Stage Raw: Director-Teacher Milton Katselas dies at 75
MILTON KATSELAS DIES AT 75
Rumors had been swirling for about a week, but official word came in on Wednesday that teacher-director Melton Katselas, who founded Camelot Artists Theatre 20 years ago, died on Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 75.
Katselas' career as a director began in the 1960s with the original off-Broadway production of Edward Albee's The Zoo Story, and he was nominated for a Tony Award for his direction of Butterflies are Free. Katselas directed over sixty plays, as well as several feature films for Columbia, United Artists, CBS and Fox.
Under his direction, Blythe Danner won a Tony Award, Eileen Heckart an Academy Award, and Bette Davis her only Emmy Award. Katselas directed such actors as Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Goldie Hawn, Christopher Walken, Burt Reynolds, George C. Scott, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton.
As a teacher, the list of noteworthy actors who benefited from his tutelage includes Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Kate Hudson, Kim Cattrall, Anne Archer, Kyle Chandler, James Cromwell, Tyne Daly, Jenna Elfman, Miguel Ferrer, Penny Fuller, Jorge Garcia, John Glover, Beth Grant, Michael Pena, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kelly Preston, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Urich, Jeffrey Tambor, Tom Selleck, and Patrick Swayze.
He was also mentored by such stage and film directors as Elia Kazan and Joshua Logan. It was through these influences and his subsequent extensive directing experience that Milton ultimately created his technique taught at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
THIS COMING WEEKEND'S NEW REVIEWS
Check back here Monday after noon for NEW THEATER REVIEWS of Spring Awakening at the Ahmanson; Ron Sossi's staging of Brecht's A Man's a Man at the Odyssey; Virginia Watson's solo perf, Better Late Than Never at the Lost Studio; West Cost Jewish Theatre's staging of Leonard Spigelgass' A Majority of One; Fountain Theater's revival of Gem of the Ocean; Stephen Massicotte's Mary's Wedding at the Colony Theatre in Burbank; and Vince Melocchi's new play, Lions at Pacific Resident Theatre.
Last weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS can be found at http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-30/stage/theater-reviews-lovelace-the-rock-opera-u-s-drag-how-cissy-grew/
For this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS and press the Read On tab at directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
For October 31-Nov. 6, 2008
(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deobrah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON Robert Schenkkan's story of a widow and her Cuban gardener. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Nov. 5; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (310) 208-5454.
EAT THE RUNT Robert Riechel Jr.'s dramedy about a kidnapped theater critic. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (323) 960-7721.
FATA MORGANA Ernest Vajda's 1924 romantic comedy. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; opens Nov. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, (No perfs Nov. 20, 27 & Dec. 11.). (310) 822-8392.
FLAT Ellen Clifford's solo exploration of her small breasts. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Nov. 6, 8 p.m.; Nov. 7-8, 9 p.m.. (323) 969-2530.
HAPPY DAYS Musical based on the '70s sitcom, book by Garry Marshall, music and lyrics by Paul Williams. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; opens Nov. 1; Sat., Nov. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (562) 944-9801.
HARLEM'S NIGHT: A CABARET STORY Burlesque tale by Peppur Chambers. The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 954-9400.
HAUNTED CABARET Lili Barsha's "Election Eve Brew Ha-Ha.". MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 3, 8 p.m.. (323) 957-1152.
MELODRAMA PLAY Sam Shepard's story of a rock & roller's followup to his hit song. Paul Gleason Theater, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 6; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 255-5636.
MISS WITHERSPOON The sky is falling, in Christopher Durang's comedy. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 460-4443.
SALVAGE Diana Glancy's drama about a family-run junk yard. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; opens Oct. 31; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 468-3399.
SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS Retired lady hires ex-chorus boy for dance lessons, by Richard Alfieri. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; opens Oct. 31; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 955-8101.
SNOW WHITE The fairy tale, adapted by Tim Kelly, "for children and their families.". Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Nov. 1; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 508-3003.
Theater Special Events
BOTANICUM SEEDLINGS Reading of Lost and Found in the Underground by Brett Webster. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Nov. 2, 1 p.m.. (310) 455-2322.
WINE, WOMEN AND SONG Musical cabaret featuring Jazz and Broadway standards, R&B and contemporary songs. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; opens Nov. 2; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (310) 822-8392.
THE WINTER'S TALE Shakespeare's play, performed by Actors From the London Stage. Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Sat., Nov. 1, 7 p.m.. (310) 434-3000.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS
GIRL'S ROOM Joni Fritz's play about three generations of women. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Wed., Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (818) 508-0281.
THE HEIRESS Psychological drama by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (714) 556-2787.
INCANDESCENCE Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque and DJ Imagika present an evening of music and theater. The Edison, 108 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed..; thru Nov. 19. (213) 613-0000.
>NEW REVIEW THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS A woman sitting a few seats down the row from me was completely amazed by Mimi Kennedy's impersonation of the late, nationally syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers – not just the bouffant but the dead-on clanging midwest accent. Well, that's a start. Now playwright David Rambo needs a play to back up Kennedy's solo impersonation. Here, Landers spends a couple of hours sashaying around her Chicago study in 1975, eating chocolates when confronted with writer's block and, during intermission, leaving us to take a bath. Gary Wissmann's set is so detailed with multitudinous knickknacks, and photos, many of which go unused, it arouses the speculation that a more spartan and symbolic set would have justified the contrivance of Landers' direct audience address. The evening's pretext is that Landers is in the process of drafting a momentous letter to her readers announcing her divorce from her husband of 36 years – risky business for an advice columnist who has never counseled anyone to get divorced. Around this pretext are a series of anecdotal digressions about her husband, her daughter and her twin sister, rival “Popo,” who imitated her sister's column with her own variation, “Dear Abby.” Our heroine rolls out her leftist credentials and how she came to overcome her own puritanical streak in a joint television interview with Linda Lovelace. But none of this is dramatic, it's merely exposition in the style of “And then I wrote.” The possibilities for a real play rear themselves in Act 2, when Landers reveals the depth of homophobic bigotry that came from hostile replies to one of her columns supporting a gay teenager, and from the fury that came in responses to some her well-intended advice that had adverse consequences. Yet our heroine brushes them both off with similar, sanctimonious disdain, as though bigots and victims of her bad advise were equals. Nothing legal they could do, she remarked of the victims – hardly an embrace of her responsibility to help people in distress. Somewhere in that responsibility, and her cavalier dismissal of it, lies a more penetrating drama yet to be written, something more closely resembling a play than a parade. Brendon Fox directs. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (626) 356-PLAY. (Steven Leigh Morris)
The Lady With All the Answers Photo by Craig Schwartz
SONGS OF ASCENSION Multimedia performance featuring vocalist Meredith Monk and visual artist Ann Hamilton, with the Todd Reynolds String Quartet. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Through Nov. 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 2, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.
SPRING AWAKENING Coming-of-age rock musical based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Steven Sater. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 7, (No perfs Nov. 5 & 27; call for added perfs.). (213) 628-2772.
GO TWO TRAINS RUNNING The seventh of 10 plays in his “Pittsburgh cycle” that chronicles 100-years of African-American history, this is one of August Wilson's talkiest plays, and this production runs well over three hours. Yet the success of director Israel Hicks' revival can be attributed to the consistency and quality of the cast . The setting is a diner, circa 1969 Pittsburgh, that conveniently serves as a neighborhood hangout. Its owner, Memphis (Glynn Turman), is a shrewd businessman with a soft edge, who has some lively patrons: mentally disturbed Hambone (Ellis E. Williams); Wolf (Felton Perry), a numbers man; Holloway (Roger Robinson), a street-corner prophet and believer in magic; and Sterling (Russell Hornsby), an ex-con with more ambition than job prospects. The only woman, Risa (Michole Briana White), is a waitress at the diner who bears horrible self-inflicted scars on her legs. Not much goes on here. Most of the buzz is generated by the gilded funeral of a slick ghetto preacher named Prophet Samuel, and the pending demolition of the diner. Yet Wilson is a master storyteller, and this play is filled with humorous, engaging dialogue and earthly sagacity. In one hilarious segment, Holloway talks of a grandfather who loved being a slave so much, he wanted to die and pick cotton in heaven for a “white God.” And then there is West (Earl Billings), an undertaker who has grown rich on the misfortunes of the neighborhood. These characters form a curious gestalt that eerily mirrors the tumult of the times and the harsh realities of inner-city life. Edward E. Haynes' expansive diner set piece works perfectly for the production. (LE3) Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (323) 964-9766. An Ebony Repertory Theatre production.
GO WAITING IN THE WINGS Noel Coward’s career was in eclipse, and he was dealing with his own declining powers when he wrote this bitter-sweet comedy set in a charity retirement home for aging actresses. The result is a sentimental and nostalgic valentine to Edwardian Era theater, and the leading ladies he adored in his youth. Perhaps its strongest asset is its wonderful roles for older actresses, fully realized in this production. The affectionate portraits are strung on three strands of plot: the long-running feud between glamorous Lotta Bainbridge (Katherine Henryk) and her ancient rival May Davenport (Magda Harout), the efforts of the home’s residents to persuade “the committee” to build them a solarium, and the intrusion of a pushy newspaper columnist (Corinne Shore) who invades their space in search of a “human interest” story. The piece is saved from soap-opera bathos by Coward's wit, and frank acknowledgement of the realities of decline and death. Director Charlie Mount has assembled a fine, large ensemble who offer richly nuanced performances. Among the highlights is Betty Garrett’s impish turn as a woman who has retreated into blissful memories, dementia and playing with matches. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977 or http://www.theatrewest.org (Neal Weaver)
Waiting in the Wings Photo by Charlie Mount
GO WICKED In this musical riff on the witches of Oz (by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Hollzman), Joe Mantello directs a marvelous spectacle that looks like a diversion but is actually quite the opposite. Eden Espinoza as the green-skinned, bespectacled girl-witch Elphaba has a contagiously smart appeal. After recognizing that Elphaba's not going to power-play along with the Wizard's (John Rubinstein) Stalinist shenanigans, Mrs. Morrible (the delightful Carol Kane), starts a witch hunt for the girl, and the whole thing starts to resemble some of the tawdrier chapters in American history. (SLM). Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 11. (213) 365-3500.
WILL ROGERS' AMERICA Rich Hoag is the cowboy humorist. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (805) 667-2900.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD, CENTRAL LOS ANGELES AND DOWNTOWN
ADRAMELECH'S MONOLOGUE Valere Novarina's story of a king who finally breaks his silence, translated by Guy Bennett. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (213) 389-3856.
AMERICA'S NEXT TOP BOTTOM: CYCLE THREE Aspiring "bottoms" compete in this weekly elimination parody. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 957-1884.
ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big city.". Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 960-5574.
BABY IT'S YOU! Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's musical about the discovery of girl group the Shirelles. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 14, (No perfs Nov. 26-27.). (800) 595-4849.
BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS Rob Mersola's "not-so-romantic comedy of bad manners.". Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 23, 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7829.
BAD HABITS Two one-acts by Terrence McNally: Dunelawn and Ravenswood. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 465-0800.
BARE NAKED ANGELS Eight actors dramatize their own true stories. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 465-0800.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER African-American writer-performer Virginia Watson illustrates her life story. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 769-5049.
CINEMA NIGHT LIVE Plays-turned-films become plays again, live on stage. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 465-0800.
CRAVE Sarah Kane's "fantasia of love, lust, pain, humor, sadness, hope and resignation.". Sierra Stage, 1444 N. Sierra Bonita Ave., West Hollywood; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (213) 905-2727.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Interpretive piece set to the music of Pink Floyd. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sun., 8 & 9:30 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.
>NEW REVIEW EAGLE HILLS, EAGLE RIDGE, EAGLE LANDING are much more than mere tracts of real estate that looms sight-unseen over Brett Neveu's comic send-up of middle-class complacency. For the play’s mid-career, middle-management friends and neighbors, Mike (Jon Amirkhan), Kevin (Johnny Clark) and Andy (Jeffrey Stubblefield), theese housing developments are essential articles of faith that lend harmony to the men’s empty, prefabricated lives. When the men meet for their customary after-work beers at the local watering hole (finely executed by designer Danny Cistone), however, that harmony all-too-easily turns to discontent. Mike and Andy have already made the move to the more desirable Eagle Ridge. The strangely irritable Kevin, however, has doubts — doubts that soon threaten to undermine the men’s suburban house of cards. Director Ron Klier cleverly frames the comic complications as a kind of existential Three Stooges two reeler (imagine Larry and Curly grappling with a suddenly self-aware Moe). To that end, the witless Amirkhan and Stubblefield remain hilariously impervious to the implications of Clark’s deepening crisis and eventual rebirth. But if the production more than meets its quota of laughs, Neveu ignores too many other potential voices (the men’s wives, for instance) to rack up much more than a straw-man critique. The result is a funny if slight entertainment with all the substance of a Dilbert cartoon. (BR) Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 15. (323) 960-7738, http://www.plays411.com/eagle VS.Theatre Company and Range View Productions
EARTH SUCKS In writer-director Jonas Oppenheim’s frothy sci-fi musical comedy, Earth’s main contribution to the Cosmos is rock & roll. Angsty high school junior Echo (Emily Stern, perhaps a little too snide) fantasizes about falling in love with a handsome outer space creature who would whisk her away to the stars for a variety of adventures doing whatever it is a human and an alien can do together. To achieve this goal, Echo transmits a song out into the galaxy, luring to Earth a wacky outer space rock band, headed by the illustrious Fluhbluhbluh (Lucas Revolution), a handsome young bachelor in a red spandex Gumby suit, who speaks through a bug-eyed sock puppet. Unfortunately for Echo, it turns out that her NASA scientist dad (Christopher Fairbanks) has been negotiating with sultry, villainous she-alien Ulinia Swords (Nakia Syvonne), who’s aiming to use NASA’s radio telescope to broadcast a diabolical siren song that will turn the entire population of the universe into her slaves. The piece boasts a number of invigorating hard-rock numbers in the style of the Ramones, the Talking Heads and Devo. Still, the crackling music is integrated into a singularly sloppy book, with problems compounded by unfocused gags and Oppenheim’s hyperactive blocking. The show would earn more respect as a rock opera without any dialogue: Syvonne’s hilariously wild-eyed, throaty turn is both funny and tuneful, in the style of Eartha Kitt. And Revolution’s alien crooner brings to mind David Byrne. (PB) ArtWorks Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 2. (323) 960-7744. A Citizens of Earth production.
Earth Sucks Photo by Emika Honda
THE ELEPHANT MAN Bernard Pomerance's story of the disfigured Englishman. (Call for added perfs.). Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 462-8460.
FIT FOR SOCIETY is a pastiche of war veteran stories written by Brian Monahan (who is from a military family) and Stephen Wolfert (a veteran of the U.S. Army). Some are direct, personal accounts, some are first person dramatic monologues delivered straight to the audience, and some are monologues to an invisible character. And even though the work is earnest and, at times, powerful, the stylistic disunity weakens the overriding idea. And because the evening runs scattershot over a wide range of veteran themes -- most of which have been introduced to us in media coverage of the last 40 years of war -- we aren't challenged by the kind of specificity that opens up new ways of understanding the futility, waste and tragedy of war. Director Stephan Wolfert, however, shapes the performances of his excellent cast well, inspiring an authentic, gripping tone throughout. Standouts include Ian Casselberry's infantryman divested of his humanity and Arnell Powell's brusque dill sergeant. And Randy Brumbaughs lights are particularly effective on the small, open stage. But what we ultimately see is a truly inspired series of previews for several potentially stirring plays. (LR)The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea, L.A. Sat. & Mon., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues. perf. Nov. 11, 8 p.m.; through Nov. 11. (888) 398-9348.
FOR ALL TIME K.J. Sanchez's look at the various social, familial and economic effects of the criminal justice system. Shakespeare Festival/LA Theatre, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 23, (Added perfs Nov. 12 & 19, 8 p.m.). (213) 613-1700.
GO FREAK DANCE: THE FORBIDDEN DIRTY BOOGALOO Much of the propulsion in Matt Besser's dance confection comes from the great breakdance interludes by the Bad Newz Bearz crew. The rest derives from Besser's comic-book satire of self-righteous programs claiming to use the arts to get kids off drugs. Lindsay Hendrickson's staging is perfect. Brian Fountain and Jake Anthony wrote the music. (SLM). Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
GEM OF THE OCEAN First installment, set in 1904, of August Wilson's 10-play "Pittsburgh Cycle.". Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 663-1525.
GONE, RETURN, UNDONE John Markland's drama about two former best friends. MOTH, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-7735.
GO GOOD BOBBY Few families have commanded more public fascination or newsprint than the Kennedy clan. In his engaging character study, Brian Lee Franklin constructs a compelling portrait of the “other son,” Robert Francis, and the historical milieu that shaped him. The play opens at a 1958 subcommittee hearing with “Bobbie” (Franklin) and Senator John McClellan (William Stone Mahoney) aggressively interrogating Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (R.D. Call in a convincing turn) about Joffa's mob connections. From the outset, Franklin creates a profoundly flawed and conflicted image of Kennedy, one that is steadily and skillfully nuanced throughout this production. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in his relationship with his father Joe, (Steve Mendillo), whose vaulting ambition contoured the lives of all of his sons, and whose approval of “good Bobby” was desperately sought by RFK but, according to Franklin's play, never fully realized. We follow RFK's rise to national prominence, his battles during the civil rights era as U.S. Attorney General, his involvement in his brother John's presidential campaign (and more than a few unsavory deeds during that time), the aftermath of JFK's assassination, and Bobby's gradual ascension into the Democratic party's nominee for president in 1968. The script is very well written, and Franklin can be forgiven for some questionable Oliver Stone moments involving a shadowy CIA agent (Jim Metzler). The performances are uniformly high caliber under Pierson Blaetz’s fine direction. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through November, 23. (323) 655-7679 (Lovell Estell III)
Good Bobby opens this weekend at Greenway Arts Allaince. Photo by Ed Krieger.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH John Steinbeck's Depression story, adapted by Frank Galati. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 667-0955.
GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mitch Silpa. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
HUGGING THE SHOULDER Younger brother tries to detox his heroin-addicted sibling, in Jerrod Bogard's drama. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Thurs., Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 252-2042.
INTO THE WOODS Brothers Grimm characters interact, in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 939-9220.
JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED Austen-esque tales, improv'd anew each night. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-7753.
GO JOE'S GARAGE Joe (Jason Paige) wants to play music. But after a neighbor (Maia Madison) files a noise complaint with the cops on his garage band, Joe and his girl Mary (Becky Wahlstrom) fall prey to a domino chain of gang rape, venereal disease, wet t-shirt contests, prison time, cyborg threesomes, and madness. What's to blame? "Music," hisses the Central Scrutinizer (Michael Dunn), a robot narrator dangling from the rafters -- certainly not the religious and government figures who sure seem to be pulling the strings. Like novelist Terry Southern, Frank Zappa's weapon against hypocrisy was to confront audiences with a circus mirror of their culture's greed and lust. Some saw their reflection; others argued Zappa was warped. Pat Towne and Michael Franco's world premiere staging of Zappa's narrative album crackles with outrage and grief masked by a leer --- Jennifer Lettelleir choreographs plenty of sex, but like Robert Crumb's comics, it's more repellent than titillating. Musical director Ross Wright and the seven piece band help the snappy ensemble animize Zappa's eclectic sound which ranges from dissonant juggernauts to deceptively sweet ditties. Per Zappa's request, the song "Watermelon in Easter Hay" plays once his hapless everyman has succumbed to creative censorship; the band puts down their instruments, turns off the lights, and cues Zappa's original version. In that isolating darkness, Zappa's limber guitar feels like a lifeline -- we're struck by our need for music, and our need for today's apolitical musicians to break loose and write the next chorus. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (323) 882-6912,
Joe's Garage Photo by Maia Rosenfeld
KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Manuel Puig’s novel dealt with the volatile relations between frivolous gay window-decorator Molina (Chad Borden), and Valentin (Daniel Tatar) — an earnest, straight political prisoner — sharing a South American jail cell. A previous dramatization zeroed in on that relationship. But, writing the book for this musical version, with score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Terrence McNally faced the task of “opening up” the story, and creating opportunities for musical numbers. The Spider Woman (Terra C. Macleod), a symbolic fantasy figure, had to be expanded into a role for a female star. So, like a ballet with too many divertimenti, the story must constantly stop in its tracks to accommodate splashy numbers or conventional, often irrelevant songs. Director Nick DeGruccio and choreographer Lee Martino have mounted a terrific production, with a fine cast, an athletic dance ensemble, a huge and handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, slinky outfits for the Spider Woman by Anne Kennedy and sterling musical direction by Michael Paternostro. The actors are fine and make the show moving when the script lets them. But too many numbers and distractions clog the show’s arteries, and the compelling central tale falls prey to Broadway razzle-dazzle. (NW) Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through Oct. 26. (800) 595-4849 or www.havoktheatre.com. A Havok Theatre Co. production.
LATINOLOGUES TU Rick Najera's comedy showcase. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (213) 289-9860.
>NEW REVIEW LEADING LADIES While crackerjack performances might have transformed Ken Ludwig’s second-rate farce into a hilarious evening, that’s not what evolves from director Richard Israel's pleasant but unevenly rendered production. Ludwig’s play revolves around Leo (Bruce Ladd) and Jack (understudy Daniel J. Roberts), two penniless Shakespearean actors who pose as the long-lost female heirs of a dying, wealthy old woman. The humor derives from the tension between them – Jack, the reluctant participant, is continually threatened and browbeaten by Leo (think Some Like It Hot, as well as the predicament Leo finds himself in when, dressed in drag, he falls in love with his betrothed cousin, Meg (Karla Droege). Played for laughs, the sight gag of men dressed as women invariably succeeds; in this case Ladd starts out strong as the determined scammer, but is only moderately funny portraying his outsized female counterpart “Maxine,” whose persona he never quite commands. The play’s funniest scene comes near the end when, as “Stephanie,” a horrified Jack (well-played by Roberts) finds himself manhandled by two men. Intimating the standard of excellence that might have transported the comedy to a higher realm is Carl A. Johnson, impeccably understated as Meg’s stuffy fiancé. Gus Correas is also on the mark as the lecherous family doctor who keeps misdiagnosing his patient. Other performances are off-kilter or over the top. Designers Stephen Gifford’s and Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting wrap the goings-on with an appealing ambiance. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 1, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323) 462-8460. (Deborah Klugman)
GO LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA You can find several clips of singer-partners Louis Prima and Keely Smith, with a small jazz combo behind them, on YouTube. The pair practically invented the genre of the lounge act, playing as they did during much of the 1950s at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, lingering on the margins of fame. Think of them as antecedents to Sonny and Cher, or a musical version of Abbott and Costello. Smith was the “straight-man” woman and long-suffering wife of the hyperactive, philandering Prima, whom you’ll see hopping in front of the bandstand like a maniac, throwing his entire body into each beat, a grin plastered across his face, the biggest ham since Hamlet. Keep these tiny-screen presences in mind when you see Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder’s sublime new musical about the duo and their tempestuous life on and off stage, Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara.Certainly not the first musical to chronicle a musical group — other recent entries include Pump Boys and Dinettes and Jersey Boys — this has to be the first one to take a lounge act seriously, rather than as a spittoon for gobs of ridicule. In a glorious world-premiere production directed by Jeremy Aldridge for Hollywood’s Sacred Fools Theater Company, Prima and Smith are re-created with accuracy and richness — perhaps because the writers are also the leading players. Vanessa Claire Smith’s cropped brunette ’do apes that of Keely Smith’s, a look that Liza Minnelli adopted later — though the silky, tender singing style of both Smiths couldn’t be more contrary to Minnelli’s comparatively ostentatious, belting interpretations. Prima had a more gruff sound than that depicted by Broder, whose sculpted, jazzy tones more closely resemble Bobby Darin’s. What Broder delivers in thunderbolts, though, is Prima’s exuberant, maniacal self-choreography — leaping, lurching, swaying and sashaying. Why this guy is jumping around so much becomes the musical’s central question. The answer to that question could come with dismissing Prima as a narcissistic clown, The creators, however, treat their subject with far more compassion than that, as Prima’s plight approaches tragedy. (Broder played Mozart in the Broadway production of Amadeus, which provides a small window onto the vainglorious hysteria that Broder depicts here so brilliantly.) He croons in musical styles from ’20s Dixieland jazz through ’30s swing, ’40s big band and ’50s scat — and their accompanying lingo (“cats,” “chicks” and “gigs”). Broder’s song-and-dance routine, capturing Prima’s cocky romantic domination over Smith, as well as his solipsistic devotion to his music, is a bravura performance not to be missed. And having an onstage, seven-piece backup band (doubling as supporting players) doubles the impact, particularly with sounds so carefully modulated by musical director Dennis Kaye. A piano, two saxophones, a string bass, drum set, a trumpet and trombone, all on the stage of this 99-seat theater, places us in the equivalent of a small recording studio. When the band hits its stride with enveloping riffs of Dixieland blues and Big Band stylings, hang on to your seat. The musical current is that strong. This journey through Prima’s life comes on the eve of his death in 1978. (Smith is still alive and thriving.) Though it sweeps in biographical details from the ’20s — his “craziness,” he says, captured hearts during the Great Depression — the story kicks into gear during the late ’40s with its AStar is Born plot featuring Smith as the ingenue who saves Prima’s foundering big-band act and resurrects it with a ’50s spin in Las Vegas. And though he’s doing all the jumping and prancing, and giving all the orders, the newspaper reviews focus on her talents, not his. Prima’s jealousy erupts, not so much in offstage screaming matches (he barely speaks to her) but in the tensions that escalate on the stage, which everyone can see, and which perversely renders their act more popular. He actually encourages the onstage hostility, for just that reason. And so, through 16 songs (ranging from “Basin Street Blues,” “That Old Black Magic,”and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to the song that defined Prima’s career, the medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody”) one passionate love and cruel marriage is played out almost entirely between the lines. If the purpose of musical theater is to express in song what can’t be expressed in mere words, this is about as perfect as a musical can get. It’s simple without being simplistic, summing up 80 years of gender relations in 90 minutes. Yet this is not just a musical about men and women but about life, and art as an expression of it; the devastating costs of recklessly turning a private life into a public one; and that old, blinding obsession with fame. Smith’s desperate words accompany her tortured decision to leave her husband, “Life is happening right in your face and you don’t even notice. You don’t hear anything unless it’s in the key of B flat!” I walked out of the theater wrenched by a depth of emotion that seemed to make no sense, coming from a musical about the quaint saga of an almost forgotten lounge act. That’s when I realized I’d been punched in the gut and didn’t even know it. It was a delayed reaction to the blow landed in Broder’s reprise of “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” He just kept on singing that refrain, as the band packed up and left him there, until his death bed slowly rolled in. What may first look like a musical comedy is actually a musical tragedy, ancient Greek style: the deluded protagonist who’s undone by hubris and sent into exile.Exile was a bad end for Oedipus, but imagine if Oedipus’ delusions included eternal celebrity from a Las Vegas lounge act. The program cover contains the slogan, “Nothing lasts forever.” I hope this show does. (SLM) Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (800) 838-3006, www.louiskeelyshow.com. Note: This production has changed venue since this review.
>NEW REVIEW PICK OF THE WEEK LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
THE MAGIC STRING Egomaniacal would-be writer Cody is more inclined to harangues than normal conversation. His therapist tells him his blockage is due to selfishness, and urges him to live for others. He obediently complies by adopting an obsessive-compulsive carpet-sweeper salesman addicted to marathon apologies. After too many jumpy scenes about Cody's literary constipation, playwright/director Nicole Hoelle engineers an arbitrary happy ending. (NW). Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 663-6577.
MONEY SHOT It’s been all of five Earth years since NASA’s famously overachieving rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, began wandering the Martian terra firma in hope of identifying traces of extraterrestrial life. If only the space bots had touched down on Daniel Keleher’s pseudo-Labutian burlesque of amateur online pornographers instead. Keleher’s two-hour roar of sexual invective, off-color cliche and raunchy non-sequitur is fairly teeming with inhuman caricatures alien to earthly drama. A four-man fuck-film crew, calling themselves the Super Cocks, pin their hopes for the Web-sex big time to legendary porn auteur, the Cunt (Kahlil Joseph), who agrees to helm their upcoming gang-bang opus. Never mind that the horse-hung, star performer (Shawn Colten) has broken under the strain of concealing an affair with the scriptwriter (Dante Walker) from the group’s violently homophobic, resident sociopath (Gregory Myhre). He needn’t have worried. The loathsome leader is far too preoccupied with seducing Cocks-member James Jordan’s new girlfriend, Tiffany (Danielle See), to notice. When the inexplicably compliant girl accepts a particularly degrading role as the film’s multiple-penetrated sex object, the resulting insult and injury exposes the men’s over-exaggerated macho swagger as the more malevolent expression of sexual violence. Long before that happens, however, any remaining motivational logic is simply drowned out by a mind-numbing, locker-room misogyny that Keleher evidently believes to be witty repartee. Director Justin Huen’s limited range of moods —loud and louder— is not surprisingly less than helpful to his overwhelmed ensemble. The Alexandria, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7776, www.plays411.com/moneyshot. (Bill Raden)
Money Shot Photo by Jon-Sesrie Goff.
GO THE MOST MEDIOCRE STORY NEVER TOLD In his autobiographical one-man show, Jay Sefton takes every aspect of the autobiographical one-man show and dismantles it before our eyes. This is because his show isn't really about his youth in Philadelphia and subsequent move to L.A., nor is it about his older and more macho brother, Joe, whom Sefton portrays and who frequently hijacks the show. Sefton's exploration probes the essence of a story, and the distinctions, if any, between a legend and a lie. Joe keeps goading Jay to make things up or the show will be a bore. The awful truth is that his brother maybe right -- that a normal, honorable if meek youth with caring parents is the pleasant kind of existence that nobody wants to hear about stage, or see in movies, or read in books. Edward Albee once said that he writes a play in order to understand why he's writing it. Sefton's show is so clearly undertaken with the goal of Sefton trying to understand why he should be telling his life story, the result breezes past narcissism on a charm-filled meta-literary excursion, under Debra De Liso's nimble direction – something like a magic carpet ride. Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7780. (Steven Leigh Morris) Note:
Most Mediocre Story Never Told Photo by Ed Krieger
NEW Rachel Kolar and Lauren Brown as post-apocalyptic socialites. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13.
NIHIL OBSTAT Bill Sterritt’s spare three-character play, set in France in 1095 A.D., centers on the machinations within the papacy in the period just before The Crusades. Pope Urban II (Matt Haught) and The Cardinal (Aaron Preston Crothers) are discussing an impending papal dictum when The Cardinal suggests that the Pope’s speech be reviewed by the local Censor (Chris Pauley). The Pope, believing that he is “cloaked in infallibility,” is aghast at the suggestion, but concedes in order to win the support of the peasants he will send into battle. The Censor, despite his humble origins, defies the Pope when The Cardinal forces his hand, resulting in a powerful theological debate on the justification for Holy War. As the Censor grows bolder, we see that this peasant is more honorable and true to his faith than either man of the cloth. While the play initially gets bogged down in its ecclesiastical verbiage, and the parallels to Bush and Cheney are a bit heavy-handed, once the Censor enters the picture, the words come to life and the drama unfolds. Sterritt’s direction paces the dialogue a bit too quickly at first, but the actors eventually slow down, ramping up the tension and the menace within a compact play that runs just under an hour. MK) Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through November 2. (323) 793-2153. A SPQR Stage Company Production.
NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY Charles Gordone's "Black-black comedy." Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 960-4443.
GO NORTH PHILLY Ralph Harris' one-man show is the latest in a slew of recently performed, compelling solo performances (including Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill's Common Air, Chazz Palminteri's A Bronx Tale, and Jay Sefton's The Most Mediocre Story Never Told) that offer a portrait of a community, or of a family, with one performer crawling inside and impersonating a gallery of characters floating around a central idea, replicating the motion of moths around a light. In North Philly, the centerpiece is the 94th birthday party for his grandfather. Yet Harris goes beyond imitating his eccentric family members who gather for the occasion. In a snappy tan vest and matching trousers, he drapes himself over a barstool and spins himself back to his childhood, where every dollar was counted and coveted – imitating himself as a child, precocious and fearful. The musculature of the piece, as in most shows of this ilk, derives from the cadences and colloquialisms of dialect, accentuated by Don Reed's studied direction. Depicting himself as a child, Harris reenacts having to play “retarded” on the street in order to protect himself from being beaten up and robbed by the local gang. The performance is as rich as the writing: from details of the “wet money” he would always carry, from having to stuff dollar bills into his mouth as a protection from being robbed; to catching ringworm in a local swimming pool; to his grandfather's “sliding” dentures. In one scene, Harris conjures his estranged father's wedding day. This does raise the question of how Harris, Jr. would have obtained that insight, a quibble in a haunting show that also needs an editor and possibly a dramaturg. The play's final portrait of Harris' 94-year-old grandfather, facing down a gunman in the post office, is brilliant for its physical and vocal detail, as well as its blend of drama and wisdom. It's the light around which the other stories flutter, yet it's still a random source of the piece's chaotic unity – perhaps because the grandfather has no interaction with the other characters whom Harris has introduced us to. North Philly is nonetheless a compassionate and often enchanting work in development. Stella Adler Theater, 6773, Hollywood Boulevard, Second Floor; Wed., 8 p.m.; through December 17. (323) 960-7612. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature later this week.
North Philly Photo by Keith J. Leman
POLITICO! The idea of an almost entirely improvised rock opera based on a presidential campaign stuffs the ballot box with possibilities, but the final tally hangs like a dangling chad on the performers’ satirical wit, and their ability to locate a political edge. With the general concept that the Devil is running our political show, and candidates’ relatives, with their sundry addictions and improprieties, can drive a campaign manager to drink, the comedy on the night I attended was both obvious and blunt, when surprise and sharpness were called for. Director Joseph Limbaugh appears here as a somewhat lumbering Devil/satyr (with perky assistant Karina Bustillos, in horns) in order to set up each scene for the actors/characters who happen to be present. Musical director Susan Peahl did a first-rate job modulating composer Jonathan Green’s and Brian Lohman's opening and closing chorals, beautifully sung a cappella by the ensemble. The scenarios include the PR nightmare for Liberty Party campaign manager Molly Hatchet (Kimberly Lewis) – representing candidate Senator Scott Turner (Brian Lohmann, who had somewhere else to be, and didn’t appear onstage that night). Turner’s son, Beverly (Barry O’Neil), is lead singer of the band Involuntary Ragnarock, and has impregnated his girlfriend – as musicians tend to do – and Hatchet was grasping for strategies of containment. Robert Covarrubias has a nice turn as stern Special Agent Gregory Eagleson (who has a soft side), while Alexis Kraus and Diana Costa put in respective appearances as the drug-induced visions of Sacajawea and Susan B. Anthony. Stage presence so frequently fell victim to the the ad hoc essence of improv, I found myself wishing that this American apple-pie filling was more tart, or that somebody would write a script for these guys. (SLM) Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (323) 525-0202.
PORCELAIN Chay Yew's story of an Asian homosexual's murderous confession. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 957-1884.
RAZORBACK John Pollono’s “pitch-dark comedy” — set in a rustic Maine cabin – is packed with terrific roles. The roles may be richer than the play’s essential qualities. These qualities start from those in any family drama by Sam Shepard, mingled with the comedy of idiot-thugs pitched against ineffectual poet-philosophers found in Harold Pinter’s early plays, and Quentin Tarantino’ film Pulp Fiction. Pollono is a good writer, but with 30 new plays per week opening in L.A. alone, one asks for aspects of originality and theatricality in a new work rather than those of indie-film derivation, which prevail here. Dean (Richard Fancy) is an aging ex-thug with a few months to live, condemned by what appears to be colon cancer. Fancy plays him defined by brute dominance and machismo yet with clearly elucidated soft spots for his second wife, Sandy (Suzanne Ford, in a nicely textured performance), and their intellectually precocious “son,” DJ (Edward Tournier). Dean’s boozy ex, Ruth (Laura Gardner), arrives in a blather of intoxication, along with the tattooed, bloodied adult son, Rocco (the excellent Jack Maxwell). Turns out Rocco is on the run, and if we never met whom he’s running from, or understood why, there wouldn’t be an Act 2. The character study of Act 1 yields to the hostage drama of Act 2. Large weapons get brandished, family secrets get unleashed, there are jokes about the overwrought violence in which the play indulges, like the fantasy of a gangster comedy to star Robert DeNiro and Chris Rock. In their stead, we get terrific portrayals by Rob Bottitta and Patrick Flanagan as the Mafia up from the city. And though the play’s ultimate worldview can be found in innumerable DVDs arriving in the mail from Netflix, this is still a good workout for the actors, the writer and for director Elina De Santos, who shapes the action as seamlessly as she can. Stephen Gifford’s realistic set is also effective, under Leigh Allen’s lights. (SLM) Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 2 (323) 960-7726.
Razorback Photo by John Perrin Flynn
RESTAURANT REVELATIONS Live collage of movies scenes set at restaurants. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 25. (323) 465-0800.
SAVAGE WORLD Inspired by the story of an African-American boxer wrongfully convicted of murdering a white, Jewish couple, playwright Stephen Fife’s sprawling melodrama revolves around the efforts of a reporter named Sol Eisner (Erik Passoja) to establish the athlete's innocence. The play starts in the present with the now middle-aged Eisner struggling to provide direction for his university educated son (Nate Geez), inexplicably hostile and rebellious. It then flashes back to the '70s, to his meetings with the accused, Calvin ”Savage” James (Vincent M. Ward), and his labyrinthine search for evidence of the man’s innocence. The juicy core of the conflict is whether Savage, a proven liar, thief and abuser of women, is indeed not guilty. But instead of exploiting this ambiguity with the depths of ferocity it deserves, the nearly three- hour piece meanders through a plethora of manipulated subplots and extraneous characters more suitable to a convoluted B-movie police drama than an intense character-driven drama. Ultimately, the production gains traction from Passoja’s fastidiously calibrated portrait of a solidly middle class Jewish intellectual – somewhat nerdy - willing to take risks for his principles. The many solid supporting performances include Latarsha Rose as Eisner’s love interest, Tom Badal as his Uncle Jack, whose support Sol craves, and Ernest Harden Jr., as a pivotal witness whose story keeps changing. As Savage, Ward needs more complexity and volcanic heat. Subpar lighting contributes to the production’s lack of focus . L. Flint Esquerra directs. Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7788. (Deborah Klugman). A MET Theatre and Stealfire Production production.
Savage World Photo by Stephen Fife
SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO/SHOPPING & FU**ING Two short plays, by David Mamet and Mark Ravenhill, respectively. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (800) 595-4TIX.
GO SPEECH & DEBATE Playwright Stephen Karam’s quirky high school comedy imaginatively (and sometimes disturbingly) reinvents the witch-hunt of The Crucible through the teenage frame of The Breakfast Club, mixing in a touch of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator.” In a small, claustrophobic Oregon town, sexually precocious teenager Howie (Michael Welch) engages in come-hither provocative cyberchat with a much older man, who turns out to be none other than his own drama teacher. Fiendishly ambitious high school newspaper reporter Solomon (Aaron Himelstein), driven by his own repressed sexuality, learns of Howie’s interactions and wants to make his story public in a huge exposé. Along with Diwata (Mae Whitman), a vengeful theater brat who has been passed up by the drama teacher for one too many acting roles, Solomon and Howie form an organization that to the rest of the world appears to be the school’s Speech and Debate club, but which, in fact, has a darker and more confrontational purpose. Although Karam’s writing occasionally slips on its own soap opera suds, the combination of artistry and a brash, youthful energy is unsettling enough to elicit a few squirms — exactly the kind you’d hope for in the theater. Director Daniel Henning’s psychologically shrewd direction drives the action while being engagingly intimate. Himselstein’s sweetly neurotic Solomon; Whitman’s shrill, driven Diwata; and Welch’s technologically sophisticated but emotionally naive gay boy are hilarious, touching and disturbing by turns. (PB) 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct 26. (323) 661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production.
THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL Neil Simon's comedy about a pair of '60s radicals who fall for the ultra-patriotic girl next door. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (818) 500-7200.
TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (323) 960-7753.
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.
NEW REVIEW TORN BETWEEN TWO BITCHES In addition to his hard-wired horniness, zine writer Jim Goat (playwright-performer Michael Sargent) has punk literary aspirations derived from his contemptuous attitude towards the values of '90s Portland, where he hopes to make some impression. (His apartment contains framed posters of four theme-based zines: the “asshole,” “suicide,” “serial killer” and “rape” issues.) Sargent portrays Jim by strutting around with no top and jeans that slip off repeatedly through his play. He speaks in phrases delivered with a kind of snarl, accompanied by mugging poses, often shaking his head to draw attention to his shoulder-length locks. Goat's wife, Debby (Liz Davies) accuses him of fraud: “I find your non-conformity faked and totally conformist; you want to be left alone but you can't stand being ignored.” Davies shares Sargent's broad performance style of delivering lines through a peevish snarl, under designer-director Chris Covics' sometimes cloying yet wryly theatrical staging. When Debby reveals her terminal cancer diagnosis, Jim's compassionate response consists of him running out the door screaming, “It could be me! It could be me!” -- which is where the core of Sargent's satire of narcissism finally comes into focus. Until then, with the visit to Jim of a teenage stripper named Sunshine (shrewdly played Brittany Slattery), who's ten times smarter and more calculating than the man who thinks he's gaming her, Covics' production wavers in tone between an exploitation flick and a comedy by Moliere. When Jim gets into serious trouble near play's end, the production drops the veneer of its petulant attitude, and wanders into the shallows of sentimentality that Jim has been avoiding his entire career. Punk-porn and romanticism are the two bitches that this show is really torn between. The larger issue is why we should care about a self-involved egotist consigned to the margins of fame in an era gone by. Oddly enough, we do – at least in fits and starts -- perhaps because Sargent is probing Beckettian depths of mortality and purpose amidst the vain scramble of our lives. And that idea is larger than Jim, and his hollow posturing. Much of the action is accompanied by the band, Elemenopy (Joel Rutkowski and Nick Liberatore) whose punk-rock musicianship and vocalizations are way better than their sophomoric repartee. Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward Street, Hollywood: Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Nov. 1. (323) 466-7781. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY "Is the sense of tragedy palpable?" presses stately news anchor Frank (Frederick Ponzlov) to in-field reporter John (Matthew McCray). If either man -- or fellow correspondents Michael (Daniel Getzoff) and Constance (Sarah Boughton) -- recognizes the question's absurdity, they aren't showing it. Gifted with gravitas and eloquence, the four graveyard shift journalists in Pulitzer finalist Will Eno's sharp satire on round-the-clock spin are honing panic that the sun has set and may never rise again. Is it true? Facts are non-existent but the puffery they spout to fill up time sure sounds like a crisis. And, as Frank notes, if the morning comes, then we'll have to pray for afternoon. Our own doubts about whether the crisis even exists cloud Eno's meaning. But as the pressure to say something unmoors all the newscasters, their anchoman crumbles, begging for nonsense human interest stories -- even little lies. Donald Boughton's crisply comedic staging deepens as the play eventually reveals its darker resonances: A fumbling man-on-the-street (Jonathan C.K. Williams), first tries to will the media back to life like they were Tinkerbells or stock market indexes. The man ]reminds us that if we're united, our shared uncertainties can become our common faith. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (800) 383-3006, www.sonofsemele.org. (Amy Nicholson)
EL VAGON OF THE IMMIGRANTS Silvia Gonzalez's bilingual play about immigrants crossing the border in a boxcar. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (213) 382-8133.
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
THE WAY WE GET BY Eight people deal with various crises, by Neil LaBute. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (818) 685-9939.
THE WOMEN Clare Booth Luce's The Women is thought of first as an expose of female competition among a pack of well-groomed wildcats who claw until they draw blood, and then out-do each other commiserating. Less remembered is Luce's curious stance against emotional feminism, as betrayed wife and mother Mary (Vanessa Waters) comes to believe that the cause of her divorce wasn't that cheap tramp, Crystal Allen (Stephanie O'Neill), but her own pride. Fempowerment, not femme fatales, wrecks homes. "Love has pride in nothing but its own humility," writes Luce invoking Khalil Gibran, and so the challenge of mounting her play is in scaling its icy peaks and humble lows. Elise Robertson's staging stays in the middle ranges. The 15-woman ensemble is fine; the costumes by O'Neill and Rachel Kanouse are great, as are Robertson's sets. But both the cruelty and the heartbreak are mannered, not meaty. And unlike George Cukor's triumphant film version, the maids, manicurists, and career girls nearly steal the show from under the society dames, though as the fatuous breeder Edith Potter, Emma Messenger is a vicious riot as she flicks her cigarette ashes over her newborn son. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 1. (323) 960-1054, www.circustheatricals.com. (Amy Nicholson)
The Women Photo by Jeannine W. Stehlin
WOMEN WITH DOGS Relationship comedy by Rick Pagano. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-5773.
Hollywood, West Hollywood, Downtown
A YEAR OF STOLEN LIGHT Tim McNeil's dark love story. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-4418.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN THE VALLEYS
ARMS AND THE MAN George Bernard Shaw's romantic comedy. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (818) 500-7200.
ARMSTRONG’S KID Stanley Bennett Clay’s drama about guilt, anger and repression centers on a trial stemming from 14-year-old Thaddeus’ (Tory Scroggins) false accusation of molestation against his dad’s charismatic gay best friend, Mr. Drake (Clay). After prison time and sizable civil court reparations, Drake’s tried to move on after 10 years, though his reclusive digs hint of a life forever divided into Before and After. When Thaddeus, spurred by a range of secret motives, drives up for their first confrontation in a decade, their bourbon-fueled talks quickly escalate from civilities to tirades. Clay has the foundation for a play about modern-day witch-hunts and the wounds of loneliness. At present, however, it’s a series of traded speeches where the two men keep reversing their arguments. Clay’s direction feels hemmed in; still, as the dignified drunk, he has a bitter hauteur, while Scroggins’ more layered and contradictory role results in the young actor coming across as swaddled and stiff. The scenes with the the most frisson come when alcohol and anger spur both men to fling slurs that undercut their moral authority and allow us to question each one’s self-image as the victim. (AN) Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (323) 480-3232 or www.ticketmaster.com.
BLOOD BROTHERS Twin boys, separated at birth, are reunited, book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111.
BUSH IS BAD: ALASKAN BEAUTY QUEEN EDITION Political satire, including musical parody of the McCain-Palin ticket, by Joshua Rosenblum. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (818) 508-7101.
DEAD SERIOUS Dutch Parker's story of a cuckolded husband. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 807-6251.
FAHRENHEIT 451 Ray Bradbury's book burner. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-4451.
THE FAMILY OF MANN The kooky world of sitcom writing, as seen by Theresa Rebeck. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 769-5858.
GO FREEDOM OF SPEECH In her solo show, actor Eliza Jane Schneider conjures the people she met on a cross-country sojourn in a decommissioned ambulance. She displays a remarkable ability to conjure a character through sounds and snippets of words. By design, the piece roams as much as Schneider did on her sojourn. This renders the performance a facile tour de force in a presentation still distilling its larger meaning. Sal Romeo directs. (SLM). Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (818) 558-5702.
GO THE FRIENDLY HOUR Tom Jacobson's lovely new play chronicles the rituals of a women's club in rural South Dakota from the late '30s to 2007, and we watch the women with whom we grow increasingly familiar age and engage in theological disputes that are really at the heart of the matter. God's purpose, and the purpose of community, interweave and clash through the decades as five fine actors portray many more roles. Leading the pack is Kate Mines' prickly creationist Effie and Ann Noble's proud, forward-thinking Dorcas Briggle who, had she lived somewhere else, would have joined the Unitarian Church. (Deana Barone, Mara Marine and Bettina Zacar round out the cast.) The play desperately needs pruning – its length is partly responsible for a monochromatic quality that dampens Mark Bringleson's otherwise animated and tender staging. If this were scaled down to six pointed scenes from its perpetually unrolling carpet of the club's rites and characters' domestic crises, the impact of the survivors' dotage in 2007 could be that much more gripping. Still, Jacobson has put aside the conspicuous cleverness of his past works, Bunbury and Ouroboros, for an impressionistic landscape that straddles the literary worlds of Anton Chekhov and Thornton Wilder. Desma Murphey's wood-framed set, against which a backdrop of clouds peers through, contains both elegance and allegory, and Lisa D. Burke's costumes contain similar affection and wit. (SLM) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (866) 811-4111, http://roadtheatre.org. A Road Theatre Company production.
>NEW REVIEW GO HOW CISSY GREW Susan Johnston’s powerful new play is structured as a pastiche of three family members' memories, slowly filling in the puzzle of their traumatic lives. In West Virginia, an unmarried couple, Butch and Darla (James Denton and Erin J. O’Brien),are stuck in financial and moral poverty. This is all manifested in legal and illegal addictions, as the pair try to turn their lives around with the help of their daughter, Cissy (Liz Vital). A moment of inattention inflicts a wound that will haunt the three throughout their lives. Johnston’s stark text, rarely punctuated with humor, is piercingly painful and beautifully wrought. The actors, including Stewart W. Calhoun as the various boys in Cissy’s damaged life, play each dramatic moment with conviction. Even their southern accents, which can so easily become generic and insulting, are rendered tenderly. Director Casey Stangl honors the desolate geography of the characters’ lives by stirring life from their bleakness. She keeps the production terse, but extremely well paced. The set pieces are deftly designed by Laura Fine Hawkes for multiple uses. Lighting by Trevor Stirlin Burk paired with C. Andrew Mayer's tense sound design, add to the success of this elegant production. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111. www.elportaltheatre.com. (Tom Provenzano)
How Cissy Grew Photo by Ed Krieger
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show’s efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and – with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers’ questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow’s intense Kazan, Mary McDonald’s bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone’s flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi’s sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner’s non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. (DK) Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (866) 811-4111.
Inside Private Lives Photo by Kristin Stone Entertainment
NEW REVIEW GO LOVE’S OLD SWEET SONG This wacky 1940 William Saroyan comedy celebrates the Fresno writer’s centennial year. In Depression-era Bakersfield, spinster Ann Hamilton (McKerrin Kelly) lives alone with her roses and the stone lion in her front yard, 'till her life is turned inside out by a string of bizarre visitors: an incorrigibly romantic Western Union messenger (Michael Heshel); a loquacious medicine-show con-man (Steve Marvel) who pretends he’s been in love with her for 27 years; and the Yearling Clan, a family of Okies fleeing the dust bowl: father Cabot (Joel Schumaker), his prodigiously pregnant wife (Jennifer Pennington) and their 11 assorted children. They invade Ann’s home, wreck it, and eventually burn it down, but only after the visit of a loony Time Magazine subscription peddler (Shawn MacAulay), a pompous WPA novelist (Daniel Campagna), and a Life Magazine photographer (Lauren Dunagan). In Act II, everybody winds up at the home of former Greek wrestling champ Stylianos Americanos (Chris Damiano). In an agreeably sappy finale, love conquers all, the Yearlings join the medicine show, and, presumably everybody lives happily ever after. Director Martin Bedoian expertly deploys his huge and able cast through the whimsical hilarity, and Jeff Rack provides two handsome sets. GTC Burbank, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 22. A Syzygy Theatre production. (800) 838-3006 or http://www.syzygytheatre.org (Neal Weaver)
GO M. BUTTERFLY David Henry Hwang’s 1988 drama receives a fine staging by director Derek Charles Livingston. Hwang artfully blends the story of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with the incredible case of Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat working in China, who was convicted of treason in the 1980s. The play spans some 20 years and opens with René Gallimard (Sam R. Ross, in a splendid turn) pacing about in a jail cell in France, where he recounts the sad, often humorous tale of his decades-long love affair with the beautiful opera diva Song Liling (the masterful J. Manabat), whom he met one night at a show. His eerie attraction to the singer gradually evolves into an obsession bordering on idol worship of this “perfect woman,” even compelling him to divorce his wife, Helga (J.C. Henning). Among a series of surprises slowly unveiled is that the lovely Song is actually a Chinese “Mata Hari,” who wheedles classified information from the Frenchman. The play’s engagement and humor derive from the brilliant subtlety of Hwang’s interweaving themes of sex, gender, racism, reality and illusion. Livingston manages his cast superbly, and August Viverito’s minimalist set design serves the effort well, along with his slyly understated costumes. (LE3) The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd.; North Hollywood., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006.
MAGIC? MAYBE ... Jennifer Emily McLean's fantasy about a young woman who denounces magic. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 636-9661.
MARY'S WEDDING Stephen Massicotte's saga of young lovers. (Call for added perfs.). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 558-7000.
NEW REVIEW GO The title of Larry Gelbart’s 1989 Broadway comedy, subtitled A Play on Words, may also be an allusion to what many Americans feel about our leaders in Washington, D.C.: that they’re just a bunch of jack offs. It’s a hilarious indictment of the doublespeak from opportunistic politicians, government officials and the media as well as a skewering of our own lemming-like purchase of their perverse logic. When a financier runs afoul of the IRS and the government takes over his movie studio, the administration thwarts Congressional oversight and uses the guise of a revisionist Vietnam War movie shoot to ship arms to right-wing Latin American paramilitary forces, a la the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, When it all hits the fan, the ensuing hearings are more a farcical exercise in ass-covering and verbal gymnastics than fault-finding. Penny L. Moore’s direction hits some bumps along the way, but her fine cast makes up for the claustrophobic staging, with the standouts being Paul LaGreca as sycophantic IRS agent Abel Lamb, Price Carson as the martinet Major Manley Battle, Desi Bullock as pompous Secretary of State Bishop and Craig Patton as the venal V.P. Burden. Actors Group Theater, 4378 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. (no perf Fri., Oct. 31.); through Nov. 2. (800) 838-3006. Doxie 4 Productions & The Actors Repertory. (Martin Hernandez)
Mastergate Photo by Penny L. Moore
NUTS Tom Topor's play about a high-class prostitute on trial for murder. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (818) 206-4000.
O SOLO NEO Three solo performers in five shows. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (818) 202-4120.
NEW REVIEW PIN-UP GIRLS Set designer Starlet Jacobs sets the stage with '40s memorabilia -- racks of vintage costumes adorn the playing area and a model of a USAF bomber hangs suspended from the proscenium arch. With waves of overlapping dialogue punctuated with sporadic moments of farce, playwright-director Andrew Moore varyingly hits his mark of hyper-realism in his depiction of burlesque performers in the midst of WWII. Though the locale isn't specified in the program, snippets of dialogue suggest a West Coast setting. While the burlesque act mostly remains off-stage, what we see are the backstage comings and goings of the proprietress (April Adams); the dancers (Sylvia Anderson, Lauren Burns, Sarah Cook, Alana Dietze, Pamela Moore and Lauren Mutascio); the pianist (Jovial Kemp), who taps on a non-functioning spinet to recorded piano sounds; and a cartoon of a self-appointed guardian of decency (Judith Goldstein), who's like a Salvation Army officer out of Guys & Dolls. Moore's story spins on the homecoming of wounded Marine, Scotty (Seth Caskey), to his unfaithful STD-infected heartthrob, Helen (Pamela Moore, in a robust and sassy performance). Helen defines her independence as the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally, while dancer Ruby (Cook, in a gentle portrayal brimming with hidden desires) eventually makes her move on her colleague's man, while accepting a post with the WASP corps. It's unclear how the two women catfighting over a guy is an examination of women's freedom, however demurely their fighting may be. That idea is best captured by Helen's insistence of being her own person while stringing along her wounded suitor: Is this cruelty part of a burgeoning women's movement, or a subtle condemnation of it? There's also a subplot of the puppy love between a semi-blind youth (Bryan Gaston) and a teen apprentice (Mustascio), who replaces Ruby when the older dancer enlists in the military. The principals offer lovely performances, but this new play is a sometimes cutesy, sometimes romantic construction. Its larger insight into who we are, and where we've come from, has yet to be chiseled. Avery Shreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO THE SEQUENCE For over 80 years, theater artists have been trying to make peace with technology and science, fields that would seem to defy the arts – from Elmer Rice’s disturbing 1923 The Adding Machine; to Heinar Kippart's 1964 drama, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer; to Tom Stoppard’s impenetrable Arcadia in 1993; through David Auburn’s emotionally wrought 2001 psychological exercise, Proof. . Generally, though, real science is employed to move the plot along and involve characters without boring the audience with technical details. In Paul Mullin's new play, The Sequence, however, the protagonist is the scientific inquiry at the heart of the play – the mapping of the human genome. In a very pleasing twist of expectations, some fiercely human, comic moments make for breathtaking dramatic tension – stemming from questions of whether the ultimate credit for unraveling DNA should go to scientist Craig Venter (Hugo Armstrong) or Francis Collins (William Salyers) of the federal government, and whether reporter Kellie Silverstein should get a Pulitzer prize for writing a story about the two-man race. Mullin’s often outlandish explanations of the subject make this a fascinating, rapid-fire entertainment, that moves from childlike storytelling to music hall and beyond. Director John Langs and his bright (and often over-articulate) actors maneuver with assurance through Mullins slippery slopes between reality and fantasy. Gary Smoot’s simple but sharp scenery, Jason H. Thompson’s projections and Jose Lopez’s present beautifully crafted visual production – adding Robbin E. Broad and Joseph M. Wilbur’s pounding sound design creates an even more profound environment. (TP) Boston Court Theatre, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (626) 683-6883.
The Sequence Photo by Ed Krieger
THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS Nathan Sanders' story of two eccentric sisters. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (626) 256-3809.
THYESTES' FEAST Fragments of lost Greek plays adapted to an ancient world of high fashion, by Peter Wing Healey. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 960-7745.
>NEW REVIEW GO U.S. DRAG “I want a lot. What do we have to do get a lot,” says Angela (Megan Goodchild) to her best friend, Allison (Katie Davies), as the pair traverse Manhattan in search of . . . a lot, in this West Coast premiere of Gina Gionfriddo's scintillating comedy. Angela's every perky/snide conversation is punctuated by the monetary value to be derived from it, whether speaking to an employer or partner. The two smart young women are not smart enough to be rich, and money seems to be the play's driving force, accompanied by a triptych of fears – fear of loneliness, fear of squandered opportunities (such as fame) and fear of physical attack. Within this cosmopolitan universe, Gionfriddo populates her play with sundry support groups -- one led by Evan (Noah Harpster) counsels its members to refuse to help anybody in order to avoid attack -- a Wall Street neurotic (Nick Cernoch), a would-be literati (Shawn Lee), and a “helper” (Eric Pargac) with a deranged compulsion to track down and give baked goods and the like to victims of any urban trauma. Gionfriddo's snappy dialogue is both urban and urbane, reflecting cultural values that have clearly gone off the tracks. Among the play's delightful conceits is its open question of whether the fears we shape our lives around are actually real, or our own speculative inventions. Darin Anthony's very slick staging includes riffs of techno pop (original music by Doug Newell) and a set/ighting design by Dan Jenkins that cements the play's matrix of consumerism and death with boutique windows and streetlife – one character actually arrives on a slab withdrawn from a gutter. The performances are mostly excellent, with a glorious cameo by Johanna McKay as a befuddled attack victim, though some mumbled lines and aimless movement don't quite match the director's mat-knife precision. Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 22. A Furious theatre Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
U.S. Drag Photo by Anthony Masters
THE WITCHING HOUR Four tales of terror, in the vein of classic TV horror anthologies. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 11 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 378-5910.
THE YEAR OF THE HIKER John B. Keane's play about the return of a man who, 20 years before, left his family to hike through Ireland. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (818) 846-5323.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
ABIGAIL'S PARTY What might have been provocative 1979, when Mike Leigh's play first appeared, now feels dated. Beverly (Nikki Glick) -- a happily childless, unhappily married woman at the start of her descent into middle age -- and Laurence (Darren Richardson) -- her unremarkable estate agent husband with a love for classical music and sandwiches -- have the neighbors over for drinks. As gin and tonics go down, tensions come up. Playwright Mike Leigh derived much of his work from improvisation, which makes for some pleasantly unexpected turns and subconscious outbursts. However, in revival, it really does reveal itself as a product of its time. Director Julian Holloway shapes this production well for the most part, but a conspicuously contemporary Schwepps bottle and pointless stage business for actors who have to engage themselves while others speak certainly distract from the main action. The cast is primarily strong, with a stellar performance from Phoebe James as a gregarious young party guest. And Charles Erven's set delights in subtleties of the '70s, though Graham Oakes' sound design could actually use some touches of nuance. (Luis Reyes) Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; from Sept 7: Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (310) 477-2055.
ASSES & ELEPHANTS Playwright Suzanne Bressler's sweet but unevenly executed romantic comedy offers an election year twist on all themes Romeo and Juliet, in which politics makes for strange bedfellows – or, more accurately, it threatens to prevent the bedfellows from getting to bed. On Election Day 2004, likable young slacker Jake (Brian Kelly), a devoted liberal, decides to throw a house party to celebrate the Dems' almost certain victory – and he invites Ruby (Kristen Pate), the cute former high school classmate he runs into at a local restaurant. Ruby shows up to the party – but Jake quickly discovers to his horror that she's a proud Republican with conservative opinions on government bailouts, the Second Amendment, and the War in Iraq. Notwithstanding this, Jake hopes to win the lovely girl by pretending to be right-wing, and thereby enraging his pals. Complications ensue when the presidential race takes its abrupt historical turn, forcing Jake to choose between love and politics. Bressler's comedy boats a genuinely appealing premise for a breakneck romantic farce – and the work cleverly touches on the idea that our times are so politically polarized, it's hard for love to flourish between people of dissenting opinions. However, the dialogue is top heavy with uninspired gags and banal exchanges, and the play flounders through an inert mid-section. Still, director Elina DeSantos assembles an attractive and energetic ensemble and crafts a production that boasts a variety of intriguing psychological insights. Kelly offers a cleverly nuanced turn as a character consumed by his own self loathing, as he compromises his beliefs for romance, while Pate's Republican beauty is believably sincere. (PB) The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; added perf election night, Nov. 3, 8 p.m.; through November 3. (323) 960-7711. Election Night Productions.
Asses & Elephants Photo by Ed Krieger
BUS STOP William Inge's romantic comedy. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 494-1014.
DESPERATE WRITERS Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber's showbiz satire. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (800) 595-4849.
GO HALO Nately, Nova Scotia -- a town too small for a movie theater -- has just been blessed with a major tourist attraction: An image of Jesus on the brick wall of the local Tim Horton's coffee shop. The Savior makes for good publicity and great business. Horton manager Bob (Gary Ballard) has doubled his receipts, the local chicken shack is selling a 12-piece Apostle Meal, and everyone's wearing obnoxious baseball hats crowned with a fuzzy halo – made in China, notes agnostic barista Casey (Frances Manzo). Midway through Act 1, it becomes clear that playwright Josh MacDonald is mining for richer stuff than small town satire. He's interested in the murky intersections of faith and cynicism, commerce and celebration, and miracles and delusion. All of his characters, including Casey's newly devout jock boyfriend, Jansen (Glen Brackenridge), a fired-up newscaster (Christine Joelle), a hippie priest (John T. Cogan), and a coma patient's grieving father and daughter (David Hunt Stafford and Emily Button) are fumbling in the dark. Though director Bruce Gray's ensemble occasionally wavers, the production is strong, nicely framed by set designer Jeff G. Rack's glowing halo that hovers above the stage. (AN) Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 6. (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
"I'M NOT A RACIST, BUT ..." Conceived by Cynthia Ettinger, created by the Actors' Gang. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 838-4264.
THE KENTUCKY CYCLE PART I & PART II Robert Schenkkan's series of nine plays reimagining Southern history. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (562) 985-5526.
LIONS Vincent Melocchi's story of the "hopes, disappointments and dreams" of a group of Detroit Lions fans. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 7, (No perfs Nov. 27-29.). (310) 822-8392.
MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy, adapted by Steven Shields. Ark Theater Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 969-1707.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he’s determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He’s an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we’re to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Nov. 29. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
Made Me Nuclear Photo by Cydne Moore
A MAJORITY OF ONE Jewish widow travels to Japan, in Leonard Spigelgass' 1959 play. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (800) 838-3006.
MALCOLM & TERESA BBC TV reporter interviews Mother Teresa, by Cathal Gallagher. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 462-5141.
A MAN'S A MAN Bertolt Brecht's 1926 horror comedy. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, (Call for added perfs; no perf Nov. 27.). (310) 477-2055.
NITE CLUB: BUBI'S HIDEAWAY Kenneth Bernard's 1970 avant-garde play. Mandrake Bar, 2692 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 1...
PUSH Kristen Lazarian's play about an upscale couple's troubles. (In rep with Halo, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 364-0535.
QUIXOTIC Kit Steinkellner's modern retelling of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 396-3680.
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy of manners. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (310) 512-6030.
ZOMBIE ATTACK! Justin Tanner's tale of the undead. 2nd Story Theatre, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (310) 374-9767.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES OF SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
THE ALL NIGHT STRUT! Musical revue spanning 1924 to 1951, including such tunes as "Chatanooga Choo Choo," "In the Mood" and "Fascinating Rhythm.". International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (562) 436-4610.
FACE OF THE WORLD FESTIVAL '08 Solo performance, music and dance. (Call for schedule.). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sun..; thru Dec. 14. (213) 489-0994.
MYSTERIES EN BROCHETTE The beachside hotel dishes out dinner and mystery delights in its Saturday shows with four different performances that alternate., $75, includes dinner. Marina del Rey Hotel, 13534 Bali Way, Marina del Rey; Sat., 7 p.m.. (310) 301-1000.
MYSTERY MEAT Monthlong multimedia extravaganza, hosted by Phil Van Hest. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (866) 811-4111.
PAPA SPEAKEASY'S BURLESQUE Lovely ladies entertain you. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m....
SPARK: AN EVENING OF STORYTELLING Monthly series of storytelling "sparked" by a particular theme. (Resv. required.). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; First Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 3. (866) OFF-MAIN.
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