STAGE FEATURE on producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh
Equivocation: Photo by Michael Lamont
Three big openings on Wednesday: The U.S. premiere of TR Warszawa's T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. (Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna's staging of Pasolini's 1968 film, Teorema) plays as part of UCLA's international theater festival at the Ralph Freud Playhouse; meanwhile at REDCAT downtown, there's the West Coast premiere of Arias with a Twist (drag queen Joey Arias and Basil Smith's puppets) in a drag queen fantasia that knocked some of socks off in NYC; and in Westwood, the Geffen Playhouse presents Bill Cain's Equivocation, that knocked some socks off at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It's about Shakespeare in a struggle to write a new play that pleases the king while trying to sustain truth and integrity.
THE HOLLYWOOD FRINGE
Registration for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (JUNE 17-27, 2010) opens November 16, 2009 to coincide with the launch of the festival's new website at www.hollywoodfringe.org.
There are no restrictions regarding art form, content, length, or ticket pricing for the festival; specifics will be left to participants and venues to determine. Registration is $200 for a project with multiple performances and $125 for participants producing free or single-performance shows. Registration fees pay for a listing in the Fringe Guide, artist services and discounts, online ticket sales, and festival assistance. Registration closes April 1, 2010.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for November 20-26, 2009
(The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's
critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III,Martin Hernandez, Mayank
Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom
Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These
listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
BOTANICUM SEEDLINGS: A DEVELOPMENT SERIES FOR PLAYWRIGHTS This week: Tiffany Antone's Twigs and Bone. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Nov. 22, 1 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
FERDINAND THE BULL Childsplay Theatre Company's adaptation of Munro Leaf's 1936 children's book. Play and Llyrics by Karen Zacarias, music by Debra Wicks La Puma. Part of the Geffen's Saturday Scene kids series. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Sat., Nov. 21, 11 a.m.. (310) 208-5454.
THE WEDDING SINGER Eighties-era musical based on the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore film. Music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Nov. 20-21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 3 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.
WIZARD OF OZ Performed by the Full Circle Opera Project. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Fri., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 21, 2 & 7:30 p.m.. (818) 243-2539.
BLACK LEATHER Michael Sargent's comedy of desperation set in 1981 New York City. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-7781.
CURRENT NOBODY Melissa James Gibson's take on The Odyssey centers on a photojournalist mom and a stay-at-home dad. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; opens Nov. 20; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.
EXTINCTION College buddies take a sober look at their party days, in Gabe McKinley's world-premiere drama. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/Extinction. (323) 960-7784.
HAMLET SHUT UP Dialogue-free version of Shakespeare's tragedy, by Jonas Oppenheim. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 281-8337.
JIMMY GAMBLE Gary Bairos stars in the one-man stage version of his screenplay about gambling addiction. (Live jazz by The JB Band, 7 p.m.). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 21, 8 p.m., www.plays411.com/jimmygamble. (323) 960- 7792.
KRUNK-FU BATTLE BATTLE Workshop performance of East West Players Writers Gallery's anime hip-hop martial arts musical. National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 111 N. Central Ave., L.A.; Fri., Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m., www.eastwestplayers.org. (213) 625-7000.
THE LAST ANGRY BROWN HAT Alfredo Ramos' story of four Chicano friends, former Brown Berets, confronting their past. Hayworth Studio, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 9, (No perfs Nov. 26, Dec. 25, Dec. 31.) www.thehayworth.com. (323) 960-4442.
LIVE! THEATRE! A DIRECTORS' SHOWCASE In the MLK Jr. Auditorium: Edward Edwards directs a scene from David Ives' one-act play The Sure Thing; Misti Barnes directs a scene from her online series It's Your Up; Linehan Charles directs a scene fro her original screenplay American Circus; and Louis Yansen directs a scene from Hugh Fitgerald's play Fathers Day. Santa Monica Public Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat., Nov. 21, 2 p.m.. (310) 458-8600.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST Shakespeare's Globe Theatre of London's production of the Bard's comedy. Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 21, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 1 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 27, 1 & 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 28, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 29, 2 p.m.. (310) 434-3414.
LUNCH: THE 8TH GRADE BRIDGE PROJECT . Cal State Dominguez Hills, University Theater, 1000 E. Victoria St., Carson; Nov. 20-21, 8 p.m.; Dec. 4-5, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 6, 7 p.m.. (310) 243-3589.
OKLOHOMO! Hollywood troupe attempts a gaytastic version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, Justin Tanner ensues. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.celebrationtheatre.com. (323) 957-1884.
SIN Wendy Macleod's story of a helicopter traffic reporter in San Francisco on the eve of the 1989 earthquake of 1989. Playhouse West Repertory Theater, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 7 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 6, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 2 & 7 p.m., www.playhousewest.net. (818) 332-3101.
STATED INCOME Two guys plot to cheat the tax system, by Hugh Gross. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 962-6207.
VIOLATORS WILL BE VIOLATED Casey Smith's one-man theatrical extravaganza. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.circlextheatre.org...
THE WANTING Katrina Lenk stars as musical superstar Moxy Phinx. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Nov. 20, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
WOMEN BEHIND BARS Sendup of women-in-prison B-movies, by Tom Eyen. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 957-1884.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
ARIAS WITH A TWIST Starring drag diva Joey Arias, directed and designed by Basil Twist., $35-$40, $28-$32 students. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (213) 237-2800.
NEW REVIEW GO BABY IT'S YOU
Photo by Michael Lamont
Greenberg (Meeghan Holaway) was a restless Passaic housewife with two
nearly grown kids (Suzanne Petrela and Adam Irizarry) and a husband
(Barry Pearl) resentful of her love for newfangled rock and roll. (When
Bernie tells his missus, "Yakkity Yak -- don't talk back," he's
serious.) Flo left to create Scepter Records, taking with her four
local girls whom she shaped into The Shirelles, the original queens of
the hop. Floyd Mutrux's splashy doo-wop, juke-box musical tracks the
naive, but strong-willed exec as she discovers the brief glories of
being on top of the charts with a new man at her side, prideful
lyricist and producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis). Mutrux and co-writer
Colin Escott see this as a story about suits, not singers; the
Shirelles (Berlando Drake, Erica Ash, Paulette Ivory, and Crystal Starr
Knighton, all excellent) get stage time but no individuality except for
Drake's Shirley (Berlando Drake) who makes a play for Luther. But
everything is tangential to the music. If the second act didn't start
with an endless, but excellent cabaret of oldies by composers from Ron
Isley to Lesley Gore, there'd be more plot and less applause. From the
corner of the stage, a DJ named Jocko (Geno Henderson) interrupts to
set the year, and the production is much about a nostalgic nod for the
era of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as it is about the story of an
outsider building her kingdom. (Ironically, the least-familiar song is
also the best, "The Dark End of the Street," later covered by everyone
from Dolly Parton to Frank Black.) Still, though Flo and her teen
queens deserve more development, the evening closes with a grace note,
as the five ladies sing together in harmony, knowing that even if they
didn't shake up the world, they seized their own destinies. Pasadena
Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4
& 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (626) 356-PLAY. (Amy
BETTER ANGELS Playwright Wayne Peter Liebman may be no Pastor Weems, but this wincingly hagiographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln (James Read) certainly suggests postgraduate work in the Weems school of exalted and fanciful presidential kitsch. Liberally sprinkled with tidbits of beloved Lincolnalia, the play introduces the Great Emancipator through the flashbacked reminiscences of John Hay (David Dean Bottrell), as Lincoln's now elderly biographer and former private secretary delivers a university lecture on the man behind the myth. To illustrate Lincoln's deceptively complex blend of folksy political wiles, razor-sharp intellect and more earthbound emotional needs, Hay relates the meeting of minds between Lincoln and the Wisconsin Angel, Cordelia Harvey (McKerrin Kelly), as the bloody carnage of Chickamauga unfolds. A war widow and real-life champion of better care for the Civil War's wounded, Mrs. Harvey visits the White House (amid Victoria Profitt's stately set pieces) to persuade the commander in chief to establish military hospitals in the North. For Lincoln, the attractive, personable lobbyist offers a flirtatious respite from the cares of office, as well as from his offstage "harpy" of a first lady. The encounter also provides the president the opportunity to test his Gettysburg Address and disambiguate his position on emancipation (yes, his intention was always to free the slaves). Despite Liebman's romantic whimsy (and a particularly cloying postscript), Read turns in an engagingly sly, avuncular Lincoln, abetted by director Dan Bonnell's handsome staging and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's elegant period costumes. (Bill Raden). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 558-7000.
NEW REVIEW CARBON BLACK
Photo by Tony Dontscheff for Syliva Mautner Photography
Inky, Carbon Black (Michael Drummond) is a 13 year old boy who serves
as caretaker to his disturbed agoraphobic mother, Sylvie (Sheila
Tousey). Though patient and reliable, he's grown increasingly restless
of late, especially after witnessing - or so he tells skeptical adults
-- the horrific murder of a neighborhood child. Inky's escalating
truancy brings him to the attention of the school authorities,
particularly his Native American school counselor, Lisa Yellowtree
(Tonantzin Carmelo), who visits the home and offers a helping hand,
only to be met with hostile anger from the increasingly wigged-out
Sylvie. Written by Terry Gomez, the play exhibits the elements of a
promising after-school special: a crossroads, a troubled mom, a caring
outsider - and more than one viable social message. Unfortunately the
script too often either lags or lapses into discomfiting melodrama, as
when the assistant principal (Stephan Wolfert) assails Inky, as well as
the counselor, with the malevolence of a Dickensian villain. (If this
is humor, as another critic has reported, it doesn't work for me.)
Under Randy Reinholz' direction, Tousey's performance never goes
beyond displaying the outer accoutrements of mental illness. And some
of the staging - Sylvie wrapping herself in curtains to hide - seems
silly and excessive. Drummond is persuasive in quiet moments, less so
when the stakes rise. Within the ensemble Carmelo fares best. Designer
Susan Baker Scharpf's set and R. Craig Wolf's accomplished lighting
design contribute to the professional polish. Autry National Center,
4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 667-2000. A Native Voices
production (Deborah Klugman)
GO KOOZA It's been about a decade since the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) was seen at Santa Monica Pier. This touring production marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, and also heralds a return to the simpler, less high-tech formats that informed earlier productions like Quidam and Allegria -- the emphasis here being on the old circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics. But that's not to say that there is something missing here. On the contrary, creator-director David Shiner, who made quite a name for himself as a clown in outings like Fool Moon, has packed this show with drama, comedy, whimsy, music, exotica, slick choreography, and plenty of how-do-they-do-that? moments. The show starts with an Innocent (Stephan Landry) opening a box containing a trickster (Mike Tyus), who reveals the magical world of the circus. And what a world it is! The clowns pull off some dazzling and funny routines, and interact throughout with the audience. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik twist their tiny bodies into letters of the alphabet, among other things. Lee Thompson amazes with a pickpocket routine at the expense of an unsuspecting attendee. Jimmy Ibarra and Angelo Lyerzkysky garnered a standing ovation for their superhuman feats on the Wheel of Death -- a daunting contraption that resembles two interconnected hamster wheels. Marie-Chantale Valliancourt's collage of costumes are stunning. Under the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. Tues.-Thurs, 8 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; through December 20. cirquedusoleil.com/kooza or (800) 450-1480. (Lovell Estell III)
GO CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus' adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Craig Bilknap stages the work crisply with technical aplomb, though it's all a bit actorly. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep; through December 17. (818) 240-0910 Ext. 1. (Steven Leigh Morris)
EL VERDE: ORIGINS Anthony Aguilar's Latino superhero comedy. (Free tickets to the Nov. 15 perf for teenagers turning 15 in November.). Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.teada.org. (310) 998-8765.
ENTER LAUGHING Joseph Stein's comedy, based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (562) 494-1014.
EQUIVOCATION Bill Cain's story of Shakespeare's commission by King James to write the official history of the Gunpowder Plot. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 208-5454.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! THE MUSICAL Broadway take on the Dr. Seuss tale, starring Stefan Karl as the Grinch and John Larroquette as Old Max., $30-$125. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 3. (213) 365-3500.
NEW REVIEW GO MARY POPPINS
Photo by Joan Marcus
riveting theatricality of Bob Crowley's production design, climaxing in
chimney sweep Bert (Gavin Lee) soft-shoeing straight up, then
upside-down across the proscenium arch, and culminating in a
show-stopping umbrella flight over the audience by the famous titular
nanny, produces an excitement that far outshines the limited value
intrinsic in much of the musical's written material. Likewise the
sublime showmanship of choreographer Matthew Bourne and stage director
Richard Eyre hide the flaws in Julian Fellowes' disjointed script and
new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. Unlike most of Disney's
Broadway smashes that producer Thomas Schumacher has magically
transformed from animated film to stage, this is a hybrid between
Disney's 1964 movie masterpiece, whose fun and fanciful score by
Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman still holds up, and the operetta
gleaned from the original novel (and its stage-rights holder, the
Cameron Mackintosh team). The two styles battle one-another for
dominance and neither wins. Most of the film's story-lines are banished
in favor of closer adaptation of the P. L. Travers books with the
familiar songs wedged into the scenes, while the new songs more closely
fit the story, but lack spark. Nevertheless the production is an
audience pleaser, with demonstrable talent on and off the stage.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2
& 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (213) 628-2772.
Presented by Center Theatre Group, Disney Theatricals and Cameron
Mackintosh. (Tom Provenzano)
MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS Based on a true story surrounding the making of Gone With the Wind, this funny tale by Ron Hutchinson illuminates the behind-the-scenes business of movie-making during the Golden Age of Hollywood. No matinee Nov. 7. No evening perf Nov. 8. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 944-9801.
GO NEVERMORE Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of idiosyncrasies -- tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The Raven," which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is -- pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. (SLM) Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 19. (323) 666-4268.
NEW REVIEW GO NOISES OFF
Photo by Craig Schwartz
are many stars in Geoff Elliott's accomplished staging of Michael
Frayn's oft-produced backstage farce, but the one that shine brightest
may be the stage-hands who, between acts, hand-swivel Adam
Lillibridge's elaborate two-tiered living room set - that represents
the multi-tiered living room set of a play within the play, being
performed somewhere in the British provinces - inside out, so that the
faux living room transforms into back stage directly behind the set,
where the actors await their entrances. This is no easy feat, as the
set almost touches the theater ceiling, but on opening night, they
pulled it off in under 12 minutes, earning a round of applause from
those standing by to watch. Frayn's farce is well known by now - a
theater production of a farce on the rails, with a world weary director
(Elliott) who's more than ready to move on to his next production,
Richard III; a needy cast, one of whom (Stephen Rockwell) keeps
insisting on psychological explanations for what's obviously a series
of gags; another (Emily Kosloski, playing a dim-witted sex bomb), who
keeps losing her contact lenses; and an elderly resident alcoholic
(Apollo Dukakis) who creates dramatic tension from the question of
whether or not he'll even show up to make his entrance. As the
play-within-the-play continues its tour, in a production that grows
increasingly chaotic, the ineptitude gets compounded by sexual
dalliances among director, cast and crew that leave a trail of bruised
feelings. Elliot's touch is both gentle and conservative, side-stepping
many low comedy sex gags that have accompanied other productions. It is
nonetheless skillfully rendered, with lovely performances also by
Deborah Strang, Mikael Salazar, Lenne Klingaman, Jill Hill and Shaun
Anthony. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for
schedule; thru December 20. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. (Steven Leigh
NEW REVIEW PO BOY TANGO In Kenneth Lin's ambitious but
uninspiring script, Taiwanese immigrant Richie Po (Dennis Dun) calls
upon an African-American woman named Gloria B (Esther Scott) to help
him resurrect his deceased mother's recipes. The occasion is his
daughter's wedding; the two had became acquainted years ago, after
Gloria helped nurse his daughter when she battled cancer. For guidance,
they rely on videotapes sent by Mama Po (Jeanne Sakata) to her son -
tapes about her cooking in which she also reminisces on Richie's
childhood. The play aims to illustrate how food -- nourishing the
spirit as well as the body -- can bridge the gaps among individuals
from vastly different backgrounds. Unfortunately, too much of the
dialogue consists of "remember when" chitchat that carries little
dramatic imperative. Toward the end, a fierce argument concerning race
finally does erupt after an angry Gloria accuses Richie of
disrespecting her, but the conflict seems forced. Likewise, although
Mama's narrative includes a single compelling incident, it's mostly
quotidian detail from which a clear portrait of the past fails to
emerge. Directed by Oanh Nguyen, some production decisions do little to
augment the play's underachieved intentions. While Nathan Wang's
original music is a plus, designer Shaun L. Motley's sterile set
underscores the material's enervated dynamic. And a play that
emphasizes the miracle properties of broth should bring some to the
stage. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo;
Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (213) 625-7000. (Deborah
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Children's musical, book by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, lyrics and music by Hope and Lawrence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.
RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. In alternating repertory; call theater for schedule. (Neal Weaver). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 240-0910.
NEW REVIEW GO THE RIVER NIGER
Photo by Roy Hurst
Walker was among a handful of black playwrights who came to prominence
during the Civil Rights era and won acclaim for their dramas about the
black experience in America. This is a solid spirited revival of his
1974 Tony Award winning drama about a family tested by a critical
moment of reckoning. The action unfolds in the Harlem residence of
Johnny Williams (a dynamic performance by Ben Guillory), a house
painter who writes poetry and whose love for his long suffering wife
Mattie (Margaret Avery) is matched only by his love of the bottle. The
couple is anxiously anticipating the arrival of their son Jeff (Dane
Diamond), who they believe is returning as a successful U.S. Air Force
navigator. But his eventual return instead brings disappointment and
trouble for the family. Adding to the crisis are Mattie's cancer
diagnosis and the sudden appearance of four of Jeff's old buddies who
are now members of a militant black revolutionary group. This is
essentially a dated melodrama, but one that nevertheless holds our
attention and has fruitful poignancy because of the well sketched,
robust humanity of the characters. Director Dwain Perry could do better
with more rigorous pacing. Cast performances are uniformly good,
particularly Alex Morris, who is superb as Dr. Dudley Stanton. Los
Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.;
Sun., 3 p.m.; thru. Dec. 20. (213) 489-0994. (Lovell Estell III)
SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL: A CHILDREN'S HORROR STORY FOR ADULTS This musical by writer-composer-director-producer-accompanist David P. Johnson is subtitled "A Children's Horror Story for Adults," but it may not be coherent or credible enough to appeal to either children or adults. Sally (Rebecca Lane) is a blond ghost/waif with a dangerous-looking hatchet embedded in her skull, of which she seems blithely unaware, though she wonders why she has headaches. She has been confined for 50 years in a purgatorial room of a Victorian mansion, accompanied by toy soldier Bartholomew (Matthew Hoffman) and a clown named Nero (Adam Conger) who has a split personality: He's also a cat, a teddy bear and a king. Despite repeated attempts, Sally is unable to open the only door. Her captor is a creature called The Wraith (Rob Monroe), who likes to play Chinese checkers, and tells her that she can't leave till she's willing to remember her past. The piece is a confusing grab bag of random elements cobbled together with some rhyme but precious little reason. Lines like, "There's absinthe in the holy water," may perplex children, and seem pointlessly cryptic to adults. Produced by Theatre West and In Spite Productions. (Neal Weaver). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 851-7977.
SATURN RETURNS refers to the phenomenon of the planet's nearly 30-year trip around the sun and that journey's life-changing astrological effect as it returns to the astral position it occupied at the birth of a character named Gustin. In Noah Haidle's intriguing but unformed play, Gustin navigates between the important life changes during this planetary effect on Gustin at age 28 (Graham Michael Hamilton), 58 (Connor O'Farrell) and 88 (Nick Ullett). Near the end of his life, Gustin suffering insurmountable loneliness, clings to the company of visiting nurse Suzanne (Kristen Bush, who portrays the play's three women). His middle-aged ghost is seen pleading with his 29-year-old daughter not to leave him, while she tries to find him a romantic mate to set herself free of his desperation for human contact. Finally his youthful self longs for his sweet but unstable wife to simply love him without fear. Individually the three stories are written with compelling relationships, but the point of their onstage intersection, while obvious from the title and suggested by the situations of loneliness, is never quite established by the text. The acting, under David Emme's sensitive direction, is outstanding -- particularly Bush, who finds the difference among her three characters with remarkable specificity. With Ralph Funicello's crisp scenic design, supported perfectly by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's lights and Nephelie Andonyadis' costumes, the physical atmosphere is beautifully delivered. All that is missing here is a real purpose to the story. (Tom Provenzano). South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (714) 708-5555.
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
THE VILLAGE VARIETY PACK The Village at The Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 23, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
AMERICAN GRIND An amalgam of the work of four writers and two directors, this hybrid piece falls somewhere between sketch comedy and a full-fledged play. Set in a coffee house, it features five or six overlapping scenarios. Kevyn (Michael Ponte) is a self-styled self-help guru who is using the venue to recruit clientele. Tudi (writer Cheri Anne Johnson), the white half of an interracial couple, is convinced she's a black woman born into a white body (in the same way some transsexuals believe that in them, nature's gone awry). Tudi's looking to create a rapport between her uptight suburban parents (Charles Marti and Christina L. Mason) and her lover (Daniel Valery), a condescending hipster -- while coping with the painful reality of his other women. Betty (writer Tracy Lane) and Nick (writer Andrew Hamrick) are a librarian and high school teacher, respectively -- both looking for love and too petrified to acknowledge they may have found it in each other. Rose (Lauren Benge) a fatherless teen distraught over her pregnancy, gets help from Joe (Cooper Anderson), who once abandoned his family. Co-directed by P.J. Marshall and Jennifer Cetrone, the production aims to meld its various plots into a cohesive whole, but the result is closer to a choppily aligned jigsaw. Most of the performances are capable or better, but stronger direction would improve them. The writing is also strong in some places, in need of sharpening in others. E. Yarber is one of the four writers. A From the Ground Up Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.fromthegrounduptheatre.org...
ANSWER THE CALL This well-meaning musical deserves credit for espousing universal respect and genuine family values (not the ersatz right-wing kind), but it's otherwise an awkward effort. Writers Michael Antin and Leonard Bloom -- music and lyrics by Antin -- build their story around an 11-year old boy's school assignment to learn more about his family. Offspring of a mixed marriage -- a Gentile songwriter father, Sam (Derel Maury Friedman) and a Jewish mom, Jill (Josie Yount) -- Eddie (Spencer Price) seeks his curmudgeonly maternal granddad, Gordon (Lou Briggs), who is also a songwriter. Gordon is happy to shower Eddie and his sister Becky (Haley Price) with anecdotes about his military service, his horse thief uncle, his heady times in Nashville, his rural childhood, his beach frolicking days and so on. Unfortunately, these ramblings don't coalesce. Even in a genre that often plays fast and loose with narrative logic, this piece comes off woefully short. Grandma Hannah (L.B. Zimmerman) dances with a healing broken hip. Never-before-known secrets are revealed -- Sam had a brutal childhood, Gordon's brother was tragically murdered -- then swiftly forgotten, as we move to the next riff or song. The best of these is the self-descriptive "Crap on the Golden Years." Others less interesting include one sung by the caregiver (Shamarrah E. Pates) about having car trouble. The vocals are passable, and under Friedman's direction, the performances conform to clich. (Deborah Klugman). Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/answerthecall. (323) 960-7735.
ANTIGONE The classic Sophocles tragedy. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (323) 939-9220.
BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Kristian Steel. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.
GO BLEEDING THROUGH Adapted from Norman Klein's novella of the same title, this world premiere, co-written and co-directed by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, explores historical Angelino Heights (not coincidentally the location of the theater) and the ghosts of its glamorous past. The Unreliable Narrator (David Fruechting) introduces us to the world of the play as it moves fluidly between the past and present. He speaks with Ezra (Ed Ramolete) and Molly (Lynn Milgrim), now two elderly residents of the neighborhood, as he researches a potential murder. Through their memories we learn of a younger Molly (Elizabeth Rainey), who came from Indiana and worked in men's clothing, which naturally brought her into contact with a number of men, including husbands Jack (Brian Joseph) and Walt (Pete Pano), as well as Jack's father and longtime customer Harry (James Terry). Chavez and Portillo's expansive "surround" set, designed by Akeime Mitterlehner, offers a unique staging that, along with the accompaniment of live musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Golia, immerses the audience in the noir world. Francois-Pierre Couture's angular lighting, Pamela Shaw's wonderfully detailed costumes, Claudio Rocha's well-integrated videography and Diane Arellano's installation of historical artifacts -- which the audience is allowed to explore at intermission -- all enhance the ambiance as well. Rainey and Milgrim play their double roles with aplomb, but the piece's main drawback is the lack of dramatic momentum in the writing, making older Molly's line, "at some point, a place becomes more important than a person," ring all the more true. Shakespeare Festival/L.A., 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 22. (800) 595-4849. About Productions. (Mayank Keshaviah)
BLOOD AND THUNDER World-premiere play about Hurricane Katrina by Terence Anthony. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.movingarts.org/nowplaying.html. (323) 856-6168.
BOB BAKER'S HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR Marionettes take kids on a journey to Santa's Workshop, through the eight days of Hanukkah, and more, in this musical revue. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat., 10:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 10. (213) 250-9995.
NEW REVIEW GO CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE
Photo by Maia Rosenfeld
two words that come to mind in describing this one-woman show by Naomi
Grossman are "colorful" and "physical." The former hits you as you
enter the theatre and are treated to the circus tent backdrop festooned
with posters that would make P.T. Barnum proud (courtesy of designers
Steven K. Barnett and April Lawrence). The latter becomes quickly
evident in Grossman's storytelling style, beginning with a lively game
of "Whack-A-Wienie" in which she takes a mallet to male members
masquerading as moles (don't bring the kids). Though Grossman has the
air of a wide-eyed ingénue, her contortionism along with the dirty
details of nine of her dates -- from the stock boy at Trader Joe's, to
her yoga instructor, to Argentinean soccer players (in the plural) --
prove otherwise. But all is not wine and roses in this comic carnal
romp, especially toward the end when she tackles the darker side of
love. Richard Embardo's efficient direction, along with Christopher
Ash's nimble lighting and Kelley Rodgers' whimsical soundtrack, helps
Grossman quickly move between stories as she darts about the stage,
putting to good use the fungible, Willy Wonka-hued set pieces. And
while her characters are not quite as sharply drawn as they could be,
her energy, impressive physicality and the occasionally clever pun in
the writing carry the piece. The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave.,
Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m. (no perf Nov. 29); thru Dec. 13. (323)
930-1804. A Red Meat Entertainment Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE German playwright Manfred Karge's 1988 fantasia about a quartet of unemployed men re-enacting Roald Amundsen 1911 trek to the South Pole. Rory C. Mitchell's nicely animated staging remains tethered by lapses of acting technique. (Steven Leigh Morris). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/conquest. (323) 960-4429.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE That's weekly sketch comedy done by some of the best in the sketch biz. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
THE GHOST BUILDING Playwright Damon Chua's madcap stab at a Stoppardian play of ideas may sound fine in theory, but its execution proves frustratingly flat. Part genre spoof, part Hollywood Gothic (by way of Babylon) and part "hauntological" allegory, the play taps the unsolved murder of '20s silent-movie director William Desmond Taylor to create a properly spooky schema with which to haunt the downtown L.A. architectural landmark (on Adam Flemming's hotel-within-a-hotel set). That's where aspiring Filipina novelist Cha-Cha Mangabay (Sandy Yu) checks into the story while packing an unfinished manuscript, a dream of publishing success and a 30-day tourist-visa deadline with which to achieve it. However, the hotel and its host of incorporeal squatters soon draw Cha-Cha into their unearthly reenactments of the crime. Joined by a Sam Spadelike fictional detective (Brian Ibsen), Cha-Cha determines both to solve the mystery and adapt it for her own, hard-boiled roman noir. As the investigation-cum-Derridian deconstruction progresses, the proceedings quickly jump their narrative track and dissolve into a chaotic phantasmagoria of merging identities, abrupt character about-faces and parodic violations of genre and stage conventions. Director Armando Molina and a game ensemble (including standouts Andrea Lee Davis, Pat Cochran and Leigh Rose) do their best to keep Chua's calculated chaos under control but are ultimately defeated by too many overly clever literary conceits and not enough attention to fundamental play craft. (Bill Raden). Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 883-1717.
NEW REVIEW THE GLORY OF LIVING
Photo courtesy of Athena Theater
title of Rebecca Gilman's play is brutally ironic, and there's little
glory in the tale she tells. Lisa (Kate Huffman), the daughter of a
hard-drinking prostitute (Addie Daddio) in the rural South, has no
sense of self-worth. At age 15, she elopes with ruthless car-thief and
jail-bird Clint (Brett Aune). He uses her to procure girls for him --
and to kill them when he's done with them. She does terrible things,
simply because Clint tells her she must, and she lacks the will to
resist. But she has enough conscience to report her murders to the
police. Once arrested, she can't even mount a defense of her own life,
and when she's convicted, her only concern is that she has disappointed
her defense attorney. It's hard to imagine a more devastating portrait
of anomie and shattered ego, acted with great conviction by Huffman,
Aune, and a fine supporting cast. Gilman's purpose is harder to grasp.
Is this an exercise in depravity, or a portrait of a hopelessly damaged
girl, or is she making a moral and political point? This production,
directed by Alice Ensor and Joe Koonce, doesn't tell us. El Centro
Theatre, 804 North El Centro Avenue, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
thru November 21. Produced by Athena Theatre. (323) 230-7261 or
http://www.AthenaTheatre.com (Neal Weaver)
GO GROWING UP WITH UNCLE MILTIE As a young girl growing up in New York City, Patt Benson dreamed of making her mark in show business. Thanks to a combination of luck, talent and an unlikely friendship with a big name-celebrity, she succeeded. In her charming solo outing, Benson recounts her arduous journey, from Manhattan schoolgirl to Hollywood celebrity with the help of the redoubtable Milton Berle. By turns humorous and poignant, she tells of a childhood marred by the occasional drunken outbursts and abuse by her father and how her mother tolerated them, her time in parochial school and her budding desire to be a comedian, one nurtured by her mother. Her first encounter with Berle happened in the fall 1953, while she was on the way to tap-dancing class. Gradually, she became something of his protégé, showing up on his TV show, earning his respect and admiration, and like all the eventual Hollywood lottery winners whose persistence pays off, snagging a plum role in the sitcom Joe & Valerie. Benson packs a lot of material into this short piece, and the narrative has more than a few confusing gaps, but her writing is heartfelt and at times deeply evocative -- descriptions of New York City, for instance, offer alluring images. Rich Embardo directs. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through November 22. (323) 651-2583. (Lovell Estell III)
HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Cashman. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 934-9700.
THE HOUSE OF BESARAB A new environmental adaptation of Dracula with Travis Holder. Audience members eat and drink in the venue's historic Deco Bar before the show. Hollywood American Legion, 2305 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 203-2850.
GO THE ILLUSION Translator Ranjit Bolt's adaptation of Corneille's 17th-century classic starts out stodgily but soon swerves merrily into comic gear. A remorseful father (Kevin McCorkle) seeks the help of a magician (Alexander Wright) in tracking down his estranged son. It turns out the young man, Clindor (Benny Wills) -- attached to a fatuous nobleman named Matamore (Jon Monastero) -- has been acting as emissary for this overblown buffoon to a lady named Isabelle (Nicole Disson). Something of a Don Juan, Clindor has clandestinely wooed both Isabelle and her maid, Lyse (Kendra Chell), who now smolders with jealousy, aware that her opportunistic paramour has upped his sights on the social ladder. Directed by David Bridel, the production gets laughs from Monastero's lisping braggart-nobleman, whose grandiose claims to be a mighty warrior and lover evaporate at the mere whiff of a challenge. As the maid, Chell airs much of the script's wit and wisdom in a smart, snappy performance. Disson and other supporting players also deliver the goods. Wills is fine as the dashing hero, but the production might have been more interesting if he'd played it less upright and instead exploited the character's deviousness a little more. Eventually the play's humor deflates, as the magician's tale mutates into a portrait of adultery and of the marriage between Isabelle and Clindor gone awry. Christina Wright's costumes add color and charm. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 21. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)
IMAGOFEST 2009 Three one-acts: E.M. Lewis' Sing Me That Leonard Cohen Song Again, Tim McNeil's Purplish, Alex Aves' The Goldilocks Effect. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 465-4446.
INTERWOVEN: THE JUXTAPOSITION OF JOSHUA AND JOHNNA 3KO Broadway Theatre Company previews The Pleasure Principle by Joshua James and The Sacred Geometry of S&M Porn by Johnna Adams. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 685-9939.
LA RONDE DE LUNCH Peter Lefcourt's Tinseltown tour de farce set in a pretentious Hollywood restaurant. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (310) 358-9936.
L'AMANTE ANGLAISE (THE ENGLISH LOVER) The French have given us many things: wine, cheese, French kissing and the Napoleon complex, among others. What they have also given us are novels, films and plays filled with endless philosophical and ultimately pointless ramblings that are so filled with internal contradictions that they end up amounting to a kind of intellectual masturbation. Barbara Bray's translation of the French writer Marguerite Duras' 1967 play (from Duras' novel of the same title) is unfortunately an example. The events, if you can call them that, take place in an interrogation room, where The Interrogator (Alex Monsky) questions Pierre Lannes (Gerry Bamman) and his wife, Claire Lannes (Caroline Ducrocq), about Claire's murder of her deaf-mute cousin Marie-Therese, who was living with the couple. The Interrogator spends Act 1 with Pierre and Act 2 with Claire, trying to figure out why she committed the murder and where the missing head of Marie-Therese is (the rest of her was chopped up and placed on freight-train cars). Carl Ford's direction does little to remedy the absence of dramatic or intellectual propulsion with his blocking and stagecraft. Ducrocq and Bamman are clearly capable actors but victims of a tedious script that, toward the end, had me wondering if being Marie-Therese, all chopped up, might be preferable to sitting through this play. (Mayank Keshaviah). MET Theater, downstairs in the Great Scott Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-1052.
LAND OF THE TIGERS Two one-acts by the Burglars of Hamm: Act I is The Crucible meets Planet of the Apes (with tigers). Act II travels back in time to the first day of rehearsal for the play you saw in Act I, in a dark satire of the creative process.. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/86591. (310) 440-0221.
A LIE OF THE MIND Sam Shepard's story of two families linked by marriage, but set apart by distrust.. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.studiofiveproductions.org. (888) 534-6001.
GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., and Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4412.
LOVE WILL TEAR US APART In this play by Michael Hyman a young gay man is visited each night by the voice of a former lover and is confronted by his inability to get close with anyone and his related substance addictions. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-5773.
MEMOIRS Paul Benjamin's story of heroin-addict veteran. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/memoirs. (323) 960-5521.
MOLLY SWEENEY Brian Friel's story of a blind girl and the surgery that could restore her sight. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (800) 838-3006.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN Shakespeare's comedy, transported to 1940s Tennessee. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.arktheatre.org. (323) 969-1707.
GO NAKED BOYS SINGING When this musical, written and directed by Robert Schrock, debuted at the Celebration Theatre in 1998, it was the first show to acknowledge candidly that it featured nudity for its own sake, without explanation, justification or apologies. (The opening number was, and is, called "Gratuitous Nudity.") Some audiences were astonished to discover that, when the actors are relaxed, uninhibited and enjoying the situation, nudity is remarkably unshocking. The show has achieved enduring worldwide success, though a brief L.A. revival a couple of years ago was decidedly lackluster. One wondered if the show would hold up, now that the novelty is gone. Not to worry. This new production, featuring eight talented and very naked men (Eric B. Anthony, Jeffrey A. Johns, Jack Harding, Timothy Hearl, Marco Infante, Tony Melson, Daniel Rivera, and Victor Tang), proves that when performed with wit, insouciance and skill, the show still has the capacity to charm. It's exuberant, and full of joie de vivre, and when the actors are having fun, the audience has fun. Though not all the voices are strong, the cast are all engaging, Schrock's direction is crisp and fast-paced, and the songs offer ample wit and humor. Gerald Sternbach provides excellent musical direction. Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through November 22. (323) 960-4424. (Neal Weaver)
NIBBLER Just graduated from high school, aspiring musician Adam (Nicholas S. Williams) and his pals hang at the local diner, exchanging the casually benign blather ubiquitous among ennui-saturated suburban youth. Gradually, personal issues emerge. Adam's father is dead and his estranged mom sleeps with another guy. Matt's (Rick Steadman) harping dad thinks he's a loser. Pete (Ron Morehouse) suspects but fiercely denies to himself that he's a "faggot." Tara (Joanie Ellen) worries because none of her guy friends want to screw her. The precocious Hayley (Alana Dietz) sidelines as a phone sex worker. Enter the Nibbler -- manifested first as flashing lights and strange sounds but soon materializing as a black specter with giant claws, whose touch radically alters each of their lives. Or so the premise goes. In fact, playwright Ken Urban's nascent horror spoof never gets past the listlessness that overwhelms its characters. There are revitalizing junctures, as when Matt, post-Nibbler encounter, transforms into a Republican fundamentalist and lets loose a scabrous dialogue that exposes the profound schizophrenia of the Religious right. But such smart sharp writing -- along with the Nibbler's laughably scary appearances -- come only at intervals. Riddled with loose threads, the play suffers its own schizoid split: Is it a send-up, a social commentary or a quasipersonal reminiscence? In an apparent attempt at all three, it scores well at none. Under Mark Seldis' direction, the performances, like the play itself, compel only sporadically. (Deborah Klugman). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 856-8611.
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.
POST Donavon Thomas' drama about the after-affects of the Iraq War on two veterans. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/post. (323) 960-7740.
SCARCITY Kappy Kilburn's nicely acted production of Lucy Thurber's domestic drama (making its West Coast premiere) gets to the unspoken truths of a family in rural Massachussetts that's ensnared by poverty, though there's plenty on that theme that's spoken as well. Unemployed and alcoholic Herb (Randy Irwin who turns his off-the-charts alcohol-blood levels into a bliss that's almost charming) lashes out at his wife, Martha (a spirited performance by Rebecca Jordan), because he sees the unwanted romantic attentions she's getting from her cousin, local cop Louie (Steve Walker, whose comedy background makes itself felt here), who's also been buying Herb's family groceries they can't afford themselves. If Louie gave his own wife, Gloria (Wendy Johnson), even half the attention he lavishes on Martha, he'd be a far better husband, but that would make for a comparatively tedious play. At Herb's dinner table, with Louis and Gloria present, Herb lashes out at Martha for the blow jobs he imagines she's giving Louis. If you don't get a job, I may have to start, she snaps back. Actually Herb and Martha's sex life is robust, as their embarrassed children -- 11-year-old Rachel (Bridgen Shergalis, wry and smart) and 16-year-old Billy (Jarrett Sleeper) -- could tell you. But that doesn't stop Herb from expressing his incestuous erotic attractions to his kid daughter. It's a source of disgust that goes nowhere dramatically, just one in a series of perverse idiosyncrasies that floats in the mire of their lives. The more relevant perversity comes from Billy's smitten schoolteacher, wealthy Ellen (Kim Swennen), a do-gooder whose do-gooding is too conspicuous to be in good taste. Young, sadistic Billy tortures her psychologically as she pulls out all her connections to get him funded for a private college. While she masturbates him in the family kitchen, he forces her to say out loud that she's stupid - a confession that's his aphrodisiac. These S&M dynamics are a bit like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with Billy's precocious little sister pining not be left behind. Director Kilburn hasn't refined the tone, so that the agony ostensibly provoking them all to be so cruel, and the comedy which garners so many laughs, feel as though they belong to different plays, rather than stemming from the same wellspring of frustration. The story, however, never lets go, and Adam Rigg's realistic set (with wooden Mallard duck and duckling perched on a low wooden cabinet) speak the design-language of excruciatingly authentic 1970s chic. (Steven Leigh Morris). Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.needtheater.org. (800) 838-3006.
SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE Charles Marowitz's 1984 farce finds Sherlock Holmes (Stephen Van Dorn) facing double jeopardy. He's receiving death threats from the son (Michael Tauzin) of his long-standing enemy Professor Moriarty. The younger Moriarty seeks revenge for his father's death. Holmes is also pursued by a woman of doubtful identity (Teresa Bisson), and worst of all, he has declared, Elementary, my dear Watson once too often. Watson (Steve Gustafson), pushed over the edge by Holmes' arrogance and condescension, has hatched an elaborate plot to do the master in, via the fiendish Frontenac Chair, which traps its occupant in its lethal clutches. Marowitz knows the Holmes canon well, and provides all the staple ingredients: clever ruses, impossibly erudite and perceptive deductions, disguises, dramatic reversals and improbable escapes. The piece amuses for much of its length, but eventually the joke wears thin. Director Jeremy Lewit's mostly nimble production is occasionally heavy-handed, but he makes clever use of the Baker Street Irregulars (Bisson, Marcos Estevez, James Ledesma, and Tauzin) to effect the elaborate changes on Tim Farmer's handsome and ingenious set. Kimberly Overton provides handsome period costumes. (Neal Weaver). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 462-8460.
GO SHINING CITY Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in 2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client, John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation that comes from human contact, which his now-late wife couldn't provide to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged, along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he must now explain to his flummoxed wife (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window) that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in the ebbs and flows of verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate, comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long, the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble in a production of such rare beauty. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 19. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SLASHER Allison Moore's comedy thriller. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/slasher. (323) 960-7776.
SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy by the African-American troupe. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Nov. 21; Through Dec. 5. (323) 469-9988.
SONDHEIM UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre makes up musicals. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006.
STRAY There's an old adage taught in playwriting workshops that goes something like, "when in doubt, raise the stakes." The idea being that the extremity of potential consequences directly determines a drama's narrative torque. Judging by this earnest but desultory, Bad Seed melodrama, it's a class playwright Ruth McKee evidently skipped. What's at stake here is whether the disruptive, albeit never-seen 8-year-old Ugandan refugee, Daniel, will be allowed to stay at his Midwestern magnet school or whether his increasingly bizarre behavior will banish him to the "special-ed warehouse" at the city's overcrowded and underfunded elementary school. For his altruistic, white adoptive parents, James (Matt Gaydos) and his Kenyan wife, Rachel (Analeis Lorig), the wrong outcome threatens to tarnish their reputations as caregivers. For the school's harried principal, Tanya (the fine Angela Bullock), and Daniel's neophyte teacher, Ms. Kennedy (the funny Jennifer Chang), it's impossible to both teach and deal with a child who cowers under his desk and barks (and bites!) like a rabid dog. As a therapist is brought in (Eileen Galindo) and battle lines are drawn, there's a tantalizing moment when the characters' emerging emotional insecurities, personal prejudices and cultural misunderstandings seem poised to give flight to a caustic comedy of errors. That this more satisfying trajectory never lifts off is no fault of director Larissa Kokernot's brisk staging or of her polished ensemble but rather the timidity and pallid plotting of McKee's surface-bound text. (Bill Raden). Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.thedahlia.com. (800) 838-3006.
SUNDAY OF THE DEAD All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
THREE TALL WOMEN Edward Albee's study of contemporary womanhood. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.westcoastensemble.org. (323) 460-4443.
GO TREE An elderly black woman, Jessalyn Price (Sloan Robinson), suffers from dementia in an upstairs bedroom in Chicago's South Side, circa 2000, where she lives with her caretaker son, Leo (Chuma Gault). The story of Jessalyn's past, and of her impassioned, forbidden love, emerges through her too-poetical ramblings, in Julie Hébert's otherwise riveting family drama. The saga comes into clear focus, however, with the help of a Caucasian interloper, Didi Mercantel (Jacqueline Wright) -- a single, emotionally brittle brainiac from Louisiana who "suffers" from some gender ambiguity, and who claims to be the daughter of the man, just deceased, who once loved and abandoned the woman upstairs. Just when you thought August: Osage County had put the family drama to rest for a while, here comes a new play that doesn't ride on the macabre or the Gothic; rather, it's propelled by a kind of anthropological dig of detritus and handwritten missives from decades past, revealing the tugs of history, society and circumstance on a white Southern youth and his black girlfriend, both from Louisiana, trying to build a life together in the land of the free. Leo's daughter, J.J. (Tessa Thompson), chastises Didi that she has no right to seek consolation for her father's death by bursting in their door. "You're not family," J.J. declares. Whether that declaration is a truth, a truism or a cruel opinion lies at the heart of what this play says about our relations to each other in a nation of interlopers. Jessica Kubzansky's staging brings the characters' wry intelligence to the fore. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through December 13. (323) 461-3673 or FordTheatres.org. An Ensemble Studio Theatre-L.A. production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
VAMPIRE MASQUERADE Vampires and witches put on a show, written and directed by Chris Berube. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 & 9:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theberubians.com. (323) 850-7827.
A VERY DARK PLACE Brandon Alter's horror comedy about a soap star in a haunted house. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/darkplace. (323) 960-7822.
WACADEMIA Joe Camhi's satirical comedy about a hit man who has to take care of his father, whom he tries to teach political correctness in the same environment with his wife, who is suing an academic colleague for sexual harassment. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 874-1733.
THE WHY FACTOR: PROPORTION DISTORITION The all-female Why Factor Writing Ensemble explores female body image, sexuality, and self-acceptance. LOFT Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.loftensemble.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ABOVE THE CURVE THEATRE ONE-ACT FESTIVAL This fourth-annual installment of Above the Curve's play festival showcases six one-acts. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.abovethecurvetheatre.com. (310) 486-0051.
AS WHITE AS O Against the backdrop of a New York art show titled "The Innocents: 30 Years of Outsider Art in America," this world premiere of novelist Stacy Sims' first dramatic endeavor explores synesthesia, a condition in which senses are cross-wired so that feelings are "tasted" and letters and numbers appear in specific colors, among other things. The "outsiders," in this case, are Jack (Vince Tula) and his father, Sam (Mark St. Amant), who both spent much of Jack's childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, festooning their modest backwoods cabin with the detritus of our consumer society. While such decoration was therapeutic for them after losing Jack's mother, Grace (Elizabeth Sampson), they are discovered by Clara (Lauren Clark), a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in the house and in Sam. Running parallel to this story line, adult Jack is the subject of another work in the same show by Ed (Ramon Campos), who interviews and videotapes Jack in order to create his piece. The play fluidly oscillates between the present and the past, and accomplished director Sam Anderson deftly handles the transitions, though his pacing and shaping of his characters' emotional climaxes are a bit uneven. Desma Murphy's set, enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's subtly shifting lighting, is wonderfully detailed and spatially enhances the piece's thematic elements. The cast has moments of inspiration, but only Sampson consistently delivers the emotional energy required of Sims' script, which itself would be strengthened by fewer tangential story lines, and a stronger central plot. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.
A BIG GAY NORTH HOLLYWOOD WEDDING Interactive homo-nuptials, by William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 745-8527.
CHATSWORTH Days in the lives of a writer, an actor, a singer, a photographer, and an adult performer in Porn Valley, by Matt Robertson. Warning: Contains nudity, sexual situations, profanity, simulated drug use, cigarette smoking, gunfire, urophilia, and bad dancing.. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16, www.plays411.com/chatsworth. (818) 990-2324.
EIGHT Four one-act plays by Adam Kraar, followed by four more one-acts by Michael Bassett. Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 595-4849.
GO THE EMPEROR NORTON One person's madman is another's hero, a sentiment blithely celebrated in Kim Ohanneson and Marty Axelrod's melodramatic musical based on the life and legend of Joshua A. Norton, a failed businessman who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. Luckily for Norton (Matthew Tucker), he lived in San Francisco, a city that embraces the bizarre and which did the same for the putative sovereign. Narrated by newsboy Smiggy (Lucas Salazar), the tale recounts how various business interests exploited Norton's eccentric -- if not insane -- behavior financially while the "Emp" remained a pauper ("commerce over conscience" is a running line.) While the vocalizing and choreography, restricted by the small stage, are often subpar, director Jim Eshom and his cast's commitment to the play's nonsense saves the day. Kyle Clare and Christopher Goodwin are a hoot as two rat-catching dogs who reputedly tagged after Norton; Aaron Lyons is a scheming villain, replete with waxed mustache, battling Matthew Sklar's "ethical" newsman; and Amelia Megan Gotham and Jessica Amal Rice are hookers and sisters with hearts of gold, even if they do screech like hyenas. After all, as one song lyric goes, "It helps to be just a little bit crazy." ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 29. (818) 202-4120. (Martín Hernández)
GO THE END OF CIVILIZATION doesn't entail an-end-of-the-world holocaust, though it might feel that way to Harry (Eric Curtis Johnson) and Lily (Jaime Andrews), the middle-class couple at the nub of Canadian George F. Walker's ominously dark comedy. One of six in Walker's "Motel Series" of plays, it takes place against the backdrop of a national financial crisis, which has left Harry -- and millions more -- jobless. The prescient Walker wrote this in late 1998. For reasons never entirely clear, Harry has opted to job-search from a seedy motel room rather than his comfortable suburban digs, which are now in danger of foreclosure. Leaving their kids with her sister, Lily has accompanied him as a show of support, but her confidence -- along with the raison d'être for her entire existence -- is teetering, as Harry's behavior grows progressively more erratic and rage-driven. Their new, nightmarish existence roils out of control when two detectives (Phillip Simone and Bob Rusch) -- one of whom is obsessively fixated on Lily -- show up, suspecting Harry of having murdered three men. Keeping track of this plot is not always easy, as events are presented in nonchronological order, and it's not till the end that we become privy to the story's point of departure, from which the shattering climax ensues. Under James Sharpe's direction, Johnson and Andrews display their marital torments in persuasive three dimensions. Gemma Massot is spot-on as the take-no-prisoners hooker next door, while Simone and Rusch are also effective. Yet the punch the production lands only puts us on the ropes; with a bit more timing and finesse it could knock us to the floor. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through November 29. (818) 838-3006. A SkyPilot Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman)
FAIRY TALES - SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED A boy searches for his sister, who is lost in an enchanted forest, in this interactive kids musical. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 16. (877) 620-7673.
GBLT: GAYS, BACON, LETTUCE AND TOMATO Theatre Unleashed presents all-new tasty treats from sketch comedy troupe Die Gruppe. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Nov. 21, 11:30 p.m., www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
GRACE KIM & THE SPIDERS FROM MARS Lodestone Theatre Ensemble concludes its 10th and final season with Philip W. Chung's comedy. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 993-7245.
IF YOUR EYES ARE CLEAR... Saghatel Harutyunyan's Soviet-era drama, adapted by Aramazd Stepanian. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Through Nov. 21, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 500-7200.
INTIMACIES Artist-activist Michael Kearns performs his solo performance piece. DRKRM., 2121 N. San Fernando Rd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 223-6867.
GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper's musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalog followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saintlike perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiny, until the music returns him to his proper place. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. www.justimaginetheshow.com. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7. (Tom Provenzano)
NEW REVIEW LANDSCAPING THE DEN OF SAINTS Somewhere in
writer-director Jacob Smith's meandering muddle of a carpe diem sitcom,
there lies a tautly twisted, Buñuelian comedy-of- manners just crying
to be set free. Unfortunately, finding it means first slogging through
a particularly plodding Act 1 in which too much pointless exposition
and excessively pedestrian dialogue threaten to ground Smith's
narrative before it can take flight. At 33, Jason Jones (Jim Martyka),
is just another aging waiter, and actor-writer-wannabe, spinning his
wheels in a generic, Hollywood eatery for $8 an hour plus tips. With
his one critical acting success far behind him and his writing credits
little more than face-saving braggadocio, Jasons prospects for
happiness take their deepest hit when his girlfriend (Liesl Jackson)
relocates for a dream job in Paris. All that changes when Jim waits on
Bruce Hill (an inspired Sean Fitzgerald), a maniacal, coke-sniffing,
65-year-old (courtesy of Annie Wolf's fine makeup) attorney who offers
Jason $100,000 to quit his job and ghost write Bruce's autobiography.
The ensuing "writing" sessions play out as a hilarious cross between My Dinner With Andre and The Lost Weekend
as Bruce reveals himself as an unapologetic abuser of every drug in the
known pharmacopoeia, and each man goads the other into stripping away
his paralyzing illusions. Martyka's exasperated straight man is a
perfectly modulated delight, and Fitzgerald's demented riff on Burt
Reynolds may be the year's best comedy performance that nobody will
ever see. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North
Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818)
849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Bill Raden)
THE MENOPAUSE CRACK-UP Judith E. Taranto's solo dramedy about the onset of menopause. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 761-2166.
MOLLY Simon Gray's love triangle gone awry.. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 841-5421.
MOMS GONE MAD Betsy True and Pamela Shafer Moser's musical-comedy set at a PTA variety show fund-raiser. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.momsgonemadstage.com. (800) 838-3006.
MRS. CAGE Nancy Barr's story of robbery, mayhem, and murder in the supermarket parking lot. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 761-2166.
POLYESTER THE MUSICAL You can leave disco, but disco never leaves you, say the Synchronistics, a four-piece ABBA-esque band that broke up on the eve of what would have been their big national break: an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. True enough. It's 20 years later, but the blonde (Pamela Donnelly) is still so furious about the brunette (Gwendolyn Druyor) schtupping her husband (Christopher Fairbanks) that that lusty night at the Howard Johnson's in Green Bay feels like yesterday. In two decades, none of them has moved on to a new career or love interest. (Fourth member Jim Staahl still lives at home with his mom.) The Synchronistics have reunited for one last performance for a fund-raiser on the public-access station that gave them their start, and everyone's future depends on it. The stakes are so hard-hammered that by the end of Act I, no less than a disco hall of fame, the station's existence, the announcer's (Robert Moon) career, a new tour, an illegitimate child and two marriages depend on the squabbling band raking in $10,000. Phil Olson and Wayland Pickard's musical isn't trying for subtlety. Each of the 16 songs relates directly to the band's mood, and in case we miss the message in disco ditties like I Want You, But I Hurt You, the characters rehash their feelings afterward -- or in one instance, into a number with, I'd like to do a song about what we were just talking about. Pickard and Doug Engalla's direction similarly understates nothing, though both Druyor and Staahl manage to soft-shoe in hilarious turns as the not-so-supergroup's humble dolts. (Amy Nicholson). Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 506-0600.
THE PRINCESS PLAYS Two fairy-tale comedies by Collen Neuman. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 508-3003.
ROBBIE JENSEN: THE 12 STEPS OF CHRISTMAS Tony Matthews and Matt Schofield's comedy takes the audience to a Robbie Jensen Life Skills Workshop.. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.plays411.com/robbiejensen. (323) 960-1053.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET From its origins in 19th century fiction, to its numerous adaptations for stage and screen, this oft-revived tale of the Fleet Street barber who gives his customers the closest of shaves remains popular for its dark themes and, in Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning version, complex polyphonic sound. Sweeney Todd (Kurt Andrew Hansen), back in London after being sent to Australia by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Weston I. Nathanson), is both bent on revenge and in search of his wife Lucy (Harmony Goodman), who was raped by Turpin, and daughter Johanna (Jenny Ashman). He is aided first by the young sailor Anthony (Brian Maples), and then by pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovett (Donna Pieroni), who becomes his confidant and partner in their grisly scheme. Director Derek Charles Livingston cleverly uses the rhythms of the score to execute transitions between scenes, while August Viverito's set pieces are amazingly versatile and his lighting shifts, complex and well executed (especially the innovative oven-effect). Hansen, with his rich baritone and wild-eyed demeanor, is spot-on for Todd, and Pieroni is a solid Lovett (though I missed her traditional cockney twang), but Nathanson seems a bit mild-mannered for the slimy, malevolent Turpin. However, the main drawback to the production is that it really needs more space, which the often crowded stage and one-dimensional choreography made clear. Even the polyphonic sequences in the singing become muddied, which is surprising from a stellar company that normally astounds with its ability to maximize its cramped quarters. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: EXODUS Fourth chapter of Theatre Unleashed's collection of late-night vignettes. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
TENT MEETING Larry Larson, Levi Lee and Rebecca Wackler's satire about a reverend and kin on a road trip. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 846-5323.
THA' INTIMATE PHIL Philip Bell's solo show, with music by Phil 'n' Nem. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Mon., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28. (323) 674-5024.
THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF VICKY VIXEN Late-night serial show written by Taylor Ashbrook, Elizabeth Dement, Jeff Folschinsky and Tyler Tanner changes every weekend. Crook turned heroine protects a depressed little town from former evil mentor., By donation. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 508-3003.
YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE: A WALTZ WITH DOROTHY PARKER Ashley Fuller brings several of Dorothy Parker's most celebrated soliloquies to life. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (818) 202-4120.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
ALL CAKE, NO FILE In this slight cooking-show spoof, performer Donna Jo Thorndale, portraying "celebrity chef Jewell Rae Jeffers," strides onto a kitchen set, caparisoned in an Aquanet-rigid white fright wig, evincing a folksy Southern accent, a chipper grin and twinkly eyes that hint at layers of lunacy lurking just beneath her cheery facade. It's a tone-perfect, dead-ringer imitation of TV chef-lebrity Paula Deen, a wonderful gag -- for about five minutes or so. After that, the joke -- sustaining what's essentially an overlong SNL skit, wears painfully thin, as the cooking-show spoof offers little context or dramatic tension. In director Shira Piven's unobtrusive but ultimately workmanlike staging, Thorndale's performance consists mostly of improvisation as her "wacky chef" character whips up a chocolate cake. On the night I attended, the standout comic moment turned out to be Thorndale's impromptu bloviating when the cake Jeffers prepared refused to slide out of the Bundt pan (seemingly because the pan had been undersprayed with vegetable shortening). Yet, even the patter, which is occasionally peppered with double-entendres and drug gags -- "Ohhhh! I love to see powder in the air!" Jeffers squawks as she flaps some sugar from a colander -- is unexceptional. The show is intended as a fund-raiser for the Actor's Gang's prison theater workshop program. This is a commendable cause -- but, even when it is raised by bumptious musical interludes from Johnny Cash tribute band "With A Bible And A Gun," the production is still a lackluster vignette. (Paul Birchall)., $15. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, www.wtffestival.com. (310) 838-4264.
ANOTHER PLAY OF THE DEAD Roadkill Productions presents a series of short plays by John Bozeman, Tom Coash, Caroline Marshall, Tracy Merrifield, Marnie Olson, and Janet Rathert. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 535-6007.
BEAU FIB This musical, credited to playwright Myles Nye and composers John Graney and Andy Hentz, is steeped in the dramatic tradition of the Tragic Clown. And, really, few clowns are more tragic than Christopher Young's Beau Fib, a sweet-natured young hobo and pathological liar who, at the play's opening, is afflicted with some kind of amnesia. Haunted by the sound of a distant jazz band, Master Fib commences a journey to figure out why he's inexplicably dressed in his best pair of shoes. Along the way, he is befriended by a young soldier (Scott Palmason), a jaded prostitute (Cat Davis) and a disenchanted drunkard preacher (Chris Sheets). After a run-in with demonic anticlown St. Clownie (Christopher Karbo, as a fiendish Bozo), the heroes are tricked by bizarre circumstance into descending to Hell to steal the little toe from the King of the Underworld himself (Mike Kindle). Before this can occur, Fib makes some appalling discoveries about himself. If for no other reason, Nye's musical is exceptional because of his use of the word sardoodledom (Google it) in the program notes. However, in terms of execution, the work is never able to evade the sense of being an early draft. The story drifts from idea to idea in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The book (both dialogue and lyrics) is ponderous and dry, full of cerebral and academic puns that probably seemed droll and arch on the page but which come off as dreary and pompous on the stage. Director Andy Goldblatt's intimate, halting production may gel later in the run, but I observed klutzy blocking and ill-timed pacing. That said, Young's Fib is a likable young rascal. Sheets' growelly old priest is hilariously bitter, and Davis' flaxen-haired hooker is simultaneously sleazy and innocent delight. Graney and Hentz's Tom Waitslike score possesses amiably folksy and ironic undercurrents that are occasionally soulful. (Paul Birchall). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
GO THE BROWNING AFFAIR Though not as widely known or acclaimed as his contemporary British playwrights, Terence Rattigan was a superb dramatist and chronicler of human emotions. Here, Rattigan's The Browning Version, the gloomy story of an aging schoolteacher crushed by failure and disappointment, receives a stellar mounting by director Marilyn Fox. A well-regarded scholar of the classics, Andrew Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) has spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public school in England but must leave the position because of failing health to take a less-stressful job elsewhere. Now the object of jokes and ridicule by his students, and denied a pension by the school, he has a bearing that is subdued by sadness, yearning and a palpable "gallows" surrender to circumstance. His wife, Millie (Sally Smythe), has given up on being happy with him and has contented herself with numerous dalliances with his colleagues (which she delights in reminding him of), and cruelly undermining what remains of his sense of manhood. Her current lover, Frank (understudy David Rogge), is torn between a sense of guilt, his admiration for Andrew, and the dying embers of lust for Millie. It is only when the professor is presented with a rare translation of Agamemnon from a student (Justin Preston) that his mask of stoic restraint melts to reveal a desperately fragile inner life. From this sedate tapestry of characters, Rattigan artfully probes marriage, relationship and our perverse capacity to embrace lacerating emotional pain and self-deceit, which all unfold beautifully on Norman Scott's cleverly designed sitting-room mock-up. Fox directs this piece with masterful subtlety and draws devastatingly convincing performances from her actors. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 20. (No perfs Nov. 26 or Dec. 10.) (310) 822-8392. (Lovell Estell III)
CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. (SLM). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
DETENTION OF THE DEAD The George A. Romero High School has been overrun by zombies, and five stereotypical teenagers have taken refuge in the detention room, where the teacher has been decapitated. They've barricaded the door, but the zombies lurk outside. Star jock Brad (Mike Horton) is grieving because his best friend/teammate, Jimmy, has just been devoured, while his girlfriend, sex-pot cheerleader, Janet (Crystle Lightning), is hell-bent on having a man -- any man -- break out to rescue her. Bad-boy/class clown Ashbury (Michael Petted) copes with anxiety by getting stoned. Self-dramatizing Goth-girl Willow (Samantha Sloyan) decides death is not so appealing if it's actually imminent. And nerdly Eddie (Alex Weed) thinks he might survive the zombie attack because he's a virgin, and in zombie movies it's always the kids who smoke, drink, dope and have sex who die. One by one, they're picked off, in increasingly bloody, bizarre ways. Rob Rinow's script is a heavy-handed, predictable send-up of generic horror flicks. It has some funny lines, but most of the laughs come from the actors' manic performances and physical comedy. Director Alex Craig Mann keeps the action broad and violent, and David Bartlett provides the effective if sometimes deafening sound. (Neal Weaver). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (310) 358-9936.
FROZEN Ralph is a brain-damaged psychopath, Nancy is the grieving mother of one of his victims, and Agnetha is an American psychiatrist studying the criminal mind. Byrony Lavery's play weaves them all together. Immanuel Center for Conscious Living, 3215 E. Third St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (562) 818-7364.
GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE L.A. Theatre Works's staged reading of Moises Kaufman's play. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Through Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 21, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.
ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION John Patrick Shanley's comedy about two lifelong friends. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6, (No perfs Nov. 27-29.). (310) 397-3244.
GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece that is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but rundown country house in Upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful, detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife, Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger), are in the twilight of their careers but regret nothing about a life spent on the road, performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter, Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiancé, Jimmy (David Garver), to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self-indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior, and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration that underscore the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (dark Thanksgiving weekend); through December 20. (310) 392-7327. A Rainbow Theatre production. (Paul Birchall)
LOVE IN BLOOM Heroes and heroines, wenches and rogues, bawdy damsels, fops and fairies. Written by Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 394-9779.
GO NO MAN'S LAND When Harold Pinter's drama was first produced at Britain's National Theatre in 1975, it was a star vehicle, offering virtuoso acting by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Now that the star glamour has worn off, it's possible to see the play more clearly. At times Pinter appears to be imitating Pinter, bringing out all the familiar tropes. Nevertheless, the writing is rich, and director Michael Peretzian gives it an elegant, well-acted production. Two elderly writers, Hirst (Lawrence Pressman) and Spooner (Alan Mandell) meet by chance in a Hampstead pub, and Hirst invites Spooner to his townhouse for a drink. At first, the two seem to be strangers, but gradually it emerges that they have been rivals -- sexual and professional -- since their days at Oxford. Hirst has won the success game, while Spooner lives in genteel poverty. Prosperity and alcohol have left Hirst semi-embalmed, while Spooner is very much alive, and angling for employment as Hirst's secretary-companion. But two slightly menacing caretakers are already in place -- Briggs (Jamie Donovan) and Foster (John Sloan). Their position is ambiguous: Are they Hirst's employees or his captors? Mysteries and contradictions proliferate in an evening of perverse wit and skillful acting. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.; West L.A.; schedule varies, call for information. (310) 477-2055 or odysseytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
RABBIT HOLE David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner about a family turned upside-down after the death of a child. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (562) 494-1014.
THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE Alan Ayckbourn's romantic farce. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 454-1970.
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GO THE TROJAN WOMEN In his adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy (so freely swiped from the original that Euripides' byline doesn't appear on the program), Charles Duncombe takes a macroscopic, brutal and unrelenting look at the end of the world. Genocide in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, unsustainable population growth and climate change carry the day, and the play, with excursions into a theme that has punctuated Duncombe's earlier adaptations of texts by Sophocles and Heiner Müller: the relationship between gender and power. Scenes depicting physical mutilation and rape in war zones -- choreographed by director Frédérique Michel -- contain an excruciating authenticity, even in the abstract. Michel undercuts this harrowing tone by incorporating elements of farce in other scenes. This is still very much a work-in-progress, conceived for all the right reasons. As is, the directorial tones wobble like a top, and the adaptation contains far too much explication. The evening also reveals why theater matters, and how this kind of work wouldn't stand a chance in any other medium. It's too smart and too passionate to dismiss. City Garage, 1340½ 4th Street (alley entrance), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m. ("pay what you can"); through Feb. 21. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris)
THE VALUE OF NAMES Playwright Jeffrey Sweet's drama asks the provocative question is it ever possible to forgive a wrong done to us decades ago? The play's unexpected answer turns out to be a shocking never! Norma (Stasha Surdyke) is a young actress and the daughter of elderly TV star Benny Silverman (Peter Mark Richman), though the pair is estranged these days. Still, Norma stops by Benny's Malibu mansion to tell her father that she's just been cast in a new play in which not only is she going to show her breasts, she's also going to be directed by Benny's old enemy Leo (Malachi Throne). Back in the bad days, Leo sold out Benny to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Benny, perhaps understandably, is still angry after all these years. Leo stops by the house in an attempt to win over his old buddy, but, as they say, old grudges are the best grudges and, within minutes, long buried wounds are disinterred. Sweet's drama-of-ideas is the sort in which a pair of figures, each symbolizing one side of an argument, debate until they're blue in the face and the audiences' ears are red. Although Sweet's writing suffers from afusty tone - and Howard Teichman's staid staging doesn't really tell us why these characters are willing to stay in the same room with each other, the crackling intelligence underlying the arguments is nevertheless frequently engrossing. Also hard to resist are the powerful performances, headlined by Thorne and Richman, a pair of veteran character actors whom you'll recognize from dozens of your favorite TV shows (at least, you will if you are a Baby Boomer). Watching these two frosty lions in winter essentially tearing into each other, as well as into the scenery, as they storm and bluster, makes for a thrilling evening on any terms, and Thorne's coolly pragmatic Lou and Richman's feisty, embittered Benny easily rise above the workmanlike material with which they're matched. (Paul Birchall). Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.wcjt.org. (323) 506-8024.
A WINTER'S TALE: A MUSICAL DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL Lively musical adaptation showcasing both the humor and pathos of Dickens' 1843 story of spiritual renewal and redemption. No show Nov. 8. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 828-7519.
WTF?! FESTIVAL Singer/songwriter series, film talkback series, theater and dance series, and literature series, each curated by actor Tim Robbins. Complete schedule at www.wtffestival.com. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.