THE OVATION AWARDS ARE TONIGHTMonday at Luckman Auditorium, on the Cal State, Los Angeles campus. For more information, contact http://www.lastagealliance.com
LATEST NEW THEATER REVIEWS
BEAUTY OF ASHES Writer and star Peres Owino's furious semi-biographical poetry and dance piece about female victimization initially argues that for rape victims, the only way past the pain is whoring, being hanged or suicide. Owino's women and girls span centuries, from a modern day prostitute to an African princess sold into slavery to a 6-year-old hiding under the stairs; all are united by Owino's committed portrayal of their suffering. As directed by Ayana Cahrr, supporting dancers Katy O'Toole, Nicholas Utley, and Mecca Andrews (the play's strong, tall choreographer who has the arm-span of a condor)_hiss "bitch" and "slut" while slinking across the womb painted on the floor, then simulate Owino's true-life horrors behind a translucent curtain. In Owino's most searing scene, she argues the viewpoint of one of her oppressors, a charismatic village elder who calls herself "the giver of wisdom" for performing clitoridectomies, preferably without numbing potion; the woman is so entrenched in her own cultural subjugation, she brags that her patients have a success rate of only 12 beatings. Owino's detours into the language of her native Kenya had a few women in the audience nodding along. The rest of us catch up to her train of thought when her contemporary character dissuades herself from putting a gun in her mouth. She realizes that path to healing isn't warding off shame and convincing herself that she "wanted it"; from there, she moves on to give an earnest speech about real empowerment. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-4429. Nyar Num Productions (Amy Nicholson)
ELOVE – A MUSICAL.COM/EDY This world premiere musical by Wayland Pickard explores an online romance between an older man and woman who are newly single. After a website called “eLove” matches Frank (Lloyd Pedersen) and Carol (Bobbi Stamm), love seems to blossom as they begin chatting online. The opening number “I’m Single” has a catchy tune with some clever lyrics; unfortunately the highlight of the show comes five minutes in. The rest devolves into repetitive and unimaginative quips punctuated by musical numbers that plunge from the pedestrian to something akin to theme songs from ‘80s sitcoms. Pickard does everything in this production but act; his staging lends it a one-dimensional quality that might have been avoided with greater collaboration. He is so focused on trying to milk puns for laughs that his direction employs hackneyed devices such as talking to pets and monologues delivered out to the audience. Stamm stumbles over one too many lines, though she and Pederson have pleasant voices, but Chris Winfield’s cramped set allows them little freedom to physically explore their characters. The piece, in effect, becomes an Ed Sullivan-style stand-up routine with dialogue so trite, it makes George Lucas look like Edward Albee. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m. (Dec. 5-21 only); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through December 21. (323) 822-7898. An Angry Amish Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family's isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin's wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen ten years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George's parents just happen to be out for the evening -- and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man. , who afterwards falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde's pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda's three act comedy occasionally falls pray to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox's psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner's gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship. Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man's memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks' inscrutable older beauty. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (310) 822-8392. (Paul Birchall)
HISTRIONICS This slate of one-acts, based on recorded events, is told through characters forgotten by history. The idea is intriguing, but the end results are far from satisfactory. The dazzling performance of Leigh Anne Goodoff is the only thing that stands out in Michael McKeever’s “Laura Keene Goes On.” She skillfully channels an egotistical, out-of-sorts thespian backstage on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Ken Brisbois directs his own, very funny “Sticks & Stones,” in which a pair of convicts (Scott Rognlien and Rob Smith) share humorous reflections and much agony while hanging on their crosses, awaiting the arrival of J.C. Rognlien directs Sean Presant’s “A D-day at the Beach.” Here, as elsewhere on the bill, silliness and dull humor pervade: A pair of clueless Brits (Maia Peters and Jason Frost) holiday at Normandy during the historic invasion by Allied forces. Owen Hammer’s peurile “Primitive Peoples” finds Ali Kahn as a Meso-American chief whose idyllic life is threatened by the arrival of Europeans and an alien. Pilgrims and Indians share a meal and vapid conversation in Maggie Bandur’s “More White Meat,” directed by Stuart Meltzer. Here, Khan is quite funny as a native with a surprising strain of sophistication. The Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., (no perf. Thanksgiving) through Nov. 30. (323) 805-9355. Produced by The Next Arena. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE JOY LUCK CLUB The quartet of mothers from Feudal China and their American daughters form the heart of Amy Tan's novel, and her screenplay for Wayne Wang's 1993 film. Susan Kim's stage adaptation, which premiered in New York in 1999, presents an inordinate challenge to any director: keeping the four story threads and their spiraling flashbacks, anchored in 1980s San Francisco, from fraying in the morass of Tan's epic landscape. Jon Lawrence Rivera's staging tackles that challenge head on with the use of John H. Binkley's elegant set and projections that have duel purposes: A kind of suspended parchment scroll unfurls to form the stage floor to unite the whirlwind stories; furthermore, projected titles offer clear chapter headings and the names of characters being “framed,” in order to sustain some clarity of focus. The result of Rivera's noble effort is a kind of duel between dramatic unity and the sprawling essence of Kim's adaptation (and Tan's novel.) King Lear, which hangs on the sagas of three daughters and their hubristic father, has a similar theatrical swirl, but imagine adding a fourth daughter, and all their mothers. Rivera gets an array of lovely performances, with particularly striking turns from Celeste Den, Karen Huie and Emily Kuroda. Also Rivera's use of live music adds atmosphere that mostly enhances but occasionally suffocates the tender scenes being played out. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 5. (213) 625-7000 or http://www.eastwestplayers.com. An East West Players production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
MELODRAMA PLAY First produced by La Mama in 1967, Sam Shepard’s rock ‘n roll-studded one act takes an acerbic look at the music business and the wannabes who hunger after its glories. Long-haired Duke (Aaron David Gleason) is a singer with one megahit under his belt; now his manager Floyd (Gerard Marzilli) is pressuring him to come up with another, but the creative juices aren’t flowing; that’s because, unbeknownst to Floyd or Duke’s excitable girlfriend Dana (Rebecca White), Duke had stolen the winning song from his brother, Drake (Nick Denning), and his buddy, Cisco (Harry May-Kline). The strained relationship between the brothers becomes irrelevant after Floyd places all three musicians and Dana under the intimidating watch of a psychopathic muscle-woman named Peter (Fortune Feimster, a successful cross-gender casting choice at variance from the original script). The vigil is to last until a new winning number is produced. Peter’s appearance on the scene injects this hitherto hobbling production with a new dynamic, emanating from the character’s odd mix of menace and vulnerability, and her comic propensity for violence. Under Peter Choi’s direction , the serviceable performances unfortunately lack much spark. In particular, Gleason’s spacey rocker comes off phlegmatic to a fault; by contrast, White as his opinionated companion, inclines toward histrionics. Paul Gleason Theater, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 255-5636. A Trystero Theatre Company production.(Deborah Klugman)
SALVAGE The title of Diane Glancy’s drama refers both to the play’s setting in an auto salvage yard and the larger struggle Native Americans face in reclaiming their dignity and traditions in the White Man’s world. Glancy’s work also confronts the turmoil that can erupt among Native peoples when their rage against that world is taken out on each other. While driving home with his father to his small-town yard on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, Wolf (Noah Watts) accidentally hits another car, seriously injuring his father, Wofert (Robert Owens-Greygrass), and the family in the other vehicle. But the other victims’ clan has a history of bad blood between Wolf’s family, and when one victim dies, Wolf and his kin become targets of vengeance. With Wolf’s devout Christian wife Memela (Elena Finney) counseling restraint and Wofert seeking wisdom from his late wife’s spirit, Wolf tries to avoid the “us against us” battle, but it tragically overwhelms him nonetheless. Glancy structures her play into all too brief scenes that pique then deflate our interest and at times she displays a penchant for clumsy exposition. While Owens-Greygrass’ performance is steady, Sheila Tousey’s direction results in mostly melodramatic histrionics from the tentative Watts and Finney. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 &.8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 468-3399 (Martín Hernández)
THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT Peter Whelan's talky history drama, set between 1592 and 1593, cuts to the purpose of art. There's no doubt this purpose deserves some explanation in our economic crisis, with soaring debt and unemployment, a time when the arts descend even further on the scale of our national priorities and perceptions – as though they ever resided much beyond the bottom ring of sludge. Whelan's central character is atheist Christopher Marlowe (Gregory Wooddell), around whom Whelan casts an eventually suspenseful mystery leading to Marlowe's murder amidst camps of paranoid royalist Protestants and their Catholic detractors. While the play makes allusions to his Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the author himself is presented as something of a prankster, the kid in the back of the class hurling spitwads at anything and anybody that wields authority. God heads that list, and that's where Marlowe starts in mock poems and prayers, reversing his name by praying to “Dog.” And that, ultimately, is art's highest purpose, Marlowe posits – to so upset the presumptions of our theology and even our existence, that new conversations and perceptions might emerge. Among Sir Walter Raleigh (Henri Lubatti) and other Elizabethan rock stars, Marlowe's young peer, Shakespeare (John Sloan), puts in the kind of appearance that calls into questions the authorship of his much of his canon. (Critic Robert Brustein posited similar questions about the originality of Shakespeare's ideas in his Pulitzer nominated comedy, The English Channel.) Marlowe has some great insights about the distinction between a the ideas of a playwright and the ideas of a play. But it's the dank blend of writers and thinkers talking about writing and thinking, and the arch grandeur of Bill Alexander's otherwise nicely sculpted staging, that renders the heart of Whelan's idea about the higher purpose of art as somehow quaint – giving perverse and obviously unintended support to Marlowe's opponents, and all opponents of art as dissent. Amidst the solid and stylish ensemble, Alicia Roper's Audry Walsingham, carrying a perpetual sneer and gravel-voiced articulation, is never less than hypnotic. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Dec. 17. (213) 680-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
THYESTES' FEAST In the very good monologue that opens writer-director Peter Wing Healey's uneven tragedy, the Sun (Bridgette Trahan) argues the primacy of the Greek classics, plays that "rise above the evening news." Contridictorily, the play's contemporary resonance isn't dug out of the myth but spackled over it. Here, the vengeful House of Atreus is here a tale of economics, not of blood guilt or cursed inheritance. King Thystes (Robert Long) is a social democrat ruling over ingrates: the communist peasants are restless and the capitalist gentry is transferring allegiance to his cutthroat brother Atreus (Clint Steinhauser). In another dig to the ribs, Atreus' cabinet occasionally adopts a Crawford, Texas twang and the actor cast as Thystes is slim, young, even-tempered, and black. When Atreus tricks his brother into eating his own sons, instead of recalling their grandfather Tantalus' forays into cannibalism, we're meant to think of Karl Rove trying to stick mud to his rivals. Much of this distracts from, not enriches the myth, as does the direction which jumps from burlesque to Expressionist to Shakespearean within a single scene, and casting that also favors eclecticism over ability. A monologue recited in a sheep's bray only distracts the audience from paying attention to its crucial content. Costume designer Karolyn Küsel's costumes, however, are fabulous, particularly in her frocks for Healey who plays the two-timing Queen Aerope in larger-than-life drag. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 960-7745. (Amy Nicholson)
For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, embedded with last weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS, press READ ON tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for November 14-20, 2008
(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deobrah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
ALL IN THE TIMING One-act plays by the Magic Meathands Community Comedy Ensemble. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 16; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (310) 712-MEAT.
ANTIGONA Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani presents this one-woman take on Sophocles' drama, in Spanish with English supertitles. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Nov. 14-15, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 3 p.m.. (310) 440-7300.
THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED Keith Bunin's drama about a Bible scholar, her son and a ghost writer. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 960-5770.
CHELA Immigrant story by Dulce Maria Solis. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Nov. 20-22, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 23, 6 p.m.. (213) 382-8133.
CINDERELLA The classic fairy tale, presented by the South Bay Conservatory. Torrance Cultural Arts Center, James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance; Fri., Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 15, 2 & 7:30 p.m.. (310) 781-7171.
DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL African-American casting of the Del Shores play. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (323) 954-9795.
ELOVE, A MUSICAL COMEDY Internet romance by Wayland Pickard. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 15; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (323) 822-7898.
FARID MERCURY Robert Farid Karimi's search for "the Freddy Mercury inside us all.". Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Nov. 14-15, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
INSPECTING CAROL Community theater attempts to mount A Christmas Carol, by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 28. (818) 700-4878.
KILLING GAME Plague outbreak panics city, by Eugene Ionesco. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; opens Nov. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, (No perf Nov. 27.). (323) 466-7781.
LEAVING IOWA Tim Clue and Spike Manton's sentimental comedy about a journalist remembering his Midwest childhood. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens Nov. 16; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (949) 497-2787.
LEND ME A TENOR Ken Ludwig's opera farce. West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park; opens Nov. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 884-1907.
LONGSHOTS Dakota Aesquivel's four-part Hitchcockian anthology. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14, (No perfs Nov. 27-30.). (323) 960-7846.
THE LOVE TALKER Suspense tale by Deborah Pryor about two sisters orphaned on a remote mountain. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Nov. 18-20, 8 p.m.; Nov. 24-26, 8 p.m.; Dec. 2-4, 8 p.m.. (818) 255-3301.
O JERUSALEM A.R. Gurney's tragicomedy about an oil executive turned Mideast diplomat. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; opens Nov. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 7, (No perf Nov. 28). (800) 838-3006.
... OF ALL PLACES The 2008 "Freeway Series" of original one-acts. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; opens Nov. 15; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 469-3113.
PROBLEM CHILD Deadbeat mom plots to get her baby back, by George F. Walker. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 506-3903.
SHANGHAI MOON Charles Busch's film-noir satire. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; opens Nov. 15; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 500-7200.
TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING Based on Judy Blume's book, adapted by Bruce Mason. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Nov. 15; Sat., Nov. 15, 11 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 4:30 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 21, 7 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (714) 708-5555.
WITTE'S END Evan Keliher's comedy about a suicidal screenwriter. Riprap Studio Theatre, 5755 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 10, (No perfs Nov. 27-30 & Dec. 26-28.). (818) 990-7498.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS
BIG LOVE Charles Mee's play about rebellious brides. (In rep with Book of Days; call for schedule.). Macgowan Little Theater, UCLA, Westwood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 825-2101.
THE BLUE DRAGON Robert Lepage and Ex Machina present a story of three characters in modern China. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Through Nov. 15, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 7 p.m.; Through Nov. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 22, 2 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.
BOOK OF DAYS Lanford Wilson's study of a small-town murder. (In rep with Big Love; call for schedule.). Macgowan Little Theater, UCLA, Westwood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 825-2101.
>NEW REVIEW BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON There's delicate poetical imagery in Robert Schenkkan's 2005 drama about the meeting of and fleeting romance between two exiles in an Austin suburb. That delicacy, however, is saturated by generic chat between the characters and a somewhat predictable romance. You know a play's in trouble when a gun has to be drawn in order to elicit some palpable drama. That's no slight against the actors -- Demian Bichir and Shannon Cochran -- whose sincere and layered interpretations of a Cuban gardener and his deeply troubled white, female employer keeps the action watchable. This is a play that unearths the past about how they got to where they are -- stories of their respective betrayals, as both victims and perpetrators, their guilt and their defenses as life's hardships have piled up against both of them. So the drama consists of them meeting, courting, spurning that courtship, her regretting their one-night stand, and the stories that spill out of both of them with far too much ease to be an entirely plausible reflection of the grief they've both suffered. Michael Ganio's ornate set consists of an outdoor jungle of pampas-grass for Act 1, which yields to the woman's bedroom in Act 2. It has a kind of cinematic realism that seems at odds with the metaphysics the play is driving at -- where freedom is the freedom to imagine. Neither the play nor the set ask for much imagination on our part. 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 Dec. 7. (310) 208-5454. http://www.geffenplayhouse.org (Steven Leigh Morris)
By the Waters of Babylon
NEW REVIEW GO CHARLES DICKENS' OLIVER TWIST The austere beauty of Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's staging (of Neil Barlett's excellent adaptation) comes from a haunting blend of musicality -- the 14 member ensemble sings the opening and closing recitations in a rousing, pitch-perfect a cappella, and much of the theatrical tension comes from the rhythmic clanging of sticks in unison, while Endre Balogh's violin accompaniment tilts the tone away from Dickens' sentimental world of orphans and villains, good and evil, and rich and poor; and into a pool filled with more contradictions and ambiguities. Soojin Lee's costumes capture not only the era, but also the grime and dereliction of Victorian London. Dickens' novel is a saga of human trafficking, and Brian Dare portrays the smudge-faced 10-year old victim, orphan Oliver Twist, with a subtly pained glint in his eye that reflects his punishing fate. Tom Fitzpatrick brings a marvelous gruffness to Fagin, the leader of the pick-pockets who adopts Oliver for a while; Goeff Elliott has delicate turn in drag as proprietress, Mrs. Sowerberry; while Robertson Dean also stands out for his clearly enunciated and richly tempered array of characters. Jill Hill is getting to be mistress of the femme-fatale for this troupe; her “no good deed goes unpunished” Nancy comes packed with understandable paranoia and glimpses of kindness. The director opened the show pleading for contributions as the theater has a campaign for a new theater in Pasadena. “I know it's a bad time,” she told the audience, “But we didn't pick the time, the time picked us.” She did, however, pick this play, and the time is perfect for it. A Noise Within, 234 N. Grand Ave., Glendale; in rep, through Dec. 14; call for schedule. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist Photo by Craig Schwartz
HAPPY DAYS Musical based on the '70s sitcom, book by Garry Marshall, music and lyrics by Paul Williams. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (562) 944-9801.
THE HEIRESS Psychological drama by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (714) 556-2787.
INCANDESCENCE Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque and DJ Imagika present an evening of music and theater. The Edison, 108 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed..; thru Nov. 19. (213) 613-0000.
THE JOY LUCK CLUB Amy Tan's novel about Asian-American women, adapted for the stage by Susan Kim. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (213) 625-7000.
THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS A woman sitting a few seats down the row from me was completely amazed by Mimi Kennedy's impersonation of the late, nationally syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers – not just the bouffant but the dead-on clanging midwest accent. Well, that's a start. Now playwright David Rambo needs a play to back up Kennedy's solo impersonation. Here, Landers spends a couple of hours sashaying around her Chicago study in 1975, eating chocolates when confronted with writer's block and, during intermission, leaving us to take a bath. Gary Wissmann's set is so detailed with multitudinous knickknacks, and photos, many of which go unused, it arouses the speculation that a more spartan and symbolic set would have justified the contrivance of Landers' direct audience address. The evening's pretext is that Landers is in the process of drafting a momentous letter to her readers announcing her divorce from her husband of 36 years – risky business for an advice columnist who has never counseled anyone to get divorced. Around this pretext are a series of anecdotal digressions about her husband, her daughter and her twin sister, rival “Popo,” who imitated her sister's column with her own variation, “Dear Abby.” Our heroine rolls out her leftist credentials and how she came to overcome her own puritanical streak in a joint television interview with Linda Lovelace. But none of this is dramatic, it's merely exposition in the style of “And then I wrote.” The possibilities for a real play rear themselves in Act 2, when Landers reveals the depth of homophobic bigotry that came from hostile replies to one of her columns supporting a gay teenager, and from the fury that came in responses to some her well-intended advice that had adverse consequences. Yet our heroine brushes them both off with similar, sanctimonious disdain, as though bigots and victims of her bad advise were equals. Nothing legal they could do, she remarked of the victims – hardly an embrace of her responsibility to help people in distress. Somewhere in that responsibility, and her cavalier dismissal of it, lies a more penetrating drama yet to be written, something more closely resembling a play than a parade. Brendon Fox directs. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (626) 356-PLAY.
THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash's romance set in a drought-ridden rural town. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Nov. 15, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 6, 2 & 8 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.
THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT Peter Whelan's political thriller. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (213) 628-2772.
SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS Retired lady hires ex-chorus boy for dance lessons, by Richard Alfieri. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 955-8101.
GO SPRING AWAKENING What's a nice play like you doing in a barn like this? The spectacle here is bewitching and too large for Frank Wedekind's turn-of-last-century story of teenage angst, from which Steven Sater and Dunkan Sheik's touring Broadway-hit musical has been crafted. I found myself more dazzled than moved, but dazzle can be a good thing, and the production is too ornate an accomplishment to be ignored. There's never a dull moment in Michael Mayer's staging, but rarely is there a soulful moment. The story is about social and sexual repression in puritanical Germany, and it arrives here as bloated in style as a rock concert. Lighting designer Kevin Adams provides exactly that ambiance with a plot that flips from washes of lurid red to purple with the stomp of a ten boots, and lighting instruments that float down along the back wall from the rafters, creating the effect of some cosmic galaxy. Bill T. Jones' choreography looms just as large, with, in one song, the company stomping feet in unison as though they were performing Butoh dance in order to arouse the spirits of the dead. On stage, and in on-stage bleachers where members of the company are planted amidst the audience, heads gyrate to and fro as though possessed by demons, which is exactly how the Teutonic society depicted here is trying to make them feel. The paradox is that the sneering Expressionism mingles with the mechanical robotics to such an extent – clearly to reach a house considerably larger than in New York – that the story's underlying sensitivities are tempered, if not eviscerated. One powerful scene that gets short-shrift here is that between teen Melchior (Kyle Riabko) and his peer/lover Wendla (Christy Altomare), out in the country. She goads him to beat her, even playfully, with a switch – because she's sexually aroused by the brutal daily beatings inflicted on her friend, Martha (Sarah Hunt). The scene itself contains disturbing and deeply human revelations about suppressed sadism and masochism that's here treated as broadly and swiftly as in a burlesque, depriving the scene of its core sensuality. Still, the creators and designers are accomplishing exactly what they want as the cast is precision perfect. Moreover, the overinflated scale and hyperactive style of this touring production can't diminish the powerful beauty of Shiek's music and Sater's lyrics. There's scant melody but ample musical motifs that float on intricate, poetical phrases and sophisticated orchestral support, as though from the Suzanne Vega era. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m; Sat., 1 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no perf Wed., Nov. 5 or Thurs., Nov. 27; no eve perf on Sun., Dec. 7; added perf Mon., Nov. 24, 8 p.m. and Thurs., Dec. 4, 2 p.m.); through Dec. 7. (213) 628-2772.
GO HAMLET Traditionalists beware! Director Michael Michetti’s lean, mean and stripped-to-the-extreme version of the Bard’s masterwork is out to raise your hackles. For the rest of us, though, Michetti and his abundantly talented ensemble deliver the goods — a riveting, provocative and lucidly entertaining Hamlet that comes agonizingly close to the definitive. Michetti’s boldest conceit is a radical collapse of Act I. A series of cinematic quick cuts establish Freddy Douglas’ prince riven by Oedipal angst. Instead of the traditional battlement scenes, Michetti employs an upstage screen of fun-house mirrors and has Hamlet channel the king’s ghost in his own distorted reflection. Exit Dr. Freud, enter Norman Bates. This suggestion of a schizophrenic break transforms Hamlet from hesitant intellectual into calculating killer; it also strips the subsequent action of its moral ambiguity and propels it into a kind of driving, Hitchcockian psychological thriller. François Giroday’s Claudius becomes a silver-tongued, cold-blooded schemer; Deborah Strang’s Gertrude his willing accomplice (when she isn’t unnaturally doting on her son). Matthew Jaeger, as Laertes, brings a disturbing whiff of incest to his brotherly affection for Ophelia (Dorothea Harahan). Tony Abatemarco lightens the load — and scores another of his trademark triumphs — with his superb comic rendering of Polonius. Designer Sara Ryung Clement ties it all together with an elegant, minimalist set and costumes, which are a timeless blend of modern and period dress. (BR) A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru Dec. 7. (828) 240-0901, Ext. 1 or www.anoisewithin.org.
THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE Jon Van Druten's WWII romantic comedy. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (562) 494-1014.
GO WAITING IN THE WINGS Noel Coward’s career was in eclipse, and he was dealing with his own declining powers when he wrote this bitter-sweet comedy set in a charity retirement home for aging actresses. The result is a sentimental and nostalgic valentine to Edwardian Era theater, and the leading ladies he adored in his youth. Perhaps its strongest asset is its wonderful roles for older actresses, fully realized in this production. The affectionate portraits are strung on three strands of plot: the long-running feud between glamorous Lotta Bainbridge (Katherine Henryk) and her ancient rival May Davenport (Magda Harout), the efforts of the home’s residents to persuade “the committee” to build them a solarium, and the intrusion of a pushy newspaper columnist (Corinne Shore) who invades their space in search of a “human interest” story. The piece is saved from soap-opera bathos by Coward's wit, and frank acknowledgement of the realities of decline and death. Director Charlie Mount has assembled a fine, large ensemble who offer richly nuanced performances. Among the highlights is Betty Garrett’s impish turn as a woman who has retreated into blissful memories, dementia and playing with matches. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977 or http://www.theatrewest.org (Neal Weaver)
GO WICKED In this musical riff on the witches of Oz (by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Hollzman), Joe Mantello directs a marvelous spectacle that looks like a diversion but is actually quite the opposite. Eden Espinoza as the green-skinned, bespectacled girl-witch Elphaba has a contagiously smart appeal. After recognizing that Elphaba's not going to power-play along with the Wizard's (John Rubinstein) Stalinist shenanigans, Mrs. Morrible (the delightful Carol Kane), starts a witch hunt for the girl, and the whole thing starts to resemble some of the tawdrier chapters in American history. (SLM). Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 11. (213) 365-3500.
WILL ROGERS' AMERICA Rich Hoag is the cowboy humorist. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (805) 667-2900.
XANADU Roller-disco musical based on the 1980 film, book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. 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 Dec. 31. (858) 550-1010.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS
GO ALL ABOUT WALKEN So these eight Christopher Walken impersonators glide onstage, strutting and yowling and wearing bad wigs. Most are decent Walkens, and the best have mastered the piranha stare and elastic enunciation that snaps the ends of syllables like rubber bands. Walken's gleeful insanity is realized when director Patrick O'Sullivan challenges his band of Walkens to new Walken frontiers -- an all-Walken Wizard of Oz, a loopy feminine spray commercial, a Q&A called “Talking to Walken,” and a threatening karaoke cover of “These Boots Were Made for...” (AN). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (310) 663-4050.
AMERICA'S NEXT TOP BOTTOM: CYCLE THREE Aspiring "bottoms" compete in this weekly elimination parody. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 957-1884.
ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big city.". Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-5574.
>NEW REVIEW GO BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS It used to be said that comedy was about the restoration of the social order. But writer Rob Mersola seems intent on demonstrating that, at ground level, there is no social order. His extravagant farce extracts its laughs from its characters’ miseries and sexual misadventures. Both Josie (Sadie Alexandru) and Elaine (Jeni Persons) are driven by self-loathing and murderous sexual competitiveness. Josie is having an affair with priapic film student Harlan (Michael Alperin) who just wants admiration and sexual servicing, and it doesn’t much matter from whom. He’s also engaging in anonymous erotic encounters with Josie’s gay room-mate Calvin (Joshua Bitton). Elaine is engaged to a gay man (Daniel Ponickly) who’s in deep denial of his homosexuality, despite his obsessive pursuit of anonymous men’s room sex. Stirring the mix is Giuseppe (Anil Kumar), a relentless seducer who utilizes his claim of prophetic powers to win over both women. Mersola is a clever writer, who exploits the tried-and-true farce structure to engineer a funny final scene in which all the characters are brought together to have their lies, deceptions and shenanigans unmasked. A skillful cast meticulously mines the laughs in this crowd-pleasing date show. The Lyric Hyperion Theatre Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; call for schedule; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-7829 or http://www.plays411.com/backseats An E. 4th Street Production. (Neal Weavert)
Backseats & Bathroom Stalls Photo by Michael Lamont
BARE NAKED ANGELS Eight actors dramatize their own true stories. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 465-0800.
BEAUTY FOR ASHES Peres Owino's introspective dramedy. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-4429.
THE CHILDREN'S TABLE Jeffrey's Davis' connected one-acts about four cousins and their Jewish grandmother. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 664-9752.
NEW REVIEW GO CUTE WITH CHRIS: LIVE Aside from his TV career, Canadian actor Chris Leavins made his name creating one of the most popular series on the Internet – 100,000 hits per show by using a $300 videocam and uploading broadcasts of himself, in his apartment (somewhere between Silver Lake and Echo Park, to judge from the images he beams onto a screen in his one-man show), and showing photographs of people's cute pets that he's solicited. His one-hour live performance is a kind comic exegesis on the essence of “cute” -- and his larger purpose – residing somewhere between that of David Lettteman and Ira Glass, is trying to find the stories that bind us. In cream suit and sneakers, Leavins' humor derives partly from his slightly forlorn expression, which he beams out like a laser whenever the audience responds with “ooohs” and “aahs” to the broadcast picture of a baby kangaroo in a pouch, or a kitten with a bow. No sentimentalist, Leavins deadpans that “cute” last about six weeks; then you're in for 12 years of cat poop and matted fur. His broader cultural insight is on the fleeting value we place on superficial attraction – pet photos that have little purpose to anyone but ourselves and are relegated -- like worn out mementos, the detritus of our lives, perhaps like our lives themselves – to ashes or dust. He found one photo of a woman with a dog that he purchased simply because, he explains, he could not reconcile himself to an image that held so much meaning for somebody at some time being simply forgotten. And so he invented a story around the photo, imbuing it with a new meaning, which is exactly what we do to a photo, or a painting, or a story, that we call a classic. Leavin's droll act as a kind of muted beauty and profundity lurking beneath his otherwise snappy and amiable presentation. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.; Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; though Dec. 14. (323) 960-7785. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Cute With Chris: Live Photo by Yoko Takashi
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Interpretive piece set to the music of Pink Floyd. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sun., 8 & 9:30 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.
EAGLE HILLS, EAGLE RIDGE, EAGLE LANDING are much more than mere tracts of real estate that looms sight-unseen over Brett Neveu's comic send-up of middle-class complacency. For the play’s mid-career, middle-management friends and neighbors, Mike (Jon Amirkhan), Kevin (Johnny Clark) and Andy (Jeffrey Stubblefield), theese housing developments are essential articles of faith that lend harmony to the men’s empty, prefabricated lives. When the men meet for their customary after-work beers at the local watering hole (finely executed by designer Danny Cistone), however, that harmony all-too-easily turns to discontent. Mike and Andy have already made the move to the more desirable Eagle Ridge. The strangely irritable Kevin, however, has doubts — doubts that soon threaten to undermine the men’s suburban house of cards. Director Ron Klier cleverly frames the comic complications as a kind of existential Three Stooges two reeler (imagine Larry and Curly grappling with a suddenly self-aware Moe). To that end, the witless Amirkhan and Stubblefield remain hilariously impervious to the implications of Clark’s deepening crisis and eventual rebirth. But if the production more than meets its quota of laughs, Neveu ignores too many other potential voices (the men’s wives, for instance) to rack up much more than a straw-man critique. The result is a funny if slight entertainment with all the substance of a Dilbert cartoon. (BR) Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 15. (323) 960-7738, http://www.plays411.com/eagle VS.Theatre Company and Range View Productions
NEW REVIEWTHEATER PICK EAT THE RUNT What a discomfiting feeling it is to be reviewing a play in a theater with only two other people behind me (this play deserves an audience) – a play about a theater critic (Peter Leake) named The Man (a name that serves up far more credit than is deserved) who is kidnapped and brutalized for his scathing review in The Fresno Bee of a new work by a blowhard playwright named Buck Lone (Robert Riechel, Jr., who did actually write this play). Mr. Lone may or may not have used a gun in the apprehension of the drama critic from his bed (he shows up in pajamas, blindfolded and gagged). We first see him dragged into Lone's grubby basement apartment (set by Adam Haas Hunter), punctuated by a poster of Samuel Beckett, who provides the scribe his dark inspiration. The Man is a smart, bitter fellow, an obit writer who takes occasional assignments as the paper's drama critic. (The night before seeing this play, I heard a local arts critic in a theater lobby seething that his paper was now asking him to write obits – so, beyond the obvious metaphor for critics penning last rites, this is art imitating something real that's going on.) Lone's over-sexed, sadistic girlfriend, Hammer (Victoria Engelmaer) provides the third link of a triangle that spins almost off the stage in Riechel's hostage drama, because both the rudely portrayed Hammer (a smart, willing “slut”) and Lone's self-evident insanity give long-suffering drama critics a power that exists only in the long-suffering hearts of self-absorbed playwrights, who simply haven't caught on yet that critics don't make much difference. (That's among the reasons their ranks across the nation are diminishing so quickly.) But Riechel hasn't tried to write a play so much about the dire state of the arts as a comedy about the brooding imaginings of one deranged artist, and how any creation can be fairly assessed beyond the narcissism of the creator and the cruelty of the judge. (Leake brings an impassioned credibility to his deep conviction that the world would be a better place if only Lone would stops writing plays.) Riechel has pulled off the rare feat of directing and acting in his own play without running it off the rails. His performance is a terrifying portrait of the walking wounded, with little but vengeance for the critic, and visions in his head of his play starring John Malkovich and being performed by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. (SLM) Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 13. (323) 960-7721. Living Edge Theaterworks and Red Bark Corp.
Eat the Run Photo by Conan Moats
THE FACTS OF LIFE: THE LOST EPISODE The '80s sitcom re-imagined with dildos, prostitution and lesbian sex, by Jamie Morris. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 960-4424.
FOR ALL TIME K.J. Sanchez's look at the various social, familial and economic effects of the criminal justice system. Shakespeare Festival/LA Theatre, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (213) 613-1700.
FRANKENMATT Sketch comedy by Frank Caeti and Matt Craig. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 464-8542.
GO FREAK DANCE: THE FORBIDDEN DIRTY BOOGALOO Much of the propulsion in Matt Besser's dance confection comes from the great breakdance interludes by the Bad Newz Bearz crew. The rest derives from Besser's comic-book satire of self-righteous programs claiming to use the arts to get kids off drugs. Lindsay Hendrickson's staging is perfect. Brian Fountain and Jake Anthony wrote the music. (SLM). Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
GEM OF THE OCEAN August Wilson’s ten-play chronicle of the 20th century African-American experience is one of the great achievements in dramatic literature. Gem of the Ocean, the first play in the cycle, is probably the playwright’s most symbolic and provocative. The setting is 1904, Pittsburgh, a time when many blacks were no better off than they were during chattel slavery. But the home of 287 year old Aunt Ester (alternate Carlease Burke), is a place of rest, refuge and mystery for a colorful group of residents and regulars. Eli (Jeris Lee Poindexter) is a boarder/handyman with an angel’s heart; Black Mary(Tené Carter Miller) is a long-suffering maid and washerwoman; and her brother Cesar (Rocky Gardiner), a badge-heavy cop with a Napoleon Complex whose primary function is to control the “colored” people of the city. Then there’s the rabble-rousing, garrulous Solly Two Kings (a star turn by Adolphus Ward), a former Union scout who helped runaway slaves. When a troubled stranger, Citizen Barlow(Keith Arthur Bolden), steals into the house seeking Ester’s magical soul-cleansing powers, it sets off a chain of events that forever alters the lives of all those involved. Gem is a play where grand themes like the connection between past and present, the nature of freedom and spiritual redemption are explored, but you don’t get that sense here, at least not in a dynamic fashion. With the exception of Ward, the performances lack the necessary polish and emotional resonance Director Ben Bradley who did brilliant work in Fountain’s production of Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, is not at his best here, as the pacing at times is far from crisp – though I did see it late in the run. Rounding out the cast is Stephen Marshall. (LE3)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323)-663-1525.
GO GOOD BOBBY Few families have commanded more public fascination or newsprint than the Kennedy clan. In his engaging character study, Brian Lee Franklin constructs a compelling portrait of the “other son,” Robert Francis, and the historical milieu that shaped him. The play opens at a 1958 subcommittee hearing with “Bobbie” (Franklin) and Senator John McClellan (William Stone Mahoney) aggressively interrogating Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (R.D. Call in a convincing turn) about Joffa's mob connections. From the outset, Franklin creates a profoundly flawed and conflicted image of Kennedy, one that is steadily and skillfully nuanced throughout this production. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in his relationship with his father Joe, (Steve Mendillo), whose vaulting ambition contoured the lives of all of his sons, and whose approval of “good Bobby” was desperately sought by RFK but, according to Franklin's play, never fully realized. We follow RFK's rise to national prominence, his battles during the civil rights era as U.S. Attorney General, his involvement in his brother John's presidential campaign (and more than a few unsavory deeds during that time), the aftermath of JFK's assassination, and Bobby's gradual ascension into the Democratic party's nominee for president in 1968. The script is very well written, and Franklin can be forgiven for some questionable Oliver Stone moments involving a shadowy CIA agent (Jim Metzler). The performances are uniformly high caliber under Pierson Blaetz’s fine direction. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through November, 23. (323) 655-7679 (Lovell Estell III)
THE GRAPES OF WRATH John Steinbeck's Depression story, adapted by Frank Galati. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 667-0955.
GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mitch Silpa. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
HISTRIONICS TNA Onesies' offbeat history lesson. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Through Nov. 30, 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 805-9355.
THE HOLY MOTHER OF HADLEY, NEW YORK Alleged miracle upends small town, by Barbara Wiechmann. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 856-8611.
HUGGING THE SHOULDER Younger brother tries to detox his heroin-addicted sibling, in Jerrod Bogard's drama. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Thurs., Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 252-2042.
INTO THE WOODS Brothers Grimm characters interact, in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 939-9220.
JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED Austen-esque tales, improv'd anew each night. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-7753.
> GO JOE'S GARAGE Joe (Jason Paige) wants to play music. But after a neighbor (Maia Madison) files a noise complaint with the cops on his garage band, Joe and his girl Mary (Becky Wahlstrom) fall prey to a domino chain of gang rape, venereal disease, wet t-shirt contests, prison time, cyborg threesomes, and madness. What's to blame? "Music," hisses the Central Scrutinizer (Michael Dunn), a robot narrator dangling from the rafters -- certainly not the religious and government figures who sure seem to be pulling the strings. Like novelist Terry Southern, Frank Zappa's weapon against hypocrisy was to confront audiences with a circus mirror of their culture's greed and lust. Some saw their reflection; others argued Zappa was warped. Pat Towne and Michael Franco's world premiere staging of Zappa's narrative album crackles with outrage and grief masked by a leer --- Jennifer Lettelleir choreographs plenty of sex, but like Robert Crumb's comics, it's more repellent than titillating. Musical director Ross Wright and the seven piece band help the snappy ensemble animize Zappa's eclectic sound which ranges from dissonant juggernauts to deceptively sweet ditties. Per Zappa's request, the song "Watermelon in Easter Hay" plays once his hapless everyman has succumbed to creative censorship; the band puts down their instruments, turns off the lights, and cues Zappa's original version. In that isolating darkness, Zappa's limber guitar feels like a lifeline -- we're struck by our need for music, and our need for today's apolitical musicians to break loose and write the next chorus. (AN) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (323) 882-6912, www.openfist.org.
LATINOLOGUES TU Rick Najera's comedy showcase. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (213) 289-9860.
LEADING LADIES While crackerjack performances might have transformed Ken Ludwig’s second-rate farce into a hilarious evening, that’s not what evolves from director Richard Israel's pleasant but unevenly rendered production. Ludwig’s play revolves around Leo (Bruce Ladd) and Jack (understudy Daniel J. Roberts), two penniless Shakespearean actors who pose as the long-lost female heirs of a dying, wealthy old woman. The humor derives from the tension between them – Jack, the reluctant participant, is continually threatened and browbeaten by Leo (think Some Like It Hot, as well as the predicament Leo finds himself in when, dressed in drag, he falls in love with his betrothed cousin, Meg (Karla Droege). Played for laughs, the sight gag of men dressed as women invariably succeeds; in this case Ladd starts out strong as the determined scammer, but is only moderately funny portraying his outsized female counterpart “Maxine,” whose persona he never quite commands. The play’s funniest scene comes near the end when, as “Stephanie,” a horrified Jack (well-played by Roberts) finds himself manhandled by two men. Intimating the standard of excellence that might have transported the comedy to a higher realm is Carl A. Johnson, impeccably understated as Meg’s stuffy fiancé. Gus Correas is also on the mark as the lecherous family doctor who keeps misdiagnosing his patient. Other performances are off-kilter or over the top. Designers Stephen Gifford’s and Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting wrap the goings-on with an appealing ambiance. (DK) Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 1, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323) 462-8460.
GO LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA You can find several clips of singer-partners Louis Prima and Keely Smith, with a small jazz combo behind them, on YouTube. The pair practically invented the genre of the lounge act, playing as they did during much of the 1950s at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, lingering on the margins of fame. Think of them as antecedents to Sonny and Cher, or a musical version of Abbott and Costello. Smith was the “straight-man” woman and long-suffering wife of the hyperactive, philandering Prima, whom you’ll see hopping in front of the bandstand like a maniac, throwing his entire body into each beat, a grin plastered across his face, the biggest ham since Hamlet. Keep these tiny-screen presences in mind when you see Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder’s sublime new musical about the duo and their tempestuous life on and off stage, Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara.Certainly not the first musical to chronicle a musical group — other recent entries include Pump Boys and Dinettes and Jersey Boys — this has to be the first one to take a lounge act seriously, rather than as a spittoon for gobs of ridicule. In a glorious world-premiere production directed by Jeremy Aldridge for Hollywood’s Sacred Fools Theater Company, Prima and Smith are re-created with accuracy and richness — perhaps because the writers are also the leading players. Vanessa Claire Smith’s cropped brunette ’do apes that of Keely Smith’s, a look that Liza Minnelli adopted later — though the silky, tender singing style of both Smiths couldn’t be more contrary to Minnelli’s comparatively ostentatious, belting interpretations. Prima had a more gruff sound than that depicted by Broder, whose sculpted, jazzy tones more closely resemble Bobby Darin’s. What Broder delivers in thunderbolts, though, is Prima’s exuberant, maniacal self-choreography — leaping, lurching, swaying and sashaying. Why this guy is jumping around so much becomes the musical’s central question. The answer to that question could come with dismissing Prima as a narcissistic clown, The creators, however, treat their subject with far more compassion than that, as Prima’s plight approaches tragedy. (Broder played Mozart in the Broadway production of Amadeus, which provides a small window onto the vainglorious hysteria that Broder depicts here so brilliantly.) He croons in musical styles from ’20s Dixieland jazz through ’30s swing, ’40s big band and ’50s scat — and their accompanying lingo (“cats,” “chicks” and “gigs”). Broder’s song-and-dance routine, capturing Prima’s cocky romantic domination over Smith, as well as his solipsistic devotion to his music, is a bravura performance not to be missed. And having an onstage, seven-piece backup band (doubling as supporting players) doubles the impact, particularly with sounds so carefully modulated by musical director Dennis Kaye. A piano, two saxophones, a string bass, drum set, a trumpet and trombone, all on the stage of this 99-seat theater, places us in the equivalent of a small recording studio. When the band hits its stride with enveloping riffs of Dixieland blues and Big Band stylings, hang on to your seat. The musical current is that strong. This journey through Prima’s life comes on the eve of his death in 1978. (Smith is still alive and thriving.) Though it sweeps in biographical details from the ’20s — his “craziness,” he says, captured hearts during the Great Depression — the story kicks into gear during the late ’40s with its AStar is Born plot featuring Smith as the ingenue who saves Prima’s foundering big-band act and resurrects it with a ’50s spin in Las Vegas. And though he’s doing all the jumping and prancing, and giving all the orders, the newspaper reviews focus on her talents, not his. Prima’s jealousy erupts, not so much in offstage screaming matches (he barely speaks to her) but in the tensions that escalate on the stage, which everyone can see, and which perversely renders their act more popular. He actually encourages the onstage hostility, for just that reason. And so, through 16 songs (ranging from “Basin Street Blues,” “That Old Black Magic,”and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to the song that defined Prima’s career, the medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody”) one passionate love and cruel marriage is played out almost entirely between the lines. If the purpose of musical theater is to express in song what can’t be expressed in mere words, this is about as perfect as a musical can get. It’s simple without being simplistic, summing up 80 years of gender relations in 90 minutes. Yet this is not just a musical about men and women but about life, and art as an expression of it; the devastating costs of recklessly turning a private life into a public one; and that old, blinding obsession with fame. Smith’s desperate words accompany her tortured decision to leave her husband, “Life is happening right in your face and you don’t even notice. You don’t hear anything unless it’s in the key of B flat!” I walked out of the theater wrenched by a depth of emotion that seemed to make no sense, coming from a musical about the quaint saga of an almost forgotten lounge act. That’s when I realized I’d been punched in the gut and didn’t even know it. It was a delayed reaction to the blow landed in Broder’s reprise of “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” He just kept on singing that refrain, as the band packed up and left him there, until his death bed slowly rolled in. What may first look like a musical comedy is actually a musical tragedy, ancient Greek style: the deluded protagonist who’s undone by hubris and sent into exile.Exile was a bad end for Oedipus, but imagine if Oedipus’ delusions included eternal celebrity from a Las Vegas lounge act. The program cover contains the slogan, “Nothing lasts forever.” I hope this show does. (SLM) Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru December. (800) 838-3006, www.louiskeelyshow.com. Note: This production has changed venue since this review.
GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
THE MAGIC STRING Egomaniacal would-be writer Cody is more inclined to harangues than normal conversation. His therapist tells him his blockage is due to selfishness, and urges him to live for others. He obediently complies by adopting an obsessive-compulsive carpet-sweeper salesman addicted to marathon apologies. After too many jumpy scenes about Codys literary constipation, playwright/director Nicole Hoelle engineers an arbitrary happy ending. (NW). Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 663-6577.
MELODRAMA PLAY Sam Shepard's story of a rock & roller's followup to his hit song. Paul Gleason Theater, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 255-5636.
>NEW REVIEW GO MISS WITHERSPOON Set against the firmament of Stephen Gifford’s minimalist set, this West Coast premiere of Christopher Durang’s exploration of the afterlife begins with chunks of NASA’s Skylab falling from the sky and Chicken Little scurrying across the stage to sound the alarm. After the dust has settled, Veronica (Kelly Lloyd) finds herself dead and in a liminal place called bardo, where she is greeted by Maryamma (Pia Ambardar), a loose representation of Hindu spirituality who expounds on the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation -- and insists on calling her Miss Witherspoon. Much against her will, Miss Witherspoon is reincarnated a number of times, coming back as a baby to two radically different families, as well as a dog. During each reincarnation, Miss Witherspoon commits suicide because she “wants to be unplugged” and can’t believe that “this [life] goes on forever.” Nonetheless, Maryamma patiently guides Witherspoon towards true wisdom, receiving assistance from a black, female Jesus (LeShay Tomlinson) as well as a Wise Man (Andrew Morris) who resembles Gandalf. Lloyd navigates her character transitions brilliantly and is utterly convincing in each. Ambardar, despite slipping in and out of her Indian accent, has great energy and provides much of the comedy in the piece. Joel Swetow’s direction sets the appropriately outrageous tone for a Durang play, and EB Brooks’ costumes and Suzy Starling’s props bring its absurdity to life. (MK) El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through December 14. (323) 460-4443. A West Coast Ensemble Production.
GO THE MOST MEDIOCRE STORY NEVER TOLD In his autobiographical one-man show, Jay Sefton takes every aspect of the autobiographical one-man show and dismantles it before our eyes. This is because his show isn't really about his youth in Philadelphia and subsequent move to L.A., nor is it about his older and more macho brother, Joe, whom Sefton portrays and who frequently hijacks the show. Sefton's exploration probes the essence of a story, and the distinctions, if any, between a legend and a lie. Joe keeps goading Jay to make things up or the show will be a bore. The awful truth is that his brother maybe right -- that a normal, honorable if meek youth with caring parents is the pleasant kind of existence that nobody wants to hear about stage, or see in movies, or read in books. Edward Albee once said that he writes a play in order to understand why he's writing it. Sefton's show is so clearly undertaken with the goal of Sefton trying to understand why he should be telling his life story, the result breezes past narcissism on a charm-filled meta-literary excursion, under Debra De Liso's nimble direction – something like a magic carpet ride. (SLM) Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7780.
MUD Maria Irene Fornes' 17 scenes in two acts. MOTH, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-7782.
NEW REVIEW NEW What might happen if, say, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were stuck in a bomb shelter after a nuclear holocaust and ruminated on the dismal effect of the war on their shopping, partying and self-obsession? Despite an appealing premise, writer-performer Lauren Brown and performer-choreographer Rachel Koler’s self-directed avant-garde lambasting of America’s obsession with materialism and Bush’s endless war is mostly – and sadly – vapid and tedious. The docile Lauren and bitchy Rachel, young and dysfunctional socialites sporting garish make-up, hair, and costumes evocative of Darryl Hannah in Blade Runner, engage in elliptical conversation and munch Ritalin and Adderall like peanuts. “This is terrible” opines Lauren wistfully, longing for life before the conflict, to which Rachel, more comfortable in judging people than helping them, acidly replies “terribly boring.” So, to alleviate their ennui, they set about to launch a movement to “make everything new again.” There are engaging touches, like the back screen projection of the happy and sad, the cacophonous music that sets an appropriately unsettling tone, and a charming finale. However, an outside director could have struck a more cordial balance between style and substance and may well have enhanced the duo’s well-intentioned and potentially enlightening piece. (MH) Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 13. http://www.myspace.com/postfactproductions Post Fact Productions
New Photo courtesy of Post Fact Productions
GO NORTH PHILLY Ralph Harris' one-man show is the latest in a slew of recently performed, compelling solo performances (including Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill's Common Air, Chazz Palminteri's A Bronx Tale, and Jay Sefton's The Most Mediocre Story Never Told) that offer a portrait of a community, or of a family, with one performer crawling inside and impersonating a gallery of characters floating around a central idea, replicating the motion of moths around a light. In North Philly, the centerpiece is the 94th birthday party for his grandfather. Yet Harris goes beyond imitating his eccentric family members who gather for the occasion. In a snappy tan vest and matching trousers, he drapes himself over a barstool and spins himself back to his childhood, where every dollar was counted and coveted – imitating himself as a child, precocious and fearful. The musculature of the piece, as in most shows of this ilk, derives from the cadences and colloquialisms of dialect, accentuated by Don Reed's studied direction. Depicting himself as a child, Harris reenacts having to play “retarded” on the street in order to protect himself from being beaten up and robbed by the local gang. The performance is as rich as the writing: from details of the “wet money” he would always carry, from having to stuff dollar bills into his mouth as a protection from being robbed; to catching ringworm in a local swimming pool; to his grandfather's “sliding” dentures. In one scene, Harris conjures his estranged father's wedding day. This does raise the question of how Harris, Jr. would have obtained that insight, a quibble in a haunting show that also needs an editor and possibly a dramaturg. The play's final portrait of Harris' 94-year-old grandfather, facing down a gunman in the post office, is brilliant for its physical and vocal detail, as well as its blend of drama and wisdom. It's the light around which the other stories flutter, yet it's still a random source of the piece's chaotic unity – perhaps because the grandfather has no interaction with the other characters whom Harris has introduced us to. North Philly is nonetheless a compassionate and often enchanting work in development. (SLM) Stella Adler Theater, 6773, Hollywood Boulevard, Second Floor; Wed., 8 p.m.; through December 17. (323) 960-7612.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeve's role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
POLITICO! The idea of an almost entirely improvised rock opera based on a presidential campaign stuffs the ballot box with possibilities, but the final tally hangs like a dangling chad on the performers’ satirical wit, and their ability to locate a political edge. With the general concept that the Devil is running our political show, and candidates’ relatives, with their sundry addictions and improprieties, can drive a campaign manager to drink, the comedy on the night I attended was both obvious and blunt, when surprise and sharpness were called for. Director Joseph Limbaugh appears here as a somewhat lumbering Devil/satyr (with perky assistant Karina Bustillos, in horns) in order to set up each scene for the actors/characters who happen to be present. Musical director Susan Peahl did a first-rate job modulating composer Jonathan Green’s and Brian Lohman's opening and closing chorals, beautifully sung a cappella by the ensemble. The scenarios include the PR nightmare for Liberty Party campaign manager Molly Hatchet (Kimberly Lewis) – representing candidate Senator Scott Turner (Brian Lohmann, who had somewhere else to be, and didn’t appear onstage that night). Turner’s son, Beverly (Barry O’Neil), is lead singer of the band Involuntary Ragnarock, and has impregnated his girlfriend – as musicians tend to do – and Hatchet was grasping for strategies of containment. Robert Covarrubias has a nice turn as stern Special Agent Gregory Eagleson (who has a soft side), while Alexis Kraus and Diana Costa put in respective appearances as the drug-induced visions of Sacajawea and Susan B. Anthony. Stage presence so frequently fell victim to the the ad hoc essence of improv, I found myself wishing that this American apple-pie filling was more tart, or that somebody would write a script for these guys. (SLM) Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (323) 525-0202.
PORCELAIN Chay Yew's story of an Asian homosexual's murderous confession. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 957-1884.
RAZORBACK John Pollono’s “pitch-dark comedy” — set in a rustic Maine cabin – is packed with terrific roles. The roles may be richer than the play’s essential qualities. These qualities start from those in any family drama by Sam Shepard, mingled with the comedy of idiot-thugs pitched against ineffectual poet-philosophers found in Harold Pinter’s early plays, and Quentin Tarantino’ film Pulp Fiction. Pollono is a good writer, but with 30 new plays per week opening in L.A. alone, one asks for aspects of originality and theatricality in a new work rather than those of indie-film derivation, which prevail here. Dean (Richard Fancy) is an aging ex-thug with a few months to live, condemned by what appears to be colon cancer. Fancy plays him defined by brute dominance and machismo yet with clearly elucidated soft spots for his second wife, Sandy (Suzanne Ford, in a nicely textured performance), and their intellectually precocious “son,” DJ (Edward Tournier). Dean’s boozy ex, Ruth (Laura Gardner), arrives in a blather of intoxication, along with the tattooed, bloodied adult son, Rocco (the excellent Jack Maxwell). Turns out Rocco is on the run, and if we never met whom he’s running from, or understood why, there wouldn’t be an Act 2. The character study of Act 1 yields to the hostage drama of Act 2. Large weapons get brandished, family secrets get unleashed, there are jokes about the overwrought violence in which the play indulges, like the fantasy of a gangster comedy to star Robert DeNiro and Chris Rock. In their stead, we get terrific portrayals by Rob Bottitta and Patrick Flanagan as the Mafia up from the city. And though the play’s ultimate worldview can be found in innumerable DVDs arriving in the mail from Netflix, this is still a good workout for the actors, the writer and for director Elina De Santos, who shapes the action as seamlessly as she can. Stephen Gifford’s realistic set is also effective, under Leigh Allen’s lights. (SLM) Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 2 (323) 960-7726.
RESTAURANT REVELATIONS Live collage of movies scenes set at restaurants. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 25. (323) 465-0800.
SALVAGE Diana Glancy's drama about a family-run junk yard. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 468-3399.
SAVAGE WORLD Inspired by the story of an African-American boxer wrongfully convicted of murdering a white, Jewish couple, playwright Stephen Fife’s sprawling melodrama revolves around the efforts of a reporter named Sol Eisner (Erik Passoja) to establish the athlete's innocence. The play starts in the present with the now middle-aged Eisner struggling to provide direction for his university educated son (Nate Geez), inexplicably hostile and rebellious. It then flashes back to the '70s, to his meetings with the accused, Calvin ”Savage” James (Vincent M. Ward), and his labyrinthine search for evidence of the man’s innocence. The juicy core of the conflict is whether Savage, a proven liar, thief and abuser of women, is indeed not guilty. But instead of exploiting this ambiguity with the depths of ferocity it deserves, the nearly three- hour piece meanders through a plethora of manipulated subplots and extraneous characters more suitable to a convoluted B-movie police drama than an intense character-driven drama. Ultimately, the production gains traction from Passoja’s fastidiously calibrated portrait of a solidly middle class Jewish intellectual – somewhat nerdy - willing to take risks for his principles. The many solid supporting performances include Latarsha Rose as Eisner’s love interest, Tom Badal as his Uncle Jack, whose support Sol craves, and Ernest Harden Jr., as a pivotal witness whose story keeps changing. As Savage, Ward needs more complexity and volcanic heat. Subpar lighting contributes to the production’s lack of focus . L. Flint Esquerra directs. (DK) Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7788. A MET Theatre and Stealfire Production production.
SEE HOW WE ARE Short plays by Michelle Kholos Brooks. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 664-9752.
SHOCK THERAPY Tom Baum's comedy about a Labor Day party taken hostage. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 960-4420.
NEW REVIEW GO SONG OF EXTINCTION E.M. Lewis' haunting drama unfolds on a set bracketed by shadowboxes filled with butterflies, bells, maps, plants, and pictures of Cambodian refugees, presumably dead. Three biologists have three different views on extinction: One, a monomaniac named Ellery (Michael Shutt) is committed to preserving a Bolivian beetle; the second, Ellery's terminally-ill wife, Lily (Lori Yeghiayan), has resigned herself to her impending death that nobody else seem to care about. death; and the third, Khim Phan (a brilliant perforance of understated strength by Darrell Kunitomi), a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, tries to teach Ellery's and Lily's bitter son, Max (Will Faught), and the rest of his high school students that the eradication of a species demands reverence, regret, and resignation. (As the last in his family, his own genetic tree is slated to die. ) The interplay of the three in Lewis' smart and honest script is one small push away from collective transcendence, as we're asked to tie the threads together ourselves. Lewis avoids easy sentimentality. Ellery and Lily aren't shedding tears over the future they've lost; their estranged relationship is not just hollow, but hostile, and we're not sure of the root. Aided by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's fine set, director Heidi Helen Davis finds beauty in death, staging it as a boat ride into the jungle with showers of butterflies -- a gorgeous counterpoint to Phan's pronouncement that "extinction is a very messy business." [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 461-3673. A Moving Arts production. (Amy Nicholson)
Song of Extinction Photo by Jay Lawton
GO SPEECH & DEBATE Playwright Stephen Karam’s quirky high school comedy imaginatively (and sometimes disturbingly) reinvents the witch-hunt of The Crucible through the teenage frame of The Breakfast Club, mixing in a touch of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator.” In a small, claustrophobic Oregon town, sexually precocious teenager Howie (Michael Welch) engages in come-hither provocative cyberchat with a much older man, who turns out to be none other than his own drama teacher. Fiendishly ambitious high school newspaper reporter Solomon (Aaron Himelstein), driven by his own repressed sexuality, learns of Howie’s interactions and wants to make his story public in a huge exposé. Along with Diwata (Mae Whitman), a vengeful theater brat who has been passed up by the drama teacher for one too many acting roles, Solomon and Howie form an organization that to the rest of the world appears to be the school’s Speech and Debate club, but which, in fact, has a darker and more confrontational purpose. Although Karam’s writing occasionally slips on its own soap opera suds, the combination of artistry and a brash, youthful energy is unsettling enough to elicit a few squirms — exactly the kind you’d hope for in the theater. Director Daniel Henning’s psychologically shrewd direction drives the action while being engagingly intimate. Himselstein’s sweetly neurotic Solomon; Whitman’s shrill, driven Diwata; and Welch’s technologically sophisticated but emotionally naive gay boy are hilarious, touching and disturbing by turns. (PB) 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct 26. (323) 661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production.
SUPER SEXY SHOW Every first and third Thursday, the Hollywood Pin-up Girls provide spiced-up cabaret fare. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Third Thursday of every month; First Thursday of every month.; thru Dec. 24. (323) 668-0318.
TAMALES DE PUERCO Trilingual play about a tamale vendor, by Mercedes Floresislas. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 263-7684.
TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (323) 960-7753.
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.
GO TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY "Is the sense of tragedy palpable?" presses stately news anchor Frank (Frederick Ponzlov) to in-field reporter John (Matthew McCray). If either man -- or fellow correspondents Michael (Daniel Getzoff) and Constance (Sarah Boughton) -- recognizes the question's absurdity, they aren't showing it. Gifted with gravitas and eloquence, the four graveyard shift journalists in Pulitzer finalist Will Eno's sharp satire on round-the-clock spin are honing panic that the sun has set and may never rise again. Is it true? Facts are non-existent but the puffery they spout to fill up time sure sounds like a crisis. And, as Frank notes, if the morning comes, then we'll have to pray for afternoon. Our own doubts about whether the crisis even exists cloud Eno's meaning. But as the pressure to say something unmoors all the newscasters, their anchoman crumbles, begging for nonsense human interest stories -- even little lies. Donald Boughton's crisply comedic staging deepens as the play eventually reveals its darker resonances: A fumbling man-on-the-street (Jonathan C.K. Williams), first tries to will the media back to life like they were Tinkerbells or stock market indexes. The man ]reminds us that if we're united, our shared uncertainties can become our common faith. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (800) 383-3006, www.sonofsemele.org. (Amy Nicholson)
EL VAGON OF THE IMMIGRANTS Silvia Gonzalez's bilingual play about immigrants crossing the border in a boxcar. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (213) 382-8133.
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
A YEAR OF STOLEN LIGHT Tim McNeil's dark love story. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-4418.
CONTINUING PERFORMANES AT SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN THE VALLEYS
BLACK ANGELS OVER TUSKEGEE Former pilot reflects on his life as an Alabama airman, in Layon Gray's world premiere. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:15 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 960-5771.
BLOOD BROTHERS Twin boys, separated at birth, are reunited, book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111.
BUSH IS BAD: ALASKAN BEAUTY QUEEN EDITION Political satire, including musical parody of the McCain-Palin ticket, by Joshua Rosenblum. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (818) 508-7101.
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN Former political prisoner confronts her torturer, by Ariel Dorfman. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (323) 791-2320.
FAHRENHEIT 451 Ray Bradbury's book burner. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 960-4451.
THE FAMILY OF MANN The kooky world of sitcom writing, as seen by Theresa Rebeck. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 769-5858.
GO THE FRIENDLY HOUR Tom Jacobson's lovely new play chronicles the rituals of a women's club in rural South Dakota from the late '30s to 2007, and we watch the women with whom we grow increasingly familiar age and engage in theological disputes that are really at the heart of the matter. God's purpose, and the purpose of community, interweave and clash through the decades as five fine actors portray many more roles. Leading the pack is Kate Mines' prickly creationist Effie and Ann Noble's proud, forward-thinking Dorcas Briggle who, had she lived somewhere else, would have joined the Unitarian Church. (Deana Barone, Mara Marine and Bettina Zacar round out the cast.) The play desperately needs pruning – its length is partly responsible for a monochromatic quality that dampens Mark Bringleson's otherwise animated and tender staging. If this were scaled down to six pointed scenes from its perpetually unrolling carpet of the club's rites and characters' domestic crises, the impact of the survivors' dotage in 2007 could be that much more gripping. Still, Jacobson has put aside the conspicuous cleverness of his past works, Bunbury and Ouroboros, for an impressionistic landscape that straddles the literary worlds of Anton Chekhov and Thornton Wilder. Desma Murphey's wood-framed set, against which a backdrop of clouds peers through, contains both elegance and allegory, and Lisa D. Burke's costumes contain similar affection and wit. (SLM) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (866) 811-4111, http://roadtheatre.org. A Road Theatre Company production.
GO HOW CISSY GREW Susan Johnston’s powerful new play is structured as a pastiche of three family members' memories, slowly filling in the puzzle of their traumatic lives. In West Virginia, an unmarried couple, Butch and Darla (James Denton and Erin J. O’Brien),are stuck in financial and moral poverty. This is all manifested in legal and illegal addictions, as the pair try to turn their lives around with the help of their daughter, Cissy (Liz Vital). A moment of inattention inflicts a wound that will haunt the three throughout their lives. Johnston’s stark text, rarely punctuated with humor, is piercingly painful and beautifully wrought. The actors, including Stewart W. Calhoun as the various boys in Cissy’s damaged life, play each dramatic moment with conviction. Even their southern accents, which can so easily become generic and insulting, are rendered tenderly. Director Casey Stangl honors the desolate geography of the characters’ lives by stirring life from their bleakness. She keeps the production terse, but extremely well paced. The set pieces are deftly designed by Laura Fine Hawkes for multiple uses. Lighting by Trevor Stirlin Burk paired with C. Andrew Mayer's tense sound design, add to the success of this elegant production. (TP) El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111. www.elportaltheatre.com.
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show’s efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and – with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers’ questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow’s intense Kazan, Mary McDonald’s bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone’s flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi’s sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner’s non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. (DK) Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. (866) 811-4111.
GO LOVE’S OLD SWEET SONG This wacky 1940 William Saroyan comedy celebrates the Fresno writer’s centennial year. In Depression-era Bakersfield, spinster Ann Hamilton (McKerrin Kelly) lives alone with her roses and the stone lion in her front yard, 'till her life is turned inside out by a string of bizarre visitors: an incorrigibly romantic Western Union messenger (Michael Heshel); a loquacious medicine-show con-man (Steve Marvel) who pretends he’s been in love with her for 27 years; and the Yearling Clan, a family of Okies fleeing the dust bowl: father Cabot (Joel Schumaker), his prodigiously pregnant wife (Jennifer Pennington) and their 11 assorted children. They invade Ann’s home, wreck it, and eventually burn it down, but only after the visit of a loony Time Magazine subscription peddler (Shawn MacAulay), a pompous WPA novelist (Daniel Campagna), and a Life Magazine photographer (Lauren Dunagan). In Act II, everybody winds up at the home of former Greek wrestling champ Stylianos Americanos (Chris Damiano). In an agreeably sappy finale, love conquers all, the Yearlings join the medicine show, and, presumably everybody lives happily ever after. Director Martin Bedoian expertly deploys his huge and able cast through the whimsical hilarity, and Jeff Rack provides two handsome sets. (NW) GTC Burbank, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 22. A Syzygy Theatre production. (800) 838-3006 or http://www.syzygytheatre.org
MAGIC? MAYBE ... Jennifer Emily McLean's fantasy about a young woman who denounces magic. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 636-9661.
MARY’S WEDDING Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte tries, in a two-actor play, to recreate a World War I battlefield, a horseback ride across the Canadian prairie, and a desperate cavalry charge. As if that weren’t challenge enough, he combines realism, fantasy, flashbacks, dreams, and fractured chronology in an uneasy mixture. Telling us the play is a dream doesn’t quite solve the problems. Somewhere in Canada, farmer’s son Charlie (Brett Ryback), along with his horse, meets émigré English girl Mary (Ashley Bell) in a barn, where both take shelter from a storm. They fall madly in love, but her snobbish mother disapproves of him as “a dirty farm boy,” and soon they’re parted by the Great War. He feels an obligation to join the Canadian Cavalry, and she bitterly resents his leaving. Bell also doubles nimbly as a tough, heroic (male) sergeant. The horse is an abstract sculpture, like a modern-day Isamu Noguchi, which also serves as a troop ship, and the trenches at Ypres. It’s not clear whether it’s part of David Potts handsome set or a clever prop by MacAndME. Director David Rose has mounted a sensitive, inventive production, with expert lighting by Jeremy Pivnick and sound by Cricket Myers. (NW) Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., through Nov. 23. Call theatre for added perfs. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15, or http://www.colonytheatre.org
MISCONCEPTIONS The latest by playwright Art Shulman. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 309-9439.
THE MYSTERY PLAYS Robert Aguirre-Sacasa's collection of ghost stories. Stillspeaking Theatre, 2560 Huntington Dr., San Marino; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (626) 292-2081.
PIN-UP GIRLS Set designer Starlet Jacobs sets the stage with '40s memorabilia -- racks of vintage costumes adorn the playing area and a model of a USAF bomber hangs suspended from the proscenium arch. With waves of overlapping dialogue punctuated with sporadic moments of farce, playwright-director Andrew Moore varyingly hits his mark of hyper-realism in his depiction of burlesque performers in the midst of WWII. Though the locale isn't specified in the program, snippets of dialogue suggest a West Coast setting. While the burlesque act mostly remains off-stage, what we see are the backstage comings and goings of the proprietress (April Adams); the dancers (Sylvia Anderson, Lauren Burns, Sarah Cook, Alana Dietze, Pamela Moore and Lauren Mutascio); the pianist (Jovial Kemp), who taps on a non-functioning spinet to recorded piano sounds; and a cartoon of a self-appointed guardian of decency (Judith Goldstein), who's like a Salvation Army officer out of Guys & Dolls. Moore's story spins on the homecoming of wounded Marine, Scotty (Seth Caskey), to his unfaithful STD-infected heartthrob, Helen (Moore, in a robust and sassy performance). Helen defines her independence as the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally, while dancer Ruby (Cook, in a gentle portrayal brimming with hidden desires) eventually makes her move on her colleague's man, while accepting a post with the WASP corps. It's unclear how the two women catfighting over a guy is an examination of women's freedom, however demurely their fighting may be. That idea is best captured by Helen's insistence of being her own person while stringing along her wounded suitor: Is this cruelty part of a burgeoning women's movement, or a subtle condemnation of it? There's also a subplot of the puppy love between a semi-blind youth (Bryan Gaston) and a teen apprentice (Mustascio), who replaces Ruby when the older dancer enlists in the military. The principals offer lovely performances, but this new play is a sometimes cutesy, sometimes romantic construction. Its larger insight into who we are, and where we've come from, has yet to be chiseled. (SLM) Avery Shreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production.
GO THE SEQUENCE For over 80 years, theater artists have been trying to make peace with technology and science, fields that would seem to defy the arts – from Elmer Rice’s disturbing 1923 The Adding Machine; to Heinar Kippart's 1964 drama, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer; to Tom Stoppard’s impenetrable Arcadia in 1993; through David Auburn’s emotionally wrought 2001 psychological exercise, Proof. . Generally, though, real science is employed to move the plot along and involve characters without boring the audience with technical details. In Paul Mullin's new play, The Sequence, however, the protagonist is the scientific inquiry at the heart of the play – the mapping of the human genome. In a very pleasing twist of expectations, some fiercely human, comic moments make for breathtaking dramatic tension – stemming from questions of whether the ultimate credit for unraveling DNA should go to scientist Craig Venter (Hugo Armstrong) or Francis Collins (William Salyers) of the federal government, and whether reporter Kellie Silverstein should get a Pulitzer prize for writing a story about the two-man race. Mullin’s often outlandish explanations of the subject make this a fascinating, rapid-fire entertainment, that moves from childlike storytelling to music hall and beyond. Director John Langs and his bright (and often over-articulate) actors maneuver with assurance through Mullins slippery slopes between reality and fantasy. Gary Smoot’s simple but sharp scenery, Jason H. Thompson’s projections and Jose Lopez’s present beautifully crafted visual production – adding Robbin E. Broad and Joseph M. Wilbur’s pounding sound design creates an even more profound environment. (TP) Boston Court Theatre, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (626) 683-6883.
SNOW WHITE The fairy tale, adapted by Tim Kelly, "for children and their families.". Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 508-3003.
THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS Nathan Sanders' story of two eccentric sisters. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (626) 256-3809.
THYESTES' FEAST Fragments of lost Greek plays adapted to an ancient world of high fashion, by Peter Wing Healey. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 960-7745.
GO U.S. DRAG “I want a lot. What do we have to do get a lot,” says Angela (Megan Goodchild) to her best friend, Allison (Katie Davies), as the pair traverse Manhattan in search of . . . a lot, in this West Coast premiere of Gina Gionfriddo's scintillating comedy. Angela's every perky/snide conversation is punctuated by the monetary value to be derived from it, whether speaking to an employer or partner. The two smart young women are not smart enough to be rich, and money seems to be the play's driving force, accompanied by a triptych of fears – fear of loneliness, fear of squandered opportunities (such as fame) and fear of physical attack. Within this cosmopolitan universe, Gionfriddo populates her play with sundry support groups -- one led by Evan (Noah Harpster) counsels its members to refuse to help anybody in order to avoid attack -- a Wall Street neurotic (Nick Cernoch), a would-be literati (Shawn Lee), and a “helper” (Eric Pargac) with a deranged compulsion to track down and give baked goods and the like to victims of any urban trauma. Gionfriddo's snappy dialogue is both urban and urbane, reflecting cultural values that have clearly gone off the tracks. Among the play's delightful conceits is its open question of whether the fears we shape our lives around are actually real, or our own speculative inventions. Darin Anthony's very slick staging includes riffs of techno pop (original music by Doug Newell) and a set/lighting design by Dan Jenkins that cements the play's matrix of consumerism and death with boutique windows and streetlife – one character actually arrives on a slab withdrawn from a gutter. The performances are mostly excellent, with a glorious cameo by Johanna McKay as a befuddled attack victim, though some mumbled lines and aimless movement don't quite match the director's mat-knife precision. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 22. A Furious theatre Company production.
WOYZECK German soldier goes nuts in Georg Buchner's drama, adapted by Bob McDonald. Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (818) 841-5422.
THE YEAR OF THE HIKER John B. Keane's play about the return of a man who, 20 years before, left his family to hike through Ireland. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (818) 846-5323.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
NEW REVIEW GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation – overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current “we are the world” emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière's 1670 comedy – a satire of snobbery and social climbing – will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing “tears of a clown” masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks – despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression – every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (310) 319-9939.
The Bourgeois Gentilhomme Photo by Paul Rubenstein
BUS STOP William Inge's romantic comedy. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 494-1014.
DESPERATE WRITERS Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber's showbiz satire. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (800) 595-4849.
GO FAITHFUL Tautly directed by Mikey Myers, Chazz Palminteri's darkly comedic and suspenseful play opens with a pajama-clothed Margaret (Reamy Hall) tied to a chair, held at gunpoint by Tony (John Collela), a mafia hit man hired by her wealthy husband Jack (Jim Roof). The phone becomes a character in the play, as Tony awaits a two-ring signal indicating that Jack has established his alibi. But the black-clad assassin is having an existential crisis concerning his sister’s recent death, and keeps calling his neurotic therapist, at whom Tony repeatedly yells “Stop crying!” The downcast Margaret finally asks Tony to kill her — he owes her as much since he interrupted her suicide. The events unfold on Siegfried Ackermann and Ryan Wilson’s understated yet well-appointed set. Myers’ fast-paced direction is well-matched to Palminteri’s machine-gun fire dialogue, which is expertly handled by the three-person cast. Roof is particularly hilarious as the once cocky and now discombobulated husband. (SR) Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (310) 397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.
FATA MORGANA Ernest Vajda's 1924 romantic comedy. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, (No perfs Nov. 20, 27 & Dec. 11.). (310) 822-8392.
HAMLET . Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 836-0288.
THE KENTUCKY CYCLE PART I & PART II Robert Schenkkan's series of nine plays reimagining Southern history. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (562) 985-5526.
LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that “real Americans” need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; no perf. Thanksgiving weekend; thru Dec. 7. (310) 822-8392.
MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy, adapted by Steven Shields. Ark Theater Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 969-1707.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he’s determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He’s an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we’re to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Nov. 29. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
A MAJORITY OF ONE In the late 1950s the era of the “well-made-play” was clearly waning. Still, playwrights like Leonard Spigelgass stuck to this form of tightly structured drama, in which societal problems trumped characterization. This chestnut follows the story of Brooklyn Jewish widow Mrs. Jacoby (Paula Prentiss), who carries with her the grief of losing her son to the Japanese in WWII. When her daughter, Alice (Anya Profumo), and son-in-law, Jerome (Ross Benjamin), inform her that they are bound to Japan for the foreign service and wish to take her along, she is dismayed, but ultimately agrees. On the sea crossing she reluctantly befriends Mr. Asano (Sab Shimono), Jerome’s diplomatic adversary. Issues of family ties, race and culture are pieced precisely together leading to the appropriate climax and immediate denouement. While the play leans towards the tedious, director Salome Gens nonetheless brings out more characterization than the author offers. Prentiss and Shimono share delightful senses of stage presence – though he tends to be verbally halting and she is often grasping for lines. In an amusing turn, Edison Park play as ne'er-do-well Japanese servant who brings in welcome comic moments. The production is not helped by an oppressive brick wall set (presumable to keep Brooklyn in mind at all times), in which small windows are opened with little bits of evocative visuals for each new scene. This is a failed attempt at scenic Schenectady. (TP) Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (800) 838-3006.
MALCOLM & TERESA BBC TV reporter interviews Mother Teresa, by Cathal Gallagher. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 462-5141.
A MAN'S A MAN In an army brigade, three machine-gunners are in immediate need of replacing their fourth, who was recently kidanpped. And so, in Bertolt Brecht's furious early play, they lure a docile man named Galy Gay (Beth Hogan) with whiskey, cigars, and women -- and when he dares to refuse to adopt the missing soldier's name and identity, they give him good reason to by stringing up Galy on nonsensical criminal charges. Meanwhile, opportunistic barkeeper Widow Begbick (Diana Cignoni) -- an early vestige of Mother Courage -- and her troupe of traveling prostitutes scheme to undermine a despotic Sergeant (Will Kepper) while packing up their saloon to follow the army from India into Tibet. (Brecht has slyly populated his India with pagodas and Chinese hucksters in yellowface). Director Ron Sossi has an inconsistent approach to Brecht's stylistics, a flaw most visible in the miscast and misdirected Hogan, who starts off blank and guileless, only to blubber like the heroine of a five-hankie weepie during Galy's tribunal. (Such aggressive emotional manipulation would have been parodied by Brecht.) Already smaller and more fragile than the rest of the pert and heartless ensemble, Hogan's stunt casting works best when Galy, now calling himself Jip, ascends to control the destruction of Tibet like a pint-sized General Patton barking out orders. This Brecht piece is given the over-simplified interpretation of exploring how the trauma of war warps soldiers, but with Hogan so clearly at the reins in the battle scenes, what's indicted here is a callow culture that exploits everyone.(AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, (Call for added perfs; no perf Nov. 27.) (310) 477-2055.
NITE CLUB: BUBI'S HIDEAWAY Kenneth Bernard's 1970 avant-garde play. Mandrake Bar, 2692 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 1...
>NEW REVIEW GO QUIXOTIC The idea of updating Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote to the dead end environs of a bleak insurance sales office could potentially be a case of shoe-horning a premise into a new setting, but director Amanda Glaze's crisply staged production of playwright Kit Steinkellner's emotionally nuanced drama threads a fine path between reality, fantasy, comedy, and tragedy. Scenic designer Eric Svaleson's almost too believably drab office set is bathed in the horrific glow of flickering florescent lights favored by budget-minded bosses world over. Yet, the florescents morph into a lush golden glow when mild mannered claims adjustor Arthur Quick (Isaac Wade) starts hearing music in his head -- and he begins inexplicably to believe he's the noble knight “Sir Quixotic.” In short order, Quick imagines his tightly wound and nonplussed boss, Allie (Coco Kleppinger), to be a tragic princess, an ambitious temp (Paige White) to be a demonic enchantress, and cubicle pal, nebbish Sam (Ariel Goldberg) to be his “squire.” Glaze's briskly paced production boasts some beautifully subtle acting turns that are both energetic and organically believable. Although some plot elements in Steinkellner's script play out more like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch, the work actually has us wondering whether Quick is delusional, or whether his co-workers are actually “enchanted.” Wade's Walter Mitty-like shift from mousy Quick, to the throatier, more blustery Sir Quixotic is delightful, and engaging turns are also offered by Kleppinger's brittle Allie, by Goldberg's sensitive Sam, and Paige's increasingly unpleasant temp. (PB) Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (310) 396-3680, Ext. 3. A Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble production
Quixotic Photo by Chaya Calmus
THE REINDEER MONOLOGUES Santa's pack kvetches, in Jeff Goode's play. Hermosa Beach Playhouse, Pier Ave. at Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 372-4477.
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy of manners. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (310) 512-6030.
SEX, LIES + CORSETS August Strindberg's 1889 play The Stronger and Edward Allan Baker's 1994 play Rosemary With Ginger. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 392-7327.
WINE, WOMEN AND SONG Musical cabaret featuring jazz and Broadway standards, R&B and contemporary songs. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (310) 822-8392.
ZOMBIE ATTACK! Justin Tanner's tale of the undead. 2nd Story Theatre, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (310) 374-9767.
SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
BOB BAKER'S NUTCRACKER The holiday classic, told through the magic of marionettes. (Resv. required.). Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; opens Nov. 15; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Dec. 31. (213) 250-9995.
A CELEBRATION OF CARING 2008 Actors and Others for Animals presents celebrity guests Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, Tippi Hedren, Carole Cook, Bruce Vilanch and MC JoAnne Worley in a toast to Carol Channing., $175-$225. Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Dr., Universal City; Sat., Nov. 15, 11 a.m.. (818) 755-5080.
DYING CITY Reading of Christopher Shinn's study in grief. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar, Palos Verdes Peninsula; Tues., Nov. 18, 7 p.m.. (310) 378-9353.
FACE OF THE WORLD FESTIVAL '08 Solo performance, music and dance. (Call for schedule.). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sun..; thru Dec. 14. (213) 489-0994.
HAPPY TO MAKE YOUR ACQUAINTANCE Michael Feinstein hosts this celebration of the musical legacy of Frank Loesser. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 17, 8 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.
THE HOBITT Markland Taylor's adaptation of JRR Tolkien's story. La Crescenta Women's Club, 4004 La Crescenta Ave., Montrose; Sat., Nov. 15, 7 p.m. (310) 499-4104.
"I'M NOT A RACIST, BUT ..." Conceived by Cynthia Ettinger, created by the Actors' Gang. Actors' Gang in a workshop production at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (310) 838-4264.
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MYSTERIES EN BROCHETTE The beachside hotel dishes out dinner and mystery delights in its Saturday shows with four different performances that alternate., $75, includes dinner. Marina del Rey Hotel, 13534 Bali Way, Marina del Rey; Sat., 7 p.m.. (310) 301-1000.
THE REAL THING Staged reading of Tom Stoppard's drama, to be recorded for radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Through Nov. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 15, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.
WHAT'S THE STORY? New solo performance works in progress. (Also at Cafe Metropol, call for info.). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Mon., Nov. 17, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 8, 8 p.m.. (310) 450-1312.
THE WIZARD OF OZ Sing-along hosted by Fake Radio, based on the 1950 broadcast by Lux Radio Theater. Bang, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.. (877) 460-9774.