Stage Raw: Surviving the Surviving Critics
For the weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS of Spring Awakening at the Ahmanson; Ron Sossi's staging of Brecht's A Man's a Man at the Odyssey; Virginia Watson's solo perf, Better Late Than Never at the Lost Studio; West Cost Jewish Theatre's staging of Leonard Spigelgass' A Majority of One; Fountain Theater's revival of Gem of the Ocean; Stephen Massicotte's Mary's Wedding at the Colony Theatre in Burbank; and Vince Melocchi's new play, Lions at Pacific Resident Theatre, press the READ ON tab at the bottom of this section.
SURVIVING THE SURVIVING CRITICS
Another john gets thrown out of another whorehouse on Beachwood Drive: Lena Starostina, Maria Silverman and David Medina. Photo by Kim Sharp
I know there's an election going on, but can we talk about something important for a moment? My play just opened off-Broadway.
"Welcome to the other side," an L.A. publicist wrote me, answering my note about the slew of respectful mixed reviews that my play, Beachwood Drive, had received for its New York premiere by the Abingdon Theatre Company. http://www.abingdontheatre.org> The experience offered this critic a bracing and healthy lesson in compassion for the people who invest so many years in putting on a play. It also gave truth to something I've heard from any number of locals: "You have no idea what it is to get bad reviews in New York."
The first public reaction I received was during previews. I was on the "A" train, heading to JFK Airport for a return trip to L.A., when, rolling through Brooklyn, I noticed a couple sitting across the aisle reading a program from my play. When the people next to them got off the train, I sat down by the woman and, without identifying myself, asked if the production was any good.
"Oh, we loved it, she exulted, and continued to rave all the way to Queens -- though, after I told her I was the playwright, she did give me a few notes about a scene she'd like me to add.
The theater was also comforted by what staff described as uniformly impassioned and enthusiastic responses from its audience, which they overheard in the lobby during intermission and after the show.
Then came the press.
The actors fared just fine. But Variety hated the play and noted that I didn't know how to tell a story, which I would have given more credence to had the critic gotten the name of the play correct. (The magazine fixed it online two days after the review was posted.) Misspelling the play's title doesn't speak well for that critic's attention to detail. The writer had also missed the play's core structure of retelling three different times the story of a Ukrainian prostitute's murder by the Russian Mafia after she is caught in an LAPD sting operation. The critic described the time-sequence shifts in the retold scenes as "clumsy dramaturgy."
The New York Times was more generous.
"There's much to admire in the first act of Steven Leigh Morris' intelligent but uneven new play, 'Beachwood Drive,'" wrote Rachel Saltz, who then described the "theatrical presentation of human connection in the digital age," and how the play "mines the strange dynamics of unexpected pairings."
"Mr. Morris...is too smart to write a strictly conventional play," Saltz continued (that's the quote I would put on a billboard), "but he gets tripped up in the second act, set in the police station where [the prostitute] is being pressured to give up her madam. Here Mr. Morris spells out what was compellingly mysterious in the first act."
Compare this to Karl Levett's inverse assessment in Back Stage :
"In Beachwood Drive , Steven Leigh Morris unfolds a police case study that is a truly chilling cautionary tale. The drama, unfortunately, has a much too leisurely beginning, with the whole first act devoted to setting up the dire situation of the play's central character, Nadya. Dramatic traction really doesn't start until the introduction of the colorful Los Angeles police detective who opens the second act; from there on, however, the play is never less than compelling."
From my vantage point "on the other side," I was struck by the contempt theater supporters bear toward critics. One Broadway investor I spoke to characterized New York critics as angry, frustrated misfits. I've heard the same complaint in L.A. about the critics here. But at most, this view offers a half-truth. The critics I've encountered on both coasts feel a passion for the theater that a grateful community should cherish, given that reviews have little bearing on audience attendance these days. Perhaps because of this, critics are losing their jobs in unprecedented numbers as support for the arts in the print media continues to wane.
Also in my adventure as a critic-through-the-looking-glass, I found that not only are the reviews as subjective as the many responses to the play, but the interpretation of the reviews is just as varied as the reviews themselves.
After the reviews were posted, director Alan Mandell e-mailed me a photo of a tar-saturated seabird on some beach hit by an oil spill, with the caption "Fuck it, I'm going home." Being a Beckett aficionado, he was also "comforting" me with that master of gloom's words: "Next time, fail better."
We were sitting together in the back row before a performance that included a group from Sanctuary for Families, when the organizer of that group approached to congratulate us on that day's review in The New York Times , which Alan and I, with our inflated hopes, had regarded as a benevolent dismissal.
The following day, the theater's associate artistic director said that he, too, was receiving similar congratulations on the NYT notice. By the end of the week, one of the actresses had received a request for picture and résumé from CBS TV (from someone who had not seen the play but had read the reviews), and I'd received a message through the theater that a film company in L.A. had requested a copy of the script. The theater's associate artistic director, believing, as I had, that we had been lightly broiled by the critics, remarked that our communal skepticism was "hysterical" (in all senses of that word), and that not only do people see in a play what they want to see, "they read in a review what they want to read."
Only a squib in Flavorpill.com was able to articulate with precision my larger aim -- to interlink themes of international slavery to a murder mystery.
Meanwhile, the audiences had less difficulty grasping, or at least appreciating, this core idea. Theater staff noted the discrepancy between the reactions of the audiences, and those of the critics.
Yet in one instance, audience reaction mirrored that of the critics. As the lights faded after Act 1 on a Saturday matinee, I overheard the woman next to me tell her friend, "This play is terrible ."
Her friend replied, "What are you talking about? I love this play."
They must have noticed me observing them, because the woman next to me asked me if I was associated with the production. I told her that I was the playwright.
"Let's talk after," she said.
As the audience stumbled over us after play's end, the woman next to me echoed the Back Stage review -- but with more enthusiasm. "Your Act 2 is brilliant," she said. "But I have to tell you, I didn't give a hoot in Act 1."
"She's wrong," said her friend, who had offered a one-woman standing ovation during the curtain call. "It's fine the way it is."
I wrote this on a flight back to L.A., having just reshaped some scenes at Liberty Airport in New Jersey. A play is almost as bewildering as life in the land of mixed reviews. Next time, fail better.
ACORN PICTURES PRESENTS ONE-ACTS AT THE ODYSSEY
Acorn pictures is presenting its 2nd annual LIVEworks, an evening of one-act plays about things not being what they seem. Members of Acorn Pictures are enrolled in New York's Atlantic Acting School's inaugural Los Angeles Conservatory Program. Faculty include David Mamet, William H. Macy, Clark Gregg and Felicity Huffman. Performances are at the Odyssey Theater, 2055 Sepulveda Boulevard in West L.A., Nov. 607, 8 p.m.; and November 8 at 7 p.m.
For tickets log onto http://www.odysseytheatre.com or call 310-477-2055.
For the weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS embedded in this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press READ ON tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for November 7-13, 2008
(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, Deobrah 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
ACTS OF LOVE: MIRACLE WORKERS A benefit for Autism Speaks. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Mon., Nov. 10, 8 p.m.. (888) 8AUTISM.
. . . AND BABY MAKES TWO: AN ADOPTION TALE Nanci Christopher reads her play about single-parent adoption. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs., Nov. 13, 8 p.m.. (310) 285-2200.
BEAUTY FOR ASHES Peres Owino's introspective dramedy. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-4429.
BIG LOVE Charles Mee's play about rebellious brides. (In rep with Book of Days; call for schedule.). Macgowan Little Theater, UCLA, Westwood; opens Nov. 12; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 825-2101.
THE BLUE DRAGON Robert Lepage and Ex Machina present a story of three characters in modern China. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Nov. 12-15, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 7 p.m.; Nov. 18-21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 22, 2 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.
BOOK OF DAYS Lanford Wilson's study of a small-town murder. (In rep with Big Love; call for schedule.). Macgowan Little Theater, UCLA, Westwood; opens Nov. 12; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 825-2101.
THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME Moliere's comedy, translated and adapted by Frederique Michel and Charles Duncombe. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 22, (No perfs Dec. 22-Jan. 8.). (310) 319-9939.
BOTANICUM SEEDLINGS Reading of Nude and Sunflower by Reba Waters Thomas. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Nov. 9, 1 p.m.. (310) 455-2322.
C. BERNARD JACKSON DAY CELEBRATION Tribute to the co-founder of the Inner City Cultural Center. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 10, 7 p.m.. (323) 635-9125.
CLAIRE AND JOSH HATE THEMSELVES BUT LOVE EACH OTHER Josh Fadem and Claire Titelman's absurdist romance. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (323) 666-4268.
CONCEALING JUDY HOLLIDAY Reading of Wendy Johnson's imagining of the actress' Red Scare years. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Wed., Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.. (213) 925-7188.
CUTE WITH CHRIS: LIVE Solo show by Chris Leavins. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 960-7785.
THE FACTS OF LIFE: THE LOST EPISODE The '80s sitcom re-imagined with dildos, prostitution and lesbian sex, by Jamie Morris. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; opens Nov. 7; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 960-4424.
THE HOLY MOTHER OF HADLEY, NEW YORK Alleged miracle upends small town, by Barbara Wiechmann. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 856-8611.
THE JOY LUCK CLUB Amy Tan's novel about Asian-American women, adapted for the stage by Susan Kim. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; opens Nov. 12; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (213) 625-7000.
OLIVER TWIST Charles Dickens' orphan story, adapted by Neil Bartlett. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; opens Nov. 8; Sat., Nov. 8, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (818) 240-0910.
100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Beth Lapides' comedic storytelling. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Nov. 7-8, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
THE REAL THING Staged reading of Tom Stoppard's drama, to be recorded for radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Nov. 12-14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 15, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.
REDDY OR NOT:: A MUSICAL COMEDY TRIBUTE TO HELEN REDDY Starring Alex Boling and Joanna Parson. ITA Productions, 10820 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; Nov. 7-8, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 3 p.m.. (646) 342-8861.
THE REINDEER MONOLOGUES Santa's pack kvetches, in Jeff Goode's play. Hermosa Beach Playhouse, Pier Ave. at Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach; opens Nov. 7; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 372-4477.
SAY GOODNIGHT, TOTO Reading of Amy Heidish's take on The Wizard of Oz from Toto's perspective. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Sun., Nov. 9, 3 p.m.. (323) 860-6625.
THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT Peter Whelan's political thriller. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 9; Sun., Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (213) 628-2772.
SHOCK THERAPY Tom Baum's comedy about a Labor Day party taken hostage. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; opens Nov. 8; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 960-4420.
SING-ULAR SENSATIONS Vox Femina presents Susan Egan's selections from Broadway musicals. COLBURN SCHOOL OF MUSIC, Zipper Concert Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 8, 8 p.m.. (310) 922-0025.
SONG OF EXTINCTION E.M. Lewis' story of a biology teacher's personal journey. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 461-3673.
STEVE GIDEON IN THE HAPPENING Musical tribute to '60s and '70s songwriters. M Bar, 1253 N. Vine St., L.A.; Thurs., Nov. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 15, 8 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.. (800) 838-8006.
TAMALES DE PUERCO Trilingual play about a tamale vendor, by Mercedes Floresislas. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 263-7684.
WOYZECK German soldier goes nuts in Georg Buchner's drama, adapted by Bob McDonald. Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (818) 841-5422.
XANADU Roller-disco musical based on the 1980 film, book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; opens Nov. 11; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 31. (858) 550-1010.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS
HAPPY DAYS Musical based on the '70s sitcom, book by Garry Marshall, music and lyrics by Paul Williams. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (562) 944-9801.
THE HEIRESS Psychological drama by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz, based on the Henry James novel Washington Square. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (714) 556-2787.
INCANDESCENCE Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque and DJ Imagika present an evening of music and theater. The Edison, 108 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed..; thru Nov. 19. (213) 613-0000.
THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS A woman sitting a few seats down the row from me was completely amazed by Mimi Kennedy's impersonation of the late, nationally syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers - not just the bouffant but the dead-on clanging midwest accent. Well, that's a start. Now playwright David Rambo needs a play to back up Kennedy's solo impersonation. Here, Landers spends a couple of hours sashaying around her Chicago study in 1975, eating chocolates when confronted with writer's block and, during intermission, leaving us to take a bath. Gary Wissmann's set is so detailed with multitudinous knickknacks, and photos, many of which go unused, it arouses the speculation that a more spartan and symbolic set would have justified the contrivance of Landers' direct audience address. The evening's pretext is that Landers is in the process of drafting a momentous letter to her readers announcing her divorce from her husband of 36 years - risky business for an advice columnist who has never counseled anyone to get divorced. Around this pretext are a series of anecdotal digressions about her husband, her daughter and her twin sister, rival "Popo," who imitated her sister's column with her own variation, "Dear Abby." Our heroine rolls out her leftist credentials and how she came to overcome her own puritanical streak in a joint television interview with Linda Lovelace. But none of this is dramatic, it's merely exposition in the style of "And then I wrote." The possibilities for a real play rear themselves in Act 2, when Landers reveals the depth of homophobic bigotry that came from hostile replies to one of her columns supporting a gay teenager, and from the fury that came in responses to some her well-intended advice that had adverse consequences. Yet our heroine brushes them both off with similar, sanctimonious disdain, as though bigots and victims of her bad advise were equals. Nothing legal they could do, she remarked of the victims - hardly an embrace of her responsibility to help people in distress. Somewhere in that responsibility, and her cavalier dismissal of it, lies a more penetrating drama yet to be written, something more closely resembling a play than a parade. Brendon Fox directs. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (626) 356-PLAY.
The Lady With All the Answers Photo by Craig Schwartz
SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS Retired lady hires ex-chorus boy for dance lessons, by Richard Alfieri. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 955-8101.
>NEW REVIEW GO SPRING AWAKENING What's a nice play like you doing in a barn like this? The spectacle here is bewitching and too large for Frank Wedekind's turn-of-last-century story of teenage angst, from which Steven Sater and Dunkan Sheik's touring Broadway-hit musical has been crafted. I found myself more dazzled than moved, but dazzle can be a good thing, and the production is too ornate an accomplishment to be ignored. There's never a dull moment in Michael Mayer's staging, but rarely is there a soulful moment. The story is about social and sexual repression in puritanical Germany, and it arrives here as bloated in style as a rock concert. Lighting designer Kevin Adams provides exactly that ambiance with a plot that flips from washes of lurid red to purple with the stomp of a ten boots, and lighting instruments that float down along the back wall from the rafters, creating the effect of some cosmic galaxy. Bill T. Jones' choreography looms just as large, with, in one song, the company stomping feet in unison as though they were performing Butoh dance in order to arouse the spirits of the dead. On stage, and in on-stage bleachers where members of the company are planted amidst the audience, heads gyrate to and fro as though possessed by demons, which is exactly how the Teutonic society depicted here is trying to make them feel. The paradox is that the sneering Expressionism mingles with the mechanical robotics to such an extent - clearly to reach a house considerably larger than in New York - that the story's underlying sensitivities are tempered, if not eviscerated. One powerful scene that gets short-shrift here is that between teen Melchior (Kyle Riabko) and his peer/lover Wendla (Christy Altomare), out in the country. She goads him to beat her, even playfully, with a switch - because she's sexually aroused by the brutal daily beatings inflicted on her friend, Martha (Sarah Hunt). The scene itself contains disturbing and deeply human revelations about suppressed sadism and masochism that's here treated as broadly and swiftly as in a burlesque, depriving the scene of its core sensuality. Still, the creators and designers are accomplishing exactly what they want as the cast is precision perfect. Moreover, the overinflated scale and hyperactive style of this touring production can't diminish the powerful beauty of Shiek's music and Sater's lyrics. There's scant melody but ample musical motifs that float on intricate, poetical phrases and sophisticated orchestral support, as though from the Suzanne Vega era. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m; Sat., 1 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no perf Wed., Nov. 5 or Thurs., Nov. 27; no eve perf on Sun., Dec. 7; added perf Mon., Nov. 24, 8 p.m. and Thurs., Dec. 4, 2 p.m.); through Dec. 7. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO HAMLET Traditionalists beware! Director Michael Michetti's lean, mean and stripped-to-the-extreme version of the Bard's masterwork is out to raise your hackles. For the rest of us, though, Michetti and his abundantly talented ensemble deliver the goods -- a riveting, provocative and lucidly entertaining Hamlet that comes agonizingly close to the definitive. Michetti's boldest conceit is a radical collapse of Act I. A series of cinematic quick cuts establish Freddy Douglas' prince riven by Oedipal angst. Instead of the traditional battlement scenes, Michetti employs an upstage screen of fun-house mirrors and has Hamlet channel the king's ghost in his own distorted reflection. Exit Dr. Freud, enter Norman Bates. This suggestion of a schizophrenic break transforms Hamlet from hesitant intellectual into calculating killer; it also strips the subsequent action of its moral ambiguity and propels it into a kind of driving, Hitchcockian psychological thriller. François Giroday's Claudius becomes a silver-tongued, cold-blooded schemer; Deborah Strang's Gertrude his willing accomplice (when she isn't unnaturally doting on her son). Matthew Jaeger, as Laertes, brings a disturbing whiff of incest to his brotherly affection for Ophelia (Dorothea Harahan). Tony Abatemarco lightens the load -- and scores another of his trademark triumphs -- with his superb comic rendering of Polonius. Designer Sara Ryung Clement ties it all together with an elegant, minimalist set and costumes, which are a timeless blend of modern and period dress. (BR) A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru Dec. 7. (828) 240-0901, Ext. 1 or www.anoisewithin.org.
Hamlet at A Noise Within. Photo by Craig Schwartz
GO TWO TRAINS RUNNING The seventh of 10 plays in his "Pittsburgh cycle" that chronicles 100-years of African-American history, this is one of August Wilson's talkiest plays, and this production runs well over three hours. Yet the success of director Israel Hicks' revival can be attributed to the consistency and quality of the cast . The setting is a diner, circa 1969 Pittsburgh, that conveniently serves as a neighborhood hangout. Its owner, Memphis (Glynn Turman), is a shrewd businessman with a soft edge, who has some lively patrons: mentally disturbed Hambone (Ellis E. Williams); Wolf (Felton Perry), a numbers man; Holloway (Roger Robinson), a street-corner prophet and believer in magic; and Sterling (Russell Hornsby), an ex-con with more ambition than job prospects. The only woman, Risa (Michole Briana White), is a waitress at the diner who bears horrible self-inflicted scars on her legs. Not much goes on here. Most of the buzz is generated by the gilded funeral of a slick ghetto preacher named Prophet Samuel, and the pending demolition of the diner. Yet Wilson is a master storyteller, and this play is filled with humorous, engaging dialogue and earthly sagacity. In one hilarious segment, Holloway talks of a grandfather who loved being a slave so much, he wanted to die and pick cotton in heaven for a "white God." And then there is West (Earl Billings), an undertaker who has grown rich on the misfortunes of the neighborhood. These characters form a curious gestalt that eerily mirrors the tumult of the times and the harsh realities of inner-city life. Edward E. Haynes' expansive diner set piece works perfectly for the production. (LE3) Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (323) 964-9766. An Ebony Repertory Theatre production.
GO WAITING IN THE WINGS Noel Coward's career was in eclipse, and he was dealing with his own declining powers when he wrote this bitter-sweet comedy set in a charity retirement home for aging actresses. The result is a sentimental and nostalgic valentine to Edwardian Era theater, and the leading ladies he adored in his youth. Perhaps its strongest asset is its wonderful roles for older actresses, fully realized in this production. The affectionate portraits are strung on three strands of plot: the long-running feud between glamorous Lotta Bainbridge (Katherine Henryk) and her ancient rival May Davenport (Magda Harout), the efforts of the home's residents to persuade "the committee" to build them a solarium, and the intrusion of a pushy newspaper columnist (Corinne Shore) who invades their space in search of a "human interest" story. The piece is saved from soap-opera bathos by Coward's wit, and frank acknowledgement of the realities of decline and death. Director Charlie Mount has assembled a fine, large ensemble who offer richly nuanced performances. Among the highlights is Betty Garrett's impish turn as a woman who has retreated into blissful memories, dementia and playing with matches. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977 or http://www.theatrewest.org (Neal Weaver)
Waiting in the Wings Photo by Charlie Mount
GO WICKED In this musical riff on the witches of Oz (by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Hollzman), Joe Mantello directs a marvelous spectacle that looks like a diversion but is actually quite the opposite. Eden Espinoza as the green-skinned, bespectacled girl-witch Elphaba has a contagiously smart appeal. After recognizing that Elphaba's not going to power-play along with the Wizard's (John Rubinstein) Stalinist shenanigans, Mrs. Morrible (the delightful Carol Kane), starts a witch hunt for the girl, and the whole thing starts to resemble some of the tawdrier chapters in American history. (SLM). Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 11. (213) 365-3500.
WILL ROGERS' AMERICA Rich Hoag is the cowboy humorist. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (805) 667-2900.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND DOWNTOWN
AMERICA'S NEXT TOP BOTTOM: CYCLE THREE Aspiring "bottoms" compete in this weekly elimination parody. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 957-1884.
ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big city.". Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-5574.
BABY IT'S YOU! Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's musical about the discovery of girl group the Shirelles. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 14, (No perfs Nov. 26-27.). (800) 595-4849.
BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS Rob Mersola's "not-so-romantic comedy of bad manners.". Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 23, 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7829.
BARE NAKED ANGELS Eight actors dramatize their own true stories. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 465-0800.
>NEW REVIEW BETTER LATE THAN NEVER Writer-performer Virginia Watson's staged bio takes its title from the 25 years it took her to finally receive her diploma from USC. This somewhat scrambled , minutiae-filled account of her life begins with her childhood where, as a latchkey kid, she indulged in her passion for TV and eventually nabbed a role in the '70s as the token African-American in The Brady Bunch. In high school and USC, she was a cheerleader (whose routines she energetically and impressively reenacts) on otherwise all-white squads. Curiously, it takes to the end of a prolonged first act for Watson to expose the scarring recollection of her mother's rape at knifepoint, which she witnessed when she was 4 years old. Later, in Act 2, she recalls her own rape and its emotional aftermath, and her foray into drugs, further escalated in the company of her cocaine imbibing father, Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Directed by Iona Morris, Watson's strengths are her energy and warmth; the problem lies in the haphazard disarrangement of her material and the emphasis on personal melodrama, which never segues into a more shared or universal motif. The same disorder in her narrative is also reflected in the set, which Watson designed, but here the effect is a positive one, reflecting an individual with an eclectic zest for life. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov 8. (323) 769-5049 or wwwPlays411.com; A Top of the Head Productions production. (Deborah Klugman)
Better Late Than Never Photo by Whitney DuVall
CRAVE Sarah Kane's "fantasia of love, lust, pain, humor, sadness, hope and resignation.". Sierra Stage, 1444 N. Sierra Bonita Ave., West Hollywood; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (213) 905-2727.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Interpretive piece set to the music of Pink Floyd. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sun., 8 & 9:30 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.
EAGLE HILLS, EAGLE RIDGE, EAGLE LANDING are much more than mere tracts of real estate that looms sight-unseen over Brett Neveu's comic send-up of middle-class complacency. For the play's mid-career, middle-management friends and neighbors, Mike (Jon Amirkhan), Kevin (Johnny Clark) and Andy (Jeffrey Stubblefield), theese housing developments are essential articles of faith that lend harmony to the men's empty, prefabricated lives. When the men meet for their customary after-work beers at the local watering hole (finely executed by designer Danny Cistone), however, that harmony all-too-easily turns to discontent. Mike and Andy have already made the move to the more desirable Eagle Ridge. The strangely irritable Kevin, however, has doubts -- doubts that soon threaten to undermine the men's suburban house of cards. Director Ron Klier cleverly frames the comic complications as a kind of existential Three Stooges two reeler (imagine Larry and Curly grappling with a suddenly self-aware Moe). To that end, the witless Amirkhan and Stubblefield remain hilariously impervious to the implications of Clark's deepening crisis and eventual rebirth. But if the production more than meets its quota of laughs, Neveu ignores too many other potential voices (the men's wives, for instance) to rack up much more than a straw-man critique. The result is a funny if slight entertainment with all the substance of a Dilbert cartoon. (BR) Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 15. (323) 960-7738, http://www.plays411.com/eagle VS.Theatre Company and Range View Productions
EAT THE RUNT Robert Riechel Jr.'s dramedy about a kidnapped theater critic. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (323) 960-7721.
FIT FOR SOCIETY is a pastiche of war veteran stories written by Brian Monahan (who is from a military family) and Stephen Wolfert (a veteran of the U.S. Army). Some are direct, personal accounts, some are first person dramatic monologues delivered straight to the audience, and some are monologues to an invisible character. And even though the work is earnest and, at times, powerful, the stylistic disunity weakens the overriding idea. And because the evening runs scattershot over a wide range of veteran themes -- most of which have been introduced to us in media coverage of the last 40 years of war -- we aren't challenged by the kind of specificity that opens up new ways of understanding the futility, waste and tragedy of war. Director Stephan Wolfert, however, shapes the performances of his excellent cast well, inspiring an authentic, gripping tone throughout. Standouts include Ian Casselberry's infantryman divested of his humanity and Arnell Powell's brusque dill sergeant. And Randy Brumbaughs lights are particularly effective on the small, open stage. But what we ultimately see is a truly inspired series of previews for several potentially stirring plays. (LR) The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea, L.A. Sat. & Mon., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues. perf. Nov. 11, 8 p.m.; through Nov. 11. (888) 398-9348.
FLAT Ellen Clifford's solo exploration of her small breasts. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Through Nov. 8, 9 p.m.. (323) 969-2530.
FOR ALL TIME K.J. Sanchez's look at the various social, familial and economic effects of the criminal justice system. Shakespeare Festival/LA Theatre, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 23, (Added perfs Nov. 12 & 19, 8 p.m.). (213) 613-1700.
GO FREAK DANCE: THE FORBIDDEN DIRTY BOOGALOO Much of the propulsion in Matt Besser's dance confection comes from the great breakdance interludes by the Bad Newz Bearz crew. The rest derives from Besser's comic-book satire of self-righteous programs claiming to use the arts to get kids off drugs. Lindsay Hendrickson's staging is perfect. Brian Fountain and Jake Anthony wrote the music. (SLM). Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
>NEW REVIEWGEM OF THE OCEAN August Wilson's ten-play chronicle of the 20th century African-American experience is one of the great achievements in dramatic literature. Gem of the Ocean, the first play in the cycle, is probably the playwright's most symbolic and provocative. The setting is 1904, Pittsburgh, a time when many blacks were no better off than they were during chattel slavery. But the home of 287 year old Aunt Ester (alternate Carlease Burke), is a place of rest, refuge and mystery for a colorful group of residents and regulars. Eli (Jeris Lee Poindexter) is a boarder/handyman with an angel's heart; Black Mary(Tené Carter Miller) is a long-suffering maid and washerwoman; and her brother Cesar (Rocky Gardiner), a badge-heavy cop with a Napoleon Complex whose primary function is to control the "colored" people of the city. Then there's the rabble-rousing, garrulous Solly Two Kings (a star turn by Adolphus Ward), a former Union scout who helped runaway slaves. When a troubled stranger, Citizen Barlow(Keith Arthur Bolden), steals into the house seeking Ester's magical soul-cleansing powers, it sets off a chain of events that forever alters the lives of all those involved. Gem is a play where grand themes like the connection between past and present, the nature of freedom and spiritual redemption are explored, but you don't get that sense here, at least not in a dynamic fashion. With the exception of Ward, the performances lack the necessary polish and emotional resonance Director Ben Bradley who did brilliant work in Fountain's production of Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, is not at his best here, as the pacing at times is far from crisp - though I did see it late in the run. Rounding out the cast is Stephen Marshall. The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323)-663-1525.(Lovell Estell III)
Gem of the Ocean Photo by Ed Krieger
GO GOOD BOBBY Few families have commanded more public fascination or newsprint than the Kennedy clan. In his engaging character study, Brian Lee Franklin constructs a compelling portrait of the "other son," Robert Francis, and the historical milieu that shaped him. The play opens at a 1958 subcommittee hearing with "Bobbie" (Franklin) and Senator John McClellan (William Stone Mahoney) aggressively interrogating Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (R.D. Call in a convincing turn) about Joffa's mob connections. From the outset, Franklin creates a profoundly flawed and conflicted image of Kennedy, one that is steadily and skillfully nuanced throughout this production. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in his relationship with his father Joe, (Steve Mendillo), whose vaulting ambition contoured the lives of all of his sons, and whose approval of "good Bobby" was desperately sought by RFK but, according to Franklin's play, never fully realized. We follow RFK's rise to national prominence, his battles during the civil rights era as U.S. Attorney General, his involvement in his brother John's presidential campaign (and more than a few unsavory deeds during that time), the aftermath of JFK's assassination, and Bobby's gradual ascension into the Democratic party's nominee for president in 1968. The script is very well written, and Franklin can be forgiven for some questionable Oliver Stone moments involving a shadowy CIA agent (Jim Metzler). The performances are uniformly high caliber under Pierson Blaetz's fine direction. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through November, 23. (323) 655-7679 (Lovell Estell III)
Good Bobby opens this weekend at Greenway Arts Allaince. Photo by Ed Krieger.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH John Steinbeck's Depression story, adapted by Frank Galati. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 667-0955.
GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mitch Silpa. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
HUGGING THE SHOULDER Younger brother tries to detox his heroin-addicted sibling, in Jerrod Bogard's drama. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Thurs., Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 252-2042.
INTO THE WOODS Brothers Grimm characters interact, in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 939-9220.
JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED Austen-esque tales, improv'd anew each night. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-7753.
GO JOE'S GARAGE Joe (Jason Paige) wants to play music. But after a neighbor (Maia Madison) files a noise complaint with the cops on his garage band, Joe and his girl Mary (Becky Wahlstrom) fall prey to a domino chain of gang rape, venereal disease, wet t-shirt contests, prison time, cyborg threesomes, and madness. What's to blame? "Music," hisses the Central Scrutinizer (Michael Dunn), a robot narrator dangling from the rafters -- certainly not the religious and government figures who sure seem to be pulling the strings. Like novelist Terry Southern, Frank Zappa's weapon against hypocrisy was to confront audiences with a circus mirror of their culture's greed and lust. Some saw their reflection; others argued Zappa was warped. Pat Towne and Michael Franco's world premiere staging of Zappa's narrative album crackles with outrage and grief masked by a leer --- Jennifer Lettelleir choreographs plenty of sex, but like Robert Crumb's comics, it's more repellent than titillating. Musical director Ross Wright and the seven piece band help the snappy ensemble animize Zappa's eclectic sound which ranges from dissonant juggernauts to deceptively sweet ditties. Per Zappa's request, the song "Watermelon in Easter Hay" plays once his hapless everyman has succumbed to creative censorship; the band puts down their instruments, turns off the lights, and cues Zappa's original version. In that isolating darkness, Zappa's limber guitar feels like a lifeline -- we're struck by our need for music, and our need for today's apolitical musicians to break loose and write the next chorus. (AN) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (323) 882-6912,
Joe's Garage Photo by Maia Rosenfeld
KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Manuel Puig's novel dealt with the volatile relations between frivolous gay window-decorator Molina (Chad Borden), and Valentin (Daniel Tatar) -- an earnest, straight political prisoner -- sharing a South American jail cell. A previous dramatization zeroed in on that relationship. But, writing the book for this musical version, with score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Terrence McNally faced the task of "opening up" the story, and creating opportunities for musical numbers. The Spider Woman (Terra C. Macleod), a symbolic fantasy figure, had to be expanded into a role for a female star. So, like a ballet with too many divertimenti, the story must constantly stop in its tracks to accommodate splashy numbers or conventional, often irrelevant songs. Director Nick DeGruccio and choreographer Lee Martino have mounted a terrific production, with a fine cast, an athletic dance ensemble, a huge and handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, slinky outfits for the Spider Woman by Anne Kennedy and sterling musical direction by Michael Paternostro. The actors are fine and make the show moving when the script lets them. But too many numbers and distractions clog the show's arteries, and the compelling central tale falls prey to Broadway razzle-dazzle. (NW) Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through Oct. 26. (800) 595-4849 or www.havoktheatre.com. A Havok Theatre Co. production.
LATINOLOGUES TU Rick Najera's comedy showcase. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (213) 289-9860.
LEADING LADIES While crackerjack performances might have transformed Ken Ludwig's second-rate farce into a hilarious evening, that's not what evolves from director Richard Israel's pleasant but unevenly rendered production. Ludwig's play revolves around Leo (Bruce Ladd) and Jack (understudy Daniel J. Roberts), two penniless Shakespearean actors who pose as the long-lost female heirs of a dying, wealthy old woman. The humor derives from the tension between them - Jack, the reluctant participant, is continually threatened and browbeaten by Leo (think Some Like It Hot, as well as the predicament Leo finds himself in when, dressed in drag, he falls in love with his betrothed cousin, Meg (Karla Droege). Played for laughs, the sight gag of men dressed as women invariably succeeds; in this case Ladd starts out strong as the determined scammer, but is only moderately funny portraying his outsized female counterpart "Maxine," whose persona he never quite commands. The play's funniest scene comes near the end when, as "Stephanie," a horrified Jack (well-played by Roberts) finds himself manhandled by two men. Intimating the standard of excellence that might have transported the comedy to a higher realm is Carl A. Johnson, impeccably understated as Meg's stuffy fiancé. Gus Correas is also on the mark as the lecherous family doctor who keeps misdiagnosing his patient. Other performances are off-kilter or over the top. Designers Stephen Gifford's and Jeremy Pivnick's lighting wrap the goings-on with an appealing ambiance. (DK) Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 1, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323) 462-8460.
GO LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA You can find several clips of singer-partners Louis Prima and Keely Smith, with a small jazz combo behind them, on YouTube. The pair practically invented the genre of the lounge act, playing as they did during much of the 1950s at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, lingering on the margins of fame. Think of them as antecedents to Sonny and Cher, or a musical version of Abbott and Costello. Smith was the "straight-man" woman and long-suffering wife of the hyperactive, philandering Prima, whom you'll see hopping in front of the bandstand like a maniac, throwing his entire body into each beat, a grin plastered across his face, the biggest ham since Hamlet. Keep these tiny-screen presences in mind when you see Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder's sublime new musical about the duo and their tempestuous life on and off stage, Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara.Certainly not the first musical to chronicle a musical group -- other recent entries include Pump Boys and Dinettes and Jersey Boys -- this has to be the first one to take a lounge act seriously, rather than as a spittoon for gobs of ridicule. In a glorious world-premiere production directed by Jeremy Aldridge for Hollywood's Sacred Fools Theater Company, Prima and Smith are re-created with accuracy and richness -- perhaps because the writers are also the leading players. Vanessa Claire Smith's cropped brunette 'do apes that of Keely Smith's, a look that Liza Minnelli adopted later -- though the silky, tender singing style of both Smiths couldn't be more contrary to Minnelli's comparatively ostentatious, belting interpretations. Prima had a more gruff sound than that depicted by Broder, whose sculpted, jazzy tones more closely resemble Bobby Darin's. What Broder delivers in thunderbolts, though, is Prima's exuberant, maniacal self-choreography -- leaping, lurching, swaying and sashaying. Why this guy is jumping around so much becomes the musical's central question. The answer to that question could come with dismissing Prima as a narcissistic clown, The creators, however, treat their subject with far more compassion than that, as Prima's plight approaches tragedy. (Broder played Mozart in the Broadway production of Amadeus, which provides a small window onto the vainglorious hysteria that Broder depicts here so brilliantly.) He croons in musical styles from '20s Dixieland jazz through '30s swing, '40s big band and '50s scat -- and their accompanying lingo ("cats," "chicks" and "gigs"). Broder's song-and-dance routine, capturing Prima's cocky romantic domination over Smith, as well as his solipsistic devotion to his music, is a bravura performance not to be missed. And having an onstage, seven-piece backup band (doubling as supporting players) doubles the impact, particularly with sounds so carefully modulated by musical director Dennis Kaye. A piano, two saxophones, a string bass, drum set, a trumpet and trombone, all on the stage of this 99-seat theater, places us in the equivalent of a small recording studio. When the band hits its stride with enveloping riffs of Dixieland blues and Big Band stylings, hang on to your seat. The musical current is that strong. This journey through Prima's life comes on the eve of his death in 1978. (Smith is still alive and thriving.) Though it sweeps in biographical details from the '20s -- his "craziness," he says, captured hearts during the Great Depression -- the story kicks into gear during the late '40s with its AStar is Born plot featuring Smith as the ingenue who saves Prima's foundering big-band act and resurrects it with a '50s spin in Las Vegas. And though he's doing all the jumping and prancing, and giving all the orders, the newspaper reviews focus on her talents, not his. Prima's jealousy erupts, not so much in offstage screaming matches (he barely speaks to her) but in the tensions that escalate on the stage, which everyone can see, and which perversely renders their act more popular. He actually encourages the onstage hostility, for just that reason. And so, through 16 songs (ranging from "Basin Street Blues," "That Old Black Magic,"and "I've Got You Under My Skin" to the song that defined Prima's career, the medley of "Just a Gigolo" and "I Ain't Got Nobody") one passionate love and cruel marriage is played out almost entirely between the lines. If the purpose of musical theater is to express in song what can't be expressed in mere words, this is about as perfect as a musical can get. It's simple without being simplistic, summing up 80 years of gender relations in 90 minutes. Yet this is not just a musical about men and women but about life, and art as an expression of it; the devastating costs of recklessly turning a private life into a public one; and that old, blinding obsession with fame. Smith's desperate words accompany her tortured decision to leave her husband, "Life is happening right in your face and you don't even notice. You don't hear anything unless it's in the key of B flat!" I walked out of the theater wrenched by a depth of emotion that seemed to make no sense, coming from a musical about the quaint saga of an almost forgotten lounge act. That's when I realized I'd been punched in the gut and didn't even know it. It was a delayed reaction to the blow landed in Broder's reprise of "I Ain't Got Nobody." He just kept on singing that refrain, as the band packed up and left him there, until his death bed slowly rolled in. What may first look like a musical comedy is actually a musical tragedy, ancient Greek style: the deluded protagonist who's undone by hubris and sent into exile.Exile was a bad end for Oedipus, but imagine if Oedipus' delusions included eternal celebrity from a Las Vegas lounge act. The program cover contains the slogan, "Nothing lasts forever." I hope this show does. (SLM) Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (800) 838-3006, www.louiskeelyshow.com. Note: This production has changed venue since this review.
GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
THE MAGIC STRING Egomaniacal would-be writer Cody is more inclined to harangues than normal conversation. His therapist tells him his blockage is due to selfishness, and urges him to live for others. He obediently complies by adopting an obsessive-compulsive carpet-sweeper salesman addicted to marathon apologies. After too many jumpy scenes about Cody's literary constipation, playwright/director Nicole Hoelle engineers an arbitrary happy ending. (NW). Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 663-6577.
MELODRAMA PLAY Sam Shepard's story of a rock & roller's followup to his hit song. Paul Gleason Theater, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 255-5636.
MISS WITHERSPOON The sky is falling, in Christopher Durang's comedy. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 460-4443.
GO THE MOST MEDIOCRE STORY NEVER TOLD In his autobiographical one-man show, Jay Sefton takes every aspect of the autobiographical one-man show and dismantles it before our eyes. This is because his show isn't really about his youth in Philadelphia and subsequent move to L.A., nor is it about his older and more macho brother, Joe, whom Sefton portrays and who frequently hijacks the show. Sefton's exploration probes the essence of a story, and the distinctions, if any, between a legend and a lie. Joe keeps goading Jay to make things up or the show will be a bore. The awful truth is that his brother maybe right -- that a normal, honorable if meek youth with caring parents is the pleasant kind of existence that nobody wants to hear about stage, or see in movies, or read in books. Edward Albee once said that he writes a play in order to understand why he's writing it. Sefton's show is so clearly undertaken with the goal of Sefton trying to understand why he should be telling his life story, the result breezes past narcissism on a charm-filled meta-literary excursion, under Debra De Liso's nimble direction - something like a magic carpet ride. (SLM) Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7780.
Most Mediocre Story Never Told Photo by Ed Krieger
NEW Rachel Kolar and Lauren Brown as post-apocalyptic socialites. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. http://www.myspace.com/postfactproductions
NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY Charles Gordone's "Black-black comedy.". Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 960-4443.
GO NORTH PHILLY Ralph Harris' one-man show is the latest in a slew of recently performed, compelling solo performances (including Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill's Common Air, Chazz Palminteri's A Bronx Tale, and Jay Sefton's The Most Mediocre Story Never Told) that offer a portrait of a community, or of a family, with one performer crawling inside and impersonating a gallery of characters floating around a central idea, replicating the motion of moths around a light. In North Philly, the centerpiece is the 94th birthday party for his grandfather. Yet Harris goes beyond imitating his eccentric family members who gather for the occasion. In a snappy tan vest and matching trousers, he drapes himself over a barstool and spins himself back to his childhood, where every dollar was counted and coveted - imitating himself as a child, precocious and fearful. The musculature of the piece, as in most shows of this ilk, derives from the cadences and colloquialisms of dialect, accentuated by Don Reed's studied direction. Depicting himself as a child, Harris reenacts having to play "retarded" on the street in order to protect himself from being beaten up and robbed by the local gang. The performance is as rich as the writing: from details of the "wet money" he would always carry, from having to stuff dollar bills into his mouth as a protection from being robbed; to catching ringworm in a local swimming pool; to his grandfather's "sliding" dentures. In one scene, Harris conjures his estranged father's wedding day. This does raise the question of how Harris, Jr. would have obtained that insight, a quibble in a haunting show that also needs an editor and possibly a dramaturg. The play's final portrait of Harris' 94-year-old grandfather, facing down a gunman in the post office, is brilliant for its physical and vocal detail, as well as its blend of drama and wisdom. It's the light around which the other stories flutter, yet it's still a random source of the piece's chaotic unity - perhaps because the grandfather has no interaction with the other characters whom Harris has introduced us to. North Philly is nonetheless a compassionate and often enchanting work in development. (SLM) Stella Adler Theater, 6773, Hollywood Boulevard, Second Floor; Wed., 8 p.m.; through December 17. (323) 960-7612.
North Philly Photo by Keith J. Leman
POLITICO! The idea of an almost entirely improvised rock opera based on a presidential campaign stuffs the ballot box with possibilities, but the final tally hangs like a dangling chad on the performers' satirical wit, and their ability to locate a political edge. With the general concept that the Devil is running our political show, and candidates' relatives, with their sundry addictions and improprieties, can drive a campaign manager to drink, the comedy on the night I attended was both obvious and blunt, when surprise and sharpness were called for. Director Joseph Limbaugh appears here as a somewhat lumbering Devil/satyr (with perky assistant Karina Bustillos, in horns) in order to set up each scene for the actors/characters who happen to be present. Musical director Susan Peahl did a first-rate job modulating composer Jonathan Green's and Brian Lohman's opening and closing chorals, beautifully sung a cappella by the ensemble. The scenarios include the PR nightmare for Liberty Party campaign manager Molly Hatchet (Kimberly Lewis) - representing candidate Senator Scott Turner (Brian Lohmann, who had somewhere else to be, and didn't appear onstage that night). Turner's son, Beverly (Barry O'Neil), is lead singer of the band Involuntary Ragnarock, and has impregnated his girlfriend - as musicians tend to do - and Hatchet was grasping for strategies of containment. Robert Covarrubias has a nice turn as stern Special Agent Gregory Eagleson (who has a soft side), while Alexis Kraus and Diana Costa put in respective appearances as the drug-induced visions of Sacajawea and Susan B. Anthony. Stage presence so frequently fell victim to the the ad hoc essence of improv, I found myself wishing that this American apple-pie filling was more tart, or that somebody would write a script for these guys. (SLM) Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (323) 525-0202.
PORCELAIN Chay Yew's story of an Asian homosexual's murderous confession. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 957-1884.
RESTAURANT REVELATIONS Live collage of movies scenes set at restaurants. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 25. (323) 465-0800.
SALVAGE Diana Glancy's drama about a family-run junk yard. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 468-3399.
SAVAGE WORLD Inspired by the story of an African-American boxer wrongfully convicted of murdering a white, Jewish couple, playwright Stephen Fife's sprawling melodrama revolves around the efforts of a reporter named Sol Eisner (Erik Passoja) to establish the athlete's innocence. The play starts in the present with the now middle-aged Eisner struggling to provide direction for his university educated son (Nate Geez), inexplicably hostile and rebellious. It then flashes back to the '70s, to his meetings with the accused, Calvin "Savage" James (Vincent M. Ward), and his labyrinthine search for evidence of the man's innocence. The juicy core of the conflict is whether Savage, a proven liar, thief and abuser of women, is indeed not guilty. But instead of exploiting this ambiguity with the depths of ferocity it deserves, the nearly three- hour piece meanders through a plethora of manipulated subplots and extraneous characters more suitable to a convoluted B-movie police drama than an intense character-driven drama. Ultimately, the production gains traction from Passoja's fastidiously calibrated portrait of a solidly middle class Jewish intellectual - somewhat nerdy - willing to take risks for his principles. The many solid supporting performances include Latarsha Rose as Eisner's love interest, Tom Badal as his Uncle Jack, whose support Sol craves, and Ernest Harden Jr., as a pivotal witness whose story keeps changing. As Savage, Ward needs more complexity and volcanic heat. Subpar lighting contributes to the production's lack of focus . L. Flint Esquerra directs. (DK) Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7788. A MET Theatre and Stealfire Production production.
Savage World Photo by Stephen Fife
GO SPEECH & DEBATE Playwright Stephen Karam's quirky high school comedy imaginatively (and sometimes disturbingly) reinvents the witch-hunt of The Crucible through the teenage frame of The Breakfast Club, mixing in a touch of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator." In a small, claustrophobic Oregon town, sexually precocious teenager Howie (Michael Welch) engages in come-hither provocative cyberchat with a much older man, who turns out to be none other than his own drama teacher. Fiendishly ambitious high school newspaper reporter Solomon (Aaron Himelstein), driven by his own repressed sexuality, learns of Howie's interactions and wants to make his story public in a huge exposé. Along with Diwata (Mae Whitman), a vengeful theater brat who has been passed up by the drama teacher for one too many acting roles, Solomon and Howie form an organization that to the rest of the world appears to be the school's Speech and Debate club, but which, in fact, has a darker and more confrontational purpose. Although Karam's writing occasionally slips on its own soap opera suds, the combination of artistry and a brash, youthful energy is unsettling enough to elicit a few squirms -- exactly the kind you'd hope for in the theater. Director Daniel Henning's psychologically shrewd direction drives the action while being engagingly intimate. Himselstein's sweetly neurotic Solomon; Whitman's shrill, driven Diwata; and Welch's technologically sophisticated but emotionally naive gay boy are hilarious, touching and disturbing by turns. (PB) 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct 26. (323) 661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production.
TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (323) 960-7753.
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.
GO TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY "Is the sense of tragedy palpable?" presses stately news anchor Frank (Frederick Ponzlov) to in-field reporter John (Matthew McCray). If either man -- or fellow correspondents Michael (Daniel Getzoff) and Constance (Sarah Boughton) -- recognizes the question's absurdity, they aren't showing it. Gifted with gravitas and eloquence, the four graveyard shift journalists in Pulitzer finalist Will Eno's sharp satire on round-the-clock spin are honing panic that the sun has set and may never rise again. Is it true? Facts are non-existent but the puffery they spout to fill up time sure sounds like a crisis. And, as Frank notes, if the morning comes, then we'll have to pray for afternoon. Our own doubts about whether the crisis even exists cloud Eno's meaning. But as the pressure to say something unmoors all the newscasters, their anchoman crumbles, begging for nonsense human interest stories -- even little lies. Donald Boughton's crisply comedic staging deepens as the play eventually reveals its darker resonances: A fumbling man-on-the-street (Jonathan C.K. Williams), first tries to will the media back to life like they were Tinkerbells or stock market indexes. The man ]reminds us that if we're united, our shared uncertainties can become our common faith. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (800) 383-3006, www.sonofsemele.org. (Amy Nicholson)
EL VAGON OF THE IMMIGRANTS Silvia Gonzalez's bilingual play about immigrants crossing the border in a boxcar. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (213) 382-8133.
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF 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.
A YEAR OF STOLEN LIGHT Tim McNeil's dark love story. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-4418.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN THE VALLEYS
ARMSTRONG'S KID Stanley Bennett Clay's drama about guilt, anger and repression centers on a trial stemming from 14-year-old Thaddeus' (Tory Scroggins) false accusation of molestation against his dad's charismatic gay best friend, Mr. Drake (Clay). After prison time and sizable civil court reparations, Drake's tried to move on after 10 years, though his reclusive digs hint of a life forever divided into Before and After. When Thaddeus, spurred by a range of secret motives, drives up for their first confrontation in a decade, their bourbon-fueled talks quickly escalate from civilities to tirades. Clay has the foundation for a play about modern-day witch-hunts and the wounds of loneliness. At present, however, it's a series of traded speeches where the two men keep reversing their arguments. Clay's direction feels hemmed in; still, as the dignified drunk, he has a bitter hauteur, while Scroggins' more layered and contradictory role results in the young actor coming across as swaddled and stiff. The scenes with the the most frisson come when alcohol and anger spur both men to fling slurs that undercut their moral authority and allow us to question each one's self-image as the victim. (AN) Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (323) 480-3232 or www.ticketmaster.com.
BLOOD BROTHERS Twin boys, separated at birth, are reunited, book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111.
BUSH IS BAD: ALASKAN BEAUTY QUEEN EDITION Political satire, including musical parody of the McCain-Palin ticket, by Joshua Rosenblum. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (818) 508-7101.
DEAD SERIOUS Dutch Parker's story of a cuckolded husband. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 807-6251.
FAHRENHEIT 451 Ray Bradbury's book burner. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-4451.
THE FAMILY OF MANN The kooky world of sitcom writing, as seen by Theresa Rebeck. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 769-5858.
GO THE FRIENDLY HOUR Tom Jacobson's lovely new play chronicles the rituals of a women's club in rural South Dakota from the late '30s to 2007, and we watch the women with whom we grow increasingly familiar age and engage in theological disputes that are really at the heart of the matter. God's purpose, and the purpose of community, interweave and clash through the decades as five fine actors portray many more roles. Leading the pack is Kate Mines' prickly creationist Effie and Ann Noble's proud, forward-thinking Dorcas Briggle who, had she lived somewhere else, would have joined the Unitarian Church. (Deana Barone, Mara Marine and Bettina Zacar round out the cast.) The play desperately needs pruning - its length is partly responsible for a monochromatic quality that dampens Mark Bringleson's otherwise animated and tender staging. If this were scaled down to six pointed scenes from its perpetually unrolling carpet of the club's rites and characters' domestic crises, the impact of the survivors' dotage in 2007 could be that much more gripping. Still, Jacobson has put aside the conspicuous cleverness of his past works, Bunbury and Ouroboros, for an impressionistic landscape that straddles the literary worlds of Anton Chekhov and Thornton Wilder. Desma Murphey's wood-framed set, against which a backdrop of clouds peers through, contains both elegance and allegory, and Lisa D. Burke's costumes contain similar affection and wit. (SLM) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (866) 811-4111, http://roadtheatre.org. A Road Theatre Company production.
GO HOW CISSY GREW Susan Johnston's powerful new play is structured as a pastiche of three family members' memories, slowly filling in the puzzle of their traumatic lives. In West Virginia, an unmarried couple, Butch and Darla (James Denton and Erin J. O'Brien),are stuck in financial and moral poverty. This is all manifested in legal and illegal addictions, as the pair try to turn their lives around with the help of their daughter, Cissy (Liz Vital). A moment of inattention inflicts a wound that will haunt the three throughout their lives. Johnston's stark text, rarely punctuated with humor, is piercingly painful and beautifully wrought. The actors, including Stewart W. Calhoun as the various boys in Cissy's damaged life, play each dramatic moment with conviction. Even their southern accents, which can so easily become generic and insulting, are rendered tenderly. Director Casey Stangl honors the desolate geography of the characters' lives by stirring life from their bleakness. She keeps the production terse, but extremely well paced. The set pieces are deftly designed by Laura Fine Hawkes for multiple uses. Lighting by Trevor Stirlin Burk paired with C. Andrew Mayer's tense sound design, add to the success of this elegant production. (TP) El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111. www.elportaltheatre.com.
How Cissy Grew Photo by Ed Krieger
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The results are tame at best, featuring dated public figures Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, and others. How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove, Eliot Spitzer, or Sarah Palin. (DK). Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 960-4451.
GO LOVE'S OLD SWEET SONG This wacky 1940 William Saroyan comedy celebrates the Fresno writer's centennial year. In Depression-era Bakersfield, spinster Ann Hamilton (McKerrin Kelly) lives alone with her roses and the stone lion in her front yard, 'till her life is turned inside out by a string of bizarre visitors: an incorrigibly romantic Western Union messenger (Michael Heshel); a loquacious medicine-show con-man (Steve Marvel) who pretends he's been in love with her for 27 years; and the Yearling Clan, a family of Okies fleeing the dust bowl: father Cabot (Joel Schumaker), his prodigiously pregnant wife (Jennifer Pennington) and their 11 assorted children. They invade Ann's home, wreck it, and eventually burn it down, but only after the visit of a loony Time Magazine subscription peddler (Shawn MacAulay), a pompous WPA novelist (Daniel Campagna), and a Life Magazine photographer (Lauren Dunagan). In Act II, everybody winds up at the home of former Greek wrestling champ Stylianos Americanos (Chris Damiano). In an agreeably sappy finale, love conquers all, the Yearlings join the medicine show, and, presumably everybody lives happily ever after. Director Martin Bedoian expertly deploys his huge and able cast through the whimsical hilarity, and Jeff Rack provides two handsome sets. (NW) GTC Burbank, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 22. A Syzygy Theatre production. (800) 838-3006 or http://www.syzygytheatre.org (Neal Weaver)
GO M. BUTTERFLY David Henry Hwang's 1988 drama receives a fine staging by director Derek Charles Livingston. Hwang artfully blends the story of Puccini's Madama Butterfly with the incredible case of Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat working in China, who was convicted of treason in the 1980s. The play spans some 20 years and opens with René Gallimard (Sam R. Ross, in a splendid turn) pacing about in a jail cell in France, where he recounts the sad, often humorous tale of his decades-long love affair with the beautiful opera diva Song Liling (the masterful J. Manabat), whom he met one night at a show. His eerie attraction to the singer gradually evolves into an obsession bordering on idol worship of this "perfect woman," even compelling him to divorce his wife, Helga (J.C. Henning). Among a series of surprises slowly unveiled is that the lovely Song is actually a Chinese "Mata Hari," who wheedles classified information from the Frenchman. The play's engagement and humor derive from the brilliant subtlety of Hwang's interweaving themes of sex, gender, racism, reality and illusion. Livingston manages his cast superbly, and August Viverito's minimalist set design serves the effort well, along with his slyly understated costumes. (LE3) The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd.; North Hollywood., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006.
MAGIC? MAYBE ... Jennifer Emily McLean's fantasy about a young woman who denounces magic. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 636-9661.
>NEW REVIEW MARY'S WEDDING Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte tries, in a two-actor play, to recreate a World War I battlefield, a horseback ride across the Canadian prairie, and a desperate cavalry charge. As if that weren't challenge enough, he combines realism, fantasy, flashbacks, dreams, and fractured chronology in an uneasy mixture. Telling us the play is a dream doesn't quite solve the problems. Somewhere in Canada, farmer's son Charlie (Brett Ryback), along with his horse, meets émigré English girl Mary (Ashley Bell) in a barn, where both take shelter from a storm. They fall madly in love, but her snobbish mother disapproves of him as "a dirty farm boy," and soon they're parted by the Great War. He feels an obligation to join the Canadian Cavalry, and she bitterly resents his leaving. Bell also doubles nimbly as a tough, heroic (male) sergeant. The horse is an abstract sculpture, like a modern-day Isamu Noguchi, which also serves as a troop ship, and the trenches at Ypres. It's not clear whether it's part of David Potts handsome set or a clever prop by MacAndME. Director David Rose has mounted a sensitive, inventive production, with expert lighting by Jeremy Pivnick and sound by Cricket Myers. Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., through Nov. 23. Call theatre for added perfs. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15, or http://www.colonytheatre.org (Neal Weaver)
Mary's Wedding Photo by Michael Lamont
PIN-UP GIRLS Set designer Starlet Jacobs sets the stage with '40s memorabilia -- racks of vintage costumes adorn the playing area and a model of a USAF bomber hangs suspended from the proscenium arch. With waves of overlapping dialogue punctuated with sporadic moments of farce, playwright-director Andrew Moore varyingly hits his mark of hyper-realism in his depiction of burlesque performers in the midst of WWII. Though the locale isn't specified in the program, snippets of dialogue suggest a West Coast setting. While the burlesque act mostly remains off-stage, what we see are the backstage comings and goings of the proprietress (April Adams); the dancers (Sylvia Anderson, Lauren Burns, Sarah Cook, Alana Dietze, Pamela Moore and Lauren Mutascio); the pianist (Jovial Kemp), who taps on a non-functioning spinet to recorded piano sounds; and a cartoon of a self-appointed guardian of decency (Judith Goldstein), who's like a Salvation Army officer out of Guys & Dolls. Moore's story spins on the homecoming of wounded Marine, Scotty (Seth Caskey), to his unfaithful STD-infected heartthrob, Helen (Moore, in a robust and sassy performance). Helen defines her independence as the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally, while dancer Ruby (Cook, in a gentle portrayal brimming with hidden desires) eventually makes her move on her colleague's man, while accepting a post with the WASP corps. It's unclear how the two women catfighting over a guy is an examination of women's freedom, however demurely their fighting may be. That idea is best captured by Helen's insistence of being her own person while stringing along her wounded suitor: Is this cruelty part of a burgeoning women's movement, or a subtle condemnation of it? There's also a subplot of the puppy love between a semi-blind youth (Bryan Gaston) and a teen apprentice (Mustascio), who replaces Ruby when the older dancer enlists in the military. The principals offer lovely performances, but this new play is a sometimes cutesy, sometimes romantic construction. Its larger insight into who we are, and where we've come from, has yet to be chiseled. (SLM) Avery Shreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production.
GO THE SEQUENCE For over 80 years, theater artists have been trying to make peace with technology and science, fields that would seem to defy the arts - from Elmer Rice's disturbing 1923 The Adding Machine; to Heinar Kippart's 1964 drama, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer; to Tom Stoppard's impenetrable Arcadia in 1993; through David Auburn's emotionally wrought 2001 psychological exercise, Proof. . Generally, though, real science is employed to move the plot along and involve characters without boring the audience with technical details. In Paul Mullin's new play, The Sequence, however, the protagonist is the scientific inquiry at the heart of the play - the mapping of the human genome. In a very pleasing twist of expectations, some fiercely human, comic moments make for breathtaking dramatic tension - stemming from questions of whether the ultimate credit for unraveling DNA should go to scientist Craig Venter (Hugo Armstrong) or Francis Collins (William Salyers) of the federal government, and whether reporter Kellie Silverstein should get a Pulitzer prize for writing a story about the two-man race. Mullin's often outlandish explanations of the subject make this a fascinating, rapid-fire entertainment, that moves from childlike storytelling to music hall and beyond. Director John Langs and his bright (and often over-articulate) actors maneuver with assurance through Mullins slippery slopes between reality and fantasy. Gary Smoot's simple but sharp scenery, Jason H. Thompson's projections and Jose Lopez's present beautifully crafted visual production - adding Robbin E. Broad and Joseph M. Wilbur's pounding sound design creates an even more profound environment. (TP) Boston Court Theatre, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (626) 683-6883.
The Sequence Photo by Ed Krieger
SNOW WHITE The fairy tale, adapted by Tim Kelly, "for children and their families.". Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 508-3003.
THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS Nathan Sanders' story of two eccentric sisters. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (626) 256-3809.
THYESTES' FEAST Fragments of lost Greek plays adapted to an ancient world of high fashion, by Peter Wing Healey. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 960-7745.
GO U.S. DRAG "I want a lot. What do we have to do get a lot," says Angela (Megan Goodchild) to her best friend, Allison (Katie Davies), as the pair traverse Manhattan in search of . . . a lot, in this West Coast premiere of Gina Gionfriddo's scintillating comedy. Angela's every perky/snide conversation is punctuated by the monetary value to be derived from it, whether speaking to an employer or partner. The two smart young women are not smart enough to be rich, and money seems to be the play's driving force, accompanied by a triptych of fears - fear of loneliness, fear of squandered opportunities (such as fame) and fear of physical attack. Within this cosmopolitan universe, Gionfriddo populates her play with sundry support groups -- one led by Evan (Noah Harpster) counsels its members to refuse to help anybody in order to avoid attack -- a Wall Street neurotic (Nick Cernoch), a would-be literati (Shawn Lee), and a "helper" (Eric Pargac) with a deranged compulsion to track down and give baked goods and the like to victims of any urban trauma. Gionfriddo's snappy dialogue is both urban and urbane, reflecting cultural values that have clearly gone off the tracks. Among the play's delightful conceits is its open question of whether the fears we shape our lives around are actually real, or our own speculative inventions. Darin Anthony's very slick staging includes riffs of techno pop (original music by Doug Newell) and a set/lighting design by Dan Jenkins that cements the play's matrix of consumerism and death with boutique windows and streetlife - one character actually arrives on a slab withdrawn from a gutter. The performances are mostly excellent, with a glorious cameo by Johanna McKay as a befuddled attack victim, though some mumbled lines and aimless movement don't quite match the director's mat-knife precision. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 22. A Furious theatre Company production.
U.S. Drag Photo by Anthony Masters
THE WITCHING HOUR Four tales of terror, in the vein of classic TV horror anthologies. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 11 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 378-5910.
THE YEAR OF THE HIKER John B. Keane's play about the return of a man who, 20 years before, left his family to hike through Ireland. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (818) 846-5323.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED ON THE WESTSDIE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
BUS STOP William Inge's romantic comedy. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 494-1014.
DESPERATE WRITERS Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber's showbiz satire. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (800) 595-4849.
GO FAITHFUL Tautly directed by Mikey Myers, Chazz Palminteri's darkly comedic and suspenseful play opens with a pajama-clothed Margaret (Reamy Hall) tied to a chair, held at gunpoint by Tony (John Collela), a mafia hit man hired by her wealthy husband Jack (Jim Roof). The phone becomes a character in the play, as Tony awaits a two-ring signal indicating that Jack has established his alibi. But the black-clad assassin is having an existential crisis concerning his sister's recent death, and keeps calling his neurotic therapist, at whom Tony repeatedly yells "Stop crying!" The downcast Margaret finally asks Tony to kill her -- he owes her as much since he interrupted her suicide. The events unfold on Siegfried Ackermann and Ryan Wilson's understated yet well-appointed set. Myers' fast-paced direction is well-matched to Palminteri's machine-gun fire dialogue, which is expertly handled by the three-person cast. Roof is particularly hilarious as the once cocky and now discombobulated husband. (SR) Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (310) 397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.
"I'M NOT A RACIST, BUT ..." Conceived by Cynthia Ettinger, created by the Actors' Gang. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 838-4264.
THE KENTUCKY CYCLE PART I & PART II Robert Schenkkan's series of nine plays reimagining Southern history. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (562) 985-5526.
>NEW REVIEW GO 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. Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; no perf. Thanksgiving weekend; thru Dec. 7. (310) 822-8392. (Luis Reyes)
MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy, adapted by Steven Shields. Ark Theater Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 969-1707.
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 Nov. 29. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
Made Me Nuclear Photo by Cydne Moore
>NEW REVIEW A MAJORITY OF ONE In the late 1950s the era of the "well-made-play" was clearly waning. Still, playwrights like Leonard Spigelgass stuck to this form of tightly structured drama, in which societal problems trumped characterization. This chestnut follows the story of Brooklyn Jewish widow Mrs. Jacoby (Paula Prentiss), who carries with her the grief of losing her son to the Japanese in WWII. When her daughter, Alice (Anya Profumo), and son-in-law, Jerome (Ross Benjamin), inform her that they are bound to Japan for the foreign service and wish to take her along, she is dismayed, but ultimately agrees. On the sea crossing she reluctantly befriends Mr. Asano (Sab Shimono), Jerome's diplomatic adversary. Issues of family ties, race and culture are pieced precisely together leading to the appropriate climax and immediate denouement. While the play leans towards the tedious, director Salome Gens nonetheless brings out more characterization than the author offers. Prentiss and Shimono share delightful senses of stage presence - though he tends to be verbally halting and she is often grasping for lines. In an amusing turn, Edison Park play as ne'er-do-well Japanese servant who brings in welcome comic moments. The production is not helped by an oppressive brick wall set (presumable to keep Brooklyn in mind at all times), in which small windows are opened with little bits of evocative visuals for each new scene. This is a failed attempt at scenic Schenectady. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (800) 838-3006. (Tom Provenzano)
MALCOLM & TERESA BBC TV reporter interviews Mother Teresa, by Cathal Gallagher. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 462-5141.
>NEW REVIEW A MAN'S A MAN In an army brigade, three machine-gunners are in immediate need of replacing their fourth, who was recently kidanpped. And so, in Bertolt Brecht's furious early play, they lure a docile man named Galy Gay (Beth Hogan) with whiskey, cigars, and women -- and when he dares to refuse to adopt the missing soldier's name and identity, they give him good reason to by stringing up Galy on nonsensical criminal charges. Meanwhile, opportunistic barkeeper Widow Begbick (Diana Cignoni) -- an early vestige of Mother Courage -- and her troupe of traveling prostitutes scheme to undermine a despotic Sergeant (Will Kepper) while packing up their saloon to follow the army from India into Tibet. (Brecht has slyly populated his India with pagodas and Chinese hucksters in yellowface). Director Ron Sossi has an inconsistent approach to Brecht's stylistics, a flaw most visible in the miscast and misdirected Hogan, who starts off blank and guileless, only to blubber like the heroine of a five-hankie weepie during Galy's tribunal. (Such aggressive emotional manipulation would have been parodied by Brecht.) Already smaller and more fragile than the rest of the pert and heartless ensemble, Hogan's stunt casting works best when Galy, now calling himself Jip, ascends to control the destruction of Tibet like a pint-sized General Patton barking out orders. This Brecht piece is given the over-simplified interpretation of exploring how the trauma of war warps soldiers, but with Hogan so clearly at the reins in the battle scenes, what's indicted here is a callow culture that exploits everyone. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, (Call for added perfs; no perf Nov. 27.) (310) 477-2055. (Amy Nicholson)
A Man's a Man Photo by Enci
NITE CLUB: BUBI'S HIDEAWAY Kenneth Bernard's 1970 avant-garde play. Mandrake Bar, 2692 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 1...
PUSH Kristen Lazarian's play about an upscale couple's troubles. (In rep with Halo, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 364-0535.
QUIXOTIC Kit Steinkellner's modern retelling of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (310) 396-3680.
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy of manners. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (310) 512-6030.
WINE, WOMEN AND SONG Musical cabaret featuring jazz and Broadway standards, R&B and contemporary songs. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (310) 822-8392.
ZOMBIE ATTACK! Justin Tanner's tale of the undead. 2nd Story Theatre, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (310) 374-9767.
CONTINUING SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
THE ALL NIGHT STRUT! Musical revue spanning 1924 to 1951, including such tunes as "Chatanooga Choo Choo," "In the Mood" and "Fascinating Rhythm.". International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (562) 436-4610.
BOTANICUM SEEDLINGS Reading of Nude and Sunflower by Reba Waters Thomas. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Nov. 9, 1 p.m.. (310) 455-2322.
FACE OF THE WORLD FESTIVAL '08 Solo performance, music and dance. (Call for schedule.). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sun..; thru Dec. 14. (213) 489-0994.
MYSTERIES EN BROCHETTE The beachside hotel dishes out dinner and mystery delights in its Saturday shows with four different performances that alternate., $75, includes dinner. Marina del Rey Hotel, 13534 Bali Way, Marina del Rey; Sat., 7 p.m.. (310) 301-1000.
PAPA SPEAKEASY'S BURLESQUE Lovely ladies entertain you. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.
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