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Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

The Rachel Rosenthal Company (founded in 1989) is throwing a fundraiser to help celebrate the performance artist's 83rd birthday, past achievements and the upcoming publication of her book on her teaching methods, The DbD Experience, Chance Knows What It's Doing (Routledge). Saturday, Nov. 7, 7-11 p.m. at Track 16, Bergamont Station in Santa Monica. The event features a silent auction of 83 works by artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Eleanor Antin, John Baldessari, Llyn Foulkes, George Herms, Mike Kelley, Martin Kersels, Ed Moses, Lee Mullican, Betye Saar, Masami Teraoka, Patssi Valdez, June Wayne and many others. Live music by the fabulous Amy Knoles of the California  E.A.R. Unit and Jean Paul Monsché of the Mad Alsacians and special guests. Desserts by LA's renowned Cake Divas. Wine by Grateful Palate BITCH Grenache, BITCH Bubbly and PURE EVIL Chardonnay. Tickets $25 here

For more local stage events and COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below

SCROLL DOWN FOR COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

TALES FROM THE CRYPTIC, IT'S POST-APOCALYPTIC

Friday, October 30 8 p.m. to midnight, through midnight, Post Fact Productions (an experimental theater company) is throwing a fundraiser to support the upcoming March production of their original work New

The evening features performances and installations by Henry Wolfe

Gummer, Oliwa, Ariana Delawari, Nicole Disson, Mecca, Amanda Jo

Williams, Featherbeard, Miss KK, Milo Riece, He's by Brother She's My

sister and Peter Mehlman. 539 Rustic Road, Santa Monica. (781) 710 1402

info here; tickets here

ALL CAKE, NO FILE

Donna Jo Thorndale's right wing alter-ego, Jewell Rae Jeffers, is a celebrity chef, home economist and the host of Tastes Like Home

live cooking show. She performs her Johnny Cash Tribute cooking show at

Actors' Gang, Friday, October 30, 9 p.m. Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice

Blvd., Culver City. Info here

THE TIGER LILLIES

Perform at Royce Hall, UCLA, for a special Halloween concert. Single

tickets are on sale now. UCLA Live at Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive,

Westwood. Saturday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. $22-$40. ($15 UCLA Students.)

(310) 825-2101 or here

LIVE @ THE LIBE

The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights presents a reading of Rob Burch's Mona Lisa at the Playa Vista Branch Library, 6400 Playa Vista Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90094 Saturday, November 7th at 2 p.m. Free

"Leonardo da Vinci, while working on the titular painting, falls in

love with its sitter, Lisa del Giocondo. When an emissary from the

government demands that da Vinci do a propaganda painting to please the

Pope, Leonardo finds himself caught between the city of his birth and

the woman he loves.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Oct. 30 - November 5, 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

CULTURE CLASH 25TH ANNIVERSARY The Latino performance troupe celebrates a quarter century of cultural confrontation, with celebrity guests including Carlos Mencia, Edward J. Olmos, Tony Plana and others, plus a preview of the troupe's latest project, Palestine, New Mexico. Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood; Fri., Oct. 30, 8 p.m., www.uclalive.org. (310) 825-2101.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS Musical Theatre West presents the World's Fair classic. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; opens Oct. 31; Sat., Oct. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 1, 2 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 8, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, www.musical.org. (562) 856-1999.

SATURN RETURNS An 88-year-old's reflection on his life and loves, by Noah Haidle. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Oct. 30; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (714) 708-5555.

ABE AND HIS COCONUTS: WELCOME TO PARADISE World premiere of Benjamin Benedict's comedy about a billionaire's island. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-4443.

ALL CAKE, NO FILE Donna Jo Thorndale's Johnny Cash prison tribute cooking show., $15. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; opens Oct. 30; Fri., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, www.wtffestival.com. (310) 838-4264.

ANSWER THE CALL Jewish musical comedy about an 11-year-old's family history lesson, book by Michael Antin and Leonard Bloom, music and lyrics by Michael Antin. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/answerthecall. (323) 960-7735.

BLEEDING THROUGH Angelino Heights noir, adapted by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo from Norman Klein's novella. Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; opens Oct. 31; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.aboutpd.org. (800) 595-4TIX.

CHASE N' ESSENCE/ALL 4 CHARITY Two one-act plays on modern love by Jenifer Singleton. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Oct. 30-31, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 1, 6:30 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.

DETENTION FROM THE DEAD Robert Rinow's zombie comedy. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; opens Oct. 31; Sat., Oct. 31, 10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (310) 358-9936.

LILI BARSHA'S HAUNTED CABARET 15: TWO THOUSAND OH NEIN! IT'S THE TOO LATE SHOW Lili sez: "There will be brand new dances, my outrageously brave rap version of 'Pirate Jenny,' and as ever, special guest stars including Marlon Brando via satellite -- with no delay! There will be a Moonwalk Competition for Monsters, and the psychic in me is confident that the King of Pop will be there to officiate.", $35, $20 in costume, includes $10 prix-fixe dinner. Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Oct. 31, 8:30 & 11:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 1, 8 & 10 p.m., www.hauntedcabaret.com. (818) 271-9759.

LOS ANGELES COMEDY FESTIVAL 18 nights of world-premiere comedy features, short films, TV pilots, and ensembles. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Nov. 5-22, 8 & 9:30 p.m., www.lacomedyfest.com. (323) 463-2942.

MEMOIRS Paul Benjamin's story of heroin-addict veteran. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/memoirs. (323) 960-5521.

NO MAN'S LAND Harold Pinter's tragicomedy about two aging writers. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 31; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 4, 7 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 11, 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, (No perf Nov. 26.). (310) 477-2055.

POST Donavon Thomas' drama about the after-affects of the Iraq War on two veterans. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/post. (323) 960-7740.

THE PRINCESS PLAYS Two fairy-tale comedies by Collen Neuman. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Oct. 30; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 508-3003.

SLASHER Allison Moore's comedy thriller. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/slasher. (323) 960-7776.

SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy by the African-American troupe. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Nov. 2-8; Nov. 19-21; Dec. 2-5. (323) 469-9988.

THA' INTIMATE PHIL Philip Bell's solo show, with music by Phil 'n' Nem. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 2; Mon., Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28. (323) 674-5024.

TWO BY TWO Staged reading of Richard Rodgers' 1970 musical, with Jason Alexander, Megan Hilty, Steven Weber, Vicki Lewis, David Burnham and Faith Price. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Dr., Bel-Air; Sun., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 2, 8 p.m.. (310) 954-1595.

A VERY DARK PLACE Brandon Alter's horror comedy about a soap star in a haunted house. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 31; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/darkplace. (323) 960-7822.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

BETTER ANGELS Wayne Peter Liebman's story of Abraham Lincoln and a Civil War widow's petition for a military hospital. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 558-7000.

GO CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: KOOZA It's been about a decade since the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) was seen at Santa Monica Pier. This touring production marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, and also heralds a return to the simpler, less high-tech formats that informed earlier productions like Quidam and Allegria -- the emphasis here being on the old circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics. But that's not to say that there is something missing here. On the contrary, creator-director David Shiner, who made quite a name for himself as a clown in outings like Fool Moon, has packed this show with drama, comedy, whimsy, music, exotica, slick choreography, and plenty of how-do-they-do-that? moments. The show starts with an Innocent (Stephan Landry) opening a box containing a trickster (Mike Tyus), who reveals the magical world of the circus. And what a world it is! The clowns pull off some dazzling and funny routines, and interact throughout with the audience. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik twist their tiny bodies into letters of the alphabet, among other things. Lee Thompson amazes with a pickpocket routine at the expense of an unsuspecting attendee. Jimmy Ibarra and Angelo Lyerzkysky garnered a standing ovation for their superhuman feats on the Wheel of Death -- a daunting contraption that resembles two interconnected hamster wheels. Marie-Chantale Valliancourt's collage of costumes are stunning. Under the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. Tues.-Thurs, 8 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; through December 20. cirquedusoleil.com/kooza or (800) 450-1480. (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW GO CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Photo by Craig Schwartz

Marilyn

Campbell and Curt Columbus' adaptation of the novel by Fyodor

Dostoyevsky. Craig Bilknap stages the work crisply with technical

aplomb, though it's all a bit actorly. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand

Boulevard, Glendale; in rep; thru December 17. (818) 240-0910 Ext. 1.

(Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature

DADDY LONG LEGS John Caird's musical about an orphan and her mysterious benefactor. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (805) 667-2900.

DE LA LOCURA A LA ESPERANZA: FROM MADNESS TO HOPE Theater-dance-music performance about the 1980-92 Salvadoran civil war, conceived by William Fores, choreography by Saul Mendez. In Spanish with English supertitles. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (213) 489-0994.

ENTER LAUGHING Joseph Stein's comedy, based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (562) 494-1014.

EXIT STRATEGY Bill Semans and Roy M. Close's story of an elderly couple and a risky proposition. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (818) 955-8101.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather (about Lena Horne) or Ella (about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 1. (310) 208-54545.

MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS Ron Hutchinson's story of David O. Selznick, Ben Hecht and Victor Fleming's re-writing of Gone With the Wind. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (949) 497-2787.

GO NEVERMORE Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of idiosyncrasies -- tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The Raven," which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is -- pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. (SLM) Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 19. (323) 666-4268.

PARADE Alfred Uhry, Jason Robert Brown and Harold Prince's musical is based on a miscarriage of justice against Leo Frank (T.R. Knight), a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year old Mary Phalen (Rose Sezniak) in the pencil factory where she worked, and where Frank was superintendent. Rob Ashford's sumptuous staging, and Brown's caressing ragtime/pop score, are in the service of what's aiming to be tragedy of mythic proportions. Uhry's predictable storytelling, however, invites us to react to the obvious rather than reflect on the mysterious, turning the entire event into child's play. Christopher Oram's set, featuring a shape-shifting Confederate mural, under Neil Austin's lighting, is gorgeous to look at. 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.; through Nov. 15. (213) 628-2772. A Donmar Warehouse Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Children's musical, book by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, lyrics and music by Hope and Lawrence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.

SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL: A CHILDREN'S HORROR STORY FOR ADULTS Book, music and lyrics by David P. Johnson. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 851-7977.

SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD Jason Robert Brown's musical collection of "transformation stories.". Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (562) 432-5934.

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.

THE TRAGEDY OF RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in alternating repertory; call theatre for schedule. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. www.anoisewithin.org. (Neal Weaver)

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

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

AMERICAN GRIND An amalgam of the work of four writers and two directors, this hybrid piece falls somewhere between sketch comedy and a full-fledged play. Set in a coffee house, it features five or six overlapping scenarios. Kevyn (Michael Ponte) is a self-styled self-help guru who is using the venue to recruit clientele. Tudi (writer Cheri Anne Johnson), the white half of an interracial couple, is convinced she's a black woman born into a white body (in the same way some transsexuals believe that in them, nature's gone awry). Tudi's looking to create a rapport between her uptight suburban parents (Charles Marti and Christina L. Mason) and her lover (Daniel Valery), a condescending hipster -- while coping with the painful reality of his other women. Betty (writer Tracy Lane) and Nick (writer Andrew Hamrick) are a librarian and high school teacher, respectively -- both looking for love and too petrified to acknowledge they may have found it in each other. Rose (Lauren Benge) a fatherless teen distraught over her pregnancy, gets help from Joe (Cooper Anderson), who once abandoned his family. Co-directed by P.J. Marshall and Jennifer Cetrone, the production aims to meld its various plots into a cohesive whole, but the result is closer to a choppily aligned jigsaw. Most of the performances are capable or better, but stronger direction would improve them. The writing is also strong in some places, in need of sharpening in others. E. Yarber is one of the four writers. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through November 21. fromthegrounduptheatre. A From the Ground Up Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman)

GO ANITA BRYANT DIED FOR YOUR SINS The title of Brian Christopher Williams play suggests a slick, sassy gay comedy, and so it is--but it is much more than that, something far richer. Growing up during the Nixon era, deeply closeted 11-year-old gay boy Horace (a terrific Wyatt Fenner) develops a monstrous crush on his hunky gym teacher (Nick Ballard). Horace and his family weather the Vietnam War, and big brother Chaz (Nick Niven) flees to Canada to escape the draft. In the recession of the 1970s, Dad (Tony Pandolfo) has economic reverses, and Mom (Jan Sheldrick) loses her job. And when Anita Bryant (Madelynn Fattibene) launches her militant campaign against gay rights, Horace learns that there are people who will hate him for who he is. He must come out to his loving but irascible parents, and he's overcome by jealousy when he realizes his adored teacher is having an affair with a neighbor (Sara J. Stuckey). He retaliates by betraying the teacher, in a way he knows is shameful. Williams' play becomes a funny and touching family saga as well as the tale of a bright gay kid striving to grow up. Richard Israel provides wonderfully nuanced direction, and the entire cast is splendid. (Neal Weaver)El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through Nov. 1. (323) 460-4443 or tix.com. A West Coast Ensemble production.

BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Kristian Steel. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.

BIG RIVER: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN Actors Co-op presents Mark Twain's classic, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 462-8460.

BLOOD AND THUNDER World-premiere play about Hurricane Katrina by Terence Anthony. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.movingarts.org/nowplaying.html. (323) 856-6168.

CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE: LOVE, LUST AND OTHER HUMAN ODDDITIES Naomi Grossman's solo comedy. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/carnivalknowledge. (323) 930-1804.

THE CHANGELING Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's Renaissance classic. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 710-6306.

Halloween

CHARLES PHOENIX PRESENTS ... HALLOWEEN AT THE BOB BAKER MARIONETTE THEATER! The pop-culture historian shares the story of the marionette master via film clips, then shares ice cream and cake with the audience after a performance of Bob Baker's Halloween Spooktacular!, $35. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Through Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m.. (213) 250-9995.

NEW REVIEW THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE German playwright Manfred Karge's 1988 fantasia about a quartet of unemployed men re-enacting Roald Amundsen 1911 trek to the South Pole. Rory C. Mitchell's nicely animated staging remains tethered by lapses of acting technique. Elephant Performance Lab, 6324 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through November 22. (323) 960-4429. A Smith and Martin Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

DESIRE/EL DESEO Written by Victor Hugo Rascón Banda. Note: Adults only. Sexual Content. Full-frontal male nudity. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (213) 382-8133.

DON JUAN TENORIO By Jose Zorrilla. Bilingual Foundation of Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 225-4044.

FIT FOR SOCIETY s a pastiche of war veterans' stories, written by Brian Monahan (who is from a military family) and Stephen Wolfert (a veteran of the U.S. Army). Some are direct, personal accounts, some are first-person dramatic monologues delivered straight to the audience, and some are monologues to an invisible character. While the work is earnest and, at times, powerful, the stylistic disunity weakens the overriding idea. And because the evening runs scattershot over a wide range of veteran themes -- most of which have been introduced to us in media coverage of the last 40 years of war -- we aren't challenged by the kind of specificity that opens up new ways of understanding the futility, waste and tragedy of war. Director Stephan Wolfert, however, shapes the performances of his excellent cast well, inspiring an authentic, gripping tone throughout. Standouts include Ian Casselberry's infantryman divested of his humanity and Arnell Powell's brusque drill sergeant. And Randy Brumbaughs lights are particularly effective on the small, open stage. But what we ultimately see is a truly inspired series of previews for several potentially stirring plays. (Luis Reyes). Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea Ave. (alley entrance at Mortise & Tenon), L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 9.

NEW REVIEW FLIGHT These six short plays by EM Lewis are

minimalist, and four are downright slight. In "Leonard's Voice,"

directed by Darin Anthony, Leonard (Michael Lorre) is tormented by a

voice (Stephanie Erb) in his head, urging him to stab his mother (Helen

Slayton Hughes). Michael Shutt directs "This Isn't About Love," in

which Eric (Jon Amirkhan) wants their lunch-hour tryst to become

something more, but Kate (Laura Buckles) doesn't. Drug-addicted

prodigal sister Shelley (Maya Parish) comes home to try and touch

brother Alex (Rob Nagle) for money in "Sing Me That Leonard Cohen Song

Again," directed by Emilie Beck. And in "Reveille," directed by Julie

Biggs, a father (Richard Ruyle) is furious at his son (Casey Nelson)

for enlisting in the military after 9/11. The other two plays are a bit

more substantial: "The Incident Report," directed by Lee Wochner,

centers on two airline passengers (Shutt and Brian P. Newkirk) who are

being questioned by a security agent (Erb) about a violent incident on

their flight. And in "Six Bottles of Heinekin After the Silverado," a

couple (Daria Balling and Ruyle) find their brief encounter developing

into something richer. The productions are all excellent, but they feel

more like appetizers than dinner. Son of Semele Theatre, 3301 Beverly

Boulevard, Los Angeles; Wed., 8 p.m., thru Nov. 8. (323) 666-3259 or http://www.movingarts.org Produced by Moving Arts. (Neal Weaver) 

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE That's weekly sketch comedy done by some of the best in the sketch biz. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

THE GLORY OF LIVING Rebecca Gilman's story of a 15-year-old runaway and her car-thief boyfriend. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.elcentrotheatre.com. (323) 230-7261.

GOGOL PROJECT Director Sean T. Cawalti's production of playwright Kitty Felde's adaptation of three short stories by Russian Absurdist Nikolai Gogol is a whirligig of ferocious creativity. In "The Nose," a pompous small-town politician (Tom Ashworth) wakes up to discover that his nose has decided to go AWOL, and he's frustrated when the wandering member transforms into an enormous schnoz capable of rescuing dogs from wells and romancing local lovelies. "Diary of a Madman" shows a low-level drone of a civil servant (Ben Messmer, wonderfully bug-eyed) spurned in love and going insane, imagining he hears local dogs sending each other love letters. In "The Overcoat," a mild-mannered postal clerk (Kristopher Lee Bicknell, sweetly channeling Charlie Chaplin) buys a new overcoat, which ultimately brings him nothing but tragedy. Performers caparisoned in Pat Rubio's stunning Commedia-style masks interact with the dazzling puppets designed by the production's six-person mask crew in a manner that often suggests a spooky Russian tragic version of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. The astonishing, Big Bird-sized nose puppet, snorting up Danishes provided by the town baker, is a particular delight. Elsewhere, the show's imagination is best showcased in details, from the sequence in which a murderous barber's fantasies of killing his client are projected in shadow puppet form on the wall behind him, to the scenes involving the talking dogs, whose beautiful puppet forms are manipulated Bunraku-style with masked puppeteers. Ultimately, though, Felde's workmanlike script is so broad and perfunctory, we feel little emotional connection to the characters or the situations, and the production's admittedly gorgeous artifice essentially upstages the storytelling. The end result is an experience that is undeniably provocative but also assaultive and occasionally hyperactive. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m. Call theater for additional performances; through November 1. (800) 838-3006 or rogueartists.org. A Rogue Artists Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)

GROWING UP WITH UNCLE MILTIE Patt Benson's one-woman show about her decadeslong friendship with Milton Berle. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 651-2583.

HAMLET . Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 667-0955.

HIGH CEILINGS It's not clear whether writer-performer Jillian Crane was attempting to write a wacky sitcom, an Absurdist farce, or an old-fashioned madcap comedy, but the outcome is way more inane than amusing. Crane's heroine, Lily -- a role she also plays -- is apparently intended to be a charming kook, but she emerges as a pushy, bullying, insensitive and inconsiderate nut who, on the eve of her nuptials, carries on with the florist (Lauchlin MacDonald), mistreats and ignores her husband-to-be (Chris Smith), and creates a scandal at the wedding rehearsal by attempting to marry her depressive, heavily medicated and usually comatose father (Patrick Pankhurst). Her prospective bridegroom immediately dumps her -- the play's only sensible act. There's little rhyme, reason, logic, psychology or credibility to the proceedings. There's not much director Valerie Landsburg and her talented cast can do with such material. I don't have a clue as to what the title means, or why anybody chose to produce this farrago. The Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 9. (800) 838-3006 or www.thehayworth.com. Produced by Storey Productions. (Neal Weaver)

HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Cashman. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 934-9700.

HOUSE RULES Peppur Chambers' play about "love, respect, and Billie Holiday.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Oct. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 1, 4 p.m.. (323) 469-9988.

GO THE ILLUSION Translator Ranjit Bolt's adaptation of Corneille's 17th-century classic starts out stodgily but soon swerves merrily into comic gear. A remorseful father (Kevin McCorkle) seeks the help of a magician (Alexander Wright) in tracking down his estranged son. It turns out the young man, Clindor (Benny Wills) -- attached to a fatuous nobleman named Matamore (Jon Monastero) -- has been acting as emissary for this overblown buffoon to a lady named Isabelle (Nicole Disson). Something of a Don Juan, Clindor has clandestinely wooed both Isabelle and her maid, Lyse (Kendra Chell), who now smolders with jealousy, aware that her opportunistic paramour has upped his sights on the social ladder. Directed by David Bridel, the production gets laughs from Monastero's lisping braggart-nobleman, whose grandiose claims to be a mighty warrior and lover evaporate at the mere whiff of a challenge. As the maid, Chell airs much of the script's wit and wisdom in a smart, snappy performance. Disson and other supporting players also deliver the goods. Wills is fine as the dashing hero, but the production might have been more interesting if he'd played it less upright and instead exploited the character's deviousness a little more. Eventually the play's humor deflates, as the magician's tale mutates into a portrait of adultery and of the marriage between Isabelle and Clindor gone awry. Christina Wright's costumes add color and charm. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 21. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)

IMAGOFEST 2009 Three one-acts: E.M. Lewis' Sing Me That Leonard Cohen Song Again, Tim McNeil's Purplish, Alex Aves' The Goldilocks Effect. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 465-4446.

LA RONDE DE LUNCH Peter Lefcourt's "Tinseltown tour de farce" set in a pretentious Hollywood restaurant. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (310) 358-9936.

LANDSCAPING THE DEN OF SAINTS Theatre Unleashed presents Jacob Smith's dark comedy about a Hollywood writer and an eccentric millionaire. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 849-4039.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., and Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4412.

MOVING ARTS' 15TH ANNUAL PREMIERE ONE-ACT FESTIVAL For full schedule, go to www.movingarts.org. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 666-3259.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN Shakespeare's comedy, transported to 1940s Tennessee. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.arktheatre.org. (323) 969-1707.

GO NEVER LAND Phyllis Nagy is a New Yorker who has spent the larger part of her playwriting career in Britain, and is now a naturalized citizen of the U.K. (Her poetical and unflinchingly brutal works were embraced by Stephen Daldry's Royal Court Theatre, and she currently has commissions with both the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company.) She's here to direct the U.S. premiere of her play, Never Land, a comedy of sorts that grapples firmly and unsentimentally with many facets of exile. In the rain-soaked south of France, a native, Henri Joubert (Bradley Fisher), his wife, Anne (Lisa Pelikan), and their beautiful, aging daughter, Elisabeth (Katherine Tozer), possess the language, dialect and attitudes of upwardly mobile Brits. They simply lack the lineage and resources -- what with Henri working as a hired hand at the local perfumery for a jocular, world-wise boss (William Dennis Hunt). Henri's woes are compounded by his masochistic daughter's engagement to a presumptuous black man (William Christopher Stephens), and by Michael's offer to sweep her out of France -- an offer Henri's wife envies and covets. Henri also has an offer -- or, like his daughter, he believes he does. An Englishman, Nicholas Caton-Smith (Christopher Shaw), who lives half the year in France, runs a series of bookshops in lackluster British cities. Henri believes that his future happiness lies in managing one of his neighbor's shops in Bristol. (Shannon Holt has a beguiling, twitchy humor as Caton-Smith's poodle of a wife.) The murkiness of these promises forms the strategically wobbling axis of Nagy's Absurdist and ultimately despondent comedy, which speaks as much in symbols and dreams as it does in the gently unfolding story -- not unlike a latter-day Woyzeck. The family portraits that decorate Frederica Nascimento's stark set are removed, one by one, as the scenes progress, as the rain pours down unrelentingly. The comedy is lyrical, urbane and erotically charged (largely by Swinda Reichelt's silky costumes), yet technical problems intrude upon what should be a kind of haunting. In one scene, the sound of the rain is so severe, crucial dialogue becomes muffled. Moreover, the play's flow depends on a descent from a comedy of British manners into the marsh created by the emotional and atmospheric tempests of a foreign land. Despite the caliber of the actors, the blithe and witty repartee of Act 1 is more mannered than crackling, giving the production a layer of artifice it can ill afford, with its already built-in shifts to the laconic and the violent. This beautiful, difficult play deserves a fully accomplished production to match its brilliance. It could approach that standard as its run progresses. Rogue Machine in Theater/Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 15. (323) 960-7774. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

GO SAVIN' UP FOR SATURDAY NIGHT A thunder'n'lightinin' romance between ex-spouses crackling around a restraining order lies in the vain heart of Jeff Goode (book) and Richard Levinson's (songs) new musical, set in an undisclosed locale that sounds a whole lot like west Texas. And though this is a countrified variation on Erin Kamler's urban and urbane Divorce! The Musical, that played at the Coast Playhouse earlier this year, director Jeremy Aldridge does double-duty to seduce us into an environment, as he did with last year's hit at this same theater, Louis & Keely, Live at the Sahara. David Knutson's set transforms the theater into small town canteen/gas station, with plastic L.P records and American flags pinned to the wall. Jaimie Froemming's Texas costumes can make you feel a tad out of place for leaving that shirt with the fringe and the cowboy boots in the closet. And there are other striking similarities between Savin' Up and Louis & Keely: a marriage on the rocks, an onstage band (honky-tonk rather than jazz, consisting of musical director/guitarist John Groover McDuffie, who's also on Pedal Steel; Peter Freiberger on bass; Dave Fraser on piano; John Palmer on drums; and Al Bonhomme, alternating on guitar). Levinson's songs are a throwback to early Elton John, when he was working with Bernie Taupin, with a twist of Randy Newman's harmonic grandeur. Each of the two acts opens with a ballad accompanied just by piano ("Dr. Bartender" and "Small Town") that have simple yet haunting harmonic progressions from John's earliest albums, and the shit-kicking Act 2 "Gotta Lotta Rockin' To Do" is a musical nod to John's "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)." Also echoing Louis & Keely is a dimension that makes this show just right for L.A. -- a prevalent tension between narcissism and the capacity to give of oneself, that's perfectly embodied in the delusions of Eldridge, Jr. (Brendan Hunt), a local homophobe who believes he possesses the charisma and style of Elvis Presley. In fact, he has a slight speech impediment and a deranged glint in his eye. His singing act dominates the bar, with his name in lights as a backdrop. (A number of the bulbs tellingly need replacing, like in his own emotional circuitry.) Can he win back his ex, Lucinda (the vivacious Natascha Corrigan) - a woman of machine-gun wit and fury who works double time to penetrate the impenetrable veneer of Eldridge's ego? Things get touchy, when Eldridge's long time friend, bartender Doc (the bear-like Bryan Krasner) finally has the guts to make a move of Lucinda, while sweet Patsy (Courtney DeCosky) cares for Eldridge - but not that much. It's a thin entertainment, enhanced by Allison Bibicoff's sashaying choreography, but an entertainment nonetheless. Its tone of sentimentality sprinkled with metaphysics is embodied in the song "Here," beautifully rendered by Rachel Howe, who plays a daffy waitress. The place and people can make you so insane, you want to flee, she croons: "And I know someday/We're all just gonna disappear/So I want to take the time right now to say/I really love it here." Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct 4 & 11, 7 p.m.; through Oct. 24. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW GO SCARCITY 

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Photo by Stephanie Yee

Kappy

Kilburn's nicely acted production of Lucy Thurber's domestic drama

(making its West Coast premiere) gets to the unspoken truths of a

family in rural Massachussetts that's ensnared by poverty, though

there's plenty on that theme that's spoken as well. Unemployed and

alcoholic Herb (Randy Irwin who turns his off-the-charts alcohol-blood

levels into a bliss that's almost charming) lashes out at his wife,

Martha (a spirited performance by Rebecca Jordan), because he sees the

unwanted romantic attentions she's getting from her cousin, local cop

Louie (Steve Walker, whose comedy background makes itself felt here),

who's also been buying Herb's family groceries they can't afford

themselves. If Louie gave his own wife, Gloria (Wendy Johnson), even

half the attention he lavishes on Martha, he'd be a far better husband,

but that would make for a comparatively tedious play. At Herb's dinner

table, with Louis and Gloria present, Herb lashes out at Martha for the

blow jobs he imagines she's giving Louis. "If you don't get a job, I

may have to start," she snaps back. Actually Herb and Martha's sex life

is robust, as their embarrassed children - 11-year-old Rachel (Bridgen

Shergalis, wry and smart) and 16-year-old Billy (Jarrett Sleeper) --

could tell you. But that doesn't stop Herb from expressing his

incestuous erotic attractions to his kid daughter. It's a source of

disgust that goes nowhere dramatically, just one in a series of

perverse idiosyncrasies that floats in the mire of their lives. The

more relevant perversity comes from Billy's smitten schoolteacher,

wealthy Ellen (Kim Swennen), a do-gooder whose do-gooding is too

conspicuous to be in good taste. Young, sadistic Billy tortures her

psychologically as she pulls out all her connections to get him funded

for a private college. While she masturbates him in the family kitchen,

he forces her to say out loud that she's stupid - a confession that's

his aphrodisiac. These S&M dynamics are a bit like Tennessee

Williams' The Glass Managerie, with Billy's precocious little

sister pining not be left behind. Director Kilburn hasn't refined the

tone, so that the agony ostensibly provoking them all to be so cruel,

and the comedy which garners so many laughs, feel as though they belong

to different plays, rather than stemming from the same wellspring of

frustration. The story, however, never lets go, and Adam Rigg's

realistic set (with wooden Mallard duck and duckling perched on a low

wooden cabinet) speak the design-language of excruciatingly authentic

1970s chic. Imagined Life Theatre, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006. A

NeedTheater production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Photo courtesy of Actors Co-op

Charles

Marowitz's 1984 farce finds Sherlock Holmes (Stephen Van Dorn) facing

double jeopardy. He's receiving death threats from the son (Michael

Tauzin) of his long-standing enemy Professor Moriarty. The younger

Moriarty seeks revenge for his father's death. Holmes is also pursued

by a woman of doubtful identity (Teresa Bisson), and worst of all, he

has declared, "Elementary, my dear Watson" once too often. Watson

(Steve Gustafson), pushed over the edge by Holmes' arrogance and

condescension, has hatched an elaborate plot to do the master in, via

the fiendish Frontenac Chair, which traps its occupant in its lethal

clutches. Marowitz knows the Holmes canon well, and provides all the

staple ingredients: clever ruses, impossibly erudite and perceptive

deductions, disguises, dramatic reversals and improbable escapes. The

piece amuses for much of its length, but eventually the joke wears

thin. Director Jeremy Lewit's mostly nimble production is occasionally

heavy-handed, but he makes clever use of the Baker Street Irregulars

(Bisson, Marcos Estevez, James Ledesma, and Tauzin) to effect the

elaborate changes on Tim Farmer's handsome and ingenious set. Kimberly

Overton provides handsome period costumes. Actors Co-op, 1760 North

Gower Street, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2:30 p.m. (added Sat.

mat. Oct. 31, 2:30 p.m.; no perf that evening); thru Oct. 31. (323)

462-8460. (Neal Weaver)

GO SHINING CITY Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in 2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client, John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation that comes from human contact, which his now-late wife couldn't provide to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged, along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he must now explain to his flummoxed wife (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window) that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in the ebbs and flows of verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate, comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long, the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble in a production of such rare beauty. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 19. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)

SONDHEIM UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre makes up musicals. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006.

STRAY There's an old adage taught in playwriting workshops that goes something like, "when in doubt, raise the stakes." The idea being that the extremity of potential consequences directly determines a drama's narrative torque. Judging by this earnest but desultory, Bad Seed melodrama, it's a class playwright Ruth McKee evidently skipped. What's at stake here is whether the disruptive, albeit never-seen 8-year-old Ugandan refugee, Daniel, will be allowed to stay at his Midwestern magnet school or whether his increasingly bizarre behavior will banish him to the "special-ed warehouse" at the city's overcrowded and underfunded elementary school. For his altruistic, white adoptive parents, James (Matt Gaydos) and his Kenyan wife, Rachel (Analeis Lorig), the wrong outcome threatens to tarnish their reputations as caregivers. For the school's harried principal, Tanya (the fine Angela Bullock), and Daniel's neophyte teacher, Ms. Kennedy (the funny Jennifer Chang), it's impossible to both teach and deal with a child who cowers under his desk and barks (and bites!) like a rabid dog. As a therapist is brought in (Eileen Galindo) and battle lines are drawn, there's a tantalizing moment when the characters' emerging emotional insecurities, personal prejudices and cultural misunderstandings seem poised to give flight to a caustic comedy of errors. That this more satisfying trajectory never lifts off is no fault of director Larissa Kokernot's brisk staging or of her polished ensemble but rather the timidity and pallid plotting of McKee's surface-bound text. Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through November 22. (800) 838-3006, thedahlia.com (Bill Raden)

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

10-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL Info and tickets at www.attictheatre.org. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (323) 525-0661.

TILTED FRAME Live improv performed simultaneously in Los Angeles and San Francsico, thanks to the magic of the Internet. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19, www.tiltedframe.com. (323) 962-1632.

TRACERS Vietnam War story, conceived by John DiFusco, written by the cast. Elephant Stageworks, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 12, www.plays411.com/tracers. (323) 960-4410.

VAMPIRE MASQUERADE Vampires and witches put on a show, written and directed by Chris Berube. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 & 9:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theberubians.com. (323) 850-7827.

NEW REVIEW VINNIE: THE DEATH AND AFTER-LIFE OF VINCENT

VAN GOGH One hundred and nineteen years after his "accidental" suicide,

the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh (Glen Anthony Vaughan) leaves his limbo

for prematurely deceased geniuses to visit Brooklyn painter David

(Herbert Russell) who, like him, is broke, desperate and depressed. The

master's first advice: "Get over it, fuckhead!" From there, the two get

along like gangbusters and embark on a  fun, aimless rant fueled by

coke and absinthe that climaxes when David's girlfriend (Emma Ford) and

brother (Michael Postalakis) cart him off to Bellevue. The second act

of writer-director Peter Abbay's comedy takes place in the cuckoo's

nest (complete with catatonic guy comic relief) where David fights to

prove his sanity and discover his artistic raison d'être. By this time,

it's clear the play doesn't have one of its own. Vaughan's Van Gogh is

vibrant and scabrous (his reaction to visiting the MET is "I'm so

fucking famous, it's, like, not even funny") but trapped in David's

nuthouse, there's little for him to do besides interject jokes as the

production pads its nearly two-and-a-half hour running time with

inessential subplots and three separate endings. The legend is alive

yet adrift. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. http://vinnieplay.eventbrite.com (Amy Nicholson)

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AS WHITE AS O Against the backdrop of a New York art show titled "The Innocents: 30 Years of Outsider Art in America," this world premiere of novelist Stacy Sims' first dramatic endeavor explores synesthesia, a condition in which senses are cross-wired so that feelings are "tasted" and letters and numbers appear in specific colors, among other things. The "outsiders," in this case, are Jack (Vince Tula) and his father, Sam (Mark St. Amant), who both spent much of Jack's childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, festooning their modest backwoods cabin with the detritus of our consumer society. While such decoration was therapeutic for them after losing Jack's mother, Grace (Elizabeth Sampson), they are discovered by Clara (Lauren Clark), a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in the house and in Sam. Running parallel to this story line, adult Jack is the subject of another work in the same show by Ed (Ramon Campos), who interviews and videotapes Jack in order to create his piece. The play fluidly oscillates between the present and the past, and accomplished director Sam Anderson deftly handles the transitions, though his pacing and shaping of his characters' emotional climaxes are a bit uneven. Desma Murphy's set, enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's subtly shifting lighting, is wonderfully detailed and spatially enhances the piece's thematic elements. The cast has moments of inspiration, but only Sampson consistently delivers the emotional energy required of Sims' script, which itself would be strengthened by fewer tangential story lines, and a stronger central plot. The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 12. (866) 811-4111. (Mayank Keshaviah)

A BIG GAY NORTH HOLLYWOOD WEDDING Interactive homo-nuptials, by William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 745-8527.

BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's Victorian comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., Nov. 1, 3 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 7, 8 p.m.. (818) 700-4878.

GO CHESAPEAKE There's much to enjoy in Lee Blessing's philosophic monodrama -- so long as you don't expect too much logic and credibility. It's a fantastic, cockeyed parable about a naive, idealistic performance artist named Kerr (Mark Thomsen), who's heavily influenced by Italian Futurist writer Filippo Marinetti. When he performs a nude rendition of the biblical "Song of Songs," Kerr is condemned as a pornographer by ultraconservative Senator Therm Pooley, who's hell-bent on killing off the National Endowment for the Arts. Pooley has a dog, a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Lucky, which gives him a folksy, vote-getting aura. In a far-fetched scheme, Kerr decides to kidnap Lucky as a piece of reality-based performance art. His plans go awry, Lucky is accidentally killed, and Kerr is mysteriously transformed into a retriever, who looks exactly like Lucky. He's adopted by Pooley, who's convinced that he's a messenger from God. Thomsen is a skillful, likable performer, who finds rich comedy in the plight of a man who's half human and half dog. The play's dizzy twists and turns don't entirely add up, but director Martin Bedoian gives it a clever, funny production, and Thomsen's performance alone is worth the trip. CTG Theatre, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through October 31. Produced by Syzygy Theatre Group. (800) 838-3006 or Syzygytheatre.org. (Neal Weaver)

GO CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD Most productions of Mark Medoff's pioneering 1979 drama about the romance between a deaf student and her hearing-abled teacher are directed and staged from the point of view of a hearing audience, who are introduced to the world of the hearing-challenged. Yet, director Jonathan Barlow Lee's haunting production of the play, staged by Deaf West Theater to celebrate the piece's 30th anniversary and the epochal role the drama played in the advent of Deaf Theater, is compellingly told from the point of view of the deaf, with those who can hear being subtly poised as outsiders. The play tells the story of beautiful, deaf student Sarah (Shoshannah Stern), a pupil at a school for the deaf who steadfastly refuses to learn how to communicate - either verbally or through ASL. Although Sarah's choice exiles her from any contact with the hearing world, the young communications instructor assigned to her, James (Matthew Jaeger), finds her fiery spirit irresistible - and they eventually fall in love, a romance that is ultimately threatened by the stresses of their two hugely different worlds. Though Act 2's focus on 1970s earnest-revolutionary issues inevitably causes the dramatic momentum to sag, Medoff's play has aged less in terms of its activist stance for the deaf and more in terms of the tightening of protocol in teacher-student relationships over the decades: The romance between a teacher and his student now actually seems somewhat creepy, and we can't help but wonder whether James' kind concerns for his student would be so intense if she weren't so physically attractive to him. Still, Lee's production -- orchestrated for audiences at all level of hearing ability -- dazzles, and the ensemble, encompassing hearing, deaf, and hard-of-hearing actors, offer beautiful, subtle acting turns. Stern's ferocious performance as Sarah is particularly powerful. With the exception of one elementally searing moment, the actress doesn't utter a sound - yet, we're struck by how much passion and love can be communicated via ASL during her operatic, yet paradoxically silent performance. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 1. (866) 811-4111. (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW GO THE END OF CIVILIZATION

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Photo by Enci

The

play doesn't entail an-end-of-the-world holocaust, though it might feel

that way to Harry (Eric Curtis Johnson) and Lily (Jaime Andrews), the

middle-class couple at the nub of Canadian George F. Walker's ominously

dark comedy.  One of six in Walker's Motel Series of plays, it takes

place against the backdrop of a national financial crisis which has

left Harry -- and millions more -- jobless. The prescient Walker wrote

this in late 1998. For reasons never entirely clear, Harry has opted to

job search from a seedy motel room rather than from his comfortable

suburban digs, which are now in danger of foreclosure.  Leaving their

kids with her sister, Lily has accompanied him as a show of support -

but her confidence, along with the raison d'être for her entire

existence - is teetering, as Harry 's behavior becomes progressively

more erratic and rage-driven.  Their new nightmarish existence roils

out of control when two detectives (Phillip Simone and Bob Rusch) --

one of whom is obsessively fixated on Lily -- show up, suspecting Harry

of having murdered three men.  Keeping track of this plot is not always

easy, as events are presented in non-chronological order, and it's not

till the end that we become privy to the story's point of departure,

from which the shattering climax ensues.   Under James Sharpe's

direction Johnson and Andrews display their marital torments in

persuasive three dimensions.  Gemma Massot is spot-on as the

take-no-prisoners hooker next door while  Simone and Rusch are also

effective.  Yet the punch the production lands only puts us on the

ropes; with a bit more timing and finesse it could knock us to the

floor. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake;Sat. 8

p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; thru  Nov. 29; (818) 838-3006.  A SkyPilot Theatre

Company production (Deborah Klugman)

FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS World-premiere play with music by Laurie Stevens and Ronald Jacobs. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (877) 620-7673.

THE FOREIGNER Larry Shue's comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (626) 256-3809.

GOD SAVE GERTRUDE Playwright Deborah Stein's melodramatic, musical mash-up of '70s punk-rock and Hamlet is eerily reminiscent of a beer-fueled, college-dorm-room debate over what constitutes a punk aesthetic -- albeit the losing side. As suggested by Stein's fictional ex-punk superstar-turned vodka-swilling first lady, Gertrude (Jill Van Velzer), the play argues that punk was a politically idealistic movement agitating for social revolution. Maybe, but real-life veterans of New York's CBGB's or Max's Kansas City -- Gertrude's erstwhile, formative music scenes -- might remember something slightly more sardonic, skeptical and nihilistic. Nevertheless, in this Bizarro Shakespeare, where a besieged Elsinore is under bombardment by an anarchist army, Gertrude takes refuge in a decrepit theater (on Susan Gratch's war-torn set) to perform an impromptu concert of old songs interspersed with regrets over her betrayal of that alleged punk spirit. Her remorse includes complicity in the murder of a first husband by her current president/spouse (James Horan) that has left her rising, rock-star son (Steve Coombs) smoldering with resentment. But if Van Velzer's portrayal of a grasping, narcissistic diva doesn't exactly resonate with the Bard's Gertrude, Stein and composer David Hanbury prove more in tune as a lyricist-songwriter team for the show's half-dozen, faux-vintage punk numbers. Van Velzer belts them out with credible gusto, though director Michael Michetti's somewhat lumbering production could have benefited from the energy of live accompaniment instead of musical director Rob Oriol's prerecorded band in a can. Theater @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 8. (626) 683-6883. (Bill Raden)

IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy about "lust and trust.". Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 762-2282.

GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper's musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalog followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saintlike perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiny, until the music returns him to his proper place. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. www.justimaginetheshow.com. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7. (Tom Provenzano)

GO MOM'S THE WORD Six mothers wrote these intertwined jokes and rants about parenting, and even those who haven't undergone birth themselves (a minority in the audience I was part of) feel sympathy pangs after Kimleigh Smith starts the show by screaming and pleading for the pain to go away. That agonizingly true opener arcs from "What have I done?" to "How couldn't I have done this?" Though the trajectory of the show is a vindication of motherhood, the five actors (all parents themselves) cathartically focus on the smelly, slimy, exhausting, self-denigrating, unsexy, paranoid and bewildering qualities motherhood elicits. This certainly isn't a Precious Moments valentine to parenting; happy moments are so rare, it's a small feat that director Jerry London makes the closing sufficiently upbeat that the parents in the house don't immediately make a dropoff at the nearest orphanage. In a nifty bit of casting, Smith, Gina Torrecilla, Becky Thyre and Cathy Schenkelberg are joined by real-life gay dad Hutchins Foster, who steps into an originally female role with just a few tweaks. This casual and enthusiastic evening is worth a babysitter for moms and dads who want to hear others speak the unspeakable. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. (818) 508-0281. (Amy Nicholson)

NOT WITH MONSTERS Zombie Joe Underground presents Adam Neubauer's "madcap race through time and classic horror monsters.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (818) 202-4120.

REP*A*TROIS Three plays in rotating rep: Heroes by Gerard Sibleyras, Painting Churches by Tina Howe, and Boston Marriage by David Mamet. (Call for schedule.). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Nov. 7. (818) 700-4878.

NEW REVIEW SWEENEY TODD

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Photo courtesy of The Production Company

From

its origins in 19th century fiction, to its numerous adaptations for

stage and screen, this oft-revived tale of the Fleet Street barber who

gives his customers the closest of shaves remains popular for its dark

themes and, in Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning version, complex

polyphonic sound.  Sweeney Todd (Kurt Andrew Hansen), back in London

after being sent to Australia by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Weston I.

Nathanson), is both bent on revenge and in search of his wife Lucy

(Harmony Goodman), who was raped by Turpin, and daughter Johanna (Jenny

Ashman).  He is aided first by the young sailor Anthony (Brian Maples),

and then by pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovett (Donna Pieroni), who becomes his

confidant and partner in their grisly scheme.  Director Derek Charles

Livingston cleverly uses the rhythms of the score to execute

transitions between scenes, while August Viverito's set pieces are

amazingly versatile and his lighting shifts, complex and well executed

(especially the innovative "oven-effect").  Hansen, with his rich

baritone and wild-eyed demeanor, is spot-on for Todd, and Pieroni is a

solid Lovett (though I missed her traditional cockney twang), but

Nathanson seems a bit mild-mannered for the slimy, malevolent Turpin. 

However, the main drawback to the production is that it really needs

more space, which the often crowded stage and one-dimensional

choreography made clear.  Even the polyphonic sequences in the singing

become muddied, which is surprising from a stellar company that

normally astounds with its ability to maximize its cramped quarters. 

Chandler Studio Theatre Center, 12443 Chandler Blvd., N. Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru November 22.  (800) 838-3006.  A

Production Company Production.  (Mayank Keshaviah)

TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: EXODUS Fourth chapter of Theatre Unleashed's collection of late-night vignettes. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

THAT PERFECT MOMENT What is it about rock & roll that makes it so stubbornly resistant to conventional dramatic representation? Perhaps it's that the rock metanarrative -- the collective absurdity of backstage misbehavior, egocentric pettiness and self-destructive excess that is somehow transcended in the artistry and catharsis of the live performance -- runs so close to self-parody that it can only be captured in documentary or satire (or both, i.e., This is Spinal Tap). Whatever the reason, playwrights Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper's warmed-over band-reunion dramedy misses the mark by an L.A. mile. When ponytailed, 60-something literature professor, Mark Vanowen (Tait Ruppert), hears that a label is interested in his former, never-signed, '60s protest band, The Weeds, for an oldies compilation, he promptly recalls his old bandmates to discuss reforming for a support tour. The problem is former drummer Skip (Bruce Katzman), now a prosperous Republican with a McMansion in Calabasas, who holds the song rights along with a vindictive grudge against Mark for jumping ship at the moment of The Weeds' almost-success. Complicating matters is Mark's wife, Sarah (Kelly Lester), who abruptly walks out after he chucks his department's chairmanship for a last stab at rock & roll glory. Though director Rick Sparks elicits spirited performances from a stellar cast (including Sha Na Na's Guerin Barry and the comically gifted John Bigham), neither Adam Flemming's sterile apartment set nor the play's atonal text musters the authenticity needed to make this production rock. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. plays411.com/perfect. (323) 960-7745. (Bill Raden)

GO WONDER OF THE WORLD Contemporary American farce has a hero in playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who skews old-fashioned 2-D absurdity by surreptitiously adding depth to initially shallow characters. Elizabeth Bond's brilliant, comi-tragic performance embodies Cass -- a wife who suddenly leaves her 7-year marriage after discovering a grotesque secret about her otherwise dull husband, Kip (Ian Vogt). She follows her list of adventures she wants to experience, which takes her to Niagra Falls, and a cast of oddballs, who slowly turn into a strange new family. Chief among these is Lois (Kimberly Van Luin) a drunken divorcée determined to end her life by riding a barrel over the falls. Director Neil Wilson skillfully attends to each new piece of foolishness, sustaining the intensity of performances even as the comedy cuts through. Of special interest is Jen Ray, who plays several absurd caricatures with conviction. Act 1 produces some of the most honest laughs this reviewer has experienced in years. The second act doesn't quite live up to the hilarity and emotional charge promised by the first, but at least it offers a satisfying conclusion -- and an obligatory adventure scene. The script demands several distinct settings, and designer Damon Fortier provides them with skill and wit. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through November 15. (818) 841-5422 or SeaGlasstheatre.org. A SeaGlass Theatre Company production. (Tom Provenzano)

THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT Ray Bradbury's fantastical comedy. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.

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

ABSOLUTELY HALLOWEEN Holiday-themed Rudie-DeCarlo musical. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 1:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, http://www.theatermania.com/los-angeles/shows/absolutely-halloween_159396/. (310) 394-9779.

BEAU FIB Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents Myles Nye's musical tale of "highballs and oddballs, hobgoblins and hemoglobin.". Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.

THE BROWNING VERSION Terence Rattigan's 1949 headmaster ritual. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, (No perfs Nov. 12, 26 & Dec. 10.). (310) 822-8392.

CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT Vampires have saturated pop culture to the point that it seems impossible it could hold one more drop of blood. Scott Martin's musical takes us back 112 years, when hobbyist, writer and backstage grunt Bram Stoker (Robert Patteri) can't get any interest in the first reading of his new play, Dracula. The cast and audience think it mediocre and cornball. Worse, though Stoker wrote the role of the Count for the great actor Sir Henry Irving (Gordon Goodman), his longtime business partner, he refuses to play the part. Irving's excuse is that Dracula is ghastly trash; besides, he adds, "I've never played a Romanian." We suspect it's that Irving also sees too much of himself in the role; he's been sucking Stoker dry for 20 years. There are the bones of an interesting musical about predatory friendship and faith in your creative instincts, but the play's thrust is merely about whether Stoker and champion Ellen Terry (Teri Bibb, very good) can sway Irving's mind. When Goodman bites into the Count's dialogue, he's so terrifying and imperious we agree with Stoker's fixation. Mostly, this is a handsomely wrought production that putters, and the songs that fuel it could be transplanted into dozens of other musicals by scarcely tweaking the lyrics. Under David Galligan's direction, the strong ensemble looks and sounds great, with supporting players Gabrielle Wagner, Ashley Cuellar, Melissa Bailey and Gibby Brand flaunting their comic timing in the numbers "How Do I Get a Part with the D'Oyly Carte?" and "The Scottish Play." Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 1. A Katselas Theatre Company production. (310) 358-9936. (Amy Nicholson)

CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling, in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself. (SLM) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779.

DEAD GUILTY Richard Harris' suspense thriller. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (562) 494-1014.

GO THE DOCTOR DESPITE HIMSELF In Molière's farce, oafish woodcutter Sganarelle (Charles Fathy) takes a (rubber) mallet and beats his wife, Martine (Clara Bellar), like a dirty carpet, and why not? since she kind of likes it. However, this doesn't prevent Martine from spitefully telling a passing dolt (Brad Schmidt) that Sganarelle is a famous surgeon who enjoys being paid for his toils by receiving even more-savage beatings. The dolt beats Sganarelle like a brass gong and then hires him to cure his master's daughter (Raquel Brussolo) of muteness. Of course, it turns out that the girl is only pretending to be mute so she can trick her dullard dad (Steven Houska) and marry the handsome student (Brad Schmidt) she loves. More beatings ensue. The first thing you need to know, even before watching the play's casual thumpings, is that director Gulu Montiero's madcap production is steeped in the art of the clowning. The show has the wonderfully shrill pitch and frantic pace of a living cartoon. The cast know the way around the 17th-century gags -- and the goofiness is heightened by designer Swinda Reichelt's jaw-dropping costumes, which turn these classical characters into outlandish figures risen from some other dimension. In his leering turn as Sganarelle, Fathy's grinning mug floats in what appears to be a blubbering multicolored beach ball, and when he turns into "the doctor," he is fitted with a bizarre collar with dangling tassles your cats would adore. Sganarelle's spiteful wife wears a plastic-y swoop skirt covered with rubber balls -- and she then returns later as a sexy housemaid, wearing weird plastic blond braids and gigantic plaster breasts. The result of all this artistry is a production that is both timeless and yet cracklies with the freshness of a living children's picture book. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through November 8. (310) 823-0710. www.electriclodge.org. An Ipanema Theatre Troupe production. (Paul Birchall)

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE The Robert Louis Stevenson classic, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (310) 364-0535.

ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION John Patrick Shanley's comedy about two lifelong friends. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6, (No perfs Nov. 27-29.). (310) 397-3244.

NEW REVIEW GO

Stage Raw: Rachel Rosenthal at 83

Photo by Ed Krieger

JUST

45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY  Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the

wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere

comedy is a delight - an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece which

is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils

of living entirely by emotion.  In a picturesque but run down country

house in upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed

set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall

weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived

their whole lives for art - which, one might say, means that dinner is

never on time and no one gets up before noon.  Elderly thespian George

(Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger) are

in the twilight of their careers, but regret nothing about a life spent

on the road performing small plays.  Also staying in their home is

their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is

taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance.

The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the

arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis),

who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her

lawyer fiancé  Jimmy (David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly

fly - but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some

overwritten sequences teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also

wise to the follies of human behavior - and director Gary Imhoff's

subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration

underscoring the relationships within so many families.  The ensemble

work is sensitive, yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly

daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis'

increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and

Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of

elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has

happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful.  Edgemar

Center for the Arts, 2437 Main Street, Santa Monica.  Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (dark Thanksgiving weekend); thru Dec. 20.(310)

392-7327.  A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall)

THREE SISTERS As with much of Anton Chekhov's work, this play about the Prozorov family deals with the decay of the pre-Soviet Russian aristocracy at the end of the nineteenth century and the uncertain future that lies ahead for the country. Set in a provincial town, the story centers on the lives of the titular femmes, Olga (Vanessa Waters), Maria (Susan Ziegler) and Irina (Murielle Zuker), who have lost their father and live in the family home with their older brother Andrey (Scott Sheldon) and his wife Natalia (Cameron Meyer), while they long to return to the glamour and excitement of Moscow. The challenge with Chekhov, of course, is striking the fine balance between the almost slapstick comedy and heartbreaking tragedy that alternately define the lives of his characters. Company co-founder and director Jack Stehlin does a laudable job with the humor in the text, and his balletic transition between Acts III and IV is innovative; however he never fully draws out the emotional weight of loss in the piece, leaving it to ubiquitous Russian "philosophizing." Kitty Rose's layered set facilitates the numerous entrances and exits, and Zale Morris' finely detailed costumes have the appropriate period feel to them. The cast, too, is solid, but Meyer stands out in completing her emotional journey on stage and making us feel something, even if hatred, for the vicious figure she becomes. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m. (Wed. perfs until Oct. 14 only); Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Sun. perfs Oct. 18 and Nov. 8, 7 p.m.); thru November 8. (310) 477-2055, ext. 2. A Circus Theatricals Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

NEW REVIEW THE VALUE OF NAMES  Playwright Jeffrey Sweet's

drama asks the provocative question "is it ever possible to forgive a

wrong done to us decades ago?"  The play's unexpected answer turns out

to be a shocking "never!"  Norma (Stasha Surdyke) is a young actress

and the daughter of elderly TV star Benny Silverman (Peter Mark

Richman), though the pair is estranged these days. Still, Norma stops

by Benny's Malibu mansion to tell her father that she's just been cast

in a new play in which not only is she going to show her breasts, she's

also going to be directed by Benny's old enemy Leo (Malachi Throne). 

Back in the bad days, Leo sold out Benny to the House Un-American

Activities Committee, and Benny, perhaps understandably, is still angry

after all these years.  Leo stops by the house in an attempt to win

over his old buddy, but, as they say, old grudges are the best grudges

and, within minutes, long buried wounds are disinterred.  Sweet's

drama-of-ideas is the sort in which a pair of figures, each symbolizing

one side of an argument, debate until they're blue in the face and the

audiences' ears are red. Although Sweet's writing suffers from afusty

tone - and Howard Teichman's staid staging doesn't really tell us why

these characters are willing to stay in the same room with each other,

the crackling intelligence underlying the arguments is nevertheless

frequently engrossing.   Also hard to resist are the powerful

performances, headlined by Thorne and Richman, a pair of veteran

character actors whom you'll recognize from dozens of your favorite TV

shows (at least, you will if you are a Baby Boomer).  Watching these

two frosty lions in winter essentially tearing into each other, as well

as into the scenery, as they storm and bluster, makes for a thrilling

evening on any terms, and Thorne's coolly pragmatic Lou and Richman's

feisty, embittered Benny easily rise above the workmanlike material

with which they're matched. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd, West

LA.  Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323)

506-8024.  http://www.wcjt.org .  West  Coast  Jewish Theater.   (Paul Birchall)  

WICKED LITERATURE HALLOWEEN THEATRE FESTIVAL Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, adapted by Paul Millet; Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, adapted by Jonathan Josephson; Robert E. Howard's Pigeons From Hell, adapted by Jeff G. Rack. Greystone Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills; Through Oct. 31. (818) 242-7910.

WTF?! FESTIVAL Singer/songwriter series, film talkback series, theater and dance series, and literature series, each curated by actor Tim Robbins. Complete schedule at www.wtffestival.com. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.

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