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Though Mayank Keshaviah found thin patches in the new musical Krunk-Fu Battle Battle (book by Qui Nguyen, lyrics by Beau Sia and vocal music and musical direction by Marc Macalintal) at East West Players, he said that the dancing "kills, and keeps you coming back for more."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: 8:45 p.m., during intermission in the lobby of a North Hollywood 99-seat theater (the show started at 7 p.m.), an elderly female patron asks the company rep selling snacks how long the second act runs. "Oh, you should be out of here by 10," he replies jocularly. The woman's face becomes clouded by dismay. "Oh," she says, "I don't know if I can make it through all that." His reply, with unwavering good cheer: "Well, we've still got a lot of material to cover."
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication May 26, 2011
NEW REVIEW THE AU PAIR MAN Irish scribe Hugh Leonard's 1968 play is curiously billed as a comedy, while it's really an allegorical, sinister two-hander about the power play between a haughty, elderly Englishwoman and an awkward young Irishman who wanders into her web. Lonely misfit Eugene (Joe Corgan) shows up to the crumbling London mansion of elegant shut-in Mrs. Rogers (Virginia Morris) to collect a debt and is persuaded to stay on as her 'au pair' (unpaid, live-in assistant). His thick Irish brogue clashes with her clipped British accent. Pretty soon she's walking the same path as Dr Henry Higgins and attempting to iron out his "Colonial" Irish wrinkles with some strenuous instruction on self-improvement. A genteel yet arch woman, she's adept at putting others ill-at-ease and seems to delight in toying and flirting with him. He bristles at her classism and taunts but appears to enjoy her erudition and attention. Finally, he finds an opportunity to turn the tables on her, but has she got one more trick up her sleeve? Leonard's text is incisive at times but feels dated and fusty. Director Joe Praml does well with the slightly complicated set elements and staging while his cast give such authentic performances, it truly seems as if we have traveled back in time. But the pace feels slow and, at two-and-a-half hours, the play is overlong. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 12. (818) 760-8322. ravenplayhouse.com. (Pauline Adamek)
NEW REVIEW BETWEEN US CHICKENS One-dimensional characters become no less uninteresting when they reveal dark secrets, in this triangular love story set in present day L.A.. The set-up to Sofia Alvarez's play relies so heavily on the creation of stock characters that it's painfully clear things are not what they seem from the get-go. The problem is compounded by a situational dilemma that's hard to buy, huge swaths of expository dialogue, and nearly imperceptible stakes. Sarah (Annabelle Bork) and Meagan (Amelia Alvarez) are Pennsylvania transplants struggling to make meaning in L.A.. The 20-something women act out their acclimation anxiety in drastically different ways, Sarah shutting herself in their apartment all day and Meagan hitting a new club every night. Though the pairing of polar opposites can be the stuff of great comedy and/or dramatic strife, Alvarez's hand is too clumsy to make the contrast crackle. When Meagan brings home Charles (Ben Huber), a homeless L.A. native who exhibits strange behavior (he answers Sarah's phone and tells her mother he is Sarah's boyfriend, for instance), things go from mildly inauthentic to entirely implausible. With minimal protest from the exceedingly high-strung Sarah, Meagan invites the whacko Charles to crash on the couch until he can find another place to stay. The girls begin to reverse roles as Charles puzzlingly becomes the object of their desire. A dark internet scam forces the plot into convoluted territory, while a tired viewpoint of L.A. as a city where moral codes go to die is an ever-present drumbeat of the play. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 19. (323) 644-1929. AtwaterVillageTheatre.com. (Amy Lyons)
NEW REVIEW THE GOOD BOY Playwright-author Michael Bonnabel's pleasant solo show is an elegiac description of an LA childhood, of growing up as one of five siblings, whose parents were totally deaf. Within the mostly familiar tale of an otherwise typical suburban family, Bonnabel depicts much of the universal affection and pathos of growing up in the Boomer Era, with the slight twist that his mom and dad's deafness provides an additional challenge: The young siblings are frequently forced to act as interpreters and ambassadors to an often cruel and uncomprehending outside world. Bonnabel's love for the subject matter shines through director Darin Anthony's crisp, evocative staging, which is both intimate and yet smoothly assured. Yet, while many elements of Bonnabel's tale are emotionally moving, other incidents are prosaic, clearly of importance to him, but not quite connecting as powerfully with the audience. As a performer, Bonnabel's sincerity is consistently appealing - and the show's emphasis on deaf themes elevates the traditional nature of the narrative. For instance, Bonnabel punctuates his story with delightfully tuneful musical numbers, which he signs in ASL for hearing-impaired audience members (He doesn't miss the irony of his discovering a love of music while growing up in a deaf family). Still, the story itself ultimately lacks dramatic heft, and, while touching, the work's conventional dramatic tropes (with touches of melodrama) make for an evening that's only fitfully compelling. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 29. (866) 811-411. (Paul Birchall)
NEW REVIEW iGHOST This new musical, with book by Doug Haverty and music by Adryan Russ, is loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde's short-story The Canterville Ghost. In an effort to update the material, they've given the Ghost a taste for internet porn. The songs are pleasant enough, and the orchestrations by music director Richard Berent sometimes have an engaging Renaissance lilt, but Haverty's book is contrived, formulaic, and patently implausible. In Wilde's original, the Ghost, Sir Simon (Peter Welkin), murdered his wife Lucinda (Dorie Braun), who placed a death-bed curse on him. Here, he's guilty only of refusing to investigate the imaginary night-noises that alarmed Lucinda, so she had to go prowling herself, and fell down the stairs to her death. A young art-student, Virginia (Rebecca Johnson) is touched by Simon's plight, and sets out to lift the curse that dooms his spirit. Along the way, she wins the heart of the current Lord Canterville, Trevor (Zachary Ford). Director Jules Aaron's efforts are inhibited by the predictable book, but Welkin is a stylish and vocally strong Sir Simon, Johnson's Virginia is spunky and lively, Ford's Trevor offers diffident charm, and Braun brings sweet dignity to the ghostly Lucinda. Despite their best efforts, the piece seems much ado about nothing. Lyric Theatre, 520 North LaBrea Avenue, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5 & 12, 7 p.m. (626) 695-8283. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW JUST FOR THE RECORD For the last five years, you've probably heard Paul Rodriguez more than you've seen him, both as a voice actor for Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Dora the Explorer and as an advocate for water rights in the San Joaquin Valley -- a dust-up that pressed him to switch from a lifelong Democrat to a champion of Meg Whitman ("I hope my mom forgives me," he told the news.) The conceit of his solo show is that in signing a new spokesman contract with Verizon, Rodriguez must undergo a psychological evaluation to make sure he's no Vince Shlomi, a.k.a. the ShamWow guy. Begin at the beginning, he's told: And so Rodriguez charts the course of his life starting as a newborn in Sinaloa with parents so poor, they couldn't afford to take baby pictures. His first photograph was taken as an elementary schooler in Fresno after his family slipped across the border ("To this day, I have nightmares of hustling Chiclets," he says about the move north), and from there Rodriguez presses forward with earnest and sentimental stories about his teen years in South Central, his breakout years at the Comedy Store, and the present, where the comedian seems to feel he's hit a wall and must take stock and start over. Rodriguez and director Bobby Logan appear to be butting heads about the pacing of the show -- the accompanying slideshow is less a compliment to his stories than an elbow reminding him of his schedule. As Rodriguez enthused about his first crush's red hair, the rebellious video booth skipped ahead and prodded him to talk about his move to Compton. (And dividing his life story into numbered chapters makes it obvious when time constraints fast-forward the set from Chapter 14 to Chapter 22.) His one man show isn't a comedy act, it's a lifelong entertainer opening up about about the family secrets and intimate losses that have shaped him as a person, not a performer. Often, he's grateful for his good fortune and great collaborators, but at moments, he loses his patience, flashing a photo of Will Smith on the screen and venting, "You forgot who your friends were -- fuck you." The fans in the audience feel like his confidants, and to them Rodriguez explains, "I know I'm rushing through this, I'm just trying to make sense mostly for myself." El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 8 p.m.; Sun. (perfs in Spanish), 5 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 508-4200 elportaltheatre.com. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW GO KRUNK FU BATTLE BATTLE Why is it that we keep going back to that hole-in-the-wall restaurant around the corner, despite its hackneyed décor, lack of ambience, and slow service? It's because the food is so damn good. Sure, it may lack elegance in its presentation and subtlety in its flavoring. But it flat out tastes great. Similarly, this world premiere musical features a book (Qui Nguyen) that's amusing but a bit thin, lyrics (Beau Sia) that are clever but not stellar, and pleasant enough vocals (Marc Macalintal); however the dancing (Rynan Paguio's music and Jason Tyler Chong's choreography) kills and keeps you coming back. The plot is basically The Karate Kid in Brooklyn, but instead of breaking boards, they're breaking it down b-boy style. "Daniel-san" Norman Lee (Lawrence Kao) and his mother Jean (Joan Almedilla) are forced to move back from Connecticut to the mean streets she grew up on. "Mr. Miyagi" Sir Master Cert (Blas Lorenzo), the local handyman, takes Norman under his wing both because he's an old-school b-boy and because he hasn't forgotten Jean from back in the day. When Norman crosses reigning b-boy kings Three-Point (Leng Phe), Hype (Troy Terashita) and LA (Cesar Cipriano) in coming to the defense of his friend Wingnut (Matt Tayao), things get hectic. The battle is on and only ramps up when Norman falls for Three-Point's girl, the beautiful Cindy Chang (Liza B. Domingo). Director Tim Dang's clever use of the projection screens to stage silhouetted scenes and his lightning-fast transitions keep the show humming, but its tone remains uneven as Dang alternately plays the text earnestly and tongue-in-cheek. Among the vocal numbers, "It's Gotta Begin Somewhere" stands out with its staccato rhythms punctuating a smooth, Usher-style track and showcasing Domingo's crystal clear voice. The dance grooves, featuring classics from L.L. Cool J, Salt & Peppa, and even Herbie Hancock's iconic "Rockit", seamlessly incorporate a wide range of influences, and the dancers (especially the impressive Phe) contort their bodies in seemingly impossible ways to them. Highlighting their physical pyrotechnics, Dan Weingarten's kaleidoscopic lighting is nearly as nimble, and when combined with Adam Flemming's bold set, creates an amazing "glowffiti" effect that pops and locks. East West Players, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Downtown L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m., thru June 26. www.eastwestplayers.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
NEW REVIEW SOUTH OF DELANCEY Forty years before The People's Court first packaged binding arbitration proceedings for daytime reality TV, the Jewish American Board of Peace and Justice was adjudicating the domestic disputes of New York City's Lower East Side faithful over the airwaves of Yiddish radio. Director/creator Karen Sommers has sifted through the original acetate recordings and selected three woefully irreconcilable couples from the rabbinical court's cases, interweaving their stories -- and her own invented backstories -- into a persuasive evening of reenactment and speculative docudrama. Abigail Marks and Michael Rubenstone are Faye and Marty, a war bride and her combat-scarred husband, who are unable to negotiate a postwar peace for their rash and precipitous marriage; Jordana Oberman and Kal Bennett play Helen and Lenore, roommate sisters whose blood ties can no longer take the strain of personalities divided by dysfunction and temperament; Barry Alan Levine and Jodi Fleisher provide comic relief with mismatches Herman and Lilly, whose marital mix of business and pleasure behind a dry-goods counter proves an unmitigated disaster. The show's most fascinating moments occur when Sommers incorporates the original recordings and the Yiddish-speaking judge can be heard feebly throwing rabbinical bromides and blandishments at cases of such hopelessly intractable incompatibility. Sommers' tight staging (with Carol Doehring's crisp lights and period-perfect costumes by Lois Tedrow) and a powerful ensemble lend the proceedings considerable polish . . . with the exception of Dove Huntley's sprawling apartment set, which has more in common with a Van Nuys split-level than any tenement north or south of Delancey. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 26. (866) 811-4111, fremontcentretheatre.com. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW THE VIEW FROM HERE The main character in Margaret Dulaney's comedy is afflicted with a crippling case of agoraphobia, which prevents her from venturing out of her small-town Kentucky home. For the better part of a decade, Fern (Debbie Jaffe) has stayed indoors occupying herself with snooping on her neighbor Arnold (Derek Houck), babysitting children, gossiping with friend Carla (Sasha Carrera), fielding phone calls from her mother, and being there for her barmy sister Maple (Katherine Browning). The wall of isolation is broken when Fern enters a TV raffle and wins a micro-wave over -- which she has to claim in person. Thus is established a semblance of a dramatic arc, which is played out in a predictable manner with Arnold -- whose wife has deserted him and her newborn -- assuming the role of on-hand savior. Fern's disorder and the resultant conundrums are good for a handful of laughs, but Dulaney's story lacks the necessary details about the how and why of Fern's condition. The play's chitchat overwhelms what little action there is, and at a lean 90-minutes, the pall of stasis manifests itself early on. This problem could be partly remedied with sharper pacing by director Inger Tudor. The performances, on balance, are good, especially Carrera, who is start to finish convincing and invests Carla with an appealing glow of humanity. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd. N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; thru June 12. (818) 506-3903. (Lovell Estell III)