THE OTHER FESTIVALS
Running concurrently with the Hollywood Fringe (June 17-27) is Arts Olympus (June 17-20) on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
AO includes a contemporary Russian exhibition, "multi-cultural straw
art" (not sure if this refers to the stuff barnyard animals sleep in,
or what critters like you and me slurp our milkshakes from), a "panel
discussion of prominent women in the arts, live performances, poetry
readings puppets andan international film festival of socially
Then there's the second annual California International Theater Festival in Calabasas, curated by Linda Pearl, July 17-25.
"The season includes the American Premier of Stones from the Orto-Da Theatre in Israel, Tempting Providence, from Newfoundland, Labrador and a dramatization of Samuel Beckett's story, The End by the Gare St. Lazare Theatre of Ireland. There is also a performance from China, an intimate documentary on Harold Pinter, a cabaret with Michele Lee and an apprentice showcase." More on that fest to come.
And finally, there's the Festival of New American Musicals, which is underway through August.
"The Festival of New American Musicals is home to full productions,
staged readings, workshops of musicals in progress, cabaret events, and
concerts. The organizers are working in partnership with over thirty
Southern California area performing arts organizations; each will
produce a new American musical during the Festival time period."
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for June 11-17, 2010
Our critics are 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
ALL CAKE, NO FILE "Johnny Cash Prison Tribute Comedy Cooking Show/Concert," written and performed by Donna Jo Thorndale. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; opens June 11; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 838-4264.
ANGELOS Tony Perzow's new comedy set in a neighborhood barber shop; preceded by Dating Stories. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens June 17; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru July 11, brownpapertickets.com/event/111323. (310) 807-4842.
BED BUGS! A new play with music by ARTEL. ArtWorks Theatre, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; June 11-12, 8 p.m....
BOTANICUM SEEDINGS Free outdoor reading of Save Love Canal by Molly Best Tinsley. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., June 13, 11 a.m.. (310) 455-3723.
DANCING WITH CRAZIES One woman's search for love and a home, written and performed by Amy Milano. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 9 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 4 p.m.. (646) 337-8974.
THE DEADLY SIN BINGO SHOW Jon Marco's comedy about a priest and two nuns traveling across America trying to save the world through bingo. (Also at ComedySportz L.A., 733 Seward St.; Sat., June 26, 1 p.m.). Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 10 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 2 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 10 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
DEICIDE: A SORTA MUSICAL Book by Michael Ciriaco and Brandon Baruch, music and lyrics by Brandon Baruch. Paul G. Gleason Theatre, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., June 17. (617) 899-4283.
FACE THE CITY Jesse Wilson's story of four friends from high school. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; June 17-18, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 4 p.m., facethecity.com. (323) 465-0383.
Feeling Sorry for Roman Polanski Sue Cargill's comic tragedy. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 7 p.m.; Fri., June 18, 5:30 p.m.; June 19-20, 2:30 p.m.; Tues., June 22, 4 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 10 p.m.; Thurs., June 24, 5:30 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 2:30 p.m.; Mon., June 28, 5:30 p.m., brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.
GRACE & GLORIE Grace is a feisty illiterate 90-year-old, Gloria's a hospice caregiver. Written by Tom Ziegler. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; opens June 12; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 18. (818) 558-7000.
HIS MINUTE HAND Stephen Kaliski's tragedy about the decay of friendship and family. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; June 17-27, 3 p.m.; June 25-26, 7 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS: THELIFE OF BIG MAMA THORNTON Sunday Scott is singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; opens June 13; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 11. (562) 494-1014.
I AM A TREE "An unstable new comedy" by Dulcy Rogers. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens June 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 17. (323) 962-0046.
JAY JOHNSON: THE TWO AND ONLY Tour-de-force performance by the ventriloquist best known as "Chuck (and Bob)" on Soap. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens June 11; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 20. (949) 497-2787.
THE JESUS HICKEY Harry Hamlin stars in Luke Yankee's fable about the seduction of celebrity. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; opens June 12; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 11, katselastheatre.org...
THE LARAMIE PROJECT The aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard, by Moiss Kaufman and membes of the Tectonic Theatre Project. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens June 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 7. (323) 465-4446.
LEIRIS/PICASSO a.k.a. Wednesday Night, at the Home of Michel Leiris, a Reading of the Play "Desire Caught by the Tail" by the Painter Pablo Picasso by David Jette. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens June 12; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 24. (213) 389-3856.
THE MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN IN AMERICA Machine Guns, Coal Dust and the Making of the American Dream The life and times of Mother Jones, by Therese Diekhans. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 4:15 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 10 p.m.; Tues., June 22, 6 p.m.. (323) 856-8611.
MY PENIS IN AND OUT OF TROUBLE Antonio Sacre's solo show. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 10 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 4 p.m.; Thurs., June 24, 2:30 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 5:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 8:30 p.m.. (323) 962-1632.
THE OBLIVION SERIES Justine Warrington's look at the modern world as seen by the modern woman. Plus: comedian Ruthy Otero's one-woman show Crazy Is What Crazy Does. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens June 12; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 465-4446.
PRAYING SMALL Clifford Morts' study of addiction. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens June 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 18. (818) 508-7101.
PRISCILLA'S PERFECT DAY Family musical about magical crayons, book by Diana Martin, songs by Richard Levinson. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens June 12; Sat., 11 a.m.; thru July 17. (818) 700-4878.
A SHAYNA MAIDEL Barbara Lebow story of a Polish immigrant reunited with her sister. Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens June 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., July 3, 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (562) 432-5934.
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER Oliver Goldsmith's comedy of manners, presented by L.A. Theatre Works. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; June 16-17, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 4 p.m., latw.org. (310) 827-0889.
THE STORIES OF CESAR CHAVEZ Fred Blanco's bilingual portrayal of the civil rights activist and labor leader. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 5:30 p.m.; Fri., June 18, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 8:30 p.m.; June 20-21, 7 p.m.; Tues., June 22, 5:30 p.m.; Thurs., June 24, 10 a.m.; Sat., June 26, 2:30 p.m.. (323) 962-1632.
STUDIO: SUMMER 2010 Featuring F-Stop Serenade, Juan Diego Ramirez, Arianne Hoffmann, Catch Me Bird, Dino Dinco, and Los Angeles Electric 8. Curated by Sheetal Gandhi and Marissa Chibas. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; June 13-14, 8:30 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.
SWEET MAMA STRING BEAN A Celebration of Blues Woman Ethel Waters ValLimar Jansen and William L. Stout's musical play. Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave., Covina; June 11-12, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 13, 3 p.m.. (626) 331-8133.
TAXI STORIES Written and performed by David O'Shea. ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Thurs., June 17, 5 p.m.; Fri., June 18, 11 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 1 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 9 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 3 p.m., theatremania.com. (866) 811-4111.
TITI RICODRI, AMORE MIO? (Do You Remember, My Love?) Enrico Maria Falconi's new play, in Italian, with a pre-show synposis in English. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., June 12, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 13, 3 & 7 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; opens June 12; Sat., June 12, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 18, 7:30 p.m.; June 20-27, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 4, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., July 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 17, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 18, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., July 24, 4 p.m.; Sat., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723.
TWELFTH NIGHT/JULIUS CAESAR Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro; opens June 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 548-7705.
YELLOW World premiere of Del Shores' intolerance drama. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; opens June 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 27, yellowbydelshores.com...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
A CHORUS LINE The Broadway blockbuster, book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban, music by Marvin Hamlisch. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 365-3500.
GO DEMENTIA Anyone who survived the deadly HIV plague years of the '80s, when the best and brightest of the arts community were wiped out by the disease, can't help but be moved by the pathos of playwright Evelina Fernández's AIDS melodrama. While the play's urgency might have diminished somewhat in the intervening years of antiretroviral successes, director José Luis Valenzuela's restaging of the Latino Theater Company's acclaimed, 2002 production has lost none of its rousing panache or theatrical luster. Sal López reprises his tour de force performance as Moises, a flamboyant theater director drifting in and out of consciousness on his deathbed in 1995. He spends his lucid moments planning his final exit scene in a party to be attended by his close associates, which include his lifelong friend, gay hairdresser, Martin (the excellent Danny de la Paz), best straight friend/writing partner, Eddie (Geoffrey Rivas), and Eddie's wife, Alice (Lucy Rodriguez). Moises' less-coherent spells are spent in phantasmagoric dialogues with his conscience and drag-queen alter ego, Lupe (Ralph Cole Jr. in a showstopping performance), who belts out disco dance hits in between haranguing Moises about coming clean with his ex-wife, Raquel (Fernández), on the circumstances surrounding their 15-year-old breakup. A first-rate production design, including Francois-Pierre Couture's evocative lights, Nikki Delhomme's Mackie-inspired gowns and Christopher Ash's expressionist-surrealist set, underscores Fernández's Eros-trumps-conventional-morality theme with elegance and eloquence. A Latino Theater Company Production. (Bill Raden). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (213) 489-0994.
DINNER WITH FRIENDS Donald Margulies' self-described "rueful comedy" about middle age and divorce. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru June 20. (562) 944-9801.
THE EMPORER'S NEW CLOTHES Audience-participation musical for children and their families, music by Phil Orem, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz and David Wechter. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 851-7977.
NEW REVIEW HAMLET
Photo by Ian Flanders
anyone's guess what vision might have guided director Ellen Geer's
fervent but unfocused, Medieval-dress version of Shakespeare's most
baroque and psychologically nuanced tragedy. There's certainly little
hint of the Oedipal undercurrents or political allegorizing that have
been a mainstay of 20th-century productions. Nor is there much sign of
the paralyzing conflict between faith in purpose and intellectual
certainty, which traditionally drives its hero's famously agonized
inaction. In the case of Mike Peebler's Hamlet, neither his mission nor
its justness ever seems in doubt; Peebler attacks the role with the
zeal and righteous wrath of the recently converted. Even his
soliloquies are delivered at the audience as if from a pulpit. Gertrude
(Melora Marshall) in turn appears more pissed off at her son's
increasingly antic disposition than aggrieved by what it might imply
about his sanity. Claudius (Aaron Hendry), by contrast, comes off as
positively good-natured, a guy caught with his hand in the cookie jar
rather than his fingerprints all over a nefarious regicide. Willow Geer
is convincing as a feisty yet vulnerable Ophelia, though even here the
method of her madness seems more a response to the murder of Polonius
(a very broad Carl Palmer) than any jilting by Hamlet. Director Geer
keeps it all moving at a fast clip, but some exasperatingly eccentric
blocking divides the focus of too many critical turning points -- most
egregiously in the mousetrap scene -- all but obliterating their
dramatic purpose. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga
Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep, call for schedule; note: some roles
double-cast; through Oct. 2. (310) 455-3723. (Bill Raden)
IN ALL HONESTY World premiere of Quinn Sosna-Spear's romantic comedy. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Through June 12, 8 p.m.. (805) 667-2900.
NEW REVIEW THE SOCIALIZATION OF RUTHIE SHAPIRO
Photo by Tom Zeleny
with personal memories of the 1960s might be forgiven for not
recognizing the lunar landscape that playwright Barbara Nell Beery's
colorless coming-of-age drama passes off as 1967 L.A. For a watershed
year in such a culturally iconic decade, one could reasonably expect to
find at least one issue of Tiger Beat or a even a Davy Jones
pinup in the bedroom of Beery's 12-year-old heroine, Ruthie (Claire
Partin). But designer Jeff Rack's generic jumble of set pieces is as
devoid of character-defining details as Ruthie is of the hormone-roiled
obsessions of real-world adolescence. Instead, Beery's "memory play"
about a secular-Jewish math prodigy's quest for popularity at her new
junior high school is the kind of anodyne, life-in-a-vacuum fairy tale
seemingly designed to reassure parents that their little darlings
aren't dreaming up anything darker than comically corny routines for
the school talent show. Beery's cumbersome device of having Partin step
out of character as the adult Ruth to redundantly re narrate
already-played scenes proves hazardous to director Susan Morgenstern's
attempt at close-focus intimacy. Worse, it wastes valuable stage time,
which would have been better spent developing the implicitly imploding
marriage of Ruthie's mother (Constance Mellors) and an absentee father.
By the time Ruthie pays the price of being popular -- by ostracizing
her naively bigoted outcast of a best friend (Heather Keller) -- the
moment feels like a forced, bathetic footnote rather than the
innocence-shattering act of cruelty that the grown-up Ruth claims it to
be. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 11. (No perf July 4.) (323) 851-7977. (Bill
NEW REVIEW GO SOUTH PACIFIC
Photo by Peter Coombs
this tragic hero, a stern, sensible Princeton-educated U.S. Marine
named Lt. Joseph Cable (Anderson Davis) finds himself in the South
Pacific amidst a herd of guys from the U.S. Navy. He'd love to get some
intel on what the Japs are up to, because World War II is still in
play. On the nearby mystical island of Bali Ha'i (mystical because
that's where all the young daughters of the local French families are
hiding), Cable falls for a native daughter named Lait (Sumie Maeda),
who looks about 12 years old, but she's sure a good kisser who gently
strokes his hair -- and probably other parts as well. "I know what
you're thinking," he chides skeptical onlookers; sure he does, because
it is what we're thinking, too: You're a perv, dude. She's Cable's
fantasy lover because she gazes at him adoringly and doesn't talk back.
In fact, she doesn't talk at all, which is even better. Cable's
anthem-in-song of love to barely pubescent Lait is "Younger Than
Springtime," which is sort like an homage to the trafficking of
children from exotic, faraway places. Rodgers' and Hammerstein's
musical classic, presented by Lincoln Center Theater, is almost
stunning for the window it offers onto the perverse America psyche,
with its gardens of optimism, salvation complexes and sexual fantasies
that come wrapped in a kind of national can-do solipsism. Michael
Yeargan's classical storybook sets come with a backdrop of the
expansive Pacific, idyllic and isolating, to unify the various settings
and to conjure an American homeland far beyond the horizon. Barlett
Sher's staging is a gift for a number of reasons. From this production,
you can almost understand how we got into the quagmires of Korea,
Vietnam and Iraq. Furthermore, his terrific ensemble performs with a
vivacity that's nonetheless bereft of the showboating that comes
attached to so many musicals. Even with Christopher Gattelli's musical
staging with choreography that sashays and snaps, there's a sobriety
and sincerity that reveal the musical for exactly what it is, and the
1950s era of Americana that spawned it. Terrific leading performances
by Rod Gilfry and Carmen Cusack as the expat Frenchman and U.S.Navy
ensign/nurse who play out the boy-gets-girl, boy loses girl -- maybe
they stick to the formula, maybe they don't. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N.
Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1
& 6:30 p.m.; through July 17. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO ROAD TO SAIGON You don't need to be a devotee of theater lore to enjoy director Jon Lawrence Rivera's assemblage of show tunes, pop standards and showbiz anecdotes. (But it helps.) You don't even need to be familiar with songs from the blockbuster musical Miss Saigon, the source of the evening's theme and reminiscences. (Because none are present.) All you need is an appreciation of big talents, and Rivera has gathered three of the biggest. Besides being Filipino-American actresses, Joan Almedilla, Jennifer Paz and Jenni Selma all cut their musical-theater teeth playing Miss Saigon's tragic heroine, Kim, on Broadway or in a national touring company. Their memories of winning the coveted role become the "book" for what Rivera clearly hoped would have the appeal of a real-life A Chorus Line. And while the results feel more like a talky cabaret revue, what's not to like about a trio of powerhouse singers belting out beloved Broadway favorites under Nathan Wang's rousing musical direction (musical staging by Kay Cole). Almedilla's soulful covers of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "I Say a Little Prayer" are sensational; Paz proves her mettle on comedy numbers like "Here I Am" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and "In Short," from the musical Edges; and Selma sizzles on inspirational anthems like "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl, and Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," as well as more wistful ballads like the Kelly Clarkson hit "Beautiful Disaster." (Bill Raden). David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 625-7000.
NEW REVIEW 3 TRUTHS
Photo by Gary Leonard
There's your truth, the truth of your opponent and then there's the truth. Playwright Naomi Iizuka's mural of Angeleno characters transfers the Agamemnon
legend to L.A.'s inner city. It attempts to examine where lies the
"truth" behind the cycles of vengeance stemming from the random
shooting of a promising 16-year-old Latino high school student by an
African-American teenager (Joshua R. Lamont) -- an act stemming from
the young killer's subconscious angst of abandonment and despair. The
play, capably staged in an irreverent oratorical style by Michael John
Garcés, completes Cornerstone Theater Company's ambitious four-year
"Justice cycle" project. Many plots roll through the three-hour epic
(wear a coat or bring a blanket to downtown's Water Court amphitheater
venue, despite the summer climes). A lost-soul vagrant (Peter Howard)
hears voices and envisions the spirits of the past, who assemble on the
banks of the L.A. River. He's cursed by his Shakespearean understanding
(which stems from his lack of medication) of the interconnectedness
between the ghosts of the abused Tongva tribe and the haunting violence
that plagues the city. Admidst many riffs of redundant oratory by
multiple characters, he rails against the "white men" who decimated the
idyllic life of the Gabrileneos. Actually, their downfall was provoked
by a blend of the Spanish and their Mexican compatriots, all of whom
had drifted north from the motherland; the Yankees finished the
decimation that was already well under way by the time they arrived for
their silver and gold rushes. That's one tiny example of Iizuka's
oversimplifications, which stand in the way of the complex
understanding of the "truth" her play seeks, leaving us with little
more than already pervasive stereotypes. The other drawback is the
prosaic and sometimes jokey language, and its attendant absence of
poeticism -- poetry being the bridge to the kind of wisdom that would
have us leaving the theater richer for the time invested. In his
adaptation of Oedipus the King to L.A.'s barrio and its environs, Oedipus El Rey
(At Boston Court Theatre, earlier this year), playwright Luis Alfaro
demonstrated a blending of slang and poetry, of contemporary life and
ancient legend, which resulted in exactly the kind of conjuring Iizuka
lays claim to. Here, the spirits of the past float through her net like
the wind through a sieve. Still, there are some nice performances,
including those by company stalwart Bahni Turpin, portraying a stand-in
for Clytemnestra named Cleodora, and by Andres Munar as Orozco, her
jittery son, a latter-day Orestes. Michael Hooker's blistering sound
design brings the story's violence right home where it belongs -- aided
by the LAPD and its ghetto birds swirling above the action.
Cornerstone Theater Company and Grand Performances at California Plaza,
350 S. Grand Ave., dwntn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 12. (213)
687-2159. (Steven Leigh Morris)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
THE ALICE PROJECT: AN ORIGINAL WONDERLAND EXPERIENCE Vesper Theatre Company's "absurd fantasy world.". Vesper Theatre Company, 120 N. Santa Fe Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (213) 260-1613.
Photo by Jim Moody
Writer Richard Alger and director-choreographer Tina Kronis distill Anton Chekhov's 1898 comedy, Uncle Vanya into
a spoken-dance performance, concentrating on four of the male
characters. Theater Movement Bazaar at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117
West 24th Street, downtown; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June
13. (213) 745-6516. See Theater feature
BEHIND THE GATES Annika Marks delivers a mesmerizing performance as an angry American teenager whose exposure to an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in Israel revolutionizes her life. A crack baby who grows into a problem child, the 17-year-old punkish Bethany (Marks) harbors venomous rage toward her adoptive middle-class parents. Unable to cope, they ship her off to an Israeli boarding school for girls, where they hope she'll absorb some modesty and discipline. One day, wandering the Jerusalem streets, Bethany encounters a rabbi (Oren Rehany) from the fundamentalist Haredi community; he invites her home for Shabbas dinner. The susceptible girl is struck by the seeming harmony within his family; later, she undergoes a ritualistic conversion and joins their sect. All this emerges at the top of playwright Wendy Graf's discrepant drama: The central character turns out not to be Bethany but her mother, Susan (Keliher Walsh), whose psyche radically transforms as she searches for her lost daughter within the strangulating confines of the Haredi ghetto. Directed by David Gautraux, the play deals with the spell ancient Jerusalem casts on some; most fascinating is the glimpse it offers into a cultish antifeminist society -- measuring its values against the strengths and weaknesses of our own. Unfortunately, these thematic virtues are undermined by a soap-operatic element that plays out around Susan's marital problems and her personal insecurities. Walsh offers a sensitive portrayal, but other performances are weaker and less nuanced. Ultimately, the narrative never recoups its initial power, despite Walsh's efforts. (Deborah Klugman). Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 960- 5772.
Blank Brian Stanton's solo show. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru June 17. (323) 950-5770.
BORN TO BE ALIVE "Diminutive actress/writer/burlesque artist/stand-up comic/fashion model/activist" Selene Luna stars in the story of her life. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 860-7302.
CARMEN MIRANDA: THE WOMAN IN THE TUTTI FRUTTI Hat World-premiere musical tribute to the Brazilian film icon. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27, plays411.com/carmen. (323) 960-7740.
CHASING MONSTERS The eruption of laughter that opens Gabriel Gomez's drama is one of the few light moments in what is otherwise a relentlessly bleak tale. Dominic (Richard Azurdia) is celebrating with his friend Sandra (Deborah Geer) his pending nuptials at his favorite bar, anticipating a happy future. In the next scene, with a vicious, alcohol-fueled argument between Dominic and his bride-to-be Amy (Carolyn Zeller), the bottom drops out of the future, and the play. Utilizing an overlay of dreamy flashbacks, Gomez attempts to provide context to this story of generational family dysfunction. We learn of Dominic's early dependency on alcohol, his conflicted relationship with his emotionally unstable mother, Vanessa (Monica Sanchez), and brother (Xavi Moreno), and his confusion and rage toward his absentee father. Gomez and director Armando Molina show us what lies behind this family's torments but fails to eloquently or convincingly probe underlying causes that address the "why." More importantly, he fails to establish emotionally vibrant, credible connections between these characters, which makes empathy next to impossible. Dominic becomes nothing more than a hard-luck loser drunk, and everyone else just people plagued by nasty problems. Things turn painfully melodramatic after one character's terminal medical prognosis, transforming the play into a lugubrious vigil. There's no argument with the performances, which are uniformly good. Natalya Oliver rounds out the cast. (Lovell Estell III). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 13, companyofangels.org...
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
Photo by David Kriegel
Theater Company presents Chekhov's classic, produced as an interactive
theater piece at a private home. Private Residence, 1417 Ridge Way,
L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 20,
brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006. See Theater feature
COMEDY VS. ART SMACKDOWN "Funny artists and artistic comics battle" in this monthly event, curated by Elisha Shapiro., $5. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Second Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m.; thru June 14. (310) 315-1459.
THE DEVIL'S EYE Even among avowed Bergman-philes, the late Swedish auteur's 1960 film, The Devil's Eye, is considered a middling effort, a footnote, really, to a financing deal for Virgin Spring (1960), which required him to deliver a comedy in addition to the austere, medieval morality tale he wanted to make. While the movie is deceptively theatrical, it must have been an act of sheer hubris that led director Michael Moon to separate even a minor Bergman script (translated by Moon and Anna Lerbom) from the eloquence of the maestro's cinematic mise-en-scéne for the Demon Theater's inaugural production. The result is an occasionally amusing though oddly flat, pseudo-Shavian story about the confrontation between innocence and worldliness. Tormented by the impending marriage of a chaste minister's daughter (Lerbom), Satan (a Broderick Crawford-like Craig Patton) sends Don Juan (Dave Buzzotta) and his manservant, Pablo (Omar Leyva), back to Earth to claim the country maiden's virginity. Juan sets about seducing the girl by using sophisticated wiles, as Pablo makes a more direct assault on the marital fidelity of the minister's disaffected wife (Jolene Adams). While virtue eventually triumphs, albeit in ironic ways, it is no thanks to Moon's anemic staging and an almost cripplingly indifferent production design (Lerbom's bedroomless, bedroom-farce set, Matt Richter's problem-plagued lights). Inspired comic turns by John Combs as the simpleminded father and Ebb Miller as a mincing, Edward Everett Horton-esque demon aren't enough to salvage this fundamentally misguided endeavor. A Demon Theater Production. (Bill Raden). Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 12. (323) 960-7863.
DISILLUSIONED: CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL MAGICIAN Matt Marcy has been entertaining people with his trademark blend of comedy and magic for decades. He showcases his skills in this 90-minute production, which features some amazing feats. Marcy's charm and wit are matched by his self-effacing humor. If you think you've seen card tricks, you're in for a few surprises. Early on he performs what he calls "the world's simplest card trick," which will leave you scratching your head in wonder. Ditto for the trick he performs at show's end, with a sword he fashions from a balloon, then uses to cut an apple in half and spear a card from a deck thrown into the air -- which happens to be the exact one selected by an audience member minutes into the show. Marcy also gives us a brief, sketchy account of his life, touching upon his childhood in Santa Monica, high school crushes and antics, and his early years as an amateur magician. He and director Nicole Blaine aren't nearly as effective here, as many of these narrative digressive segments are gratuitously silly; they also rely too heavily on video media. But these shortcomings pale in comparison to Marcy's mind-blowing sleights of hand. Jules Hartley is equally engaging as Marcy's assistant. (Lovell Estell III). Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 19. (800) 838-3006.
DRUNK TALK Thomas Blake's full-immersion comedy about a local bar's closing night, "where you're not just an audience member, but a cast member, playing the part of an unsuspecting patron subjected to the antics of the drinking establishment's regular cast of zany characters.". Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, brownpapertickets.com/event/111874. (910) 367-6735.
NEW REVIEW GO FABULATION, OR THE RE-EDUCATION OF UNDINE
Photo by Carla Barnett
placed specifically in an African-American context, Lynn Nottage's
frightening fable speaks of earthly karma and dire comeuppance for all
who turn their backs on those who gave them life and sustenance. In a
potent performance Adeye Sahran portrays Undine, a high-powered PR
mogul in Manhattan whose world collapses as her sleazy Argentinian
gigolo-husband robs her of her life-style and her fortune. So it's back
to Brooklyn and the projects to face the family she had been pretending
died when she created her manicured identity 14 years earlier. Though
there is some sense that this story is about a particular injustice to
black folk who try to rise too far, it is much more interesting as an
examination of any person who loses humanity through personal greed and
arrogance, but reclaims it through acceptance of responsibility and
empathy. Brisk direction by Ben Campbell and a remarkable ensemble who
jump in and out of multiple roles at a moment's notice keep the play
exciting, and alternately moving and funny. Particularly effective is
Lyn Michele Ross, who plays the most extreme characters with utter
confidence. All of which Campell creates with a dearth of physical
production values; this compromises the event's integrity somewhat, but
does not ruin it. West Coast Ensemble at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa
Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 13,
tix.com. (800) 595-4849. (Tom Provenzano)
FACEBOOK $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Wed., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
FORBIDDEN ZONE: LIVE IN THE 6TH DIMENSION "What was banal can, with the passage of time, become fantastic," Susan Sontag famously noted. At least such is the hope of adaptor Michael Holmes and director Scott Leggett in their anarchic musical tribute to film director Richard Elfman and composer Danny Elfman's failed, 1980 dadaist sci-fi fantasy, Forbidden Zone. A crude, lewd and urgently outré attempt at a John Waters-like burlesque of middle-class mores, the movie stands as an exercise in clownish impudence; its story of a Venice Beach family's adventure in a bizarre, Alice in Wonderland dimension they enter via a portal in their basement, is almost beside the point. Holmes happily excises some of Elfman's more gratuitous racial and anti-Semitic caricatures while contributing judicious narrative tweaks, primarily in expanding the character of Satan (a leering Marz Richards) into a lipsticked, vamping, Tim Curry-esque narrator/emcee. Leggett and his talented production-design team provide the polish, including the glam dazzle of Wes Crain's costumes and Kat Bardot's makeup, and the cartoon razzle of Tifanie McQueen's scatological set. The pleasure comes courtesy of musical director Ryan Johnson and his 14-piece band, Natasha Norman's Max Fleischer-inspired choreography, and an enthusiastic cast that sings and dances the collection of mainly early-20th century pop tunes only lip-synched in the movie (Bryan Krasner's rendition of the Yiddish Theater classic, "Giter Brider Itzik," is a standout). The problem is in Holmes' cultist fidelity to his source, which carries over into Elfman's sneering contempt for his characters, thus robbing the show of the heart and pathos it so desperately needs. (Bill Raden). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 13, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 7 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337.
GO FOUR PLACES The family outing on display in Joel Drake Johnson's unsettling comedy resembles a gathering of ornery, wounded jackals. Siblings Warren (Tim Bagley) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart) motor to their parents' Chicago home to take their diminutive, gray-haired mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) out for a what is presumably a pleasant lunch. At first blush, this seems innocent enough, but something about Ellen's painful, labored smile as she hugs the wheel, and Warren's cold, mummified expression, suggest that something is amiss. It isn't long before the moral underbelly of this clan emerges along with some ugly revelations. Mom's harmless exterior drips away with each rum and Coke she knocks back (and every trip to the bathroom, where she pees blood), and there emerges a subtly vicious female, a practiced manipulator who delights in tormenting her children with reminders of their lacerating miseries and failures. But an even darker secret surfaces concerning Peggy's alcoholic, invalid husband (who never appears onstage but is a towering presence, nevertheless), and rumors that she is abusing, and even attempting to murder him. The manner in which Drake tells this story -- blending humor and stark ugliness, while exploring themes of sibling rivalry, marital infidelity and even euthanasia -- is thoroughly engaging and held in sharp balance by director Robin Larsen. The characters are fully fleshed out, both in the writing and the performances, as disturbing for their and their vulnerabilities as for their anger. Rounding out a superb cast is Lisa Rothschiller. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 13. (323) 422-6361.
NEW REVIEW THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN
Photo by Tom Burrus
are no help to man in Bertolt Brecht's bleak parable of a play
(translated by Eric Bentley with music by Elizabeth Swados). The
question Brecht poses: How does one stay a good person in a bad world?
The hapless pivotal character Shen Te (Lauren Lovett) is a former
prostitute, who uses her limited funds to help anyone who asks for it
-- and everyone does. Her most shameless exploiter is her lover, Yang
Sun (Benny Wills), who feels no compunction about draining her of her
last penny. To protect herself, the lovesick Shen Te devises an alter
ego: She poses, in male drag, as her tougher-minded capitalist cousin,
Shui Ta, who takes over her affairs when she's "away." The ruse works
for a time, but eventually Shen Te must abandon it and continue opting
to do others' will even when it runs counter to her self-interest --
which it always does. Director Charles Otte has assembled a panoply of
impressive technical and onstage talent to present an ambitious and
artful staging that communicates the chaos, corruption and senseless
suffering inherent in the playwright's vision. Most striking are Alex
Wright and Dean Mora's sound design and original music, respectively
(the music is live), and the arresting video imagery (Otte's design),
which at times even simulates the town of Setzuan's drenching
melancholic rain. The problem is that Brecht's epic theater deals with
archetypes, and that's the plane on which Lovett and most of the
ensemble so capably perform. The result is a dramatic piece worthy of
respect rather than one to which I responded emotionally. Open Fist
Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7
p.m.; through July 17. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)
GROUNDLINGS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT In a departure from the Groundlings' trademark irreverent, take-no-prisoner sketch comedy that made laughing as involuntary as breathing, this new show, directed by Karen Maruyama, is distinctly low-key and only funny in patches. The evening's biggest disappointment were the two improv segments that bracket the show, where comedians do routines based on audience suggestions. The absence of ease, craft and imagination was palpable. These failings were apparent in other sketch routines as well. "Caltech" has a crew of seismic scientists engaging in silly wisecracking and a overwrought spate of physical comedy and demolition derby with their chairs. "Next Step" finds Charlotte Newhouse and Scott Beehner as teenagers trying to get their sexual desires in sync, but there isn't much wit. A husband becomes vexed trying to relate to his wife in "I'm Listening," which is equally unfunny. "Concert Footage" is a pleasant surprise. After a Taylor Swift concert, Damon Jones playing a P.R. guy interviews and coolly insults members of the audience. Michael Naughton is still one of the funniest guys around, and his talents are evident in "Mirror Image," where a special software program allows you a glimpse of what you'll look like in the future, and "Animal Stars," where he is one of a pair of animal trainers. (Lovell Estell III). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 934-9700.
Hepburn Sings! Kevin Dulude IS Katharine Hepburn!. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 18, plays411.com. (323) 654-0680.
THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.
HARLOW GOLD: EAST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. The Bordello, 901 E. First St., L.A.; Sun., 10 p.m.. (213) 687-3766.
NEW REVIEW GO I MADE OUT WITH HIM ANYWAY
Photo by Mara Casey
Sex and the City 2
has nothing on this show. For less than the price of a movie ticket,
you can enjoy a night of dating tales from the dark side, which recall
the freshness and hilarity of the HBO show's first couple seasons,
without any of the melodrama or fabricated storylines characteristic of
both its last season and the beating-a-dead-horse-for-the-money film
adaptations. What you get instead are two veterans of improv and sketch
comedy, Evie Peck and Kirsten Eggers, describing their romantic
maledictions -- and male additions -- in eminently quotable ways. The
laugh lines are edgy, sexy and scandalous at times but always delivered
with an understated, wide-eyed honesty that is reminiscent of both
Phoebe from Friends and Flight of the Conchords. Evie and Kirsten break
into song to describe their bad romances, seamlessly accomplished by
the onstage appearance of Jon Lee, who co-wrote the numbers and
provides the folksy guitar strumming. The transitions into and out of
these songs, as well as between bits, is smoothly orchestrated by
director Nick Hoffa, who keeps the show moving at brisk clip. I would
be remiss if I didn't mention Kim West's airline-safety card diagrams
of proper tongue technique that provide the perfect backdrop to a
compact show (running one hour) that, unlike the aforementioned
franchise, actually made me want a sequel. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La
Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.; through June 26.
(323) 960-1055, plays411.com/imadeout. (Mayank Keshaviah)
IT'S A MUSICAL WORLD Bob Baker's 1978 marionette revue, with stops at an Enchanted Toy Shop, a teddy bear's picnic, and an Independence Day finale. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 11. (213) 250-9995.
KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.
THE KING OF THE DESERT Solo performer Rene Rivera delivers an energetic performance in this quasi-biographical work about a Mexican-American boy from the barrio who defies low cultural expectations to become a professional actor. Written by Stacey Martino, the piece derives its title from tales of Rivera's father, about their people's rich cultural heritage -- stories that filtered into the boy's imagination to become part of his identity, along with the more raw experiences of violence, racial prejudice and domestic strife that shaped his everyday life. Eventually the narrative travels to New York (later Hollywood), where Rivera's alter ego awakens to a broader landscape that includes women, drugs and alcohol. Directed by Valentino Ferreira, the densely layered chronicle moves at a swift pace that later becomes hypersonic, with few quiet moments to set off the increasing number of melodramatic highlights that culminate in a rather conventional declaration of personal pride and acceptance. Throughout, Rivera undertakes all roles with professional adeptness and the vocal power of a trained actor. What's missing, paradoxically, is the sense of a vital connection between this performer and the experiences he is relaying -- a disconnect that detracts from the play's emotional punch. Constrained by limited resources, designer Tony Sanders' lighting fails to underscore the numerous transitions of time and place, and set designer Danuta Tomzynski's backdrop is also something of a cluttered distraction; this piece might more effectively play on a barer stage. A CoActive Content Production. (Deborah Klugman). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru June 11. (323) 960-5774.
GO L.A. NOIR UNSCRIPTED After years of perfecting their sharply honed craft of improvising parodies of highbrow masters such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Stephen Sondheim, Impro Theatre decides to slack off a bit with this less demanding satire of film noir. A lot of wordy, mixed metaphors, some cheesy suspense music, a few light gobos representing the shadows of Venetian blinds and voilá: Sam Spade and gang of hard-boiled cynics are ready to roll. Well the gambit worked, the easy clichés and furtive looks of the genre flow out of these improvisers so fast and with such surety that they barely have time to listen to each other before letting the next hilarious banality fly. Actually this opening night the folks did get a bit sloppy in their listening -- especially to names -- but their caricatures and situations were so fun that no one was keeping track of improv rules. Company artistic director Dan O'Connor is in his element as the bitter detective, Edi Patterson looks perfectly askance as the sardonic beauty, and Lisa Fredrickson is delightful as an over-the-hill movie star; you may never see them in these specific characters, but you will see them at their comic best. (Tom Provenzano). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 13, plays411.com/lanoirunscripted. (323) 401-9793.
GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop jukebox musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 20. (323) 960-4412.
THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv, directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE:SURF DOGS UNITE! It's SoCal Christian surfers versus Hell-bent bikers. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru June 25. (310) 281-8337.
MAN VERSES MOON In a theater, a playwright-director named Federico Lorca (Adrian Kaley) is trying to work actors through an interpretation of a play that looks very much like Blood Wedding, while being warned that soldiers are poised to arrest him as a dissident. This theater is no haven. And writer-director Dan Oliverio's collage of Lorca's play, his poems, classical mythology and homegrown surrealism sends Lorca and his company into netherworlds and moonscapes. The "theater" itself is claustrophobic and barren -- compared to when the set's "walls" roll away to reveal a dreamscape of cascading sheets and kaleidoscopic lighting. Designer Chris Covics employs rigs and pulleys and actors to move drapery and flats into some scintillating compositions. And Dan Mailley's costumes -- grounded in the 1930s but also taking off into flights of fancy -- front-load the event with exotic appeal. This is conspicuously a labor of love on Oliverio's part, an homage to Lorca and the various agonies he suffered -- including what's generally believed to be his execution at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. But the portrait and the purpose are lost in the coming together of texts and styles, so that the result is less an understanding than a feeling: one of lunacy (to borrow from the play's dominant image of the moon) that's nonetheless locked in one of the prisons of 1930s Spain. The event presumes a depth of knowledge that would be better teased out in the piece itself. The kind of romantic/surreal horrors Lorca wrote about are no strangers to our century. What's so odd about this production is that they appear to belong to place and time far away and long ago. (Steven Leigh Morris). Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 20. (323) 466-7781.
GO MORE LIES ABOUT JERZY This West Coast premiere of David Holmes' fascinating drama about whether truth lies in facts or in fiction hangs on the title performance of Jack Stehlin as Jerzy Lesnewski -- obviously based on the late Polish novelist-screenwriter Jerzy Kosinski, and the scandals surrounding what he eventually claimed was his fictional Holocaust memoir, The Painted Bird. Either by omission or design, Kosinski neglected to clarify at the outset that the memoir was anything but autobiography -- until, according to Holmes, Poles from his past (Jordan Lund and Cameron Meyer) showed up in New York, peeved that the famous author was discrediting the very people who had protected young Jewish Jerzy from the Nazis. Aside from a swirl of wives and mistresses (Meyer and Kristin Malko) orbiting the womanizing author, the play drives along the investigation by journalist Arthur Bausley (Adam Stein) -- once a fan and eventually an investigator -- clearly troubled by Jerzy's continuing penchant to play fast and loose with the facts. They won't ask if he lying, Arthur goads him, They're only going to ask why is he lying. Holmes plays just as nimbly with the facts as Kozinski did, which would be an affront if Holmes were really out to discredit his protagonist, as the Village Voice did in 1982. (That discrediting is a central issue in the play, which anachronistically unfolds between 1972 and 1974.) In the Voice, Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont-Smith published an article accusing the five-time best-selling author not only of having denied co-authorship or editor credit to the English "translators," who may have actually written The Painted Bird, based on Kozinski writings in Polish, but they also claimed that Kozinski plagiarized his short story (made into film), Being There, from 1932 Polish best seller The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma -- which few people outside Poland knew about. Holmes' Jerzy has a potent defense and an almost tragic downfall -- made all the more so by Stehlin's gregarious, petulant and charismatic interpretation, with just the right tinge of Polish dialect. Argues Jerzy: Truth does not lie in facts but in symbols and myths and legends -- an argument he could have lifted from W.B. Yeats, who said much the same. Holmes' journalist tries to psychoanalyze why Jerzy would make stuff up so habitually -- perhaps a war trauma or something -- and Jerzy ridicules that process as petty psychoanalysis. The degree to which Jerzy may be right is the degree to which this play gets very interesting, veering from its dangerous trajectory of celebrity bashing. David Trainer directs an efficient production with enough momentum to compensate for its tangled relationships. But it's the play, and Stehlin, that are stage center. And speaking of truth, they probably shouldn't clink those plastic champagne tumblers when toasting. That rings even less true than many of Jerzy's excuses. (Steven Leigh Morris). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (213) 389-9860.
MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 12. (323) 960-7714.
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.
SERIAL KILLERS - THE PLAYOFFS! Eight serials face off, with a time limit of five minutes each, and only two will be chosen, by your vote, to continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337.
SEX, DREAMS AND SELF-CONTROL Kevin Thornton's one-man show about growing up gay. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Third Tuesday of every month, 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 17. (323) 969-2530.
SEX, RELATIONSHIP, AND SOMETIMES . . . LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 6, 7:30 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 769-5566.
SIT 'N' SPIN Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity; www.sitnspin.org., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m., This week (March 18): Eddie Pepitone, Marc Evan Jackson, David Chrisman, Melinda Hill, Jane Brucker and a special musical guest.. (323) 960-5519.
NEW REVIEW GO SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS
Photo by Doug Spesert
Williams never had much patience for slowly and gently unwrapping the
pretty packages people dress themselves in before revealing their
grubby, oft-mishandled hearts. Usually, bows and paper are hanging on
only by one last desperate bit of Scotch tape at the top of the action.
With mascara-smudged, tear-glassy eyes and the opening line, "I'm
famished -- lonesome -- and famished," mentally touched Violet (Gina
Manziello) shows that she has long transcended despair. Williams
gathers the flotsam of a small, Southern California coastal town in the
bar owned by Monk (Alexander Wells): "You're running a refuge for
vulnerable human vessels," Doc (the excellent Barry Jenner) tells him,
as the denizens feast on their daydreams of escape. More a series of
monologues than a cohesive play, the pace drags until the talented but
miscast Elizabeth Karr, as Leona, the beautician/matriarch and a
central character, finally finds her footing. Still, the silent action
staged by director Michael Murray is more riveting than the highlighted
speeches. Even in near darkness, the way Violet wavers between
satisfying Bill's pathetic arousal (Robert Dolan) and stroking Steve's
buckled manhood (Norman Scott) is mesmerizing; though partially
obscured, Steve's sloppy-drunk devouring of two hot dogs transfixes. In
fact, in a strong cast, Scott's Gumby-like physicality, stiffened only
momentarily by a sharp, vocal rebuttal of his lot in life, is nothing
short of a wonder. Classical Theatre Lab, Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park,
1200 N. Vista St., W.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.;
through June 12. (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
SODA POP 1950s musical comedy spoof by The Knightsbridge Theatre's Youth Company. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 667-0955.
SPIKE HEELS Theresa Rebeck's four-sided love triangle.". Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27, facebook.com/spikeheels. (323) 467-6688.
GO SUPERNOVA Mabel (Bonnie Hunt), a naive Des Moines housewife, calls a graveyard-shift salesman named Joe in Los Angeles (Timothy McNeil), to order an expensive watch for her son's 18th birthday. She can't yet go through with the purchase -- her loutish husband (Tony Gatto) says the boy (Edward Tournier) doesn't deserve it, and once we meet him, we agree. But these two strangers both have a black hole of loneliness, and she keeps calling Joe back until both allow themselves a sharp sliver of hope that they might still redeem the mess they've made of their lives. McNeil's play flags under slow plotting, but he has a merciless, intuitive ear for how bullies manipulate their prey. In nearly every scene, Gatto, Tournier and a sales boss played by Micah Cohen (alternating the role with James Pippi) destroy these two secret sweethearts, as well as Mabel's divorce neighbor Gina Garrison, who's insecure enough to start her own secret affair with the teen. These three villains are so terribly good, it's a miracle that a rattled audience member hasn't slashed the actors' tires during intermission. And when Mabel and Joe cling to each other on the phone, we're happy they're happy. Director Lindsay Allbaugh's fantastic ensemble sells us on each individual scene, even if the play as a whole doesn't add up to more then some well-acted catharses. Kelly Elizabeth and Joe Wiebe join in for the furious climax as two fellow high schoolers who bear witness to what even the adamantly optimistic Mabel admits is the world's worst birthday party. (Amy Nicholson). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 20. (323) 962-0046.
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
GO TRACERS Thirty years after its Los Angeles debut, writer John DiFusco's antiwar drama retains its relevance and power. Written collaboratively in the 1970s by DiFusco and seven other Vietnam vets, and directed by Christina Howard with insight and skill, it portrays the trauma of young military recruits plucked from mainstream American life and thust -- inadequately trained and poorly equipped -- into the nightmare of combat. Howard, displaying a metaphysical perspective, stages the production on a deep, cavernous proscenium. Prior to curtain, an intense, almost suffocating, scent of incense permeates the theater; meanwhile, for perhaps 20 minutes, the six "trainees" jog in military unison, the rhythms of their booted tread being ominous and haunting. When at last the performers do, individually, speak, it's in a darkness resourcefully illuminated by handheld flashlights; indeed, throughout the play, the lighting design (consultant Tiger Reel) registers as a quintessential element of the spectacle. The talents of Howard's adept ensemble collectively emerge in a sequence depicting the recruits' initial training under the command of an abusive drill sergeant (the terrific Tucker Smallwood), who addresses them as "maggots" while forcing them to undergo arbitrary punitive discipline. Once in Vietnam, the men medicate their brutalized psyches with dope, alcohol and infantile horseplay -- understandable given their tasks, which include sorting through body parts to try to match limbs with torsos. While not every component of this production is unimpeachable -- the sound design (Howard) and vocal sound track, effective in part, can be intrusive -- the imaginative production is compelling. (Deborah Klugman). L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 27, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.
WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.
WOMBMAN, THE PLAY "Four girls become their own wombmen in a world of masculine dominance." Written and directed by poet/playwright Evy Trezvant. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through June 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 13, 2 p.m.. (818) 917-9142.
GO THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE Place In its many incarnations, Gloria Naylor's episodic novel about struggle and triumph among a disparate group of African-American women in a dilapidated urban project anywhere in the country, circa 1975, offers moving, character-driven drama, comedy and social commentary. Tim Acito's musical adaptation captures much of Naylor's storytelling brilliance through his series of mostly solo songs. These explore the women's individual lives in a structure that resembles Studs Terkel's musical, Working. The stories ultimately meet, as the women turn to one another both in anger and for support. Acito eschews the temptation to pigeonhole the music into 1975 black genres, instead allowing such rhythms to infuse his more classical 20th-century musical-theater styles. The result is a stirring hybrid of emotionally charged and simply fun songs that give the extraordinary cast of singer-actors exciting material to perform. Musical director Gregory Nabours works expertly with the strong cast, as he does with his skilled musicians, to create a production of immense scale in this tiny venue. Scenic designer Kurt Boetcher offers just enough set to suggest the slum conditions but stays out of the way of the actorsm and it's all nicely supported by Naila Aladdin Sanders' delightful costume design. (Tom Provenzano). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 957-1884.
YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL Twelve plays by American teenagers. Schedule at youngplaywrights.com. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27, . (323) 661-9827.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ALL MY SONS Wasatch Theatrical Ventures presents Arthur Miller's first play. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 25. (323) 960-4420.
BABY Music by David Shire, lyrics by Richald Maltby Jr., book by Sybille Pearson, based on a story by Susan Yankowitz. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 11. (818) 700-4878.
BARELY A BEAR A children's play about a bear cub raised by humans and a girl raised by bears who team up to save the forest from developers. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru June 26. (877) 620-7673.
BOOM An underground lab, a central fish tank and an adjoining control booth with a timpani (meticulously designed by Kurt Boetcher) provide the setting for Julia Duffy's silent entrance in the L.A. premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play. Duffy arrives filled with a sense of exasperated sarcasm as she peeks at the audience and then begins to manipulate computers, operate switches and pound on the drum. It is soon apparent that she is a godlike figure controlling the actions of a young biologist (Nick Cernoch) and the woman (Megan Goodchild) he lures to his lab through a sexual-encounter ad. She is naturally surprised when he announces his homosexuality, and doubtful as he predicts a worldwide catastrophe. Duffy then prevents any escape from this lunatic situation. The mood and situation quickly darken, as the nonsexual relationship deteriorates, but there is always a sense of sly comedy, and irony ultimately wins out in what is essentially an unsatisfying 90-minute sketch in the vein of The Twilight Zone. Still, the appeal and skills of the three actors under Dámaso Rodriguez's airtight direction create such an enjoyable theatrical evening, one might even forgive the script's many, probably purposeful holes. Furious Theatre Company. (Tom Provenzano). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru June 20. (626) 356-PLAY.
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.
NEW REVIEW GO MADAGASCAR
Photo by Chris Goss
Rogers' intriguing drama is set at various times in a hotel in Rome and
begins with three ostensibly unconnected monologues. A 20-something
woman named June (Deana Barone) expounds with intensity about
individuals who mysteriously disappear. A condescending matriarch,
Lillian (Taylor Gilbert), confides how she copes with life's unpleasant
realities. And a rumpled economist, Nathan (Sam Anderson), reveals his
social awkwardness and professional limitations, contrasting his
gracelessness with the brilliant charm of his colleague Arthur, sought
after by governments and multinational companies. Gradually the links
between these troubled people emerge. Haunting all three is the
anguishing specter of June's twin brother, Paul, who, obsessed over by
his mother and sister, escaped to Africa and then vanished without a
trace. Rogers' rich, dense dialogue winds back and forth over decades,
and comes full of twists and turns that startle the characters, as well
as the audience. This provocative and enthralling ride is facilitated
by three memorable performances (Anderson's confounded and melancholy
paramour is indelibly moving). Director Brendon Fox's elegant staging
works with Helen Harwell's set, Christian Epps' lighting, and David B.
Marling's sound design to form the integral elements of this
accomplished production. Road Theatre Company at the Lankershim Arts
Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; in rep
through June 26. (866) 811-4111, RoadTheatre.org. (Deborah Klugman)
THE MAIDS French poet, playwright, novelist and thief Jean Genet, dubbed a criminal/saint by Jean-Paul Sartre, was an eternal outsider who embraced themes of oppression, betrayal, transgression and opposition to accepted social values. Here, he tells the bizarre tale of two sisters, Solange (Rachel Kanouse) and Claire (Nicole Erb) who are employed by Madame (Meagan English) as maid/servants. Corroded with self-loathing, they bitterly resent their menial existence, and become enmeshed in an intense love/hate relationship with each other and with their employer, whom they hate, envy, adore and fantasize about murdering. They have already, via an anonymous letter, sent Madame's lover to jail, and whenever she is out, they act out sadistic fantasies of murder and rebellion. Inevitably the end-game is lethal. Director Armina LaManna begins the piece with Edith Piaf recordings and a choreographic interlude that establishes the perverse erotic bond between the sisters. The actors skillfully and meticulously navigate the shoals of shifting fantasy and reality. J.C. Gafford provides a handsomely baroque set, all red velvet, flowers and ornate porcelain. Rachel Sachar's costumes cleverly dress the sisters in positive and negative variations on the same uniform. However, Genet is so subjective and personal that there are no apertures the mind can slip in through. (Neal Weaver). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru June 24. (818) 508-3003.
A MEMORY OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN Zombie Joe presents Robert Riemer's romantic new thriller. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru June 26. (818) 202-4120.
SKYLIGHT Along with his works Plenty and The Secret Rapture, David Hare's 1995 drama is one of his "Big Lady" plays, in which a strong-willed female protagonist is ultimately hoisted by the petard of her own glittering ideals. In this case, the woman in question is sensitive Kyra (Erin Shaver), who has broken up with her former restaurant tycoon lover, Tom (Stuart W. Howard), after his wife found out about their affair. Kyra, now punishing herself by living in a frosty flat in an unfashionable part of London, where she ekes out a living teaching inner-city schoolkids, is unexpectedly visited by Tom, who, now that his wife has died of cancer, is eager to rekindle their flame. The romantic sparks start to sputter, though, when the piece sidelines into a fiery debate about the principles and flaws of capitalism and liberalism, which, frankly, is Hare's real concern. It's possible that in a few weeks director Ken Meseroll's stodgy production of the seething drama will gel to reflect the play's subtle emotional shifts and nuances in a more involving way. At this point, though, Meseroll's staging is merely workmanlike, with flat line readings and stiff blocking, while also missing the psychological edge and layering implied by Hare's delicate, yet fiercely intelligent script. Shaver offers a likable, if emotionally restrained turn as Kyra, while Howard is nicely oily and pompous as Tom. However, it's hard to believe for a moment that the pair would have had an affair. In addition, the performers are often so hamstrung by their attempts to wrestle with the British dialect, you almost wish they had jettisoned it entirely. Set designer Joel Daavid crafts a beautifully detailed, warm, and intimate living room set, which nevertheless feels utterly at odds with the frigid description of the location in the play itself. (Paul Birchall). Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 20. (866) 811-4111.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS Robert Harling's story of six Southern women. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; thru July 11, (No perf July 4.)...
SUGAR HAPPENS A-lee Lulee Productions presents this one-girl show by Sherry Coben and starring Rachel Bailit comedy, based on Bailit's life about a nice Jewish girl's life choices and where they take her. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 20. 800-838-3006.
URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.. (818) 202-4120.
USS PINAFORE In addition to directing this production, Jon Mullich also did the adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore to the Starship Enterprise. This obviously includes restringing the lyrics and even song titles, so that "He Is an Englishman" becomes "He Is an Earthling Man." The concept is a mash-up of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest -- with accompanying jokes on both -- all played upon designer Tony Potter's terrific starship brig set. The transference of Gilbert and Sullivan's social satire into a few quips on our pop culture feels like a reduction of scale but nothing compared to the reduction served up in the tinny sound track. Delivering the goods with confident glee, this excellent ensemble deserves better. In fact, this would be a sinking ship were it not for the ensemble's charisma and the first-rate performances and voices of some key players, including James Jaeger's physically nimble, sonorously voiced Dick Deadeye -- imagine French Stewart as a lizard man. Jesse Merlin's Captain Corcoran is also magnificent, the embodiment of swagger, with facial muscles locked into a smirk and a voice that just keeps going. Ashley Cuellar's musical chops are similarly apparent as the Captain's daughter, Josephine. Her stage presence is perfectly adequate, but her voice hits the moon. (Steven Leigh Morris). Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. 1-800-838-3006.
YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN Based on the "Peanuts" comic strip; book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. Open Stage West, 14366 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 19...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
THE WICKED WILDE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL: A TYRANT'S TALE Pared to 80 minutes, writer-director Lisa Wolpe's breakneck adaptation of The Winter's Tale opens with a fatal temper tantrum. King Leontes (Scott McRae) believes his wife (Heidi Rose Robbins) is hugely pregnant with the child of his friend -- and now, sworn enemy -- Polixenes (Andrew Heffernan). In short order, the king has banished or doomed nearly his entire court, though before she's hauled off and declared dead, Robbins, whose character is weak from torture and tall with dignity, commands the stage with a killer last speech. Miraculously, Apollo will set this right, but en route, the actors rush, shout and muddy their lines with needless accents, and risk losing the audience in so doing. In such a taut tragedy, Wolpe could easily cut the scene of comic relief between a shepherd (McRae) and his idiot son (David Glasser) and amp up the heat, especially in the steamy dance of love between a prince (Glasser) and a secret princess (Laura Covelli). With tweaks, this very likable staging could be a pocket-sized success. (Amy Nicholson). Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sun..; thru June 27, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.
NEW REVIEW BACKSTREET: THE MUSICAL
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Playhouse
Rudie, Chris DeCarlo and Matthew Wrather's musical tells the story of a
group of Jewish prostitutes working in the red light district of
turn-of-last-century Manhattan. It's not a bad idea for a musical --
after all, even Sholom Aleichem must have needed a "happy ending (with
release)" once in a while -- but the sugary effort is unable to
overcome the intrinsically bizarre disconnect between its chipper plot
and the unexpectedly distasteful thematic underpinnings. In the
discreet ghetto manse that serves as the best little whorehouse on
Hester Street, several prostitutes primp and pose in their delightful
gowns (lush designs by Ashley Hayes), seemingly never entertaining a
single client. Meanwhile, hard-boiled brothel owner Uncle (Chris
DeCarlo, nicely vile) exploits his girls with matter-of-fact glee,
while scheming to gain social respectability by attempting to marry off
his inexplicably virginal daughter, Rivkele (Serena Dolinsky), to the
local moyle's son, even though she truly loves grocery-store clerk Eli
(Brad Geyer). The writers strive uphill to make a story about brothels
that's family-friendly. However, director DeCarlo's occasionally
awkward staging suffers from superficial, simpering performances,
additionally hampered by Rudie and Wrather's densely packed lyrics and
obvious melodies (which are themselves prerecorded and sound tinny over
the horrible music system). The ensemble, some of whom have lovely
voices, gamely prance their way through the goings-on, mugging and
thereby creating a creepy, sentimental mood that jars with the tawdry
facts of the plot. Although Rudie, in the role of the brothel's chief
den mother and madame, manages to limn a character who melds pragmatic
good humor with her character's melancholy, other performers
demonstrate their relative theatrical inexperience with static, clumsy
acting -- particularly during the moments in which they're watching
other people onstage. The Other Place at the Santa Monica Playhouse,
1211 4th St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through June
20. (310) 394-9779, ext 1. (Paul Birchall)
CASH ON DELIVERY Michael Cooney's farce about a Social Security cheat. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 11. (310) 454-1970.
THE CLEAN HOUSE Sara Ruhl's theatrical and comedic play abut class and the nature of love. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru June 16. (310) 477-2055.
HARLOW GOLD: WEST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by
choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25.
Harvelle's, 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs.. (310) 395-1676.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's early experiment in Victorian melodrama; part satire, part comedy of manners and part intellectual farce. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 12. (310) 645-5156.
JESSE BOY Plenty of writers have trodden down the thickets of dysfunction, which apparently overrun the rural South (my own little Southern hometown must be the lone exception). Certainly, there are families with histories of secrets buried so deep you'd need a backhoe to unearth them. But to cram a play to bursting with every last and most lurid of them, as does Robert Mollohan, playwright and star of this world premiere, feels like little more than shock value for the sake of shock value. Richie (Mollohan), an Elvis impersonator/car salesman and Abigayle (Jaimi Paige), his girlfriend/former lady of the night, live in a state of vague dissatisfaction dotted with bouts of uneasy peace. The tension in their trailer home is pulled rubberband-tight by Abigayle's live-in mentally handicapped brother, Jesse (the excellent Zach Book), Jesse's physically handicapped stripper/babysitter Mary-Lou (Kathleen Nicole Parker), and Richie's homeless uncle, Red (Chris Mulkey). The performances are, across the board, as impressive and nuanced as the range of Southern accents the cast employs. But as the second act hurriedly pulls tricks out of its hat and as the build to the predictable climax barrels toward the audience, the characters' emotional evolutions get lost. Richie's chance for at least a moment of sympathy is especially squandered -- if you're going to stack every card in the deck against a character, you have to give the audience a reason to care much earlier than the last 15 minutes of the play. Karen Landry directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 397-3244.
LONDON'S SCARS The preshow announcement in the style of the London Underground's famous "mind the gap" admonition takes us to Thurloe Square, the site of a recent bus bombing in the world premiere of Richard Martin Hirsch's latest work. The bombing is discussed by psychologists Bronwyn (Imelda Corcoran) and Margaret (Ann Noble); the former is an art therapist and becomes saddled with Mary (Meredith Bishop), a young woman who witnessed the tragedy and is consequently a person of interest to MI5 field agent Dowd (Rob Nagle). In their sessions, Mary is initially reticent, responding only with book quotations. As Bronwyn uses art to delve into Mary's psyche, however, Mary opens up, revealing her occupation as a call girl and her association with Habib (Ammar Ramzi), the Pakistani man thought to be responsible for the bombing. Hirsch's ear for the British idiom, especially London slang, is undeniable, and his characters are fascinating -- especially the tortured souls of Mary and Habib. However the simmering tension Hirsch strives to build into "explosive" (sorry) moments unfortunately lacks the requisite danger and menace to keep us in anticipation. Director Darin Anthony employs creative staging of the numerous flashbacks and movements in space and time, aided by Christie Wright's nimble lighting, Stephen Gifford's flexible set, and Bill Froggatt's soundscape of London calling. The solid cast is punctuated by standouts Nagle, notable for his chameleonic shifts in playing two other minor characters as well, and Bishop, whose tortured intensity is palpable. A Coffeehouse Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 477-2055.
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GO THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Figaro (Troy Dunn) and Suzanne (Janae Burris) are about to be wed. Figaro is valet to the Count (David E. Frank), while Suzanne is chambermaid to the Countess (Cynthia Mance). At play's start, Suzanne watches Figaro measuring the proportions for a bed that's to be installed in their new quarters - within earshot of the Count. A bit of a dolt, Figaro doesn't realize (until Suzanne fills him in) that the closeness of the quarters to their respective employers is actually in the service of the Count's lechery. And so begins a series of traps to ward off the indignity of the Count's attempted restoration of an old right called primae noctis, in which the master of the house is entitled to deflower a bride from a lower class before her wedding. Following the plot's intricacies is like trying to follow the motions of moths around a lamp, though it does sort itself out, not unlike the ribbons and bows in Josephine Poisot's period costumes. And the new translation transfers the subtleties of French idiom very smoothly into English -- with the added delight of actors occasionally lip synching from excerpts of Mozart's opera. The technique on display in Michel's production isn't yet pristine, but on opening night, it was close enough to make its point. The shenanigans unfold on Duncombe's production design of burgundy and blue, accented by two suspended chandeliers. The set's symmetry and elegance works in pleasing juxtaposition against the mayhem of interlopers hurling themselves out of windows, or pretending to. The solid ensemble works in tight conformity to the style: Frank's lecherous count is a comic standout of barely concealed slime, offset by the grace of Mance's weary, dignified Countess. And Maria Chirstina Benthall offers vivacious delight as the libidinous niece of the gardner. (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru June 20. (310) 319-9939.
GO SARAH, SARAH In playwright Daniel Goldfarb's family drama, the generation gap is not so much a gap as it is a gaping crevasse. In 1961, fearsome Jewish mama Sarah Grosberg (played by Cheryl David with battle-ax aplomb) invites the mousy fiance (Robyn Cohen) of her beloved son, Artie (Patrick J. Rafferty), for tea and strudel, ostensibly so the two ladies can get to know each other but really so the possessive mamutchka can talk the girl out of marrying her son. As the intimidating matriarch tears into the younger girl like a glutton gnawing on kugel, it falls to Sarah's kindly housekeeper (Bart Braverman) to save the day with an unexpected revelation about his boss. Years later, Sarah's granddaughter Jennifer (also played by David, in such a different, breezy, open turn that she's almost unrecognizable) journeys to China to adopt an orphan, who turns out to be ill and possibly mentally handicapped. Goldfarb's play is mainly set dressing for David's splendid tour de force twin performances as the steely matriarch and her neurotic, insecure granddaughter, turns that are beautifully nuanced and complex. As Sarah, David depicts an immediately familiar type, who's as much a creature of her era as is the more immature-seeming, emotionally drifting Jennifer. Director Howard Teichman's deceptively simple production adroitly captures the mood and feel of two eras, exemplified by different body languages and physical behavior. Braverman is also deft in his two characters -- he excels as Jennifer's supportive yet pessimistic father in the play's second half. (Paul Birchall). Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27...
Serial Killers - The Playoffs! Eight serials face off, with a time limit of five minutes each, and only two will be chosen, by your vote, to continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337.
TWO FIGURES The Ahimsa Collective presents Matthew Chester's play developed from hundreds of sexual fantasy submissions. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru June 20. (310) 396-3680.