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Stage Raw: Smudge

Stage Raw: Smudge

STAGE FEATURE on John Lithgow's Stories by Heart, and Hair
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

NEW REVIEW GO SMUDGE The birth of a child usually is seen as a joyful event -- but what if it isn't? In Rachel Axler's disturbing play, the lives of an expectant couple -- Colby (Heather Fox) and Nicholas (Mark Thomsen) -- are upended when Colby gives birth to a limbless being with a single eye. The infant is not only strange to look at; it also responds weirdly -- or, more commonly, not at all -- to attempts to communicate. At home all day, Colby reacts to it with despair and rage, but the ingenuous Nick, a census official, falls head over heels for his new baby girl -- although that doesn't keep him from concealing her oddity from his family, or forestall his mailing out a dissentious questionnaire to the public titled "What Could You Kill?" (Sample question: Could you kill a pig?) Nick's peculiar behavior corners the concern of his brother Peter (Bart Tangredi), a snide guy whose cynicism, within this piece, stands in for the world at large. Axler strews her unsettling story with harsh humor that might have offended but doesn't. Instead, higher motifs -- the definition of life, the limitations of love and the human struggle to adjust one's expectations to painful realities -- remain the production's paramount focus, under Darin Anthony's discerning direction. Tangredi's smarmy dude adds an edgy dynamic, while Thomsen is especially affecting as a man struggling for his illusions -- and his sanity. Joe Slawinski's sound design elaborates nicely on the couple's nightmare. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. (added perf Thurs., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.), through Feb. 19. (800) 838-3006. Presented by Syzygy Theatre. (Deborah Klugman)

For all NEW THEATER REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press the More tab directly below.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication Jan. 20, 2011

NEW REVIEW

AMY & ELLIOT As sweet, slacker champion Elliot sits on his grubby

couch, propping his safety-pinned Converses on the coffee table and

strumming his guitar, a theme pushes through the haze of weed and

inertia: Writer, director and star Ryan Eggold watched a lot of movies

about the '90s. Built around Elliot and his bumbling but earnest

attempts to navigate "grown-up" relationships, Eggold's play is as vague

as its setting ("The City" in "The '90s"), as circular as the path

Elliot makes pouring Cap'n Crunch for his visitors, and as self-absorbed

as his exasperating best friend, Amy (Alexandra Breckenridge). In other

words, he's constructed a close approximation of the movies, like Singles and Kicking and Screaming,

that ended up romanticizing the angst and aimlessness of the

existentially challenged 20-somethings dubbed Generation X. Eggold's so

comfortable with the script that he glides through the show like a

dancer. But too often, his puppy-dog charm turns grating when his

dialogue dips from funny ("I don't wanna join Jehovah's Witness or

whatever," he says through his door to a solicitor) to cutesy ("Ice

cream, yeah, we all scream for it!"). Robert Baker is refreshingly solid

as the lone adult in the play; and Gillian Zinser, Eggold's cast mate

on TV series 90210, deserves credit for the considerable steam

picked up in Act 2. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun, 3 p.m., through Jan. 30. (818) 342-4319.

(Rebecca Haithcoat)

NEW REVIEW  GO CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION

Stage Raw: Smudge

Photo by Ben Horak/SCR

The

opening of Annie Baker's comedy about five ordinary people in a Vermont

community center's drama class couldn't be less funny, or theatrical:

five bodies lying on the hardwood floor playing a counting game, where

each shouts one number in the sequence of one to 10 without interrupting

anybody else. The purpose is to be "present," and sensitive to the

silence in the room. And the action never leaves that room, designed by

David Zinn, through a series of short scenes spanning the six class

sessions over six weeks. There's much silence in Sam Gold's staging of

the entire play -- deliberately, strategically. Though set in a drama

class that veers into group therapy (nobody does any acting, one

aspiring actress complains; they just tell stories from their lives, or

from the lives of their classmates), both the play and its production

aim to squelch the kinds of theatrical devices that keep an audience's

attention; at the same time, the play reveals microscopic truths of

day-to-day living. These include awkward silences. It's a bit like

turning a video camera on a rather mediocre acting class, to see what

that says about life. Playwright Baker brings similar verisimilitude to

the dialogue, which consists of non sequiturs and interrupted

confessions, in what might be called profound inarticulation. Despite

the buckets of cold water thrown on the artifices of theater that

usually keep our attention, Baker's poeticism and play structure are

deviously canny. What emerges is a tautly structured, macroscopic poem

about the trajectories of ordinary lives as seen through a microscope. A

middle-aged, newly divorced carpenter (Ayre Gross) falls for the

younger actress (Marin Hinkle) up from the city; though she toys with

him for a week or two, her real target is the husband (Brian Kerwin) of

the group leader (Linda Gehringer). Their marriage falls to pieces

before our eyes. And so on. Not sure the insights about infidelity and

breaking hearts and sexual abuse go beyond generic, but the way they're

revealed, mostly in the silences, is a wonder and a credit to the

ensemble. Call it a Chekhovian exercise in modern Vermont. South Coast

Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.,

Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m., through Jan. 30. (714) 708-5555. (Steven

Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW  GO CIRCUS INCOGNITUS 

Stage Raw: Smudge

Photo by Amanda Russell

Armed

with a Charlie Chaplin-esque persona, acrobatic acumen, a snare drum,

fruit, a rickety ladder and an uncanny knack for inspiring giggling fits

in small children, Jamie Adkins performs a one-man circus that needs no

big top. At the outset, simple props perch unobtrusively on a mostly

bare stage, an artistic choice that evokes the endless possibilities of

an empty palette. Adkins, who has performed with Cirque du Soleil and

Montreal's Cirque Eloize, eases into the filling of said palette,

launching the show with a bumbling battle between man, chair, cardboard

box and slip of paper. The concepts behind his gags are simple (retrieve

the slip of paper from inside the cardboard box); the execution,

anything but. (Dive head-first into the box from a chair that

continually tips over.) Whether juggling, walking a dubiously flimsy

tightrope, teaching a bowler hat a few dance moves or chasing a

flashlight beam, Adkins always plays the stupid adult, to the delight of

young audience members. The directorial shouts from the audience of 6-

to 10-year-olds are half the fun here ("If you don't hold on, you're

going to fall!"). Meanwhile, adults can marvel at Adkins' honed clowning

techniques and impressive physical fluidity. By the time Adkins clamps a

fork between his teeth for the purpose of catching oranges hurled at

his face by audience members, he has already demonstrated the

squeal-inducing joy of skilled silliness. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820

Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sat., 11 a.m. & 3 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.,

through Jan. 23. (213) 628-2772. (Amy Lyons)

NEW REVIEW GROUP: A MUSICAL A therapy

session's powerful emotions and needs should be a fine match for the

intensified drama of musical theater, and for book writer/lyricist Adam

Emperor Southard's uneven and intellectually ambitious musical about

group therapy. Sadly, though, director Richard Tatum's lackluster

production is marred by flat acting and indifferent music (by Josh Allan

Dykstra). As kindly psychiatrist Dr. Allen (Isaac Wade, nicely intense)

starts his new group-therapy practice, he opts to try an experiment:

hiring a rock band. The songster shrink prescribes that his patients

"sing" their confessions and arguments in session, on the theory that

rock music will allow troubled souls to find inner peace. It is, of

course, a daffy idea that would give Jung nightmares he hadn't already

diagnosed, and would make Freud drop his cigar. Yet Dr. Allen's troop of

patients obediently warble their way through their neuroses. Likable

college student Paul (Michael Hanson) belts a song about not being able

to have a relationship, while gay kid Chris (Evan Wall) operatically

finds the strength to come out to his dad. Other members of their group

find closure for their problems, as well -- in song, natch. Although

Tatum's sometimes haltingly paced production can't be faulted for

sincerity or good intentions, it suffers from a double whammy: The

generic-therapy conflicts strain to engender our sympathy, while the

songs are a collection of slight melodies and unexceptional lyrics along

the lines of, "You've got your issues. Here, take a tissue." The

ensemble works together well, crafting a set of engaging characters, but

a lack of training is frequently evident in their singing. Powerhouse

Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through

Jan. 29. Presented by Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble. latensemble.com. (Paul Birchall)


 NEW REVIEW

GO MACHO LIKE ME

Stage Raw: Smudge

Photo by Eric Sueyoshi

In

her solo performance, the very funny Helie Lee explores the issue of

male privilege from a South Korean female perspective. (Though she was

born in Seoul, her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was 4.) She saw

firsthand how her brother was treated as a crown prince, while she and

her sister were judged purely on their marital prospects -- provoking

her parents' urgent concern with getting her married. She decided to

live as a man for 10 weeks, to experience the strength and freedom she

attributed to men. She strapped down her bosom, had her hair cut short,

acquired a masculine wardrobe and set out to gain entry to all-male

enclaves; the results were not what she expected. She found that men's

lives were no less constricted than women's, limited by competitive

machismo and the fear of being perceived as gay. The tale is both

illuminating and hilarious as she gains new insights into what it's like

to live as a man and as a woman. By the end of her experiment, she's

delighted to return to the familiar bonds of femininity. With director

Sammy Wayne, she has forged a rich, witty, seamless tale. Coast

Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3

p.m., through Feb. 13. (800) 595-4849, macholikeme.com. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW GO ME, AS A PENGUIN

Stage Raw: Smudge

Photo by Claudia Unger

Yorkshire

playwright Tom Wells' comedy, in its U.S. premiere, is a throwback to

British "Kitchen Sink" dramas of the 1950s.  This one might be dubbed a

"Toilet Bowl" comedy. "I think you should see this," says visiting

Stitch (Brendan Hunt), peeking out from the bathroom door belonging to

his his very pregnant sister, Liz ( Mina Badie). "Whatever you've done,

just keep flushing," she fires back from her threadbare couch.  The play

unfolds from her grubby living room. With his penchant for the comfort

of knitting, idiosyncratic and perhaps mentally touched Stitch is

visiting his sister in Hull from even more rural Withernsea, in order to

check out Hull's gay scene. The tenderness between the misfit, almost

mortally lonely Stitch and his very pregnant sister has much in common

with Shelagh Delaney's 1958 similarly tender play,  A Taste of Honey.

Themes of loyalty, love, and desperate longing - intertwined with

sado-masochistic behaviors -- just keep trickling across the divide of

centuries, and in much the same gritty, earthy theatrical style depicted

in filthy furniture (set by John Pleshette) that represents poverty,

and not just the poverty of financial resources. Pleshette directs a

fine production that gets to the heart of the matter, even if some of

the North Country dialects drift a wee bit southwest into, say, Alabama.

Hunt serves up a dynamic performance as Stitch, laced with twitches and

subtle mannerisms. Bradie's Liz has a similar richness and

authenticity. James Donovan plays Liz's partner, and the father of her

child, Mark, with a blend of the requisite gruffness required by a guy

trying to scrape out a living in Hull, masking a soft-heartedness that

would get him cast out to sea, were more people to know about it. Stitch

becomes obsessed with a callow aquarium attendant named Dave, played by

Johnny Giacalone with an arrogant brutishness that's a pleasingly

heart-hearted antidote to the eccentric humanity that shows up in the

room. In her pregnancy, Liz has become almost addicted to a popular

British snack called Battenberg cake.  "Ah," remarks Stitch drolly,

watching her opens the wrapper and melt into paroxysms of delight at the

first bite: "Sponge. Jam. Marzipan. All the major food groups." What

keep audiences watching new plays may not be new forms at all, but

merely the references that provide the necessary inclusion. The Lost

Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4

p.m.; through March 6 (323) 960-7721. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW 99 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS

Stage Raw: Smudge

Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Though Chelsea Sutton's play is not set in Central Perk

(there's no Rachel or Monica, no Ross or Chandler or Joey in Sutton's

Magic Bean Coffee Shop locale), there is a Phoebe of sorts. Actually,

there are six of them. But instead of performing amusingly absurd guitar

songs, or recounting childhood tales of woe in hilarious ways, these

"Phoebes," along with two imaginary friends and a guardian angel, simply

ramble on about "what's real" and what's not through 12 largely

incoherent scenes. There's barely a plot, a story, dramatic stakes or a

protagonist, and the central conflict (the soul of the drama) emerges

sporadically. Most of the dialogue sounds like a college improv show in

which someone said, "OK, you hang out in a coffee shop, you have an

imaginary friend but you're not sure why, and nobody else is either:

Go!" Sutton's serving as writer, director and producer suggests a reason

behind the absence of a critical or collaborative eye. Even the

performances, save that of RJ Farrington (who portrays the guardian

angel), lack sheen. The highlight of the production is Bryan Forrest's

authentically detailed coffee shop set. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312

Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.,

through Feb. 13. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 NEW REVIEW GO SMUDGE The birth of a

child usually is seen as a joyful event -- but what if it isn't? In

Rachel Axler's disturbing play, the lives of an expectant couple --

Colby (Heather Fox) and Nicholas (Mark Thomsen) -- are upended when

Colby gives birth to a limbless being with a single eye. The infant is

not only strange to look at; it also responds weirdly -- or, more

commonly, not at all -- to attempts to communicate. At home all day,

Colby reacts to it with despair and rage, but the ingenuous Nick, a

census official, falls head over heels for his new baby girl -- although

that doesn't keep him from concealing her oddity from his family, or

forestall his mailing out a dissentious questionnaire to the public

titled "What Could You Kill?" (Sample question: Could you kill a pig?)

Nick's peculiar behavior corners the concern of his brother Peter (Bart

Tangredi), a snide guy whose cynicism, within this piece, stands in for

the world at large. Axler strews her unsettling story with harsh humor

that might have offended but doesn't. Instead, higher motifs -- the

definition of life, the limitations of love and the human struggle to

adjust one's expectations to painful realities -- remain the

production's paramount focus, under Darin Anthony's discerning

direction. Tangredi's smarmy dude adds an edgy dynamic, while Thomsen is

especially affecting as a man struggling for his illusions -- and his

sanity. Joe Slawinski's sound design elaborates nicely on the couple's

nightmare. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. (added perf Thurs., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.), through Feb. 19.

(800) 838-3006. Presented by Syzygy Theatre. (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Stage Raw: Smudge

Photo courtesy of The Production Company

It's

easy to understand why playwright Christopher Sergel's 1970 stage

adaptation of Harper Lee's sentimental Southern Gothic novel was adopted

for its annual pageant by Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Ala. Its

depiction of a noble white patrician defending a helpless, subservient

black field hand from being framed for rape by ignorant white-trash

extremists is undoubtedly how the South would like to view its Jim Crow

past. Why the Production Company chose Sergel's Sunday-school chestnut

to inaugurate their new home at the Lex Theatre, however, remains a

mystery. The chief virtue of director T.L. Kolman's by-the-book

production (amid designer August Viverito's lamentably clumsy

clapboard-facade set pieces) is in allowing the company's versatile

stock players to strut their stuff in the play's numerous supporting

roles: Ferrell Marshall as the story's wryly astute narrator, Maudie

Atkinson; a nuanced Jim Hanna as Maycomb's perspicacious Sheriff Heck

Tate; Inda Craig-Galván and Lorenzo T. Hughes' twin portraits of dignity

under duress as Calpurnia and Tom Robinson; Skip Pipo being diabolical

as inbred bigot Bob Ewell. Beside these veterans, juveniles Brighid

Fleming, L.J. Benet and Patrick Fitzsimmons hold their own with

confidence as, respectively, Scout, Jem and Dill. But it is James

Horan's weirdly accomplished, cadence-perfect mimicry of Gregory Peck's

film performance as Atticus that proves the evening's perversely guilty

pleasure. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 20. (800) 838-3006. A presentation of the

Production Company. theprodco.com. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW GO TWELFTH NIGHT marks the

worthy launch of this theater's 17th season. With its multilayered

plot, theatrical high jinks, silly sweetness and romance, Twelfth Night

is one of the Bard's most popular works. With a nod to the traditional

yuletide celebration after which the play is named, director J.C.

Gafford's production features music, caroling, dancing and revelry. The

setting of Illyria is here re-created as a large, raised platform,

surrounded by a table set for a feast, kegs and some old boxes. Though

not especially picturesque, it has a certain rustic appeal, and changes

in scenes are smoothly handled by a member of the troupe with

hand-painted placards. Kristina Mitchell does a fine turn as Viola, the

main character in this romp of romance and mistaken identity, who is

shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Sebastian (Jackson

Thompson), on a different part of Illyria. She goes in disguise as a boy

named Cesario, employed by the lovesick Duke Orsino (Jim Kohn), who

uses her to court (on his behalf) his beloved but less-than-requiting

Lady Olivia (Amy Clites). But Viola has herself fallen for her employer,

the Duke, while his would-be mistress, Lady Olivia, finds herself

smitten with the "boy" Viola is impersonating. The unraveling of this

romantic knot makes for lively comedy under Gafford's smart direction,

with uniformly good performances. Seth Margolies is a riot as the

bumbling Sir Toby Belch. Casey E. Lewis, who puts one in mind of Stan

Laurel, is equally funny as the comically foiled Malvolio, while Jason

Rowland provides tons of laughs as the fool, Feste. Knightsbridge

Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 6

p.m., through Feb. 13. (323) 667-0955. (Lovell Estell III)

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