Stage Raw: Does Your Acting Career Have That Sinking Feeling?
Captain Smith looks out over oceans of opportunity
There's still hope of a rescue! Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, seeks an actor to play the Titanic's legendary Captain Edward J. Smith. It's possible, but I don't know for sure, that part of the job will involve rearranging deck chairs.
"He's out there somewhere--a tall, distinguished middle-aged gentleman with a nicely trimmed grey beard and a quiet flamboyance. The search is on: Titanic Pigeon Forge is looking for a special actor to fill the shoes of the legendary Captain Edward J. Smith. This full-time position starts in March 2010.
"Once finished, Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge will employ approximately 75 crew members and staff."
The PR received by the Weekly today (yes, it's a slow week) quotes Titanic Museum owner John Joslyn: "Captain Smith will be the most important crew member . . . He'll serve as the official greeter, will officiate in special Titanic events, and he'll also help recreate the formal elegance and style that was Titanic."
If you fit the bill, mail your resume and a photo to Officer D. Brown, Cedar Bay Entertainment, LLC, 3027 W. 76 Country Blvd. - Suite G, Branson, MO 65616 or email them to CaptainSmith@TitanicPigeonForge.com
One more thing: "With an April 2010 launch date, Titanic Pigeon Forge will be filling a number of exciting positions. Casting decisions for Captain Smith and the ship's regular crew members will begin the first of March."
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for November 13-19, 2009
(The weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's
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
OPENING THIS WEEK
DO THE WINSTON! Melanie Chartoff hosts this benefit variety show with Leila Arias, Ann Randolph, Betsy Salkind, Thea Smalley, Jack Sundmacher and Suzy Williams, proceeds going toward medical expenses for Terri Silverman's chihuahua. Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice; Mon., Nov. 16, 8 p.m., www.brownpapertickets.com/event/87553. (310) 822-3006.
ARIAS WITH A TWIST Starring drag diva Joey Arias, directed and designed by Basil Twist. See GoLA., $35-$40, $28-$32 students. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; opens Nov. 18; Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (213) 237-2800.
BABY IT'S YOU! World-premiere 1960s-era musical by Colin Escott, based on the true story of housewife Florence Greenberg's founding of Scepter Records. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; opens Nov. 13; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (626) 356-PLAY.
BOTANICUM SEEDLINGS: A DEVELOPMENT SERIES FOR PLAYWRIGHTS Laura Shamas' Trapper Joan. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Nov. 15, 1 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
EQUIVOCATION Bill Cain's story of Shakespeare's commission by King James to write the official history of the Gunpowder Plot. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Nov. 18; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 208-5454.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! THE MUSICAL Broadway take on the Dr. Seuss tale, starring Stefan Karl as the Grinch and John Larroquette as Old Max., $30-$125. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 13; Fri., Nov. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 14, 5 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 3. (213) 365-3500.
MARY POPPINS Disney's magical nanny goes Broadway. Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert b. Sherman, book by Julian Fellowes, new songs and additional mjusic by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 15; Sun., Nov. 15, 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (213) 628-2772.
NIHONMACHI: THE PLACE TO BE The Grateful Crane Ensemble performs Soji Kashiwagi's musical nostalgia about "Japantown." A benefit for the Little Tokyo Koban and Visitors Center. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., L.A.; Sun., Nov. 15, 2 p.m.. (213) 680-3700.
NOISES OFF Michael Frayn's behind-the-scenes thespian farce. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Nov. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 7 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 6, 2 & 7 p.m.; Dec. 9-11, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.
ONE NOVEMBER YANKEE Robert Forster and Loretta Swit star in Joshua Ravetch's plane-crash play, the inaugural production of the Pasadena Playhouse's 2009-2010 Equity Reading Series, part of the Hothouse at the Playhouse new development program. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Nov. 17-18. (626) 356-PLAY.
THE RIVER NIGER The Robey Theatre Company presents Joseph A. Walker's 1972 Harlem story. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Nov. 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (213) 489-0994.
ABOVE THE CURVE THEATRE ONE-ACT FESTIVAL This fourth-annual installment of Above the Curve's play festival showcases six one-acts. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.abovethecurvetheatre.com. (310) 486-0051.
ANTIGONE The classic Sophocles tragedy. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (323) 939-9220.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT POLISH THEATER (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) ALOUD at Central Library presents this discussion on the history of theater in Poland, with Grzegorz Jarzyna, Joanna Klass, Tom Sellar and Richard Schechner, moderated by UCLA Live director David Sefton. Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 16, 7 p.m., www.lfla.org. (213) 228-7000.
GRACE KIM & THE SPIDERS FROM MARS Lodestone Theatre Ensemble concludes its 10th and final season with Philip W. Chung's comedy. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Nov. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 993-7245.
GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE L.A. Theatre Works's staged reading of Moises Kaufman's play. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Nov. 18-20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 21, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.
IF YOUR EYES ARE CLEAR... Saghatel Harutyunyan's Soviet-era drama, adapted by Aramazd Stepanian. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; opens Nov. 19; Thurs., Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 20-21, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 500-7200.
MACON Hugh Gregory Fitzgerald's new play. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., Nov. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 7 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
THE MENOPAUSE "CRACK-UP" Judith E. Taranto's solo dramedy about the onset of menopause. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 13; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 761-2166.
MOLLY Simon Gray's "love triangle gone awry.". Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; opens Nov. 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 841-5421.
MOLLY SWEENEY Brian Friel's story of a blind girl and the surgery that could restore her sight. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (800) 838-3006.
MOMS GONE MAD Betsy True and Pamela Shafer Moser's musical-comedy set at a PTA variety show fund-raiser. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens Nov. 13; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.momsgonemadstage.com. (800) 838-3006.
MRS. CAGE Nancy Barr's story of robbery, mayhem, and murder in the supermarket parking lot. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 14; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 761-2166.
ROBBIE JENSEN: THE 12 STEPS OF CHRISTMAS Tony Matthews and Matt Schofield's comedy takes the audience to a "Robbie Jensen Life Skills Workshop.". NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.plays411.com/robbiejensen. (323) 960-1053.
SAINT ALICE OF CHATTAHOOCHEE Written and performed by Alice Johnson. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Sat., Nov. 14, 8 p.m., www.saintalice.com. (323) 993-7148.
TENT MEETING Larry Larson, Levi Lee and Rebecca Wackler's satire about a reverend and kin on a road trip. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; opens Nov. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 846-5323.
THREE TALL WOMEN Edward Albee's study of contemporary womanhood. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.westcoastensemble.org. (323) 460-4443.
TOUCHDOWN JESUS Yale Cabaret Hollywood presents a live reading of Alex Maggio's play about filmmaker, a football coach, and an 80-foot statue of Jesus. Cafe Metropol, 923 E. Third St., L.A.; Thurs., Nov. 19, 7 p.m., yalecabarethollywood.com. (213) 613-1537.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
BETTER ANGELS Playwright Wayne Peter Liebman may be no Pastor Weems, but this wincingly hagiographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln (James Read) certainly suggests postgraduate work in the Weems school of exalted and fanciful presidential kitsch. Liberally sprinkled with tidbits of beloved Lincolnalia, the play introduces the Great Emancipator through the flashbacked reminiscences of John Hay (David Dean Bottrell), as Lincoln's now elderly biographer and former private secretary delivers a university lecture on the man behind the myth. To illustrate Lincoln's deceptively complex blend of folksy political wiles, razor-sharp intellect and more earthbound emotional needs, Hay relates the meeting of minds between Lincoln and the Wisconsin Angel, Cordelia Harvey (McKerrin Kelly), as the bloody carnage of Chickamauga unfolds. A war widow and real-life champion of better care for the Civil War's wounded, Mrs. Harvey visits the White House (amid Victoria Profitt's stately set pieces) to persuade the commander in chief to establish military hospitals in the North. For Lincoln, the attractive, personable lobbyist offers a flirtatious respite from the cares of office, as well as from his offstage "harpy" of a first lady. The encounter also provides the president the opportunity to test his Gettysburg Address and disambiguate his position on emancipation (yes, his intention was always to free the slaves). Despite Liebman's romantic whimsy (and a particularly cloying postscript), Read turns in an engagingly sly, avuncular Lincoln, abetted by director Dan Bonnell's handsome staging and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's elegant period costumes. (Bill Raden). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 558-7000.
CARBON BLACK Humor-tinged psychological drama about mother-son relationship held hostage by agoraphobia, written by Terry Gomez (Comanche) opens season of Native Voices theater company. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 667-2000.
GO KOOZA It's been about a decade since the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) was seen at Santa Monica Pier. This touring production marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, and also heralds a return to the simpler, less high-tech formats that informed earlier productions like Quidam and Allegria -- the emphasis here being on the old circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics. But that's not to say that there is something missing here. On the contrary, creator-director David Shiner, who made quite a name for himself as a clown in outings like Fool Moon, has packed this show with drama, comedy, whimsy, music, exotica, slick choreography, and plenty of how-do-they-do-that? moments. The show starts with an Innocent (Stephan Landry) opening a box containing a trickster (Mike Tyus), who reveals the magical world of the circus. And what a world it is! The clowns pull off some dazzling and funny routines, and interact throughout with the audience. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik twist their tiny bodies into letters of the alphabet, among other things. Lee Thompson amazes with a pickpocket routine at the expense of an unsuspecting attendee. Jimmy Ibarra and Angelo Lyerzkysky garnered a standing ovation for their superhuman feats on the Wheel of Death -- a daunting contraption that resembles two interconnected hamster wheels. Marie-Chantale Valliancourt's collage of costumes are stunning. Under the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. Tues.-Thurs, 8 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; through December 20. cirquedusoleil.com/kooza or (800) 450-1480. (Lovell Estell III)
ENTER LAUGHING Joseph Stein's comedy, based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (562) 494-1014.
EXIT STRATEGY Because the elderly are "invisible" in our culture, they can pay for their rent and subscription drugs by engaging in any number of criminal activities, and also give their lives a much-needed adrenaline rush of rebellion against both society and the metaphysical cruelties of aging. Such is the sweet theory behind Bill Semans and Roy M. Close's sitcom, Exit Strategy. Casey Stangl's staging is a bundle of paradoxes: James (nicely played by James B. Sikking) is a broke and broken queen who's a poet and an ex-college professor; he was removed from his post because of a sex scandal. All he has left is his libido. After he's kicked out of a gay bar, James laments with faux Beckettian ennui: "Sometimes I think I've sucked my last cock." He's hanging on day to day in the Midwestern rooming house (realistic set by Keith Mitchell) managed by Mae (feisty Debra Mooney) -- a rooming house that's just been sold to a developer. So they're both facing eviction when Alex (John C. Moskoff) arrives for a brief stay with a benignly criminal plot to earn them all some money. Is Alex a con man? Are the duo being duped by his continual pontifications on how to age well, and his philosophies of squeezing the marrow out of every day, as well as how to avoid staining oneself after urinating? There's far too much gratuitous explaining going on, so that it deflates whatever mysteries may swim in the subtext of this intriguing situation and these very nice people. Stangl's languid pacing is both this production's curse and its blessing. These characters can talk a scene to death, but when they sit, waiting for the play's most suspense-filled resolution, they speak in non sequiturs, and the play starts to take on the enigmatic, elliptical poetry of David Storey's beautiful Home, a kind of abstract liturgy about waiting, and dying and living. For a mystery or a metaphysical rumination, the play is far too obvious. Yet for a sitcom, in which much is expected to be explained, it moves too slowly. It's a tender and humane comedy. If only it were clearer in its convictions, so that they didn't have to be spoken as though in neon supertitles. (Steven Leigh Morris). Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (818) 955-8101.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS Musical Theatre West presents the World's Fair classic. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15, www.musical.org. (562) 856-1999.
MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS Based on a true story surrounding the making of Gone With the Wind, this funny tale by Ron Hutchinson illuminates the behind-the-scenes business of movie-making during the Golden Age of Hollywood. No matinee Nov. 7. No evening perf Nov. 8. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 944-9801.
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 Dec. 19. (323) 666-4268.
PACHAMANCA, MOTHER EARTH Luis Avalos' work uses actors, musicians and dancers to take you on a journey through the mist of time from a Pre-Incan legend of Creation in the Andes to the lands of today's Native Americans. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (213) 489-0994.
PARADE Alfred Uhry, Jason Robert Brown and Harold Prince's musical based on a miscarriage of justice against Leo Frank (T.R. Knight), a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year-old Mary Phalen (Rose Sezniak) in the pencil factory where she worked, and where Frank was superintendent. Rob Ashford's sumptuous staging, and Brown's caressing ragtime/pop score, are in the service of what's aiming to be tragedy of mythic proportions. Uhry's predictable storytelling, however, invites us to react to the obvious rather than reflect on the mysterious, turning the entire event into child's play. Christopher Oram's set, featuring a shape-shifting Confederate mural, under Neil Austin's lighting, is gorgeous to look at. (Steven Leigh Morris). Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (213) 628-2772.
PO BOY TANGO Kenneth Lin's heartwarming play in which the issues of racism and death are addressed through the power of Shark Fin Soup, Drunken Crab, Black Feather Chicken and the like. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (213) 625-7000.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Children's musical, book by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, lyrics and music by Hope and Lawrence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.
PUPPET UP! UNCENSORED Naughty improv by Henson Alternative puppeteers. Avalon, 1735 Vine St., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 14, 8 p.m.. (323) 462-8900.
RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. In alternating repertory; call theater for schedule. (Neal Weaver). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 240-0910.
SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL: A CHILDREN'S HORROR STORY FOR ADULTS Book, music and lyrics by David P. Johnson. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 851-7977.
SATURN RETURNS refers to the phenomenon of the planet's nearly 30-year trip around the sun and that journey's life-changing astrological effect as it returns to the astral position it occupied at the birth of a character named Gustin. In Noah Haidle's intriguing but unformed play, Gustin navigates between the important life changes during this planetary effect on Gustin at age 28 (Graham Michael Hamilton), 58 (Connor O'Farrell) and 88 (Nick Ullett). Near the end of his life, Gustin suffering insurmountable loneliness, clings to the company of visiting nurse Suzanne (Kristen Bush, who portrays the play's three women). His middle-aged ghost is seen pleading with his 29-year-old daughter not to leave him, while she tries to find him a romantic mate to set herself free of his desperation for human contact. Finally his youthful self longs for his sweet but unstable wife to simply love him without fear. Individually the three stories are written with compelling relationships, but the point of their onstage intersection, while obvious from the title and suggested by the situations of loneliness, is never quite established by the text. The acting, under David Emme's sensitive direction, is outstanding -- particularly Bush, who finds the difference among her three characters with remarkable specificity. With Ralph Funicello's crisp scenic design, supported perfectly by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's lights and Nephelie Andonyadis' costumes, the physical atmosphere is beautifully delivered. All that is missing here is a real purpose to the story. (Tom Provenzano). South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (714) 708-5555.
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD Jason Robert Brown's musical collection of "transformation stories.". Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (562) 432-5934.
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.
THE WALWORTH FARCE Playwright Enda Walsh delves into Irish-immigrant tales of the old country. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (310) 825-2101.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ABE AND HIS COCONUTS: WELCOME TO PARADISE World premiere of Benjamin Benedict's comedy about a billionaire's island. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-4443.
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.
AMERICAN GRIND An amalgam of the work of four writers and two directors, this hybrid piece falls somewhere between sketch comedy and a full-fledged play. Set in a coffee house, it features five or six overlapping scenarios. Kevyn (Michael Ponte) is a self-styled self-help guru who is using the venue to recruit clientele. Tudi (writer Cheri Anne Johnson), the white half of an interracial couple, is convinced she's a black woman born into a white body (in the same way some transsexuals believe that in them, nature's gone awry). Tudi's looking to create a rapport between her uptight suburban parents (Charles Marti and Christina L. Mason) and her lover (Daniel Valery), a condescending hipster -- while coping with the painful reality of his other women. Betty (writer Tracy Lane) and Nick (writer Andrew Hamrick) are a librarian and high school teacher, respectively -- both looking for love and too petrified to acknowledge they may have found it in each other. Rose (Lauren Benge) a fatherless teen distraught over her pregnancy, gets help from Joe (Cooper Anderson), who once abandoned his family. Co-directed by P.J. Marshall and Jennifer Cetrone, the production aims to meld its various plots into a cohesive whole, but the result is closer to a choppily aligned jigsaw. Most of the performances are capable or better, but stronger direction would improve them. The writing is also strong in some places, in need of sharpening in others. E. Yarber is one of the four writers. A From the Ground Up Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.fromthegrounduptheatre.org...
ANSWER THE CALL This well-meaning musical deserves credit for espousing universal respect and genuine family values (not the ersatz right-wing kind), but it's otherwise an awkward effort. Writers Michael Antin and Leonard Bloom -- music and lyrics by Antin -- build their story around an 11-year old boy's school assignment to learn more about his family. Offspring of a mixed marriage -- a Gentile songwriter father, Sam (Derel Maury Friedman) and a Jewish mom, Jill (Josie Yount) -- Eddie (Spencer Price) seeks his curmudgeonly maternal granddad, Gordon (Lou Briggs), who is also a songwriter. Gordon is happy to shower Eddie and his sister Becky (Haley Price) with anecdotes about his military service, his horse thief uncle, his heady times in Nashville, his rural childhood, his beach frolicking days and so on. Unfortunately, these ramblings don't coalesce. Even in a genre that often plays fast and loose with narrative logic, this piece comes off woefully short. Grandma Hannah (L.B. Zimmerman) dances with a healing broken hip. Never-before-known secrets are revealed -- Sam had a brutal childhood, Gordon's brother was tragically murdered -- then swiftly forgotten, as we move to the next riff or song. The best of these is the self-descriptive "Crap on the Golden Years." Others less interesting include one sung by the caregiver (Shamarrah E. Pates) about having car trouble. The vocals are passable, and under Friedman's direction, the performances conform to cliché. (Deborah Klugman). Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/answerthecall. (323) 960-7735.
BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Kristian Steel. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.
BIG RIVER: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN Actors Co-op presents Mark Twain's classic, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 462-8460.
GO BLEEDING THROUGH Adapted from Norman Klein's novella of the same title, this world premiere, co-written and co-directed by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, explores historical Angelino Heights (not coincidentally the location of the theater) and the ghosts of its glamorous past. The Unreliable Narrator (David Fruechting) introduces us to the world of the play as it moves fluidly between the past and present. He speaks with Ezra (Ed Ramolete) and Molly (Lynn Milgrim), now two elderly residents of the neighborhood, as he researches a potential murder. Through their memories we learn of a younger Molly (Elizabeth Rainey), who came from Indiana and worked in men's clothing, which naturally brought her into contact with a number of men, including husbands Jack (Brian Joseph) and Walt (Pete Pano), as well as Jack's father and longtime customer Harry (James Terry). Chavez and Portillo's expansive "surround" set, designed by Akeime Mitterlehner, offers a unique staging that, along with the accompaniment of live musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Golia, immerses the audience in the noir world. Francois-Pierre Couture's angular lighting, Pamela Shaw's wonderfully detailed costumes, Claudio Rocha's well-integrated videography and Diane Arellano's installation of historical artifacts -- which the audience is allowed to explore at intermission -- all enhance the ambiance as well. Rainey and Milgrim play their double roles with aplomb, but the piece's main drawback is the lack of dramatic momentum in the writing, making older Molly's line, "at some point, a place becomes more important than a person," ring all the more true. Shakespeare Festival/L.A., 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 22. (800) 595-4849. About Productions. (Mayank Keshaviah)
BLOOD AND THUNDER World-premiere play about Hurricane Katrina by Terence Anthony. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.movingarts.org/nowplaying.html. (323) 856-6168.
CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE: LOVE, LUST AND OTHER HUMAN ODDITIES Naomi Grossman's solo comedy. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 930-1804.
THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE German playwright Manfred Karge's 1988 fantasia about a quartet of unemployed men re-enacting Roald Amundsen 1911 trek to the South Pole. Rory C. Mitchell's nicely animated staging remains tethered by lapses of acting technique. (Steven Leigh Morris). Elephant Stageworks, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/conquest. (323) 960-4429.
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.
NEW REVIEW THE GHOST BUILDING Playwright Damon Chua's
madcap stab at a Stoppardian play of ideas may sound fine in theory,
but its execution proves frustratingly flat. Part genre spoof, part
Hollywood Gothic (by way of Babylon) and part "hauntological"
allegory, the play taps the unsolved murder of '20s silent movie
director William Desmond Taylor to create a properly spooky schema with
which to haunt the downtown-L.A. architectural landmark (on Adam
Flemming's hotel-within-a-hotel set). That's where aspiring Filipina
novelist Cha-Cha Mangabay (Sandy Yu) checks into the story while
packing an unfinished manuscript, a dream of publishing success, and a
30-day tourist-visa deadline with which to achieve it. However, the
hotel and its host of incorporeal squatters soon draw Cha-Cha into
their unearthly re-enactments of the crime. Joined by a Sam Spade-like
fictional detective (Brian Ibsen), Cha-Cha determines to both solve the
mystery and adapt it for her own, hardboiled roman noir. As the
investigation-cum-Derridian deconstruction progresses, the proceedings
quickly jump their narrative track and dissolve into a chaotic
phantasmagoria of merging identities, abrupt character about-faces and
parodic violations of genre and stage conventions. Director Armando
Molina and a game ensemble (including standouts Andrea Lee Davis, Pat
Cochran and Leigh Rose) do their best to keep Chua's calculated chaos
under control but are ultimately defeated by too many overly clever
literary conceits and not enough attention to fundamental play craft.
Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 883-1717. (Bill
THE GLORY OF LIVING Rebecca Gilman's story of a 15-year-old runaway and her car-thief boyfriend. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.elcentrotheatre.com. (323) 230-7261.
GO GROWING UP WITH UNCLE MILTIE As a young girl growing up in New York City, Patt Benson dreamed of making her mark in show business. Thanks to a combination of luck, talent and an unlikely friendship with a big name-celebrity, she succeeded. In her charming solo outing, Benson recounts her arduous journey, from Manhattan schoolgirl to Hollywood celebrity with the help of the redoubtable Milton Berle. By turns humorous and poignant, she tells of a childhood marred by the occasional drunken outbursts and abuse by her father and how her mother tolerated them, her time in parochial school and her budding desire to be a comedian, one nurtured by her mother. Her first encounter with Berle happened in the fall 1953, while she was on the way to tap-dancing class. Gradually, she became something of his protégé, showing up on his TV show, earning his respect and admiration, and like all the eventual Hollywood lottery winners whose persistence pays off, snagging a plum role in the sitcom Joe & Valerie. Benson packs a lot of material into this short piece, and the narrative has more than a few confusing gaps, but her writing is heartfelt and at times deeply evocative -- descriptions of New York City, for instance, offer alluring images. Rich Embardo directs. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through November 22. (323) 651-2583. (Lovell Estell III)
HAMLET . Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 667-0955.
HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Cashman. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 934-9700.
THE HOUSE OF BESARAB A new environmental adaptation of "Dracula" with Travis Holder. Audience members eat and drink in the venue's historic Deco Bar before the show. Hollywood American Legion, 2305 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 203-2850.
GO THE ILLUSION Translator Ranjit Bolt's adaptation of Corneille's 17th-century classic starts out stodgily but soon swerves merrily into comic gear. A remorseful father (Kevin McCorkle) seeks the help of a magician (Alexander Wright) in tracking down his estranged son. It turns out the young man, Clindor (Benny Wills) -- attached to a fatuous nobleman named Matamore (Jon Monastero) -- has been acting as emissary for this overblown buffoon to a lady named Isabelle (Nicole Disson). Something of a Don Juan, Clindor has clandestinely wooed both Isabelle and her maid, Lyse (Kendra Chell), who now smolders with jealousy, aware that her opportunistic paramour has upped his sights on the social ladder. Directed by David Bridel, the production gets laughs from Monastero's lisping braggart-nobleman, whose grandiose claims to be a mighty warrior and lover evaporate at the mere whiff of a challenge. As the maid, Chell airs much of the script's wit and wisdom in a smart, snappy performance. Disson and other supporting players also deliver the goods. Wills is fine as the dashing hero, but the production might have been more interesting if he'd played it less upright and instead exploited the character's deviousness a little more. Eventually the play's humor deflates, as the magician's tale mutates into a portrait of adultery and of the marriage between Isabelle and Clindor gone awry. Christina Wright's costumes add color and charm. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 21. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)
IMAGOFEST 2009 Three one-acts: E.M. Lewis' Sing Me That Leonard Cohen Song Again, Tim McNeil's Purplish, Alex Aves' The Goldilocks Effect. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 465-4446.
INTERWOVEN: THE JUXTAPOSITION OF JOSHUA AND JOHNNA 3KO Broadway Theatre Company previews The Pleasure Principle by Joshua James and The Sacred Geometry of S&M Porn by Johnna Adams. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 685-9939.
LA RONDE DE LUNCH Peter Lefcourt's "Tinseltown tour de farce" set in a pretentious Hollywood restaurant. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (310) 358-9936.
NEW REVIEW L'AMANTE ANGLAISE
Photo by J.L. Darville
French have given us many things: wine, cheese, French kissing, and the
Napoleon complex, among others. What they have also given us are
novels, films and plays filled with endless philosophical and
ultimately pointless ramblings that are so filled with internal
contradictions they end up amounting to a kind of intellectual
masturbation. Barbara Bray's translation of the French writer
Marguerite Duras' 1967 play (from Duras' novel of the same title) is an
unfortunate example. The events, if you can call them that, take place
in an interrogation room where The Interrogator (Alex Monsky) questions
Pierre Lannes (Gerry Bamman) and his wife Claire Lannes (Caroline
Ducrocq) about Claire's murder of her deaf-mute cousin Marie-Therese,
who was living with the couple. The Interrogator spends Act 1 with
Pierre and Act 2 with Claire, trying to figure out why she committed
the murder and where the missing head of Marie-Therese is (the rest of
her was chopped up and put in freight train cars). Carl Ford's
direction does little to remedy the absence of dramatic or intellectual
propulsion with his blocking and stagecraft. Ducrocq and Bamman are
clearly capable actors but victims of a tedious script that, toward the
end, had me wondering if being Marie-Therese, all chopped up, might be
preferable to sitting through this play. The MET Theatre, 1089 N.
Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru
November 22. (323) 960-1052. (Mayank Keshaviah)
Photo by Peter Gref
graduated from high school, aspring musician Adam (Nicholas S.
Williams) and his pals hang at the local diner, exchanging the casually
benign blather ubiquitous among ennui-saturated suburban youth.
Gradually, personal issues emerge. Adam's father is dead and his
estranged mom sleeps with another guy. Matt's (Rick Steadman) harping
dad thinks he's a loser. Pete (Ron Morehouse) suspects, but fiercely
denies to himself, that he's a "faggot." Tara (Joanie Ellen) worries
because none of her guy friends want to screw her. The precocious
Hayley (Alana Dietz) sidelines as a phone sex worker. Enter the
Nibbler - manifested first as flashing lights and strange sounds but
soon materializing as a black specter with giant claws, whose touch
radically alters each of their lives. Or so the premise goes. In fact,
playwright Ken Urban's nascent horror spoof never gets past the
listlessness that overwhelms its characters. There are revitalizing
junctures, as when Matt, post-Nibbler encounter, transforms into a
Republican fundamentalist and lets loose a scabrous dialogue that
exposes the profound schizophrenia of the Religious Right. But such
smart sharp writing -- along with the Nibbler's laughably scary
appearances -- come only at intervals. Riddled with loose threads ,
the play suffers its own schizoid split: Is it a send-up, a social
commentary or a quasi-personal reminiscence? In an apparent attempt at
all three, it scores well at none. Under Mark Seldis' direction, the
performances, like the play itself, compel only sporadically. Theatre
of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7
p.m. (no perfs Thanksgiving weekend); thru Dec. 12. (323) 856-8611.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
POST Donavon Thomas' drama about the after-affects of the Iraq War on two veterans. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/post. (323) 960-7740.
SCARCITY Kappy Kilburn's nicely acted production of Lucy Thurber's domestic drama (making its West Coast premiere) gets to the unspoken truths of a family in rural Massachussetts that's ensnared by poverty, though there's plenty on that theme that's spoken as well. Unemployed and alcoholic Herb (Randy Irwin who turns his off-the-charts alcohol-blood levels into a bliss that's almost charming) lashes out at his wife, Martha (a spirited performance by Rebecca Jordan), because he sees the unwanted romantic attentions she's getting from her cousin, local cop Louie (Steve Walker, whose comedy background makes itself felt here), who's also been buying Herb's family groceries they can't afford themselves. If Louie gave his own wife, Gloria (Wendy Johnson), even half the attention he lavishes on Martha, he'd be a far better husband, but that would make for a comparatively tedious play. At Herb's dinner table, with Louis and Gloria present, Herb lashes out at Martha for the blow jobs he imagines she's giving Louis. "If you don't get a job, I may have to start," she snaps back. Actually Herb and Martha's sex life is robust, as their embarrassed children -- 11-year-old Rachel (Bridgen Shergalis, wry and smart) and 16-year-old Billy (Jarrett Sleeper) -- could tell you. But that doesn't stop Herb from expressing his incestuous erotic attractions to his kid daughter. It's a source of disgust that goes nowhere dramatically, just one in a series of perverse idiosyncrasies that floats in the mire of their lives. The more relevant perversity comes from Billy's smitten schoolteacher, wealthy Ellen (Kim Swennen), a do-gooder whose do-gooding is too conspicuous to be in good taste. Young, sadistic Billy tortures her psychologically as she pulls out all her connections to get him funded for a private college. While she masturbates him in the family kitchen, he forces her to say out loud that she's stupid - a confession that's his aphrodisiac. These S&M dynamics are a bit like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with Billy's precocious little sister pining not be left behind. Director Kilburn hasn't refined the tone, so that the agony ostensibly provoking them all to be so cruel, and the comedy which garners so many laughs, feel as though they belong to different plays, rather than stemming from the same wellspring of frustration. The story, however, never lets go, and Adam Rigg's realistic set (with wooden Mallard duck and duckling perched on a low wooden cabinet) speak the design-language of excruciatingly authentic 1970s chic. (Steven Leigh Morris). Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.needtheater.org. (800) 838-3006.
SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE Charles Marowitz's 1984 farce finds Sherlock Holmes (Stephen Van Dorn) facing double jeopardy. He's receiving death threats from the son (Michael Tauzin) of his long-standing enemy Professor Moriarty. The younger Moriarty seeks revenge for his father's death. Holmes is also pursued by a woman of doubtful identity (Teresa Bisson), and worst of all, he has declared, "Elementary, my dear Watson" once too often. Watson (Steve Gustafson), pushed over the edge by Holmes' arrogance and condescension, has hatched an elaborate plot to do the master in, via the fiendish Frontenac Chair, which traps its occupant in its lethal clutches. Marowitz knows the Holmes canon well, and provides all the staple ingredients: clever ruses, impossibly erudite and perceptive deductions, disguises, dramatic reversals and improbable escapes. The piece amuses for much of its length, but eventually the joke wears thin. Director Jeremy Lewit's mostly nimble production is occasionally heavy-handed, but he makes clever use of the Baker Street Irregulars (Bisson, Marcos Estevez, James Ledesma, and Tauzin) to effect the elaborate changes on Tim Farmer's handsome and ingenious set. Kimberly Overton provides handsome period costumes. (Neal Weaver). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 462-8460.
GO SHINING CITY Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in 2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client, John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation that comes from human contact, which his now-late wife couldn't provide to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged, along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he must now explain to his flummoxed wife (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window) that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in the ebbs and flows of verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate, comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long, the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble in a production of such rare beauty. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 19. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SLASHER Allison Moore's comedy thriller. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/slasher. (323) 960-7776.
SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy by the African-American troupe. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Nov. 21; Through Dec. 5. (323) 469-9988.
SONDHEIM UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre makes up musicals. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006.
STRAY There's an old adage taught in playwriting workshops that goes something like, "when in doubt, raise the stakes." The idea being that the extremity of potential consequences directly determines a drama's narrative torque. Judging by this earnest but desultory, Bad Seed melodrama, it's a class playwright Ruth McKee evidently skipped. What's at stake here is whether the disruptive, albeit never-seen 8-year-old Ugandan refugee, Daniel, will be allowed to stay at his Midwestern magnet school or whether his increasingly bizarre behavior will banish him to the "special-ed warehouse" at the city's overcrowded and underfunded elementary school. For his altruistic, white adoptive parents, James (Matt Gaydos) and his Kenyan wife, Rachel (Analeis Lorig), the wrong outcome threatens to tarnish their reputations as caregivers. For the school's harried principal, Tanya (the fine Angela Bullock), and Daniel's neophyte teacher, Ms. Kennedy (the funny Jennifer Chang), it's impossible to both teach and deal with a child who cowers under his desk and barks (and bites!) like a rabid dog. As a therapist is brought in (Eileen Galindo) and battle lines are drawn, there's a tantalizing moment when the characters' emerging emotional insecurities, personal prejudices and cultural misunderstandings seem poised to give flight to a caustic comedy of errors. That this more satisfying trajectory never lifts off is no fault of director Larissa Kokernot's brisk staging or of her polished ensemble but rather the timidity and pallid plotting of McKee's surface-bound text. (Bill Raden). Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.thedahlia.com. (800) 838-3006.
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.
TILTED FRAME Live improv performed simultaneously in Los Angeles and San Francsico, thanks to the magic of the Internet. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19, www.tiltedframe.com. (323) 962-1632.
NEW REVIEW GO TREE
Photo by Ed Krieger
elderly Black woman, Jessalyn Price (Sloan Robinson) suffers from
dementia in an upstairs bedroom in Chicago's Southside, circa 2000,
where she lives with her caretaker son, Leo (Chuma Gault). The story of
Jessalyn's past, and of her impassioned, forbidden love, emerges
through her too-poetical ramblings, in Julie Hébert's otherwise
riveting family drama. The saga comes into clear focus, however, with
the help of a Caucasian interloper, Didi Mercantel (Jacqueline Wright)
- a single, emotionally brittle brianiac from Louisiana who "suffers"
from some gender ambiguity, and who claims to be the daughter of the
man, just deceased, who once loved and abandoned the woman upstairs. A
box of letters hidden in a safe deposit box contains evidence of a
history that's been convoluted by rumors and folklore. Just when you
thought August: Osage County had put the family drama to rest
for a while, here comes a new play that doesn't ride on the macabre or
the Gothic; rather, it's propelled by a kind of anthropological dig of
detritus and hand-written missives from decades past, revealing the
tugs of history, society and circumstance on a white Southern youth and
his Black girlfriend, both from Louisiana, trying to build a life
together in the land of the free. Leo's daughter, J.J. (Tessa
Thompson) chastises Didi that she has no right to seek consolation for
her father's death by bursting in their door. "You're not family," J.J.
declares. Whether that declaration is a truth, a truism, or a cruel
editorial opinion lies at the heart of what this play says about our
relations to each other in a nation of interlopers. Jessica Kubzansky's
staging brings the characters' wry intelligence to the fore. [Inside]
the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,
2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 461-3673 or
http://FordTheatres.org. An Ensemble Studio Theatre-L.A. production.
(Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
VAMPIRE MASQUERADE Vampires and witches put on a show, written and directed by Chris Berube. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 & 9:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theberubians.com. (323) 850-7827.
A VERY DARK PLACE Brandon Alter's horror comedy about a soap star in a haunted house. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/darkplace. (323) 960-7822.
WACADEMIA Joe Camhi's satirical comedy about a hit man who has to take care of his father, whom he tries to teach political correctness in the same environment with his wife, who is suing an academic colleague for sexual harassment. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 874-1733.
THE WHY FACTOR: PROPORTION DISTORITION The all-female Why Factor Writing Ensemble explores female body image, sexuality, and self-acceptance. LOFT Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.loftensemble.com...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
AS WHITE AS O Against the backdrop of a New York art show titled "The Innocents: 30 Years of Outsider Art in America," this world premiere of novelist Stacy Sims' first dramatic endeavor explores synesthesia, a condition in which senses are cross-wired so that feelings are "tasted" and letters and numbers appear in specific colors, among other things. The "outsiders," in this case, are Jack (Vince Tula) and his father, Sam (Mark St. Amant), who both spent much of Jack's childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, festooning their modest backwoods cabin with the detritus of our consumer society. While such decoration was therapeutic for them after losing Jack's mother, Grace (Elizabeth Sampson), they are discovered by Clara (Lauren Clark), a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in the house and in Sam. Running parallel to this story line, adult Jack is the subject of another work in the same show by Ed (Ramon Campos), who interviews and videotapes Jack in order to create his piece. The play fluidly oscillates between the present and the past, and accomplished director Sam Anderson deftly handles the transitions, though his pacing and shaping of his characters' emotional climaxes are a bit uneven. Desma Murphy's set, enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's subtly shifting lighting, is wonderfully detailed and spatially enhances the piece's thematic elements. The cast has moments of inspiration, but only Sampson consistently delivers the emotional energy required of Sims' script, which itself would be strengthened by fewer tangential story lines, and a stronger central plot. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.
A BIG GAY NORTH HOLLYWOOD WEDDING Interactive homo-nuptials, by William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 745-8527.
NEW REVIEW GO EMPEROR NORTON, THE MUSICAL
Photo by Jim Eshom
person's madman is another's hero, a sentiment blithely celebrated in
Kim Ohanneson and Marty Axelrod's melodramatic musical based on the
life and legend of Joshua A. Norton, a failed businessman who
proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. Luckily for
Norton (Matthew Tucker), he lived in San Francisco, a city that
embraces the bizarre and which did the same for the putative sovereign.
Narrated by newsboy Smiggy (Lucas Salazar), the tale recounts how
various business interests exploited Norton's eccentric - if not
insane - behavior financially while the "Emp" remained a pauper
("Commerce over conscience" is a running line.) While the vocalizing
and choreography, restricted by the small stage, are often subpar,
director Jim Eshom and his cast's commitment to the play's nonsense
saves the day. Kyle Clare and Christopher Goodwin are a hoot as two
rat-catching dogs who reputedly tagged after Norton; Aaron Lyons is a
scheming villain, replete with waxed mustache, battling Matthew Sklar's
"ethical" newsman; and Amelia Megan Gotham and Jessica Amal Rice are
hookers and sisters with hearts of gold, even if they do screech like
hyenas. And after all, as one song lyric goes, "It helps to be just a
little bit crazy." ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North
Hollywood; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (818) 202-4120.
GO THE END OF CIVILIZATION doesn't entail an-end-of-the-world holocaust, though it might feel that way to Harry (Eric Curtis Johnson) and Lily (Jaime Andrews), the middle-class couple at the nub of Canadian George F. Walker's ominously dark comedy. One of six in Walker's "Motel Series" of plays, it takes place against the backdrop of a national financial crisis, which has left Harry -- and millions more -- jobless. The prescient Walker wrote this in late 1998. For reasons never entirely clear, Harry has opted to job-search from a seedy motel room rather than his comfortable suburban digs, which are now in danger of foreclosure. Leaving their kids with her sister, Lily has accompanied him as a show of support, but her confidence -- along with the raison d'être for her entire existence -- is teetering, as Harry's behavior grows progressively more erratic and rage-driven. Their new, nightmarish existence roils out of control when two detectives (Phillip Simone and Bob Rusch) -- one of whom is obsessively fixated on Lily -- show up, suspecting Harry of having murdered three men. Keeping track of this plot is not always easy, as events are presented in nonchronological order, and it's not till the end that we become privy to the story's point of departure, from which the shattering climax ensues. Under James Sharpe's direction, Johnson and Andrews display their marital torments in persuasive three dimensions. Gemma Massot is spot-on as the take-no-prisoners hooker next door, while Simone and Rusch are also effective. Yet the punch the production lands only puts us on the ropes; with a bit more timing and finesse it could knock us to the floor. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through November 29. (818) 838-3006. A SkyPilot Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman)
FAIRY TALES - SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED A boy searches for his sister, who is lost in an enchanted forest, in this interactive kids musical. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 16. (877) 620-7673.
THE FOREIGNER Larry Shue's comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (626) 256-3809.
INTIMACIES Artist-activist Michael Kearns performs his solo performance piece. DRKRM., 2121 N. San Fernando Rd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 223-6867.
GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper's musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalog followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saintlike perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiny, until the music returns him to his proper place. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. www.justimaginetheshow.com. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7. (Tom Provenzano)
LANDSCAPING THE DEN OF SAINTS Theatre Unleashed presents Jacob Smith's dark comedy about a Hollywood writer and an eccentric millionaire. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 849-4039.
NEW REVIEW POLYESTER THE MUSICAL "You can leave disco,
but disco never leaves you," say The Synchronistics, a four-piece
ABBA-esque band that broke up on the eve of what would have been their
big national break: an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
True enough. It's 20-years later, but the blonde (Pamela Donnelly) is
still so furious about the brunette (Gwendolyn Druyor) 'schtupping' her
husband (Christopher Fairbanks) that that lusty night at the Howard
Johnson's in Green Bay feels like yesterday. And in two decades, none
of them has moved on to a new career or love interest. (Fourth member
Jim Staahl still lives at home with his mom.) The Synchronistics have
reunited for one last performance for a fundraiser on the public access
station that gave them their start, and everyone's future depends on
it. The stakes are so hard-hammered that by the end of Act I, no less
than a disco hall of fame, the station's existence, the announcer's
(Robert Moon) career, a new tour, an illigitimate child, and two
marriages depend on the squabbling band raking in $10,000. Phil Olson
and Wayland Pickard's musical isn't trying for subtlety. Each of the 16
songs relates directly to the band's mood, and in case we miss the
message in disco ditties like "I Want You, But I Hurt You," the
characters rehash their feelings afterward -- or in one instance, intro
a number with, "I'd like to do a song about what we were just talking
about." Pickard and Doug Engalla's direction similarly understates
nothing, though both Druyer and Staahl manage to softshoe in hilarious
turns as the not-so-supergroup's humble dolts. Actors Forum Theatre,
10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;
thru Dec. 20. (818) 506-0600. (Amy Nicholson)
THE PRINCESS PLAYS Two fairy-tale comedies by Collen Neuman. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 508-3003.
NEW REVIEW SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL
Writer-composer-director-producer-accompanist David P. Johnson's
musical is subtitled "A Children's Horror Story for Adults," but it may
not be coherent or credible enough to appeal to either children or
adults. Sally (Rebecca Lane) is a blond ghost/waif with a
dangerous-looking hatchet imbedded in her skull, of which she seems
blithely unaware, though she wonders why she has headaches. She has
been confined for 50 years in a purgatorial room of a Victorian
mansion, accompanied by toy soldier Bartholomew (Matthew Hoffman) and a
clown named Nero (Adam Conger) with a split personality: He's also a
cat, a teddy bear, and a king. Despite repeated attempts, Sally is
unable to open the only door. Her captor is a creature called The
Wraith (Rob Monroe) who likes to play Chinese checkers, and tells her
that she can't leave till she's willing to remember her past. The piece
is a confusing grab-bag of random elements cobbled together with some
rhyme but precious little reason. Lines like, "There's absinthe in the
holy water," may perplex children, and seem pointlessly cryptic to
adults. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Los Angeles;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Nov. 29. (323) 851-7977 or http://www.theatrewest.org Produced by Theatre West and In Spite Productions. (Neal Weaver)
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET From its origins in 19th century fiction, to its numerous adaptations for stage and screen, this oft-revived tale of the Fleet Street barber who gives his customers the closest of shaves remains popular for its dark themes and, in Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning version, complex polyphonic sound. Sweeney Todd (Kurt Andrew Hansen), back in London after being sent to Australia by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Weston I. Nathanson), is both bent on revenge and in search of his wife Lucy (Harmony Goodman), who was raped by Turpin, and daughter Johanna (Jenny Ashman). He is aided first by the young sailor Anthony (Brian Maples), and then by pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovett (Donna Pieroni), who becomes his confidant and partner in their grisly scheme. Director Derek Charles Livingston cleverly uses the rhythms of the score to execute transitions between scenes, while August Viverito's set pieces are amazingly versatile and his lighting shifts, complex and well executed (especially the innovative "oven-effect"). Hansen, with his rich baritone and wild-eyed demeanor, is spot-on for Todd, and Pieroni is a solid Lovett (though I missed her traditional cockney twang), but Nathanson seems a bit mild-mannered for the slimy, malevolent Turpin. However, the main drawback to the production is that it really needs more space, which the often crowded stage and one-dimensional choreography made clear. Even the polyphonic sequences in the singing become muddied, which is surprising from a stellar company that normally astounds with its ability to maximize its cramped quarters. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: EXODUS Fourth chapter of Theatre Unleashed's collection of late-night vignettes. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
THA' INTIMATE PHIL Philip Bell's solo show, with music by Phil 'n' Nem. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Mon., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28. (323) 674-5024.
THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF VICKY VIXEN Late-night serial show written by Taylor Ashbrook, Elizabeth Dement, Jeff Folschinsky and Tyler Tanner changes every weekend. Crook turned heroine protects a depressed little town from former evil mentor., By donation. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 508-3003.
WEIRD ON TOP Improv comedy, apparently. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.
WONDER OF THE WORLD Contemporary American farce has a hero in playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who skews old-fashioned 2-D absurdity by surreptitiously adding depth to initially shallow characters. Elizabeth Bond's brilliant, comi-tragic performance embodies Cass -- a wife who suddenly leaves her 7-year marriage after discovering a grotesque secret about her otherwise dull husband, Kip (Ian Vogt). She follows her list of adventures she wants to experience, which takes her to Niagra Falls, and a cast of oddballs, who slowly turn into a strange new family. Chief among these is Lois (Kimberly Van Luin) a drunken divorcée determined to end her life by riding a barrel over the falls. Director Neil Wilson skillfully attends to each new piece of foolishness, sustaining the intensity of performances even as the comedy cuts through. Of special interest is Jen Ray, who plays several absurd caricatures with conviction. Act 1 produces some of the most honest laughs this reviewer has experienced in years. The second act doesn't quite live up to the hilarity and emotional charge promised by the first, but at least it offers a satisfying conclusion -- and an obligatory adventure scene. The script demands several distinct settings, and designer Damon Fortier provides them with skill and wit. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through November 15. (818) 841-5422 or SeaGlasstheatre.org. A SeaGlass Theatre Company production. (Tom Provenzano)
THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT Ray Bradbury's fantastical comedy. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.
YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE: A WALTZ WITH DOROTHY PARKER Ashley Fuller brings several of Dorothy Parker's most celebrated soliloquies to life. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (818) 202-4120.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
NEW REVIEW ALL CAKE, NO FILE
Photo by Jonathan Kalan
this extremely slight cooking show spoof, performer Donna Jo Thorndale,
portraying "celebrity chef Jewell Rae Jeffers," strides onto a kitchen
set, caparisoned in an Aquanet-rigid white fright wig, evincing a
folksy Southern accent, a chipper grin and twinkly eyes that hint at
layers of lunacy lurking just beneath her cheery façade. It's a tone
perfect, dead-ringer imitation of TV chef-lebrity Paula Dean that's a
wonderful gag - for about five minutes or so. After that, the joke --
sustaining what's essentially an overlong SNL skit, wears
painfully thin, as the cooking show spoof offers little context or
dramatic tension. In director Shira Piven's unobtrusive but ultimately
workmanlike staging, Thorndale's performance consists mostly of
improvisation as her "wacky chef" character whips up a chocolate cake.
On the night I attended, the standout comic moment turned out to be
Thorndale's impromptu bloviating when the cake Jeffers prepared refused
to slide out of the bundt pan (seemingly because the pan had been
under-sprayed with vegetable shortening). Yet, even the patter, which
is occasionally peppered with double entendres and drug gags - "Ohhhh!
I love to see powder in the air!" Jeffers squawks as she flaps some
sugar from a colander - is unexceptional. The show is intended as a
fundraiser for the Actor's Gang's prison theater workshop program.
This is a commendable cause - but, even when the show is raised by
bumptious musical interludes from Johnny Cash tribute band "With A
Bible And A Gun," the production is still a lackluster vignette.
Actors Gang, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri., 9 p.m.; thru Nov.
20. (310) 838-GANG or http://www.wtffestival.com. (Paul Birchall)
ALL I EVER WANTED Elaine Ocasio's autobiographical show is a story of emotional survival as she is called to her father's death bed and relives his sexual abuse of her and other complexities. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri., Nov. 13, 7 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
BEAU FIB This musical, credited to playwright Myles Nye and composers John Graney and Andy Hentz, is steeped in the dramatic tradition of the Tragic Clown. And, really, few clowns are more tragic than Christopher Young's Beau Fib, a sweet-natured young hobo and pathological liar who, at the play's opening, is afflicted with some kind of amnesia. Haunted by the sound of a distant jazz band, Master Fib commences a journey to figure out why he's inexplicably dressed in his best pair of shoes. Along the way, he is befriended by a young soldier (Scott Palmason), a jaded prostitute (Cat Davis) and a disenchanted drunkard preacher (Chris Sheets). After a run-in with demonic anticlown St. Clownie (Christopher Karbo, as a fiendish Bozo), the heroes are tricked by bizarre circumstance into descending to Hell to steal the little toe from the King of the Underworld himself (Mike Kindle). Before this can occur, Fib makes some appalling discoveries about himself. If for no other reason, Nye's musical is exceptional because of his use of the word sardoodledom (Google it) in the program notes. However, in terms of execution, the work is never able to evade the sense of being an early draft. The story drifts from idea to idea in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The book (both dialogue and lyrics) is ponderous and dry, full of cerebral and academic puns that probably seemed droll and arch on the page but which come off as dreary and pompous on the stage. Director Andy Goldblatt's intimate, halting production may gel later in the run, but I observed klutzy blocking and ill-timed pacing. That said, Young's Fib is a likable young rascal. Sheets' growelly old priest is hilariously bitter, and Davis' flaxen-haired hooker is simultaneously sleazy and innocent delight. Graney and Hentz's Tom Waits-like score possesses amiably folksy and ironic undercurrents that are occasionally soulful. (Paul Birchall). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK THE BROWNING VERSION
Photo by Victor Martins
not as widely known or acclaimed as his contemporary British
playwrights, Terence Rattigan was a superb dramatist and chronicler of
human emotions. Here, in Rattigan's The Browning Version, the gloomy
story of an aging schoolteacher crushed by failure and disappointment
receives a stellar mounting by director Marilyn Fox. Andrew
Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) is a well regarded scholar of
the classics who's spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public
school in England, but now must leave the position because of failing
health to take a less stressful job elsewhere. Now the object of jokes
and ridicule by his students, and denied a pension by the school, his
bearing is subdued by sadness, yearning and a palpable
gallows-surrender to circumstance. His wife Millie (Sally Smythe) has
given up on being happy with him and has contented herself with
numerous dalliances with his colleagues (which she delights at
reminding him about), and cruelly undermining what remains of his sense
of manhood. Her current lover, Frank (understudy David Rogge) is torn
between a sense of guilt, his admiration for Andrew, and the dying
embers of lust for Millie. It is only when the professor is presented
with a rare translation of Agamemnon from a student (Justin Preston)
that his mask of stoic restraint melts to reveal a desperately fragile
inner life. From this sedate tapestry of characters, Rattigan artfully
probes marriage, relationships, and our perverse capacity to embrace
lacerating emotional pain and self deceit, which all unfolds
beautifully on Norman Scott's cleverly designed sitting room mock-up.
Fox directs this piece with masterful subtlety and draws devastatingly
convincing performances from her actors. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703
Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20,
(No perfs Nov. 12, 26 & Dec. 10.). (310) 822-8392. (Lovell Estell
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. 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. (SLM). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
NEW REVIEW DETENTION OF THE DEAD The George A. Romero
High School has been overrun by zombies, and five stereotypical
teenagers have taken refuge in the detention room, where the teacher
has been decapitated. They've barricaded the door, but the zombies lurk
outside. Star jock Brad (Mike Horton) is grieving because his best
friend/team-mate Jimmy has just been devoured, while his girl-friend,
sex-pot cheer-leader Janet (Crystle Lightning) is hell-bent on having a
man--any man--break out and rescue her. Bad boy/class clown Ashbury
(Michael Petted) copes with anxiety by getting stoned. Self-dramatizing
Goth-girl Willow (Samantha Sloyan) decides death is not so appealing if
it's actually imminent. And nerdly Eddie (Alex Weed) thinks he might
survive the zombie attack because he's a virgin, and in zombie movies
it's always the kids who smoke, drink, dope, and have sex, who die. One
by one, they're picked off, in increasingly bloody, bizarre ways. Rob
Rinow's script is a heavy-handed, predictable send-up of generic horror
flicks. It has some funny lines, but most of the laughs come from the
actors' manic performances and physical comedy. Director Alex Craig
Mann keeps the action broad and violent, and David Bartlett provides
the effective if sometimes deafening sound. Beverly Hills Playhouse,
254 South Robertson Boulevard, Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m., Sun.,
2 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. Produced by The Katselas Theatre Company. (310)
358-9936. (Neal Weaver)
EL VERDE: ORIGINS Anthony Aguilar's Latino superhero comedy. (Free tickets to the Nov. 15 perf for teenagers turning 15 in November.). Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.teada.org. (310) 998-8765.
ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION John Patrick Shanley's comedy about two lifelong friends. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6, (No perfs Nov. 27-29.). (310) 397-3244.
GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece that is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but rundown country house in Upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful, detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife, Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger), are in the twilight of their careers but regret nothing about a life spent on the road, performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter, Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiancé, Jimmy (David Garver), to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self-indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior, and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration that underscore the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (dark Thanksgiving weekend); through December 20. (310) 392-7327. A Rainbow Theatre production. (Paul Birchall)
LOVE IN BLOOM Heroes and heroines, wenches and rogues, bawdy damsels, fops and fairies. Written by Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 394-9779.
GO NO MAN'S LAND When Harold Pinter's drama was first produced at Britain's National Theatre in 1975, it was a star vehicle, offering virtuoso acting by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Now that the star glamour has worn off, it's possible to see the play more clearly. At times Pinter appears to be imitating Pinter, bringing out all the familiar tropes. Nevertheless, the writing is rich, and director Michael Peretzian gives it an elegant, well-acted production. Two elderly writers, Hirst (Lawrence Pressman) and Spooner (Alan Mandell) meet by chance in a Hampstead pub, and Hirst invites Spooner to his townhouse for a drink. At first, the two seem to be strangers, but gradually it emerges that they have been rivals -- sexual and professional -- since their days at Oxford. Hirst has won the success game, while Spooner lives in genteel poverty. Prosperity and alcohol have left Hirst semi-embalmed, while Spooner is very much alive, and angling for employment as Hirst's secretary-companion. But two slightly menacing caretakers are already in place -- Briggs (Jamie Donovan) and Foster (John Sloan). Their position is ambiguous: Are they Hirst's employees or his captors? Mysteries and contradictions proliferate in an evening of perverse wit and skillful acting. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.; West L.A.; schedule varies, call for information. (310) 477-2055 or odysseytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE Alan Ayckbourn's romantic farce. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 454-1970.
NEW REVIEW GO THE TROJAN WOMEN
Photo by Paul Rubenstein
his adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy (So freely swiped from the
original that Euripides' byline doesn't appear on the program), Charles
Duncombe takes a macroscopic, brutal and unrelenting look at the end of
the world. Genocide in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, unsustainable
population growth and climate change carry the day, and the play, with
excursions into a theme that's punctuated Duncombe's earlier
adaptations of texts by Sophocles and Heiner Müller: the relationship
between gender and power. Scenes depicting physical mutilation and rape
in war zones - choreographed by director Frederique Michel - contain an
excruciating authenticity, even in the abstract. Michel undercuts this
harrowing tone by incorporating elements of farce in other scenes. One
is a gem of understatement and humor: The reunion of fluttery Helen of
Troy (Alisha Nichols, attired like a dancer in a strip club, and
employing all those powers of manipulation) with the Greek king
Menelaus (stoic, furious Michael Galvin) from whom she fled and started
this bloody mess (the Trojan War, that is). This is where the
adaptation and direction congeal and captivate. This is still very much
a work-in-progress, conceived for all the right reasons. As is, the
directorial tones wobble like a top, and the adaptation contains far
too much explication. The evening also reveals why theater matters, and
how this kind of work wouldn't stand a chance in any other medium. It's
too smart and too passionate to dismiss. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth
Street (Alley entrance), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30
p.m. ("pay what you can"); thru Feb. 21. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh
Morris) See Theater feature
THE VALUE OF NAMES Playwright Jeffrey Sweet's drama asks the provocative question "is it ever possible to forgive a wrong done to us decades ago?" The play's unexpected answer turns out to be a shocking "never!" Norma (Stasha Surdyke) is a young actress and the daughter of elderly TV star Benny Silverman (Peter Mark Richman), though the pair is estranged these days. Still, Norma stops by Benny's Malibu mansion to tell her father that she's just been cast in a new play in which not only is she going to show her breasts, she's also going to be directed by Benny's old enemy Leo (Malachi Throne). Back in the bad days, Leo sold out Benny to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Benny, perhaps understandably, is still angry after all these years. Leo stops by the house in an attempt to win over his old buddy, but, as they say, old grudges are the best grudges and, within minutes, long buried wounds are disinterred. Sweet's drama-of-ideas is the sort in which a pair of figures, each symbolizing one side of an argument, debate until they're blue in the face and the audiences' ears are red. Although Sweet's writing suffers from afusty tone - and Howard Teichman's staid staging doesn't really tell us why these characters are willing to stay in the same room with each other, the crackling intelligence underlying the arguments is nevertheless frequently engrossing. Also hard to resist are the powerful performances, headlined by Thorne and Richman, a pair of veteran character actors whom you'll recognize from dozens of your favorite TV shows (at least, you will if you are a Baby Boomer). Watching these two frosty lions in winter essentially tearing into each other, as well as into the scenery, as they storm and bluster, makes for a thrilling evening on any terms, and Thorne's coolly pragmatic Lou and Richman's feisty, embittered Benny easily rise above the workmanlike material with which they're matched. (Paul Birchall). Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.wcjt.org. (323) 506-8024.
WAIT UNTIL DARK Frederick Knott's Broadway mystery thriller about a blind woman whose home is invaded by thugs looking for drugs hidden inside a doll in her place. Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (310) 372-4477.
A WINTER'S TALE: A MUSICAL DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL Lively musical adaptation showcasing both the humor and pathos of Dickens' 1843 story of spiritual renewal and redemption. No show Nov. 8. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 828-7519.
WTF?! FESTIVAL Singer/songwriter series, film talkback series, theater and dance series, and literature series, each curated by actor Tim Robbins. Complete schedule at www.wtffestival.com. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.