Stage Raw: Phil Newby

Stage Raw: Phil Newby

PHIL NEWBY

A memorial service was held at Sacred Fools Theatre on Sunday for that company's young and beloved actor who was found in his apartment last week. More on Phil to come in the print edition one week week from Thursday.

At your fingertips: This week's Theater Feature on Jim Leonard's Battle Hymn presented by Circle X Theatre Company at [Inside] the Ford; and the 30th Annual L.A. Weekly Awards NOMINEES.

Reviewed this week: Model Behavior presented by Theatre Movement Bazaar at the 24th Street Theater; the West Coast premiere of Sharleen Cooper Cohen's homage to Lena Horn, Stormy Weather, with music by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart, Billy Strayhorn and more, at the Pasadena Playhouse; Iris Bahr's solo show, DAI (Enough), which presents a gallery of characters moments before a suicide bomb blasts rips through a Tel Aviv cafe, it performs at the Lillian; a new company in town, Chalk Rep, performs Chekhov's Three Sisters in the Masonic Lodge of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery; Mexico City's Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes performed Jorge Kuri and Claudio Valdes Kuri's Monsters and Prodigies: The History of the Castrati, at REDCAT; Sacred Fools' new Manum Opus Theatre entry, this one titled Love Written in the Stars; Anthony Mora's new play, Modern Love, at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre; Theatre Tribe's staging of Martin McDonnagh's Skull in Connemara at the troupe's North Hollywood venue; Alan Ayckbourn's farce Taking Steps at the Odyssey; comedy sketch artists, Todd Heughens and Molly O'Leary's The Todd & Molly Show: In Everyone's Pants There's a Dance, performing at The Complex; and another Theatre Impro's spontaneous full-length play, this one in the style of Jane Austen, Jane Austen Unscripted, at Theatre Asylum.

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

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for February 6-12, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deobrah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

OPENING THIS WEEK

ATTRACTION/LOGIC Multidisciplinary performance by actors, writers, painters, singers, dancers, musicians and scientists, created by Negin Singh. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 19, 8 p.m.. (818) 849-4039.

MY BROOKLYN HAMLET: WHERE MOTHER KILLS FATHER & MARRIES HER SISTER Brenda Adelman's "true tale of triumph over tragedy.". BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; Thurs., March 12, 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

BLUES FOR CENTRAL AVENUE Life on L.A.'s Central Avenue post-World War II, book by Willard Manus, music by Lou Bridges. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; opens Feb. 7; Sat., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 4 p.m.; Sun., March 1, 4 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 469-3113.

CANDIDA George Bernard Shaw's bizarre love triangle. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Toluca Lake; opens Feb. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 8. (818) 558-7000.

A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR Bunyan Bay prepares for its summer fair, book and lyrics by Phil Olson. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.

FLIGHT Garth Wingfield's biography of Charles Lindbergh. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 525-0600.

THE JAZZ AGE Inside the minds of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, by Allan Knee. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; opens Feb. 12; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 661-9827.

LAUGH-OUT Tribute to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; opens Feb. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 433-3363.

LOST IN YONKERS Neil Simon's story of two brothers sent to live with their overbearing grandmother and kooky aunt. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; opens Feb. 7; Sat., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (562) 944-9801.

THE MAKING OF MULATTO Juliette Fairley's one-woman sequel to her Mulatto's Dilemma, about interracial marriage. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., Feb. 8, 3 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 3 p.m.; Sun., March 22, 3 p.m.; Sun., April 5, 3 p.m.; Sun., April 19, 3 p.m.; Sun., May 3, 3 p.m.. (323) 957-4652.

MINSKY'S World premiere musical-comedy set in the free-spirit flapper era of Prohibition, book by Bob Martin, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 6; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 1. (213) 628-2772.

NAKED CREATURES See Go L.A., $20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Feb. 6, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 7, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

POOR, POOR LEAR Nina Sallinen as the 90-year-old grand dame of Scandinavian theater, reflecting on King Lear. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (818) 430-4835.

THEY CALL ME MISTER FRY Jack Freiberger's recollection of his days as a schoolteacher in South-Central Los Angeles. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 899-2985.

TIME STANDS STILL Donald Margulies' story of a reporter/photographer couple returning from assignment in the Middle East. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Feb. 11; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 15. (310) 208-5454.

TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS Jonathan Tolins' meditation on genetic engineering. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; opens Feb. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 14. (800) 838-3006.

VIOLET SHARP Lindbergh-baby suspect drama, by Bill Cameron. (In rep with Double Indemnity, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Feb. 7; Sat., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (310) 364-0535.

SURVIVING SEX Adventures of a libidinous accountant, by David Landsberg. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; opens Feb. 6; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 1. (818) 955-8101.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE

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

NEW REVIEW MONSTERS AND PRODIGIES: THE HISTORY OF THE CASTRATI Why would anybody care about a history of how preadolescent boys in 17th century Europe were castrated in order to preserve the beauty of their high voices. Mexico City's Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes served up a pretty good response to that question at REDCAT over the weekend in a circus-like spectacle that was as disturbing as it was beautiful. A snorting, stomping Centaur (Miguel Angel Lopez) opened the piece, his huge, bare chest heaving from behind stable doors, establishing the Greek myth origins of how lines between men and beasts became crossed - along with those between men and Gods. Fast forward to the 17th century, and the stage was occupied by ghoulish characters out of a Molière farce: Siamese twins in whiteface (Raúl Román and Gastón Yanes) attached at the waist by their baroque vest, a fuming harpsichordist (Edwin Calderon) and one Castrati (Javier Medina) - whose amazing soprano is reputed to have been the consequence of a childhood disease, not castration, which has been illegal since the earliest 20th century - even in Italy. (The play's closing image of the despondent, last surviving Castrati, accompanied by an ancient recording of his singing gAve Maria,h was eerily haunting.) Dualities abounded on the stage: the brutality of castration (especially when it went awry) versus the beautific rapture of those high holy voices; Jorge Kuri and Claudio Valdes Kuri's play (in Spanish, supertitled in English) emphasizes the duality between the age of reason, embodied by polite French opera-going habits versus the wild emotionality of the Italians, who used opera as a center of socializing - even during the performances - and stopped their chattering only during the occasional arias that really captured their attention. And for such arias, audiences showed emotive appreciation. The stage was eventually opened to reveal a huge sand pit behind those stable doors. The twins were separated, there was the intervention of the French Revolution, and the performance devolved into a madcap farce, that included Punch and Judy Show antics, food fights, and the parade of a magnificent horse, restrained to the point of frothing at the mouth. This frothing, combined with the beast's heavy breathing and the animal's stunning, balletic elegance, summed up the duality of distortion and beauty. Using a history lesson format, the spectacle wore out its welcome and then, most curiously after the anarchy of the Revolution, the welcome wore itself back in again; and Kaveh Parmas' performance as a near naked Slave, goaded to torment the Castrati for no reason other than comic relief, was masterful. REDCAT, inside Disney Hall. Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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

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

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

NEW REVIEW GO STORMY WEATHER Mirrors mirrors on the walls. That's what you're seeing all over the stage in James Noone's set as Lena Horne (Leslie Uggams), now aging in the 1980s, observes her younger self (Nikki Crawford) through the travails of a difficult life. Her torments include having to surrender custody of her one, infant son, Teddy, to her estranged husband (Phil Attmore), as she chooses to leave New York to accept an offer by MGM Studios in Hollywood. For a light-skinned African-American chanteuse swimming upstream towards stardom in post WWII America, the cross currents she encounters include the kind of stock bigotry (lobbying not to play maids in the movies) and gossip surrounding her secret, tempestuous marriage to Jewish arranger, Lennie Hayton (Robert Torti). Another mirror image includes the resentful adult Teddy (Joran Barbour) and Horne's father, Teddy, Sr. (Cleavant Derricks). Ensnared in Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunt of the '50s, and thereby shunned by the Hollywood studios, Horne finds employment in France (of course) and on Broadway. The despondency caused by waking up one day and realizing that she's lost all the men in her life, including Teddy from kidney disease, raises the question of how one endures life's tempests. (As Linda says in Death of a Salesman, "Life is a casting off.") Such are the metaphysics of Sharleen Cooper Cohen's musical, suggested from the Horne' biography, Lena Horne, Entertainer, and punctuated by over two dozen classic jazz-pop hits, including "Come Rain or Come Shine," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Hooray for Hollywood," "When You're Smiling," and the eponymous "Stormy Weather" -- all accompanied by a 12-person orchestra perfectly conducted by musical director Linda Twine, and beautifully sung by members of the large ensemble. In her adaptation, Cohen frames Horne's journey down memory lane via conversations with her life friend and rival, Kay Thompson (Dee Hoty). Though Horne's snyde attitude towards this "friend," once attached to the Hollywood studio that betrayed her, creates a brittle and nicely unsentimental repartee, their conversations -- being locked in the past tense -- bog things down dramatically, making the musical feel longer than it otherwise might. Michael Bush's staging compensates for this drawback with sheen, partly because the songs are often so nicely tethered to Randy Skinner's sleek choreography, must mostly because of Crawford's knockout voice and sexy charisma, and the tender-sassy interpretations by Uggams. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 1. (626) 356-7529. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Story Weather Photo by Kevinberne.com

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

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

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

ACME THIS WEEK All-new sketch comedy every week. ACME COMEDY THEATRE, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GO BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS: A NOT-SO ROMANTIC COMEDY OF BAD MANNERS Rob Mersola's extravagant farce extracts its laughs from its characters' miseries and sexual misadventures: self-loathing, murderous competitiveness, anonymous erotic encounters. 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. (NW). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7829.

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

BILL W. AND DR. BOB The story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7827.

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

DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3). Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (323) 954-9795.

NEW REVIEW DAI In her one woman show, gifted writer and solo performer Iris Bahr poignantly illustrates how infinitesimally fragile the line is between life and death. The piece takes place in a Tel Aviv café minutes before a suicide bombing. The café hosts an international clientele: an American actress filming a love story involving (ironically) a Palestinian suicide bomber, a gay German man stalking his Israeli ex-lover, a partisan Jewish settler, a mother of young children, rabid in her support of Israeli hegemony at the expense of Palestinian claims. Bahr portrays 10 loquacious individuals in all, each monologue concluding mid-sentence as the bomb detonates, obliterating the life of the person we've come to know intimately in just a few moments. Embedded in each portrait are the irony and humor that comes from the human tendency to perceive the world narrowly through one's own self-interest. Several elements detract from the production, however: a tendency towards sameness in the clipped tempo of each monologue, and the awkward staging of the explosion at the end of each sequence, consisting of a loud noise and the unconvincing response of the performer, a she collapses on the ground. While a director is credited for the original staging, none is mentioned here. What's called for to realize the drama's latent power is a director with a sensibility as nuanced as Bahr's own. Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4410. www.plays411.com/dai. Deborah Klugman)

DAI (Enough) Photo courtesy of the Lillian Theatre

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

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

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

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE ACME's flagship sketch show. ACME COMEDY THEATRE, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

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.; indef. (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. (LE3) Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through February 15.

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

GREATER TUNA Small-town Texas satire, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 667-0955.

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

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

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

NEW REVIEW GO NEW REVIEW GO JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED Oh, what fun to see an improv troupe create a two act drama in the style of a Jane Austen novel, inspired on the night I attended by the audience suggestion "snails." The show is never the same, though director Dan O'Connor did say the company has rehearsed an English country dance that sometimes gets plugged in, sometimes not. And there are of course constant characters whom the company switch in and out of, depending on who's available on any given night. O'Connor portrayed Mr. Dawson on the night this show was reviewed, a highly reputable fellow engaged in a snarky and pointless dispute with one Miss Amelia Green (the charming Jo McGinley) Much of the plot concerned the ability of these two porcupines to find love - in a Regency English style no less, encumbered by tightly fitting corsets, vests, dinner jackets and ties. Among the moments of high tension was when Amelia's father (Floyd Van Buskirk) found the prickly lovebirds unescorted in a parlor room, sparking a scandal. There were also gorgeous cameos by Stephen Kearin as the genteel, horse-faced Mr. Robert Walker, and by Lauren Lewis as Amelia's delightfully bird-brained sister, Rebecca.  Eleven first rate comedians performed the night the show was reviewed; somebody hadn't turned their cell phone all the way off, triggering a whining sound over the speakers, and causing a spontaneous subplot about a swarm of invading bees, and some controversy over whether or not it was decent of Mr. Walker to cure Rebecca's  bee sting by slopping mud on her bare arm. Aside from its breathtaking wit, the show reveals the codes of behavior that accrue into a acting style, and even a social style. This is a comedy about essence rather than substance, revealing how one is so often confused with the other. If there is such a thing as humane comedy, this would be it. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 401-6162. An Impro Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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

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

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

NEW REVIEW GO MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS The fury of reading through piles of crappy screenplays for exploitive wages has to be what motivated this vicious comedy series. As playwright Jon Robin Baitz once said, L.A. theater offers a response to the "toxicity of living in a company town," and Magnum Opus Theatre is a very strong response to just that. In director Joe Jordan's crisp as toast style, a company of nine performs this excruciating screenplay with unfettered mockery, with Your Host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe, a.k.a. "Thursty" (Brandon Clark, in red dinner jacket and the droll pomposity of Alistaire Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre) reading all the stage directions, including misspellings. This is the story of a chubby girl named Amber (Franci Montgomery, who is not chubby at all, which is part of the joke), abused like Cinderella by her beer-swilling aunt (CJ Merriman), who curses her, slaps her and calls her a pig -- a Punch and Judy show by any other name. Amber has a fantasy lover, the ghost of a Hollywood actor (Michael Lanahan) accidentally slain during the filming of a gangster gun battle. Through plot convolutions to tedious to enumerate, Amber winds up in Hollywood, in a movie about her travails, for which she receives an Academy Award. As the plot slid into its final trajectory, the crowd shouted out "noooooh", as it became cognizant of where this was heading. Any play can be ridiculed simply by employing theatrical devices used here: Whenever "Thursty" reads: "Jeff gives her a passionate kiss," Lanahan uses his fingers to withdraw a sloppy kiss from his mouth, which he then palms off to Montgomery's hand, who then slips the "kiss" into her blouse. But even this wildly presentational brand of theatrical ridicule can't disguise the artlessness of the dialogue and stage directions. What emerges through the event's cruelty, besides the mercifully unnamed screenwriter's ineptitude, is a portrait of the writer, for whom Amber is an obvious standin. As the lampoon wears itself out, we're left with something underneath that's gone beyond parody to the pathetic - the reasons that somebody would have written such a story in the first place, and the hollow, generic fantasies that serve as balm for her feelings of isolation. Watching this show is like watching well trained runners pushing somebody out of a wheelchair. That's a comic bit from old sketch TV shows, but 90 minutes of it leaves you feeling that the company's comic fury is so strong, and its skills so sharp, the joke has been propelled beyond its target to a very dark place that's fascinating in its own right. Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; through Feb. 27. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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

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

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

NEW REVIEW GO MODEL BEHAVIOR "A play played at right angles" might be an apt description of Richard Alger's reimagination of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Masterfully choreographed and directed by Tina Kronis, an ensemble of eleven performers, in their own words, "shreds" the story into a movement-based, bare-bones series of scenes punctuated by musical numbers. The action follows London lawyer Mr. Utterson (Jake Eberle) investigating strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Jekyll (Jacob Sidney), and the misanthropic Mr. Hyde, who is first discovered by Utterson's acquaintance, Mr. Enfield (Jonathan Green). Utterson is aided by reports from Jekyll's butler, Mr. Poole (Mark Skeens), and his domestic staff, as well as by Dr. Lanyon (David LM McIntyre), to whom Jekyll reveals his split personality. The performers, dressed in period attire but barefoot, remind one of the ensembles behind avant-garde works of the 1960s like The Serpent or modern incarnations like The Wooster Group. Christopher Kuhl's dynamic lighting, which compensates for the almost non-existent set, emphasizes Kronis' precise direction and 90-degree choreography. The cast shines in its exacting execution of Kronis' minimalist vision, proving Mr. Utterson's observation that "never is a reflection more thoroughly itself than when it is nothing." 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., downtown; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m. Sun., 3 p.m. (note: added perf Feb. 12., 8 p.m.; no perfs Feb. 14. ); through February 22. (213) 745-6516. A Theatre Movement Bazaar Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

Stage Raw: Phil Newby

Model Behavior Photo courtesy of CalArts photography

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

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeve's role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

POPE JOAN Christopher Moore's musical (he wrote the book, lyrics and music), here directed and choreographed by Bo Crowell, hasn't quite been in development since 800 A.D., which is when the eponymous female pope (whose existence floats on rumor and speculation), but it must feel that way to the creators of a show that's been over a decade in the making. There are some really interesting ideas at the core here, but they're not brought into focus by Moore or Crowell. Priest "John" (a woman in disguise) lives a life of piety to God, which in her mind includes exercising her hearty libido, while the Church parades its wares in any number of different disguises. This all provides the possibilities of an intriguing fable about authenticity and artifice. What we're served up instead is a largely tedious historical epic about a naïve female child, tenderly played by Whitney Avalon, driven from England to a French monarch's bed. Through an intricate web of fortune and alliances, not to mention her uncanny skill to raise the dead, she gets elected Pope, under the name "John." (Yes, a few know her secret but have political reasons not to reveal it.) It takes until the middle of Act 2 for her actually to make it into Pontiff's garb, which is when her callowness comes to the surface; her insistence on feeding the peasants while she's surrounded by power-mongering clerics is not so far removed from politics in Washington right now. It it were about her naïve piety, this could be a musical remake of Shaw's St. Joan, but this work's larger purpose is too muddied to draw that conclusion. Moore seems so determined to tell a biographical-history (including opening, largely irrelevant sequences devoted to the fall of the Roman empire and the birth of Christianity, and one cumbersome chunk of expository backstory that rounds out Act 1). The effect of all this lumbering narrative, that includes dreadful, archaic dialogue, is that the one striking visual symbol of the central character, stripped and with a crucifix resting on her naked back, isn't really the essence of much that's actually being dramatized. There a six-piece band onstage that isn't well served by voices that can barely hold a tune (the chorales have the strongest effect), too many supporting actors have scant stage presence, Crowell's "choreography" is simply movement for non-dancers, and Brent Mason's set of medieval walls and platforms stifle the allegorical potential rather than giving it the flight of, say, Arthurian legend. Most of whatever glimmers of magic appears on the stage comes from Shon LeBlanc's gorgeous costumes. (SLM) Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 960-4412.

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

REVERB Leslye Headland's sobering dramedy gives new meaning to the term "dysfunctional relationship." Dorian (Wes Whitehead) is a struggling musician in L.A's rock music world on the verge of the "break" that will propel him to stardom. But his self-absorption and personality quirks often put him at odds with band mates, Hank (Brandon Scott) and Shane (Patrick Graves). However, the squabbles with his fellow musicians pale in comparison to the volatile complexities that inform Dorian's relationship with his ex-girlfriend, June (Melissa Stephens). Both are ensnared in a grotesque attraction for each other fueled by lust, gratuitous physical brutality and shared, lacerating pain. When Dorian's bible-thumping sister, Lydia (Laila Ayad), informs him that his father is dying, Dorian is ultimately forced into a harrowing confrontation with his own demons. First-class performances and Headland's smart direction don't quite compensate for a script, that's cleverly written but is often too wordy and static. The characters are compelling and well sketched, yet the playwright doesn't delve perceptively enough into their personalities to make their emotional and psychological fault lines truly convincing. (LE3) Working Stage Theatre, 1516 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (323) 630-3016. An Iama Theatre Company production.

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

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

SOUTHERN GIRLS By Sheri Bailey and Duran Temple. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7822.

STRIP George Damian's story of an adult entertainer at a Hollywood bikini club. The Hayworth Studio Upstairs, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 960-7784.

NEW REVIEW THREE SISTERS A new company named Chalk Repertory, consisting largely of alums from the U.C. San Diego Theatre and Dance Department, have rolled in Hollywood with a production of Chekhov's century old masterwork about miserable marriages, unrequited loves and stifled ambitions (in a colloquial adaptation by Susan Coyne). Here it's set quasi-atmospherically within the ornate confines of the newly and beautifully remodeled Masonic Lodge of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The audience sits on two sides of the elongated rectangular stage, at the head of which is a separated playing area used for a banquet scene or, later in the play, an area depicting the woods (set and projection design by Tom Ontiveros). This means that the action floats all over the room, presenting a challenge to lighting desgners Rebecca Bonebrake and Ontiveros, who are working with only four lighting instruments in the sky, plus some floor-lights, and the glow emanating from the room's grand chandeliers and some art nouveau floor lamps that punctuate the sprawling playing area. The result is a number of scenes played in murky shadows, blurring the dramatic focus of this tender, difficult play. Larissa Kokernot's staging mixes Slavic and Japanese influences, with the over-educated Prozorov family (that would be Masha, Irena, Olga and their brother, Andrei) - stranded in the provinces and yearning for a more cultured life -- all played by Asian-American actors, the women sometimes dressed in silky kimono-like attire. Kokernot's laconic staging avoids the pitfalls of strained farce with a languor that allows Chekhov's innate humor to bubble out, gently, between the ruminations and glances. The biggest drawback, however, is that the actors playing the Pozorovs careen between overplaying and underplaying so that the play's core feels both overly and underly mannered. Some of the supporting cast, however, provides a sense of what this all could be, were its potential matched by the sparks of talent on the stage: Tony Amendola's crusty/kind layabout doctor Chebutykin, for example, or Teri Reeves' vixen Natasha, who grows increasingly, viciously confident as her power accrues. Adam J. Smith's love-struck Baron Tuzenbach possesses an earnest and endearing clarity of purpose, while Corey Brill's schoolteacher, Kulygin, presents a soft-spoken clown, suffering the quiet of agony of watching his wife fall in love with the visiting battery commander, Vershinin (Ricardo Antonio Chavira, in a strong and generously dignified portrayal). Owiso Odera is particularly grand as the seething and often rude army captain Solyony, prone to vicious verbal outbursts followed by inevitable remorse and embarrassment. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Masonic Lodge, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through February 22. (866) 468-3399. A Chalk Repertory production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Three Sisters Photo courtesy of Chalk Repertory

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

NEW REVIEW THE TODD AND MOLLY SHOW The talented Todd Heughens and Molly O'Leary certainly have a blast on stage together in their two-person, sketch comedy offering that inlcudes some music. However, most of their pieces belabor punchlines, giving this revue the choppy rhythm of a work in development, rather than a sharp, witty cavalcade of laughs. Intermittent video pieces that share the same sluggish pacing don't enliven the downtime between sketches as much as they should. Director-choreographer Karl Warden has this duo following tried-and-true dance moves well, but like the whole show, none of the steps is really inspired. Now there are clear high points, such as their penultimate go as an aging lounge act couple that--between complaining about their tranny son and lesbian daughter--break into hilarious versions of contemporary club favorites. But what really salvages the night is how absolutely likeable these performers are, how much we applaud their desire to fight middle age ennui with the sheer power of jazz hands and fart jokes. Heh Heh. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs., 8 p.m; through February 26. www.plays411.net/thetoddandmollyshow (Luis Reyes)

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.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

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

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

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. (MK) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m. (Dec. 5-21 only); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 822-7898. An Angry Amish Production

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

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 March 1. (866) 811-4111.

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

NEW REVIEW MODERN LOVE Anthony Mora's play is centered on a male obsession: Screenwriter-producer-director Jack (Rico Simonini) becomes convinced that studio receptionist Sharon (Laura McLauchlin) is the actual, living embodiment of the character he has created. He rashly attempts to cast her as the lead in his film, without consulting the studio or his co-producer. Despite the play's title, it's more about power than about love. Ruthless producer Carla (Ann Convery) and Jack mercilessly demonstrate to a young writer (Michelle Draper) how powerless she is, and she's soon superseded by Jack. Nymphet star Jillian (Aubrie Weinholt) uses her box-office clout to bully and humiliate those around her. Pushy Sharon uses her neediness as a weapon, and Jack's tenuous authority is undermined when he indulges in personal feelings. Eccentric preacher/con-man (Richard Rossi) seeks to save Jack's soul--and promote his own idea for a TV show. There may be a coherent play here somewhere, but at present Mora's script takes off in all directions, sometimes at the expense of logic and credibility. Director Chelsea Sutton faithfully deploys her able cast in service of the play. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Feb. 21. (818) 558-5702 or info@sidewalkstudiotheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)

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

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

NEW REVIEW GO A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Playwright Martin McDonagh -- a four time Tony nominee is known for his rhythmic, ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with past grievances that neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't even involve them. Here, a part time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney), are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered how she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say, flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the killer that could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story; the focus is on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spins itself into an obsession with fairness where characters glower," Now I have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull down set converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as Higgin's thighs are thick. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006. (Amy Nicholson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.

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

THE IMMIGRANT Mark Harelik's story of his Russian grandparents. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1, (No perf Feb. 22.). (323) 960-4418.

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

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

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

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

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

NEW REVIEW TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue, and hilarious, yet believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's other plays, at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a run down Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly kitten-like Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that, although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)

Stage Raw: Phil Newby

Taking Steps Photo by Enci

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

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

THE APPLE SISTERS: BE MINE ... OR ELSE Vintage-radio-show comedy by Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson and Sarah Lowe. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Wed., Feb. 11, 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

THE GREAT MCGINTY Fake Radio presents Preston Sturges' political drama. Episode: "Mr. District Attorney.". BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 653-6886.

BOB BAKER'S 85TH BIRTHDAY PARTY Charles Phoenix hosts a tribute to the venerable puppeteer. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Feb. 6-7, 8:30 p.m., www.charlesphoenix.com. (213) 250-9995.

A CELEBRATION OF BLACK HISTORY: A JOURNEY IN FOUR PARTS Honoring African-American history, every Saturday in February. Presented by Ebony Repertory Theatre. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 7; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 964-9766.

CHINATOWN, CIAO! Chinese New Year celebration by April Hava Shenkman, with William Maier. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Feb. 8, 8 p.m.. (323) 957-1884.

CONVERSATION WITH ... LESLIE UGGAMS A talk with the star of Stormy Weather. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Wed., Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.. (626) 356-PLAY.

AN EVENING WITH EDWARD ALBEE The playwright pontificates on the power of the arts for change. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood; Sat., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.

MONDAY NIGHT TEASE Starring Theatre Unleashed's burlesque beauties from Pin-Up Girls. Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge, 1123 N. Vine St., Hollywood; Mon., Feb. 9, 10 p.m.. (818) 849-4039.

NOH: PATHOS BEHIND THE MASK Shizuka Mikata demonstrates the art of Noh. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., L.A.; Fri., Feb. 6, 7 p.m.. (213) 680-3700.

TEN TOPS! Anything goes (comedy, drama, rock & roll) till the kitchen timer dings. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 9, 8 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

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