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Stage Raw: The Debate over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska

Stage Raw: The Debate over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska

Photo courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre

If

we're to believe playwright Mat Smart, which is probably not a good

idea, the bloody rampage of a jealous lover in 1894 Columbus, Nebraska

led to the "Morgan Morality Act," stipulating that if a woman chose a

fiancée over the objections of a former lover who had taken her

virginity, her first lover was entitled to challenge her fiancée in a

public debate, sort of like a cross between The Dating Game and The Jerry Springer Show.

After hearing argumentation from both parties, the woman was free to

choose her future mate. If the woman continued to rebuke the

challenger, the law forbade him to contact her or to mention her name

in public. This anti-stalking bill placed profound confidence in the

power of debate in general, and argumentation in particular, to prevent

corpses from piling up, as they evidently did in 1894 Nebraska, at

least according to the record cited in Smart's play. In Act 1 of his

delightful comedy, set in a contemporary Nebraska tavern - here

portrayed in the site-specific environs of downtown's Metropol Cafe --

Smart is really grappling with the intersection of commitment and

ownership. Jeff Galfer, who originated the role at New York's Slant

Theatre Project, is both horrifying and endearing as Scott P. Scooner,

a snazzily dressed local denizen whose dream of making it big consists

of landing the assistant manager post at the suit shop where he now

works as a sales clerk. Scott is a romantic extrovert with a history of

suicide attempts over the loss of his love, Courtney (Amy Ellenberger,

nicely capturing an emotional descent after floating on air) to a

six-figure-salary-earning "dickwad from Sacramento" named James

Alexander (Larry Heron, in a suave and smart performance). Courtney's

been dating James for two months (compared to her five-year courtship

with Scott). During the debate, James offers her a vacation in the

Bahamas that only makes her swoon some more, as Scott must endure the

site of his ex embracing and kissing his competitor while he's trying

to win her back. Thomas (Feodor Chin) gently moderates the debate in a

performance of wry intelligence and absurdity, clutching a handbook of

the law that stipulates time limits and other protocol for the

growingly ludicrous spectacle. After both suitors' presentations,

Courtney finds herself paralyzed by indecision, which is when the law's

more arcane articles, such as a corn-shucking competition, come into

play. Act 2 flies back in time to 1894 and tracks the origins of this

"morality act" via a farce with the actors in drag and impressive

quick-changes. It's a different play in a different style that presents

more of a challenge to the actors than the real-time naturalism of Act

1. It nonetheless tracks the origins of our so-called freedom, and how

incapable we are of handing the responsibilities that come with it.

Despite the shortcomings of the farce, Jennifer Chang stages the event,

and it is an event, with a nimble touch, and Rachel Schachar's costumes

are perfect. Metropol Cafe, 923 East Third Street, downtown; Sun.-Mon.,

8 p.m.; through Aug. 24. (800) 838-3006 or http://brownpapertickets.com A Chalk Repertory Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW GO FIDDLER ON THE ROOF   Following hard on the ruby-encrusted heels of Broadway's greatest 21st century's phenom Wicked, the Pantages returns to this equally significant Broadway hit from the middle of the last century (nearly a decade as longest running musical) in a spectacular revival. Sholem Aleichem's tale of life in a Jewish shtetl under the thumb of Russia's tzar, dramatized by Joseph Stein with a glorious score and lyrics by Jerry Bock Sheldon Harnick respectively, still generates laughs and other emotions. This production remains loyal to Jerome Robbins' original staging, with expertly recreated direction and choreography by Sammy Dallas Bayes. You won't find any flying or other magical machinery expected in contemporary Broadway fare. It feels like time-traveling 50 years back - yet there's no sense of museum theater here. Leading way is, of course Topol, the Israeli star who first played the lead tole of Tevye on London's West End when he was far too young, then in the 1971 film at the perfect age, now in this "final tour," when he is too old, but still enormously effective as the faithful but constantly God-questioning milkman who sees his Jewish traditions and way of life falling apart. Upon Topol's first entrance he is greeted as a rock star - but the production doesn't rest on his laurels alone; it earns its standing ovation from the merits of the ensemble, musicians and designers. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (213) 365-3500. (Tom Provenzano)

NEW REVIEW GO HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE

Stage Raw: The Debate over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska

Photo courtesy of the SpyAnts

Matt Pelfrey's weird hot mess of a dark satire is a virtual dramatization of lunacy, as seen from the inside peering out.  If you have ever noticed someone walking down the street, with a tin foil hat firmly lodged atop his or her head muttering imprecations about this or that conspiracy, Pelfrey's play is a work that tells you how that tragic figure came to that point.  Mac Winchell (Brett Hren) is a contented cubicle-dwelling office worker whose life is thrown into disarray when co-worker Felix (Eric Bunton) goes berserk and starts shooting up the building. Felix offs himself right in front of Mac, but before he does, he whispers something unmentionable in his ear.  From that moment, Mac finds himself sliding into a bizarre, alternate universe in which everything is deranged and violent.   After inheriting the Terminus Americana, a phone book-sized manual of madness left by Felix as an office Secret Santa gift, Mac wanders the country having a bizarre series of adventures and ultimately being hailed as a prophet in the New Church of Christ The Office Shooter - and you can imagine what one must do to join that organization. Pelfrey's comedy is intentionally meandering, full of seemingly random incidents and a disjointed structure that is meant to be both frustrating and arch.  Unfortunately, a little goes a long way, and two hours of the disconnected babble almost leaves the audience groping for our own tin foil hats. Danny Parker-Lopes's phlegmatic staging suffers from lagging pacing and strangely clumsy blocking.  Although Hren's slow transition from mild mannered office drone to howling loon is chillingly convincing, some of the supporting performances are prone to stiff acting turns and halting line readings.  The Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru August 15.  (323) 860-8786 or http://thespyants.com. A SpyAnts production. (Paul Birchall)


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