S. OF ALIENATION World premiere of David Wally's

dramedy about human connection. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd.,

Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (866) 811-4111.

IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual

fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a

contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot

is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play

resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one

indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed.

(Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio

City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.

NEW REVIEW MACBETH

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

Photo by Amanda Marquardt

You can almost always expect generous

displays of the gleefully grotesque from the folks at Zombie Joe's, and

this production of the Bard's Scottish play is no exception. Director

Amanda Marquardt has added some ghoulish effects that neatly embellish

the play's supernatural elements. But any minimalist staging of a play,

especially Shakespeare, places much of the burden of success on the

actors, and this group doesn't quite pass muster. Aaron Lyons and Skye

Noel acquit themselves passably in the key roles of Macbeth and his

blood thirsty Lady. But there's something amiss in their onstage

chemistry; too often they give the impression of spoiled, squabbling

siblings rather than a conniving, ambitious king and queen. Some

liberties taken with the original narrative proffer some jarring

surprises and fun. The biggest problem is the overheated pacing: There

are many, many instances where the actors simply tear through their

lines, rendering them all but unintelligible and spoiling the potency

and beauty of Shakespeare's prose. The showstoppers and scene stealers

are, however, Lauren Parkinson, Nicole Fabbri and Lana Inderman, who

are from start to finish terrific as the three witches. Zombie Joe's

Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd.; N.Hlywd.; Fri., 11 p.m.

thru Aug. 20. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)

QUICKIES T(h)REE: COMEDY AL FRESCO "Eight brand new, park-themed,

10-minute plays.". Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman

Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (818) 627-8425.

STOP KISS "Love, prejudice, and women collide" in Diana Son's play.

Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

thru Aug. 28. (866) 811-4111.

String of Pearls Four actresses play 27 characters in Michele Lowe's

drama. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd.,

North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (818)

700-4878.

TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Suzan-Lori Parks' dark comedy about brotherly love

and family identity. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South

Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (866)

811-4111.

URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater

Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct.

30. (818) 202-4120.

A WALK IN THE WOODS Lee Blessing's play is set in Geneva, during a

disarmament conference, where two negotiators seek to construct a

treaty acceptable to both sides. Stodgy, naive, idealistic American

John Honeyman (owlish Fox Carney) believes in rationality, and wants to

make the world safe from nuclear holocaust. Andre Botvinnik (volatile

Larry Eisenberg), a canny, cynical Russian with an impish sense of

humor, knows the two powers, the U.S. and Russia, are more interested

in seeming to want a disarmament agreement than in actually wanting

one. He no longer believes in the reality of their mission, and hopes

to make life more palatable by making a friend of Honeyman. He attempts

amusingly frivolous conversation, but Honeyman is incapable of

frivolity, and likes it that way. Their friendship can only bumble

along, with two steps back for every step forward. Their debates are

clever, literate and passionate, and their halting steps toward

friendship are touching and funny. Richard Alan Woody directs with

finesse and draws fine performances from his actors, but he never

manages to convince us that the stakes are particularly high, when they

couldn't be higher. (Neal Weaver). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory

Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4

p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (818) 700-4878.

GO WITCH BALL Zombie Joe's Underground's

supernatural adventure through space and time. ZJU Theater Group, 4850

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11.

(818) 202-4120.

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

NEW REVIEW  

ALIVE THEATRE LONG BEACH POPPIN' PLAY FESTIVAL

For the third consecutive year the CSULB

alums present four to five courses of theater per night, divided into

three different prix-fixe menus. The appetizer common to all three

nights, "What Can We" by Craig Abernathy, is a five-minute exploration

of making theatre. The concept is interesting, but the flavors don't

quite gel, so the meal gets off to a shaky start. The meat-and-potatoes

main course is Nathaniel Kressen's "Jumper's with the Gypsy," a tale of

two lost souls in the city that never sleeps. From the start, it's hard

to invest in either character, and outside of a couple of good lines,

the scenario seems contrived in its attempts at being deep. Lloyd

Noonan's "An Agreement Between Father and Son" is a dark comedy in

which a father and son make a pact to deal with pain-in-the-ass

Grandpa. It is dark all right, relentlessly, so that darkness seems its

only purpose. Finally, "Eddie, A Musical About Failure" by R. Edward

and Ellen Warkentine provides the sweet ending to the evening.

Unfortunately it's less a chocolate soufflé and more a bowl of vanilla

ice cream. The generic score consists of series of character songs

that, while amusing and fun, don't tell much of a story. In fact, the

entire meal is perfectly encapsulated in a line from one of its songs:

"I know it's light on consequence and plot, but it's what I've got."

The Lafayette Ballroom, 528 E. Broadway Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat.,

8: p.m.; through September 11. (562) 818-7364. alivetheatre.org An

Alive Theatre production. (Mayank Keshaviah)


NEW REVIEW GO

ALL MY SONS

Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street

Photo by Agnes Magyari

With the recent BP oil disaster, the Enron

debacle, and the misadventures of financial moguls like Bernard Madoff,

it is no wonder that theater company artistic directors all over town

are dusting off their copies of Arthur Miller's magnificent

evisceration of capitalism, American corruption and moral hypocrisy.

However, it is difficult to come up with new and innovative ways to

present the often compelling piece. Shakespeare and Beckett, to name a

pair, can be staged in a variety of settings and directorial styles,

but Miller's play gets to the heart of a family standing around on a

front porch next to a fallen tree. Director Edward Edwards stages his

intimate and psychologically nuanced production almost like a mystery --

even during the play's seemingly banter-filled opening scenes, we sense

an underlying unease and sadness; the puzzle is spotting all the clues

and then piecing them together to understand what is really going on.

Edwards' production is anchored by crackling acting work. Paul Linke's

unusually crusty Joe Keller, the family patriarch who let an underling

take the rap for a mechanical error that killed a number of pilots

during World War II, is full of alpha male bluster and bonhomie, but

even from his first appearance, his eyes possess a resigned coldness

that suggests the truth he's hiding and has accepted only too well. In

Catherine Telford's turn as Kate, Joe's grief-sick wife, we see a

character whose denial-stoked belief that her beloved, MIA son will

return from the war is a means of tamping down the ferocious rage that

ultimately explodes in the play's final act. As Joe's idealistic son

Chris, Dominic Comperatore's shyness shifts to disgusted anger, a turn

that hints at the possibility he was aware on some level of his

father's sleaziness. Although uneven turns are offered by some of the

supporting cast, Maury Sterling's crushed boyish performance as the

scorned son of the framed co-worker is brilliant, as is Austin

Highsmith's unusually appealing Ann, whose shocking reveal about the

dead son (often one of the more contrived plot twists in most

productions) is here powerfully well-motivated and believable. Ruskin

Theatre Group, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica Airport, Santa Monica;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through October 2. (310) 397-3244.

(Paul Birchall)

GO BECKY'S NEW CAR "When a woman says she wants a

new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a

new car, she really wants a new life." In Steven Dietz's smart if

tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and

grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has

squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car

dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and

patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life

comes prancing into Becky's dealership, when slightly spacey

billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses

Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the

employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife,

is inexplicably attracted to the earthy "real world" Becky, whose own

moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she

contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth.

Dietz's play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael

Rothhaar's whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The

play's genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal

commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such,

the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a

narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball

comedies -- a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the

underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply

steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly

froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels' bubbly Becky

repeatedly invites opinions from audience members -- some of whom are

roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change

moment -- balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself

swept away by Greenquist's charismatic Walter. Although the

contrivances of the play's final third are too preposterous to sustain

even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty,

sympathetic performances -- including Rogers as Becky's goofy son and

by Suzanne Ford's graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walter's

affections. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice

Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310)

822-8392.

GO BEDROOM FARCE The title is apt, since the

action occurs in three radically different bedrooms in a 1975 English

suburb. Kate (blond and taffy-voiced Kate Hollinshead) and Malcolm

(buff and playful Jamie Donovan) are having a party in their new flat.

Nick (Scott Roberts) and Jan (Ann Noble) are invited, but Nick has put

his back out and is confined to his bed in agony -- and he's annoyed

that Jan is going to the party without him. Obstreperous and

self-obsessed Trevor (Anthony Michael Jones) and his noisily neurotic

wife, Susannah (Regina Peluso), are also invited, but their tempestuous

marriage is rocked by one of its endless crises. When Trevor makes a

pass at former girlfriend Jan, Susannah goes into massive hysterics,

wrecking the party. Trevor descends on bedridden Nick to "explain" his

behavior, while Susannah runs to Trevor's bemused parents, Ernest

(Robert Mandan) and Delia (Maggie Peach), for solace. Alan Ayckbourn's

play plumbs no great depths, but he's unflaggingly inventive in

exploring comic surfaces, and director Ron Bottitta has assembled a

likable and deftly stylish cast to keep the pot boiling on Darcy

Prevost's huge and handsome set. Kathryn Poppen's trendy '70s costumes

add further charm. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310)

477-2055.

8 MIDSUMMER QUICKIES Eight short plays, written and directed by

Caroline Marshall, Tracy Merrifield, Marnie Olson and Kyle T. Wilson.

Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

Sept. 4. (310) 535-6007.

ELIZABETH SHAKESPEARE AND THE ASTUTE DETECTIVE Alan Ross' world

premiere about who really wrote the Bard's plays. Santa Monica

Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6

p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (310) 394-9779.

ENGAGEMENT In writer-director Allen Barton's unexpectedly sour

romantic comedy, you can tell that the love match made in hell between

smart, emotionally withholding Republican, commitment-phobe Mark

(Everette Wallin) and warm, free-spirit liberal Nicole (Audrey Moore)

is careening off the rails when Mark tries to propose to her at a fancy

restaurant but must instead run from the table to vomit. Mark is glib,

funny and negative, while Nicole dreams of a soul mate with whom she

has a deep connection. And, while each partner sees the other's flaws,

they also think that they will be able to change him or her into the

perfect mate -- an operation that ends predictably in tears. Barton's

play intends to skewer the notion of modern romance -- e.g., the

characters' dealings are interspersed with complaints about Facebook

and Twitter, and the inevitable diminishment of the need for human

contact that these devices bring. However, more than a commentary about

the superficial technical devices that add clutter to our own emotional

confusion, the piece's theme truly explores a more timeless concept:

the emptiness of valuing being clever over feeling. That said, Barton's

writing is not always up to the challenge: The dialogue is talky and

repetitious while sometimes being so stridently mean, we can't

understand why either of the two lovers would stay in the same room

with each other. One problem may be that Barton's coolly ironic, snarky

staging never builds any sense of a love that can so quickly change to

hate -- it's just hate that turns into more hate. The show is

double-cast, but on the night reviewed, Wallin's snarky man-boy was

strangely moving while still being thoroughly bilious, and Moore

offered a nicely melancholic turn as the increasingly wearied Nicole.

As her venomously embittered roomie who finds an unexpected lover

herself, Ellie Schwartz delivers the show's most ferocious yet

emotionally nuanced performance. (Paul Birchall). Beverly Hills

Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 358-9936.

GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a

near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry

Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and

thoughtful ensemble piece which is as much a paean to the theater as it

is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a

picturesque but run down country house in upstate New York (realized in

Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is

probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama.

These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one

might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before

noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien

(Diane Louise Salinger) are in the twilight of their careers, but

regret nothing about a life spent on the road performing small plays.

Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter

Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after

getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family

chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's

estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of

her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiance Jimmy

(David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks

are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences

teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of

human behavior -- and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly

juxtaposes the warmth and frustration underscoring the relationships

within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive, yet comically

charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the

ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry

Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom,

tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never

truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies

while their minds remain youthful. A Rainbow Theatre Company

production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main

St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 399-3666.

KATIE THE CURST The Actors' Gang's adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew,

a free summer show for all ages. Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver

City; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Aug. 29, theactorsgang.com...

GO PROCREATION The plays of Justin Tanner are like

Rice Krispies. They crackle when you pour in the right actors -- and

the actors here from his own company are just right -- and then they

kind of wash away. Maybe that doesn't matter. That crackling is the

sound of Tanner's satirical barbs directed at the foibles and delusions

of L.A. suburban white-trash types. (His latest farce is set in

Highland Park.) He does for (or to) L.A. what Del Shores does for (or

to) the South. Shores' plays come with more of a message and smidgen

more sentimentality. Tanner brings on a gallery of types, lets them go

until somebody lands on a revelation, or confession, which may or may

not make a jot of difference to the lunatic world being depicted. Maybe

it's apt that a play called Procreation should have 13

characters. One of them, Ruby (Danielle Kennedy), is a pregnant

grandmother (awaiting octuplets -- she's even brought the sonograms

with her) with a sanctimonious gigolo beaux, played wonderfully cocky

by Jonathan Palmer. (They both visit SoCal from Colorado, and he offers

lectures on healthy lifestyle and self-discipline. He may as well be

preaching on the virtues of vitamins to drug dealers.) Everybody here

is in debt. Mom Hope (Melissa Denton) runs a novelty store called "Wish

on a Rainbow," which smug hubby Michael (nicely goofy by Michael

Halpin) announced must liquidate immediately. Can they afford to send

their corpulent 15-year-old, bed-wetting son, Gavin (Kody Batchelor),

to the fat farm? (He tosses his urine-drenched blanket at his

relatives, for his own amusement. He will surely grow up to become a

playwright.) Hope's sister Deanie (goggle-eyed Patricia Scanlon) hoards

other people's garbage, while her terminally unemployed, good-natured

husband, Bruce (Andy Marshall Daley), makes a career out of asking his

relatives for loans. There are drug deals, offstage blow jobs and an

entire subplot of gay intrigue. Tanner's satire of behaviors roasts not

so much a culture of greed as a culture of need -- derived from the

cruelty of snarky jokes and emotional neglect. One character says,

perhaps ironically, "Let's try to be more mindful of what we say from

now on," as though that would fix anything. Call it Molière ultralite.

Sitcoms like this depend on the unspoken reactions to the torrent of

one-liners. Director David Schweizer has the cartoons just right, but

he drives the play on the fuel of its quips rather than the comedic

agony that lies beneath them. Which may be why the farce begins to wilt

after an hour or so, despite the effervescence of ongoing amusement.

The uncredited costumes are very witty. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey

Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.;

thru Sept. 4. (310) 477-2055.

THE WAR CYCLE Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents three plays by Tom Burmester: Wounded, Nation of Two, and Gospel According to First Squad. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat..; thru Sept. 11, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
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