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Stage Raw: Love Water

Stage Raw: Love Water

The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS; Also, see this week's  THEATER FEATURE on the principal creators of the Wooster Group's La Didone


NEW REVIEW
LOVE WATER

Stage Raw: Love Water

photo by Dan Bonnell

In a drainage pipe near a park and a ditch that might be a space-alien breeding ground, unloved Antonio (Joseph Vega) and over-loved Lulu (Alina Phelan) hide out from their normal lives. He's a teenager escaping his family, which includes a manic mother (Misi Lopez Lecube) who may be lacing his food with poison and a dad (Chuma Gault) and sister (Jessica Martinez) who don't care either way. She's fleeing a husband (Jon Beauregard) so devoted to her he leaves pies in the park for her. "There's a lot of love in that pie," Lulu tells Antonio, which means something to playwright Jacqueline Wright, whose allegories here are made of flotsam -- her pieces are stitched together with wild images that stir the imagination but don't quite absorb your emotions. Wright is a clear talent who delights in the theater medium. Overhead Lulu and Antonio's hideout, a broken man bandaged from head to foot describes the joy of bashing out brains in a skiing accident and suggests - but doesn't quite advocate - that we jump off a building. Meanwhile, a lonely lecher finds and hatches a gigantic egg, out of which climbs a pale, naked English-speaking creature who demands freedom and caramels. Sibyl Wickersheimer's austere set invites movement and director Dan Bonnell has his cast run -- rarely walk -- from end to end. But with Bonnell allowing half the cast to use Wright's dreamlike imagery and language as an excuse to heighten their speech, while the other half recognizes the need to ground the characters with natural performances, the production feels too bi-polar for us to commit to caring about why dad eats paper, why mom wears Antonio's clothes and why Lulu pushes away intimacy. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 11. (323) 882-6912. A co-production of Open Fist Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre - The L.A. Project (Amy Nicholson)

For the coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, containing the LATEST NEW REVIEWS press the Continue Reading tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for June 12-18, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances"

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

computer's search program.)

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

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

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

These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

OPENING THIS WEEK

ALL ABOUT JACK: THE IMPERSONATORS OF JACK NICHOLSON Patrick O'Sullivan's follow-up to All About Walken,

with nine actors doing their best Nicholson. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset

Blvd., L.A.; opens June 18; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru July 23,

www.plays411.com. (888) 227-2285.

BACH AT LEIPZIG 18th-century musicians compete for the job of

Leipzig organ master, by Itamar Moses. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S.

Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens June 13; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 14,

7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (310) 477-2055.

BECOMING A MAN IN 127 EASY STEPS Scott Turner Schofield's

transgender journey. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa

Monica; June 12-13, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

CRACK WHORE BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Marnie Olson's 1980s

coming-of-age story. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.;

opens June 13; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 14, 7 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 7, 8

p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 535-6007.

FACING EAST Mormon husband and wife deal with their homosexual son's

suicide, by Carol Lynn Pearson. International City Theatre, 300 E.

Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens June 12; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru July 5. (562) 436-4610.

HE ASKED FOR IT Erik Patterson's study of HIV-positive gay men in

"Internet chat rooms, Hollywood back rooms and nightclub bathrooms.".

Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; opens June 12;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 19. (323) 960-7829.

HEDDA GABLER Ark Theatre Company presents Ibsen's classic drama,

newly adapted by Paul Wagar. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.,

L.A.; opens June 12; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 11,

www.arktheatre.org. (323) 969-1707.

THE STUTTERING PREACHER/DAD Levy Lee Simon's one-acts: a comedy

about a Baptist pastor and a dramedy about a father and son. The

Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens June 12; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 26. (818) 731-7885.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE

THE BRAND NEW KID Musical adaptation of Katie Couric's children's

book, music by Michael Friedman, book by Melanie Marnich, lyrics by

Friedman and Marnich. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa

Mesa; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 4:30 p.m.; Fri., June 12, 7 p.m.; Sat., June

13, 11 a.m.; thru June 14. (714) 708-5555.

COLLECTED STORIES Donald Margulies' slices of life about an aging

author and her young mentor. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center

Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 &

7:30 p.m.; thru June 14. (714) 708-5555.

CROWNS This musical by Regina Taylor examines the passionate

attachment of certain churchgoing African-American women for their

hats. Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry,

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

interaction between Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a tough street

girl from Brooklyn raging with grief over the murder of her brother,

and various women she encounters after she's shipped off to South

Carolina to live with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). The book that was

the musical's source material consists of an elegant collection of

photo portraits and firsthand reminiscences; Taylor appropriates these

as monologues, then juxtaposes them with original dialogue and gospel

hymns. The thrust of the show -- increasingly churchly as the evening

wears on -- is the effort to educate Yolanda regarding the importance of

hats to her identity and her spirituality. Under Israel Hicks'

direction, the focus is clear but its execution -- both script and

performance -- is disappointing. Five female performers each deliver

various monologues that simply don't add up to recognizable characters

who serve the story -- itself a cobbled construct. Lackluster

choreography, less than top-notch vocals and indifferent lighting also

detract, as does the production's two-hour length, without

intermission. The strongest element is the outstanding contribution of

Clinton Derricks-Carroll in a variety of male roles, but especially as

a fervently possessed, pulpit-thumping preacher. In an uneven ensemble,

Vanessa Bell Calloway and Suzzanne Douglas are worthy of note, as are

the instrumentals, under Eric Scott Reed's musical direction. (DK) Nate

Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through July

5. (323) 964-9768. An Ebony Repertory Theatre/Pasadena Playhouse

production.

NEW REVIEW GO CYMBELINE Photo by Ian Flanders

Stage Raw: Love Water

What might Shakespeare have written if he'd been asked by some

17th century counterpart of a TV producer, to come up with something

quick, hot and flashy? It's likely an extravagantly plotted comedy like

this one, with story ideas snatched from legend, his peers, and some of

his own better-developed and more sublime works. Regarded today as one

of Shakespeare's more minor plays, this comedy revolves around a king's

daughter named Imogen (Willow Geer), banished from court by her father

Cymbeline (Thad Geer) for daring to marry the man of her choice. The

plucky gal's travails intensify when a villain named Iachimo (Aaron

Hendry, alternating with Steve Matt) decides willy-nilly to slander her

to her husband Posthumus (Mike Peebler) who then commands a servant to

assassinate her for her alleged infidelity. Her wanderings eventually

land her on the doorstep of her father's old enemy, Belarius

(Earnestine Phillips), who has raised two of Cymbeline's children (thus

Imogen's own siblings) as her own. Director Ellen Geer has fashioned an

appealing production laced with an aptly measured dose of spectacle and

camp. At its core is Willow Geer's strong and likable princess. As her

adoring and later raging, jealous spouse, Peebler's Posthumus is

earnestly on the mark, while Jeff Wiesen garners deserved laughs as the

foppish suitor she'd rejected. The latter meets his end at the hands of

the princess's new-found brother, well-played by Matt Ducati. Will Geer

Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3:30

p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723. (Deborah Klugman)

DAME EDNA: MY FIRST LAST TOUR Barry Humphries is the "international

homemaker, talk show host, gigastar, fashion icon, swami.". Ahmanson

Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 21. (213) 628-2772.

GO DIRTY DANCING Blockbuster musicals based on

blockbuster films are multiplying like viruses, but Dirty Dancing is

different. Its approach to slapping film on a stage is the zenith of

the seamless and shameless. Instead of adding songs, original

screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's theater translation mimics scenes with

a faithfulness to her treasured 1987 source material that's slavishly

high camp. Add in James Powell's extravagant direction and we're served

up fantastically expensive cheese that knows audiences don't just want

to see Baby (Amanda Leigh Cobb) and Johnny (Josef Brown) dancing on a

log, they want to see that log descend majestically from the ceiling

and be dismissed when it's served its momentary purpose. By duplicating

the pacing, plot and props, Dirty Dancing revels in the luxurious

disposability that tells a crowd they're getting their money's worth.

Wow factor is key when you're shelling out the cost of several DVDs to

watch the exact same thing live -- the set whirls and motors, spitting

up bridges and doors and revolving platforms, dancers in great costumes

pack the stage, and giant video screens even show us the fractured

glass when Johnny punches a window. It's the kind of nonsense that

delights both cynics and fans. (Inversely, it's now the script's

dabbling into race and class consciousness that feels cheap.) Cobb and

Brown are twins for Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, the charming Cobb

approaching the role with actual acting, while the muscular Brown has

fun aping Swayze's show-pony dramatics. In a strong and massive cast,

standouts include Britta Lazenga as the ill-fated dancer Penny and the

very funny Katlyn Carlson as Baby's snotty sister Lisa. (AN) Pantages

Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

& 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through June 28. (213) 365-3500.

A Broadway L.A. production.

AN EMPTY PLATE IN THE CAFE DU GRAND BOEUF Wealthy ex-pat goes on a

solipsistic hunger strike in his own Paris restaurant, in Michael

Hollinger's dark comedy. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road,

Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., June 21, 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (949) 497-2787.

FELLOWSHIP! Musical parody of The Fellowship of the Ring,

book by Kelly Holden-Bashar and Joel McCrary, music by Alen Simpson.

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 4 p.m.; thru July 12, (No perf July 4.). (818) 955-8101.

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

1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., June 27, 4

p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 29, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.;

Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 455-3723.

LA DIDONE The Wooster Group mashes up Francesco Cavalli's 1641 opera with 1965 sci-fi movie Planet of the Vampires.,

$50-$55. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun.,

7 p.m.; thru June 21, (No perfs June 15 & 18.). (213) 237-2800.

LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN Oscar Wilde's satire of Victorian-era

marriage. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 13. (562) 494-1014.

NEW REVIEW GO THE LITTLE FOXES Photo by Craig Schwartz

Stage Raw: Love Water

Lillian Hellman's 1939 melodrama, set in South of 1900, studies the voracious appetite for profit by the

middle-class Hubbard clan, who look with contempt on both the

aristocrats they've replaced, and their Black employees whom they

continue to cheat. And so the drama offers Hellman's harsh commentary

on both the economic and racial foundations of prosperity by those who

can afford it, usually at the expense of those who can't. In addition

to his perfectly paced production, director Dáal conversations. The

plot has a Swiss-watch construction, starting with a visit by William

Marshall (Tom Schmid) from Chicago, finalizing a business deal to

construct a mill in the small town. Financing would involve

contributing shares by three partners: Benjamin Hubbard (Steve

Vinovich), his brother Oscar (Marc Singer) - who married and now abuses

his aristocratic wife, Birdie (Julia Duffy) - and finally the very

reluctant Horace Giddens (Geoff Pierson), who's been recouperating for

months in Baltimore from a chronic heart condition. Horace's wife

Regina (Kelly McGillis) is the play's centerpiece, summoning her ill

husband home and engaging in all manner of negotiations, including

blackmail against the thieving Hubbards, and against her own husband,

in order to grab the most money that she can for herself. The play

contains some Chekhovian ambiance, such as when Birdie confides that

she's nevehat the theater has committed to produce. This may be an

observant play, but it's not a great one, as it can't quite crawl

inside the hearts of people it's too eager to condemn. And that's the

difference between a tragedy and a potboiler. Even McGillis

fionalization as the serial killer movies that blame the pathology on

the killer's being abused in childhood. Pierson's Horace is just grand

-- tired, wise, yet still on fire to outwit the town's sundry little

foxes. Nice turns also by Yvett Carson and Cleavant Derricks and the

servants in residence. As Regina's coy daughter, Rachel Sondag makes an

impressive transformation from sweetness to defiance as she slowly

figures out what's going on under her nose. Paradoxically, her kind of

moral outrage is also the play's undoing, serving up more of an

editorial, authorial opinion than a vision -- an impulse that Chekhov,

or Tennessee Williams, rarely succumbed to. Gary Wissman's opulent yet

frayed-at-the-edges set shows the beginning of a metaphor, but not

enough to compensate for the shortcomings of this well-crafted but

limited play. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena:

Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through

June 28. (800) 378=7121. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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

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

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

different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford

has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa

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

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

an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

p.m.; through June 28. (310) 208-54545.

NEVERWONDERLAND Boom Kat Dance Theatre ask, "What if Peter Pan and

Wonderland's Alice found each other in the same fantastical world?".

Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 14. (310) 979-7196.

NEW REVIEW OLEANNA Bill Pullman and Julia

Stiles star in David Mamet's 1992 drama about a college professor, and

the charges of sexual harassment lodged against him by a failing

student. The play is a reaction against the mind-set of an era that

featured the despotism of political correctness - embodied by Anita

Hill's 1991 testimony before the U.S. Senate against Supreme Court

nominee Clarence Thomas for his allegedly sexually explicit

conversations while she worked at his secretary at the Equal Education

Opportunity Commission. After all these years, and with Pullman's

affable performance juxtaposed against Stiles' stoic confusion and

indignation, the play strains more than ever to express some serious

ideas through a kangaroo court. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave.,

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

6:30 p.m.; through July 12. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See

Theater feature.

RING OF FIRE Broadway tribute to Johnny Cash, featuring 38 songs by

the country hitmaker. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900

La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.;

Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru June 21. (562) 944-9801.

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

ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest

hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat.,

8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

ALWAYS AND FOREVER It's easy to see what drew playwright-director

Michael Patrick Spillers to write this painfully precious if somewhat

flat tribute to Mexican-American culture. That's because the only times

Spillers' otherwise soporific, magical-realism soap opera springs to

life are when it touches on the subjects closest to the playwright's

heart: Mexico's folkloric cult of the "narco-saint," Jesús Malverde,

patron saint of drug traffickers, and the narcocorridos, the heroic

ballads that celebrate the traffickers' exploits. Though admittedly

fascinating cultural artifacts, they are but footnotes to the tale

Spillers intends to carry the dramatic load. That story concerns the

rebellious 15-year-old, Alma (Dalia Perla), who is forced by her

controlling, older sister, Celia (Michelle Castillo), on a journey from

Norwalk to Tijuana to join their extended family for the traditional

fitting of Alma's quinceañera gown. Alma, who is much more interested

in meeting heartthrob corridista singer, Adán Sánchez, conjures the

mischievous spirit of Malverde (Arturo Medina) to aid in her quest.

Once south of the border, the group is joined by Nardo (Ezequiel

Guerra), a narcoleptic proselytizer for corridos, but it is the news of

Sánchez' fatal car accident that finally reconciles Alma to her

quinceañera and magically resolves the play's other half-dozen

subplots. Not surprisingly, it is the footnotes -- and funny turns by

Medina and Guerra -- that steal the show in this otherwise indifferently

staged production. (BR) Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 14. (323) 263-7684.

APARTMENT 6 & 9 Two comedies by Matt Morillo: All Aboard the Marriage Hearse and Stay Over. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 5. (323) 960-5521.

AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare's comedy, courtesy Declan Adams Theatre.

Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., 8

p.m.; thru June 20. (213) 926-2726.

GO BIG Director Richard Israel and his fine cast

have a first-rate revival of this 1996 Broadway musical, based on the

film that made Tom Hanks a star. And if you've seen the movie and think

you know the story, think again: You can expect a few witty surprises

here. Big (John Weidman, book; David Shire, music; Richard Maltby,

lyrics) is a whimsical tale about Josh (L.J. Benet), an undersized

teenager whose oversized crush on a schoolmate results in a startling

metamorphosis when a carnival contraption grants his wish to be "big."

When he wakes up as an adult, Josh (Will Collyer) has his hands full

coping with life, his best friend, Billy (Sterling Beaumon), and a

heartbroken mom (Lisa Picotte). When he stumbles into a high-caliber

job with a toy company, he catches the eye of corporate climber Susan

(the outstanding Darrin Revitz) and finds romance, but he ultimately

discovers that life as a 13-year-old adult is not all that great.

Israel has done a remarkable job staging this piece on a small stage,

and manages the large cast -- which features some fine adolescent actors

and actresses -- quite well. Christine Lakin's choreography is polished

and attractive, with many of the dances evincing an edgy comic

expressiveness. Musical director Daniel Thomas does equally fine work.

(LE3) El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through June 28. (323) 460-4443. A West Coast

Ensemble production.

BINGO WITH THE INDIANS Adam Rapp's dark comedy about scheming

thespians. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30

p.m.; thru June 13. (323) 960-7774.

THE BLANK THEATRE COMPANY'S 17TH ANNUAL NATIONWIDE YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS

FESTIVAL A month of 12 winning plays by teenage playwrights, with three

new plays each week. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 28, www.theblank.com.

(323) 661-9827.

CIRCUS THEATRICALS FESTIVAL OF NEW ONE-ACT PLAYS, . Lex Theatre,

6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru

June 28. (323) 960-7846.

COME BACK LITTLE HORNY In playwright Laura Richardson's clever

sourball of a family comedy, mom Susan (Wendy Phillips) and dad Ian

(Scott Paulin) used to be artists, but now they're retired -- read

"tapped out" -- and they seem to spend most of their time sniping at

each other. Meanwhile, their closeted gay son Loki (Brendan Bonner) and

borderline schizophrenic daughter Nora (Jennifer Erholm) still live at

home, subjected to endless sneers and veiled insults thrown in their

direction. Into this toxic atmosphere comes the family's one successful

scion, Stanford University professor and bestselling author Raven

(Danielle Weeks), who, estranged from her clan, shows up for a visit,

bringing along her newly adopted pet dog Horny (delightfully played in

canine drag by Jason Paige, whose leg-humping, slobbery performance all

but barks with the unfiltered love that the human characters can't

express to each other). Raven's latest book is a hostile but truthful

roman à clef about her family -- and, as they peruse the book, the clan

is forced to confront the miserable truth. Director Martha Demson's

character-driven production artfully emphasizes the subtext underlying

the family's brittle relationship. Not a line is spoken that doesn't

seep with layers of corrosive back story. Although the pacing

occasionally falters -- and the piece frankly could use some cutting,

particularly during the final third -- the writing is smartly full of

just the sorts of lines you hope never to hear from your mother. The

ensemble work boasts some ferocious acting turns, particularly from

Phillips' scathingly bitter mother and Weeks' superficially loving,

passively hostile daughter. (PB) Lost Studio Theatre, 130 S. LaBrea

Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through June 20. (310)

600-3682.

THE CURSE OF RAVENSDURN The New Comedy Theater presents Nick Hall's

wacky history of a doomed English family. Barnsdall Gallery Theater,

4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 20,

www.BGTtix.com. (323) 660-4254.

GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and

entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the

lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a

marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of

rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some

sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction

and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of

triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting

beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying

partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his

aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective

attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner),

a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion

from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City.

These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who

both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without

"representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies.

Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his

five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the

Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist

set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked

behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision,

based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his

home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank

accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out,"

there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long

partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose

basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody

hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; open ended run. (323)

960-1056.

NEW REVIEW ECSTASY:  THE MUSICAL  Photo by Michael Lamont

Stage Raw: Love Water

What's this?  A musical based on the notorious hallucinogenic drug

whose psychoactive effects include lust and a strong sense of inner

peace?  Well, not quite.  At times, we suspect that the dream-like mood

of S. Claus's downright strange musical comedy is an attempt to convey

what it's like to partake of the drug.  Yet, Claus's work is also a

cheerful 1970s kitsch-fest, set in a world of flaring bell bottoms,

John Travolta-esque disco suits, and untroubled hedonism.  College

freshman Angel (Lisa Marinacci) loves her virgin boyfriend Tom (Meyer

deLeeuw), but she can't make him sexually "close the deal" with her.

Somehow, Angel magically transports Tom to an alternate universe called

the Land of Ecstasy, where Tom's path crosses that of a wickedly sexy

Black Widow Woman (Gina D'Acciaro, whose gorgeous, rock ballad voice is

outstanding), a sex crazed prostitute (Dina Buglione), and a genial

space alien (Patrick Hancock).  Claus's upbeat score isn't deep, but

the work boasts some quick witted lyrics and some zippy tunes,

particularly during the larger production numbers.  Director Kay Cole's

energetic staging, which is layered with day-glo 1970s iconography and

Susanne Klein's wonderfully tacky leisure suit costumes, is offbeat and

gleefully campy.  Sadly, though, the show's narrative structure lurches

from half baked subplot to subplot -- less dream-like than sloppy.

Sometimes the play seems like a joke told by someone on a drug - funny,

but only if you're the stoned guy telling it.  Still, some of the

cast's gorgeous voices are clearly more evocative than the flimsy

material allows them to show.  Buglionc's bubbly Sally Bowles-like turn

as the prostitute is delightful - and so is Hancock's toothy, yet

sexually androgynous turn as the space alien.  Art/Works Theater, 6569

Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through

July 12.  (323) 960-7789.  A Theatre Planners production. (Paul

Birchall)

GO EL OGRITO (THE OGRELING) Jesús Castaños-Chima

stages Suzanne Lebeau's dark fairy tale (performed in Spanish with

English supertitles) with sweetness and depth. It concerns a mother

(Julieta Ortiz) trying to protect her young son (the adult Gabriel

Romero) from the heredity and instinct of blood lust. His father, you

see, was/is an Ogre, or one who eats children. After going through six

of his own daughters, he fled to give his infant son a chance. Dad

hangs offstage in the forest, watching with admiration as his son

struggles with hereditary, demonic passions to eat little animals and,

eventually, little children, while his mother strives valiantly to ban

the color red from the house, and serve him vegetarian fare grown in

the garden -- in these plays, gardens always serve as an antidote to the

horrors of who we are. (SLM) 24th Street Theater, 1117 24th St., L.A.;

Sat.-Sun., times vary, call for schedule; through June 20. (213)

745-6516.

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

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

934-9700.

GO EVE'S RAPTURE The fall of Adam and Eve has

furnished raw material for countless works of art but one rarely as

fantastical as Bryan Reynolds' unpredictable play. A dizzying mix of

metaphors, it begins with Satan (Chris Marshall) in command of an armed

and loyal jihad of fallen angels; they are determined to take down God

by either recruiting Adam (Ryan Welsh) and Eve (Kendra Smith) to their

cause, or destroying them. Act I depicts the first couple gamboling in

the Garden, notwithstanding Eve's uneasy sense that there's more to

existence than affectionate kisses and playful body rubs. The end of

innocence comes after Satan personally tempts her to bite the apple,

then fucks her wildly -- leaving them both wowed by their unexpected

erotic rapport. Their intercourse marks the beginning of Eve's total

transformation; whereas Adam develops the doldrums, and worse. By

play's end, Eve is one gal you surely wouldn't want to mix it up with.

Part-parable, part-comic strip fable, part-action drama, the play

speaks powerfully to the unseen forces and symbols that dominate our

lives. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Eden sequences drag, layered as

they are with so much saccharine that one's soon rooting for the Devil

to break it up. As the prime mover of the action, Marshall's

performance is one of understated mastery. As his wife/daughter Sin,

Sage Howard sizzles. Robert Cohen directs. (DK) Hayworth Theatre, 2511

Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 27.

(323) 960-7721.

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

FUGGEDABOUDIT Male model with amnesia meets his "friends," by Gordon

Bressack. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6,

L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.;

thru June 14. (323) 465-0800.

GIVE YOU HARD COMEDY Sketch, improv, and musical parody by all-girl

comedy group The Fluffers. Paul G. Gleason Theatre, 6520 Hollywood

Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru June 21. (617) 899-4283.

GODSPELL Biblical musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael

Tebelak. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., July 10, 8 p.m.; thru July 12, (No perf July 4.).

(323) 667-0955.

A GRAND GUIGNOL CABARET Evoking the raucous, free-form ambiance and

style of a 1920s underground Berlin cabaret, director Amanda Harvey's

show scores big on variety, less so on quality. Hosted by the charming,

garrulous Gunter (Carlos Peñaranda), the evening opens with a lukewarm

ditty called "When the Special Girlfriend," followed by a riotously

funny "chair dance," salaciously performed by the female members of the

ensemble to the music of " Wagner's "Die Valkyrie," which concludes

with the gals spouting water from their mouths like fountain

sculptures. Such visual engagement is the cabaret's strength,

imaginatively choreographed by Vanessa Forster. Peñaranda's turn as a

drag queen and his German-accented rendition of "Ol Man River,"cum

overalls and straw hat don't cut it. Two short plays are also on the

bill. Haney, Dani O'Terry and Forster created The Little House in

Friedrichstadt, a delightful grotesquerie artfully rendered in mime,

which tells of fiendish, bloody goings-on in a brothel. Eddie Muller's

Orgy in the Lighthouse, adapted from Alfred Marchand's play, is about

two brothers who entertain a pair of whores on a holy day; this version

is painfully insipid. (LE3) Sunset Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St.,

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 28.

www.brownpapertickets.com or www.legrandguignolkabaret.com

GROUNDLINGS ENCHANTED FOREST This well-executed evening of comedy

consists of a random collection of skits by company member Laird

Macintosh and various co-writers. In "One Fifth Is All You Need," a man

(Steve Little) who believes himself to be of Irish extraction lands in

Native-American heaven, where he discovers he's one fifth

Native-American and immediately acquires skills in weaving, archery and

hand-to-hand combat. In the predictable but nicely performed "Be

Grateful for the Good Times," a couple (Macintosh and Wendi

McLendon-Covey) on the cusp of an amiable divorce end up at each

other's throats, while a mollycoddling divorce counselor (Ben Falcone)

tries to mediate. "Soft Butt Firm," finds Melissa McCarthy on-target as

a sugar-tongued huckster of her recently acquired product -- a

super-absorbent toilet paper. An alcoholic Dad (Little), drunk and

abusive at a Thanksgiving get-together, is urged by one and all to hit

the road, in "Giving Thanks." Directed by Roy Jenkins, the ensemble

proves uniformly adept; while the material is generally amiable and

entertaining, none of the segments delivers a knock-out comedic punch.

(DK) Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8

& 10 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 934-9700.

GO HALF OF PLENTY Anyone still trying to trace the

roots of the great economic collapse of 2007 can stop digging.

Playwright Lisa Dillman's somewhat schematic satire argues that the

monetary debacle responsible for crippling the markets and the

existential paralysis gripping her suburbanite protagonists were both

spawned by a common corruption of spirit rather than of finance. In

fact, the instability that drives Marty Tindall (John Pollono) and his

wife, Holly (Carolyn Palmer), to regroup in the ironically named Ardor

Park housing development (and postpone having a child) has more to do

with Marty's recent bout of alcoholism and his downwardly mobile new

job at the local box factory. Complicating their effort to rebuild

their lives -- and marriage -- is Marty's Alzheimer's-afflicted father,

Jack (Robert Mandan), whose presence forces Holly to be both caregiver

and co-breadwinner by taking on medical-transcription work. The crisis

comes when Holly seeks solace in a romantic correspondence via

transcription tape with an unseen albeit married doctor/client while

Marty joins the quasi-terrorist "Neighborhood Vigil," enforcing

anti-immigrant, tract etiquette alongside the cell's creepily

charismatic Zooks (the very funny Ron Bottitta and Betsy Zajko).

Although a feebly bathetic denouement ultimately suggests Dillman is

more interested in the exposition of theme over character, Barbara

Kallir's crisp direction of a spot-on cast, aided by the polished

support of a fine design team (particularly Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's

trompe l'oeil set paintings), ably fills the gaps with laughs. (BR)

Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m. ; through June 21. (323) 960-7774 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

A Rogue Machine production

HARRIETT LEVY -- BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND Todd Waddington is the

"chanteuse, priestess, lounge lizard and metaphysical life coach."

Wait, I thought Dame Edna was at the Ahmanson?. Hudson Guild Theater,

6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru

July 19, www.plays411.com/harriettlevy. (323) 960-7792.

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

GO THE IDEA MAN The unspecified manufacturing plant

at the heart of Kevin King's comedy-drama has a "Gillette account,"

referring to the razors and razorblades being produced there, among

other products. The detailed set design (credited to Elephant

Stageworks) includes welding stations lined along the walls of the tiny

stage. The realism in the design creates a naturalistic and enveloping

atmosphere of the workplace, which supports and, in subtle ways, also

stifles King's richly textured examination of the class divide within

that factory and, by implication, across America's dwindling

manufacturing base. When Al Carson (James Pippi), a bright machinist

and union rep, visits the salubrious home of plant manager Simmons

(David Franco), Al's awe and awkwardness are apparent in Pippi's

expressions, while behind him, we see welding machines, which is a

intrusion. As directed by David Fofi in a style that combines earthy

David Mamet/Steppenwolf Theatre realism with occasional hints of a

sitcom in the making, the ensemble is so good that the production rides

largely on the strengths of the atmosphere and the actors. Al has just

won the "suggestion of the month" prize, for a design generating

exponentially more efficiency in the production of razorblades. The

idea could be worth millions of dollars in potential savings to the

company, and for this, Simmons is willing to reward Al with a check for

$100 and a laminated plaque with his name on it -- on the condition that

Al signs over the rights to his design. Al understands the insult; he's

no fool What ensues is a series of artfully conceived scenes between

the Al and staff engineer Frank (Robert Foster), who's task is to make

Al's idea "work" -- a blue collar-white collar cat-and-mouse game in

which the roles of cat and mouse keep shifting. That Simmons would

invite top management to fly in from God knows where, this coming

weekend, no less, for a presentation on Al's suggestion -- even before

Frank has had the opportunity to test it -- reveals a management style

so reckless, it's hard to believe. Yet it's on this somewhat contrived

stress test that playwright King builds the play's suspense. King's

ideas are so fine, they deserve refining. (SLM) Elephant Theatre

Company, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through

June 20. (323) 960-4410.

INSIDE OUT Jody Vaclav's "one-person show in two persons.". Actors

Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru

July 11. (310) 306-6298.

INVISIBLE HEROES Storytelling by Here and Now Theatre Company.

Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru June

28, www.hereandnowtheatrecompany.com. (323) 463-3900.

LITTLE BLACK VEIL David LeBarron and Abby Travis' "drag queen

romantic comedy musical.". Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 5,

www.littleblackveil.com. (323) 960-5774.

NEW REVIEW LOVE WATER In a drainage pipe near a park and a ditch that might be a space-alien

breeding ground, unloved Antonio (Joseph Vega) and over-loved Lulu

(Alina Phelan) hide out from their normal lives. He's a teenager

escaping his family, which includes a manic mother (Misi Lopez Lecube)

who may be lacing his food with poison and a dad (Chuma Gault) and

sister (Jessica Martinez) who don't care either way. She's fleeing a

husband (Jon Beauregard) so devoted to her he leaves pies in the park

for her. "There's a lot of love in that pie," Lulu tells Antonio, which

means something to playwright Jacqueline Wright, whose allegories here

are made of flotsam -- her pieces are stitched together with wild

images that stir the imagination but don't quite absorb your emotions.

Wright is a clear talent who delights in the theater medium. Overhead

Lulu and Antonio's hideout, a broken man bandaged from head to foot

describes the joy of bashing out brains in a skiing accident and

suggests - but doesn't quite advocate - that we jump off a building.

Meanwhile, a lonely lecher finds and hatches a gigantic egg, out of

which climbs a pale, naked English-speaking creature who demands

freedom and caramels. Sibyl Wickersheimer's austere set invites

movement and director Dan Bonnell has his cast run -- rarely walk --

from end to end. But with Bonnell allowing half the cast to use

Wright's dreamlike imagery and language as an excuse to heighten their

speech, while the other half recognizes the need to ground the

characters with natural performances, the production feels too bi-polar

for us to commit to caring about why dad eats paper, why mom wears

Antonio's clothes and why Lulu pushes away intimacy. Open Fist Theatre,

6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

thru July 11. (323) 882-6912. A co-production of Open Fist Theatre and

Ensemble Studio Theatre - The L.A. Project (Amy Nicholson)

GO MADNESS IN VALENCIA We get a look-in on Spain's

Golden Age via playwright-poet Lope de Vega's 1590 farce about love and

lunacy, in David Johnston's pleasing and somewhat audacious 1998

translation. (Johnston's version adds a second, alternate ending.)

Across the English Channel at around the same time de Vega and Calderon

were fusing dreams and life in their writings, Shakespeare was toying

with similar ideas in both The Winter's Tale and A Midsummer Nights

Dream. In Madness, however, we get no magic potions concocted by the

sprites in order to fool mortals into believing that they're donkeys,

or "enamored of an ass." De Vega worked from the presumption that

people are either mad, or pretend to be so, without any medicinal help.

Floriano (Michael Holmes) arrives in the woods around Valencia in a

panic that, for the love of a woman, he's murdered a local prince. He

confesses this fear to a young beauty, Erifila (Vivian Kerr) - a

trusting confession to say the least. Erifilia fled with a servant from

her father and his plans to bind her future to an arranged marriage.

(The servant strands her in the woods after robbing her of her jewelry

and outer-garments.) In order to escape notice, the pair choose to

seclude themselves in the safest place around -- Valencia's famed

mental asylum - where the pair pretend to be nuts, and where the play's

enveloping metaphor for society, and for lovers, takes root. There's an

amiable goofiness in Suzanne Karpinski's staging of her 13-member

ensemble, and this is the right company to pull off a show so

influenced by the Italian Commedia clowning. Holmes' Floriano has a

hangdog charm that makes him both a persuasive leading man and idiot

savant, depending on whom he's trying to fool, while Kerr possesses a

vivacious esprit that spins, when needed, into the requisite arrogance

that accompanies sanctimonious betrayal. Kurt Boetcher's relies heavily

on burlap and cloth drapery to symbolize the woods, in hues of green

and purple. And though Karpinski's tone is a bit languid at the start,

the play's tangles of attraction, and their accompanying pangs of

jealousy, grow increasingly absorbing. For all the technical details

and the abundant merits of Karpinski's production, one does get the

feeling that the play has been more staged than interpreted. The canvas

on which the play unfolds contains few striking visual motifs that

offer an urgent idea of why this play is being performed - beyond the

obvious explanation that a few people sort of liked it. As such, it's a

delightful museum piece that could be much more, with a greater breadth

of vision. Terrific performances also by Laura Napoli, Juliette Angeli,

Grandon Clark, and Paul Byrne, among others. (SLM) Sacred Fools

Theatre, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Sun., June 28, 2 p.m.); through

June 28. (310) 281-8337.

GO MERCURY FUR A cross between A Clockwork Orange

and the plays of Sarah Kane, British playwright Philip Ridley's

controversial drama, set in a dystopian London under siege, follows a

group of young men desperate to survive. Elliot (Edward Tournier) and

his brother Darren (Andrew Perez) clean up an abandoned apartment to

prepare for a party organized by their friend and gang leader Spinx

(Greg Beam). They are assisted by Naz (Jason Karasev), a friend who

happens to live in the building, and their drag queen friend Lola (Jeff

Torres), who arrives with a costume for the Party Piece (Ryan Hodge), a

barely-conscious "Paki" boy who becomes the center of attention. Once

Spinx finally arrives, along with The Duchess (Nina Sallinen), final

preparations are made for the Party Guest (Kelly Van Kirk) who will be

their salvation from this hellhole, but as the party starts, things go

awry in a series of twisted, violent events. Like the songs of the

British trance band Prodigy, one of which plays in the final scene, the

drama's layers slowly unfold, culminating in an apocalyptic climax that

is foreshadowed, yet nonetheless blows you away with its brutality and

horror. Dado's direction brings out the intensity of her actors who

throw themselves headlong into this nightmarish world and reveal their

characters to be at once gritty, reprehensible, funny, and pitiable. I

left the theater disturbed and affected, which after all is the point.

(MK) Imagined Life Theatere, 5615 San Vicente Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 5 p.m.; through June 28. (800) 838-3006. BrownPaperTickets.com. A

Needtheater production.

NIGHTS OF NOIR: MARKED FOR LOVE/OF DICKS AND DAMES In this pair of

one-acts, writer-director Kasey Wilson parodies 1940s film noir by

introducing private eye Bolt (Scott Gerard), who though not exactly Sam

Spade, is nevertheless good for some laughs. In Marked for Love, the

impavid Bolt, who hasn't had a case in three months, is seen asleep at

his desk when he is visited by the seductive, black-clad Vivian

(Elizabeth V. Newman), who needs a purloined painting recovered.

Solving the crime is not easy, as Bolt must contend with a jealous

cohort (Mike Park), a shadowy thin guy (Drew Droege), deception at

every turn, as well as his own engaging ineptitude. Of Dicks and Dames

is not as cleverly written but still serves up its share of humor.

Here, Bolt is enmeshed in a megaconvoluted case involving a missing

woman (Lauren Leonelli), the murder of a sinister purveyor of porn

(Droege), a creepy, peg-leg German (Eric Charles Jorgenson), and Viola

Shylock (Jan Pessin), whose appearance comes courtesy of the Bard.

There is more style than substance here, but it eventually adds up to

an evening of fun and laughs. And for an added bit of spice, Wilson

(a.k.a. Honey Ima Home), does a smoking-hot burlesque routine between

acts. (LE3) Attic Theater and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.;

LA. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960-1055.

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS Princess-and-pea musical, adapted from the Hans

Christian Andersen fairy tale. Music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by

Marshall Barer, book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer.

Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru June 21. (323) 939-9220.

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.

RANTOUL AND DIE Mark Roberts' bleak comedy has four great characters

and a half-dozen great speeches in search of a point. Set in Rantoul,

Illinois, it opens with Gary (Paul Dillon) counseling heartbroken bud

Rallis (Rich Hutchman) on his pending divorce from Debbie (Cynthia

Ettinger), who works down at the Dairy Queen. Gary is a redneck mystic

and self-described tiger; his approach to keeping Rallis from slicing

his wrists is to choke the fear of death in him. With the entrance of

the cruel and curvaceous Debbie (who's hell-bent on keeping the house

and Honda) and her cat-lady boss Callie (Lisa Rothschiller), Roberts

opens several inviting routes for his play to explore grief, guilt and

mercenary lust. Instead, it stalls, with repetitive arguments and

shocks that don't register as the nasty fun we crave. Director Erin

Quigley gets fun performances from her four leads and gives each their

moment to hold court over production designer David Harwell's

painstakingly accurate suburban ranch house, complete with dogs that

bark each time a character slams the front door in frustration. (AN)

Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 4. (323) 960-4424 or www.rantoulanddie.com.

RANTOUL AND DIE Mark Roberts' bleak comedy has four great characters

and a half-dozen great speeches in search of a point. Set in Rantoul,

Illinois, it opens with Gary (Paul Dillon) counseling heartbroken bud

Rallis (Rich Hutchman) on his pending divorce from Debbie (Cynthia

Ettinger), who works down at the Dairy Queen. Gary is a redneck mystic

and self-described tiger; his approach to keeping Rallis from slicing

his wrists is to choke the fear of death in him. With the entrance of

the cruel and curvaceous Debbie (who's hell-bent on keeping the house

and Honda) and her cat-lady boss Callie (Lisa Rothschiller), Roberts

opens several inviting routes for his play to explore grief, guilt and

mercenary lust. Instead, it stalls, with repetitive arguments and

shocks that don't register as the nasty fun we crave. Director Erin

Quigley gets fun performances from her four leads and gives each their

moment to hold court over production designer David Harwell's

painstakingly accurate suburban ranch house, complete with dogs that

bark each time a character slams the front door in frustration. (AN)

Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 4. (323) 960-4424 or www.rantoulanddie.com.

NEW REVIEW GO SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! TOO

The original School House Rock was a long-running kids' TV show that

winningly combined cartoon characters and songs with a high educational

content. Here director-choreographer Rick Sparks assembles six

terrific, high energy performers -- Harley Jay, Tricia Kelly, Jayme

Lake, Michael "Milo" Lopez, Lisa Tharps and Brian Wesley Turner -- to

employ all their skill and pizzazz on songs about numbers,

multiplication, parts of speech, American History, government, the

bones of the body, financial interest rates, and a score of other

useful topics, all turned into lively entertainment. (A math song about

multiplying is called "Naughty Number Nine," and the American

Revolution is served up in "No More Kings.") There's a scrap of plot,

about saving a financially failing diner, but that's the merest of

pretexts. Cody Gillette provides crisp musical direction and leads the

trio (with Anthony Zenteno, on guitars, and Eric Tatuaca on drums) to

provide infectious, hard-driving accompaniments on Adam Flemming's

handsome diner set. Clever costumes are by Kat Marquet, and Daavid

Hawkins provides hundreds of zany props. If you already know that 6x9 =

63, you might feel, as I did, that 20 songs is a few too many, but the

kids seem to love it. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue,

L.A.; call for schedule; through July 26. (323) 655-7679, Ext. 100, or

http:// schoolhouserockla.com. (Neal Weaver)

SERIAL KILLERS: THE PLAYOFFS Facebook factors into this serialized

improv competition: Log in and vote each week on which serials

continue, until there is only one! (Final round and awards ceremony,

July 11.). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11

p.m.; Sat., July 11, 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 281-8337.

GO SETUP & PUNCH Director Daniel Henning

seamlessly moves the action between the past and the present in Mark

Saltzman's highly original new comedy. After a bitter 10-year breakup

with former writing partner Vanya (Hedy Burress), Brian (Andrew Leeds)

contacts her about the copyright to a children's show they co-produced.

Through a series of letters, the breakup of the once happy writing duo

is laid bare. The two met at Cornell, and Vanya followed Brian to New

York City to kick-start his Broadway aspirations. They audition for a

revue, but are told to collaborate with Jan (a mesmerizing P.J.

Griffith), a rock star and composer. As the twosome becomes a

threesome, Vanya's unrequited love for Brian, a deeply closeted gay

man, spills through. However, Jan, a sexual libertine, opens the closet

door for Brian. The sexual tension is one contributing factor to Vanya

and Brian's breakup, but when Vanya is hired for a TV series they had

both been working on, Brian goes ballistic. All of this is revealed

through a series of letters, which become e-mails, which become phone

calls, as the two draw near a rapprochement. Performed without an

intermission, Henning keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, even as

the two compose letters. Griffith also performs in the smaller role of

Miguel, a once-raucous Cornell classmate who has diverged onto a

spiritual path. (SR) Second Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 21. (323)

661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production

THE SINGING SKELETON The first hour of Stefan Marks' satire of

actors and their odd relationship to theater finds hilarious truth in

the absurdity of the odyssey of inexperienced but emotionally connected

artists trying to find a path through Hollywood. Spouting eye-rolling

platitudes about acting techniques and script-writing, several

characters might easily become two-dimensional jokes, but Marks' ear

for actor lingo and a fine cast allow the play to weave a tight fabric

of reality out of the ludicrous. Most successful is Barrett Shuler,

with a brilliant, deadpan portrayal of Brandon, a first-time playwright

nearly as passionate about the work as he is about gorgeous Hannah

(Jessica Kepler), whom he hopes to cast (and kiss) as his star. Brian

Taubman as his clueless best friend; Mark Gadbois as an aging and

idiotic macho actor; and Matt Weight as an Australian pretty boy join

in to make this journey through Equity Waiver heartbreakingly funny.

The title is not metaphoric but literal, as a singing skeleton (Marks)

punctuates the play and play-within-a-play with pithy songs beautifully

sung to acoustic guitar. Sadly, Act 2 disintegrates into cheap sketch,

still garnering laughs, but from feeble jokes rather than clever

insights. Occasionally the foolishness pauses for a melodramatic

moment, but the play never regains the polish and painfully funny

beauty of Act 1. (TP) Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (888) 201-0804.

Crooked Arrow Productions

THE SOMETHING-NOTHING Fielding Edlow's romantic comedy set in New

York's West Village. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru July 2. (323) 960-7753.

GO STICK FLY Lydia R. Diamond's scintillating

comedy is set in the elegant and expensive summer home (gorgeously

designed by John Iacovelli) of Dr. Joseph Levay (John Wesley), in an

elite, African-American enclave of Martha's Vineyard. The family is

arriving for the weekend, and son Flip (Terrell Tilford), a successful

plastic surgeon, is bringing his white fiancée Kimber (Avery Clyde) to

meet the family. Writer son Kent (Chris Butler) also brings his

bride-to be, Taylor (Michole Briana White), who comes from a lower rung

on the social ladder. At first all is banter, horse-play and fun, but

gradually fracture lines appear. Despite their wealth and privilege,

the Levays are not immune to the stresses and prejudices of snobbery,

race and class, conflicts between fathers and sons, and brotherly

rivalries. Mom hasn't turned up for the family gathering, and secrets

about sexual hanky-pank lurk beneath the surface, waiting to erupt.

Meanwhile, young substitute maid-housekeeper Cheryl (Tinashe Kajese) is

seriously upset about something. Diamond's play combines complex

characters, provocative situations, and literate, funny dialog in this

delicious comedy of contemporary manners. Director Shirley Joe Finney

reveals a sharp eye for social nuance, and melds her dream cast into a

brilliantly seamless ensemble. They are all terrific. (NW) The Matrix

Theatre Company, 7657 Melrose Avenue, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3

p.m., thru May 31. (323) 960-7740.

THE STICKING PLACE As Shakespeare drafted Macbeth, he thought, "This

is solid stuff -- but what if I set it in a swimming pool?" Or not. But

director Chris Covics has gone ahead and set it in one anyway for the

sole purpose of paralleling Macbeth's doom to the pool's water level.

As the Thane's guilt rises, the water surges from the floor and rains

down overhead on the four female ensemble (Brittany Slattery, Angela

Stern, Erica Stone and Amy Tzagournis) whose white robes tangle and

drag with the wet weight. For a few minutes, it's chillingly effective.

The ladies enter blindfolded, fumbling their way like primordial

lizards in a cave, as though Covics is prodding us to think about the

Macbeths' drive to survive and the centuries we've spent reliving their

fate. But the miserablist new setting has consequences: drains that

gurgle over speeches, distracting fears for the actors' safety, and

worst of all, the director's reliance on his gimmick to compensate for

the complete mess he's made of Shakespeare's play. It's impossible to

follow. Not just because the actors trade off roles fluidly in

mid-speech, but because they haven't been directed to articulate the

lines in either pronunciation or performance. Happy, scared, female,

male, Banquo or Lady M, everything is delivered in a fearful psychotic

squeal. At best, it's a Macbeth tone poem -- an unpleasant one for

audience and actor alike. Or rather, since the 60-minute production

closes with the "Tomorrow" speech, Covics has deliberately made the

end-all of nouveau-nonsense Shakespeare adaptations, sending us out of

the theater with "Signifying nothing" ringing in our heads as a lesson

to the cock-eyed creatives. (AN) Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St.,

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

466-7781.

GO STRANGER Keythe Farley and Eva Anderson's world premiere musical

(or more accurately a play with music) is set in the Nevada town of San

Lorenzo in 1847. A bandit named Lagarto (Michael Dunn) has murdered the

town sheriff and kidnapped his daughter Lucinda (Molly O'Neill).

Lucinda's mother Miranda (Ann Closs-Farley, who also creates the

beautiful costumes) owns the local saloon and takes in The Stranger

(Cameron Dye) who wanders into town one day, running from his own dark

past. Lagarto is after treasure that Miranda has hidden away, but she

refuses to give it up without a fight, rallying the townspeople behind

her, including The Padre (Joe Hernandez-Kolski), a morally ambiguous

figure. The ambiguity of the priest's motives as well as the style of

the piece evoke, and simultaneously parody, the "Spaghetti Westerns" of

the 1960s. Composer Anthony Bollas' blues licks mixed with Western rock

and Spanish guitar perfectly set the mood, along with Rebecca Kessin's

desert soundscape. Francois-Pierre Couture's wood-slat backdrops that

appear branded with a hot iron are wonderfully evocative of The

Ponderosa as well. Keythe Farley, who also directs the piece,

masterfully shifts between scenes and creates arresting tableaus, using

the set to its full capacity. Dunn charismatically embodies a

larger-than-life outlaw, delivering lines full of humor and irony, and

the rest of the cast shines as well, from Dye's tough-as-nails

demeanor, to O'Neill's ferocity, to Closs-Farley's Mae West-like spunk,

to Hernandez-Kolski's sliver-tongued duplicity. Bootleg Theater; 2220

Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (June 21 & 28

only); through July 4. (213) 389-3856. www.bootlegtheater.com. (Mayank

Keshaviah)

THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton,

Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for

Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323)

960-7785.

NEW REVIEW TOUCH THE WATER Photo by John Lucker

Stage Raw: Love Water

The cause is great. The intentions are beyond reproach. So why is it that so much of playwright Julie Hébert and director

Juliette Carrillo's eco-advocacy drama plays like preaching to the

choir? Perhaps it's because their protagonist isn't a human character

but a piece of city infrastructure -- the much-abused and

long-neglected L.A. River. It certainly doesn't help that the city's

adoption of the 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan has,

in effect, already robbed the political storyline of its dramatic

thunder (which may explain why talky stretches of river-greening

exposition are about as entertaining as a press release). Still, even

sermons can have their charm and choirs make beautiful music, and this

production is rich in both. There is the pleasure of Carrillo's

site-specific staging on the northern bank of the L.A. River

overlooking Frogtown (represented in Darcy Scanlin's river-refuse set)

and the rousing raft of original songs (music by Shishir Kurup, lyrics

by Kurup & Hébert) that animates the show's human story. There are

engaging, lead performances by Kurup and Page Leong as old, Frogtown

friends estranged by a riverbank gang killing who are finally brought

together by the river's renewal. And there is the climactic coup de

théâtre, engineered by lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, and its

stunning moment of spine-tingling magic that is the raison d'être of

site-specific theater. Rio de Los Angeles State Park, Bowtie Parcel,

entrance adjacent to 2800 Casitas Ave., L.A.; Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru

June 21. (213) 613-1700, Ext. 37. (Bill Raden)
 

GO TRAFFICKING IN BROKEN HEARTS There's something

hauntingly familiar about Edwin Sanchez's lowlife romance, and I don't

mean its pre-Giuliani, 42nd Street locale, so palpably invoked by

Sanchez and director Efrain Schunior's blistering stage poetry. The

block's sordid miasma of peepshows, seedy hotel rooms, gay movie houses

and Port Authority men's rooms -- cleverly represented in designer

Marika Stephens' triptych of skeletal, neon-trimmed, box scaffolds --

comprises the track where Puerto Rican street veteran Papo (a soulful

Ramon Camacho) hustles the tricks of his rough trade. It's also where

he falls for Brian (Stephen Twardokus), a chronically repressed

attorney and 26-year-old virgin so tangled in the apron strings of a

domineering mother that he can't consummate a hooker-john liaison much

less engage in an openly gay relationship. In the meantime, Papo will

have to settle for the runaway, Bobby (Elijah Trichon), a 16-year-old

package of dangerously damaged goods, who only wants to make Papo a

good wife. The arrangement quickly develops into a volatile mix of

vulnerability, unrequited desire and wounded pride just waiting for the

inevitable spark. Of course, Papo is no hard-bitten Ratso Rizzo; he's

descended from an even more ancient line of Hollywood hokum: the

proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. Credit Schunior's skillful

sleight of hand, and riveting performances by Camacho and Twardokus for

selling such a shamelessly adolescent fantasy, which may be the

greatest hustle of the show. (BR) Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 28.

(323) 957-1884 or www.tix.com.

TRUCK STOP CAFÉ Sharon L. Graine's stage adaptation of the film Bagdad Café. Playhouse Theatre Players, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 227-5410.

GO VOICE LESSONS Justin Tanner's very funny sitcom

shoots darts at a trio of characters who are tied to the dart board by

their transparent lunacies and hubris, which makes it an exercise in

almost pointless cruelty, though the broadness of Bart DeLorenzo's

staging may have contributed to the sense of this Punch & Judy Show

masquerading as a satire. In earlier plays, like Pot Mom,

Tanner stumbled onto an insight that unearthed the unseen side of a

stereotype. His skills at structure, one-liners and caricature are so

sharply honed, his persisting challenge is finding something worth

saying. Tanner's parody is directed at the vicious and deluded vanity

of a hopelessly obviously talentless and aging pop singer, Virginia

(Laurie Metcalf), trying to claw her way to TV fame. Can a target get

any easier? She cements her ambitions to a voice teacher, Nate (French

Stewart), whose initial mask of respectability and ethics slithers down

the greasy pole of his own personal desperation. Maile Flanagan further

inflates the farce, portraying Nate's zaftig live-in girlfriend,

setting up a catfight over the forlorn and increasingly sleazy teacher.

For all its petulant ambitions, the evening is wildly entertaining

thanks to the irrepressible talents of the cast. It's hard to see how

this play would survive without these actors. With a deep and slightly

nasal voice, and deadpan responses that should be copyrighted for the

mountain of silent thoughts they reveal, Stewart provides the perfect

foil for Metcalf's meticulously executed tornado of psychosis and

Flanagan's lovely cameo. DeLorenzo deserves credit for the comedy's

sculpted timing, and Gary Guidinger's set and lighting depicts with

realistic detail the frayed fortress of Nate's living room. (SLM)

Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

7 p.m.; through May 17. (323) 960-7711.

WHO WROTE THIS SH!T Patrick Bristow directs an improv ensemble

through the Hollywood script process, from pitch meeting to DVD review.

Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru

July 30. (800) 838-3006.

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

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

Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 4

p.m.; thru June 28, www.yagottagohigher.com...

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

THE APPLE TREE Three one-act musicals, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics

by Sheldon Harnick, book by Bock and Harnick. Crown City Theatre, 11031

Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru

June 28. (818) 745-8527.

GO BREAKING THE CODE Brilliant, eccentric

mathematician Alan Turing (Sam R. Ross) did vital work for British

intelligence during World War II, breaking the Nazi Enigma Code, which

saved thousands of allied lives, and materially helped defeat the Axis

powers. But because his efforts were top secret, he received only

posthumous public recognition. (Later, building on his work on the code

machines, he pioneered the modern computer.) But as playwright Hugh

Whitemore observes here, he broke other codes as well: moral, legal,

professional, and personal, including the homosexual's 20th century

code of silence. Gay, guileless, awkward, ruthlessly honest, and

socially inept, he was often oblivious of his effect on others. When a

sexual encounter with a bit of rough trade (Adam Burch) led to a police

investigation, he rashly admitted to the inspector (Armand DesHarnais)

that he had sexual relations with the young man. He found himself, like

Oscar Wilde, prosecuted for "gross indecency," his life and career

wrecked. Writer Whitehouse and actor Ross provide an eloquent,

touching, richly detailed portrait of Turing, and director Robert

Mammana has assembled a fine supporting cast, including Sarah Lilly as

Turing's garrulous, loving mother, and David Ross Patterson as a

hilarious dim-bulb bureaucrat. (NW) The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443

Chandler Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.;

thru June 20. http://theprodco.com or (800) 838-3006. The Production

Company.

EAST OF BERLIN Hannah Moscovitch's Holocaust comedy. Yes, I said

Holocaust comedy. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 19. (818)

508-7101.

GO THE ELEPHANT MAN In his very romantic and even

sentimental Tony-award winning 1979 play, Bernard Pomerance challenges

our presumptions as to where monstrosity resides. A scientist named

Treves, portrayed by Andrew Matthews with bright-eyed, bow-tied

self-assurance, presumes he understands the entirety of a situation he

simply does not, when he rescues a the pathologically deformed John

Merrick (Daniel Reichert) from a carnival freak show in Victorian

London. Director John Demita stages the nine-member ensemble on the

tiny almost bare stage around a trio of portable, translucent screens,

like hospital screens, which come to represent the thin veneer of

privacy in the hospital clinic where Merrick spends his final days.

(Set designed by Steven Markus.) True to the Broadway staging, and in

direct contrast to David Lynch's 1980 movie, the monstrosity of

Merrick's condition is revealed without a spec of makeup or any

plastic-cloth constructions. Rather, Reichert contorts his body, down

to the fused fingers we hear about in the dialogue and see in projected

photographs. Pomerance's Merrick is a tortured angel, something of a

prophet. The production is meticulously acted, with superb performances

also by Abbey Craden as an actress who captures Merrick's heart, by

Norman Snow as hospital administrator Carr Gomm, by Brian George

doubling as Merrick's carney-barker patron-thief, as well as a local

Bishop. I wish it weren't so staid. The director introduces his

ensemble with the promising tones of a Street Violinist (Max Quill),

and a juggler (Aandrea Reblynn), who returns to show how Treves'

attempts to sustain funding for a ward are a juggling act, yet the show

doesn't quite push beyond the tone of the clinic where its action

finally settles -- despite Kim DeShazo Wilkinson's lush and colorful

costumes. (SLM) Andak Stage Company at the New Place Studio Theatre,

10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3

p.m.; through June 21. (866) 811-4111.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or

celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series

of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South

Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28, www.insideprivatelives.com. (866)

811-4111.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Charles Michael Edmonds' solo show. Two Roads

Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June

27. (323) 960-5773.

NEW REVIEW THE MUSCLES IN OUR TOES High

school, the cherished never-never land of pop culture, is the setting

for Stephen Belber's hit and miss comedy, here in its world premiere.

On the occasion of their twentieth high school reunion, old friends Les

(Daniel Milder), Rag (Michael Benyaer), Dante (Al Espinosa), and Phil

(Bill Tangridi) congregate in an old music classroom to reminisce and

trade shots of booze. This group is a study in contrasts. Dante is a

banker, a new convert to Judaism and is full of swagger and attitude;

his brother Phil is "atypically gay"; Les works in theater as a fight

coordinator, and Reg, an Iranian, works for federal government.

Unfortunately, the bonhomie mojo of the moment is tempered by the

absence of their comrade Jim (Keith Ewell), a tennis shoe baron who's

been kidnapped by rebels in Chad, supposedly in retaliation for the

U.S. governments detention of a terrorist. The play's premise already

stretched thin, turns to rice paper when the group hatches an insane

plot to free their buddy. Most of the buzz here comes from the raft of

one-liners, testosterone-fueled antics and bawdy humor, although it

starts grate in the absence of a viable plot. Cast performances are

fine under Jennifer Chambers direction. El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269

Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd., Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through

June 28. (866) 811-4111. (Lovell Estell III)

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND Zombie Joe's Underground adapts Dostoyevsky's

existentialist novella. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru June 27. (818) 202-4120.

OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS Joe DiPietro's oft-produced

farce about Italian-American family life depends on a few minutes of

soppy sentimentality to balance out two hours of caricature.

29-year-old Nick (Ren Bell) spends every Sunday night in Hoboken for

dinner with both sets of grandparents - four nearly imbecilic

characters who fuss and rant, but never listen to their grandson, who,

in turn, constantly yells at them.. When Nick tells them he is moving

to Seattle for a big promotion, the old folks move into overdrive to

stop him - their big weapon: a blind date with the lovely Caitlin

(sweetly played by Alyse Courtney). She shames him for his mistreatment

of the grands, which leads to enough household calm to explore some

deeper emotions and finally tone the hollering down for the characters

to find resolution. The writing is quite funny in its Everybody Loves

Raymond style, and the over-the-top performances by Irene Chapman,

Robert Gallo, Michele Bernath and director Larry Eisenberg (filling in

on a Sunday matinee) garnered constant laughs from an appreciative

audience. While the script alternates between bombastic and cloying,

Eisenberg keeps his actors fully committed to each moment. Chris

Winfield's very naturalistic suburban living room set also helps keeps

the cast grounded in some reality. (TP) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory

Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

2 p.m.; thru June 27. (818) 700-4878.

RED, HOT AND BLUE! Director-choreographer Joe Joyce tries to blow

the dust off Cole Porter's antiquated musical, but with mixed success.

The music and lyrics by Porter can't be faulted other than they have

little to do with Howard Lindsy and Russel Crouse's antediluvian book,

grafted onto a musical comedy. The very thin plot line concerns "Nails"

O'Reily Dusqusque (Allyson Turner) auctioning off the true love of her

life, Bob Hale (Kyle Nudo). These two are fine but some of the minor

roles are grating. Richard Horvitz (channeling Joe Pesci) plays the

comic foil way over the top. Worse though is Sandra Purpuro as Peaches,

who strives for a Betty Boop voice and achieves something more akin to

nails scratching a chalkboard. Choreographer Joyce does what he can on

a postage-stamp-size stage. (SR) Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura

Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. thru July 5. (800)

838-3006. By George Productions.

SEX, LOVE, AND TIME TRAVEL Five comedy one-acts by Daniel Weisman.

Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (323) 960-1054.

TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: ENCOUNTERS Late-night vignettes by

Theatre Unleashed. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru June 27. (818) 849-4039.

NEW REVIEW TRACING SONNY Photo courtesy of Theatre Unlimited 

Stage Raw: Love Water

Young voice-over artist Sonny (Jacob Smith) has more problems than a

single play can accommodate. His parents adopted him because his Dad

(Sebastian Kadlecik) was experiencing a spell of impotence which

rendered children unlikely. Then, when the pressure was off, Dad sired

a daughter, who later died of a childhood illness. Mom (Sylvia

Anderson) blamed ever-angry Dad, and their marriage foundered. Now

Sonny has taken up with pretty, animated cartoonist Luci (Vanessa

Hurd), whom he met at the zoo, and they're engaged. When she suffers a

miscarriage of their baby,  the resulting grief and guilt render Sonny

impotent. His efforts to remedy the situation are hindered by parental

voices reflecting Dad's anger, and Mom's accusations of inadequacy. 

Playwright Andrew Moore attempts to use both the cartooning and the

voice-overs as metaphors, but his plot meanders. Short scenes follow

one another without climaxes, scenes are interlarded with bits of old

animated cartoons featuring Porky Pig, Popeye, Betty Boop, etc., and

director Pamela Moore's direction fails to supply dramatic thrust.

Smith and Hurd provide charm and skill, making the most of their

material, but Anderson and Kadlecik are hindered by sketchy, one-note

characters. Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru June 28. Produced by

Theatre Unleashed. (818) 849-4039 or  http://theatreunleashed.com (Neal

Weaver) 

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WEST SIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS

THE ACCOMPLICES Bernard Weinraub's documentary drama about an

activist's efforts to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. Odyssey

Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru June 14. (310) 477-2055.

BABYLON HEIGHTS Munchkins go wild on the set of The Wizard of Oz,

by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanaugh. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St.,

Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 20. (866) 811-4111.

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's

family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse,

1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec.

27. (310) 394-9779.

DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion

and talent - both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress

about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year

veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early

experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33

years on the job - who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings

the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the

beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even

more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member -- a

well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's

counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from

dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the

frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own

upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with

the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4

songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is

its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of

Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative,

itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses

to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel - part performance,

part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of

power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. (DK) Beverly Hills

Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

through April 18. (310) 358-9936.

I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT Even by the standards of the

venerable 12-step confessional, Jonathan Coogan's one-man memoir of

growing up amid the pot smoke, promiscuity and pernicious parenting of

the freewheeling Hollywood of the '70s is fairly tepid stuff. Which is

not to say Coogan doesn't have a lot going for him as a performer. With

a wry, self-deprecating manner and an engaging stage presence, he

clearly knows his way around a one-liner. His autobiographical

material, however, just doesn't generate the highs -- no pun intended --

or lows demanded by the shopworn victim-recovery formula. Perhaps

that's because, in the land of medical marijuana, having been a teenage

stoner turned weed dealer scared straight by a brush with the law seems

so, well, underwhelmingly ordinary. More likely it's because this

"addiction" story, at least as it's framed here by Coogan and his

co-writer, director Dan Frischman, seems to constantly shrink before a

pair of far more compelling characters always looming in the background

-- namely Coogan's colorful, pot-smoking New York-Jew parents. In fact,

judging by the unresolved bitterness permeating the piece, its real

star is Rosy Rosenthal, Coogan's Ralph Kramden-esque wisecracker of a

father (tellingly, the mother's name is never uttered). Far more than

any clichés about a "higher power," it is Rosy and his

spare-the-fist-spoil-the-child version of tough love that determines

the psychic trajectory of Coogan's life and is this tale's true heart

and soul. )BR) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly

Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 13. (310) 358-9936.

THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson.

Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 28. (310) 392-7327.

A NUMBER A widower (John Heard) discovers that a hospital has bred

clones of his bachelor son (the aptly named Steve Cell), making him a

father to an unknown number of identical young men. The son, Bernard,

is confused, but open to meeting his brothers; the dad immediately

cries "lawsuit!" -- allowing playwright Caryl Churchill to plunge

straight away into her themes about the boundaries, rights and values

of an identity. (And when Bernard suspects he's not the original, is

that even worse?) Churchill argues that personality is separate from

genetics and introduces us to three Bernards as distinct as Goldilocks'

bears: one bitter, one sweet, and one conflicted. Cell plays all three,

and it's hard not to interpret director Bart DeLorenzo's decision to

signify the role-switching by having Cell button, unbutton or strip off

his overshirt as a lack of trust in either the performer or the

audience. Their father is clearly hiding a secret, and Heard captures

him as a man defeated before the play even begins -- he resolves every

confrontation by telling the Bernards what they want to hear. If there

is one truth under his lies, it'd be the play's only singularity: While

the clones share a disgust for him, it springs from different reasons.

"You don't look at me the same way," the widower says of how he tells

them apart. But unlike him, we never see the clones or their father as

people, only players in a fable that's constrained by the very

dichotomies it wants to explore. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S.

Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through June

21. (310) 477-2055.

GO OUR TOWN Upon learning that one of L.A.'s most

daring theater companies, the Actors' Gang, is tackling Thornton

Wilder's beloved three-act stage perennial about life, love and death,

one is keen to witness the group's "take" on the play's universal

themes. This play is, after all, the hoop through which almost every

high school theater department must jump. Interestingly enough,

director Justin Zsebe's interpretation in his intimate yet powerful

production is one of surprising and sincere faithfulness to the play's

tone and mood. This is a beautifully rendered and moving Our Town.

Narrated by Steven M. Porter's genial yet crusty Stage Manager, the

play's story of life in a small New England town, centering on the

romance and marriage of sweet young Emily (a luminous Vanessa Mizzone)

and her beloved George (Chris Schultz), receives a staging whose basic

simplicity belies unexpected depths of subtly articulated feeling.

Zsebe admittedly tosses in a couple of visual conceits that might cause

Wilder to whirl in his grave: There's a character who performs a

dazzling yet wholly irrelevant acrobatic dance from a long sash,

seemingly just because it looks good; and, during the play's third act,

set in the underworld, the deceased characters hang from playground

swings, when simple chairs are called for in the script. Yet the

ensemble work is deft and subtle -- and moments that are often corny in

other, lesser productions evoke laughter and tears here -- from the

beautiful scene in which Ma Webb (Lindsley Allen) and Ma Gibbs

(Annemette Andersen) shuck their peas, to the touching one in which

Schultz's George suffers his wedding night-cum-fear of mortality

jitters at the altar. (PB) Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver

City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through July 11. (310)

838-GANG. An Actors' Gang production.

SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS

BEVERLY WINWOOD PRESENTS THE ACTOR'S SHOWCASE Fund-raiser for the

L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center. Scheduled to appear: Tim Bagley, Cheryl

Hines, Michael Hitchcock, Phil Lamarr, Karen Maruyama, Jim Rash, Mary

Jo Smith, Mindy Sterling, many more. L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center,

Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Sat., June 13, 8 p.m..

(323) 860-7302.

BOTANICUM SEEDLINGS: A DEVELOPMENT SERIES FOR PLAYWRIGHTS Public readings of new plays: The Power of Birds by Robin Rice Lichtig (June 7), How To Shoot a Bull Moose by Jonathan A. Goldberg (June 14), Awake

by Michael David (June 21). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N.

Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 11 a.m.; thru June 21. (310)

455-3723.

CIRQUE BERZERK Alt-circus with "burlesque dancers, gothic stilt

walkers, punk rock clowns, psychedelic vaudevillian tomfoolery,

contortionists, and an original dark, sexy musical score." Los Angeles

State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St., L.A.; opens June 18; Thurs.,

8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; thru July

5, www.cirqueberzerk.com

GROSS AND INDECENT Short plays created in 24 hours, from concept to

stage, by Life on its Side Productions. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312

Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Sat., June 13, 8 & 10 p.m..

(818) 508-3003.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Staged reading of Oscar Wilde's comedy, to be recorded for syndicated radio series The Play's the Thing.

Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; June

17-19, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 20, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., June 21, 4 p.m.,

www.latw.org. (310) 827-0889.

SPICE OF LIFE Residents of New Directions, Inc., an organization for

displaced veterans, perform in this play written by veterans in

recovery. Panel discussion led by Margaret Ladd and Lyle Kessler

follows., Free, resv. required. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax

Ave., L.A.; June 17-18, 8 p.m., www.imaginationworkshop.org.. (310)

206-8067.

THEATRE WEST PLAY READING SERIES June 9: Petain by Lloyd J. Schwartz; June 16: SLIP/KNOT by Dayle Reyfel; June 23: Fall Back, Spring Forward by Barbara Nell Beery; June 30: Two Gentlemen of Manhattan by P.G. Sturges; July 7: What Are Friends For? by Victoria Vidal; July 14: Moose on the Loose by Dina Morrone; July 21: There Is a Season by Doug Haverty; July 28: Abandon by Chris DiGiovanni; August 4: Grandma Good by Arden Teresa Lewis; August 11: Zeno's Paradox by Wendy Graf. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 11. (323) 851-7977.


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