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Stage Raw: Completeness

Stage Raw: Completeness


Stage Raw: Completeness

Itamar Moses' play Completeness opens this weekend at South Coast Repertory. (Photo by Ben Horak) Check back here on Tuesday for the review, plus reviews of THE CHINESE MASSACRE, Circle X Theatre Co. presents Tom Jacobson's retelling of the lynching of 18 Chinese men in 1871 Los Angeles.Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; CABARET DOMA Theatre Co.'s sexed-up take on the Kander-Ebb musical at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A. presents Tom Jacobson's Southern gothic romance. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, Sean O'Casey's tragicomedy about a working class Dublin family during the 1920s Irish Civil War. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE, Jason Alexander and Gina Hecht star in Neil Simon's rat-race comedy. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; QUICK AND IN MY ARMS/ ENDLESS NIGHT, Two plays by Peter Roth, presented by Fresh Baked Theatre Company at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS WITH BILLY HAYES, The author of Midnight Express, who was held captive in a Turkish prison for five years, retells the story in own words at the Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; SHOE STOR,Y Ben Snyder's look at the dark side of New York shoe culture in the 1980s, where a new pair of sneakers could cost you your life. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; TIGER TIGER BURNING BRIGHT, Peter S. Feibleman's play set in midcentury New Orleans, Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; UNSCRIPTED REP, Impro Theatre's improvised, full-length plays in the styles of William Shakespeare, Tennesee Williams, and Stephen Sondheim, Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., WL.A.

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below


COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS FOR April 22 - 28, 2011

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

Rebecca Haithcoat, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Amy Lyons, Steven

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

ALL ABOUT WALKEN The Impersonators of Christopher Walken: Eight male

and female actors emote Walken. Thu., April 28, 8 p.m. Acme Comedy

Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0202, acmecomedy.com.

BURN THE FLOOR The international ballroom sensation dances the

Cha-Cha, the Rumba, the Viennese Waltz, the Tango, the Samba, the Mambo,

and many more. Starting April 26, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2

& 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through May 8.

Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (213) 365-3500,

broadwayla.org.

THE CHINESE MASSACRE Circle X Theatre Co. presents Tom Jacobson's

retelling of the lynching of 18 Chinese men in 1871 Los Angeles.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through

May 28, circlextheatre.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.,

L.A., (213) 368-9552.

THE COLUMBINE PROJECT Paul Storiale examines the Colorado high school

massacre. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30,

brownpapertickets.com/event/168171. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050

Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 766-9100.

COMPLETENESS Computer scientist hooks up with a molecular biologist,

by Itamar Moses. Fri., April 22, 7:45 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 &

7:45 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:45 p.m. Continues through May 8. South

Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555,

scr.org.

HOUSE OF THE RISING SON Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A. presents Tom

Jacobson's Southern gothic romance. Starting April 23,

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 29,

(323) 644-1929, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Atwater Village Theatre,

3269 Casitas Ave., L.A..

LONESOME TRAVELER World premiere of James O'Neil's musical tour, from

the backwoods of Appalachia to the nightclubs of New York, the 1920s to

the '60s. Starting April 23, Sat., April 23, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.;

Wednesdays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2

& 8 p.m. Continues through May 8. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St.,

Ventura, (805) 667-2900.

MR. MARMALADE Noah Haidle's story of a 4-year-old with an imaginary

friend with a cocaine addiction. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues

through May 21. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (866)

811-4111, thegaragetheatre.org.

THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE Jason Alexander and Gina Hecht star in

Neil Simon's rat-race comedy. Starting April 23, Sat., April 23, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thursdays,

Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Tue., May 3, 2 & 8 p.m.

Continues through May 15. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd.,

North Hollywood, (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com.

SILKEN VEILS Leila Ghaznavi's mix of Rumi poetry, puppetry and

animation with live performance. Fri., April 22, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., April

23, 8:30 p.m. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica,

(310) 315-1459, highwaysperformance.org.

TREASURE ISLAND The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre presents Ken

Ludwig's adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate tale. Fridays,

7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5 p.m.

Continues through May 1. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road,

Laguna Beach, (949) 497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

NEW REVIEW THE ALL NIGHT STRUT! Steeped in

nostalgia, this mild evening of musical entertainment ushers us through

the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom with its

crowd-pleasing selection of popular tunes. Conceived by Fran Charnas,

with musical direction from Dean Mora (also on piano), the show features

a trio of musicians and a quartet of singer-dancers who warble their

way through a daisy chain of timeless songs from the 1930s and 40s.

Dolled up in cute retro fashions (costumes by Sharon McGunigle), the

four singers (Michael Dotson, Jayme Lake, Scotch Ellis Loring and

Jennifer Shelton) embark with 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' and glide their

way through classic songs of those decades, concluding Act 1 with a WWII

medley of hits. Competently backing them up, alongside Mora on piano,

are Jim Garafalo on double bass and Ray Frisby on drums. The four part

harmonies are stronger than the solos, though the women do better in the

lower register. It's too bad "Minnie the Moocher" is the second song of

the night as it might have supported some audience participation (call

and response) if placed later in the evening once the crowd was warmed

up. Nevertheless the cast swings with a relaxed ease from one

toe-tapping song to the next during this snappy, feel-good show. Colony

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

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 1. (818) 558-7000. colonytheatre.org. (Pauline Adamek)

THE BLUEST EYE People often use others to mirror themselves. Pecola

(Sola Bamis), the pivotal figure in Lydia R. Diamond's stage adaptation

of Toni Morrison's 1970 novel, is a dark-skinned black child perceived

as ugly by others -- and, unfortunately, by herself as well. Growing up

in Ohio in 1941, she longs for blue eyes to help redeem her from her

pariah status. Eventually she obtains them -- but not before she's

undergone a series of brutal, self-annihilating events. Diamond's

narration-laden script hews to the book, telling much of the story from

the vantage of other characters, chiefly Pecola's kind and more

fortunate friend, Claudia (Tekquiree Spencer), and Claudia's sister,

Frieda (Tiffany Danielle). The result is a talky drama in which the most

horrific -- yet most dramatic -- elements are pushed into the shadows.

(One reason may be that the play initially was created for young

audiences.) Perhaps a more consummate ensemble would have transcended

these shortcomings, but as directed by Janet Miller, they appear

obvious. Shamika Franklin is notable for her crisp, three-dimensional

portrait of Pecola's wounded mother, while Kwesiu Jones and Willie Mack

Daniels are uniformly professional in various roles. One highly

enjoyable scene involves Danika Butler making a splash as the pretty

light-skinned middle-schooler whom everyone envies. But Bamis' ingenuous

victim needs nuance, and Spencer, carrying the burden of language, does

an able job but without the polish and pacing needed to keep us rapt.

(Deborah Klugman). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through April 24, (714)

690-2900, PhantomProjects.com. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln

Blvd., Santa Monica.

BOOMERMANIA Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio's lively musical revue

about baby boomers is much like the boomer culture itself -- fluffy and

pleasant, but also somewhat sad. The show purports to be a lighthearted

gambol down pop-culture memory lane, from the 1950s through the '90s,

with the road of boomer excess ultimately leading to a palace of wisdom

furnished with Sugar Pops, Mr. Spock, Saturday Night Fever and the

Summer of Love. The decades roll by, depicted in a series of quirky

skits and punctuated by renditions of rock songs whose lyrics parody the

absurdities of eras past. Act 1 is fluff itself: In "Sugar Pops,

Captain Crunch," a group of 1950s teens croon their affection for newly

invented sugar cereals to the tune of "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch." Later, a

dazed married couple warble "Talking 'Bout My Television," a song

depicting near-hypnotized enchantment with their brand-new TV (sung to

the tune of "The Beat Goes On"). However, when Act 2 moves into the

later decades, Kasper and Sierchio's satire takes on a more melancholy

tone, particularly during a sequence at a 10-year high school reunion,

in which a few adult boomers come to grips with boomer shock: They're

not as special as they thought they were. The show's cast consists of

strikingly youthful performers who appear too young even for their first

legal cocktail, let alone speedballs at Studio 54. Yet, thanks to Mary

Ekler's tightly focused musical direction, their powerful voices evoke

far richer emotions than the material they're often asked to sing. While

many of the musical skits are crisply performed, the narrative material

often falls flat, with frequent allusions to other boomer-dated shows

like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hair only pointing out those

musicals' far more inventive scores. (Paul Birchall).

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 15,

(866) 811-4111, boomermaniathemusical.com. El Portal Theatre, 5269

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.


BURN THE FLOOR The international ballroom sensation dances the Cha-Cha,

the Rumba, the Viennese Waltz, the Tango, the Samba, the Mambo, and many

more. Starting April 26, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8

p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through May 8. Pantages

Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (213) 365-3500, broadwayla.org.

GO BURN THIS Lanford Wilson was poetic even in his

passing. The playwright, who premiered Burn This at the Mark Taper Forum

24 years ago, passed away on March 23, 2011, the night the Taper began

previews of its first revival production of the play. Even the play's

premise feels eerily symbolic: Shaken by the unexpected death of their

friend Robbie, three friends find themselves confronting their paralyzed

lives. Anna, consumed by her career as a dancer, struggles to create an

exciting personal life, but chooses a safe lover in Burton. Wilson

introduces an unlikely savior: Robbie's runaway train wreck of a

brother, Pale. Crashing wildly into Anna's loft after an all-nighter,

Adam Rothenberg's Pale is the hot, pounding heart of this production: As

the radiator hisses on, he tells Anna, "I deliver water. I put out

fires... but sometimes you just let it burn." Clutching at his heart,

which is "fucking killing" him, and continuing on a coke-fueled rant

that ranges from trash-talking the neighborhood to shedding tears over

his brother's death, Pale finishes his first scene with a seduction so

sexy that he's clearly throwing wood, not water, on this fire. Brooks

Ashmanskas, as Anna's gay roommate Larry, is flamboyantly funny but

still fleshes the character beyond campiness. Ken Barnett's Burton is

purposefully boring. Zabryna Guevara's Anna, with her canned vocal

inflections and forced emotion, is the stiffest of the cast. A special

nod to Ralph Funicello's set, whose vast, underused space perfectly

suits the characters' stunted lives. Coursing with adrenaline, Burn This

spurs you as if a firecracker nearly went off in your hand. Live,

Wilson shouts, NOW. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sundays, 7 p.m.;

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May

1. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 628-2772.

THE CHAIRS Eugene Ionesco's slice of absurdity and futility receives a

faithful staging at A Noise Within. Over the course of this 80-minute,

one-act play, an aging couple drags out dozens of decrepit chairs to

accommodate a crowd of distinguished guests -- who prove imaginary. Old

regrets surface from the depths of their memories, and the Old Man

lapses into melancholy and grief when recalling the loss of his mother.

Company members Deborah Strang and Geoff Elliott (directed by ANW

Artistic Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott) seldom evoke amusement, even

when lewdly flirting with their invisible visitors. A gloomy mist

pervades a set of dingy, peeling gray walls. Stephen W. Gifford's set

and prop design and Ken Booth's lighting suggest a postapocalyptic

setting (supported by a single line in the play) and the sense they are

isolated in a circular building surrounded by water. Costume designer

Angela Balogh Calin clothes the two leads in layers of rags and ratty

furs, once sumptuous, now shabby. Ionesco's fixation with solitude,

nothingness and the insignificance of human existence results in a stark

experience. I prefer theater -- even absurdist comedies about the end of

the world -- to come with at least some levity and relief from the

obvious. (Pauline Adamek). Thu., April 28, 8 p.m.; Fri., April 29, 8

p.m.; Sat., April 30, 2 & 8 p.m.; Wed., May 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., May

12, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 15, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thu.,

May 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 21, 2 & 8 p.m. A

Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 240-0910,

anoisewithin.org.

GO THE COMEDY OF ERRORS A strongman, a

ventriloquist, three showgirls and a mimic with 1,000 voices make up

just half of the Burlesque on Brand troupe, which enters, grandstands

and immediately plunges into Shakespeare's shortest and most slapstick

comedy about two pairs of long-lost twins crisscrossing in Ephesus.

Here, servant Dromio (Jerry Kernion) wears a plaid toga, argyle socks

and saddle shoes. (The four credited costumers have done fantastic

work.) When Dromio vents to hero Antipholous (Bruce Turk) that the

chubby kitchen wench (Gibby Brand) who claims she's his betrothed "is

spherical, like a globe -- I could find out countries in her," their

banter smacks of Abbott and Costello. Director Michael Michetti's

dynamite ensemble is held together by Turk's leading man, who, like his

Errol Flynn mustache and the production itself, is playful and

self-mocking, but never ironic. Michetti inventively turns bereft father

Egeon's (Michael Stone Forrest) tale of how he lost his four sons -- the

longest speech in Shakespeare's canon -- into a silent black-and-white

film, but the director's not above showing a pie in the face. And he

even gets laughs for Adriana (Abby Craden) and Luciana (Annie Abrams) in

their usually thankless roles. In the first few scenes, the play

threatens to become a musical, but once past the momentary misstep of

two musical numbers, the production settles into the most droll and deft

staging of The Comedy of Errors I've seen in a decade. (Amy Nicholson).

Sat., April 23, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 24, 2 p.m.; Sun., May 1, 2

& 7 p.m.; Thu., May 5, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 14, 2

& 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818)

240-0910, anoisewithin.org.

GO THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN If you think Los

Angeles is an unkind city, you should try Inishmaan, the seemingly

quaint and picturesque Irish village setting of Martin McDonagh's

compelling drama. There, the villagers' otherwise adorable

eccentricities have abraded on each other to the point of sparking

near-psychotic frustration. By rights, the play should be a sentimental

tale, but McDonagh's ferocious writing artfully skewers expectations of

stereotypes, instead crafting a character-driven toxic dance of hope and

despair. In this tiny island town, circa 1934, young orphan Crippled

Billy (Tadhg Murphy) has been raised by two spinster "aunties" (Dearbhla

Molloy and Ingrid Craigie), following his parents' tragic death at sea

years ago. Within his claustrophobic and incredibly impoverished

community, Crippled Billy's dreams have not gone much further than the

hope of a kiss from bad-tempered (and possibly psychotic) town floozy

Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne), the Egg Man's assistant. However, when

Hollywood moviemakers arrive on a nearby island to make a film about the

"real" Ireland, Crippled Billy pulls out the stops to become a star --

though the results of his scheme take an unexpectedly tragic turn.

McDonagh's gorgeously lyrical dialogue is full of one-liners, quirky wit

and biting irony, while also capturing the understated sorrow of people

who believe life is nothing but suffering punctuated by loss. Like the

writing, director Garry Hynes' taut, often explosive yet intimate

staging boasts both impeccable comic timing and heartrending pathos --

often within a few seconds of each other. Galway's Druid Theatre Company

cast is extraordinary, crafting an ensemble of small-village archetypes

who appear lovable at first but whose seething undercurrents of spite

and malice become all too evident. Murphy offers a sweet and idealistic

turn as Crippled Billy, but the supporting figures are startlingly

multidimensional as well, from Craigie's tough Aunt Kate to Dunne's

abjectly terrifying Helen, and including Dermot Crowley in a hilarious,

towering turn as the town's reprehensible gossip. A Druid Theatre

Company and Center Theatre Group presentation. (Paul Birchall).

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m.

Continues through May 1, $20-$45. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington

Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.

CYCLOPS: A ROCK OPERA Ancient Greek satyr play turned rock opera,

presented by Psittacus Productions. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.).

Saturdays, 11 p.m.; Thursdays, Sundays, 9 p.m. Continues through May 8.

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY,

pasadenaplayhouse.org.

THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE Among the hazards of dramatizing hot topics,

shelf life can be the most bedeviling. The time it takes to get a

scalding current event from headline to script to stage virtually

assures that the initiating, blood-boiling public outrage will have

long-chilled into yawning audience indifference. Such is sadly the case

with playwright Donald Freed's stale speculative tale about Panamanian

General Manuel Noriega (Robert Beltran) and his infamous attempt to seek

sanctuary with Archbishop Jose Sebastian Laboa (Tom Fitzpatrick) in the

Papal consulate during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. As the

ailing archbishop prostrates himself in evening prayers, the sounds of

gunfire and circling U.S. military helicopters (effectively piped by

sound designer John Zalewski) announce both the expected, albeit dreaded

arrival of the freshly ousted dictator and besieging U.S. marines. The

exasperated prelate would like nothing better than to turn over his

volatile guest to the invaders. The general eventually agrees to leave,

but only if the Vatican's former grand inquisitor first hears his side

of the story and adjudges the general to be as diabolical as charged.

During the ensuing confession, Freed spins a historical web of colonial

collusion between church and state ranging from Columbus and Balboa to

Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela pulls

out all the production stops ― including Francois-Pierre Couture's

decrepit, blood-splashed set ― but not even veteran talents like Beltran

and Fitzpatrick can compensate for the urgency or allegorical lift that

Freed's excursive text so sorely lacks. (Bill Raden).

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 24,

(213) 489-0994. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.,

thelatc.org.

GO THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE It's New

Year's Eve in Tennessee Williams' drama, and Alma Winemiller is

enchanted by the crisp snaps of "frosty branches crackin'," but she's so

flushed with an inner flame she's shed jacket, scarf and gloves.

Deborah Puette's Alma is burning, set alight by a firecracker the

recently graduated doctor John Buchanan (Jason Dechert, in a role made

for him) casually tosses at her during Glorious Hill, Mississippi's

Fourth of July celebration. But Alma isn't like the pretty, simple girls

who have surrounded the eligible Buchanan up north. Nearing

spinsterhood, she's the town eccentric, who scatters crumbs for birds in

the square and is given to heart palpitations that seem a result of the

fluttery bird beating about in her own chest. Simultaneously attracted

("The light keeps changin' in [her eyes]") and repelled ("It's not lit,"

he says in the heartbreaking penultimate scene, crudely referring to

his sexual desire), Buchanan engages with Alma as an almost scientific

experiment. Yet Williams refuses to allow such cold sterility, and in a

scene so charged it leaves you smoldering in your seat, Buchanan

examines a frantic Alma, uttering possibly the most erotic three words

ever written by a playwright. Director Damaso Rodriguez dances the

entire production through the play's musicality on a stage lit

beautifully by James P. Taylor in the soft gauziness that Williams'

"romantic clichés" demand. In fact, the only slip is that early on,

Puette rests on an overactive accent. But by the second act, even that

flaw is forgiven, and as Williams' ever-tragic tide begins to come in,

the only thing to do is let it wash over you. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fri.,

April 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 7, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 8, 2 p.m.;

Sun., May 22, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thu., May 26, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 27, 8

p.m.; Sat., May 28, 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale,

(818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org.

THE ESCORT Jane Anderson's new play comes in a sleekly performed and perhaps too sleekly directed drama with scintillating ideas about the sex trade in our culture. The work depicts the sex trade as yet another arena in which we give up our selves in the barter for comforting fantasies of power and control, humility and humiliation. The play is on the road to a destination that hasn't yet been discovered. Some of this has to do with Anderson's expository writing style, and some with director Lisa Peterson's punching scene transitions that obscure some reflective essences in Anderson's writing. Some with lapses of credibility and some with the play's gratuitous reliance on sentimentality. The story focuses on two women whose lives intersect -- an obstetrician named Rhona (Polly Draper) and her patient, the high-end prostitute Charlotte (the excellent Maggie Siff). Rhona is trying to co-rear her 13-year-old son (Gabriel Sunday) with her urologist ex, Howard (James Eckhouse), and the play's crux lies in the evolving and devolving friendship between the two women, who both regard themselves as healers.  Like Anderson's The Baby Dance -- which concerns the friction between an infertile, well-heeled urban couple and the dirt-poor birth mother of the child they've contracted for -- The Escort wears its social satire and insights into the class divide like a glittering jewel. It's at its best in scenes such as a contracted bedroom liaison between Charlotte and Howard, in which Anderson blisteringly satirizes Howard's postcoital arrogance and condescension in what he presumes to be a genial conversation with Charlotte. He cavalierly refers to other "whores," prompting her to fire back, defensively, that she's been with men who actually run the world, and "You're nobody." In this play's universe, he may not be able to run her world, but he can certainly ruin it, because of her somewhat inexplicable, sentimental interest in his and Rhona's son. That this presumptuous "nobody" should have such power over Charlotte's destiny is a potent view of social injustice. If only it were attached to more plausible dramaturgy. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 8. (310) 208-5454. geffenplayhouse.com (Steven Leigh Morris)

GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE Gershwin's life and legendary songbook,

starring Hershey Felder. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through May 9. Pasadena

Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY,

pasadenaplayhouse.org.

GOD OF CARNAGE  Yasmina Reza's 2006 play God of Carnage -- translated by Christopher Hampton and reuniting the 2009 Broadway cast (Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden) -- swirls around an argument between two children who never appear onstage. One, having been called a "snitch" by the other, answered by smashing his accuser in the face with a stick and knocking out two of his teeth. The play, however, doesn't so much explore the origins of loathing between people as it assumes them as a given and then merely reveals them. There's little paradox, just various forms of decorum that get slowly, systematically yanked away - eviscerating its characters through primarily through mockery. It unfolds in the home of the child-victim's parents, Veronica and Michael (Harden and Gandolfini) -- depicted in Daryl A. Stone's set as a contemporary slab of domesticity. A cracked-stone-wall backdrop (all those fissures dividing what appears so solid), juxtaposed against art books stacked on the floor and tucked under coffee tables, signals a landing pad for liberal ideals. Yet that pad stands surrounded by a wash of red -- the raging fire of aggression that's been licking at, if not engulfing, the translucent skin of civilization for millennia. Veronica's husband, Michael, is a self-made wholesaler, a blue-collar fellow pressured by the play's circumstances to pretend he's far more tenderhearted than his temperament allows. After a few drinks, he'll reveal his true colors. Veronica and Michael are visited by the parents of the aggressor-child, Alan and Annette (Daniels and Davis). Alan is a high-powered lawyer who, we discern from his incessant cellphone conversations, represents big pharma. Alan's emotionally precarious wife, Annette, is into "wealth management" -- the wealth of her husband. It all starts out so reasonably. Nobody wants to go legal over a kids' squabble. That thin amiability becomes stretched by the consumption of too much alcohol, until it starts to tear. As the tensions among them rise, the initially agreed-upon premise that a problem child struck an innocent peer gets expanded to the theory that the abuser may have been justified because he'd been insulted.  The rhythmic ebbs and flows of Matthew Warchus' direction of his perfect cast keep the play about as taut as can be imagined. But the comic-dramatic tension of who can gore whom is like watching a bullfight. It's sadism mixed with technique, and the bloody outcome isn't really in question. I found myself riveted for an hour or so, until the dramatic formula became formulaic. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 29. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Man-eating-plant musical, book and lyrics by

Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.;

Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8

p.m. Continues through May 1. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts,

14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (562) 944-9801.


THE MERCHANT OF VENICE probes the essences of hostility by stacking up

multiple causes of Shylock's (F. Murray Abraham) resentment -- headed by

the loss of his daughter (Melissa Miller) to a Christian suitor (Vince

Nappo) -- that lead to Shylock wishing to exact a pound of Christian

flesh for no reason other than spite. Therein lies his only salvation in

anti-Semitic Venice, and for that he is crucified on a cross of his own

making. Abraham's Shylock contains an almost rarefied dignity that

melts into exalted agony. It's a deft and beautiful performance that's

scantily supported by the rest of the ensemble, and by Darko Tresnjak's

Euro-chic staging. John Lee Beatty's stark set places a trinity of

MacBook computers on pedestals. Sound designer Jane Shaw has them

blipping and beeping the play into the 21st century. Abraham's Shylock

may be more tender than Al Pacino's recent Broadway incarnation,

directed by Daniel Sullivan, but this production pales by comparison.

The ethnic slurs are here like barbs, punched out as though to declaim,

"You see, this is a play about bigotry." Sullivan's staging muted all of

that, so that the play floated down a stream of decorum -- which is

precisely what made the trial of Antonio, when Venice's bigotry

manifested itself full-force, so harrowing to watch. Moreover, in

Sullivan's version, there was never a hitch in the clarity of the story.

Here the vagaries of the settings, combined with some monochromatic

supporting performances, lead to a tumble of words and passions that

takes a while to congeal. Kate MacCluggage turns Portia into a regal

beauty who can transmit a freight load of subtext in a single glance.

This disintegrates when she doubles as a local, revered judge -- and

though that's a crucial scene, at least it's short. Her waiting woman

(Christen Simon Marabate) also has an effervescence that helps lift this

production's heavy load. Presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the

Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Wed. & Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.,

Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Through April 24. (310) 434-3414. (Steven Leigh

Morris)


GO N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK In 2002, three UCLA

students collaborate on a racial stereotype-inspired performance piece

that blends theater, stand-up comedy, poetry and hip-hop. A scant two

years later their show has transferred to the Los Angeles Theatre Center

and garners rave reviews. Before long the trio is touring 32 states,

selling out venues, and a grassroots phenomenon is born. As part of that

tour, the show with the name people are still uncomfortable to say

aloud returns to Los Angeles for a third time since its inception. The

brainchild of Rafael Agustin, Allan Axibal and Miles Gregley, as well as

their former mentors Liesel Reinhart and Steven T. Seagle (who both

direct), the show features new additions Dionysio Basco and Jackson

McQueen who, along with Agustin, keep audiences rolling with laughter.

Since the show first opened, we have seen the rise of Obama and

Sotomayor, yet we've also seen open racial slurs from elements within

the Tea Party and the passage of SB 1070, Arizona's strict immigration

law. Two steps forward, one step back. So more than ever, we need a show

that embraces, dismantles and remixes the racial stereotypes that

simmer beneath the surface. The three actors do a fabulous job of

squeezing in sentimental moments of poignancy, but revert back to comedy

before they become trite or preachy. Reinhart and Seagle's direction

keeps the actors efficiently darting in and out of the Mondrian curtain

of colored squares that serves as backdrop, and Kristie Roldan's nimble

lighting keeps pace, even if the actors sometimes don't quite find their

marks. N.W.C. is most definitely in the house, and you'd be wise to

catch them before they're Audi once more. A Speak Theater Arts

Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues

through April 23, (818) 495-4925, nwclive.com. Barnsdall Art Park, 4800

Hollywood Blvd., L.A..

QUIDAM Return of Cirque du Soleil's 1996 acrobatic spectacle. (Also

at April the Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario, April 27-May 1.).

Fri., April 22, 3:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sat., April 23, 3:30 & 7:30

p.m.; Sun., April 24, 1 & 5 p.m. Long Beach Convention &

Entertainment Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-3636.

SILENT SKY One of the cardinal sins in playwriting is allowing the

audience to get too far ahead of the story. Any but the tautest of grips

on the narrative leash will exact its toll in attenuated tension and

let loose the dogs of boredom. So it is with playwright Lauren

Gunderson's feminist-flavored rehabilitation of pre-World War I Harvard

astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Monette Magrath) in this harmless and

anodyne commission by South Coast Rep, now playing on its main stage. In

real life, Leavitt was one of Harvard astronomer Edward Charles

Pickering's all-women "human computers" engaged in number-crunching

drudgery while actual telescope time was reserved as a bastion of male

privilege. The play presents her as a poet and frustrated dreamer whose

determination to circumvent the unseen Pickering during her off-hours

condemns her to spinsterhood but results in "Leavitt's Law," the

critical astronomical yardstick that would enable later scientists to

fix our place in the limitless expanse of the cosmos. Colette Kilroy and

Amelia White lend fine support as the heroine's closet-suffragette

computer cohorts, and Nick Toren is suitably spineless as the romantic

interest who is both smitten by Henrietta's rebellious wit and

threatened by her superior intellectual ability. Costumer David Kay

Mickelsen contributes meticulous period detail to director Anne Justine

D'Zmura's sleek production, while York Kennedy's lights and John

Crawford's projections animate the evening firmament spinning above John

Iacovelli's spare, rotating turntable set. All that moving spectacle

can do little, however, to help the overly familiar text catch up to an

audience left waiting at the final blackout for the work to add up to

something greater than the sum of its wiki facts. (Bill Raden).

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m.;

Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 1. South

Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555,

scr.org.

THE UGLY DUCKLING Interactive kids' musical by Lloyd J. Schwartz and

Adryan Russ. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 9, (818) 761-2203.

Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., theatrewest.org.

WAITING FOR GODOT Samuel Beckett's existentialist classic.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 1.

Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014,

lbph.com.

GO A WEEKEND WITH PABLO PICASSO Sitting half-naked

in a cardboard box painted to resemble a bathtub, Herbert Siguenza

launches into an imagined weekend in the life of Pablo Picasso in a

manner that seems entirely fitting: balls out. Siguenza ― a painter and

impassioned fan of Picasso who's known for his work in the performance

group Culture Clash ― bases his solo show on a collection of utterances

by the mercurial, prolific co-founder of the Cubist movement, setting it

in the artist's studio on the coast of France in 1957. Tasked with

creating six paintings and three vases in less than three days, Picasso,

at the age of 76, becomes a whirling dervish of work and wild

philosophizing. Though the countless famous quotes (including many

heavy-handed statements about love, war and politics) and the

protagonist's streak of two dozen Eureka moments in 90 minutes sometimes

lends an air of staginess to the work, getting to watch Siguenza paint,

prowl the stage and lovingly channel the spirit of an eccentric icon

more than makes up for the moments of inauthenticity. Scenic designer

Giulio Cesare Perrone creates an art studio fit for a legend and

Victoria Petrovich's projection design synchs perfectly with the

boldness of Siguenza's performance. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 1. Los Angeles Theater

Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.

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

ALL ABOUT WALKEN The Impersonators of Christopher Walken: Eight male

and female actors emote Walken. Thu., April 28, 8 p.m. Acme Comedy

Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0202, acmecomedy.com.

ATTACK OF THE 50 FT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings

Sunday Company. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose

Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

BASH latterday plays: Coeurage Theatre presents Neil Labute's Mormon

tragedies. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through

May 15, coeurage.org. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd.,

L.A., (323) 882-8043, actorscircle.net.

GO THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT 2050: Stories about

dystopian societies often risk seeming contrived, but playwright Tania

Wisbar's beautifully detailed and elegiac tale depicts a world that

might believably exist, say, 100 years after a Nazi takeover. In the

future, poverty and disease have been eliminated, but the world is

instead organized on entirely practical lines, with your right to

survive being decided by the number of "points" you earn every year. On

the 75th birthday of family matriarch Teresa (Salome Jens), her devoted

daughter Marsha (Elyssa Davalos) thinks she has collected enough points

from her two sisters and family to allow Teresa to live another year.

More than just being the emotional center of her clan, Teresa is one of

the last living rebels who recalls life before the odious new order came

to pass. Marsha's hopes are threatened when unexpected complications

amp up the charge for Teresa's right to life. In director Jonathan

Sanger's beautifully melancholy staging, what could be a mechanical

exercise in high-concept plotting becomes a wistful tale of how easy it

would be to purge memory of the past from the world. Sanger's smoothly

executed production boasts many rich details: Set designer Kis Knekt's

calculatedly sterile living room is replete with decorative video

screens that show 1984-esque messages from the genially sinister

bureaucrat (Jeffrey Doornbos) who oversees the family's doings. Knekt's

set, in conjunction with composer Karen Martin's eerie incidental music,

crafts a world that's just plain crazy. The ensemble work is just as

assured. Apart from Jens' powerful turn as the ferociously nonconforming

grandmother, Davalos' complex performance as Marsha is exceptional: Her

character is seemingly an upbeat chirper, but her good mood is so

clearly artificial, it seems as though she's always about to weep. Also

engaging in supporting roles are Katrina Lenk, as Marsha's venomously

selfish younger sister, and Demetrius Grosse, as a guilt-haunted

security agent. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7

p.m. Continues through May 22, (323) 960-7733, plays411.com. Skylight

Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A..

BLINK & YOU MIGHT MISS ME You've seen Larry Blum before ― in

fact, I'd bet $20 bucks you've seen Blum on TV a dozen times. But unless

you know who you're looking for, you might not have noticed him. When

his one-man show about his career opens with footage of Meryl Streep's

2010 Golden Globes win and Blum struts out and asks, "Did you notice who

took Meryl to the stage?" the audience does a double take. Blum is an

on-camera talent escort, a hired gun who makes sure no star snaps a

stiletto on her way to accept an award. Before that, he was a dancer,

and earlier still he was a celebrity-obsessed gay Jewish teen in late

'60s New York who lost his virginity to a sailor in an alley behind a

Nestle truck. ("Every time I have a cup of cocoa, I still get hard," he

reminisces.) Blum's good-humored, self-deprecating show has the patter

of a dinner party guest who's told his stories a few too many times, and

director Stan Zimmerman could get Blum's one-liners to sound more

off-the-cuff. Still, Blum's got bite and it's lucky for him that among

the many, many stars he dishes dirt about, at least half are dead or too

old to bother calling a lawyer (Roseanne Barr, Raquel Welch and Dionne

Warwick should stay away). Though in his youth he hoped to become

famous, Blum doesn't paint himself as a has-been, never-was or will-be.

He's proud to pay his rent by pursuing his dream ― and by being a

shameless residual check hound who even joined Susan Lucci's fan club to

make sure he made every nickel from taking Lucci's arm during her big

Emmy win. (He elbowed her husband out of the way for the honor.) Blum's

cascade of quick clips keeps multimedia operator Matthew Quinn busy as

they stack up to build a scrapbook of the busiest actor you'd never

recognize. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 27,

(323) 960-7612, plays411.com/blink. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A.,

theatreasylum-la.com.

BONDED Bolstered by director Jon Lawrence Rivera's unadorned, precise

vision, Act 1 of Donald Jolly's homoerotic slave narrative set on a

Virginia plantation in 1820 is a piece of earnest, thought-provoking

theater. Jolly's frank but lovely storytelling graces the genre with

fresh insights about the lives of slaves, traveling beyond the

dehumanizing stories of sexual abuse and unspeakable human violence

penned so powerfully in the firsthand accounts of Frederick Douglass and

Harriet Jacobs, taking us instead to a slightly reimagined slice of the

old South, where sexual freedom becomes nearly as urgent as freedom

from human ownership. Sonny (Terrence Colby Clemons), Lily (Toyin Moses)

and Jack (Carl Crudup) are the last remaining slaves on a rapidly

crumbling Virginia plantation. Enter Asa (Eric B. Anthony), a New York

"house boy," whom the three plantation slaves quickly dub "new nigger."

Accustomed to fetching cocktails and completing other indoor chores, Asa

melts down after being shackled and scrubbed, whipped by Jack (a

70-something, self-proclaimed "true African" who wants to keep the

uppity Northerner in his place) and forced to keep impossibly long hours

plowing fields. When Sonny and Asa begin to bond emotionally, sexual

tensions arise and eventually explode. Sadly, Act 2 is a bundle of

redundancies, a drawn-out series of melodramatic manipulations that

don't do justice to the first act's promise. Bob Blackburn's sound

design, Adam Blumenthal's lighting and John H. Binkley's set serve the

story well. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through

April 24, playwrightsarena.org. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S.

Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.

CABARET DOMA Theatre Co.'s sexed-up take on the Kander-Ebb musical.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 22,

(323) 960-5773, plays411.com/cabaret. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave.,

L.A., theMETtheatre.com.

GO CABARET IDOL "There's nothing better to watch

than a performer who loves to perform, except two good-looking people

having sex," says host Scot Young. And in week four of season two of

this live competition, Young and the packed crowd of fans, friends and

family watched 14 performers anxiously take the stage and sing a number

for the judges. At the end of the evening there were 12 survivors,

another cull in the quest for the grand prize: new head shots, a

management contract and a two-night solo show. The performance's theme

was, perversely, "No Show Tunes," which had the contestants in

paroxysms. Said one without a hint of sarcasm, "There really aren't that

many songs that aren't show tunes!" But try they did, belting out

Broadway-esque versions of Journey and Whitesnake and Cyndi Lauper

before a scoring panel that didn't let them off the hook. "I want you to

do a damn country song," grumbled a judge in mock exasperation. There

were some good voices -- and a few great ones -- but the audience was

there to tap their toes, vote for their favorites and maybe even grab

some dinner or a stiff drink if they could flag down one of the waiters

zipping around in the standing-room-only dark. (Amy Nicholson). Sundays,

7 p.m. Continues through April 24. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill,

6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 466-9917.

GO CAUGHT In the aftermath of Proposition 8 passing

in November 2008, one of the regrets of those who fought valiantly for

gay marriage and against the proposition was that enough wasn't done to

"normalize" gay couples. And while the events in David L. Ray's

world-premiere play take place in July 2008, Caught furthers the cause

by dramatizing one of those healthy relationships. In it, Angelenos

Kenneth (Corey Brill) and Troy (Will Beinbrink) are on the eve of their

nuptials, a ceremony that will be officiated by their friend Splenda

(Micah McCain), who is ordained via the Internet. This blissful scene is

interrupted by a visit from Kenneth's estranged sister, Darlene

(Deborah Puette), who is very Southern and very Christian, as well as

her daughter, Krystal (Amanda Kaschak). In the interludes between

scenes, we also see Darlene's husband, T.J. (Richard Jenik), preaching

to his conservative congregation in Georgia. Secrets, lies and

surprising revelations fuel the drama. Director Nick DeGruccio deftly

takes Ray's strong and likable characters from page to stage, sparingly

playing up stereotypes for comedy without ever reducing the characters

to them. Adding to the authenticity are Adam Flemming's delightfully

detailed set and Katherine Hampton Noland's colorful couture. Adding to

the emotional investment in the story is a talented cast; standouts

include Puette, for her rich and intense portrayal of Darlene; McCain,

for balancing divalike comedy with deep sincerity; and Kaschak, for

combining fresh-faced innocence and a willfulness to create a very

believable teenager. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15, (800) 595-4849,

CaughtThePlay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..

COPENHAGEN Black Cat Productions presents Michael Frayn's

"exploration of history, science and the human spirit." Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23, (323) 960-4420,

plays411.com/copenhagen. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W.

Washington Blvd., L.A., attictheatre.org/tickets.


CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS Newly revised version of Sam Shepard's 1978

surreal comic melodrama about the end of the American Dream. Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 4. Open Fist

Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

DOUG LOVES MOVIES Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m., Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702.

THE ELEPHANT MAN Just minutes into director John Drouillard's revival

of Bernard Pomernace's 1979 drama, a man in a worn hospital gown whose

face is fixed in an expressionless stare is introduced as John Merrick

and then shuffled off the stage. Not long afterwards, Mr. Merrick (John

Hoagland) is on display, with his grotesque deformities itemized in a

frosty, clinical manner to an audience of gawkers after undergoing a

breathtaking transformation into the "Elephant Man." The contrast is a

nice turn by Drouillard; the fact that it's also an intensely unsettling

moment is a tribute to the genius and artistry of the play's make up

designer, Barney Burman. The play chronicles the final stages of

Merrick's life after he is given permanent shelter at the London

Hospital Medical College and placed under the care of Dr. Frederick

Treves (Alex Monti Fox). The play isn't so much about Merrick's

condition and dehumanizing "thingification" as much as it is about the

transformative effect he had on those closest to him and our often

cynical sense of morality. Though neatly-packaged, Drouillard's

production lacks the requisite emotional resonance; too often it feels

as if we too are dispassionate examiners of Merrick's plight instead of

being emotionally drawn into it. On balance, cast performances are quite

good. Sean Hoagland is impressive as Merrick, and Hillary Herbert does a

wonderful turn as Mrs. Kendall, the actress and caretaker who provides

Merrick with genuine tenderness. The complex relationship between

Merrick and Treves is the soul of this play, but Fox is convincing only

in patches, and seems completely out of his depth for this enormously

critical role. Vali Tirsoaga has fashioned a simple yet effective set

design, and Pheobe H. Boynton's costumes are equally well-crafted.

(Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7

p.m. Continues through April 24, theelephantmanplay.com. El Centro

Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A..

GO ENDGAME A successful staging of Samuel Beckett's

absurdist classic requires a director who can mine the play's comic and

lyrical elements, and effectively meld them with the author's

relentlessly harsh vision. Here, director Paul Plunkett does just that,

aided by an excellent cast which maintains that crucial balance

throughout. Endgame is about four pitiful characters trapped in a dismal

room as the outside world collapses in decay and sterility. Unlike the

forlorn tramps in Waiting for Godot, there is no expectation of relief

or purpose, just the slow passage of time ending in an inevitable,

painful demise. Confined in a pair of battered, industrial containers,

the ghoulish-looking Nagg and Nell (Barry Ford and the striking Kathy

Bell Denton) emerge sporadically to break the tedium of the central

"action," which unfolds on a rickety caricature of a throne. There, the

blind, crippled Hamm (Leon Russom) is unable to move and has his needs

tended to by the perpetually besieged Clov (David Fraioli), in a

bizarre, ongoing ritual of servitude. When, toward the end, Hamm asks

about his painkiller, and is told by Clov that there isn't any more, we

know that, for this outing anyway, the laughs are balm enough. As

effective as Plunkett's direction is, this fine revival really soars on

the wings of the cast's terrific performances. (Lovell Estell III).

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23. Sacred Fools

Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.

FACEBOOKThe weekly show formerly known as MySpace. Wednesdays, 9:30

p.m., $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.,

(323) 908-8702.

FIVE BY TENN One-Act Festival: Five short plays by Tennessee

Williams. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through

May 1. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 467-6688,

theatre68.com.

GO GIRLS TALK Roger Kumble's new seriocomedy sets

out to debunk that famous feminist promise that women can have it all --

the career, the family and their sanity. As lights go up on a beached

Brooke Shields, a milk pump attached to each breast, Kumble softens up

his audience with broad comic strokes and entertainment industry

in-jokes. He even pokes fun at racism before settling in to a serious

examination of four power moms in Brentwood, and the dilemmas they face.

As mother of three Lori, Shields shows up in a pink hoodie and Uggs,

but pretty soon sky-high wedge heels and hefty designer handbags take

over the stage (costumes by Ann Closs-Farley). She slobs about the

solid, trilevel set (design by Tom Buderwitz) as the other, more

pretentious moms arrive. Meanwhile Lori's former writing partner, Claire

(Constance Zimmer), wants to lure her back to the cutthroat world of TV

with an irresistible opportunity -- a meeting with Oprah herself. But

what about Lori's commitments to her eldest kid's preschool fundraiser?

Eileen Galindo is underused as Lori's uncomprehending temp nanny. Andrea

Bendewald is magnificent as alpha mom Jane, especially when she

unleashes her vicious tongue, completely annihilating Scarlett (Nicole

Paggi), the needy Southern mom who is trying so hard to be Jewish

("Holla for challa!"). But Jane gets her comeuppance, courtesy of

Claire, a fearless non-mom. This play is full of squabbly little

victories, some distasteful, some victorious. It concludes abruptly on a

cliffhanger, but by then Kumble has well and truly made his point.

(Pauline Adamek). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues

through May 7, (800) 595-4849, tix.com. Lee Strasberg Institute,

Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

GO GLORY DAYS The thing about the Golden Age of

one's life is that when it's happening you think it will never change --

but somehow it always does, and rarely for the better. Composer Nick

Blaemire and writer John Gardiner's unusually wise and energetic musical

is all about the inevitability of growing up and how we frequently

outgrow even our most valued friends. A year after high school

graduation, four small town pals reunite on the local football field,

intending to perform a silly prank at the next day's varsity game. Group

ringleader Will (Derek Klena) is deeply nostalgic about his friendship

with his old pals, all of whom remember him fondly but have moved on:

Wisecracking cynic Skip (Alex Robert Holmes) is attending an Ivy League

college, while strong, silent Jack (Ian Littleworth) appears to have

lost his zest for the old pals. Only red-haired frat boy Andy (Matthew

Koehler) seems to be interested in keeping the friendship going, and

he's turning into a bit of a thug. Things take a turn when one of the

pals makes an unexpected revelation that pretty much reduces the

friendship to post-it-in-the-memory album status. Director Calvin

Remsberg's brisk, vivid staging beautifully conveys the passion and

vigor of youth -- and musical director James May's lively interpretation

of Blaemire's sometimes haunting, sometimes ferocious rock musical

score, artfully captures that moment when silly teenagers suddenly

realize they're becoming somebody else. This is indeed the sort of show

in which the four characters, archetype man-boys all, could easily have

strayed into sentimental cliché, but the ensemble limn the sort of

tautly defined, personality-rich figures whom you will swear you recall

from your own high school days. Klena, a likable young actor, possesses a

powerhouse voice and his belts, particularly in the opening and closing

numbers, show great range and harmony. Nicely sensitive turns are also

offered by Holmes's sardonic, but warm Skip (a Jughead surrogate if ever

there was one), and by Littleworth, whose rendition of "Open Road," a

song about a year spent wandering the country, is the show's evocative

highlight. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Continues through April 24, (323) 960-7792, plays411.com/glorydays.

Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A..

THE GOLDEN GAYS John Patrick Trapper's homotastic comedy inspired by

The Golden Girls. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues

through May 1, thegoldengays.com. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A..

GO GOODBYE, LOUIE . . . HELLO The late playwright

Allan Manings was blacklisted and forced to move to Canada. There, he

worked on a horse farm till 1961, when he was able to return to

Hollywood and forge a successful career in television. So it's not

surprising that he should focus on the doings of the House Un-American

Activities Committee in this, his final play. Actor-comedian Louis

Berns, née Bernstein (Alan Freeman), has reached retirement years, and

spends his days with his children, son Scott (Paul Denniston) and bossy

but loving daughter, Aimee (Maria Kress), and his lifelong friend and

fellow comic, Benjy Gordon (Steve Franken), with whom he plays a daily

gin rummy game. For much of Act 1, the play seems to be a gentle, funny

Jewish character comedy. But when Scott's journalist friend David (Roy

Vongtama) sets out to write a profile of Louie, his research reveals

that Louie was called to testify before HUAC in 1951, and named his old

friend Benjy, resulting in Benjy's being blacklisted and the destruction

of his career. When this information is revealed, catastrophe results.

John Gallogly directs a fine cast in a richly nuanced production, with

wonderful performances by Freeman and Franken as the two old actors.

(Neal Weaver). theatrewest.org Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2

p.m. Continues through May 8. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West,

L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.

GO GROUNDLINGS SINGLES CRUISE A cast of master

improv artists reliably fall into three categories: "inspired" -- in

which all the right notes of exaggeration, situation and universal

recognition ignite an uncontrolled chain reaction of belly laughs;

"merely great" -- in which an incisive caricature carries the potential

for critical comedy frisson but melts down before the finish; and "back

to the workshop" -- or not recommended for public viewing at this time.

Fortunately, this edition racks up enough of the first and so few of the

last that it warrants a medical warning for laugh-induced abdominal

cramps. At the top of the heap are the pieces that bear the writing

credits of Andrew Friedman, Michael Naughton or Mitch Silpa. In

"Honeymoon," Friedman and Silpa's irritating preteen ghost twins, Kevin

and Kyle, hilariously connect the horrors of The Shining to the

hauntings of Eros-deflating parenting. With "Q&A," Naughton and

Friedman expertly excoriate the absurd insipidity of play readings and

those who attend them. "The Terrys" features Jillian Bell and Silpa

striking satiric pay dirt in the surreal fashion faux pas and

entertainment non sequiturs perpetrated by TV comedy variety shows of

the early '70s. Charlotte Newhouse, Lisa Schurga, Jill Matson-Sachoff

and Edi Patterson all shine in respective leaps into the perverse depths

of depraved feminine grotesquerie. And director Mikey Day keeps it all

moving at a comedy-conducive clip ... not counting the tediously long

scene blackouts, when audiences must bide their time with the tasty

licks of musical director Willie Etra and his jam-seasoned band. (Bill

Raden). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through

April 23. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700,

groundlings.com.

HAMLET Shakespeare's tragedy set in modern times, presented by Player

King Productions. Mondays, Tuesdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues

through May 10, (310) 909-8629, brownpapertickets.com/event/166103.

Belle Varado Studios/Stage 22, 2107 Bellevue Ave., L.A..

HELL MONEY To attend Ruth McKee's comedy of young, unglamorous

poverty, you take an elevator up six floors to a small, one-room loft

that places you squarely in the apartment of Katie (Elia Saldana) and

Julie (Jennifer Chang). Well, sort of small ― it's the "Friends-style

version that's more than the ten by ten they could afford," cautions the

company's rep during a pre-show announcement. The girls, 19 and freshly

out of the foster care system, are so broke they live on ketchup and

ramen, but they've got big dreams ― at least Julie does ― of graduating

college and defying their low expectations. McKee flirts with deeper

emotions, like Julie's fear of abandonment and distrust of men ― when

she pulls a knife on their neighbor Norman (Ewan Chung) and warns the

beautiful, brainless Katie against dating, we sense the pain in her

past. But the comedy, directed by Jen Bloom, is all shriek and little

substance, a loud melodrama, with an edge of menace from Burt Mosely's

turn as a Nigerian drug dealer who put Katie through basic training as a

hospital orderly so she could steal him pills. There's a sneaking

suspicion that Saldana is a deft comedian, but there's so much shouting

that it's hard to tell. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 24, chalkrep.com. Agenda Loft,

400 South Main Street, Studio 601, L.A., (213) 626-0071, agendaloft.com.

HIDDEN IN THIS PICTURE Aaron Sorkin's movie-making comedy. Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through May 15,

plays411.com/hidden. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen),

1514 N. Gardner St., L.A., (323) 874-1733, www.theactorsplaypen.com/.

HITCHCOCKED Improv inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock,

directed by Patrick Bristow. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 7,

(323) 960-7612, plays411.com/hitchcocked. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way,

L.A., theatreasylum-la.com.

A HOUSE NOT MEANT TO STAND Empty butterscotch wrappers scattered on a

cheap coffee table, an afghan in shades of brown clutching a grubby

couch, an old Christmas-themed popcorn tin catching one of the ceiling's

countless leaks -- Misty Carlisle's prop design is so on-target, if she

isn't from the South, she must have spent summers there. Yet her

efforts, and Jeff McLaughlin's picture-perfect set, can't save the soul

of this production of Tennessee Williams' tragicomedy. The premise is

dyed-in-the-wool Williams: Hard-driving father Cornelius (Alan

Blumenfeld) and his regressed-from-depression wife, Bella (Sandy

Martin), arrive home from burying their gay son in Memphis. ("You

encouraged him to design clothes [and] try 'em on," Cornelius berates

his wife.) Their youngest, kinda sneaky, kinda sweet son (Daniel Billet)

is home (after losing another job) with a similarly out-of-work

girlfriend (Virginia Newcomb). The play, Williams' last, isn't his best;

soliloquies directed at the audience weaken the action and disrupt the

script's flow. But in not clearly revealing the kind of seminal

Williams-esque conflict between a deep well of despair and the

near-instinctual impulse to hide anything unpleasant, director Simon

Levy has ignored the desperate sadness here, turning the play into a

carnival of caricatures. Fortunately, Lisa Richards, a cougar before the

term even existed, soft-pedals her approach as a nosy neighbor, and her

scene near the end with Bella is the first in the production that

intrigues. The real shame, in fact, is that Martin's performance as the

mentally clouded yet still feisty Bella is stranded in this production.

Tennessee Williams always saved his best for his women, and Martin more

than does him justice. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 22, $25-$35; $18 students.

Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1525,

fountaintheatre.com.

THE HUMAN VOICE The old Tin Pan Alley tune "Hello! Ma Baby" (more

recently popularized by the singing frog in the Warner Bros. cartoons)

might be an appropriate score for this 1930 Jean Cocteau play in which

an unnamed Woman feels trapped in a room with a telephone that is a

lifeline to her physically and emotionally distant lover. Adding to the

Woman's slow devolution is a shoddy connection that both drops her call

multiple times and crosses wires with other conversations. Lady Gaga,

she is not. She wants her lover on that telephone. She needs him on that

telephone. Badly. Yet what Cocteau wrote as an exploration of the human

voice (as well as a showcase for the divas of his day) here at times

sounds more like an extended Verizon commercial. "Can you hear me now?"

Yes, but what are you saying and why should we be invested in it?

Speaking in a typewriter staccato and landing on her words with labored

deliberateness, actress Ho-Jung has a hard time consistently

demonstrating the heightened emotion necessary to bring the piece to

life. Director Dan Bonnell perhaps errs too far on the side of subtlety,

failing to elicit that desperation from her. At the same time, Anthony

Wood's translation may be partially responsible for trite expressions of

love torn asunder, which undermine the depths of sorrow in Cocteau's

original. At least set designer Melissa Ficociello's room nearly

collapsing on itself -- with its sea-foam-blue walls, which resemble

dirty clouds -- is a clever nod to both period hues and the Woman's

situation. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7

p.m. Continues through April 24, (323) 960-7863,

plays411.com/humanvoice. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A., elephantstages.com.

I GET KNOCKED DOWN . . . When writer-performer Evan McNamara first

appears in this one-man show, he's wearing a T-shirt that reads "ARISE"

and pointy elf ears. He is, he tells us, a member of an elf clan, and

his sister, Raven, is a vampire who for years drained him of vitality.

He then assumes the role of a Guardian Angel who revels in his own

self-esteem. "God loves me," he claims, "because I make heaven look so

cool." The elf tells about the woman he loved, hard-hearted Hannah, who

married him and bore him two children, but then announced she'd been

unfaithful from the start. We then meet Evan's other suffering alter

egos: a prisoner shackled till he frees himself through an act of will, a

martyr who embraces his pain, a scholar who alternates between raging

against his fate and philosophic acceptance, a clown who wraps himself

in a cloak of protective humor, and a hipster in stylish shades who

doesn't contribute much to the story. McNamara is an appealing and

energetic actor, but his bromidic ending is announced (self-knowledge is

the key) rather than dramatized, so the show, though pleasant, seems

both short (40 minutes) and slight. Director John Coppola might have

been wise to insist on more substance. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24,

igetknockeddown.eventbrite.com. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A., (323) 988-1175.

NEW REVIEW GO I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER

Stage Raw: Completeness

Photo by Daniel G. Lam

If

the aim of naturalism in theater is the pitch perfect rendering of

reality, then Cameron Watson's urbane staging of Robert Anderson's 1968

drama scores. It revolves around an aging, ailing and cantankerous

egotist named Tom (Philip Baker Hall) and Tom's beleaguered son, Gene

(John Sloan). A widowed college professor, the soft-spoken Gene has

always sought his father's love but has never received it. With Tom now

battling dementia, Gene struggles between a mix of duty and a desperate

need to bond, and his equally strong desire to establish a new life for

himself in California, 3,000 miles away. Constructed as a memory

play, Anderson's highly personal work sometimes teeters on the edge of

melodrama but ultimately transcends its suburban WASP milieu and

mid-20th century perspective with its themes involving fathers and sons,

family and self. Hall, a performer whose intense dynamic can barely

be contained within the production's small venue, dominates the stage,

barking at those around him like the fierce and wounded human animal Tom

has become. Sloan performs impeccably in the less flashier role of

the tongue-biting adult that Gene is laboring to be; so does Anne Gee

Byrd as Tom's gracious, long suffering wife. As sister Alice, banished

from the family for marrying a Jew, the terrific Dee Ann Newkirk

metamorphoses from a tight-lipped secondary character into the plot's

fiery catalyst. The various shifts in time and place are effectively

accommodated by designer John Iacovelli's spare set, with its

transparent scrim elaborated on by projection designer Christopher M.

Allison color-imbued drawings. The New American Theatre at the McCadden

Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;

thru May 22. (310) 701-0788. NewAmericanTheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)

IN THE AGES OF THE EARTH A new performance by Mary Lynn Rajskub.

Fridays, 11:30 p.m. Continues through April 30. Working Stage Theater,

1516 N. Gardner St., L.A., (323) 851-2603, workingstage.com.


JUST IMAGINE Tim Piper's John Lennon impersonation, including

performances of Beatles hits and Lennon's solo work. Fridays, Saturdays,

8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29, (323) 960-4442.

Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., www.thehayworth.com.

KEEP IT CLEAN COMEDY Hosted by JC Coccoli. Mondays, 10:30 p.m., Free.

1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1739.

GO LA RAZON BLINDADA (THE ARMORED REASON) How does

a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew

inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the

experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that

country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were

permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk,

albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That

setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal

80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to

role-play -- one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the

other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated

throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels.

Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a

hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about

madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate

fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of

power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival -- not as rational

beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy

frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are

consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a

videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's

Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah

Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30. 24th Street

Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A., (800) 838-3006,

www.brownpapertickets.org.

L.A. VIEWS IV Short Play Festival: Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 1. Company of Angels Theater, 501

S. Spring St., L.A., (323) 883-1717.

NEW REVIEW LUST 'N RUST These days, stories

of plant closures as a result of corporate downsizing or outsourcing

have become all too common in the news. Frank Haney, Carol Kimball and

Dave Stratton choose to explore this economic phenomenon musically. In

their piece, New Jersey executive Steve (Sal Cecere) is posted to

Southern Illinois to manage a plant for Agribig. Believing the move to

be temporary, Steve rents a trailer in the Redbud Mobile Estates, where

he falls for Connie (Joyanna Crouse), who has just split up with husband

Duane (Derek Long). Also populating the trailer park are the comic duo

of Buzz (Josh Evans) and Junior (Scott Dean), Buzz's lascivious wife

Tanya (Terra Taylor), social chair and gossip hub Red (Ward Edmondson),

sassy beautician Latisha (Becky Birdsong), and general oddball Janette

(Leann Donovan). Though the show's premise accurately reflects the

zeitgeist, it suffers from one-dimensional characters, painfully

presentational dialogue, and contrived turns of events that sap the

story of genuine drama. The music is pleasant with some nice harmonies,

but the lyrics are often undercut by off-kilter rhyme schemes and too

many syllables per beat. Director Thomas Colby curiously lines up his

actors to face the audience whenever a song is about to start, turning

musical theatre into country cabaret. Allan Jensen's "wood and hinges"

motif plays well on a sign-festooned set that's both versatile and

authentically detailed, but overall the show is too broadly drawn to

take seriously as drama and too obvious to be consistently entertaining

as comedy. The Lyric Theater, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 30. (626) 695-8383. brownpapertickets.com/event/144372 (Mayank Keshaviah)

MAGIC STRINGS Bob Baker's marionette variety revue, featuring puppet

horses on a merry-go-round, an opera diva on roller skates, a "Day at

the Circus," and an all-American grand finale. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30

p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W.

First St., L.A., (213) 250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.

MASSACRE (SING TO YOUR CHILDREN) At the start of Jose Rivera's

mystical melodrama, the room goes black for 60 seconds of offstage

screaming. Like the play that follows, it's a bold idea that can't

resist going deadeningly over the top. Seven murderers -- four men, three

women -- tumble into the room, covered in blood, clutching machetes and

crowbars and pipes and knives, and vibrating with the rush of killing

Joe, the tyrant who has spent five years terrorizing their small

American town. But their chest bumps and self-congratulations quickly

fade into the quiet fear of realizing that, sans scapegoat, they now

have to think for themselves -- and worse, take ownership over whatever

miseries befall them. (Surely they can't be any worse than Joe, who has

raped the women, killed the children and slashed the population by a

third.) This is a heightened world staged too casually by Richard

Martinez, who plunks this gory metaphor in a suburban rec room and

encourages his cast to pivot from slang to grand speechifying. It's as

though the play and this production are so concerned with the big

strokes that all the details are scrambled: The characters are

inconsistent and their relationships murky. Minutes after one growls to

another that they don't know each other and should keep it that way, a

cheery five-year flashback to before the Reign of Joe makes the gang

look as tight as the cast of Friends. And it's worth noting that only

the men get the good speeches -- while they recant their painful stories,

the ladies just give them massages. Underlying it all is: How culpable

are we in our own captivity? Rivera burns with the need to demand an

answer but douses his own flames. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8

p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15, (323) 369-0571,

urbantheatremovement.com. Underground Theatre, 1312-1314 N. Wilton

Place, L.A..

NEW REVIEW MAXWELL STREET

Stage Raw: Completeness

Photo by Jerry Katell

By

virtue of its setting--Chicago's South Side during the postwar blues

music boom --Willard Manus' new play should brim with second-to-none

music. Instead, the entire show plays out like a giant missed

opportunity, a sloppily penned love letter to an erstwhile blues scene

that included Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Memphis Minnie. Everything

from the simplistic script to botched lighting cues to under-rehearsed,

unsure actors lacking strong singing skills makes the production feel

painfully amateurish. Snooks Lawson (Tony Davis) is an aging bluesman

who decides to give the business one last shot. Teaming up with a young,

white harmonica player, Irwin Weisfeld (Greg Guardino), Snooks forms a

band in which he is the only black member. Keeping his eye on the evil

Lance Lennox (Jerry Katell), an A&R man who has burned Snooks in the

past, Snooks makes great music but is accused of being a sellout to the

white crowd. The predictable plot involves battles with drug addiction

and alcohol abuse, race wars, and misunderstandings that threaten to

break up the band. Though there are a host of one-note performances

(Davis plays a full on caricature throughout, cackling and bemoaning

life's cruelties without a genuine human emotion in sight), the show's

most frustrating aspect stems from what remains unseen and unheard:

great music. In its stead are clichéd lines about overcoming obstacles,

compounded by the missed emotional connections between the characters.

Immediately following the band's off-stage appearance at the Newport

Folk Festival, Lennox congratulates them for blowing Bob Dylan out of

the water. From the small bits of singing sans instruments we see on

stage, this piece of praise seems preposterous. Cake Theatre at Barbara

Morrison Performing Arts Center, 4305 Degnan Blvd., Ste. 101, L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., noon; thru May 1. (310) 330-0178. (by Amy

Lyons)

THE MERCY SEAT Neil LaBute, a writer renowned for his lacerating

portraits of narcissistic cads and the arrested adolescent within,

doesn't exactly spring to mind when one speaks of a "9/11 play." So it

comes as something of a relief that this 2002 drama set in lower

Manhattan on the day after the terrorist attacks is less concerned with

collapsing office towers than it is with the imploding illusions of its

feuding pair of illicit lovers. In fact, the only disaster in sight

turns out to be of the emotional kind. The curtain opens on Ben (Johnny

Clark), a husband and father so paralyzed by callow self-pity and

passive-aggressive guilt that he is unable to answer his incessantly

ringing cell phone or move from his armchair for nearly the entire play.

Turns out that he was only spared from dying in the conflagration

because he skipped a meeting at Ground Zero for an early-morning

assignation with his boss and mistress, Abby (Michelle Clunie), at her

luxury loft. When Ben compounds his callous indifference to the loss of

life outside by cynically seizing on his own presumed death in a scheme

to abandon his family and run off with her, Abby is finally jolted into a

belated reappraisal of their three-year affair. Clunie all but steals

the show with an artfully nuanced performance that galvanizes Abby's

tough exterior with affecting currents of wounded vulnerability and

frustrated yearning. Unfortunately, with the exception of exhilarating

flourishes provided by Derrick McDaniel's poetic lights, director Ron

Klier's staging is so weighted down by Danny Cistone's distractingly

overelaborate and hyperrealistic set that the production rarely achieves

LaBute's intended metaphoric lift. (Bill Raden). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 24. [Inside] the Ford,

2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A., (323) 461-3673, fordtheatres.org.

THE MOTOR TRADE Alex Morris and Dan Martin star in Norm Foster's

"black comedy." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues

through April 24. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., (323)

422-6361, theatretheater.net.

GO THE NEXT FAIRY TALE Writer-composer Brian Pugach

uses a fractured fairy tale to deliver a message of tolerance and

acceptance. Four Fairy Godmothers assemble, under the direction of their

den mother/director Minerva (a formidable Gina Torrecilla), to create a

new fairy tale. The Magic Mirror (campy and flouncy Charls Sedgwick

Hall) announces that the hero of the new tale is to be Prince Copernicus

(sweetly sappy Christopher Maikish), who doesn't believe in fighting:

His weapons are smiles and hugs. When homophobic Minerva learns that

Copernicus' true love is another male, Prince Helio (Patrick Gomez),

she's appalled and determined to foil their match, lest the world's

children be corrupted by a gay fairy tale. She assigns him Hazel (Rachel

Genevieve), the most incompetent of the fairy godmothers, to ensure his

failure and employs magic spells (including a poisoned apple) to stop

him. Director Michael A. Shepperd stages Pugach's goofy musical with an

engaging faux naivete, ably assisted by a lively ensemble and richly

enhanced by Raffel Sarabia's whimsical fairy-tale costumes. (Neal

Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through

May 8. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323)

957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com.

ORINOCO Bilingual Actors Repertory Theater Company presents Emilio

Carballido's comedy. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30,

(323) 401-5139 or (323) 462-6203, bartcousa.com. Stages Theatre Center,

1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A..

PLAY DATES Sam Wolfson's offbeat love story. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8

p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 1, (323) 960-7784,

plays411.com/playdates. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

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). Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866)

811-4111, www.theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd.,

L.A., thedragonfly.com.

POSTMODERN FAMILY Sketch comedy by Rob Belushi, Andy Cobb, Celeste

Pechous, David Pompeii and Katie Neff. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through

June 24. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second

Floor, L.A., (323) 464-8542.

QUICK AND IN MY ARMS/ ENDLESS NIGHT Two plays by Peter Roth,

presented by Fresh Baked Theatre Company. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.

Continues through April 30, brownpapertickets.com. MET Theatre, 1089 N.

Oxford Ave., L.A., (323) 957-1152, theMETtheatre.com.

GO RE-ANIMATOR, THE MUSICAL is based on Stuart

Gordon's 1985 film, and Gordon is on hand to direct the new musical. The

centerpiece is a love story (of course) that's a joke on every love

story ever written. Idealistic young hospital intern Dan Cain (Chris L.

McKenna) has a poor time accepting the death of patients. Standing by a

gurney, over the body of a woman who has flatlined, Dan administers CPR

in vain, prodding her with electro pads, until the chorus of medics has

to sing, "She's dead, Dan/Get it through your head, Dan." His distress

over the cessation of life becomes an obsession that threatens his

impending marriage to beautiful Meg Halsey (Rachel Avery), daughter of

the local university's dean (George Wendt). Big Dean Halsey is an

amiable, conservative fellow who's accepting of Dan as a potential

son-in-law, despite his lack of old-money social credentials. Well,

amiable until he's accidentally murdered, as he later interrupts a gooey

romantic interlude between Meg and Dan by crashing through the door as a

psychotic zombie. The romance is wrapped around a conflict between

dueling scientists: self-proclaimed plagiarist Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin,

in a mop wig, whose pinched facial expressions would creep out the most

openhearted social worker) and a newcomer to Hill's lab, Herbert West

(Graham Skipper, possessing the salty charm -- and costume -- of an

embittered undertaker). While Hill drools over Meg, West rents a room

from Dan (since Meg won't move in until they're wed). When the romantic

couple's pet cat disappears, then ghoulishly reappears post-mortem via

West's experiments (props by Jeff Rack), Dan enters a Faust-like

partnership with West, seeing the potential fulfillment of his

God-defying desire to harness the science of immortality. Mark Nutter's

music and very witty lyrics (recalling songs by Tom Lehrer) careen from

modern opera to light opera, from melodramatic wailing to -- when the

story gets really gruesome -- Gilbert and Sullivanstyle patter songs. The

special effects (by Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom

Devlin and Greg McDougall), such as a body decapitated with a shovel and

intestines unstrung from a corpse, are about as good as it gets -- gory

without being so naturalistic as to bypass parody. The keys to this

kingdom, however, are the combination of the brilliant comic ensemble

and Gordon's pristine craftsmanship as a director, supplemented by Jeff

Ravitz's lighting and musical director/arranger Peter Adams' building of

suspense. Adams performs the score on a synthesizer tucked into the

side of the hall, creating the slightly cheesy ambiance that's the life

force of Grand Guignol. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m.

Continues through May 29, (800) 595-4849. Steve Allen Theater, at the

Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..

RENT Jonathan Larson's Tony Award-winner about the lives of

idealistic starving artists, living in the squalor of Manhattan's Hell's

Kitchen, is much better suited for presentation in a small theater than

one of those cavernous Broadway houses. A more intimate venue, like the

comparatively modest Hudson Backstage theater that director Jerianne

Banson uses in her otherwise uneven production, allows the audience to

better connect with the characters and the music. Banson's

intermittently chaotic staging crackles with the very, vital passion of

youth. Some of the show, however, is an exercise in what happens when a

great deal of enthusiasm collides with a lack of leavening experience.

Larson's musical concerns a group of Hell's Kitchen bohemians, residing

either on the means streets or in a filthy cold loft, who try to make

ends meet while staying faithful to their beloved art. Young filmmaker

Mark (Anthony Michael Knott) finds himself in a bizarre love triangle

when his girlfriend leaves him for another woman - while Mark's aspiring

songwriter roommate Roger (Matt Pick) falls for beautiful, but unwell

stripper Mimi (Dominique Cox). Apart from the show's most obvious

question -- how do these kids afford wraparound head microphones, but not

hot water -- the strength of director Banson's production is totally

connected to the vivacity of her youthful cast and their unabashed love

for the material. On the other hand, Shoshona Zisk's musical direction

frequently falters: Although some of the songs are powerful --

particularly Pick and Cox's meet-cute number "Light My Candle," many of

the other numbers suffer from maladroit execution and weak harmonics.

Notwithstanding the performers' omnipresent mics, the band frequently

upstages the singing, drowning out the performers, who are forced to

sing-holler louder to compensate. The show is double cast. (Paul

Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23, (323)

960-7822, plays411.com/rent. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A., hudsontheatre.com.

RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS WITH BILLY HAYES The author of Midnight

Express, who was held captive in a Turkish prison for five years,

retells the story in own words. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May

12, (323) 960-4442, plays411.com. Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.,

thehayworth.com.

SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the

audience to determine which ones continue. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues

through April 23. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.,

(310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.

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

above, by Joelle Arqueros. Thursdays, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m. Continues

through May 12, (323) 769-5566. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.,

L.A., www.complexhollywood.com.

SHOE STORY Ben Snyder's look at the dark side of New York shoe

culture in the 1980s, where a new pair of sneakers could cost you your

life. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May

22. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611,

theatreofnote.com.

SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Six weeks of "inappropriate humor," courtesy

the sketch-comedy troupe. Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15. King

King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-9234,

kingkinghollywood.com.

GO SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Laced with casual

expletives, John Pollono's one-act play packs a powerful punch. When a

trio of longtime mates from Manchester, New Hampshire get together for

some heavy drinking in Frank's car mechanic workshop ― David Mauer's

beautifully realized set ― they reminisce about old times and chat about

women, the internet and the virtues of social networking. The pals,

confident Frank (John Pollono), ladies man Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and

nervy guy Packie (Michael Redfield) indulge in trading insults and

mocking digs as they chew the fat. Inappropriate comments, harsh words

and hasty apologies are exchanged, but nobody's sure why Frank is

busting out the good whiskey. A young college kid (Josh Helman) arrives

to do a quiet drug deal with Frank and all of a sudden the scene erupts

into terrifying violence. Pollono's script is an exquisitely-modulated

gem of a play, gripping the viewer with a storyline that is both

shocking and sobering in its commentary on modern interactions in the

technological age. Director Andrew Block extracts such realistic

performances from his cast that we almost forget we are watching a play,

as the appalling action unfolds mere inches away. (Pauline Adamek).

Mondays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.

Continues through April 30, (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com.

Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., theatretheater.net.

SOME SWEET DAY Billed as "a love triangle between two people," Flip

Kobler and Cindy Marcus' romantic comedy Some Sweet Day is actually a

tale about a middle-aged guy who goes back in time. Ken (Flip Kobler)

still holds a torch for his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Kate McCoy), who

suffered an untimely death. Having spent twenty years perfecting a

portable time machine, Ken gets struck by lightning and catapulted back

to his past. Once there he tries to convince Casey (Nicaolas Smith), the

younger version of himself, not to let the girl of his dreams get away.

The premise is good and co-writer Marcus, who also directs, does well

with the casting, as the two actors playing Ken/Casey are dead ringers.

But Marcus stumbles with the tone of the play, which strives for

farcical heights but instead suffers from wildly broad acting and

shouting delivery. The rapid-fire repartee feels contrived and the jokes

are pedestrian, with exchanges such as "Mom, you are not psychic!" "I

knew you were going to say that." Even the sight gags are leaden. McCoy,

however, shines as the sexy and vivacious Jenny, who's certainly

deserving of a trip back to yesteryear. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through April 24.

Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A., (323) 667-0955,

knightsbridgetheatre.com.

NEW REVIEW THE SPECTACULAR SUPERHERO VARIETY HOUR!

Stage Raw: Completeness

Photo by

Stage Raw: Completeness

Photo by Greg Gorman

The

term NHI was a code-word used by Los Angeles police in their case files

in the 1950s. It stood for NO HUMANS INVOLVED, and referred to any

cases involving homosexuals, African-Americans, Latinos, or other

minorities the cops considered undesirable. In those days of virulent

homophobia and institutionalized repression, gay activist Harry Hay

(Dennis Christopher), designer and Viennese refugee Rudi Gernreich

(Erich Bergen), and their friends, Chuck Rowland (Mark Shunock), and Bob

Hull (John Tartaglia) organized the Mattachine Society, the first gay

rights organization in the U.S. They referred to themselves as

"Temperamentals"--a code-word for gays. They also embraced the cause of

Dale Jennings (Patrick Scott Lewis), the defendant in the first legal

case to successfully challenge the LAPD's entrapment policies. They were

a colorful crew: Hay was married for 11 years, and fathered two

children before coming out. As a former communist, he was summoned to

testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in his

later years he founded the Radical Faeries. Playwright Jon Marans

employs theatrical short-hand and presentational style to tell a

wide-ranging, complex tale, and director Michael Matthews gives it a

lively staging, assisted by an able and engaging cast. Blank Theatre

Company at The 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.; thru May 22. (323) 661-9827 or TheBlank.com (Neal Weaver)
 

TIGER TIGER BURNING BRIGHT Peter S. Feibleman's play set in

midcentury New Orleans. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Continues through May 22, (323) 960-7740, plays411.com/tiger. Stella

Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..

WOMEN ARE CRAZY BECAUSE MEN ARE ASSHOLES World premiere of Brad T.

Gottfred's study of the sexes. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5

p.m. Continues through April 30, (323) 244-2987, cyur.com. Imagined

Life, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

ALL IN THE TIMING A collection of comic one acts by David Ives.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 1, 3 p.m. Continues through May 1.

Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, (818)

745-8527, nohoartsdistrict.com/theatreweb/crowncity.htm.

BAR TALK Jay Parker's comedy set in a local bar. Fridays, 8 p.m.;

Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., lizardtheater.com. Lizard

Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 457-5293, lizardtheater.com.

GO THE BIRTHDAY BOYS Stop me if you've heard this

one: Three U.S. Marines walk into an Iraqi storage room. OK, they don't

walk. They get dragged into it. Point being, there are three of them,

and they're together in this room. "Seems a bit dark and serious a

scenario for a punch line," you think to yourself, but you would be

wrong, because Aaron Kozak, who won the "Fringe First" award at last

year's Hollywood Fringe Festival for this play, makes it much funnier

than you would expect. Without being disrespectful to the gravity of

military service or the war in Iraq, Kozak finds dark humor in the

humanity of three Marines --privates Chester Gullette (Gregory Crafts),

Lance Tyler (Sean Fitzgerald) and Colin Carney (Jim Martyka) -- who have

been captured from Al Asad air base by members of the Mahdi Militia. All

three are bound hand and foot with duct tape and blindfolded, which

limits their interactions but generates some solid physical comedy, such

as when Lance tries to fight Colin and they end up writhing around like

angry inchworms. Director Jacob Smith's spot-on timing effectively

modulates transitions from lighter discussions of women and home lives

to darker topics such as war and impending doom. Fitzgerald, as the most

intense and combative of the three, genuinely makes us dislike him at

times; Martyka, though quiet for long spells, believably exudes shame

for attempting to abandon his brothers; Crafts, as the most mature and

levelheaded of the men, pleasantly subverts the stereotypical Marine.

And to top it all off, there's an unexpected twist that takes the comedy

to a whole new level. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Mayank

Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30, (818)

849-4039, theatreunleashed.com. NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd.,

North Hollywood, noho-stages.us.

BLIND SPOTS Sibling rivalry and one-upmanship reach sinister heights

when two sisters with diametrically opposed beliefs clash in Colette

Freedman's patchy black comedy. The setting is a small, East Coast

university town. Gretchen (Vanessa Waters), a gay journalist, becomes

incensed and decides to publish an editorial damning the anti-gay

decrees from the liberal-arts college president. Problem is, this

president is her abusive, homophobic older sister Kate (director Elise

Robertson). Gretchen's act of public humiliation ignites an all-out war

between the sisters as the pair dredge up recriminations, accusations

and even threaten blackmail. Meanwhile Gretchen's cute and sporty young

lover Janna (Jade Sealey) is unaware she might get hit by some shrapnel.

Playwright Freedman co-stars as Gretchen's BFF Frieda, giving us a

hilarious drunk act and some deliciously bitchy put-downs. Freedman

punctuates the often inane banter and heated arguments with plaintive

1960s folk tunes by Cat Stevens and Jesse Colin Young, performed live by

Logan Lozier (doubling as the sisters' tragically departed brother).

Placing Lozier upstage center, on a raised platform, lends him an

angelic presence. Freedman's play features powerful themes and quirky

characters (notably the Afro-centric wacky mom Birdy, played by Helen

Mary Wilson), but the writing isn't nearly as strong as her ideas.

(Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues

through April 24, (818) 381-3024, blindspotsplay.com. Sherry Theatre,

11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

GO THE CRUCIBLE Director Sean Branney grabs hold of

Arthur Miller's red-scare allegory, wringing emotionally charged,

angst-ridden performances from the talented cast. Young Abigail Williams

(a brilliantly conniving Sarah van der Pol) and her gaggle of naive

girlfriends extricate themselves from an oceanic amount of hot water by

explaining their late-night woodsy romp with Barbadian servant Tituba

(Hollie Hunt) as a ritual in which Tituba conjured the devil, whom they

claim walked side by side with scores of local women. A witch hunt

ensues and the girls point their adolescent fingers at any woman they

want hanged. John Proctor (Shawn Savage), whose love affair with the

conniving Abigail comes back to bite him, sets out to debunk the

witchcraft accusations when his wife, Elizabeth (a steadfastly stony

Karen Zumsteg), becomes Abigail's target. Branney masterfully creates

chaos, pitting neighbor against neighbor, husband against wife and holy

man against lawman in what amounts to a town battle of holy-war

proportions. Van der Pol's Abigail is so full of vicious vengeance that

she practically hisses her misguided intentions to win the affections of

Savage's skillfully choked-up Proctor. Fear drives the outrageous

events of the play, and Branney relentlessly shines light on the fatal

foolishness of a fear-driven society. (Amy Lyons). Saturdays, 3 & 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 15, $20,

$15 students & seniors. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd.,

Burbank, (818) 846-5323, theatrebanshee.org.

ELIZABETH BATHORY, THE BLOOD COUNTESS Writer/director Bea Egeto's

hourlong historical account of the 16th-century serial killer Elizabeth

Bathory takes the audience through a fun chronology of blood, lust and

justice, but falls short of capturing the complexity of the subject. The

Countess Bathory had an obsession with staying young, convincing

herself that the blood of young maidens could sustain her youth. She and

her small circle of cohorts began kidnapping girls and covering up

their disappearances. Eventually enough people suspected her of

wrongdoing that she was locked away, claiming her innocence right up

until she died in prison, without trial. A large, fantastic cast and

razor sharp staging keeps the pace moving, and both Charlotte Bjornbak's

young Bathory and Leaha Boschen's storytelling-prisoner Bathory, tap

into the historical countess' dangerous psychosis with aplomb. However,

at the top of the play when Bathory, rotting in prison, implores us to

listen to her side of the story, what follows is such a straightforward

interpretation of events, when she finally asks us to judge her, we

never really get a sense of why she feels so steadfastly innocent. (Luis

Reyes). Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through April 30. ZJU Theater

Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120,

zombiejoes.com.

FETISH Bryan Rasmussen's staging of Dolores Ribakoff's series of comic

vignettes about fetishistic sex between consenting adults makes almost

no reach for ideas about why people act out erotically the way they do.

Where's Jean Genet when you need him? Imagine an R-rated episode of

1970s TV show Love, American Style, as the style of both the titillation

and the jokes pre-dates Sex and the City. But these characters are

stupider -- often the point -- and there are some sweet nuggets. In a

scene about two hetero couples wife-swapping, the disappointment on the

face of Caroline Langford, eagerly awaiting the imagined magnitude of

her appointed lover's member and then realizing its diminished reality,

has the comedic punch of an old vaudeville routine. There is some nice

play about illusions and delusions, expectations and disappointments.

It's bravely acted and danced (choreography by Tania Pearson-Loeser),

but it's domestic stuff. Let's just say its minuscule ambitions are

fully realized -- as seen on TV.  Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd.,

Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 30. (818) 990-2324. (Steven

Leigh Morris)

FIREHOUSE Unlike police officers, who are so often feared or

mistrusted, firefighters almost always engage the appreciation and

respect of the people they serve. Playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia's

message-minded melodrama jump-starts around the community's perceived

betrayal of that covenant, and the pressure brought to bear upon a

firefighter named Perry (Kamar de los Reyes) to make a bogus choice

between loyalty to his unit and loyalty to his Puerto Rican ethnic

group. A 20-year department vet, Perry is on the cusp of retirement when

a crisis erupts at the South Bronx firehouse after a colleague named

Boyle (Gerald Downey) rescues another firefighter from a burning

building but leaves behind a 12-year-old child. Boyle steadfastly

maintains he didn't see the girl for the smoke, but his credibility is

open to question -- in no small part because of his personal history as a

former cop who was tried and acquitted for shooting an unarmed

civilian. Whereas the community, represented here by Perry's fiancée,

Aida (Jossara Jinaro), a criminal defense attorney, is up in arms, most

of Boyle's buddies give him the benefit of the doubt and pressure Perry

to do the same. Garcia gleaned aspects of his story from real-life

headlines in this effort to offer up an intrepid examination of how our

native prejudices cloud our judgment. Too often, however, the characters

seem mere profanity-riddled mouthpieces for one side or another's point

of view, a problem exacerbated by Bryan Rasmussen's overheated

direction. Most discrepant is Jinaro's counselor-at-law, unconvincing as

a perspicacious professional not only by virtue of her mini-skirted and

otherwise revealing attire but in her strident insistence that Perry

take her side for personal reasons rather than principled ones. (Deborah

Klugman). theatermania.com Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 27,

(323) 822-7898, theatermania.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura

Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

HAVING IT ALL At Gate B26 in an airport convincingly designed by

Stephen Gifford, five women sit judging each other's clothing. The lady

in Prada pumps (Jennifer Leigh Warren) assumes the woman in sneakers

(Shannon Warne) must be an immature free spirit; the woman in sneakers

is convinced that Prada pumps is a rotten mother. The entrance of a

country girl in awkward heels (Kim Huber) provokes condescension; a

hipster with crutches (Lindsey Alley) moves Warren to sneer she's a

"30-year-old yenta dressed up like the cast of Rent." And when a dizzy

hippie (the very funny Alet Taylor) bops in with her yoga mat, the

ladies are aghast that she's barefoot. Still, between snipes, each looks

at the others and sighs, "How I'd love to be in her shoes." The

metaphor of footwear for femmepowerment is staler than the olives at

Carrie Bradshaw's fave martini bar, but at least David Goldsmith and

Wendy Perelman's well-intentioned musical about the hair-pulling

pressure to "have it all" is blessed with a gifted cast, which Richard

Israel directs with energy and bite. The ensemble sings numbers about

motherhood, marriage, J-Date and downward-facing dog. It's all pleasant,

but the show is held back by the homogeneity of the songs, in both John

Kavanaugh's music and Gregory Nabours' musical direction, which takes

five strong voices and molds them all to the same Broadway bombast. The

audience for the musical already knows everything it aims to say; it's

simply an excuse to rally a gang of girlfriends for a night at the

theater, which seems to suit this production just fine. (Amy Nicholson).

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29.

NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101,

thenohoartscenter.com.

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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.

Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272,

tworoadsgallery.com.

NEW EYES Yafit Josephson gives an accomplished performance in her

solo show about a Jewish actress facing down Hollywood's cultural

stereotypes. It's marred only by a poorly designed slide show. Josephson

slips easily into various personae, combining characters with

caricatures to good comedic effect. The opening has her switching from a

formidable military officer to her nervous young self on her first day

of compulsory military training in the Israeli army. Highlights include a

hilarious mime sequence where she uncomprehendingly attempts yoga and

another scene where she gives a goofy impression of a macho guy in an

Israeli nightclub. Josephson's tall, slender build, piercing eyes and

chiseled face lend her a commanding presence, but it's her prominent

proboscis that relegates her to the usual gamut of villainous roles,

from terrorist to evil witch -- "And no, they didn't have to use a fake

nose," she jokes. Her adult journey takes her from the New World back to

Israel, where she touches base with her culture, returning to Hollywood

with newfound strength of character. Beneath the comedy lies a serious

undercurrent stemming from the ongoing war in the Middle East: Land

equals identity. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 26, (310) 500-0680,

neweyesplay.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE Neil Simon's rat-race comedy. Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29, (323)

960-7862, plays411.com/prisoner. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave.,

Burbank, gtc.org.

GO PURSUED BY HAPPINESS Sensible shoes and

charmingly dorky delivery aside, Frank Orlis (Mark St. Amant) cuts a

dashing figure during the courtship dance. "I have zero recollection of

any day but the day at hand," he tells the object of his single-minded

pursuit, fellow biochemist Julie Moore (Avery Clyde), while

simultaneously informing her he's been watching her. The layup works,

even if Frank couldn't be less of a Romeo; women, even stoic, serious

ones like Julie, respond to feeling like they alone are worth

remembering. Keith Huff's new play wriggles in these insights

unobtrusively, even if the big-picture ideas ("We're not pursuing

happiness as much as happiness is biologically pursuing us") are a

little too obvious. But the play is a nice change of scenery from

traditional rom-coms: The whirlwind romance is actually a practical

plot, and the measured Frank and Julie don't ride off into a fairy-tale

sunset. Family visits give the design team a chance to show off (Craig

Siebels' set, Adam Flemming's projection, and Jocelyn Hublau's costumes)

are so evocatively detailed, but they do feel a little device-y, and

leave too many unanswered questions, including one that leaves the

audience squirming as well. Still, agile in their double duty as both

sets of parents, Elizabeth Herron and Tom Knickerbocker easily could've

been Huff's sole motivation for writing the ultimately unsatisfying

scenes. Robin Larsen directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 14, RoadTheatre.org.

Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818)

752-7568.

GO ROCKIN' WITH THE AGES 3 This is the third in a

series of musical revues designed to give older performers a chance to

prove they can still kick up their heels and shine: All (except the

instrumental combo) are over sixty years of age, but they are all solid

pros, with impressive resumes and a treasure trove of skills. The book,

by director Bill Reid and musical director Mark Rodriguez, is totally

predictable, but it's enlivened by the large ensemble's terrific

performances, and by a wonderful array of golden oldies from the 1960s

and 70s, including "My Guy," "Hit the Road, Jack," "Stop in the Name of

Love," "I'll Be There," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "It's My Party, and

I'll Cry if I Want To." The show's first two editions tended to be a bit

old-fashioned and tinged with amateurism, but this time around, it's

slicker, faster, and more consistently entertaining, and audiences

respond with fervor and enthusiasm. Raquel Brussolo supplies the crisp

choreography, and instrumental accompaniment is provided an energetic

combo headed by Mark Rodriguez on keyboards, Ma'Ryia Mahome on bass,

James Munoz on guitar, Leslie Pereira on drums, and Rene Van der Tas,

second guitar. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 1, (818) 606-6679. Victory

Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank,

thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTSCHE KABARETT This latest, late-night creation from

sardonic, surrealist director-choreographer Amanda Marquardt is so

straightforward and simple in its concept and execution that it's a

wonder no one thought of it before. Take the Kander & Ebb musical

classic Cabaret, jettison the treacly and preachy Joe Masteroff book,

and stage the results as a brisk and breezy, melodrama-free evening of

simulated Weimar nightclub entertainment. The schmutzigen is provided by

the indecently flamboyant Luke Wright, who, from opener "Willkommen"

through his solo on "I Don't Care Much" to the show's finale, vamps his

way through an endless string of double entendres to stake a creditable

claim to the role of MC that made Broadway stars of Joel Grey and Alan

Cumming. Marquardt herself appears as Sally Bowles (replete with

Liza-like false eyelashes), displaying an appealing set of pipes on such

signature numbers as "Don't Tell Mama," "Cabaret" and "Mein Herr."

Wright returns (wearing little more than an uncredited but campy pair of

tuxedo briefs) with chorines Skye Noel (also credited as dance captain

and co-choreographer) and Eva Ganelis, as the trio strut their comic

stuff in "Two Ladies." But, you might ask, if there's no book, what

about the musical's politics -- and what does that have to do with us?

Relax. Marquardt gets in her licks, and puts the Deutsche Kabarett,

political-satire bite back into Cabaret with "High Chancellor," a

hilarious, show-stealing strip number, with Jonica Patella in Hitler

drag, bumping, grinding and goose-stepping to the Nazi march "Erika."

(Bill Raden). Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 22. ZJU Theater

Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120,

zombiejoes.com.

URBAN DEATH Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. Saturdays, 11

p.m. Continues through May 28. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd.,

North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

 NEW REVIEW

VERONIKA DECIDE TO DIE

Stage Raw: Completeness

Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Brazilian

novelist Paulo Coelho has enjoyed inordinate success -- he sold 65

million copies of The Alchemist and set the Guinness Record for the

most-translated book by a living author. But on stage and screen, his

stories founder. Both Warner Bros. and Harvey Weinstein have struggled

to adapt The Alchemist and a $9 million version of his 1998 novel

Veronika Decides to Die, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, has languished

unreleased in America. This is not surprising - especially after

watching Taylor Ashbrook and Beth Ricketson's nearly three-hour attempt

to wrangle his book into submission. Ricketson plays the titular

Veronika, a pretty Slovenian librarian who swallows a should-be fatal

dose of sleeping pills out of boredom. Every day is the same, she sighs

to her two doctors, both so casual and unprofessional, they should be

disbarred. When they tell Veronika that her suicide attempt destroyed

her heart and has left her with just five days to live, she spends days

one and two trying to die faster, trolling for more pills when she could

just do jumping jacks. Coelho is like Ken Kesey crossed with Deepak

Chopra. Every line is a proclamation on sanity and civilization; the

adaptors have been intimidated into thinking they need a 12-person

ensemble and dozens of speeches about clocks and sexual deviants and the

Book of Genesis to make a single point: Conformity is nuts. When

Veronika has an emotional breakthrough, masturbating in front of a hunky

schizophrenic (Jonathan Trent), she tells three characters about it in

three separate, but equally pointless conversations. And at the end,

there are flashbacks to lines people said just 15 minutes before. If

Ashbrook's cast were stronger, the length would be less arduous, but the

on-the-nose performances are exemplified in a scene where Ricketson

bangs on a piano and screams, "I couldn't be what you wanted!" Ecclectic

Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 15. (818) 508-3003 eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Amy Nicholson) 

NEW REVIEW

WAIT UNTIL DARK When measured beside the sensational, blood-spattered

exploits of today's infamous offenders, Frank Knott's 1966 crime fable

about drugs and a home invasion seems terribly sedate That, in a word,

also sums up director David Colwell's revival. In the basement apartment

of Sam and Susy Hendrix (Bert Emmett, Liza de Weerd), Sam is approached

by a stranger to transport a doll for a sickly child. Unfortunately,

the doll contains heroin, and he has lost it, which has made some

hoodlums very unhappy. When Sam is forced to leave the city, Susy, who

is blind, is thrown into a high stakes game of survival when the

smugglers come calling for their merchandise. Most of the deceptively

simple plot is laid out in the opening minutes of the play, and as

presented here, they are frustratingly blurry. This play rises and falls

on the methodical ratcheting up of tension and suspense, both of which

are but faint glimmers under Colwell's bland direction. Even the finale,

which transpires in semi-darkness and should erupt with energy,

implodes. There are also problems with cast: Leo Weltman and Chris

Winfield, who portray the gangsters, project all the feral menace of a

department store Santa. Weltman comes across as an engaging buffoon much

of the time - which might have provided some comic relief were there

any danger on the stage to be relieved from. Robert Gallo, as Harry Roat

the ringleader, fares slightly better. As the blind girl, Weerd turns

in a perfectly credible performance. The Group Repertory/Lonny Chapman

Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd. N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.;

thru May 8. (818) 700-4878. thegrouprep.com (Lovell Estell III)

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

DADDYO DIES WELL Murray Mednick's poetic, philosophical comedy, the

fifth in his series of eight Gary Plays, seems to take place in several

spheres at once, ranging from the Amazonian jungle, to the Andes, to

Santa Monica to the afterlife. Salty, aging hipster DaddyO (Hugh Dane)

has been run down by a hit-and-run driver, and now he's dying. He

summons his actor step-son Gary (Casey Sullivan) to participate in an

Indian soul-cleansing ritual involving the hallucinogenic,

vomit-inducing drug Ayahuasca. Also somehow present, physically or

spiritually, are DaddyO's deceased wife, the ruefully benevolent Mama

Bean (Strawn Bovee), his kindly-but-misanthropic shrink (Jack Kehler),

and Gary's two ex-wives, Gloria (Elizabeth Greer), who is on a vision

quest in the Andes, and the forbidding and judgmental Marcia (Melissa

Paladino). Presiding over all is the angel of death, Antonio (Peggy Ann

Blow), who appears as an ice-cream vendor in a red jump-suit, and as a

masked Indian shaman. Mednick's play is always interesting as it

circles, playfully and endlessly, around various life-and-death issues,

but it's sometimes so personal as to be hermetic. Dane is engaging and

funny as the play's most fully-developed character, and the cast

skillfully fleshes out the other inhabitants of his drama. (Neal

Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through

May 22, (323) 960-7724, plays411.com/DaddyO. Electric Lodge, 1416

Electric Ave., Venice, electriclodge.org.

GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE

GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca

Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a

behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a

star identified in the program only as "The Crooner." James Thompson's

authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting,

a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon

applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter,

numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and

drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his

overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are

also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford

Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member

band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a

flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie.

Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good

is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as

"That's Life," "New York, New York" and "Fly Me to the Moon," you'd

swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As

masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good

that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III).

Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Continues through

April 23. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica,

(310) 399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.

JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK Sean O'Casey's tragicomedy about a working class

Dublin family during the 1920s Irish Civil War. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8

p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 15, 7 p.m.; Wed.,

May 18, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 25, 8 p.m. Continues through

June 5. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055,

odysseytheatre.com.

MOON OVER BUFFALO The Torrance Theatre Company presents Ken Ludwig's

1995 comedy. Fri., April 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 23, 2 & 8 p.m.,

(310) 781-7171. Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Drive,

Torrance.

MR. MARMADLADE Noah Haidle's story of a 4-year-old with an imaginary

friend with a cocaine addiction. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues

through May 21. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (866)

811-4111, thegaragetheatre.org.

MUTANT OLIVE Katselas Theater Company presents Mitch Hara's one-man

show. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 7. Beverly Hills

Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills.

RETURN FROM THE ASHES Brad Geagley's adaptation of Hubert

Monteilhet's novel about a woman impersonating a woman impersonating

herself. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through

April 24. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr.,

Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.

RUMORS Neil Simon's comedy about a suburban dinner and a dead body.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 8.

Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific

Palisades, (310) 454-1970.

TARTUFFE A few minutes into Jon Kellam's rendering of Molière's

classic farce, you know you're not in for a routine production. There's

the flowery, drawn-out introduction by Steven Porter, spoken in French

with audio translation; the colorful mass of balloons heaped at center

stage; and sound effects from the "noisy corner," courtesy of Jef Bek,

who plays various percussion instruments and keyboard organ. All nice

touches in this tale about a hypocritical scoundrel who by dint of pious

pretense and subterfuge wreaks havoc on a respectable Frenchman and his

family. However, Kellam has his sights on underscoring the work's

timelessness via David Ball's breezy adaptation, which bestrides the

author's 17th century, our own era and various points between. The

effect is more of an imposition than an illumination. It's also

interlarded with much that is digressive and not at all funny. The

physical comedy is effectual -- to a point -- but it starts to wear

especially thin in the languorous Act 2, along with Bek's seemingly

endless potpourri of sound effects. Cast performances are lively and

engaging, the one exception being a flat Pierre Adeli (who in all

fairness was brought in a week earlier in place of the ailing Scott

Harris), in the critical role of Tartuffe. Fully memorable are Ben

Kahookele's gorgeous costumes, and Mary Eileen O'Donnell's smattering of

props, which are cleverly designed and used. (Lovell Estell III).

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 30.

Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver

City, (310) 838-4264, theactorsgang.com.

UNSCRIPTED REP Impro Theatre's improvised, full-length plays in the

styles of William Shakespeare, Tennesee Williams, and Stephen Sondheim.

Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Continues through May 29. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.,

L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

THE VAGINA MONOLOUGES Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents Eve

Ensler's pussy play. Mon., April 25, 8 p.m., latensemble.com. Powerhouse

Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-3680.


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