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Stage Raw: Monsters and Prodigies


Stage Raw: Monsters and Prodigies

Reviewed this week: Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum; Jack Chandlers' new comedy-mystery, Murder on the Bounding Main, at Sierra Madre Playhouse; a dance-rock fusion, Vibrating Sun, at Unknown Theatre; Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's staging fof Macbeth; Echo One-Act Festival at Stage 52; Furious Theatre Company's production of Hunter Gatherers; Leslye Headland's Reverb presented by IAMA Theatre Company at the Working Stage Theatre; Danny Hoch's Taking Over at the Kirk Douglas; and Christopher Moore's new musical, Pope Joan, at the Stella Adler

MONSTERS AND PRODIGIES AT REDCAT

Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes from Mexico City comes to REDCAT this weekend with a presentation of their production, Monsters and Prodigies: The History of the Castrati

This raucous farce from the internationally renowned Mexico City company reaches back to a florid chapter of European cultural history: the era of the castrati-superstars of 18th-century opera whose heavenly prepubescent voices won swooning adoration across the continent's highest courts

At your fingertips: The 30th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards NOMINEES

(Please note, guest tickets are $20 each, not $15 as I posted on Monday.)

Also, this week's Cover Story/Stage Profile on Internet pioneer performer Chris Leavins.

The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, which can be accessed by pressing the Read On tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for January 30-February 5, 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, Deobrah 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

FOREVER: THE MUSICAL Based on Judy Blume's teen novel about a young woman's "first time," adapted by Gerald McClanahan. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Feb. 27-28, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (310) 281-8337.

LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS The latest travesty in Magnum Opus Theatre's readings of unsolicited screenplays. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Jan. 30; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (310) 281-8337.

A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR Tennessee Williams' comedic drama about a woman awaiting matrimony. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 939-9220.

MODEL BEHAVIOR The story of Jekyll and Hyde told through dance and song, by Richard Alger, with choreography by Tina Kronis. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; opens Jan. 30; Fri., Jan. 30, 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (800) 838-3006.

STORMY WEATHER Sharleen Cooper Cohen's biography of Lena Horne, music by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Billy Strayhorn and others. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; opens Jan. 30; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (626) 356-PLAY.

THOMAS & FRIENDS LIVE! ON STAGE: A CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN Thomas the Tank Engine gets derailed in this kids-show spectacular. Nokia Theatre, 777 Chick Hearn Court, L.A.; Sat., Jan. 31, 11 a.m., 2 & 5 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 11 a.m.. (213) 763-6020.

THREE SISTERS Russian siblings dream of Moscow in Anton Chekhov's play, adapted by Susan Coyne. (At the Masonic Lodge.). Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 1; Sun., Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (866) 468-3399.

UNBROKEN CIRCLES Greg Phillips' story of country-music clan the Moss Family Singers. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 31; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 477-2055.

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? "R-rated" production of Edward Albee's drama. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; opens Jan. 31; Sat., Jan. 31, 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (805) 667-2900.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS Jules Verne's classic comedy adventure sets sail with seemingly stuffy 19th-century Brit Phileas Fogg, when he proposes a wager to his social-club fellows that he can indeed pull off the title deed. Embarking instantly with the help of a new manservant, the bumbling but faithful Passapartout, Fogg engages trains, boats and elephants in his zeal to win the bet. Director Michael Butler keeps the actors racing through the story, averting any possibility of boredom; nevertheless, the production is far from satisfying. Adaptor Mark Brown presents little wit, if any, in the language, or humor in the action to compensate. Brown and his fine actors try to goose it, with increasingly silly gags and anachronisms, from which they earn the play's only laughs. (TP). Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (949) 497-2787.

MONSTERS AND PRODIGIES: THE HISTORY OF THE CASTRATI Mexico City's Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes presents Jorge Kuri's 18th-century-opera farce. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Through Jan. 31, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a scarred recluse and the diva he adores. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.. (213) 365-3500.

>NEW REVIEW GO PIPPIN I know we're on the cusp of a Depression and that theater audiences ache for frivolity and distraction, but this one really vexes, largely because it's so damnably seductive. First, Roger O. Hirson's book and Stehen Schwartz's music and lyrics combine into what has been one of the most produced musicals in colleges and high schools in the past 30 years. Add to that Jeff Calhoun's hyper-theatrical staging and choreography of a topflight ensemble in a style designed to accommodate the hearing-impaired actors of co-presenter Deaf West Theater, and you've got a extremely glossy carny show in which the central role is bifurcated between the hangdog charm of deaf actor Tyrone Giordano, and his voiced alter-ego, Michael Arden. The pair share the stage with a huge ensemble, one revealing through physicality the agony and bliss of Charlamegne's son, Pippin, as he searches for the purpose of life, while the other gives voice to those expressions through a dextrous vocal interpretation and Schwartz's somewhat sappy songs rendered here with effervescent beauty. This is the latest in a series of Candide riffs (much searching for purpose these days), in which Pippin fights in a war, learns about sex as well as domesticity, commits patricide, serves as king, screws up by being benevolent to the peasants and dismantling the army while an Enemy Beyond encroaches. Silly boy. Shut up, go home and till your garden. Let smarter people take care of the empire. Your adopted son will dream and make the same mistakes. Pardon me, but this is crap posing as wisdom, truisms posing as truth, especially at a moment in our history when doing nothing but tending our garden has landed us collectively in the biggest sand trap in American history. I couldn't join the standing ovation on press night. I just couldn't, I was so pissed off - politically, philosophically. If this were just diversion, I'd have risen to my feet. I love diversion as much as anybody. But I felt in this production a creepy, reactionary underpinning that's even out of touch with our new government's position on everybody taking responsibility to pull each other up, collectively. And for this shimmering magic act to close out by cautioning us about the seductive qualities of veneer is a fraud of the first rank. The show is so well done, see it for yourself, and see if you're as annoyed as me. Deaf West Theatre and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; (Jan. 31 perf at 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 17 perf at 7:30 p.m.; no perfs Feb. 18-20); through March 15. (213) 628-2772. http://centertheatregroup.org (Steven Leigh Morris)

Pippin Photo by Craig Schwartz

GO THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash's comedy is in many respects conventional Broadway fare of the 1950s, written with love for its characters who care about each other deeply, even when they're not good at expressing it. It's also a richly funny play, being a comedy of character rather than one driven by wise-cracks. Phyllis Gitlin's staging offers no virtuoso performances, but her tightly-knit ensemble brings the piece to throbbing life. Loren McJannet-Taylor makes a poignant figure of the spinster Lizzie, who feels that life has passed her by because she's plain and has never been able to attract a man. She achieves a bit of theatre magic by becoming beautiful in the moment that the con-man rain-maker, Starbuck (Kevin Deegan), tells her that she is. Mitchell Nunn ably captures the helpless frustration of her father, determined to make his daughter happy even if he doesn't quite know how. Paul Breazeale is all boyish charm as the kid brother Jimmy, who, like Lizzie, is dominated by their puritanical controlling brother, Noah (Sean Gray). Cort Huckabone over-plays his "Aw, shucks!" shyness as the love-sick sheriff's deputy File, and Deegan works a bit too hard to demonstrate Starbuck's charm, but in the end they serve the play admirably. (NW) Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Feb.7; (562) 494-1014 or www.lbph.com.

NEW REVIEW GO TAKING OVER You'd think from the way he walks across the aisle in front of the stage that Danny Hoch has a lumbering gait, until he springs onto the raised stage for his one-man-show as though his shoes had launchers in their heels. It's worth seeing him perform if only for that Puck-like nimbleness that he uses to portray a series of men and women from a Brooklyn neighborhood that's in the throes of being gentrified. This nimbleness reaches into verbal dexterity as well as the physical, hypnotic renditions of rapid-fire local cadences. Hoch's characters include an ex-con trying to hustle a job from an indie film crew setting up on the streets. He finally offers to move boxes for free just to show his mom, who's watching from a nearby brownstone window, that he's needed. The parodies are broad, vicious and tender at the same time, as in the case of an African-American woman who sits on her stoop keeping an eye on the local kids in her control central, and a Dominican taxi dispatcher who verbally reams in Spanish (translations provided on screen) the Puerto Rican and Mexican cabbies under his charge. His tenderly spoken assault is a display of bigotry, a comedy act that would get him thrown out of an office building in most American cities were he to unleash his torrent from a different post. One character includes Hoch himself, responding to letters of complaint that all the white guys in his show are assholes: Leading that list is Stewart Gottberg, the investor-owner of a new luxury high rise assuring his prospective clients that the residents of the "buffer" building next door -- apparently mandated by some "affordable housing" legislation that actually ushers in gentrification - won't be using their spa or swimming pool. Hoch, as himself, also recites with muted irony viewer complaints that his show has no message. What do you want us to do - stop progress? they ask. Perhaps his show is just a showcase dancing around a plight. He claims that the blood of a fallen gang-member is more "authentic" than an organic artichoke being sold in the Whole Foods market now occupying the site where the gang-member died. But since he starting touring his show about gentrification, an elephant has walked across his stage, and his determination to ignore it places what should be the hippest event in town way behind the curve. Since the economic meltdown, loans on construction of the luxury highrises he finds to be such a symbol of numbing, sterile consumerism have themselves been mostly frozen, while the new president is appealing to us to reconsider former habits of conspicuous consumption and narcissistic isolation that have driven our county into its current thornpatch. For thie first time in 15 years, rents are actually dropping. This is the paradox of creating a topical show in an era when the topics change even more quickly than Hoch's turn-on-a-dime impersonations. Tony Taccone directs. Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m. (added perf Feb. 22, 1 p.m. replaces 6:30 perf); through February 22. (213) 628-2772 or http://centertheatregroup.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Taking Over Photo by Kevin Berne

WORDMAGIC Linguist Laurel Airica dissects the English language through trance-like verse and wordplay. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 1. (310) 899-1059.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUTATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND DOWNTOWN

THE SERMONS OF JOHN BRADLEY Young John Bradley (writer-performer Hunter Lee Hughes) steps into the pulpit of his Texas church to conduct damage control after his preacher father is implicated in a spectacular sex scandal. Then he's an out gay man, defending gay marriage, assisted by his handsome lover-friend, Trevor (Gavyn Michaels). He founds his own Transformation Ministry, but his mission as a truth-teller is undermined by his own self-delusions -- and his sermon implodes when his stash of crystal meth tumbles into view. (Trevor's massive, flagrant infidelities have apparently provoked Bradley's disillusionment and addiction.) In a curious performance piece, Bradley and Trevor, clad in 2Xist briefs and lots of glitter, play out their tempestuous erotic relationship in a dance choreographed by Ashley Osler. In the final scene, a secular communion, we're invited to partake of bread, apples and water. Hughes' play is fragmented and oddly constructed, with each scene introduced by a New Age-y Shaman (Mary T. Sala), who invokes animal spirits, pounds a drum, and makes dire predictions. Hughes is an able actor, but his play founders on the attempt to embrace too many themes, underpinned by an unresolved conflict between spirituality and carnality. The result, though often interesting, is both precious and murky. (NW) The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., through Feb. 1. (323) 957-4611. Produced by Fatelink Productions.

GO BATTLE HYMN In a fit of passion and adoration, young Martha (Suzy Jane Hunt), has a fling with a pretty (and pretty oblivious) school chum, Henry (Bill Heck), as he's about to join the Union army during the Civil War (despite the couple's Kentucky home). Finding herself pregnant and alone, Martha eventually learns that Henry finds other men more attractive than her. After being spurned by her minister father (William Salyers), who banishes her to relatives far away, Jim Leonard's lovely new play, a variation on Voltaire's Candide, follows Martha as she traverses the country and the century, finding herself in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of Love, still pregnant, still waiting for "the right time" to bring her infant into the world. Leonard's play is more emotionally moving that intellectually rigorous - a compendium of symbols that add up to a century of clashes between America's founding principles and the betrayals of those principles that show up through history - from slavery to gay rights to religious hypocrisy. This land is our land? Hardly. And yet the prevailing symbol is that of birth, and re-birth, of ourselves. Leonard's structure has a few problems. Dwelling on the Civil War era through Act 1, and then racing through time in Act 2, its surrealism would be less jarring if the play's motion were more carefully proportioned. He's been given a first rank production with John Langs' quasi-cinematic staging, featuring some moving musical backdrops composed by Michael A. Levine. Bryan Sidney Bembridge's set and lighting have just the right amount of visual animation, without too much glib winking. Hunt simply charms as Martha, with a wide-eyed conviction that's largely blind to the betrayals that lurk around every corner; John Short and Robert Manning, Jr. complete the finely textured ensemble. (SLM) [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through February 21. (323) 461-3673. A Circle X Production. See Theater Feature on Thursday

BOADICEA Writer-director Bill's Sterritt's treatment of the legendary Icenian queen's revolt against the first-century Roman occupation of Britain is more a play of ideas than heroic exploits. It's too bad, because if Sterritt had lavished the same attention on simple stage craft that he does on transcendentalist philosophy, he might have landed the postmodern tragedy he intended rather than the arid dissertation he actually bags. The intellectual game that Sterritt hunts is the age-old dichotomy between civilization and nature. The two sides are personified by Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus (Matt Haught), whose mandate is to peacefully Romanize the British tribes through civil means, and "nature's regent," Queen Boadicea (Gowrie Hayden), who's initial accommodation with Rome ends in humiliation -- the rape of her daughters (Ashby Plain, Lindsay Lauren Wray) and the annexation of her lands by licentious procurator, Catus Decianus (a charismatic Sean Pritchett). Arousing her warrior nature, the queen initially mauls the Romans until Suetonius sheds the mask of civility to unleash the animal brutality of imperial power. Unfortunately, Sterritt's stilted, quasi-heroic dialogue, curiously flat staging and his reliance on symbolic relationships rather than the interpersonal kind robs the proceedings of any real pathos. With no character-driven conflicts to play off, the cast does their best (Hayden and Pritchett are standouts), but even Brando would have been hard pressed to crack the role of "civilization." (BR) Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 463-3900.

BURIED IN SOPHIE'S TOMB: MY BARKING DOG LOG TO THE WEST HOLLYWOOD SHERIFF'S DEPT. Richard Lucas' six-month "barking dog" journal. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 661-0786.

DADDY'S DYIN' WHO'S GOT THE WILL More than 20 years after its Los Angeles debut, Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas is still good for laughs. Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan with an African-American cast. Family patriarch Buford Turnover (Sy Richardson) has one foot in the grave, and his children can't wait to get their hands on his will. Sara Lee (Regan Carrington) is a luckless-in-love spinster who dutifully tends to the old man. Her sister Lurlene (Michele Harrell) is a religious zealot, while Evalita (Taji Coleman), a trampy, six time divorcee, shows up with a pot smoking, long-haired "hippie" (Matt Skaja). Orville (Hardia Madden), is the sole male heir with a ton of emotional baggage, who constantly berates his overweight wife (Pam Trotter). Then there's the spirited elder Mama Willis (Baadja-Lynne), whose sharp tongue and iron will keeps the brood in line. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores dialogue is blisteringly caustic and funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. The production is double cast. (LE3) Theatre/Theater - Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Avenue, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 954-9795.

DAI (ENOUGH) Iris Bahr's solo show, set in a Tel Aviv cafe just before a bombing. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 960-4410.

NEW REVIEW ECHO ONE-ACT FESTIVAL The lion's share of this evening of six one-acts hews to a template: Two people -- one drunk -- hash out their diametrically opposed world views and teeter off with souls wounded and minds opened. There's clever writing to spare, but in each, the energy and promise of depth flags before the curtain. Directed by Stefan Novinski, David Ives' "The Other Woman," changes the manic stranger theme to an even-keeled wife who has just become a wild, paranoid, horny sleepwalker; her husband is stymied and stricken with guilt -- is he cheating on his wife with his wife? -- but this play, too, cuts off before its questions flourish. Standouts are Julia Cho's "Three Women," a streamlined and effective short play about the pressures of womanhood in which a mother (Kit Pongetti) and grandmother (Ruth Silviera) undermine their dreams that daughter Allison (Lucy Griffin) will live a fuller life than their own by nudging her towards marriage and kids. Director Josh Moyse has a good grip on Cho's clever fast-forwarding of time. Also quite good is Padriac Duffy's "The Dirty Laundry of Marjorie," a tone-perfect tragicomedy about two blue-collar housewives (Alison Martin and Tara Karsian, both excellent) stuck in a too-small town, staged with empathy and humor by Chris Fields. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; though Feb. 15. (800) 413-8669. Presented by Echo Theatre Company (Amy Nicholson)

Stage Raw: Monsters and Prodigies

Echo One Act Festival: The Other Woman Photo by Erik Hyler

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.

GEM OF THE OCEAN August Wilson's ten-play chronicle of the 20th century African-American experience is one of the great achievements in dramatic literature. Gem of the Ocean, the first play in the cycle, is probably the playwright's most symbolic and provocative. The setting is 1904, Pittsburgh, a time when many blacks were no better off than they were during chattel slavery. But the home of 287 year old Aunt Ester (alternate Carlease Burke), is a place of rest, refuge and mystery for a colorful group of residents and regulars. Eli (Jeris Lee Poindexter) is a boarder/handyman with an angel's heart; Black Mary(Tené Carter Miller) is a long-suffering maid and washerwoman; and her brother Cesar (Rocky Gardiner), a badge-heavy cop with a Napoleon Complex whose primary function is to control the "colored" people of the city. Then there's the rabble-rousing, garrulous Solly Two Kings (a star turn by Adolphus Ward), a former Union scout who helped runaway slaves. When a troubled stranger, Citizen Barlow(Keith Arthur Bolden), steals into the house seeking Ester's magical soul-cleansing powers, it sets off a chain of events that forever alters the lives of all those involved. Gem is a play where grand themes like the connection between past and present, the nature of freedom and spiritual redemption are explored, but you don't get that sense here, at least not in a dynamic fashion. With the exception of Ward, the performances lack the necessary polish and emotional resonance Director Ben Bradley who did brilliant work in Fountain's production of Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, is not at his best here, as the pacing at times is far from crisp - though I did see it late in the run. Rounding out the cast is Stephen Marshall. (LE3)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (323)-663-1525.

GO A GRAND GUIGNOL CHILDREN'S SHOW "Not for children" says the program's subhead -- and they're not kidding. Tapping the same root used by Shockheaded Peter, writer-director Debbie McMahon takes the scariest fairy tales in the world, and draws both their violence and latent eroticism through a vivacious and rude entertainment that's part-French vaudeville and part-British Punch and Judy puppet show. Not meaning to be overly literal, but there was some vagueness as to the era: The production is framed as a touring show, circa 1930, while, at the same time, being a birthday party for Monsieur Guignol, who turns 200 this year. So Puppets Punch and Guignol perch in their wooden booth looking down on their human replicas, as four fairy tales are played with song and dance, with Chris Bell's set (sheet backdrops, mostly) and puppets, Jeanne Simpson's charmingly goofy choreography and Matt Richter's deliberately rambling lighting design. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cross between a snuff tale and pedophile's wet dream, as Ms. Hood (Hannah Chodos) removes her red bonnet (revealing pigtails, of course) before stripping down for the Wolf (Gary Karp), languishing in the bed of Grandma (Vanessa Forster), whom he's just eaten. (There may have been a reference to her being eaten out; at least that joke was made about somebody.) The ensuing carnage shows poor Little Red with an alarmed facial expression, as her bloodied intestines are strewn from her midsection around the stage. "The Ugly Ducking" is a lovely and considerably more benign costume parade about family and tribes. "Rapunzel" is an R-rated production with finger puppets, while "Hansel and Gretel" turns into an impressively disturbing saga of cannibalism, coming from the same country that put a millions of people into ovens. Though the sophomoric Punch/Guignol repartee grows tiring, and the dramatic beats within the fairy tales need paring, there's no denying how the lurid morbidity of the event sneaks up on you. And when the witch, opening her oven, tells Hansel and Gretel, "You thought the famine hasn't come to my house!" the tingles up the spine run hot and cold. (SLM) Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. ; through February 20. (323) 871-1912 or www.brownpapertickets.com.

GREATER TUNA Small-town Texas satire, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 667-

0955.

GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND This genial collection of comic skits delivers what it promises: an evening of daffy, enjoyable fun. Director Mitch Silpa's production retains the crisp comic timing and assured ensemble work that maintains the group's sterling comic reputation. (PB). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (323) 934-9700.

HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept - stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast) and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper) entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original, perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . It's slightly paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming, that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly all profiles in courage. (SLM) Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4443.

GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.

I DON'T USUALLY DO THIS Veronica Kelly and Katie McCune's satire about dating in Los Angeles. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (323) 465-4446.

KEN ROHT'S 99 CENT ONLY CALENDAR GIRL COMPETITION While Ken Roht and John Ballinger's clever lyrics often connect in this decidedly silly burlesque whose designers use only what they can scrounge from the titular discount chain, the lack of a story arc or character through-lines means the evening never amounts to more than a concert of disconnected -- and increasingly monotonous -- musical sketches. (BR). Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 1. (213) 389-3856.

LA RONDE In this world premiere of the late Carl R. Mueller's subtly modernized adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's roundelay of pass-the-torch love affairs, two personable young actors, Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett, portray the entire gallery of characters. Thank goodness for the suspended, delicate neon signs that have the names of their characters glowing in the sky, or the characters would be hard to differentiate. The lack of differentiation may be the point of Larry Biederman's staging, but if the purpose is to show the disembodiment of what we call romance in its various permutations, the actors still need a range of features to define the progression of characters, or the directorial vision disintegrates into a long, technically ambitious blur. (SLM). Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 1. (323) 960-7792.

GO LIGHT UP THE SKY Moss Hart's sharp, hard-boiled 1946 farce is the quintessential backstage tale of the mid-20th century. His characters are often based on real people: fast-talking producer Sidney Black (Benjamin Burdick) and his sassy ice-skater wife, Frances (Andrea Syglowski), are almost certainly meant to suggest Mr. and Mrs. Billy Rose. The characters are types, but Hart transmutes them into archtypes, readily recognizable to those too young to remember the era they represent. We meet them in a hotel in Boston, where they're preparing for the out-of-town opening of a show they hope will go off "like a roman candle in the tired face of show business." There's the self-dramatizing star Irene (Laura Flanagan), her dim-bulb husband (Richard Michael Knolla), and her earthy, disenchanted mother (Barbara Schofield). The pretentious, over-emotional director (Colin Campbell) is said to cry at card-tricks, and the callow young playwright (Dominic Spillane) must undergo his theatrical baptism by fire. Hart's script crackles with wit and wise-cracks, and, under the clever direction of Bjorn Johnson, the laughter is near-constant on Victoria Profitt's art-deco set. Burdick is a dynamo of verbal pyrotechnics, and he's evenly matched by most of the cast, who make the most of Hart's cynical/sentimental Valentine to show business. (NW) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 7. (323) 882-6912.

GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.

GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer) and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more roll-with-the-punches pal. (DK) Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through March 8. (800) 595-4849. Note: Roles alternate.

THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 965-9996.

MISSIONARY POSITION Steven Fales' solo show about his days as a Mormon missionary in Portugal. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (323) 957-1884.

THE NEO-SACRED REVIVAL: THREE SHORT PLAYS FOR THE MODERN SOUL Sharon Yablons' "Acts of Love"; Guy Zimmerman's "Hammers"; Heidi Darchuk's "Tiny Trumpets." Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. Fourth Place, L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (213) 625-1766.

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 Reeve's 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.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW POPE JOAN Christopher Moore's musical (he wrote the book, lyrics and music), here directed and choreographed by Bo Crowell, hasn't quite been in development since 800 A.D., which is when the eponymous female pope (whose existence floats on rumor and speculation), but it must feel that way to the creators of a show that's been over a decade in the making. There are some really interesting ideas at the core here, but they're not brought into focus by Moore or Crowell. Priest "John" (a woman in disguise) lives a life of piety to God, which in her mind includes exercising her hearty libido, while the Church parades its wares in any number of different disguises. This all provides the possibilities of an intriguing fable about authenticity and artifice. What we're served up instead is a largely tedious historical epic about a naïve female child, tenderly played by Whitney Avalon, driven from England to a French monarch's bed. Through an intricate web of fortune and alliances, not to mention her uncanny skill to raise the dead, she gets elected Pope, under the name "John." (Yes, a few know her secret but have political reasons not to reveal it.) It takes until the middle of Act 2 for her actually to make it into Pontiff's garb, which is when her callowness comes to the surface; her insistence on feeding the peasants while she's surrounded by power-mongering clerics is not so far removed from politics in Washington right now. It it were about her naïve piety, this could be a musical remake of Shaw's St. Joan, but this work's larger purpose is too muddied to draw that conclusion. Moore seems so determined to tell a biographical-history (including opening, largely irrelevant sequences devoted to the fall of the Roman empire and the birth of Christianity, and one cumbersome chunk of expository backstory that rounds out Act 1). The effect of all this lumbering narrative, that includes dreadful, archaic dialogue, is that the one striking visual symbol of the central character, stripped and with a crucifix resting on her naked back, isn't really the essence of much that's actually being dramatized. There a six-piece band onstage that isn't well served by voices that can barely hold a tune (the chorales have the strongest effect), too many supporting actors have scant stage presence, Crowell's "choreography" is simply movement for non-dancers, and Brent Mason's set of medieval walls and platforms stifle the allegorical potential rather than giving it the flight of, say, Arthurian legend. Most of whatever glimmers of magic appears on the stage comes from Shon LeBlanc's gorgeous costumes. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through January 24. (323) 960-4412. (Steven Leigh Morris)

RESIGNATION DAY Terry Southern wrote Easy Rider, Barbarella, Doctor Strangelove and a host of other classic movies along with searing and clever articles and stories steeped in a Hippie intellectualism, from an eara in which Abbie Hoffman and Lenny Bruce were prophets. He is certainly a man whose life makes for interesting theater, and despite some missteps, playwright Charles Pike has written a generally interesting semi-biographical work. However, two distinct plays emerge out of Pike's "day in the life" approach to his subject. One is a deep and disturbing, darkly comedic portrait of a mad genius of the '60s (a suitably sardonic Chairman Barnes) disintegrating into professional seclusion. The other is a punch-line-laden, vaudevillian romp packed with iconic characters (including William Burroughs played with rich dryness by Roy Allen). The collisions of these two tracks keep either from melding into a singular stage experience. The cast is mostly good, despite some sloppy timing (possibly the result of a jittery opening night). But David LM McIntyre's loose staging does dull some potentially sharp and funny moments. The play is set on the day of Richard Nixon's resignation, a day of joy for Terry and his gaggle, who spend the second act spouting wry liberal vitriol, perhaps tacitly lamenting that their enemy-- and essentially their purpose-- is gone. (LR) Sacred Fools Theater, 660 Heliotrope, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 21. (310) 281-8337.

NEW REVIEW REVERB Leslye Headland's sobering dramedy gives new meaning to the term "dysfunctional relationship." Dorian (Wes Whitehead) is a struggling musician in L.A's rock music world on the verge of the "break" that will propel him to stardom. But his self-absorption and personality quirks often put him at odds with band mates, Hank (Brandon Scott) and Shane (Patrick Graves). However, the squabbles with his fellow musicians pale in comparison to the volatile complexities that inform Dorian's relationship with his ex-girlfriend, June (Melissa Stephens). Both are ensnared in a grotesque attraction for each other fueled by lust, gratuitous physical brutality and shared, lacerating pain. When Dorian's bible-thumping sister, Lydia (Laila Ayad), informs him that his father is dying, Dorian is ultimately forced into a harrowing confrontation with his own demons. First-class performances and Headland's smart direction don't quite compensate for a script, that's cleverly written but is often too wordy and static. The characters are compelling and well sketched, yet the playwright doesn't delve perceptively enough into their personalities to make their emotional and psychological fault lines truly convincing. Working Stage Theatre, 1516 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (323) 630-3016. An Iama Theatre Company production. (Lovell Estell III)

Stage Raw: Monsters and Prodigies

Reverb Photo by Patrick Adams

ROMEO AND JULIET Shakespeare's family feud, re-imagined as Catholics versus Evangelicals. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (213) 926-2726.

SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 281-8337.

TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 960-7753.

THE TODD & MOLLY SHOW: IN EVERYONE'S PANTS THERE'S A DANCE Sketch comedy by Molly O'Leary and Todd Heughens. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26, www.plays411.net/thetoddandmollyshow...

THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.

NEW REVIEW VIBRATING SUN A rock band named Vibrasol performs with pole dancers (Goddess 13) performing in front of them. Each group -- according to their creative statements in the program -- have lofty artistic ambitions, but what they've put on stage, though entertaining, is actually quite commonplace. And though the event is billed as a collaboration, the band doesn't play to the dancers, nor do the dancers seem to dance to the music. Each group is doing its own thing; only occasionally does a moment of synchronicity emerge. If this were happening in a club or bar around town, it could be fun and engaging --with a beer in hand, we could marveling on how damn good that electric violin player is. But a theater environment, with the audience welded to our seats, calls for some kind of story or at least a concept. Yet in this rock concert, everyone is very talented, and the potential for a rich theatrical experience is there, but no one has engineered a show that is more than the sum of its parts. Unknown Theater 1110 N. Seward Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; through February 1. (323) 466-7781. (Luis Reyes)

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Family tone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 14. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.

GO THE DINING ROOM A.R. Gurney's engaging, bittersweet 1982 play details life in a dining room -- or, rather, several dining rooms -- inhabited by a multitude of characters. Short, overlapping vignettes transpire around a dining room table: a birthday party, illicit meetings, student projects, and, of course, family gatherings. Most of the bits present snapshots of family dynamics stressing the universality of what happens around a table, despite the WASPy leanings of the material. With minimal costume changes, the actors use vocal mannerisms to carve out distinct characters, often with physical transformations to suggest age and vitality. Particularly memorable vignettes include an architect trying to convince a psychiatrist to tear down the walls of the dining room to make an office, two teenagers drinking gin mixed with vodka and Fresca, a Thanksgiving dinner interrupted by a mentally failing matriarch and a student filming an old-fashioned aunt for an anthropology class. The events take place on Vandy Scoates expansive, well-appointed set, and the six actors (Matthew Ashford, Mimi Cozzens, Robert Briscoe Evans, James Greene, Tracy Powell and Amanda Tepe) all demonstrate colorful versatility. Kay Cole's fluid direction is most in evidence when vignettes overlap one another without distracting the audience from the dialogue. (SR) Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. thru Feb. 15. (818) 765-8732. An Interact Theatre Company production.

FAR FROM AN ANGEL'S GAZE Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, writer-director Jude Anchang's heavyweight drama highlights the plight of innocent victims in Central Africa's bloody civil strife. Ignoring the warning of his priest, a young businessman obsessed with the rape of his wife at the hands of insurgent terrorists vengefully commits a murder that provokes further threats to his fellow villagers. Meanwhile, the convalescing wife is being sought by her former suitor, who is now an officer within the militia responsible for the rapes and other vicious atrocities. Overwritten, murky and/or chronologically confusing in places, the play nonetheless features strong passages, interesting characters and visceral themes. (DK). Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 354-5159.

NEW REVIEW HUNTER GATHERERS Though it poses as a Buñuelian comedy of manners, San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's broad suburban satire is to the Surrealist master's dissections of bourgeois hypocrisy what a baseball bat is to a surgeon's scalpel. Nachtrieb's comic meat is the venerable dinner party gone-bad. Pam (Sara Hennessy) and Richard (Doug Newell) play host to high-school chums Wendy (Vonessa Martin) and Tom (Steven Schub) to observe the couples' mutual, twelfth wedding anniversary. That there is little to celebrate becomes quickly apparent. The priapic, ex-jock Richard is an insatiable carnivore with a literal blood lust (the play opens with him slaughtering a lamb on the living room floor for the evening roast) that disgusts the sexually repressed Pam. The concupiscent, maternally frustrated Wendy loves flesh (especially, as it turns out, Richard's), much to the dismay of the salad-eating, sexually impotent Tom. If such unlikely marital mismatches and simmering sexual yearnings are the stuff of comic dynamite, Nachtrieb never finds the fuse. Blame an overdeveloped taste for the obvious. Nachtrieb's characters are too immediately transparent and one-note; they muster neither the dignity to feed a farce nor the dimensionality to sustain the most superficial of sitcoms. Director Dámaso Rodriguez's puzzling inability to stage the surfeit of visual and physical gags allows the audience to get so far ahead of the punch lines the laughter never quite catches up. Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 356-PLAY. A Furious Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden)

Hunter Gatherers Photo by Anthony Masters

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The results are tame at best, featuring dated public figures Christine Jorgensen, Billy Carter, David Koresh, and others. How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove, Eliot Spitzer, or Sarah Palin. (DK). Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-4451.

GO IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money, and puts all those nuances on stage 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 in 2008, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. Mark Blanchard directs the sitcom with his own brand of polish, revealing not so much characters as aspects of love and trust that permeate the culture. Meanwhile, the actors infuse those aspects with at least a couple of layers of subtext, humanity, and some very good timing. (SLM) Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Avenue, Toluca Lake; Fri-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (818) 762-2282.

IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563.

MODERN LOVE Anthony Mora's story of a film producer obsessed with his directorial debut. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (818) 558-5702.

NEW REVIEW MURDER ON THE BOUNDING MAIN On an ocean liner crossing from New York to Southampton, England, malicious arch-conservative radio gossip columnist Mason Armstrong is shot down during a midnight promenade on deck. The suspects include a dim-witted movie star (Brian Ames), who spends his days shooting albatross; his manager (Richard Leppig), who's rumored to be having what in truth would be an improbable affair with the star, a blonde chanteuse named Bernadette (Maureen Ganz). Then there's a fourth-rate comedian named Rudy Tudy (Barry Schwam), who spouts endless, bad one-liners; a mysterious widow (Rosina Pinchot); and Armstrong's formidable, red-baiting assistant (understudy Christine Soldate). The ship's captain (Richard Large) enlists the aid of honeymooning detective Mordecai Pierce (writer-actor Jack Chansler) and his new bride, Teresa (Joanna Houghton), to help solve the crime. Chansler's script is set in 1953, but it would have seemed dated even then, and it's hard to care about his tissue paper characters. Even Detective Pierce is a sexist homophobe. The only remotely sympathetic figures are the detective's wife, and the elderly widow who's still mourning the death of her screenwriter husband, driven to suicide by the Hollywood blacklist. There's little or no suspense (who cares whodunit?), and even less probability. The Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2:30, through Feb. 21. (626) 256-3809 https://sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Neal Weaver)

Murder on the Bounding Main Photo by John Johnson

OLD BROADS CAN'T DUNK Senior-citizen basketball league gets a new coach, in Art Shulman's comedy. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (818) 288-7312.

A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Martin McDonagh's thriller about an Irish cemetery worker. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.

URBAN DEATH: A NEW DARKNESS Zombie Joe's "theatrical thrill ride of terrors, taboos and trepidations.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (818) 202-4120.

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Edward Albee's study of marital dysfunction via party games. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7711.

THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT Young Latinos fetishize a white suit, in Ray Bradbury's tale. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 960-4451.

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

BEAU JEST Jewish girl invents boyfriend to please her parents, in James Sherman's comedy. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 828-7519.

GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing - will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing "tears of a clown" masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through February 22. (310) 319-9939.

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.

GO FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family's isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin's wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen ten years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George's parents just happen to be out for the evening -- and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man. , who afterwards falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde's pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda's three act comedy occasionally falls pray to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox's psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner's gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship. Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man's memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks' inscrutable older beauty. (PB) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (310) 822-8392.

INTIMATE APPAREL Lynn Nottage's story of an illiterate African-American seamstress. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 8, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (562) 494-1014.

LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 822-8392.

NEW REVIEW MACBETH Director Jonathan Redding helms an intimate, moody production of Shakespeare's "Scottish Play," in which that unlucky Thane of Cawdor takes murderously poor career advice from a trio of witchy employment counselors. Although some inexperienced members of the cast have trouble wrestling the metrical challenges of Shakespeare's poetry, the show boasts a cool, omnipresent sense of dread, and contains a variety of shrewd, character-related innovations. Alexander Pawlowski portrays Macbeth as a borderline primitive brute turned psychotic tyrant: We first see him swinging a club, and wearing a pelt-like tunic that puts us in mind of Bam-Bam from The Flintstones. As his scheming wife, Lady Macbeth, Meredith Hines radiates a disturbing viciousness that contrasts chillingly with her smarmy kitten-like first greeting with the hapless King Duncan (Jacques Freydont). When the two Big Macs get around to performing their bloodiest deeds in the dead of night, Redding thrusts the stage into murkiness, with little more than a ghost light to depict the murderous pair. Sadly, Redding's atmospheric and often cerebral approach to the play is marred by some moments of lagging pace and overly broad acting turns from some of the other performers. Ultimately, though, this vivid and commendably clear presentation of the play is ideal for audiences new to the play, or for those who just want to catch up with it once again. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through February 14. (800) 595-4849. A Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)

Macbeth Photo by Matt Harbert

MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 28. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

PICK OF THE VINE An evening of new short plays, culled from more than 600 submissions. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 8, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 512-6030.

AKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's English-manor comedy. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (310) 477-2055.

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

CABARET Nazis! Romance! Cabaret! Presented by the Aerospace Players. Torrance Cultural Arts Center, James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance; Jan. 30-31, 8 p.m.. (310) 781-7171.

CELTIC ARTS CENTER BENEFIT An Claidheamh Soluis/Gaelic Adventure Performance Group presents a musical-theater fund-raiser for the Celtic Arts Center. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Jan. 30-31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 7 p.m.. (818) 392-8102.

LAST NIGHT'S APPETIZERS Theatre Unleashed debuts sketch-comedy troupe Die Gruppe. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m.. (818) 849-4039.

THRANCE CABARET The Outlaw Style Thrance Company's theatrical dance extravaganza. M Bar, 1253 Vine St., L.A.; Sun., Feb. 1, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-6503.


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