Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!


BREAKING NEWS: The entire staff of Stage Raw was disappointed that Mr. Merkin missed the filing deadline for his first column: a review of Spamalot at the Ahmanson. Mr. Merkin apologized profusely, but explained that it was impossible to file electronically from the police lockup in Warsaw, where  he was being held over the weekend on undisclosed charges. He assures us that this won't happen  in the future, at least not habitually. We take him at his word, and we look forward to sharing his first column on Wednesday's posting.


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo by Cydne Moore

I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad as a barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert & Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, as well as the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself.  Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779. (Steven Leigh Morris)

For reviews of all other productions seen over the weekend, embedded in COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Continue Reading  tab directly below


(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

Upcoming Events


ALTAR BOYZ Musical satire about a Christian boy band, book by Kevin Del Aguila, music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens July 10; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 957-1884.

ANNA IN THE TROPICS Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize winner about Cuban immigrants working in a cigar factory. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; opens July 10; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (213) 382-8133.

AS YOU LIKE IT Aquila Theatre presents Shakespeare's comedy. (Also at the South Coast Botanic Garden, July 23-26.)., Free with food donation; $30 for reserved seats; $75 for opening night celebration. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., L.A.; July 11-12, 8 p.m.; July 13-19, 8 p.m., or (213) 481-2273.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF Traumas of a Southern clan, by Tennessee Williams. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar, Palos Verdes Peninsula; opens July 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., July 12, 7:30 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 19, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 26, 2 p.m.; thru July 26. (310) 378-9353.

CHARIOT Steven Lee's study of racism and homophobia. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens July 16; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (323) 960-7788.

CROWNS This musical by Regina Taylor examines the passionate attachment of certain churchgoing African-American women for their hats. 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. (DK). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; opens July 12; Sun., July 12, 7 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (626) 356-PLAY.

AN EVENING WITH CAROL LEIFER The comedienne reads from her collection of essays, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win., $20, includes autographed book. L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Sat., July 11, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.

GAY POWERED: NOW & THEN Michael Kearns' Stonewall Rapture, performed by John W. McLaughlin; Fernando, a monologue from Kearns' play Intimacies; and So Hard, Derek Ringold's solo performance piece. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; July 10-11, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

GOD BOX Ana Guigui's one-woman romantic comedy musical. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 16, (323) 960-5570.

THE HOSTAGE Irish playwright Brendan Behan's IRA farce. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; opens July 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (818) 846-5323.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's macabre musical about a man-eating plant, based on the 1960 Roger Corman film. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; opens July 11; Sat., July 11, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., July 19, 7 p.m.; thru July 25. (562) 985-7000.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts & United States Veteran's Artists Alliance present Shakespeare's romantic comedy. West L.A. Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens July 11; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (888) 398-9348.

MY WAY: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA Four singers, two men and two women, croon Sinatra tunes. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens July 11; Sat., July 11, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (949) 497-2787.

MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO World premiere of Paul Leaf's account of a controversial 1944 military disaster. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; opens July 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (310) 397-3244.

NEVERMORE: AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE Jeffrey Combs recites the gothic author's poems and stories. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens July 12; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (323) 666-4268.

RANT & RAVE Ron Bottitta hosts this evening of prose by local writers., Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Mon., July 13, 8 p.m., (323) 422-6361.

RAY BRADBURY'S YESTERMORROWS The sci-fi author's short stories "The Meadow," "Cistern" and "A Device Out of Time," adapted for the stage. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens July 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5, (323) 960-4451.

SEARCH AND DESTROY Howard Korder's dark comedy about a self-help guru's delusional fan. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens July 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 960-7776.

SHIVA FOR DINNER Improvisation, music, dance, song and ancient spiritual techniques "reveal the actors' inner lives.". Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 16; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27, (310) 729-2660.

STOP KISS Diana Son's "homage to life's abrupt and unexpected transformations.". Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 26, (323) 960-7774.

SUNDAY OF THE DEAD All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

TEEN ANGST A-GO-GO! See GoLA. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens July 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 18, (213) 840-4754.

TEN TOPS Ten performers get seven minutes each to wow the crowd. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Mon., July 13, 8 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

WIFE SWAPPERS Justin Tanner's swingtastic one-act. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens July 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8, (323) 960-4443.

YOU LOOK GOOD ON PAPER Juliette Marshall's comedy with songs about the divorce dating scene. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens July 11; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. (323) 651-2583.


GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD In 1950, writer-director Josh Logan transferred Chekhov's play to the American South in an adaptation called The Wisteria Trees. Now, director Heidi Helen Davis, and Ellen Geer have reset the play near Charlottesville, Virginia, and updated it to 1970. The ex-serfs have become the descendants of slaves, and Chekhov's Madame Ranevsky has become Lillian Randolph Cunningham (Ellen Geer), the owner of the famous cherry orchard that's "mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica." Though it's a very free adaptation, it admirably preserves the play's flavor and spirit. And while Davis' production skewers the characters for their vanity, folly and ineptitude, it treats them with affectionate respect. She's blessed with a wonderful cast, including William Dennis Hunt as the landowner's garrulous, fatuous brother; J.R. Starr as an ancient family retainer; Melora Marshall as the eccentric governess Carlotta; and Steve Matt as the grandson of slaves ― and a go-getter businessman who longs to be the master. The production is easygoing, relaxed, faithful in its own way, and often very funny. It may be the most fully integrated (in every sense of the word) production of the play that we're likely to see. (NW) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; call for schedule; through September 26. (310) 455-3723 or

GO CIRQUE BERZERK A dreadlocked ringmaster tells a misfit girl to flee the land of the corporate zombies, where businessmen in masks and suits sprawl half-dead before tombstones made of suitcases. And she does, committing suicide to descend from the ceiling of the venue's big-top tent to the underworld circus of the fully dead, whose acts include suicides by hanging themselves from trapezes and a drowned sailor and his wife contorting through a boneless, weightless sexual dance. Later, a troupe of dead brothers makes brilliant use of a trampoline and an oversized photo frame, and a phalanx of hellish Liza Minnellis re-enacts "Cabaret" with flaming chairs. The creative team of Suzanne Bernel, Kevin Bourque and Neal Everett puts on quite a show. The 26 performers and seven-piece band are fantastic -- and fantastically served by the costumes of Heather Goodman and Mary Anne Parker, who have the bravado to make an outfit out of an Elizabethan collar, feathers, a bikini top and knee socks. (The production was born at Burning Man.) And because the stage rotates, there's not a bad seat in the house, even out in this ex-corn field east of Chinatown. (AN) Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St., Chinatown; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; through July 26. www.­ (Amy Nicholson)

GO CYMBELINE What might Shakespeare have written if he'd been asked by some 17th-century counterpart of a TV producer to come up with something quick, hot and flashy? It's likely an extravagantly plotted comedy like this one, with story ideas snatched from legend, his peers and some of his own better-developed and more sublime works. Regarded today as one of Shakespeare's more minor plays, this comedy revolves around a king's daughter named Imogen (Willow Geer), banished from court by her father, Cymbeline (Thad Geer), for daring to marry the man of her choice. The plucky gal's travails intensify when a villain named Iachimo (Aaron Hendry, alternating with Steve Matt) decides willy-nilly to slander her to her husband Posthumus (Mike Peebler), who then commands a servant to assassinate her for her alleged infidelity. Her wanderings eventually land her on the doorstep of her father's old enemy, Belarius (Earnestine Phillips), who has raised two of Cymbeline's children (thus Imogen's own siblings) as her own. Director Ellen Geer has fashioned an appealing production laced with an aptly measured dose of spectacle and camp. At its core is Willow Geer's strong and likable princess. As her adoring and, later, raging, jealous spouse, Peebler's Posthumus is earnestly on the mark, while Jeff Wiesen garners deserved laughs as the foppish suitor she'd rejected. The latter meets his end at the hands of the princess' newfound brother, well-played by Matt Ducati. (DK) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.

GO FARRAGUT NORTH Who says they don't write them like they used to? Playwright Beau Willimon's enjoyable if facile romp in the cesspools of backroom presidential-primary electioneering is a throwback to a species of earnest, political-insider melodrama thought extinct with the onset of the '60s ― think Gore Vidal's The Best Man updated with the sex and cynicism of cable's Mad Men. Chris Pine (Star Trek's new James T. Kirk) stars as Stephen Bellamy, an ambitious, 25-year-old wunderkind press spokesman, who, under his mentor, campaign manager Paul Zara (the excellent Chris Noth), works for an idealistic, albeit unseen Howard Dean-like favorite during the Democratic Iowa caucuses. In the midst of spinning his candidate's record and seducing a young campaign intern (Olivia Thirlby), Stephen's confidence is shaken and his loyalty tested when rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (standout Isiah Whitlock Jr.) urges him to defect by suggesting that the apparent lead of Stephen's candidate is a carefully orchestrated illusion: "You need to decide whether you want friends or whether you want to work for the president." Stephen's choice not only unmasks his true character but also serves as Willimon's coda for what lies at the rotten heart of national politics. Director Doug Hughes' polished, high-octane production (imported from its New York premiere) benefits from the flash and circumstance of David Korins' network-newslike set and Joshua White and Bec Stupak's animated video projections. (BR) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (310) 208-5454.

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. (818) 955-8101.

JULIUS CAESAR Shakespeare's tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 29, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 455-3723.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather(about Lena Horne) or Ella(about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through August 2. (310) 208-54545.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 4 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 455-3723.

MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable "eat ham and jam and Spam a lot" in Eric Idle's musical stage version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (213) 628-2772.

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 mindset 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 Employment 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. (SLM) 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.

GO 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS Playwrights Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt have created an amusing play with music about two aspiring piano students. Prodigy isn't the right word to describe either Ted (Jeffrey Rockwell) or Richard (Roy Abramsohn) because mastery of classical music does not come easily to either preteen boy. Instead, we're treated to piano teachers (all played by Rockwell and Abramsohn) who delight in humiliating their moderately talented students, which is where much of the comedy comes in. (There are also some funny bits of physical comedy involving piano benches.) While failure to practice brings parental displeasure, the two boys have a unique relationship: One year they're competing together in a contest; the next year, competing against each other. As the boys grow older, the two take interest in pop tunes, much to the dismay of their classical instructors. Both apply to conservatories, Ted to classical, and Richard to jazz. After both are summarily dismissed, the play tracks their respective plunges into artistic oblivion. Director Tom Frey elicits excellent performances from Rockwell and Abramsohn, so much so that we forget we're watching adults playing children, and Jeremy Pivnick's subtle lighting design adds texture to the staging. (SR) Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (818) 558-7000.


ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

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.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru July 23, (888) 227-2285.

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.

CABARET THE MUSICAL The economy is terrible; unemployment is rising; sex and promiscuity abound; traditions are constantly broken, creating backlash from social conservatives -- of course, it's Germany in the early 1930s. Against the backdrop of the Weimar Republic, Kander and Ebb's 1966 classic musical follows American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Bernardi) through his affair with English singer Sally Bowles (Kalinda Gray), whom he meets in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis are taking over. At the top of the show, the iconic "Willkommen" introduces the club and its dancers -- the Kit Kat Girls and Boys -- as well as the Emcee (Eduardo Enrikez), whose outrageous persona is a dead ringer for Joel Grey's 1972 Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse's movie. When not at the cabaret, Cliff stays in a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Annalisa Erickson), who has a soft corner for local fruit vendor Herr Shultz (Jayson Kraid) and constantly battles with tenant Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) over the stream of sailors who flow through Kost's bedroom in order to help "pay the rent." Cliff, on the other hand, pays the rent by giving English lessons. Director Judy Norton's use of table seating and a working bar completes the cabaret ambiance, but her transitions drag and she fails to bring out the je ne sais quoi -- or perhaps ich weiss nicht -- that would have made the brilliant source material leap off the stage. Even Greg Hakke's musical direction is sluggish at times and Derrick McDaniel's lighting leaves many dark spots onstage. The performances, unlike the German accents, are solid, but only Enrikez really stands out. (MK) MET Theater; 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 9. (323) 965-9996. (Mayank Keshaviah)

CARVED IN STONE Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy about a heterosexual writer who discovers he's a gay literary icon in the afterlife. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 9, (310) 473-5483.

GO COMING HOME A sequel to his 1995 postapartheid play, Valley Song, Athol Fugard's latest work, Coming Home, tells of the decimation of one person's dream and the recasting of hope from its ashes. The luminous Deidrie Henry portrays Veronica, a once-aspiring singer who returns to her rural childhood home, child in hand, after 10 bitterly disappointing and difficult years in Cape Town. Resilient and nurturing despite her anguish, Veronica has a single-minded purpose: to establish a home for her son ­Mannetjie (Timothy Taylor and then by Matthew Elam as he ages), who will need support and protection in the event of her demise from AIDS. With her beloved grandfather, her only relative, dead, she turns for help to her childhood friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott), a sweet, slow-minded man who has always loved her dearly but whom her son despises. Spanning five years, the story depicts Veronica's transformation from a buoyant woman to a sick but seething, determined molder of her son's future to, finally, a bedridden invalid, yet with enough energy to foster her boy's burgeoning ambition to write. Part of Fugard's ongoing reflection of his native country's woes, the play contains sometimes burdensome exposition, which is offset by its masterfully drawn characters and deeply embedded humor. Under Stephen Sachs' direction, Henry shines, while Silcott is equally outstanding. As Mannetjie, whom we watch evolving into manhood, Taylor and especially Elam both impress; Adolphus Ward skillfully fashions the ghost of Veronica's grandfather. (DK) Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (No perf July 4.) (323) 663-1525.

DADDY'S DYIN' WHO'S GOT THE WILL African-American casting of the Del Shores play. Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 12. (323) 954-9795.


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo by Deborah Dodge


full-length improvs on the works of famous authors is becoming

something of a cottage industry - Impro Theatre has busted open works

of , Jane Austen, Stephen Sondheim, Anton Chekhov, Tennessee Williams

and William Shakespeare. Here, director Patrick Bristow (formerly of

the Groundlings and currently also with Puppet Up Uncensored) does his

own take on Agatha Christie's literary idiosyncracies with a company

named Improvatorium. Creating an improvised production from a couple of

audience suggestions in the style of Ms. Christie is, well, murderously

difficult - even with Christie's pro-forma structure of a group trapped

in a locale, a mysterious death, and an investigation of sort. The

10-person ensemble comports itself with moments of brilliant

off-the-cuff wit intermingled with references to the play's climactic

sporting events - three legged and potato sack races. Part of the joy is

the strain for dignity as the circumstances around them prevail against

it, combined with their posh attire (wardrobe by Leslee  Harman and the

cast). Obviously, the event changes nightly, but when I attended, the

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

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

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

satire of the essences that keep her works enduring. Amidst the very

good company, Bristow and Jayne Entwhistle are standouts. Theatre

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

p.m.; though Aug. 20. (323) 962-1632. An Improvatorium production.

(Steven Leigh Morris)     

ECSTASY: THE MUSICAL 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 dreamlike mood of S. Claus' downright strange musical comedy is an attempt to convey what it's like to partake of the drug. Yet, Claus' work is also a cheerful 1970s kitsch-fest, set in a world of flaring bellbottoms, 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' 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 dreamlike 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. Buglione'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. (PB) 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.

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 July 26. (213) 745-6516.

FAMOUS IN 40 DAYS One-man show by Paul Duddridge, "the world's leading entertainment coach.". Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru July 14, (323) 960-7735.

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

GO GODSPELL This 1971 musical, conceived by John-Michael Tebelak, with music and lyrics by Steven Schwartz, is a sort of anti-Hair. That 1967 show utilized a colorful tribe of hippies to mount a protest against the Vietnam War and challenge the status quo. Godspell took a similar tribe, sanitized and deradicalized it, and put it to work in the service of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. In Act 1, the preachiness is held at bay by solid songs and unbuttoned comedy, and Christianity is given a feel-good New Age spin. Act 2 is more sober, going past the parables, to Christ's crucifixion. In this production, director Chuck McCollum and choreographer Allison Bibicoff have brought to the show ready wit and clever detail, and have cast it with a crew of wonderfully able, infectiously enthusiastic performers. Sterling Sulieman is a strong, forthright Jesus, with Rene Guerrero doubling as John the Baptist and Judas. Jenny Weaver delivers a potent "Day by Day," Maria Lee gives a vampish turn to "Turn Back, O Man," and Jason B. Hightower keeps the comedy coming. The fine ensemble includes Zach Bandler, Talo Silveyra, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Kelly Boczek and Tracy Thomas. Conductor Jan Roper provides solid orchestrations/musical direction, and John Paul de Leonardis has designed the handsome set. (NW) Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 12. (323) 667-0955 or www.­

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.

HARRIETT LEVY -- BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND Todd Waddington is the "chanteuse, priestess, lounge lizard and metaphysical life coach.". Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 19, (323) 960-7792.

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; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 19. (323) 654-0680.

HEDDA GABLER In Henrik Ibsen's protofeminist classic, poor Hedda (Julie Granata) marries dull professor George (Darrel Guilbeau), and soon has reason to regret it, as she's not remotely suited for the stultifying life he offers her. With few career or personal options, the bored and bitter hausfrau finds joys in manipulating her former lover Loveborg (Zack Hamra) and school pal Thea (Shanti Bowes) ― not merely for her own amusement but also because she dreams of living vicariously through them. Tragedy results. Director Les Miller's decision to reset the play in the 1950s raises some awkward minor anachronistic issues ― after all, if Hedda had lived in the '50s, she could have sublimated her boredom with a job or by getting an only slightly scandalous divorce. The production is frankly more noteworthy for its intriguing depiction of Hedda herself. In Granata's at times ferociously angry turn, we are treated to Hedda as Mean Girl ― a former high school bully and shallow party gal, as much Hedda Locklear or Paris Gabler, whose breathy smiles and glitteringly insincere simpers over her husband turn into venomously terrifying rictuses of rage the moment his back is turned. Sadly, Miller's production ultimately feels one-sided, and Grenata's multidimensional, harrowingly brittle Hedda often feels as though she's in a totally different play from the one inhabited by the blander supporting cast. Still, Bowes' sniveling Thea is just the sort of girl whom one can see Hedda smacking around in school. Also engaging is Peter Colburn's effortlessly oily turn as increasingly sleazy family friend Judge Brack. (PB) Ark Theatre at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 11. (323) 969-1707.

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

GO INSIDE OUT For the majority, gender seems like one of life's givens, as genetically determined and as biologically apparent as blue eyes or big feet. The truth of the matter, as Jody Vaclav points out in her thoughtfully written, one-woman memoir, is that acting like a girl or a boy is just that -- acting. It's a role most of us take for granted, though meticulously maintain, with only minor neurotic consequences. The psychic disaster that results when one's inner gender doesn't fit with one's outer genitalia is both Vaclav's subject and the story of the first 35 years of her life spent as Joe Vaclav. Born a boy amid the mountains and manly virtues of Colorado, Vaclav wryly recounts her struggles to live up to the conservative standards of Western machismo all the while harboring the unutterable secret that "he" was not who she pretended to be. She mostly pulled it off, settling into an amicable marriage and a job as field engineer for a power company, but her perpetual inner torment eventually grew into a suicidal despair and finally a determination to change. And while that decision led to sex-reassignment surgery, Vaclav's narrative is one of journey rather than destination. It's a bumpy ride to be sure (director Kathleen Rubin's staging could be tighter) but one that Vaclav makes with humor, irony and remarkable courage. (BR) Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through July 11. (310) 306-6298.

KILL ME DEADLY Bill Robens' hard-boiled P.I. parody. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 26. (323) 856-8611.

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 overly 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 bipolar for us to commit to caring about why Dad eats paper, why Mom wears Antonio's clothes and why Lulu pushes away intimacy. (AN) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 11. (323) 882-6912. A co-production of Open Fist Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre -- The L.A. Project

NEW REVIEW MY THREE SISTERS John Walcutt directs his own

adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters with decidedly mixed results. Set

in West Texas during the Depression, Walcutt's adaptation is accessible

and, at times, clever. However, the flaws in this production outweigh

the witty conceit of putting Russian émigrés in Dust Bowl Texas.

Moreover, the adaptation suffers from too many anachronisms ("My

brother--the loser"), and the liberal use of the word fuck detracts

from the verisimilitude. Jimmy Nall gives the one standout performance

as Alexander, the love interest of the adulterous middle sister Masha

(Kristina Kontor). As Olga, the eldest sister, Diana Elizabeth Jordan

had pronounced delivery problems on the night I attended. (The show is

double-cast). While the youngest sister Irina (Aidee Salgado) yearns

desperately for New York (instead of Moscow as in the original), two

suitors (Jimmy Blakeney and Afshin Hashemi) vie for her attentions.

Driving the plot are the actions of brother Andre (Andrew E. Tiles), a

wastrel who mortgages the ranch to pay off his gambling debts, without

telling his sisters. In the meantime, Andre's vulgar wife Natalie (Dana

Joiner) bullies everyone at the ranch to consolidate her own power.

Walcutt's direction is overly broad, at times verging on camp. And

Andrew J. Traister hams it up as Ivan Romanich, a family retainer.

Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 874-1733. (Sandra Ross)

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.

RIDE TO THE EASTSIDE Monologues and vignettes by Josefina Lopez. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Through July 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 12, 5 p.m.. (323) 263-7684.

GO SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! TOO The original School House Rock was a long-running kids' TV show that winningly combined cartoon characters and songs with a high educational content. Here director-choreographer Rick Sparks assembles six terrific, high-energy performers -- Harley Jay, Tricia Kelly, Jayme Lake, Michael "Milo" Lopez, Lisa Tharps and Brian Wesley Turner -- to employ all their skill and pizzazz on songs about numbers, multiplication, parts of speech, American history, government, the bones of the body, financial interest rates, and a score of other useful topics, all turned into lively entertainment. (A math song about multiplying is called "Naughty Number Nine," and the American Revolution is served up in "No More Kings.") There's a scrap of plot, about saving a financially failing diner, but that's the merest of pretexts. Cody Gillette provides crisp musical direction and leads the trio (with Anthony Zenteno, on guitars, and Eric Tatuaca on drums) to provide infectious, hard-driving accompaniments on Adam Flemming's handsome diner set. Clever costumes are by Kat Marquet, and Daavid Hawkins provides hundreds of zany props. If you already know that 7 x 9 = 63, you might feel, as I did, that 20 songs is a few too many, but the kids seem to love it. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; call for schedule; through August. 9. (323) 655-7679, ext. 100, or

GO SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED The idea hasn't lost anything in the decade since I reviewed this concept-driven improvisation. Shakespeare Unscripted is an impromptu story inspired by the Bard's work, using Elizabethan literary conventions and stylistic nuances. Audience members are asked for suggestions to start things off, and if something sounds good, the "play" is on. A slow start is common, but as the actors get warmed up, the wit, charm, energy and creativity on display are delightful and entertaining. The night I attended, the subjects chosen were "river" and "waterfall," and the cast did a snappy job of creating a storyline about two lost brothers, exiled from their kingdom; a mother mourning her lost sons; a jilted, German suitor, who is cuckolded by an enchantress;, and tossed in for good measure, a scheming pair of siblings and some humorous courtly intrigue. Most of the fun here comes from trying to guess where the plot is heading and seeing the cast members straining to contain their own mirth. The production utilizes alternating casts, and is co-directed by Brian Lohmann and Dan O'Connor. (LE3) Theatre of the Arts, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. through Aug. 1. (800) 838-3006. Impro Theatre.

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., July 11, 8 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru July 26. (310) 226-6148.

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's 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 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. Farley, who also directs the piece, masterfully shifts between scenes and creates arresting tableaux, 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 and O'Neill's ferocity to Closs-Farley's Mae West-like spunk and Hernandez-Kolski's silver tongue. (MK) Bootleg Theater; 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (June 21 & 28 only); through July 25. (213) 389-3856. www.­

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 26. (818) 731-7885.

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.


Photo by Jen Castle


a nearly 30-year tenure in the repertory canon, Sam Shepard's satirical

portrait of the playwright as an existential combat zone has more than

demonstrated its resilience under fire. Boasting one of Shepard's most

celebrated comic conceits -- the odd-couple pairing of struggling

Hollywood screenwriter Austin (Tiger Reel) with his estranged,

dissolute vagabond of an older brother, Lee (Andre Carriere) -- and

what is certainly a bravura feat of dramatic misdirection, the play

uses deceptively straightforward naturalism and accessible situational

comedy to lure its audience into the shifting surfaces and unsettling

ambiguities of Shepard's carefully constructed, ulterior metatheatrics.

Unfortunately, the textual tack into allegorical waters leaves director

Wendy Obstler and her lamentably misconceived production irretrievably

beached. Obstler's insistent over-simplification of the brothers'

fratricidal conflict as some kind of pathological projection of

parental personalities not only cuts her actors off at the knees but

also makes nonsense of the characters' critical merging of identities

in Act 2. Carriere has enough confidence and personal charisma to

salvage Lee as a creditable exercise in manipulative cunning and savage

self-interest. But without a coherent Austin (Reel's goes missing due

to inaction) to engage, even that personal triumph can't rescue

Shepard's ruminations on the writer's quest for authenticity and truth.

Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; thru July 25, (800) 595-4TIX. Njoy

Productions and The Lion's Den. (Bill Raden)

GO THE WASPS With its amiably hammy seven-person ensemble of mostly veteran character actors who prance around caparisoned in codpieces with Slinkys attached, this high-spirited rendition of the classic Greek comedy proves that Aristophanes and shtick go together like, well, Aristophanes and shtick. Adaptor-director Meryl Friedman's earlier staging of this production was created to commemorate the opening of the new Getty Villa auditorium. It ran four performances there but has now been moved to this new, much smaller venue on La Brea Avenue, with all its brisk silliness intact. Aristophanes' play is a barbed satire of the 5th century BC Athenian tradition of paying retirees for serving on a jury. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that Friedman's take on the material drifts from the political elements, opting instead to meander into delightfully dippy gags and cheerful musical numbers. While digressive, these theatrical sojourns turn out to be oddly faithful to the tone and mood of the original comedy. There are fart jokes, drunken revelry and, for the finale, there's a trial in which an old man (Peter Van Norden) adjudicates a case involving a dog (Robert Alan Beuth, in wacky dog-drag). As the elderly Athenian fool, Van Norden possesses a Zero Mostel-like comic gravitas, which he uses to comedic advantage in his perfectly timed, bug-eyed, joyously leering turn. Albert Meijer, as the old man's uptight and pompous son, mugs off him brilliantly. David O's orchestration of Friedman's jitterbuglike musical numbers is delightful -- and his sound effects, as though from a radio play, mesh perfectly with the sweet and joyful testament to Classical Greek geek chic. (PB) The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 26. (800) 838-3006. Stinger Productions.


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 July 26. (818) 745-8527.

GO EAST OF BERLIN Inspired by real-life stories (from writers Peter Sichrovsky's "Born Guilty" and Dan Bar-On's "Legacy of Silence: Children of the Third Reich"), Hannah Moscovitch's involving psychological drama revolves around an SS doctor's son and his struggle to live with the knowledge of his father's crimes. Teenage Rudi (Russell Sams) grows up in Paraguay oblivious to his parent's past, until a more jaundiced classmate named Hermann (James Barry) ― also the son of a Nazi ― decides to wise him up. Profoundly disturbed, Rudi leaps into an affair with Hermann but soon decides to flee the country for Germany. There he takes on a new name and falls in love with a Jewish-American girl named Sara (Carolyn Stotes) whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. (Is this real passion, or is he just looking for a way to atone? the play asks.) For fear of losing her, he conceals his lineage ― a circumstance that brings his guilt into even more agonizing focus, even more so when she learns about it anyway. Effectively staged by co-directors C.B. Brown and Sara Botsford, the script's strongest and most persuasive element is Rudi's monologue, a vivid piece of storytelling that serves as the work's compelling spine. With his mien of wry detachment, Sams delivers a credible performance that nonetheless lacks the depth and nuance that make for powerful drama. Stotes is extremely appealing as his love interest, and the scenes between them are among the best. (DK) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 19. (818) 508-7101.


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo courtsey of The Production Company


designer August Viverito and his colleagues have mastered the art of

clarity and intensity when working in a tiny space such as this. Peter

Shaffer's drama has always told the harrowing tale of psychiatrist

Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna), who must discover why a severely troubled

teenager, Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), has gouge out the eyes of six

horses with a hoof-pick. What's different here is that Hanna's Dysart

suffers an anguish at least as deep as the boy's, and this carries the

play from clever melodrama into the realm of tragedy. Dysart slowly

realizes that Alan has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which

horses are his gods--and enacted a strange Passion Play. The doctor

understands that to cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and

most profound experience of his life. The boy's fierce passion forces

Dysart to recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence. 

Viverito has cast it beautifully, with riveting performances by Hanna,

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

well as understand it. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler

Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,  and selected Sundays at

3 p.m., thru August 22. (800) 838-3006 or

Produced by The Production Company. (Neal Weaver)


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo by Dallas Ocean/GTC


Bell (Gillian Doyle) and Duncan Grant (Christopher McFarland) were

prominent members of the Bloomsbury set.  Visual artists, they shared a

studio and occasionally a bed for over 40 years, conceiving a child

together despite Bell's marriage to someone else and Grant's committed

preference for male lovers.  (The child was raised by Bell's husband,

Clive.) Set in 1923, Joyce Sachs' period drama speculates on a love

triangle involving these two long-time  friends and George Mallory

(Justin Ellis), the mountain-climbing adventurer and darling of British

society who famously perished scaling Mt. Everest in 1924. In Sachs'

portrait, competition for the erotic attentions of the devastatingly

attractive Mallory provokes awkward and at times painful tensions

within the household.  Under Kevin Cochran's direction, the piece

scores with its capacity for nuance and its focus on the gap  between

the ideal of free love and plain old human jealousy.  The production

also gains color and ambience from designer Leonard Ogden's enlivening

set and costumes and David Darwin's lighting.  Too often, however, the

slow-going dialogue unwinds like a disappointingly airless episode of

Masterpiece Theater, with the self-absorbed characters engaged in far

too much speechifying about the past. Doyle gives an intelligent

well-calibrated performance, but despite her showing, our sense of a

tried-and-true connection between Bell and either McFarland's smug

narcissist or Ellis' stolid hunk never ignites. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W.

Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 25.

(818) 238-9998. (Deborah Klugman)

INSANITY In this unexpectedly inert musical from James J. Mellon, Scott DeTurk, and Larry Russo, Zarek Saxton (Kevin Bailey) is a B-movie director who, midway through filming his latest slasher flick, drops a designer drug, sees visions, and decides to make a totally different movie ― one he hopes will cure war, feed children and save the world. In other words, he wants to make a movie that will go direct to video. Perhaps understandably, producer Ramsey (a nicely oily Bob Morrissey) decides to commit the director to a mental hospital, and tries to bribe top shrink Megan (Dana Meller) to certify him as nuts so she he can toss Zarek off the movie. While he's in the bin, Zarek casts a darkly ironic outsider's eye on the various emotional problems of the inmates ― a collection of damaged souls whom he comes to admire. The play's shift in tone from sassy Hollywood spoof to a mawkish recycle of One Flew Over The Cockoo's Nest is awkward and strangely uninvolving ― and the play's central relationship, between the arrogantly self-important Zarek and the smirking, humorless Megan, thuds. Strangely enough, the relationship between DeTurk's unmemorable, smooth jazz score and Mellon's overly complicated lyrics is not much better, although Bailey's comical rendition of "You Couldn't Write This Shit," in which his character ridicules his fellow patients behind their backs, has some toe-tapping potential. In a supporting role as an actor with emotional problems, Brad Blaisdell's character shows some depth, while Sabrina Miller, as the director's self-absorbed leading lady and girlfriend, conveys the Hollywood mood believably. The rest is a comparatively dull opus that hasn't yet gelled. (PB) Noho Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (818) 508-7107, ext. 7.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.

PROOF David Auburn's story of a mathematician's daughter. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (626) 256-3809.

GO TEN CENT NIGHT Marisa Wegrzyn's Texas melodrama is as emotionally overloaded as a jukebox favorite. A country star and abusive father of two sets of twins has shot himself in the head, orphaning his children just when the youngest girl, Sadie (Alison Rood), needs a heart transplant ― literally and metaphorically (She's just realized she's in love with her twin brother Holt (Shane Zwiner). Older daughter Dee (Caitlin Muelder) is furious that Sadie has asked Dee's twin, Roby (Tara Buck), a hard-drinking singer, to come back to the ranch, which she does, handcuffed to a police chair and pursued by a handsome mute (Martin Papazian) and a gangster (Gareth Williams) with a magic dime. Maria Gobetti's naturalistic direction delays our awareness of and enjoyment in the script's mythological ambitions; with the second act entrance of a local whore (Kathleen Bailey), who controls the hearts, bodies and bank accounts of Dee and Roby, we're in waters as deep and loaded as the Oedipus myth. Staged more like a comic soap opera than a fable with fangs, its rhythm could be sharper, but once the ensemble gets rolling, we're humming along. (AN) Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through Aug. 2. (818) 841-5421.

THE UNSEEN In some unspecified country, two prisoners, Valdez (Matt Kirkwood) and Wallace (Darin Singleton) have been held for years in isolation cells. They are close enough to talk to but not to see each other. They don't know why they have been incarcerated, or by whom. They are constantly questioned and tortured, and subjected to nerve-shattering noises. They spend their days carrying out private rituals, and playing word and memory games in an attempt to preserve their sanity. The only mortal they see is the guard Smash (Douglas Dickerman), who is both torturer and caretaker. Craig Wright's allegorical new play keeps its larger meaning sketchy, perhaps because it lacks a concrete context. It's interesting mainly for the interaction of the two men, and the strange and whimsical nature of Smash. Wright directs his play skillfully on Desma Murphy's handsomely bleak set. Kirkwood and Singleton provide richly detailed portraits of the two men who comfort themselves with escape fantasies, and Dickerman creates a bizarre figure as the guard who hates his charges because he can't help feeling their pain as he tortures them. (NW) The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through August 22. (866) 811-4111 or


BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor, Itamar Moses' sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century, who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for for erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Four composers named Georg and three Johanns vie for the post as Leipzig's organ master, a position that would guarantee the winner the power to shape the musical, cultural (and, it seems political) fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire ― at least the valuable German parts. Intrigues, reality show-style alliances and betrayals abound as the composers plot and prepare for an all-important audition. Between connivances they spout literate, self-conscious oratory covering the artistic soul in and out of relation to the growing feud between Lutheranism and Calvinism. An interesting descent into farce is undercut by the author's too-precious self-comparison to Molière. Director Darin Anthony serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. The best moments, though, come from Rob Nagle's powerhouse performance as the only thoughtful character, and from Henry Clarke, who perfectly balances swagger and foppishness as a womanizing nobleman. The production is visually stunning, through an array of exquisite period costumes and wigs designed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. (TP) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (310) 477-2055.


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo by Cydne Moore


attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical

adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel.

We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to

be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These

kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the

stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom

(Serena Dolinksy, doubling as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother in a rare,

high-concept moment of intended irony). The actors' goggle-eyed

expressions and broad as a barn reactions generated screams of laughter

from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style

from pop ballads to Gilbert & Sullivan parodies). This production

has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has

dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as

King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can

be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it

to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, as well as the

tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she

really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished

somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just

so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder.

I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the

performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review

herself.  Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica;

Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779. (Steven Leigh


CRACK WHORE BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Marnie Olson's 1980s coming-of-age story. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 535-6007.

HAMLET II (BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL) Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru July 19. (310) 512-6030.


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo by Enci


LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME While R. Ernie Silva's older brothers were

doing hard drugs, he hid out in his room and watched Masterpiece

Theater. Silva wasn't a nerd; he breakdanced, liked weed, and grew

dreadlocks down his back. But he lived in Bushwick, and to cops, bosses

and his mom, being a young black male in Bushwick meant you were and

would always be just like everyone else. Railroaded into a life headed

for rehab or death, Silva grabbed a box car heading west to go on an

American walkabout. Silva is a charismatic talent with slender build

and wide grin. The story of his travels, co-written with James Gabriel

and directed by Mary Joan Negro, taps into his charm and energy,

sending him up and around a set of simple black boxes, strumming his

guitar Savannah and impersonating personalities from Richard Pryor and

Jimi Hendrix to August Wilson. The travails of young artists and their

search for self-definition are a familiar solo show trope, but even the

heightened moments -- the death of a brother, an auspicious visit from

an eagle -- feel earned, not manufactured. I expect we'll see a lot

more of Silva, and this very solid monologue is a good place to get

acquainted. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 477-2055. (Amy Nicholson)


Stage Raw: Mr. Merkin Misses His First Deadline!

Photo by Melissa Snyder of Vibble


writer-director Daisuke Tsuji's cracklingly clever tour de force, which

takes place on a planet of apes from which Roddy McDowell is

conspicuously absent, a group of actors playing monkeys schmutz up

their hair, cover themselves with brown paint, squawk and go

chee-chee-chee in the aisles, and even toss feces at the audience. (You

can examine the contents for yourself. )Tsuji's amusing and ironic play

tells the story of a strapping young monkey (Randy Thompson), who

dreams of becoming a human being.  His main reason for this is so he

can fall in love with a sweet human girl (Olivia Choate), who, in turn,

wishes only that she could become a sexy monkey gal.  Act 1 consists of

the monkey boy's Siddhartha-like attempts to find his place in the

world - he participates in what appears to be a simian rave (crisply

and dynamically choreographed with dazzling Janet Jackson-esque moves

by Anne Rene Brashier) and then heads to Monkey College.  Just when one

starts to suspect Monkey Madness is a one concept piece, though, events

in Act 2 take on a more mythic feel as a creepy spirit (a towering,

show-stopping puppet from Cristina Bercowitz) offers both monkey and

human the chance to realize their dreams - for a terrible price.

Tsuji's artfully and energetic staging is both smart and dazzling -

spectacle here meshes engagingly with undercurrents of cerebral wit.  A

veteran of Cirque Du Soleil, Tsuji uses shtick, choreography, a touch

of Bunraku, and evocative acting -- and the show sizzles with quirky

antics and, ultimately, unexpected sadness.  The ensemble enact their

simian roles with ecstatic glee, particularly Dee Amerio Sudik's

monkeyelder lady in a performance so seductive, you forget you're

really watching a human.  Thompson's sweet monkey boy is equal parts

Curious George and tragic boy-beast.  Powerhouse Theater, 3116 2nd

Street, Santa Monica; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m. (Wed. perfs Pay as You Can);

through July 18. A  Los Angeles Theater Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)

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.

GO ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets, one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it's hard to imagine doing Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying staging of the Marxist maestro's classic, antimorality play, St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the 1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias' costumes), the story cleverly inverts the Jeanne d'Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark (a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an antipoverty crusader whose "Warriors of God" mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse closings. Joan's efforts to get the men back to work lead her to financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that Mauler is cynically using Joan's appeals to further his scheme. When she subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped mission, she is cast into the street, where she belatedly realizes the pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by Peter Mellencamp's vivid, new translation and an unerring ensemble (including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel Riordan), Rothhaar's production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the principles of epic theater. (It's also a showcase for the multitalented Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler's scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & Co. not only prove that the old, dialectical dogmatist still has teeth but that Brecht's bark and his bite are both wickedly entertaining. (BR) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 9, (No perfs July 3-4.) (310) 822-8392.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE Roaring '20s musical, book by Richard Henry Morris, music by Jeanine Tesori, new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 828-7519.

GO THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE David Mamet's streamlined adaptation of Harley Granville-Barker's 1905 drama succeeds on many levels. Granville-Barker's play about an Edwardian family dealing with the explosion of a Ponzi scheme retains its dramatic impact. Mamet's compressed adaptation of the four-hour original adds dramatic thrust. Moreover, the play resonates due to contemporary misdeeds on Wall Street. In the drama, the Voysey family lives in Edwardian splendor as a result of the outwardly successful investment firm managed by father (Patrick John Hurley) and son Edward (Alec Beard). When Edward uncovers financial fraud, he confronts his father, who freely admits deceitful practices. After Voysey senior dies, Voysey junior fights valiantly to keep the firm afloat ― it's either that or a prison sentence. The drama climaxes when a chief client (David Hunt Stafford) wants to liquidate his investments. Many of the play's lighter moments are provided by Edward's blustering brother, Major Booth (Jon Woodward Kirby). As Edward's stalwart fiancée Alice, Debbie Jaffe stands out among the players. Avoiding any Edwardian stuffiness, Bruce Gray confidently directs the large cast of Voysey family members and retainers, creating a strong sense of ensemble work. Suzanne Scott's lovely period costumes are complemented by Jeff G. Rack's luxurious set design. (SR) Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Drive (on the Beverly Hills High School campus), Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 19. (310) 364-0535.


THE PHYSICISTS Bruce Davison and Harry Groener headline this staged reading of Friedrich Durrenmatt's satire, to be recorded for syndicated radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Through July 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 11, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., July 12, 4 p.m., (310) 827-0889.

THEATRE WEST PLAY READING SERIES July 7: What Are Friends For? by Victoria Vidal; July 14: Moose on the Loose by Dina Morrone; July 21: There Is a Season by Doug Haverty; July 28: Abandon by Chris DiGiovanni; August 4: Grandma Good by Arden Teresa Lewis; August 11: Zeno's Paradox by Wendy Graf. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 11. (323) 851-7977.

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