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Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010
The latest NEW REVIEWS are embedded in this week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

Also, this week's STAGE FEATURE on improvised musicals

ONE WOMAN, TWO LIVES
Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Alretha Thomas' play continues this weekend at the Imagined Life Theatre. Photo courtesy of Imagined Life Theatre

L.A.'S FRINGE FEST EN ROUTE

Can L.A. handle a Fringe theater festival? The geographic/cultural/psychic impediments undid L.A.'s Edge of the World Theater Festival in a town already saturated with content, and not enough audiences. But New York is even more saturated that we are, and they have a sustainable Fringe-fest that's both an audience magnet and launch pad for some of the shows that appear there.

Hollywood Fringe has announced dates of June 17-27, 2010 for another try in L.A. Plans are still being formulated, and we're watching with interest, and hope.

For this weeks COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.


COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS FOR JULY 31-August 6, 2009

(The weekend's NEW REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances"

below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your

computer's search program.)

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

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

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

These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

OPENING THIS WEEK

AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare's comedy, re-set in the 1980s San Fernando Valley. (In rep with Snoopy: The Musical;

call for schedule.). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.;

opens July 31; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323)

667-0955.

CARNEVIL Michael Teoli's horror musical about the accidental death

of a carnival worker. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr.,

L.A.; July 31-Aug. 1, 9 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

COMEDY IN THE PARK "A sketchy skip through eternal love, fragile

relationships and a penchant for black attire," by Lauren Lewis and

Cullen Kirkland. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City;

July 31-Aug. 1, 8 p.m.. (818) 510-8083.

DON'T FORGET TO REMEMBER Patrice Parker's world premiere about a

family undone by moral conflict. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept.

6. (323) 960-7780.

(DUB)ZECK Patrick Kennelly remixes Buchner's Woyzeck with

Patty Hearst, transsexual clones and Motorhead. In English, Spanish,

French, Polish and German. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St.,

Santa Monica; Sat., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

FRANZ SCHUBERT: HIS LETTERS AND MUSIC Opera diva Julia Migenes and

actor Jeff Marlow interpret the classical composer. Odyssey Theatre,

2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.

GOLIATH Middle East faceoff by Karen Hartman. Part of Open Fist

Theatre Company's First Look Festival of New Plays. Open Fist Theatre,

6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 1, 8

p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 9, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Aug.

13, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 16, 3 p.m.. (323)

882-6912.

GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey

Day. No barfing allowed. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.;

opens July 31; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323)

934-9700.

GUYS AND DOLLS IN CONCERT Jessica Biel, Scott Bakula and Beau

Bridges try not to butcher the Frank Loesser musical. Hollywood Bowl,

2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; July 31-Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 2,

7:30 p.m.. (323) 850-2040.

7DS Zombie Joe's Underground presents Amanda Marquardt's survey of

the seven deadly sins. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North

Hollywood; opens Aug. 1; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 202-4120.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

CATS Me-ow! Felines get funky in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical.

Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand

Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (805) 449-2787.

GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD In 1950, writer-director Josh

Logan transferred Chekhov's play to the American South in an adaptation

called The Wisteria Trees. Now, director Heidi Helen Davis, and Ellen

Geer have reset the play near Charlottesville, Virginia, and updated it

to 1970. The ex-serfs have become the descendants of slaves, and

Chekhov's Madame Ranevsky has become Lillian Randolph Cunningham (Ellen

Geer), the owner of the famous cherry orchard that's "mentioned in the

Encyclopedia Britannica." Though it's a very free adaptation, it

admirably preserves the play's flavor and spirit. And while Davis'

production skewers the characters for their vanity, folly and

ineptitude, it treats them with affectionate respect. She's blessed

with a wonderful cast, including William Dennis Hunt as the landowner's

garrulous, fatuous brother; J.R. Starr as an ancient family retainer;

Melora Marshall as the eccentric governess Carlotta; and Steve Matt as

the grandson of slaves -- and a go-getter businessman who longs to be

the master. The production is easygoing, relaxed, faithful in its own

way, and often very funny. It may be the most fully integrated (in

every sense of the word) production of the play that we're likely to

see. (NW) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd.,

Topanga; call for schedule; through September 26. (310) 455-3723 or

www.theatricum.com.

GO CLOWNTOWN CITY LIMITS
Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo by Ed Rachles


Imagine

a personable, grimy, makeup-smeared, cigar-chomping guy in a tank top,

not unlike Tommy Lee Jones, playing cards outdoors on the porch of some

trailer with a grunting little guy in a cowboy hat but also with

smeared makeup who makes up the rules as he goes, spies conspicuously

on his opponent's cards and goes into paroxysms of glee with his

fraudulent victories. The "loser" -- here named Big Bugs (Jim Turner) -

is not angry at all. Nor does he appear to be drunk, though his nose is

very red, from the clownface that he didn't wash off. Rather, he's

bemused by the antics of the little victor, named Corky (Mark Fite).

The pair comprises half of the quartet of the clowns named Two Headed

Dog. Corky can only grunt (he's nonetheless very expressive) because he

was gored in the head by a bull during his former stint as a rodeo

clown. Welcome to Clowntown City Limits. What sets Big Bugs into a rage

isn't Corky's cheating but the very mention of Whistles (Craig Anton),

a traditional clown in bright orange attire, a bulbous nose and frizzy

hair, who gets all the bookings for kiddies' birthday parties. The mere

idea of Whistles sends Big Bugs down a fast-track of fury, cursing like

a loan shark in a David Mamet play; meanwhile, for reasons undisclosed

yet sort of apparent, his peers (aside from Whistles) remain

unemployed, and probably unemployable.  The fourth is a cadaverous

fellow named Adolph (Dave "Gruber" Allen) who looms around like a

doorman making subtle, quizzical expressions at the absurd goings on

around him. John Ferraro's staging is on the red nose. Andy Paley's

original music (performed by Paley, Jeff Lass, Mike Bolger and Mike

Uhler) offers beautifully understated accompaniment to this Beckettian

no-man's land that features a ravishingly brilliant repartee (script by

Joel Madison, Dale Goodson and Bob Rucker) between Big Bugs and Corky:

Corky can't resist making the insult to Big Bugs:: "You're a piece of

shit." (These are the only words he's capable of uttering.) With each

volley, Big Jim responds with a return, each wrapped in an increasingly

baroque story that culminates in rimshot rhythm with the words written

in a fortune cookie or in skywriting, how the entire universe is

declaring that it's Corky who's a piece of shit. Corky absorbs

each return like a blow to his already damaged head, yet can't resist

the automatic reply by employing the only wit he has at his disposal:

"You're a piece of shit."  And so it goes. As funny and pointless and

circuitous as life on the margins - which, according to this show, is

pretty much life in general. Steven Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood

Blvd., Los Angeles; Thursday, July 30, 8 p.m.; then from September,

first Sunday of every month, 8 p.m. (323) 666-4266 http://steveallentheater.com (Steven Leigh Morris)


GO COMING HOME A sequel to his 1995 postapartheid

play, Valley Song, Athol Fugard's latest work, Coming Home, tells of

the decimation of one person's dream and the recasting of hope from its

ashes. The luminous Deidrie Henry portrays Veronica, a once-aspiring

singer who returns to her rural childhood home, child in hand, after 10

bitterly disappointing and difficult years in Cape Town. Resilient and

nurturing despite her anguish, Veronica has a single-minded purpose: to

establish a home for her son ­Mannetjie (Timothy Taylor and then by

Matthew Elam as he ages), who will need support and protection in the

event of her demise from AIDS. With her beloved grandfather, her only

relative, dead, she turns for help to her childhood friend Alfred

(Thomas Silcott), a sweet, slow-minded man who has always loved her

dearly but whom her son despises. Spanning five years, the story

depicts Veronica's transformation from a buoyant woman to a sick but

seething, determined molder of her son's future to, finally, a

bedridden invalid, yet with enough energy to foster her boy's

burgeoning ambition to write. Part of Fugard's ongoing reflection of

his native country's woes, the play contains sometimes burdensome

exposition, which is offset by its masterfully drawn characters and

deeply embedded humor. Under Stephen Sachs' direction, Henry shines,

while Silcott is equally outstanding. As Mannetjie, whom we watch

evolving into manhood, Taylor and especially Elam both impress;

Adolphus Ward skillfully fashions the ghost of Veronica's grandfather.

(DK) Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (No perf July 4.) (323) 663-1525.


CROWNS This musical by Regina Taylor examines the passionate attachment

of certain churchgoing African-American women for their hats. Adapted

from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, Crowns:

Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, it turns on the interaction

between Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a tough street girl from

Brooklyn raging with grief over the murder of her brother, and various

women she encounters after she's shipped off to South Carolina to live

with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). The book that was the musical's

source material consists of an elegant collection of photo portraits

and firsthand reminiscences; Taylor appropriates these as monologues,

then juxtaposes them with original dialogue and gospel hymns. The

thrust of the show -- increasingly churchly as the evening wears on -- is

the effort to educate Yolanda regarding the importance of hats to her

identity and her spirituality. Under Israel Hicks' direction, the focus

is clear but its execution -- both script and performance -- is

disappointing. Five female performers each deliver various monologues

that simply don't add up to recognizable characters who serve the story

-- itself a cobbled construct. Lackluster choreography, less than

top-notch vocals and indifferent lighting also detract, as does the

production's two-hour length, without intermission. The strongest

element is the outstanding contribution of Clinton Derricks-Carroll in

a variety of male roles, but especially as a fervently possessed,

pulpit-thumping preacher. In an uneven ensemble, Vanessa Bell Calloway

and Suzzanne Douglas are worthy of note, as are the instrumentals,

under Eric Scott Reed's musical direction. (DK). Pasadena Playhouse, 39

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

Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (626) 356-PLAY.

GO CYMBELINE What might Shakespeare have written if

he'd been asked by some 17th-century counterpart of a TV producer to

come up with something quick, hot and flashy? It's likely an

extravagantly plotted comedy like this one, with story ideas snatched

from legend, his peers and some of his own better-developed and more

sublime works. Regarded today as one of Shakespeare's more minor plays,

this comedy revolves around a king's daughter named Imogen (Willow

Geer), banished from court by her father, Cymbeline (Thad Geer), for

daring to marry the man of her choice. The plucky gal's travails

intensify when a villain named Iachimo (Aaron Hendry, alternating with

Steve Matt) decides willy-nilly to slander her to her husband Posthumus

(Mike Peebler), who then commands a servant to assassinate her for her

alleged infidelity. Her wanderings eventually land her on the doorstep

of her father's old enemy, Belarius (Earnestine Phillips), who has

raised two of Cymbeline's children (thus Imogen's own siblings) as her

own. Director Ellen Geer has fashioned an appealing production laced

with an aptly measured dose of spectacle and camp. At its core is

Willow Geer's strong and likable princess. As her adoring and, later,

raging, jealous spouse, Peebler's Posthumus is earnestly on the mark,

while Jeff Wiesen garners deserved laughs as the foppish suitor she'd

rejected. The latter meets his end at the hands of the princess'

newfound brother, well-played by Matt Ducati. (DK) Will Geer Theatricum

Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru

Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.

NEW REVIEW GO FIDDLER ON THE ROOF   Following hard on the ruby-encrusted heels of Broadway's greatest 21st century's phenom Wicked,

the Pantages returns to this equally significant Broadway hit from the

middle of the last century (nearly a decade as longest running musical)

in a spectacular revival. Sholem Aleichem's tale of life in a Jewish shtetl

under the thumb of Russia's tzar, dramatized by Joseph Stein with a

glorious score and lyrics by Jerry Bock Sheldon Harnick respectively,

still generates laughs and other emotions. This production remains

loyal to Jerome Robbins' original staging, with expertly recreated

direction and choreography by Sammy Dallas Bayes. You won't find any

flying or other magical machinery expected in contemporary Broadway

fare. It feels like time-traveling 50 years back - yet there's no sense

of museum theater here. Leading way is, of course Topol, the Israeli

star who first played the lead tole of Tevye on London's West End when

he was far too young, then in the 1971 film at the perfect age, now in

this "final tour," when he is too old, but still enormously effective

as the faithful but constantly God-questioning milkman who sees his

Jewish traditions and way of life falling apart. Upon Topol's first

entrance he is greeted as a rock star - but the production doesn't rest

on his laurels alone; it earns its standing ovation from the merits of

the ensemble, musicians and designers. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood

Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 7:30

p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (213) 365-3500. (Tom Provenzano)

JULIUS CAESAR Shakespeare's tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum,

1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 29,

4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310)

455-3723.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical

study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its

transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it

different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford

has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa

Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge,

who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted

an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank

Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty.

(As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the

pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and

other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a

little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred

Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio

musical, like Stormy Weather (about Lena Horne) or Ella

(about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship,

the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by

Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title

performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has

huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable

in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that

originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck,

perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script.

(SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8

p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30

p.m.; through Aug. 30. (310) 208-54545.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Will Geer

Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., 8

p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 455-3723.

THE MISER Molière's satire of greed, with songs by Ellen Geer and

Peter Alsop. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon

Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 4 p.m.; Sat.,

Aug. 22, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept.

27, 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 25. (310) 455-3723.

MONTY PYTHON'S SPMALOT Monty Python and the Holy Grail -

the 1975 take on Arthurian legend -- is probably not the sharpest

sendup in comedians Eric Idle & Associates' body of film work,

compared to their later, blistering satire on Biblical lore contained

in The Life of Brian (1979) - Brian being Jesus - and on the existential quandaries in The Meaning of Life (1983). The Holy Grail

nonetheless contains what was for a generation of fans a blithely

anarchistic and singularly British response to a constipated culture.

Idle and John Du Prez's long-touring musical, Monty Python's Spamalot, is lifted mostly from The Holy Grail

and is at its best when filching dialogue from the movie, with

performances that replicate the dry wry humor of faulty assumptions

taken to their most idiotic conclusions. In the film, there's a plague

sketch in which the city corpse collectors go round with a cart

calling, "Bring out your dead." One ill fellow protests that he's "not

dead yet," and that in fact he's feeling better. This leads to

bickering with the officials until his owner bonks him on the head with

a shovel, assuring that he is dead. In the musical, that scene gets

played out in a song called "I Am Not Dead Yet," wherein the clout with

the shovel occurs twice. Evidently, the joke told once isn't

sufficient. With that kind of repetition throughout the musical, the

film's brisk tone shifts from the pinpoint sparks of standup comedy to

the comparatively lumbering reprises of musical theater, though there's

a wonderful parody of Andrew Lloyd Weber torch songs called "The Song

That Goes Like This." But the larger issue resides in the motives of

creation. Monty Python created comedy in reaction to, and as a comment

on, the absurdities of life in Britain, and beyond. In the musical,

King Arthur (John O'Hurley) seeks - in addition to the holy grail - a

way to get onto Broadway. So this is no longer a vicious comedy about

the world, it's a far gentler homage to Monty Python, filled with Sarah

Palin jokes and mock-Academy Awards. The idea has undergone a tectonic

shift from being pointedly silly to generally silly. These are really

the aesthetics of marketing. The result is far more popular than

penetrating. The company is unimpeachable, as is Casey Nicholaw's

splendidly stupid choreography and Tim Hatley's deliberately cheesy set

and costumes. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown;

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

September 6. (213) 972-4400.

MY WAY: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA Singers croon Sinatra

tunes. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2

p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 23.

(949) 497-2787.

GO NEVERMORE Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man

play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the

bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of

idiosyncrasies -- tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The

man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his

wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys

the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The

Raven," which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His

concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by

the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the

inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while

still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is --

pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man

show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a

presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another.

Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of

her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing

whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer

becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous

rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a

poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra

pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style

of the era he's depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose

heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The

Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her

return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. (SLM) Steve

Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.;

through Aug. 29. (323) 666-4268.

SIDE MAN Warren Leight's jazztastic memory play. (In the Studio

Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (562) 494-1014.

SIXTH ANNUAL NEW ORIGINAL WORKS FESTIVAL (NOW) There are three

cycles in this forum for inventive multimedia works. Call for

schedules. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.;

thru Aug. 8. (213) 237-2800.

NEW REVIEW

THE TEMPEST Many would argue that Shakespeare

is not meant to be experienced in a darkened proscenium house with

fancy sets, a silent audience and plush seating, but with minimal

lighting and sets, a boisterous crowd and no seating at all.  Those

preferring the latter will find this production of Shakespeare's final

play to their liking. The familiar story about the wronged former Duke

of Milan who is banished to an island with his daughter, only to use

his powers of sorcery to command the faeries of the isle to exact

revenge on his fellow nobles is performed with traditional minimalism,

but with much modern commentary and humor.  Director and company

co-founder Melissa Chalsma incorporates into the dialogue jokes about

cell phones, Martha Stewart, and even the Barnsdall performance space. 

Continuing the modern aesthetic are Daniel Mahler's costumes, which

feature a blend of bubble wrap, duct tape, and other shiny bits for the

faeries and Prospero's cape, in styles ranging from Mafioso (Sebastian)

to band geek (Trinculo) to Charlie Chaplain (Stephano).  The latter two

work well for the bawdy, vaudevillian duo, who along with Caliban,

become the most engaging part of the performance. What's gained in

comedy, however, is lost in the somber philosophical inquiry that makes

up significant part of the text.  A major reason for this is the

setting, which, by allowing food, drink and a "family atmosphere," also

suffers from the distraction of crying, talking children.  And while

that atmosphere is good for a summer community event, give me the

darkened proscenium house for this play. Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood

Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (in alternating

rep with Henry V, so performance dates vary); through August 30.  (323)

836-0288. An Independent Shakespeare Company. Production. (Mayank

Keshaviah)

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

ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity

guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave.,

L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GO ALTAR BOYZ For those over the age of 15, boy

bands have long been fodder for easy ridicule - stir in Christian rock

and malicious burlesque becomes ripe for the picking. But in this

outing by playwright Kevin Del Aguila with songwriters Gary Adler &

Michael Patrick Walker, derision is superseded by affection. The book

is so sweet and so gentle the lyrics that the show lacks a satisfying

satirical bite. But the good news is in the performances. Jesse

Bradley, Clifford Bañagale, Jake Wesley Stewart, Robert Acinapura and

Kelly Rice blend their disparate personalities, boyish charms and

harmonic voices to create an ensemble that could easily play it

straight for the right audiences. Choreographer Ameenah Kaplan takes

great advantage of the boys' uniform physical agility and athleticism,

creating song and dance numbers far more entertaining than the overdone

Catholic jokes. Musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten and his band

(Adam Halitzka, Nick Perez and Carson Schutze) are totally in sync,

keeping the show bouncy and charming for 90 minutes. Michael Mullen's

too-precious rock costumes are terrific and amusing. Only the imminent

threat of forced audience participation slightly dulls the glister.

Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 957-1884. (Tom Provenzano)


BABY IT'S YOU! American Pop Anthology presents Colin Escott and Floyd

Mutrux's musical biography of Scepter Records founder Florence

Greenberg., www.babyitsyouthemusical.com. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa

Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 &

8 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (800) 595-4TIX.

NEW REVIEW

GO BIG BRO/LIL BRO

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo courtesy of Company of Angels

In

playwright Jonathan Ceniceroz's torn-between-two-lovers potboiler, a

wannabe actor named Carlos (Vince Tula) leaves his mature and ailing

partner to set up house with a coquettish young gent from his acting

class. The wallowing melodrama commences with Carlos resolutely packing

his bags, deaf to the incessant pleas of wheelchair-bound Gil (Art

McDermott). We next see him in his new digs, in thrall to the alluring

Jeremy (understudy David Padilla), whose clothes he's possessively

concealed  in a power play seemingly intended to proscribe his new

boyfriend's coming and goings.  Directed by Josh Chambers, the stilted

first act unwinds with a rather depthless display of passions as the

financially pressed Carlos struggles to support his increasingly sulky

and demanding inamorato.  Act 2 improves, however, first because the

script acquires some texture as Jeremy evolves into a narcissistic

psychopath,  but more so because Padilla - in his debut stage

performance - makes the most of the material to establish a beguilingly

ominous presence. MC Dermott is persuasive as the catty but

perspicacious invalid. To the playwright's credit, the drama ultimately

detours away from a sensationalized denouement into one more sensible

and satisfying. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., downtown;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (323) 883-1717.

A Company of Angels production. (Deborah Klugman )

CABARET THE MUSICAL The economy is terrible; unemployment is rising;

sex and promiscuity abound; traditions are constantly broken, creating

backlash from social conservatives -- of course, it's Germany in the

early 1930s. Against the backdrop of the Weimar Republic, Kander and

Ebb's 1966 classic musical follows American novelist Clifford Bradshaw

(Michael Bernardi) through his affair with English singer Sally Bowles

(Kalinda Gray), whom he meets in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub as the

Nazis are taking over. At the top of the show, the iconic "Willkommen"

introduces the club and its dancers -- the Kit Kat Girls and Boys -- as

well as the Emcee (Eduardo Enrikez), whose outrageous persona is a dead

ringer for Joel Grey's 1972 Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse's

movie. When not at the cabaret, Cliff stays in a boarding house run by

Fraulein Schneider (Annalisa Erickson), who has a soft corner for local

fruit vendor Herr Shultz (Jayson Kraid) and constantly battles with

tenant Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) over the stream of sailors who flow

through Kost's bedroom in order to help "pay the rent." Cliff, on the

other hand, pays the rent by giving English lessons. Director Judy

Norton's use of table seating and a working bar completes the cabaret

ambiance, but her transitions drag and she fails to bring out the je ne

sais quoi -- or perhaps ich weiss nicht -- that would have made the

brilliant source material leap off the stage. Even Greg Hakke's musical

direction is sluggish at times and Derrick McDaniel's lighting leaves

many dark spots onstage. The performances, unlike the German accents,

are solid, but only Enrikez really stands out. (MK) MET Theater; 1089

N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through

August 9. (323) 965-9996. www.plays411.com/cabaret. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO CARVED IN STONE In Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy,

it's always cocktail hour in the afterlife lounge shared by Truman

Capote (Kevin Remington), Quentin Crisp (Leon Acord), Oscar Wilde

(Jesse Merlin) and Tennessee Williams (Curt Bonnem). Witty aphorisms

fly fast and furious, as each writer tries for the perfect bon mot to

top the others. Into this literary hothouse stumbles Gryphon Tott (Levi

Damione), who can't believe he's dead. He's further perplexed by the

denizens of the lounge because he's heterosexual. The other writers

explain that he's a gay icon, which has brought him to their cozy

setting. They add that the door though which he entered occasionally

opens, but the four literary heavy heavyweights have no desire to move

on. Judy Garland and Bette Davis (both played by Amanda Abel) make a

brief appearance, and leave just as suddenly. William Shakespeare (Alex

Egan) stays around for a while longer to much hectoring from the lounge

habitués. Tott's status as a gay icon unfolds slowly -- he borrowed

background scenery from a gay writer, bringing up the question of

plagiarism. The cast is superb under the fast-moving direction of John

Pabros Clark, and the pacing and timing are remarkable. (SR) Theatre

Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

Tues., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 9, www.carvedinstonetheplay.com. (310)

473-5483.

CHARIOT It is 1987 and the Hills are the only black family in a tidy

but sterile suburb of the San Fernando Valley. In a too successful

attempt at assimilation, the family members have repressed nearly every

emotional and spiritual problem to come their way. In Steven Lee's

everything-including-the-kitchen-sink melodrama, Grandmother (Gayle La

Rone) arrives from the south in her chariot (an expensive sports car)

to spread her wealth and shake the family loose from its self-loathing

and hypocrisy. Lee's script gives each of the generally solid actors

enormous scene-chewing speeches and director Cary Thompson encourages

high-powered performances, which never let up and unfortunately too

often turn to screaming matches and chest-pounding. Lee's exhaustive

list of dramatic issues center on homosexuality, psychosis, religious

rejection, alcoholism and violence. Near the end we wonder why he left

out incest - oh, never mind we get to that too. Thomas (TJ) Walker

provides an array of terrific costumes which provide the visual cues

not found in the very simple set pieces that create the modest suburban

home. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3pm.; through Sept. 6. (323) 960-7788. (Tom Provenzano)

DEATH, LIES AND ALIBIS Riffing full-length improvs on the works of

famous writers is becoming something of a cottage industry -- Impro

Theatre has busted open works of Jane Austen, Stephen Sondheim, Anton

Chekhov, Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare. Here, director

Patrick Bristow (formerly of the Groundlings and currently also with

Puppet Up Uncensored) does his own take on Agatha Christie's literary

idiosyncracies with a company named Improvatorium. Creating an

improvised production from a couple of audience suggestions in the

style of Ms. Christie is, well, murderously difficult -- even with

Christie's pro forma structure of a group trapped in a locale, a

mysterious death, and an investigation of some sort. The 10-person

ensemble comports itself with moments of brilliant off-the-cuff wit

intermingled with references to the play's climactic sporting event --

three-legged and potato-sack races. Part of the joy is the strain for

dignity, as the circumstances around them prevail against it, combined

with their posh attire (wardrobe by Leslee Harman and the cast).

Obviously, the event changes nightly, but when I attended, the momentum

rolled into a few mud holes and the evening was more a series of

lovely, delicate cameo performances rather than a larger view of what

Agatha Christie meant to her audience -- or means to ours -- or even a

satire of the essences that ensure her works endure. Amidst the very

good company, Bristow and Jayne Entwhistle are standouts. (SLM) Theatre

Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; every other Thursday, 8:30

p.m.; through August 20. (323) 962-1632. An Improvatorium production.

NEW REVIEW GO THE DEBATE OVER COURTNEY O'CONNELL OF COLUMBUS, NEBRASKA

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre

If

we're to believe playwright Mat Smart, which is probably not a good

idea, the bloody rampage of a jealous lover in 1894 Columbus, Nebraska

led to the "Morgan Morality Act," stipulating that if a woman chose a

fiancée over the objections of a former lover who had taken her

virginity, her first lover was entitled to challenge her fiancée in a

public debate, sort of like a cross between The Dating Game and The Jerry Springer Show.

After hearing argumentation from both parties, the woman was free to

choose her future mate. If the woman continued to rebuke the

challenger, the law forbade him to contact her or to mention her name

in public. This anti-stalking bill placed profound confidence in the

power of debate in general, and argumentation in particular, to prevent

corpses from piling up, as they evidently did in 1894 Nebraska, at

least according to the record cited in Smart's play. In Act 1 of his

delightful comedy, set in a contemporary Nebraska tavern - here

portrayed in the site-specific environs of downtown's Metropol Cafe --

Smart is really grappling with the intersection of commitment and

ownership. Jeff Galfer, who originated the role at New York's Slant

Theatre Project, is both horrifying and endearing as Scott P. Scooner,

a snazzily dressed local denizen whose dream of making it big consists

of landing the assistant manager post at the suit shop where he now

works as a sales clerk. Scott is a romantic extrovert with a history of

suicide attempts over the loss of his love, Courtney (Amy Ellenberger,

nicely capturing an emotional descent after floating on air) to a

six-figure-salary-earning "dickwad from Sacramento" named James

Alexander (Larry Heron, in a suave and smart performance). Courtney's

been dating James for two months (compared to her five-year courtship

with Scott). During the debate, James offers her a vacation in the

Bahamas that only makes her swoon some more, as Scott must endure the

site of his ex embracing and kissing his competitor while he's trying

to win her back. Thomas (Feodor Chin) gently moderates the debate in a

performance of wry intelligence and absurdity, clutching a handbook of

the law that stipulates time limits and other protocol for the

growingly ludicrous spectacle. After both suitors' presentations,

Courtney finds herself paralyzed by indecision, which is when the law's

more arcane articles, such as a corn-shucking competition, come into

play. Act 2 flies back in time to 1894 and tracks the origins of this

"morality act" via a farce with the actors in drag and impressive

quick-changes. It's a different play in a different style that presents

more of a challenge to the actors than the real-time naturalism of Act

1. It nonetheless tracks the origins of our so-called freedom, and how

incapable we are of handing the responsibilities that come with it.

Despite the shortcomings of the farce, Jennifer Chang stages the event,

and it is an event, with a nimble touch, and Rachel Schachar's costumes

are perfect. Metropol Cafe, 923 East Third Street, downtown; Sun.-Mon.,

8 p.m.; through Aug. 24. (800) 838-3006 or http://brownpapertickets.com A Chalk Repertory Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)


FERNANDO Art scholar versus curator, by Steven Charles Haworth. Part of

Open Fist Theatre Company's First Look Festival of New Plays. Open Fist

Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 2, 3 p.m.; Through

Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 15, 3 & 7 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

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

A HATFUL OF RAIN Michael V. Gazzo's study of substance abuse. Skylight

Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; thru Aug. 23, www.katselastheatre.org. (310) 358-9936.

NEW REVIEW GO HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Hellz Kitchen Ablaze

Tommy

Carter's hard-hitting drama delves into the sadly familiar terrain of

police brutality and corruption. After a drug raid in which a team

member was shot and killed, a clique of New York City's finest

rendezvous in an abandoned, graffiti pocked warehouse, ostensibly to

commiserate about their dead partner. Robert Mangiardi, Michael

Camacho, Sal Landi, Phil Parolisi, Charles Taylor and Gary Werntz turn

in harrowing performances as gritty, street wise narcotics officers

whose psychological and emotional black holes are nothing short of

terrifying. It isn't long after the team assembles that the real reason

for the "party" emerges, and we learn that a bond has been made to

split nearly a million dollars in confiscated drug money, which is to

be retrieved by this gang in blue's only black member, Dash (Tim

Starks). It's while waiting for the payoff to arrive that a toxic stew

of racism, fear, suspicion, paranoia and undiluted greed start to erode

alliances causing insurmountable conflicts that culminate in crushing

betrayals and murder. In addition to chillingly realistic characters,

Carter's blunt writing and gallows humor propel this 90-minute drama,

which in spite of its dearth of action is never boring or tedious. And

director Barry Sattels and his cast excel in opening up the explosive

tension of the plot. Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave. L.A.;

Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (213) 712-5021. (Lovell Estell III)

THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.

KEEP THE BALL ROLLING Skipper by Robert Beiderman, Dead Angel by Dale Andersen, Cupidity by Thomas J. Misuraca, Table for One by Hindi Brooks, Up on the Roof by Mark Harvey Levine, Dear John by Herman Poppe. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (323) 469-3113.

GO KILL ME DEADLY Few literary figures seem as

blatantly ripe for satire as the gumshoe detective. Playwright Bill

Robens ably answers the call, with an entertaining spoof about an

obtuse private dick named Charlie Nichols (Dean Lemont) and his

obsession for a witless scarlet-clad siren named Mona (Kirsten

Vangsness). Called in to forestall the murder of a wealthy dowager,

Lady Clairmont (the comically skillful Kathleen Mary Carthy), he's soon

embroiled with the usual parade of tough-guy gangsters, dumb cops and

seductive debutantes. Obstacles confront Charlie everywhere -- his

client soon ends up dead -- but none prove as treacherous as his buxom,

doe-eyed lady love, whose predilection for homicide he myopically

ignores. Savvily staged by director Kiff Scholl (with fight

choreography by Caleb Terray and videography by Darrett Sanders), the

script successfully parodies the genre's multiple clichés and evocative

parlance, even as it lacks the razor-sharp edge of a top-notch farce.

(The show goes on a bit too long.) Still the adroit supporting ensemble

makes the most of the piece's convoluted subplots -- among them Nicholas

S. Williams as Lady Clairmont's effete son Clive, Phinneas Kiyomura as

an eyewitness to her murder and Ezra Buzzington as her suspiciously

implicated butler. As the hero, Lemont demonstrates facileness. With

her pouty lips and batting eyelids, Vangsness' outrageous Mona becomes

the show's star. (DK) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd.,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Aug 30.

(323) 856-8611.

NEW REVIEW

GO THE NUCLEAR FAMILY

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo courtesy of The Nuclear Family

As

they've been doing since 2007, the company of three actors  (Stephen

Guarino, Jimmy Ray Bennett and John Gregorio), and pianist Matthew

Loren Cohen, staggered through on wit and a prayer to create a

90-minute musical theater piece off-the-cuff, sprung from the core

characters of a generic American family: Mom, Dad and Daughter (some

nights it's Son). The piece and even the characters' names are

different every night, thanks to the unpredictability of audience

suggestions, and the trio play different roles at each performance.

Every show, however, starts in the "kitchen" - four wooden chairs, two

with broken cross-beams - and spirals in and out of control from there,

spinning the dual mythologies of The American Family and The American

Musical around and around on a spit. It's ribald, insane, and great

fun. Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood | Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m.; through August 9. http://needtheater.org A NeedTheatre production (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.

OCTOMOM! THE MUSICAL Chicago has gritty realism. New York has

Broadway musicals. So what's the L.A. aesthetic? I've heard complaints

- I think they were sneers - that L.A. has no unifying theater style,

just like it has no unifying geography. Not true: camp. You see more

parody of stupid movies, stupid TV shows and stupid people on the

stages of L.A. than any other genre - even more than one-person

showcases for TV. The latest example is this quite charming,

clever-in-parts (the eight kids are sock puppets) and terribly

over-hyped (preview coverage on Fox TV and in People Magazine) cabaret

about thoughtless and relentless greed, which is probably to our era

what religious hypocrisy was to Moliere's. Writer-director Chris

Votaire's theatrical comic book, with witty, light music by Rachel

Lawrence, interlinks the voracious appetites of Nadya Suleman (the

excellent Molly McCook) and Bernie Madoff (John Combs, also fine). It

suffers somewhat from the plight of trying to be on top of the news

with topics that were in the news cycle a few months ago. But the

underlying source of the satire that Voltaire is gunning for certainly

hasn't gone anywhere. The insights are broad as a barn. Madoff meets

that schemer Ponzi (Blake Hogue, with a keen expression of derangement

that works for number of cameos) in a sweet soft-shoe number. It could

be in the style of Tom Lehrer, but this is more obvious and less sly.

The production's strength lies in Dean McFlicker's musical staging, and

the actors' terrific movement skills - particularly that of Dinora

Walcott, the crooning emcee. Oh, but the thin voices bring it down. As

though this stuff is easy, as though a musical can be without the

triple threat of acting, dancing and singing. With the threadbare

canned accompaniment, we're missing about a third of the musical-comedy

trinity in those whispy voices, sometimes out of key. Not so for

McCook's Octomom, beautifully peevish, whining and with a sense of

entitlement as bloated as her belly. She carries the show, in tune and

on step, like a latter-day Mother Courage. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose

Ave., Los Angeles; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; indef. (323) 856-1168.

(Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW

GO

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo courtesy of Josh Margolin

ONE

NIGHT STAND: AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL Seven young actors don't use wigs

for a musical parody concoted in the spur of the moment - this is the

improv equivalent of performing without a net.  On the night I saw

them, they brewed  a father-son conflict that parodied the literary

convention of young people arriving in L.A from the hinterlands to

become stars. The lanky Quinn Beswick portrayed a kid in Tennessee

confronting his dad (Jonah Platt) about not wanting to live out his

father's failed dreams, about not wanting to be a star, but wanting

instead to escape to L.A. to pursue his dream of cleaning up after

other people who do want to be stars. (No shortage of employment

opportunities in that field.) The fresh-scrubbed ensemble showed wit

aplenty and boasted bone fide musical theater chops, particularly

though the sharp energy and even sharper voices of Samantha Martin and

Mollie Taxe. Musical Director Andrew Resnick did piano-accompaniment

duties. Hudson Theater Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; through August 22. (323)

960-4429. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.

ONE WOMAN, TWO LIVES Alretha Thomas, past winner of several NAACP

awards, is writer of this play about the effort to protect a family by

a woman with a past, played by Kellita Smith of "The Bernie Mac Show.".

Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23...

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.

SAY GOODBYE, TOTO The Wizard of Oz from Toto's POV, by Amy

Heidish. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19, www.arktheatre.org. (323) 969-1707.

GO SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! TOO The original School

House Rock was a long-running kids' TV show that winningly combined

cartoon characters and songs with a high educational content. Here

director-choreographer Rick Sparks assembles six terrific, high-energy

performers -- Harley Jay, Tricia Kelly, Jayme Lake, Michael "Milo"

Lopez, Lisa Tharps and Brian Wesley Turner -- to employ all their skill

and pizzazz on songs about numbers, multiplication, parts of speech,

American history, government, the bones of the body, financial interest

rates, and a score of other useful topics, all turned into lively

entertainment. (A math song about multiplying is called "Naughty Number

Nine," and the American Revolution is served up in "No More Kings.")

There's a scrap of plot, about saving a financially failing diner, but

that's the merest of pretexts. Cody Gillette provides crisp musical

direction and leads the trio (with Anthony Zenteno, on guitars, and

Eric Tatuaca on drums) to provide infectious, hard-driving

accompaniments on Adam Flemming's handsome diner set. Clever costumes

are by Kat Marquet, and Daavid Hawkins provides hundreds of zany props.

If you already know that 7 x 9 = 63, you might feel, as I did, that 20

songs is a few too many, but the kids seem to love it. Greenway Court

Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; call for schedule; through August

9. (323) 655-7679, ext. 100, or www.schoolhouserockla.com.


GO SEARCH AND DESTROY Howard Korder's play begins like

a mildly absurdist comedy about a feckless, dunderhead Florida ice-show

promoter, Martin Merkheim (Brian Ridings), who owes $47,000 in back

taxes. When he becomes obsessed with late-night TV self-help guru Dr.

Waxling (Joseph Dunn), he decides he must make a movie of the doctor's

novel, Daniel Strong, as part of his self-empowerment campaign. But the

doctor (who has marketing problems) is unimpressed by Martin's high

ideals and wants cold, hard cash. And the play turns darker. In his

pursuit of money, Martin becomes involved with a receptionist (Meagan

English) who wants to write gory horror flicks, a shady businessman

(Adam Hunter Howard), a couple of drug dealers (Dan Fishbach and

Anthony Duran), and a strung-out coke head (Thom Guillou), who is

political consultant to a conservative senator. The pursuit of

self-improvement leads only to sleaziness, corruption and

self-destruction. Korder's script ricochets between picaresque comedy,

morality play, melodrama and a play of ideas; it's fun to watch, and

director Joshua Adler has assembled a terrific cast. Ridings makes

Martin's bumbling desperation believable, Fishbach and Guillou

contribute sharp comic vignettes, while Howard and Dunn lend a more

sinister touch. (NW) The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica

Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 23.

(323) 960-7776.

GO SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED The idea hasn't lost

anything in the decade since I reviewed this concept-driven

improvisation. Shakespeare Unscripted is an impromptu story inspired by

the Bard's work, using Elizabethan literary conventions and stylistic

nuances. Audience members are asked for suggestions to start things

off, and if something sounds good, the "play" is on. A slow start is

common, but as the actors get warmed up, the wit, charm, energy and

creativity on display are delightful and entertaining. The night I

attended, the subjects chosen were "river" and "waterfall," and the

cast did a snappy job of creating a storyline about two lost brothers,

exiled from their kingdom; a mother mourning her lost sons; a jilted,

German suitor, who is cuckolded by an enchantress;, and tossed in for

good measure, a scheming pair of siblings and some humorous courtly

intrigue. Most of the fun here comes from trying to guess where the

plot is heading and seeing the cast members straining to contain their

own mirth. The production utilizes alternating casts, and is

co-directed by Brian Lohmann and Dan O'Connor. (LE3) Theatre of the

Arts, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. through

Aug. 1. (800) 838-3006. Impro Theatre.

SNOOPY!!! THE MUSICAL Larry Grossman and Hal Hacakady's sequel to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 667-0955.

GO STOP KISS Manhattan traffic newscaster Callie

(Deborah Puette) meets Sara (Kristina Harrison) the week the young

blonde schoolteacher arrives in the city. Both have always identified

themselves as straight: Callie's got her friend-with-benefits George

(Christan Anderson), who she assumes she'll marry once they both stop

trying to find someone better, and Sara has just left her boyfriend of

seven years, Peter (Justin Okin), behind in St. Louis in her quest to

find a bigger, harder, more worthwhile life. The two women gradually

become best friends, deliciously tormented by their quiet hints that

they both want a more physical relationship. But no sooner do they

stick a tentative foot out of the closet than they're pushed out in the

worst possible way -- as a news story about a violent bigot who puts

Sara in a coma. Diana Son's time-jumping play about coping with the

unexpected skips from their first meeting to Callie's first sitdown

with the investigating cop (Jeorge Watson); we're rooting for the

couple to get together under the shadow of the consequences. But Son's

equal emphasis on romance makes the play looser and more inviting than

a social problem drama, and the question isn't about the source of

hate, but the depth of Callie's love when Peter announces that Sara's

family wants to move her hospital bed back to Missouri. Under Elina de

Santos and Matthew Elkin's direction, the ensemble opening night was

still a little stiff, but Puette's tender performance captures a

haphazard woman realizing that she's finally sure of at least one

thing. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 26, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323)

960-7774. A Rogue Machine production (Amy Nicholson)

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

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

934-9700.

NEW REVIEW

  TERMINUS AMERICANA 

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo courtesy of the SpyAnts

Matt

Pelfrey's weird hot mess of a dark satire is a virtual dramatization of

lunacy, as seen from the inside peering out.  If you have ever noticed

someone walking down the street, with a tin foil hat firmly lodged atop

his or her head muttering imprecations about this or that conspiracy,

Pelfrey's play is a work that tells you how that tragic figure came to

that point.  Mac Winchell (Brett Hren) is a contented cubicle-dwelling

office worker whose life is thrown into disarray when co-worker Felix

(Eric Bunton) goes berserk and starts shooting up the building. Felix

offs himself right in front of Mac, but before he does, he whispers

something unmentionable in his ear.  From that moment, Mac finds

himself sliding into a bizarre, alternate universe in which everything

is deranged and violent.   After inheriting the Terminus Americana, a

phone book-sized manual of madness left by Felix as an office Secret

Santa gift, Mac wanders the country having a bizarre series of

adventures and ultimately being hailed as a prophet in the New Church

of Christ The Office Shooter - and you can imagine what one must do to

join that organization. Pelfrey's comedy is intentionally meandering,

full of seemingly random incidents and a disjointed structure that is

meant to be both frustrating and arch.  Unfortunately, a little goes a

long way, and two hours of the disconnected babble almost leaves the

audience groping for our own tin foil hats. Danny Parker-Lopes's

phlegmatic staging suffers from lagging pacing and strangely clumsy

blocking.  Although Hren's slow transition from mild mannered office

drone to howling loon is chillingly convincing, some of the supporting

performances are prone to stiff acting turns and halting line

readings.  The Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru August 15.  (323) 860-8786 or http://thespyants.com. A SpyAnts production. (Paul Birchall)

TREEFALL Henry Murray's cabin-fever future shock. Theatre/Theater,

5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1,

www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-7774.

WIFE SWAPPERS "It's nice to have new blood. We get sick of the same

asses and tits all the time," says Jake (Jonathan Palmer) as he and his

wife, Loretta (Mary Scheer), welcome the much younger Paul (Cody

Chappel) and Karen (Chloe Taylor), to their American flag-festooned

Orange County home for a swingers party. While Karen is uncomfortable,

Paul seems eager to explore, throwing himself into a world straight out

of the "free love" 1970s, complete with wooden hot tub. To try to get

in the mood, Karen looks for liquid courage, but in the first of many

ironies, Loretta informs her that alcohol is "against the rules" and

generally frowned upon by these staunch Republicans . . . who

nonetheless freely imbibe on the sly. Soon the group is joined by old

friends Gina (Melissa Denton), her husband, Mac (Michael Halpin), and

Shirl (Jodi Carlisle). All is fun and games until Paul's friend Roy

(Todd Lowe) arrives unexpectedly and goes too far, leading to a quick

dissolution of the party. Justin Tanner, who wrote and directed the

piece, pens snappy banter that cleverly juxtaposes disparate elements

to mine their comic potential, but his overt commentary on the

hypocrisy of these Christ-and-country-loving patriots who love to fuck

each other's wives, is awkward at times. Among the cast, Denton stands

out with her sexually explicit motor mouth, though the rest also play

their roles with aplomb. The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave.,

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 8. (323) 653-6886. (Mayank

Keshaviah) elements to mine their comic potential, but his overt

commentary on the hypocrisy of these Christ-and-country-loving patriots

who love to fuck each other's wives, is awkward at times. Among the

cast, Denton stands out with her sexually explicit motor mouth, though

the rest also play their roles with aplomb. (MK) The Zephyr Theatre,

7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 8. (323)

653-6886.

YA GOTTA GO HIGHER One-man show on addiction and recovery by

comedian Yul Spencer. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 9,

www.yagottagohigher.com...

YOU LOOK GOOD ON PAPER "In my 20s, I knew who I was -- because I was

a slut," chirps solo performer Juliette Marshall with the brazen

self-deprecation the blond beauty has wielded for a decade of

monologues about her quest for love. In her first, she readied herself

for the right love. In her second, she married him. Now, 10 years

later, they're divorced ("He was controlling and I was co-dependent --

we were so happy") and Marshall is trying to shape her story into an

evening of torch songs and standup. "You Look Good on Paper," is the

number about her travails in matchmaking; "When Did I Become a Cougar?"

questions if she should accept a young bartender's offer of passion.

Drummer Denise "Delish" Frasier and musical director-pianist Mitch

Kaplan keep time as Marshall tangos with a handsome stranger and then

tries her hand at a dark ditty in which she asks a doctor if she could

be mentally ill. (His assessment: "adjustment disorder.") Marshall is

earnest about trying to make sense of her past and grab the reins of

her future, but she and director Clifford Bell seem to be too close to

the material to make it about anything bigger than cocktail chatter

translated to the stage. Fittingly, she ends one song with "I don't

know how to end this song . . . yet." (AN) Improv Comedy Lab, 8162

Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through August 1. (323) 651-2583.


CONTINUING PERORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

THE APPLE TREE In a series of three one-act musicals by Jerry Bock

and Sheldon Harnick (the duo who brought us Fiddler on the Roof), this

1966 piece thematically explores whether getting what you want leads to

wanting what you get. However, unlike the original Broadway version,

this production features three (mostly) separate casts and directors.

The opener, The Diary of Adam and Eve, a wry take on the familiar

Biblical tale adapted from the Mark Twain story, is followed by The

Lady or the Tiger?, from Frank R. Stockton's story of a king's barbaric

system of justice, and finally by Passionella, a Cinderella-style tale

about a chimney sweep who dreams of being a movie star. In the first

act, Gary Lamb's direction and choreography are unspectacular, and the

energy of the piece, including the pacing of the musical direction, is

lacking. In the second, director William A. Reilly's pacing is

similarly uneven, as is the level of camp required to sell the

material, though Kit Paquin as Princess Barbara really sells "I've Got

What You Want." The final act is the highlight of the evening as

Matthew J. Williamson's direction features cleverly minimalist set

pieces, unique staging, quick costume changes, and the right amount of

shtick to bring the material to life. Stephanie Fredericks also shines

as Ella/Passionella with her strong vocals, comic flair and timing.

Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through August 9. (818) 745-8527. (Mayank Keshaviah)

BILLIE AND BOGIE Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart had enough

superficiality in common to make them an apt pair for a show about the

psyche of two hard-drinking, hard-living New Yorkers. They became icons

while still feeling they had something to prove -- Holiday to the

bigoted, and Bogart to audiences who underestimated then overestimated

his acting ability. This is a fine show, but it isn't the show I've

just described. at show. Instead, director Bryan Rasmussen presents

Bogie (Dan Spector) and Lady Day (Synthia L. Hardy) as legends gracing

us with a few dark anecdotes about their roots. Spector and Hardy are

sincere in their affections for these imposing pop figures, but there's

a whiff of Wikipedia to their character profiles -- their monologues

are arranged chronologically, not thematically, chugging along at the

highs and lows of lives about to be cut short while guzzling (but not

feeling) enough booze to tranquilize a tiger. With a running time of

nearly three hours, we should know Bogie and Billie better than we do

by the end. Instead we walk about with the warm melancholy of sharing a

drink with a fascinating stranger we'll never meet again. Whitefire

Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22.

(818) 990-2324. (Amy Nicholson)

CARAPACE ISLE Jon Courie's story of lesbian's return to her

dysfunctional North Carolina home. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim

Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16,

www.collaborativeartistsensemble.com. (323) 860-6569.

DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Bert V. Royal puts

the Peanuts gang in high school dealing with sex, drugs, violence and

homophobia. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (877) 620-7673.

GO EQUUS Director-set designer August Viverito and

his colleagues have mastered the art of clarity and intensity when

working in a tiny space such as this. Peter Shaffer's drama has always

told the harrowing tale of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna), who

must discover why a severely troubled teenager, Alan Strang (Patrick

Stafford), has gouged out the eyes of six horses with a hoof pick.

What's different here is that Hanna's Dysart suffers an anguish at

least as deep as the boy's, and this carries the play from clever

melodrama into the realm of tragedy. Dysart slowly realizes that Alan

has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which horses are his gods --

and has enacted a strange Passion Play. The doctor understands that to

cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and most profound

experience of his life. The boy's fierce passion forces Dysart to

recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence. Viverito has

cast it beautifully, with riveting performances by Hanna, Stafford and

a splendid supporting cast, who make us feel the play, as well as

understand it. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; selected Sundays, 3 p.m.; through August

22. (800) 838-3006, or www.theprodco.com. (Neal Weaver)

GOD BOX Ana Guigui's "musical dramedy" has moments of brilliance but

suffers from a lack of coherence and an awkward format. The play is set

in a local hotel lounge where she Guigui - the daughter of Aregentinian

Jews -- plays piano, she recounts her life as the daughter of a

peregrinating symphony conductor, life in New York, and a warm but

often testy relationship with her parents and brother. Initially, the

material is compelling and often humorous, so much so, that you want to

hear more of it. But the real focus of the play is her frustrating

search for romance and a soul mate, whose qualities are written down

and kept in her "God box." Accounts of a furtive childhood kiss, a

first love and sexual outing, the pain of an abortion, and a romantic

hookup with a salesman, unfurl in a facile, patchwork that is often

difficult to follow and not particularly interesting. Guigui is

delightful channeling characters, with the singular exception of a

black rapper she encountered, which hovers perilously close to crude

caricature. But the woman can play the hell out of the piano, and sings

like an angel, with a diverse repertoire that even includes a haunting

rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Robert Barker Lyon

directs. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. August 2 perf at 1 p.m.), thru Aug. 16.

323-960-5770. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE HOSTAGE In 1959 Dublin, a young British

soldier is held captive by the Irish Republican Army while an equally

young IRA volunteer awaits execution for killing a policeman. Should

the British carry out the Irishman's sentence, the IRA will do the same

to the Englishman. Playwright Brendan Behan, himself a former IRA

member, took this dire premise and molded a sly political satire that

reveals on both sides of the Anglo-Irish conflict, there is plenty of

guilt and hypocrisy, which tend to be drowned in swigs of Guinness or

shots of Jameson. Pat (John McKenna) is an ex-IRA soldier who with his

"wife" Meg (Jenn Pennington) runs the establishment whose denizens

include assorted whores (male and female), a daft ex-IRA leader (Barry

Lynch) and other sundry lumpenproletariat. When a steely IRA officer

(Mark Colson) hides a British conscript (Patrick Joseph Rieger) in the

house, tensions and hilarity ensue, as assorted characters begin to

question the rationale for the soldier's fate, especially a young girl

(Amanda Deibert), who falls for him. Director McKerrin Kelly and

company have culled text from the original Irish version and the

subsequent English one to craft a boisterous production filled with

songs and jigs, characters chatting with the audience and a provocative

finale. (MH) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 16. (818) 846-5323.

INSANITY In this unexpectedly inert musical from James J. Mellon,

Scott DeTurk, and Larry Russo, Zarek Saxton (Kevin Bailey) is a B-movie

director who, midway through filming his latest slasher flick, drops a

designer drug, sees visions, and decides to make a totally different

movie -- one he hopes will cure war, feed children and save the world.

In other words, he wants to make a movie that will go direct to video.

Perhaps understandably, producer Ramsey (a nicely oily Bob Morrissey)

decides to commit the director to a mental hospital, and tries to bribe

top shrink Megan (Dana Meller) to certify him as nuts so she he can

toss Zarek off the movie. While he's in the bin, Zarek casts a darkly

ironic outsider's eye on the various emotional problems of the inmates

-- a collection of damaged souls whom he comes to admire. The play's

shift in tone from sassy Hollywood spoof to a mawkish recycle of One

Flew Over The Cockoo's Nest is awkward and strangely uninvolving -- and

the play's central relationship, between the arrogantly self-important

Zarek and the smirking, humorless Megan, thuds. Strangely enough, the

relationship between DeTurk's unmemorable, smooth jazz score and

Mellon's overly complicated lyrics is not much better, although

Bailey's comical rendition of "You Couldn't Write This Shit," in which

his character ridicules his fellow patients behind their backs, has

some toe-tapping potential. In a supporting role as an actor with

emotional problems, Brad Blaisdell's character shows some depth, while

Sabrina Miller, as the director's self-absorbed leading lady and

girlfriend, conveys the Hollywood mood believably. The rest is a

comparatively dull opus that hasn't yet gelled. (PB) Noho Arts Center,

11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;

through Aug. 9. (818) 508-7107, ext. 7.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or

celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series

of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South

Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.

LOVE SEX VIOLENCE ETC. Six one-acts by Helena Weltman on the L-word,

the S-word, the V-word and the ETC-word. Whitefire Theater, 13500

Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW THE PAIN AND THE ITCH

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo by Ed Krieger

Judging

by this 2004 comedy of manners, Steppenwolf playwright Bruce Norris'

worst enemy isn't the left-leaning, urban-professional parenting he

targets in his caustic, social satire, but his own penchant for

overloaded metaphors and excessively convoluted plots. The action

centers on a fateful Thanksgiving gathering hosted by Kelly (Vonessa

Martin), a young attorney, and her stay-at-home husband, Clay (Brad

Price), as told in flashback to a mysterious, Arab cab driver, Mr.

Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur). Kelly and Clay seem to be living the American

dream with success, wealth (suggested by Kurt Boetcher's distractingly

literal, luxury townhouse set) and two young children. With the arrival

of Clay's acid-tongued, plastic-surgeon brother, Cash (Scott Lowell),

and his malaprop-spouting, Slavic-immigrant girlfriend, Kalina (Katie

Marie Davies), however, a host of simmering tensions and festering

family resentments quickly surface, not the least of which concerns

Clay's growing alarm at the suspicious genital rash afflicting his

overprotected, four-year-old daughter, Kayla (Ava Feldman in a role

double cast with Olivia Aaron). Norris is at his best when skewering

the culture of narcissism that blinds his Yuppie protagonists to the

grimmer truths of the world around them (as when Kelly's claim of

childhood abuse by "neglect alternating with sarcasm" prompts naive

comfort from Kalina in her own story of her brutal, childhood rape by

soldiers). But Dámaso Rodriguez's crisp direction of a talented cast

can't mitigate the tangle of telescoping flashbacks, red herrings and a

wildly improbable and bathetic dénouement that all ultimately blunt

Norris' critiques. Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (626) 683-6883. (Bill Raden)

PROOF David Auburn's story of a mathematician's daughter. Sierra

Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (626) 256-3809.

GO TEN CENT NIGHT Marisa Wegrzyn's Texas melodrama

is as emotionally overloaded as a jukebox favorite. A country star and

abusive father of two sets of twins has shot himself in the head,

orphaning his children just when the youngest girl, Sadie (Alison

Rood), needs a heart transplant -- literally and metaphorically (She's

just realized she's in love with her twin brother Holt (Shane Zwiner).

Older daughter Dee (Caitlin Muelder) is furious that Sadie has asked

Dee's twin, Roby (Tara Buck), a hard-drinking singer, to come back to

the ranch, which she does, handcuffed to a police chair and pursued by

a handsome mute (Martin Papazian) and a gangster (Gareth Williams) with

a magic dime. Maria Gobetti's naturalistic direction delays our

awareness of and enjoyment in the script's mythological ambitions; with

the second act entrance of a local whore (Kathleen Bailey), who

controls the hearts, bodies and bank accounts of Dee and Roby, we're in

waters as deep and loaded as the Oedipus myth. Staged more like a comic

soap opera than a fable with fangs, its rhythm could be sharper, but

once the ensemble gets rolling, we're humming along. (AN) Victory

Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 4 p.m.; through Aug. 2. (818) 841-5421.

THE UNSEEN In some unspecified country, two

prisoners, Valdez (Matt Kirkwood) and Wallace (Darin Singleton) have

been held for years in isolation cells. They are close enough to talk

to but not to see each other. They don't know why they have been

incarcerated, or by whom. They are constantly questioned and tortured,

and subjected to nerve-shattering noises. They spend their days

carrying out private rituals, and playing word and memory games in an

attempt to preserve their sanity. The only mortal they see is the guard

Smash (Douglas Dickerman), who is both torturer and caretaker. Craig

Wright's allegorical new play keeps its larger meaning sketchy, perhaps

because it lacks a concrete context. It's interesting mainly for the

interaction of the two men, and the strange and whimsical nature of

Smash. Wright directs his play skillfully on Desma Murphy's handsomely

bleak set. Kirkwood and Singleton provide richly detailed portraits of

the two men who comfort themselves with escape fantasies, and Dickerman

creates a bizarre figure as the guard who hates his charges because he

can't help feeling their pain as he tortures them. (NW) The Road

Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 2 p.m., through August 22. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.com.

RAY BRADBURY'S YESTERMORROWS The sci-fi author's

short stories "The Meadow," "Cistern" and "A Device Out of Time,"

adapted for the stage. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South

Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5,

www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.

NEW REVIEW

74 GEORGIA AVENUE/THE PUSHCART PEDDLERS

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010


Photo by Doug Engalla

Murray

Schisgal's two mildly absurdist one-acts chronicle varied aspects of

Jewish life.  In the good-hearted but conventional farce The Pushcart

Peddlers, directed by Chris Winfield, and set on the New York

Waterfront in the early 1900s, wily banana peddler Cornelius (Lloyd

Pedersen) cons greenhorn Shimmel (Ren Bell) out of all he owns --but

Shimmel falls for Maggie (Melissa Soso), a flower-seller with

theatrical ambitions, he quickly learns street smarts. The performances

are broad but skillful. The more ambitious and more personal 74 Georgia

Avenue, directed by Frances Mizrahi, is set in a formerly Jewish

neighborhood that's now entirely black. Martin Robbins (Larry Margo)

revisits his childhood home and discovers it's occupied by Joseph

Watson (Disraeli Ellison), the son of the janitor at Robbins' old

synagogue, who has become more Jewish than Robbins. Joseph fondly

remembers the old days from the synagogue and has collected clothes,

which mysteriously allow him to assume the identities of their former

owners.  When he "becomes" Martin's zayda, it allows Martin to resolve

old resentments, and regain respect for his nebbishy father. Both

actors deliver fine performances, despite the play's heavy-handed

treatment of the supernatural. Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre,

10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2

p.m., thru Aug. 22.  http://www.lcgrt.com or (866) 811-4111. (Neal Weaver)   

GO SPRUNG: A LOVE STORY The

"sprung" in writer-director Tony Marsiglia's off-kilter, comic grand

guignol carries multiple connotations for his antihero chemist, Samuel

Nathanson (Marsiglia in a compelling performance). There is the sense

of obsessive infatuation, although in the 49-year-old Nathanson's case

it is not for his 20-year-old, pregnant girlfriend, Tracy (co-writer

Donna Kane), but for the MDMA and methamphetamine crystals he cooks up

and deals from his living-room lab. That he also loves to ingest the

particularly potent creations he calls "red doxies" leads to the second

sense -- the spaced-out, psychotropic paranoia produced by his

ecstasy-eating diet. Finally there is the haywire clockwork sense of

his tightly wound existence coming un-sprung before our very eyes. As

the wild-eyed Nathanson painfully rehearses for the important job

interview he is clearly in no shape to make, a succession of skeevy

ravers (Jeremy Gladen & Lucas Salazar), psychotic tweekers (a

charismatic Tom Wiilde & scene-stealing Amelia Gotham), malevolent

cops (Gladen & Jim Eshom) and even a vindictive third wife (Denise

Devlin) collide in his seedy apartment and derail his belated attempts

to get his runaway train of a life back on track. Marsiglia, a

direct-to-DVD horror auteur, successfully transfers his black,

surrealist humor to the stage, racking up laughs, an impressive body

count and a surprisingly authentic portrayal of the retreat into

solipsistic self-destruction that awaits substance abusers of any

stripe. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (818) 202-4120. A Theatre Slanty

production. (Bill Raden)

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

AUNT FONDEEN AND THE LOST DUTCHMAN GOLDMINE Free

performances, courtesy Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson

Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun.,

noon.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 712-5482.

BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor,

Itamar Moses' sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century,

who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for

erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Director Darin Anthony

serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. (TP).

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.

CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL South Park's Trey

Parker penned this man-eating musical. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh

St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22,

www.thegaragetheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.

THE CHAIRS Eugene Ionesco's 1952 tragicomedy. City

Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

5:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 13, (Discussion with the cast and creative staff

follows Aug. 23 perf.). (310) 319-9939.

CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director

Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless

fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined

by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there

was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously

smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki

and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling,

in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella's Fairy

Godmother). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn

reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also

riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and

Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25

years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his

adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for

perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised

to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley

Hayes' lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers

marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella

(Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the

story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for

something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind

things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired,

she can write a review herself. (SLM) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211

Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310)

394-9779.

CRACK WHORE BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Marnie Olson's

1980s coming-of-age story. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave.,

L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 535-6007.

NEW REVIEW

GO CYMBELINE THE PUPPET KING

Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

Photo by Jean-Louis Darville

Shakespeare's Cymbeline is a natural for adaptation as children's theatre since it shares many plot elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The play has been much shortened and simplified. Imogen's husband

Posthumous and his treacherous friend Iachimo have been eliminated, and

the sex and violence are reduced to minimum in slapstick. In this

goofy, kid-friendly adaptation by Angela Berliner, King Cymbeline

(Stephen M. Porter) is an ineffectual booby, easily manipulated by his

evil, ambitious second wife (Donna Jo Thorndale), who wants to marry

off her boorish, dim-witted son Cloten (Adam Jefferis) to his daughter

Imogen (Erin Anderson). But feisty Imogen (she calls her unwelcome

suitor Cloten the Rotten) is having none of this, and takes to the

woods, where she's befriended by Belarius (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) and

his adopted son Guidarius (Kirstin Hinton), who was raised by wolves,

and is given to occasional howling. Many of the jokes are probably over

the heads of most children, but they're kept amused by director Will

Pellegrini's zanily frenetic staging, and the prospect of free

popsicles. The short piece (under an hour) is performed outdoors, and

best of all, admission is free.  The Actor's Gang at The Ivy

Substation, Culver City Media Park, 9070 Venice Boulevard; Sat.-Sun.,

11 a.m., thru August 30. Info: (310) 838-4264 or 

http://theactorsgang.com. (Neal Weaver)

GO HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME

While R. Ernie Silva's older brothers were doing hard drugs, he hid out

in his room and watched Masterpiece Theater. Silva wasn't a nerd; he

break-danced, liked weed, and grew dreadlocks. But he lived in

Bushwick, and to cops, bosses and his mom, being a young, black male in

Bushwick meant you were and would always be just like everyone else.

Railroaded into a life headed for rehab or death, Silva grabbed a

boxcar heading west to go on an American walkabout. Silva is a

charismatic talent with slender build and wide grin. The story of his

travels, co-written with James Gabriel and directed by Mary Joan Negro,

taps into his charm and energy, sending him up and around a set of

simple black boxes, strumming his guitar, Savannah, and impersonating

the noteworthy, from Richard Pryor and Jimi Hendrix to August Wilson.

The travails of young artists and their search for self-definition are

a familiar solo show trope, but even the heightened moments -- the death

of a brother, an auspicious visit from an eagle -- feel earned, not

manufactured. I expect we'll see a lot more of Silva, and this very

solid monologue is a good place to get acquainted. (AN) Odyssey

Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

through August 8. (310) 477-2055.

I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT Even by the

standards of the venerable 12-step confessional, Jonathan Coogan's

one-man memoir of growing up amid the pot smoke, promiscuity and

pernicious parenting of the freewheeling Hollywood of the '70s is

fairly tepid stuff. Which is not to say Coogan doesn't have a lot going

for him as a performer. With a wry, self-deprecating manner and an

engaging stage presence, he clearly knows his way around a one-liner.

His autobiographical material, however, just doesn't generate the highs

-- no pun intended -- or lows demanded by the shopworn victim-recovery

formula. Perhaps that's because, in the land of medical marijuana,

having been a teenage stoner turned weed dealer scared straight by a

brush with the law seems so, well, underwhelmingly ordinary. More

likely it's because this "addiction" story, at least as it's framed

here by Coogan and his co-writer, director Dan Frischman, seems to

constantly shrink before a pair of far more compelling characters

always looming in the background -- namely Coogan's colorful,

pot-smoking New York-Jew parents. In fact, judging by the unresolved

bitterness permeating the piece, its real star is Rosy Rosenthal,

Coogan's Ralph Kramden-esque wisecracker of a father (tellingly, the

mother's name is never uttered). Far more than any clichés about a

"higher power," it is Rosy and his spare-the-fist-spoil-the-child

version of tough love that determines the psychic trajectory of

Coogan's life and is this tale's true heart and soul. )BR) Beverly

Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; through August. 1. (310) 358-9936.

GO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM In a

forest of fairies, skater boy Lysander (a nicely slacker-y Rett Nadol)

runs off with his sweet fiancée, Hermia (Rachel Emmers, whose Valley

Girl-like accents add comedic luster). However, mischievous fairy Puck

(Joey Pata) casts a spell on Lysander so he falls for Hermia's pal

Helena (drolly neurotic Adeye Sahran). Meanwhile, fairy-queen Titania

(Amanda Arbues) is enchanted into falling in love with a boorish Bottom

(Kenneth De Abrew, playing the well-known character as an East Asian

Oliver Hardy), who has been turned into a donkey for the day. Director

Stephan Wolfert's charming staging of Shakespeare's romantic comedy

fantasia is a co-production between the Veterans Center for the

Performing Arts, the U.S. Veterans' Artists Alliance and Shakespeare

Santa Monica. The show's ensemble is a mix of professional actors and

military veterans -- and one or two of whom are both at the same time,

since the vocations are not mutually exclusive. One might expect the

presence of veterans to give the show a somehow therapeutic

undercurrent, but, in fact, the show is just good comedy, boasting some

polished clowning. If it weren't for the program bios, which mention

the performer veterans' time served and military branch (alongside the

usual list of turns in standards like Noises Off and Blithe Spirit) the

idea that the briskly staged and thoroughly enjoyable show has a

connection to the armed forces probably wouldn't occur to us. Staged in

a makeshift theater space atop a musical band shell behind a West L.A.

library, the show's delightfully daffy mood and intimacy combined with

the picniclike atmosphere offer a laid-back, unpretentious spectacle

that's perfect for summer -- and for Midsummer. While some performers

may wrestle with the verse or fall prey to weak diction, the show's

energy and innocently romantic comic timing craft a production that's

hard to resist. (PB) West L.A. Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd,

Santa Monica; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; through Aug. 9. Free.

MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO ]During the American

Revolution, George Washington opposed arming African-Americans, "lest

they turn our weapons against ourselves." This attitude prevailed in

the American military until after World War II. The Navy allowed black

seaman to serve only as noncombatant cooks and day laborers, and at

Port Chicago, near San Francisco, they were deployed as stevedores,

loading volatile explosives onto transport ships. Neither white

officers nor black workers received training in handling explosives,

safety rules were ignored, workers were driven to meet dangerous,

impossible quotas, and workers were told the ammo "couldn't possibly

explode." But on July 17, 1944, it did explode, killing 320 men and

injuring 390. Fifty black seamen, ably represented here by actors J.

Teddy Garces, Eric Bivens-Bush, Pedro Coiscou and Durant Fowler,

refused to return to ammo-loading duties under the same terrible

conditions, and were falsely accused of conspiracy/mutiny. White

officers fabricated evidence in a kangaroo court, where the attorney

for the defense (the excellent Maury Sterling) was hamstrung at every

turn. Because the issues were so completely black and white, playwright

Paul Leaf can't avoid melodrama. His brief Act 1 is a setup for

effective trial scenes in Act 2. An uneven production is graced with

some solid performances. (NW) Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave.,

Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 15. (310)

397-3244.

GO ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES

For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets,

one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it's hard to imagine doing

Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying

staging of the Marxist maestro's classic, anti-morality play, St. Joan

of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the

1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias' costumes), the story

cleverly inverts the Jeanne d'Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark

(a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an antipoverty crusader whose "Warriors of

God" mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse

closings. Joan's efforts to get the men back to work lead her to

financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is

his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that

Mauler is cynically using Joan's appeals to further his scheme. When

she subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped

mission, she is cast into the street, where she belatedly realizes the

pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by

Peter Mellencamp's vivid, new translation and an unerring ensemble

(including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel

Riordan), Rothhaar's production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the

principles of epic theater. (It's also a showcase for the multitalented

Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler's

scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & Co. not only prove that the old,

dialectical dogmatist still has teeth but that Brecht's bark and his

bite are both wickedly entertaining. (BR) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703

Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 9.

(310) 822-8392.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE Roaring '20s musical, book

by Richard Henry Morris, music by Jeanine Tesori, new lyrics by Dick

Scanlan. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 828-7519.

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

THEATRE WEST PLAY READING SERIES July 7: What Are Friends For? by Victoria Vidal; July 14: Moose on the Loose by Dina Morrone; July 21: There Is a Season by Doug Haverty; July 28: Abandon by Chris DiGiovanni; August 4: Grandma Good by Arden Teresa Lewis; August 11: Zeno's Paradox by Wendy Graf. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 11. (323) 851-7977.