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Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy


The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Reading of Scott Carter's historical play to benefit Green Dot Public Schools. December 13, 7:30 p.m.Largo At The Coronet Theatre 366 North La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90048. $40 suggested; pay what you can. For Reservations: (310) 775-1692 or Largo's Box Office: (310) 855-0350

DAVID CROSBY IN CONCERT TO BENEFIT BLANK THEATRE COMPANY

Monday, December 13, 7:30 p.m. at the Avalon, 1735 N. Vine Street, Hollywood. Tickets here.

PLAYREADING FESTIVAL AT THEATRE @ BOSTON COURT

Plays by Kathryn Walat, Luis Alfaro, Brian James Polak and Ken Urban. Dec. 11-12. More info here

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Dec. 3 - 9, 2010

Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

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

OPENING THIS WEEK

BOB'S HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY It's the annual holiday bash at Iowa insurance agent Bob Finhead's office, in Rob Elk and Joe Keyes' ensemble comedy. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Dec. 3; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 960-5774.

CAUGHT David L. Ray's study of the controversy over same-sex marriage. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Dec. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 2, 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 23, (No perfs Dec. 24-25 & 31.) CaughtThePlay.com. (800) 595-4849.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL South Coast Rep's 31st season of the perennial holiday favorite. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Dec. 3; Fri., Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 12 & 4 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (714) 708-5555.

CYRANO DE BERGERAC Ruskin Group Theatre takes on the legend of 17th-century French dramatist/duelist Savinien de Bergerac. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; opens Dec. 4; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (310) 397-3244.

DADDY LONG LEGS Turn-of-the-century orphan story, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, book by John Caird, based on the novel by Jean Webster. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens Dec. 4; Sat., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 26, (No perf Dec. 25.). (949) 497-2787.

DICK VAN DYKE: STEP IN TIME! Dick Van Dyke's new musical memoir, written by Van Dyke and Joshua Ravetch. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Wed., Dec. 8, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 15, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 22, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 2 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 29, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 30, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 2, 2 p.m.; Jan. 5-7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 9, 2 p.m.; Jan. 12-14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 15, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 16, 2 p.m.. (310) 208-5454.

EXIT 10 Semiautobiographical story of guitar-picking drifter Mike Talburt, alter ego of country-music singer-songwriter Danny Darst (a.k.a. playwright Daniel Dean Darst). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; opens Dec. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, exit10theplay.com. (310) 752-7800.


THE GRADUATE Staged reading of the coming-of-age story, presented by L.A. Theatre Works, with Kathleen Turner and Matthew Rhys reprising their roles from the original London production. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Dec. 8-10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.

THE HOT CHOCOLATE NUTCRACKER Debbie Allen's take on the Christmas ballet, with an original score by Mariah Carey, Arturo Sandoval, Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen, James Ingram, Shiamak Davar, Tena Clark and Thump. Royce Hall, UCLA, 340 Royce Dr., Westwood; Thurs., Dec. 9, 7 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 2 & 7 p.m., thehotchocolatenutcracker.com. (310) 825-2101.

JIGGLY STARDUST: A NIGHT OF '70S GLAM http://thebevyburlesque.com/. The Mezz, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 3; Sat., Dec. 4. (213) 622-6287.

KEN ROHT'S SAME-O, A 99¢ ONLY ELECTRIC BALLAD Interdisciplinary extravaganza borne out of the 99 Cent Only Store, by Ken Roht, John Ballinger and Ann Closs-Farley. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Dec. 4; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (213) 389-3856.

KISS MY MISTLETOE! Holiday comedy vignettes, starring and written by Josefina Lopez, Miriam Peniche, April Ibarra, and Blanca Melchor, a.k.a. the Pinche Mentirosa Sisters (PMS). Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; opens Dec. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 263-7684.

LONG TIME SINCE YESTERDAY Middle-aged girlfriends reunite for a funeral, by P.J. Gibson. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 5 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 3 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 3 & 8 p.m.. (323) 293-1356.

AN OLD TIME RADIO CHRISTMAS The Society Players present a 1940s radio broadcast re-creation, benefiting L.A.'s BEST After School Enrichment Programs. The Ebell Club of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 8 p.m., plays411.com/radiochristmas. (323) 960-5563.

RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR Starring the Rockettes!. Nokia Theatre, 777 Chick Hearn Court, L.A.; Dec. 9-12. (213) 763-6030.

REMEMBERING THE LADIES Karen Cadle International presents the multi-media event starring British entertainer Toni Morrell. (In the Forum Theatre.). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Dec. 4; Sat., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 29, (No perf Dec. 25.). (866) 811-4111.

ROSE ABDON'T Rose Abdoo's "hilarious" one-woman show. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Dec. 9-Nov. 10, 8 p.m., plays411.com/RoseAbdoo. (323) 960-4451.

SANTASIA Yuletide yuks, brought to you by A Loser's Kids Productions. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens Dec. 3; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 24, santasia.com. (866) 811-4111.

A SCROOGE AND MARLEY CHRISTMAS CAROL: A NEW TWIST ON A CLASSIC TALE Ebenezer Scrooge resists his homoerotic urges for boytoy Jacob Marley in the Knightsbridge Theatre's adaptation of the Dickens' story. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Dec. 4-5, 2 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 2 & 6 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.; Dec. 16-17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 2 & 6 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.. (323) 667-0955.

STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS Written by Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Moisés Kaufman, Neil Labute, Wendy Mcleod, Kathy Najimy, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright, conceived and directed by Brian Shnipper. Hosted by Bruce Vilanch, benefiting the Amercian Foundation for Equal Rights and Equality California., $50-$100. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; opens Dec. 6; Mon., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, StandingOnCeremony.net, Tix.com. (800) 595-4849.

TRAVELING CARNIVAL FREAKSHOW World-premiere holiday mix of theater, dance, burlesque and cabaret, written by Chelsea Sutton and Questa Gleason. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Dec. 3; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (818) 508-3003.

ROBYN SPANGLER: LET ME SING! One-woman cabaret show by Robyn Spangler. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com. Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center Theater, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert; Sat., Dec. 4, 7 p.m....

LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE, DIOS INANTIZ The Los Angeles holiday tradition about four apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Written by Evelina Fernandez. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., L.A.; Dec. 9-10, 7:30 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

CALLIGRAPHY Large prosceniums don't always favor the stories they frame. The cultural arena in Velina Hasu Houston's new play may be transnational, but her drama involving mothers and daughters and the problems of aging and Alzheimer's is surely an intimate one -- and perhaps better told that way. The conflict revolves around the newly widowed Noriko (Emily Kuroda) a former Japanese war bride who resides in the U.S., and her embittered controlling sister Natsuko (Jean Sakata), who lives in Japan. Each has a daughter: Hiromi (Melody Butiu), responsibly concerned when her mother Noriko becomes disoriented; and Sayuri (Fran de Leon), a fast-living gal who resents Natsuko's demands for devoted caretaking after the older woman breaks both legs. Staged by director Jon Lawrence Rivera, the play spotlights the unraveling family mores in Japan that have furnished younger women more choices but have also left elderly people vulnerable, much as they are here. The action, punctuated by Bob Blackburn's ceremonious sound design and Nathan Wang's original music, plays out on designer Ann Sheffield's stark and lusterless set -- its expansiveness diminishes an already sparse emotional dynamic. Another serious glitch involves the flashback sequences in which Kuroda implausibly portrays her character as a young woman romanced by her future husband (Kevin Daniels). Nor do we sense much familial chemistry elsewhere. Only Sakata's acerbic dragon lady is consistently persuasive; the scenes between the two estranged sisters (when they finally do meet after decades of separation) are the most compelling in this essentially toneless production. Through Dec. 12. (Deborah Klugman). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW

GO

CINDERELLA This very amusing romp transplants English music hall and

holiday pantomime into the heart of Hollywood, following British

tradition but bending it enough to make fun of local folk. Directed

with perfect overstatement by Bonnie Lythgoe, Kris Lythgoe's thin, thin

script provides just enough story to support a constant flow of gags,

dances and familiar pop tunes to fill two hours with frothy

entertainment. Leading the way are Eddie Driscoll and Mark Edgar

Stephens as ugly stepsisters Cowell and Seecrest (just one of many

jokes mocking American Idol), whose hilariously grotesque drag and

bawdy humor play to both adult and childlike senses. Top singing honors

go to Jennifer Leigh Warren, whose Fairy Godmother croons a ringing

rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Gorgeous Prince Charming (Harry

Potter's Freddie Stroma) and lovely Cinderella (Veronica Dunn) are

perfect foils for a cast of crazy characters, including comic Benny

Harris as Cinder's best pal, who also guides the audience through the

journey. Young, enthusiastic dancers move well through choreographer

Mark Ballas' contemporary ballets. Magic, animals (real and pretend)

and buckets of spectacle help make this family fare a great treat for

the season. Lythgoe Family Productions at El Portal Theatre, 5269

Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., Sat., 11

a.m., 3 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 19. (818) 508-0281. (Tom Provenzano)

CRIMES OF THE HEART is a play that's been widely performed ever since it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1981. But for only the second time in its history, it is presented with an Asian cast, and it's the first time in which the three Southern sisters are specifically hapa (of mixed Asian descent). While this may strike traditionalists as incongruous, a few minutes into the first scene, the ethnicity of the actresses falls away and their Southern personas take over. This melting away of ethnicity into the quirky ethos of playwight Beth Henley's Southern gothic humor is a testament to the talents of Elizabeth Liang (a perfectly put-upon Lenny), Kimiko Gelman (a fabulously flighty Meg) and Maya Erskine (a beautifully batty Babe), not to mention their dialect coach Anne Schilling. But if the gold standard of interpreting a classic is an invitation to see the play through a new lens, director Leslie Ishii's production falls short. If the production's freshly minted Asian currency gets "whitewashed" into the regional idiosyncrasies of Mississippi, it says little new about the play, and even less about the assimilation of cultures. Rather, its reason for being would appear to be casting opportunities for these excellent actors, and this well-staged exercise becomes just an exercise for those who wish to be entertained once again by the tender absurdity of the McGrath sisters. For those who have deeper hungers, however, it's a missed opportunity to utilize this company's talent. (Mayank Keshaviah). David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (213) 625-7000.

GO GREAT EXPECTATIONS Neil Bartlett's translation, in conjunction with Geoff Elliott (who nimbly performs two idiosyncratic roles) and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's staging of it, strips Charles Dickens' sprawling novel down to its two central threads. The stage result is less textured than the page result, but that may be a necessity of the theater. Brought here into sharp focus are two plots, one personal and the other social. The first contains the ironies accompanying the change of fortune after young Pip (nicely played by Jason Dechert, bewildered as a youth, then with a growing if muted arrogance as an adult) steals food for escaped convict Magwitch (the excellent Daniel Reichert). Magwitch will repay the young man with a kind of bounty that will leave him utterly perplexed -- sending his morals crashing into his class consciousness. The interweaving story concerns the morbid and ancient Miss Havisham (Deborah Strang, glorious, as always) and her perverse, revengeful plot to break Pip's heart through the pawn of her beautiful niece, Estella (Jaimi Paige). In this production, that plot is really the emotional heartbeat, thanks to the chemistry between the actors. The crisply staged production features innumerable eccentrics who float through this dual spine structure. The result is far less picaresque than the novel, yet for all the strengthening of the two main cross-beams, the drama is, ironically, more ambivalent in its conclusions. Even Dickens' feed-bad, feel-good blend of despondency and sentimentality is here muted, when you'd think that such a structural paring down would result in a clearer view. Nonetheless, I found that ambivalence oddly appealing. A few over-wrought performances tempers this otherwise robust production. Through Dec. 10. (Steven Leigh Morris). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Through Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

HAMLET Presented by UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Department of Theater MFA Program in Acting. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 3 p.m., thelatc.org. (866) 811-4111.

HARPS AND ANGELS Music and lyrics by Randy Newman, conceived by Jack Viertel, musical staging by Warren Carlyle, directed by Jerry Zaks. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 22. (213) 628-2772.

THE HOLIDAY GEM Holiday musical revue, presented by One More Productions. Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (714) 741-9550.

Hot A handful of well-written plays have forged gripping dramatic material from an apocalyptic scenario: Alan Bowne's somewhat dated AIDS-era drama Beirut and Henry Murray's Treefall, recently staged here at Theatre/Theater, artfully probed the complexities and bonds of human relationships in a ruined world. Here, playwright Daniel Keleher is more interested in laughs and low farce. In the midst of a murderous pandemic, Jones (Gregory Myhre) and Benny (James Jordan) seem to be doing fine, ensconced in a ruddy apartment with plenty to drink, engaging in loads of pointless frat-boy banter. The play's pulse is felt when Horn (fine performance by Shawn Colten), whose job entails disposing of the dead, drops in and agrees to procure a woman for Benny, which he soon after does, dragging her onstage in a sack. From here, under Mel Shapiro's lax direction, it only gets worse. Act 2 opens with Benny decked out in a tux with his equally spruced-up comatose lover, and Jones tending to his near-dead fiancée in a wheelchair. There is a feeble attempt at gravitas made toward the end involving the sudden appearance of a vaccine, and the morality of euthanasia, but by then, one is past all caring. (Lovell Estell III). The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 969-1707.

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Interactive kids' musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Ben Lanzarone. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.

THE LION IN WINTER James Goldman's historical drama, set circa Christmastime 1183. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (562) 494-1014.

GO MAESTRO: THE ART OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN From the first piano notes and hauntingly beautiful singing in his one-man bio show, writer-performer Hershey Felder grips the audience in the palm of his hand and never lets go. Beginning by analyzing one of the most famous melodies of West Side Story, "Somewhere," Felder points out the tritone and minor sevenths in a brief, fascinating tutorial on how that composition was created. He then crawls inside Bernstein's skin, as well as adopting various other personae, taking us through the legendary conductor-composer's eventful life. At 100 minutes without intermission, this musically infused evening, directed and austerely staged by Joel Zwick, rolls through Bernstein's fascination with music from early childhood, his quest for accomplished teachers and mentors, and touches on his creative struggles, his successes and career disappointments as well as his private family life. Felder glosses over certain details (merely hinting at an early seduction by an older mentor), but later gives some heartbreaking insight into Bernstein's homosexuality and how that exploration destroyed his marriage and, more profoundly, crushed his own conflicted spirit. This is a captivating performance of a fascinating life, vividly and emotionally related. (Pauline Adamek)., $75, $85. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 208-5454.

Measure for Measure Shakespeare's problem play. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Dec. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

NEW REVIEW GO NEXT TO NORMAL

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Photo by Craig Schwartz

Tom

Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning family

tragedy is that rarity of rarities: a Broadway show that's as good as

its hype. One might walk into the theater expecting to see a Mental

Illness of the Week family tearjerker, but what one gets is a richly

wise and searing musical about madness and sorrow, rage and

forgiveness. The show's opening ferocious quartet, "Just Another Day,"

presents a family in deep emotional rot. Diana (original Broadway cast

member Alice Ripley, reprising her towering turn) is clearly mentally

ill, and haunted -- but Diana's enabling, desperately bewildered

husband, Dan (Asa Somers), is unraveling just as fast. Meanwhile, their

unhappy, emotionally neglected daughter Natalie (Emma Hunton), drifts

into drugs and depression. Director Michael Greif's staging is fierce

and dynamic: One might expect a story on these themes to be heavy and

dreary, but the production crackles with energy and intensity. Scenic

designer Mark Wendland's surreal, three-level, cagelike set at first

seems like an odd fit for this family tale, but the way the characters

romp all over the structure elegantly illustrates the madness in

Diana's mind. Kitt and Yorkey's score may consist of memorable,

fin-de-millennium rock numbers, but the music also engenders heightened

realism with operatic grandeur. We're particularly lucky for the

opportunity to see Ripley's reprise of her original Diana -- her

ferocious renditions of "I Miss the Mountains" and "You Don't Know" are

likely to be the decade's most memorable show tunes. Also compelling

are Hansen's sweet, oddly disturbing Gabe and Hunton's vulnerable and

self-damaging Natalie. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.;

Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 and 6:30 p.m.;

through Jan. 2. (213) 972-4400. (Paul Birchall)

PETER PAN J.M. Barrie's flight of fantasy, complete with "the world's first 360-degree CGI theater set.", $40-$125. Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., 12 & 4:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 22, 1 & 6 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 23, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 12 & 4:30 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 28, 7 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 29, 1 & 6 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 1, 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 2, noon.; thru Dec. 5. (714) 556-2787.

UCLA NEW PLAY FESTIVAL New works by MFA playwrights: Babel Belly by Craig Jessen, Lost Cause by Alex Maggio, Swell Season by Ayla Harrison., Free. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Through Dec. 4, 7 p.m., thelatc.org. (866) 811-4111.

GO UPTOWN DOWNTOWN As Mel Brooks wrote in The Producers, "If you've got it, flaunt it!" Some living legends delude themselves and cause fans to quietly cringe, but not this one: Leslie Uggams has still got it. Slender and glinting in sequined black pants, she shimmies and sings her way though the highlights of a lifetime spent onstage. Though she remained somewhat physically restrained during her opening night performance, she made up for it with a vocal dynamism that would shame those less than half her age. When you begin your career at age 6, perform 29 shows a week at the Apollo from the ages of 9 to 16, and graduate to the comparatively cushy (oh, just eight shows per week) world of Broadway, a voice like that's a requirement. Plenty of jazz standards kept the well-heeled crowd tapping their toes, and Uggams struttin' her stuff. Showcasing her staggering range, the delicate strokes with which she touched Gershwin's "Summertime" were no less powerful than her lusty belting of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." The spoken transitions were a little stiff, and felt forced; naturally, this Broadway baby seemed most at home when singing. It's better to show than tell anyway; and mimicking the vocal styles of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington (all of whom she's sung with), she showed why she's still working over 60 years since she began. Don Rebic leads a sophisticated, happy orchestra that equals Uggams' mastery. Through Dec. 12. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (626) 356-PLAY.

WEST SIDE STORY It's Jets versus Sharks in Broadway's musical take on Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Thurs., 2 & 8 p.m.; Fri., 2 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (800) 982-ARTS.

THE WOOSTER GROUP: VIEUX CARRE Multimedia staging of Tennessee Williams' memory play about a young writer in a New Orleans boarding house. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (213) 237-2800.

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

AFTER SCHOOL GROUNDLINGS All-new sketch and improv, directed by Heather Morgan. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.

ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

BELOW The Belt Richard Dresser's play about the perils of middle management. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Through Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 3 p.m., whitmoreeclectic.com. (818) 826-3609.

THE BLUE ROOM David Hare's 1998 play, based on La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, brownpapertickets.com/event/135312. (323) 666-2296.

BOB BAKER'S NUTCRACKER The marionette characters of Bob Baker Marionette Theater's take on the holiday favorite include the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugarplum Fairies, the Mouse King, and 100 more. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 16. (213) 250-9995.

CAUGHT IN A MIRACLE: A PERFORMANCE OF CONTEMPORARY MAGIC An evening of illusion by Magic Castle regular David Gabbay. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 4, plays411.com/magic. (323) 960-7782.

NEW REVIEW COLD LANG SYNE

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Photo by Chris Trela / Arts PR

With

its vexingly mundane chitchat, the first act of Gregory Blair's patchy

whodunit scuppers what could have been a strong play. Men who are old

friends and their dates/spouses gather at a cabin (Mike Jespersen's

impressive mock-up) for a New Year's Eve bash hosted by Trevor (Douglas

Myers) and his wife, Aggy (Holly Montgomery-Webb). Present are Perry

and Leanne (Mikhail Blokh and Sandra Purpuro), a detective named Garth

(Les Brandt) and his lover, Denny (Dwight Turner), and Mark and Helen

(Michael Harris, Bobbi Berkmen). The play doesn't show a pulse until

the stroke of midnight, when one of the characters suddenly keels over.

Most of Act 2 takes a fairly predictable turn, with Garth assuming the

lead role in the hunt for the murderer. Unfortunately, the process,

which sometimes borders on the ludicrous, doesn't offer much in the way

of suspense. Blair somewhat redeems his play with the run-up to a truly

unexpected plot twist at the end, but it's still too little, too late.

Douglas Green directs. Ipso Facto Theatricals and Pix/See Productions

at the Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 7 p.m., Fri., Dec., 31, 7 p.m. (no perf Dec. 24); through Jan. 2.

(323) 960-4412. (Lovell Estell III)

DIARIES OF A K-TOWN DIVE . . .Susan Park's one-woman show set in a hole-in-the-wall bar in L.A.'s Koreatown. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 960-1054.

DOUG LOVES MOVIES Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

DRUNK TALK Lance Whinery's interactive pub comedy. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-6111.

ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 654-0680.

FOR WHOM THE SOUTHERN BELLE TOLLS/A STYE OF THE EYE Two one-act parodies by Christopher Durang. Davidson Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (323) 860-7300.

GO HYPERBOLE: origins It's not easy to wrap sentences around this fantastical storytelling spectacle created by a collaboration of artists under Sean T. Calwelti's direction. The launching point is the mid--20th century and a laboratory whose apparatus is the "origin" machine, a fanciful contraption reminiscent of sci-fi circa the 1940s and 1950s. The machine is operated by a conscientious engineer and his somewhat airheaded assistant, who, like Icarus, dreams of strapping on wings and taking flight. Each time the machine is activated, it precipitates an oblique and fanciful tale about the origin of something: music, fire, sin, love/lava (jealousy), the chicken and the egg, the rabbit in the moon -- and creation itself. Each narrative is presented with wordless mime, elaborated on by a profusion of lighting, sound, videography, puppetry, masks and music. As impressive as these technical elements are, they never outrun the stories themselves, each of which offers a quirky fable about some aspect of the human condition. The superb production values (overseen by tech director Daniel Geesing) include designer Katie Polebaum's expressive masks, so many of which capture the essence of a singular sentiment or passion, as well as Kerry Hennessy's imaginative costumes and John Noburi's indispensably animating audio design. A terrific seven-person ensemble displays amazing versatility in presenting this plethora of parables and yarns. (Deborah Klugman). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 461-3673.

INTO THE WOODS Stephen Sondheim's magical musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and explores the consequences of the various characters' wishes and quests. Lucid by Proxy give it a stripped-down treatment in a vast downtown warehouse, dispensing with the usual lavish staging, period costuming and live orchestral music, instead placing the focus on the vocal gymnastics of the large ensemble cast, who warble to a prerecorded score (by Musical Theatre International). It's a gamble that, for the most part, pays off. The spooky raised-stage set (Jeanine A. Nicholas) and elegant costuming (Kerri Norris) are hip and contemporary; now it's all about Little Red Riding's hoodie (played sweetly if gluttonously by Shannon Nelson) while Cinderella's ugly stepsisters (supremely bitchy Sarah Orr and Jessie Withers) strut around like rejects from The Hills. The intricate book (by James Lapine) weaves an ingenious plot that unites the Grimms' most familiar tales with an original story involving a baker and his wife (David Pevsner and Valerie Rachelle) and their desire to have a child. Jessica Pennington is magnificent as the old crone who instigates their quest. The good show would be kid-friendly if it didn't clock in at close to three hours, somewhat tortured by the almost superfluous (though psychologically darker) sluggish Act 2. (Pauline Adamek). Big Art Labs, 651 Clover St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 838-3006.

Intringulis LAByrinth Theater Company presents Carlo Alban's story of his family's move from Ecuador to America. (In rep with The Little Flower of East Orange.). Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Through Dec. 8, labtheater.org...

GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures -- taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estelle III). Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (323) 655-7679.

KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT Urban Theatre Movement and Company of Angels presents Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama set in purgatory. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, urbantheatremovement.com. (562) 508-1788.

NEW REVIEW

LAUGHING WITH MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Photo by Zuzane Kedrova

Dressed

in a kimono, Gwendoline Yeo takes the stage for her one-woman show

quietly, head bowed. In a halting voice fringed with a lilting accent,

she recounts the harrowing tale of stealing across the ocean from

Singapore to San Francisco with her family. Then, with a swoop of her

arm, Yeo knocks down the assumptions and sympathies you've formed in

those three minutes, and proceeds with the story of her life as her

family's black sheep. The blessing and curse here is that her struggles

of having teen angst so different from the American variety, and yet so

similar, are the most intriguing plotlines in her piece. When she takes

off on tangents (the club scene, the creepy relationship with her

professor) that have either no or unsatisfactory conclusions, the show

loses steam; likewise, although she's adept at the multitude of accents

she mimics, there are moments of linguistic indulgence that act as

speed bumps. Still, Yeo's a vivacious performer, especially when

playing her Chinese long zither, and a self-aware writer -- little

touches like a Hello Kitty backpack, the high school Asian-American

"popular girl" blaring Notorious B.I.G., and her aunt's emphasis on a

prize of jade earrings all gently rib both the stereotype and the

culture on which it's based. With squares of canvas hung around the

stage onto which images are projected, the economical scenic and

lighting designs (by Adam Flemming and Leigh Allen, respectively) are

complementary to each other as well as to Yeo's script. Mark St. Amant

directs. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat.,

8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 19. (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca

Haithcoat)

GO THE LIMITATIONS OF GENETIC TECHNOLOGY Former L.A. Weekly critic and playwright Luis Arturo Reyes' darkly cerebral satire opens with a snazzy set of video mock-commercials touting the benefits of a megalithic corporation's genetic engineering program, and concluding with the ironic motto, "Our product is people!" Set in the near future, the play posits a world in which genetic technology has allowed almost every dream to come true. The population now has the ability to be beautiful and perhaps immortal. Yet even as people have their livers swapped out after a brisk night's boozing, and teenagers capriciously get themselves genetically implanted with elf ears and a tail to fit the fashion, more complicated issues are afoot. When, at a company party, a holographic image of eternally boyish corporate CEO York (Kyle Nudo) announces his suicide, the corporation is thrown into chaos. Reyes' drama is unabashed science geek chic -- intelligent, imaginative and full of wit -- but the sometimes awkward technical jargon and dense, philosophy-filled exchanges take a long time to spark much emotional momentum. Midway through, though, comes the desire by the new company president (Jeffrey Wylie) and his marketing executive wife (Harmony Goodman) to create a young baby android. With the couple's growing affection for a creature they at first consider a science experiment, the play reaches an incredibly moving tragedy. Director David Watkins Jr.'s intimate production occasionally suffers from energy lapses, but designer Steven Calcote's videoscreen and chrome set quite effectively creates a futuristic mood. In his turn as the indefinably spooky, Peter Pan-like company CEO, Nudo engagingly balances scientific detachment with childlike innocence. Sarah Lilly, as his world-weary wife, offers a splendidly nuanced turn that's equally mischievous and sad. Wylie and Goodman, as the corporate parents "testing" the cloned baby, are appealing as their characters nicely evolve from cold businesspeople into a loving dad and mom. (Paul Birchall). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, brownpapertickets.com/event/131828. (323) 856-8611.

THE LITTLE FLOWER OF EAST ORANGE Midway through the first act of Stephen Adly Guirgis' dysfunctional family drama, a seven-hours-sober Danny (Michael Friedman) stands on the side of the road, determined to hitch a ride. Smoking black-tar heroin and sucking on a gin-infused Slurpee, his stray cat girlfriend, Nadine (Kate Huffman), states the obvious: "There are no cars." Finally, he concedes. Guirgis' script is as full of promise and as weighted down as lead character Danny. He's a rising star of a writer who's been derailed by drugs, alcohol, conflicted love for his co-dependent mother (Melanie Jones) and debilitating anger toward her deaf father (Timothy McNeil). In rehab for just a week, Danny learns his mother's gone missing in New York City. His bitter sister, Justina (Marisa O'Brien), sick of being the grown-up in the family, greets his arrival with a subtle guilt trip. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten like old toys; hallucinations that appeared during the first act end up being so irrelevant you wonder if they were figments of your imagination. Still, you're rooting for Danny, played by Friedman with a sweetly open acknowledgement of his own wobbly existence, and for the action to stop turning onto streets with no outlets. Near the end, however, Danny shrugs, "I spent my whole life standing on the precipice, waiting for someone to knock me off so I could start living," and Guirgis succinctly sums up the problem with his play. David Fofi directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, elephanttheatrecompany.com. (877) 369-9112.

MOM/BARRAGE Two one-act plays by Peter Basch and Ellen Sandler, presented by Ark Theatre Company. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 969-1707.

ON EMOTION "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson is apropos for both the Son of Semele Ensemble and for its latest offering from Mick Gordon and neuropsychologist Paul Broks. Their collaboration centers on a question voiced early on by cognitive behavioral therapist Stephen (Michael Nehring), who asks, "Are we just puppets of our emotions?" The subject of the question and his experiment is Anna (Melina Bielefelt), a disturbed artist who has been befriended by Stephen's daughter Lucy (Sami Klein), who herself is experimenting with older men. It is also no coincidence that Anna makes puppets; her latest creation is an astronaut puppet for Stephen's autistic son Mark (Alex Smith), who is obsessed with stars and Star Trek. Mark, sadly, does not repay her in kind, as his inadvertent experiments with his eidetic memory bring to light uncomfortable truths. Director Matthew McCray utilizes Adam Flemming's clever video design, Sarah Krainin's awesome "starry floor" and Ian Garret's lighting to full effect in the transitions between scenes, which are nicely choreographed. However, the script's lack of stakes and character empathy make McCray's job difficult within the scenes, which are filled with tepid emotions that feel manufactured. But while the result of this theatrical experiment is not wholly successful, the ensemble is to be commended for embodying the words of Erasmus Darwin: "A fool is a man who never tried an experiment in his life." (Mayank Keshaviah). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12...

100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Barrington Moore Jr. wrote a treatise called Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery and Upon Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them. Beth Lapides' cabaret show is a sweet-natured and understandably facile fly-by over the depths probed by Moore. It features composer Mitch Kaplan on keyboards (the original music is written and performed by the pair, except for music by Howie B and Peter Matz), and blends some pointed satire of Hollywood culture ("The absence of yes over time equals no") and focuses on Lapides trying to carve meaning from the crisis of her unexpected eviction from L.A., due to a home sale by the owner, and her relocation to Palm Springs. The attempt to convert formulas for sanity, contentment and even happiness gets projected onto charts where she relocates the traditional focal points of unhappiness, happiness and merely being "fine" -- which is equated with purgatory. Change creates anxiety and crisis, yet crisis is necessary for discovery, self-discovery and new perspectives. It's a sweet lecture with some songs, both new age and a new-age parody at the same time. Lapides is an amiable performer with an unexceptional voice. But the voice is not the point. The show was created to both entertain and to sort out a coping mechanism for life's anxieties. The lessons aren't exactly earth-shattering, but the show is engaging nonetheless. (Steven Leigh Morris). Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 15. (323) 651-2583.

OUR BEDS ARE CROWDED: SEVEN SHORT PLAYS ABOUT LOVE, FEAR AND SEX Christie Perfetti's seven interconnecting stories "dealing with the 'ghosts' of relationships.". Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Mon.-Tues., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (323) 469-3113.

GO LA RAZÓN BLINDADA (The Armored Reason) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play -- one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival -- not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah Klugman). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (213) 745-6516.

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

RENDITION IN DAMASCUS Playwright John Christian Plummer's character-driven moral drama is almost undone by the sheer randomness of its plot, which somehow encompasses disparate figures such as a maniacal Protestant minister with a butcher's knife, a philandering husband who might be possessed by the devil, and a professional torturer working for the U.S. government. Minister Sarah (Courtney Rackley) finds her faith sorely tested when her professor husband Hal (Pete Caslavka) confesses that he has been having an affair with Sarah's church secretary, Missy (understudy Laurel Reese on the night reviewed, sweetly perky). Worse, Hal's excuse for his errant behavior is that he has started to hear voices in his head: Someone claiming to be none other than "A Satan" told him to cheat on his wife. While Sarah storms off to Misty's house, intending to do her great bodily harm, Hal gets a visit from his brother Schuyler (David Stanbra), who just got back from Iraq where he tortured a hapless suspected terrorist to death. Complications ensue when His Infernal Majesty (Satan) again takes over Hal's body Exorcist-style. Plummer's play does not lack for potentially intriguing themes, but they're poorly tied together and the thought processes are sometimes choppy -- a play that equates in moral importance the notion of a man torturing someone to death and a rather prosaic, tawdry love affair requires more logical underpinnings than this work possesses. Still, director Kiff Scholl's crisply staged, intimate production boasts some nicely committed acting work, particularly in the turns by Caslavka's creepy, possibly possessed Hal and by Rackley's brittle Sarah, whose character's emotional decomposition is shattering. Through Dec. 3. (Paul Birchall). Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 10, plays411.com/rendition. (323) 960-7719.

GO ROCCOPELLA Embellished with funky MTV-inspired videos, writer/solo performer George Spielvogel's goofy, good-natured comedy sports an array of ditzy characters who share a zest for musical performance. Not that any of these would-be songsters actually sing well or play an instrument. Teenage Rocco, alone in his bedroom, dreams of being a musical mastermind without, he admits, possessing any musical talent. His sister Sylvia likes to picture herself as a rock 'n' roll diva. His grandpa recollects songs he once crooned to his dead wife. An interloper -- a boorish Texas cowboy -- stumbles into Rocco's bedroom on his way to a karaoke bar; his dance instructor, Mr. Russle, displays a distinctive mincing style, counseling the absent Rocco (he's in the yard cleaning up dog poop) to develop his own. Co-directed by Spielvogel and Thomas Blake, the show, which runs less an hour, features minimal set and lighting, a minor note given Spielvogel's suitably daffy wigs and costumes and his amiable comic manner. The entertaining and invariably salacious videos (by Michael Regalbuto) serve as extensions of each sketch. (Deborah Klugman). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-6111.

ROCK 'N' ROLL In his virtuoso stage collages of literary erudition and clever, philosophical legerdemain, playwright Tom Stoppard has long established himself as the idol of hip literature majors and student playwrights eager to flex their fledgling intellects. Part of that attraction undoubtedly can be attributed to the fact that Stoppard's plays typically are drawn from the library rather than life experience, opting for intellectual ingenuity over psychological depth. So it is a pleasant surprise to find his 2006 meditation on the personal costs of the '60s cultural and political upheavals reaching beyond inspired pedantry for something decidedly more autobiographical, poignant and personal. Spanning the period between the Soviet Union's 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to the collapse of Eastern European communism 20 years later, the play follows Jan (Benjamin Burdick), a Czech graduate student studying at Cambridge and immersed in the rock-fueled social movements that were roiling British society. When he finds himself trapped in Prague by the Soviet occupation, Jan is reluctantly drawn out of his apathy into the role of political dissident. Back in England, a similar metamorphosis affects Jan's hard-line Stalinist mentor, Cambridge don Max (Will Kepper), whose pro-materialist dogma keeps him at odds with upheavals in his personal life. Whatever pathos might be offered by Stoppard's text, however, never materializes in Barbara Schofield's indifferent and unfocused staging. Though Beth Robbins is magnificent as Max's cancer-riddled wife, and projections by Liam Carl Design provide a colorful accent to James Spencer's and Kis Knekt's otherwise undistinguished set, little else in the production musters the cathartic energy of its titular music. (Bill Raden). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (323) 882-6912.

THE SANTALAND DIAIRES The Blank Theatre Company presents David Sedaris' solo play, performed by Nicholas Brendon. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 661-9827.

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

SPIDER BABY the Musical Based on Jack Hill's classic horror film, book and music by Enrique Acosta, lyrics by Enrique Acosta, Lorien Patton and Helen Acosta. Lyric-Hyperion Theater Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 5, SpiderBabyTheMusical.com. (800) 838-3006.

THE STORIES OF CESAR CHAVEZ Fred Blanco's bilingual portrayal of labor leader Cesar Chavez. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 281-8337.

NEW REVIEW SUMMER IN HELL

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Photo by Miles Brandman

"They're

not nice people" is something of a refrain in playwright Miles

Brandman's surface-skimming amorality tale of sex, drugs and privilege

among the decadent idle rich of the Long Island shore. It is also an

understatement, at least when applied to Brandman's iniquitous and

narcissistic young protagonists, Milt (Tyler Jenich) and Pat (Amy K.

Harmon). Dumped at the family's beach house for a week of surf and sun,

the unchaperoned first cousins become bored with their routine of

incest, sunbathing and backbiting. To liven things up, Milt lures over

one of Pat's former conquests, the hunky working-class townie Nick (Dan

Gordon), who has kept his distance from the disreputable pair since his

engagement to priggish local heiress Barbara (Melissa Powell). No

sooner does Nick jump at the bait than Milt arranges for Barbara to

catch her fiancé and Pat in flagrante delicto. In the ensuing emotional

fireworks, Milt relieves Barbara of her virtue along with her illusions

regarding both hers and Nick's putative moral superiority. If this

sounds like something out of Molière, Brandman plays it for anything

but laughs or satire. Director David Jette turns in a polished

production that includes Sarah Krainin's redwood sun-deck set and Ian

Garrett's summer-sweltered lights. And while a superb cast looks like

they're having a field day -- particularly the leering and insinuating

Jenich -- the play's lack of social or psychological insights limits

its figurative reach to a cynical contempt for its own characters.

Brimmer Street Theatre Company, Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (213) 290-2782,

brimmerstreet.org. (Bill Raden)

GO THE SUNSET LIMITED John Perrin Flynn's topnotch staging of Cormac McCarthy's 1996 two-character play shows that the author is a gifted dramatist as well as being a superb novelist. A life and death struggle emerges in the dingy apartment of an ex-con named Black (Tucker Smallwood), who has just rescued White (Ron Bottitta), from a suicide leap off a subway platform. That their names are racial signifiers is just one of the dynamics McCarthy uses to mine the ironies in this simple scenario. Black is poor, uneducated and a committed man of faith, an inner city Good Samaritan whose redemption came in prison and who unwaveringly believes in the value of life and God's grace, while White is a hyper-rationalist, successful university professor and defiant atheist who is weighted down with crushing despair and hopelessness. It's a high-stakes intervention where both men state their cases with unbridled passion and eloquence engendering a back and forth shift of empathies, and one never gets the sense of an immutable moral center or merely listening to lectures. McCarthy, who is noted for his sparse dialogue and powerful imagery, exhibits an uncanny ear for ghetto argot, but just as nimbly utilizes the idiom of the academic. When at the end, White erupts and expresses a weltanschauung of the darkest hue, one is reminded of Nietzsche's remark about staring into the abyss. Complementing Flynn's fine direction are the equally superb performances. Through Dec. 19. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-4424.

GO TAKE ME OUT Baseball star Darren Leming (Ary Katz), the central figure in Richard Greenberg's provocative 2002 comedy-drama, is a paragon of talend, skill and virtue. Half black and half white, he has become baseball's golden boy, admired and adored by teammates and fans until he impulsively decides to come out as gay, and the press runs with the story. He thinks that because he's young and rich and famous and talented and handsome, he's immune to negative consequences. But like a rock dropped into a pond, his revelation produces ever- widening ripples that undermine his world. Bigotry and religious fanaticism rear their heads, as irate fans accuse him of desecrating the sacred sport. As for his teammates, it's a loss of innocence: Theyre forced to confront the homoeroticism that underlies their comfortable locker-room intimacy. Most deeply affected is newly recruited relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Garrett Matheson), a naive, dim, barely literate orphan from the deep South, where racism and homophobia were bred in his bones. He's ultimately both victim and aggressor, driven by feelings he doesn't understand, to an act of ambiguous but lethal violence. Greenberg probes issues of sexual identity, moral ambiguity, personal responsibility and baseball, in pungent, idiosyncratic dialogue laced with subversive wit. Director Michael Matthews has assembled an almost perfect cast on Kurt Boetchers intimate in-the-round set, and he explores the play's complexities with finely focused exuberance. Katz skillfully charts Leming's transformation from Apollonian serenity to a man forced to acknowledge his failings and vulnerability. Tom Costello brings comic chops and rich conviction to the shortstop Kippy, the play's narrator, who's shattered when his sentimental do-good-ism produces disastrous results. And theres a deliciously deft comedy performance by Thomas James O'Leary as Leming's fey, gay financial manager, who regards his boss as a hero and finds a wondrous epiphany in the world of baseball. His aria comparing baseball to democracy is as penetrating as it is funny. They receive solid backup from the sterling cast. Tim Swiss' lighting design and Veronica J. Lancaster's sound are integral to the action. This is Celebration Theatre's most ambitious and impressive production in years. (Neal Weaver). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 957-1884.

THE TRAGEDY OF ROMEO AND JULIET The Merry War Theatre Group sets Shakespeare's play in the upscale Verona Hotel & Casino. American Legion Hollywood, 2035 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Through Dec. 12, 8 p.m., merrywar-theatregroup.com. (323) 851-3030.

GO THE TRAIN DRIVER South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have dealt with the havoc wrought in his country by apartheid, but his more recent works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to encompass the guilt and grief that were the legacy of his homeland's decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us, unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area of the city, Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing the train driver could have done to save them, but he is consumed with guilt over his role in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate his guilt. Elderly, impoverished grave digger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is sympathetic, but also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster. Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned, barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's desolate, gravel-covered shanty set to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow -- anger over being forced to kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death -- is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the grave digger that captures attention every moment he's onstage. Fugard has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless -- but the play cunningly concludes with a tragic coda suggesting that, to the underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals. (Paul Birchall). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 663-1525.

GO WATSON In the opening scene of writer-director Jaime Robledo's new play, the corpulent title character (Scott Legett) wanders into London's 221-B Baker Street, having been advised by a gypsy to "go back to where it all began, before it was too late." The sleuth, Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria), whose adventures Watson has followed and documented, died some time ago -- or so Watson believes. But nothing is quite what it seems. It would be beside the point to recount the plot. Let's just say it concerns Queen Victoria, Sigmund Freud (both played by the gut-bustingly droll French Stewart), double agents and secret intel involving a competition for the possession of Cyprus between the Ottoman Empire, led by Abduhl Hamid; and the Russians, represented by Czar Alexander III. (Both of these are played by puppets.) In order to fathom what the hell is going on, the coked-up Holmes and his somewhat reluctant sidekick Watson -- whose adventures are placing his own marriage to Mary Watson (CJ Merriman) at risk -- embark on an odyssey by train and boat and horse and air balloon from Victoria Station to Budapest to the top of a minaret in some unspecified Muslim country. Oh, yes, they're pursued by the villainous Professor James Moriarty (Henry Dittman), who may or may not be a figment of Holmes' cocaine-induced paranoia. In case this sounds too cinematic for the stage, consider how the walls of scene designer Erin Brewsters London flat fold away and open up to flights of theatrical devices. The visual wonder is complemented by Andrew Amani's balletic fight choreography and fueled, aurally, by Ryan Johnsons recorded original score, performed on cello, viola and violins. Fria has an odd body shape, a robust and athletic build with contrapuntally sloping shoulders. His Holmes is a neurotic cousin to Buster Keaton -- fleet-footed with quick and precise comic instincts. Its a gorgeous performance, surpassed only by one tour de force riff in which Dittman portrays five characters at Victoria Station (a husband, his wife, a train conductor, an urchin beggar and a policeman) almost simultaneously, by literally changing hats. This delightful and at times inspired production contains moments of comic mastery stemming from the traditions of Vaudeville. (Steven Leigh Morris). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (310) 281-8337.

GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies, once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer: change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its "disease-of-the-week" dimension surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellow is a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores' precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 5...

THE ZOMBIE HOLIDAY SPECIAL The show must go on at the Wallace Famil's annual holiday TV special, despite the zombie plague. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 15, (No perfs De. 25 & Jan. 1.) plays411.com/zombieholiday. (323) 960-7612.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED in the VALLEYS

THE ANIMALS AND ME Vinnie Torrente's play about "the rights of all mankind, as seen through the eyes of animals.". Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, plays411.com/theanimals. (323) 960-7726.

GO THE AUTUMN GARDEN Lillian Hellman was in her mid-40s when she wrote this astute comedy about the pitfalls and perils of middle age and the accompanying sense of loss that filters through our lives. A kind of Chekhovian group portrait, it takes place in 1949 in a genteel boarding house on the Gulf of Mexico coast. The establishment caters exclusively to the longtime friends of its sweet-natured spinsterish proprietress, Constance (Lily Knight), still pining for beau Nick (Stephen Caffrey), who left her high and dry for his still current wife, Nina (Jane Kaczmarek), 20 years ago. Nick is now an artist of some renown, and his return for a brief visit stirs excitement, especially for Constance's friend Rose (Faye Grant), a simpering Southern coquette whose marriage is on the rocks. The play's secondary motif -- the masquerade of ignorance surrounding homosexuality in the mid-20th-century South -- emerges in the engagement between Constance's French niece, Sophie (Zoe Perry), and Frederick (Joe Delafield), the son of Constance's prim and proper friend Mary (Jeanie Hackett). Directed by Larry Biederman, the production begins somewhat stiffly before gathering steam as the multiple plotlines unwind, then coalesce, and the intimacies -- especially between the married couples -- are finessed. As Constance, Knight's touching vulnerability draws you in. Perry is excellent as the shrewd, long-suffering Sophie; so is Anne Gee Byrd as Mary's mother, a deliciously sardonic grand dame who minces no words. As the story's villainous rogue, Caffrey's skill is unimpeachable, but his drunken predator is so unappealing that it's hard to see how he might ever have charmed anyone. (The production is double-cast.) Antaeus.org (Deborah Klugman)., antaeus.org. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, antaeus.org. (818) 506-1983.

BOBBY AND MATT Kevin Cochran's story of two unlikely friends, one a brigadier general, the other a renowned gay writer. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (818) 528-6622.

GO THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO Marisa Wegrzyn's kitchen-sink comedy kicks off the Road Theatre Company's 20th season. Filled with colorful, mostly female characters, Wegrzyn's wacky slice-of-life snapshot is set in the small town of Baraboo in snowy, freezing Wisconsin. The loose plot concerns in-laws who feel no constraints expressing their sentiments. Beneath the prickly conversation lies a festering mystery: What really happened to Val's husband, Frank? He was pronounced dead, although no corpse was found. Frank's brother, Donal (Carl J. Johnson), and cop sister, Gail (the hilarious Rebecca Jordan), harbor suspicions that their sister-in-law, Val (Janet Chamberlain), did away with Frank, seeing as she's pretty handy with a meat cleaver. Val's grown daughter, Midge (Nina Sallinen), seems to be dabbling in nefarious activities, supplying local teen meth chemists with prescription meds. But it's Midge's interference with her uncle Donal's family life that causes her strife. Director Mark St. Amant beautifully stages his cast with a sure but subtle hand, eliciting superb performances and spot-on comic timing. Jeff McLaughlin's homely set is impressively realistic -- right down to a working sink -- and neatly fills the small space. (Pauline Adamek). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (866) 811-4111.

A CHICAGO CHRISTMAS CAROL Musical take on the Dickens classic, re-set in Chicago circa 1908. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 745-8527.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL An all-new musical adaptation of the Dickens holiday tale. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 7 p.m.; Through Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (626) 256-3809.

THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES Secrets of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer et al, by Jeff Goode. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, chancetheater.com. (714) 777-3033.

GAM3RS Brian Bielawski's one-man "computer-gaming-geek" show, co-written and directed by Walter G. Meyer. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, gam3rsthewebsite.com. (858) 224-2553.

HERALDS Setting: A bustling office with phones ringing off the hook, constant interruptions announcing yet another sale, barely lidded excitement; a newspaper. Wait, a newspaper? Yes, down to the inevitable transfer to news online and a tryst sparked by a woman's arousal over the executive editor's "power," Jon Cellini's play feels a little dated. After all, dailies have already transitioned through a couple of stages of grief over the imminent demise of the "way they were," and have settled into grimacing acceptance of the uncertain future. To give Cellini credit, he does nod to the obsoleteness of his subject matter when a character comments on how "we philosophize after our expired lives -- ironic considering this show, right?" Still, he uses the now-tired controversy over a cartoon about creationism as a launching pad for a discussion on the dangers of the religious right advocating censorship. Though he's spliced this humdrum dilemma with visits from a Socrates who watches TMZ, a Galileo who scoffs at LeBron James and a Goebbels who blames Saturday Night Live for America's "weak" men, Cellini also rests on tired stereotypes such as a Godfather-esque queenpin of a church secretary (Maia Danziger). Director Stuart Rogers smooths the busy show to a nice flow, but he allows too much slack in the pace precisely when it's in dire need of tautness. The play's not bad, but all the good stuff is buried in the back pages. It would be remiss not to mention the able-bodied cast, especially the restrained, excellent performance of Heather Robinson as Gert. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, brownpapertickets.com/event/136062. (800) 838-3006.

INSPECTING CAROL Daniel Sullivan's holiday comedy about a Midwestern regional theater company and their attempt to mount A Christmas Carol. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 2, (No perf Dec. 24.) thegrouprep.com.. (818) 700-4878.

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

THE MANY MURDERS OF WALLACE T. WALKER Zombie Joe's Underground's latest comedy-thriller, wherein a newbie detective must solve a birthday-party murder. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 4. (818) 202-4120.

MERRY FILTHY CHRISTMAS HAPPY XMAS! Produced by Darren Mangler and Theatre Unleashed. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Through Dec. 4, 10 p.m.. (818) 849-4039.

GO THE PUB PLAYS: THE FIELD Under Sean Branney's direction, John B. Keane's beautifully modulated drama is set in an rural County Kerry pub, where locals gather to see who will end up owning the field that old Maggie Butler is selling. Will an outsider swoop in and snatch it, or will a swaggering local farmer have his way? Barry Lynch brings a formidable menace to his role as the intimidating farmer, "The Bull" McCabe. This is a man with a massive sense of entitlement and a bulldozing force of will. Having leased the land from the old widow for years in order to graze his cattle and gain access to the river, McCabe's had his heart set on owning the "handsome parcel of land" for decades, as did his father before him. Keane's chilling drama is an incisive commentary on the local folk, presenting copious drinking, snarky small town gossip, incessant childbearing and domestic violence as part of the fabric of everyday life. One scene in Act 2, when McCabe's loyal son Tadgh (Travis Hammer) dares to ask why his parents haven't spoken for 18 years, will make your blood run cold. Excellent performances from all. Through Dec 12. (Pauline Adamek). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 846-5323.

THE PUB PLAYS: WAR Celebrated Irish novelist Roddy Doyle sets his play on the battlefield of a large, packed Dublin pub where rival teams of locals scuffle it out during a rowdy and riotous quiz night. As the empty bottles of Guinness pile up, the increasingly intoxicated participants trade wit, useless trivia and abuse, vying to claim bragging rights and an electric kettle. Doyle's play is ostensibly an energetic comedy, but flashpoint tempers, ferocious shouting matches, strident accusations of cheating, vulgar gestures and various colorful insults ("fookin' eejit!") wear you down after a while. Add the interspersed flashbacks to the casually abusive home life of the most volatile character, George (Tim Cummings), and suddenly all that bellowing isn't so funny, especially when his gentle wife, Briget (Kacey Camp), is cowering in the corner. Of course this is Doyle's point, but he makes it with a tightly clenched fist, pounding away. Alice Ryan is good as the cute barmaid who keeps the lecherous lads at bay with her arsenal of comebacks. Passable Irish accents from the hardworking cast of 16. In repertory with John B. Keane's drama The Field. (Pauline Adamek). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 846-5323.

NEW REVIEW GO SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTSCHE KABARETT

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Photo by Amanda Marquardt

This

latest, late-night creation from sardonic, surrealist

director-choreographer Amanda Marquardt is so straightforward and

simple in its concept and execution that it's a wonder no one thought

of it before. Take the Kander & Ebb musical classic Cabaret,

jettison the treacly and preachy Joe Masteroff book, and stage the

results as a brisk and breezy, melodrama-free evening of simulated

Weimar nightclub entertainment. The schmutzigen is provided by

the indecently flamboyant Luke Wright, who, from opener "Willkommen"

through his solo on "I Don't Care Much" to the show's finale, vamps his

way through an endless string of double entendres to stake a creditable

claim to the role of MC that made Broadway stars of Joel Grey and Alan

Cumming. Marquardt herself appears as Sally Bowles (replete with

Liza-like false eyelashes), displaying an appealing set of pipes on

such signature numbers as "Don't Tell Mama," "Cabaret" and "Mein Herr."

Wright returns (wearing little more than an uncredited but campy pair

of tuxedo briefs) with chorines Skye Noel (also credited as dance

captain and co-choreographer) and Carmen Faulkner, as the trio strut

their comic stuff in "Two Ladies." But, you might ask, if there's no

book, what about the musical's politics -- and what does that have to

do with us? Relax. Marquardt gets in her licks, and puts the Deutsche

Kabarett, political-satire bite back into Cabaret with "High

Chancellor," a hilarious, show-stealing strip number, with Jonica

Patella in Hitler drag, bumping, grinding and goose-stepping to the

Nazi march "Erika." ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N.

Hlywd.; Fri., 11 p.m.; through Dec. 17. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Bill Raden)

THE SECRET GARDEN The kids' lit classic turned musical, book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Lucy Simon. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, chancetheater.com. (714) 777-3033.

NEW REVIEW GO SWEET MAMA STRING BEAN: A CELEBRATION OF BLUES WOMAN ETHEL WATERS

Stage Raw: The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Count Leo Tolstoy

Photo by Robert Whitehead

The

unwanted product of violence -- her mother was raped at knifepoint when

only 12 -- Ethel Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia during the

early 1900s. She ran with a rough street crowd and developed a

hustler's sassy attitude. By the time she fled her own abusive marriage

at just 14, she had a soulful singing voice that would draw attention

at parties. Soon after, Waters was singing the blues onstage to

appreciative crowds while living the rough life of touring on the black

vaudeville circuit; eventually she became the highest-paid black

recording star in the country, the first female black singer to be

heard on radio and, later, the highest-paid female performer on

Broadway. She brought the house down at New York's Cotton Club singing

"Stormy Weather" and won a Grammy Award in 1933. Waters was the second

black performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, for her

performance in Pinky (1949). ValLimar Jansen brings Waters'

distinguished career to the stage with a fine jazz trio, accompanied by

husband Frank Jansen on keyboards. Wearing glittering gowns and

feathered headdresses, ValLimar wraps merry humor and an indomitable

spirit around her engaging performance as she skips and shimmies her

way through 16 classic blues songs, and her mellifluous, full-bodied

voice has the depth of strong coffee. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000

Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.;

through Dec. 31. (866) 811-41111, fremontcentretheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)

 

25 PPH (PLAYS PER HOUR) Theatre Unleashed's ensemble portrays more than 50 characters in 25 original short plays, all in one hour. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 4, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 8, 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 202-4120.

Urned Happiness Lean Dog-Mean Dog Productions presents Ernest Kearney's comedy about "a cremated cadaver, a murdered clown, and a confused polka band.". T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (800) 838-3006.

WEIRD ON TOP Improvisational comedy by Danielle Cintron, Tiffany Cole, Mason Hallberg, Kerr Seth Lordygan, Sarah McCann and Alex Sanborn. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., Dec. 9, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Jan. 20, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; Tues., March 1, 8 p.m.; Thurs., April 21, 8 p.m.; Thurs., May 12, 8 p.m.; Thurs., June 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.

YES SVETLANA, THERE IS A GRANDFATHER FROST Without a single pedantic word, Jeff Goode's comedy rebuts the commonplace impression that Soviet times are ancient history. His thoughtful play about the essence of truth is set in the newspaper office of a large Soviet city, where a plan is afoot by the authorities to raid an "unauthorized" Christmas-tree lighting ceremony. The newspaper gets a prefab story, describing specific injuries that haven't yet occurred but are being carefully plotted. Journalist Tserkov (Morry Schoor) wants the story to run early, to warn the protesters. But his editor, Madame Editrix (Erika Godwin), will have no part of such faux heroics. If you're so concerned about the truth, she chides him, why does it have to come with your byline? Truth quietly whispered is just as true as truth that's printed or broadcast. Despite a cumbersome stretch in Act 2, the play's delightful plot twists spin out a view of bureaucracy and complicity in the hoaxes of an era that point directly to us, which is the point. I don't know why director Gideon Potter chose to have the actors speak in English in a Russian accent, which only suggests that the play is about them and not us. And they couldn't find any Russian speakers in Glendale or Hollywood to give the company the correct pronunciation of devushka? Devushka (Lisa Younger) is the seemingly nave yet sly secretary. The wistfully wry ensemble also includes Tyler Rhoades, as a cad journalist, and thugs well-played by Ken Lyle and Bub Rusch. There were some technical difficulties at the performance reviewed. That aside, the comedy really deserves a more taut staging to match its scintillating ironies. (Steven Leigh Morris). Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (800) 838-3006.

YO HO HO! A PIRATES CHRISTMAS Pirates invade the North Pole, book by James J. Mellon, music and lyrics by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, noon; Sat., Dec. 18, noon; Through Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 23, (No perfs Dec. 10 & 17).. (818) 508-7101.

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

AIN'T WE GOT FUN Vaudeville-style songs and skits, written by Ben Hensley and Michael Montiel, directed and choreographed by Lindsay Martin. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 656-8070.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND A Kentwood Kids production of Lewis Carroll's classic. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (310) 645-5156.

ANNIE Kentwood Players present the little orphan musical, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11, kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.

BACKSTREET: THEMUSICAL Jewish immigrant musical, book, music and lyrics by Chris DeCarlo, Evelyn Rudie an Matthew Wrather. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 394-9779.

GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a star identified in the program only as "The Crooner." James Thompson's authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting, a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter, numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie. Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as "That's Life," "New York, New York" and "Fly Me to the Moon," you'd swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, edgemarcenter.org. (310) 392-7327.

THE LITTLE NEBBISH Eliza Gale's satire about "lust, greed, murder and revenge set in a Norwalk telemarketing agency.". Berubian's Theater, 5388 N. Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 850-7827.

MURDURERS Jeffrey Hatcher's quirky whodunit. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 364-0535.

GO The Night of the Tribades Generally speaking, biographies of even immortal artists rarely produce compelling dramas. Whatever mysterious alchemy transmutes raw experience into refined art is simply too interior and remote from the dramatic, social arena to ever satisfactorily be laid bare on the stage. Swedish playwright Per Olov Enquist's delightfully sardonic, 1975 take on the marital woes of Scandinavian literary giant August Strindberg (in Ross Shideler's spry, 1976 translation) may be the notable exception. Drawn from a period when Strindberg (John Prosky) was an adherent of what might be charitably termed "Darwinian male chauvinism," the play opens on the read-through rehearsal of Strindberg's short, 1889 one-act, "The Stronger," the writer's self-flattering portrayal of the affair between his wife, the actress Siri von Essen (Sarah Underwood), and her lover, Marie Caroline David (Linda Castro), which ultimately scuttled the Strindbergs' already foundering marriage. In a stroke of sadistic pique, Strindberg has cast the real-life lovers to play their fictionalized counterparts. The results only recapitulate the hapless playwright's emasculating trauma, and play as if the author of "The Dance of Death" had written an episode of Fawlty Towers. Director Thomas P. Cooke's mercurial production and a superb cast (including Craig Anton's hilariously vapid ham actor, Shiwe) capture all of Enquist's mordant wit, while a peerless production design team (Catherine Baumgardner's museum-grade period costumes; Jeffery Eisenmann's antique, backstage set; Ronan Kilkelly's expressionistic lights) lends the proceedings a literate gloss. Through December 11. (Bill Raden). Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11, calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.

NIGHTSONG FOR THE BOATMAN Perhaps playwright Jovanka Bach was attempting an update of Euripides' Alcestis: in both plays, a selfish man tries to elude death by persuading someone else to die in his place. Poet/college professor Harry Appleman (John Di Fusco) gambles for his soul with Murlie (Alexander Wells), the thuggish boatman who ferries the dead across the river Styx. He loses the game, but wants to welsh on the deal. Harry is so obnoxious and arrogant, it's hard to care what happens to him. He hasn't written anything substantive in years, but feels his identity as an artist absolves him from all responsibility. A spoiled, drunken, irresponsible egomaniac, he seduces his students, treats his mistress (Nicole Gabriella Scipione) shabbily, and abandons his wife (Donna Luisa Guinan) and daughter (Amanda Landis). In the incoherent, contrived and ultimately silly second act, Harry continues to seek someone else to die his death. The piece is awkwardly written, with many short scenes that just seem to stop rather than reaching any climax, fail to raise much tension, separated by clumsy scene changes. Director John Stark does little to bolster the pretentious script, but the capable actors (including Michael Byrne, Geoffrey Hillback, and J. Lawrence Landis) struggle manfully to make sense of a preposterous plot, and designer Jaret Sacrey provides a handsome set. Through Dec. 12. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 477-2055.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER Musical revue of songs by Stephen Sondheim. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 454-1970.

LE TICK TOCK Edgemar Theatre Group's "provocative and sensual cabaret-style entertainment.". Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 22. (310) 392-7327.

THE WILD PARTY It could be argued that the 1920s were the true beginning of the sex and drugs ethos of open pleasure-seeking by the Lost Generation, who were perhaps more accurately described by the French equivalent "Generation in Flames." Such flamboyance and Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem of the same title inspired Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's musical tribute to the Jazz Age and its decadence. Set in the New York apartment of promiscuous vaudeville dancer Queenie (Krista Sutton) and her comedian husband Burrs (Casey Zeman), the story centers on a cocaine-and-gin fueled party thrown by the couple for a coterie of characters that run the social, racial and sexual gamut. While the period is rich in source material (as demonstrated in HBO's Boardwalk Empire), this revival limps out of the gate with uninspired, crisp-as-oatmeal choreography, muddled singing, and musical direction that lacks pizzazz, as well as a consistent tempo. Director Julia Holland nicely stages the living mise-en-scéne but nonetheless fails to harness the big Broadway feel and big performances that are vital to carrying an episodic vehicle with little to no plot. Bright spots include Deborah LaGorce-Kramer's intricate costumes and a convincingly catatonic morphine addict in Sally (a barely blinking Bonnie Frank), but absent the necessary bravado and bravura, this incarnation might be more aptly titled The Mild Party. Through Dec. 5. (Mayank Keshaviah). Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (310) 589-1998.


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