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Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community

Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
Also, see the current NEW REVIEWS and this week's STAGE FEATURE on The Night Is a Child at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Not to Be, at ZJU

CORPORATION, COOPERATION AND COMMUNITY


Bill Bushnell weighed in this week in a very belated response to a correspondence surrounding a commentary by Mike Daisey published in February in The Seattle Stranger , stemming from a late-night party conversation Daisey had with an old friend, a '40s-something, renowned Seattle stage actress who was tossing in the towel on theater.  That decision, she said, came after getting Equity work in a regional theater and understanding how the actors she so admired were playing "for wealthy audiences whose [tax return] rounding errors exceed the weekly pittance that trickles down to [the actors].

 


In 1985, With $20 million in funding from the City of Los Angeles, Bill Bushnell took the helm of the newly converted, four-venue Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street. After generating a national reputation for ground-breaking new work, as well as unorthodox reinterpretations of classics, and as a result of alleged fiscal mismanagement and political infighting too byzantine to regurgitate here, LATC failed to meet a bond debt in 1991, and effectively ceased programming at the end of that fiscal year. Among the reasons for the tardiness of Bushnell's response to Daisey's commentary is his current "perch" high in the Ecuadorian Andes.

 

Writes Daisey:


"The institutions that form the backbone of Seattle theater--Seattle Rep, Intiman, ACT--are regional theaters. The movement that gave birth to them tried to establish theaters around the country to house repertory companies of artists, giving them job security, an honorable wage, and health insurance. In return, the theaters would receive the continuity of their work year after year--the building blocks of community. The regional theater movement tried to create great work and make a vibrant American theater tradition flourish.

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"That dream is dead. The theaters endure, but the repertory companies

they stood for have been long disbanded. When regional theaters need

artists today, they outsource: They ship the actors, designers, and

directors in from New York and slam them together to make the show. . .

.

"Not everyone lost out with the removal of artists from the

premises. Arts administrators flourished as the increasingly complex

corporate infrastructure grew. Literary departments have blossomed over

the last few decades, despite massive declines in the production of new

work. Marketing and fundraising departments in regional theaters have

grown hugely, replacing the artists who once worked there, raising

millions of dollars from audiences that are growing smaller, older, and

wealthier. It's not such a bad time to start a career in the theater,

provided you don't want to actually make any theater.

"Better to

revive another August Wilson play and claim to be speaking about race

right now. Better to do whatever was off-Broadway 18 months ago and

pretend that it's relevant to this community at this time. . .

"Corporations

make shitty theater. This is because theater, the ineffable part of the

experience that comes in rare and random bursts, is not a commodity,

and corporations suck at understanding the noncommodifiable.

Corporations don't understand theater. Only people, real people,

understand theater. Audiences, technicians, actors, playwrights,

costumers, designers--all of them give their time and energy to this

thing for a reason, and that dream is not quantifiable on any

spreadsheet."

Bushnell responded in an email to friends, two days ago:

"So

what to say!? It was inevitable that once we accepted Mac Lowry's

proposition that we go corporate in order to grow that we would become

what else -- corporate -- which you can translate into non-creative,

non-original, non-artistic, and certainly non-community. Mike Daisy

states the truth as he perceives it quite well but doesn't really say

anything that we haven't all said in one way or another over the years

and he certainly doesn't offer a real solution . . .

"Maybe I

am wrong, but I sometimes think that the old belief that theatre could

survive all the electronic bombardment it was suffering when I was

creating three of those corporate theatres is not the case --  now that

the Internet and social networking has conquered not just the "young

people" but the entire world. The fastest growing group of Facebook

participants are women between the ages of 55 and 65. If Facebook were

a country it would be the 4th largest in the world behind China, India,

and the USA. China's leading social networking group is much larger

than Facebook. The world's attention span grows shorter and shorter by

the minute. Where does "live theatre" with its demand for 90 to 180

minutes of continuous concentration fit into this new world of Twitter

and Tweedle Dum?

"As I have argued for years -- theatre is at

its best when it is an integral part of the "neighborhood" and is

created by "locals". I seem to remember that Athens was a town of about

15,000 people when it produced four playwrights whose work has survived

although more read in colleges than produced on American stages. London

was a small city when the Elizabethan Age flourished and produced

Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, et al. I could go on and discuss the

limited size of the audiences for Moliere, Ibsen, Strindberg, etc.

Great theatre was created when it was "the happening thing" for a

relatively limited group of people. And its creation has been very rare.

"Perhaps

the Community Theatres that thrive in hundreds of communities across

the country are the true American theatre after all. Perhaps the idea

of thousands of professional actors making "a living" at hundreds of

"resident professional theatres" was just a dream and now it is time to

wake up and acknowledge the dream for what it was - a brief flowering

that was doomed from the very beginning to be corporatized along with

the rest of the USA as it thunders towards the end of its empire."

Your comments are welcome.


COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for September 11-17, 2009

(The weekend's NEW REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below.

You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's

search program.)

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

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY Tracy Letts' Pulitzer/Tony-winning tragicomedy. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 13, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (213) 628-2772.

GO BRIGHT IDEAS "All the world's a stage, and our children our players," advises a tutor to parents Genevra (Amie Farrell) and Joshua Bradley (Brian Stanton) in Eric Coble's chipper comedy inspired by the playwright's own preschool panic attack. The Bradleys' offstage son Mac is on the wrong end of 3 -- in months, he'll be 4 -- and his chances for a kind success that would be set in concrete depend on getting him off the waiting list for the area's best preschool, or so warn the over-achiever breeders at their playground. The obstacle is Genevra's recently divorced co-worker Denise (Meghan Maureen McDonough) who just bought her child's slot by donating her family's fortunes to build the school's new Aquatics Center. When the couple invites Denise over for some poisoned pesto -- the better to get her tot sent away to live with his dad -- Coble's script giddily underlines its allusions to Macbeth ("Is this a mortar and pestle I see before me?" frets Genevra). Caryn Desai's chirpy direction prefers laughs to moral agonies, and her comic ensemble, rounded out by Louis Lotorto and Heather Corwin, keeps the tone quick and fun. This isn't aiming to usurp the Bard's place in the canon, but Coble enriches his semi-serious premise with a layer of class resentment and modern masculinity issues that intensify as Stanton's very-funny patriarch struggles to wash the phantom basil from his hands. (Amy Nicholson) International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (562) 436-4610.

GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD In 1950, writer-director Josh Logan transferred Chekhov's play to the American South in an adaptation called The Wisteria Trees. Now, director Heidi Helen Davis, and Ellen Geer have reset the play near Charlottesville, Virginia, and updated it to 1970. The ex-serfs have become the descendants of slaves, and Chekhov's Madame Ranevsky has become Lillian Randolph Cunningham (Ellen Geer), the owner of the famous cherry orchard that's "mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica." Though it's a very free adaptation, it admirably preserves the play's flavor and spirit. And while Davis' production skewers the characters for their vanity, folly and ineptitude, it treats them with affectionate respect. She's blessed with a wonderful cast, including William Dennis Hunt as the landowner's garrulous, fatuous brother; J.R. Starr as an ancient family retainer; Melora Marshall as the eccentric governess Carlotta; and Steve Matt as the grandson of slaves ― and a go-getter businessman who longs to be the master. The production is easygoing, relaxed, faithful in its own way, and often very funny. It may be the most fully integrated (in every sense of the word) production of the play that we're likely to see. (NW) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; call for schedule; through September 26. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com.

GO CYMBELINE What might Shakespeare have written if he'd been asked by some 17th-century counterpart of a TV producer to come up with something quick, hot and flashy? It's likely an extravagantly plotted comedy like this one, with story ideas snatched from legend, his peers and some of his own better-developed and more sublime works. Regarded today as one of Shakespeare's more minor plays, this comedy revolves around a king's daughter named Imogen (Willow Geer), banished from court by her father, Cymbeline (Thad Geer), for daring to marry the man of her choice. The plucky gal's travails intensify when a villain named Iachimo (Aaron Hendry, alternating with Steve Matt) decides willy-nilly to slander her to her husband Posthumus (Mike Peebler), who then commands a servant to assassinate her for her alleged infidelity. Her wanderings eventually land her on the doorstep of her father's old enemy, Belarius (Earnestine Phillips), who has raised two of Cymbeline's children (thus Imogen's own siblings) as her own. Director Ellen Geer has fashioned an appealing production laced with an aptly measured dose of spectacle and camp. At its core is Willow Geer's strong and likable princess. As her adoring and, later, raging, jealous spouse, Peebler's Posthumus is earnestly on the mark, while Jeff Wiesen garners deserved laughs as the foppish suitor she'd rejected. The latter meets his end at the hands of the princess' newfound brother, well-played by Matt Ducati. (DK) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.

GO GASLIGHT Patrick Hamilton's 1944 potboiler (originally Angel Street) continues to be one of the most revived theatrical chestnuts because its melodrama is so unapologetically intense. In an unfashionable section of late-Victorian London, our heroine Mrs. Manningham (Corrine Shor) is tormented by demons of insanity and the cruel taunting of her domineering husband (John Cygan). Additionally the master is sensually attentive to the young buxom maid (Emily Bridges) - or is it her imagination? Jeff G. Rack's lavishly detailed burgundy set, with perfect gaslight effects by lighting designer Yancey Dunham, creates the ideal atmosphere for the dripping suspense. The actors, under Charlie Mount's austere direction, commit fully to the chilling revelations as we move slowly towards a known outcome. Don Moss is particularly delightful as a hard-bitten Scotland Yard detective, even though he joined the production late in rehearsals and was still a bit shaky on his lines at the performance I saw. Likewise the smallish role of a comic maid (in a fine performance by Mary Garripoli) turns into a tense ally of the oppressed Mrs. M. Costumes by Valentino round out this very satisfying production. (Tom Provenzano) Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; opens Aug. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (323) 851-7977.

JULIUS CAESAR One must give director Ellen Geer credit for at least attempting to add some tragic ballast to the usual mix of Bard-lite romances and comedies that typically monopolize summer Shakespeare stages. That said, Geer turns in a curiously staid and colorless revival of what is ostensibly an Elizabethan version of a high-octane political thriller. Given that the political arena in this case is a Republican Rome riven by the rising dictatorship of Julius Caesar (Carl Palmer), the thrills should be of the rhetorical, persuasive kind as the anti-Caesarean conspirator Cassius (Melora Marshall) sets about turning the conscience of the noble, putatively pro-Caesarean Brutus (Mike Peebler). With Marshall's singularly strident Cassius (in some gender-bent casting that is as close to a staging concept as this production comes), however, there is little to distinguish the fawning manipulator who plays on Brutus' patriotism and vanity in Act I from the petty and corrupt quarreler to whom Brutus finds himself joined in Act IV. The missing contrast proves fatal to Peebler's performance, reducing Brutus from a man ensnared by his sense of honor to the most gullible Roman of them all. Aaron Hendry delivers a suitably athletic and ruthless Marc Antony, making the famed "Friends, Romans, countrymen . . ." funeral oration the evening's show-stopper, while Alan Blumenfeld's robust Casca and Susan Angelo's ambition-inflected Portia both provide noteworthy support. (Bill Raden) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 455-3723.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather(about Lena Horne) or Ella(about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through September 27. (310) 208-54545.

GO THE MISER Director Ellen Geer delivers a hilarious and highly polished production of Moliere's comedy. It's a faithful rendition, despite the fact that she's garnished it with several original songs (written with Peter Alsop), a dog, and some creative anachronisms: Neither cod-pieces nor horn-rimmed glasses quite belong in 1668, but they prove capital laugh-getters. The production's greatest asset is Alan Blumenfeld, who delivers a wonderfully demented, larger-than-life performance as the miser Harpagon, calling on the traditions of music-hall, vaudeville and burlesque to create a portrait of monstrous greed and vanity. He's ably assisted Mike Peebler as his rebellious, clothes-horse son Cleante, Melora Marshall as the flamboyant match-maker/bawd Frosine, Ted Barton as a choleric cook/coachman, and Mark Lewis as Cleante's sly, wily side-kick, La Fleche. As the young lovers, Peebler, Samara Frame, Chad Jason Scheppner, and understudy Jennifer Schoch capture the requisite romance, while lampooning the coincidences and shop-worn theatrical conventions of the genre, and a large cast provides fine support. The lavish costumes, including Cleante's outrageous suit-of-too-many-colors, with its gloriously obscene, giggle-inducing cod-piece, are by Shon LeBlanc and Valentino's Costumes. (Neal Weaver) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga; thru September 25; in rep, call for schedule (310) 455-3723.

GO NEVERMORE Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of idiosyncrasies ― tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The Raven," which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is ― pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. (SLM) Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through September 26. (323) 666-4268.

NEW REVIEW

  THE NIGHT IS A CHILD

Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community

Photo by Craig Schwartz

A

suburban kid in Brookline, Massachusetts - a good kid, a fine student,

a personable young man --  goes on a killing spree at his local school,

leaving dozens of children and teachers dying in pools of blood.

Charles Randolph Wright's play studies the family of the teenage killer

who took his own life in the bloodbath, concentrating years later on

the mother, a widow named Harriet (JoBeth Williams). On the anniversary

of the rampage, Harriet goes AWOL to Rio de Janeiro, thereby mystifying

her concerned adult son and daughter (Tyler Pierce and Monette Magrath)

as to her whereabouts. She arrives not speaking a word of Portugese,

yet she stumbles upon a vivacious, native guide named Bia (Sybyl

Walker), whose sweet energy, and that of an inexplicably accommodating

hotel owner named Joel (Maceo Oliver) lands her a room on the

otherwise overbooked Ipanema beachfront. Joel must have had a reason

for canceling somebody else's reservation in order to make room for

Harriet. If he was charmed by her befuddlement being in a foreign

country, for which she'd taken no pains to prepare by learning even the

rudiments of the language spoken there, it was a charm I missed. Why

Joel would randomly cancel the reservation of one guest in order to

make space for this tourist-in-distress is the first in a series of

improbabilities that form the glue of Randolph-Wright's Post-It note of

a play. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri.,

8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Oct. 4.

(626) 356-7529. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature

GO OEDIPUS THE KING, MAMA! Troubadour Theater Company's musical parody of Sophocles' play, of musical shtick, of Elvis mania and of cheesy theatrical devices comes in the tradition of the Troubies' mashing of classic lit into pop music (Twelfth Dog Night, Alice in-One-Hit-Wonderland, Much Adoobie Brothers About Nothing). The event's thrill hangs on the tautness of the theatrical wires that bind the classical source material, the music and free-wheeling improvisation. (Steven Leigh Morris) Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through September 27. (818) 955-8101.

PEACE: ARISTOPHANES MEETS CULTURE CLASH The Chicano-Latino performance trio re-works Aristophanes' ribald comedy. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (310) 440-7300.

SOLITUDE World premiere by Evelina Fernandez, created in collaboration with the Latino Theater Company. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (213) 489-0994.

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

VISITING MR. GREEN If you're Jewish -- or grew up in New York or another American urban metropolis -- you've probably met the kind of cantankerous old codger depicted in playwright Jeff Baron's sometimes heartwarming but mostly preachy and predictable message play. Mr. Green (Jack Axelrod) is a grieving 86 year old widower and an observant Jew. He doesn't get out much nor does he care to. Into his life comes a young gay man named Ross (Antonie Knoppers), assigned to the community service task of assisting Mr. Green after he nearly ran him over with his car. Unfriendly at first, Green warms to Ross after learning that he's Jewish too ("Why didn't you say so in the first place?" ) - but soon turns away in disgust after Ross informs him of his homosexuality. The rest of this somewhat contrived and dated (think 1970s, though the play premiered in 1996) plot follows the coming together of these two individuals as Ross pours out his soul and Mr. Green reveals the existence of a long-estranged daughter. One problem with this polarized setup is Green's unworldly attitudes: He doesn't understand the word gay and thinks American Express is a train. This might be credible coming from an immigrant but hardly from a native-born former shop owner, which Green is. That Ross doesn't know where his grandparents emigrated from also seems a stretch). Under David Rose's direction, Knoppers grows believably impassioned; Axelrod, on opening night, created a convincing bigot but his performance needs more shading and nuance. (Deborah Klugman) Colony Studio Theater, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; (added perfs Sat., Sept. 5 & 12, 3 p.m. and Thurs., September 17 & 24, 8 p.m.; thru September 20. (818) 558-7000.

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

ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GO ANITA BRYANT DIED FOR YOUR SINS The title of Brian Christopher Williams play suggests a slick, sassy gay comedy, and so it is--but it is much more than that, something far richer. Growing up during the Nixon era, deeply closeted 11-year-old gay boy Horace (a terrific Wyatt Fenner) develops a monstrous crush on his hunky gym teacher (Nick Ballard). Horace and his family weather the Vietnam War, and big brother Chaz (Nick Niven) flees to Canada to escape the draft. In the recession of the 1970s, Dad (Tony Pandolfo) has economic reverses, and Mom (Jan Sheldrick) loses her job. And when Anita Bryant (Madelynn Fattibene) launches her militant campaign against gay rights, Horace learns that there are people who will hate him for who he is. He must come out to his loving but irascible parents, and he's overcome by jealousy when he realizes his adored teacher is having an affair with a neighbor (Sara J. Stuckey). He retaliates by betraying the teacher, in a way he knows is shameful. Williams' play becomes a funny and touching family saga as well as the tale of a bright gay kid striving to grow up. Richard Israel provides wonderfully nuanced direction, and the entire cast is splendid. (Neal Weaver) El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through October 4. (323) 460-4443 or tix.com. A West Coast Ensemble production.

GO BLACKBIRD Adam Rapp's 2001 romance unfolds on a rented room in NYC's Canal Street in the late 1990s, where a young woman named Froggy (Jade Dornfeld), dressed in woolen cap and layers of sweats, emerges from within the closet, at the beckoning of her roommate and support system, Baylis (Johnny Clark). Despite the minor plot and dialect quibbles, Ron Klier directs an absorbing production, laden with attention to the sweet relationship in a bitter world. (Steven Leigh Morris) Elephant Theatre Lab, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through September 19. (323) 860-4283. A VS Theatre Company production

BLOCK NINE Tom Stanczyk's play, "an unapologetically same-sex, retro noir 1930's gangster homage," is performed in two alternating versions ― one with an all-male cast, reviewed here, and the other all-female. It's less comedy of manners than comedy of the mannered, suggesting the novels of Jean Genet re-played as farce. Though the characters are cops and gangsters, like Genet's pimps and hustlers, they're more concerned with their images and gestures than their professional careers. Cop Phil (Kenny Suarez) persuades his skittish, vulnerable partner/lover Hank (Jeremy Glazer) to go undercover on Cellblock 9 to get the goods on tough mobster Lips (Matt Rimmer). Then one torrid kiss from Lips turns Hank to jello, and leaves him wallowing in a hilarious orgy of would-be submission, longing to be violated. Instead, Lips passes him along to eccentric blond muscle-man and mob-boss Cody (Max Williams), who keeps two minions on tap: naïve young Johnny (Josh Breeding), and foppish pseudo-Frenchman Armand (Louis Douglas Jacobs). Despite the pervasive haze of homoeroticism, Cody's more inclined to shoot them than to fuck them. While director Pete Uribe has assembled a highly attractive and accomplished cast, and deploys them with flair and wit, ultimately the play seems like a comic sexual tease that never quite delivers. (Neal Weaver) Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; in rotating rep through September 20; call theatre for schedule. (323) 960-4410.

GO BURN THIS This revival of Lanford Wilson's 1974 play is distinguished by nuanced performances. David Watson's superior direction emphasizes the quiet moments in what could be an over-the-top drama -- it's clear that the actors are visibly listening to one another. The plot begins after the tragic death of Robbie, the third roommate in an apartment shared by Anna (Melanie Hawkins) and Larry (Mark Thornton). Both are distraught, and Anna is comforted by her boyfriend Burton (Eli Mahar), a successful screenwriter. Anna is a choreographer who had worked with Robbie, a gay dancer, on various projects. Anna regales Larry, also gay, with tales of the funeral where the family assumed she was Robbie's girlfriend. A month after the funeral, Robbie's brother Pale (Ben McGroarty) bursts into their apartment at 5 a.m. to pick up Robbie's things. Disturbed by the drunken, obnoxious Pale who has a strong resemblance to Robbie, Anna nevertheless goes to bed with him. Burton, of course, learns of the affair, and angrily storms off, only later trying to win Anna back. As Larry, a very funny Thornton provides dry humor throughout the proceedings, and McGroarty is persuasive as the violent yet sensitive Pale. Travis McHale's set and lighting design complement the production. (Sandra Ross) Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 13. www.burnthisplay.info. (800) 504-4849. The Cat's Glass of Wine productions.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE That's weekly sketch comedy done by some of the best in the sketch biz. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

FUGGEDABOUTIT! Gordon Bressac, one of the great writing talents behind televisions iconoclastically brilliant Pinky and the Brainand Animaniacs, has sadly lost touch with his stage roots from New York's La Mama, as his West Coast premier as a theatrical auteur falls flat. His farce follows 90 minutes in the life of Guy, a male fashion model (Shaw Jones, excellent playing straight man to an assemblage of crazy characters), who, after becoming a total amnesiac in an accident, is surrounded by friends, lovers and a mafia hit-man, all trying to jog his memory. The plodding story has each visitor taking Guy through an important memory, which we witness through flashback. The characters are appropriately two-dimensional for the comic format, but acting choices are mostly weak cliches, particularly a gay couple (Charles M. Howell IV and Christopher Le Crenn) stepping right out of Boys in the Band, a pouty dumb blond (Jessica Rose) grasping for a Marilyn Monroe impression, and a cookie cutter gangster (Arman Torosyan), who has more in common with the gays than he wants to admit. The play is preceded by a pointless curtain-opener, presenting a two-bit Noel Coward and Gertude Lawrence type pair (Bressac and Mary Broderick) preparing for a stage entrance. The most enjoyable part of the evening is Andrew Murdock's ongoing audio montage of songs about memory. (Tom Provenzano) Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (323) 960-7753.

GETTING OUT Playwright Marsha Norman's best known play, 'night, Mother, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, was a grueling long night's journey toward suicide. This earlier but equally grim work, first produced in 1977, deals with the plight of a woman, Arlene (Leah Verrill), who has been paroled after serving an 8-year prison for robbery and manslaughter. All the cards are stacked against her: She has a demanding, judgmental mother (Lonna Montrose), and a bullying former lover, Carl (P.J. Marshall), who seeks to drag her back into her old life. She's also haunted by Allie (Tracy Lane), her unregenerate former self -- a ferocious bundle of rage, malice, and resentment, rooted in the fact that she was sexually molested by her father. Now, Arlene has a child, taken from her when she was sent to prison, for whom she seeks, despite the odds, to go straight. A sympathetic but possessive prison guard, Bennie (director Andrew Hamrick), offers help, but makes excessive demands. Only Ruby (Cheri Ann Johnson), the tough, unsentimental ex-con who lives upstairs, serves as a mentor. Hamrick has assembled an able cast, and melded them into a bleakly effective, no frills production. (Neal Weaver) The Lyric Hyperion Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Avenue, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru Sept. 20. Produced by From the Ground Up Theatre. (Some roles are double-cast.)

THE GOLDEN GAYS Dragtastic parody of sitcom The Golden Girls., $30. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10, www.plays411.com/thegoldengays. (323) 969-2530.

GO GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP Just when you thought it was safe to swear off laughing forever, the Groundlings have unleashed another solid show. Under Mikey Day's direction, the best bits are weighted toward the beginning: John Connor's sidekick meets his own protective Terminator, an 18-inch dancing robot; two octogenarian '70s sitcom stars radiate diva 'tude while fumbling through a commercial for the AARP; and, my favorite, a post-championship rally for the Lakers where a fan opens up to Kobe Bryant via the news, looking into the camera and vowing, "You could make me learn to trust again." Director Day keeps things at a nice clip, staying on top of five funny improv exercises, despite loud insistence from a tipsy audience member (who wanted more of her suggestions used) that everyone else in the crowd was a plant. In a uniformly good cast, Jeremy Rowley's Kobe obsessive stands out, as do both ladies, Stephanie Courtney and Charlotte Newhouse, the latter of whom braved an instantly-embarrassed theatergoer's improv prompt that she speak "Asian." (Amy Nicholson) Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700.

THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.

NEW REVIEW

  HEYDRICH/HITLER/HOLOCAUST

Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community

Photo by Tom Ellis

An

apostle of the Holocaust and, with Himmler, a chief engineer of the

Final Solution, Reinhard Heydrich has been depicted in numerous books

and films.   Assassinated in 1942, this ambitious villain kept files on

fellow Nazis as well as on suspected enemies of the Reich - one reason,

perhaps, for the persistent rumors about his "Jewish blood." Playwright

Cornelius Schnauber has seized upon this aspect of his biography to

construct a muddled and implausible play in which Heydrich (Oliver

Finn) is portrayed politicking around these insinuations.  Another

element in the fantastical plot is this virulent anti-Semite's

confrontational dialectic with a Jewish maid named Anna (Jessica

Sherman), who has somehow  maintained gainful employment at Nazi

headquarters.  Spokesperson for humanity, Anna implores Heydrich to

recognize that Jews are human beings, promising to save his life if he

helps rescue some of them.  (Heydrich's real-life brother actually did

abandon Nazism to help save some Jews, before committing suicide.) 

Later, Anna is  brought before Hitler (Don Paul, whose Fuehrer struck

me as a deluded insane asylum inmate) - whom she challenges with

bravado, yet survives. Stilted and declaimed with dreadful German

accents, the play rolls out like a cartoonish nightmare, with much

dialogue devoted to airing Nazi ideas, as if we didn't understand these

already. Under L. Flint Esquerra's direction, little attempt is made to

get beyond posturing  -- except for Sherman who, against tremendous

odds, manages a credible performance. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave.,

Hlywd;  Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 11; (323) 957-1152.

(Deborah Klugman)

I'M AN ACTOR, THEY DON'T GET IT Written and directed by Tiffany Black, this two-hour production is supported by a talented cast and just enough good writing and variety to make it enjoyable. The thirty plus vignettes are all themed around the hardships, struggles and triumphs of young thespians that come to Hollywood with a dream. Black's writing is a matter of feast or famine. Some of the pieces are bland and insipid, such as "Family Support," where Danette Wilson engages in a predictable phone conversation with a mother who isn't crazy about her daughter's career choice, or "Coaches with Creds," where Tyler Lueck grouses on acting coaches. But the bulk of the writing is sharp, witty and imaginative, and highlights the often perilous, cutthroat road taken by those who want to make it in Tinsel town. Kyoko Okazaki is a hoot as a sensuous ad lady in "Living Headshot," while Jasmine Hughes is equally impressive as a Jamaican gal from a poor family with her own ideas about stardom in "Passport Performer." Some of the skits feature dancing, singing, and some nifty tap dancing. Considering the small stage, Black does a remarkable job marshaling the sizable cast. (Lovell Estell III) The Tre Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., Fri. 8 p.m., (perfs 6 & 8 p.m., Sept. 11 & 18) black.tiffany@gmail.com.

INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT Doug Jewell delivers a crackerjack performance as a drug addict, Ambrose, in the grip of delusion. It's in "Head Trip," the first of two unevenly crafted one-acts by playwright/co-director Albert Cowart, Jr. The play takes place in the dilapidated living room of what had once been Ambrose's comfortable middle-class home. Formerly a successful engineer, the volatile Ambrose has long since lost everything, including his dignity, his job and his wife (co-director Fatima Cortez-Todd), who left him after he mixed it up with a streetwalking junkie. He now spends his miserable beer-swilling days spewing venom at apparitions of his son and his wife's lesbian lover, among others . Cowart's writing strengths are his ear for dialogue and his believable characters; what's problematic are the story's fuzzy details - for example, Ambrose's wife begs him to sign an important paper but we're never told what it is. In "Crowded Room," two lovers on the edge of a breakup - Wanda (Kiana Tavasti) and Marvin (Michael Anderson) -- are torn between their inner voices (Shondalyn Harris and Otis A. Harris) pushing them to reconcile, and opposing ones (Tanisha Livingston and Tony Paul) urging them apart. It's an amusing premise that spawns a fractious, sometimes noisy, emotional encounter - and while that's sometimes funny - especially Paul as Martin's indignant chauvinist self -- it's also too long and too generic. More details about the characters' past relationship would have made the play more involving. (Deborah Klugman) Village Theater in Lucy Florence, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. (no perfs Labor Day weekend); thru Sept. 20. (323) 293-1356.

INTIMATELY WILDE It's easy to understand why dramatic artists might be attracted to the story of the brilliant and iconic Oscar Wilde. Unfortunately, writer-director Terra Taylor Knudson's dramatization of the life and trials of this complex and tragic figure treads familiar territory, offering little fresh insight. The play begins in Wilde's (Tom Thorn) prison cell before flashing back to accounts of his marriage, his meeting and subsequent affair with Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Ryan Michael Hartman), and his series of trials, which culminated in his conviction for "gross indecency" and his sentencing to two years hard labor. A stilted rendering of events, the script never delves beneath the surface by attempting, for example, to explore the complicated mysteries of sexual attraction, or probing the anguish Wilde's wife (Knudson) must have undergone, first from her husband's physical rejection and later from the disgrace brought on by the trial. The production's main problem, however, is Thorn's performance, which is constrained by the image of Wilde as a dandy with a disdain for convention. That he was, but Thorn's too glib mannerisms fail to do justice to the scope of Wilde's intellect and compassion. Hartman occasionally livens things up with the antics of the spoiled Bosie, and Tom Polzin is effective as the implacably doltish Marquess of Queensberry. (Deborah Klugman) Lyric Theatre, 520 North La Brea Ave, Hollywood; Thurs-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 13. (323) 939-9220. An Olio Theatre Works production

GO KILL ME DEADLY Few literary figures seem as blatantly ripe for satire as the gumshoe detective. Playwright Bill Robens ably answers the call, with an entertaining spoof about an obtuse private dick named Charlie Nichols (Dean Lemont) and his obsession for a witless scarlet-clad siren named Mona (Kirsten Vangsness). Called in to forestall the murder of a wealthy dowager, Lady Clairmont (the comically skillful Kathleen Mary Carthy), he's soon embroiled with the usual parade of tough-guy gangsters, dumb cops and seductive debutantes. Obstacles confront Charlie everywhere ― his client soon ends up dead ― but none prove as treacherous as his buxom, doe-eyed lady love, whose predilection for homicide he myopically ignores. Savvily staged by director Kiff Scholl (with fight choreography by Caleb Terray and videography by Darrett Sanders), the script successfully parodies the genre's multiple clichés and evocative parlance, even as it lacks the razor-sharp edge of a top-notch farce. (The show goes on a bit too long.) Still the adroit supporting ensemble makes the most of the piece's convoluted subplots ― among them Nicholas S. Williams as Lady Clairmont's effete son Clive, Phinneas Kiyomura as an eyewitness to her murder and Ezra Buzzington as her suspiciously implicated butler. As the hero, Lemont demonstrates facileness. With her pouty lips and batting eyelids, Vangsness' outrageous Mona becomes the show's star. (DK) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Oct. 3. (323) 856-8611.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., and Sun., 3 p.m.; Oct. 25. (323) 960-4412.

LIQUID Directed and designed by Chris Covics, Brenda Varda's farce benefits from superb technical arrangements. From Susannah Mitchell's original costumes to Paul Bertin's sound design, the artistry of this production is clearly on display. Most particularly, Perry Hoberman's video and visuals are creatively delightful--and downright scary in other places. Covics' over-the-top direction is well-suited to the material, but not all the actors are up to the task at hand. A bigger problem is the writing: Varda's winsome ecological fable is undercut by stilted dialogue. The plot concerns a scientist, Nevah (Daniella Dahmen), who is looking to save the planet the planet from global warming through the creation of CO2 eating algae. Nevah is set to marry Odam (Kyle Ingleman), but the terrorist Chaet (Craig Johnson) interrupts the ceremony, intent on stealing the scientific formula. He's thwarted when a tsunami hits the island. Nevah, Odam and Chaet survive the tsunami, but wash up in different places. These vignettes take them from an island made of trash to an oil rig to a pirate ship to a floating retirement home filled with cannibals. Varda takes potshots at multinational corporations, oil companies and refuse disposal, but much of the writing seems off-the-cuff. Shirley Anderson puts in a nice turn as a designer healer for tourists who becomes a blind seer, and Bruce Adel shines in several different roles. (Sandra Ross) Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 466-7781.

NEW REVIEW

  LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community

Photo courtesy of Knightsbridge Theatre

Hard-core,

exploitation-cinema auteurists have probably still not forgiven Howard

Ashman (book & lyrics) or Alan Menken (score) for their 1982

musical burlesque of Roger Corman's immortal, low-budget horror

allegory about the moral price of success. And, judging by director Jaz

Davison's somewhat awkward staging on John Paul De Leonardis' clumsy,

turnstile set, final absolution won't be forthcoming. By transforming

Seymour (Mark Petrie), the green-thumbed shop assistant at Mushnik's

Skid Row Florists, from the serial-killing schnook of the Corman

original to merely a passive-aggressive facilitator of the botanical

puppet monster Audrey II (the voice of Pamela Taylor) and her homicidal

appetites, Ashman blunts Corman's edgy black comedy into a kind of

anodyne Merry Melody. Of course, it is precisely Menken's melodies --

his crowd-pleasing takeoffs of doo-wop and early Motown rock classics

-- that have always been this show's irresistible soul, and under

Debbie Lawrence's capable music direction, that remains the case here.

Leslie Duke, as Seymour's Brooklyn-honking love interest, Audrey,

elevates every number she sings, particularly in her sweetly funny

rendition of "Somewhere That's Green" and her soulful turn in the duet,

"Suddenly, Seymour." Taylor rocks the house with her rousing Audrey II

solo, "Mean Green Mother." But the production's outstanding pipes

belong to vocal powerhouse Cloie Wyatt Taylor, whose incandescent

gospel stylings are all but wasted in the supporting, choral role of

Chiffon. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (323) 667-0955. (Bill Raden)

LOST IN RADIOLAND World premiere of Ryan Paul James and Denny Siegel's 1940s-era comedy. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 467-6688.

MANish BOY Writer-actor-comedian Ralph Harris is a clever writer, and a very funny man. His eloquent and affectionate portrait of his feisty 94-year-old grandfather is a comic gem, strongly rooted in reality: This is not merely stand-up comedy, but fine, richly detailed acting through which he conjures his African-American family. He also presents sketches of his "devil dad" father, and a drug-saturated uncle. But there's a dis-connect between his individual sketches, and the framing device he chose. He begins his tale with a phone call from a girl-friend of 20 years ago, informing him that she thinks her son is his child. She wants him to come back to Philadelphia to take a DNA test. He must face the possibility that he has a 20-year-old son. He returns to South Philly, and his mother's basement, where he dredges up memories of his past. The possible son is a red herring, not organically connected to his other stories, so the performance seems contrived. This is unfortunate because, though his best material is really wonderful, the shape of this production, broken up by many unnecessary blackouts, is awkward and distracting. Director Mark E. Swinton serves Harris well when he leaves him free to perform his character portraits, but he allows too many distractions to impede the flow. (Neal Weaver) Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 960-1056 or www.plays411.com/manishboy.

MANUSCRIPT Paul Grellong's 2005 play is impossible to describe without ruining its many intricate plot turns. Let's just say it involves three recent Ivy League college chums settling into a party in a Brooklyn Heights home owned by the family of Harvard student, David (Adam Shapiro). At the start, childhood friends David and Chris (Patrick J. Adams) appear jittery over the visit of Chris' new girlfriend, Elizabeth (Katharine Brandt). But nothing in this play is what it seems. (Steven Leigh Morris) Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 3. (323) 960-5774. Tall Blonde Productions and Elephant Stageworks.

GO THE NEW TESTAMENT/ HELTER SKELTER In Neil LaBute's two short, scathing one acts, the overarching theme is the notion of extreme retaliation for wrongs committed. Both vignettes boast characters motivated by darker aspects of the human psyche and driven by spiteful passion. In brief, the venom gushes like oil from a Texas oil well. In LaBute's world premiere "The New Testament," directed by Bjorn Johnson, a pompous playwright (Tim Banning) and a spineless producer (Benjamin Burdick) take an actor (Peter James Smith) out to lunch as a preface for their dumping him from the writer's play, in which the actor has been cast to play Jesus Christ. Although one can imagine the actor might accept the loss with grace if the firing was handled with charm and finesse, these are qualities utterly lacking in the boorish, foul-mouthed writer, who launches into a bigoted tirade so offensive, the actor digs in his heels. The cavalier manner of the actor's being fired is slightly contrived - we can't accept that the writer would act like such a pig for fear of legal reprisals, if not for reasons of human decency (a quality rarely found in any play by LaBute). Yet, the interplay between the crisply defined characters is taut and gripping. We can't wait to find out who is going to win - or, more precisely, whether the loathsome writer will get his just desserts. LaBute himself directs the bill's other play, the ferocious "Helter Skelter," in which a pregnant wife (Kate Beahan) joins her philandering husband (Ron Eldard) for a Christmas hotel lunch, which turns into a harrowing sequence of hateful revelations and tragedy. The play ends with a horrifying spectacle - but the actual point of the piece is the ultimately unbearable gulf of incomprehension between the suffering wife's desperate need for meaning and the oleaginous husband's total lack of moral compass. Eldard is bleakly funny as the scuzzball, while Beahan's beautifully subtle turn as the wife gradually morphs from all American sweetie to Greek tragic heroine. (Paul Birchall) The Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. Call for schedule. (323) 882-6912.

GOPOINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

ST. JOAN AND THE DANCING SICKNESS Julie Hebert's story of a "troubled teenager with a gift.". Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Sept. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 13, 3 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

SAY GOODBYE TOTO Sometimes it just doesn't pay to tinker with a literary classic. Such is the case with Amy Heidish's reimagining of the Wizard of Oz. Heidish places Toto at the center of the narrative, and this dubious conceit wears thin early on. Joseph Porter does the honors as Dorothy's panting, barking traveling companion, and after the pair is transported via tornado to Oz, the canine is inexplicably mistaken for a sorcerer. Accompanying Dorothy (the fine Renee Scott) on her way to the Emerald City is a mysterious cat (Tracy Ellott), plus of course the Scarecrow (Mike Fallon), the cowardly lion (Andreas Ramacho), and Tin Man (Grant Mahnken) who, in Heidish's version, are all cursed brothers hoping that face time with the wizard can get them zapped back into human form. The most engaging moments come by way of the Wizard (Jake Elsas), whose magical manipulation of several hand puppets behind a screen is very funny. Alice Ensor does a dazzling job as the good witch, but this doesn't redeem a script with a tension that dribbles away. And Jamie Virostko's bland direction doesn't help. (Lovell Estell III) The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.; L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., thru Sept. 13. (323) 969-1707. An Ark Theatre Company production

SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS Real life stuns 20-somethings, by Sascha Alexander, John Dardenne, Ben Giroux, James Robinson and Juliana Tyson. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 960-7822.

THE SEAGULL In her staging of Anton Chekhov's 1896 play (in Paul Schmidt's colloquial translation and costumed in period by Jenny Lind Bryant), director Marjo-Riikka Makela has actress-diva Arkadina (Devin Mills), who visits the rustic Russian estate of her ailing brother, Sorin (Bobby Reed), attached to an entourage. A cluster of devotees follows her every step, as though attached by the chin to the back of her collar. It's a slapstick device, meant to tug Chekhov's impressionistic study of artists and unrequited love into something more expressionistic, like one of the symbolist visions imagined by her callow playwright son, Konstantin (Matthew Anderson). The production contains some lovely performances: Amelia Rose's tragic Nina - the young actress with whom Konstantin is obsessed - has the winsome quality of a reed in a marsh. Villas' Trigorin and Mills' Arkadina, both initially too mannered, settle into a style that straddles the divide between emotional credibility and comedic remove that Makela aims for. Yet that divide remains a tear rather than a seam. Act 2 is far stronger, where the slapstick comes into focus as Konstantin's comic nightmare. It's a refreshingly bold attempt in a work by a playwright who's almost defined by his impressionist view of life. And though the production suffers from some lackluster performances, the power of Act 2 suggests that I may have seen Act 1 on an off-night. (Steven Leigh Morris) Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through September 12. (323) 871-1912.

7 DEADLY SINS Chris Berube's interwoven vignettes. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Tues., 9:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 29. (323) 850-7827.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 226-6148.

YO, LA PUTA Written and directed by Emanuel Loarca. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (213) 382-8133.

GO STOP KISS Manhattan traffic newscaster Callie (Deborah Puette) meets Sara (Kristina Harrison) the week the young blonde schoolteacher arrives in the city. Both have always identified themselves as straight: Callie's got her friend-with-benefits George (Christan Anderson), who she assumes she'll marry once they both stop trying to find someone better, and Sara has just left her boyfriend of seven years, Peter (Justin Okin), behind in St. Louis in her quest to find a bigger, harder, more worthwhile life. The two women gradually become best friends, deliciously tormented by their quiet hints that they both want a more physical relationship. But no sooner do they stick a tentative foot out of the closet than they're pushed out in the worst possible way -- as a news story about a violent bigot who puts Sara in a coma. Diana Son's time-jumping play about coping with the unexpected skips from their first meeting to Callie's first sitdown with the investigating cop (Jeorge Watson); we're rooting for the couple to get together under the shadow of the consequences. But Son's equal emphasis on romance makes the play looser and more inviting than a social problem drama, and the question isn't about the source of hate, but the depth of Callie's love when Peter announces that Sara's family wants to move her hospital bed back to Missouri. Under Elina de Santos and Matthew Elkin's direction, the ensemble opening night was still a little stiff, but Puette's tender performance captures a haphazard woman realizing that she's finally sure of at least one thing. (Amy Nicholson) Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-7774. A Rogue Machine production

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

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

NEW REVIEW

  GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE

Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community

Photo by Susan Lee

There's

wonderful irony in the fact that, though Oscar Wilde's enemies

succeeded in branding him a sodomist, and sentencing him to two years

hard labor, they accidently conferred upon him a kind of posthumous

glory, fame and historical importance that he probably wouldn't have

achieved otherwise. Writer Moises Kaufman captures the tale's ironies

and complexities by taking an objective, documentary approach, and

constructing his play as a mosaic of primary sources: court records,

personal letters, autobiographies, memoirs, and newspaper accounts.

Susan Lee directs with brisk, efficient clarity, and Kerr Seth Lordygan

contributes a serviceable if slightly colorless portrait of Wilde.

Though Wilde's friend and lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, was an

obnoxious egotist, he must have had considerable charm and glamour to

have captured Wilde's love and loyalty, but Joshua Grant plays him as

charmless, petulant and prissy. Andrew Hagan is persuasive as Wilde's

nemesis, the malicious, paranoid Marquess of Queensbury, and Darrell

Philip and Dean Farrell Bruggeman score as the rival attorneys. The

notion of casting women (Casey Kramer, Allie Costa, Beth Ricketson, and

JC Henning) as Oscar's "rent boys" seemed initially perverse, but they

provide deft characterizations and sly comedy.  The Eclectic Company

Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 7 p.m., thru Oct. 11. (818) 508-3003 or

http://brownpapertickets.com/event/77200. (Neal Weaver)

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Koni McCurdy gives a fierce performance as Lady Bracknell, under Patricia Wylie's functional direction of Oscar Wilde's comedy. Otherwise, the play is pretty limp. There were a number of stepped-on lines the night this critic attended. A bigger problem is Jason Perlman's overly rapid delivery as Algernon -- many of Wilde's best lines are so rushed, the audience has no time to react. Brent Hamilton and Betsy Rice make a serviceable pair of lovers as Jack and Gwendolen. However, the accents are all over the place, particularly from Betsy Reisz who has difficulty pulling off the role of well-bred Cecily -- the object of Algernon's affection. Wilde might be spinning in his grave, but the essential comedy is still amusing. The plot concerns two gentlemen who both call themselves Earnest, and a comedy of mistaken identities ensues. Osa Danam brings some charm as the befuddled governess Miss Prism, but McCurdy's performance deserves special praise because it offers a slightly vicious twist on Lady Bracknell. Jeri Deiotte's costumes are fine, and Victoria Profitt's practical set design eases the transitions between scenes. (Sandra Ross) Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; no perf Sun.,. Aug. 16; thru Sept. 26. (626) 256-3809.

NEW REVIEW

NOT TO BE

Stage Raw: Corporation, Cooperation and Community

Photo by Amanda Marquardt

For

reasons she chooses not to explain, director-adapter Amanda Marquardt

stages excerpts from every death scene (compiled with Adam Neubauer)

sifted from Shakespeare's canon  -- and there's a lot of them. The

piece is called Not To Be, now at Zombie Joe's Underground in

North Hollywood. It's a romp, a macabre variation on what the Reduced

Shakespeare Company does with perhaps more craft, but no less humor.

Nine barefoot actors in jeans and white tops fly through scenes from Macbeth to Hamlet, with pit stops at Troilus and Cressida, Romeo and Juliet,

all of the history plays, and more. Some of the daggers are mimed,

while the rapiers in Hamlet's (Mark Nager) climactic duel with Laertes

(Paul Etuk) appear in their rubber-tipped steel incarnations. There are

also some plastic intestines that get thrown around the stage. The

featured players, however, are the blood capsules. The actors start out

clean-scrubbed. By play's end, they are are saturated in the red goo,

as is the plastic sheet that covers the mat on which they convulse,

gasp, scream, choke, shudder and engage so gleefully in eye-rolling

paroxysms of agony.  A few scenes simply entail an actor appearing and

trembling to his or her death, blackout. Wish the company were better

with the language, but the 60-minute dance of death, accompanied by

Neubauer's pleasingly frivolous soundtrack of light classical music,

makes a virtue of the relentless. Zombie Joe's Underground, 4850

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8:30 p.m.; through

September 13. (818) 202-4120. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature

WEIRD ON TOP Improv comedy, apparently. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Wed., Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 15, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.

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

CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling, in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself. (SLM) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; December 27. (310) 394-9779.

IN ARABIA WE'D ALL BE KINGS Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is a poet-laureate of the insulted and injured, exploring the dark under-belly of urban society. Here, he examines the suckers, wannabes, low-lifes and losers who inhabit a seedy bar in NYC's Hell's Kitchen, unaware that they're about to be driven out by the forces of gentrification. His writing is compassionate yet objective, but it also offers a safe, vicarious walk-on-the-wild-side for theatre-goers with more sheltered lives. Director Jeremy Aluma expertly puts his large cast through their paces, though the vastness of the performance space saps intensity and compromises audibility. Among the fine performances are Frank Stasio as an ex-con who craves more respect than he can earn, and Tracy Ali as his elegant former girlfriend. Andrew McReynolds plays a hapless, drug-addled junkie, Bri Price scores as a gun-toting Latina who tries to support her baby via prostitution, and Andrew Bloch is persuasive as an old boozer still mourning his late wife. Jessica Diz plays a flamboyant crack whore, and Sharif Nasr is a bar-tender who turns to petty theft when his job disappears. It's all very well done, but largely because of the problems of the venue, the play may be more fun for the actors than for the audience. (Neal Weaver). Old Expo Furniture Warehouse, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (562) 508-1788.

THE NERD Larry Shue's comedy about a nerd. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (310) 454-1970.

THE RECEPTIONIST If there is a premise behind playwright Adam Bock's superficial political satire, it might be the notion that even Adolf Eichmann had a beloved mother, and, no doubt, an efficient receptionist too. It is in the latter's domain of a generic, office waiting room (in Chris Covics' appropriately bland-moderne set) that Bock places his comic cautionary study in the mindless, bureaucratic surrender of moral judgment to the dictates of duty ― what Hannah Arendt meant by "the banality of evil." And there are few duties more banal than Beverly Wilkins' (Megan Mullally of NBC's Will & Grace). Holding down the front desk of the innocuous-sounding "Northeast Office," the veteran employee sorts the mail, makes the coffee and screens the incoming calls for her harried boss, Mr. Raymond (Jeff Perry), at least when she isn't gossiping on the phone or giving relationship advice to Mr. Raymond's flighty, love-hungry assistant, Lorraine (Jennifer Finnigan). It is only with the surprise visit of the Central Office's affable Martin Dart (Chris L. McKenna) and Mr. Raymond's inexplicable absence that Beverly's comfortable routine begins to unravel and the horrific nature of the Northeast Office's "services" is finally brought to light. Though Mullally nails the officious manner and mercurial pettiness of the practiced office functionary, Bart DeLorenzo's detail-mired direction ultimately proves unable to bridge the miscalculated disconnect between Bock's cobweb-thin characterizations and the discordant heft of his message. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (310) 477-2055. (Bill Raden) An Evidence Room/Odyssey Theatre Ensemble production.


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