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Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10


Theater Feature on Polish punk and Glendale's classicists


SON OF SEMELE TURNS 10

Son of Semele Ensemble is throwing a 10-year birthday party fundraiser Friday, October 1, at the Hollywood Forever Masonic Lodge, 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard. Doors open at 7:30. "Jackpots and Jazz" features dancing, drinks, hors d'oeuvres, raffle and a silent auction. Blackjack, roulette, poker and and craps comes with accompaniment by jazz band, Bliss Bomb. $30 at the door ($25 in advance). Cocktail attire suggested.

SOME WOMEN present Some Men, a reading of Terrence McNally's play featuring Alan Cummings, John Glover, Steven Weber, Luke MacFarlane, Jason Ritter, Matt Gould, David Alan Grier, Justin Kirk and Jeffrey Tambor. Monday, October 4, 8 p.m. at the Saban Theatre to benefit Testimony - a project of the Courage Campaign Institute.


For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for October 1 - 7, 2010

Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, 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

Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.

OPENING THIS WEEK

BENCHES, SKETCHES OF THE 1930S Sharon L. Graine's original one-act plays on African-American groundbreakers Marian Anderson and Hattie McDaniel. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3 p.m.. (323) 293-1356.

THE BIRD HOUSE Reading of Diane Glancy's play, presented by Native Voices at the Autry. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Thurs., Oct. 7, 7 p.m.. (323) 667-2000.

BOB BAKER'S HALLOWEEN HOOP DE DO More than 100 Halloween-themed puppets, in a show that first played in 1963. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; opens Oct. 3; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (213) 250-9995.

BOBBY AND MATT Kevin Cochran's story of two unlikely friends, one a brigadier general, the other a renowned gay writer. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Oct. 2; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 238-9998.

CAMPAIGN World-premiere musical, book by Samuel Warren Joseph, music and lyrics by Samuel Warren Joseph and Jon Detherage. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, plays411.com/campaign. (323) 960-7612.

CECILIA VALDEZ A Cuban zarzuela by Gonzalo Roig, adapted by Margarita Galban and Lina Montalvo. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Oct. 1-3. (866) 811-4111.

CHRIS FARLEY HOUSE BENEFIT Part of the comedy club's grand re-opening and open-house celebration. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., Oct. 2. (323) 464-8542.

CHURCHILL Andrew Edlin's portrait of Winston Churchill, as portrayed by Edmund L. Shall. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (800) 595-4849.

CIRCLE DANCE Dep Kirkland's play inspired by the Bonnie Raitt song. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 2; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 960-7776.

A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD Susan Claassen is the Hollywood costume designer. Written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Clausen. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 508-0281.

HATS, NUDES & IMMORTALITY Coeurage Theatre Company's remake of Charles Mee's Self Portrait. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, coeuragetheatre.com/rsvp...

HEAD: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE World-premiere rock musical by Ivo Shandor. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 2; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (323) 960-5770.

HISTORY OF THE DEVIL The devil's parole hearing, by Clive Barker. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (866) 811-4111.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers The 1969 Neil Simon comedy. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, wcjt.org. (323) 821-2449.

IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY Sarah Ruhl's Victorian tale of "female hysteria.". South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Oct. 1; Mon.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (714) 708-5555.

LOVELAND Ann Randolph's cross-country solo show. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Oct. 7; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.

MISS JULIE August Strindberg's classic drama. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 1; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, plays411.com/missjulie. (323) 960-7721.

OBAMANOLOGUES R.M. Peete's bipartisan monologues on President Barack Obama. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 3; Sun., 2 & 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, obamanologues.com. (323) 207-6384.

100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Written and performed by Beth Lapides. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 6; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 10, bethlapides.com. (323) 651-2583.

PETER PAN J.M. Barrie's fantasy classic, with "stunning puppets, epic music, dazzling flying sequences and the world's first 360-degree CGI theater set.". Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; opens Oct. 3; Sun., Oct. 3, 6 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., 12:30 & 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (714) 556-2787.

SKELETON STORIES Delondra Williams' journey through the underworld as a girl searches for her dead mother. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (323) 856-8611.

THE STORIES OF CESAR CHAVEZ Written and performed by Fred Blanco. Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; opens Oct. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (562) 433-3363.

THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE Marilu Henner stars in Charles Busch's Broadway comedy. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; opens Oct. 1; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (562) 944-9801.

VIA DOLOROSA Written by David Hare. Performed by David Bryan Jackson. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; opens Oct. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, brownpapertickets.com/event/124240. (800) 838-3006.

LA VICTIMA Written by El Teatro de La Esperanza. Produced by the Latino Theater Company. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Oct. 2; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (866) 811-4111.

WEEK OF 100 COMEDY STARS Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Sun., Oct. 3, 8:30 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Tues., Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.. (626) 577-1894.

THE WIGGLE ROOM Oliver Mayer's play set on the day in 2008 when the Dow lost 777 points. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 883-1717.

THE YOGAMERICAN DREAM Written by and starring Casey Gates. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 3; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 962-0046.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

BEEHIVE 1960s girl-group musical, courtesy Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 937-6607.

BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's comedy of matrimony. (In the Studio Theatre.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (562) 494-1014.

NEW REVIEW GO DEBBIE REYNOLDS: ALIVE AND FABULOUS: On

opening night, myriad Debbie Reynolds cronies decked out in their

Hollywood best showed up to support the movie legend and to fill the

coffers of the Thalians, a mental health charity. Reynolds went all out

for her pals in the audience, with vitality and sardonic humor. In her

homage to her own illustrious career, Reynolds mocks herself and her

aging audience with the show opener, Sondheim's "I'm Still Here" -- the

first in an of evening of jokes about still being alive. Between clips

from her film career -- from 1948's June Bride through Singin' in the Rain, The Unsinkable Molly Brown , The Singing

and beyond, Reynolds self-effacing quips celebrate both her enormous

talent and her unrepentant life as a "bitch," with a crustiness that's

joyfully delivered. She presents tributes to and impressions of many

departed friends, including Judy Garland and Bette Davis, but it is her

spot-on imitation of the still very present Barbra Streisand (complete

with a fake big nose and long-haired wig) that brings down the house.

She heaps well deserved praise on her musical director/pianist Joey

Singer and percussionist Gerry Genuario, with whom she has spent years

performing. Just approaching 80, Reynolds is indeed alive and fabulous.

Her show is a pleasure. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (818)

508-4200. (Tom Provenzano)


NEW REVIEW
ELEKTRA There

are numerous elements that could contribute to a mind- and

heart-wrenching production of Sophocles' tragedy of matricide and

vengeance. Start with the outdoor amphitheater tucked into the grounds

of the Getty Villa, which allows for the kind of epic acting style that

gives the drama its ferocity; add Pamela Reed's powerhouse performance

as Clytemnestra -- the matriarch who recently murdered her husband,

General Agamemnon, upon his return to her bed from the Trojan War. (She

had her reasons, and no it wasn't another woman.) Reed possesses the

regal grandeur one would expect from the Lady of the House of Atreus.

Yet within that noble posture, she can roll her eyes at the ravings of

her embittered daughter, Elektra (Annie Purcell), or toss off a

one-liner as though she's in a comedy of manners. Inexplicably, that

contradiction results in nuance rather than tearing at the ligaments.

It takes a rare gift to pull that off. Then there's Timberlake

Wertenbaker's lucid, oratorical translation, composer/musical director

Bonfire Madigan Shive's lugubrious music played by cellist Theresa Wong

(additional music by Michael Wells and Wong), with percussion by Wells.

Also grand is Jack Willis' rich-voiced Tutor, guiding Clytemnestra's

long-long son, Orestes (Manoel Feliciano), into the parlor for some

unpleasantry. The play hangs on Purcell's Elektra, and the reasons

behind her fury at her mother -- and there it hangs itself. When that

emotion is an earnest and generic as it is here, the cello

accompaniment gets snagged on the high wires of pretentiousness.

Purcell pours out her heart with a limited range of tonalities,

resulting a stagey effort. How these torrential emotions can be made

authentic is the mystery of this play as well as the art of acting. The

danger is, when it's not quite there, it's not there at all, and

everything else starts to unravel, so that we're left appreciating some

staging effects and a couple of good performances, rather than feeling

the power of a classic. Carey Perloff directs. Getty Villa, 17985

Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310)

440-7300. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO THE GLASS MENAGERIE Director Gordon Edelstein's dynamic, iconoclastic revival of Tennessee Williams' revered, 1944 memory play arrives at the Mark Taper Forum trailing a tempest of controversy. Edelstein's greatest liberty -- and, to traditionalists, his most brazen and polarizing sacrilege -- is to reconceive the narrative from the point of view of an older, more worldly Tom Wingfield (a riveting Patch Darragh) in the act of writing the play. Tom's famous "tricks in my pocket" opening monologue is now delivered at the typewriter, haltingly, the words captured in the moment of inspiration on Michael Yeargan's austerely appointed, wallpaper-scrim, one-room set that doubles for the Wingfields' St. Louis tenement apartment. The conceit may not be strictly Williams, but by foregrounding the action with this potent reminder of the autobiographical dimensions lurking behind the drama, Edelstein succeeds in repainting the bittersweet Wingfield family portrait as a fascinating portrait of the artist in which Williams' alter ego, Tom, shares center stage. As such, Judith Ivey's matriarch, Amanda, is nothing short of a triumph. In Ivey's hands, the smothering, narcissistic, faded Southern belle is energized with heretofore unrealized notes of wit and charm -- just the sort of overpowering personality capable of crushing a fragile, sensitive ego like Laura (the fine Keira Keeley) or igniting the artistic genius of her more resilient son. The payoff to Edelstein's invention comes in the "gentleman caller" scene, whose original pathos is delivered with the additional ironic wink that all three Wingfields are vying for the romantic attentions of the lunkheaded Jim (Ben McKenzie). Jennifer Tipton's moody, low-key lighting and Martin Pakledinaz's outstanding costumes complete what may not be an orthodox Menagerie but one that may just be definitive. (Bill Raden). Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (213) 628-2772.

HAMLET It's anyone's guess what vision might have guided director Ellen Geer's fervent but unfocused, Medieval-dress version of Shakespeare's most baroque and psychologically nuanced tragedy. There's certainly little hint of the Oedipal undercurrents or political allegorizing that have been a mainstay of 20th-century productions. Nor is there much sign of the paralyzing conflict between faith in purpose and intellectual certainty, which traditionally drives its hero's famously agonized inaction. In the case of Mike Peebler's Hamlet, neither his mission nor its justness ever seems in doubt; Peebler attacks the role with the zeal and righteous wrath of the recently converted. Even his soliloquies are delivered at the audience as if from a pulpit. Gertrude (Melora Marshall) in turn appears more pissed off at her son's increasingly antic disposition than aggrieved by what it might imply about his sanity. Claudius (Aaron Hendry), by contrast, comes off as positively good-natured, a guy caught with his hand in the cookie jar rather than his fingerprints all over a nefarious regicide. Willow Geer is convincing as a feisty yet vulnerable Ophelia, though even here the method of her madness seems more a response to the murder of Polonius (a very broad Carl Palmer) than any jilting by Hamlet. Director Geer keeps it all moving at a fast clip, but some exasperatingly eccentric blocking divides the focus of too many critical turning points -- most egregiously in the mousetrap scene -- all but obliterating their dramatic purpose. (Bill Raden). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Oct. 2, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (562) 494-1014.

LEAP OF FAITH World-premiere musical based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, music by Alan Menken, book by Janus Cercone with Glenn Slater, and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (213) 628-2772.

GO LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE Ilene Beckerman's book, on which Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron based their "intimate collection of stories," is the kind you'd grab from the display near the register at a Barnes and Nobles, to serve as a dressy envelope for a birthday check to your goddaughter or an upgraded Mother's Day card. But if the recipient read it instead of tossing in onto a pile of similarly gifted minibooks, she'd find a classy little number, a J. Peterman catalog minus the pretentiousness. With sparse text and barebones sketches, Beckerman records her history through the clothes she and her female relatives wore. Director Jenny Sullivan constructs the stage version in much the same way: The star-studded ensemble wears black (there's an ode to the color, every woman's old faithful) while sitting in a straight line; and Carol Kane, who reads as Beckerman, handles the main prop, a "closet" full of the book's renderings situated on wire clothes hangers. But this is Nora Ephron, and chumminess quickly trumps austerity. The scenes themselves are ruminations on relationships thinly veiled as (mostly) funny riffs on clothes -- Tracee Ellis Ross almost runs away with the show every time the spotlight's hers but particularly so with "The Shirt." Kane, who must be one of the most endearing actors ever, dances her monologues' transitions so delicately and adroitly you can only marvel. There are a couple of moments ("The Bathrobe," "Brides") during which all but those with a particularly voracious emotional appetite will find themselves choking on the syrup. Fortunately, though, the Ephron sisters have nimbly stitched together the scenes so that there's far more head nodding than eye rolling. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 208-5454.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by Craig Schwartz

Shakespeare's

problem play. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Sept.

25, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 2 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 13, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct.

14, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov.

13, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 14, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 18, 8

p.m.; Fri., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec.

5, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910. See Theater feature on Wednesday night.

MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's courtship comedy. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (714) 708-5555.

MYSTERIOUS SKIN In Prince Gomolvilas' harrowing drama, a young man is troubled by fractured memories in which he believes he was kidnapped and tortured by aliens as a child. Attempting to piece together his past, Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda) befriends Avalyn (Elizabeth Liang), a geeky young woman gleefully obsessed with tales of alien abduction. The more Brian talks with her, the more he remembers. Meanwhile, another young guy, Neil (David Huynh), moves to New York from sleepy Kansas and dabbles in prostitution, much to the dismay of his best friend, Wendy (Christine Corpuz). When Brian tracks down his childhood friend Neil, he learns that the truth of what happened when they were kids is more horrifying than the disturbing mystery. Director Tim Dang makes good use of designer Alan E. Muraoka's stylized set of chain-link fencing, dominated by a massive, blue full moon that also serves as a projection screen. Dang also keeps us alert with startlingly loud sound effects and elicits fine performances from his mostly young cast. But the play, with its rapid-fire dialogue exchanges, thunders along like a freight train to a grim destination. Perhaps Gomolvilas cleaves too closely to his source material, Scott Heim's presumably autobiographical first novel, because real people don't actually talk like this. Nevertheless, Liang beautifully captures the awkward effusion of adolescence with her portrayal of Avalyn, offering some bright and funny moments within this profoundly tragic tale. (Pauline Adamek). East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (213) 625-7000.

NEW REVIEW GO THE PHAMTOM OF THE OPERA

Andrew Lloyd Webber's longest-running Broadway musical in history (now

in its 23rd year) is also the world's most lucrative single

entertainment project to date, raking in over $3 billion since it was

first staged in London in 1986. Now in its third national tour,

presented by the Music Box Company, "Phanty" will sing its swan song

Halloween night at the Pantages. Based on Gaston Leroux's gothic

romance, and reminiscent of the fable "Beauty and the Beast," the story

follows a promising singer Christine (Trista Moldovan) as she falls

under the spell of a masked and ghoulish Phantom (Tim Martin Gleason

inhabits the role with conviction), who haunts the Paris Opera House.

The superb cast also includes Sean MacLaughlin as Christine's suitor

Raoul, Kim Stengel playing the pompous diva Carlotta. Moldovan's clear,

pure voice only occasionally competes with the lush sounds of the

orchestra. Infamous for borrowing several musical phrases from Puccini

and even Pink Floyd, Webber's melodies may be as pedestrian as this

musical is popular. His composition moves seamlessly from grand opera

to romantic duets to rock opera (wailing electric guitar), all of which

mesh well with occasional harp and violin solos, and the soaring,

tender melodies that create several shivery moments. Harold Prince is

still credited for the crisp direction. Energetic conducting by William

Waldrop rounds out this first-rate production. Pantages Theater, 6233

Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru

Oct. 31. (213) 365-3500. (Pauline Adamek)

NEW REVIEW THE RECKONING

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by Carlos San Miguel

The

setting for Kimba Henderson's sprawling drama is a Louisiana crawfish

farm called Rubaiyat. The farm is owned by the Robilliards, a proud,

affluent black family headed by L.J., an iron-willed patriarch who, as

the play opens, is set to return from a stay in the hospital. L.J. is

determined that daughter Nathalie (the splendid Toyin Moses), take over

the farm, and he'll stop at nothing to see that she does, even if it

means breaking up her pending marriage to a young doctor (Dorian

Christian Baucum).When a strapping young white man named Nicholas

(Jacob Sidney), mysteriously arrives , L.J. encourages him to woo

Nathalie. But Rubaiyat has an ugly history filled with angry ghosts,

which dates back to the days of slavery, and it is in the telling of

that history that Henderson's otherwise intelligently written script

becomes a tad cumbersome. By way of flashbacks, some of which are

awkwardly inserted, we learn about how a white family, the Burnsides,

were cheated out of title to the Plantation, and of the taboo,

inter-racial love affair that caused it. The parallels between past and

present become apparent, but this obvious contrivance and the facts

unveiled do little to bolster the play's story, and become distracting.

Rubaiyat's dark past collides with the present in Act 2, where the

identity and true purpose of Nicholas' appearance come to light. By

this time, however, the surprises are slight, and the resolutions

unsatisfying. Ben Guillory directs a very good cast, whose solid

performances somewhat offset the script's shortcomings. John Paul

Luckenbach's two-tier set piece is a knockout. Los Angeles Theater

Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;

thru. Oct. 24. (866) 811-4111. (Lovell Estell III)

GO RUINED The structure of Lynn Nottage's powerful drama Ruined is like that of so many plays set in bars and brothels: There's the owner, the employees and the denizens. They tell stories. A fight breaks out, and somebody gets hurt, or killed. It's almost stock, except that here, the bar/brothel is situated in a rural outpost in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo Mama Nadi (Portia) seriously believes that her no-weapons-allowed policy, and her open door to both government and rebel soldiers, will somehow protect her from the civil war's inevitable, inexorable swath of destruction. And Portia's performance is so searing and muscular, you almost believe her. One of her diminutive and slightly oily salesman clients, Christian (Russell G. Jones), arrives with two young women as prospective "employees." Beautiful Sophie (Condola Rashad) has the eyes and stature of a gazelle, which may have been responsible for how she came to be "ruined" (reproductively) by the bayonets of unspecified marauding soldiers, so she needs to be spared from sexual intercourse. She's obtained a marked limp and every move is accompanied by a silent grimace. Her salable asset is her singing voice, which gives flight to her agony. The other woman is Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), a gravel-voiced waif so beaten down, one of her eyes is virtually sealed shut. The establishment is terrorized by the rebel leader, Jerome Kisembe (Tongayi Chirisa), and his government rival, Commander Osembenga (David St. Louis), who, aside from their political rivalry, appear to be competing in the sweepstakes for self-importance. This is a bar saturated with sexual politics: Salima's husband, Fortune (Carl Cofield), shows up to reclaim his bride from the brothel, after he spurned her following her brutal rape by soldiers. Should she go back to him, and to the village that similarly abandoned her in her moment of degradation and despair? More remarkable than the trajectory of the story are the tones emanating from the production, under Kate Whoriskey's staging. The first comes from the onstage guitarist (Simon Shabantu Kashama) and drummer (Ron McBee), who juxtapose conversations and arguments with the sway and lilt of Dominic Kanza's original music, Nottage's lyrics and Warren Adams' erotic choreography. Then, the performers themselves generate a layer of protective callousness, the armor of a region where life is always ending, or being mutilated. The larger question is whether that cynical veneer can be scratched in order to allow intimacy to invade these hardened hearts. That's not a rhetorical question in this production, but a visceral one. Derek McLane's set of bright, broken colors and mismatching wooden furniture anchors the locale with the thick trunks of palm trees, like the legs of elephants standing around and watching, bemused. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 208-5454.

THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG Reprise Theatre Company presents Jason Alexander in Neil Simon's musical, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 825-2101.

THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

GO WAITING FOR LEFTY This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document and solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theater audience, and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era -- corruption, deprivation, injustice and wars between the haves and have-nots -- haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16 wonderfully able actors, who provide the kind of gritty passion and vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union, where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a strike, while the rank-and-file are determined to field their own leader, activist Lefty. Along the way we're introduced to a rich cross-section of Depression-era society, until the meeting erupts in violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the seemingly authentic, uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with nostalgia. (Neal Weaver). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 851-7977.

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

AS THE GLOBE WARMS Solo performer Heather Woodbury creates elaborate worlds. For her performance What Ever, Woodbury elasticized herself into 100 characters for a sprawling American epic. This follow-up is a semi-political soap opera that will run a new installment every weekend for three months, and, gauging by its launch, Woodbury's interested in charting the rise and fall of the artistic class and the crystallization of the divide between the two Americas. On the 4th of July 1985, a cowed girl picks up a video camera and discovers she's an artist; 25 years later, she's dead and her brother is attempting to describe her archive of tapes to a barbecue of gentrified Californian creatives who deign to do their own sculpting rather than hiring interns for the "dirty" work. On the other coast, a preacher, his shrewish Tea Party wife and their daydreamy teen daughter fret about the BP oil spill and a species of endangered frogs that might prevent them from expanding their church's parking lot. Woodbury has little patience for both blues and reds and loves to skewer the hypocrisies of both camps. To help her stay true to her own voice, she could use a director (none is credited) to help her shape and simplify her frantic character changes; she has a capable range of accents but spends scenes shifting wildly around in her chair to make sure we're following who's who. Besides the chair, the only prop onstage is a handycam that records each episode for the internet and streams it live on a screen against the wall. It's unclear yet if the distraction will prove purposeful, but what's certain from the starting gate is that the enthusiastic Woodbury has energy for miles (and months). (Amy Nicholson). Echo Curio, 1519 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (213) 977-1279.

Attack of the 50 Ft. Sunday Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

BAIL ME OUT Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin Jr.) views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and betrayal. Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal rights he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted. So he's appalled -- though not totally surprised -- when his longtime buddy Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance Jones), a married man. Launched from this awkward encounter, the drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving homophobia, racism, noxious born-again religion, suicide, murder and abortion. There's no lack of misogyny, either -- so viciously spouted by Joe's employee, Troy (Gary Wolf), that Joe appears comparatively enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos. Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution. Its main problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many events and too many contrivances packed into less than two hours. Directed by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and lighting. Carisa Engle as Joe's common-sense wife furnishes welcome respite from the Sturm und Drang elsewhere. And Jones overcomes the inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute while fiercely brawling the next. (Deborah Klugman). Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10, plays411.com/bailmeout. (323) 960-7745.

GO BEAST ON THE MOON Richard Kalinoski's tender play centers on two survivors of the Armenian genocide. Aram Tomasian (Zadran Walli) witnessed the beheading of all his family. Now he's escaped from Turkey to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and set himself up as a photographer. He's obsessed with producing a family to replace the one he lost, and has ordered a 15-year-old picture bride, Seta (Olga Konstantulakis), from an Armenian orphanage. She's profoundly grateful to him for rescuing her via a proxy marriage, but she too is traumatized. She saw her mother crucified, and her sister raped by a Turkish soldier, so she's terrified of sex. And Aram is fanatically determined to duplicate the rigid authoritarianism of his dead father. Kalinoski sensitively calibrates the stages by which a difficult alliance between two oddly matched people becomes a real marriage. Walli brings to his role a boyish charm, which tempers his arrogant rigidity, while Konstantulakis skillfully traces the arc from terrified teenager to strong, resilient woman. John Cirigliano is engaging as both an older gentleman who tells their story, and his younger self -- an orphan boy befriended by Seta. Sarah Register provides the authentic-seeming period clothes. (Neal Weaver). Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17...

BETSY PARRISH CABARET Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Oct. 2. (323) 465-4446.

THE BIRTHDAY BOYS In playwright Aaron Kozak's drama, three young soldiers performing routine guard duties in Baghdad's "Green Zone" are kidnapped by several swarthy, kaffiyeh-wearing thugs, who whisk them to a creepy warehouse for "interrogation." Tied, blindfolded and left on their own in a filthy storeroom, the three young men desperately struggle to escape, while also attempting to resolve rising resentments amongst each other. Angry young Private Lance (Trevor St. John David) is furious with his best buddy Private Carney (Nando Betancur) for trying to cut and run, while a third hostage, Private Guillette (James Ryen), tries to figure out a sensible way to save their skins. However, the stakes rise as a sinister terrorist goon (Ali Saam) arrives to break down the three military men. To director Kozak's credit, the production's claustrophobic, boiler-room-like trappings and the increasing desperation of the hostages artfully establish a taut, suspenseful mood. As the three soldiers wriggle, curse and fret, we share in "real time" the sense of foreboding that nothing good is going to happen to them. Yet Kozak's work as a playwright rarely rises above the workmanlike, and the piece's dismayingly bloated writing and slight incidents strain to fill out the show's two acts. Worse, without giving too much away, the final scenes rely on a clumsy plot twist that's so contrived, it undercuts almost any goodwill that the cast might have built up to that point. The play ultimately turns into an overlong episode of Scare Tactics, but with fewer dramatic incidents. Still, the ensemble work is appealing, with Betancur's shy Carney, a character who discovers unexpected depths of bravery when confronted with appalling circumstances, being nicely offset by Saam's lusciously wicked terrorist. (Paul Birchall). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (800) 838-3006.

BROOKLYN, USA Crime melodrama by John Bright and Asa Bordages. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, brooklynusa-theplay.org. (323) 469-3113.

CANDIDA George Bernard Shaw's look at love and marriage. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 667-0955.

CHICO'S ANGELS: CHICAS IN CHAINS Episode Number 3 of the dragtastic Charlie's angels spoof. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, chicosangels.com. (323) 969-2530.

COMEDY DEATH RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

DANCING WITH CRAZIES Written and performed by Amy Milano. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 4, plays411.com/dancingwithcrazies. (323) 960-7785.

DAVID: THE MUSICAL When reviewing the premiere of a new musical, one must be ever cognizant of the amount of work that has gone into its creation. Fully scored, booked and staged musicals take an almost astonishing amount of effort and audacity to execute -- and this can be all the more upsetting when the outcome is as misbegotten as is this near-incoherent adaptation of the story of the Old Testament's King David, his seduction of the beautiful Bathsheba, and his despair over his wayward sons Absalom and Amnon. Or, at least, that appears to be what the musical is about: Director Adam T. Rosencrance's production is in modern dress, which is not necessarily an unimaginative idea, but the presentation of the story is utterly without context -- the Biblical incidents are merely strung together with little dramatic development, psychological subtext or convincing emotion. One moment, Dane Bowman's oddly wooden David is crowned king, the next he's seducing Sara Collins' almost comically Valley girl-like Bathsheba. Other performers take on multiple roles -- but the character changes are disjointed and without explanation, often accomplished merely by an actor donning a new jacket or shirt, and not changing his actual personality. Thus, we start to wonder why David's servant Caleb (Austin Grehan) is suddenly one of the assassins plotting his demise, or why David's son Amnon (J. D. Driscill) shows up as a spear-carrying soldier in the Hittite army. The score, credited to Costanza, Tim Murner, Rich Lyle and Michelle Holmes, is a workmanlike mix of heavy-metal rock anthems and hard country ballads ably rendered by the rock band Pullman Standard, but the numbers are all lyric-driven, and the singing is miserably drowned out by the hyperamplified sound system. More dismaying than the lack of coherence, though, is the lack of Goliath, who is barely mentioned in the play and whose absence seems like a painfully missed dramatic opportunity -- like trying to tell the story of World War II without a Nazi. Some of the show's early production flaws may iron themselves out over the course of the run -- one of the main actors was still lugging his script about like a Torah throughout the entire performance, for example. (Paul Birchall). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (800) 838-3006.

DEAR HARVEY Playwright Patricia Loughrey was commissioned by San Diego's LGBT Diversionary Theatre to create this tribute to San Francisco gay activist, organizer and political figure Harvey Milk on the 30th anniversary of his death. Loughrey chose a documentary format, relying entirely on primary sources: Milk's writings and speeches, and the testimony of his ardent supporters, including fellow activist and creator of the AIDS quilt, Cleve Jones, and Milk's campaign adviser Anne Kronenberg -- and occasionally his passionate detractors. The all-black set, wreathed in votive candles, suggests a memorial service, with emphasis on celebration rather than grief. Many events are familiar -- Milk's successful campaign to defeat Proposition 6, which would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in California schools, his alliance with San Francisco Mayor Moscone, their deaths at the hands of disgruntled homophobe Dan White, and the massive outpouring of rage when White received a minimal sentence due to the infamous "Twinkie" defense. But the use of the words of people who were there lends color, humor and authenticity. For director Anthony Frisina and his large, able ensemble, this is clearly a labor of love, assisted by a musical score by Thomas Hodges. Actor John Meeks plays Milk throughout, while the other roles are divided among the ensemble. (Neal Weaver). Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2, plays411.com/dearharvey. (323) 960-7782.

DON GIOVANNI TONIGHT, DON CARLO TOMORROW Fans of Robert Altman may take a kindlier view of playwright Dennis Miles' sprawling minimally plotted comedy than this critic, who found his spoof of a company of opera singers to be a meandering letdown. The action unfolds backstage in a concert hall and concerns the neurotic obsessions and carryings-on among the various players. A jealous feud between singers Maria (Jennifer Kenyon) and Claudia (Kimberly Atkinson) comes to an end when the bombastic company manager (Joseph Back) fires Claudia for miming her lyrics instead of singing them. A voluptuous tease (Marianne Davis) parades her body nonstop for her lover (Pete Caslavka) and, when he's not around, for anyone else. An existentially minded player (Gregory Sims) obsesses to one and all about aging and death; a bearded stage veteran (Greg Wall) bursts into an impassioned non sequitur monologue about a man unjustly incarcerated in a 19th-century prison for 30 years. Under Kiff Scholl's direction, each role is skillfully played, with Wall's speech -- perhaps the meatiest juncture in the script -- an emotional highlight. Overall, however, the story lines are so skimpy, the characters so thin and the humor so tame that there's just so much the performers can do to compel our attention. The production aims for a Breughel-like canvas effect, with most of the large ensemble onstage all the time, pretending to some activity. Terence McFadden's set is artful in its shabby disarray, but its cluttered busyness only compounds the challenge to find a focus. (Deborah Klugman). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 281-8337.

DYING IS EASY . . . COMEDY IS HARD Nick Ullett's solo show., $15. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 852-1445.

ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 960-7787.

FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS Alan Ball's bridal comedy. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 465-0383.

FLASH FESTIVAL Presented by Chalk Repertory Theatre. Full schedule at ChalkRep.com. Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 663-6577.

GAYS R US $14. THE IMPROV, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; First Wednesday of every month, 8 p.m.. (323) 651-2583.

GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTURE Despite evidence of comic timing, this Groundlings sketch comedy-improv show lacks the kind of comedic distinction that has made the troupe's reputation. Directed by Damon Jones, this outing is a tepid series of scripted sketches, broken up by four improvised sequences where an emcee calls on the crowd for cues. Early on, the audience seemed predisposed to have a good time, judging by the hysterical laughter that seemed disproportionate to the comic stylings onstage. Half-baked routines included a sketch depicting a daffy Stephenie Meyers in drag, which poked fun at the popular author and her fans, and a familiar bit involving couples playing a guessing game called "Taboo." A three-piece band kept the mood vibrant by playing during the interludes, while the cast slipped into yet another fright wig or costume. But as the evening wore on, the long musical breaks between routines provided useful opportunities for people to check their devices. By the third improv sequence, the emcee was fielding facetious suggestions from the audience. That, disassembling improvs, plus some lazy writing, made for a disappointing night. (Pauline Adamek). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (323) 934-9700.

GROUNDLINGS WILDCARD SHOWS Which Groundlings show will you get on Thursday night? It's completely random: Chest Voice, S#!t My Folks Don't Know, Mitch & Edi or Straight to Video. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 2. (323) 934-9700.

HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES All-ages adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat., noon.; thru Oct. 30. (213) 389-3856.

HELLO Stefan Marks' comedic drama. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (888) 210-0183.

KEEP IT CLEAN COMEDY Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures -- taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estell III). Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 655-7679.

Jungmadel, Hitler's Little Girls Laurel Long's story of the Hitler Youth's youngest girl division. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 595-4849.

MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman. Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer first describes -- then graphically illustrates -- how she abandoned her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An unexpected pregnancy alters her life -- though not her smug irreverence leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's bitter, hollow message. (Deborah Klugman)., $20. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 666-4268.

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Actors Co-op presents Stephen Sondheim's version of the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 462-8460.

NIEGHBORS Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' racially charged play. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 24, plays411.com/neighbors. (323) 852-1445.

GO PARASITE DRAG As screwed-up families go, the one on exhibit in Mark Roberts' ultra-dark comedy makes a serious run for the top prize. The first glimpse of Gene (Robert Foster) reveals a sullen man hunched over a kitchen table, with an ice pad on his eye, as he nurses a shiner he got from his wife, Joellen (Mim Drew); she sits, staring out of the door, wryly commenting on the impending tornado about to strike their tiny Midwestern town. Eight years without sex, and trapped in a loveless marriage, they are bonded only by the conventions of small-town propriety, shallow pretense and Gene's fanatical Christian beliefs. The real twister, however, comes in the form of Gene's boorish, foul-mouthed brother, Ronnie (the outstanding Boyd Kestner), and his countrified wife, Susie (Agatha Nowicki), who drop in unexpectedly. Apparent from the outset is the seething resentment between Gene and Ronnie, which Roberts' fine script slowly heats to critical mass, uncovering a dark undercurrent of shared emotional and psychological mutilation. Sordid revelations emerge about the family's troubled past, their mother's bloody suicide and the sexual molestation of a drug-abusing sister, who is now dying of AIDS in a hospital. The final plot turn is raw and dirty. Notwithstanding the play's bleak tapestry, Roberts instills plenty of comic relief into his writing. The characters are well sketched and without a trace or urbanity. David Fofi delivers spot-on direction and draws very good performances from his cast, particularly Nowicki, who artfully blends Southern charm and simplicity with trailer-trash attitude. (Lovell Estell III). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat..; thru Oct. 2. (213) 614-0556.

PIECES OF ME Loretta Devine has worn many hats during her three decades as an entertainer, working on Broadway (she originated the role of Lorrell in Dreamgirls), starring in numerous television roles, and appearing in scads of movies on the big screen. Here, she brings her considerable talents to an evening of poems, songs and autobiographical anecdotes, not all of which are engaging, but her singing voice offers serious compensation for that. She also possesses an enthralling, charismatic personality and sense of humor. Devine gives a sketchy but interesting survey of her early life in Houston growing up in a family of females, and the challenges she faced becoming a singer and performer. Some segments are nothing but slide presentations showing Devine at different junctures in her career; there is also a collage of celebrity photos that are only vaguely entertaining. Devine is at her best when crooning about matters of the heart. "Panties and Pearls and Trilogy" recounts the highs, lows and deceptions attendant to a bittersweet love affair. "My Father" is a heart-wrenching homage, and "Except for the Grace" serves up a powerfully evocative mediation on the homeless and hopeless, embellished by haunting still shots of destitute people. (Lovell Estell III). Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 3, plays411.com/lorettadevine. (323) 960-7780.

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 LA RAZÓN BLINDADA (THE ARMORED REASON) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play -- one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival -- not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah Klugman). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (213) 745-6516.

SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 16. (310) 281-8337.

SIT 'N' SPIN Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity; www.sitnspin.org., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m.. (323) 960-5519.

NEW REVIEW SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by Amy Mucken

An

entirely satisfying adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's 1969, postmodernist,

antiwar novel may simply be a dramatic impossibility. George Roy Hill's

1972 film version comes close in its rendering of the book's dark,

ironic fatalism and some of its chaotic narrative sweep. Where both

Hill and this 1996 stage adaptation by Steppenwolf writer Eric Simonson

fall short, however, is in capturing the elusive, playful poignancy of

a story that is less about war than it is about memory and reconciling

the trauma of the lived experience. In the case of both Vonnegut the

author/narrator (Raymond Donahey) and his fictional, time-tripping

everyman, Billy Pilgrim -- a role split between Don Schlossman, A.J.

Diamond and Owen Sholar as, respectively, old Billy, Young Billy and

Boy Billy -- the experience in question is their survival of the

militarily-pointless Allied firebombing of Dresden at the end of WWII.

How each struggles to give meaning to an atrocity that beggars human

imagination -- Vonnegut by writing his novel; Billy by retreating into

solipsistic, sci-fi fantasy -- drives the action of both novel and

play. Director Tiger Reel (who is also credited with the show's

minimalist set and evocative sound design) composes some lovely stage

images, but when it comes to leading his uneven ensemble (including the

novelist's daughter, Lily Vonnegut) through Simonson's purposefully

disjunctive, albeit unwieldy, smash-cut scenes, the director seems

little more than a traffic cop. Clever illumination by designer Matt

Richter unfortunately also sheds unwelcome light on costumer Becca

Fuchs' period malapropisms. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23. (213) 393-5638 or

action-theatre.com. An Action! Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW  GO TAKE ME OUT

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by Michael Calas

Baseball star Darren Leming (Ary Katz), the central figure in

Richard Greenberg's provocative 2002 comedy-drama, is a paragon of

talent, skill and virtue. Half black and half white, he has become

baseball's golden boy, admired and adored by team-mates and fans --

till he impulsively decides to come out as gay, and the press runs with

the story. He thinks that because he's "young and rich and famous and

talented and handsome," he's immune to negative consequences. But like

a rock dropped into a pond, his revelation produces ever- widening

ripples that undermine his world. Bigotry and religious fanaticism rear

their heads, as irate fans accuse him of desecrating the sacred sport.

As for his teammates, it's a loss of innocence: They're forced to

confront the homo-eroticism that underlies their comfortable locker

room intimacy. Most deeply affected is newly recruited relief pitcher

Shane Mungitt (Garrett Matheson), a naïve, dim, barely literate orphan

from the deep South, where racism and homophobia were bred in his

bones. He's ultimately both victim and aggressor, driven by feelings he

doesn't understand, to an act of ambiguous but lethal violence.

Greenberg probes issues of sexual identity, moral ambiguity, personal

responsibility, and baseball, in pungent, idiosyncratic dialog laced

with subversive wit. Director Michael Matthews has assembled an almost

perfect cast, on Kurt Boetcher's intimate in-the-round set, and he

explores the play's complexities with finely-focused exuberance. Katz

skillfully charts Leming's transformation from Apollonian serenity to a

man forced to acknowledge his failings and vulnerability. Tom Costello

brings comic chops and rich conviction to the shortstop Kippy, the

play's narrator, who's shattered when his sentimental do-good-ism

produces disastrous results. And there's a deliciously deft comedy

performance by Thomas James O'Leary as Leming's fey, gay financial

manager, who regards his boss as a hero, and finds in the world of

baseball a wondrous epiphany. His aria comparing baseball to democracy

is as penetrating as it is funny. They receive solid backup from the

sterling cast. Tim Swiss's lighting design and Veronica J. Lancaster's

sound are integral to the action. This is Celebration Theatre's most

ambitious and impressive production in years. Celebration Theatre,

7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.,

thru October 31. (323) 957-1884 or celebrationtheatre.com (Neal Weaver)

VALENTINO VALENTINA World premiere of Carlo Allen's romantic comedy. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, plays411.com/valentino. (323) 960-7712.

WAITING FOR GODOT Sir Peter Hall, Britain's acknowledged master stager of Samuel Beckett's towering foundational text of the modern theater, has been quoted as saying, "All actors should have played Hamlet and been in Godot." By "all," of course, Hall didn't mean "any" but rather only the most seasoned and accomplished of players. Regrettably, it's an attitude not shared by director Timothy McNeil, whose excruciatingly tone-deaf, pasteboard production mostly obliterates Beckett's delicate musicality, rhythms and underlying tenderness through miscasting, mugging and unfathomable directing choices. McNeil's laughs-at-any-cost approach violently distorts the play's central, comic duet between tramps Vladimir (Andy Wagner) and Estragon (Alain Villeneuve) -- a comedy based in the pair's desperation to combat the boredom and fill the awful silence of their titular wait -- into crude, knockabout shtick. Rather than suggesting the antagonistic synchronicity of lifelong, road-weary sidekicks, Wagner and Villeneuve rarely seem to be on the same stage, never mind the same page. In Wagner's hands, the sensitive, intellectual Didi is reduced to an antic village idiot, robbing Villeneuve's otherwise well-grounded Gogo of his pretension-deflating bite. The evening's coup de grce, however, is delivered by Charles Pacello, whose wild-eyed, off-the-leash Pozzo plays less like Beckett's "big, brutal bully" than a horror-movie Billy Zane on meth. By comparison, Pozzo's inexplicably Tourette's-afflicted slave, Lucky (a far-too-green Deshik Vansadia) seems a masterwork of dramatic subtlety. plays411.com/waitingforgodot. (Bill Raden). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 960-7770.

WATER In writer-director Marios Stilianakis' drama, at Hollywood's Lounge Theatre, a U.S. Army soldier, Bill (David Bennett), and an Iraqi insurgent, Ali (Bobby Naderi), find themselves in adjacent prison cells in Baghdad. A kind of cosmic joke is being played on both of them, perhaps by their captors or perhaps just by their playwright. There's a dumbwaiter rig by each of their pillows -- a tube extending to the ceiling. Next to the tube is a button labeled "water." When one of them presses it, a small, plastic water bottle drops out of the tube -- but in the other man's cell. This is obviously a formula for a kind of sadistic dependence. Furthermore, their sacks of possessions, containing vestiges of memory from a place called home, have been swapped. And so the pair engage in a series of exchanges: a true story for a sacred scarf, or a pair of sunglasses for a bottle of water. Their captors, meanwhile, have left the building, not unlike God. Or, to be more hopeful, God lies within each of them. The metaphysical conceit requires a suspension of disbelief, which is hard to achieve in such a realistic setting. It's a distant cousin to The Arabian Nights, in which a bride must tell her husband a new story every night in order to avoid being killed and replaced by a new bride. Even Stilianakis' conceit of imprisoned characters telling stories in exchange for obtaining sacred relics from their past might be persuasive, were the stories structured to build suspense, or delivered in a style more compelling than having the actors gaze blankly into the audience as they recite their respective horrors against a projected photographic backdrop. Watching the two of them is a bit like watching Mel Gibson and Alfred Molina in Clash of the Titans -- but with more introspective confessions than clashing. As textured as these actors may be, it's still a path to lethargy. Through the stories comes to us -- and to them -- the revelation that each was involved in a battle and each is responsible for the death of the other's brother. (Ali has survived the death of his entire family of nine.) And their personal culpability is what leads to the intended, shifting dynamics between friendship and volatility, which are not yet palpable. Technical details defy plausibility. Bill's combat boots look spanking new, as if they'd just been purchased from the military-supply shop down the street. Though both describe charging through bloodbaths, there isn't a trace of blood or dirt or even wear on either of their costumes. The prison cells similarly appear to have been newly constructed and painted, creating quite a facility to be dumped -- and abandoned -- in. This is a problem in a work that aims to reveal larger truths through details. Says Ali, "It's not the big stuff, it's the personal stuff that has us locked up here." He removes a Penthouse magazine from Bill's bag, accusing him of betraying his girlfriend's love. Bill argues that "thoughts" of his girlfriend are sometimes not enough. Ali replies that all he has are thoughts and memories rather than pornographic diversions; it is the cerebral that keeps him going. This is a fascinating philosophical divide. All that's needed is dramatic tension. And that's a big need. (Steven Leigh Morris). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-7711.

GO THE WEB This paranoid fantasy by Michael John Garcs tells a wildly baroque tale of identity theft. New Yorker Chris Quinones (Ian Forester) discovers, while trolling the Internet, that there is another Chris Quinones out there, whose story and vital statistics are almost identical to his own. Suddenly he's being harassed and questioned by two mysterious men, Kepesh (Edgar Landa, who choreographed the brutal fight scenes) and Warner (Justin Huen, who doubles effectively as a super-sadistic Paraguayan thug), who apparently think he's the other Chris. They're also hassling his best friend (Tony Sancho) and his girlfriend (Betsy Reisz). Meanwhile, his apartment is invaded by Arrowsmith (Stan Kelly), who claims to be working for the FBI, NYPD and CIA. Arrowsmith saddles Chris with a mysterious wounded femme fatale (Amanda Zarr) and a very large gun, and Chris finds himself renditioned to Paraguay, in the midst of a drug war. Nothing is what it seems, and contradictions breed like rabbits. For a while it seems Garcs is simply indulging in obfuscation for its own sake, but eventually things start to add up. Director Alyson Roux has assembled a top-notch, energetic cast, which she deploys with speed and precision. All tech credits are excellent. (Neal Weaver). Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-4418.

WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.

GO A WOLF INSIDE THE FENCE "You can't lose your way in a history class. You can only go backwards," says Linus McBride (Arthur Hanket), a history teacher who seems to be losing his passion, and possibly his marbles. The target of the advice is Marion McNeely (Charlotte Chanler), a troubled transfer student at McBride's public Oregon high school. With dark secrets of his own, Linus cultivates an attachment to Marion. At the same time, Judy cultivates an interest in the girl, with whom she shares more than she would care to admit, while losing interest in her boyfriend, Math teacher Harold Carson (Colin Walker). What develops is an intense series of events as these wounded animals become entwined in each other's lives. Playwright Joseph Fisher weaves a rich tapestry of dark chocolate secrets and twisted desires, pairing it perfectly with a dry champagne wit that sparkles in the mouths of this talented cast. Hanket, particularly, wields Fisher's rapier wit with impeccable comic timing and an understated manner that leads to some devastatingly funny lines. The credit for this must, of course, be shared with director Benjamin Burdick, who strikes a fine balance between the piece's humor and horror. The minimally staged performance is a good reminder that when fancy sets, lighting and other aspects of modern stagecraft are put away, the heart of good drama is compelling characters and a well-crafted text. (Mayank Keshaviah). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (323) 882-6912.

NEW REVIEW

YARD SALE SIGNS

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by John Flynn

What

price beauty? In Jennie Webb's comedy, the cost is 90 minutes of female

bonding in a dressing room that -- metaphor alert -- has no walls. As

any Cathy comic can tell you, women forge a complicated relationship

with their clothes -- inspiration, ambition, comfort, judgement,

insult. From their hangers, they hiss, "Where are you going to wear me?

What are you going to do about those thighs?" The closest parallel to

the female/fabric struggle is the one these five women and token gay

male have with their mothers, none of whom are present except in

continual conversation. Webb allegorical sitcom names the ladies "The

Focused Woman," "The Scattered Woman," "The Selfless Woman," and "The

Woman With Children" -- who slowly and physically collapses over the

course of the play as though her three kids have torn her limb from

limb. Elina de Santos' chirpy direction has fun with the play's sight

gags, particularly a giant purse that chucks up a cooler, a clothing

rack, four dozen yard sale signs and a U-Haul's worth of boxes. The

broad humor and big rants can't earn the closing round of hugs;

instead, our attention is more occupied by designer Eva Franco's heaps

of colorful original clothing (all for sale after the show) then the

characters pawing through it as they pick apart their psyches.

Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3

p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 960-4424. Presented by Rogue Machine. (Amy

Nicholson)


GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies, once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer: change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its "disease-of-the-week" dimension surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellow is a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores' precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17...

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

ANAÏS: AN EROTIC EVENING WITH ANAÏS NIN The famously candid diaries of Anaïs Nin avoid one weekend in the '50s, when she left L.A. for a weekend in Arizona, purpose unknown. Sonia Maslovskaya's one-woman show -- written and directed by Michael Phillips -- imagines that Nin secretly visited a sanitarium housing June Miller, the calculating beauty who anchored one end of Nin's love triangle with author Henry Miller. (Nin's own cuckolded husband, Hugo, was a bystander.) The lithe Maslovskaya vamps in vintage dress as she accounts Nin's sexual awakening -- and humbling -- in 1930s Paris at the hands of the two Millers in imagined conversations with June's therapist, Henry, and later, June herself. Anaïs is a tale of love dangled just out of reach and a florid, earnest feat of memorization by Maslovskaya, but it's a little too self-conscious to seduce the audience. The one-sided dialogue cripples the play as performed alone: Nin seems less like a besotted, swayed suitor and more like a narcissistic chatterbox. Tellingly, this unflappable eroticist is most taken aback when the therapist says he's never heard of her. (Amy Nicholson). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 15, . (818) 506-9863.

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK The Group Rep presents Neil Simon's romantic comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.

FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Jazz musical with lyrics and music by Louis Jordan, including "Let the Good Times Roll," "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" and "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.". Center Stage Theatre, 8463 Sierra Ave., Fontana; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, centerstagefontana.com. (909) 429-7469.

IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.

LOVE, SEX & VIOLENCE TOO (OR FALSE ADVERTISING) Short plays by Czech-American playwright Helena Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (866) 811-4111.

MARTYRDUMB It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where playwrights Kerr Seth Lordygan and Jason Britt's sophomoric cartoon of a madcap terrorism satire first crosses the not-so-fine line between provocative irreverence and repellent offensiveness. Suffice it to say that well before the intermission, the play's collection of crudely lampooned stereotypes racks up enough religious blasphemies to inspire a dozen fatwa denunciations, not to mention the host of homophobic slanders and misogynistic misdemeanors committed in the name of its ill-conceived, taboo-twisted gags. Act I follows the blundering, plastique-packing religious fanatic, Apneo (Patrick Alan), as he seizes the lobby of a business-park office building during a suicide-bombing attempt. Despite the blundering and bickering attempts of Apneo's strangely accommodating hostages to talk the bomber out of his mission, the resulting, accidental detonation finds only security guard Nason (Mason Hallberg) surviving into Act 2. That's when Lordygan and Britt shift gears into a broad parody of a CSI-styled police procedural, as the victims reemerge as the bumbling investigators of the scatologically named antiterrorist unit, F.A.R.T., with equally unsavory and catastrophic results. Director Maria Markosov only exacerbates an already witless text devoid of political or religious insight by a mistaken belief that louder and faster somehow equals funnier. A clever set by Marco De Leon and inventive lighting by John Dickey can do little to ameliorate this painful, shrill misfire. (Bill Raden). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (818) 508-3003.

GO OF GRAPES AND NUTS Humor á la Joad comes to Burbank in this revival of a parodic hybrid between two of John Steinbeck's best-known novels, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Written by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth, the plotline is loosely that of The Grapes of Wrath, following Tom Joad (Ian Vogt) and the Joad family on their trek from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. The primary additions from Of Mice and Men are the characters of Lenny (David Reynolds), Candy (David Ghilardi) and Curly (Kimberly Van Luin). Director Paul Stroili, part of the original 1990 Chicago cast, lets his actors go full bore into an over-the-top campiness that winks heavily at the gritty realism of the source material. The self-made frontier ethos is particularly lampooned in a production that gets mileage from both the sly anachronistic jokes in the script and the gusto with which the cast tackles them. Casey Kramer, as Ma Joad, has some particularly hilarious rants, as does Lauren McCormack, who plays the womanizing preacher Jim Casy. Reynolds portrays dim-witted Lenny with such earnestness that we can't help but like him, and Ghilardi (who plays four roles) and Jen Ray (playing both a bulldozer driver and a waitress) showcase their versatility. Even David George's wooden grape crate of a set is comical, providing an appropriate backdrop to a show that puts the "funny" in the "bone" dry Dust Bowl. (Mayank Keshaviah). Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 841-5421.

THE SECRET OF FIFTY, FATHERHOOD AND FACEBOOK In his solo performance, writer-star Vince Cefalu wants to tell you his story. Decades ago, after years of buttoning up and curling lips into a smile, Americans' cheeks started aching. In additional to a swath of personal confessions in pop lit and on TV talk shows, a new subgenre of theater sprung up at the same time: personal war stories, "My Turn" essays and "It Happened to Me" segments. But as the market became saturated with such, only the most spectacular train wrecks, like James Frey's heavily decorated 2003 addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces, caused us to press our faces against the windows as we drove past. That being said, we do love an I'm-still-standing story, no matter how humble. The story doesn't have to be gasp-worthy to have traction, but it does need to be more than a personal catharsis and big-picture advice such as, "Loving unconditionally is the secret." Certainly, Cefalu is sincere, and he, like many, has had more than his share of struggles. Ultimately, though, arranging this handful of monologues into a single piece, as director Lori Tubert has done, makes for a patchwork quilt of a show, in which a couple of swatches just don't mesh: There's a porn bit that's seat-squirmingly awkward, and a Facebook rant that begins with the Jerry Seinfeld-patented "What's the deal with Facebook?" One key is to carve personal reflections into a work that will have resonance beyond closest friends and family, and that's a missing key in Cefalu's project. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW GO STATE OF THE UNION

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by Carla Barnett

When

politics-as-usual gets you down, humor and fantasy can help -- which

may explain the Pulitzer Prize for this 1945 romantic comedy about an

honest man who considers running for President, then realizes the

compromises he'll have to make to win. Writers Howard Lindsay and

Russell Crouse's play debuted after WWII, when the U.S. was flexing

newly acquired muscles on the world stage and organized labor was still

a force to be reckoned with. When it begins, the Republican

powers-that-be are searching for an outsider (some things don't change)

to challenge Truman in '48. A savvy political operative named Conover

(James Gleason) is testing the waters with a business executive, Grant

Matthews (Don Fischer) and his popular public persona. Anxious to brush

Matthews' affair with a glamorous female publisher (Tracy Powell) under

the rug, Conover calls on Matthews' estranged wife Mary (D.J. Harner)

to join the campaign. Mary's initial reluctance metamorphoses into

enthusiasm after messages from the common folk come flooding in, and

she becomes the voice of democratic idealism railing against Conover's

special interests. Though the piece supposedly revolves around Matthews

and his choices, in this production it is Harner's charismatic

housewife who garners the spotlight, transforming this stolid

message-vehicle into lively human drama. Fischer, a bit stiff, appears

every inch a captain of industry but is less convincing as a man of

integrity. Elizabeth Herron scores as Lulubelle, the discerning wife of

a corrupt judge. Designer Joel Daavid's handsome set frames the action,

and Meagan Evers' costumes (the men's ties are a treat!) enliven it.

Anita Khanzadian directs. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N.

Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. interactla.org.

(877) 369-9112. Presented by Interact Theatre Company. (Deborah Klugman)

GO STEPPING ON A FEW TOES What makes one person's story compelling and another's banal? Maybe it's what people call soul. In her involving one-woman show, writer/performer Jasmynne Shaye describes growing up as the emotionally and sexually abused child of a single mother, and of her struggle to vanquish the demons bred of a lonely and loveless childhood. Like so many young Americans, Shaye, from first grade through her early teens, shared a decrepit housing-project apartment with her embittered mom and young sister, and her mom's various boyfriends. When life at home became unbearable, she was packed off to live with her dad, an icy, tightfisted man who turned his daughter into a housebound Cinderella. As often with solo shows, Shaye portrays multiple characters; some depictions are crystal clear, others less so. Her narrative -- rippling with accusatory recollections -- is directed, in part toward her invisible mother, in part out to the audience. Fortunately, juxtaposed with the painful memories are a few happier interludes brought on mostly by her dancing, in which she excelled. Ultimately what snares our interest is not the novelty of her story -- sadly all too common -- but the expressive, intrepid way in which she tells it. Under Jaimyon Parker's direction, some scene shifts in this bare-bones production are awkward, slowed by Shaye's frequent costume changes. Although these transitions need to be finessed, this is one case in which budget limitations and technical shortcomings are eclipsed by the performer's compelling voice. (Deborah Klugman). Bill Becker's NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. 323-839-0023.

STILTZ! THE MUSICAL Music and lyrics by Deborah Johnson. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (323) 822-7898.

SULTAN'S BATTERY Fresh Baked Theatre Company presents Kathy Rucker's mystical whodunit. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun..; thru Oct. 17. (818) 761-0704.

NEW REVIEW GO TITUS ANDRONICUS

Stage Raw: Son of Semele Ensemble Turns 10

Photo by Steven Sabel

In his odd, entertaining production, director Steven Sabel gives Shakespeare's sadistic tale of vengeance and bloodlust a True Blood

twist, re-imagining the play as a gothic story of warfare between two

vampire clans. Conquered Goth queen Tamora (Jennifer Blanck,

beautifully icy) marries the Roman emperor Saturninus (Jordan Maxwell),

who offers her a "blood gift," following which she avenges herself

against her great rival Titus (Tom Newman). Tamora's thug sons (Mike

Eastman and Nick Zaharopoulos) rape Titus's daughter Lavinia (Christina

Fleming), and then chop off her hands and tongue. In response, Titus

kidnaps the boys and throws a party, feeding the sons' flesh to an

unwitting Tamora as hors d'ouevres. The vampire concept at first sounds

as though it could be rather silly, but the eccentric notion ultimately

adds a mythic dimension to the play's sequences of unbridled cruelty

and operatic emotion. The atmosphere of myth is underscored by blocking

that often consists of Kabuki-like gestures and emotional expressions

of operatic, heightened reality -- these are predatory characters who

are driven by their root emotions of hatred and rage. In the end,

here's a production of Titus that gives the audience exactly what it

wants - terrifying horrors, staged with an unabashed love of Grand

Guignol. Lavinia's dragged off to be raped, and returns dangling

meat-tipped stumps where her hands were and vomiting blood when every

time she tries to speak. Sabel's pruning of Shakespeare's text can

sometimes seem as ferocious as the Moor's slicing off of Titus's arm,

but the staging's fierce energy is both harrowing and effective.

Particularly powerful turns are offered by Blanck, by Goldsberry's evil

Moor, and Fleming's hapless, tragically destined Lavinia. Zombie Joe's

Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood;

Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru October 16. (818) 202-4120. (Paul Birchall)

TRUE WEST Usually birthdays are occasions for celebration in which the aging honoree is the recipient of gifts, cake, good wishes and lots of brazen, barefaced flattery. And while there are some ingratiating aspects to the party director Aliah Whitmore throws for the 30th anniversary of Sam Shepard's 1980 sibling-rivalry satire, her decidedly uneven production could hardly be considered a gift. The deceptive comic naturalism of Shepard's tale about two brothers locked in psychological, siege warfare camouflages a far more serious allegory on the inherent schizophrenia of artistic identity. So the director's decision to lavish this symbolic drama with the hyperdetailed, trompe l'il realism of production designer Jacob Whitmore's rambling, overly busy suburban-house set (replete with a never-used stairway to nowhere) is the first hint at the bumpy ride ahead. The evening's flattery comes in the form of the mutton-chopped Andrew Patton, who brings a swaggering menace to the role of the older, vagabond brother, Lee. If Lee smolders, however, Andre Verderame's screenwriter brother, Austin, is something of a wet blanket. Instead of Shepard's edgy intellectual, Aliah Whitmore has Verderame play him as a weepy, whining mama's boy -- a choice that proves all but fatal to the climactic merging of the brothers' identities. The fine Mike Genovese provides equal measures of sleaze and breeze as the movie producer, Saul Kimmer, while lighting designer Bob Primes succeeds in preventing the actors from drowning in the ocean of superfluous stage scenery. A Whitmore Eclectic production. (Bill Raden). Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (818) 826-3609.

URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 202-4120.

LA VIE EN ROUTE Written by Mark Harvey Levin and directed by Carlos Martinez, these seven vignettes show flashes of promise, but the end product is a disappointment. Apparent from the outset is a startling dearth of narrative coherency and imagination in the writing, the upside being energetic cast performances. "School of Thought," which opens the bill, is nothing more than a chaotic gathering of actors posing as fish. "Ladies of the Evening" is a bit better with Tasi McGuire (who performs well throughout), as a call girl on the make, and Josh Morrison playing the role of the mark. "Cabfare for the Common Man," takes up a similar theme but is a mess from start to finish, with Morrison stuck in a cab packed with a zany assortment of characters, including some sexy gals, during a night out. The most inspiring thing here is the crusty, garrulous cabbie, played by David Shackelford, who returns in the best-written, funniest piece of the night, "The Rental." Here, Shackelford portrays a paid boy toy for a lonely woman (Alexis Kupka). "Superhero" makes a descent into bludgeoning tedium with Jude Evans as a caped do-gooder in a strange encounter with Rachel (Deidre Moore). "L.A. 8. A.M," is no better, with Evans and Dana Bretz as a couple navigating the boredom of their morning routine. "Prodigal Cow" has Moore and McGuire in a dull riff on certain kinds of food. (Lovell Estell III). Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (818) 766-9100.

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

ALL IN THE TIMING David Ives' collection of seven short plays. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Through Oct. 2. (310) 656-8070.

GO ALL MY SONS With the recent BP oil disaster, the Enron debacle, and the misadventures of financial moguls like Bernard Madoff, it is no wonder that theater company artistic directors all over town are dusting off their copies of Arthur Miller's magnificent evisceration of capitalism, American corruption and moral hypocrisy. However, it is difficult to come up with new and innovative ways to present the often compelling piece. Shakespeare and Beckett, to name a pair, can be staged in a variety of settings and directorial styles, but Miller's play gets to the heart of a family standing around on a front porch next to a fallen tree. Director Edward Edwards stages his intimate and psychologically nuanced production almost like a mystery -- even during the play's seemingly banter-filled opening scenes, we sense an underlying unease and sadness; the puzzle is spotting all the clues and then piecing them together to understand what is really going on. Edwards' production is anchored by crackling acting work. Paul Linke's unusually crusty Joe Keller, the family patriarch who let an underling take the rap for a mechanical error that killed a number of pilots during World War II, is full of alpha male bluster and bonhomie, but even from his first appearance, his eyes possess a resigned coldness that suggests the truth he's hiding and has accepted only too well. In Catherine Telford's turn as Kate, Joe's grief-sick wife, we see a character whose denial-stoked belief that her beloved, MIA son will return from the war is a means of tamping down the ferocious rage that ultimately explodes in the play's final act. As Joe's idealistic son Chris, Dominic Comperatore's shyness shifts to disgusted anger, a turn that hints at the possibility he was aware on some level of his father's sleaziness. Although uneven turns are offered by some of the supporting cast, Maury Sterling's crushed boyish performance as the scorned son of the framed co-worker is brilliant, as is Austin Highsmith's unusually appealing Ann, whose shocking reveal about the dead son (often one of the more contrived plot twists in most productions) is here powerfully well-motivated and believable. (Paul Birchall). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 397-3244.

GO BECKY'S NEW CAR "When a woman says she wants a new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a new car, she really wants a new life." In Steven Dietz's smart if tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life comes prancing into Becky's dealership, when slightly spacey billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife, is inexplicably attracted to the earthy "real world" Becky, whose own moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth. Dietz's play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael Rothhaar's whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The play's genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such, the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball comedies -- a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels' bubbly Becky repeatedly invites opinions from audience members -- some of whom are roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change moment -- balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself swept away by Greenquist's charismatic Walter. Although the contrivances of the play's final third are too preposterous to sustain even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty, sympathetic performances -- including Rogers as Becky's goofy son and by Suzanne Ford's graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walter's affections. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 822-8392.

BREAK THE WHIP The epic sprawl of Tim Robbins' staging of his new play, Break the Whip, may be justified by the scale of its ambitions. He is, after all, dramatizing creation myths -- three, to be precise: that of the Powhatan tribes that once flourished along the eastern seaboard of what's now the United States; a Christian creation myth as held by English settlers of the Jamestown colony in the early 17th century; and a creation myth from Angola, as embraced by the first slaves brought to the Jamestown colony. Each of these myths is depicted in a shadow-puppet playlet designed by Johnny Burton, and interspersed throughout the main drama that unfolds in the years between 1609 and 1621, in Jamestown where the three cultures converge. The drama entails a series of fragile political negotiations and liaisons among the cultures for food, security and some crude vestiges of civilization. Each actor dons a commedia mask so that, even when the English settlers are cannibalizing their own spouses, or burying them in pieces wrapped in cloth, the stylistic treatment contains echoes of an Italian clown show. In one scene, a squatty English buffoon (Stephen M. Porter) rages by "beating" his indentured servant (Chris Schultz) with fey humor -- merely swaying his torso so that his limp arm barely scrapes the victim, ostensibly because he hasn't the energy to employ more severity than that. In another scene, an African slave woman (Giselle Jones) gets whipped for having an affair with that same servant. Nothing fey there. We see the lashes as red cloth taped to her back. Upon seeing this, other characters -- her fellow slaves and members of the local tribe -- recoil in horror. Stylistically, these are mixed messages. Are we supposed to be emotionally estranged -- for the comedy -- or engaged by the horror? One scene is in the style of a Monty Python sketch; the other, lifted from the TV epic Roots, but in harlequin attire. Add to this Robbins' very political decision to give voice to each culture in its native tongue, with English-language supertitles of the Algonquian and Kimbundu languages simultaneously projected onto a screen above the stage. That choice does inspire respect for the fastidious research it must have entailed, the cost being yet one more layer of emotional distraction: huge swaths of text delivered to English speakers on a suspended screen, as though this were an opera with music overtaking the primacy of language. It isn't; the music here is accompaniment rather than an engine. Roping us back in is the story's sentimental heart, a story of elopement whereby the beaten African slave and her forbidden English lover join a band of rebels to find refuge with the deeply skeptical natives, who are in the midst of their own internal strife. The performance by Scott Harris as a slightly bewildered, very thoughtful and ultimately compassionate tribal leader grows increasingly endearing. Perhaps the sentimentality is needed to counter the mix of styles and the diversions, but the result is an inverted rendition of the traditional storybook histories of the Americas that get taught in schools, against which Robbins is reacting. (Steven Leigh Morris). Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 838-4264.

ELIZABETH SHAKESPEARE AND THE ASTUTE DETECTIVE Alan Ross' world premiere about who really wrote the Bard's plays. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 394-9779.

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER Henrik Ibsen sequel by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q). Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 828-7519.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Shirley Jackson's horror story, adapted by F. Andrew Leslie. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 454-1970.

A LIGHT IN THE SHADOWS Tony Cronin's comedy about an artist in a mid-life crisis. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (310) 963-8821.

GO PARADISE PARK A profoundly despondent fellow (Kenneth Rudnicki) wanders into an amusement park for distraction from his agony. Inside, he slips into a fantasia of scenes -- including his own romance with a young woman (Reha Zemani) from the Midwest, igniting a bundle of neuroses that keeps them estranged; a ventriloquist/philosopher (Ann Stocking) and his bifurcated dummy (David E. Frank); a tourist couple (Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance) at the end of the tether that's barely holding their marriage together; their irate young daughter (KC Wright) who yearns, in vain, for an effete Cuban (Tim Orona); a psychotic pizza-delivery boy (Jeff Attik); a wandering violinist (Lena Kouyoumdjian); a circus clown (Troy Dunn) and, in a directorial flourish, a guy in a chicken costume. Charles Mee's comedy is like a sonnet with a couple of repeated motifs: distraction, love and the general feeling of being cast adrift in cultural waters that are partly enchanting, partly evaporating, and partly polluted by the refuse of our ancestors, of our families, of our determination to follow impulses we barely comprehend, and to wind up unutterably lost. He's one of this company's favorite scribes, and mine, for the way in which, with the literary touch of a feather, he conjures primal truths of what keeps us at odds with ourselves and with each other, keeps us yearning for the unattainable. And though there's obviously psychology at work, the driving energies of the language and of the drama are subconscious, cultural and historical currents. Production designer Charles Duncombe anchors his platform set with a wading pool stage center, in which sits an alligator, and he decorates it above with strings of festival lights on a string. Josephine Poinsot's costumes are thoroughly whimsical with primary colors and a feel for an America of the late 1950s -- with the possible of exception of the married couple's matching shorts and T-shirts that read, "Kiss my ass, I'm on vacation." Director Frederique Michel stages the poetical riffs of text in her typically arch style, and it serves the play almost perfectly, except for the pizza-delivery scene, where the choreography distracts from the psychosis that lies at the core. Even so, I found the evening to be indescribably affecting, tapping emotions that lurk beneath the machinery of reason. This is the last production to be staged at this back-alley venue in Santa Monica, where the company has been putting on plays for 15 years. The ventriloquist's lines couldn't have been more ironic and true: "Then, because the theater is the art form that deals above all others in human relationships, then theater is the art, par excellence, in which we discover what it is to be human and what is possible for humans to be ... that theater, properly conceived, is not an escape either but a flight to reality, a rehearsal for life itself, a rehearsal of these human relationships of which the most essential, the relationship that defines most vividly who we are and that makes our lives possible, is love." (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (310) 319-9939.

A SOLDIER'S PLAY Military story by Charles Fuller. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 589-1998.

WAITING FOR LEFTY Clifford Odets' Depression-years drama. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 16, calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.


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