Stage Raw: No Talking Please
are embedded in this week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
Also, see the current STAGE FEATURE on Adeline's Play at the Powerhouse
The performance collective The Quarterly Report performs at Highways, September 11 & 12,
8:30 p.m. Photo by Kathy Nagler
NO TALKING PLEASE
CTG has announced that it just received a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the development of new non-text-based works, over the next three years. This will tilt the theater's new works focus towards dance and visual spectacle.
Perhaps it's a tacit acknowledgment that we've reached a point in our culture that words, and the rationality of argument that they're supposed to convey, have become threadbare.
It's a point that some of the greatest wordsmiths of our age have arrived at, on their own. The sentences in Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett's plays became ever more fragmented, as the plays themselves became shorter. And Caryl Churchill followed much the same path.
And the "debate" on health care is certainly a testament to absurdity of language in the abuses of reason. The open question remains, can pictures and movement make any more sense of our world?
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 21 - 27, 2009
(The weekend's NEW REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
ANITA BRYANT DIED FOR YOUR SINS Gay sexual awakening in 1977 America, courtesy Brian Christopher Williams. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; opens Aug. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 4, www.tix.com. (323) 460-4443.
ART SCRAMBLE: A THEATRE UNLEASHED VARIETY SHOW Standup, sketch comedy, live music. The Talking Stick, 1411 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; Mon., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.. (310) 450-6052.
BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's offbeat romantic drama. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 13, www.burnthisplay.info. (800) 504-4849.
CREATIVE PROVOCATEURS, VOL. 1 Antwone Fisher's
THE GROOVALOOS "Jaw-dropping displays of physicality, vibrant musical score and powerful spoken-word poetry" by the hip-hop dancers. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 21; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 23, 3 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 30, 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 29, www.groovaloo.com. (818) 508-0281.
IN ARABIA WE'D ALL BE KINGS Alive Theatre presents Stephen Adly Guirgis' study of Times Square losers. Old Expo Furniture Warehouse, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; opens Aug. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (562) 508-1788.
INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT Two one-acts by Al Cowart Jr.:
LIQUID Brenda Varda's multimedia adventure about a scientist's quest to save the planet. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; opens Aug. 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 466-7781.
THE NEW TESTAMENT Broadway role gets re-cast in Neil LaBute's world premiere. Plus, LaBute's
OEDIPUS THE KING, MAMA! The Troubadour Theater Company's musical mashup of Sophocles and Elvis. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Aug. 21; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (818) 955-8101.
SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS Real life stuns 20-somethings, by Sascha Alexander, John Dardenne, Ben Giroux, James Robinson and Juliana Tyson. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; opens Aug. 25; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 960-7822.
THE SEAGULL By Anton Chekhov. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (800) 838-3006.
SO FRESH & SO CLEAN: DIRTY Latest show by comedy duo Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Joshua Silverstein. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Aug. 21-22, 9 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.
THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE True story of Catholic activists on trial for protesting the Vietnam War. Sunday's performance features a post-show gala hosted by Tim Robbins and UTA ($250). Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Aug. 27-29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 30, 2 p.m.. (310) 838-4264.
WEST Steven Berkoff's 1983 gang drama. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Fri., Aug. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 22, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 23, 2 & 7 p.m.. (310) 823-0710.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD In 1950, writer-director Josh Logan transferred Chekhov's play to the American South in an adaptation called The Wisteria Trees. Now, director Heidi Helen Davis, and Ellen Geer have reset the play near Charlottesville, Virginia, and updated it to 1970. The ex-serfs have become the descendants of slaves, and Chekhov's Madame Ranevsky has become Lillian Randolph Cunningham (Ellen Geer), the owner of the famous cherry orchard that's "mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica." Though it's a very free adaptation, it admirably preserves the play's flavor and spirit. And while Davis' production skewers the characters for their vanity, folly and ineptitude, it treats them with affectionate respect. She's blessed with a wonderful cast, including William Dennis Hunt as the landowner's garrulous, fatuous brother; J.R. Starr as an ancient family retainer; Melora Marshall as the eccentric governess Carlotta; and Steve Matt as the grandson of slaves -- and a go-getter businessman who longs to be the master. The production is easygoing, relaxed, faithful in its own way, and often very funny. It may be the most fully integrated (in every sense of the word) production of the play that we're likely to see. (NW) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; call for schedule; through September 26. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com.
GO 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.
HERRINGBONE Vaudeville musical starring B.D. Wong as a tap-dancing 8-year-old. Book by Tom Cone, music by Skip Kennon, lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (858) 550-1010.
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.
NEW REVIEW GO LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL I'll admit it.
I'm a bald, mustachioed, macho man who enjoyed this saccharine sweet,
feel-good girly girl musical. I even found some of it amusing. A lot of
the credit goes to the infectious charm and stellar performance of
Becky Gulsvig in the role of Elle Woods, the blonde California sorority
girl who follows her ex-beau Warner (Jeff McLean) to Harvard Law School
to win him back. When it's all over, Elle has faced off with
shark-attorneys, made a host of interesting friends, played matchmaker,
found true love with Emmett (D.B.Bonds) and learned something about
life, love and the value of being true to one's self. The book for this
stage adaptation of the popular 2001 movie is by Heather Hach, and is
vigorously choreographed and directed by Jerry Mitchell (La Cage Aux
Folles and Hairspray). Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin's music and
lyrics are not memorable, being as as sugary-sweet as the story itself.
David Rockwell's grand, pink-themed sets are stunning, even a bit
overwhelming at times, and the same can be said of the collage of
blinding colors in Gregg Barne's costume design. Yet the show is such a
guilty pleasure, I'm going back with my daughter. Pantages Theatre,
6233 Hollywood Blvd, Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat. 2 &8 p.m., Sun.,
1&6:30 p.m., thru. Sep. 6. (800) 982-2787. A Broadway L.A.
production (Lovell Estell III)
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 September 27. (310) 208-54545.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 455-3723.
GO THE MISER Director Ellen Geer delivers a hilarious and highly polished production of Moliere's comedy. It's a faithful rendition, despite the fact that she's garnished it with several original songs (written with Peter Alsop), a dog, and some creative anachronisms: Neither cod-pieces nor horn-rimmed glasses quite belong in 1668, but they prove capital laugh-getters. The production's greatest asset is Alan Blumenfeld, who delivers a wonderfully demented, larger-than-life performance as the miser Harpagon, calling on the traditions of music-hall, vaudeville and burlesque to create a portrait of monstrous greed and vanity. He's ably assisted Mike Peebler as his rebellious, clothes-horse son Cleante, Melora Marshall as the flamboyant match-maker/bawd Frosine, Ted Barton as a choleric cook/coachman, and Mark Lewis as Cleante's sly, wily side-kick, La Fleche. As the young lovers, Peebler, Samara Frame, Chad Jason Scheppner, and understudy Jennifer Schoch capture the requisite romance, while lampooning the coincidences and shop-worn theatrical conventions of the genre, and a large cast provides fine support. The lavish costumes, including Cleante's outrageous suit-of-too-many-colors, with its gloriously obscene, giggle-inducing cod-piece, are by Shon LeBlanc and Valentino's Costumes. (Neal Weaver) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga; thru September 25; in rep, call for schedule (310) 455-3723.
MONTY PYTHON'S SPMALOT Monty Python and the Holy Grail - the 1975 take on Arthurian legend -- is probably not the sharpest sendup in comedians Eric Idle & Associates' body of film work, compared to their later, blistering satire on Biblical lore contained in The Life of Brian (1979) - Brian being Jesus - and on the existential quandaries in The Meaning of Life (1983). The Holy Grail nonetheless contains what was for a generation of fans a blithely anarchistic and singularly British response to a constipated culture. Idle and John Du Prez's long-touring musical, Monty Python's Spamalot, is lifted mostly from The Holy Grail and is at its best when filching dialogue from the movie, with performances that replicate the dry wry humor of faulty assumptions taken to their most idiotic conclusions. In the film, there's a plague sketch in which the city corpse collectors go round with a cart calling, "Bring out your dead." One ill fellow protests that he's "not dead yet," and that in fact he's feeling better. This leads to bickering with the officials until his owner bonks him on the head with a shovel, assuring that he is dead. In the musical, that scene gets played out in a song called "I Am Not Dead Yet," wherein the clout with the shovel occurs twice. Evidently, the joke told once isn't sufficient. With that kind of repetition throughout the musical, the film's brisk tone shifts from the pinpoint sparks of standup comedy to the comparatively lumbering reprises of musical theater, though there's a wonderful parody of Andrew Lloyd Weber torch songs called "The Song That Goes Like This." But the larger issue resides in the motives of creation. Monty Python created comedy in reaction to, and as a comment on, the absurdities of life in Britain, and beyond. In the musical, King Arthur (John O'Hurley) seeks - in addition to the holy grail - a way to get onto Broadway. So this is no longer a vicious comedy about the world, it's a far gentler homage to Monty Python, filled with Sarah Palin jokes and mock-Academy Awards. The idea has undergone a tectonic shift from being pointedly silly to generally silly. These are really the aesthetics of marketing. The result is far more popular than penetrating. The company is unimpeachable, as is Casey Nicholaw's splendidly stupid choreography and Tim Hatley's deliberately cheesy set and costumes. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through September 6. (213) 972-4400.
MY WAY: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA Singers croon Sinatra tunes. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (949) 497-2787.
PUPPET UP! -- UNCENSORED Naughty improv by Henson Alternative puppeteers. Avalon, 1735 Vine St., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 19, 8 p.m.. (323) 462-8900.
THE TEMPEST Many would argue that Shakespeare is not meant to be experienced in a darkened proscenium house with fancy sets, a silent audience and plush seating, but with minimal lighting and sets, a boisterous crowd and no seating at all. Those preferring the latter will find this production of Shakespeare's final play to their liking. The familiar story about the wronged former Duke of Milan who is banished to an island with his daughter, only to use his powers of sorcery to command the faeries of the isle to exact revenge on his fellow nobles is performed with traditional minimalism, but with much modern commentary and humor. Director and company co-founder Melissa Chalsma incorporates into the dialogue jokes about cell phones, Martha Stewart, and even the Barnsdall performance space. Continuing the modern aesthetic are Daniel Mahler's costumes, which feature a blend of bubble wrap, duct tape, and other shiny bits for the faeries and Prospero's cape, in styles ranging from Mafioso (Sebastian) to band geek (Trinculo) to Charlie Chaplain (Stephano). The latter two work well for the bawdy, vaudevillian duo, who along with Caliban, become the most engaging part of the performance. What's gained in comedy, however, is lost in the somber philosophical inquiry that makes up significant part of the text. A major reason for this is the setting, which, by allowing food, drink and a "family atmosphere," also suffers from the distraction of crying, talking children. And while that atmosphere is good for a summer community event, give me the darkened proscenium house for this play. (MK) Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (in alternating rep with Henry V, so performance dates vary); through August 30. (323) 836-0288. An Independent Shakespeare Company. Production.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
GO ALTAR BOYZ For those over the age of 15, boy bands have long been fodder for easy ridicule - stir in Christian rock and malicious burlesque becomes ripe for the picking. But in this outing by playwright Kevin Del Aguila with songwriters Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker, derision is superseded by affection. The book is so sweet and so gentle the lyrics that the show lacks a satisfying satirical bite. But the good news is in the performances. Jesse Bradley, Clifford Bañagale, Jake Wesley Stewart, Robert Acinapura and Kelly Rice blend their disparate personalities, boyish charms and harmonic voices to create an ensemble that could easily play it straight for the right audiences. Choreographer Ameenah Kaplan takes great advantage of the boys' uniform physical agility and athleticism, creating song and dance numbers far more entertaining than the overdone Catholic jokes. Musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten and his band (Adam Halitzka, Nick Perez and Carson Schutze) are totally in sync, keeping the show bouncy and charming for 90 minutes. Michael Mullen's too-precious rock costumes are terrific and amusing. Only the imminent threat of forced audience participation slightly dulls the glister. (Tom Provenzano) Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 957-1884.
AS YOU LIKE IT One argument for setting Shakespeare's gender-bending romantic romp in the '80s is that androgynous pop stars defined that decade. Boy George, Michael Jackson and Siouxsie Sioux are here via Amiens (Dana DeRuyck), Touchstone (Allana Barton), and the depressive Jaques (Terra Shelman), though it's tough to disassociate and think of them as the Bard's men, particularly when Touchstone moonwalks. The rest of Paul Miailovich's cast is made of Valley girls and dream boyfriends, as though from a John Hughes flick, plus several drag queens -- most notably Rene Guerrero's Rosalind, who is both a knockout and a darned fine actor. Her performance, along with Scott Hartman's Orlando and Amanda Vermillion's Celia, does what it can to inject some actual Shakespeare into what's essentially just a happy, fun time stunt complete with sing-a-longs. It has the all-ages crowd tapping their toes to "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart." At two-and-a-half hours long, it runs an hour past its welcome-- and Mialilovich never met a double-entendre he couldn't accentuate with a crotch grab -- but I suppose it's a way to get kids to see a Shakespeare, even if at the end, they couldn't explain what happened. (AN) Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake; in rep with Snoopy: The Musical; call for schedule; through August 23. (323) 667-0955.
BABY IT'S YOU! American Pop Anthology presents Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's musical biography of Scepter Records founder Florence Greenberg., www.babyitsyouthemusical.com. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (800) 595-4TIX.
BLACKBIRD Adam Rapp's love story about a disabled veteran and an ex-stripper. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 19, www.plays411.com/blackbird. (323) 860-3283.
NEW REVIEW BLOCK NINE
Photo courtesy of the Elephant Theatre
Stanczyk's play, "an unapologetically same-sex, retro noir 1930's
gangster homage," is performed in two alternating versions -- one with
an all-male cast, reviewed here, and the other all-female. It's less
comedy of manners than comedy of the mannered, suggesting the novels of
Jean Genet re-played as farce. Though the characters are cops and
gangsters, like Genet's pimps and hustlers, they're more concerned with
their images and gestures than their professional careers. Cop Phil
(Kenny Suarez) persuades his skittish, vulnerable partner/lover Hank
(Jeremy Glazer) to go undercover on Cellblock 9 to get the goods on
tough mobster Lips (Matt Rimmer). Then one torrid kiss from Lips turns
Hank to jello, and leaves him wallowing in a hilarious orgy of would-be
submission, longing to be violated. Instead, Lips passes him along to
eccentric blond muscle-man and mob-boss Cody (Max Williams), who keeps
two minions on tap: naïve young Johnny (Josh Breeding), and foppish
pseudo-Frenchman Armand (Louis Douglas Jacobs). Despite the pervasive
haze of homoeroticism, Cody's more inclined to shoot them than to fuck
them. While director Pete Uribe has assembled a highly attractive and
accomplished cast, and deploys them with flair and wit, ultimately the
play seems like a comic sexual tease that never quite delivers. Lillian
Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; in rotating rep through September
20; call theatre for schedule. (323) 960-4410. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW BREAKING AND ENTERING
Photo by Ed Krieger
young woman named Milly (Meredith Bishop), a fan of American
literature, and of great novelist Wallace Trumbull (Steven Shaw),
breaks into the now aging and secluded writer's home one stormy night,
on the seventh of the World Series, which Trumbull is trying to follow
on his battery-powered radio, since the electricity has blown. It's a
marathon game of absurdist proportions, broadcast by commentators (Lary
Ohlson and Chrstopher Gehrman), who appear periodically behind a
translucent screen built into Jeff G. Rack's gothic living room set.
One of the commentators is - perhaps too coincidentally -- a
Trumbullophile, liberally peppering his sports commentary with
Trumbullisms that understandably annoy his on-air partner, since the
witticisms are not particularly witty or relevant. Such is the
idiosyncratic humor of Colin Mitchell's comedy-mystery. The play is a
touch too schematic: Milly breaks in bearing an original manuscript of
her own novel, which she hopes to get Trumbull to read. That there is
no copy of her opus (which is really a prophetic book of revelations
telling the story of her break-in) is used in one of the play's many
intriguing plot twists. I didn't believe that she'd bring her only
version to a stranger's house and offer to leave it there, no matter
how famous the guy is. If she were fibbing about that detail in order
to up the ante, I'm not convinced the savvy Trumbull would have
believed it either. This is a tiny but significant detail in a very
clever play that grapples and compares dueling themes: reality and
illusion, fame and fraud. The play sparks and shines when it reaches
the intersection of these two ideas, but the road to that intersection
is a bumpy one. This may have less to do with the writing, and more to
do with Mark L. Taylor's staging, with the way Shaw's tentative
performance is juxtaposed against Bishop's sometimes grating impudence
and indignance. Bishop's Milly may be more clever than we'd thought,
but she's also more annoying than we'd anticipated. I'm guessing a more
accomplished production would be of greater service to Mitchell's
intricate play. Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Dr. (on
the Beverly Hills High School campus); Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;
through September 13. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO CARVED IN STONE In Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy, it's always cocktail hour in the afterlife lounge shared by Truman Capote (Kevin Remington), Quentin Crisp (Leon Acord), Oscar Wilde (Jesse Merlin) and Tennessee Williams (Curt Bonnem). Witty aphorisms fly fast and furious, as each writer tries for the perfect bon mot to top the others. Into this literary hothouse stumbles Gryphon Tott (Levi Damione), who can't believe he's dead. He's further perplexed by the denizens of the lounge because he's heterosexual. The other writers explain that he's a gay icon, which has brought him to their cozy setting. They add that the door though which he entered occasionally opens, but the four literary heavy heavyweights have no desire to move on. Judy Garland and Bette Davis (both played by Amanda Abel) make a brief appearance, and leave just as suddenly. William Shakespeare (Alex Egan) stays around for a while longer to much hectoring from the lounge habitués. Tott's status as a gay icon unfolds slowly -- he borrowed background scenery from a gay writer, bringing up the question of plagiarism. The cast is superb under the fast-moving direction of John Pabros Clark, and the pacing and timing are remarkable. (SR) Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 9, www.carvedinstonetheplay.com. (310) 473-5483.
COMEDY KLATCH Christine Schoenwald hosts this all-female variety revue. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.. (323) 653-6886.
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. (323) 663-1525.
GO THE DEBATE OVER COURTNEY O'CONNELL OF COLUMBUS, NEBRASKA If we're to believe playwright Mat Smart, which is probably not a good idea, the bloody rampage of a jealous lover in 1894 Columbus, Nebraska led to the "Morgan Morality Act," stipulating that if a woman chose a fiancée over the objections of a former lover who had taken her virginity, her first lover was entitled to challenge her fiancée in a public debate, sort of like a cross between The Dating Game and The Jerry Springer Show. After hearing argumentation from both parties, the woman was free to choose her future mate. If the woman continued to rebuke the challenger, the law forbade him to contact her or to mention her name in public. This anti-stalking bill placed profound confidence in the power of debate in general, and argumentation in particular, to prevent corpses from piling up, as they evidently did in 1894 Nebraska, at least according to the record cited in Smart's play. In Act 1 of his delightful comedy, set in a contemporary Nebraska tavern - here portrayed in the site-specific environs of downtown's Metropol Cafe -- Smart is really grappling with the intersection of commitment and ownership. Jeff Galfer, who originated the role at New York's Slant Theatre Project, is both horrifying and endearing as Scott P. Scooner, a snazzily dressed local denizen whose dream of making it big consists of landing the assistant manager post at the suit shop where he now works as a sales clerk. Scott is a romantic extrovert with a history of suicide attempts over the loss of his love, Courtney (Amy Ellenberger, nicely capturing an emotional descent after floating on air) to a six-figure-salary-earning "dickwad from Sacramento" named James Alexander (Larry Heron, in a suave and smart performance). Courtney's been dating James for two months (compared to her five-year courtship with Scott). During the debate, James offers her a vacation in the Bahamas that only makes her swoon some more, as Scott must endure the site of his ex embracing and kissing his competitor while he's trying to win her back. Thomas (Feodor Chin) gently moderates the debate in a performance of wry intelligence and absurdity, clutching a handbook of the law that stipulates time limits and other protocol for the growingly ludicrous spectacle. After both suitors' presentations, Courtney finds herself paralyzed by indecision, which is when the law's more arcane articles, such as a corn-shucking competition, come into play. Act 2 flies back in time to 1894 and tracks the origins of this "morality act" via a farce with the actors in drag and impressive quick-changes. It's a different play in a different style that presents more of a challenge to the actors than the real-time naturalism of Act 1. It nonetheless tracks the origins of our so-called freedom, and how incapable we are of handing the responsibilities that come with it. Despite the shortcomings of the farce, Jennifer Chang stages the event, and it is an event, with a nimble touch, and Rachel Schachar's costumes are perfect. (SLM) Metropol Cafe, 923 East Third Street, downtown; Sun.-Mon., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 24. (800) 838-3006 or http://brownpapertickets.com A Chalk Repertory Theatre production.
DON'T FORGET TO REMEMBER The title of Patricia Parker's play is a line from a poem by Andrew Baker (Shelly Kurtz), written to remind himself to hold onto his memories as he faces the encroachment of Alzheimer 's disease. His life is made still harder by the fact that his wife Dolores (Trudy Forbes) is a rigid, conservative Catholic, with a knack for denying anything in life that might be upsetting. She turns against their daughter Sarah (Lisa Clifton) when she learns the girl is a lesbian, and when Sarah decides to marry her female lover, she attempts to drive her out of the house. Her denial goes into high gear when Andrew makes her promise to help him kill himself when he starts to seriously lose his faculties. Parker is an earnest and sincere writer, but her play prolongs the agony till it grows turgid and melodramatic, despite the fine efforts of a capable cast and Kiff Scholl's mostly excellent direction. (His handling of the scenes is fine, but the "expressionist" pantomime between scenes is more confusing than helpful.) Set designer Davis Campbell makes handsome and clever use of the small space. (NW) The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru September 6. (323) 960-7780 or www.Plays411.com/remember
GO EL VERDE: ¡VIVA LA FRITA! Who knows what evil lurks in the heart El Verde (writer-performer Anthony Aguilar), a masked superhero in Fictional City, U.S.A. with a fondness for green and "powers even he isn't sure of." In this third installment of the cheeky comic book spoof, pop artist Candy Warhol (Jeremiah Ocañas) is dedicating a clothing line to the dauntless El Verde but is thwarted by the nefarious Frita Kahlo (the hilarious scene-stealing Karla Ojeda), a criminal mastermind with a mania for monkeys and mind control. As El Verde matches wits with Frita, who plots to seize the cloaked crusader's popularity and expose his secret identity, his devotion to duty threatens his marriage to the long-suffering Martha (Blanca Melchor). Interspersed are parodies of TV commercials, from Dos XX's "world's most interesting man" send up, written by director Alejandra Cisneros, to hip-hopping insects in the PSA for a bug support group, penned by Gabriela Lopez de Dennis, plus playful swipes at L.A.'s own amorous mayor. Due to the small stage, Cisneros has some awkward moments in the blocking but her comic timing and exuberant cast - and mellifluous announcer Oscar Basulto - compensate for any technical blemishes.(Martín Hernández) CASA 0101, 2009 E. First Street, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (323) 263-7684.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
NEW REVIEW FUGGEDABOUTIT!
Photo by Charles M. Howell IV
Bressac, one of the great writing talents behind televisions
iconoclastically brilliant Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs, has
sadly lost touch with his stage roots from New York's La Mama, as his
West Coast premier as a theatrical auteur falls flat. His farce follows
90 minutes in the life of Guy, a male fashion model (Shaw Jones,
excellent playing straight man to an assemblage of crazy characters),
who, after becoming a total amnesiac in an accident, is surrounded by
friends, lovers and a mafia hit-man, all trying to jog his memory. The
plodding story has each visitor taking Guy through an important memory,
which we witness through flashback. The characters are appropriately
two-dimensional for the comic format, but acting choices are mostly
weak cliches, particularly a gay couple (Charles M. Howell IV and
Christopher Le Crenn) stepping right out of Boys in the Band, a pouty
dumb blond (Jessica Rose) grasping for a Marilyn Monroe impression, and
a cookie cutter gangster (Arman Torosyan), who has more in common with
the gays than he wants to admit. The play is preceded by a pointless
curtain-opener, presenting a two-bit Noel Coward and Gertude Lawrence
type pair (Bressac and Mary Broderick) preparing for a stage entrance.
The most enjoyable part of the evening is Andrew Murdock's ongoing
audio montage of songs about memory. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539
Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru
Sept. 20. (323) 960-7753. (Tom Provenzano)
GETTING OUT Marsha Norman's story of a mixed-up girl just released from prison. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 20, www.lyrichyperion.com...
GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. No barfing allowed. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700.
GO A HATFUL OF RAIN Directed by Dean Kreyling in a lively revival, Michael Gazzo's play centers on the issue of morphine addiction. Johnny (a ghostly Chris Devlin) is a returning Korean War vet who got hooked while hospitalized. (The play is double-cast). He's been successfully hiding his addiction from his wife Celia (Tania Gonzalez) and from his father (Joseph Cardinale) -- but not from his brother Polo (Gad Erel), who's paid off his dealers before. This time Johnny is in debt $800. His dealers drop by with an ultimatum: pay the money or wind up in the hospital. Jonesing for his next fix, Johnny takes a gun in search of the money, staying out all night to no avail. When the hoods arrive the next day, Polo agrees to sell his car to cover Johnny's debt. But who will bail Johnny out the next time? The drug dealers are a colorful, menacing crew: Mother (Jeremy Radin), Apples (James Lyons) and Church (Aaron Leddick). Radin engages in some very funny stage business, and while he may steal some scenes, it's Erel who nearly walks away with the entire production. This actor exudes chrarisma and raw sexuality. Cardinale puts in a nuanced turn as the vitriolic patriarch. (Sandra Ross) Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23, www.katselastheatre.org. (310) 358-9936. A Katselas Theatre Company production
THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.
I'M AN ACTOR, THEY DON'T GET IT Journey of an aspiring thespian, by Tiffany Black. Tre Stage Theatre, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 18, imanactortheydontgetit.eventbrite.com. (424) 204-2085.
NEW REVIEW INTIMATELY WILDE
Photo courtesy of Olio Theatre Works
easy to understand why dramatic artists might be attracted to the
story of the brilliant and iconic Oscar Wilde. Unfortunately,
writer-director Terra Taylor Knudson's dramatization of the life and
trials of this complex and tragic figure treads familiar territory,
offering little fresh insight. The play begins in Wilde's (Tom Thorn)
prison cell before flashing back to accounts of his marriage, his
meeting and subsequent affair with Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Ryan Michael
Hartman), and his series of trials, which culminated in his conviction
for "gross indecency" and his sentencing to two years hard labor. A
stilted rendering of events, the script never delves beneath the
surface by attempting, for example, to explore the complicated
mysteries of sexual attraction, or probing the anguish Wilde's wife
(Knudson) must have undergone, first from her husband's physical
rejection and later from the disgrace brought on by the trial. The
production's main problem, however, is Thorn's performance, which is
constrained by the image of Wilde as a dandy with a disdain for
convention. That he was, but Thorn's too glib mannerisms fail to do
justice to the scope of Wilde's intellect and compassion. Hartman
occasionally livens things up with the antics of the spoiled Bosie, and
Tom Polzin is effective as the implacably doltish Marquess of
Queensberry. Lyric Theatre, 520 North La Brea Ave, Hollywood;
Thurs-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 13. (323) 939-9220. An Olio
Theatre Works production (Deborah Klugman)
GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., and Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4412.
MANISH BOY Comedian Ralph Harris returns home via his one-man show. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 960-1056.
GO ONE NIGHT STAND: AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL Seven young actors don't use wigs for a musical parody concoted in the spur of the moment - this is the improv equivalent of performing without a net. On the night I saw them, they brewed a father-son conflict that parodied the literary convention of young people arriving in L.A from the hinterlands to become stars. The lanky Quinn Beswick portrayed a kid in Tennessee confronting his dad (Jonah Platt) about not wanting to live out his father's failed dreams, about not wanting to be a star, but wanting instead to escape to L.A. to pursue his dream of cleaning up after other people who do want to be stars. (No shortage of employment opportunities in that field.) The fresh-scrubbed ensemble showed wit aplenty and boasted bone fide musical theater chops, particularly though the sharp energy and even sharper voices of Samantha Martin and Mollie Taxe. Musical Director Andrew Resnick did piano-accompaniment duties. (SLM) Hudson Theater Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; through August 22. (323) 960-4429.
ONE WOMAN, TWO LIVES Samantha (Kellita Smith), the pivotal character in playwright Alretha Thomas' soap operatic fantasy, is the envy of her neighbor Belinda (Sharon Munfus). Sam's preacher husband (understudy Keith Bossier) is good-looking, ardent, and prosperous. Their three kids are dutiful and loving. A happy homemaker, Samantha loves cleaning and cooking for her family; as a pillar of the community she's also on track to receive the coveted First Lady award from their church. Disaster looms, however, when a hoodlum named Melvin (Billy Mayo) shows up, threatening to expose the crack-sodden errors of her youth. Under Denise Dowse's direction, Act 1's simplistic plotlines turn uncomfortably florid in Act 2, as the knavish Melvin resorts to violence, aggressive sexual embraces (which she spurns) and loaded weapons. The story's far-fetched elements are accentuated further by Smith's coy and honeyed manner, and camera-ready poise, somehow at odds with the modest stay-at-home mom she's supposed to represent. Some of her attire (from costume designer Mylette Nora) seems inappropriate: revealing necklines and high-heeled fuck-me footwear worn when at home with family and friends, and a clingy come-hither dress purchased for the church award ceremony that seems more suitable for a racy disco. The over-the-top Esther Scott milks the role of Samantha's cantankerous mother-in-law for laugh -- and gets them. Mayo is definitively intimidating while Munfus - playing a great girlfriend but a shrewish wife -- is on target as both. Designer Marco De Leon has fashioned an attractive set. (Deborah Klugman) Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23.
NEW REVIEW OUTSIDE OF THE BOX There's a Judy Garland and
Mickey Rooney vibe to this talent showcase for a school of circus arts.
Each act shows off its best stunt: two men (William Smith and Eric Yu)
dress like bunnies and kung fu fight, a contortionist (Hannah Finn)
outfitted like a mall-dwelling punk teen bends herself into a pretzel
over angry poetry, a dancer (Dana Dugan) in a wet slip presses water
prints against the floor. Between acts, the mute stagehand (Scott
Renkes) clowns around and discovers a prop that serves as a harbinger
of the next routine as the two-person Kleinkunst Kabarett (accordionist
Ari DeSano and singer Morgan Lariah) wheeze musical accompaniment.
Director Stephanie Abrams, who also mimes a comedic suicide routine,
could stand to get more energy from her performers who move capably but
tentatively through their routines -- their movements need the
confident snap of a circus that knows it'll wow 'em. Burlesque dancer
Christina Aimerito brandishes her fire batons with a solid amount of
sass, but it's dancer Onamare who slides in wearing a sexy hajib,
garters, bondage ropes and two foot-long flaming rings who burns down
the house. Kinetic Theory Experimental Theatre and The Attic Theatre
and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
thru Aug. 29. (323) 525-0661. (Amy Nicholson)
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
SAY GOODBYE TOTO Sometimes it just doesn't pay to tinker with a literary classic. Such is the case with Amy Heidish's reimagining of the Wizard of Oz. Heidish places Toto at the center of the narrative, and this dubious conceit wears thin early on. Joseph Porter does the honors as Dorothy's panting, barking traveling companion, and after the pair is transported via tornado to Oz, the canine is inexplicably mistaken for a sorcerer. Accompanying Dorothy (the fine Renee Scott) on her way to the Emerald City is a mysterious cat (Tracy Ellott), plus of course the Scarecrow (Mike Fallon), the cowardly lion (Andreas Ramacho), and Tin Man (Grant Mahnken) who, in Heidish's version, are all cursed brothers hoping that face time with the wizard can get them zapped back into human form. The most engaging moments come by way of the Wizard (Jake Elsas), whose magical manipulation of several hand puppets behind a screen is very funny. Alice Ensor does a dazzling job as the good witch, but this doesn't redeem a script with a tension that dribbles away. And Jamie Virostko's bland direction doesn't help. (Lovell Estell III) The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.; L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., thru Sept. 13. (323) 969-1707. An Ark Theatre Company production
GO SEARCH AND DESTROY Howard Korder's play begins like a mildly absurdist comedy about a feckless, dunderhead Florida ice-show promoter, Martin Merkheim (Brian Ridings), who owes $47,000 in back taxes. When he becomes obsessed with late-night TV self-help guru Dr. Waxling (Joseph Dunn), he decides he must make a movie of the doctor's novel, Daniel Strong, as part of his self-empowerment campaign. But the doctor (who has marketing problems) is unimpressed by Martin's high ideals and wants cold, hard cash. And the play turns darker. In his pursuit of money, Martin becomes involved with a receptionist (Meagan English) who wants to write gory horror flicks, a shady businessman (Adam Hunter Howard), a couple of drug dealers (Dan Fishbach and Anthony Duran), and a strung-out coke head (Thom Guillou), who is political consultant to a conservative senator. The pursuit of self-improvement leads only to sleaziness, corruption and self-destruction. Korder's script ricochets between picaresque comedy, morality play, melodrama and a play of ideas; it's fun to watch, and director Joshua Adler has assembled a terrific cast. Ridings makes Martin's bumbling desperation believable, Fishbach and Guillou contribute sharp comic vignettes, while Howard and Dunn lend a more sinister touch. (NW) The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (323) 960-7776.
7 DEADLY SINS Chris Berube's interwoven vignettes. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Tues., 9:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 29. (323) 850-7827.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 226-6148.
SHORTS AND SWEETS
SNOOPY!!! THE MUSICAL Larry Grossman and Hal Hacakady's sequel to
SORRY, WE'RE CLOSED Cody Goulder's barfly story., email@example.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (602) 689-771.
GO STOP KISS Manhattan traffic newscaster Callie (Deborah Puette) meets Sara (Kristina Harrison) the week the young blonde schoolteacher arrives in the city. Both have always identified themselves as straight: Callie's got her friend-with-benefits George (Christan Anderson), who she assumes she'll marry once they both stop trying to find someone better, and Sara has just left her boyfriend of seven years, Peter (Justin Okin), behind in St. Louis in her quest to find a bigger, harder, more worthwhile life. The two women gradually become best friends, deliciously tormented by their quiet hints that they both want a more physical relationship. But no sooner do they stick a tentative foot out of the closet than they're pushed out in the worst possible way -- as a news story about a violent bigot who puts Sara in a coma. Diana Son's time-jumping play about coping with the unexpected skips from their first meeting to Callie's first sitdown with the investigating cop (Jeorge Watson); we're rooting for the couple to get together under the shadow of the consequences. But Son's equal emphasis on romance makes the play looser and more inviting than a social problem drama, and the question isn't about the source of hate, but the depth of Callie's love when Peter announces that Sara's family wants to move her hospital bed back to Missouri. Under Elina de Santos and Matthew Elkin's direction, the ensemble opening night was still a little stiff, but Puette's tender performance captures a haphazard woman realizing that she's finally sure of at least one thing. (Amy Nicholson)Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-7774. A Rogue Machine production
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.
GO TREEFALL The most primal aspects of erotic attraction, and the dynamics of competition among siblings and parents, and even the foundations of civilization itself, play themselves out in Henry Murray's post-apocalyptic drama, set on and around a mountain that's being scorched by a global warming sun, as modern civilization lies in ruins. Four characters (West Liang, Brian Norris, Brian Pugach and Tania Verafield) play-act through the detritus of the world as they try to fathom the purpose of continuing, and the meaning of being human. The play is utterly despondent and achingly true, without a hint of morbidity, and even glimpses of humor, under John Perin Flynn's studied direction. (Steven Leigh Morris) Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through September 6. (323) 960-7774. A Rogue Machine production
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
NEW REVIEW TWELFTH NIGHT or WHAT YOU WILL
Courtesy of Classical Theatre Lab
Armin Shimerman's genial, unevenly paced production of Shakespeare's
romantic comedy boasts cross dressing as well as crossed garters.
Nobleman Orsino (John D. Crawford) loves noblewoman Olivia (a nicely
shrill Victoria Hoffman) but she only has eyes for Orsino's servant,
who just happens to be the shipwrecked beauty Viola (Julie Alexander)
in disguise. A complication (which can be traced all the way back to
Plautus if you try) ensues when Viola's twin brother Sebastian (Michael
Yurchak) arrives in the kingdom and is mistaken for his sister - er,
brother. Shimerman's production is staged in a building courtyard in
West Hollywood's Plummer Park, and the locale lends a playful, upbeat
atmosphere. A few production elements border on being merely
workmanlike, including some functional-at-best acting turns and bouts
of stiff blocking that never tuck into the piece's humor. However, the
show is punctuated with a few colorful gags - the foolish trio of
Michael Matthys's boorish Sir Toby, Barry Saltzman's hilariously foppy
Aguecheek, and Will Badgett's sourpuss Feste catawrualling love songs
on Olivia's doorstep, for instance, or Stephen Moramarco's thoroughly
prickly Malvolio attempting to woo his mistress, a hilariously uptight
turn channeling what appears to be 100 generations of nightshift
accountants. Although pacing problems inevitably slow some portions of
the show, this is a fine, intimate introduction to this coruscating
comedy, perhaps best for those not overly familiar with it. Classical
Theatre Lab, Plummer Park, 7336 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood;
Sat.-Sun., 5 p.m.; through August 23. Free. (323) 960-5691. (Paul
WWJD ... WHAT WOULD JIMI DO? The Racket Collective presents Felicia D. Henderson's story of her relationships with her dysfunctional family, Hollywood agents and Jimi Hendrix. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 31, www.the-racket-collective.ticketleap.com...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ALL IN THE TIMING Frequently performed and durably diverting, this series of six short plays by David Ives takes ironic potshots at our established notions of time, language and genius. In "Sure Thing," a meeting between Bill (Jacob Smith) and Betty (Erin Frisbie) replays with numerous permutations, its varying outcome linked to the choice of words Bill employs to win Betty's favor. In "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," Trotsky (a comically bewigged Smith, with an axe planted in his skull) repeatedly learns of his death from an encyclopedia but fails to forestall it. In "Words, Words, Words," three chimps set out to write Hamlet, testing an experimenter's theory that given enough time, great literature will emerge from even the most unpromising quarters. In "The Philadelphia" (as a Philadelphia native, I have an especial appreciation for this one), a distraught and frustrated fellow named Mark (Sean Fitzgerald) learns from his buddy Al (Joe Neuhaus) that he's stuck in a philadelphia - a metaphysical abyss where things always go wrong. The antidote for this unhappy state, Al explains, is to consistently demand the opposite of what one truly desires - a winning strategy illustrated after their contrary waitress (Katie Sikkema) brings Mark what he really wants after he's tried ordering everything else. Directed on a shoestring by Carlos Martinez, the production features an uneven ensemble, but the humor is mostly sustained, with Frisbie, Smith and Neuhaus proving to be most versatile and adept. (DK) Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; (In rep, call for schedule.); thru Aug. 30. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed Production.
BILLIE AND BOGIE Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart had enough superficiality in common to make them an apt pair for a show about the psyche of two hard-drinking, hard-living New Yorkers. They became icons while still feeling they had something to prove -- Holiday to the bigoted, and Bogart to audiences who underestimated then overestimated his acting ability. This is a fine show, but it isn't the show I've just described. at show. Instead, director Bryan Rasmussen presents Bogie (Dan Spector) and Lady Day (Synthia L. Hardy) as legends gracing us with a few dark anecdotes about their roots. Spector and Hardy are sincere in their affections for these imposing pop figures, but there's a whiff of Wikipedia to their character profiles -- their monologues are arranged chronologically, not thematically, chugging along at the highs and lows of lives about to be cut short while guzzling (but not feeling) enough booze to tranquilize a tiger. With a running time of nearly three hours, we should know Bogie and Billie better than we do by the end. Instead we walk about with the warm melancholy of sharing a drink with a fascinating stranger we'll never meet again. (Amy Nicholson) Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 990-2324.
GO CLOSER THAN EVER This musical revue is a compendium of 23 numbers by Richard Maltby, Jr., and David Shire (Big and Baby), directed by Chil Kong, with crisp and inventive musical direction by Akira Nakano, and choreography by the late RedRunningbear Savage. The songs emphasize the comic, the wry and the rueful, but they embrace a wide range of subjects, from aging and midlife crisis to fatherhood, lesbian motherhood, and unrequited love. Six principals players (Kong, Sharline Liu, DT Matias, Blythe Matsui, Paul Nakauchi, and Erin Quill) perform the songs with panache, complemented by an ensemble of four (EJ Ariola, Jully Lee, Jiehae Park, and Miley Yamamoto). Quil and Nakauchi offer standout performances with fine support all the way down the line. Musical highlights include the comic "She Loves Me Not," sung by Matias, Matsui and Nakauchi, the wacky "Miss Byrd," with Liu, Nakauchi's touching song about a father's legacy "If I Sing," and Nakauchi and Quill's ironic account of a muddled marriage, "There." Quill shines in "Life Story," and the stirring ensemble numbers include the title song and the grimly humorous "The March of Time." Kong directs (and performs) with wit and style. (NW) Lodestone Theatre Ensemble at CTG Burbank, 1111-B West Olive Avenue, Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru August 30. (323) 993-7245.
DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Bert V. Royal puts the Peanuts gang in high school dealing with sex, drugs, violence and homophobia. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (877) 620-7673.
GO EQUUS Director-set designer August Viverito and his colleagues have mastered the art of clarity and intensity when working in a tiny space such as this. Peter Shaffer's drama has always told the harrowing tale of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna), who must discover why a severely troubled teenager, Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), has gouged out the eyes of six horses with a hoof pick. What's different here is that Hanna's Dysart suffers an anguish at least as deep as the boy's, and this carries the play from clever melodrama into the realm of tragedy. Dysart slowly realizes that Alan has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which horses are his gods -- and has enacted a strange Passion Play. The doctor understands that to cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and most profound experience of his life. The boy's fierce passion forces Dysart to recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence. Viverito has cast it beautifully, with riveting performances by Hanna, Stafford and a splendid supporting cast, who make us feel the play, as well as understand it. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; selected Sundays, 3 p.m.; through Sept. 5. (800) 838-3006, or www.theprodco.com. (Neal Weaver)
GO HORROR FEST These four horror-themed vignettes run the gamut from the darkly humorous to ghoulish. The bill opens with Zombie Joe's creepy "Procession of Devils." As directed by Denise Devin, it's a delightfully grotesque danse macabre with Kyle Clare, Amelia Megan Gotham, Conrad Lawson, Billy Minogue, and Rhea Richardson as a brood of flesh-eaters whose insatiable appetites cause them to turn on one of their own. The script is as unsettling as the performers' eerie, orgiastic movements. Adam Neubauer directs Greg Kaczynski's "End of The Road" with Jim Eshom and Amelia Megan Gotham portraying tattered survivors of an apocalyptic event who are forced to inhabit an abandoned building. Reduced to eating polluted canned goods and reminiscing about their former lives, they eventually fall prey to the darker forces surrounding them. Prosaic writing doesn't complement the actors' energetic performances, and the director's overuse of gory effects doesn't help. In Eshom's "A Lesson Learned," Jana Wimer and Lucas Salazar are forced to take refuge in a derelict house because of a storm; the house's bloody history and restless spirits make the evening fatally memorable. Gotham's direction and technical design are nothing short of superb. Neubauer's "Growing" is a riotously funny take on a mad scientist. Dr. Scofield (the fine Conrad Lawson) plays a desperately unhinged inventor whose master plan is to create a new life form called "Victa Proventus" (Andrew Fish in a hoot of a creaturely costume). But, alas, the experiment goes awry and starts to feast on everything in sight. Jana Wimer cleverly directs.( Lovell Estell III) Zombie Joe's Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, Fri.-Sat. 8:30 p.m. through Aug. 29 (818) 202-4120.
NEW REVIEW THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Koni McCurdy
gives a fierce performance as Lady Bracknell, under Patricia Wylie's
functional direction of Oscar Wilde's comedy. Otherwise, the play is
pretty limp. There were a number of stepped-on lines the night this
critic attended. A bigger problem is Jason Perlman's overly rapid
delivery as Algernon -- many of Wilde's best lines are so rushed, the
audience has no time to react. Brent Hamilton and Jessica Culaciati
make a serviceable pair of lovers as Jack and Gwendolen. However, the
accents are all over the place, particularly from Betsy Reisz who has
difficulty pulling off the role of well-bred Cecily -- the object of
Algernon's affection. Wilde might be spinning in his grave, but the
essential comedy is still amusing. The plot concerns two gentlemen who
both call themselves Earnest, and a comedy of mistaken identities
ensues. Osa Danam brings some charm as the befuddled governess Miss
Prism, but McCurdy's performance deserves special praise because it
offers a slightly vicious twist on Lady Bracknell. Jeri Deiotte's
costumes are fine, and Victoria Profitt's practical set design eases
the transitions between scenes. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra
Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; no perf
Sun.,. Aug. 16; thru Sept. 26. (626) 256-3809. (Sandra Ross)
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.
LOVE, SEX, VIOLENCE, ETC. Playwright Helena Weltman's six playlets might best be described as sketch dramedy. These character-driven slices of life boast a penchant for ironic twists, but provide little of the of the titillation that the title suggests. The outing begins auspiciously with "Saturday Night Date," in which a barroom pickup between two strangers (in fascinating portrayals by Lizze Czerner and Danny Grossman) turns into an intriguingly dangerous battle of wits, before a disappointing ending that sound like an old joke. The second offering, "Sitting in a Tree" provides a great opportunity for an actor to play appealingly crazy - Stephanie R. Keefer fulfills this mission as a woman desperate for a child. "Date" is directed with terse humor by Daniel Cerny, and "Tree" with emotional abandon by his father Pavel Cerny. Both directors successfully draw the audience into each work's disparate styles. The next four plays, however, lack the textual depth and the acting skills to match the first two. A great deal of sexual innuendo and crossed-wire communication cause human complication, but not a real sense of dramatic tension. Production values throughout are extremely simple, with only a few props and set pieces to define the worlds. Oscar Schwartz's costumes, though, are a bit more intricate and help tell the various stories. (Tom Provenzano) Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.
THE PAIN AND THE ITCH Judging by this 2004 comedy of manners, Steppenwolf playwright Bruce Norris' worst enemy isn't the left-leaning, urban-professional parenting he targets in his caustic, social satire, but his own penchant for overloaded metaphors and excessively convoluted plots. The action centers on a fateful Thanksgiving gathering hosted by Kelly (Vonessa Martin), a young attorney, and her stay-at-home husband, Clay (Brad Price), as told in flashback to a mysterious, Arab cab driver, Mr. Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur). Kelly and Clay seem to be living the American dream with success, wealth (suggested by Kurt Boetcher's distractingly literal, luxury townhouse set) and two young children. With the arrival of Clay's acid-tongued, plastic-surgeon brother, Cash (Scott Lowell), and his malaprop-spouting, Slavic-immigrant girlfriend, Kalina (Katie Marie Davies), however, a host of simmering tensions and festering family resentments quickly surface, not the least of which concerns Clay's growing alarm at the suspicious genital rash afflicting his overprotected, four-year-old daughter, Kayla (Ava Feldman in a role double cast with Olivia Aaron). Norris is at his best when skewering the culture of narcissism that blinds his Yuppie protagonists to the grimmer truths of the world around them (as when Kelly's claim of childhood abuse by "neglect alternating with sarcasm" prompts naive comfort from Kalina in her own story of her brutal, childhood rape by soldiers). But Dámaso Rodriguez's crisp direction of a talented cast can't mitigate the tangle of telescoping flashbacks, red herrings and a wildly improbable and bathetic dénouement that all ultimately blunt Norris' critiques. (BR) Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (626) 683-6883.
RAY BRADBURY'S YESTERMORROWS The sci-fi author's short stories "The Meadow," "Cistern" and "A Device Out of Time," adapted for the stage. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.
74 GEORGIA AVENUE/THE PUSHCART PEDDLERS Murray Schisgal's two mildly absurdist one-acts chronicle varied aspects of Jewish life. In the good-hearted but conventional farce The Pushcart Peddlers, directed by Chris Winfield, and set on the New York Waterfront in the early 1900s, wily banana peddler Cornelius (Lloyd Pedersen) cons greenhorn Shimmel (Ren Bell) out of all he owns --but Shimmel falls for Maggie (Melissa Soso), a flower-seller with theatrical ambitions, he quickly learns street smarts. The performances are broad but skillful. The more ambitious and more personal 74 Georgia Avenue, directed by Frances Mizrahi, is set in a formerly Jewish neighborhood that's now entirely black. Martin Robbins (Larry Margo) revisits his childhood home and discovers it's occupied by Joseph Watson (Disraeli Ellison), the son of the janitor at Robbins' old synagogue, who has become more Jewish than Robbins. Joseph fondly remembers the old days from the synagogue and has collected clothes, which mysteriously allow him to assume the identities of their former owners. When he "becomes" Martin's zayda, it allows Martin to resolve old resentments, and regain respect for his nebbishy father. Both actors deliver fine performances, despite the play's heavy-handed treatment of the supernatural. (NW) Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Aug. 22. http://www.lcgrt.com or (866) 811-4111.
GO 7DS Picking up the story where the old, Amicus horror omnibuses of the '60s left off, creator-director Amanda Marquardt's campy, late-night homage to the medieval morality play is the show for those who couldn't afford to plunk down $80 for Cirque Berserk. Marquardt's theme is the seven deadly sins; her subject, however, is the punishments these lurid, personifications of Wrath (Aryiel Hartman), Gluttony (Dariean Henderson), Pride (the fine Celeste Creel), Lust (Claude Duhamel), Sloth (Josh Tolle), Envy (Mishelle Freire) and Greed (John Klopping) inflict upon those in the afterlife being treated to the tortures of the damned. (Presumably what awaited the likes of Joan Collins and Ian Hendry after being pushed into the void by crypt keeper Ralph Richardson.) For these sinners, perdition takes the form of a three-ring circus, presided over by ringmaster Satan (a muscular Lamont Webb), in which the miscreant souls must reenact their transgressions on each other at the prodding of an entire demonology of harlequin-like assistants. Thus you have the proud Creel as a narcissistic, albeit bulimic bathing beauty who is subsequently humiliated by a lustful Duhamel by being transformed into a hausfrau automaton. Duhamel and his partner in carnality, the angry Hartman, later get a steam pressing with hot, electric irons . . . and so on. The non-verbal episodes are elegantly staged using mime, dumb show, tableau vivant, gibberish and a knockabout style of interpretive dance that should have Isadora Duncan rolling in her grave. (Bill Raden) ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Saturday, 10:30 p.m., thru Aug. 22. (818) 202-4120.
THE SEXUAL NEUROSES OF OUR PARENTS Developmentally disabled girl discovers her sexuality, by Lukas Barfuss. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, www.itsmyseat.com. (818) 500-7200.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: REVELATIONS Third chapter of Theatre Unleashed's collection of late-night vignettes. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:15 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (818) 849-4039.
THIS IS MY F-ING WEDDING Francisco Castro's marriage comedy. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (818) 506-3903.
THE UNSEEN In some unspecified country, two prisoners, Valdez (Matt Kirkwood) and Wallace (Darin Singleton) have been held for years in isolation cells. They are close enough to talk to but not to see each other. They don't know why they have been incarcerated, or by whom. They are constantly questioned and tortured, and subjected to nerve-shattering noises. They spend their days carrying out private rituals, and playing word and memory games in an attempt to preserve their sanity. The only mortal they see is the guard Smash (Douglas Dickerman), who is both torturer and caretaker. Craig Wright's allegorical new play keeps its larger meaning sketchy, perhaps because it lacks a concrete context. It's interesting mainly for the interaction of the two men, and the strange and whimsical nature of Smash. Wright directs his play skillfully on Desma Murphy's handsomely bleak set. Kirkwood and Singleton provide richly detailed portraits of the two men who comfort themselves with escape fantasies, and Dickerman creates a bizarre figure as the guard who hates his charges because he can't help feeling their pain as he tortures them. (NW) The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through August 22. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WEST SIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
NEW REVIEW GO ADELINE'S PLAY
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble
"This play is just about the swellest thing on paper."
one example of the oozy '30s-style language in Kit Steinkellner's new
comedy at the Powerhouse Theatre in a knockout production by Los
Angeles Theatre Ensemble that sneaks up on you and then won't let go.
See Theater Feature. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street,
Santa Monica; through September 5. Tickets at http://latensemble.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)
AUNT FONDEEN AND THE LOST DUTCHMAN GOLDMINE Free performances, courtesy Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., noon.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 712-5482.
BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor, Itamar Moses' sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century, who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for 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. 23. (310) 477-2055.
GO CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL Humankind can be said to be divided into two, mutually exclusive populations: those who believe South Park co-creator Trey Parker is the second coming of Molière, and those who dismiss his loopy brand of scatological satire as the sophomoric product of a developmentally arrested mind. Unbeknownst to the latter, the former have rescued Parker's cinematic, freshman effort, his 1996, feature-length, genre spoof, Alferd Packer: The Musical, from cult obscurity and transferred it to the live stage (most notably at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Judging by director Jessica Variz's rough-and-tumble version, the True Believers should be placated; even if the film's MGM-dance-number send-ups are irremediably absent, the surviving book, music and crude production values are all pure Parker. The primary joke is in the inappropriate nature of Parker's source material -- the 1874 trial of guide Alferd Packer (Bill Woods), who was charged with surviving a harrowing winter's stranding in the Colorado Rockies by eating the five men (Eric Ruiter, Eric Hamme, M.S. Cliff E. Threadgold, Daniel Theyer, Andrew Pedraza) he had been leading to the Breckenridge gold camps. Throw in a little bestiality in the form of Packer's beloved horse, Liane (Calli Dunaway), her human rival, Polly Pry (Sara Collins, the show's only trained voice), the odd, puerile pun ("Fudge, Packer?"), and you have a Trey, Trey risqué ode to the redemptive power of romantic, human love. (BR) Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, www.thegaragetheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.
THE CHAIRS Eugene Ionesco's 1952 post-apocalyptic comi-tragedy premiered the same year as Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot - another post-apocalyptic comi-tragedy that defined the Theater of the Absurd, a literary movement trying to respond to the inexplicable nihilism of the Holocaust, and of the detonations of the atomic bombs that ended, or perhaps cemented the end, of World War II. Godot's literary images are perfect - a pair of clowns in a barren land waiting for something that might provide some direction, or purpose, while habitually playing out ludicrous daily rituals as time passes, and passes them by. Less so, The Chairs, which is comparatively dense, alluding to the intersection of useless language with a world vacant of intrinsic meaning or purpose. The occupants of The Chairs are also ancient clowns, Wife (Cynthia Mance) and Husband (Bo Roberts) occupying an otherwise abandoned island after Paris, the City of Light, is a mere memory. Husband, a lord of the mop and bucket, keeps boasting of his satisfaction with life, though Wife reminds him constantly of what he could have been. His final act is to be a speech, a performance, a message for future generations that will explain the meaning of existence. And for this performance the pair gathers chairs into their room, a makeshift stage, so that the chairs echo the chairs of the theater directly behind them. Guests are arriving, military men and belles they seduce, and even the emperor. We hear fog horns of arriving boats and the excitement builds, a mob entirely created in the minds of Husand and Wife. For us, the chairs are empty. The are filled only by the persuasiveness of the actors to stir our imagination. And this is the emptiness, filled only by a willful act of imagination, that lies in the cavernous hollow of Ionesco's philosophy. Garth Whitten turns in a fine, fleeting appearance as the Orator, hired by Husband to deliver his message, because Husband is too afraid to speak for himself. Frederique Michel stages, as usual, a physically beautiful spectacle with Charles Duncombe's production design. The production takes flight in moments when the old couple swirls into a ballet of collecting chairs. It works best when it's a dance. The language however, or Donald Allen's English translation of it, is beyond the actors, who have both proved so capable in other productions here. Michel and her actors haven't yet found a dynamic musicality that can lift Husband's private agony beyond the redundant blasts of a tuba, or Wife's maternal taunting beyond the peeping of a piccolo. When Husband speaks his beautiful lament, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?", it's in the same harried tone as his later confession about abandoning his dying mother. Even a play about emptiness needs rises and falls - especially a play about emptiness. The challenge is how to fill the void. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through September 13. (310) 319-9939.
CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling, in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself. (SLM) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779.
GO CYMBELINE THE PUPPET KING Shakespeare's Cymbeline is a natural for adaptation as children's theatre since it shares many plot elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The play has been much shortened and simplified. Imogen's husband Posthumous and his treacherous friend Iachimo have been eliminated, and the sex and violence are reduced to minimum in slapstick. In this goofy, kid-friendly adaptation by Angela Berliner, King Cymbeline (Stephen M. Porter) is an ineffectual booby, easily manipulated by his evil, ambitious second wife (Donna Jo Thorndale), who wants to marry off her boorish, dim-witted son Cloten (Adam Jefferis) to his daughter Imogen (Erin Anderson). But feisty Imogen (she calls her unwelcome suitor Cloten the Rotten) is having none of this, and takes to the woods, where she's befriended by Belarius (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) and his adopted son Guidarius (Kirstin Hinton), who was raised by wolves, and is given to occasional howling. Many of the jokes are probably over the heads of most children, but they're kept amused by director Will Pellegrini's zanily frenetic staging, and the prospect of free popsicles. The short piece (under an hour) is performed outdoors, and best of all, admission is free. (NW) The Actor's Gang at The Ivy Substation, Culver City Media Park, 9070 Venice Boulevard; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m., thru August 30. Info: (310) 838-4264 or http://theactorsgang.com.
DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion and talent - both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33 years on the job - who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member -- a well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4 songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative, itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel - part performance, part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. (DK) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 28. (310) 358-9936.
GO FRANZ SCHUBERT: HIS LETTERS AND MUSIC Director Peter Medak's production offers the rare and frankly unmissable opportunity to hear and see Julia Migenes, one of the great operatic divas of our day, gloriously assay lieder by the 19th century composer Franz Schubert -- all in an intimate 99-seat theater. The piece is essentially a concert, reminiscent in style of the great recitals by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with meager context provided by performer Jeff Marlow's amiable rendition of selected letters by Schubert. Yet this doesn't seem to matter much when Migenes's incredible soprano fills the theater. The show, which Migenes conceived with Phillipe Calvario, consists of a broad stroke biography of Schubert, the wunderkind composer (and protégé of Antonio Salieri, though that's not much to brag about these days) whose prodigious output of hundreds of songs and operas was cut short by his death from syphilis complications in 1828. Marlow's turn as Schubert presents a youthful, perhaps manic depressive rake, who's understandably driven by his passions - his rage over not achieving the career goals of being a professional musician is offset by his devotion and love for his art. Throughout his rendition of Schubert's letters, Marlow is shadowed by Migenes, as a sort of angelic muse, echoing the passions and thoughts of the composer through his songs. A moment in which Schubert expresses despair and frustration is followed by Migenes's beautifully simple rendition of Schubert's paeon of forgiveness, "Du Bist Die Ruh." A moment of rage is followed by a thundering "Die Junge Nonne." The showstopping finale consists of Migenes's chilling "Ave Maria" - a gesture of benediction, sung as Schubert himself dies. The play is frankly not for musical neophytes and it is best to do due diligence on Schubert and his Lieder before coming to the theater - but Migenes, assisted by pianist Victoria Kirsch's deceptively simple accompaniment, offers a powerful and compelling theatrical experience. (PB) Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.
GO HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME While R. Ernie Silva's older brothers were doing hard drugs, he hid out in his room and watched Masterpiece Theater. Silva wasn't a nerd; he break-danced, liked weed, and grew dreadlocks. But he lived in Bushwick, and to cops, bosses and his mom, being a young, black male in Bushwick meant you were and would always be just like everyone else. Railroaded into a life headed for rehab or death, Silva grabbed a boxcar heading west to go on an American walkabout. Silva is a charismatic talent with slender build and wide grin. The story of his travels, co-written with James Gabriel and directed by Mary Joan Negro, taps into his charm and energy, sending him up and around a set of simple black boxes, strumming his guitar, Savannah, and impersonating the noteworthy, from Richard Pryor and Jimi Hendrix to August Wilson. The travails of young artists and their search for self-definition are a familiar solo show trope, but even the heightened moments -- the death of a brother, an auspicious visit from an eagle -- feel earned, not manufactured. I expect we'll see a lot more of Silva, and this very solid monologue is a good place to get acquainted. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 8. (310) 477-2055.
THE LAST 5 YEARS Jason Robert Brown's musical romance. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat..; thru Aug. 23. (310) 548-7672.
MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO After a massive ammo explosion at a World War II loading dock, 50 black seamen refused to return to duties and were falsely accused of conspiracy/mutiny. White officers fabricated evidence in a kangaroo court, and the defense attorney was hamstrung at every turn. Because the issues were so completely black and white, playwright Paul Leaf cant avoid melodrama. (NW). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (310) 397-3244.
NEW REVIEW THE RECEPTIONIST
Mullally in action: Photo by Enci
there is a premise behind playwright Adam Bock's superficial political
satire, it might be the notion that even Adolf Eichmann had a beloved
mother, and, no doubt, an efficient receptionist too. It is in the
latter's domain of a generic, office waiting room (in Chris Covics'
appropriately bland-moderne set) that Bock places his comic cautionary
study in the mindless, bureaucratic surrender of moral judgment to the
dictates of duty -- what Hannah Arendt meant by "the banality of evil."
And there are few duties more banal than Beverly Wilkins' (Megan
Mullally of NBC's Will & Grace). Holding down the front
desk of the innocuous-sounding "Northeast Office," the veteran employee
sorts the mail, makes the coffee and screens the incoming calls for her
harried boss, Mr. Raymond (Jeff Perry), at least when she isn't
gossiping on the phone or giving relationship advice to Mr. Raymond's
flighty, love-hungry assistant, Lorraine (Jennifer Finnigan). It is
only with the surprise visit of the Central Office's affable Martin
Dart (Chris L. McKenna) and Mr. Raymond's inexplicable absence that
Beverly's comfortable routine begins to unravel and the horrific nature
of the Northeast Office's "services" is finally brought to light.
Though Mullally nails the officious manner and mercurial pettiness of
the practiced office functionary, Bart DeLorenzo's detail-mired
direction ultimately proves unable to bridge the miscalculated
disconnect between Bock's cobweb-thin characterizations and the
discordant heft of his message. Evidence Room and Odyssey Theatre
Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2
p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (310) 477-2055. (Bill Raden)
GO ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets, one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it's hard to imagine doing Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying staging of the Marxist maestro's classic, anti-morality play, St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the 1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias' costumes), the story cleverly inverts the Jeanne d'Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark (a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an antipoverty crusader whose "Warriors of God" mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse closings. Joan's efforts to get the men back to work lead her to financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that Mauler is cynically using Joan's appeals to further his scheme. When she subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped mission, she is cast into the street, where she belatedly realizes the pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by Peter Mellencamp's vivid, new translation and an unerring ensemble (including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel Riordan), Rothhaar's production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the principles of epic theater. (It's also a showcase for the multitalented Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler's scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & Co. not only prove that the old, dialectical dogmatist still has teeth but that Brecht's bark and his bite are both wickedly entertaining. (BR) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (310) 822-8392.
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER Free public performance of Oliver Goldsmith's comedy, courtesy Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 23, www.ccpt.org. (310) 712-5482.
UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL Glen Berger's tale of a library book returned 123 years overdue. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 3. (310) 512-6030.
THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS
STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: MAKING GOOD Upright Cabaret presents a sneak peak of the composer's new opera,
XRT SPEAKER SERIES X Repertory Theatre panel discussion on international artists' challenges in Hollywood. XRT, 1581 Industrial St., L.A.; Thurs., Aug. 27, 7 p.m., www.xrtc.org. (213) 247-6883.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.