THIS WEEK'S COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
For the weekend's New Reviews, press the "Continue Reading" tab at the bottom of this section.
SONG OF EXTINCTION WINS STEINBERG/ATCA PRIZE
A scene from the world premiere of Song of Extinction; Photo courtesy of Moving Arts.
The largest national award for a new play, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, has just been given to E.M. Lewis' Song of Extinction, which received its world premiere by an L.A. company, Moving Arts, at [Inside] the Ford, last year. That production just won the L.A. Weekly's Production of the Year Award on March 30, as well as the Leading Male Performance award for Darrell Kunitomi. Kunitomi portrayed a high school biology teacher and survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide who befriends a troubled American student, while trying to teach reverence and respect for endangered species.
Also, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle recently awarded Song of Extinction its Ted Schmitt award for playwriting.
The Steinberg/ATCA announcement was made April 4 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays, where critics have converged for a special industry weekend.
The award includes a plaque and a cash prize of $25,000.
Lee Blessing's Great Falls and Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts received Steinberg/ATCA citations and $7,500 each. Both Lewis and Letts are first-time winners, but Blessing previously won the 2006 Steinberg/ATCA Award for A Body of Water, and in 1987 he won the predecessor ATCA New Play Award for A Walk in the Woods.
The award was started in 1977 to honor plays that debut at regional theaters outside New York City. No play is eligible if it has gone on to a New York production within the award year (in this case, 2008).
For the weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for April 10-16, 2009
(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
BUNNY TALES EPISODE: IV: BUNNY WARS West of Broadway Theater Company and Reading Is Fundamental of Southern California adapt the story of Peter Rabbit "for children of all ages.". Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; opens April 12; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 392-7327.
THE LAST HIPPIE: A WESTERN NOVEL Monologues by Vincent Mann about the waning of hippie counterculture in the 1970s. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens April 14; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru May 12. (818) 783-6784.
LYDIA Sexy caregiver transforms Mexican-American family, in Octavio Solis' play. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens April 16; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 17. (213) 628-2772.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Write Act Repertory re-imagines Shakespeare's play. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; opens April 16; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 23. (323) 469-3113.
NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY Serial-killer musical, adapted by Douglas J. Cohen from William Goldman's novel. Part of the 2009 Festival of New American Musicals. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Toluca Lake; opens April 15; Wed., April 15, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (818) 558-7000.
OUR MOTHER'S BRIEF AFFAIR World premiere of Richard Greenberg's play about a mom's confession of long-ago infidelity to her adult son and daughter. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens April 11; Sat., April 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; thru May 3. (714) 708-5555.
RICHARD III REDUX: OUR RADICAL ADAPTATION The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts mashes up Shakespeare's Richard III and Henry VI, Part 3 in an examination of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mortise & Tenon Furniture Store, Second Floor, 446 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens April 12; Mon., Sun., 8 p.m.; thru June 8. (888) 398-9348.
STICK FLY Lydia R. Diamond's study of upper-class African-American family values. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens April 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 31. (323) 960-7740.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
EVERYBODY SAY "CHEESE!" Garry Marshall's Bronx tale of a 1960s middle-aged housewife newly inspired by women's lib. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., April 11, 4 p.m.; thru April 11. (818) 955-8101.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF The Broadway hit about a Jewish milkman and his daughters, book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru April 26. (805) 667-2900.
GOOD EGGS Virginia Avenue Project presents six plays written by kids, performed by adults. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Through April 11, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., April 12, 3 p.m.. (310) 264-4224.
GO LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather(about Lena Horne) or Ella(about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through May 24. (310) 208-54545.
MAMMA MIA! The songs of ABBA tell the story of a bride-to-be who invites all three of her possible dads to her wedding. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru April 19. (213) 365-3500.
NEW REVIEW GO MAURITIUS Theresa Rebeck's play has serious moments, but essentially it's a comic crime caper, full of lies, betrayals, cupidity and greed. The central figure is Jackie (Kirsten Kollender), who, after years of family trauma, has inherited an old stamp collection from her mother. Then her smarmy, pretentious half-sister Mary (Monette Magrath) appears on the scene, claiming the stamps are hers because her grandfather collected them. (In the absence of a will, it's hard to say who has the legal claim, but nobody here is concerned with legalities.) Jackie gradually realizes that the rare stamps --issued in Mauritius in 1847 -- are worth millions. Mary becomes entangled with a dubious philatelist (John Billingsley), a likeable con-man (Chris L. McKenna) and a raffish gangster/gun runner (Ray Abruzzo), who, with a collectors mania, is determined to own the famous "Mauritians." Plot reversals abound, as ownership is debated, negotiated, and fought over. The piece is so cleverly constructed that we almost forget how slight it is, and director Jessica Kubzansky provides a slick and polished production, with an impeccable cast. Set designer Tom Bruderwitz makes admirable use of the theater's revolving stage, and Tim Weiske's fight choreography is convincing. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.,Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; call theater for numerous schedule changes; thru April 26. (626) 356-7529. (Neal Weaver)
Photo by Ed Krieger
MCGUIRE Cotter Smith performs sportscaster Dick Enberg's one-man tribute to basketball coach Al McGuire. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Through April 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 12, 3 p.m.. (818) 508-0281.
SABRINA FAIR Samuel Taylor's romantic comedy about a chauffeur's daughter who returns from abroad a sophisticated young woman. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 2. (562) 494-1014.
SOS Caden Mason/Big Art Group combines surveillance, cinema and live performance to explore themes of "rebirth, sacrifice and ritual in a supersaturated, hyper-acquisitive society.". REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Through April 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 12, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. (Schedule varies, call for info.). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (818) 240-0910.
'TIL DEATH DO US PART: LATE NITE CATECHISM 3 Catholic nun offers lessons on marriage, by Maripat Donovan with Marc Silvia. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 3. (949) 497-2787.
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU George S. Kaufman Moss Hart's 1936 comedy about an eccentric New York family. West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 26. (818) 884-1907.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
THE BIG RANDOM Dand Yeaton's story of a 16-year-old girl whose godfather smuggles her out of a psych ward. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 10. (323) 960-7776.
BILL W. AND DR. BOB Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey's story of Alcoholics Anonymous. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 31. (323) 960-7827.
DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3). Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 954-9795.
GO THE DEVIL WITH BOOBS Director Tom Quaintance and his cast work theatrical magic with this superb staging of Dario Fo's bawdy satire (in a finely tuned translation by Jon Laskin). Fo is as much a prankster and polemicist as he is a playwright, all of these aspects are richly displayed here. The action takes place in a town in Northern Italy where fraud, corruption and vice run amok. However, the staunchly upright Judge Alfonso de Tristano (Michael Winters) is a light amidst the darkness, a, man so pure he recoils at the sight of a pair of tits. This situation is intolerable to Master Devil Francipante (the stellar and dangerously funny Phillip William Brock) and his apprentice (Herschel Sparber), so they conspire to possess the judge's body and spirit. Unfortunately, the plan backfires and the judge's buxom housekeeper (Katherine Griffith) winds up playing host to the devil, which causes an eruption of comedy, naughty bits, and mayhem. Quaintance provides fluid, intelligent direction, but the cast is flawlessly funny. Even the musical ditties scattered throughout are nicely done (one such number by Brock had me laughing so hard I thought I'd pass out). Cristina Wright's period costumes and puppets are a riot, and Adam Rowe's set piece (composed almost exclusively of doors), adds just the right touch. (LE3) Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m, Sun. 3 p.m. thru. May 16. (323) 882- 6912.
GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner), a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City. These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without "representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies. Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision, based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out," there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 26. (323) 960-1056.
ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
EURYDICE The myth of Orpheus and his bride, told from Eurydice's perspective, by Sarah Ruhl. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 960-7726.
NEW REVIEW GO FAMILY PLANNING In a remount of Julia Edwards' examination of fertility treatments, Chalk Repertory Theatre stages the production in four different private homes during its run. In a well-appointed
Sherman Oaks dwelling, Olivia (Alina Phelan) comes home from work, hormone addled and ready to conceive with her husband Hamish (David Heckel). To Olivia's chagrin, Hamish's childhood buddy Rosen (David Ari) and his pre-med, teenybopper girlfriend Jilly (Elia Saldana) have dropped in during their cross-country road trip. As if getting rid of them to take advantage of Olivia's ovulation window wasn't awkward
enough, Hamish's clingy mother Greta (Danielle Kennedy) drops by as well. What ensues is a raw and emotional whirlwind of resentment, shame and angst, culminating in a waterfall of bile and vitriol as one secret after another is dredged to the surface, reminiscent in many ways of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The intimate setting, slightly disconcerting at first, provides a surreal hybrid between the close-ups of film and the living, breathing tangibility of theatre. director Larissa Kokernot masterfully manipulates the elements of this environment, such as having the audience move between the living room and the kitchen for different scenes, and brings out stellar
performances from the cast who adjust admirably to the proximity of the audience. For those tired of the stodgy proscenium, this production provides a wonderful respite as well as a reminder of the voyeuristic thrill of live theatre. Private homes around Los Angeles (call for locations); Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 26. (800) 838-3006. BrownPaperTickets.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
GROUNDLINGS, IN THE STUDY, WITH THE CANDLESTICK All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Rash. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru April 25. (323) 934-9700.
THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 8033 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.
NEW REVIEW GO HOME SIEGE HOME With a calculated blend of ancient lyricism and contemporary humor, Ghost Road Theater Company rolls out its free-wheeling and substantively edited adaptation of Aeschylus' trilogy, The Oresteia, told over two separate bills. (Depending on the schedule, they can be seen in one day with a dinner break, or on two separate evenings.) If you're not familiar with the epic, you really should know that it hinges on a series of murders, though the first is technically a sacrifice. Seeking to "rescue" his brother's wife, Helen of Troy, from an "abduction" which triggered the Trojan War, General Agamemnon (Ronnie Clark) sacrifices his own daughter, Iphigineia, to the god Artemis in order to obtain favorable sea winds for his Troy-bound ships. And in Part 1 (Clytemnestra), though Agamemnon feels truly rotten about the deed (he slit his own daughter's
throat), his wife Clytemnestra (Trace Turville in Part 1, Christel Joy Johnson in Part 2) feels even more rotten, obsessively mercilessly rotten: Upon her hubby's heroic homecoming, she butchers him in their bed. Excised from Ghost Road's interpretation are a couple of characters who complicate our emotional attachments. In her husband's absence, Clytemnestra took a lover, Aegisthus, who aided in the murder
and who doesn't appear here. Furthermore, Agamemnon pulled into the driveway with Roman slave-mistress Cassandra in his chariot. Such a publicly displayed sex toy would certainly put a kink in director Katharine Noon's "Hi, honey, I'm home" '50s suburban aesthetic. So Cassandra is also in absentia. What remains is a nuclear family and a
house, like the House of Atreus that could really be in Covina, crumbling, slowly. Noon and company aim to conjure the psychological and cosmic forces that lead to the end of an era, which is pretty much what we're feeling right now in our sliver of history, so it's not hard to find connective tissue. In Part 2 (Elektra), the eponymous
daddy's girl (a role shared by Mandy Freund and Christel Joy Johnson) is the now seething daughter of Clytemnestra and the murdered Agamemnon. She sets up camp in an alley, broadcasting her rage against her mother's deed over a makeshift radio, like some ignored and increasingly deranged revolutionary, while awaiting the return of her
brother Orestes (Ronald Wingate in Part 1, Clark in Part 2). Her bro does eventually arrive, though still a little soft in the masculinity department. With Elektra's goading, he blusters his way to murder his mother, Clytemnestra, in order to avenge his father's death - that would be killing number three, setting in place cycles of violence that
will spin for centuries. And if Orestes doesn't feel ambivalent enough over what he just did, the Three Furies (the entrancing Sarah Broyles, with JoAnna Senatore, and Madelynn Fattibene) torment him to the margins of already precarious sanity in Part 3 (Orestes), when they're not lounging around in cocktail dresses sipping martinis and playing bridge. Noon's production grows increasingly absorbing as it
progresses. Among its strengths is the visual unity of Maureen Weiss' set - a house that folds up into a suitcase. (Tattered suitcases and their symbol of exile anchor Noon's lucid point of view.) By Part 3, as their world is crumbling, the characters play their scenes in
allegorically constricted compartments. The performances are never less than competent and often inspired. Though Turville's Clytemnestra offers little of the magnetic force and comedy that Jacqueline Wright brought to an earlier version of this project, Clyt at Home, Turville comes into her own with wry authority as bitch-goddess Athena, bossing around Apollo (Wingate) in Part 3. The dialogue careens from
petulant platitudes ("You murdered someone who was really important to me" and "The world is fucking complicated. It's not black and white.") to snippets of exalted poeticism. Brian Weir plays Helen of Troy's daughter Hermione in drag, yet without a trace of campiness. She's the outcast, and our narrator. "I don't belong to this house, she says
tenderly, "but it belongs to me." As it does to all of us. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood; in rep, call for schedule. (323) 461-3673. A Ghost Road Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Home Siege Home
Photo by Mark Seldis
GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.
KHARMFUL CHARMS OF DANI KHARMS Absurdist pranks, antics and vignettes inspired by Soviet-era surrealist poet Daniil Kharms. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through April 11, 8 p.m.. (800) 838-3007.
GO LAND OF THE TIGERS Act 1 of the Burglars of Hamm's hilarious and thought provoking comedy outlandishly crosses Cats with Planet of the Apes. In a whimsical world where felines walk upright and speak English (but thankfully don't caterwaul "Memory") a veritable Kingdom of Tigers prance around in feathered wigs and top coats, while debating important matters (to cats, anyway) in the Tigressional Congress. Amongst this group, the great warrior Sabertooth (Hugo Armstrong) goes into lustful cat heat for sultry she-tiger Sheba (Devin Sidell), which outrages Sheba's fierce brother Fang Stalkington (Tim Sheridan), who has already fathered several litters with the young beauty (remember, this is the Tiger World, we're talking about). Full of bizarre cat mating dances, and scenes in which characters shift instantly from conversing into snarling Tiger-style, the Burglars' comedy is staged by Matt Almos with acrobatic dexterity, a tongue-in-cheek tone, and perfect comic timing. The reasons for slight touches of campiness become evident in Act Two, however, which follows the cast of dimwitted and absurdly self important actors as they are increasingly brainwashed by their tyrannical, ego tripping director (a fabulous Dean Gregory, whose eyes glitter with madness). Although the concept possesses slight echoes of Noises Off, the Burglars cunningly explore a totally different avenue, elegantly satirizing the sense of collective delusion that frequently befalls performers in a mediocre show. The acting work is particularly sprightly, and it's delightful how the bumbling tiger actors of Act 1 are subsequently revealed as the optimistic, dedicated, yet benighted ensemble of Act 2. The end result, more than calculatedly dippy comedy about cats, is an often compelling meditation on the creation of theater itself, and how the audience will never glimpse the many dramas within a play's production. (PB) Sacred Fools theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8, p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 3. (310) 281-8337. A Burglars of Hamm, Sacred Fools Co-Production.
LITTLE WOMEN -- THE MUSICAL A feminist critic once observed that Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel was told from the point of view of the jailers, not the inmates. In less loaded language, it represented the values of the parents, not the children. This was often the price of writing in the 19th century, which required edifying morals in its stories. Yet Alcott was able to inject enough reality in her tale to make it memorable. This version, however, adapted by Allan Knee, with songs by Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein, hews strictly to the musical comedy formula, rendering it genteel and predictable. Every song delivers precisely what we expect, and that tends to bore. One wishes they'd stop singing and get on with the story. Still, this rendition is sometimes superior to the Broadway production: it's more emotionally coherent and touching, if less handsomely designed. Director Thomas Colby serves the piece faithfully, and the performances are generally good. Cassandra Marie Nuss's Jo is over-brassy but serviceable, Kaitlyn Casanova deftly manages Amy's transition from bratty child to beautiful woman, and Bonnie Snyder restores the pepper to irascible Aunt March. As for the rest, what they really need is sharper, less sentimental material. Lyric Theatre, (NW) 520 North La Brea Avenue, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru April 26. (323) 939-9220.
LUMINOUS BIRCH: AND THE SPLENDOR OF THE COLORLESS LIGHT OF EMPTINESS Randy Sean Schulman's transcendent love story, mixing live theater and silent film. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru May 10. (323) 655-7679.
GO MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS The fury of reading through piles of crappy screenplays for exploitive wages has to be what motivated this vicious comedy series. As playwright Jon Robin Baitz once said, L.A. theater offers a response to the "toxicity of living in a company town," and Magnum Opus Theatre is a very strong response to just that. In director Joe Jordan's crisp as toast style, a company of nine performs this excruciating screenplay with unfettered mockery, with Your Host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe, a.k.a. "Thursty" (Brandon Clark, in red dinner jacket and the droll pomposity of Alistaire Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre) reading all the stage directions, including misspellings. This is the story of a chubby girl named Amber (Franci Montgomery, who is not chubby at all, which is part of the joke), abused like Cinderella by her beer-swilling aunt (CJ Merriman), who curses her, slaps her and calls her a pig -- a Punch and Judy show by any other name. Amber has a fantasy lover, the ghost of a Hollywood actor (Michael Lanahan) accidentally slain during the filming of a gangster gun battle. Through plot convolutions to tedious to enumerate, Amber winds up in Hollywood, in a movie about her travails, for which she receives an Academy Award. As the plot slid into its final trajectory, the crowd shouted out "noooooh", as it became cognizant of where this was heading. Any play can be ridiculed simply by employing theatrical devices used here: Whenever "Thursty" reads: "Jeff gives her a passionate kiss," Lanahan uses his fingers to withdraw a sloppy kiss from his mouth, which he then palms off to Montgomery's hand, who then slips the "kiss" into her blouse. But even this wildly presentation brand of theatrical ridicule can't disguise the artlessness of the dialogue and stage directions. What emerges through the event's cruelty, besides the mercifully unnamed screenwriter's ineptitude, is a portrait of the writer, for whom Amber is an obvious standin. As the lampoon wears itself out, we're left with something underneath that's gone beyond parody to the pathetic - the reasons that somebody would have written such a story in the first place, and the hollow, generic fantasies that serve as balm for her feelings of isolation. Watching this show is like watching well trained runners pushing somebody out of a wheelchair. That's a comic bit from old sketch TV shows, but 90 minutes of it leaves you feeling that the company's comic fury is so strong, and its skills so sharp, the joke has been propelled beyond its target to a very dark place indeed. (SLM) Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; through May 1. (310) 281-8337.
NEW REVIEW GO MUNCHED Katie Paxton's two older sisters died before she was born. When she became deathly ill, the nurses and the law were convinced that her mother Marybeth (Andrea Hutchman) was killing her slowly in a sordid, attention-seeking case of Munchhausen by Proxy. Marybeth went to prison; Katie (Samantha Sloyan) recovered immediately and went into the foster system. Kim Porter's spellbinding and intimate play catches up with the Paxtons 20-years later when Katie finds a Pandora's box of letters, from her mom and to her mom, in her foster mother's attic. We're never sure if Marybeth is guilty, though she admits to giving her daughter a poisonous dose of ipecac. But what is clear is that mother and daughter share the same DNA -- both face the world with a bitter humor, Katie joking wryly about wrenching trauma, and Marybeth channeling her self-righteous anger into a sarcasm as sharp as a knife. Sloyan and Hutchman turn in two of the best performances I've seen all year. Aided by Duane Daniels' direction, they make comic agony out of deliberate pauses and askance smiles. Shirley Jordan and Peter Breitmayer are quite fine as a whirlwind of nurses, doctors, lawyers and do-gooders, each with their own agenda, and unable to see the facts of Marybeth's actions through their certainty of her psychosis or martyrdom. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 2. (323) 960-5771. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW WORKS BY MURRAY MEDNICK Three full-length Mednick works, in rep at Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. Fourth Place, L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 18, www.paduaplaywrights.net. (213) 625-1766.:
CLOWN SHOW FOR BRUNO Prolific playwright Murray Mednick's latest work is inspired by the life and death of the gifted Polish writer and artist, Bruno Schulz. A Polish Jew, Schulz eluded the Nazi death camps after becoming the enslaved protégée of a Gestapo officer named Felix Landau. In a cruel ironic twist, Schulz was assassinated in 1942 by Landau's feuding enemy after Landau killed his rival's Jewish dentist. (It's a "he-killed-my-Jew-so-I'll-kill-his" scenario.) Touching only obliquely on the actual events, Mednick's non-linear play unfolds, quite literally, as a tale told by clowns (Daniel Stein, Bill Celentano and Dana Wieluns, alternating with Kali Quinn). These harlequins are not your lovable circus types, but malevolent jokesters. Eventually the braying trio leaves off taking digs at each other and commence to enact Bruno's story, using masks in their representations of the artist's parents and lovers. In many of these scenes Bruno (Stein) is portrayed as a pathetic wretch, nagged at by his mother and humiliated by the women he desires. Indifferent to its historical elements, the play aims at projecting a broader existential vision: a pitiless world dominated by sadists and fools. Directed by Guy Zimmerman, the stylized performances are skilled but strident and without much texture or affect to them. There's no place to put one' empathy - which may be this surly piece's bleak and futile message. (DK)
NEW REVIEWDESTRUCTION OF THE 4TH WORLD Playwright Murray Mednick made his name here as pillar of new play development, running the annual Padua Hills Playwrights Festival from the late '70s to the mid- '90s as a shrine to whatever linguistic and mythical fonts of creativity might be surging through the resident scribes. The foci of his own creative interests have been Native American folklore and his Jewish heritage. A poet first and structuralist later, Mednick uses mere voices as his point of entry into a new work -- an approach used by Caryl Churchill and Suzan-Lori Parks, as well as the late Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, whose end-of-the-world metaphysics and vaudeville aesthetic clearly informs Mednick's work. Destruction of the 4th World swirls around the grief of a father, Caleb (Michael Shamus Wiles), over the Holocaust-related suicide of his wife, Sarah (Yvette Wulff), who appears throughout as dancing figure/ghost presence. She's supplemented by another phantom, a Hopi prankster named Coyote (Kelly van Kirk), a figure who appears in many of Mednick's plays, here attired in a blend of Native-American and Orthodox Jewish attire. Also grief-struck is Caleb's precocious misfit son, young teen Bernie (Mike Lion), who finds sanctuary in the self-imposed isolation of his room, where electronics forms the entirety of his communication with and comprehension of the outside world. This kind of isolation is the implicit cause of the looming, falling sky, though this is not a world of causes and effects, but of deeds and events that combine in a swirl of farce and ennui. Add to the mix Caleb's spitfire mother, Rosie (Laura James), drifting away in a nursing home, pursuing Nazi War criminals in a Rio de Janeiro of her mind; and Caleb's older son and his wife (Scott Victor Nelson and Kim Fitzgerald). Despite these spirited performances, Kristi Schultz and Brian Frettés staging does little visually to shape the elliptical script or to help clarify its purpose. Matt Aston's set design is entirely functional. (We see Bernie surrounded by electronics, though the door to his room is two-feet tall. He crawls through it, the adults don't.) The mostly realistic acting style -- in conjunction with venue's exposed brick wall, and a couple of non-descript platforms that have been tossed up on the sides -- merely flatten Mednick's poeticism. The play deserves some sense of visual design and style. Art Share, 801 E. Fourth Place, downtown; in rep, call for schedule; through April 19. (213) 625-1766. A Zoo District production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO PHOTOGRAPH 51 This West Coast premiere of Anna Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play, Photograph 51, concerns Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting, the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel Billet), and her graduate assistant Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris) than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, "Dr. Wilkins, I don't do jokes. I do science." Her confidence and professionalism leads to an uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick (Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space, turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert, whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit, and deep pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped crack the Pyrex ceiling reminds us of the need to reexamine "his"tory, and should not be missed. (MK)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 3. (323) 663-1525.
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 THE PRODIGAL FATHER Those worried that Larry Dean Harris' breezy drama about a gay playwright and his bigoted, Alzheimer's-addled father might have something to do with terminal brain disease can rest easy. The soul-destroying illness is little more than the thinnest of medical MacGuffins in a story whose true subject is the sometimes-paradoxical ways in which codes of masculinity are transmitted and reified in male bonds. For Bible Belt-bred, stage scribe Jamey Sanders (Allain Rochel), that means the same hyper-macho traits so reviled in Earl (Max Gail), Jamey's estranged, Korean War-veteran bear of a father, are precisely what attracts him to Nick (Joe Rose), his older, construction-worker bear of a lover. When the memory-challenged Earl unexpectedly flees his Tennessee convalescent home and lands on the gay couple's Chicago doorstep, Jamey must resolve long-deferred Oedipal issues if he is to both hold onto Nick and effect the story's bizarre reconciliation while Earl still has half a mind. Along the way, Harris offers the unseemly narrative novelty of employing Earl's spells of dementia as dramatic flashbacks to some metaphorically murky coon hunts from Jamey's childhood. Nevertheless, brisk direction by Michael Matthews and strong performances from a veteran cast (Josette DiCarlo is particularly fine doubling as the boys' flamboyantly flirty friend and Jamey's deceased mother) make it an entertaining ride. (BR) Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 957-1884.
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 May 2. (310) 281-8337.
SEX, DREAMS & SELF-CONTROL Nashville musician Kevin Thornton's stories and songs about growing up gay. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 969-2530.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 226-6148.
SIN: A CARDINAL DEPOSED The 2002 deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law had all the elements of great theater: small heroes, a giant villain, and a troublesome morality that raised more questions than it answered. But while all the pieces are there, they still need to be shaped, and playwright Michael Murphy simply trims the transcripts and presents a fictionally synthesized laywer (Steven Culp) and his inquisition of the publicly disgraced (but Vatican-condoned) Cardinal (Joe Spano). It's smart and interesting, but wearisomely literal. This leaves director Paul Mazursky little to do but stage it as a stiff tableaux -- the Catholic Church's last ethically superior supper -- centered on the deposition table. At that table, the Cardinal is flanked by his lawyer (Carl Bressler) and his fictionalized opponent. Add to this trio two actors who read the letters of witnesses, truth seekers, and church officials (Edita Brychta and Jack Maxwell, both great at shifting through a dozen accents) and a molestation victim (Christian Campbell) who oversees it all in silence. While the cast is quite good, that all are reading from scripts adds to the inertia, leaving us restless enough to wish that Murphy had dug beneath the surface and unearthed questions he only gestures towards, such as the coexistence of good and evil in priests whose six days of benevolence will never balance their afternoons of selfish harm. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 960-4442.
SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy "with a distinctly African-American sensibility.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 14. (323) 960-7745.
NEW REVIEW GO TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED The audiences tosses in a couple of suggestions at the start of the show, from which Impro Theater spins a full-length improvised drama in the style of Tennessee Williams. Clearly the types are pre-set. Floyd Van Buskirk's "Daddy" is a compendium of Night of the Iguana's ex-Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's Big Daddy. Director Brian Lohmann's Marquis is a flat-footed, slightly neurotic fellow tossed out of service in WWII by a 4F army classification. His withering self-respect gets crushed beneath the boot of Buddy (Dan O'Connor), home from the service and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There's an off-stage Veteran's Day Parade for atmosphere (one of the audience suggestions was "November," so there you go.) Tenderly comedic performances also by Jo McKinley as the repressed Widow Oleson and by Tracy Burns as the town slut Loretta, and especially by Lisa Fredrickson as the smart, aging romantic, Charlene. Is there any hope of enduring romance in this isolated mushpot of Williams' universe? The company guides the drama into a savvy bitter-sweet resolution. This is a tougher challenge than the company's prior effort, Jane Austen Unscripted, because the types of repression that form the essences of the comedy are comparatively languid in Williams, whereas the Austen sendup sprung from the starched collars and feelings that couldn't be expressed - because that would have been impolite. Williams' characters say what's on the mind, usually two or three times in various poetical incarnations: That's the detail that these actors nail on the head. Once that joke has arrived, the challenge is to avoid making a glib mockery of Williams' drawling explications and the sometimes ham-fisted poetry. It's a trap the company studiously avoids, so that the event lingers somewhere between satire and homage. It's a very smart choice. Nice cameo also by Nick Massouh. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Apri 26. (800) 838-3006. An Impro Theater production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
13 BY SHANLEY FESTIVAL Seven full-length plays and six one-acts by John Patrick Shanley. (Weekly schedule alternates; call for info.). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 960-7827.
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ANY1MAN George Peters II's solo portrait of the many faces of the modern black man. Alexia Robinson Studio, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 842-4755.
NEW REVIEW BEST WISHES The untimely death of a matriarch occasions a reunion of disaffected siblings in Bill Barker's family comedy, first presented locally in 1984. Del Shores used a similar scenario, with more comedic panache in his Daddy's Dyin, Who's got the Will. A comfortable house in tiny Liberal, Kansas becomes a battleground when Elda (Joanne McGee), Crystal (Nadya Starr), Dorie (Carol Jones), Vera (Ann Bronston), Gil (Dana Craig) and Denny (Barker) assemble to bury their mother and settle the estate. It isn't long before familial fault-lines emerge. Dorie, always the dutiful daughter, is bitter about her vacuous life and wears her feelings on her sleeve. She constantly clashes with Vera, who has escaped small-town anonymity and boredom for the big city, but is a drinker and party girl. Wife and mother Elda is a good natured pleaser, but a dingbat, and Crystal remains an emotional and psychological mystery. There are stabs at humor and lots of squabbling, much of it mundane and pointless. This may be the point, but still . . . Either the play, or Hollace Star's staging of this revival, fails to say much incisive about these characters or make them emotionally accessible. Gil and Denny emerge as ciphers, and only Fanny (Peggy Lord Chilton), the town quid nunc, is consistently engaging. Crown City Theater on the campus of St. Matthew's Church; 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 19. (818) 745-8527 (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Familytone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 2. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.
BLACK ANGELS OVER TUSKEGEE The Black Gents of Hollywood present Layon Gray's world-premiere drama about African-American fighter pilots. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 7:45 p.m.; thru May 2. (818) 754-5725.
THE CATERER LeVar Burton stars in Brian Alan Lane's study of death. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru May 10, www.thecatererplay.com. (818 ) 990-2324.
GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes, and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife, Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter. Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative, borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 2. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.
GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who recently helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera at the Hayworth, has scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's liberties they take on the story in now way diminish the quality of the production. Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy count, first seen rising from his grave to put the bite on the lovely Mina (Mara Marini), upon his arrival in England. When Lucy Seward (Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a mysterious illness, her mother, Lily (Karesa McElheny), who runs an asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R. Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This one's all about atmosphere. Desma Murphy's alluring set design is cleverly accented by an enormous backdrop of an incubus sitting on a sleeping woman, inspired by Henry Fuseli's painting "The Nightmare." Luke Moyer's lighting schema is perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an arsenal of haunted house special effects here, including lots of rolling fog and wolf howls, but they never come across as cheesy or overdone; and there are a few scary moments during this 90-minute show, amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 26. (818) 508-7101.
THE FOOD CHAIN Nicky Silver's sex comedy about a married couple, former gay lovers, and eating disorders. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 860-6569.
GLOVES REQUIRED "Poetic indulgence" by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 202-4120.
GOTHMAS Rock & roll musical about a gay man, his female roommate, and an ax murderer. Book by Laura Lee Bahr and Kerr Seth Lordygan, lyrics by Bahr, Lordygan and George "Drew" DeRieux, music by DeRieux. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (323) 960-7712.
GO THE LETTERS in John W. Lowell's new play refer to the explicitly lascivious correspondence of a musician in Soviet Russia, which The Director (Norman Shaw) of a Ministry of Information is trying to locate. It takes a short while for us to realize this in John W. Lowell's two-character drama, because at the outset, it appears that the Director has called in his subordinate, Anna (Julie Fletcher) for a promotion, which - knowing the corpse-strewn wasteland of the Soviet bureaucracy - she's very reluctant to accept. She'd rather keep her head low. But The Director will hear none of that ("We're not interested in what you want"), and soon the widowed Anna finds herself entrapped by defending a colleague/lover who's implicated in a breach of security by the gossip of an alcoholic bureaucrat whose dubious words The Director now takes as gospel - or he pretends to. Lowell's cat-and-mouse game of paranoia and entrapment is old stuff, and, under Anne McNaughton's staging, it unfolds at a pace a little too measured for a new play in 2009, even as Anna transforms nicely from servility to defiance. The world of the play is rendered with such verisimilitude, with Dean Cameron's costumes, and his set that features none-too subtle portraits of Lenin and Stalin gazing down on the action, that one is inclined to heave a sigh or relief that we're not in Soviet Russia, though I very much doubt this is Lowell's point. There are two small keys to the lockbox of this play's meaning: One is The Director's insistence that the alcoholic witness' testimony is reliable, despite the appalling lack of corroborating evidence. This is the embodiment of the nastiest aspect of despotism: an "investigation" fueled by a foregone conclusion, which in the recent past has been every bit as American as it was Soviet. The other key is the power of accusation embedded in gossip - in the accusation rather than the investigation of it lies the truth. These are eternal, universal verities that lead directly to the horrors of tyranny. The quality, the detail and the nuance of both performances is among this production's strengths. Both roles are filled with torrents of language that's not so easy to render plausibly, and yet both Shaw and Fletcher accomplish just that. (SLM) NewPlace Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 19.
MACBETH Forget radically deconstructed concept productions or contemporary political reinterpretations, director Sean Branney delivers no such surprises in his traditional and somewhat generic staging of Shakespeare's Scottish noir. With the text more-or-less intact ― even the oft-cut first witches' scene remains ― Branney's most brazen liberty is to goose the testosterone with the kind of onstage swashbuckling (choreographed by Brian Danner) that Shakespeare had intended be played offstage. Otherwise, this bard is strictly by the book. The good news is Andrew Leman's muscular, articulate turn as brave Macbeth. Leman's performance is nobility personified; which is to say his regal demeanor is only occasionally ruffled by the underlying corruption of a "vaulting ambition" that will turn Macbeth, after Richard III, into Shakespeare's most notorious regicidal maniac. As the play's invidious femme fatale, McKerrin Kelly compliments Leman with a Lady Macbeth who makes even icy ruthlessness seem sexy. Other standouts include Daniel Kaemon's dashing Malcolm, and Mike Dalager and Danny Barclay, whose pair of scurvy-chic Murderers looks like they stepped out of a Guns N' Roses video. For the rest of the cast, costume designer Christy M. Hauptman eschews highland tartan for robes of a more indeterminate, medieval kind. That nonspecificity is continued in the raised stone altar and henge-like monoliths of Arthur MacBride's set, whose suggestion of Neolithic pagan ritual may be a clever design for Macbeth . . . not, however, for this one, which never otherwise hints at such themes. (BR) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26; (818) 846-5323.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE John Lahr updates Richard Condon's political thriller. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
NOSE TALES The Zombie Joe Underground sniffs out "five lovable fools.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru April 24. (818) 202-4120.
PICNIC William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winner about a hunky drifter in a small Kansas town. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (626) 355-4318.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: BEGINNINGS Seven late-night vignettes by Theatre Unleashed. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 18. (818) 849-4039.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN Reginald Rose's courtroom drama. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Toluca Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 18. (818) 238-9998.
THE WAY OF THE WORLD William Congreve's Restoration comedy, updated to modern-day L.A. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 849-4039.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Moliè's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing - will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. Bourgeois Gentlemanwas first presented the year Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing gtears of a clownh masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 8. (310) 319-9939.
BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Staged with a warm cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily, though, a more aloof ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional isolation where the polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro) and perfect-on-paper boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold shadow across all dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny roomate Larry (Aaron Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a wrenching and infuriating Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like pathological self-punishment. Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story -- the scene breaks twinkle with sentimental music -- however his cast isn't up to it and hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob from a strange man rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the weather.) Comperatore's combustible Pale has four times the spark of the rest of the ensemble -- when he bursts into the scene, we see the gulf between what Wilson's play could be and what this staging actually is. (AN) Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 26. (310) 397-3244.
CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
NEW REVIEW GO DESPERATE WRITERS: THE FINAL DRAFT This demented farce by Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber should be catnip for those who love Hollywood in-jokes. Ashley (Kate Hollingshead) and David (Brian Krause) are lovers and writing partners; though they've been writing for years, they've never sold a script. Ashley's convinced that producers never actually read their scripts, so she kidnaps three of them (writers Grenrock and Schreiber, and Andrew Ross Wynn) at gunpoint, locking them in a wire cage in her living room (built before our eyes by trusty techies). She prepares a gourmet meal for the producers, while David reads to them -- despite their protests -- a new script. The reading is punctuated by phone calls from agent Vanessa (Jennifer Taub), a death by apoplectic fit, an earthquake, a resurrection, and a home invasion by a pair of robbers (Scott Damian and Stephen Grove Malloy) who drop off their pix and resumes on their way out. And, oh, yes, the rental agent (Vivian Bang) arrives to show the house to prospective tenants (Damian and Eden Malyn). The actors are game and skillful, and director Kay Cole keeps the action spinning along on Francoise-Pierre Couture's set, cleverly designed as an architect's blueprint. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., thru May 10. 1(800) 838-3006 or http://desperatewriters.com. (Neal Weaver)
DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion and talent - both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33 years on the job - who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member -- a well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4 songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative, itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel - part performance, part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. (DK) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 18. (310) 358-9936.
JUMPING THE MEDIAN: AN EVENING OF 4 UNEXPECTED ONE ACTS Playwright Steve Connell's collection of four one act plays may bill itself as "unexpected," but for the most part the vignettes are sadly prosaic, mining familiar romantic tropes and themes. Strongest of the set is the promisingly stark "Us And Them," in which a bubbly young couple (Tyler Moore and Sara Sido) move into their new home, which was previously owned by a miserable, older couple (In-Q and Elizabeth Maxwell). Imaginatively staged by co-directors Connell and Emily Weisberg, the set is divided into two quadrants, showing both couples in the same house at different times - and the piece artfully hints at the haunting (if not necessarily logical) idea that the young loving couple must inevitably turn into the older miserable couple. Sadly, the other vignettes are not able to rise to the same emotionally nuanced level. "Jumping the Median" is a plodding, overwritten opus about the long, long, long courtship of a young couple (Ida Darvish and Connell), who endlessly woo each other at that hoariest of one act play locales, the iconic park bench. In "Love Thy Neighbors," whose choppy dialogue and clumsily cartoonish tone has the sloppy and random feel of having been written in haste, a suburban mom (Sara Sido) welcomes the neighbors for dinner - and the neighbors somewhat inexplicably turn out to be literal characters out of ancient Greek drama. Connell is a slam poet of some national reputation, so it's natural that he and Weisberg's crisp staging has a dark, streetwise edge. It's just a pity the writing itself devolves so frequently into dull cliché. (PB) The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 19. http://www.plays411.com/jumpingthemedian.
LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 3. (310) 822-8392.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through May 30. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
NEW REVIEW GO MISALLIANCE Be warned that G.B. Shaw's wordy comedy of manners lopes for along for almost the entire first act before finally taking off. And then it really flies. It's Set in 1909, in the plush home (artfully realized by designer Stephen Gifford) of a successful underwear retailer named Tarleton (Greg Mullavey), whose daughter Hypatia (Abigail Rose Solomon) has become engaged to a whiny aristocratic nerd (Orestes Arcuni). At first the play totters under the weight of Shavian didactics: a plethora of chitchat about generational and class conflicts, the experience of aging and the liberation of women. The bright spot in this intermittently sleep-inducing stretch is Solomon's captivating turn as a sharp young gal chafing under the strictures of her gender; she's seconded in her charm by Maggie Peach, endearing as her wise, albeit mildly ditzy mother. Happily, Act 2 gets a lot livelier when an airplane piloted by a dashing young aviator (Nick Mennell) and a liberated lady acrobat (Molly Schaffer) crashes into the family greenhouse, followed by the clandestine entry of a pistol-packing gunman (David Clayberg) determined to do Tarleton in. The confrontation between the merchant and his would-be assassin forms the nub of the second act's considerable humor, and it's heightened further by the on-target performances of Mennell as Hypatia's new love interest and Schaffer as the latest object of Tarleton's philandering affections.By play's end, under Elina de Santos' direction, the production has redeemed its dullish beginnings, delivering up more than our ticket's worth of laughs. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055. (Deborah Klugman)
Misalliance Photo by Christopher Moscatiello
PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso trade shots at a Paris bar, in Steve Martin's play. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (562) 494-1014.
GO THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES The central character in Moliè's comedy, here translated and adapted by FrééMichel & Charles Duncombe could be and often is a punching bag. But not here. Arnolphe is another in a stream of Moliè's aging, patronizing nitwits (like Orgon on Tartuffe) who presume that they can control the devotions and passions of young women in their care. In Tartuffe, when Orgon's daughter protests his insistence that she break her wedding plans to her beloved suitor in order to marry the clergyman he prefers, Orgon figures her rebellion is just a impetuous, child-like phase. In The School for Wives, there's a similar mind-set to Arnolphe (Bo Roberts), who has tried to sculpt his young ward, Agnes (Jessica Madison), into his future wife. He's known her since she was 4, and he's strategically kept her closeted, as though in a convent, hoping thereby to shape her obedience and gratitude. Just as he's about to wed her, in stumbles young Horace (Dave Mack) from the street below her window, and the youthful pair are smitten with eachother, soon conniving against the old bachelor. Horace, not realizing that Arnolphe is the man keeping Agnes as his imprisoned ward, keeps confiding in the older man about his and Agnes' schemes, fueling Arnolphe's exasperation and fury. Perhaps it's the use of director Michel's tender, Baroque sound-tracks, or the gentle understatement of Roberts' performance and Arnolphe, but the play emerges less as a clown show, and more as a wistful almost elegiac rumination on aging and folly. Arnolphe tried to create a brainless wife as though from a petri dish, an object he can own, and the more she rejects him, the more enamored he becomes of her, until his heart breaks. The pathos is underscored by the obvious intelligence of Madison's Agnes - an intelligence that Arnolphe is blind to. The production's reflective tone supersedes Michel's very stylized, choreographic staging (this company's trademark). The ennui is further supported by a similarly low-key portrayal by David E. Frank as Arnolphe's blithe friend and confidante, Chrysalde. In In fact, when lisping, idiot servants (Cynthia Mance and Ken Rudnicki) keep running in circles and crashing into each other, Michel's one attempt at Commedia physicality is at odds with the production rather than a complement to it. Company costumer Josephine Poinsot (surprising she doesn't work more) provides luscious period vestments and gowns, and Duncombe's delightful production design, includes a gurgling fountain, a tub of white roses, and abstract hints of some elegant, Parisian court. (SLM) Garage, 1340½Fourth Street (alley entrance); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 319-9939.
THE SECRET GARDEN Musical take on Frances Hidgon Burnett's children's novel, music by Lucy Simon, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (310) 828-7519.
THE SERMONS OF JOHN BRADLEY Hunter Lee Hughes questions gay narcissism and the role of performance art. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Through April 11, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW This staging of Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy seems more concerned with mounting a handsome production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stoogesstyle slapstick, while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those who choose naturalism fare best. (AN). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055.
TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY There are some good ideas in absurdist playwright Will Eno's metaphysical satire of the vapid, spectacle-driven infotainment that is local TV news. Unfortunately, stretching what is at best a one-gag comedy sketch into 80 intermissionless minutes isn't one of them. The pity is that it should have been a joke worth telling. When a mysterious, cosmic calamity extinguishes all starlight, including the sun's, and thereby plunges the earth into perpetual darkness, a hapless and incredibly inept local news team is left grappling with how to provide live TV coverage of the biggest story in history when there is literally nothing to see. As a deadpan studio anchor (Christopher Spencer) juggles remote feeds from field reporters Stephanie Dorian, Jeff McGinness, and Paul Knox, the realization of having nothing meaningful to communicate soon takes its toll. Unable to report on the outside world, the crew's malaprop-mangled ad libbing slowly turns inward on the terror and emptiness of their own existence. And while an able cast (Spencer and Dorian are particularly fine) nails the insipid banalities and portentous posturing of their characters, the material's comic potential too soon evaporates. Director Eric Hamme fails to find either the rhythms or the timing needed to extend the laughs, while Gisela Valenzuela's bleak, all-black minimalist set and an overbearing sound design by Matari 2600 only add to the crushing boredom. (BR) Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 18. (866) 811-4111.
NEW REVIEW GO THE WAR CYCLE: SURVIVED Playwright Tom Burmester's powerful drama, the second installment of his "war cycle" about the Iraqi War, mostly reigns in any implied disapproval for America's Misbegotten 21st Century Foreign Adventure to focus on more universal themes of family grief. It's been about a year since U.S. soldier Mike Harper was killed during an Iraqi ambush, and the dead man's family is still coping - or, more accurately, not coping - with their sorrow. Dad Sam (James W. Sudik) is holed away in his cellar, designing an annex to the family home for Sophia (Melissa Collins), the dead boy's shattered widow, to live in, even though the idea flatly appalls her. Meanwhile, mom Lilith (a nicely brittle Dee Amerio Sudik) engages in a fierce and totally irrelevant feud with Sophia about what to do with the dead soldier's ashes. Into this already semi-toxic atmosphere unexpectedly comes Sgt. Taylor (Jonathan Redding), a former war buddy of Mike's, bringing tragic details of his pal's death which shake up the family even more. Burmester's drama, co-directed with Danika Sudik, displays unusually skill at articulating a family's shaky façade of icy normalcy, as it gives way to rage and despair. Although the piece sometimes falls prey to some stock thematic tropes of the "War Story Genre" (the work occasionally feels as though the playwright wants to be writing about the Vietnam War, a very different military action), the emotions still ring true. Collins' Sophia, bewildered by sadness even as she makes tentative gestures at moving on, is particularly compelling - as is Redding, offering a complex, disturbing turn as the war buddy. Powerhouse Theater, 3112 2nd Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 25. (800) 595-4849. A Los Angeles Theater Ensemble production. (Paul Birchall)
The War Cycle: Survived Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble
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