Stage Raw: Photograph 51

Stage Raw: Photograph 51

Photograph 51 Photo by Ed Krieger


This West Coast premiere of Anna Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play, Photograph 51, concerns Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting, the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel Billet), and her graduate assistant Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris) than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, "Dr. Wilkins, I don't do jokes. I do science." Her confidence and professionalism leads to an uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick (Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space, turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert, whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit, and deep pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped crack the Pyrex ceiling reminds us of the need to reexamine "his"tory, and should not be missed. The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 3. (323) 663-1525.

--Mayank Keshaviah

All of the weekend's NEW REVIEWS are embedded in the coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS. To access, press the "Continue Reading" tab directly below.


COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for March 27-April 2, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances"

below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your

computer's search program.)

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez,

Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson,

Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver.

These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

OPENING THIS WEEK

AND THE AWARD GOES TO... The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles salutes

Oscar-winning songs in this awards-show parody. Hosted by Miss Coco

Peru. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., March 28, 3

& 8 p.m.; Sun., March 29, 3 p.m., www.gmcla.org. (323) 467-9741.

BLACK ANGELES OVER TUSKEGEE The Black Gents of Hollywood present

Layon Gray's world-premiere drama about African-American fighter

pilots. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; opens March 28; Sat., 7:45 p.m.; thru May 2. (818) 754-5725.

CAPTAIN DAN DIXON VS. THE MOTH SLUTS FROM THE FIFTH DIMENSON Matthew

Sklar's sci-fi sendup about space explorers and insect women. ZJU

Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 27;

Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 4. (818) 202-4120.

THE DEVIL WITH BOOBS Sub-Devil First Class Barlocco possesses the

wrong body, in Dario's Fo's satire. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens March 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;

thru May 16. (323) 882-6912.

42ND STREET Broadway hopeful lands the lead, music by Harry Warren,

lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Fred

Kavli Theatre for the Performing Arts, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E.

Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; opens March 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 5. (805) 449-2787.

GLOVES REQUIRED "Poetic indulgence" by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU

Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 28;

Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 202-4120.

LAND OF THE TIGERS Tiger tale by Burglars of Hamm. Sacred Fools

Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens March 27; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (310) 281-8337.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE John Lahr updates Richard Condon's

political thriller. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley

Village; opens March 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2,

www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.

MUNCHED Kim Porter's drama about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. El

Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; opens March 28;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 2. (323) 960-5571.

MY UNCLE ARLY British theater company Hoipolloi's "family-friendly"

performance piece, inspired by the nonsense writings of Edward Lear.

UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; March 27-28, 7:30 p.m.;

March 28-29, 1 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.

THE PRODIGAL FATHER Larry Dean Harris' story of a father with

Alzheimer's and his gay son. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; opens March 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru

April 26. (323) 957-1884.

RAIN Beatles tribute show, now in "surround sound"!. Pantages

Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; March 31-April 3, 8 p.m.; Sat.,

April 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 5, 1 & 6:30 p.m.,

www.raintribute.com. (213) 365-3500.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the

above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.;

opens March 29; Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 226-6148.

SURVIVED Iraq War veteran is laid to rest, in Tom Burmester's drama.

Part of Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's "War Cycle.". Powerhouse

Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; opens April 2; Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m.; thru April 25. (800) 595-4849.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE

EVERYBODY SAY "CHEESE!" Garry Marshall's Bronx tale of a 1960s

middle-aged housewife newly inspired by women's lib. Falcon Theatre,

4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; Sat.,

April 11, 4 p.m.; thru April 11. (818) 955-8101.

GO FALLING UPWARD Ray Bradbury is better known for

his formidable achievements in the arena of Sci-Fi fiction, but he's

also penned a number of plays, including this charming, comedic fable

about the denizens of a tavern in rural Ireland. Heeber Finn's pub is

the setting, where a raucous, fun-loving band of Irishmen gather to

spin yarns, dance jigs, play music, sing and of course, "wash their

tonsils." As the play opens, the fellows sing a charming medley of

Irish songs while bending elbows under the watchful eye of Finn (Mik

Scriba). The music and singing are what gives this play its strange

magic. Nothing happens in the way of a plot. Garrity (the masterful Pat

Harrington) acts as a narrator and guide of sorts, the men share a

hilarious moment at the gravesite of a wine merchant, where, after

toasting the deceased, they piss on his marker, and there is a minor

fuss after a traffic accident. A strange contingent of tourists arrives

in Act 2, which causes some soul searching. You might say that the

playwright wins the pot with a flat hand here. The music is superb;

Jeff G. Rack's tavern set is artfully crafted, and director Tim Byron

Owen creates an atmospheric charm that's irresistible. (LE3) El Portal

Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 5. (818) 508-4200.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF The Broadway hit about a Jewish milkman and his

daughters, book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon

Harnick. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.;

Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., March 28, 2 & 8

p.m.; thru April 26. (805) 667-2900.

GO FROST/NIXON After Stacy Keach as Nixon in

Frost/Nixon, which opened last night at the Ahmanson, finished a late

night phone call to interview-host David Frost (Alan Cox) in what could

be called sculpted aria of paranoid ramblings, I heard a voice from the

row behind me: "That was the best scene in the movie." It's an

inevitable consequence of timing that Center Theatre Group's production

of Peter Morgan's play, coming two years after it closed on Broadway

with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, would arrive so recently after

Ron Howard's much heralded film, which is so fresh, it hasn't yet

arrived on DVD. It's equally inevitable, and tedious, that people will

say, "The film was so much better than the play." I'm holding an

"advantage" of not having seen the film, though I did see Langella and

Sheen in the Broadway production, replicated at the Ahmanson with the

same design team and director (Michael Grandage). The experience is a a

bit like seeing a familiar movie in a different city, with the slightly

surreal impression that the actors are not quite the same.Morgan's play

is David and Goliath saga of a highly facile TV entertainment-host

landing a coveted four-part interview with a wounded giant

ex-president. It's a game of bait and debate, requiring momentous

preparation by each side, with its teams at war over the very high

stakes of legacy. And then comes the interview itself, broadcast "live"

on a video monitor that looms over the action.With Langella as Nixon,

the play was a Greek tragedy. With Keach, it's more of a romantic

tragedy.Keach cuts an imposing yet amiable and ferociously intelligent

figure of Nixon, not half as smarmy or snipey as Langella's, or as

press accounts detail, or as portrayed in plays by Donald Freed. It

took Keach about 15 minutes to find his strike, vocally and physically,

on press night, but once he did, he rolled through the play with the

dexterity and force of a nimble tank, eliciting considerable pathos.

Playwright Morgan also gives him such wit, that his protests about

being an perpetual outsider belie the evidence we see on the stage.

This is a guy who'd seem to do quite well at dinner parties, at least

half as well as his authentic and almost ingratiatingly above-the-fray

playboy host. (SLM) Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave. downtown;

Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through

March 29. http://centertheatregroup.org

NEW REVIEW GO GHOSTS There's nothing

supernatural about Henrik Ibsen's 1881 drama: his ghosts are our own

bitter memories and the old, dead ideas that continue to confine and

stifle us. The form and the language may be dated, but the issues are

as fresh as ever. Mrs. Alving (Deborah Strang) has crucified herself in

the service of duty and respectability that narrow provincial society

and her own hypocritical minister, Pastor Manders (Joel Swetow), have

drilled into her. But her efforts to do the right thing have back-fired

because they were based on lies, and her attempts to shield her son (J.

Todd Adams) from hard truths have almost destroyed him. Ibsen has

structured his play like Oedipus Rex -- or a modern whodunit.

On a seemingly ordinary day, inconvenient truths keep emerging,

inexorably, till everything and everyone is morally compromised or

destroyed. Director-adapter Michael Murray has assembled a fine cast

(including Mark Bramhall and understudy Rebecca Mozo); he calibrates

their performances with precision, and reveals a sharp eye for Ibsen's

dark comedy. If one wanted to quibble, one might wish the last scene

had been played for a bit less melodrama, but overall it's a terrific,

coherent, and always engrossing production. Nikki Delhomme provided the

fine costumes. A Noise Within, 234 South Brand Boulevard, Glendale; in

alternating rep through May 9; call for schedule. (818) 240-0910. (Neal

Weaver)

Stage Raw: Photograph 51


Ghosts Photo by Craig Schwartz

GOLDFISH

World premiere of John Kolvenbach's comedy about two mismatched college

students who fall in love. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr.,

Costa Mesa; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 5.

(714) 708-5555.

NEW REVIEW GO LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE

SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners

Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred

Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and

Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding

writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical.

Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life

in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book,

added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who,

along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can

compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.)

They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who

populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little

heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has

been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical,

like Stormy Weather(about Lena Horne) or Ella(about

Ella Fitzgerald). It used to be so much more because it was so much

less. What was a kind of musical poem is now an explanation. What was

mysterious is now explicit, not only in the play but in slide

projections.What made this musical so rare was the simplicity of its

premise: Prima, a lounge act singer whose act is dying brings in a

16-year-old, Smith, to save his act. She falls for him; he tortures her

by rebuffing her romantically and exploiting her off-stage passions on

the stage. After they eventually marry, her talent overshadows his, and

the off-stage jealousy and hostility energizes the stage act. Prima's

yearning for fame leaves him exiled and in a coma, where the play

begins and ends. This entire story was channelled through the two

characters and the onstage band. Every song, from "Basin Street Blues"

to "I've Got You Under My Skin" was a manifestation of either Prima's

quest for immortality or the jealousies occurring in their partnership.

The music met the text-book definition of how songs are supposed to

serve a musical, to express what can't be said in life. But if Frank

Sinatra grabs the stage to croon a song that comments on their

marriage, or Prima's mother stands ironing stage left, that rarefied

bubble is shattered. There was one riveting scene where young Keely

Smith approached one of the musicians for comfort - sliding

precariously down the slope of betrayal. That scene, an illustration of

how a story could be told within the strict confines of a tightly

constructed world, is gone, but so is that world. Hackford clearly

never understood or appreciated the pristine theatricality of what

Broder, Smith and Aldridge had carved. The play's core and tone have

been diminished by the cinematic expanse of a documentary, rife with

psychological theories and the gratuitous appearance of (and scenes

with) other characters. Add to that a tonal shift: The musical's

original heart of darkness has been sprayed over by a larger proportion

of upbeat numbers replacing some of the reflective ballads. Gone are

"Tenderly/Can't help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine," "Come Rain or Come

Shine", and "I've Got You Under My Skin." The good news is the terrific

musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now

shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are

the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing

style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more

comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the

music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so.

With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original

script. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs.,

8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30

p.m.; through April 26. (310) 208-54545. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Stage Raw: Photograph 51
Stage Raw: Photograph 51

Sin: A Cardinal Deposed Photo by Eric Curtis

SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy "with a distinctly

African-American sensibility.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica

Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 14. (323) 960-7745.

STITCHING Combine equal parts Harold Pinter, EC Comics and Al

Goldstein, then shake ― but not stir ― till thoroughly black and blue,

and you might approximate the acrid, psycho-sexually explicit

minimalism on tap in Anthony Neilson's bleak, 2002 relationship

melodrama. Two narrative timelines trace the final, grueling chapters

in the troubled marriage of 30-somethings Abby (Meital Dohan) and Stu

(John Ventimiglia) when infidelity and an unplanned pregnancy transform

a merely bad marriage into a nightmarishly sadomasochistic dance of

death. Alternating between past and present, the narrative effectively

juxtaposes the bickering couple's fateful choice to remain together and

have the baby with that decision's grimly ironic aftermath ― an unseen

tragedy and the increasingly self-destructive and brutal role-playing

sex games through which the couple attempts to expiate their guilt.

Neilson, a graduate of Britain's much-trumpeted "in-yer-face"

playwriting school, injects the proceedings with enough graphic sex and

violence (including a particularly grisly twist ending) to justify his

alma mater's transgressive reputation, but the intended shock effects

quickly wear thin. Despite Dohan's searing and soulful turn, Abby is

too much of a cipher for Stu's sexually degrading antics to signify as

much more than phallocentric pornography. Director Timothy Haskell

doesn't mitigate matters by smothering the delicate rhythms of

Neilson's abstract text under an overblown, kitchen-sink mise en scene

and interminably long scene changes. (BR) Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian

Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 5. (323)

962-7782.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre creates full-length

plays on the fly, all in the style of playwright Tennessee Williams.

Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

7 p.m.; thru April 26. (800) 838-3006.

13 BY SHANLEY FESTIVAL Seven full-length plays and six one-acts by

John Patrick Shanley. (Weekly schedule alternates; call for info.).

Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

& 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 960-7827.

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

BEST WISHES Bill Barker's story of a family's final goodbyes to

their mother and their rural Kansas home. Crown City Theatre, 11031

Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru

April 19. (818) 745-8527.

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 Familytone 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 May 2. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.

GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing

cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent

show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes,

and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan

County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays

Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about

feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife,

Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the

Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter.

Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a

scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are

other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad

McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie

for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing

contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative,

borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy

tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and

an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke

machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory

Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 2. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.

GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who recently

helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera at the Hayworth, has

scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire

tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's liberties they

take on the story in now way diminish the quality of the production.

Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy count, first seen rising from

his grave to put the bite on the lovely Mina (Mara Marini), upon his

arrival in England. When Lucy Seward (Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a

mysterious illness, her mother, Lily (Karesa McElheny), who runs an

asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find

a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R.

Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This

one's all about atmosphere. Desma Murphy's alluring set design is

cleverly accented by an enormous backdrop of an incubus sitting on a

sleeping woman, inspired by Henry Fuseli's painting "The Nightmare."

Luke Moyer's lighting schema is perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an

arsenal of haunted house special effects here, including lots of

rolling fog and wolf howls, but they never come across as cheesy or

overdone; and there are a few scary moments during this 90-minute show,

amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia

Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 26.

(818) 508-7101.

ELOVE, A MUSICAL.COM/EDY Wayland Pickard's musical explores an

online romance between an older man and woman who are newly single.

After a Web site 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 an '80s sitcom. (MK). Victory

Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

4 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 841-5422.

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,.

LA RONDE Antaeus Company presents Arthur Schnitzler's romantic

roundelay. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru March 28. (818) 506-5436.

THE LETTERS John W. Lowell's drama set in the Soviet Union's

Ministry of Information. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St.,

North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 19.

(866) 811-4111.

MACBETH Forget radically deconstructed concept productions or

contemporary political reinterpretations, director Sean Branney

delivers no such surprises in his traditional and somewhat generic

staging of Shakespeare's Scottish noir. With the text more-or-less

intact ― even the oft-cut first witches' scene remains ― Branney's most

brazen liberty is to goose the testosterone with the kind of onstage

swashbuckling (choreographed by Brian Danner) that Shakespeare had

intended be played offstage. Otherwise, this bard is strictly by the

book. The good news is Andrew Leman's muscular, articulate turn as

brave Macbeth. Leman's performance is nobility personified; which is to

say his regal demeanor is only occasionally ruffled by the underlying

corruption of a "vaulting ambition" that will turn Macbeth, after

Richard III, into Shakespeare's most notorious regicidal maniac. As the

play's invidious femme fatale, McKerrin Kelly compliments Leman with a

Lady Macbeth who makes even icy ruthlessness seem sexy. Other standouts

include Daniel Kaemon's dashing Malcolm, and Mike Dalager and Danny

Barclay, whose pair of scurvy-chic Murderers looks like they stepped

out of a Guns N' Roses video. For the rest of the cast, costume

designer Christy M. Hauptman eschews highland tartan for robes of a

more indeterminate, medieval kind. That nonspecificity is continued in

the raised stone altar and henge-like monoliths of Arthur MacBride's

set, whose suggestion of Neolithic pagan ritual may be a clever design

for Macbeth . . . not, however, for this one, which never otherwise

hints at such themes. (BR) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca

Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26; (818) 846-5323.

MISCONCEPTIONS Seven short plays by Art Shulman. Lonny Chapman Group

Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.

PICNIC William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winner about a hunky

drifter in a small Kansas town. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra

Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru

April 11. (626) 355-4318.

REFUGEES It's culture clash for an ESL teacher in Iran, Armenia and

the former Soviet bloc, written and performed by Stephanie Satie.

Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 960-4451.

THE SIN OF HEROES Two short comedies: Confessions of a Redneck: A 99% True Story by Todd Eller and Harry

Flashman by Brandon Hayes. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 474-6227.

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. (AN) Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (800) 838-3006.

TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: BEGINNINGS Seven late-night vignettes by

Theatre Unleashed. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia

Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 18. (818) 849-4039.

THE WAY OF THE WORLD William Congreve's Restoration comedy, updated

to modern-day L.A. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia

Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 19.

(818) 849-4039.

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

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 Moliè'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. Bourgeois Gentlemanwas first presented the year 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 gtears of a clownh 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 May 8. (310)

319-9939.

BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a

funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Staged with a warm

cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily, though, a more aloof

ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional isolation where the

polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro) and perfect-on-paper

boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold shadow across all

dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny roomate Larry (Aaron

Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a wrenching and infuriating

Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like pathological self-punishment.

Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story -- the scene breaks

twinkle with sentimental music -- however his cast isn't up to it and

hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each

other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob from a strange man

rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the weather.) Comperatore's

combustible Pale has four times the spark of the rest of the ensemble

-- when he bursts into the scene, we see the gulf between what Wilson's

play could be and what this staging actually is. (AN) Ruskin Group

Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; through April 25. (310) 397-3244.

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.

NEW REVIEW DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK?

Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion and talent - both amply

evident in this promising work-in-progress about the difficulties of

teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year veteran with L.A. Unified,

Braxton builds his piece around his early experience as a substitute

teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33 years on the job - who one day

ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings the performer's characters

into clear comic focus: himself as the beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several

colorful problem students, their even more colorful and problematic

parents and another staff member -- a well-meaning elderly bureaucrat

in charge of the school's counterproductive testing program. At times

Braxton steps away from dramatizing the action to speak to the audience

directly about the frustrations of trying to make a difference,

contrasting his own upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to

respect education, with the imperviously disdainful attitude of his

pupils. He also sings 4 songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main

problem with the piece is its disjointedness and discontinuity; the

songs, reflective of Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to

the narrative, itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed

against addresses to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel -

part performance, part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet

there's plenty of power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. Beverly Hills Playhouse,

254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April

18. (310) 358-9936. (Deborah Klugman)

ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT Jeff Daniels' comedy about deer hunters in

upstate Michigan. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (310) 512-6030.

NEW REVIEW JUMPING THE MEDIAN Playwright

Steve Connell's collection of four one act plays may bill itself as

"unexpected," but for the most part the vignettes are sadly prosaic,

mining familiar romantic tropes and themes. Strongest of the set is the

promisingly stark "Us And Them," in which a bubbly young couple (Tyler

Moore and Sara Sido) move into their new home, which was previously

owned by a miserable, older couple (In-Q and Elizabeth Maxwell).

Imaginatively staged by co-directors Connell and Emily Weisberg, the

set is divided into two quadrants, showing both couples in the same

house at different times - and the piece artfully hints at the haunting

(if not necessarily logical) idea that the young loving couple must

inevitably turn into the older miserable couple. Sadly, the other

vignettes are not able to rise to the same emotionally nuanced level.

"Jumping the Median" is a plodding, overwritten opus about the long,

long, long courtship of a young couple (Ida Darvish and Connell), who

endlessly woo each other at that hoariest of one act play locales, the

iconic park bench. In "Love Thy Neighbors," whose choppy dialogue and

clumsily cartoonish tone has the sloppy and random feel of having been

written in haste, a suburban mom (Sara Sido) welcomes the neighbors for

dinner - and the neighbors somewhat inexplicably turn out to be literal

characters out of ancient Greek drama. Connell is a slam poet of some

national reputation, so it's natural that he and Weisberg's crisp

staging has a dark, streetwise edge. It's just a pity the writing

itself devolves so frequently into dull cliché. The Other Space at

Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 19.

http://www.plays411.com/jumpingthemedian. (Paul Birchall)

Stage Raw: Photograph 51

Jumping the Median Photo by Michael Farmer Photography

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.

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 May 20. (866) 468-3399 or

http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's comedy of manners, marriage

proposals, and matrimony. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055.

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso trade

shots at a Paris bar, in Steve Martin's play. (In the Studio Theater.).

Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (562) 494-1014.

NEW REVIEW GO THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES The

central character in Molière's comedy, here translated and adapted by

Frédérique Michel & Charles Duncombe could be and often is a

punching bag. But not here. Arnolphe is another in a stream of

Molière's aging, patronizing nitwits (like Orgon on Tartuffe) who

presume that they can control the devotions and passions of young women

in their care. In Tartuffe, when Orgon's daughter protests his

insistence that she break her wedding plans to her beloved suitor in

order to marry the clergyman he prefers, Orgon figures her rebellion is

just a impetuous, child-like phase. In The School for Wives, there's a

similar mind-set to Arnolphe (Bo Roberts), who has tried to sculpt his

young ward, Agnes (Jessica Madison), into his future wife. He's known

her since she was 4, and he's strategically kept her closeted, as

though in a convent, hoping thereby to shape her obedience and

gratitude. Just as he's about to wed her, in stumbles young Horace

(Dave Mack) from the street below her window, and the youthful pair are

smitten with eachother, soon conniving against the old bachelor.

Horace, not realizing that Arnolphe is the man keeping Agnes as his

imprisoned ward, keeps confiding in the older man about his and Agnes'

schemes, fueling Arnolphe's exasperation and fury. Perhaps it's the use

of director Michel's tender, Baroque sound-tracks, or the gentle

understatement of Roberts' performance and Arnolphe, but the play

emerges less as a clown show, and more as a wistful almost elegiac

rumination on aging and folly. Arnolphe tried to create a brainless

wife as though from a petri dish, an object he can own, and the more

she rejects him, the more enamored he becomes of her, until his heart

breaks. The pathos is underscored by the obvious intelligence of

Madison's Agnes - an intelligence that Arnolphe is blind to. The

production's reflective tone supersedes Michel's very stylized,

choreographic staging (this company's trademark). The ennui is further

supported by a similarly low-key portrayal by David E. Frank as

Arnolphe's blithe friend and confidante, Chrysalde. In In fact, when

lisping, idiot servants (Cynthia Mance and Ken Rudnicki) keep running

in circles and crashing into each other, Michel's one attempt at

Commedia physicality is at odds with the production rather than a

complement to it. Company costumer Josephine Poinsot (surprising she

doesn't work more) provides luscious period vestments and gowns, and

Duncombe's delightful production design, includes a gurgling fountain,

a tub of white roses, and abstract hints of some elegant, Parisian

court. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley entrance); Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Stage Raw: Photograph 51

School for Wives Photo by Paul Rubenstein

THE SECRET GARDEN Musical take on Frances Hidgon Burnett's

children's novel, music by Lucy Simon, book and lyrics by Marsha

Norman. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (310) 828-7519.

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. (PB) Odyssey

Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 5. (310) 477-2055.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy

predates Neil Strauss' The Gameby 400 years, during which audiences

have yet to decide whether he's confirming or slyly eviscerating gender

roles. (In this only recently post-Guantanamo climate, breaking Kate

with starvation and sleeplessness and temporal disorientation seems

less comic.) This staging seems more concerned with mounting a handsome

production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each

scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stooges-style

slapstick while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The

set's minimal props and checkerboard floor underscore the sense of

rootlessness - with characters standing by without much to do in a

scene, the large ensemble looks like game pieces waiting to move. The

cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those that

choose naturalism fare best, particularly Geoffrey Owen's intelligent

Tranio and Stehlin's shrew-taming Petruchio, who has the easy

confidence of Clark Gable. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 26. (310)

477-2055. A Circus Theatricals. production.

NEW REVIEW TRAGEDY, A TRAGEDY There are some

good ideas in absurdist playwright Will Eno's metaphysical satire of

the vapid, spectacle-driven infotainment that is local TV news.

Unfortunately, stretching what is at best a one-gag comedy sketch into

80 intermissionless minutes isn't one of them. The pity is that it

should have been a joke worth telling. When a mysterious, cosmic

calamity extinguishes all starlight, including the sun's, and thereby

plunges the earth into perpetual darkness, a hapless and incredibly

inept local news team is left grappling with how to provide live TV

coverage of the biggest story in history when there is literally

nothing to see. As a deadpan studio anchor (Christopher Spencer)

juggles remote feeds from field reporters Stephanie Dorian, Jeff

McGinness, and Paul Knox, the realization of having nothing meaningful

to communicate soon takes its toll. Unable to report on the outside

world, the crew's malaprop-mangled ad libbing slowly turns inward on

the terror and emptiness of their own existence. And while an able cast

(Spencer and Dorian are particularly fine) nails the insipid banalities

and portentous posturing of their characters, the material's comic

potential too soon evaporates. Director Eric Hamme fails to find either

the rhythms or the timing needed to extend the laughs, while Gisela

Valenzuela's bleak, all-black minimalist set and an overbearing sound

design by Matari 2600 only add to the crushing boredom. Garage Theatre,

251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 18.

(866) 811-4111. (Bill Raden)

GO THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE In May 1968,

Father Daniel Berrigan (Andrew E. Wheeler ) and eight other peace

activists seized 378 draft documents and publicly burned them with

napalm to protest the Vietnam War and other American government

atrocities. Drawing on court transcripts, this play is an account of

their trial, which ended in conviction and prison terms for all

defendants. The script - Saul Levitt's stage adaptation of Berrigan's

original verse rendition - lays out an impassioned argument for

following the dictates of one's conscience, even when it involves

breaking the law. Each defendant relays what spurred them to take

action: a nurse (Paige Lindsey White) who witnessed American planes

bomb Ugandan villages, burning children, a couple in Guatemala (Patti

Tippo and George Ketsios) who saw American money used to outfit the

police while peasants starved, an Alliance for Progress worker (Corey

G. Lovett) who became privy to CIA machinations in the Yucatan. Taking

it all in is the presiding judge (Adele Robbins). Her sympathies,

reflecting ours, lean toward the defendants, even as she rules against

them. Under Jon Kellam's direction, cogent performances successfully

counteract the script's didactic language and cumbersome progression,

even though Robbins' performance lacks nuance. Perhaps most disturbing

is the piece's reminder that the aggression and subterfuge of the Bush

Administration constituted not a reversal of past policy, but a

radicalized extension of it. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation

Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 838-4264. (Deborah Klugman)

WHO LIVES? Christopher Meeks' play is engulfed in death: JFK has

just been shot, schoolkids duck and cover, and renal disease is

inescapably fatal. When blackhearted lawyer Gabriel (Matt Gottlieb)

learns his kidneys are shot, it feels like karmic revenge for him being

such a prick. Meeks has set the stage for Gabriel's Scrooge-like

redemption, and when we learn that an anonymous group of citizens will

vote on whether he merits a slot in an experiment, and highly

competitive dialysis program, his life is literally at stake. Of

course, he fails to get accepted into the program. In desperation, he

threatens to sue, thus negotiating a deal which gets him both a machine

and a spot on the seven-person board that decides whose life earn a

reprieve. Here, Meeks' plot grinds to a halt as the rest of the play

alternates between scenes of Gabriel and his estranged wife Margaret

(Monica Himmel) arguing, and of the group -- each a symbolic

personality -- debating cases that touch on racism, religion, and

suicide. Director Joe Ochman pushes the play dangerously close to

didacticism -- people don't talk, they yell -- and the overbearing

black and white set and costuming bleaches out much of the humanity

that needs to be at the heart of this story about life and death. (AN)

Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through March 29. (310) 204-4440.

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

DOES HE KNOW? Experimental performance piece by Leslie K. Gray,

mixing solo show with shadow play in a story about broken

relationships. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat.-Sun., 4

& 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 823-0710.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD EXTRAVANGZA Retro variety show by Captured

Aural Phantasy Theater, including art, music, and readings of vintage

comic books. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; thru March 28, www.myspace.com/capturedauralphantasy. (866)

811-4111.

KISS MY BUTT Monthly sketch-comedy show by Theatre Unleashed's Die

Grüppe. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Wed., April 1, 10 p.m.. (818)

849-4039.

LOS ANGELES WOMEN'S THEATRE FESTIVAL 16th annual celebration of

theater, dance, music, poetry and performance art by women of diverse

ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Highways Performance Space,

1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., March 27, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 28, 2

& 8 p.m.; Sun., March 29, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 760-0408.

PERSONAL IS POLITICAL Poetry/performance festival, curated by

Michael Datcher. Includes a poetry slam and round-robin readings.

Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; April 2-4,

8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

PIÑATA Christine Schoenwald's personal-confession show, this month

with Kelly Carlin McCall, Penelope Lombard, Cary Odes, Adam Gropman,

Roy Cruz and Lan Tran. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., April

2, 8 p.m.. (323) 653-6886.

REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT Army wife awaiting her

husband's return from overseas loses herself in fantasy, in José

Rivera's play. Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long

Beach; Sun., March 29, 5 p.m.; Fri., April 10, 8 p.m.. (562) 437-1689.

THE SACRED PROSTITUTE Santo Cervello's play about "the union of the

masculine and feminine essence in the presence of the divine." Followup

presentation by Grace Lebecka. Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St.,

Santa Monica; Sat., March 28, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 664-3767.

SKETCHCOMEDYSHOW.COM Sketch, improv and film, courtesy Projekt

NewSpeak. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Sat.,

March 28, 7 p.m., www.sketchcomedyshow.com. (213) 625-7000.

TINY VAUDEVILLE 826LA hosts this once-a-month variety show

benefiting children's writing and tutoring programs. The Echoplex, 1154

Glendale Blvd., L.A.; Last Monday of every month, 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec.

28, www.826la.org/store-tickets/. (323) 413-8200.

THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES See GoLA., $40-$125. Santa Monica College

Performing Arts Center, Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Fri.,

March 27, 8 p.m.. (800) 595-4849.




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