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Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On


This week's THEATER FEATURE On Bobrauschenbergamerica and Orpheus Descending

GETTING OUR FRINGE ON

I've heard it said at numerous receptions and parties that the

reason L.A. has so much bad theater is because it has so much bad

theater - that less would be more. Fringe Festivals fly head-on into

that assumption. As Joseph Papp once famously remarked about his own

city, "What New York needs is more bad theater" - the theory

being that from the quantity and the competition, the gems emerge

simply because they are gems, rather than being hoisted by star-struck

producers and dramaturgs who may not quite know what they're doing.

This brings us to L.A.'s first Fringe Festival in many years.

Hollywood Fringe is holding a Town Hall meeting on

Monday, February 8 at 6 p.m. at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 North Cahuenga

Boulevard, to discuss the upcoming Festival (June 17-27) with Fringe

friends and potential participants. Attendees are encouraged to join

the Fringe Staff for an after-gab mixer at a location to be announced.

The Fringe Festival boasts 12 official venues with over 25

performance spaces; more venues are expected join before the festival

in June. You can

also just develop an idea for a project here. All ideas are eligible

to become official Fringe shows. The project's creator must simply book

a venue.

Hollywood Fringe's philosophy can be found on their Website: "The

Fringe organization exists as a hub to the various Fringe stakeholders:

venues, artists, and audience. It is not a curating body, rather it

provides an open environment in which artists stage their projects. It

does not recruit or show favoritism between projects registered with

the festival. The relationship between the Fringe and other key

stakeholders is decentralized - with venues and artists operating

independently."

So how is this different from just doing theater in L.A.? The

organization and the 10-day frame certainly have some focusing effects.

Other than that, one could look to the impact of the New York Fringe

Festival, which has spawned a couple of runaway hits. New York, like

L.A., is saturated with theater productions year-round, yet its Fringe fest is a source of boundless enthusiasm. (You can ask

such questions at the Town Hall meeting.)

Hollywood Fringe is a member of the United States Association of Fringe Festivals 

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Read On tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for January 22-28, 2010

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

AUDRA MCDONALD IN CONCERT Reprise Theatre Company presents the Broadway chanteuse. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Mon., Feb. 1, 8:30 p.m., www.reprise.org. (310) 825-2101.

AVENUE Q "The Internet Is for Porn" in Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's Sesame Street parody musical. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Fri., Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 30, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 31, 3 & 7 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.

BAGELS Art Shulman's senior romance. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21, www.secretrose.com. (877) 620-7673.

BLACKLISTED WRITERS Re-enacted interviews with blacklisted screenwriters Abraham Polonsky and Robert Lees, starring Ed Asner and Arnold Weiss. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 1, 7 p.m.. (323) 692-8200.

BROAD COMEDY "Six irreverent and hilarious, multi-talented women, known for high-energy musical numbers, left-wing politics, women's issues, and R-rated shenanigans about, well, women's shenanigans.". Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 4; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 25. (323) 525-0202.

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES Annette Bening stars in Joanna Murray-Smith's farce. With David Arquette, Mireille Enos, Julian Sands. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Feb. 2; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 208-5454.

FENCES August Wilson's sixth entry in his Pittsburgh Cycle, set in the 1950s. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Jan. 29; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (714) 708-5555.

FIRST ANNUAL LATC PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL A weekend of sneak-peek readings, previewing plays scheduled for full productions in LATC's Spring and Fall seasons of 2010. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Jan. 29-31, www.thelatc.org. (213) 489-0994.

CINDERELLA The MainStreet Theatre Company's kids musical (ages 6 & up), book by Phylis Ravel, music and lyrics by David Coleman. Lewis Family Playhouse, Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, 12505 Cultural Center Dr., Rancho Cucamonga; opens Jan. 30; Sat., 1 & 4 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 7, 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (877) 858-8422.

THE COLLECTOR John Fowles' psychological and cunning thriller, adapted by Mark Healy. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6. (310) 397-3244.

COULD I HAVE THIS DANCE? Doug Havery's story of two daughters and their mother's incurable muscular degeneration. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Feb. 3; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 364-0535.

DITCH Taylor Coffman's "humorous look at the trials and tribulations of love.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.plays411.com/ditch. (323) 960-7787.

DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD OF OZ Musical adventure by Steve and Kathy Hotchner, based on L. Frank Baum's classic fantasy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Jan. 30; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 6. (626) 256-3809.

THE EXONERATED Presented by the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. Old Expo Furniture Warehouse, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; opens Feb. 4; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru March 6...

"FIRESIDE AT THE MILES" Reading of Edward Albee's Seascape, by the Santa Monica Playhouse. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat., Jan. 30, 8 p.m.. (310) 458-8634.

GEOGRAPHY OF A HORSE DREAMER Sam Shepard's story of a kidnapped cowboy. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6, www.brownpapertickets.com. (323) 666-2296.

THE GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK Ken Roht directs Robert Kurka's satirical opera. Barnum Hall, 600 Olympic Blvd. (Santa Monica High School), Santa Monica; Sat., Jan. 30, 4 p.m.. (310) 458-5939.

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's musical take on the 1934 Kaufman and Hart play. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; opens Jan. 30; Sat., Jan. 30, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (714) 777-3033.

NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott's bedroom farce. Norris Center for the Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Palos Verdes Peninsula; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (310) 544-0403.

OJAI PLAYWRIGHTS CONFERENCE GALA BENEFIT One-night only performance of Hearts on Fire, created and directed by Robert Egan with Michael Morris. Celebrity cast includes Sally Field, Sandra Oh, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Zachary Quinto, Steven Weber, and Noah Wyle. Matilija Junior High School Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Rd., Ojai; Sat., Jan. 30, 5:30 p.m., www.ojaiplays.org. (805) 640-0400.

OUR VOICE: A CELEBRATION OF BLACK WOMEN IN MUSIC Free performance by Nicole Pryor, Alana Simone, Nadine Roden, Angela Clark, Danielle White and Joel Rene. (In the Preus-Brandt Forum.). California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks; Thurs., Feb. 4, 7 p.m., www.firestarterentertainment.com/ourvoice.html. (805) 493-3323.

PARADISE STREET Title3 theater company presents the world premiere of a new play by Constance Congdon. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 525-0661.

PASADENA PLAYHOUSE BENEFIT CONCERT FOR HAITI Benefit concert for earthquake relief with stars of Camelot, Baby It's You!, Ray, Stormy Weather, Orson's Shadow, Purlie, Sister Act, Can-Can and more, benefiting Save the Children, Unicef and the Clinton Bush Haiti Relief Fund. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Mon., Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m.. (626) 356-PLAY.

SIDHE World-premiere production of Ann Noble's drama, starring the Road Theatre Company's playwright-in-residence herself. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 20, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.

SWEENEY TODD Musical Theatre West presents Stephen Sondheim's musical thriller. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; opens Jan. 31; Sun., Jan. 31, 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 7, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 14, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (562) 985-7000.

THE TRUTH Improvised monologue show with celebrity guests. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 30, 8 p.m.. (323) 653-6886.

3RD DEGREE BURN Sketch comedy, courtesy Write Act Repertory. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m.; Sun., March 21, 7 p.m.; Sun., May 2, 7 p.m., www.writeactrep.org. (323) 469-3113.

30 ROCKS! LIVE AT THE VICTORY -- A VARIETY SPECIAL The Victory's 30th anniversary party, starring Jay Johnson, Linda Purl, and others. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m.. (818) 841-5421.

(UN)CONCRETE MUSIQUE Cora Rippati's "Trauma Doll," Y&S's "Luz Y Sombra" and Marlena Dali & Mike Turner's "Siren Reef.". Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Jan. 29-30, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

THE WALL: LIVE IN LOS ANGELES Stage show production of Pink Floyd's album, a fund-raiser for the Wounded Warrior Project. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat., Jan. 30, 6 & 9 p.m.. (310) 838-4264.

WAITING FOR GODOT IN NEW ORLEANS: AN ILLUSTRATED LECTURE Multimedia presentation by video and media artist Paul Chan about his community art experiment in New Orleans. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 1, 8:30 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.

WRECKS Ed Harris stars in Neil LaBute's dark study of human nature. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Feb. 4; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 208-5454.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

CAMELOT Director David Lee's eight-actor version of Lerner & Loewe's musical chestnut uses its economical imperative to strive for an ensemble concept that makes fun of its own minimal devices. The result is somewhat tentative, a production groping for its purpose, but it's also pleasant. Shannon Stoeke is vocally pleasing and gentle King Arthur needs the machismo of Richard Burton, despite his pacifist politics, or the subtext of his wife's (Shannon Warne) erotic distraction is a wee too obvious. Warne's voice is gorgeous, as is Doug Carpenter's, who conjures memories of Robert Goulet playing Lancelot. (Steven Leigh Morris). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. (626) 356-PLAY.

CAROUSEL Reprise Theatre Company presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.reprise.org. (310) 825-2101.

DARWIN: AN ADVENTURE FOR ALL AGES Kid-friendly blend of puppetry, technology and dance, created by Corbin Popp and Ian Carney. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sat., Jan. 30, 11 a.m.. (213) 628-2772.

GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, starring Hershey Felder. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21, www.lagunaplayhouse.com. (949) 497-2787.

GO MARY POPPINS The riveting theatricality of Bob Crowley's production design, climaxing in chimney sweep Bert (Gavin Lee) soft-shoeing straight up, then upside down across the proscenium arch, and culminating in a showstopping umbrella flight over the audience by the famous titular nanny, produces an excitement that far outshines the limited value intrinsic in much of the musical's written material. Likewise the sublime showmanship of choreographer Matthew Bourne and stage director Richard Eyre hides the flaws in Julian Fellowes' disjointed script and new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. Unlike most of Disney's Broadway smashes that producer Thomas Schumacher has magically transformed from animated film to stage, this is a hybrid between Disney's 1964 movie masterpiece, whose fun and fanciful score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman still holds up, and the operetta gleaned from the original novel (with rights held by the Cameron Mackintosh team). The two styles battle one another for dominance, and neither wins. Most of the film's story lines are banished in favor of closer adaptation of the P.L. Travers books with the familiar songs wedged into the scenes, while the new songs more closely fit the story, but lack spark. Nevertheless the production is an audience pleaser, with demonstrable talent on or off the stage. (Tom Provenzano)., $20-$92. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (213) 628-2772.

NEW REVIEW THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW In his much anticipated, first major stage appearance since 1991, obnoxious-sweet man-child Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) appears at Club Nokia downtown in what is essentially a slightly updated re-creation of his CBS kids' show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. It's populated on David Korins' set of colorful animated objects by an array of puppets and the live characters who made the Playhouse a cult classic among kids of the '80s, and adults who wanted to be among them. These include Mailman Mike (John Moody), Bear (Drew Powell), Jambi (John Paragon), Sergio (Jesse Garcia), Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), King of Catoons (Lance Roberts) and Firefighter (Josh Meyers). The spectacle, directed by Alex Timbers, is really an exercise is nostalgia that aims to re-start Pee-wee's public life, and in that motive resides the show's drawbacks. Reubens is as limber as ever, having barely aged and with odd, agile and moralistic Pee-wee rollicks in an ill-fitting gray suit, trademark red bowtie and greased hair. Ensnaring our infatalism and self-absorption, with moments of poignant generosity, Pee-wee's 7-year-old mentality, locked into his psyche as though with the huge chain of his bicycle, was and remains a brilliant invention. This show, however, co-written by Reubens and Bill Steinkellner, with additional material by John Paragon, is less so. The Pee-wee shtick wears out quickly, as though even Reubens is getting tired of it, and the droll, '50s moralizing, captured in vintage cartoons about the importance of washing hands and showing courtesy in a lunch line, is as thin as the kind of kitschy wrapping paper you might have once found in Wacko. There's a lovely moment where Pee-wee suffers the consequences of giving away a wish he's been granted -- which means he has to suffer for his compassion by not getting what he wants. Life lesson? Hardly, when that consequence is gratuitously reversed. The reversal isn't the problem; it's that happy endings come out of the sky if you're just nice to people. No, they don't. The campiness and irony is just an excuse for sidestepping a real idea, or the kind of scrutiny that sharp kids' entertainments rely on. Club Nokia, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.peewee.com. (800) 745-3000. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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.

GO THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Geared to the 7-and-under set, this good-natured interactive musical exudes appeal beyond its demographic. Inspired by a German folktale, writers Lloyd Schwartz and Hope Juber's adaptation features a good fairy named Hyacinth (Mary Garripoli) as the prime mover of events. After she welcomes the audience with a song about the importance of "doin' good," along comes a prince (understudy Iain Gray) who sings about "lookin' good." His attitude so annoys Hyacinth that she turns him into a frog, stipulating that he can only return to his natural form if kissed by a princess. The rest of the story proceeds along more or less traditional lines: The frog recovers the lost ball of a querulous princess (Jenn Wiles) who is reluctant to keep her promise to kiss him until pressured by her father, the king (Anthony Gruppuso). Much of the piece's charm stems from the delight -- and the unintended comedic faux pas -- displayed by the youngsters called up on the stage to participate. The non-patronizing performers seem to be enjoying themselves as well. A song "Croak Croak, Ribbit, Ribbit" involving a couple of frog puppets is contagiously entertaining, whatever one's age. The uncredited costumes are fun too. Barbara Mallory Schwartz directs, with songs by Hope Jube and musical director Laurence Juber. (Deborah Klugman). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.

STOMP Return of the avant-garde noisemakers. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.stomponline.com. (213) 365-3500.

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

GO ACCOMPLICE: HOLLYWOOD Part game, part theater, part tour: It all begins with a phone call disclosing a secret meeting location. Aided by clues and mysterious cast members strewn throughout various locations, such as street corners, bars, iconic landmarks and out-of-the-way spots, the audience traverses the city streets, piecing together clues of a meticulously crafted plot. (Steven Leigh Morris). Hollywood Blvd., TBA, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., www.accomplicetheshow.com...

ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 7 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

ACME 2NITE New sketches and old favorites, ACME style. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 9 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GO BAAL Peter Mellencamp's adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's early, poetical drama is about the cruelty and demise of a bacchanalian poet who recognizes, curses and is cursed by civilization's thin veneer. Ben Rock's staging is sometimes forced, more often intense and seductive, with Gregory Sims' growling title character bearing a physical resemblance to young Al Pacino but with a voice like Tom Waits. (Steven Leigh Morris). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 20, www.vimeo.com/8382742. (310) 281-8337.

GO BLOOD AND THUNDER In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Marcus (Keith Arthur Bolden) isn't scared of the newly arrived hurricane, Katrina. Marcus is an expert on everything -- at least, he watches a lot of TV -- and vows the water won't rise above 10 feet. But Marcus' theories and conclusions have always gotten him, brother Quentin (Tony Williams) and Marcus' girlfriend, Charlie (Candice Afia), in over their heads with one bad hustling scheme after another. Still, Marcus is convinced he's the brains of the group, even if he has to badger Quentin and Charlie until they agree. When Quentin limps in, sopping wet, still wearing his orange prison jumpsuit with a bullet hole in his thigh, the two siblings have a violent score to settle. Terence Anthony's taut one-act drama is effective agony. Two character twists may not add up, but while the audience perches practically in the living room of Jorge I. Velasquez's realistic, dingy set, with the rain hammering down, the tension is as thick as the storm clouds we imagine overhead. Solid performances keep the spell going, particularly by Afia as the strong-willed girlfriend trying to break free of Marcus' emotional abuse. Sara Wagner directs. (Amy Nicholson). Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 666-3259.

BOB BAKER MARIONETTE THEATER'S FIESTA First of five classic Bob Baker productions in a yearlong celebration of the marionette theater's 50th anniversary. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 11, www.bobbakermarionettes.com. (213) 250-9995.

THE BOB BENDICK PODCAST . Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Mon., 5:15 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

NEW REVIEW GO

BOBRAUCHENBERGAMERICA

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Debi Landrie

When Bob Rauschenberg's mother (Mari Marks) delivers her tender slide-show about the rural Texas childhood of her artist son, and none of the slides matches the descriptions she's offered, you have to know something's up, conceptually. Whether or not you're familiar with the '50s-'60s collagist painter-sculptor, Charles L. Mee's 2001 extrapolation of what Rauschenberg might have written in order to explain how he assembled junk into evocative reflections on our place in the world stands alone. Marina Mouhibian's set decorates the stage and the proscenium walls with vintage kitsch as the 10-member ensemble plays out a series of somewhat interconnecting sketches about romances gone awry, violence, politics and metaphysics - though there are digressions for a series of chicken jokes. Bart DeLorenzo's staging preserves the tone, inherent the text, that's both wry and frivolous, abstract and pop, with one breakout poetical excursion into Walt Whitmanesque grandeur, delivered by a hobo (Brett Hren) and accompanied by Dvorak's Symphony from The New World. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 461-3673. SpyAnts Theatre Company. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.

BRIDE OF WILDENSTEIN: THE MUSICAL AUTOMATA in collaboration with IBEX Puppetry present the story of an aging socialite and her philandering game hunter husband. VELASLAVASAY PANORAMA, 1122 W. 24th St., L.A.; Through Jan. 31, 8 p.m., www.brownpapertickets.com/event/95650. (213) 746-2166.

NEW REVIEW GO CONFUSIONS

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo courtesy of The Lost Studio

Alan Ayckborn's 1974 slate of five one-acts, under John Pleshette's tight direction of an exemplary cast, illustrates the comical consequences when we choose not to listen to each other. In "Mother Figure," a quarreling couple (Steve Wilcox and Abigail Revasch) have to revert to childhood in order to connect with each other during an encounter with a formidably maternal neighbor (Mina Badie). "Drinking Companions" offers us a traveling salesman (Brendan Hunt) in a hotel bar masking his loneliness with pathetic yet hilarious attempts at seducing two increasingly harried young women (Revasch and Phoebe James). What a waiter (Hunt) hears is all that we hear too in "Between Mouthfuls," as dialogue of one dining couple (Adrian Neil and Bridget Ann White) is intercut with that of another (Wilcox and Jones), slyly revealing a salacious secret. "Gosforth's Fete" turns into a debacle as the organizer of a charity event (Neil) learns a secret from a local teacher (Badie) that wreaks havoc for him and the teacher's fiancé (Hunt). And in "A Talk in the Park," a quintet of disparate folks (Hunt, James, Neil, White and Wilcox) finds their desperate attempts to connect with each other sadly falling on deaf ears. Life on Its Side Productions and The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 960-5775. (Martín Hernández)

DOCTOR NOGUCHI Given director-playwright Gary LeGault's pedigree, you would think that a camp meditation on celebrity, based on the star-studded body count of L.A. County's controversial former chief medical examiner, Thomas T. Noguchi (Hayden Lee), would be a comedic slam dunk. You'd be wrong. Despite a list of credits that includes working with the likes of Charles Ludlam and Warhol superstars Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, LeGault's indifferently staged, pallidly scripted evening delivers little of the outrageous burlesque or incisive social ironies those names might imply. Charting the publicity-seeking coroner's career between Marilyn Monroe's (Julia Stoddard) "suicide" in 1963 and John Belushi's (Jeremy Ebenstein) overdose in 1982, the play unwinds as a series of vignettes in which a quizzical Noguchi ponders the paradox of his illustrious clientele's self-destruction while at the peak of their fame, even as he is visited by each of their resurrected spirits seeking some sort of existential closure. But if LeGault's necrographic portraiture rarely achieves even a Wikipedia-weight likeness, the production is not without its charms. These are mainly found in Lee's slyly winsome portrayal of a flawed philosopher-poet, whose fastidious pursuit of truth becomes corrupted by his own vanity and the corrosive effects of fame by association. With decided deficits in plot and engaging conflict to fuel that performance, however, LeGault's slender conceit simply lacks the comic mileage to make it to the final curtain. (Bill Raden). Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun..; thru Jan. 31. (310) 360-7064.

NEW REVIEW GO DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD

Photo by Jonathan David Lewis

Yes, Charlie Brown, you're still a good man. But in Bert Royal's darkly funny parody of the Peanuts comic strip, the gang is all grown up, raising hell and dealing with some very adult issues. CB (Stephen John Williams) has lost his famous beagle to rabies and is questioning the meaning of life. Van, aka Linus (Brett Fleisher), has become an affable stoner who has smoked his beloved security blanket, and his sister Lucy (Dana DeRuyck) has been incarcerated in a psych ward for setting fire to one of her classmates. Tough guy "Pig Pen" now goes by the name of Matt (Brian Sounalath) -- a germaphobe with a trainload of emotional baggage. Most of what transpires entails watching the screwball antics of these foul-mouthed sex-obsessed hellions, which renders a goodly share of laughs (the "Peanuts" dance at the opening of Act 2 is a real hoot). But Royal's script isn't all about teenage angst and hijinks. The strip's original cartoonist, Charles Schulz, never backed away from controversy. Honoring that legacy, Royal's play explodes with physical and emotional abuse, and CB's coming out of the closet results in a tragic finale. This all unfolds neatly on Rebecca Patrick's set --two swings, a graffiti pocked wall and bleachers. Director Mike Dias would do better with sharper pacing, but he's skillfully balanced the light and dark elements. Rounding out the excellent cast are Lisa Valerie Morgan, Collins Reiter and Mikayla Park. Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m., thru Feb. 6. (562) 293-8645. An Urban Theatre Movement production. (Lovell Estell III)

11, SEPTEMBER Playwright-performer Paul Kampf may have come up with the perfect rationalization for writing what would seem, at face value, the most implausible plot twists for his psychological thriller. It concerns an affair between a mathematician, Martin Healy (Kampf), visiting New York from his London home to attend a conference, and a waitress, Angela Madison (Liz Rebert), with whom he becomes smitten. Under Gita Donovan's direction, the actors' waves of attraction and repulsion (from mutual distrust that slowly and hauntingly seeps out) have a truthfulness that matches the authenticity of the uncredited studio apartment, where the entire saga plays out. A rising tension from the violence in the air and some very intriguing interconnections add to play's capacity to entrance, and Chris Cash's musical compositions help segue the many scenes with a delicate solemnity, giving the event a cinematic feel. References to chaos and conspiracy theories become the philosophical frame for plot developments that might otherwise raise eyebrows in skepticism. The play rides the line between exploring and exploiting coincidences, yet it gets bogged down in its own psychological realism. This raises questions that can't be answered by chaos theory, or any other -- such as why the characters sometimes blurt out incendiary details of their past, given how neither is particularly trustworthy, or why Martin would drop by uninvited and wind up reading Angela's diary, conveniently left in her bed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.11septemberplay.info. (310) 477-2055.

EXILES Carlos Lacamara's story of Cuban refugees adrift. Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 960-4442.

FRIENDS LIKE THESE Gregory Crafts' teen violence drama. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

F*CKING MEN Joe DiPietro's observations on the sex lives of modern urban gay America. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (323) 957-1884.

GO THE GLASS MENDACITY Devotees of Tennessee Williams will surely delight in this send-up of the playwright's best-known dramas. Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth have blended characters and motifs from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire into one big, irreverent stew of laughs. Gathered together at the Belle Reeve plantation are Mitch (Ken Johnson, who doubles as a narrator), Amanda (Stephanie Strand), Maggie (Renee Scott), Brick (a dummy named Eliot Barrymore), Stanley (Joe Dalo) and Blanche (Catherine Cronin, who traveled by way of a certain streetcar). The occasion is Big Daddy's (a hilarious Quincy Miller) arrival from the hospital and a celebration of his birthday. As in Cat, the cigar-smoking patriarch has cancer but is told he is suffering only from a "spastic colon." And we must not forget dear Laura Dubois (Strand), who limps and vomits her way throughout, while fixated on her menagerie of animals made of ice cubes. From this disparate collection of Williams' familiars, the writers weave a quirky narrative involving lust, insanity, infidelity, sibling rivalry, intrigue and lots of mendacity. It probably helps if you have some knowledge of Williams' plays, (in one scene Stanley calls out "Starland," instead of Stella). Andrew Crusse provides the solid direction. (Lovell Estell III). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, arktheatre.org. (323) 969-1707.

THE GOLDEN GAYS The drag sitcom spoof continues with the girls moving on up to a de-luxe apartment in the sky. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 31, www.thegoldengays.com...

GRAVITYWORKS L.A. premiere of creator-director-producer Russell Boast's cabaret that's "part comedy troupe/part vaudeville act/part kick-ass music.". Cinespace, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Second Level, L.A.; Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 25, www.gravityworkstheshow.com. (800) 838-3006.

HAMLET The Porters of Hellsgate present Shakespeare's tragedy. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (951) 262-3030.

HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE Tommy Carter's drama of urban malaise, police brutality, and corruption. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, www.plays411.com/hellzkitchen. (323) 962-0046.

THE INTERNATIONALISTS Poor Dog Group re-creates the space race. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, www.plays411.com...

JUST A SONG AT TWILIGHT Willard Manus' drama about growing up in a deaf household. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Feb. 27. (323) 469-3113.

KATAKI Shimon Wincelberg's WWII tale of an American soldier and a Japanese soldier stranded together on a Pacific island. McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, www.kataki2010.com. (323) 856-0665.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop jukebox musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 960-4412.

MALINCHE The life and influence of Malintzin Tepenal by Victor Hugo Rascon Banda. (Alternating perfs in English and Spanish; call for schedule.). Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.fridakahlotheater.org. (213) 382-8133.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR Shakespeare's comedy, set in the frontier mining town of Windsor, Colorado. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14, www.LyricTheatreLA.com. (323) 939-9220.

MOIST! Mariann Aalda and Iona Morris are MILF-y inspirational sexperts, heading (so to speak) the Multiple Orgasm Initiative for Sexual Transformation. Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.MoistOnStage.com. (323) 960-4442.

NAKED IN THE TROPICS Odalys Nanin's story of gay sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in a West Hollywood night club. Danny Indart, lyrics by Odalys Nanin and Danny Indart. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 960-1057.

NARROW WORLD Fresh Baked Theatre Company presents Daniel Damiano's dystopian drama., freshbakedtheatrecompany@gmail.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (602) 689-7714.

NEW REVIEW GO ORPHEUS DESCENDING

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Ginger Perkins

Lou Pepe stages Tennessee Williams' study of a singer-songwriter, Val Xavier (Gale Harold) who wanders into a Southern mercantile shop, a reluctant seducing machine living in and belonging to a different world. Being both a updated interpretation of the Orpheus' visit to the underworld, with Biblical allusions heavily laced into the plot, Williams' saga is study in the how the otherworldy artist becomes scapegoated and sacrificed to the prosaic reality of the here-and-now. The theater is a bit of an echo chamber, and Brandon Baruch's murky lighting doesn't really help Pepe's decisions to eliminate distracting details such as walls and knicknacks in order to place us inside Val Xavier head and heart. That said, the ensemble saves and elevates the event, particularly Claudia Mason, Denise Crosby and Francesca Casale as the women whose hearts become wrenched by the musician in the house. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/92508. (800) 838-3006. Frantic Redhead Productions (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Steve Martin's 1993 comedy. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 960-7714.

GO PROJECT: WONDERLAND The Rev. Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, opens Robert A. Prior's play by defending his friendship with 11-year-old Alice Liddell before taking major hits off a hookah. (A professor, Michael Bonnabel, scribbling the mathematical formula for Wonderland, leaves that substance out of his equation.) Thus, um, inspired, Carroll (Lon Haber) dons a blond wig and reveals himself as Alice before plunging down the rabbit hole. Apart from the entrance of five other Alices chanting Carroll's lines like a Greek chorus, Wonderland is familiar turf -- a trip though our childhood memories of the text and the Disney cult cartoon laced with Jefferson Airplane and melodramatic music but otherwise played straight. The stars here are Teresa Shea's costumes and sets and Lynn Jeffries' puppets, a whirlwind of giant lobster claws and waves of parachute silk and 15-foot flower hats and packs of angry cards buzzing about the stage. Amidst the chaos, standouts include Bonnabel's Caterpillar, Jabez Zuniga's Queen of Hearts, Matthew Patrick Davis' Mad Hatter, Lori Scarlett's Mock Turtle -- hell, pretty much everyone navigating this manic, uncertain, but enthusiastic staging. (Amy Nicholson)., $25, $15 students & seniors. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 31, bootlegtheater.com. (213) 389-3856.

GO SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED The Impro Theatre specializes in improvising full-length plays in the literary style of prominent writers, including Jane Austen, Tennessee Williams and Stephen Sondheim. Here, under the direction of artistic directors Brian Lohman and Dan O'Connor, they're tackling the Bard, taking the most minimal suggestions from the audience and spinning them into dizzily amusing mock-Shakespearean epics. At the performance I attended, they created a comedy that might be called Much Ado About Bluebirds. Miranda (Lisa Frederickson) is the slightly deaf daughter (she seems to hear clearly only the songs of bluebirds) of the Duke of Kent (Lohman). Kent has decided to marry her off to the elderly Duke of York (Floyd Van Buskirk), but she has already developed a fancy for Price (O'Connor), a young man from the village, who loves her, and has learned to tweet like a bluebird to woo her. The course of true love is threatened by a couple of mischievous fairies (Brian Jones and Edi Patterson) and a man-eating bear, until the blissful final scene, which is as sententious as any old Will created. The company (including Michele Spears and Stephen Kearin) is clever, nimble and quick on its feet, and the result is an amiable, crowd-pleasing divertissement. (Neal Weaver). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14, www.plays411.com/shakespeareunscripted. (323) 401-9793.

SPIKE HEELS Theresa Rebeck's contemporary comedy exploring "sexual harassment, misplaced love, and the possibility of a four-sided love triangle.". Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 31, www.plays411.com/spikeheels. (323) 965-9996.

STAGE DOOR George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's Depression-era comedy. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 13, www.openfist.org. (323) 882-6912.

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.

TFN -- TILTED FRAME NETWORK Tilted Frame Network is the creation of Combined Artform, a San Francisco--based theatrical production company headed by artistic director Matthew Quinn. This multimedia, improv comedy show has audiences and actors in L.A. and San Francisco interact with each other via the Internet and TV. It's an intriguing idea with loads of potential, but one in need of much fine-tuning. The performance I attended started with the customary routine involving audience suggestions but quickly morphed into an awkward free-for-all, with so-so performances by cast members in both cities. The material, for the most part, was quirky and capable of tickling some funny bones but little that was breathtaking. One truly funny skit was a take on The Dating Game, with Misa Doi, LaKendra Tookes and Natalie Chediak as three eligible bachelorettes. Daniel Sullivan was in San Francisco in the hot seat, asking the questions. Ditto for Paul Baumgartner as a friendly pot dealer selling to cable-car riders. A bigger problem besides the hot and cold material were the many technical gaffes that occurred throughout. Blank screens, sound implosions and malfunctioning monitors kill the spontaneity that is the heart of improv comedy. This show has "test product" written all over it, but there are sparks of brilliance here, which provide hope for future outings. An Artform production. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (323) 962-1632.

THEATRE'S CLASSIC HITS A sampling of theater history, from Shakespeare to Chekhov to Oscar Wilde. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 667-0955.

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.

TWENTY-TWO A friend once explained his decision to quit cocaine as his weariness of the disreputable types with whom he was forced to deal and of the even scarier places where they invariably dealt. So it is in actor-playwright Julia Morizawa's hyperkinetic, autobiographical addiction nightmare. For Leila (Morizawa), the story's 22-year-old heroine, however, no amount of unsavory associations can deter her from her unapologetic, single-minded snorting of coke with the fierce efficiency of a Shop-Vac. Her unbridled enthusiasm for the powder soon ensnares her two best friends, Zoe (Shaina Vorspan) and the musician, Danny (Matthew Black), whose cluttered apartment becomes Leila's de facto drug den. With her boyfriend/dealer, Eric (Raymond Donahey), as their enabler/supplier, the friends' walk on the sordid side quickly careens into a coked-up version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Director Donahey intensifies the luridness of the proceedings by seating the audience on the set like so many uninvited guests. But Morizawa's restricting focus on the outward spectacle of her characters' free fall rarely musters pathos for their plunge. While the play hints at deeper demons whetting Leila's manic appetite (i.e., fear and self-loathing), the evening's most poignant and revealing moment belongs not to its protagonist but to its bogeyman, Sol (the fine James Adam Patterson), when the unscrupulous street dealer speaks with pride over a daughter's scholastic achievements. Had Morizawa been as generous with her other characters, she might have delivered something more engaging than sideshow debasement and morbid, voyeuristic thrills. (Bill Raden). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 667-0955.

WHO IS CURTIS LEE? World premiere of Ashford J. Thomas' play set in 1950s North Carolina. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 957-1152.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AFTER HOURS SHOW Presented by Neo Acro Theatre Company. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Jan. 30...

ALMOST, MAINE Love is very much in the air in the idyllic community of Almost, Maine, the setting for John Cariani's homage to Cupid's often strange, unpredictable machinations. The play is formatted as a series of star-filled, romantic encounters that are mostly sugary sweet, with a sprinkling of salt for good measure. Director Ashley Archambeau does a fine job marshaling the cast of 18, all of whom turn in good performances. This more than makes up for the sillier, vacuous moments that spring up during some of these vignettes. A good example: "They Fell," with Erol Dolen and Adam Sandroni as two pals whose underlying sexual attraction for each other causes them to fall on the floor. It's funny for all of 10 seconds, but the skit lasts far longer. Ditto for "This Hurts," where a bout of head bashing with ironing boards turns gratingly sentimental and silly. "Where it Went" is a heart-wrenching meditation on love lost with Luke Wright and Arianna Arias as a couple whose once magical attraction has evaporated. "Sad and Glad" tosses in a bit of the mysterious with Greyson Lewis and Lauren Andrea as strangers brought together by a misspelled tattoo. (Lovell Estell III). Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, www.neoacrotheatre.com...

GO CIRCUS WELT Reminiscent of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret (though sans music), this adaptation by director and producer Pavel Cerny of Leonid Andreyev's 1914 Russian play, He Who Gets Slapped, shifts the setting to Weimar Germany circa 1933. A small traveling circus run by Ludwig Bricke (John Moskal) and his common-law wife/lion-tamer, Maria (Stephanie T. Keefer), serves as a haven for those at the margins of society: Jackson (Jeff Williams), a black American clown in whiteface; Tilly and Polly (Justin Hertner and Lee Biolos), a long-standing gay couple; Bezano (Patrick Koffel), the communist horse trainer; and the newly arrived mysterious clown named He (an impressively nuanced Joshua Grenrock). As the story, which takes place entirely in the circus dressing room, unfolds, multiple love triangles emerge, though the one of greatest consequence involves Bezano, Maria and the bareback rider Consuelo (Tanya Goott), who is engaged by her father Count Mancini (Kurt Hargan) to the wealthy Baron Von Reinhardt (Ed Brigadier), the head of the local SA storm troopers. While the remaining vestiges of the original melodrama detract from what could be an extremely compelling piece of theater, Cerny has done his best to minimize them, and his Brechtian-style entr'acte additions, such as the "news clowns," provide girding for the menacing backdrop of Nazi Germany on the rise. An Orpheum Theater Corporation Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW THE CITY

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Doug Engalla

Director Stan Mazin's adaptation and update of Clyde Fitch's 1909 play has a lot going for it. That said, references to Lady Gaga and Desperate Housewives can't disguise the fact that it's an overly talky melodrama. Act 1 takes place in Middlebrook, where wealthy patriarch George Sr. (Klair Bybee) holds forth on the values of small town life. However, his wife Molly (Kady Douglas), daughters Megan (Trisha Hershberger) and Teresa (Jaclyn Marfuggi), and especially his son, George Jr. (Hector Hank), are bucking for the lights and excitement of New York City. Interloper Fred Hannock (Glenn Collins) comes to blackmail George Sr. over financial improprieties, and before his unexpected demise, George Sr. reveals to George Jr. that Hannock is his half-brother. The overly long Act 2 takes place five years later in the family's new abode in New York City, where George Jr. is hoping to secure his party's nomination for senator. Lawyer Burt Vorhees (Bix Barnaba) begins the vetting process, asking George Jr. to pressure Teresa not to divorce her playboy husband (Alexander Leeb). But a bigger problem is how to get rid of the drug addicted Hannock who's been installed as George Jr.'s secretary. Mazin marshals the cast well, but some of the acting is uneven. Trefoni Michael Rizzi's plush scenic design can't be faulted. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878. (Sandra Ross)

50-HOUR DRIVE-BY THEATRE FESTIVAL Zombie Joe's Underground's 9th annual festival of four new 15-minute plays, written, directed and performed all in two days. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Jan. 30, 8:30 p.m.; Mon., Feb. 1, 8:30 p.m.. (818) 202-4120.

NEW REVIEW GO HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE "Sometimes to tell a secret, you first have to teach a lesson," announces L'il Bit (Joanna Strapp) in the first lines of Paula Vogel's highly acclaimed and richly awarded play (including the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama). Set in 1960s rural Maryland, the non-linear, episodic plot focuses on L'il Bit's questionable relationship with her Uncle Peck (David Youse) during the different stages of her adolescence. Because she is more educated than her blue-collar family and becomes well endowed at a young age, L'il Bit always feels out of place, finding solace in Peck's company, even if his advances aren't always appropriate. In addition to the two leads, the three members of the Greek chorus (Skip Pipo, Jennifer Sorenson, and Allie Grant--of Showtime's Weeds in her stage debut) fill out the cast, playing the other members of this dysfunctional family as well as secondary characters. Director August Viverito, who also designed the set, finds the perfect balance between the emotion and humor in the text, all while choreographing the rapid scene changes seamlessly. Strapp and Youse are captivating in their pas de deux, subtly expressing powerful emotions, and the chorus members convincingly shift personas while enhancing the theatricality of the piece with their secondary function as transition markers and set movers. As has been its hallmark, this company tackles the challenge of mounting theatrical classics in a "closet," and once again succeeds admirably, especially with such an intimate piece. The Chandler Studio Theatre Center, 12443 Chandler Blvd., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru February 20. (800) 838-3006. www.theprodco.com The Production Company. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO THE IMAGINARY INVALID Lance Davis' abridged 75-minute adaptation of Molière's classic eschews all subtlety in an amusing, accessible romp with plenty of flair and humor. Davis plays Argon, a mousey, myopic hypochondriac in a tizzy over his mounting medical bills. His solution: to marry off his unfortunate daughter, Angelique (Amanda Pajer), to the loutish son of a quack doctor so he may secure his in-law's services for free. Possessed of a gargantuan ego, the self-preoccupied ninny Argon swallows whole the extravagant protestations of love by his beautiful but conniving second wife (Marisa Chandler) -- even as she plots with her lover (Mark McCracken) behind Argon's back -- to secure all his wealth. Under Mary Chalon's direction, the production evolves with outsized brio -- a stylistic approach that succeeds by virtue of Davis' considerable acting skill, in tandem with the talents of Pajer and Chandler, both of whom render their shtick with calibrated craft. Some of the other characters come across less crisply but are still good enough to keep the farce crackling. Designer Holly Victoria's lovely period costumes add professional polish. A Parson's Nose Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 5, www.parsonsnose.com. (626) 403-7667.

NEW REVIEW THE JAMB

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Susan Lee

Tuffer (Kerr Seth Lordygan) and Roderick (Brad C. Wilcox) are gay men who have been friends for 20 years. Though they seem to love one another, they've never had sex. Now they're on the scary threshold of age 40, and their conflicts are looming large. Tuffer is addicted to sex, alcohol, and meth, while Roderick is an angry control freak with a messiah complex. Tuffer can no longer bear Roderick's constant disapproval, while Roderick is fed up with having to rescue Tuffer from his own self-destructive impulses. In hopes of curing Tuffer's immaturity, Roderick invites him to come along with him on a visit to his ex-hippie mother (Kenlyn Kanouse) in New Mexico -- but Tuffer will come only if he can bring his boy-toy Brandon (Garrett Liggett), with whom, it emerges, he has never had sex. Gay men who only want to cuddle? Playwright J. Stephen Brantley gives a clever and quirkily amusing account of his oddball characters, and achieves a resolution of sorts. But his play doesn't always convince, and one senses a more complex, unexplored level beneath this tangle of relationships. Director Susan Lee provides a brisk, straightforward production, and elicits fine performances from the four actors. The Eclectic Company, 5312 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (818) 508-3003 or http://www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Neal Weaver)

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 musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalogue 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 saint-like perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiney, until the music returns him to his proper place. (Tom Provenzano). Platinum Live, 11345 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW GO THE KINGS OF THE KILBURN HIGH ROAD What is home to the emigrant? Is it, in the lowercase sense, merely the place where one lays ones hat? Or is it a more mythic capital -- an idea of both origin and aspiration in which the psychic distance between the two becomes the self-measure of the man? In Dublin playwright Jimmy Murphy's remorselessly probing elegy, the question is more than academic. For Murphy's six, middle-aged Irish expatriates who, 25 years earlier, left County Mayo to seek their fortunes in London's working-class Kilburn district, home has become a kind of spiritual sickness that, for one of them, has already proved fatal. And as the survivors gather in a local pub to mourn his passing, a potent cocktail of whisky, guilt and recrimination dissolves what's left of their camaraderie and dreams of youth to reveal only the bitter disillusionments and regrets of old men. Under Sean Branney's sure-handed direction, Dan Conroy gives a blistering performance as Jap, the hard-drinking men's bellicose, hair-triggered leader who, with his sidekick and flatmate, Git (the fine Matt Foyer), has the least to show for the lost years while being the most intransigent in his denial. Maurteen (a simmering Dan Harper) and Shay (John Jabaley) occupy a middle-ground of resigned acceptance of their meager circumstances, while Joe (Steve Marvel), as the group's single, successful exception, serves as the truth-seeking provocateur needling the friends to a lacerating self-knowledge. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.theatrebanshee.org. (818) 846-5323. (Bill Raden)

MIXED BLESSINGS World premiere of Jeff Bernhardt's drama about a gay German college student and his straight Jewish roommate. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 31, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/90619. (800) 838-3006.

NEW BEGINNINGS Neo Acro Theatre Company presents six original short plays by local writers. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun..; thru Jan. 31... (818) 481-8072

ON THE AIR Golden Age of Radio murder-mystery musical comedy. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6, www.plays411.com/ontheair. (323) 960-4420.

ONE MAN, TWO PLAYS Dan Hildebrand in The Nonsense by Kevin Cotter and Whatever Gets You Through the Night by Andrew Kazamia. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 25. (323) 960-5650.

NEW REVIEW GO PROOF

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Alex Robert Holmes

What's the link between mathematics and madness? If you inherit your father's genius, will you also fall heir to his lunacy? Playwright David Auburn garnered a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for this play that poses these questions within the framework of a family drama. The story begins a week after the death of Robert, an acclaimed mathematician (Brad Blaisdell, appearing in flashback ); mentally ill in his last years, he'd been cared for by his mirthless, troubled daughter, Catherine (Teal Sherer). Alone and grieving on her 25th birthday, Catherine can just barely tolerate the presence of Hal (Ryan Douglas) a former student of Robert's searching through his papers for some shred of intellectual value. More annoying to Catherine is her older sister Claire (Collette Foy), in from New York and intent on whisking Catherine back with her -- an option Catherine resents and resists. At the nub of the plot is whether, as Catherine claims, she wrote the mathematical proof uncovered in a locked drawer, or whether, as Hal and Claire suspect, Robert devised it during a period of clarity. For this critic, Auburn's script has always registered as contrived and lacking subtlety - but this production blows away this bias by virtue of Sherer's uniquely winning portrayal. That the character - like the performer -- is wheelchair-bound adds a layer of vulnerability that brings the play to life for me as it hadn't before. Make no mistake: Sherer's accomplished performance stands on its own; it's the material that's been enriched. Kudos also to Foy for excellent work. Bob Morrisey directs. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 960-7863. (Deborah Klugman)

RAY BRADBURY'S WISDOM 2116 Two by science-fiction author Ray Bradbury: Wisdom (1916), a new play, and 2116, a new musical, book and lyrics by Bradbury, music by John Hoke, developed, directed and choreographed by Steve Josephson. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, www.Plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.

THE SENSUOUS SENATOR Michael Parker's 1988 bedroom farce. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org. (626) 256-3809.

SIX DEGREES OF FORNICATION World premiere of David Wally's sex comedy. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 4. (866) 811-4111.

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

GO THE BROWNING VERSION Though not as widely known or acclaimed as his contemporary British playwrights, Terence Rattigan was a superb dramatist and chronicler of human emotions. Here, 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. A well-regarded scholar of the classics, Andrew Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) has spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public school in England but 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, he has a bearing that 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 in reminding him of), 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, relationship 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.(Lovell Estell III). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 822-8392.

CHAPTER TWO Neil Simon's 1977 comedy about a widowed writer. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 454-1970.

IN THE COMPANY OF JANE DOE In Tiffany Antone's choppy farce, the sensibility of a Saturday-morning cartoon collides with a potentially fecund philosophical debate on the ego's relationship with the id. Yet, the results are strangely disjointed and unsatisfying. Jane Doe (Jessica Runck) is desperate to scale the career ladder at her marketing job, but her many hours of overwork are being undercut by bizarre nightmares and odd signals from her subconscious -- she dreamily fills her briefcase with ice and snowshoes instead of the important files she needs, for instance, while travel brochures for trips to the North Pole mysteriously appear on her desk. Her well-meaning shrink, Dr. Annabelle (Coco Kleppinger), is sympathetic -- but Dr. Annabelle's partner, bug-eyed, twitching and stammering Dr. Snafu (Isaac Wade, annoyingly channeling the mad scientist from the Back to the Future movies) has a more intriguing suggestion. He offers to clone Jane so that she will be able to get more done. It's an idea you and I both know will clearly end in tears -- and, sure enough, Jane's clone (a sweetly gamine Sara Kaye) turns out to be nothing like her original, and winds up eclipsing Jane's life. With a frenetic staging that makes an imaginative if assaultive impression, director Mary Jo DuPrey's production boasts some tight choreography, strong comic timing and gleeful mugging. Runck's priggishly brittle Jane is nicely contrasted against Kaye's sweet, earth-mother clone. Marika Stephens' calculatedly surreal set -- all sloping, angular furniture that puts one in mind of the villain's lair in an old Batman episode -- abets the cartoon mood. However, all the craftsmanship is ultimately in the service of a half-baked play whose uneven tone, glib dialogue and messy plotting are stranded somewhere between a theological argument and a screenplay wannabe about a wacky office. (Paul Birchall). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.

IT'S CRIMINAL! THE COMEDY! Courtroom adventures with criminal defense attorney Murray Meyer. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 960-7780.

LOVE IN BLOOM By Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (310) 394-9779.

LOYALTIES In Tony Pasqualini's drama, Frank (Michael Rothhaar) and Joy (Robin Becker) have lost a son, Andy, to the war in Iraq. Now they have become fanatical superpatriots, eager to condemn anyone who questions the war. Their best friends, Mel (Sarah Brooke) and Andrew (Pasqualini), also have an adopted son, Michael (Albert Meijer), an émigré from a Muslim country. Andy and Michael were inseparable friends throughout their childhood, but their paths diverged. While Andy enlisted and went to his death in battle, Michael also enlisted but decided it was a mistake and deserted his post. Though Mel and Andrew are sympathetic to their son, Frank and Joy are determined to force the boy to face his fears and accept his duty, even by reporting his whereabouts to the authorities. This issue becomes a catalyst, leading to disaster for both families. Pasqualini's play is not really a thesis drama, but it often sounds like one, treating its characters as mouthpieces. There are, however, some potent scenes. Though we're clearly intended to sympathize with Michael, he's too whiny and self-centered to take seriously. Director David Gautreaux has able actors but sometimes allows them to succumb to wearisome hysteria and shouting. (Neal Weaver). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 28, www.PacificResidentTheatre.com. (310) 822-8392.

GO AN OAK TREE On the simplest storytelling level, actor-performer Tim Crouch's play is the tale of a hypnotist falling apart at the seams, who after accidentally striking and killing a young girl with his car, one day finds the victim's father on his stage. Wrenching stuff. But on a conceptual level, the event takes this very emotional saga and uses it as a kind of Ping-Pong ball to bat around the idea of suspension of disbelief -- realities that we create through suggestion. In order to accomplish this, for each performance he employs a different actor, whom he meets less than one hour before the performance, and who reads the role of the father from a script. And so, through a frame of hypnotism that's just one of the play's many artifices, begins a breathtaking examination of the blurred line between what is real and what is suggested, of how we live in dream worlds in order to get by, and how theater itself is a kind of hypnosis that serves this very same purpose. Its brilliance is unfettered, and inexplicably moving, for being such a head trip. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (310) 477-2055.

ON THE FRITZ: AN EVENING WITH FRITZ COLEMAN The NBC4 weatherman's "humorous observations on life and news in Southern California.". Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 31, 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 31, www.hermosabeachplayhouse.com. (310) 372-4477.


PHIL THE VOID: THE GREAT BRAIN ROBBERY Phil Van Hest's rants and raves. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (866) 811-4111.

PICK OF THE VINE Nine original short plays selected from submissions by playwrights from around the world. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 11, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (310) 512-6030.

PRINCESS BEAN'S MESSY WORLD Rock & roll kids musical about a petite punk princess. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat., 12:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, www.princessbean.com. (310) 490-2383.

RUN FOR YOUR WIFE Ray Cooney's marriage farce. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, www.johnsmithcheats.com. (310) 828-7519.

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION The Kentwood Players present John Guare's drama. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, www.kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.

NEW REVIEW GO A SONG AT TWILIGHT

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Ron Sossi

"I've been in America too long. It's so lovely to see a steak that doesn't look like a bedroom slipper! . . . Memory is curiously implacable. It forgets joy, but rarely forgets humiliation." That's probably not the Noel Coward that you've ever heard before, but Noel Coward it is. Given that this 1966 bittersweet comedy was one of Coward's final plays, it's startling to learn that this James Glossman's beautifully mature staging is actually the show's West Coast premiere (a pruned one act version of the play was produced here in 1975 in a nationally touring double-bill called Noel Coward in Two Keys, starring Hume Cronyn.) Is it too late to nominate Coward for some kind of a "best new writer" award? Some have theorized that the show's explicit homosexuality-related themes were Coward's attempt at "coming out" - but even if one doesn't totally agree with the idea, the show still appears to be years ahead of its time - and this partially explains why it's so ripe for rediscovery. Ensconced in his Swiss hotel suite for the season, elderly author-legend Sir Hugo Latymer (Orson Bean) spits venom at his long suffering, astonishingly supportive wife Hilde (Alley Mills), who also serves as his secretary and dogsbody. In fading health, Sir Hugo realizes that his best days are behind him, but an unexpected visit an unexpected visit from from his former mistress, Carlotta (Laurie O-Brien), can still bring out the elderly writer's flamboyant rage. Retired leading lady actress Carlotta wants permission to publish their long ago love letters in her upcoming autobiography, but when Hugo refuses, it turns out the woman has an ace in her sleeve, involving other love letters to someone even further back in Hugo's past, and memory. Glossman's elegantly melancholy staging showcases both Coward's glittering writing and the unexpectedly piquant themes of regret and bitterness. Bean's crusty, curmudgeonly Sir Hugo may miss the smooth, veneer of civility we expect, but he adroitly conveys the sense of a twisted, petulant old tool, who's as dismayed by the loss of his physical faculties as he is regretful of his past mistakes. O'Brien's faded vixen is wonderfully snarky, with a mischievous malice suggesting a hurt creature who is enjoying her spiteful vengeance. Mills' understanding, but coolly clear-eyed wife, turns out to be unexpectedly powerful. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 7. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)

3RD STREET COMEDY . Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (310) 656-8070.

NEW REVIEW GO WEST

Stage Raw: Getting Our Fringe On

Photo by Speedgrafix

Steven Berkoff's 1983 tale of adrenaline, lust, rage, and violence amongst a group of young thugs in 1960s London is written in modified metrical verse, which makes for a text whose heightened sense of reality is both unusually challenging and piercingly dramatic. The juxtaposition of these low born, brawling goons, and the lyrical dialogue that comes out of their mouths makes for a beautifully ironic tale - the play hints that the great Shakespearean epics of old are really tales of goons and criminals. Young thug Mike (Brad Schmidt) leads a gang of East End thugs whose dapper, shiny suits bely the fact that they're engaged in a bitter and bloody feud with a rival gang out of Brixton. The battles usually consist of the gangs getting drunk and beating each other up on their way home from their pubs. In an attempt to make peace, Mike and the other gang's chief thug (Joshua Schell) agree to a one on one duel against each other, with the loser's gang surrendering. As the night of the fight approaches, Mike suffers self doubts, both over his ability and his willingness to fight. Berkoff's beautiful, vivid writing is also dense and quite hard to penetrate. Yet with this startlingly crisp and at times acrobatic staging, director Bruce Cooper leaps over the play's hurdles of incomprehensibility and crafts a clear and emotionally searing production. The piece is perfectly cast: The young men have pitch perfect East End accents and dead eyes; you'll swear you're watching Kray-era thugs, who, along with knowing how to throw a good punch, somehow manage to get their jaws around the mouth-mangling verse. Nicely volatile turns are offered by Schmidt's brooding Mike, Kate Roxburgh as his miserable doormat of a mother, and Annie Burgstede, offering a delicately Julie Christie-like performance as Mike's sexy but neglected girlfriend. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue, Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 6. (310) 823-0710. Presented by Hellion Pictures. (Paul Birchall)


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