Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
NEW REVIEWS

STAGE FEATURE on The Event and Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms

THE 31ST ANNUAL L.A. WEEKLY THEATER AWARDS

GROUNDLINGS SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

is one of almost a dozen new productions being reviewed this weekend. For the complete slate, hit the More tab at the bottom of this section. photo by Shawn Bishop

Is there such a thing as an L.A. aesthetic? New York and Chicago sure have one. Or is our urban culture so complex and multi-layered that our theater reflects that "diversity" with a bouquet of theatrical styles. One thing: of late, we're seeing less and less autobiographical solo shows aimed at wooing casting agents. Second thing, those musical satires just keep rolling in. I do believe that in Chicago or Seattle, producers might be more cautious before putting on Octomom: The Musical I remember telling a bunch of New Yorkers about it when that was here opening last year, and that it was getting national press, just from the concept. The news was met stone-faced, with a couple of 'em just shaking their heads. Even at the time, it seemed to be a case of theater satirizing yesterday's news, which had already been satirized more promptly on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Upcoming Events

We are tenacious nonetheless. The Rose Bowl Queens just opened at The Lounge Theatre -- "an upbeat, country style musical about a landmark (not the one in Pasadena), its impending demise, and the characters dedicated to preserving their tradition...and friendship." Kay Cole directs and choreographs. Add Steven Huber and Diane Shinozaki's Pot: The Musical  opening early April at the Electric Lodge. There isn't a headline we can't turn into a song six months later. Will this be our legacy?

Surprising, in a way, how few plays we're producing about making movies. The last big hit on that theme, Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, came from New York. Susan Rubin's Above the Line, currently in previews and opening next week at Bootleg, in a co-production by Indecent Exposure Theatre Company, is all about what may be the qualities that emerge from our marketing-centric city, and the film biz it engendered - namely, duplicity and betrayal. Some characters in Rubin's play undertake an (ig)noble quest to rise above.

For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, and this coming weekend's review docket, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for March 12 - 18, 2010

(SCROLL TO BOTTOM OF PAGE FOR LIST OF SHOWS SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW THIS WEEKEND)

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

Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.

OPENING THIS WEEK

DA Hugh Leonard's story of a Londoner haunted by his father's ghost. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens March 12; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 17. (626) 256-3809.

DIALOUGE BETWEENA PROSTITUTE AND HER CLIENT Written by Dacia Maraini. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens March 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 18. (866) 811-4111.

EXTROPIA Multi-sonic extravaganza set in an industrial retro-future's world without music. King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens March 14; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 960-7721.

A FINE ROMANCE . . . IN SONG AND DANCE David Engel and Tami Tappan Damiano star in Musical Theatre West's spring fund-raiser., $40, $85 includes dinner, 5 p.m. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Sun., March 14, 7 p.m.. (562) 985-7000.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; opens March 17; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 28. (310) 825-2101.

HARLOW GOLD: EAST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. The Bordello, 901 E. First St., L.A.; Sun., 10 p.m.. (213) 687-3766.

HARLOW GOLD: WEST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. Harvelle's, 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs.. (310) 395-1676.

IN A GARDEN American architect vs. the Culture Minister of Aqaat, by Howard Korder. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens March 12; Fri., March 12, 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; thru March 28. (714) 708-5555.

LARS HANSEN MEMORIAL Eileen Barnett, Yvette Cason, Mary Jo Catlett, Stan Chandler, Mara Getz, Diana Gordon, Gary Gordon, Jenny Gordon, Robert Patteri, Linda Purl, Rebecca Robinson, Lisa Robinson, Camille Saviola, and JoAnne Worley celebrate the life of Lars Hansen. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Sun., March 14, 3 p.m.. (818) 558-7000.

LIBERTY INN: THE MUSICAL The Andak Stage Company's world premiere, book and lyrics by Dakin Matthews, music by B.T. Ryback. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; opens March 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 25. (866) 811-4111.

LI'L ABNER Musical version of the Al Capp comic strip, book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, music by Gene De Paul, lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Presented by Kentwood Players. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; opens March 12; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 17. (310) 645-5156.

LOST MOON RADIO Needtheater's original sketches, songs and "metaphysical ramblings.". Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., March 18, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., March 19, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., March 27, 8:30 p.m.; Thurs., April 1, 8:30 p.m.. (800) 838-3006.

MORTIFIED L.A. retro confessionals, featuring The Mortified After School Orchestra. King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Wed., March 17, 8 p.m., mortifiedla.eventbrite.com. (323) 960-9234.

PLAYING JORDAN GOLDMAN David and Andy Neiman's story of extortion via bar mitzvah. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens March 18; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru April 23. (323) 422-6361.

PRINCESS BEAN'S MESSAY WORLD Rock & roll kids musical about a petite punk princess. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat.. (310) 306-1854.

RANT & RAVE "Chapter 9: Secrets." Rogue Machine gives local writers a topic and a time limit. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Mon., March 15, 8 p.m.. (323) 422-6361.

RFK: The Journey to Justice L.A. Theatre Works' staged reading of Murray Horwitz and Jonathan Estrin's docudrama about Robert Kennedy, to be recorded to radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; March 17-18. (310) 827-0889.

ROCK'N RIDICULE Political satire cabaret show, "with Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Rahm Emanuel, W and the Governator.". Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens March 14; Sun., March 14, 3 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 25. (323) 525-0202.

SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM Cavalcade of Broadway hits by Stephen Sondheim. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens March 12; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 525-0661.

TALES OF AN URBAN INDIAN Darrell Dennis' one-man dark comedy. Post-performance "Talk Back" programs, March 14 & 21. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; opens March 13; Sat., March 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 14, 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 667-2000.

THROUGH THE NIGHT Written and performed by Daniel Beaty. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens March 16; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru April 4. (310) 208-5454.

TRYING Joanna McClelland-Glass' story of Francis Biddle, Attorney General under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chief Judge of the Nuremberg trials. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; opens March 13; Sat., March 13, 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (805) 667-2900.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS Musical tribute to dancing dame Ginger Rogers. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (562) 436-4610.

CATS Andrew Lloyd Webber's feline musical. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 21. (800) 982-ARTS.

GO CAVE QUEST When Seattle game programmer Justin Yi (West Liang) reaches the summit of a Tibetan mountain where Buddhist nun Padma (Kim Miyori) has been meditating in silence for three years, his reaction is tres 2010: He texts a photo back home to his business partner, who is tracking him on Google Earth. Meanwhile, Padma barricades the door. She's easily -- and obliviously -- steamrolled by the fast-talking, panic attack-prone scion of Generation Y, who, like the Web itself, respects few boundaries. The two are from different planets, though Padma was once a West Coast kid from Fresno. Justin has a proposition for the nun, who is ranked in the Top 3 on hardcorebuddhist.com (an accolade she absorbs with a blank stare): She can share with the masses the wisdom she's learned meditating for 18 hours a day in a small wooden box via a video game he wants to develop. The game's seventh level would be "enlightenment." Even "a quick fix is still a fix," he chirps. Not so, insists Padma, and Les Thomas' intellectual play becomes a snowed-in showdown between two stubborn forces. Director Diane Rodriguez captures the tiny motions that show Padma's comfort in her harsh world -- and Justin's ease in upending it. Though the characters are vividly drawn, for most of the play, they dig in their heels so that their arguments become smartly, though perhaps excessively, reincarnated -- an issue easily resolved with tighter plotting. (213) 625-7000. (Amy Nicholson). East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (213) 625-7000.

NEW REVIEW GO

DREAMGIRLS This landmark homage to Motown's heyday of the '60s and '70s

has been around for almost three decades but hasn't lost any of its

winning appeal. Robert Longbottom's touring revival doesn't boast the

splashy, big-name resonance of the 2006 movie, or of the original 1981

Broadway production which soared under the direction of Michael

Bennett, but it still makes for a very entertaining evening. Dreamgirls

(book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, music by Henry Krieger) tells of the

meteoric rise of a female singing group, a rags-to-riches tale inspired

by The Supremes. It also chronicles some of the behind-the-scenes dirty

dealings and compromises many black artists had to make to gain appeal

to a more diverse audience. This show doesn't skimp on production

values, headed by William Ivey Long's collage of technicolor costumes

and Paul Huntley's seemingly endless assemblage of stylish wigs. Robin

Wagner's scenic design (a group of digital panels) creates a dazzling

world of cityscapes, colors and imagery. Equally impressive is

Longbottom's glitzy choreography and Ken Billington's lighting schema.

In the key role of Effie, the outsized Dreamette who gets dumped for

the prettier Deena Jones (the fine Syesha Mercado), Moya Angela is no

Jennifer Holliday or Hudson. Chester Gregory channels Morris Day and

James Brown and mesmerizes the audience with his turn as James

"Thunder" Early. Chaz Lamar Shepherd is appropriately scurrilous as the

lowlife manager Curtis Taylor. Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave.,

downtown; Tues.-Fri., 8 pm, Sat. 2 pm. and 8 pm., Sun., 1 &6:30

pm., through April 4. (213)-972-4400.  http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org (Lovell Estell III)

THE EMPORER'S NEW CLOTHES Audience-participation musical for children and their families, music by Phil Orem, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz and David Wechter. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 851-7977.

GO THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES "The Female of the Species is more deadly than the male," wrote Rudyard Kipling some 100 years ago. That might well be the theme of Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith's satire of all things that have fallen into the gender divide over the past 40 years. The comedy is set in the library/living room in the secluded country home of Margot Mason (Annette Bening), a sardonic wit and author of feminist self-help books. (Bening's take is perfectly competent though narrow in range). Margot struggles to meet an impending deadline for a book she's barely started, when an interloper named Molly Rivers (Merritt Wever) wanders in through the French doors (Takeshi Kata designed the detailed, realistic set). Based on a real-life incident involving such an intrusion upon author Germaine Greer, and after offering some fake adoration for the famous author, Molly pulls out a pistol and threatens to kill Margot over her sequence of celebrity-motivated, contradictory exegeses that, Molly believes, were responsible for her mother's suicide. (The despondent woman allegedly clutched a copy of Margot's The Cerebral Vagina before hurling herself under a moving train.) Enter Margot's daughter, Tess (a particularly fine Mireille Enos), traumatized by her mother's decades of neglect and contempt for her daughter's having "settled" into a married life with a nice if dim-witted hedge-fund investor named Bryan (an endearing turn by David Arquette). ("I love you, Tess. You know I've always mounted you on a pedestal.") A hausfrau in crisis somewhere between despair and oblivion, Tess has no complaint over Molly's intention to murder her mother. Add to the mix (yes, it's a very busy day for an author who desires only to be left alone to write) Molly's macho taxi driver, Frank (Josh Stamberg), furious because Molly stiffed him -- because he wouldn't stop talking about how his wife just left him. Margot's publisher, Theo (Julian Sands), also shows up to resolve a lingering question of genealogy. (The farce is not intended to hold a mirror to life's most probable outcomes.) When Frank finally grows a pair and starts ordering Tess around, her eyes light up and her shoulder straps fall. It's a feminist's nightmare, as is the entire play. It's also a comedy of the ilk George Bernard Shaw might have written had he lived another 100 years, though he probably would have left out the gun, which the characters spend most of the play ignoring anyway. Of course, this is a joke about hostage plays; it also reveals how the person holding the gun may not actually possess all the power, especially if there's enough wit from the playwright and the people who don't hold the gun. There are enough funny lines to keep an evening of repartee and satire from imploding, especially under Randall Arney's sure-footed direction, yet the comedy does skewer one of the most pressing social debates of the 1980s, like a vehicle that's been spinning in a swamp for some time. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 14. (310) 208-5454.

THE PRICE Arthur Miller's 1968 play about estranged brothers disposing of their dead parents' property. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (323) 851-7977.

GO THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES Richly textured performances by Frances Conroy and Martin Sheen provide the best reason to see Neil Pepe's meticulous staging of Frank D. Gilroy's 1964 chestnut. The story concerns an only son (Brian Geraghty), home from the Army after World War II. He's now a little more grown-up and able to recognize the fractures of his parents' marriage. The play, and the production, are beautifully understated, and if the climactic scene is less cathartic than it might have been in 1964, that's no reason to stay away. (Steven Leigh Morris). Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 21. (213) 628-2772.

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

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

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

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

ARTEL: Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms Here's a fascinating oddity: A series of short works by a now-almost-forgotten Russian author. Daniil Kharms was a brilliant, early Soviet-era writer, who, like most brilliant artists, happened to be decades ahead of his time. He may also have been a madman, or driven mad -- after all, he died in a lunatic asylum during Stalin's reign, starving to death during the siege of Leningrad. Kharms, a founder of the Russian OBERIU Absurdist movement, wrote about seemingly inconsequential incidents that are peppered with unbearable cruelty -- or which piquantly showcase the utterly random pointlessness of existence. A pompous historian attempts to give a history lecture but is repeatedly interrupted by a colleague who begins bashing his head with crocker plates. Writers Pushkin and Gogol commence a literary argument but wind up brawling and cursing like beasts. Later, a lecherous couple indulges in illegal precoital love talk, leading directly to their arrest by thugs from the state militia. A short time later, the leading thug, now alone, coos to herself using the same love talk for which the couple has been arrested. Director Olya Petrakova's cheerfully ironic production is marred by pacing problems -- some skits plod, and the repetitious nature of some of the items inevitably causes our attention to wane about halfway through the series. Brown and her cast aim for the tone of an old Monty Python episode, and, in particular, of the bizarre Terry Gilliam cartoons, in which characters rip off each other's limbs or have sex or cheat on their spouses, and then act as if nothing has happened. Yet, the ultimate lack of context frequently leaves us frustrated -- which is, of course, more than half of the intention. The end result is a fascinating tour de force of unusual spectacle and oddly mean-spirited comedy. The cast's performances are mostly amiable, if a little flat in tone and one-dimensional characterization, coming up short on the uniquely Eastern Bloc mix of humor, rage and confusion seemingly required by Kharms' deceptively simple text. An ARTEL production (Paul Birchall)., $24-$28. Artworks Performance Space, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 20. (800) 838-3006.

THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL Shirley Jo Finney directs a vivacious five-person ensemble in Ifa Bayeza's choreopoem based on the life and death of the 14-year-old black child from Chicago , brutally murdered during a 1955 working vacation in Mississippi, for the "crime" of whistling at a white, female shopkeeper. His funeral, and the open casket demanded by his mother, became a flashpoint for the nascent civil rights movement. Despite the performances' visceral intensity, its lingering, emotionally exploitive depiction of the murder helps boils the history down to a black-and-white sketch of good versus evil. It provokes righteous self-satisfaction more than our introspection. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 3. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 3. (323) 663-1525.

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

BLOOD WEDDING Federico Garcia Lorca's 1932 tragedy. Bilingual Foundation of Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (323) 225-4044.

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

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

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

CHICO'S ANGELS: PRETTY CHICAS ALL IN A ROW The dragtastic Angels go undercover as beauty pageant contestants. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 969-2530.

NEW REVIEW CLOUD NINE

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Photo courtesy of the Lyric Theatre

Distinguished

by cross-gender casting, Caryl Churchill's 1979 play starts out as a

penetrating lampoon of gender and class stereotypes among upper-class

Brits in 1880 colonialist Africa. (Evoking African wildlife, designer

Christine Ownby's sound furnishes a droll prologue in an otherwise

nondescript production design.) Stuffy and myopic, Clive (Joyanna

Crouse) holds rigid ideas about the place of women and blacks, so he's

oblivious to his son Edward's (Lindsay Evans) effeminacy, his servant's

(Chad Evans)  simmering rage, and his wife Betty's (Thomas Colby)

obsession with their libertine houseguest (Derek Long). In Act 2, the

time frame shifts to the 1970s; social and sexual repression remain the

themes, but the web of events ensnaring the contemporary characters,

while still farcical, becomes more recognizably real.  Carnal

shenanigans -- and the emotional chaos that accompanies them

-proliferate. These involves Betty and her children, Edward and

Victoria  -- held over from Act I.  (Though 100 years have elapsed, the

trio has only aged 25.)  Directed by Colby and Lisa Coombs, the

production's  opening half is shrill, flat and lacking crispness, with

only Colby comically consistent as the feather-brained Betty.   But the

show improves considerably when re-calibrated to the present. The

performers have switched roles.  Though miscast as Clive, Crouse

springs to life as a lesbian enamored of a married woman.  Lindsay

Evans delivers a nuanced portrayal of an unhappy wife at a

crossroads.   Chad Evans as the vulnerable grown-up Edward, and Dorrie

Braun as his lonely mother, are also effective. Lyric Theatre, 520 N.

La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28.


(323) 939-9220. (Deborah Klugman)

COMEDY DEATH-RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

NEW REVIEW CONTROL ME/PARENTS WHO LOVE TOO MUCH

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Photo by Chris Covics

Playwright

Michael Sargent (Hollywood Burning, The Projectionist) has an eye for

oddballs. Merciless toward the delusional, and wary of The Man, he

spins his suspicions into outlandish satire. These two world premiere

one-acts, loudly directed by Chris Covics, both scream "Beware!" The

first, Parents Who Love Too Much, starts quietly as the nine person

ensemble slips one-by-one into the theater lobby and sets up chairs for

their eponymous support group. Their name is a misnomer, or really a

self-mollifying feint -- each of the parents is there (often ordered by

the court) because the children they adore have met with bad ends. Says

one, she'd rather let her kid live with the aborigines than visit her

ex on the weekend -- not that she knows where her disappeared daughter

is, of course. The gang swaps stories, fights break out, their

therapist Cherokee (Tina Preston) fights to be heard, and it all feels

aimlessly outre. Control Me, the longer of the two, is set in a

'90s-era battered Manhattan radio studio (Covics' set stretches

asbestos panels across the stage that recall the opening credits of

Star Wars). Long John Silver (Bruce Katzman) and charm school queen

Cherry Rogers (Maria O'Brien) broadcast shows about Waco and Area 51 to

the after-midnight conspirators and crackpots hovering for the inside

scoop. The co-hosts agree with guests who belt out, "The CIA, FBI and

Mob are all the same!" Tonight, they have as guests two supposed CIA

sex slaves (Jaqueline Wright and Andrew McReynolds) one hanger-on (Dan

Oliverio) and an attention-seeking psychologist (Suzanne Elizabeth

Fletcher) who would validate anyone except her offstage overweight

daughter, who's locked herself in the studio bathroom. Again, Sargent

dishes out bitter one-liners and a glimpse of the need to feel special

for anything. Like his characters, Sargent is full of wild tales, but

he needs a more compelling reason for us to hear them. There's a dark

tide swelling beneath these two pieces; and on the surface, some very

fine acting.  The end result, though, feels as shapeless as the surf

crashing onto the rocks. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St.,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 27. (323)

466-7781. (Amy Nicholson)

CUBA AND HIS TEDDY BEAR The Actors Collective presents Reinaldo Povod's story of a single dad on the mean streets of the Lower East Side., (323) 463-4639. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (323) 465-0383.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON The Berubian Company interprets Pink Floyd. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 850-7827.

DOLORES/NORTH OF PROVIDENCE SFS Theatre Company presents Edward Allan Baker's sibling plays. Stephanie Feury Studio Theater, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 20. (323) 463-7378.

GO THE EVENT/THE INTERVIEW

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Photo by Jason Paul Bennett

John

Clancy's one-person narrative The Event, and Lawrence Bridges'

unscripted world premiere, The Interview. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly

Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs..; thru March 25, www.needtheater.org. See Theater feature

GO FORGIVENESS What happens to love when the specter of childhood sexual abuse rears its ugly head? Soon-to-be-married Jill (Emily Bergl) and Ben (Peter Smith) are driving to visit Jill's dad, Sam (Morlan Higgins), and stepmom, Pat (Lee Garlington), when Jill breaks it to Ben that her father raped her when she was 13. Twenty years have passed. A recovered alcoholic who served time for his crime, Sam -- now a born-again Christian -- actively struggles for redemption. Jill has forgiven him, but Ben, newly apprised, is horrified and repulsed. Prodded by Jill's anxious scrutiny -- will this new knowledge change his feelings for her? -- Ben steadily becomes angrier and more confused. Playwright David Sculner's aptly titled play meaningfully examines the various ties that bind us to our loved ones, as well as the snags and hurdles to be mended and overcome if these bonds are to remain secure. Directed by Matt Shakman, the production's weakest element appears at the beginning in the interchange between Jill and Ben, which reverberates with little more persuasiveness than a polished staged reading; also, sans lighting or sound effects, it's difficult for the performers to sustain the illusion of driving. Once the couple arrives at its destination, however, the drama becomes more compelling, as the dynamics of Sam and Pat's marriage come into play; the presence of Jill's adolescent stepsister (Kendall Toole) ups the ante for everyone. (Deborah Klugman). Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (800) 838-3006.

GROUNDLINGS SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru April 24. (323) 934-9700.

THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.

HARAM IRAN Jay Paul Deratany's dramatization of the real-life trial and execution of two teenagers convicted of being gay in Iran in 2005. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 4. (323) 957-1884.

HELL HATH NO FURY Surprise party goes awry when the ladies discover they're all seeing the same guy. Written and directed by Ben Gillman, presented by Above the Curve Theatre. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 486-0051.

HOT PANTS, COLD FEET Wedding satire, written and performed by Will Matthews and Cassandra Smith. I.O. West, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 20, www.matthewsandsmith.com. (323) 962-7560.

NEW REVIEW GO INFLUENCE

Photo by Ed Krieger

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

The

brief, scandal-ridden tenure of Paul Wolfowitz as the director of the

World Bank inspired this, Shem Bitterman's the third play in his Iraq

War trilogy, now having its premiere production. Bitterman turns a

sharp, savvy, ferociously satirical eye on the subject of political

corruption and lethal infighting in Washington. Young, liberal,

idealistic Midwesterner Branden (Ian Lockhart) warily accepts a

position at the World Bank, despite the fact that its Director (Alan

Rosenberg) is regarded as the architect of the Iraq War. Branden's

girl-friend Sally (Kate Siegel), a fanatical  liberal, regards the

Director as the devil incarnate, but she's co-opted when the Director

finds funding for a project dear to her heart: providing micro-funding

for economic development in poor countries. Branden soon finds himself

caught in a no-win situation between the charming but ruthless

Director, and the equally ruthless reformer Rolf (Christopher Curry),

who's seeking to depose him. Heads roll. Director Steve Zuckerman

provides an elegant, funny dissection of the dangerous political

currents. An original score by Roger Bellon coolly defuses the

melodrama, and the accomplished cast deftly underlines the

proliferating ironies. Rosenberg shines as the wily but charming

Director, and Jeff McLaughlin's handsome set features familiar

Washington landmarks. Skylight Theatre, 1816 Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru April 4. (310) 358-9936. Produced

by The Katselas Theatre Company. (Neal Weaver)

KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Break-Thru Theatre Company presents the Kander and Ebb musical. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 11. (323) 960-5774.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop jukebox musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 25. (323) 960-4412.

THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv, directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

LOVE BITES - VOL. 9 The Elephant Theatre Company's annual short-play festival, including Reality Romcom: Day 98 With My Attained Pixie Dreamgirl by Kerry Carney; This Little Piggy by Marek Glinski; Empowerment by Dominic Rains; Surprise by Mark Harvey Levine; Most Likely by Gloria Calderon Kellett; Tag by Tony Foster; Rox-N, Miss Thang by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich; Hard by Steven Korbar. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14, www.plays411.com/lovebites. (323) 960-4410.

LOVE YOU! Lily Ann's musical spoof of the Hollywood nightclub lifestyle. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 28, www.lilyannsloveyou.com. (323) 284-7982.

PUPPETRY OF THE PENIS: THE ANCIENT AUSTRALIAN ART OF GENTIAL ORIGAMA Extra-bendy male performers twist their private parts into shocking works of art, like balloon animals. Warning: Not for kids, and probably not for most adults., $45-$39. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 & 9:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 7:30 p.m.; thru March 28...

QUICKIES TOO! Scenes From a Bar Original short plays by seven writers, one director, and 23 actors. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (818) 990-2324.

The Rose Bowl Queens World-premiere bowling alley musical by Barbara Hart and Cheryl Foote Gimbel. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 11, www.plays411.com/queens. (323) 960-7712.

SALAM SHALOM Saleem's story of an Arabic Ph.D candidate housed with an Israeli graduate student at UCLA. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru April 16, www.SalamShalomThePlay.com. (323) 655-7679.

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

SLAUGHTER CITY There's a lot of anger onstage in poet-playwright Naomi Wallace's 1995 agitprop. Certainly the union meatpackers who work in the play's foul sausage factory -- Sarah Krainin's viscera-strewn, blood-spattered set looks like it hasn't been cleaned since the publication of The Jungle -- are bitter, mainly at the dithering plant manager, Baquin (Bart Petty), with whom they're deadlocked in stalled contract negotiations. And black floor supervisor Tuck (Brent Jennings) is no less happy with the condescending indignities heaped on him by a racist, white management. Not all the grievances are job-related. Veteran gutter Roach (Christina Ogunade) has rage and intimacy issues stemming from a childhood molestation. And her illiterate, would-be suitor, Brandon (Christopher Emerson), still bears the raw, psychic scars from an extreme act of employer violence dating from his youth. Throw in anti-Semitism, homophobia and gender discrimination, add several musical numbers (courtesy of composer Andrew Ingkavet) and a dose of comic relief, and you'd have enough plot material for 10 such shows. But Wallace then adds the parallel storyline of the otherworldly, ambisexual scab, Cod (Noelle Messier), his/her love for Roach's gal pal, Maggot (Sarah Boughton), and hate for the mysterious, Mephistophelian Sausage Man (Alexander Wells), and the play's message -- along with its indignation -- all but disappears in the resulting fog of metaphors. Director Barbara Kallir and a talented ensemble's efforts to bring clarity to the chaos are only occasionally rewarded. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through March 15. (Bill Raden). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru March 15...

GO STAGE DOOR In 1936, when Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman's comedy and homage to The Theater (that would be Broadway) showed the divide between the legit stage and the vulgar movie biz in Hollywood (an industry where "You only have to learn a line at a time and they just keep taking it until you get it," and "You don't even have to be alive to be in the pictures,"), the authors were playing off an East Coast/West Coast divide. How strangely apt, then, that the play may now speak more to L.A. theater, and its ongoing love-hate relationship with Hollywood, than to the Broadway of yore. If you think this revival is just a valentine to a bygone era, think again. This week, the Pasadena Playhouse is closing its doors. The year after Stage Door premiered on Broadway, the Pasadena Playhouse was named the State Theater of California. It had, in its 12-year existence, produced the entire Shakespearean canon, as well as 500 new plays. In August 1937, Tempe E. Allison described the Playhouse in The New York Times, as "theatrical refreshment in this dust bowl, if not desert, of the legitimate stage, which has been sucked dry by the gigantic growth of its next-door neighbor, Hollywood." Though that kind of mythology has shifted over the decades, and our legitimate stage is anything but a dust bowl, the authors' portrayal of the theater as a somewhat quixotic and poverty-stricken home for actresses placing an odds-defying bet on a rare moment of spiritual fulfillment has a current sting of truth, even after more than 70 years. The home, here, is a boardinghouse for actresses called The Footlights Club. Some like Louis (Katy Tyszkiewicz) are surrendering into marriages they dread while others, like pretty Jean Maitland (Kim Swennen), get swept away by Hollywood and one of its dapper producers, David Kingsley (Arthur Hanket). Problem is, pretty Jean can't really act, even though she's thriving out West as cover-girl material in a land where artists become employees for hire -- and often they're hired to sit around in the sun. This theory is tested when Jean gets shoveled back by the Studio to star on Broadway -- a cynical marketing ploy. Mephistophelean Kingsley, dripping with self-loathing (a nice turn by Hacket), pushes to replace Jean with his own flame, Terry Randall (a smart, sensitive portrayal by Amanda Weier). Terry, who has talent, has no desire for Hollywood and its games. In her deft and stylish staging of a cast that tops two dozen, Barbara Schofield pits the brunette Terry against blond Jean, the talented against the talentless. Terry had been dating a lefty playwright (Matt Roe) who sold out his pedantically stated ideals quicker than it now takes to swipe a credit card. This production comes on the heels of last year's Light Up the Sky, demonstrating that this company's firm grip on smart, sassy period comedies. Detailed set by James Spencer and Shon LeBlanc's textured costumes further feed the ambiance. (Steven Leigh Morris). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 13, www.openfist.org. (323) 882-6912.

THE STORY OF MY LIFE Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram, book by Brian Hill. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 4, www.havoktheatre.com. (818) 505-1875.

THAT HOOTCHIE Write Act Repertory presents Shoshannah's one-woman show about a notorious party girl. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 31. (323) 469-3113.

TITUS ANDRONICUS Heads are chopped off. A woman, after being raped, has her hands severed and tongue ripped away. Babies are impaled on knives. And, at a special feast, a malicious woman is served her sons, baked in a pie. Yes, here is proof (if needed) that Shakespeare could actually be hired today as a staff writer for CSI: New York. Director Thomas Craig Elliott's somber production of Shakespeare's epic of pulp fiction possesses a murky, intimate mood that has you feeling like you're watching atrocities unfolding in an urban back alley. The creepy, almost claustrophobic tone is abetted by designer Erin Brewster's calculatedly grubby set -- brick walls, with shadowy platforms full of mysterious dark pits and doorways. Roman noble Titus Andronicus (Dan Mailley) returns to his home, triumphant after war with the goths, and helps to install oily politician Saturninus (Brad C. Light) as emperor. Titus' reward for this? Saturninus humiliates him by marrying Tamora (Sarah Lilly), the very same warrior queen whom Andronicus just defeated and enslaved. Tamora's sons then rape and mutilate Titus' daughter Lavinia (Erin Fleming). Titus then invites Tamora and family over for a feast -- at which revenge is served by the piefull. If anything, Elliott's production is slightly too straightforward and contextually threadbare. Although the dialogue is articulately rendered, the stagecraft is prosaic and unambitious -- the violence is strangely reigned in, and the piece's omnipresent gloom and grubbiness are simply not sensational enough to spark the horror the play requires. Admittedly, Elliott commendably emphasizes characterization, and the staging digs into the text to find motivations for the coterie of increasingly heartless characters. Lilly's elegantly wicked Tamara -- shifting easily from graciously sugary to venomously witchy -- is a pleasure to watch, and so is Light's dopey Saturninus, a greasy politician who turns out to be out of his depth in the wickedness with which he's confronted. Mailley's stiff and priggish turn during the play's first half is initially offputting, but his gradual decline into rage and madness becomes compellingly chilling. (Paul Birchall). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 13. (323) 856-8611.

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

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.

NEW REVIEW GO THE UNEXPECTED MAN

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Photo by Olivier Riquelme

As

in Yasmina Reza's mid-90's hit Art, her immediate follow-up play also

features characters in a strained -- and perhaps losing -- battle to

align themselves in perfect counter-balance with art. However, here,

rather than three egos colliding in a comedically vitriolic clash of

egos, Reza's characters, in pensive retrospection of a lifetime spent

deriding sentimentality, move through an elegantly painful

self-analysis that reveals them each to be longing for some sentimental

feelings. These two middle-aged people, a man and a woman (the

excellent Ronald Hunter and Judy Jean Berns), ride a train from Paris

to Frankfurt sitting across the aisle from each other; the man a famous

writer in the twilight of his career, the woman an avid consumer of his

books. They first acknowledge each other in their respective

imaginations before eventually speaking to each other directly. Even

when in conversation, it is beautifully unclear (deftly shaped by

director David Robinson) whether their exchange ist actually occurring

just in their minds. Chrystal Lee's set emphasizes the distinctive

isolation of each world, and the uncredited montage of images that roll

by slowly on two upstage screens offers subtle but powerful punctuation

to the play's themes. The Lounge Theater 2, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Hlwyd; Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 3 pm; thru March 28. (323) 960-7785.

Bright Eyes Productions. (Luis Reyes)


GO WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM Christopher Durang's Loony Tunes aesthetic -- with the help of Daniel Henning's perfectly modulated direction -- is swashed onto our so-called war on terror. Thank goodness Durang has moved beyond family dysfunction. Still, you'd think that by now our recent history, propelled by some deranged might-makes-right cabal from a powerful coven of loons, has been exhausted by American playwrights. Durang's outrage and piety, however, are channeled into a breath of comedic napalm, something like a cross between The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Dr. Strangelove. Durang has now joined ranks with Dario Fo. Sweet Felicity (stylish Rhea Seehorn, trying to be sensible in a world with no sense) wakes up in bed with a stranger, Zamir (Sunil Malhotra), after a night out at a bar. Turns out, Zamir slipped her a drug, raped and married her -- none of which she remembers. The "priest" was Zamir's friend, porno filmmaker Reverend Mike (Nicholas Brendon, sort of like Owen Wilson with a slow-mo brain). Zamir has anger-management issues and feels badly that most of the women in his family are dead. This is cold comfort for Felicity. Yet she finds herself compelled to defend her "husband" when her Dick Cheney-emulating father, Leonard (Mike Genovese) -- a volunteer in the "shadow government" -- drags Zamir him into the torture chamber he'd been claiming is a private closet for his butterfly collection. Narrator and power drill-wielding torture-room assistant Loony Tunes (Alec Mapa) encourages Leonard to "bweak a finger, bweak a finger" -- all of which is based on a misunderstanding by Leonard's spy, Hildegard (Catherine Hicks, spending a good portion of the play with underwear swishing around her ankles), who overhearing Zamir's conversation about a porno movie believes he's describing a terrorist plot. Durang reruns the ending a couple of times, trying to capture the moment where it all -- "it" being the sad plight of our country -- went so wrong. I particularly enjoyed Christine Estabrook as Leonard's blissed-out, seething wife, Luella, who can't stop talking about the theater, even while torture is being committed upstairs, because theater is what's "real." And what has she seen lately? "Two-hundred fifty plays by Martin McDonagh and David Hare." Britain of course dominates our theater's new plays, obviously because "Americans are stupid." Durang is getting a lot off his chest, and off ours. The laughter he generates is from nonsense about nonsense, unnervingly true and cathartic, and beautifully performed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 14, www.TheBlank.com. (323) 661-9827.

GO WIREHEAD Beneath the slippery, allegorical surface of playwrights Matthew Benjamin and Logan Brown's crackingly funny sci-fi farce lurks a satirically savvy questioning of what is generally known as the "digital divide." Namely, for all the hand-held computing horsepower (and its supposed competitive advantage) available to the tweeting class, does being perennially plugged-in actually represent a disconnection on a more fundamental, human level? As an answer, Benjamin and Brown fast-forward to a near future in which the iPhone has morphed into the "Z Drive," a pricey, intelligence-boosting, intracranial implant that gives those who have the financial wherewithal an Einstein-like genius. For have-nots like midlevel account executives Adams (the fine Jeremy Maxwell) and Destry (an antic Marc Rose), the technology produces only indignation, especially when a junior company intern who has had the surgery, Hammy (Riel Paley in a riotous turn), immediately wins a leapfrog promotion to become their boss. But Hammy's machine intelligence also turns him into something of an omniscient Ernst Stavro Blofeld on speed. Taking matters into their own hands, the boys form "The Hackers," a terrorist resistance group whose members carry out a surgical strike with meat cleavers. Director Larry Biederman's supercharged staging (abetted by set designer Efren Delgadillo Jr.'s clever use of scrims, and the wit of Dan Weingarten's lights and Drew Dalzell's sound) races along like a manic blend of Davids Mamet and Cronenberg, whisking the black comedy into a bloody froth of Grand Guignol proportions. (Bill Raden). Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 14. (800) 413-8669.

WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.

GO WIT Playwright Margaret Edson won the Pulitzer Prize for this intense drama about an English poetry professor who must wrestle with her painful and imminent death. Directed by Marianne Savell, Nan McNamara delivers a peerless performance as Vivian Bearing, a 50-year-old expert on the poetry of John Donne, who unexpectedly finds herself diagnosed with the fourth and final stage of metastatic ovarian cancer. Bearing's doctor (Phil Crowley) and his research assistant (Daniel J. Roberts) are scientists first, with concern for their patients' comfort being an afterthought. So they have no compunction about insisting that Bearing undertake a full regimen of powerful chemotherapy in order to document its physiological effects on the human body. Edson's commentary on American medical practice, however salient, merely lays the groundwork for the play's most compelling and universal theme: the human struggle not only with mortality's looming oblivion but with the unfamiliar and sometimes humiliating infirmity that precedes it. That Bearing's lifelong subject of scholarly study -- the poet Donne -- was himself consumed by this topic adds another involving layer to the brew. Tough, unsentimental, yet increasingly vulnerable, McNamara's understated duelist-with-death is pitch-perfect. She's supported across the board by a worthy ensemble. Tawny Mertes is especially winning as the kind young nurse whose humanity imparts the play's final message. (Deborah Klugman). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 462-8460.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AN ADULT EVENING OF SHEL SILVERSTEIN Shel Silverstein's American vignettes. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (866) 811-4111.

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

BROADS! At retirement community Millennium Manor, four mature and feisty gals have formed a singing group called the Broads, and perform in an annual variety show -- which we're seeing. Recently widowed Elaine (June Gable) founded the group, along with her plump, nearsighted sister, Myra (Barbara Niles), who interrupts the show to promote her gay songwriter son. Puerto Rican live-wire Nilda (Ivonne Coll) sashays around in a Carmen Miranda outfit, complete with towering fruit-bowl headdress, and blond, buxom Louise (Leslie Easterbrook) revels in the wonders wrought by her Botox and plastic surgery. The book, by Jennie Fahn, regales us with often corny old-age jokes, and Joe Symon's songs address subjects supposedly dear to stereotypical seniors: Social Security, Early Bird Specials, etc. Providing a wisp of a plot and a stab at realism, Louise announces, mid-show, that this is her last performance: She must leave the manor because her savings have run out. But this is musical comedy, so the problem is immediately solved. Jules Aaron offers stylish direction, with Kay Cole's clever choreography. Stephen Gifford's set is handsome, and Shon LeBlanc provides the glittery, glitzy costumes. It's the four talented women, however, who provide the chief attraction, with their accomplished performances. (Neal Weaver). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 4. (818) 508-4200.

GO COUSIN BETTE Drawn from Balzac's La Comdie humaine, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation revolves around a cunning woman's campaign to avenge herself on the rich relatives who have callously dismissed her as shabby and unimportant. Sheltered, and fed with scraps of food off her pretty cousin's plate, poor-relation Bette Fischer (Nike Doukas) grows up nurturing her hate, eventually evolving into a plain-faced spinster who is everybody's confidante but nobody's friend. Brilliantly Machiavellian, Bette's fastidious plot to destroy the family involves arranging a liaison between her attractive neighbor and abused wife, Valerie (Jen Dede), and Hector (John Prosky), the lecherous and profligate husband of her virtuous cousin, Adeline (Emily Chase ). Bette also acquires wealth (and thus power) by promoting the work of a young Polish sculptor, Steinbock (Daniel Bess), with whom she's fallen in love -- unfortunately for her, since he ends up betrothed to Adeline's daughter, Hortense (Kellie Matteson). Directed by Jeanie Hackett, the production purposefully underscores the source material's melodramatic elements -- for example, heightening the narrative's key points with the melancholy refrains of Chopin. At least one key performance is overladen with shtick, and some fine-tuning of others is in order. Still, Doukas is terrific, delivering a consummate performance that arouses, for her long-suffering deceitful character, pity, disdain -- and admiration. Alongside the story's bathos is its salient reminder of what cruelty, indifference and injustice can do to the human spirit. (Deborah Klugman). Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 28. (818) 506-5436.

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS This slight musical comedy by composer-lyricist David Yazbek and playwright Jeffrey Lane closely follows the 1988 movie, filled with sight gags and overwrought farce in this story of a pair of con men who compete for marks in the French Riviera. A few amusing numbers show off the talents of Chip Phillips as the patter-singing, posh, older swindler, and Matt Wolpe as the crude pop-singing young hustler. Their moments together bring to the stage instant life, even through the goofiest of comic bits. Director Richard Israel, who normally turns small theaters and ensembles into huge, polished productions, fares less well here. Most damaging to the production is that none of the supporting cast is sufficiently skilled at singing or dancing. Only Michael Manuel, as the chief of police, rises above his limited hoofing/crooning ability with his charm. Set designers Dove Huntley and Rob Corn create some magic with the Noho Arts Center's balconies. This is an unusually large 99-seat acting space -- in fact, some well-choreographed scene changes provide some of the evening's more entertaining moments. (Tom Provenzano). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 21. (818) 508-7101.

THE DIVINERS The Production Company presents Jim Leonard Jr.'s Depression-era Bible Belt fable. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 10, www.theprodco.com. (310) 869-7546.

NEW REVIEW DON JUAN

DISPENSO A feminist revision of the Don Juan legend might have struck a

resounding chord on the sexual front of 40 years ago. But in the age of

Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga, director-playwright Tony Tanner's

earthy, anachronistic take on literature's most unregenerate rake seems

like so much preaching to the choir. Don Juan (Ahmad Enani) is a

sociopathic, silver-tongued beguiler of women, resorting to any ruse to

sexually dominate and then callously dispose of any moment's object of

desire. These include his stepsister, Constanza (Gina Manziello), his

university professor, Dona Ana (Julie Evans), a pair of decadent

Americans from Omaha (Debra "D.J." Harner & Scott Ryden) and their

young daughter (Sarah Casolaro). Ignoring the protests of his horrified

valet -- and the play's conscience -- Sam (Kevin Scott Allen), Juan

continues his predations until his moral and physical dissipation

brings ironic comeuppance in prison, where survival means submitting as

the female in matters sexual. And while the (uncredited) set's dominant

four-poster bed becomes a de facto stage within the stage, the

bedroom-as-theater metaphor only underscores the production's

profoundly  unerotic ambience. If the smoky-eyed Enani rarely stokes

the Don's legendary libido with sufficient fire, blame Tanner; he

transposes his characters to modern times (a period nicely suggested in

designer Daniel Mahler's '20s gowns) without updating his antique,

baroque archetypes with psychological nuances contemporary to his

theme. The result is that the Don's rascally seductive charms, along

with the play's, simply go missing in action. Missing Piece Theatre,

2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank;  Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru

April 4. (800) 838-3006. (Bill Raden)

INDULGENCES IN THE LOUISVILLE HAREM John Orlock's story of two spinster sisters in 1902 Kentucky. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 14. (818) 238-0501.

GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalogue followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saint-like perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiney, until the music returns him to his proper place. (Tom Provenzano). Platinum Live, 11345 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

MEN OF TORTUGA Jason Wells' comedic thriller about covert governmental and corporate operations. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 28. (626) 356-PLAY.

GO OEDIPUS EL REY Brilliantly staged by director Jon Lawrence Rivera, Luis Alfaro's transmogrification of the story of Oedipus to prison and the barrio makes for powerful stuff. A chorus of inmates unveils the saga: A gang leader, Laius (Leandro Cano), informed that his infant son will one day destroy him, orders his henchman, Tiresias (Winston J. Rocha), to take the child away and kill him. Fast-forward a generation: Both Tiresias and his "son" Oedipus (Justin Huen) are incarcerated together in North Kern State Prison. (Intellectuals of sorts, they frequent the prison library.) On his return to the barrio after his release, Oedipus meets up with and slays Laius, before falling for Jocasta (Marlene Forte) -- the two flagrantly light each other's fire, to the community's displeasure. As per Sophocles' original, the tale unwinds to a tragic and enlightening denouement, with all the classic themes evident: the folly of pride, the immutability of fate, the reluctance of human beings to confront obvious truth. Alfaro spins much of this in a colloquial lexicon that makes it all the more forceful. Some of his passages -- Tiresias' musings on what a father really is, after Oedipus has beaten and reviled him (beautifully played by Rocha) -- are memorable and moving. Huen is charismatic, the ensemble is strong and the production design -- lighting (Jeremy Pivnick), scenic design (John H. Binkley) and sound and music composition (Robert Oriol) -- is impeccable. (626) 683-6883. (Deborah Klugman). Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (626) 683-6883.

NEW REVIEW GO OLD GLORY

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Photo by Tim Sullens

When last we saw a production by Chicago ex-pat scribe, Brett Neveau, it was American Dead

at Rogue Machine/Theatre Theater - a tenderly written study of a murder

investigation in a small Midwest town. Lo and behold, Neveau's latest

is a murder investigation, similarly filled with subterranean currents

of subtext beneath vividly colloquial dialogues whose main purpose is

often to avoid the harsher truths that these very good actors' body

language and facial tics can expose, as though with a spotlight. 

(Scenes between the soldiers are often lighted by each holding a

flashlight.) The murder in Old Glory occurs in Fallujah where -

never mind the War - two American GI's (Jarrett Sleeper and James

Messenger) who share a barracks drive each other to paroxysms of mutual

loathing. (So no, Gertrude, this is not really a play about the War,

but about the homefront.) After one of the soldiers ends up splayed in

his barracks with a hole in his chest, his father (Pete Gardner) takes

a sojourn to a Berlin bar, seeking out the CO (Tom Ormeny) who might

know what really happened. Meanwhile,  back in New Mexico, the victim's

best friend (Chris Allen) struggles to tell what he knows to the

victim's mother (Kathy Baily). And so, Brett Snodgrass' set trifurcates

the stage into the three realistic settings - New Mexico, Fallujah and

Berlin - so that the action's mosaic unfolds within these compartments.

The ensuing stasis is almost belligerently anti-theatrical, compounded

by Allen's lugubrious interpretation of the best friend in his scenes

with the grief-stricken mother. (Bailey is particularly adept at

burying her despondency beneath strata of terse propriety.) Director

Carri Sullens elicits performances that flow with cross-currents of

hardship and fury, yet with a delicacy that's almost amiable. Ormeny

and Gardner excel with these gifts. And the latent violence simmering

between the soldiers - one a devotee of graphic novels, the other of

real novels - speaks head-on to why the United States can't seem to

generate a reasonable discourse with herself about anything that

actually matters. The isolation of the three scenic compartments

underscores that point, but at a cost, rendering this production more

cinematic than theatrical, despite some emotional volatility, as though

the action aches for close-ups and camera angles deprived us in this

room. Yet, like American Dead,  it's another penetratingly

written rumination, a lament even, for something indescribable that's

been lost in this country - and to this country. Victory Theatre

Center, 3324 West Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4

p.m.; thru April 25. (818) 851-5421. (Steven Leigh Morris)

THE PAJAMA GAME The 1954 Broadway musical set in a unionized pajama factory, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28, www.ctgsc.org. (818) 508-3003.

GO A PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER A sweltering New York City summer; Son of Sam is still at large. A massive citywide blackout is around the corner. The year is 1977, and on the verge of bankruptcy, a city barely keeps it together, not unlike detectives Francis Kelly (Kevin Brief) and Jack Delasante (Matthew J. Williamson), two of NYPD's finest, who have nabbed two of its worst: Jimmy Rosario, a.k.a. Jimmy Rosehips (Matthew Thompson), and Simon Cohn, a.k.a. Sean de Kahn (Gary Lamb). A dry-cleaners is held up. Its owner, Mrs. Linowitz, is shot point-blank. There's hell to pay, especially when the boys in blue have no qualms about beating a confession out of these low-life suspects. Problem is, Jimmy and Simon are no rookies, and their ability to manipulate the demons that plague the seemingly hard-boiled Kelly and Delasante turns up the sweltering July heat inside the police station. First performed at the Public Theater in 1978, this revival of Thomas Babe's gritty interrogation drama is masterfully orchestrated by director Albert Alarr, whose fluid blocking and brutally realistic fight choreography make full use of Sarah Krainin's impeccably authentic set. The entire ensemble shines, showcasing both the humor and suffocating pain of a text that poignantly explores "the light" and "the dark" sides of our natures. (The show does contain full-frontal nudity.) Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 6. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com. (Mayank Keshaviah). Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 20. (800) 838-3006.

RENT Santa Clarita Regional Theatre presents Jonathan Larson's rock musical about young NYC artists too poor to pay for their apartments in the East Village. The Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, College of the Canyons, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road, Valencia; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri., March 19, 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (661) 476-3800.

SAVED BY THE PARODY Musical parody of 1990s TV sitcom Saved by the Bell, written and directed by Ren Casey. Presented by Renegade Zombie. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 10:45 p.m.; thru May 29, renegadezombie.com.

GO SIDHE Otherworldly shadows inhabit playwright Ann Noble's intense drama about two fugitives from Ireland and their ravaging effect on others' lives. On the run, smoldering Conall (Patrick Rieger) and his oddly passive companion, Jacquelyn (Jeanne Syquia), rent a dingy room above a Chicago bar from its tight-lipped owner, Louise (Noble). Louise's steadiest customer is her alcoholic brother-in-law, Vernon (the standout Rob Nagle), who remains inconsolable over the shooting death of his philandering wife, Amy, whom he'd worshipped unrequitedly. Bitter and unhappy, both Louise and Vernon are wont to tear at each other fiercely -- but their problems pale next to those of Louise's tenants, whose mysterious past hints at savage violence and unspeakable secrets. Just how terrifically unimaginable the latter prove to be is something we don't learn until well into Act 2. Adding a supernaturalistic element to this already densely miasmic plot is Jacquelyn's proclivity for experiencing strange apparitions: namely, the "Sidhe," a mythic tribe of pre-Gaelic fairies with startling powers to affect human -- in this case Jacquelyn's -- behavior. Full of dark turns, Noble's story is so packed with tension and conflict that at times it's hard to believe only four characters are taking part. Not every twist is credible, even given the play's supernatural standards. And sometimes the heavy Irish brogue makes essential details difficult to grasp. These qualifications notwithstanding, the production is often riveting, under Darin Anthony's direction. (Deborah Klugman) A Road Theatre production. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 20, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.

SIX DEGREES OF FORNICATION David Wally's sex comedy. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 18. (866) 811-4111.

SPIKE HEELS Theresa Rebeck's contemporary comedy of manners. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 27, www.theatermania.com. (818) 392-7526.

TORRID AFFAIRE Theatre Unleashed presents Andrew Moore's sex comedy. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 27...

(YOU'VE NEVER SEEN) FIGHT CLUB?!? As an afficionado of the bizarre brilliance that is Zombie Joe's Underground, I thought I knew what kind of satirical lunacy to expect from a late-night event with the above title. But far from the anticipated burlesque of the 1999 film, adaptor-director Amanda Marquardt (who claims never to have seen it) presents her own, somber theatrical vision of Chuck Palahniuk's novel. With the three lead actors, Mark Nager as the unnamed protagonist; Lamont Webb, portraying Tyler Durden; and Dana DeRuyck as Marla, she nearly succeeds. Each brings conviction to their roles in this fantasy of two men building a worldwide underground, fighting army of anarchists. Webb is particularly engrossing in his role as the mysterious creator of Fight Club. The power of their fights, choreographed by Aaron Lyons, is intensified in the tiny venue, and Nicole Fabbri's extreme makeup effects make it all the more effective. The rest of the cast and Marquardt's ultimate direction, however, suffer from the lack of skillful acting. The venue's intimacy, so supportive of the fight scenes, becomes merely claustrophobic, as the piece devolves into a jumble. At two hours, the show, sans intermission, might have been been reduced to a bearable length by truncating interminable blackouts that punctuate the event every few moments, grinding its momentum to a series of halts. (Tom Provenzano). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru March 20. (818) 202-4120.

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

GO THE BROWNING VERSION Though not as widely known or acclaimed as his contemporary British playwrights, Terence Rattigan was a superb dramatist and chronicler of human emotions. Here, Rattigan's The Browning Version, the gloomy story of an aging schoolteacher crushed by failure and disappointment, receives a stellar mounting by director Marilyn Fox. A well-regarded scholar of the classics, Andrew Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) has spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public school in England but must leave the position because of failing health to take a less-stressful job elsewhere. Now the object of jokes and ridicule by his students, and denied a pension by the school, he has a bearing that is subdued by sadness, yearning and a palpable "gallows" surrender to circumstance. His wife, Millie (Sally Smythe), has given up on being happy with him and has contented herself with numerous dalliances with his colleagues (which she delights in reminding him of), and cruelly undermining what remains of his sense of manhood. Her current lover, Frank (understudy David Rogge), is torn between a sense of guilt, his admiration for Andrew, and the dying embers of lust for Millie. It is only when the professor is presented with a rare translation of Agamemnon from a student (Justin Preston) that his mask of stoic restraint melts to reveal a desperately fragile inner life. From this sedate tapestry of characters, Rattigan artfully probes marriage, relationship and our perverse capacity to embrace lacerating emotional pain and self-deceit, which all unfolds beautifully on Norman Scott's cleverly designed sitting-room mock-up. Fox directs this piece with masterful subtlety and draws devastatingly convincing performances from her actors.(Lovell Estell III). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 28. (310) 822-8392.

NEW REVIEW GO BUG The set design in USVAA's

production of Tracy Letts' play is uncredited, but whoever littered

Agnes' (Maribeth Monroe) motel-room home with bottles of Boone's Farm

and Makers Mark (empty, but likely kept as a memento of an "upscale"

night), and decorated it with a dorm room refrigerator and once-white

lampshades that emit a dingy bedside glow, deserves a big ol' country

music round of applause.  Letts knows how to orchestrate

multi-character vehicular collisions on emotionally desolate Okie roads

(as in his 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County), but the crash in Bug

is particularly spectacular.  The hurtle towards that wreck clips right

along, gathering the speed and intensity of a cranked-up trucker; then

the abrupt change in tone after such a high-octane death race feels too

calm, and the climax is, well, anti-climactic.  Don't mind that too

much, as the acting more than compensates.  Monroe, with a

wrong-side-of-the-tracks voice made more ragged by cheap cocaine drain,

is a tightly wound ball of pent-up loneliness and fear whose descent

eventually leaves her backed onto the corner of her bed like a feral

cat.  She's the star here, but as her newfound protector and lover,

Christopher Sweeney matches her degeneration with tics that gradually

become a manic flurry of paranoia. As Agnes' just-paroled ex-husband,

Casey Sullivan's brute swagger is compounded by his gittin' religion.

The play is a darkly comedic commentary on the murky role the

government plays in wars both abroad and at home, and director Keith

Jeffreys' subtle touches -- whirring helicopters, a doctor who hits the

crack pipe -- are so effective at drawing the audience into this shifty

world, you'll likely leave with a niggling urge to crush the bugs in

Agnes' room. USVAA, 10858 Culver Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat, 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 20. (310) 559-2116. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

DIGGING UP DAD Cris D'Annunzio's story of his father's mysterious death. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 397-3244.

GO DUAL CITIZENS What a difference a continent makes. I saw Anna Skubik's "Broken Nails" last year in Wroclaw, Poland, where a dim, suspended lightbulb and a stark pool of light (lighting by Anna Cecelia Martin) are just part of the Grotowskian theatrical landscape. Despite the recession, we're a comparatively buoyant culture, and that stark aesthetic feels exotic on an L.A. stage, where half of our theaters, it seems, are dedicated to musicals that parody movies. In and around a huge suitcase, an 80-something Marlene Dietrich (a life-size cloth puppet) engages with Skubik. In one scene they're attached at the hip. Dietrich is hammering out the inner meanings of words like fame, while taking painful injections to defy her obvious age. With her fiery red hair, Skubik is her nurse/keeper, and the relationship is as touchy as in Ronald Harwood's The Dresser. There are moments when Dietrich/Skubik sings, which is not this production's strength. It flies, however, on the intricacy of the relationship between the two women, both quite animated, despite one being inanimate. That single idea, of what's alive and what isn't, of what is an imitation of life, and what isn't, caught in the frame of an aging diva, is a source of infinite fascination. And Dietrich's various reactions to Skubik's proddings hold an almost childlike appeal. In one scene, we hear extended applause, and Dietrich asks, "How long does a moment last?" It's a question anyone in the theater should relate to, and probably anyone beyond the theater, too. Romuald Wicza-Pokojski directs. The evening's first half is also a solo show, Look, What I Don't Understand (if one doesn't count the puppet), written and performed by Skubik's partner, American actor Anthony Nikolchev, and directed by Yuriy Kordonskiy. Also set around suitcases, but with the compelling centerpiece of a wire cage, Nikolchev portrays an array of characters with telling idiosyncrasies in the story of his Bulgarian family's entrapment by the Soviets, and their eventual exile to an Italian refugee camp, where they wait as they hope to enter the communist-phobic United States. The study in tyranny and living in margins is harrowing in its authenticity, ensnared by the truthfulness of the performance. (Steven Leigh Morris)., $25. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., March 14, 7 p.m.; Sun., March 28, 7 p.m.; thru March 28. (310) 477-2055.

ESCABANA IN LOVE Jeff Daniels' sequel to Escanaba in da Moonlight. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., March 28, 7 p.m.; Thurs., April 1, 8 p.m.; thru April 3. (310) 512-6030.

NEW REVIEW A GIANT ARC IN THE SKYSPACE OF DIRECTIONS (OR THE STORY OF MIRACLES)

Stage Raw: L.A. Theater Aesthetic?

Photo by Jeremy Rousch of Vibble

Is

playwright Michael Vukadinovich's sprawling (and occasionally

impenetrable) comedy a Bible spoof?  Or is it a deeply philosophical,

absurdist meditation on the notion that a life of scientific reason

offers as little comfort as a life of religious faith?   Of course, the

two themes are not mutually exclusive - even though we wish that

Vukadinovich's text didn't lurch from extreme idea to idea in such a

baffling and scattershot fashion.  In a dark time of humanity - you

know it's wicked because women are giving birth to turkey dinners and

one legged men are raping dogs - scientist Abe (Kevin Broberg) is

surprised when his beloved wife Sarah (Coco Kleppinger) becomes

pregnant in a seemingly immaculate conception. Sarah is loved from afar

by defrocked priest Eamon (Ryan Bergmann), but seeks comfort from

kindly blind lady Rachel (Dee Amerio Sudik), who is awaiting the return

of her long lost son Esau (Eric Martig), a young man who is either a

prophet or a killer.  The waters rise, the family dogs get raped, and

Abe commences a mysterious sea voyage.  Sometimes Vukadinovich's

writing crackles with cleverness and wit - but, honestly, the plot's

disjointed concepts and random incidents undercut attempts to draw the

audience into the situations:  It's part parable, part babble.  Still,

director Efrain Schunior's attempts to marry the unwieldy text with a

character-driven production bear fruit with poignant performances in

acting work that's both taut and nuanced. This includes Sudik's

beautifully feisty Rachel, Bergmann's sweetly twisted priest Eamon, and

Kleppinger's gently maternal Sarah.  Powerhouse Theater, 3116 2nd

Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 27.  http://www.latensemble .com for tickets.  A Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble production. (Paul Birchall)

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 which 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 run down 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 fiance 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 underscoring 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. A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru April 25. (310) 399-3666.

LITTLE WOMEN Adapted by Jacqueline goldfinger from the book by Louisa May Alcott. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 14, www.northcoastrep.org. (858) 481-2155.

LOBBY HERO Hero Kenneth Lonergan is known for writing flawed characters that gently chew on an audience's heart, but in Pacific Stages' inaugural season opener, he dangles them in front of you for so long you eventually stop caring. That's a shame, because director Robert Bailey's well-cast ensemble is terrific. A young, sweet, directionless security guard named Jeff (Edward Tournier) stumbles into the limelight of a murder investigation. His supervisor, William (Kareem Ferguson), has landed there as well, since it's his brother who has been accused of the crime. Further complicating the drama are a hair-trigger rookie cop and her alpha dog partner (Dana Lynn Bennett and Nick Mennell). Lonergan's critically acclaimed 2000 film, You Can Count on Me, seems to have been the template for Lobby Hero, down to the thickets of dialogue and Jeff's similarities to the film's Terry Prescott. (Did Bailey subconsciously cast a Mark Ruffalo look-alike?) Whereas the film catches every nuance of Lonergan's intricately wrought characters and conversations, the stage occasionally swallows them. The spark of possibility is there, though: Mennell closes Act 1 with such a fierce roar of fire, the entire theater is set alight. He's so fine, his every slick entrance is greedily awaited, but neither he nor the rest of the cast can stoke that kind of excitement through to the end of Act 2. Smartly, Executive Director/Founder Jeryll W. Adler has three of the four actors onboard as Pacific Stages Artists Company Members. This bodes well for the acting standard of future shows at this El Segundo theater. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Pacific Stages, 2041 Rosecrans Avenue #170, El Segundo; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (310) 868-2631.

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

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Cruthaigh Productions presents Shakespeare's comedy, set after World War II. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 14. (310) 656-8070.

THE POETRY OF PIZZA California Repertory Company presents Deborah Brevoort's "cheesy" romantic comedy. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru March 13. (562) 985-5526.

SEX, DRUGS AND MINIVANS The typical Lisa Ann Orkin tale is a monologue you'd overhear at brunch -- a stream of consciousness gush that makes room for offensive jokes but none to take a breath. Her topics are de rigueur for a divorce: ex trauma, meddling mothers and changing bodies with unfamiliar terrains of back hair. What sets her apart is her charismatic delivery and willingness to plumb her most embarrassing depths (mainly stalking and an awful lot of pot smoking), which makes her feel like the insta-best friend you just hugged in the ladies room. Her latest show punctuates itself with cheery anthem rock that underscores her climb out of postdivorce depression, sung karaoke style by her, Nora Linden Titner and Carol Ann Thomas -- pals from temple -- while Michael James bangs the drums and Geri Fanilli pounds the keys. Orkin's sagas tend to overstay their welcome -- particularly when she runs through every disastrous speed-dating matchup -- yet by the sheer force of her personality, she herself never does. Threaded into the breezy evening are a surprising number of sensitive and revelatory moments springing from the failing health of her 92-year-old aunt and the rock bottom she hits that involves an airplane, three Xanax and a hot-sauce salesman. Orkin may claim to avoid men with depth, but her still bong waters run deep. (Amy Nicholson). Fanatic Salon, 3815 Sawtelle Blvd., Mar Vista; Sat., March 13, 8 p.m.. (310) 795-7469.

PRODUCTIONS SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW THIS WEEKEND


EXTROPIA Multi-sonic extravaganza set in an industrial retro-future's world without music. King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens March 14; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 960-7721.

GROUNDLINGS SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.,8 & 10 p.m.; thru April 24. (323) 934-9700.

HARAM IRAN Jay Paul Deratany's dramatization of the real-life trial and execution of two teenagers convicted of being gay in Iran in 2005. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 4. (323) 957-1884.

HOT PANTS, COLD FEET Wedding satire, written and performed by Will Matthews and Cassandra Smith. I.O. West, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 20, www.matthewsandsmith.com. (323) 962-7560.

LIBERTY INN: THE MUSICAL The Andak Stage Company's world premiere, book and lyrics by Dakin Matthews, music by B.T. Ryback. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; opens March 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 25. (866) 811-4111.

MEN OF TORTUGA Jason Wells' comedic thriller about covert governmental and corporate operations. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 28. (626) 356-PLAY.

ROCK'N RIDICULE Political satire cabaret show, "with Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Rahm Emanuel, W and the Governator.". Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opensMarch 14; Sun., March 14, 3 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 25. (323) 525-0202.

SALAM SHALOM Saleem's story of an Arabic Ph.D candidate housed with an Israeli graduate student at UCLA. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru April 16, www.SalamShalomThePlay.com. (323) 655-7679.

SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM Cavalcade of Broadway hits by Stephen Sondheim. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens March 12; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 525-0661.

THE STORY OF MY LIFE Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram, book by Brian Hill. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 4, www.havoktheatre.com.

TALES OF AN URBAN INDIAN Darrell Dennis' one-man dark comedy. Post-performance "Talk Back" programs, March 14 & 21. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; opens March 13; Sat., March 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 14, 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 667-2000.

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