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Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Padraic Duffy's noir drama of East German Spies opens this weekend at Sacred Fools Theater Company. Photo by C.M. Gonzalez

FAIRY TALE THEATRE: 18 & OVER

J. Michael Feldman's one-man & puppeteer act -- having been performed at UCB NY, UCB LA Comedy Central Stage and and IO West -- performs tonight at ACME Comedy theater. It features "a collection of morally-spun adult fairy tales and fables (i.e. "The Tale of the Handsome Charming Prince & His Average Friend"; "The Tale of the Bipolar Bear & the Codependent Eskimo"; "The Tale of the Gay Horny Cat"; etc...) ACME Comedy Theater, 135 N. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles. Tonight, 8 p.m.

For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for January 21-27,  2011


Our

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

Haithcoat, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Amy

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

and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

Productions

are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This

Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood,

Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and

in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your

computer's search engine.

OPENING THIS WEEK

CABARET IDOL SEASON 2 James Mooney's weekly vocal competition, with winners voted on by the audience. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 23; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 24. (323) 466-9917.

CAUGHT IN THE NET Ray Cooney's Internet-inspired sequel to sex farce Run for Your Wife. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Jan. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 828-7519.

CINDERELLA World Premiere interactive musical for kids, book by June Chandler, music and lyrics by Jane Fuller. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Jan. 22; Sat., 11 a.m.; thru Feb. 19. (626) 256-3809.

DIRT Rogue Machine Theater & Firefly: Theater & Films present the L.A. premiere of Bruce Gooch's story of father versus son. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 23; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-5563.

EMILY'S SONG Chet Holmes' musical about a 10-year-old girl who loses her father. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 960-7788.

EXPRESSING MOTHERHOOD Lindsay Kavet presents stories by moms. Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; opens Jan. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (866) 811-4111.

FIRESIDE AT THE MILES Lisa Wolpe performs Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat., Jan. 22, 8 p.m.. (310) 458-8634.

FIVE UNEASY PIECES Todd Waring's study of diverse characters, including an elderly Southern woman, an Aussie art teacher, and a French singer. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Jan. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, plays411.com/five. (323) 960-5521.

FREE Barbara Lindsay's comedy about friendship and gravity. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; opens Jan. 22; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 461-3673.

JIM J. BULLOCK: DIFFERENT One-man musical show by the Too Close For Comfort sidekick., $10. Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center Theater, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert; Sun., Jan. 23, 7 p.m....

LATC SECOND ANNUAL PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL Weekend of free play readings by established and emerging playwrights. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs., Jan. 27, 7 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 28, 7 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 12, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 30, 11 a.m., 2:30 & 6 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

LOVING REPEATING: A MUSICAL OF GERTRUDE STEIN Stein Stephen Flaherty and Frank Galati's chamber musical, with Cheryl David as Gertrude Stein. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens Jan. 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (562) 436-4610.

NOISES OFF Michael Frayn's slapstick thespian farce. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; opens Jan. 21; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (818) 240-0910.

PUZZLER Padraic Duffy's film noir story of East German spies. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Jan. 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 281-8337.

REWIND SkyPilot Theatre Company's late-night series of one-acts, covering everything from "how to get fired from a job" to "how to survive a zombie attack.". Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; opens Jan. 21; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru March 12, skypilottheatre.com. (800) 838-3006.

ROOM SERVICE Depression-era farce about a down-and-out theatrical troupe, by John Murray and Allen Boretz. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 12, openfist.org. (323) 882-6912.

SAMMY DAVIS & FRIENDS David Williams is Sammy Davis Jr., Shelli Boone is Dorothy Dandridge. Written and directed by Sharon L. Graine. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Fri., Jan. 21, 8 p.m.. (323) 293-1356.

SERIAL KILLERS Serialized stories compete to continue, voted on by the audience. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Jan. 22; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 281-8337.

STORIES FROM THE FRINGE: WOMEN RABBIS REVEALED! Written by Ronda Spinak and Rabbi Lynne Kern, based on oral interviews about the traditionally all-male Jewish vocation.

MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 22, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 23, 7 p.m.. (310) 553-9036.

THAT'S AMORE: THE AMERICAN-ITALIAN SONGBOOK Family memories and Italian-American song by Gilmore Rizzo and The 3 Goombahs., $20. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri., Jan. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 22, 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0661.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

BETONTANC AND UMKA.LV: SHOW YOUR FACE! "Virtuosic puppetry, physical theater, dance, and music combine to tell the tale of a modern-day Everyman.". REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Sun., Jan. 23, 7 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.

CAVALIA Under the Big Top/Downtown Burbank, 777 N. Front St., Burbank; Wed.-Sun..; thru Feb. 6. 866-999-8111.

NEW REVIEW  GO CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION

Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

The

opening of Annie Baker's comedy about five ordinary people in a Vermont

community center's drama class couldn't be less funny, or theatrical:

five bodies lying on the hardwood floor playing a counting game, where

each shouts one number in the sequence of one to 10 without interrupting

anybody else. The purpose is to be "present," and sensitive to the

silence in the room. And the action never leaves that room, designed by

David Zinn, through a series of short scenes spanning the six class

sessions over six weeks. There's much silence in Sam Gold's staging of

the entire play -- deliberately, strategically. Though set in a drama

class that veers into group therapy (nobody does any acting, one

aspiring actress complains; they just tell stories from their lives, or

from the lives of their classmates), both the play and its production

aim to squelch the kinds of theatrical devices that keep an audience's

attention; at the same time, the play reveals microscopic truths of

day-to-day living. These include awkward silences. It's a bit like

turning a video camera on a rather mediocre acting class, to see what

that says about life. Playwright Baker brings similar verisimilitude to

the dialogue, which consists of non sequiturs and interrupted

confessions, in what might be called profound inarticulation. Despite

the buckets of cold water thrown on the artifices of theater that

usually keep our attention, Baker's poeticism and play structure are

deviously canny. What emerges is a tautly structured, macroscopic poem

about the trajectories of ordinary lives as seen through a microscope. A

middle-aged, newly divorced carpenter (Ayre Gross) falls for the

younger actress (Marin Hinkle) up from the city; though she toys with

him for a week or two, her real target is the husband (Brian Kerwin) of

the group leader (Linda Gehringer). Their marriage falls to pieces

before our eyes. And so on. Not sure the insights about infidelity and

breaking hearts and sexual abuse go beyond generic, but the way they're

revealed, mostly in the silences, is a wonder and a credit to the

ensemble. Call it a Chekhovian exercise in modern Vermont. South Coast

Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.,

Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m., through Jan. 30. (714) 708-5555. (Steven

Leigh Morris)

HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL James Rado and Gerome Ragni's "Age of Aquarius" musical. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (213) 365-3500.


JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Interactive kids' musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Ben Lanzarone. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.


JOHN LITHGOW: STORIES BY HEART The actor reads stories by P.G. Wodehouse, Ring Lardner, and other authors influential to his life., $50-$70. 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 Feb. 13. (213) 628-2772.

THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE For some, a computer is a word-processing machine and a gateway to the Internet. As long as they are able to type documents, send e-mails and surf the web, they feel they're making full use of this machine. Others, however, use the very same machine to its full technological capacity: making complex calculations, designing eye-catching graphics or composing the next great symphony. In interpreting the work of an accomplished playwright like Martin McDonagh, directors and actors have the same options: Tell the story straightforwardly and competently, or delve deeply into the words and the spaces between them to bring out the richness of their meaning. Like the vast majority of us, director Patrick Williams chooses the former option in staging McDonagh's satire on Irish terrorism. In it, a cat belonging to Padraic (Patrick Rieger), a soldier in the Irish National Liberation Army, is found dead by Davey (Devon Armstrong) and brought to Padraic's father, Donny (John Gilbert), who's supposed to be taking care of it. When Padraic hears that his favorite feline isn't fit, he returns to Inishmore and runs into not only Mairead (Jannese Davidson), Davey's gun-toting sister who's keen to join both Padraic and the cause, but also a crew of INLA members angling to take over his turf. Violence and mayhem ensue, and liters of blood are shed, all of which is a lot funnier than you'd expect. Unfortunately, neither the acting nor directing brings the laugher to full throat. The characters are played too earnestly instead of hyperbolically, a move that injects subtlety into a piece that revels in extremes and caricature. (Mayank Keshaviah). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (562) 494-1014.

MAESTRO: THE ART OF LEONARD BERSTEIN Hershey Felder re-creates the legendary composer. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6. (949) 497-2787.

SECOND ANNUAL NEW YEAR-NEW WORKS FESTIVAL Free readings of new plays developed in Theatre West's Writers Workshop. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri., Jan. 21, 5 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 22, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 23, 3 & 7 p.m.. (323) 851-7977.

TRACES French Canadian company 7 Fingers' acrobatic spectacle. Ricardo Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St., L.A.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 20, broadwayla.org. (800) 982-ARTS.

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

AFTER SCHOOL GROUNDLINGS All-new sketch and improv, directed by Heather Morgan. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.

NEW REVIEW

AMY & ELLIOT As sweet, slacker champion Elliot sits on his grubby

couch, propping his safety-pinned Converses on the coffee table and

strumming his guitar, a theme pushes through the haze of weed and

inertia: Writer, director and star Ryan Eggold watched a lot of movies

about the '90s. Built around Elliot and his bumbling but earnest

attempts to navigate "grown-up" relationships, Eggold's play is as vague

as its setting ("The City" in "The '90s"), as circular as the path

Elliot makes pouring Cap'n Crunch for his visitors, and as self-absorbed

as his exasperating best friend, Amy (Alexandra Breckenridge). In other

words, he's constructed a close approximation of the movies, like Singles and Kicking and Screaming,

that ended up romanticizing the angst and aimlessness of the

existentially challenged 20-somethings dubbed Generation X. Eggold's so

comfortable with the script that he glides through the show like a

dancer. But too often, his puppy-dog charm turns grating when his

dialogue dips from funny ("I don't wanna join Jehovah's Witness or

whatever," he says through his door to a solicitor) to cutesy ("Ice

cream, yeah, we all scream for it!"). Robert Baker is refreshingly solid

as the lone adult in the play; and Gillian Zinser, Eggold's cast mate

on TV series 90210, deserves credit for the considerable steam

picked up in Act 2. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun, 3 p.m., through Jan. 30. (818) 342-4319.

(Rebecca Haithcoat)

ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

BLINK & YOU MIGHT MISS ME Writer-performer Larry Blum has had a curious career, ranging from production assistant to actor; dancer on Broadway, film and television; stand-in; and on-camera escort leading glamorous female stars (Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Susan Lucci) to the stage to accept their awards. He adores stars and drops their names without restraint in this amiably bitchy compendium of celebrity dish. He tells us what it was like to be groped by Van Johnson (during a stock production of How to Succeed in Business...), to lift Roseanne in a dance number and to stand in for Simon Cowell on Dancing With the Stars. He recounts a bizarre encounter with Ronald Reagan, who mistook him for a Gulf War hero, and tells us he somehow filched Lucille Ball's driver's license. He's clearly not fond of Raquel Welch or Roseanne, but he adores Lily Tomlin. His stories tend to serve up the rich and famous warts and all, and he often prefers the warts. He's a clever, funny, accomplished raconteur who filters his stories through a flamboyantly gay sensibility. Director Stan Zimmerman keeps things brisk and stylish. (Neal Weaver). Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, plays411.com/blink...

GO CAUGHT In the aftermath of Proposition 8 passing in November 2008, one of the regrets of those who fought valiantly for gay marriage and against the proposition was that enough wasn't done to "normalize" gay couples. And while the events in David L. Ray's world-premiere play take place in July 2008, Caught furthers the cause by dramatizing one of those healthy relationships. In it, Angelenos Kenneth (Corey Brill) and Troy (Will Beinbrink) are on the eve of their nuptials, a ceremony that will be officiated by their friend Splenda (Micah McCain), who is ordained via the Internet. This blissful scene is interrupted by a visit from Kenneth's estranged sister, Darlene (Deborah Puette), who is very Southern and very Christian, as well as her daughter, Krystal (Amanda Kaschak). In the interludes between scenes, we also see Darlene's husband, T.J. (Richard Jenik), preaching to his conservative congregation in Georgia. Secrets, lies and surprising revelations fuel the drama. Director Nick DeGruccio deftly takes Ray's strong and likable characters from page to stage, sparingly playing up stereotypes for comedy without ever reducing the characters to them. Adding to the authenticity are Adam Flemming's delightfully detailed set and Katherine Hampton Noland's colorful couture. Adding to the emotional investment in the story is a talented cast; standouts include Puette, for her rich and intense portrayal of Darlene; McCain, for balancing divalike comedy with deep sincerity; and Kaschak, for combining fresh-faced innocence and a willfulness to create a very believable teenager. (Mayank Keshaviah). Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, (No perfs Dec. 24-25 & 31.) CaughtThePlay.com. (800) 595-4849.

GO CHINESE COFFEE Playwright Ira Lewis' 1992 drama, making its West Coast debut, hails from an era of manly Manhattan-centric plays in which a pair of gentlemen brawl like scalded cats over matters of honor and art. As a work of theater, the play's talkiness, which borders on self-indulgence, clearly indicates why the piece is rarely performed. However, as a tour de force for the two actors, it compellingly showcases a wide range of emotions. One icy night, scruffy, starving New York writer Harry (Guy Camilleri) barges into the tiny Greenwich Village apartment belonging to his old pal Jake (Matt Chait). Jake supposedly has been reading Harry's manuscript, but has been curiously quiet about what he thinks. When Harry forces his pal to declare his true feelings about the novel, the unexpected reaction tests the pair's relationship. Lewis' drama is a philosophical debate -- the conflict between a true artist, who might well wind up penniless, and the artistic wannabe who lacks talent and drive. But it's also about the peculiarly fragile nature of friendship, particularly the tepidly lukewarm bond between friends who share adversity and little else. Director Jack Heller's staging crackles with ferocious energy, elevating the potentially clunky dialogue, but the slight plot does not effectively justify why the pair agree to continue talking and remain in the same room after it's clear they hate each other. Still, the acting is robust and movingly organic. Chait's turn as the embittered, ironic artistic failure is compelling: Is he sad or angry that his friend has created a work of art when he himself cannot? Camilleri portrays his rumpled oaf of a starving writer with a neurotic mildness that at first suggests shyness; as the play's events unfold, however, it's clear his anxiousness belies an artistic confidence and iron will that his friend can't possibly ever reach. (Paul Birchall). Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, plays411.com/chinesecoffee. (323) 960-7792.

COLOGNE, OR THE WAY EVIL ENTERS THE WORLD The World Tony Abatemarco's solo show about sexual identity. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 19, katselastheatre.com. (702) 582-8587.

GO DADDY Dan Via's Off-Broadway hit, receiving its L.A. premiere, is set in the context of the impassioned debate over gay marriage. Handsome gay newspaper columnist Colin (Gerald McCullouch) and buttoned-down lawyer Stewart (playwright Via) have been best friends for 20 years. Despite a bit of hanky-panky in their college days, their friendship has never become a love affair, though they're closer in many respects than some lovers. When Colin begins an affair with Tee (Ian Verdun), an eager young man half his age, it's a seismic shock to the long-standing relationship. Stewart is resentful of the boy's incursion into their lives, and suspects there's more to Tee than meets the eye. But when he tries to tell Colin about his doubts and suspicions, Colin dismisses them as mere jealousy. Though Via's play gets off to a slow start, things that initially seem cryptic or merely casual prove to be of crucial importance as it progresses, and the piece builds to a startling finale. Director Rick Sparks elicits finely nuanced performances from his three principals, and Adam Flemming provides the handsome and flexible unit set. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, plays411.com/daddy. (323) 856-4249.

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

FACEBOOK The weekly show formerly known as MySpace., $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Wed., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

FATIGUED How does a playwright honor the personal sacrifices of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans without seeming to endorse the corrupted policies that sent them into battle? Although it is not the explicit subject of this pair of original one-acts, this dramatic conundrum hovers over the Company of Angels' uncertain attempt to tabulate the psychic costs paid by warriors and their families. In Jerome A. Parker's melodramatic Ballad of Sad Young Men (directed by Kila Kitu), Joe (a terrific Joshua R. Lamont) and Greg (Charles Maceo) spend a brief Stateside break between combat tours trying to anesthetize their emotional war wounds by swilling rum in their old neighborhood haunts. While the apparently stable Greg conceals a diabolical outlet for his unresolved rage, the openly brittle Joe manages to find the hope of redemption in the nurturing arms of a former one-night stand (Juanita Chase). Gabriel Rivas Gomez's "Scar Tissue" adopts a more nuanced literary tack in its story of an emotionally remote cardiac surgeon (the fine Monica Sanchez) who is forced to finally deal with the loss of her army medic daughter (Carolyn Zeller) by the death of an invalid soldier (Chris Hampton) ironically impatient to have his own heart defect repaired so he can be returned to action. Director Nathan Singh's smart staging receives able support in Ivan Noel Acosta's nicely expressive set and lights. But the evening's otherwise worthy intentions are fatally undermined by the plays' nagging reluctance to directly take a point of view on the war itself -- a flaw that ultimately implicates the production in the cause of its characters' tragedies. (Bill Raden). Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (866) 811-4111.

GREEDY The opening tableau of Karl Gajdusek's comedy gives the impression that an engaging evening of theater will follow. While motoring along on a rainy night, Paul (Kurt Fuller) receives a call on his cell phone from a distraught woman who promises him a startling amount of money in exchange for his help. After this tantalizing, cryptic exchange, however, the script turns both puzzling and effete. The origin of the call is a pair of sibling scammers who are out for a good score. Louis (Brad Raider) is a luftmensch and inventor of sorts who hopes that a grotesque contraption he calls a "Kofi" machine will make him rich; sister Keira (Maggie Lawson) is a gritty ex-druggie with a ton of emotional issues. They share their trashy digs with Louis' lady Janet (a fine Janet Detmer). Their mark, Paul, is a doctor with some pocketbook problems, a Russian wife who wants a baby and an outsized dream of life unfettered. The bulk of the play shifts between the two homes (designer Jen Bendik's dual-view mock up is well done) with much time and dialogue spent on what is negligible, instead of the ugly fraud that lies at the heart of the play or the psychological portraits of those involved, neither of which are artfully or convincingly constructed. The only surprise comes at the end, but it doesn't redeem the sputtering path toward it. That's not to fault the actors, who perform well under James Roday's direction. (Lovell Estell III). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 29, reddogsquadron.com...

GO HEAD: THE MUSICAL Composer-lyricist Kevin Fry's delightfully campy horror musical, based on Roger Corman's 1962 gore-fest The Brain That Wouldn't Die, is not only enjoyable on the level of Midnight Theater excess, it's a quick-witted show by any standard. Its catchy score and clever, bloodthirsty lyrics are in the style of Little Shop of Horrors. And how can you not love a musical that features a severed head warbling songs of love and hatred? Beautiful, virginal Jan (Stephanie Ann Saunders) is administering fellatio to her boyfriend, Bill (Charles St. Michael), in the front seat of their car as they speed through the woods -- an ill-advised, foolhardy act they soon have reason to regret as, in the ensuing car crash, Jan's head is chopped off. Not to worry, though: Bill, it turns out, is a mad scientist and has invented a formula that will keep Jan's head alive until he can find a new body onto which to transplant it. While Bill runs off to scour the strip clubs for a suitable albeit unwilling donor, Jan is left hooked up to a table, singing the blues. If the sight of a severed head dangling by its jaws from a man's manhood isn't enough to make you howl, then the image of Saunders' strangely seductive Jan, her head on a table, singing a love song to the hideous Franken-monster (Chance Havens) Bill keeps locked in the closet, will do the trick. In director L. Flint Esquerra's taut production, the ensemble assay their silly characters with glee and conviction. Fry's musical style strives for '50s doo-wop, but his comic instincts are comparatively timeless, evident in lyrics such as, "He will find you a new hottie/Chop off her head and give you her body!" Under music director Robert Shaw's helm, the ensemble's vocal work is top-notch, with droll performances that are equal parts operatic and cheesy. In addition to Saunders' perky yet monstrous Jan, particularly sprightly turns are offered by St. Michael's spooky, intense mad scientist and by Becca Battoe and Fiona Bates, playing ill-fated women of ill repute, one of whom comes to grief at Bill's hands. St. Michael, in particular, has a memorably evocative falsetto: perfectly in tune, but edged with a fierce madness that puts one in mind of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Paul Birchall). MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (323) 960-5770.

GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures -- taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estell III). Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 655-7679.

KEEP IT CLEAN COMEDY Hosted by JC Coccoli., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

NEW REVIEW

GO MACHO LIKE ME


Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Photo by Eric Sueyoshi

In

her solo performance, the very funny Helie Lee explores the issue of

male privilege from a South Korean female perspective. (Though she was

born in Seoul, her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was 4.) She saw

firsthand how her brother was treated as a crown prince, while she and

her sister were judged purely on their marital prospects -- provoking

her parents' urgent concern with getting her married. She decided to

live as a man for 10 weeks, to experience the strength and freedom she

attributed to men. She strapped down her bosom, had her hair cut short,

acquired a masculine wardrobe and set out to gain entry to all-male

enclaves; the results were not what she expected. She found that men's

lives were no less constricted than women's, limited by competitive

machismo and the fear of being perceived as gay. The tale is both

illuminating and hilarious as she gains new insights into what it's like

to live as a man and as a woman. By the end of her experiment, she's

delighted to return to the familiar bonds of femininity. With director

Sammy Wayne, she has forged a rich, witty, seamless tale. Coast

Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3

p.m., through Feb. 13. (800) 595-4849, macholikeme.com. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW GO ME, AS A PENGUIN

Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Photo by Claudia Unger

Yorkshire

playwright Tom Wells' comedy, in its U.S. premiere, is a throwback to

British "Kitchen Sink" dramas of the 1950s.  This one might be dubbed a

"Toilet Bowl" comedy. "I think you should see this," says visiting

Stitch (Brendan Hunt), peeking out from the bathroom door belonging to

his his very pregnant sister, Liz ( Mina Badie). "Whatever you've done,

just keep flushing," she fires back from her threadbare couch.  The play

unfolds from her grubby living room. With his penchant for the comfort

of knitting, idiosyncratic and perhaps mentally touched Stitch is

visiting his sister in Hull from even more rural Withernsea, in order to

check out Hull's gay scene. The tenderness between the misfit, almost

mortally lonely Stitch and his very pregnant sister has much in common

with Shelagh Delaney's 1958 similarly tender play,  A Taste of Honey.

Themes of loyalty, love, and desperate longing - intertwined with

sado-masochistic behaviors -- just keep trickling across the divide of

centuries, and in much the same gritty, earthy theatrical style depicted

in filthy furniture (set by John Pleshette) that represents poverty,

and not just the poverty of financial resources. Pleshette directs a

fine production that gets to the heart of the matter, even if some of

the North Country dialects drift a wee bit southwest into, say, Alabama.

Hunt serves up a dynamic performance as Stitch, laced with twitches and

subtle mannerisms. Bradie's Liz has a similar richness and

authenticity. James Donovan plays Liz's partner, and the father of her

child, Mark, with a blend of the requisite gruffness required by a guy

trying to scrape out a living in Hull, masking a soft-heartedness that

would get him cast out to sea, were more people to know about it. Stitch

becomes obsessed with a callow aquarium attendant named Dave, played by

Johnny Giacalone with an arrogant brutishness that's a pleasingly

heart-hearted antidote to the eccentric humanity that shows up in the

room. In her pregnancy, Liz has become almost addicted to a popular

British snack called Battenberg cake.  "Ah," remarks Stitch drolly,

watching her opens the wrapper and melt into paroxysms of delight at the

first bite: "Sponge. Jam. Marzipan. All the major food groups." What

keep audiences watching new plays may not be new forms at all, but

merely the references that provide the necessary inclusion. The Lost

Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4

p.m.; through March 6 (323) 960-7721. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEVERMORE World premiere of Matt Ritchey's thriller about a young Edgar Allan Poe. (On the Chaplin Stage.). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 5, plays411.com/nevermore. (323) 960-1055.


THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN Victoria Romanova's "psychedelic theater/dance rock 'n' roll show." Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (323) 850-7827.

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.

STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS Written by Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Moises Kaufman, Neil Labute, Wendy Mcleod, Kathy Najimy, Jose Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright, conceived and directed by Brian Shnipper., $25. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, StandingOnCeremony.net, Tix.com. (800) 595-4849.

NEW REVIEW TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Photo courtesy of The Production Company

It's

easy to understand why playwright Christopher Sergel's 1970 stage

adaptation of Harper Lee's sentimental Southern Gothic novel was adopted

for its annual pageant by Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Ala. Its

depiction of a noble white patrician defending a helpless, subservient

black field hand from being framed for rape by ignorant white-trash

extremists is undoubtedly how the South would like to view its Jim Crow

past. Why the Production Company chose Sergel's Sunday-school chestnut

to inaugurate their new home at the Lex Theatre, however, remains a

mystery. The chief virtue of director T.L. Kolman's by-the-book

production (amid designer August Viverito's lamentably clumsy

clapboard-facade set pieces) is in allowing the company's versatile

stock players to strut their stuff in the play's numerous supporting

roles: Ferrell Marshall as the story's wryly astute narrator, Maudie

Atkinson; a nuanced Jim Hanna as Maycomb's perspicacious Sheriff Heck

Tate; Inda Craig-Galván and Lorenzo T. Hughes' twin portraits of dignity

under duress as Calpurnia and Tom Robinson; Skip Pipo being diabolical

as inbred bigot Bob Ewell. Beside these veterans, juveniles Brighid

Fleming, L.J. Benet and Patrick Fitzsimmons hold their own with

confidence as, respectively, Scout, Jem and Dill. But it is James

Horan's weirdly accomplished, cadence-perfect mimicry of Gregory Peck's

film performance as Atticus that proves the evening's perversely guilty

pleasure. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 20. (800) 838-3006. A presentation of the

Production Company. theprodco.com. (Bill Raden)

GO THE TRAIN DRIVER South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have dealt with the havoc wrought in his country by Apartheid, but his more recent works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to encompass the guilt and grief which were the legacy of his homeland's decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us, unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area of the city, train driver Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing Roelf could have done to save them, but he nevertheless is consumed with guilt over his role in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate his guilt. Elderly, impoverished gravedigger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is sympathetic, but is also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster. Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned, barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's desolate, gravel-covered shanty set, to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow -- anger over being forced to kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death - is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the gravedigger that captures attention every moment he's on stage. Fugard has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless -- but the play cunningly concludes with a tragic coda that suggests, to the underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals. (Paul Birchall). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 663-1525.

NEW REVIEW GO TWELFTH NIGHT marks the

worthy launch of this theater's 17th season. With its multilayered

plot, theatrical high jinks, silly sweetness and romance, Twelfth Night

is one of the Bard's most popular works. With a nod to the traditional

yuletide celebration after which the play is named, director J.C.

Gafford's production features music, caroling, dancing and revelry. The

setting of Illyria is here re-created as a large, raised platform,

surrounded by a table set for a feast, kegs and some old boxes. Though

not especially picturesque, it has a certain rustic appeal, and changes

in scenes are smoothly handled by a member of the troupe with

hand-painted placards. Kristina Mitchell does a fine turn as Viola, the

main character in this romp of romance and mistaken identity, who is

shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Sebastian (Jackson

Thompson), on a different part of Illyria. She goes in disguise as a boy

named Cesario, employed by the lovesick Duke Orsino (Jim Kohn), who

uses her to court (on his behalf) his beloved but less-than-requiting

Lady Olivia (Amy Clites). But Viola has herself fallen for her employer,

the Duke, while his would-be mistress, Lady Olivia, finds herself

smitten with the "boy" Viola is impersonating. The unraveling of this

romantic knot makes for lively comedy under Gafford's smart direction,

with uniformly good performances. Seth Margolies is a riot as the

bumbling Sir Toby Belch. Casey E. Lewis, who puts one in mind of Stan

Laurel, is equally funny as the comically foiled Malvolio, while Jason

Rowland provides tons of laughs as the fool, Feste. Knightsbridge

Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 6

p.m., through Feb. 13. (323) 667-0955. (Lovell Estell III)

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

BROTHERS GRIMM'S SHUDDER Zombie Joe's Underground's adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 25. (818) 202-4120.

IT''s JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.

THE KITCHEN PLAYS The Road Theatre Company presents five one-act workshops, including Phantom Tickets, Albie Selznick's one-man morality tale. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (818) 752-7568.

LOVE, SEX AND THE IRS The IRS thinks Jon and Leslie are married. Problem is, Jon (Nathanial Dobies) has lied on his returns and his male roommate, a ticked-off Leslie (Bret Colombo), must wear a dress and wig to fool the taxman (George Cummings) who wants to meet the "missus." Furthermore, the emergency drag wardrobe comes from Jon's fiancee, Kate (Tamara Lynn Davis), who's already been sneaking Leslie into her panties. Gay marriage is so foreign to William Van Zandt and Jane Millmore's 1979 sex farce that when Jon's estranged mom (Sally Richter) barges into the charade, she weeps that Jon and Leslie have inspired God to destroy Manhattan -- for being a straight couple living in sin. (The one woman who realizes there's a man under those tights, the very funny Carole Catanzaro as Leslie's girlfriend, thinks being gay is cause to be committed to a mental hospital.) Director Christopher Chase tries to place us squarely in the '70s, littering the set with fondue pots, cans of Tab and posters of Farrah Fawcett. Even so, the comedy's last source of tension, a landlord (Barry Agin) snooping for co-ed cohabitation, feels like a confounding homage to Three's Company. At least taxes are more certain than social mores. But before bringing life to the near alien past, Chase's priority is to macho-up Dobies and Colombo, both too fluttery to play a violent schemer and a ladies' man thrust into playing the oddest of odd couples. (Amy Nicholson). Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, theTRIBEproductions.org. (323) 465-0383.

A MIXED TAPE Eric Edwards' retrospective of a lonely guy's love life. Playhouse West Repertory Theater, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 27, amixedtape.com. (818) 332-3101.

NEW EYES Yafit Josephson gives an accomplished performance in her solo show about a Jewish actress facing down Hollywood's cultural stereotypes. It's marred only by a poorly designed slideshow. Josephson slips easily into various personae, combining characters with caricatures to good comedic effect. The opening has her switching from a formidable military officer to her nervous young self on her first day of compulsory military training in the Israeli army. Highlights include a hilarious mime sequence where she uncomprehendingly attempts yoga and another scene where she gives a goofy impression of a macho guy in an Israeli nightclub. Josephson's tall, slender build, piercing eyes and chiseled face lend her a commanding presence, but it's her prominent proboscis that relegates her to the usual gamut of villainous roles, from terrorist to evil witch -- "And no, they didn't have to use a fake nose," she jokes. Her adult journey takes her from the New World back to Israel, where she touches base with her culture, returning to Hollywood with newfound strength of character. Beneath the comedy lies a serious undercurrent stemming from the ongoing war in the Middle East: Land equals identity. (Pauline Adamek). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, plays411.com/neweyes. (323) 960-7712.

NEW REVIEW 99 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS

Stage Raw: Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over

Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Though Chelsea Sutton's play is not set in Central Perk

(there's no Rachel or Monica, no Ross or Chandler or Joey in Sutton's

Magic Bean Coffee Shop locale), there is a Phoebe of sorts. Actually,

there are six of them. But instead of performing amusingly absurd guitar

songs, or recounting childhood tales of woe in hilarious ways, these

"Phoebes," along with two imaginary friends and a guardian angel, simply

ramble on about "what's real" and what's not through 12 largely

incoherent scenes. There's barely a plot, a story, dramatic stakes or a

protagonist, and the central conflict (the soul of the drama) emerges

sporadically. Most of the dialogue sounds like a college improv show in

which someone said, "OK, you hang out in a coffee shop, you have an

imaginary friend but you're not sure why, and nobody else is either:

Go!" Sutton's serving as writer, director and producer suggests a reason

behind the absence of a critical or collaborative eye. Even the

performances, save that of RJ Farrington (who portrays the guardian

angel), lack sheen. The highlight of the production is Bryan Forrest's

authentically detailed coffee shop set. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312

Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.,

through Feb. 13. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)

SALOME When presented with Aubrey Beardsley's Whistler-inspired illustrations for the first English edition of Salome, Oscar Wilde famously complained that Beardsley's drawings were "too Japanese" for a work the playwright considered to be Byzantine. The truth is that Wilde's lurid, lyrical homage to French symbolism is sheer Victorian camp -- a flamboyantly baroque finale to English aestheticism on the eve of its suppression by Wilde's conviction for sodomy in 1895. So it is no surprise that camp emerges as the salient keynote to director Aramazd Stepanian's wryly risible if uneven staging of a play generally considered unstageable. Its dramatic centerpiece, of course, is the biblically inspired legend of John the Baptist's beheading, which Wilde presents as the grisly denouement to a tragic chain of frustrated desire: Imprisoned holy man John -- here called Iokanaan (played by beefcake Michael Joseph) -- spurns the advances of petulant court femme fatale Salome (the exotically androgynous Laura Cotenescu, also credited with the show's inventive costumes), who disdains the incestuous lust of her stepfather, Herod the Tetrarch (a hyperkinetic Kevin Vavasseur), who unwisely ignores the simmering jealousy of his vengeful queen, Herodias (the fine Jacqueline Axton). The production's prurient high point comes in Salomes storied "dance of the seven veils," performed by Cotenescu (in collaboration with co-choreographer Rico Mejia) in steamy, show-stopping, Jumbo's-worthy fashion -- which makes the scene in which Iokanaan actually loses his head seem an unnecessarily literal and oddly redundant anticlimax. (Bill Raden). Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (818) 500-7200.

SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTSCHE KABARETT This latest, late-night creation from sardonic, surrealist director-choreographer Amanda Marquardt is so straightforward and simple in its concept and execution that it's a wonder no one thought of it before. Take the Kander & Ebb musical classic Cabaret, jettison the treacly and preachy Joe Masteroff book, and stage the results as a brisk and breezy, melodrama-free evening of simulated Weimar nightclub entertainment. The schmutzigen is provided by the indecently flamboyant Luke Wright, who, from opener "Willkommen" through his solo on "I Don't Care Much" to the show's finale, vamps his way through an endless string of double entendres to stake a creditable claim to the role of MC that made Broadway stars of Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Marquardt herself appears as Sally Bowles (replete with Liza-like false eyelashes), displaying an appealing set of pipes on such signature numbers as "Don't Tell Mama," "Cabaret" and "Mein Herr." Wright returns (wearing little more than an uncredited but campy pair of tuxedo briefs) with chorines Skye Noel (also credited as dance captain and co-choreographer) and Eva Ganelis, as the trio strut their comic stuff in "Two Ladies." But, you might ask, if there's no book, what about the musical's politics -- and what does that have to do with us? Relax. Marquardt gets in her licks, and puts the Deutsche Kabarett, political-satire bite back into Cabaret with "High Chancellor," a hilarious, show-stealing strip number, with Jonica Patella in Hitler drag, bumping, grinding and goose-stepping to the Nazi march "Erika." (Bill Raden). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (818) 202-4120.

NEW REVIEW GO SMUDGE The birth of a

child usually is seen as a joyful event -- but what if it isn't? In

Rachel Axler's disturbing play, the lives of an expectant couple --

Colby (Heather Fox) and Nicholas (Mark Thomsen) -- are upended when

Colby gives birth to a limbless being with a single eye. The infant is

not only strange to look at; it also responds weirdly -- or, more

commonly, not at all -- to attempts to communicate. At home all day,

Colby reacts to it with despair and rage, but the ingenuous Nick, a

census official, falls head over heels for his new baby girl -- although

that doesn't keep him from concealing her oddity from his family, or

forestall his mailing out a dissentious questionnaire to the public

titled "What Could You Kill?" (Sample question: Could you kill a pig?)

Nick's peculiar behavior corners the concern of his brother Peter (Bart

Tangredi), a snide guy whose cynicism, within this piece, stands in for

the world at large. Axler strews her unsettling story with harsh humor

that might have offended but doesn't. Instead, higher motifs -- the

definition of life, the limitations of love and the human struggle to

adjust one's expectations to painful realities -- remain the

production's paramount focus, under Darin Anthony's discerning

direction. Tangredi's smarmy dude adds an edgy dynamic, while Thomsen is

especially affecting as a man struggling for his illusions -- and his

sanity. Joe Slawinski's sound design elaborates nicely on the couple's

nightmare. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. (added perf Thurs., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.), through Feb. 19.

(800) 838-3006. Presented by Syzygy Theatre. (Deborah Klugman)


SYLVIA A.R. Gurney's empty-nester comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (626) 256-3809.

THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN For all the talk of our sociocultural evolution, look no further than the sixth installment of the gory-glorifying serial killer movie series Saw, or the rapt attention given to an especially gasp-inducing murder trial, as a gauge of Americans' fascination with the instinct to kill. Not just kill, either -- the stronger the scent of blood, the hungrier the public's appetite. You could finger Lizzie Borden's 1892 trial as the trigger for this obsession. Writer-director Steven Sabel's world premiere is adapted from the transcripts of the double hatchet murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, for which their daughter Lizzie was arrested and ultimately acquitted. Sabel wisely keeps the stage bare, focusing instead on recollections that twist so sharply you almost need a crib sheet to keep up. Jeremy Mascia's lead prosecutor, Hosea Knowlton, relies on overbearing theatrics as his primary cross-examination tactic, but it's in line with the typical portrayal of the courtroom in film; Annie Freeman is as wide- and wild-eyed as famous photos of the accused. The play feels lacking, but perhaps that's more a reflection of our CSI culture than of the material. Tom Newman's icy original music, particularly the hollow whispering of the children's jump-rope rhyme "Lizzie Borden took an ax," is literally hair-raising. (Rebecca Haithcoat). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 5. (818) 202-4120.

2 PIANOS 4 HANDS Semi-autobiographical musical journey from Bach to Billy Joel by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, performed by Mark Anders and Carl Danielsen. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (858) 481-2155.

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

GO CYRANOE DE BERGERAC Director Rae Allen revels in the equal measure of might assigned to pen and sword in Edmond Rostand's word-centric, swashbuckling classic. Allen's sure hand in guiding the text along a well-paced tragicomic trajectory begins with her decision to slash the first scene significantly, depositing the legendary lead character and his protruding nose onstage within a few minutes of the outset. John Colella tackles the titular role with an overabundance of seething anger and outward frustration at Cyrano's self-described ugliness, neglecting at times the character's inherent charm, a crucial hinge upon which the play's front door hangs: We have to fall in love with Cyrano if we are to feel the requisite frustration over Roxanne's (an arresting Olivia D'Abo) ill-informed choice of the doltish but adorable Christian (a sufficiently hapless Toby Moore) rather than her eloquent, adoring cousin. Romantic flatness aside, Colella successfully thrusts home poetic parlance, bringing an effortlessness of speech to the verbose role. Jonathan Redding does smarmy to perfection as the pining Comte De Guiche, and Mark Rimer bumbles beautifully as Raggeneau. Swordplay and balcony climbing are skillfully staged in the small space. (Amy Lyons). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (310) 397-3244.

THE FARNDALE AVENUE HOUSING ESTATE TOWNSWOMEN'S GUILD DRAMATIC SOCIETY MURDER MYSTERY Kentwood Players present by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr.'s detective-thriller spoof. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 645-5156.

NEW REVIEW GROUP: A MUSICAL A therapy

session's powerful emotions and needs should be a fine match for the

intensified drama of musical theater, and for book writer/lyricist Adam

Emperor Southard's uneven and intellectually ambitious musical about

group therapy. Sadly, though, director Richard Tatum's lackluster

production is marred by flat acting and indifferent music (by Josh Allan

Dykstra). As kindly psychiatrist Dr. Allen (Isaac Wade, nicely intense)

starts his new group-therapy practice, he opts to try an experiment:

hiring a rock band. The songster shrink prescribes that his patients

"sing" their confessions and arguments in session, on the theory that

rock music will allow troubled souls to find inner peace. It is, of

course, a daffy idea that would give Jung nightmares he hadn't already

diagnosed, and would make Freud drop his cigar. Yet Dr. Allen's troop of

patients obediently warble their way through their neuroses. Likable

college student Paul (Michael Hanson) belts a song about not being able

to have a relationship, while gay kid Chris (Evan Wall) operatically

finds the strength to come out to his dad. Other members of their group

find closure for their problems, as well -- in song, natch. Although

Tatum's sometimes haltingly paced production can't be faulted for

sincerity or good intentions, it suffers from a double whammy: The

generic-therapy conflicts strain to engender our sympathy, while the

songs are a collection of slight melodies and unexceptional lyrics along

the lines of, "You've got your issues. Here, take a tissue." The

ensemble works together well, crafting a set of engaging characters, but

a lack of training is frequently evident in their singing. Powerhouse

Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through

Jan. 29. Presented by Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble. latensemble.com. (Paul Birchall)

GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a star identified in the program only as "The Crooner." James Thompson's authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting, a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter, numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie. Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as "That's Life," "New York, New York" and "Fly Me to the Moon," you'd swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (310) 399-3666.

GO JULIA Playwright Vince Melocchi's sweet, melancholy drama artfully makes the point that, of all the sorrows, nothing beats the sadness of being haunted by guilt over a long-ago romantic misdeed. Lou (Richard Fancy), a frail old man who clearly does not have too much sand left in the hourglass, shambles into a run-down Pittsburgh coffeehouse, ostensibly to witness the razing of the local department store where he worked some 50 years ago. However, his real purpose in returning to the scene is an attempted reconciliation with his long-lost sweetheart, Julia, whom he feels guilty for spurning many years ago. However, Julia (Roses Prichard), who now has Alzheimer's disease, doesn't even remember her own son, Steve (Keith Stevenson). Melocchi's writing is deceptively top-heavy with conversations that at first appear pointless but gradually coalesce to construct the psychological underpinnings of strikingly plausible blue-collar characters. In director Guillermo Cienfuegos' mostly subtle and emotionally nuanced production, the pacing could stand some amping up, but the feeling of reality encompassed by the interactions and confrontations is haunting at times. In his turn as the gruff, cranky Lou, Fancy builds on our expectation that the character is a feeble old coot, gradually shifting him into a figure whose regret and rage are all too understandable. Prichard is unusually believable as the tragically blank Julia. Dramatically vivid work also is offered by Stevenson's glum, disappointed Steve and by Haskell Vaughn Anderson III, as a family friend who remembers all the parties when they were young. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (310) 822-8392.

PICK OF the VINE Nine plays, selected from more than 450 submissions from around the world, including Scripted by Mark Harvey Levine and Trace Evidence by Jeff Stewart. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 6, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 512-6030.

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