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Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

STAGE FEATURE on Opus, at the Fountain Theatre


NEW REVIEW
GO
FREE MAN OF COLOR

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo by Michael Lamont

A young, well-spoken and highly educated black

man is tapped to become the leader of a nation. But it's not who you

think. The year is 1828, the place is Athens, Ohio, and the man is John

Newton Templeton (Kareem Ferguson), a freed slave whose education is

facilitated by the Rev. Robert Wilson (Frank Ashmore). Wilson, a

strictly principled man, enrolls John in Ohio University. Wilson's

wife, Jane (Kathleen Mary Carthy), initially cold to Templeton when he

comes to live with them, softens over time; however, she plants doubts

in Templeton's head about Wilson's plan to make him the governor of

Liberia. Charles Smith's spare three-character study unfolds through

intimate moments and intellectual discourse, powerfully examining the

issues of its day, as well as questions surrounding citizenship and

belonging, which continue to occupy us. The dialogue is especially

refreshing for its crisp diction, for which the credit goes to both the

cast and director Dan Bonnell. The show also appeals visually, as David

Potts' set, consisting of stark silhouettes, brings to mind both the

popular 18th century portraiture and African woodcuts. Similarly, A.

Jeffrey Schoenberg's authentically plain costumes avoid the dual

pitfalls of theatrical period garb, which is often either too showy or

simply looks fake. The cast is stellar all around, taking us on a

journey that stresses the urgency of fulfilling the promises upon which

our country was built. The Colony Theater, 555 North Third St.,

Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

through September 12. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15; colonytheatre.org

(Mayank Keshaviah)

For all NEW THEATER REVIEWS, press the More tab directly below.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 19, 2010


NEW REVIEW BOYS' LIFE Watching director Dan Velez's uninspired production, it

might seem hard to believe that Howard Korder's acerbic vignettes of

slackers and their caddish sexcapades was a Pulitzer finalist in 1988.

Which is not to denigrate either the judgment of the Pulitzer committee

or the efforts of a clearly capable cast but merely to question the

vision behind a revival that steamrolls the pathos and ulterior probing

of an astute script into a pancake-flat excuse for sketch-comedy

laughs. Jack (Ben Rovner), Don (David Rispoli) and Phil (Jason Karasev)

are a trio of 30-something buddies stuck on the pot-addled threshold

between perennial adolescence and defining themselves as men. The

group's enabler is the married, albeit savagely cynical Jack, who goads

his bachelor comrades into misadventures with women who invariably

prove more than their equal. Phil is the most plaintively romantic of

the bunch and therefore the most tragically susceptible to Jack's

self-serving manipulations. Only slightly more resilient is Don, who

surmounts a potentially fatal infidelity to finally break free of

Jack's corrupting influence, thanks mainly to the understanding and

maturity of his fiancée (Tori Ayres Oman). Rovner gives a standout

performance, but Jack's underlying strains of fear and despair -- the

comedy's critical dramatic ballast -- are too often lost in the saucy

surfaces of Velez's staging. Tanya Apuya's costumes lend occasional

wit, but barely perfunctory (and uncredited) lighting and Sarah

Kranin's impoverished set prove more hindrance than help. Crown City

Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N.Hlywd.; Thurs. & Sun., 8 p.m.;

through Sept. 12. (818) 745-8527, brownpapertickets.com. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW ENGAGEMENT

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo by Ed Krieger

In writer-director Allen Barton's unexpectedly sour

romantic comedy, you can tell that the love match made in hell between

smart, emotionally withholding Republican, commitment-phobe Mark

(Everette Wallin) and warm, free-spirit liberal Nicole (Audrey Moore)

is careening off the rails when Mark tries to propose to her at a fancy

restaurant but must instead run from the table to vomit. Mark is glib,

funny and negative, while Nicole dreams of a soul mate with whom she

has a deep connection. And, while each partner sees the other's flaws,

they also think that they will be able to change him or her into the

perfect mate -- an operation that ends predictably in tears. Barton's

play intends to skewer the notion of modern romance -- e.g., the

characters' dealings are interspersed with complaints about Facebook

and Twitter, and the inevitable diminishment of the need for human

contact that these devices bring. However, more than a commentary about

the superficial technical devices that add clutter to our own emotional

confusion, the piece's theme truly explores a more timeless concept:

the emptiness of valuing being clever over feeling. That said, Barton's

writing is not always up to the challenge: The dialogue is talky and

repetitious while sometimes being so stridently mean, we can't

understand why either of the two lovers would stay in the same room

with each other. One problem may be that Barton's coolly ironic, snarky

staging never builds any sense of a love that can so quickly change to

hate -- it's just hate that turns into more hate. The show is

double-cast, but on the night reviewed, Wallin's snarky man-boy was

strangely moving while still being thoroughly bilious, and Moore

offered a nicely melancholic turn as the increasingly wearied Nicole.

As her venomously embittered roomie who finds an unexpected lover

herself, Ellie Schwartz delivers the show's most ferocious yet

emotionally nuanced performance. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S.

Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

through August 22. (310) 358-9936. Katselas Theatre Company (Paul

Birchall)

NEW REVIEW THE EXERCISE

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo by Wynsolo Photography

Lewis John Carlino's 1968 play centers on a series of

improvisations, conducted by the Actor (Daniel LaPratt, alternating

with Keith Wyffels) and the Actress (Anadel Baughn, alternating with

Susan Hanfield) in an attempt to solve some troubling acting problems.

Initially, it seems they're only casual acquaintances, but as they

work, it becomes clear that they have had a traumatic personal

relationship. Soon, they are at loggerheads in an age-old conflict:

He's concerned with simulating emotion to show the audience, while she

wants to use her acting to explore her own identity and achieve

gut-level emotional truth. He regards her as a self-indulgent emotional

masturbator, and she sees him as a coward who can never allow himself

to lose control. Eventually, she challenges him to meet her on her

terms. Though the premise is a fascinating one, the production doesn't

always work. Baughn is constantly convincing, but it's not until Act 2

that LaPratt achieves the same emotional conviction. And there's

something murky here, whether it's inherent in the script or due to a

lack of clarity in director Kenn Schmidt's production. Nevertheless,

the piece is always interesting to watch, and there's excellent work

from both actors. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-7724,

plays411.com/theexercise. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW FLAT In a tween's world, having or not having breasts is usually the

first experience of the grass being greener. For every generously

gifted fifth grader covertly and desperately binding her rapidly

blooming chest with an Ace bandage, there's a Judy Blume character

begging God for "something" to fill her training bra. Ellen Clifford

never received that something. Heavily influenced by Eve Ensler's The

Vagina Monologues, Clifford's autobiographical show recounts past and

present episodes, most of which gleefully celebrate her breasts, or

lack thereof. The problems arise less from the subject matter -- several

of the monologues could run as essays on the popular sort-of feminist

Web site, Jezebel -- than with the adolescent-awkward construction and

execution. She employs accents where none are needed (the "these my ho

boots" bit, confusing in that it's supposed to introduce her struggle

with anorexia, is especially cringe-inducing, bordering on offensive)

and interacts with the audience by passing around the gel inserts from

her push-up bra. Given that this is a show about, well, her, Clifford

seems surprisingly uncomfortable throughout the performance, which is

exacerbated by a clenched-teeth gaiety. Neither do the two unnecessary

performers accompanying her -- the precise, talented mime, Mitchel

Evans, and director Lora Ivanova, who only serve to slow the

already-bumpy pace -- benefit her. Though some refreshing confessionals

("I'm a terrible Dolly Parton impersonator," she says after

lip-synching "9 to 5") provide a smile here and there, ultimately the

show feels as artificial as a boob job. The Black Box Theater, 12420

Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 28. (310)

622-4482. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

NEW REVIEW GO FREE MAN OF COLOR

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo by Michael Lamont

A young, well-spoken and highly educated black

man is tapped to become the leader of a nation. But it's not who you

think. The year is 1828, the place is Athens, Ohio, and the man is John

Newton Templeton (Kareem Ferguson), a freed slave whose education is

facilitated by the Rev. Robert Wilson (Frank Ashmore). Wilson, a

strictly principled man, enrolls John in Ohio University. Wilson's

wife, Jane (Kathleen Mary Carthy), initially cold to Templeton when he

comes to live with them, softens over time; however, she plants doubts

in Templeton's head about Wilson's plan to make him the governor of

Liberia. Charles Smith's spare three-character study unfolds through

intimate moments and intellectual discourse, powerfully examining the

issues of its day, as well as questions surrounding citizenship and

belonging, which continue to occupy us. The dialogue is especially

refreshing for its crisp diction, for which the credit goes to both the

cast and director Dan Bonnell. The show also appeals visually, as David

Potts' set, consisting of stark silhouettes, brings to mind both the

popular 18th century portraiture and African woodcuts. Similarly, A.

Jeffrey Schoenberg's authentically plain costumes avoid the dual

pitfalls of theatrical period garb, which is often either too showy or

simply looks fake. The cast is stellar all around, taking us on a

journey that stresses the urgency of fulfilling the promises upon which

our country was built. The Colony Theater, 555 North Third St.,

Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

through September 12. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15; colonytheatre.org

(Mayank Keshaviah)

NEW REVIEW THE GOOD NEGRO

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo courtesy of the Stella Adler Theatre

A black minister (Phrederic Semaj) stands at his

pulpit, exhorting his congregation to fight racial injustice. A member

of a "citizen's patrol" (Brian E. Smith) brutally beats a black woman

(Theresa Deveaux) for taking her child into the whites-only restroom.

These opening scenes in playwright Tracey Scott Wilson's fictionalized

account of the early civil rights movement are among its most

effective. Williams strives to bring the pages of history into human

focus by portraying the infighting among a group of activists

struggling to organize nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama, in 1963.

At the center of the effort is the minister, James Lawrence, a

committed and charismatic leader with a beautiful, devoted wife (Numa

Perrier) -- and an adulterous penchant for pretty women. Spied upon by

the FBI, the organization is also hampered by contentiousness within

its ranks, with Lawrence's fiery second-in-command (Damon Christopher)

and a new tactical organizer from out of state (Austen Jaye) at each

others' throats. While the play offers a compelling reminder of the

vicious racism in our not-so-distant past, the script's docudrama

flavor and uncomplicated characters require much finessing on the part

of the ensemble. Under Sam Nickens' direction, that hasn't yet

happened, with performances, on opening night, ranging from serviceable

to over-the-top. The exceptions include Perrier, intense and authentic

as Lawrence's betrayed wife; and Deveaux, whose character suffers great

personal loss, and whose portrayal of sorrow ably brings home the

tragedy of events. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.;

Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through September 19. (323)

960-1054,plays411/com/good negro. Upward Bound Productions (Deborah

Klugman)

NEW REVIEW GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTURE

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo by Shawn Bishop

Despite evidence of comic timing, this

Groundlings sketch comedy-improv show lacks the kind of comedic

distinction that has made the troupe's reputation. Directed by Damon

Jones, this outing is a tepid series of scripted sketches, broken up by

four improvised sequences where an emcee calls on the crowd for cues.

Early on, the audience seemed predisposed to have a good time, judging

by the hysterical laughter that seemed disproportionate to the comic

stylings onstage. Half-baked routines included a sketch depicting a

daffy Stephenie Meyers in drag, which poked fun at the popular author

and her fans, and a familiar bit involving couples playing a guessing

game called "Taboo." A three-piece band kept the mood vibrant by

playing during the interludes, while the cast slipped into yet another

fright wig or costume. But as the evening wore on, the long musical

breaks between routines provided useful opportunities for people to

check their devices. By the third improv sequence, the emcee was

fielding facetious suggestions from the audience. That, disassembling

improvs, plus some lazy writing, made for a disappointing night.

Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.,

10 p.m.; through October 2. (323) 934-4747. groundlings.com (Pauline

Adamek)

NEW REVIEW GO PARASITE DRAG As screwed-up families go, the one on exhibit in

Mark Roberts' ultra-dark comedy makes a serious run for the top prize.

The first glimpse of Gene (Robert Foster) reveals a sullen man hunched

over a kitchen table, with an ice pad on his eye, as he nurses a shiner

he got from his wife, Joellen (Mim Drew); she sits, staring out of the

door, wryly commenting on the impending tornado about to strike their

tiny Midwestern town. Eight years without sex, and trapped in a

loveless marriage, they are bonded only by the conventions of

small-town propriety, shallow pretense and Gene's fanatical Christian

beliefs. The real twister, however, comes in the form of Gene's

boorish, foul-mouthed brother, Ronnie (the outstanding Boyd Kestner),

and his countrified wife, Susie (Agatha Nowicki), who drop in

unexpectedly. Apparent from the outset is the seething resentment

between Gene and Ronnie, which Roberts' fine script slowly heats to

critical mass, uncovering a dark undercurrent of shared emotional and

psychological mutilation. Sordid revelations emerge about the family's

troubled past, their mother's bloody suicide and the sexual molestation

of a drug-abusing sister, who is now dying of AIDS in a hospital. The

final plot turn is raw and dirty. Notwithstanding the play's bleak

tapestry, Roberts instills plenty of comic relief into his writing. The

characters are well sketched and without a trace or urbanity. David

Fofi delivers spot-on direction and draws very good performances from

his cast, particularly Nowicki, who artfully blends Southern charm and

simplicity with trailer-trash attitude. Elephant Theatre Company, 6322

Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat, 8 p.m.; through September 18.

(213) 614-0556. (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW GO WITCH BALL

Stage Raw: Free Man of Color

Photo by Adam Neubauer

Centuries ago, a Romanian craftsman blew a glass ball for a widow pestered by a horny, tickling ghost. The blue orb was the size of a large onion and had ten times as many layers. If a human happened on it, they'd lose themselves in its dense levels. So, too, would passing spirits who were quite literally sucked into the witch ball and trapped. Glass, unless shattered, is destined to outlive its owner. And so Zombie Joe's efficient, energetic ensemble of eight -- Jonica Patella, Ashton Reese, Alexandra Ozeri, Christopher Goodwin, Andrew Graves, Nicole Fabbri, Jenny Dylana and Kyle Clare -- take us on the ball's adventure from the Carpathian hills to the Inland Empire with owners that include a wolf pack, a Salem housewife, a serial murderer and a white raccoon. Zombie Joe's episodic script has sharply drawn characters and savage humor, and he frames it as a story about storytelling, about how every tale (and every life) has a beginning, a climax and a denouement. (Though some endings linger on after death the ball watches a corpse slowly decompose.) Directed by Alison Cardoso with ZJU's unique joie de goofing, it's a tribute to yarn-spinning with puppets on sticks and simple silver masks asking audiences to imagine with them in a saga populated by gorillas and lions and demons. Pauline Noriega and Jeri Batzdorff's playful make-up and costuming round out the fleet and fantastical show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (818) 202-4120. (Amy Nicholson)

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