Stage Raw: Lobby Hero
BREUER ON THE VOLGA
View from the Volga River -- Russia's answer to the Mighty Mississippi -- the longest waterway in Europe, stretching from the Valdai Hills (between Moscow and St. Petersburg) to the Caspian Sea. The city of Saratov resides on one of its banks about 500 miles south of Moscow. American director Lee Breuer premiered Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class, in Saratov last week. A report is in the current theater feature.
My colleague at the The Moscow Times, John Freedman, wrote the following article on one L.A. critic's reaction to the show.
The following note accompanied our critic's review of Venice at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, reprinted with his permission. -- SLM
I would, however, like to confess that the biliousness of the notice may, in part, stem from the news I had heard that the CTG recently canceled the holiday staging of the Nutcracker the Taper commissioned from L.A. theater wizard Ken Roht (which rumor has was amazing) because they didn't have the ready cash. So imagine my surprise on entering the lobby of the Kirk Douglas and seeing it half-filled with the theater's new "concierge service" staffers, whose job it is to stand around with iPads, Secret Service-like walkie-talkie earpieces and inviting smiles plastered on their faces, waiting for playgoers to ask them where one can grab a bite to eat or get a drink after the show. I flagged down one of them, who explained that the service was CTG's response to declining theater audiences, a phenomenon for which those most responsible have apparently concluded is due to the lack of warm and fuzzy lobby greeters. Then, of course, I proceeded into the auditorium to witness the million dollars they threw at this pretentious, workshop-fatigued import from Kansas City. Everything I wrote after that was straight from the liver, er, heart.
Oh, yeah, and after bantering with the concierge/greeter for several moments, he turned to me and asked, "So, are you musical?" "Uh, do you mean can I carry a tune?" I responded somewhat confusedly. He raised his eyebrows suggestively, to which I hastily interjected, "Oh, you mean do I like musicals -- yes, when all the elements are good,
absolutely." The curious exchange lingered with me until this morning, when my girlfriend patiently explained that "are you musical?" must be musical-theater argot for "would you like a blowjob at intermission?" It's sorta like standing in front of Lincoln Center and asking a passerby if he likes opera.
Maybe CTG has something in this concierge thing after all.
CORRECTION: Center Theatre Group reports that Ken Roht's Nutcracker was never actually scheduled, and therefore never cancelled.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for October 22 - 28, 2010
Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, 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
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
ATTACK OF THE ROTTING CORPSES Zombie Joe's Underground's comedy thriller. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (818) 202-4120.
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE John van Druten's tale of a smitten witch. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; opens Oct. 23; Sat., Oct. 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 24, 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 558-7000.
FAIRIES WITH CHILDREN, THE YES ON HATE EPISODE WideStance Productions' gender-bending parody of suburban conservativism. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, fairieswithchildren.com...
THE FALLEN PLAYBOX THEATRE, the Santa Monica Playhouse's sister company in the U.K., presents two original works: "The Fallen" by Toby Quash and an interactive experience based on Dante's "Divine Comedy.". Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Wed., Oct. 27, 5:30 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 28, 5:30 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
ENRON Staged reading of Lucy Prebble's story of corporate greed, presented by L.A. Theatre Works. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Fri., Oct. 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 23, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 24, 4 p.m., latw.org. (310) 827-0889.
HAPPY DAYS: A NEW MUSICAL Based on the hit TV show. Book by Garry Marshall, music and lyrics by Paul Williams. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; opens Oct. 22; Fri., Oct. 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (805) 449-2787.
INTO THE WOODS Anthony Geary stars in Lucid by Proxy's take on Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical. Big Art Labs, 651 Clover St., L.A.; opens Oct. 22; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, lucidbyproxy.com. (800) 838-3006.
KIT KAT GIRLS BURLESQUE Green Door, 1429 Ivar Ave., L.A.; Wed., Oct. 27. (323) 463-0008.
KNUFFLE BUNNY: A CAUTIONARY MUSICAL Based on the children's book by Mo Willems. Recommended for ages 4 & up. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., Oct. 24, 1:30 & 3 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.
LUCIA MAD James Joyce's daughter in Paris, by Don Nigro. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Nov. 15, plays411.com/luciamad. (323) 860-6569.
LULU'S LAST STAND World premiere of Veronica DiPippo's dark dramedy. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Oct. 22; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (310) 364-0535.
THE MILL MUTINEER THEATRE COMPANY's adaptation of James Richter's audio play. Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, mutineertheatre.secure.force.com/ticket. (323) 556-1636.
THE OHIO 4TH Daniel Shoenman's new comedy about a stage play honoring Warren G. Harding. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, plays411.com/ohio4th. (323) 960-7714.
THE PUB PLAYS In rep: Irish novelist Roddy Doyle's comedy War and Irish playwright John B. Keane's drama The Field. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; opens Oct. 22; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 846-5323.
SUGAR DADDY Fielding Edlow's comedy about one woman's battle with cupcakes. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 22; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (323) 469-9988.
TEA AT FIVE Stephanie Zimbalist stars as Katharine Hepburn. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Oct. 22; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (818) 955-8101.
UPRIGHT CABARET: MOTOR CITY Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Sat., Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.. (805) 449-2787.
THE VAULT The multi-ethnic ensemble's mix of performance art and music. (In Theatre 4.). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Oct. 28; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (866) 811-4111.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's comedy of matrimony. (In the Studio Theatre.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (562) 494-1014.
NEW REVIEW FDR From the moment he rolls onstage in
a wheelchair until his labored exit, 90 minutes later, with cane in
hand, Ed Asner does a phenomenal job of channeling -- himself. But in
all fairness to this accomplished actor, giving dramatic life to a
towering figure such as FDR is no easy task. For all of 15 minutes, Mr.
Asner makes a valiant attempt at studied mimicry, speaking with a tinge
of that East Coast patrician accent that characterized Roosevelt; then
he lapses into his own raspy voice and speech mannerisms, with just a
touch of Lou Grant. The production is an adaptation of a decades old
work by Dore Schary, and is basically a sketchy retrospect of
Roosevelt's presidency. The script surveys Roosevelt's bout with polio,
a litany of congressional races, lots of mock press conferences, some
key incidents in his life as well as some perspectives on the events of
the time. For the most part, it's quite dry; and Asner's delivery
vacillates from the clinical to the rambling conversational. The most
engaging part of the evening is the segment about America's entry into
WWII, which included Roosevelt's famous declaration of war. Had there
been more substance to Schary's script, or a more skilled director, the
production would certainly make more of an impression. The good news is
that the performance is the first for some time on the economically
fragile boards of the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.,
Pasadena; Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru
Nov. 7. (626) 356-PLAY (Lovell Estell III)
I LOVED LUCY Lucille Ball biography by Lee Tannen, based on his best-selling memoir. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (949) 497-2787.
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Interactive kids' musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Ben Lanzarone. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.
LA VICTIMA Written by El Teatro de La Esperanza in 1976, this agitprop musical testifies to the spirit of the Mexican immigrant population, but its worthy message and superior stagecraft can't quite compensate for the script's limitations. Directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, with music and vocals performed by rock duo Cita and Ricardo Ochoa, the story revolves around several generations of the Villa family, who first emigrate from Mexico in 1915. Over the next 50 years its members are forced back and forth across the border, as the U.S. economy fluctuates and Uncle Sam's immigration policy alters along with it. At a critical point, the central character, Amparo (Lupe Ontiveros), is accidentally separated from her young son Samuel; she is deported to Mexico, while he remains in the U.S., where he, ironically, later lands a position with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Despite the accounts of poverty and exploitation, this is a celebratory play whose essence radiates in Cita's stirring vocals. The music, however, overwhelms the script, which is swamped by polemics. The ensemble does its best, and engaging scenes include a comic encounter between Amparo's younger son (Luis Aldana) and a smitten acquaintance who pursues him (Alexis de la Rocha), and a cathartic confrontation between the adult Samuel (Geoffrey Rivas) and his daughter (de la Rocha), a college activist appalled by her father's job. Scenic designer Teshi Nakagawa's backdrop of dark vertical slats -- intimating the desert on the one hand, imprisonment on the other -- and Urbanie Lucero's lively choreography add vibrant texture to the spectacle. A Latino Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (866) 811-4111.
LEAP OF FAITH There's some great banter between con man Jonas Nightingale and small-town diner waitress Marva McGowan. The play is set in the tiny, drought-plagued Kansas town where Jonas (Raul Esparza, in a spry and accomplished performance) and his gospel entourage have pitched their tent. Marva (Brooke Shields, smart and tender) has a son (Nicholas Barasch) who hobbles around on crutches, the first warning that we've entered a recycling bin trying to pass itself off as a theater: Amahl and the Night Visitors, Tartuffe, The Music Man and The Rainmaker all come to mind. In the diner, Marva repels oily Jonas with refreshing wit and acumen. But his persistence is his charm, I guess. On her front porch, he holds her hand and admits he's a fraud, which is supposed to make him irresistible to poor Marva, who hasn't been touched in years. Formula should ring true, yet Marva's melting resolve is the first in a series of emotional frauds far more dire than those perpetrated by Jonas on the people of Kansas. This world-premiere musical is based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, music by Alan Menken, book by Janus Cercone with Glenn Slater, and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
PETER PAN J.M. Barrie's flight of fantasy, complete with "the world's first 360-degree CGI theater set.". Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., 12:30 & 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (714) 556-2787.
GO PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's longest-running Broadway musical in history (now in its 23rd year) is also the world's most lucrative single entertainment project to date, raking in more than $3 billion since it was first staged in London in 1986. Now in its third national tour, presented by the Music Box Company, "Phanty" will sing its swan song on Halloween night at the Pantages. Based on Gaston Leroux's gothic romance, and reminiscent of the fable Beauty and the Beast, the story follows a promising singer Christine (Trista Moldovan) as she falls under the spell of a masked and ghoulish Phantom (Tim Martin Gleason inhabits the role with conviction), who haunts the Paris Opera House. The superb cast also includes Sean MacLaughlin as Christine's suitor Raoul, Kim Stengel playing the pompous diva Carlotta. Moldovan's clear, pure voice only occasionally competes with the lush sounds of the orchestra. Infamous for borrowing several musical phrases from Puccini and even Pink Floyd, Webber's melodies may be as pedestrian as this musical is popular. His composition moves seamlessly from grand opera to romantic duets to rock opera (wailing electric guitar), all of which mesh well with occasional harp and violin solos, and the soaring, tender melodies that create several shivery moments. Harold Prince is still credited for the crisp direction. Energetic conducting by William Waldrop rounds out this first-rate production. (Pauline Adamek). Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (213) 365-3500.
THE RECKONING The setting for Kimba Henderson's sprawling drama is a Louisiana crawfish farm called Rubaiyat. The farm is owned by the Robilliards, a proud, affluent black family headed by L.J. (Alex Morris), an iron-willed patriarch who, as the play opens, is set to return from a stay in the hospital. L.J. is determined that daughter Nathalie (the splendid Toyin Moses), take over the farm, and he'll stop at nothing to see that she does, even if it means breaking up her pending marriage to a young doctor (Dorian Christian Baucum). When a strapping young white man named Nicholas (Jacob Sidney) mysteriously arrives, L.J. encourages him to woo Nathalie. But Rubaiyat has an ugly history filled with angry ghosts, which dates back to the days of slavery, and it is in the telling of that history that Henderson's otherwise intelligently written script becomes a tad cumbersome. By way of flashbacks, some of which are awkwardly inserted, we learn about how a white family, the Burnsides, were cheated out of title to the plantation, and of the taboo, interracial love affair that caused it. The parallels between past and present become apparent, but this obvious contrivance and the facts unveiled do little to bolster the play's story and become distracting. Rubaiyat's dark past collides with the present in Act 2, where the identity and true purpose of Nicholas' appearance come to light. By this time, however, the surprises are slight, and the resolutions unsatisfying. Ben Guillory directs a very good cast, whose solid performances somewhat offset the script's shortcomings. John Paul Luckenbach's two-tier set piece is a knockout. (Lovell Estell III). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (866) 811-4111.
GO THE RENDEZVOUS It's been nearly 20 years since New burlesque emerged from the cauldron of the L.A. and New York underground rock and dance-club scenes, which now makes it old enough to be a freshman in women's studies at UCLA and NYU. Director, choreographer, show creator and lead dancer, Lindsley Allen (Pussycat Dolls) gives an eye-popping, postgraduate demonstration of the nouvelle bump and grind as she leads her faculty of Cherry Boom Boom dancers through a raucous evening of retro-themed, terpsichorean tease. And what's not to like about sitting in a Hollywood Boulevard nightclub and watching a chorus of sexy women dressed to the nines in the fetishistic camp of skimpy, Anne Closs-Farley costumes, while lip-synching, shimmying and shaking for 75 minutes to rock & roll and exotica classics on designer Francois-Pierre Couture's seamy-noir set? Extra credit goes to Kelleia Sheerin's sleight-of-hips strip while gyrating inside a Hula-hoop; Ruthy Inchaustegui's gravity-defying, aerial sling dance; and Sharon Ferguson leading a line of corseted dominatrixes through a B&D whip number, fittingly set to the Cramps' "Queen of Pain." Ferguson doubles as the evening's breezy, Texas Guinan-esque emcee, while Angela Berliner and Brian Kimmet do exemplary narrative duty in an engaging, bad-date comedy pantomime threaded between the dance numbers. David Robbins' high-decibel sound and Sean Forrester's kinetic lights set an appropriately louche, red-light mood. (Bill Raden). King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Last Thursday of every month, 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (323) 960-5765.
THE TEMPEST: PHASE I A "text-focused" staged reading of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Fri., Oct. 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 23, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 24, 2 p.m.. (805) 667-2900.
NEW REVIEW VENICE
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Picasso is famously credited with the epigram, "Good artists copy,
great artists steal." He might have also added, "and all artists
invariably steal from Shakespeare; the trick is in knowing what to
take." In the case of this overwrought, albeit handsomely mounted
musical co-production from Kansas City Rep and Center Theatre Group,
writer-director Eric Rosen's search for a plot on which to hang
actor-composer Matt Sax's rousing hip hop and R&B-infused score
eventually led him to Othello. The result is less a theft than an act
of vandalism. Set in a mythical near future, in a fictional city named
Venice that has been wracked by 20 years of war, the story focuses on
the political and fraternal rivalry between pro-peace leader General
Venice Monroe (Javier Muñoz) -- read: Othello the Moor -- and his
Iago-ish half-brother, the fascistic Captain Markos Monroe (Rodrick
Covington). Venice aims to inaugurate his "Sunrise" peace policy with
his public wedding to childhood sweetheart and Desdemona alter-ego
Willow (Andrea Goss) in the city's newly restored cathedral; Markos
schemes to sabotage that symbolic act. How he does so involves a scheme
so obtuse and shorn of Shakespeare's psychological subtleties that it
requires a roving narrator, the Clown MC (Sax), to continuously clarify
the characters' motivations in bursts of hip-hop exposition. Suffice it
to say that by the time Markos achieves his nefarious ends, his victims
include Venice's loyal lieutenant, Michael (Erich Bergen), Michael's
Lady Ga Ga-like "love interest" (Angela Wildflower Polk), Markos'
military-industrialist co-conspirator (J.D. Goldblatt), and, in the
evening's most misbegotten bowdlerization of the Bard, Willow herself.
The real tragedy of Rosen's self-consciously mythic melodrama is in its
disservice to the show's powerhouse vocal talent and inspired
production team. David Weiner's elegant lights, Meghan Raham's smart
costumes and striking, bomb-ravaged church set, and Jason H. Thompson's
meta-theatrical projections all lend the evening a stylish polish.
Sax's music emerges as the star attraction, and the audience will
undoubtedly be humming the sweetly moving duet "The Wind Cried Willow,"
sung by Goss and the show's Emilia, Victoria Platt, on the drive home.
The story they'll likely forget before they unlock the car door. Kirk
Douglas Theatre, 9280 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8
p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14.
(213) 628-2772 or centertheatregroup.org. (Bill Raden)
WHEN GARBO TALKS Musical biography of Hollywood legend Greta Garbo, book and lyrics by Buddy Kaye, music by Mort Garson. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (562) 436-4610.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
THE ACCIDENTAL BLONDE IAMA Theatre Company presents Leslye Headland's latest installment of her "Seven Deadly Sins" series. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, iamatheatre.com. (323) 962-0046.
AFTER SCHOOL GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Heather Morgan. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.
ANTON'S UNCLES Theatre Movement Bazaar's men-only take on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (213) 389-3856.
ATTACK OF THE 50' SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
BOB BAKER'S HALLOWEEN HOOP-DE-DO More than 100 Halloween-themed puppets, in a show that first played here in 1963. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Oct. 30. (213) 250-9995.
BRIAR ROSE The Whitmore Eclectic Theater Company presents Kelly Tager's dark spin on "Sleeping Beauty." Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31...
BROOKLYN, USA Crime melodrama by John Bright and Asa Bordages. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, brooklynusa-theplay.org. (323) 469-3113.
CAMPAIGN Someday, someone somewhere may finally write the great American electioneering farce that this amiable-if-creaking musical satire by Samuel Warren Joseph and Jon Detherage strives so hard to be. But in art, as in politics, timing is everything. And in these shell-shocked, post-George W. Bush years, Joseph and Detherage's transposition of 1990s-vintage sex scandals to their caricature of a problem-plagued, contemporary gubernatorial campaign seems like nostalgia for a nobler, more innocent age. Although ostensibly set in 2008, Joseph's book is overgrown with hoary, anachronistic weeds carried over from its source, his own 15-year-old play. The show's uninspired campaign-headquarters set (by lighting/set designer Dave Carleen) frames a culture of landlines, fax machines and 24-hour cable news networks, but one devoid of the websites, blogs, text messaging and tweets that are a modern campaign's communication lifeblood. Despite the writers' obvious delight in skewering their Bill & Hillary-like candidate couple -- the witless, philandering congressman, Glenn Mann (Brian Byers), and his smarter, albeit deceived wife (Barbara Keegan) -- the musical's heart is less in its satire than in the boilerplate romance that develops between its compromised-idealist protagonists, campaign manager Steve (Travis Dixon) and Mann's press secretary/mistress, Brenda (Jean Altadel). While Dixon and Altadel boast voices far superior to Joseph and Detherage's mostly undistinguished, pop-derived songbook, the lovers' hopeful, redemptive plotline feels like a tonally discordant artifact from an antique musical romance. Director T.J. Castronovo delivers some memorable comic flourishes, but his staging falls shy of the spark or spectacle needed to carry this critic's vote. (Bill Raden). MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, plays411.com/campaign. (323) 960-7612.
GO CHICO'S ANGELS: CHICAS IN CHAINS Somewhere in an alternate TV universe, where it is always the 1970s and the posh Charles Townsend Agency still services L.A.'s moneyed class with its elite staff of glamorously gowned, undercover crime fighters, there exists a parallel detective agency well east of the L.A. River. Only this trio of blowsy, somewhat earthier angels comes with cha-cha heels on their gumshoes, a decidedly bitchy attitude and a virtue that can be summed up in one word -- cheap. They are, of course, those sleuthing Latina femme fatales, Chico's Angels, better known to their adoring fans as Kay Sedia (co-writer Oscar Quintero), Frieda Laye (Danny Casillas) and Chita Parol (Ray Garcia). And, in director/co-writer Kurt Koehler's razor-sharp restaging of the third installment of their madcap adventures, the intrepid posse of drag parodists again prove there is virtually nothing they won't do to get their man or milk a laugh. Their weapons include an arsenal of fashion faux pas (courtesy of costumer Shaun Wunder and wigmaker Janet Walker), a comic pidgin as broad as Whittier Boulevard., and a machine-gun delivery of ribald ad libs and double-entendre malapropisms that leave nothing to the prurient imagination. The plot has the girls going undercover in a lily-white prep school to ferret out a murder witness (the fine Beth Leckbee) who also moonlights as a high school hooker. The point, however, isn't the mystery but in the inimitable way the blundering girls vamp their way through the evening's wealth of pornographic puns and satirically skewered musical numbers. (Bill Raden). Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, chicosangels.com. (323) 969-2530.
CIRCLE DANCE Strained relations between husband and wife and rancor between father and son are the central motifs in Def Kirkland's tepid family melodrama. Sonny (Kirkland) is a former NFL football hero whose son Steve (Christopher Poehls) is now being sought out by recruiters. But Steve is undecided if he wants to be a professional athlete. His irresolution disturbs his mother, Mary (Laura Lee), who worries that Steve isn't weighing his choices carefully, and also that Sonny is neglecting his fatherly duty by not displaying enough interest. Humdrum at first, the drama escalates in the second half, when Steve discovers his father's adultery, and further revelations precipitate a crisis. As writer, Kirkland -- who drew the play's title from a Bonnie Raitt song about heartbreak -- aims, classically, at a portrait of a disintegrating family and a flawed individual who learns his lessons too late. The problem lies in the presentation of familiar conflicts without giving the characters dimension or adding fresh twists to the story. Exuding presence, Kirkland's demeanor nonetheless suggests someone who has wandered in from a crime drama, and he seems miscast in his own play. After Mary obsesses over pot roast throughout Act I, Lee acquits herself respectably as a betrayed wife. As daughter Emma, Courtney Schleinkofer handles her stereotypical role with charm and skill. One question: If this is present-day, as the program indicates, where are the cell phones and laptops? Jeff McLaughlin designed the attractive set and Rick Andosca directs. (Deborah Klugman). Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 960-7776.
DANCING WITH CRAZIES Written and performed by Amy Milano. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 4, plays411.com/dancingwithcrazies. (323) 960-7785.
DETAINED IN THE DESERT Writer Josefina Lopez penned this satiric piece as a furious critique of the new Arizona law that orders immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times, and requires police to question people if there's reason to suspect they're in the United States illegally. Lopez's well-targeted but uneven political comedy draws much of its humor from the spot-on performance of Carey Fox as Lou Becker, a self-righteous right-wing radio host who applauds the anti-immigrant legislation and uses his program to inflame his listeners in the name of lawful democracy. A hatemonger, he even nods his approval when a rabid cohort slits water bottles left by a samaritan to help save the lives of illegals crossing the U.S. desert. It's hard not to chortle when this smug hypocrite is kidnapped, dressed in pink underwear and terrorized by three angry young Latinos, then dumped into the arid wild to see if he can survive the brutal sun. Becker's unhappy experience serves as the sturdiest and most entertaining thread in the play, which also follows the misadventures of an American citizen, Sandi Sanchez (Yvonne Delarosa), who refuses to comply when asked for her ID and eventually ends up in the desert with Becker. Though Sandi's backstory is more detailed than Becker's, the character is less ably drawn; it's unclear what motivates this apolitical person to remain in detention, repeatedly refusing to furnish ID via help from her family. Still, the play contains many strong scenes, and is worth developing. Under Hector Rodriguez's direction, the performances are of varied strength. (Deborah Klugman). Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 263-7684.
DIVING NORMAL Ashlin Halfnight's 20-something love triangle. SFS Theatre, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, plays411.com/divingnormal. (323) 960- 5521.
DYING IS EASY, COMEDY IS HARD Nick Ullett's solo show. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 852-1445.
NEW REVIEW EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT Teenage
Charlotte (Alana Dietze) is intense, emotional and not attractive in a
conventional sense. Her problems multiply when her mother dies, and
she's left to deal with the dismissive contempt of her Dad (Christopher
Fields), who resents her for not being his now lost, beautiful wife. To
cope, the unglamorous teen immerses herself in the legend of Helen of
Troy, using that myth as a springboard for her fantasies of sexual
power and irresistible lovability. Written by Mark Schultz, the piece
sets anchor in the realm of absurdity, where Charlotte operates as a
clueless narcissist, as carelessly cruel toward others as they are
towards her. Schultz extracts questionable humor from her mucked-up
priorities -- her career goal is to be a porn star -- and from the
snarky abuse that several characters inflict on each other. Under John
Lawler's direction, Dietze's sullen adolescent displays a mulishness
that seems dull and depthless, but for a few exceptional moments. The
most vivid and moving occurs when, narrating Hermione's futile wait for
her mother Helen's return, the unhappy Charlotte breaks down. The
capable supporting ensemble includes Liz Fenning as her chirpy gal pal
and Bobby Campo as the oily dude who won't give her a second glance,
except for a blow job. Designers Frederica Nascimento's set and Jared
A. Sayeg's lighting contribute to the drama's discomfitingly cold and
surreal ambiance. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, L.A.; Fri-Sat. 8
p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14; (877) 369-9112. An Echo Theater
Company production (Deborah Klugman)
GOD'S FAVORITE The burly, crop-haired Steve Gustafson bears a fleeting resemblance to Jackie Gleason, which plays well in his portrayal of Joe Benjamin, a rags-to-riches cardboard-box magnate who remembers, as a child, a household with more than a dozen siblings. He recalls having to take a number in order to secure a sleeping space. This is a story he loves to tell his alcoholic son, David (Jeff Guilfoyle), in a hopeless attempt to instill in the foundering youth an appreciation for all that has been bestowed upon him. For all the young man's careening around the stage while inebriated and swilling the hard stuff nonstop, both Guilfoyle and Gustafson anchor the story with a grounded acting style, compared with the rest of the Benjamin clan, who swirl around the father-son nucleus like electrons. This may be suggested by the script: Ben and Sarah (Adam Dlugolecki and Rhonda Kohl) are twins with identical goofy costumes (by Vicki Conrad). Their Mutt-and-Jeff routine might have fit were Joe and David likewise comedically grotesque, but that would have devastated the already fragile underpinnings of Joe's crisis. Even if we're supposed to be a studio audience watching the taping of a sitcom, there's still a clash of styles, and the humor in Neil Simon's 1974 comedy still misfires. Joe's wife, Rose (the solid Rebecca Hayes), also bounces through the action as though on a trampoline: part spouse, part comedic foil. Things start to get interesting with the arrival of God's messenger, a schlub named Sidney Lipton (Greg Baldwin) -- employed part-time, and temporarily laid off during Almighty cutbacks. Lipton, almost blind, sports thick-rimmed glasses. This contributes to Baldwin's impressive comedy performance. "God's Favorite" is a jokey comedy, which creates a challenge for any director of sustaining an emotional connection via the one-liners, which are a deflective source of engagement. The story pulls you in, and the style of wit strategically keeps exploding that connection. After a while, you may find yourself laughing, but you're also checking out. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, actorsco-op.org. (323) 462-8460. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GROUNDLNGS WILDCARD SHOWS Which Groundlings show will you get on Thursday night? It's completely random:: Chest Voice, S#!t My Folks Don't Know, Mitch & Edi or Straight to Video. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 2. (323) 934-9700.
GO HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES Scholars have teased out new layers in Shakespeare's tragedy for 400 years. A new company, L'Enfant Terrible, compresses it into a 45-minute matinee for the kiddies -- a bold choice for a play with dead dads, rotten stepdads, treacherous wives, drowned girlfriends, accidental stabbings and a pile of corpses at the grand finale. Writer Angela Berliner has kept the traumas but translated them into kid-speak. Here, Hamlet (Brian Kimmet) hisses to Gertrude (Natasha Midgley), "Frailty, thy name is mommy," encourages the crowd to boo Claudius (Nathan Kornelis) and, when he damns Ophelia (Berliner) to a nunnery, adds the aside, "That's where bad girls go when they need a time-out." Justin Zsebe's high-octane direction and Ann Closs-Farley's bright costumes turn the play into a circus, and playful touches -- like having the murdered Polonius (Nicol Razon) curl up like a dead fly -- keep the death from being too death-y. With these clowns bopping around and spouting rapid-fire Shakespearese, the kids were transfixed at the performance I attended, even if they didn't know why. Hamlet's play-within-a-play -- staged with finger puppets -- tries to catch them up to speed, but when all else failed and a child in the second row called out, "Why?" Hamlet patiently paused, turned and explained, "I'm having a hard time." A L'Enfant Terrible production. (Amy Nicholson). Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat., noon.; thru Oct. 30. (213) 389-3856.
HEAD: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE World-premiere rock musical by Ivo Shandor. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (323) 960-5770.
Hedda Gabler Henrik Ibsen's classic. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 512-6030.
HEIRESS '69 It is one of the morbid ironies of the true-crime genre that our fascination is invariably reserved for the perpetrators rather than their victims. Whether it's the pirates of the Spanish Main or the mastermind of 9/11, it is the names of the murderers that linger in the historical imagination, while the identities of the murdered tend to dissolve into the mists of time. It is precisely this cultural injustice that writer-performer Venessa Verdugo attempts to redress in her one-woman portrait of the late coffee heiress Abigail Folger, who, at the tender age of 25, had the misfortune of sleeping over at the wrong house and on the worst possible evening. In terms of Folger's memory, however, perhaps her greater misfortune was not only to be stabbed to death by members of the Charles Manson family but also to be overshadowed in that fate by starlet Sharon Tate at the precise moment the media were poised to seize on such a lurid crime in order to discredit the burgeoning late-'60s counterculture. Unfortunately for Verdugo, the burden of such sensational history simply overwhelms the scant biographical facts of a young woman whose abbreviated life might be summed up as a poor little rich girl from a broken home, who had a fatal attraction both to bad boyfriends (fellow victim Wojciech Frykowski) and the celebrity sex-and-drugs demimonde then colonizing the Hollywood Hills. Director Elizabeth Romaine Rolnick only undermines Verdugo's efforts with uneven pacing and a dismally static, pathos-smothering staging. (Bill Raden). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, plays411.com/heiress69. (323) 960-7744.
GO HELLO You may not find logic in this quirky tale about love, marriage and the enigma of sexual attraction, but you'll recognize a lot of human truth. Riddled with irony and dark dry humor, writer-director-performer Stefan Marks' take on the Mars-Venus conundrum revolves around the coming together and splitting apart -- not necessarily in that order -- of two misfit individuals: Clark (Marks), a nerdy statistician for whom human bonding is basically a mystery; and Alice (Beth Patrik), an insecure and painfully candid writer of children's books who understands what love is about but can't make a successful connection any more easily than Clark can. The more conventionally charted of the duo, Alice searches for true love through Internet dating, while Clark, an uncontestably weird personality, makes random phone calls to households where he inquires about the age and sex of the residents. Eventually these star-crossed lovers meet in a dream, later in a real-life supermarket -- or do they? In fact, we're never actually sure how much of this strange courtship and marriage is mere imaginative conjuring. That's less important, however, than what the play says about the way we lie to ourselves. Directing oneself can be foolhardy, but that's not so in this case. Framed by a black backdrop, with white paper panels to emphasize their purposefully maladroit entrances and exits, Marks and Patrik execute a comedic and accomplished pas de deux. (Deborah Klugman). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (888) 210-0183.
GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures -- taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estell III). Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 655-7679.
Jungmadel, Hitler's Little Girls Laurel Long's story of the Hitler Youth's youngest girl division. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 595-4849.
NEW REVIEW GO K2
Photo by Sebastian Mark
asked in 1923 why he wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world,
English mountaineer George Mallory replied, "Because it's there." This
somewhat apocryphal quote, often called the three most famous words in
mountaineering, could have easily been the motivation for the two
climbers in Patrick Meyers' play. With the world's second-highest
mountain as its terrifyingly harsh backdrop, this intimate story
revolves around life-or-death decisions made on a ledge at 27,000 feet
where Taylor (Jake Suffian) and Harold (Sean Galuszka) are trapped
after an accident that cost them Harold's leg, as well as one of only
two climbing ropes they have. While Taylor desperately tries to recover
the lost rope, he and Harold converse on a range of topics, from the
mundane to the profane to the profound. The palpable sense of danger
throughout the piece is realized through a powerful combination of the
actors' performances, designer Laura Fine Hawkes' bare bones "mountain"
set, and Leigh Allen's icy blue lighting. Even the decision to keep the
theatre below room temperature adds to the ambience. Director Damen
Scranton successfully pushes his actors to the limit, eliciting from
Galuszka quiet moments of introspection that contrast Suffian's
volcanic outbursts of emotion -- both of which reveal the characters
gaining perspective while paradoxically losing their sanity. Ellie
Follett's authentic costumes complete the picture, with her choices of
snow gear effectively taking us back to 1977. So why should you see
this play? Because it's there. The Underground Theater, 1314 N. Wilton
Place, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14.
(800) 838-3006. K2LA.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
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.
NEW REVIEW KIDNAPPED BY CRAIGSLIST: THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT
Photo by Baron Norris
has been a mere three years since Katie Goan and Nitra Gutierrez's
original collection of Craigslist-inspired comedy sketches premiered in
New York, and only two since director Lori Evans Taylor's L.A.
production bowed for TheSpyAnts Theatre Company. In online-cultural
terms, however, those 36 months might as well be a lifetime. Because,
even in Taylor's recycled Halloween edition, which has been partially
rewritten by Goan with a decidedly Gothic spin, the show's weird and
wacky assortment of cranks, kinks and jaw-dropping confessions of
perversity pulled from the advertising network's actual postings, today
feels like rather tepid and everyday online fare. Perhaps that's
because during the interim the show has been upstaged by Craigslist
itself, which in 2007 expanded from classifieds to the crime blotter in
a series of user-perpetrated, headline-grabbing tragedies that have
themselves become commonplace. And though the director steers clear of
those real-life horrors, Taylor's transfer of her original staging's
carnival sideshow to the creep show (courtesy of Adam Haas Hunter's
effective lights and spider-web-festooned, haunted house set) turns out
be more than just seasonally fitting. Emcee Amy Motta is back as the
Crypt-Keeper, this time in eye-popping, mistress-of-the-dark fetish
drag (by costumer Marina Mouhibian). Returning as well are some of
2008's crowd pleasers, including Motta's hilarious "I Love You. Leave
My Butt Alone," a folksong complaint about her boyfriend's penchant for
anal sex, and "I Like You so Much I Farted," in which Jennifer Etienne
Eckert mourns a dream date gone bad due to a bout of uncontrolled
flatulence. Also returning is a crack ensemble in an unrelentingly
frenetic fusillade of 40 hit-and-miss comedy skits and musical numbers
whose batting average makes this 90-minute show feel a half-hour too
long. Elephant Lab Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; call
for schedule; thru Nov. 13. (323) 860-8786 or TheSpyAnts.com (Bill Raden)
GO LA RAZÓN BLINDADA (The Armored Reason) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play -- one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival -- not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah Klugman). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (213) 745-6516.
LOST MOON RADIO "Dry sketch comedy and wet rock 'n' roll.". Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.; Through Oct. 23, 8:30 p.m., lostmoonradio.com. (323) 931-4636.
LOVE AND OTHER ALLERGIES Five short plays by Michelle Kholos Brooks. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (323) 960-5772.
MACBEEZY: THE MACBETH HIP HOPERA Knightsbridge Theater's spin on Shakespeare, with original music, lyrics and dance numbers. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (323) 667-0955.
MAKING PARADISE: THE WEST HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL World premiere by Cornerstone Theater Company in collaboration with the City of West Hollywood. Book by Tom Jacobson, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, lyrics by Shishir Kurup. Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (213) 250-1685.
MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman. Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer first describes -- then graphically illustrates -- how she abandoned her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An unexpected pregnancy alters her life -- though not her smug irreverence leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's bitter, hollow message. (Deborah Klugman)., $20. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 666-4268.
GO MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG It's hard to believe that this Stephen Sondheim musical gem was laughed out of town when it premiered in New York in 1981. It's an engaging cautionary tale about the unexpected perils that often accompany professional success, and Richard Israel's revival is first-rate. The book, by George Furth, follows two decades in the lives of three friends, all of whom aspire to succeed in show business. The action starts in reverse order, beginning in 1976 and ending in 1957, and opens at a soiree for successful composer and movie producer Franklin Shepard (an excellent Christopher Maikish, standing in for Brent Schindele). It isn't long before things turns ugly, when writer Mary Flynn (Leslie Spencer) tells him off in a drunken rage. Later, in an emotionally powerful moment, he gets the same treatment on a radio show from his longtime collaborator and lyricist Charley (Matt Bauer), who sings a scintillating ditty called "Franklin Shepard, Inc." Furth's book (adapted from a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart) nimbly tracks their lives, friendships, successes and failures, and culminates in a final scene where the three are gathered on a rooftop, starry-eyed and optimistic, searching the sky for Sputnik, an apt symbol of their outsized ambitions. As with all of Sondheim's work, the music is the thing, and musical director Johanna Kent's live six-piece band is as stellar as that nighttime sky. The 14-member ensemble hit just about all the notes perfectly. Israel's staging isn't flashy, a discretion that makes his production all the more effective. (Lovell Estell III). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 462-8460.
NEIGHBORS Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' racially charged play. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, plays411.com/neighbors. (323) 852-1445.
NEW REVIEW ON EMOTION
Photo by Barbara Kallir
"All life is an experiment.
The more experiments you make the better." This quote from Ralph Waldo
Emerson is apropos for both the Son of Semele Ensemble and for its
latest offering from Mick Gordon and neuropsychologist Paul Broks.
Their collaboration centers on a question voiced early on by cognitive
behavioral therapist Stephen (Michael Nehring), who asks, "Are we just
puppets of our emotions?" The subject of the question and his
experiment is Anna (Melina Bielefelt), a disturbed artist who has been
befriended by Stephen's daughter Lucy (Sami Klein), who herself is
experimenting with older men. It is also no coincidence that Anna makes
puppets; her latest creation is an astronaut puppet for Stephen's
autistic son Mark (Alex Smith), who is obsessed with stars and Star
Trek. Mark, sadly, does not repay her in kind, as his inadvertent
experiments with his eidetic memory bring to light uncomfortable
truths. Director Matthew McCray utilizes Adam Flemming's clever video
design, Sarah Krainin's awesome "starry floor" and Ian Garret's
lighting to full effect in the transitions between scenes, which are
nicely choreographed. However the script's lack of stakes and character
empathy make McCray's job difficult within the scenes, which are filled
with tepid emotions that feel manufactured. But while the result of
this theatrical experiment is not wholly successful, the ensemble is to
be commended for embodying the words of Erasmus Darwin: "A fool is a
man who never tried an experiment in his life." Son of Semele Theater,
3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon., 7 p.m.
(Nov. 8 and 15); no performance Oct. 31; thru Nov. 15. (213) 351-3507. sonofsemele.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Written and performed by Beth Lapides. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 10, bethlapides.com. (323) 651-2583.
PIPPIN DOMA Theatre Company presents the Stephen Schwartz musical. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (323) 960- 5773.
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 QUARRY John Markland's quiet and largely uneventful play captures
the awkward silences and elliptical exchanges between disaffected youth
in Midwestern America. As two taciturn teenagers chug beers and
converse by a waterlogged, disused quarry, the image of a small-town,
dead-end existence is lightly sketched. Pete (played with deep
intensity by Zachary Shields) is a tough loner, prone to goading and
bullying his friend Gary (Max Barsness). With numerous cartoony
homemade tattoos decorating his arms, fingers and torso, plus his
incessant chain smoking and fascination for guns, Pete is a closed book
you don't want to open. Gary's heading for college and urges his mate
to visit his girlfriend Jessie's hip preacher father, RD (Nicholas
Guest). Pete does, and gains some guidance from the kindly father
figure. In the process, he becomes entangled in Jessie's (Addison
Timlin) dark secret. Markland's direction of his own work lacks the
necessary distance and perspective to open up the material for greater
impact. Important plot points have to be inferred from the sparse
script and it certainly doesn't help that all of the actors, save
Timlin, mumble their lines. Straining to hear them in this small, deep
space is almost like eavesdropping on a conversation next door. The
penultimate scene may or may not contain a creepy undertone that
propels the tragic finale -- it's hard to tell. Markland squanders the
opportunity to have both that scene and the preacher's final sermon
impart the drama they deserve. Moth Theatre. 4359 Melrose Avenue, L.A.;
Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perfs Halloween weekend; added mat Sun., Nov. 14,
2 p.m.); thru Nov. 14. brownpapertickets.com/event/126184 (Pauline Adamek)
SKELETON STORIES Delondra Williams' spooky play draws from the rich mythology that surrounds Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Maya, a young girl on the brink of puberty (played to bratty perfection by Nina Harada), descends into the underworld searching for her deceased mother, Corazon (Lorianne Hill). Guided by various spirits, such as a sinister yellow dog with a skeletal head (Rick Steadman), the sassy and intrepid Maya encounters an assortment of gods and spirits, as well as the insatiable dead, who relate their stories. Masks, puppets, tricksy props, video effects, plus Mark McClain Wilson's particularly chilling and atmospheric sound design, fill in the gaps left by Williams' occasionally incoherent plot. Is Maya praying to Santa Muerte to liberate her mom, or are her incantations inciting more excruciating torment at the hands of a cheerfully malevolent devil named Jeffy (Keith Allan)? When mother and daughter unite, their simple and beautiful pas de deux, choreographed by Nancy Dobbs Owen, suffuses the reunion with tenderness. Flashes of humor in the dialogue blend well with the play's more ominous and violent sequences. Maya's journey is perilous, but the stories she hears prepare her for the transformation she is facing. (Pauline Adamek). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (323) 856-8611.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE An entirely satisfying adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's 1969, postmodernist, antiwar novel may simply be a dramatic impossibility. George Roy Hill's 1972 film version comes close in its rendering of the book's dark, ironic fatalism and some of its chaotic narrative sweep. Where both Hill and this 1996 stage adaptation by Steppenwolf writer Eric Simonson fall short, however, is in capturing the elusive, playful poignancy of a story that is less about war than it is about memory and reconciling the trauma of the lived experience. In the case of both Vonnegut the author/narrator (Raymond Donahey) and his fictional, time-tripping everyman, Billy Pilgrim -- a role split between Don Schlossman, A.J. Diamond and Owen Sholar as, respectively, Old Billy, Young Billy and Boy Billy -- the experience in question is their survival of the militarily pointless Allied firebombing of Dresden at the end of WWII. How each struggles to give meaning to an atrocity that beggars human imagination -- Vonnegut by writing his novel; Billy by retreating into solipsistic, sci-fi fantasy -- drives the action of both novel and play. Director Tiger Reel (who is also credited with the show's minimalist set and evocative sound design) composes some lovely stage images, but when it comes to leading his uneven ensemble (including the novelist's daughter, Lily Vonnegut) through Simonson's purposefully disjunctive, albeit unwieldy, smash-cut scenes, the director seems little more than a traffic cop. Clever illumination by designer Matt Richter unfortunately also sheds unwelcome light on costumer Becca Fuchs' period malapropisms. An Action! Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, action-theatre.com. (213) 393-5638.
GO TAKE ME OUT Baseball star Darren Leming (Ary Katz), the central figure in Richard Greenberg's provocative 2002 comedy-drama, is a paragon of talend, skill and virtue. Half black and half white, he has become baseball's golden boy, admired and adored by teammates and fans until he impulsively decides to come out as gay, and the press runs with the story. He thinks that because he's young and rich and famous and talented and handsome, he's immune to negative consequences. But like a rock dropped into a pond, his revelation produces ever- widening ripples that undermine his world. Bigotry and religious fanaticism rear their heads, as irate fans accuse him of desecrating the sacred sport. As for his teammates, it's a loss of innocence: They're forced to confront the homoeroticism that underlies their comfortable locker-room intimacy. Most deeply affected is newly recruited relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Garrett Matheson), a naive, dim, barely literate orphan from the deep South, where racism and homophobia were bred in his bones. He's ultimately both victim and aggressor, driven by feelings he doesn't understand, to an act of ambiguous but lethal violence. Greenberg probes issues of sexual identity, moral ambiguity, personal responsibility and baseball, in pungent, idiosyncratic dialogue laced with subversive wit. Director Michael Matthews has assembled an almost perfect cast on Kurt Boetcher's intimate in-the-round set, and he explores the play's complexities with finely focused exuberance. Katz skillfully charts Leming's transformation from Apollonian serenity to a man forced to acknowledge his failings and vulnerability. Tom Costello brings comic chops and rich conviction to the shortstop Kippy, the play's narrator, who's shattered when his sentimental do-good-ism produces disastrous results. And there's a deliciously deft comedy performance by Thomas James O'Leary as Leming's fey, gay financial manager, who regards his boss as a hero and finds a wondrous epiphany in the world of baseball. His aria comparing baseball to democracy is as penetrating as it is funny. They receive solid backup from the sterling cast. Tim Swiss' lighting design and Veronica J. Lancaster's sound are integral to the action. This is Celebration Theatre's most ambitious and impressive production in years. (Neal Weaver). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (323) 957-1884.
TERRE HAUTE It is one of the odder ancillary anecdotes of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that, shortly before his execution, Timothy McVeigh -- murderer and mastermind of the attack which killed 168 people -- struck up a peculiar, intimate correspondence with renowned author and social gadfly, Gore Vidal. The two men never met in person, but the idea of what might have happened if they had provides the intriguing premise of playwright Edmund White's 2001 drama, in which McVeigh's fictional surrogate summons Vidal's to a prison death row for a final series of interviews. This is the play that caused Vidal to famously quip about White, "He's a filthy low writer." Yet, White's drama is so inconsequential in presentation, mired in stodgy dramatics and plodding, superficially didactic dialogue, it's hard to understand why Vidal would be so riled. White's Vidal surrogate, named "James" (Mike Farrell), arrives at the prison to interview McVeigh surrogate "Harrison" (James Parrack). James has written articles to about Harrison and even defended his actions on TV interviews; Harrison is suitably grateful and wants James to write his life story and bear witness to his imminent execution. White's play hints at the idea that James's attraction to Harrison's fierce ideals is due, in part, to the fact that Harrison strongly resembles James's long dead boyhood lover. Yet, director Kirsten Sanderson's stiff, haltingly and glumly humorless production all but misses the inherent irony and bizarre spectacle of mutual incomprehension between a flamboyant, elderly queen and an uber-serious, philosophically deluded mass murderer. As the Vidal character, Farrell captures the famous author's well known mischievous sparkle and adroit articulacy, but Parrack's Harrison is a one dimensional and unexplored stick figure in an orange jumpsuit. The play's main weakness lies in the pair's relationship being trivialized as the creepy lambada between a sophisticated elder and his rough trade flirtation. (Paul Birchall). The Blank's Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, theblank.com. (323) 661-9827.
NEW REVIEW GO THE TRAIN DRIVER
Photo by Ed Krieger
South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have
with the havoc wrought in his country by Apartheid, but his more recent
works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to
encompass the guilt and grief which were the legacy of his homeland's
decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful
new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us,
unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area
of the city, train driver Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over
a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto
the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing Roelf could have done
to save them, but he nevertheless is consumed with guilt over his role
in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are
buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate
his guilt. Elderly, impoverished gravedigger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is
sympathetic, but is also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white
driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster.
Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in
many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned,
barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully
palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature
is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven
production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's
desolate, gravel-covered shanty set, to the dense, evocative acting
work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow -- anger over being forced to
kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death
- is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the
gravedigger that captures attention every moment he's on stage. Fugard
has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an
overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless -- but the play
cunningly concludes with a tragic coda that suggests, to the
underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals.
Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 663-1525. (Paul Birchall)
TWO SMALL BODIES Neal Bell's murder mystery. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23. (323) 960-5774.
brownpapertickets.com/event/124240. (800) 838-3006.
WHAT HAPPENED IN MAYVILLE? Small-town drama by Joy Howard, story by Adam Chambers. LoLa Downtown, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, loftensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.
THE WIGGLE ROOM is the room in a downtown L.A. hotel, much like the Alexandria Hotel, which houses the black-box theater where Oliver Mayer's new play unfolds. In that room is stored the memorabilia of a family that may be two families intertwined, and this question forms the emotional crux for three beautiful sisters (Giselle Forte, Lynn Freedman, Ruth Livier). They may or may not have inheritance rights to the decrepit former hotel/current apartment building where they're now squatting. This becomes an issue for the current owner, Luke (John Kaisner), and his older brother, Phil (Andres Hamrick), who looks and acts like the local Mafioso. Phil even arrives with an almost silent, rotund bodyguard (Daniel Muñoz) in tow. The brothers have their own rivalry going, swirling around the pending decision on whether it's wiser to remodel the hotel they inherited from their father, or to demolish it and and turn it into something more profitable, such as a parking lot. This raises any number of questions, not only about the purpose and quality of life, but the purpose and quality of memory, and how those purposes and qualities intersect. What's supposed to be the dramatic hook is that these transactions unfold in September 2008, when the Dow Jones indicator dropped 700 points. Mayer's play is a bit in the style of Lanford Wilson -- a huge ensemble of eccentrics styled in kitchen realism intermingled with poetical ruminations. And there is a certain beauty to that. It does, however, wear thin. The "crash" is depicted with a couple of characters watching the numbers plummet on TV, which is not particularly dramatic or theatrical. The stock market woes lead to some discussion but ultimately seem to have scant effect on the decisions being made in the play. It's a sweet blowback on the hotel owners' theory that life and lives are for speculating on, but the play's structure is less about the consequences of those decisions than about the eventual disclosure of interlocking family ties that bind. And those two plays are still competing for attention, under Don Boughton's laissez-faire direction of a large ensemble that's partly double-cast. (Steven Leigh Morris). Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 883-1717.
YARD SALE SIGNS What price beauty? In Jennie Webb's comedy, the cost is 90 minutes of female bonding in a dressing room that -- metaphor alert -- has no walls. As any Cathy comic can tell you, women forge a complicated relationship with their clothes: inspiration, ambition, comfort, judgment, insult. From their hangers, they hiss, "Where are you going to wear me?" "What are you going to do about those thighs?" The closest parallel to the female/fabric struggle these five women and token gay male have is with their mothers, none of whom are present except in continual conversation. Webb's allegories name the ladies "The Focused Woman," "The Scattered Woman," "The Selfless Woman" and "The Woman With Children," the latter of which slowly and physically collapses over the course of the play as though her three kids have torn her limb from limb. Elina de Santos' chirpy direction has fun with the play's sight gags, particularly a giant purse that chucks up a cooler, a clothing rack, four dozen yard sale signs and a U-Haul's worth of boxes. The broad humor and big rants can't earn the closing round of hugs. Instead, our attention is occupied by designer Eva Franco's heaps of colorful original clothing (all for sale after the show) than the characters pawing through it as they pick apart their psyches. Presented by Rogue Machine. (Amy Nicholson). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 960-4424.
GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies, once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer: change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its "disease-of-the-week" dimension surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellow is a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores' precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19...
THE YOGAMERICAN DREAM Written by and starring Casey Gates. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 962-0046.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ANNA IN THE TROPICS Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic drama by Nilo Cruz. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (626) 256-3809.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK The Group Rep presents Neil Simon's romantic comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.
BILLIE: BACKSTAGE WITH LADY DAY Life and times of jazz singer Billie Holiday (Synthia L. Hardy). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 960-4418.
BOBBY AND MATT Kevin Cochran's story of two unlikely friends, one a brigadier general, the other a renowned gay writer. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 528-6622.
GO THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO Marisa Wegrzyn's kitchen-sink comedy kicks off the Road Theatre Company's 20th season. Filled with colorful, mostly female characters, Wegrzyn's wacky slice-of-life snapshot is set in the small town of Baraboo in snowy, freezing Wisconsin. The loose plot concerns in-laws who feel no constraints expressing their sentiments. Beneath the prickly conversation lies a festering mystery: What really happened to Val's husband, Frank? He was pronounced dead, although no corpse was found. Frank's brother, Donal (Carl J. Johnson), and cop sister, Gail (the hilarious Rebecca Jordan), harbor suspicions that their sister-in-law, Val (Janet Chamberlain), did away with Frank, seeing as she's pretty handy with a meat cleaver. Val's grown daughter, Midge (Nina Sallinen), seems to be dabbling in nefarious activities, supplying local teen meth chemists with prescription meds. But it's Midge's interference with her uncle Donal's family life that causes her strife. Director Mark St. Amant beautifully stages his cast with a sure but subtle hand, eliciting superb performances and spot-on comic timing. Jeff McLaughlin's homely set is impressively realistic -- right down to a working sink -- and neatly fills the small space. (Pauline Adamek). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (866) 811-4111.
CHURCHILL Edmund L. Shaff, who plays the doughty British prime minister in Andrew Edlin's solo drama, has an appropriately jowly face, and when he turns mischievous, the resemblance to Churchill is almost uncanny. Edlin's play is set in London, on April 4, 1955, when the old lion was trying to make up his mind whether to finally retire. Edlin's literate, informative script sketches Churchill's long, colorful career and incorporates his glorious wartime speeches, as well as his salty wit and wisdom. Churchill tells of his fear that his successor might lack the strength to stand up to the Soviets, his admiration and respect for FDR, General Patton and Harry S. Truman, his abiding love for his parents and his shocking, unexpected electoral defeat in 1945. Director James Horan gives Edlin's script an interesting production, if only he'd edited it a bit: With intermission, it runs two hours and 45 minutes, already long for a one-person show; it taxed Shaff's voice, causing problems for the otherwise skillful and splendidly persuasive actor. (Neal Weaver). Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (800) 595-4849.
A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD Susan Claassen is the Hollywood costume designer. Written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 508-0281.
FUTURA Nobody writes letters anymore. E-mails, text messages, tweets, bbms, status updates -- sure. But not letters. We have lost the art of the letter. And in Jordan Harrison's world premiere play, named for a sans-serif typeface, Harrison means that literally. In it, Professor Lorraine Wexler (Bonita Friedericy) lectures on the history of typography -- until she is abducted mid-sentence. We discover that her talk, an attempt to avenge her missing husband Edward (Bob McCracken), is more dangerous than it initially seems because "the company" has eliminated the printed word. At this point, the play fulfills its 1984-esque scenario in which Wexler, along with her kidnappers Grace (Zarah Mahler) and Gash (Edward Tournier), must operate outside of the law. Despite its length and lack of action, the opening scene engages because of its fascinating historical content, Hana Sooyeon Kim's dynamic projections, and Friedericy's wry wit and professorial demeanor. However, as in Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, the transition into the remainder of the piece is disjointed. While Wexler retains her aplomb despite being abused by her kidnappers, the message of the piece becomes heavy-handed and the tone a bit perplexing. Still, director Jessica Kubzansky skillfully balances the elements of verbiage and violence in the text, underscoring the charming relationship between Friedericy and Tournier, both of whom deliver solid performances. Kubzansky's transitions (reminiscent of those she used in Mauritius) also showcase Myung Hee Cho's towering, elegant set. But, while Wexler claims "typography is the science of subtlety," the play could have used more of it. (Mayank Keshaviah). Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (626) 683-6883.
IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.
THE MAIDEN'S PRAYER At 6, Paul (Adam Howard) was fascinated by his neighbor Taylor (James Elden) and his bright blond hair. Paul didn't yet know the word for gay. (He's now an expert.) His draw was even simpler: Taylor's a human magnet. Which explains how two decades later, Paul's stuck on the porch at Taylor's wedding while the bride, Cynthia (Stephanie Marquis), and her sister, Libby (Sarah Kelly), fight over who loved him first. Cynthia's an iron-willed princess. Libby's a mess, the type who cavalierly apologizes for her self-absorption, and director Dan Fishbach encourages Kelly to deliver her to scream her lines. Nicky Silver's dramedy thrusts them together to explore the power struggles that come from neediness, and his script is a tricky mishmash of a sitcom that evolves into soap opera. Fishbach takes both at face value, and the result is schizophrenic: a melodrama that's constantly being punctured by forced jokes and a pointless fifth-wheel character (Isaac Laskin as a series of Paul's conquests) -- all delivered by characters we're primed to think of as cartoons. As Taylor, the center spoke, Elden needs to find and flaunt the magnetism that puts the play in motion. Only Marquis as the sugary, steely Cynthia navigates the balancing act: Like the play itself, she's chirpy, charming and full of unexplored depths. (Amy Nicholson). Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, themaidensprayer.com. (818) 506-3903.
MISS JULIE August Strindberg's classic drama. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, plays411.com/missjulie. (323) 960-7721.
OBAMANOLOGUES R.M. Peete's bipartisan monologues on President Barack Obama. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 2 & 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, obamanologues.com. (323) 207-6384.
GO OF GRAPES AND NUTS Humor á la Joad comes to Burbank in this revival of a parodic hybrid between two of John Steinbeck's best-known novels, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Written by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth, the plotline is loosely that of The Grapes of Wrath, following Tom Joad (Ian Vogt) and the Joad family on their trek from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. The primary additions from Of Mice and Men are the characters of Lenny (David Reynolds), Candy (David Ghilardi) and Curly (Kimberly Van Luin). Director Paul Stroili, part of the original 1990 Chicago cast, lets his actors go full bore into an over-the-top campiness that winks heavily at the gritty realism of the source material. The self-made frontier ethos is particularly lampooned in a production that gets mileage from both the sly anachronistic jokes in the script and the gusto with which the cast tackles them. Casey Kramer, as Ma Joad, has some particularly hilarious rants, as does Lauren McCormack, who plays the womanizing preacher Jim Casy. Reynolds portrays dim-witted Lenny with such earnestness that we can't help but like him, and Ghilardi (who plays four roles) and Jen Ray (playing both a bulldozer driver and a waitress) showcase their versatility. Even David George's wooden grape crate of a set is comical, providing an appropriate backdrop to a show that puts the "funny" in the "bone" dry Dust Bowl. (Mayank Keshaviah). Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 841-5421.
THE PERCEPTION PLAYS: HEALTH & SAFETY, DEDICATION PAGE Chad Baker's story of a late novelist's unfinished manuscript. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Thurs.-Fri..; thru Oct. 29, theperceptionplays.com. (740) 954-0167.
SNOWBOUND The Red Brick Road Theatre Company presents James C. Ferguson's cabin comedy. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, theatermania.com. (818) 392-7526.
NEW REVIEW SORT OF A LOVE STORY
Photo courtesy of El Portal Theatre
Bologna and Richard Krevolin have written sort of a play, sort of
directed by Bologna. It's not unusual for married stars to join forces,
as Bologna and his wife Renée Taylor do here, acting together on the
stage, but it's odd to find the wife playing her husband's mother. On a
nearly bare stage, the two treat us to the fiction that, a) this is the
first performance of a workshop production, and b) Ms. Taylor is not an
actress. Taylor plays a fantasist obsessed with Ginger Rogers (she
calls herself Gin) who was seduced and impregnated at age 15, and
reluctantly gave the baby (predictably named Fred) up for adoption,
before launching a career as a paid escort. Meanwhile, Fred (Bologna)
is an incorrigible kid whose great ambition is to be sent up the river
to Sing Sing. A failed heist wins him his dream. But he's obsessed with
finding the mother who abandoned him, and of course he does. After many
supposedly comic misadventures, they fall into hard luck. He becomes a
drug addict, and she a hopeless drunk. This is played out in a series
of sitcom one-liners, till the ludicrous, inspirational ending. What
were they thinking? El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North
Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., matinee Oct. 20, 2 p.m.,
thru Oct. 24. (866) 811-4111 or elportaltheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
GO STATE OF THE UNION When politics-as-usual gets you down, humor and fantasy can help, which may explain the Pulitzer Prize for this 1945 romantic comedy about an honest man who considers running for president, then realizes the compromises he'll have to make to win. Writers Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse's play debuted after WWII, when the United States was flexing newly acquired muscles on the world stage and organized labor was still a force to be reckoned with. When it begins, the Republican powers-that-be are searching for an outsider (some things don't change) to challenge Truman in 1948. A savvy political operative named Conover (James Gleason) is testing the waters with a business executive, Grant Matthews (Don Fischer) and his popular public persona. Anxious to brush Matthews' affair with a glamorous female publisher (Tracy Powell) under the rug, Conover calls on Matthews' estranged wife Mary (D.J. Harner) to join the campaign. Mary's initial reluctance metamorphoses into enthusiasm after messages from the common folk come flooding in, and she becomes the voiceof democratic idealism railing against Conover's special interests. Though the piece supposedly revolves around Matthews and his choices, in this production it is Harner's charismatic housewife who garners the spotlight, transforming this stolid message-vehicle into lively human drama. Fischer, a bit stiff, appears every inch a captain of industry but is less convincing as a man of integrity. Elizabeth Herron scores as Lulubelle, the discerning wife of a corrupt judge. Designer Joel Daavid's handsome set frames the action, and Meagan Evers' costumes (the men's ties are a treat!) enliven it. Anita Khanzadian directs. Presented by Interact Theatre Company. (Deborah Klugman). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, interactla.org. (877) 369-9112.
TALES TO DIE FOR The Visceral Company's creepy, crawly stories of the macabre. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, thevisceralcompany.com...
TWELFTH NIGHT Musical version of Shakespeare's comedy by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (818) 202-4120.
URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 202-4120.
VIA DOLOROSA Written by David Hare. Performed by David Bryan Jackson. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7,
WICKED LIT Halloween Theatre Festival World premieres of Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, adapted by Paul Millet; H. P. Lovecraft's The Unnamable, adapted by Jeff G. Rack; Charles Dickens' The Chimes, adapted by Jonathan Josephson. Mountain View Mausoleum, 2300 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, wickedlit.org. (818) 242-7910.
THE WIZARD OF OZ Presented by June Chandler's Fairy Tale Theatre. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat..; thru Nov. 13. (626) 256-3809.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO BECKY'S NEW CAR "When a woman says she wants a new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a new car, she really wants a new life." In Steven Dietz's smart if tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life comes prancing into Becky's dealership, when slightly spacey billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife, is inexplicably attracted to the earthy"real world" Becky, whose own moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth. Dietz's play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael Rothhaar's whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The play's genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such, the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball comedies -- a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels' bubbly Becky repeatedly invites opinions from audience members -- some of whom are roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change moment -- balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself swept away by Greenquist's charismatic Walter. Although the contrivances of the play's final third are too preposterous to sustain even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty, sympathetic performances -- including Rogers as Becky's goofy son and by Suzanne Ford's graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walter's affections. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 822-8392.
BREAK THE WHIP The epic sprawl of Tim Robbins' staging of his new play, Break the Whip, may be justified by the scale of its ambitions. He is, after all, dramatizing creation myths -- three, to be precise: that of the Powhatan tribes that once flourished along the eastern seaboard of what's now the United States; a Christian creation myth as held by English settlers of the Jamestown colony in the early 17th century; and a creation myth from Angola, as embraced by the first slaves brought to the Jamestown colony. Each of these myths is depicted in a shadow-puppet playlet designed by Johnny Burton, and interspersed throughout the main drama that unfolds in the years between 1609 and 1621, in Jamestown where the three cultures converge. The drama entails a series of fragile political negotiations and liaisons among the cultures for food, security and some crude vestiges of civilization. Each actor dons a commedia mask so that, even when the English settlers are cannibalizing their own spouses, or burying them in pieces wrapped in cloth, the stylistic treatment contains echoes of an Italian clown show. In one scene, a squatty English buffoon (Stephen M. Porter) rages by "beating" his indentured servant (Chris Schultz) with fey humor -- merely swaying his torso so that his limp arm barely scrapes the victim, ostensibly because he hasn't the energy to employ more severity than that. In another scene, an African slave woman (Giselle Jones) gets whipped for having an affair with that same servant. Nothing fey there. We see the lashes as red cloth taped to her back. Upon seeing this, other characters -- her fellow slaves and members of the local tribe -- recoil in horror. Stylistically, these are mixed messages. Are we supposed to be emotionally estranged -- for the comedy -- or engaged by the horror? One scene is in the style of a Monty Python sketch; the other, lifted from the TV epic Roots, but in harlequin attire. Add to this Robbins' very political decision to give voice to each culture in its native tongue, with English-language supertitles of the Algonquian and Kimbundu languages simultaneously projected onto a screen above the stage. That choice does inspire respect for the fastidious research it must have entailed, the cost being yet one more layer of emotional distraction: huge swaths of text delivered to English speakers on a suspended screen, as though this were an opera with music overtaking the primacy of language. It isn't; the music here is accompaniment rather than an engine. Roping us back in is the story's sentimental heart, a story of elopement whereby the beaten African slave and her forbidden English lover join a band of rebels to find refuge with the deeply skeptical natives, who are in the midst of their own internal strife. The performance by Scott Harris as a slightly bewildered, very thoughtful and ultimately compassionate tribal leader grows increasingly endearing. Perhaps the sentimentality is needed to counter the mix of styles and the diversions, but the result is an inverted rendition of the traditional storybook histories of the Americas that get taught in schools, against which Robbins is reacting. (Steven Leigh Morris). Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 838-4264.
THE GOOD PRISONER Past and present of a female prison guard in an alternate America, by Kit Steinkellner. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 10, 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
HISTORY OF THE DEVIL The devil's parole hearing, by Clive Barker. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (866) 811-4111.
HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK Written by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, edgemarcenter.org. (310) 392-7327.
LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS The 1969 Neil Simon comedy. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, wcjt.org. (323) 821-2449.
GO LOVELAND What a rare experience it is, when a character that's as maniacal, sexually overheated and as transparently off the rails as a sketch comedy goofball from SNL or a Groundlings show can be the centerpiece of a such a deeply moving play. Lying beneath its clowning hijinx, Ann Randolph's solo performance concerns the fleeting essences of memory and home, of a character grappling with sanity, with mortality, and with the erosion of life leading to beauty. All you have to do is imagine the landscape below the aircraft on which the despondent Franny Potz (Randolph) is returning "home" to Ohio from California, and you can imagine the wrinkles in the desert, like those carved by the snaking Colorado River, like the wrinkles on the face of almost anybody who has endured a life worth living. Franny comes up with these images -- hard to imagine from somebody who can't look at you without her tongue involuntarily swirling around her lower lip and her eyes boggling out, and who prides herself on singing from Handel's "The Messiah" dead off-key. There's a "businessman" sitting next to her, he's a bit of an asshole but you can understand his skepticism with this loon by his side. The major accomplishment in Randolph's 90-minute show is to slowly transfer our empathy from him to her. And this is done through re-enactments of Franny's friendship with her crusty mother, perhaps the only friend she has, and of how with limited financial resources, Franny ushered the older woman into a care facility on the heels of a stroke. The piece careens from the ribald humor of Franny's sexual fantasy with the aircraft's pilot to the heartbreak of Franny seeing her mother in the "home," and the older woman failing to recognize her own daughter -- until memory snaps back with the re-functioning of some decayed synapse. The piece combines child-like, even infantile, humor with profundities about time's inexorable march over all of us. This unorthodox blend results in a performance that's silly and tender in the same breath. Its wisdom and beauty are almost indescribable. (Steven Leigh Morris). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.
NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH Ayn Rand's courtroom drama, whose ending is determined by an audience jury. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (310) 477-2055.
GO PARADISE PARK A profoundly despondent fellow (Kenneth Rudnicki) wanders into an amusement park for distraction from his agony. Inside, he slips into a fantasia of scenes -- including his own romance with a young woman (Reha Zemani) from the Midwest, igniting a bundle of neuroses that keeps them estranged; a ventriloquist/philosopher (Ann Stocking) and his bifurcated dummy (David E. Frank); a tourist couple (Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance) at the end of the tether that's barely holding their marriage together; their irate young daughter (KC Wright) who yearns, in vain, for an effete Cuban (Tim Orona); a psychotic pizza-delivery boy (Jeff Attik); a wandering violinist (Lena Kouyoumdjian); a circus clown (Troy Dunn) and, in a directorial flourish, a guy in a chicken costume. Charles Mee's comedy is like a sonnet with a couple of repeated motifs: distraction, love and the general feeling of being cast adrift in cultural waters that are partly enchanting, partly evaporating, and partly polluted by the refuse of our ancestors, of our families, of our determination to follow impulses we barely comprehend, and to wind up unutterably lost. He's one of this company's favorite scribes, and mine, for the way in which, with the literary touch of a feather, he conjures primal truths of what keeps us at odds with ourselves and with each other, keeps us yearning for the unattainable. And though there's obviously psychology at work, the driving energies of the language and of the drama are subconscious, cultural and historical currents. Production designer Charles Duncombe anchors his platform set with a wading pool stage center, in which sits an alligator, and he decorates it above with strings of festival lights on a string. Josephine Poinsot's costumes are thoroughly whimsical with primary colors and a feel for an America of the late 1950s -- with the possible of exception of the married couple's matching shorts and T-shirts that read, "Kiss my ass, I'm on vacation." Director Frederique Michel stages the poetical riffs of text in her typically arch style, and it serves the play almost perfectly, except for the pizza-delivery scene, where the choreography distracts from the psychosis that lies at the core. Even so, I found the evening to be indescribably affecting, tapping emotions that lurk beneath the machinery of reason. This is the last production to be staged at this back-alley venue in Santa Monica, where the company has been putting on plays for 15 years. The ventriloquist's lines couldn't have been more ironic and true: "Then, because the theater is the art form that deals above all others in human relationships, then theater is the art, par excellence, in which we discover what it is to be human and what is possible for humans to be ... that theater, properly conceived, is not an escape either but a flight to reality, a rehearsal for life itself, a rehearsal of these human relationships of which the most essential, the relationship that defines most vividly who we are and that makes our lives possible, is love." (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (310) 319-9939.
SEVEN AT W. 70TH Vignettes on the seven deadly by Elaine Osio. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 28. (310) 512-6030.
SEXORCISM: EYELASHES OF THE DAMNED The Discount Cruise to Hell's "glitter glam sex-blast voyage to the other side.". Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Oct. 22, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
THE STORIES OF CESAR CHAVEZ Written and performed by Fred Blanco. Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (562) 433-3363.
TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD Christopher Hampton's portrait of German literary icons exiled to Los Angeles during World War II. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 10. (310) 477-2055.
LE TICK TOCK Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (310) 392-7327.
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