MORE

Stage Raw: Getting Physical


Stage Raw: Getting Physical

DRACULA

Stage Raw: Getting Physical

Dracula is this week's Pick. See review by pressing the Continue Reading tab at the bottom of this section. (All New Reviews are embedded within the Comprehensive Theater Listings.) Photo by Michael Lamont

GETTING PHYSICAL

Two bills of physical comedy are being performed at Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive on Thursday and Friday, March 5 & 6 at 8 p.m. (310) 281-8337

Shoshinz is written and performed by Yanomi & Kuronatsy, two "surreal Tokyo maids who are subserviant to nothing and no one." They have toured in Canada, Egypt, Russia, Iran and many countries across Asia. This is their U.S. premiere.

Ineffable is a comedy offering from Jon Monastero and Stephen Simon. "Worlds of adventure, emotion and affection are conveyed, as a pair of hapless pallbearers get caught up in an exploration of the mysteries of life and death and hay fever."

HIGH CEILINGS

Jillian Crane's new play is being read read at the Hayworth Theatre this Monday night, 8 p.m., with Lisa Arturo, Jillian Crane, Karen Black, Kevin Kilner, Dan Lauria, Hamish Linklater, and Wendie Malick

"Lily returns to her childhood home to prepare for her wedding. But Mom's married to a thug --Dad's always asleep --Lily's falling for the cute wedding florist -- and her fiancé's on the way!" Tickets and reservations here.

At your fingertips: This week's THEATER FEATURE on Cynthia Silver's Bridezilla Strikes Back! and Stormy Weather's Musical Director, Linda Twine; the 30th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards NOMINEES; and where to PURCHASE tickets.

Reviewed this week: Lanford Wilson's Burn This at Ruskin Group Theatre; Terry Johnson's adapatation of the novel and screenplay of The Graduate, at El Centro Theatre; The Miracle Worker, presented by the Hayworth Theatre at the Matrix; Oliver Mayer's new play, Laws of Sympathy presented by Playwrights Arena at Studio/Stage; Adelina Anthony's one woman show, Brusing for Besos at the Gay & Lesbian Center; Rent at the Pantages; Dracula at the NoHo Arts Center; and The Threepenny Opera presented by International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center

These reviews are embedded within this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, which can be accessed by pressing the Continue Reading . . . Tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for March 6-12, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in

"Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for

them by title using your computer's search program.)

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez,

Mayank Keshaviah, Deobrah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson,

Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver.

These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

OPENING THIS WEEK

BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease,

by Pennkin Wright. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second

Floor, L.A.; opens March 6; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (323) 850-7827.

BEFORE I FORGET Kirk Douglas' autobiographical one-man show debuts

at his namesake theater. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd.,

Culver City; Fri., March 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 8, 2 p.m.; Fri., March

13, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 15, 2 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.

DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Solo show by Aaron Braxton on education

issues. (In the Research Space.). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S.

Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; opens March 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

March 28. (310) 358-9936.

FRINGES-MARGINS-BORDERS Multidisciplinary performance project

featuring L.A.'s Queer Exchange. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th

St., Santa Monica; March 6-7, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., March 8, 3 p.m.. (310)

315-1459.

FROST/NIXON British talk-show host David Frost interviews ex-POTUS

Richard Nixon, in Peter Morgan's play. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand

Ave., L.A.; opens March 12; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1

& 6:30 p.m.; thru March 29. (213) 628-2772.

GREASE Summer lovers reunite in the Jim Jacobs/Warren Casey musical,

with additional songs from the 1978 film, plus a "Teen Angel" turn by >American Idol's

Taylor Hicks. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens March

10; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru

March 22. (213) 365-3500.


LIE WITH ME World premiere of Keith Bridges' dark comedy about a

psychologically damaged family. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; opens March 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April

5. (323) 960-7787.

MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd.,

Toluca Lake; opens March 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April

26. (818) 846-5323.

PARADISE HOTEL Man arranges tryst with his best friend's wife, in

Georges Feydeau's farce. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens

March 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29,

www.gomenander.com...

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso trade

shots at a Paris bar, in Steve Martin's play. (In the Studio Theater.).

Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; opens March 7;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (562) 494-1014.

PICNIC William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winner about a hunky drifter in

a small Kansas town. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.,

Sierra Madre; opens March 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru

April 11. (626) 256-3809.

THE QUESTION J.T. Horenstein's "indie rock ballet.". Ricardo

Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St., L.A.; opens March 9; Mon.,

Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 962-7000.

THE SIN OF HEROES Two short comedies: Confessions of a Redneck: A 99% True Story by Todd Eller and Harry Flashman

by Brandon Hayes. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; opens March 7; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 474-6227.

STITCHING Anthony Neilson's role-playing romance. Lillian Theatre,

1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; opens March 6; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 962-7782.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. (Schedule

varies, call for info.). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale;

opens March 7; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17.

(818) 240-0910.

WINGS OF NIGHT SKY, WINGS OF MORNING LIGHT Joy Harjo's

self-discovery allegory, incorporating spoken-word, storytelling and

song. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; opens

March 12; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 29. (323)

667-2000.

Theater Special Events

AN AFTERNOON WITH GROUCHO Frank Ferrante is Mr. Marx. La Mirada

Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada;

Sun., March 8, 2 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.

HEALING ALOUD TeAda Productions' seventh-annual festival of new

work, with performance projects by Maria G. Martinez, Shyamala Moorty,

Marcella Pabros-Clark and Raquel Salinas. (Continues in May at 2100

Square Feet and in June at Miles Memorial Playhouse.). Casa 0101, 2009

E. First St., L.A.; March 6-7, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 8, 3 p.m.. (310)

998-8765.

A MEMORY, A MONOLOGUE, A RANT AND A PRAYER/THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES An

all-Filipino cast presents a collection of monologues, benefiting

Bantay Bata ("Child Watch") and the Center for the Pacific Asian

Family. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., L.A.;

Sat., March 7, 4 & 7:30 p.m.. (213) 680-3700.

STAGE DOOR Fake Radio re-creates the 1937 broadcast of Lux Radio

Theater's dramatization of the RKO film about wannabe actresses in a

boarding house. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., March 8, 7:30

p.m.. (877) 460-9774.

WAR OF THE WORLDS/THE LOST WORLD Classics by H.G. Wells and Sir

Arthur Conan Doyle, presented as vintage radio broadcasts by L.A.

Theatre Works. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center

Court Dr., Cerritos; Sun., March 8, 3 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-SIDE

GO CANDIDA If Kathleen F. Conlin's staging of George

Bernard Shaw's romantic comedy isn't perfect, it's sure close. One

"fine morning in October, 1894," a self-satisfied local pastor Morell

(Mark Deakins), who also happens to be a socialist, finds himself

competing with a callow, 18-year-old "nervous disease" poet named

Marchbanks (Johnathan McClain) for the affections of the pastor's wife,

Candida (Willow Geer). Let your ideas compete with mine, then let her

choose, the twitchy/arrogant young man challenges his senior. By the

time Shaw's comedy has spun to is final, playful scene, everybody has

lost something, and everybody has won something, and everybody, except

Candida perhaps, has been charged and convicted of presumptuousness and

hypocrisy. The themes haven't aged a day, the dialects are pitch

perfect, yet this production hangs on the rare, meticulous brilliance

of McClain's Marchbanks. His performance is a tour-de-force of physical

comedy, a compendium of tics and an unceasing, and ceaselessly

entertaining dance of belligerent attacks and coy withdrawals, each

rolling atop the next with split-second timing. Deakins' pastor is a

glorious counter presence, a handsome rock of vigorous pomposity, an

emblem of privilege too sure of his so-called magnanimous ideas, and

ideals. The joy is in watching them crumble, and watching him struggle

with his own dignity. Grand turns also by Kate Hillinshead's

love-smitten secretary, by Matthew Henerson's as Candida's blustery

father, and Gabriel Diani's foundling-turned-aristocrat. In the title

role, the elegant and beautiful Geer is slightly mannered in Act 1, but

finds her confidence soon after. Michael C. Smith's drawing-room set

comes packed with fastidious detail, as do Sherry Linnell's costumes.

(SLM) Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Feb. 14 & 21, 3 p.m. and

Feb. 26 & March 5, 8 p.m.); through March 8. (818) 558-7000, Ext.

15.

ELLA Jeffrey Hatcher's musical biography of Ella Fitzgerald,

starring Tina Fabrique. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road,

Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.;

thru March 22. (949) 497-2787.

FALLING UPWARD Meet the locals at an Irish pub, courtesy Ray Bradbury. El Portal Theatre, 5269

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (866) 811-4111.

GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's farce

about a city dweller's move to a farm house. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021

E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March

15. (562) 494-1014.

IXNAY Deceased Japanese-American says no way to reincarnation as a

Japanese-American, in Paul Kikuchi's play. East West Players, 120 N.

Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March

15. (213) 625-7000.

NOISES OFF Michael Frayn's backstage comedy. South Coast Repertory,

655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 &

8 p.m.; thru March 8. (714) 708-5555.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a

scarred recluse and the diva he adores. Pantages Theater, 6233

Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun.,

1 & 6 p.m.. (213) 365-3500.

GO PIPPIN I know we're on the cusp of a Depression

and that theater audiences ache for frivolity and distraction, but this

one really vexes, largely because it's so damnably seductive. First,

Roger O. Hirson's book and Stehen Schwartz's music and lyrics combine

into what has been one of the most produced musicals in colleges and

high schools in the past 30 years. Add to that Jeff Calhoun's

hyper-theatrical staging and choreography of a topflight ensemble in a

style designed to accommodate the hearing-impaired actors of

co-presenter Deaf West Theater, and you've got a extremely glossy carny

show in which the central role is bifurcated between the hangdog charm

of deaf actor Tyrone Giordano, and his voiced alter-ego, Michael Arden.

The pair share the stage with a huge ensemble, one revealing through

the physicality the agony of bliss of Charlamegne's son, Pippin, as he

searches for the purpose of life, while the other gives voice to those

expressions through a dextrous vocal interpretation and Schwartz's

somewhat sappy songs rendered here with effervescent beauty. This is

the latest in a series of Candide riffs (much searching for

purpose these days), in which Pippin fights in a war, learns about sex

as well as domesticity, commits patricide, serves as king, screws up by

being benevolent to the peasants and dismantling the army while an

Enemy Beyond encroaches. Silly boy. Shut up, go home and till your

garden. Let smarter people take care of the empire. Your adopted son

will dream and make the same mistakes. Pardon me, but this is crap

posing as wisdom, truisms posing as truth, especially at a moment in

our history when doing nothing but tending our garden has landed us

collectively in the biggest sand trap in American history. I couldn't

join the standing ovation on press night. I just couldn't, I was so

pissed off - politically, philosophically. If this were just diversion,

I'd have risen to my feet. I love diversion as much as anybody. But I

felt in this production a creepy, reactionary underpinning that's even

out of touch with our new government's position on everybody taking

responsibility to pull each other up, collectively. And for this

shimmering magic act to close out by cautioning us about the seductive

qualities of veneer is a fraud of the first rank. The show is so well

done, see it for yourself, and see if you're as annoyed as me. (SLM)

Deaf West Theatre and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, 135 N.

Grand Ave., Downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.

& 6:30 p.m.; (Jan. 31 perf at 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 17 perf at 7:30 p.m.;

no perfs Feb. 18-20); through March 15. (213) 628-2772.

http://centertheatregroup.org

NEW REVIEW GO RENT Given

how much this Tony-Award and Pulitzer-Prize winning rock opera has

permeated our culture, there is little need to reintroduce it.

Nonetheless, this touring production is special in that it features

both of the original Broadway leads (Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp),

members of the final Broadway cast, as well as original director

Michael Grief, original choreographer Marlies Yearby and original music

supervisor Tim Weil. The story, which centers on roommates Mark (Rapp)

and Roger (Pascal) and their friends, lovers and lovers' lovers, is a

wild, touching, and painful slice of life in the East Village of the

mid-1990s. For those familiar with New York, the portrayal of the AIDS

epidemic, Giuliani's "clean up" of the homeless population, and the

gentrification of Alphabet City brings back rueful memories of a city

between identities. Populating this corner of the Big Apple is a

coterie of bohemians struggling to stay warm, stay high, and stay loved

amidst the winter chill, all the while singing their hearts out. The

songs, ranging from the soulful "Take Me or Leave Me," to the spunky

"Light My Candle," to the wonderfully polyphonic "Will I?" and of

course the iconic "Seasons of Love," bring to life this beautiful story

and showcase the amazing voices of the cast. Don't miss this

spectacular revival that is sure to sell out, especially given its

brief run. The Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood;

Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.;

through March 8. (213) 365-3500. A Broadway/L.A. Production. (Mayank

Keshaviah)

GO STORMY WEATHER Mirrors mirrors on the walls.

That's what you're seeing all over the stage in James Noone's set as

Lena Horne (Leslie Uggams), now aging in the 1980s, observes her

younger self (Nikki Crawford) through the travails of a difficult life.

Her torments include having to surrender custody of her one, infant

son, Teddy, to her estranged husband (Phil Attmore), as she chooses to

leave New York to accept an offer by MGM Studios in Hollywood. For a

light-skinned African-American chanteuse swimming upstream towards

stardom in post WWII America, the cross currents she encounters include

the kind of stock bigotry (lobbying not to play maids in the

movies) and gossip surrounding her secret, tempestuous marriage to

Jewish arranger, Lennie Hayton (Robert Torti). Another mirror image

includes the resentful adult Teddy (Joran Barbour) and Horne's father,

Teddy, Sr. (Cleavant Derricks). Ensnared in Joseph McCarthy's

anti-Communist witch-hunt of the '50s, and thereby shunned by the

Hollywood studios, Horne finds employment in France (of course) and on

Broadway. The despondency caused by waking up one day and realizing

that she's lost all the men in her life, including Teddy from kidney

disease, raises the question of how one endures life's tempests. (As

Linda says in Death of a Salesman, "Life is a casting off.") Such are the metaphysics of Sharleen Cooper Cohen's musical, suggested from the Horne' biography, Lena Horne, Entertainer,

and punctuated by over two dozen classic jazz-pop hits, including "Come

Rain or Come Shine," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Hooray for Hollywood,"

"When You're Smiling," and the eponymous "Stormy Weather" -- all

accompanied by a 12-person orchestra perfectly conducted by musical

director Linda Twine, and beautifully sung by members of the large

ensemble. In her adaptation, Cohen frames Horne's journey down memory

pain via conversations with her life friend and rival, Kay Thompson

(Dee Hoty). Though Horne's snyde attitude towards this "friend," once

attached to the Hollywood studio that betrayed her, creates a brittle

and nicely unsentimental repartee, their conversations -- being locked

in the past tense -- bog things down dramatically, making the musical

feel longer than it otherwise might. Michael Bush's staging compensates

for this drawback with sheen, partly because the songs are often so

nicely tethered to Randy Skinner's sleek choreography, must mostly

because of Crawford's knockout voice and sexy charisma, and the

tender-sassy interpretations by Uggams. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S.

El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 8. (626) 356-7529.

NEW REVIEW GO THE THREEPENNY OPERA Director

Jules Aaron's luscious production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's

dark-hearted musical is a snappy dramatic delight that, in the words of

the play, "has pretty teeth, dear." The tale of sexy, villainous Mac

the Knife (Jeff Griggs), his seduction of the virtuous Polly Peacham

(Shannon Warne), and his near-destruction in an underworld inhabited by

pimps, thieves, murderers, and whores is given a powerful and

pleasingly cynical staging. Brecht purists might find some fault with

the fact that the polished and assured production lacks a slight edge

of rattiness. Yet, this reviewer isn't going to criticize the show for

being too skillfully executed - particularly as Darryl Archibald's

gorgeous musical direction contains musical renditions of the Weill

classics that approach standards of opera. Griggs, a baritone of

strikingly evocative ferocity, delivers his lines and musical numbers

with a tightly controlled roar, suggesting some kind of a sexy beast

who's just barely holding himself from running amok. Warne's Polly

artfully shifts on a dime from sweet innocent to brutal fiend, in her

rendition of "Pirate Jenny." And as the hardened prostitute who

befriends and then betrays Mac, Zarah Mahler's poignant Jenny Diver

delivers her musical numbers with a rough pathos and despair. Eileen

T'Kaye's wondrously funny snaggle-toothed hag, Mrs. Peacham, and Paul

Zegler's pompous and self pitying police chief, are also striking. The

translation, by Village Voice theater critic Michael

Feingold, is witty and vivid - even if the alteration of some of the

lines and lyrics that are well known from the famous theatrical

recordings of the show, occasionally engenders some surprise.

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East

Ocean Blvd, Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.: through

March 22. (562) 436-4610. (Paul Birchall)

TIME STANDS STILL is Donald Margulies' newest work, being given its

world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. It would be nice to see our

institutional theaters dip a bit deeper into the lake of American

playwrights (perhaps lesser-known ones) so that, as with the National

Theatre of Great Britain for example, the theaters can take credit for

promoting new voices, rather than just riding on the coattails of the

established ones, but that's not the world we live in. It is,

nonetheless, a relief and a pleasure to see such thoughtful and

well-crafted new writing on the stage. Margulies is a compassionate

observer of human behavior, and his play concerns a photo journalist

(Anna Gunn), just returned to her Brooklyn digs from a German hospital

after being struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She barks at her life

partner who's a reporter (David Harbour) over his concerned reluctance

to offer her a cup of coffee in public; her pithy attack seems on the

surface to be over nothing but a cup of coffee. The play is actually

about all that lies underneath -- the morality of her career as a

photo-journalist that feeds on the miseries on the world, and spews it

back in the form of coffee-table books. One of Margulies' sourer points

is the service such journalists provides to liberal consumers who use

bad news in the press to fuel their outrage over injustice, and to

assuage their guilt over doing nothing about it. But would the world

really be better without such journalists, and without those images?

(SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs.,

7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.;

through March 15. (310) 208-5454.

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

ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest

hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat.,

8 p.m., This week: Iliza Schlesigner. (323) 525-0202.

ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt

Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big

city.". Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 465-0800.


ARMSTRONG'S KID A schoolteacher is falsely accused of child

molestation, written by and starring Stanley Bennett Clay. Lucy

Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru

March 12. (323) 293-1356.

GO THE JAZZ AGE The title phrase, coined by F.

Scott Fitzgerald about the desperate frivolity of the post WWI era,

captures the spirit if not the style of Allan Knee's fascinating,

melodramatic fantasy of life. The play shows the intersecting lives of

Fitzgerald (Luke Macfarlane), his troubled southern belle wife Zelda

(Heather Prete), and literary rival Ernest Hemingway (Jeremy Gabriel).

Fitzgerald is at the apex of his career when he tries to woo the

reluctant, soon-to-be poster boy for machismo into his world. Opposites

in style, but with both being enthusiastic expats in Paris, the

hard-drinking womanizers bond, spar and occasionally hint at urges

toward homoeroticism through more than a decade of rocky friendship.

With their live performance of exhilarating period (and some original)

music, Ian Whitcomb and his Bungalow Boys punctuate much of the play.

Director Michael Matthews and the fine cast follow Knee's heavy-handed

writing with fierce dramatics that effectively play like the most

overarching characterizations of 1940s plays by Tennessee Williams -

with Prete's powerful Zelda resembling Blanche. Kurt Boetcher's set

evocatively transforms The Blank's tiny space, pairing masculine wood

frames with panels of effete Tiffany's blue. (TP) 2nd Stage Theatre,

6500 Santa Monica Bvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

through March 22. (323) 661-9827. The Blank Theatre.

GOBACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS: A NOT-SO

ROMANTIC COMEDY OF BAD MANNERS Rob Mersola's extravagant farce extracts

its laughs from its characters' miseries and sexual misadventures:

self-loathing, murderous competitiveness, anonymous erotic encounters.

Mersola is a clever writer, who exploits the tried-and-true farce

structure to engineer a funny final scene in which all the characters

are brought together to have their lies, deceptions and shenanigans

unmasked. A skillful cast meticulously mines the laughs in this

crowd-pleasing date show. (NW). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion

Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7829.

GO BATTLE HYMN In a fit of passion and adoration,

young Martha (Suzy Jane Hunt), has a fling with a pretty (and pretty

oblivious) school chum, Henry (Bill Heck), as he's about to join the

Union army during the Civil War (despite the couple's Kentucky home).

Finding herself pregnant and alone, Martha eventually learns that Henry

finds other men more attractive than her. After being spurned by her

minister father (William Salyers), who banishes her to relatives far

away, Jim Leonard's lovely new play, a variation on Voltaire's Candide,

follows Martha as she traverses the country and the century, finding

herself in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of

Love, still pregnant, still waiting for "the right time" to bring her

infant into the world. Leonard's play is more emotionally moving that

intellectually rigorous - a compendium of symbols that add up to a

century of clashes between America's founding principles and the

betrayals of those principles that show up through history - from

slavery to gay rights to religious hypocrisy. This land is our land?

Hardly. And yet the prevailing symbol is that of birth, and re-birth,

of ourselves. Leonard's structure has a few problems. Dwelling on the

Civil War era through Act 1, and then racing through time in Act 2, its

surrealism would be less jarring if the play's motion were more

carefully proportioned. He's been given a first rank production with

John Langs' quasi-cinematic staging, featuring some moving musical

backdrops composed by Michael A. Levine. Bryan Sidney Bembridge's set

and lighting have just the right amount of visual animation, without

too much glib winking. Hunt simply charms as Martha, with a wide-eyed

conviction that's largely blind to the betrayals that lurk around every

corner; John Short and Robert Manning, Jr. complete the finely textured

ensemble. (SLM) [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 7. (323) 461-3673. A

Circle X Production.

BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY John Patrick Shanley's memory play

about an Irish-American family. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (800) 838-3006.

BENCHES, SKETCHES OF THE 1930S Two one-acts: Black, Bold & Beautiful, the story of opera singer Marian Anderson, and Let Me In, about Gone With the Wind's Hattie McDaniel. KSLG Playhouse Theater Players, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Sat., 6 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 227-5410.

BEYOND THERAPY Christopher Durang's therapy satire. Actor's Playpen,

1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (323)

960-7721.

BLACK WOMEN: STATE OF THE UNION Judging from this uneven assortment

of comedy sketches, dramatic playlets and poetry performance pieces,

the state of identity politics for black women in the age of Obama

hasn't appreciably changed since Ntozake Shange's landmark, 1975

choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

Buoyed by a talented ensemble and briskly directed by Nataki Garrett

and Ayana Cahrr, the show is at its best when its political agenda gets

leavened with incisive humor or sharply observed characterizations.

These include Lisa B. Thompson's whimsical "Mother's Day," a satire of

African-American, maternal archetypes in the form of pre-programmed,

nanny-bot androids Tamika Simpkins, Lee Sherman and the comically

gifted Kila Kitu, who play, respectively, an overly doting Aunt Jemima

mammy, a Condoleezza Ricean hyper-achiever and a vintage, 1970s black

power militant; Nia Witherspoon's "The Messiah Complex," which takes a

more serious tack as a lesbian rap star (Lony'e Perrine) recalls her

younger, gender-confused, adolescent self (Sherman) and how a troubled

relationship with her estranged father (Paul Mabon) informed her sexual

and artistic awakening; and Sigrid Gilmer's clever "Black Girl Rising,"

in which a wannabe super heroine (Simpkins) comes to Kitu's Identity

League to be assigned crime-fighting powers only to discover the roles

allowed a black girl are somewhat less than empowering. (BR) Company of

Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., downtown; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 15. (323) 883-1717.

BLUES FOR CENTRAL AVENUE Willard Manus's play with music is a

spirited glimpse at downtown L.A. of yore and folklore, of Central

Avenue's storied era of jazz clubs and nightspots where the likes of

Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and others were frequent headliners. The

action unfolds in and around the famous Dunbar Hotel, where Lowell

Smith (Wallace Demarrià), fresh from a stint in the army with plans on

starting a record label, discovers the singing prowess of the lovely

Roberta Youngblood (Christian Omari) during a night out on the Avenue.

She grudgingly allows the aspiring businessman to guide her career, but

when her prodigious talents attract the attention of a Hollywood mogul

(Charles Anteby), jealousy and racial fault lines emerge, changing the

lives of those involved. The story is not overly engaging, and Manus

and director Ken Crosby do less than an artful job of telling it. Some

of Manus's characters are only slightly deeper than caricatures, and

his writing often lacks polish. Crosby's clunky direction make a play

that clocks in at ninety minutes feel like three hours. These problems

are somewhat mitigated by good acting, Lou Briggs serves up snappy

music and splendid accompaniment on the piano, and stylish dancing by

Barkia A. Croom and Jackie Marriot, proves that choreographer Anne Mesa

has done her homework. (LE3)The Little Company Hollywood Civic Light

Opera at Write Act Theatre, 6125 Yucca Ave., Hollywood; Thur.-Sat., 8

p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through March 7. (323) 469-3113.

GO BOHEMIAN COWBOY The original title of Raymond King Shurtz's one-man show was The Gospel of Irony-

which would have been a particularly ironic title, had it stuck, since

there's not a trace of irony in Shurtz's unwaveringly sincere family

memoir, now called Bohemian Cowboy. It's all to his efforts

to understand the mystery of his father's disappearance three years

ago. The elder Shurtz drove six miles into the Nevada desert in his

pickup truck, got out and, evidently, started walking. And now the

younger Shurtz is trying to fathom whether or not it was suicide,

homicide and just some freak turn of events. The older man was not the

best of fathers, his son explains through shards of poignant stories

that are as compassionate as they are gracefully written, and spoken.

And the father was feeling some humiliation from the physical

after-effects of treatments for a form of cancer not specified in the

play. The uncredited set contains raw wood slabs of some nondescript

interior; when not showing family photographs, a video monitor overhead

frames the action with an image of the boundless Mojave. Under Kurt

Brungardt's tender direction, background sounds to Shurtz's fantastical

mystery tour to the scene of his father's disappearance include howling

wind, the rat-tat-tat of search-and-rescue helicopters. The father was

a musician, and the son juxtaposes his saga with moving ballads from

his memory, as well as his own original compositions. Near the

beginning, Shurtz quotes William Styron saying that depression is the

inability to grieve. Shurtz's performance is, indeed, a elegy, a

theater-poem of Styron-esque insight and elegance. He describes his

playwright mother as a poet, while his father was merely "poetical." He

meets Jesus in the desert, a figure "with ebony eyes and crooked

teeth," while Hamlet accompanies him for some of the drive across the

expanse. Hamlet, he says, does not care for Shurtz's song honoring

Ophelia. Shurtz performs all this with gentle, wistful intelligence

that avoids pitfalls of moroseness and melodrama. Through this deeply

personal story of fathers and sons, and marriages gone awry, Shurtz has

stumbled onto a romantic allegory, not only for a man lost in the

wilderness, but for a country, dangerously tipsy, swerving over the

broken center-line of an open road, as though between nostalgia and

despondency, beneath a canopy of stars. (SLM) Elephant Lab Theatre,

6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perfs March

13-14); through March 21. (323) 960-7744. A Theatre 4S Production.

BRIDEZILLA STRIKES BACK! In August of 2002, Cynthia Silver, a

struggling actress, was informed by her wedding "event designer" that a

British film company, September Films was creating a "documentary

series" called "Manhattan Brides," that followed couples through the

preparation of their nuptials. Her fiancé, Matt Silver (who still works

as a production stage manager on Broadway), was less than impressed

and, according to Cynthia's confession, said he didn't like the silky

tone of the British producers, and didn't trust them. "It's a reality

TV show," he told her. "No, hon," she replied, "It's a documentary

series. It's like Nova, but about weddings." Similarly confusing

"exposure" with "acting," she also believed that the experience might

jump start her performing career. Silver performed her show in the 2005

New York International Fringe Festival; she's now visibly pregnant, and

has regained the 15 pounds she says she lost after the gdocumentaryh

was aired. Much of the Bridezilla pedestrian, as Silver regales us - on

and around Giulio Perrone's wedding cake set piece - about her filmed

hysterics while trying to find a wedding dress that would disguise her

weight; and her spunky on-film ruminations about the cruel, exploitive

ambitions of the wedding industry. Then comes the section that's

irrefutably absorbing, when Silver finally realizes the betrayal that

we've suspected all along. Months after filming has been completed

comes the email from Britain that the gdocumentaryh has been sold to

Fox, which is turning into a reality show. The core of her identity

crisis is her obsession with what others think of her. As her husband

aptly puts it, "Why do you care? They're idiots!" But she does care,

and her endearing confession of the profound insight she's learned

rings ever so slightly hollow through her tears. She is, after all,

still doing this show, still confessing in front of strangers in a film

and TV industry town. (SLM) Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los

Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 29. (323)

960-7774.

NEW REVIEW GO BRUISING FOR BESOS In Spanish

besos means kisses but getting them in Yolanda Villamontes'

(writer/performer Adelina Anthony) family should come with combat pay.

With a philandering father who alternately abuses and romances her

emotionally fragile mother, Yolanda develops a distorted view of love

that clouds her relationships, most especially that with her mom. Now

as an adult on a sojourn from L.A. to visit her sick mother in San

Antonio, Yolanda is marooned with a busted radiator on a Texas highway

and flashes back to memories of her hardscrabble childhood, her budding

attraction to women, and the struggle for her and her mom to accept one

another. Anthony's solo performance chronicles a tale of dysfunction

with uproarious humor and heartfelt gravity, deftly balancing both and

delivering a riveting work. Under Rose Marcario's sturdy direction,

Anthony effortlessly embodies a host of characters, from Yolanda's'

strutting father and precocious siblings to her sexually confused high

school peer, from a fiery Puerto Rican lover to a mother aching from a

love-hate relationship. Designer Robert Selander's set, centered on a

Ford Mustang grill and car hood made of bleached bones, and John

Pedrone's evocative lighting design, combine well with Anthony's

journey of self-discovery. The Davidson/Valenti Theatre at the L.A. Gay

& Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 15. (323) 860-7300. (Martín Hernández)

Stage Raw: Getting Physical

Bruising for Besos Photo by Allison Moon

DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here

substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a

dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For

most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers

playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores

dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't

emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3).

Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 954-9795.

GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and

entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the

lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a

marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of

rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some

sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction

and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of

triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting

beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying

partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his

aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective

attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner),

a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion

from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City.

These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who

both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without

"representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies.

Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his

five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the

Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist

set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked

behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision,

based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his

home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank

accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out,"

there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long

partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose

basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody

hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323)

960-1056.

ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company.

Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323)

934-9700.

GO FILM Local playwright Patrick McGowan's new play

has no right to be as good as it is. The central character is the late

theater director Alan Schneider (Bill Robens) -- known for staging some

of the best plays by Absurdist authors, including Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, and introducing almost all of Samuel Beckett's plays to the American stage. Film

has no right to be so good because Schneider, in this play, is an

insufferable, flailing bully. The play is Schneider's nightmare -- an

Absurdist nightmare, naturally -- a comedy and inexplicably

scintillating entertainment about artistic failure. This biographical

story, set in 1965 New York, features Schneider trying to make a film

from a screenplay by Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward), who has come to New

York to work with Schneider. Joining them to star in the slogging,

portentous film, also named Film (now regarded by some

historians as a "masterpiece") is Beckett's favorite comedian, Buster

Keaton (Carl J. Johnson), long past his prime, spiritually at ease with

his station in life, and willing to play along with the clueless

intellectuals and a film crew whose patience gets sorely tested. Ward's

Beckett is a delightfully rueful, awkward and solitary figure, aching

in vain (of course) for the affections of the star-struck yet savvy

prop mistress (the lovely Deana Barone). Johnson's Keaton (Mandi Moss

handily plays the comedian in his younger days) has a pleasingly

bemused perspective on Schneider's insane temper tantrums. Framing the

story are slivers of Waiting for Godot in both French and

English, and, in another nod to Beckett, a vaudeville in front of a

curtain, featuring a kind of Mutt and Jeff routine, here played out by

Schneider and the source of his envy, director Mike Nichols (who

grabbed the job directing the movie of Virginia Woolf),

portrayed here as a figure of rare competence by Trevor H. Olsen.

Despite his production being slightly too long, director Trevor Biship

knows exactly what he's doing, astutely staging the action with

supplementary archived film clips on Sarah Palmrose's emblematic set of

a stage within a stage within a stage, each with its own curtain, and

together depicting the multiple, clashing realities inside Schneider's

tormented brain. (SLM) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 21. (323) 856-8611.

FLIGHT: THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH Garth Wingfield's

bio-drama about the famous American aviator is more like a overstated,

cautionary tale about the perils of being a celebrity. Rather than

presenting a structured story with a plot or dramatic arc, the writer

gives us a montage of scenes that come across like a collection of news

headlines and interviews. Gerald Downey does a fine turn as the

Everyman pilot, whose 1927 flight from New York to Paris gave him

instant acclaim. And then there's the matter of the kidnapping of baby

Charles, and Lindy's foot-in-mouth debacle as a Nazi sympathizer, all

of which occurred in the span of 14 years, turning Lindbergh from hero

to heel. Wingfield doesn't probe these events in depth, doesn't provide

a meaningful context or perspective, which is too bad because we miss a

true sense of Lindbergh and his life. (He was also an author, scientist

and environmentalist.) Instead, the picture here is of a likable but

cranky "aw-shucks," fellow slyly exploited by a bevy of rapacious

reporters (played by Eric Charles Jorgenson), who is badly in need of a

P.R. man. The acting is spotty at best, but Robin Roy is passable as

Anne Lindbergh. James Carey provides good direction. (LE3)Attic Theater

& Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 2 p.m., through March 14. (323) 525-0600.

FORKING! Daniel Heath's play, in which you, the audience, get to choose

your own adventure. FYI: The full title is "Fork Off Down Your Own

Forking Adventure Which You've Forked.". Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 962-0046.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

NEW REVIEW THE GRADUATE British playwright Terry Johnson's fatuous adaptation of Mike Nichols 1967 film and Charles Webb's novel might have garnered  laughs had it been played as a satire.  No such luck, I'm afraid.   Featuring the Mrs. Robinson character in the buff (the producers raked it in when Katherine Turner played the role in London and New York),  Johnson's illogical script rips off  highlights from the film and juxtaposes them with additional plot points: a drunken tete-a-tete between Elaine (Michele Exarhos) and Mrs. Robinson (Kelly Lloyd), a visit by Benjamin (Ben Campbell) and his parents (Jerry Lloyd and Cindy Yantis) to a psychotherapist, a strip bar sequence with a topless dancer falling into Elaine's lap, and a redo of the wedding scene at the end, with Mr. Robinson (Jim Keily) going after Benjamin with a bat.  None of these inanities would matter quite so much if Johnson hadn't also stripped the story of all wit, depth and meaningful social commentary.   Directed with little insight by Jules  Aaron, the performances range from cartoonish to earnest to an off-putting mixture of both. To be fair, it's difficult to deliver an ultimate rendering given the dreadful material.  As the predatory siren, Lloyd might have fit nicely into a well-calibrated farce.  Costume designer Shon LeBLanc mysteriously makes Elaine look as dowdy as possible; nor do his designs flatter Lloyd.   Set designer Stephen Gifford's drab, functional wood-paneled backdrop underscores this essentially lifeless effort. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 460-4443. (Deborah Klugman)


Stage Raw: Getting Physical



The Graduate Photo by Ty Donaldson

GRAND MOTEL The real star of Michael Sargent's new farce is the set

- Chris Covics' stunningly realistic back yard of a Palm Springs

men-only nudist motel, replete with lawn chairs and lawn, swimming pool

containing little rubber duckies, the motel's stacco walls and a

sliding door to the room facing the pool. Early in Act 1, aging

"degenerate southern playwright" Cornelius Coffin (Dennis Christopher)

staggers from that room into the 95 degree heat at 10 a.m., dressed in

a white shroud, like Tennessee Williams or "like the men wear in

Morocco." As though jolted by a surge of electricity, he flails

backwards upon entering the heat, shielding his eyes from the glare and

staggering back into his room to retrieve his sunglasses. It's one in a

series of funny, small jokes, nicely staged by the author. Coffin is

hiding from the East Coast premiere of his latest play, or at least

hiding from the reviews that are due out any moment. There's a suicide

pact he makes with a male model (Andy Hopper) who insists he has a

girlfriend, while Coffin's so called friend, Maria St. Juiced (Shannon

Holt), arrives by scaling an eight-foot wall. Holt offers a

performances of nicely timed tics and wiggles that reveal her

character's idiosyncratic insanity. Another wall-hopper is the local,

prancing male escort (Nick Soper). The motel's co-owners (Craig Johnson

and Erik Hanson) are struggling to keep the place afloat, though we

hear that the competition across the street, another male nudist motel

called The Deep End, is fully booked. Nice comedic cameos also by Bruce

Adel and Nathaniel Stanton as an aging couple , respectively named Low

Hangers and Papa Smurf, who come to P.S. to reinvigorate their

otherwise flaccid love life. There is a plot about things not being

what they seem, but this is essentially a comedy of manners. Sargent's

structure is so languid that once the jokes about the atmosphere tumble

away, the play is left wearing mere threads, not unlike its characters.

(SLM) Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 28. (323) 466-7781.

HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is

trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept -

stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that

took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an

off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard

Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads

and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual

awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are

performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast)

and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper)

entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical

beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a

stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some

very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original,

perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few

notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just

don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . It's slightly

paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some

buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming,

that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not

their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly

all profiles in courage. (SLM) Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4443.

THE HIGH Teen drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". COMEDYSPORTZ, 733 N. Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 856-4796.

GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the

blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on

the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in

class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort

to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal

of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's

earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch

supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella

Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3

& 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.

THE INCREASED DIFFICULTY OF CONCENTRATION. Absurdist playwright,

militant anti-Communist and human rights advocate Vaclav Havel is

unique as the only working playwright who was also a head of state: he

was president of both Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. This

piece, translated by Stepan S. Simek, centers on social scientist Dr.

Edward Hummel (Scott Rognlien), who's writing an earnest treatise on

the nature of happiness and human needs. In private life, however, he's

an egocentric male chauvinist, liar and sexual philanderer. In addition

to his neglected wife (Kristina Hayes), he has a flamboyant mistress

(Sarah Wolter), and makes passes at his secretary (Whitney Vigil). He's

also participating in a crack-brained research project conducted by the

sex-starved academic Dr. Betty Balthazar (Amy Stiller), her odd-ball

assistants (Steve Hamill and Eric Normington), her eccentric supervisor

(Bobby Reed), and a temperamental computer named Putzig. Though all the

absurdist elements are present -- a fractured chronology, emblematic

characters and bizarre events -- it seems like a conventional sex

comedy grafted onto a philosophical farce. Director Alex Lippard has

assembled an able cast, and the results are often funny, but the play's

over-schematic structure makes for arid patches. (NW) The Lounge

Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

through March 28. Produced by The Next Arena. (323) 960-7788.

THE ISLAND South African prison drama by John Kani, Winston Ntshona and

Athol Fugard. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (323)

293-1356.

KEN ROHT'S 99¢ ONLY CALENDAR GIRL COMPETITION Now in its sixth year,

director-choreographer Ken Roht's 99 Cents Only theater is beginning to

look like a one trick pony. As in past years, the trick is to limit his

costume (Ann Closs-Farley) and set (Jason Adams) designers to use only

what they can scrounge from the titular discount chain for Roht's

decidedly silly burlesques of Radio City-style, holiday musical

spectaculars. It's a funny gag ― thanks mainly to the wit and ingenuity

of Closs-Farley, whose show-stealing creations dress this year's

ostensible lampoon of beauty pageants in the highest of camp. It almost

makes one overlook Roht's failure to gird his polished production

numbers with the narrative spine of a coherent book. Instead, he and

co-composer John Ballinger are content to let their parody coast on

their pastiche of Godspell-vintage, R&B showtunes and the

bare structural framework of the pageant form itself. And while their

clever lyrics often connect, the lack of a story arc or character

through-lines means the evening never amounts to more than a concert of

disconnected ― and increasingly monotonous ― musical sketches. If

storytelling isn't Roht's forte, however, he once again proves his

genius at talent recruitment. This year's 28-strong, pitch-perfect

company generates enough singing and dancing power to light up an

entire Broadway season. (BR) Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 29. (213) 389-3856.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT Moises Kaufman's dramatization of the Matthew

Shepard murder. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No.

6, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 8. (323)

465-0800.

NEW REVIEW GO LAWS OF SYMPATHY A knock-out

cast under John Lawrence Rivera's economical direction gives a human

heartbeat to Oliver Mayer's "message play" -- the heart being the theme

of human cruelty that lies at at the center of Mayer's play about the

freeing of Bantu slaves from Somali refugee camps. Though Mayer's

dialogue suffers from didacticism. Anita Dashiell and Diarra Kilpatrick

turn in fully realized performances as two war-ravaged women in

performances that extend beyond the novelty of flushing a never before

seen toilet (the gag gets old after a while). The women arrive with

rich pasts, as well as a host if dreams, hopes and aspirations -- much

to the chagrin of the usually unflappable refugee co-coordinator

Mohammed (Ahmad Enani). His angry assistant Betty (Celelete Den)

provides some much needed color and humor throughout the play. (The

other major humorous bit comes when the Teletubbies, from one of the

refugees' favorite TV show, arrive unannounced in "person."). Mayer

does deserve credit for creating the morally ambiguous Gerald (Will

Dixon), whose plans for the refugees sound vague at best. Act I is

entirely taut, but Act 2 trots out a number of clichés and doesn't know

quite when to end. John H. Binkly's functional turntable set allows

Rivera's fast-paced direction to move quickly from scene to scene.

Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; through March 29. A Playwrights Arena production. (213) 627-4473.

(Sandra Ross)

Stage Raw: Getting Physical


Laws of Sympathy Photo Courtesy of Playwrights Arena

LET THE EAGLE SOAR Merchandise Productions presents sketch comedy

with a dash of video, music and dance. I.O. WEST, 6366 Hollywood Blvd.,

L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 962-7560.

GO LIGHT UP THE SKY Moss Hart's sharp, hard-boiled

1946 farce is the quintessential backstage tale of the mid-20th

century. His characters are often based on real people: fast-talking

producer Sidney Black (Benjamin Burdick) and his sassy ice-skater wife,

Frances (Andrea Syglowski), are almost certainly meant to suggest Mr.

and Mrs. Billy Rose. The characters are types, but Hart transmutes them

into archtypes, readily recognizable to those too young to remember the

era they represent. We meet them in a hotel in Boston, where they're

preparing for the out-of-town opening of a show they hope will go off

"like a roman candle in the tired face of show business." There's the

self-dramatizing star Irene (Laura Flanagan), her dim-bulb husband

(Richard Michael Knolla), and her earthy, disenchanted mother (Barbara

Schofield). The pretentious, over-emotional director (Colin Campbell)

is said to cry at card-tricks, and the callow young playwright (Dominic

Spillane) must undergo his theatrical baptism by fire. Hart's script

crackles with wit and wise-cracks, and, under the clever direction of

Bjorn Johnson, the laughter is near-constant on Victoria Profitt's

art-deco set. Burdick is a dynamo of verbal pyrotechnics, and he's

evenly matched by most of the cast, who make the most of Hart's

cynical/sentimental Valentine to show business. (NW) Open Fist Theatre,

6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.,

through March 7. (323) 882-6912.

LOVE BITES - VOLUME 8.0 Eight new plays debut in Elephant Theatre

Company's annual short-form festival. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 960-4410.

MAKIN' HAY World-premiere musical about a wealthy cowboy by Matthew Goldsby, based on Moliere's 1668 comedy George Dandin. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 462-8460.

GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John

Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy

by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of

Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer)

and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's

taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations

becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful

daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult

performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend

guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic

girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get

going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled

Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on

the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the

breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose

humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the

piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept

and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark

as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching

timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more

roll-with-the-punches pal. (DK) Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave.,

Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through March 8. (800)

595-4849. Note: Roles alternate.

NEW REVIEW GO THE MIRACLE WORKER Though its

compelling subject transcends its limitations, William Gibson's

fact-based 1959 play is a product of its time, large and sprawling, yet

over-tidy in tying up loose ends. In her infancy, Helen Keller (Carlie

Nettles) suffers a high fever that leaves her blind and deaf. Science

and medicine (circa 1880) can do nothing for her, leaving her locked in

her own world. She becomes a monster child, violent, willful, and

unmanageable. But her peppery Irish teacher, Annie Sullivan (Erin

Christine Shaver), somehow perceives the indomitable intelligence

locked inside her head. With profound belief in the power of language,

Sullivan sets about teaching the girl a signing alphabet, which

eventually enables her to perceive and communicate with the world. The

struggle is arduous and violent, and frequently complicated by the

well-meaning but misguided Keller family, who indulge the child as a

retarded little animal. Director-designer Joel Daavid, faced with the

problem of numerous scene changes, has provided a vast unit set, which

is handsome but sometimes makes for awkward staging. He's fortunate in

his cast, and Nettles and Shaver boldly tackle their violent

confrontations, ably supported by Stuart W. Howard, Julie Austin

Felder, Ethan Brosowsky, and Elisa Perry. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose

Avenue, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 8.

Hayworth Productions. (323) 960-7863 or

http://www.plays411/miracleworker (Neal Weaver)

MY BROOKLYN HAMLET: WHERE MOTHER KILLS FATHER & MARRIES HER SISTER

Brenda Adelman's "true tale of triumph over tragedy.". BANG, 457 N.

Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., March 12, 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Charles Ludlam's gothic horror farce.

Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

7 p.m.; thru March 20. (323) 969-1707.

THE PAINTING Bill Becker's story of an artist, her male nude model,

and her husband's mysterious death. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner

St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 22. (323)

960-7735.

GOPOINT 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 POOR, POOR LEAR In her one woman Shakespeare

show-within-a-show, Nina Sallinen nearly triples her age to play a

90-year-old Finnish diva, returning to the stage after decades away to

perform King Lear wit just a hat, a doll, and a flower to represent the

king's three ill-fated daughters. The aged actress is seemingly in

constant motion, thrilled to back in the spotlight, but her overactive

mouth, her limbs and, on occasion, her mind are betraying her. When her

stubborn legs and distracted brain cause her to freeze up on stage,

it's as electric as her shock of white hair that shakes loose in wild

directions. A solo performance of King Lear is a vanity piece, however

cleverly slummed up with nice touches like the hairdryer Sallinen

clicks on so that she can deliver the king's "Blow, winds, and crack

your cheeks!" speech into its tinny gale. But what's really at stake

for the ancient drama queen is that her estranged daughters -- and the

evening's guests of honor -- have instead gone to the movies, spinning

her into a manic depression where she acknowledges the parallels

between her characters and herself. A shattered second act soliloquy

over-explains what we've enjoyed intuiting, but when Sallinen's actress

drops her facade and asks the audience to see her for who she really

is, the moment is so kinetic that we forget we're still looking at a

fictional creation. (AN) The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Hollywood; call for schedule; through March 26. (818) 430-4835.


ROMEO AND JULIET Young lovers get all emo. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford

Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April

5. (800) 838-3006.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Tribute to the early years of SNL. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 465-0800.

SIN, A CARDINAL DEPOSED Prosecutor demands answers from a cardinal

about sexual abuse in his archdiocese, by Michael Murphy, based on

actual court transcripts. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 2. (323) 960-4442.

SIX YEARS Sharr White's story of a World War II GI's return to his

hometown. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 871-1150.

SONGS TO OFFEND ALMOST EVERYONE Sharon McNight performs politically

incorrect tunes, not the least of which is Chet Atkins' "Would Jesus

Wear a Rolex.". Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 957-1884.

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.

YENTA: STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH Annie Korzen critiques life. El

Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 460-4443.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AMERICAN GUILT Starting from the ending and then working its way

back, Nick Mills' take on the Bonnie and Clyde archetype deals with

20-somethings who are searching for meaning in their lives and try to

find it through acts of defiance. The story centers on the relationship

between Sara (Liz Vital) and Jonah (Eduardo Porto Carreiro), the former

a nymphomaniac who ironically refuses to curse and the latter a

socially awkward depressive who has been seeing his therapist, Jane

(Nicole DuPort), for seven years. Also in the mix are Sara's friends

Evan (Jeff Irwin) and Hannah (Venessa Perdua), who end up as enablers

in Sara and Jonah's scheme and as a result are grilled by Keller (Sean

Spann), a police detective investigating the devastating results of it.

While there are a few genuine moments of humor and introspection in the

writing, most of it ends up sounding like a pseudo-intellectual whine

punctuated by pop-culture debates, further exacerbated by the typical

early-20s rapid-fire ADD-esque way in which much of it is delivered.

Though Mills' directing his own work may have been a mistake, the cast

members, especially Spann and DuPort, have good energy and throw

themselves into the material fully. (MK) Theatre Unlimited Studios,

10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March

14. (847) 800-1762. A Vitality Productions Production.


GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and

sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly

twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by

her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny

Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a

co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam

Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered

slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty

house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it.

Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long

since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can

charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by

and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a

gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly

long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full

of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight

production punches the weird, Addams Familytone with brio,

nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From

his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his

half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the

crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts

Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

2 p.m.; through March 14. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.

GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing

cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent

show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes,

and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan

County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays

Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about

feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife,

Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the

Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter.

Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a

scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are

other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad

McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie

for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing

contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative,

borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy

tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and

an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke

machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory

Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 2 p.m., thru Mar. 29. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.

NEW REVIEW GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who

recently helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera at the Hayworth,

has scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire

tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's liberties they

take on the story in now way diminish the quality of the production.

Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy count, first seen rising from

his grave to put the bite on the lovely Mina (Mara Marini), upon his

arrival in England. When Lucy Seward (Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a

mysterious illness, her mother, Lily (Karesa McElheny), who runs an

asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find

a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R.

Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This

one's all about atmosphere. Desma Murphy's alluring set design is

cleverly accented by an enormous backdrop of an incubus sitting on a

sleeping woman, inspired by Henry Fuseli's painting "The Nightmare."

Luke Moyer's lighting schema is perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an

arsenal of haunted house special effects here, including lots of

rolling fog and wolf howls, but they never come across as cheesy or

overdone; and there are a few scary moments during this 90-minute show,

amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia

Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 22.

(818) 508-7101. (Lovell Estell III)

ELOVE - A MUSICAL.COM/EDY This world premiere musical by Wayland

Pickard explores an online romance between an older man and woman who

are newly single. After a website called "eLove" matches Frank (Lloyd

Pedersen) and Carol (Bobbi Stamm), love seems to blossom as they begin

chatting online. The opening number "I'm Single" has a catchy tune with

some clever lyrics; unfortunately the highlight of the show comes five

minutes in. The rest devolves into repetitive and unimaginative quips

punctuated by musical numbers that plunge from the pedestrian to

something akin to theme songs from '80s sitcoms. Pickard does

everything in this production but act; his staging lends it a

one-dimensional quality that might have been avoided with greater

collaboration. He is so focused on trying to milk puns for laughs that

his direction employs hackneyed devices such as talking to pets and

monologues delivered out to the audience. Stamm stumbles over one too

many lines, though she and Pederson have pleasant voices, but Chris

Winfield's cramped set allows them little freedom to physically explore

their characters. The piece, in effect, becomes an Ed Sullivan-style

stand-up routine with dialogue so trite, it makes George Lucas look

like Edward Albee. (MK) Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd.,

Toluca Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 29. An Angry Amish

Production (818) 841-5422.

THE ILLUSTRATED BRADBURY Tobias Andersen's (non-tattooed) solo performance piece, inspired by Ray Bradbury's story The

Illustrated Man. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South

Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 960-4429.

IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by

Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas.

Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.

LA RONDE Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Luna Playhouse,

3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21.

(818) 500-7200.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Roger Corman's carnivorous-plant musical,

book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Eclectic

Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (818) 508-3003.

A LOVELY PLACE FOR A PICNIC Ladislav Smocek's antiwar play, reset in

the jungles of Vietnam by Pavel Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura

Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru March 24. (866) 811-4111.

MADAME BUTTERFLY: THE ORIGINAL PLAY The 1999 Secret Rose cast

reunites for the play that inspired Puccini's opera. Secret Rose

Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (866) 811-4111.

MISCONCEPTIONS Seven short plays by Art Shulman. Lonny Chapman Group

Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.

NOSE TALES The Zombie Joe Underground sniffs out "five lovable

fools.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood;

Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 19. (818) 202-4120.

GO A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Playwright Martin

McDonagh -- a four time Tony nominee is known for his rhythmic,

ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and

just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with

past grievances that neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't

even involve them. Here, a part time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan

Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney),

are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash

officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny

O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered how

she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured

direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say,

flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the

killer that could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of

plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a

cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story; the focus is

on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spins

itself into an obsession with fairness where characters glower," Now I

have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so

then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull down set

converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as

Higgin's thighs are thick. (AN) Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd.,

North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.

TARTUFFE As Madame Pernelle (Judith Scarpone) is giving her

imperious farewell lecture to the family, parading in a peach pantsuit

with flowing scarves (costumes by Leah Piehl), about a dozen of her

suitcases drop from the rafters. They hit with violent thuds, eliciting

a blithe response from the family. Such is the lunacy in this

present-day San Fernando Valley suburb (set by Ken McKenzie),

modernized by director Josh Chambers from Moliere's 17th century

Parisian estate setting. Meanwhile, Pernelle's son and master of the

house, Orgon (Tim Cummings), stands on a platform high in the sky,

dressed like a CIA agent and being caressed by an identically dressed

twin, white-gloved figure in a grey ski mask. The double is the

interloper-impostor Tartuffe (Antonio Anagaran). Orgon speaks all of

Tartuffe's lines through a microphone, so that the pair are entwined

psychologically as well as physically. Their movements are a kind of

choreographed duet, and Chambers' direction contains many operatic

elements. Though the physicalization simply renders austere what's more

amusing (and self-evident) in Moliere's baroque farce - that Tartuffe

is a demon who resides inside Orgon's soul - it's nonetheless one of

many absorbing theatrical conceits. Another is the complicating reality

that Pernelle's family is here lost in space. Granddaughter Mariane

(Megan Heyn) lounges forlornly on one of the lawn chairs, inhaling

fumes from aerosol cans that lie scattered at her feet. She's also in

the habit of cutting herself - perhaps in response to the news that her

insane father is pushing her to marry his beloved Tartuffe (i.e.

himself?) -- yet Mariane's self-mutilation reveals layers of

depressions that would go back years. Curiously, this gives some

validity to Pernelle's screed against the family's spiritual malaise.

Even Cleante (Matt Foyer) - Orgon's brother-in-law and the play's voice

of reason - gives his nicely rendered if slightly tedious advice while

lounging and swilling martinis. So we have an unhinged household

threatened by the menacing hypocrisy of a pious zealot, whose

appearances are accompanied by the dull rumble of Nathan Ruyle's sound

design. Moliere's comedic indignation has been boiled down to a

slightly glib nihilism. Donald Frame's faithful and full-bodied verse

translation is completely at odds with Chambers' staging. The rhyming

comes filled with whimsy, yet Chambers is tone-deaf to the humor

inherent in the text. Moliere's is a humor of behavior; Chambers' is

the humor of despondency. One almost wishes that Chambers would be

bolder - staging a meditation on the play rather than the play itself,

an opera based on the text rather than the full text itself. What we

have instead is bloated austerity - a meringue pie filled with air, yet

layered with steak and beans and banana cream. (SLM) Theatre @ Boston

Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

through March 22. (626) 683-6883.

THE TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS Playwright Jonathan Tolins's drama of

ethics is part moral debate and part family tragedy, in which

righteousness comes into direct conflict with pragmatism. On

Manhattan's Upper West Side, a young married couple -- Suzanne

(Gretchen Koerner) and her husband Rob (Bryan Okes Fuller) -- are

delighted when they learn Suzanne is pregnant, and Rob convinces her to

allow the fetus to undergo an experimental genetics test. The test

comes back positive - positive for probable homosexuality, that is.

Much to the shock of Suzanne's charming, artistic gay younger brother

David (Eli Kranski), the couple seriously considers aborting the

infant, rather than raise a gay son - a choice that is tacitly backed

by David's seemingly kind and liberal parents (Penny Peyser and Mark L.

Taylor). The debate between David and his bewildered and increasingly

hostile family shifts from being a simple meditation on "right to life"

issues to a confrontation in which David feels he has to justify his

own existence. Although director T. K. Kolman's straightforward

production aptly conveys the subtext of hostility and mutual

incomprehension lurking beneath the apparently happy family's

relations, the staging often lacks nuance and comes across as stodgy.

Many exchanges consist of loud roaring and arm waving histrionics, a

problem exacerbated by the padded talkiness of Tolins' dialogue.

Kranski adds some haunting dimension as the hurt, appalled gay son, and

so does Koerner, as the guilt- racked older sister. (PB) Chandler

Studio Theater, 12443 Chandler Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 14. The Production Company.

URBAN DEATH: A NEW DARKNESS Zombie Joe's "theatrical thrill ride of

terrors, taboos and trepidations.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim

Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 7. (818)

202-4120.

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

NEW REVIEW BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama

about four New Yorkers and a funeral is a slippery portrait of love and

loss. Staged with a warm cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily,

though, a more aloof ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional

isolation where the polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro)

and perfect-on-paper boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold

shadow across all dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny

roomate Larry (Aaron Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a

wrenching and infuriating Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like

pathological self-punishment. Director John Ruskin sees this as a love

story -- the scene breaks twinkle with sentimental music -- however his

cast isn't up to it and hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend

to be listening to each other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob

from a strange man rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the

weather.) Comperatore's combustible Pale has four times the spark of

the rest of the ensemble -- when he bursts into the scene, we see the

gulf between what Wilson's play could be and what this staging actually

is. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 397-3244. (Amy Nicholson)

Stage Raw: Getting Physical


Burn This Photo Courtesy of Ruskin Group Theatre

GO CHERRY POPPIN' FESTIVAL In the Friday night bill

of its festival of new plays, Alive Theatre shows a dogged

determination to fathom the unfathomable Big Questions, through Spartan

theatricality and Absurdist jokes. Anthony Cretara and Jasper Oliver's The Adventure Play or Keep Them Babies Outta My Soup,

is a fairy tale - our Kierkegaard-quoting narrator (Calli Dunaway)

holds a wand, I think - that follows an earnest and bewildered traveler

named Zozza (nice turn by Jessica Culaciati) looking for his medieval

village, which is some place not like not unlike Oz. Zozza befriends a

Man (Eddie Chamberlain) who, with some jollity, considers the benefits

of smashing open his brain with the hook end of a hammer. In in a nifty

sliver of theatrical invention by director Jeremy Aluma, he does just

that, letting loose a demon (the rotund and jocular Paul Knox) - a

fellow who speaks with a Scottish brogue and refers to his own

"Mediterranean" dialect. With its cast of nine, the delightfully loony

one-act contains an internal battle between pretentiousness and farce.

The farce wins. There's also a shadow puppet play within the play,

designed by Robin Bott. Ryan McClary's Under the Great Booby Hatch

concerns a dissident radio host (Jasper Oliver) broadcasting from a

clandestine desert location and, with his tormented idealistic

assistant (Rebecca Patrick) is wrestling with the ethics of lying on

air, in order to boost pathetic ratings. In so doing, the play examines

the larger ramifications and ironies of truth-telling and story-telling

to a nation of loons. With its cartoon aesthetic, it settles upon the

view that there's redemption in craziness, that insanity is the only

reasonable response to the world as it is. Director Mike Dias works

with a devoted ensemble, though Oliver needs to stop mumbling, or the

playwright's point is just so much dead air. (SLM) Royal Theatre on the

Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach; in rep, Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.

(pre show band plays at 7:30 p.m.); through March 8. (562) 508-1788. or

http://alivetheatre.org. An Alive Theatre production

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's

family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse,

1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec.

27. (310) 394-9779.

THE CONTEST Jennifer Rowland's bizarre love triangle. Powerhouse

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

14. (310) 396-3680.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY James M. Cain's noir thriller, adapted by Kathrine Bates. (In rep with Violet Sharp,

call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241

Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

& 8 p.m.; thru March 15. (310) 364-0535.

ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT Jeff Daniels' comedy about deer hunters in

upstate Michigan. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (310) 512-6030.

HAMLET, THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE OF DENMARK Shakespeare's

tragedy set to the music of Prince. National Guard Armory, 854 E.

Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.;

Sat., March 14, 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 985-5526.

LAUGH-OUT Tribute to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 433-3363.

LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman

decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic

slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football

season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an

unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the

Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable

pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured

and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at

explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens

seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self

worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each

of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a

sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor

weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the

shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering

the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into

scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects

to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a

reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized

as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice

Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (310)

822-8392.


MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was

informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of

the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of

therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing

three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive

chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared

cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his

experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being

told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the

solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors,

memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on.

But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly

life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched

in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable

performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful

humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If

anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of

scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and

optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 28. (866) 468-3399 or

http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

OUR LEADING LADY Charles Busch's comedy about the thespians at

Lincoln's assassination. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar,

Palos Verdes Peninsula; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30

p.m.; thru March 8. (310) 378-9353.

TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of

riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue, and hilarious, yet

believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's other plays,

at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife

disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a

razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing

tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a run down

Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly

kitten-like Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that

Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into

oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to

spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth

returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her

horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that,

although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action

takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst

each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires

fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite

rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the

play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British

dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers

to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly

deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty

wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three

dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. (PB) Odyssey

Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 477-2055.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy

predates Neil Strauss' The Game by 400 years, during which audiences

have yet to decide whether he's confirming or slyly eviscerating gender

roles. (In this only recently post-Guantanamo climate, breaking Kate

with starvation and sleeplessness and temporal disorientation seems

less comic.) This staging seems more concerned with mounting a handsome

production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each

scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stooges-style

slapstick while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The

set's minimal props and checkerboard floor underscore the sense of

rootlessness - with characters standing by without much to do in a

scene, the large ensemble looks like game pieces waiting to move. The

cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those that

choose naturalism fare best, particularly Geoffrey Owen's intelligent

Tranio and Stehlin's shrew-taming Petruchio, who has the easy

confidence of Clark Gable. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 26. (310)

477-2055. A Circus Theatricals. production.

13 O'CLOCK Margaret Schugt's two-woman comedy about a writing

contest, a narcoleptic, and "a perverted Oompa Loompa.". Little Fish

Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19.

(310) 512-6030.

GO THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE In May 1968,

Father Daniel Berrigan (Andrew E. Wheeler ) and eight other peace

activists seized 378 draft documents and publicly burned them with

napalm to protest the Vietnam War and other American government

atrocities. Drawing on court transcripts, this play is an account of

their trial, which ended in conviction and prison terms for all

defendants. The script - Saul Levitt's stage adaptation of Berrigan's

original verse rendition - lays out an impassioned argument for

following the dictates of one's conscience, even when it involves

breaking the law. Each defendant relays what spurred them to take

action: a nurse (Paige Lindsey White) who witnessed American planes

bomb Ugandan villages, burning children, a couple in Guatemala (Patti

Tippo and George Ketsios) who saw American money used to outfit the

police while peasants starved, an Alliance for Progress worker (Corey

G. Lovett) who became privy to CIA machinations in the Yucatan. Taking

it all in is the presiding judge (Adele Robbins). Her sympathies,

reflecting ours, lean toward the defendants, even as she rules against

them. Under Jon Kellam's direction, cogent performances successfully

counteract the script's didactic language and cumbersome progression,

even though Robbins' performance lacks nuance. Perhaps most disturbing

is the piece's reminder that the aggression and subterfuge of the Bush

Administration constituted not a reversal of past policy, but a

radicalized extension of it. (DK) Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation

Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 838-4264.

VIOLET SHARP The world-famous Charles Lindbergh kidnapping case spawned

a web of mystery. One person to become haplessly entangled in the

tragedy was Violet Sharp (Meredith Bishop). A 27-year old domestic in

the Lindbergh household, Violet's defiant attitude and evasive answers

to routine police questioning aroused their suspicion. Playwright

William Cameron structures his melodrama around the obsessive pursuit

of Violet's confession by police inspector Harry Walsh (David Hunt

Stafford). Hunt and other authorities persuaded themselves of Violet's

complicity, despite flimsy evidence and the unwavering endorsement she

received from the Lindberghs themselves. The play scores points for its

observations about women and class and the dangerous proclivities of

some men to distort facts for the sake of their own compulsive desire

for closure. But the production, under David Coleman's direction,

leaves much to be desired. While she nails a couple of moments near the

end, Bishop's housemaid comes off more sullen than sassy (in contrast

to the historical accounts), while Hunt's driven cop gives off bombast

but no heat. Amy Lloyd does respectable triple duty as a tongue-wagging

sister, a secretary and a nurse. Many supporting performances are

overly dramatic or under rehearsed - or both. Random blocking,

gratuitous videography, Jeff Rack's drab set, and Jeremy Pivnick's

indifferent lighting underscore the more pivotal problems with the

acting and direction. (DK) Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater,

241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; (in rep, call for schedule); thru March

12. (310) 364-0535.

.

THE ZOO STORY It's two guys, one park bench, in Edward Albee's first

play. LOS ANGELES AREA VETERANS ARTISTS ALLIANCE, 10858 Culver Blvd.,

Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310)

559-2116.

SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS

THE LOFT VARIETY HOUR Puppets and performers await the debut of

Amsterdam prostitute Naughty Nancy in this sketch-comedy musical. L.A.

Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.;

thru March 15. (213) 680-0392.

SHOSHINZ & TEN WEST Japanese comedy duo meets American comedy

duo. On Tokyo maids Shoshinz: "They will not clean your house, but they

will blow your mind.". Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr.,

L.A.; Through March 6, 8 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.