Stage Raw: The Biggest Thank You Ever Given
The Biggest Thank You Ever Given
I'm thunderstruck and deeply moved by the outpouring and quality of your appreciations to me in your emails and in the comments to Friday's posting on the elimination of the L.A. Weekly's Theater Editor position. What a privilege: to read all that, to have served and to continue serving such a generous and passionate theater community.
I feel like I've been the giddy witness to a stream of beautiful eulogies at my own funeral - the best part being that I get to go back to work in the land of the living, albeit on the precipice, as a freelancer.
Yes, it true, I haven't died. Really. I checked my blood pressure yesterday just to be sure. It's a little high from all the stress and emotion, but I appear to still be breathing and walking and, obviously, writing. I haven't been silenced by anybody, and this blog is Exhibit A of that fact. Exhibits B and C will be the theater features and capsule reviews that I'll continue to write in the Weekly when they let me, along with those of my equally devoted colleagues.
Nobody has locked me out of the building. They haven't shut down my email or my phone. The Weekly's management consists of some really nice people who are as traumatized by this turn of events as we all are. We also lost the brilliant and erudite film critic Ella Taylor from the staff box last week. These are desperate responses to desperate times taken by executives in another state, geographically and temperamentally, who may or may not value the give and take between a newspaper and its community as it has existed for decades in our back yard.
Locally, the L.A. Weekly management cares about you as much as they care about me - which is a lot. Don't despair. We're all going to come through this just fine.
Please continue to send your press releases to my Weekly email, and I pledge to use all of my slightly diminished powers to guide as much theater coverage your way as possible. As a community, you won't be left out in the cold. The newspaper's commitment to covering the theater in the city's back alleys and valley storefronts, as well as the Tapers and Pasadena Playhouses, will continue.
The real issue surrounding the elimination of the Theater Editor position is larger than my personal situation. What I'm reading into your comments, behind the appreciation, is a sense of crisis that the pillars of our local media institutions that define and confer legitimacy upon what you do are beginning to crumble. And that's probably true. I have three brief responses to that:
First, you create theater because you need to. It has something to do with being human, and expressing that. Two thousand professional productions every year, in this town alone. I haven't heard any reports of thugs threatening to throw you into the L.A. River if you don't open that production of Light Up the Sky that's in previews. You put on plays from your need to do so -- however, wherever. Last year, we reviewed a play in somebody's living room.
It doesn't take the New York Times or the L.A. Weekly to confer legitimacy upon what you do on whatever you call a stage before whomever you call an audience. If that transaction of energy occurs, it is innately legitimate. If your creation was conceived with rigor of forethought and craft and passion, it deserves respect, starting with yours. Self-respect is the foundation from which you command the respect of others.
Second: After that foundation has been laid, there emerges the vital issue of a public conversation about what you have just called theater, and this is where the media comes into play, and into your play. The position of a Theater Editor at a newspaper such as the L.A. Times or the L.A. Weekly is a public declaration by those newspapers that the theater occurring in the city is worthy of an investment of resources to foster some conversation about the art. It's a business decision, to throw some focused and comprehensive critical analysis in the direction of the theater community, in exchange for the ad revenue that comes from the legitimacy conferred by the quality of the conversation instigated by the newspaper.
The psychic cost of this coveted public discourse, in whatever form it takes, is your dependence upon the newspapers for validation of what you can do perfectly well without them. This is the source of so much fury on the East Coast over the hegemony of the New York Times. This is the source of fury in Los Angeles when the L.A. Times went without a theater critic for so many years. And this is the same source of fury and some despondency, now that the L.A. Weekly's overseers in Phoenix have made the business decision to eliminate the position of Theater Editor.
Be careful. Your legitimacy does not depend on me, or on the L.A. Weekly or the L.A. Times, or City Beat, Back Stage, or any other newspaper or magazine now struggling to stay alive. It depends upon you. It's conceivable that The L.A. Times and the L.A. Weekly may not even be here at this time next year. What are you going to do then? Close up shop? Drown your sorrows in multiple shots of tequila while you weep over the good old days? Hardly. Not when there are shows to get open.
Final point: We all need to be planning on how to continue the vital public conversations about what you do, should the established media pillars actually crumble - which I obviously hope doesn't happen in the near future. There's a handful of my colleagues who are walking encyclopedias of the history and traditions of our theater community -- Julio Martinez, Don Shirley, Les Spindle, Lee Melville, Kathleen T. Foley, Evan Henerson, Dany Margulies, Lisa Fung, Madeleine Shaner, Debbie Swanson, Mark Seldis, and my colleagues at the Weekly, Steven Mikulan, Tom Provenzano and Neal Weaver, just for starters.
The Internet provides the most obvious technology for such a forum, or forums. I can't predict exactly how this would shake out, but I suspect that through the chaos and muck of anguish and need, a few authoritative voices would eventually emerge from that need to start elevating those public conversations above the usual drone.
There are seeds of possibilities, from the blogs of major newspaper to postings on the L.A. Stage Alliance blogs, from Colin Mitchell's Bitter Lemons to Kyle T. Wilson's Frank's Wild Lunch. There might be just one "go-to" site or several, like in the early newspaper days. Some people will self-appoint themselves as experts to lead the discussions, the critics of the next generation, but ultimately, their legitimacy and their power to influence and attract audiences will have to be earned by the quality, the rigor, the passion and the compassion of their ideas. These are uncharted territories, and we're all pioneers again; these are difficult and exciting and transformative times, and these are the kinds of discussions being planned for public forums sponsored by Los Angeles Stage Alliance in the near future. If you have other thoughts, feel free to express them on this blog. That's what it's for.
Thank you again for your stunning show of support. We will all persevere together, through the generosity of our spirit, the clarity of our purpose, and the greatness of our talent.
Reviewed this week: You, Nero, at SCR; Hangin' Out, at the Macha Theatre, The Sermons of John Bradley, at the Lex; Around the World in 80 Days, at Laguna Playhouse, LA Ronde, at the Zephyr, and Far from an Angel's Gaze, at the Avery Schreiber Theatre.
The weekend's New Theater Reviews are embedded within the upcoming week's Comprehensive Theatre Listings, which can all be accessed by pressing the Read On tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for January 16-22, 2009
(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, 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
BATTLE HYMN Jim Leonard's story of a girl who stays pregnant for 150 years, from the Civil War to the Summer of Love. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; opens Jan. 17; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 461-3673.
BEAU JEST Jewish girl invents boyfriend to please her parents, in James Sherman's comedy. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 828-7519.
THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Accountant befriends baby bird, chaos ensues, by Keith Huff. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (866) 811-4111.
BOADICEA Bill Sterritt's history of the Icenian queen's revolt against the Roman Empire., email@example.com. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 463-3900.
CHEN KUAI LE PUPPET THEATER Taiwanese puppetry, led by Shi-Mei Chiang. Music Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 17. (213) 972-0711.
THE DINING ROOM A.R. Gurney's comedy-drama about various upper-middle-class families who owned the same dining furniture. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; opens Jan. 17; Sat., Jan. 17; Sun., 4 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (818) 765-8732.
"DP": DOLLY PARTON, DOMESTIC PARTNERS & OTHER FEMALE MYSTERIES Amy Turner explores Dollywood. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 22; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (323) 653-6886.
ECHO ONE-ACT FESTIVAL Original commissioned one-act plays by Julia Cho, Padraic Duffy, Hilly Hicks Jr., David Ives, Brian Tanen and Sharon Yablon. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (800) 413-8669.
THE 14TH ANNUAL PERFORMANCE MARATHON Featuring Culture Clash, The Dark Bob, Rochelle Fab, Rip Taylor, John Fleck, Phranc, Frank Moore's Cerotic All-Stars, Ten West and host Alison Arngrim. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 17, 2 p.m.. (323) 856-8611.
HEDDA GABLER Reading of Henrik Ibsen's classic tragedy. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar, Palos Verdes Peninsula; Sat., Jan. 17, 8 p.m.. (310) 378-9353.
LIGHT UP THE SKY Moss Hart's 1948 backstage comedy. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 882-6912.
MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; opens Jan. 22; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 396-3680.
MAMMALS Amelia Bullmore's dark domestic dramedy. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 8. (800) 595-4849.
MURDER ON THE BOUNDING MAIN Jack Chansler's oceanliner mystery. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 256-3809.
POPE JOAN Christopher Moore's musical about a girl pope. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 16; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 960-4412.
RESIGNATION DAY Charles Pike imagines a day in the life of writer Terry Southern. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Jan. 16; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (310) 281-8337.
TEEN WITCH! A COMEDY MUSICAL Magical hijinks, adapted for the stage by Mike Zara and Colleen Smith. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 19; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 26. (323) 934-9700.
UNPRONOUNCEABLE Kumali Nanjiani's one-man show about his transition from a Muslim upbringing in Pakistan to his college days in Iowa. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Jan. 22. (323) 908-8702.
THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT Young Latinos fetishize a white suit, in Ray Bradbury's tale. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens Jan. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 960-4451.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
ANNIE It's a hard-knock life for the comic-strip orphan, book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse. KODAK THEATRE, Hollywood Blvd. & Highland Ave., L.A.; Through Jan. 16, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 17, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 18, 1 & 6:30 p.m.. (213) 480-3232.
>NEW REVIEW AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS Jules Verne's classic comedy adventure sets into motion with seemingly stuffy, 19th Century Brit Phileas Fogg (Matthew Floyd Miller), when he proposes a wager to his social club fellows that he can indeed pull off the title deed. Embarking instantly with the help of a new manservant, the bumbling but faithful Passapartout (Gendell Hernandez), Fogg engages trains, boats and elephants in his zeal to win the bet. All the while the pair is tracked by Detective Fix (Howard Swain), who believes Fogg to be guilty of grand larceny. Feminine company is provided by Aouda, an Indian woman they rescue from being incinerated alive on her husband's bier. In addition to these central figures the cast portray more than 30 smaller roles in a frenetic chamber theatre piece combining first-person narration, complex characterizations and two-dimensional caricatures. Kelly Tighe's smart scenery amusingly captures the melding of Verne's old century technology with futuristic sensibilities - most effective is a large turntable, interestingly operated by highly visible stage-hands rather than electricity. Director Michael Butler keeps the actors racing through the story, averting any fear of boredom; nevertheless the production is far from satisfying. Adaptor Mark Brown presents little if any wit in the language, or humor in the action to compensate. Brown and his fine actors try to goose it with increasingly silly gags and anachronisms, from which they earn the play's only laughs. As this is the case they are fortunate to include comic actor Mark Farrell more than 20 roles (including a William Shatner-esque Cavalry commander) with a shameless sketch-comedy flair. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun. , 2 p.m.; added perfs Jan. 22, 2 p.m. and Feb. 1, 7 p.m.; through Feb. 8. (949) 497-2787 or www.LagunaPlayhouse.com. (Tom Provenzano)
Around the World in 80 Days Photo by Pat Kirk
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO Celebrating the songs of Neil Sedaka, book by Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters, lyrics by Sadaka, Howard Greenfield and Cody Philip. Fred Kavli Theatre for the Performing Arts, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 18. (805) 449-2787.
GO THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash's comedy is in many respects conventional Broadway fare of the 1950s, written with love for its characters who care about each other deeply, even when they're not good at expressing it. It's also a richly funny play, being a comedy of character rather than one driven by wise-cracks. Phyllis Gitlin's staging offers no virtuoso performances, but her tightly-knit ensemble brings the piece to throbbing life. Loren McJannet-Taylor makes a poignant figure of the spinster Lizzie, who feels that life has passed her by because she's plain and has never been able to attract a man. She achieves a bit of theatre magic by becoming beautiful in the moment that the con-man rain-maker, Starbuck (Kevin Deegan), tells her that she is. Mitchell Nunn ably captures the helpless frustration of her father, determined to make his daughter happy even if he doesn't quite know how. Paul Breazeale is all boyish charm as the kid brother Jimmy, who, like Lizzie, is dominated by their puritanical controlling brother, Noah (Sean Gray). Cort Huckabone over-plays his "Aw, shucks!" shyness as the love-sick sheriff's deputy File, and Deegan works a bit too hard to demonstrate Starbuck's charm, but in the end they serve the play admirably. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Feb.7; (562) 494-1014 or www.lbph.com. (Neal Weaver)
WAITING FOR GODOT Samuel Beckett's Absurdist classic. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 17, 2 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 18, 2 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 25, 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 25. (818) 240-0910.
YOU, NERO Imagine a young Paul Lynde in a toga and you might get some sense of Danny Scheie's swishy portrayal of the eponymous, blood-sucking Roman emperor in Amy Freed's new comedy. As he sashays around the stage, you can't quite tell from moment to moment whether he's kidding or about to disembowel you. When Nero commissions the eager-skeptical hack playwright Scribonius (John Vickery, bearing an expression of perpetual concern) to write a bio-epic about Nero, to portray him as a nice fellow rather than the sloth who murdered both his mother (Lori Larsen) and the wife he abandoned for blond beauty mistress, Poppaea (Caralyn Kozlowski), jokes fly about new play development -- because Freed's homage to Plautus is really about the redemptive powers of theater. In an age when the thoughtful-stodgy kind of plays penned by aging Scribonius yield to Roman Idol entertainments that Nero cherishes (and even performs in), Scribonius' dramatic study of Nero and his mother actually incites a murder - oops. So much for theater bringing out the best in us. Oh yes, and Rome burns. Yet the scintillating ideas and funny repartee in Freed's play feel rushed into production. Not only is the script still in need of some serious clipping (there are stories told twice in succession by different characters for little apparent reason), Sharon Ott's staging feels oddly lethargic and too polite for the slapstick and farce that resides latent in the text. Like in the plays of Plautus, the plot is so thin, the comedy really hangs on the mercurial humor. The style over substance demands effervescent performances, and only Scheie rises to that standard amidst an otherwise perfectly pleasant ensemble. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Jan. 25. (714) 708-5555. (Steven Leigh Morris)
You, Nero Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND IN THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
BURIED IN SOPHIE'S TOMB: MY BARKING DOG LOG TO THE WEST HOLLYWOOD SHERIFF'S DEPT. Richard Lucas' six-month "barking dog" journal. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 661-0786.
GEM 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. (LE3)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (323)-663-1525.
GO A GRAND GUIGNOL CHILDREN'S SHOW "Not for children" says the program's subhead -- and they're not kidding. Tapping the same root used by Shockheaded Peter, writer-director Debbie McMahon takes the scariest fairy tales in the world, and draws both their violence and latent eroticism through a vivacious and rude entertainment that's part-French vaudeville and part-British Punch and Judy puppet show. Not meaning to be overly literal, but there was some vagueness as to the era: The production is framed as a touring show, circa 1930, while, at the same time, being a birthday party for Monsieur Guignol, who turns 200 this year. So Puppets Punch and Guignol perch in their wooden booth looking down on their human replicas, as four fairy tales are played with song and dance, with Chris Bell's set (sheet backdrops, mostly) and puppets, Jeanne Simpson's charmingly goofy choreography and Matt Richter's deliberately rambling lighting design. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cross between a snuff tale and pedophile's wet dream, as Ms. Hood (Hannah Chodos) removes her red bonnet (revealing pigtails, of course) before stripping down for the Wolf (Gary Karp), languishing in the bed of Grandma (Vanessa Forster), whom he's just eaten. (There may have been a reference to her being eaten out; at least that joke was made about somebody.) The ensuing carnage shows poor Little Red with an alarmed facial expression, as her bloodied intestines are strewn from her midsection around the stage. "The Ugly Ducking" is a lovely and considerably more benign costume parade about family and tribes. "Rapunzel" is an R-rated production with finger puppets, while "Hansel and Gretel" turns into an impressively disturbing saga of cannibalism, coming from the same country that put a millions of people into ovens. Though the sophomoric Punch/Guignol repartee grows tiring, and the dramatic beats within the fairy tales need paring, there's no denying how the lurid morbidity of the event sneaks up on you. And when the witch, opening her oven, tells Hansel and Gretel, "You thought the famine hasn't come to my house!" the tingles up the spine run hot and cold. (SLM) Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. ; through February 7. (323) 871-1912 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND This genial collection of comic skits delivers what it promises: an evening of daffy, enjoyable fun. Director Mitch Silpa's production retains the crisp comic timing and assured ensemble work that maintains the group's sterling comic reputation. (PB). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
>NEW REVIEW HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept - stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast) and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper) entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original, perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . . It's slightly paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming, that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly all profiles in courage. Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4443. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Hangin' Out Photo by Ed Krieger
KEN ROHT'S 99¢ ONLY CALENDAR GIRL COMPETITION Now in its sixth year, director-choreographer Ken Roht's 99 Cents Only theater is beginning to look like a one trick pony. As in past years, the trick is to limit his costume (Ann Closs-Farley) and set (Jason Adams) designers to use only what they can scrounge from the titular discount chain for Roht's decidedly silly burlesques of Radio City-style, holiday musical spectaculars. It's a funny gag -- thanks mainly to the wit and ingenuity of Closs-Farley, whose show-stealing creations dress this year's ostensible lampoon of beauty pageants in the highest of camp. It almost makes one overlook Roht's failure to gird his polished production numbers with the narrative spine of a coherent book. Instead, he and co-composer John Ballinger are content to let their parody coast on their pastiche of Godspell-vintage, R&B showtunes and the bare structural framework of the pageant form itself. And while their clever lyrics often connect, the lack of a story arc or character through-lines means the evening never amounts to more than a concert of disconnected -- and increasingly monotonous -- musical sketches. If storytelling isn't Roht's forte, however, he once again proves his genius at talent recruitment. This year's 28-strong, pitch-perfect company generates enough singing and dancing power to light up an entire Broadway season. (BR) Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (213) 389-3856.
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 February 1. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
>NEW REVIEW LA RONDE Round and round we go, Arthur Schnitzler's roundelay of pass-the-torch love affairs involves a Prostitute, a Soldier, a Parlor Maid, a Young Gentleman, a Young Wife, a Husband, a Sweet Young Thing, a Poet, an Actress, and a Count. This is the world premiere of the late Carl R. Mueller's subtly modernized adaptation that has hints of contemporary colloquialisms while sustaining the stiff flavor of 19th century Austria. Two personable young actors, Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett, portray the entire gallery of characters. Thank goodness for the suspended, delicate neon signs that have the names of their characters glowing in the sky (set design by Steve Barr) or the characters would be hard to differentiate. This may be the central weakness in a technically polished production (John Zalewski's sound design has jazzy or pop strains playing subtly behind many of the courtships; Soojin Lee's lacy costumes hint at the late 1800s.) On the other hand, the lack of differentiation may the point of Larry Biederman's staging. Well into the second hour of this dance, sans intermission, the actors start lip synching their pre-recorded dialogue in a blending effect. Sometimes the recorded voices are disembodied. In a later scene, the Count kisses the video image of the Actress on a wall, showing that he's enamored of the idea of her rather than the person. It's all a bit Wooster Group-ish, but that company's actors sizzle. If the purpose is to show the disembodiment of what we call romance, in its various permutations, the actors still need a range of features to define the progression of characters, or the directorial vision disintegrates into a long, technically ambitious blur. Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (323) 960-7792. (Steven Leigh Morris)
MISSIONARY POSITION Steven Fales' solo show about his days as a Mormon missionary in Portugal. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (323) 957-1884.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeve's role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
>NEW REVIEW THE SERMONS OF JOHN BRADLEY Young John Bradley (writer-performer Hunter Lee Hughes) steps into the pulpit of his Texas church to conduct damage control after his preacher father is implicated in a spectacular sex scandal. Then he's an out gay man, defending gay marriage, assisted by his handsome lover-friend, Trevor (Gavyn Michaels). He founds his own Transformation Ministry, but his mission as a truth-teller is undermined by his own self-delusions -- and his sermon implodes when his stash of crystal meth tumbles into view. (Trevor's massive, flagrant infidelities have apparently provoked Bradley's disillusionment and addiction.) In a curious performance piece, Bradley and Trevor, clad in 2Xist briefs and lots of glitter, play out their tempestuous erotic relationship in a dance choreographed by Ashley Osler. In the final scene, a secular communion, we're invited to partake of bread, apples and water. Hughes' play is fragmented and oddly constructed, with each scene introduced by a New Age-y Shaman (Mary T. Sala), who invokes animal spirits, pounds a drum, and makes dire predictions. Hughes is an able actor, but his play founders on the attempt to embrace too many themes, underpinned by an unresolved conflict between spirituality and carnality. The result, though often interesting, is both precious and murky. The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., through Feb. 1. (323) 957-4611. Produced by Fatelink Productions. (Neal Weaver)
The Sermons of John Bradley Photo courtesy of Fatelink Productions
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 Feb. 26. (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.
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.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ASTROGLYDE 2008 New flights of fancy by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 17. (818) 202-4120.
>NEW REVIEW FAR FROM AN ANGEL'S GAZE Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, writer-director Jude Anchang's heavyweight drama highlights the plight of innocent victims in central Africa's bloody civil strife. Laurent (Tejay Bah), is a young businessman obsessed with the rape of his wife, Philomene (Yetide Badaki), at the hands of insurgent terrorists. Ignoring his priest's (Sadiq Abu) admonitions, he vengefully commits a murder that provokes further threats to his fellow villagers. Meanwhile, the convalescing Philomene is being sought by her former suitor, Fabrice (Bambadjan Bamba), who is now an officer within the militia responsible for the rapes and other vicious atrocities. Overwritten, murky and/or chronologically confusing in places, the play nonetheless features strong passages, interesting characters and visceral themes. The action is executed in broad strokes, but Badaki is lovely and sympathetic as an intelligent woman struggling for her dignity after a devastating act, and Bamba brings resonance to her haunted pursuer. Both Brandi Satterwhite as an honorable police officer and Robert Okumu as the guerillas' cruel commander bring nuance to their roles. The production would be far more involving if Bah, a novice performer, had more range. Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. 8 pm; through Jan. 31. (323) 354-5159. A Sacred Drum Theatre Production. (Deborah Klugman)
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show's efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and - with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers' questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow's intense Kazan, Mary McDonald's bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone's flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi's sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner's non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. (DK) Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (866) 811-4111.
GO IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money, and puts all those nuances on stage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad circa 1975. That the play resonates in 2008, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. Mark Blanchard directs the sitcom with his own brand of polish, revealing not so much characters as aspects of love and trust that permeate the culture. Meanwhile, the actors infuse those aspects with at least a couple of layers of subtext, humanity, and some very good timing. (SLM) Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Avenue, Toluca Lake; Fri-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (818) 762-2282.
IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.
OLD BROADS CAN'T DUNK Senior-citizen basketball league gets a new coach, in Art Shulman's comedy. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (818) 288-7312.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing - will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing "tears of a clown" masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through February 21. (310) 319-9939.
CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
GO FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family's isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin's wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen ten years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George's parents just happen to be out for the evening -- and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man. , who afterwards falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde's pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda's three act comedy occasionally falls pray to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox's psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner's gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship. Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man's memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks' inscrutable older beauty. (PB) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Jan. 30. (310) 822-8392.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through January 31. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
PICK OF THE VINE An evening of new short plays, culled from more than 600 submissions. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 8, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 512-6030.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES OF SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
CEREMONIES IN DARK OLD MEN Staged reading of Lonne Elder III's Negro Ensemble Company play, to be recorded for radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Fri.-Sat., Jan. 16-17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 17, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 18, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.
A WOMAN'S EYE Three young theater artists explore the changing role of women in society through music, movement, rap and humor. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 18, 2 p.m.. (310) 477-2055.
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