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Stage Raw: The Seafarer


Stage Raw: The Seafarer

AT YOUR FINGERTIPS, THIS WEEK'S COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS 


NEW REVIEW: THE SEAFARER at the Geffen Playhouse

Stage Raw: The Seafarer


John Mahoney and Andrew Connolly in The Seafarer Photo by Michael Lamont

NEW REVIEW GO THE SEAFARER If you're seeking innovation in the theater, look elsewhere. Conor McPherson's Irish yarn is chip off the stock-block of Celtic-folklore  - story-telling, bullshitting, scatological jokes, card playing and a visit by somebody from the metaphysical realm, which raises the not-trivial question: what on earth are we doing with our time? Thanks to a quintet of sharp-as-they-come performances, under Randall Arney's carefully calibrated production, the event holds up. McPherson's drama isn't as menacing as in New York; Arney gives it a lighter touch, which reveals some of its holes but also skirts around both melodrama and glibness. This is starkly moral universe, filled with causes and consequences, where somebody named Mr. Lockhart (Tom Irwin, in a spit-and-polished suit) arrives to collect an old debt at the North Dublin home-tavern of Sharky (Andrew Connolly) and his disabled brother, Richard (John Mahoney) - who blinded himself while scavenging in a trash canister. The drama slowly pivots on a poker game with life and death stakes as the men, including denizens Ivan (Paul Vincent O'Connor) and Nickly Giblin (Matt Roth) - who's the new husband of Sharky's ex-wife - try to bluff their way through the night, which is really the larger allegory for existence. Imagine Harold Pinter having re-written Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in an Irish brogue. Arney's gentle production can't mask or provide irony for the sentimental resolution, but the strength of his interpretation derives from the silent, brooding power of Connolly's victimized Sharky, and the perverse indulgences of Sharky's blind brother, played by Mahoney with a gleeful grittiness that renders him a weird blend of whining matron and the power-broker of the house. The marvelous, tawdry details of Takeshi Kata's set have little congruence with the actors' perfect teeth - one tiny reminder of how difficult it is to leave Hollywood on our stages, despite theater's magic. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.;Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 24. (310) 208-54545. (Steven Leigh Morris)   

For the latest new reviews of Bronzeville at LATC; And the  War Came at Long Beach's Cal Rep;  Apple at Theatre 40;  Back to Bacharach and David at  the Music Box @ Fonda;  Dead, Therefore I Am at the Complex; Doomsday Kiss, presented by Rep Division at Bootleg; L.A. Views II, presented by Company of Angels at the Alexandria Hotel; and The Last Hippie: A Western Novel at the Whitefire; press the Continue Reading tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for May 1-7, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances"

below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your

computer's search program.)

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez,

Mayank Keshaviah, 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

LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE

AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' Broadway tribute to jazz entertainer Fats Waller.

Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

& 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 31. (213) 628-2772.

ASSUME THE POSITION Comedian Robert Wuhl's history lesson. El Portal

Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 3. (866) 811-4111.

BACHARACH AND DAVID This splashy production provides a timely

reminder of just how much the songs of Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal

David (lyrics) have imbedded themselves in our consciousness. With

their 40 chart-topping hits, many written for Dionne Warwick, they

created an astonishing body of work. This production, with musical

arrangements by Steve Gunderson, direction by Kathy Najimy, and busy

choreography by Javier Velasco, features some 30 of their songs,

including "Close To You," "I Say A Little Prayer," and "What The World

Needs Now Is Love."  The four performers, Diana De Garmo, Tom Lowe,

Susan Mosher and Tressa Thomas are expert, energetic and vocally adept

(two of them are American Idol alums), but the production suggests a

cabaret show masquerading as a rock concert. The vast venue works

against intimacy and tends to homogenize the performers, while the

flashing, moving, sometimes blinding colored lights, cinematic

projections, and smoke machines can distract, particularly from the

less familiar songs. One is grateful for the moments, like Lowe's

rendition of "Alfie," when someone is allowed to just sing, without

being overloaded with production values or cutesy choreography.  It's a

fun show, and it goes down smoothly, but a little less might have

provided a little more. The Music Box @ Fonda, 6126 Hollywood

Boulevard, Hollywood; www.etix.com for schedule and tickets; thru May

17. (Neal Weaver)

Stage Raw: The Seafarer

Back to Bacharach and David Photo by Robert Millard

EMILIE

Lauren Gunderson's true story of milie du

Chtelet's affair with Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri.,

7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; thru May 10. (714) 708-5555.

THE FANTASTICKS The world's longest-running musical, which is also

now running off-Broadway, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by

Tom Jones. Directed by Jason Alexander. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan

Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 &

7 p.m.; thru May 17. (310) 825-2101.

GO GHOSTS There's nothing supernatural about Henrik

Ibsen's 1881 drama: his ghosts are our own bitter memories and the old,

dead ideas that continue to confine and stifle us. The form and the

language may be dated, but the issues are as fresh as ever. Mrs. Alving

(Deborah Strang) has crucified herself in the service of duty and

respectability that narrow provincial society and her own hypocritical

minister, Pastor Manders (Joel Swetow), have drilled into her. But her

efforts to do the right thing have back-fired because they were based

on lies, and her attempts to shield her son (J. Todd Adams) from hard

truths have almost destroyed him. Ibsen has structured his play like Oedipus Rex

-- or a modern whodunit. On a seemingly ordinary day, inconvenient

truths keep emerging, inexorably, till everything and everyone is

morally compromised or destroyed. Director-adapter Michael Murray has

assembled a fine cast (including Mark Bramhall and understudy Rebecca

Mozo); he calibrates their performances with precision, and reveals a

sharp eye for Ibsen's dark comedy. If one wanted to quibble, one might

wish the last scene had been played for a bit less melodrama, but

overall it's a terrific, coherent, and always engrossing production.

Nikki Delhomme provided the fine costumes. (NW) A Noise Within, 234

South Brand Blvd., Glendale; in alternating rep through May 8; call for

schedule. (818) 240-0910.

LOOKING FOR NORMAL Gender-bender comedic drama by Jane Anderson about a

middle-aged Midwesterner who decides after 25 years of marriage that he

wants a sex-change operation. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast

Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru May 24. (310)

589-1998.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study

of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its

transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it

different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford

has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa

Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge,

who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted

an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank

Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty.

(As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the

pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and

other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a

little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred

Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio

musical, like Stormy Weather (about Lena Horne) or Ella

(about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship,

the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by

Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title

performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has

huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable

in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that

originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck,

perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script.

(SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8

p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30

p.m.; through May 24. (310) 208-54545.

LYDIA This L.A. premiere of Octavio Solis' poetical drama boasts

many of the same actors featured when the play premiered at the Denver

Theater Center. And staying with a production for so long is one

possible explanation for the dynamic and richly textured performances

by Stephanie Beatriz in the title role - a feisty teenage maid hired

from Mexico by a dubiously assimilated Latino-American family in mid

1970s El Paso. Her mirror image is the teenage daughter, Ceci (Onahoua

Rodriguez, equally enhralling), of a bitter short order cook, Claudio

(Daniel Zacapa, in a perfectly modulated interpretation of brutal

machismo and sensitive stoicism) and his vivacious wife, Rosa (Catalina

Maynard). Ceci suffers brain damage from an auto accident that left her

writhing and twitching, speaking with what one character calls a

"vegetable tongue." But when Solis and director Juliette Carrillo spin

out some magical realism, Ceci rises like a dancer and speaks with

hidden knowledge in waves of thick poetry. At first, juxtaposed against

the gentle strains of a guitar and the family's daily rituals, the

effect has a transcendent beauty, but eventually this etherial device

simply imposes on the play's more rudimentary aspect: investigating the

mystery of what led to the terrible car crash. The answer involves a

pair of brothers, one a sensitive poet (Carlo Albán), the other a

fighter (Tony Sancho), and a cousin (Max Arciniega) who, early on,

shows up in an INS uniform -- a sliver of foreshadowing that's every bit

as bludgeoning as the many mirror images are delicate. This is a hefty

play that's ultimately, without any intended irony, the kind of

tele-novella (with some dream sequences) that the characters watch in

their living room. Reaching for epic, it's mostly long - the difference

being in the quality of the secrets unearthed. (SLM) Mark Taper Forum,

135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun.,

1 & 6:30 p.m.; through May 17.

GO OUR MOTHER'S BRIEF AFFAIR Playwright Richard

Greenberg uses words very carefully, not only to a carve a tone of

erudition and lyricism but in order to avoid redundancy. So when the

line, "She was an average situational liar but not at all a maker of

fables," is repeated in different scenes of his family drama/mystery,

one can infer added significance to that sentence. The slippery divide

between making fables and simply making stuff up lies at the heart of

this tenth Greenberg play to be premiered by this theater. The play is

bifurcated into two sections, each mirroring the other. The first part

is a kind of memory play, mostly narrated by each of the characters

directly to the audience and almost entirely spoken in the past tense.

It's a prose-poem, really, concerning the last deluded days in the life

of a New York City matriarch, Anna (Jenny O'Hara), who's in the mood to

be making confessions to her gay obit-writer son, Seth (Ayre Gross),

and his lesbian sister Abby (Marin Hinkle) - in for death-watch duties

from Laguna Beach, California. Keep in mind that there are no morbid

gurneys or hospital scenes. Under Pam MacKinnon's pleasingly blithe

staging, that drifts seamlessly between Beckettian and Wildean humors,

the characters are all parked comfortably on and around park benches in

some metaphoric autumn of Sybil Wickersheimer's set. Besides, Anna's

death may not be imminent but just another scare. This is the kind of

gnarly Jewish comedienne who can even invent her own demise. She tells

of a "brief affair" she once had, and the play feels like an

exploration of quaint family behaviors that somehow reflect on the

human condition. Then a bomb drops, which places the subject of her

affair (Matthew Arkin) on the stage of world horrors. It's a tricky,

tone shattering device meant to shift the scale of the play's concerns

from the domestic to the mythic - which seems right in a play that's

about how and why myths are invented. It sits right conceptually, less

so emotionally. When we're catapulted into Greenberg's world of larger

issues, it feels something like being jerked rudely up into a hot air

balloon from a comedy about behaviors to one about the psychology of

ethics. The play is supposed to get larger from its broader sense of

scale, but it actually deflates ever so slightly from the puncture of

Greenberg's pristine domestic universe, though this may be more an

issue of mechanics than concept. The ideas are so rich, and the

language so beautiful, the play's rude awakening certainly doesn't

diminish the credence of the event, and the ensemble is perfect. (SLM)

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Wed.,

7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.;

through May 3. (714) 708-5555.

THE REHEARSAL Jean Anouilh's story of a jaded count and his jealous

court in 1950s France. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale;

Sun., May 10, 2 & 7 p.m.; Through May 15, 8 p.m.; Through May 23, 8

p.m.; Through May 24, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

SABRINA FAIR Samuel Taylor's romantic comedy about a chauffeur's

daughter who returns from abroad a sophisticated young woman. Long

Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 2. (562) 494-1014.

NEW REVIEW GO THE SEAFARER If you're seeking innovation

in the theater, look elsewhere. Conor McPherson's Irish yarn is chip

off the stock-block of Celtic-folklore  - story-telling, bullshitting,

scatological jokes, card playing and a visit by somebody from the

metaphysical realm, which raises the not-trivial question: what on

earth are we doing with our time? Thanks to a quintet of

sharp-as-they-come performances, under Randall Arney's carefully

calibrated production, the event holds up. McPherson's drama isn't as

menacing as in New York; Arney gives it a lighter touch, which reveals

some of its holes but also skirts around both melodrama and glibness.

This is starkly moral universe, filled with causes and consequences,

where somebody named Mr. Lockhart (Tom Irwin, in a spit-and-polished

suit) arrives to collect an old debt at the North Dublin home-tavern of

Sharky (Andrew Connolly) and his disabled brother, Richard (John

Mahoney) - who blinded himself while scavenging in a trash canister.

The drama slowly pivots on a poker game with life and death stakes as

the men, including denizens Ivan (Paul Vincent O'Connor) and Nickly

Giblin (Matt Roth) - who's the new husband of Sharky's ex-wife - try to

bluff their way through the night, which is really the larger allegory

for existence. Imagine Harold Pinter having re-written Charles Dickens'

A Christmas Carol in an Irish brogue. Arney's gentle production

can't mask or provide irony for the sentimental resolution, but the

strength of his interpretation derives from the silent, brooding power

of Connolly's victimized Sharky, and the perverse indulgences of

Sharky's blind brother, played by Mahoney with a gleeful grittiness

that renders him a weird blend of whining matron and the power-broker

of the house. The marvelous, tawdry details of Takeshi Kata's set have

little congruence with the actors' perfect teeth - one tiny reminder of

how difficult it is to leave Hollywood on our stages, despite theater's

magic. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs.,

7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.;Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.;

through May 24. (310) 208-54545. (Steven Leigh Morris)


Stage Raw: The Seafarer


John Mahoney and Andrew Connolly in The Seafarer Photo by Michael Lamont
  
THE

TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. (Schedule

varies, call for info.). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale;

Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (818) 240-0910.

'TIL DEATH DO US PART: LATE NITE CATECHISM 3 Catholic nun offers

lessons on marriage, by Maripat Donovan with Marc Silvia. Laguna

Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.;

Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 3. (949) 497-2787.

SMALLER THEATERS SITUTUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND DOWNTOWN AREAS

/

done had he access to the Internet, cell phones, instant messaging and

video projection. In the midst of World War I, Dada protested bourgeois

culture and intellectual conformity, a mindset shared by the younger

brother of the groom who texts his screed against the post-9/11 world

to his blog as he mopes about a Los Angeles wedding reception. He,

along with the bride and groom's friends and their dates, make up the

group waiting for the happy couple to arrive in this collaboratively

developed play. Each of the 20-somethings has his or her own neurosis,

and most center on some aspect of love (the title of the piece if you

tilt your left ear downwards to look at it). Unfortunately, due to the

lack of through-line and character depth, the play ends up as episodes,

as though from a teen reality show. Director Jenny Byrd employs

creative blocking and gets a good effort from the cast, but even their

best can't compensate for the dearth of substance in the text. The

extensive use of digital projection and multimedia is interesting at

times, but somewhat ham-fisted in the attempts to mimic the "ADD

lifestyle" of the millennial generation. One exception is a projection

of the L.A. skyline, which is both picturesque and realistically

creates a rooftop view of the city. Aside from that great view, most of

the event had me wondering WTF? (MK) Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 9. www.restartyourheart.com A

Brimmer Street Theatre Co. Production.

ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest

hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat.,

8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

THE BIG RANDOM Just minutes into Dana Yeaton's road drama, you get

the unmistakable, justified feeling that the evening will be a long

one. Claire (Madison Flock) is a gangly teenager with an oddly charming

demeanor ; she's been confined to a mental institution because she is a

"cutter." She is heavily medicated and seemingly trapped in an inner

world of lurid, violent fantasies, until a sudden visit by her

estranged godfather Roland (Eric Charles Jorgenson), whom she slyly

cons into helping her escape. At this juncture, the story starts to

take off but never quite leaves the ground. The pair head north to

Canada, stop to eat, stop to sleep, get stopped by a gendarme, camp out

in the woods, see the sights, and eventually wind up at a church where

something spiritual occurs - a heavenly grace that feels more like a

convenience for the playwright than a convincing transformation. That

Yeaton fails to tell much of a story here is just part of the problem.

Despite his neatly written script, he hardly scratches the surface of

Claire's pathology (one that is shared by many young girls), and leaves

too many questions lingering. Teenager Flock turns in a fine

performance under Sam Roberts' direction. (LE3) Attic Theatre and Film

Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

& 7 p.m.; thru May 10. (323) 960-7776.

BILL W. AND DR. BOB Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey's story of

Alcoholics Anonymous. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3

p.m.; thru May 31. (323) 960-7827.

NEW REVIEW GO BRONZEVILLE Tim Toyama and Aaron Woolkfolk's drama centers

around the Goodwins, a black family looking for a new life and respite

from southern racism in Los Angeles during the early years of WWII.

After their move into a home (an artfully designed set piece by J.P.

Luckenbach) formerly occupied by a Japanese family that was forced to

relocate to a camp, all seems well. Mama Jane (CeCe Antoinette) is the

sharp-tongued, devout matriarch who loves to garden and has vivid

memories of life as a slave. Her son Felix (Larry Powell), is young and

angry, and has hopes of becoming a musician, while his brother Jodie

(Dwain A. Perry), is a simple working man with a devoted wife (Adenrele

Ojo) and teen daughter (Candice Afia). But the Goodwin's soon discover

that they have a "guest," when Henry (fine turn by Jeff Manabat)

tumbles into their midst, forming a bond with his new family, but also

forcing Jodie to make a troubling, fateful decision that impacts the

lives of everybody.  Director Ben Guillory does a fine job directing

this provocative piece. Woolfolk and Toyama's script is well written

and subtly explores philosophical and moral issues that are as relevant

today as they were then. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St.,

L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 17. (213) 489-0994. A

Robey Theatre Company production. (Lovell Estell III)

Stage Raw: The Seafarer

Bronzeville Photo by Ed Krieger

THE

COUNTRY WIFE William Wycherley's 1675 cuckold satire. Hayworth Theatre,

2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May

30. (323) 969-1707.

THE CRUCIBLE Arthur Miller's ageless tale of fear, greed and power

surrounding teenage girls trying to conjure witchcraft in the

17th-century town of Salem. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower

St., L.A.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; thru

May 16. (323) 462-8460.

DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here

substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a

dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For

most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers

playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores

dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't

emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3).

Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 31. (323) 954-9795.

NEW REVIEW

DEAD, THEREFORE I AM Writer-director Max Leavitt's furious passion

project tracks a suicidal 30-year-old named John (Leavitt), who lives

in his parents' garage where he's haunted by Sophie (Karen Jean Olds)

-- the obsessive goth girl next door -- and the sniping Egyptian god

Anubis (Nicholas Tucci). John's depressed, and since he enters the play

with his head severed by a guillotine, we know things aren't going to

end well, especially as his coping mechanisms are booze, pills, and

screaming at Sophie and Anubis. Both have John in their bondage:

Sophie, because they're furtively, allegedly in love (though tenderness

is missing from all of their interactions), while Anubis has John on a

physical and emotional choke chain to train him into thinking his

miserable life is nothing more than a doorway to the underworld. With

its subtleties overwhelmed in histrionics, and its comedy made glum by

all Leavitt's sincere agony, this is still a work in progress -- a play

fumbling through the stressful business of discovering its strengths,

just like its protagonist. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa

Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 24. (323)

960-7714. (Amy Nicholson)

Stage Raw: The Seafarer


Dead, Therefore I Am Photo by Ed Krieger



THE DESIGNATED MOURNER A drama by Wallace Shawn set in an

imaginary country explores the tension between the privileged and the

impoverished. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Mon.-Tues.,

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., May 16, 3 p.m.; thru May 23. (213) 351-3507.

GO THE DEVIL WITH BOOBS Director Tom Quaintance and

his cast work theatrical magic with this superb staging of Dario Fo's

bawdy satire (in a finely tuned translation by Jon Laskin). Fo is as

much a prankster and polemicist as he is a playwright, all of these

aspects are richly displayed here. The action takes place in a town in

Northern Italy where fraud, corruption and vice run amok. However, the

staunchly upright Judge Alfonso de Tristano (Michael Winters) is a

light amidst the darkness, a, man so pure he recoils at the sight of a

pair of tits. This situation is intolerable to Master Devil Francipante

(the stellar and dangerously funny Phillip William Brock) and his

apprentice (Herschel Sparber), so they conspire to possess the judge's

body and spirit. Unfortunately, the plan backfires and the judge's

buxom housekeeper (Katherine Griffith) winds up playing host to the

devil, which causes an eruption of comedy, naughty bits, and mayhem.

Quaintance provides fluid, intelligent direction, but the cast is

flawlessly funny. Even the musical ditties scattered throughout are

nicely done (one such number by Brock had me laughing so hard I thought

I'd pass out). Cristina Wright's period costumes and puppets are a

riot, and Adam Rowe's set piece (composed almost exclusively of doors),

adds just the right touch. (LE3) Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica

Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m, Sun. 3 p.m. thru. May 16. (323)

882- 6912.

GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and

entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the

lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a

marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of

rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some

sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction

and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of

triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting

beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying

partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his

aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective

attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner),

a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion

from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City.

These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who

both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without

"representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies.

Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his

five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the

Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist

set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked

behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision,

based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his

home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank

accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out,"

there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long

partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose

basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody

hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-1056.

DOLORES Edward Allen Baker's dark comedy about two abused sisters.

Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., May 10, 8 p.m.;

Sun., May 17, 8 p.m.. (323) 960-7822.

NEW REVIEW DOOMSDAY KISS As you enter the lobby, you're greeted with an art

installation that reflects the theme of nuclear annihilation, complete

with a performance from a live band featuring a USO-style chanteuse. 

The ambience of all this sets up an evening of four short plays

centered on visions of post-apocalyptic worlds.  While three are

standalone pieces, the fourth, "Who is Randall Maxit," about the crisis

of conscience faced by a retired nuclear scientist, is interwoven

throughout, though a bit haphazardly.  "You Might Be Waking Up," the

first of the trio, takes place in an office building turned Survivor

set where the workers scrounge for food, reveal their sexual fantasies,

and riff on aging, bodily functions, and relationships -- among other

things.  In "Fun Days at Sea," the most entertaining of the lot, a pair

of newlyweds and a pair of swingers are lubricated by a steady stream

of alcohol from the cruise ship's bartender and try to enjoy themselves

despite constant radio transmissions about the crumbling world outside

the vessel.  Finally, "The Class Room" features a teacher in remote

country schoolhouse interviewed by a strangely sexual reporter about

her success improving the temperament of young children.  While the

concept is interesting, and there are funny moments along the way

(especially from Michael Dunn and Jessica Hanna, who play the swingers

in "Fun Days"), most of the evening lacks the stakes that go along with

doomsday scenarios as well as the character development that would

create audience engagement. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 10.  (213) 389-3856. A

Repo Division Production.  (Mayank Keshaviah)

ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company.

Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323)

934-9700.

EURYDICE The myth of Orpheus and his bride, told from Eurydice's

perspective, by Sarah Ruhl. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.,

L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 960-7726.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

FUBAR Life is all fucked up in Karl Gajdusek's play. Theatre of

NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

thru May 30. (323) 856-8611.

THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 8033 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.

GO HOME SIEGE HOME With a calculated blend of

ancient lyricism and contemporary humor, Ghost Road Theater Company

rolls out its free-wheeling and substantively edited adaptation of

Aeschylus' trilogy, The Oresteia, told over two separate

bills. (Depending on the schedule, they can be seen in one day with a

dinner break, or on two separate evenings.) If you're not familiar with

the epic, you really should know that it hinges on a series of murders,

though the first is technically a sacrifice. Seeking to "rescue" his

brother's wife, Helen of Troy, from an "abduction" which triggered the

Trojan War, General Agamemnon (Ronnie Clark) sacrifices his own

daughter, Iphigineia, to the god Artemis in order to obtain favorable

sea winds for his Troy-bound ships. And in Part 1 (Clytemnestra),

though Agamemnon feels truly rotten about the deed (he slit his own

daughter's throat), his wife Clytemnestra (Trace Turville in Part 1,

Christel Joy Johnson in Part 2) feels even more rotten, obsessively

mercilessly rotten: Upon her hubby's heroic homecoming, she butchers

him in their bed. Excised from Ghost Road's interpretation are a couple

of characters who complicate our emotional attachments. In her

husband's absence, Clytemnestra took a lover, Aegisthus, who aided in

the murder and who doesn't appear here. Furthermore, Agamemnon pulled

into the driveway with Roman slave-mistress Cassandra in his chariot.

Such a publicly displayed sex toy would certainly put a kink in

director Katharine Noon's "Hi, honey, I'm home" '50s suburban

aesthetic. So Cassandra is also in absentia. What remains is a nuclear

family and a house, like the House of Atreus that could really be in

Covina, crumbling, slowly. Noon and company aim to conjure the

psychological and cosmic forces that lead to the end of an era, which

is pretty much what we're feeling right now in our sliver of history,

so it's not hard to find connective tissue. In Part 2 (Elektra),

the eponymous daddy's girl (a role shared by Mandy Freund and Christel

Joy Johnson) is the now seething daughter of Clytemnestra and the

murdered Agamemnon. She sets up camp in an alley, broadcasting her rage

against her mother's deed over a makeshift radio, like some ignored and

increasingly deranged revolutionary, while awaiting the return of her

brother Orestes (Ronald Wingate in Part 1, Clark in Part 2). Her bro

does eventually arrive, though still a little soft in the masculinity

department. With Elektra's goading, he blusters his way to murder his

mother, Clytemnestra, in order to avenge his father's death - that

would be killing number three, setting in place cycles of violence that

will spin for centuries. And if Orestes doesn't feel ambivalent enough

over what he just did, the Three Furies (the entrancing Sarah Broyles,

with JoAnna Senatore, and Madelynn Fattibene) torment him to the

margins of already precarious sanity in Part 3 (Orestes), when

they're not lounging around in cocktail dresses sipping martinis and

playing bridge. Noon's production grows increasingly absorbing as it

progresses. Among its strengths is the visual unity of Maureen Weiss'

set - a house that folds up into a suitcase. (Tattered suitcases and

their symbol of exile anchor Noon's lucid point of view.) By Part 3, as

their world is crumbling, the characters play their scenes in

allegorically constricted compartments. The performances are never less

than competent and often inspired. Though Turville's Clytemnestra

offers little of the magnetic force and comedy that Jacqueline Wright

brought to an earlier version of this project, Clyt at Home,

Turville comes into her own with wry authority as bitch-goddess Athena,

bossing around Apollo (Wingate) in Part 3. The dialogue careens from

petulant platitudes ("You murdered someone who was really important to

me" and "The world is fucking complicated. It's not black and white.")

to snippets of exalted poeticism. Brian Weir plays Helen of Troy's

daughter Hermione in drag, yet without a trace of campiness. She's the

outcast, and our narrator. "I don't belong to this house," she says

tenderly, "but it belongs to me." As it does to all of us. (SLM)

[Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood; in rep thorugh

May 3, call for schedule. (323) 461-3673. A Ghost Road Company

production.

GOHOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the

blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on

the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in

class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort

to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal

of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's

earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch

supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella

Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., April 26, 3 p.m.;

Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., May 3, 3 p.m.; Sat., May 9, 8 p.m.; Sun.,

May 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 16, 3 p.m.; thru May 15. (310) 462-1439.

THE INTERNATIONALISTS The race to outer space told through

"movement, live music, sound and meta-theatrical performance."

Conceived and directed by Jesse Bonnell, artistic director of Poor Dog

Group. PDG Performance Warehouse, 2485 Hunter St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; thru May 9, www.poordoggroup.com...

NEW REVIEW

L.A. VIEWS II: TALES OF PRESENT PAST A hundred years ago the Alexandria

Hotel in downtown L.A. played glamorous host to  presidents and movie

stars; now faded, it's home to the Equity-waiver Company of Angels.

Their current offering -- 15 short plays and/or monologues written and

directed by company members -- takes the hotel as a  common thread,

claiming inspiration from the silent screen luminaries who once graced

its corridors.  In fact, the link between the material and the concept

is mostly tangential.  Crisply introduced  by bellhops Juanita Chase

and Joshua Lamont, the show opens with a promise that unfortunately

wanes.  The pieces, a hodgepodge of lightweight segments set in both

past and present, offers some biographical information but doesn't

provide much revelation or insight (The dead celebs are talked about

but not depicted).   Closeted homosexuality is a recurring, though not

exclusive, theme.  In "Weekend Getaway," by S. Vasanti Saxena, directed

by Tony Gatto, two married celebrities (Brian Rohan and Onyay Pheori)

bicker incessantly between photo ops; we soon learn  they're both gay.

In Kyle T. Wilson's El Conquistador," directed by Lui Sanchez, the

spirit of Ramon Navarro hovers over an encounter in a contemporary gay

bar between two friends (Eric Martig and Maurice Compte), climaxing in

a proposal of marriage (indignantly rejected).  In "Fresh Cream Pie,"

by Damon Chua, directed by Gatto, two heterosexual security guards (Mel

Rodriguez and Xavi Moreno) share  their sexual fantasies, one of which

involves a cream pie.  Overall, this showcase fare, is mildly

entertaining, with some performers, including Chase,  Lamont and

Rodriguez, displaying assurance. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St.,

L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru May 10. (323)

883-1717. A Company of Angels Production (Deborah Klugman)

GO LAND OF THE TIGERS Act 1 of the Burglars of Hamm's hilarious and thought provoking comedy outlandishly crosses Cats with Planet of the Apes.

In a whimsical world where felines walk upright and speak English (but

thankfully don't caterwaul "Memory") a veritable Kingdom of Tigers

prance around in feathered wigs and top coats, while debating important

matters (to cats, anyway) in the Tigressional Congress. Amongst this

group, the great warrior Sabertooth (Hugo Armstrong) goes into lustful

cat heat for sultry she-tiger Sheba (Devin Sidell), which outrages

Sheba's fierce brother Fang Stalkington (Tim Sheridan), who has already

fathered several litters with the young beauty (remember, this is the

Tiger World, we're talking about). Full of bizarre cat mating dances,

and scenes in which characters shift instantly from conversing into

snarling Tiger-style, the Burglars' comedy is staged by Matt Almos with

acrobatic dexterity, a tongue-in-cheek tone, and perfect comic timing.

The reasons for slight touches of campiness become evident in Act Two,

however, which follows the cast of dimwitted and absurdly self

important actors as they are increasingly brainwashed by their

tyrannical, ego tripping director (a fabulous Dean Gregory, whose eyes

glitter with madness). Although the concept possesses slight echoes of Noises Off,

the Burglars cunningly explore a totally different avenue, elegantly

satirizing the sense of collective delusion that frequently befalls

performers in a mediocre show. The acting work is particularly

sprightly, and it's delightful how the bumbling tiger actors of Act 1

are subsequently revealed as the optimistic, dedicated, yet benighted

ensemble of Act 2. The end result, more than calculatedly dippy comedy

about cats, is an often compelling meditation on the creation of

theater itself, and how the audience will never glimpse the many dramas

within a play's production. (PB) Sacred Fools theater, 660 N.

Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8, p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through

May 3. (310) 281-8337. A Burglars of Hamm, Sacred Fools Co-Production.

LUMINOUS BIRCH: AND THE SPLENDOR OF THE COLORLESS LIGHT OF EMPTINESS

Ever since the days of Artaud, the seemingly irreconcilable ontological

differences between the live stage and the motion picture have led to

an uneasy truce that can be expressed roughly as, "render unto cinema

the things which are cinema's . . . and let theater do the rest."

Writer-director Randy Sean Schulman is having none of that. In this

deeply personal, solo-performance work (co-directed by Jane McEneaney),

Schulman attempts an audacious shotgun marriage of the two media by

interacting with a screening of his own, fully realized, widescreen

version of a Mack Sennett-styled silent film. Sort of a cryptic,

Hegelian meditation on time, mortality and the transcendent power of

love, the piece opens onscreen with the Chaplinesque castaway, Luminous

Birch (Schulman), separated from his true love, Tangerine (Delcie

Adams), by a sea mishap. Birch, who literally climbs out of the

onscreen pantomime into the theater, can only impotently prowl the

stage as Tangerine is harried by the nefarious Absurd Conquistador (Roy

Johns) in the movie. Unfortunately, despite lush production values

(John Burton's set, Cameron Lowe's cinematography and Ingrid Ferrin's

costumes are all outstanding), even Schulman's seductive stage alchemy

can't make oil and water mix. The filmed spectacle so overshadows its

live counterpart that the formal tensions upon which Schulman relies to

make sense of the proceedings are all but lost. (BR) Greenway Court

Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.;

thru May 10. (323) 655-7679.

GO MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS

The fury of reading through piles of crappy screenplays for exploitive

wages has to be what motivated this vicious comedy series. As

playwright Jon Robin Baitz once said, L.A. theater offers a response to

the "toxicity of living in a company town," and Magnum Opus Theatre is

a very strong response to just that. In director Joe Jordan's crisp as

toast style, a company of nine performs this excruciating screenplay

with unfettered mockery, with Your Host Thurston Eberhard

Hillsboro-Smythe, a.k.a. "Thursty" (Brandon Clark, in red dinner jacket

and the droll pomposity of Alistaire Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre)

reading all the stage directions, including misspellings. This is the

story of a chubby girl named Amber (Franci Montgomery, who is not

chubby at all, which is part of the joke), abused like Cinderella by

her beer-swilling aunt (CJ Merriman), who curses her, slaps her and

calls her a pig -- a Punch and Judy show by any other name. Amber has a

fantasy lover, the ghost of a Hollywood actor (Michael Lanahan)

accidentally slain during the filming of a gangster gun battle. Through

plot convolutions to tedious to enumerate, Amber winds up in Hollywood,

in a movie about her travails, for which she receives an Academy Award.

As the plot slid into its final trajectory, the crowd shouted out

"noooooh", as it became cognizant of where this was heading. Any play

can be ridiculed simply by employing theatrical devices used here:

Whenever "Thursty" reads: "Jeff gives her a passionate kiss," Lanahan

uses his fingers to withdraw a sloppy kiss from his mouth, which he

then palms off to Montgomery's hand, who then slips the "kiss" into her

blouse. But even this wildly presentation brand of theatrical ridicule

can't disguise the artlessness of the dialogue and stage directions.

What emerges through the event's cruelty, besides the mercifully

unnamed screenwriter's ineptitude, is a portrait of the writer, for

whom Amber is an obvious standin. As the lampoon wears itself out,

we're left with something underneath that's gone beyond parody to the

pathetic - the reasons that somebody would have written such a story in

the first place, and the hollow, generic fantasies that serve as balm

for her feelings of isolation. Watching this show is like watching well

trained runners pushing somebody out of a wheelchair. That's a comic

bit from old sketch TV shows, but 90 minutes of it leaves you feeling

that the company's comic fury is so strong, and its skills so sharp,

the joke has been propelled beyond its target to a very dark place

indeed. (SLM) Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A.; Fri., 11

p.m.; through May 1. (310) 281-8337.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE Write Act Repertory re-imagines Shakespeare's

play. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

thru May 23. (323) 469-3113.

GO MUNCHED Katie Paxton's two older sisters died

before she was born. When she became deathly ill, the nurses and the

law were convinced that her mother Marybeth (Andrea Hutchman) was

killing her slowly in a sordid, attention-seeking case of Munchhausen

by Proxy. Marybeth went to prison; Katie (Samantha Sloyan) recovered

immediately and went into the foster system. Kim Porter's spellbinding

and intimate play catches up with the Paxtons 20-years later when Katie

finds a Pandora's box of letters, from her mom and to her mom, in her

foster mother's attic. We're never sure if Marybeth is guilty, though

she admits to giving her daughter a poisonous dose of ipecac. But what

is clear is that mother and daughter share the same DNA -- both face

the world with a bitter humor, Katie joking wryly about wrenching

trauma, and Marybeth channeling her self-righteous anger into a sarcasm

as sharp as a knife. Sloyan and Hutchman turn in two of the best

performances I've seen all year. Aided by Duane Daniels' direction,

they make comic agony out of deliberate pauses and askance smiles.

Shirley Jordan and Peter Breitmayer are quite fine as a whirlwind of

nurses, doctors, lawyers and do-gooders, each with their own agenda,

and unable to see the facts of Marybeth's actions through their

certainty of her psychosis or martyrdom. (AN) El Centro Theatre, 804 N.

El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 2. (323)

960-5771.

GO PHOTOGRAPH 51 This West Coast premiere of Anna

Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play, Photograph 51, concerns Rosalind

Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the

structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set

and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting,

the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we

introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel

Billet), and her graduate assistant Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris)

than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, "Dr. Wilkins, I don't do

jokes. I do science." Her confidence and professionalism leads to an

uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic

male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick

(Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic

blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even

cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through

correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As

each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's

photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director

Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space,

turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful

performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert,

whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit, and deep

pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna

Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped crack the Pyrex ceiling

reminds us of the need to reexamine "his"tory, and should not be

missed. (MK)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 31. (323) 663-1525.

PLAY WITH A KNIFE Zach Fehst's existential take on murder. Stages

Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru May

31. (323) 960-7784.

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.

THE REAL THING Tom Stoppard's wordplay and wit applied to the nature

of love. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 7. (323) 960-7861.

RICHARD III REDUX: OUR RADICAL ADAPTATION The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts mashes up Shakespeare's Richard III and Henry VI, Part 3

as a study of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mortise & Tenon

Furniture Store, Second Floor, 446 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Mon., Sun., 8

p.m.; thru June 8. (888) 398-9348.

R.U.R. "Rossum's Universal Robots" revolt in Kael Capek's 1921 play.

Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

thru May 16. (800) 838-3006.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the

above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.;

Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 226-6148.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS Explore art, psychopathy, love and intimacy in

Neil LaBute's drama centering on the lives of four young students who

become emotionally and romantically involved with each other. L.A.

Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May

23. (213) 680-0392.

SIN: A CARDINAL DEPOSED The 2002 deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law

had all the elements of great theater: small heroes, a giant villain,

and a troublesome morality that raised more questions than it answered.

But while all the pieces are there, they still need to be shaped, and

playwright Michael Murphy simply trims the transcripts and presents a

fictionally synthesized laywer (Steven Culp) and his inquisition of the

publicly disgraced (but Vatican-condoned) Cardinal (Joe Spano). It's

smart and interesting, but wearisomely literal. This leaves director

Paul Mazursky little to do but stage it as a stiff tableaux -- the

Catholic Church's last ethically superior supper -- centered on the

deposition table. At that table, the Cardinal is flanked by his lawyer

(Carl Bressler) and his fictionalized opponent. Add to this trio two

actors who read the letters of witnesses, truth seekers, and church

officials (Edita Brychta and Jack Maxwell, both great at shifting

through a dozen accents) and a molestation victim (Christian Campbell)

who oversees it all in silence. While the cast is quite good, that all

are reading from scripts adds to the inertia, leaving us restless

enough to wish that Murphy had dug beneath the surface and unearthed

questions he only gestures towards, such as the coexistence of good and

evil in priests whose six days of benevolence will never balance their

afternoons of selfish harm. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd.,

L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru May 6. (323) 960-4442.

SOMEONE ELSE'S LOSS IS MY CHOCOLATY GOODNESS! This is a six-piece

assortment of new, short plays from Padraic Duffy, Joshua Fardon, Carey

Friedman, Nova Jacobs, David LM McIntyre and Tommy Smith, punctuated by

a free chocolate treat and a drawing for more chocolate after each of

the performances. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 856-8611.

GO STICK FLY Lydia R. Diamond's scintillating

comedy is set in the elegant and expensive summer home (gorgeously

designed by John Iacovelli) of Dr. Joseph Levay (John Wesley), in an

elite, African-American enclave of Martha's Vineyard. The family is

arriving for the weekend, and son Flip (Terrell Tilford), a successful

plastic surgeon, is bringing his white fiancée Kimber (Avery Clyde) to

meet the family. Writer son Kent (Chris Butler) also brings his

bride-to be, Taylor (Michole Briana White), who comes from a lower rung

on the social ladder. At first all is banter, horse-play and fun, but

gradually fracture lines appear. Despite their wealth and privilege,

the Levays are not immune to the stresses and prejudices of snobbery,

race and class, conflicts between fathers and sons, and brotherly

rivalries. Mom hasn't turned up for the family gathering, and secrets

about sexual hanky-pank lurk beneath the surface, waiting to erupt.

Meanwhile, young substitute maid-housekeeper Cheryl (Tinashe Kajese) is

seriously upset about something. Diamond's play combines complex

characters, provocative situations, and literate, funny dialog in this

delicious comedy of contemporary manners. Director Shirley Joe Finney

reveals a sharp eye for social nuance, and melds her dream cast into a

brilliantly seamless ensemble. They are all terrific. (NW) The Matrix

Theatre Company, 7657 Melrose Avenue, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3

p.m., thru May 31. (323) 960-7740.

13 BY SHANLEY FESTIVAL Seven full-length plays and six one-acts by

John Patrick Shanley. (Weekly schedule alternates; call for info.).

Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

& 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 960-7827.

TNA ONESIES: THE FUTURE? The Next Arena's fourth annual comedy

one-act festival. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 23. (323) 960-5774.

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 VOICE LESSONS Justin Tanner's very funny sitcom

shoots darts at a trio of characters who are tied to the dart board by

their transparent lunacies and hubris, which makes it an exercise in

almost pointless cruelty, though the broadness of Bart DeLorenzo's

staging may have contributed to the sense of this Punch & Judy Show

masquerading as a satire. In earlier plays, like Pot Mom,

Tanner stumbled onto an insight that unearthed the unseen side of a

stereotype. His skills at structure, one-liners and caricature are so

sharply honed, his persisting challenge is finding something worth

saying. Tanner's parody is directed at the vicious and deluded vanity

of a hopelessly obviously talentless and aging pop singer, Virginia

(Laurie Metcalf), trying to claw her way to TV fame. Can a target get

any easier? She cements her ambitions to a voice teacher, Nate (French

Stewart), whose initial mask of respectability and ethics slithers down

the greasy pole of his own personal desperation. Maile Flanagan further

inflates the farce, portraying Nate's zaftig live-in girlfriend,

setting up a catfight over the forlorn and increasingly sleazy teacher.

For all its petulant ambitions, the evening is wildly entertaining

thanks to the irrepressible talents of the cast. It's hard to see how

this play would survive without these actors. With a deep and slightly

nasal voice, and deadpan responses that should be copyrighted for the

mountain of silent thoughts they reveal, Stewart provides the perfect

foil for Metcalf's meticulously executed tornado of psychosis and

Flanagan's lovely cameo. DeLorenzo deserves credit for the comedy's

sculpted timing, and Gary Guidinger's set and lighting depicts with

realistic detail the frayed fortress of Nate's living room. (SLM)

Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

7 p.m.; through May 17. (323) 960-7711.

VOX HUMANA PRESENTS "LITTLE THEATER" Overtones by Alice Gerstenberg, Trifles by Susan Glaspell, The Rope

by Eugene O'Neill. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist

Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7

p.m.; thru May 10. (323) 769-5794.

THE VALLEYS

AND THE WINNER IS Mitch Albom's tale of an actor desperately trying

to get to the Oscars. Stillspeaking Theatre, 2560 Huntington Dr., San

Marino; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 24. (626) 292-2081.

BENEATH RIPPLING WATER Sybyl Walker portrays three women in love.

Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Through May 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 17, 3 p.m.; thru

May 3. (866) 811-4111.

BEST WISHES The untimely death of a matriarch occasions a reunion of

disaffected siblings in Bill Barker's family comedy, first presented

locally in 1984. Del Shores used a similar scenario, with more comedic

panache in his Daddy's Dyin, Who's got the Will. A comfortable house in

tiny Liberal, Kansas becomes a battleground when Elda (Joanne McGee),

Crystal (Nadya Starr), Dorie (Carol Jones), Vera (Ann Bronston), Gil

(Dana Craig) and Denny (Barker) assemble to bury their mother and

settle the estate. It isn't long before familial fault-lines emerge.

Dorie, always the dutiful daughter, is bitter about her vacuous life

and wears her feelings on her sleeve. She constantly clashes with Vera,

who has escaped small-town anonymity and boredom for the big city, but

is a drinker and party girl. Wife and mother Elda is a good natured

pleaser, but a dingbat, and Crystal remains an emotional and

psychological mystery. There are stabs at humor and lots of squabbling,

much of it mundane and pointless. This may be the point, but still . .

. Either the play, or Hollace Star's staging of this revival, fails to

say much incisive about these characters or make them emotionally

accessible. Gil and Denny emerge as ciphers, and only Fanny (Peggy Lord

Chilton), the town quid nunc, is consistently engaging. (LE3) Crown

City Theater on the campus of St. Matthew's Church; 11031 Camarillo

St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April

19. (818) 745-8527

GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and

sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly

twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by

her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny

Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a

co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam

Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered

slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty

house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it.

Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long

since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can

charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by

and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a

gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly

long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full

of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight

production punches the weird, Addams Family tone with brio,

nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From

his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his

half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the

crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts

Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,

2 p.m.; through May 16. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.

BLACK ANGELS OVER TUSKEGEE The Black Gents of Hollywood present

Layon Gray's world-premiere drama about African-American fighter

pilots. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Sat., 7:45 p.m.; thru May 2. (818) 754-5725.

GO CAPTAIN DAN DIXON VS. THE MOTH SLUTS FROM THE

FIFTH DIMENSON The Magellan spaceship has a conservative crew onboard,

but Captain Dan Dixon (Matthew Sklar) and the rest of his men can't

resist the Vulvulans green, pasties-clad go-go dancers

with pneumatic exoskeletons. Playwright Sklar and director Zombie Joe

know the heart of their show beats near the Vulvulans' gyrating curves,

but they've generously gone on and given us sharp comic timing and even

a half-serious philosophical theme. (AN). ZJU Theater Group, 4850

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru May 16.

(818) 202-4120.

THE CATERER LeVar Burton stars in Brian Alan Lane's drama as a

vendor of "appropriate" death. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd.,

Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru May 10,

www.thecatererplay.com. (818) 990-2324.

THE COLUMBINE PROJECT Paul Storiale examines the Colorado high

school massacre. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 9. (818) 766-9100.

GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing

cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent

show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes,

and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan

County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays

Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about

feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife,

Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the

Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter.

Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a

scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are

other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad

McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie

for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing

contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative,

borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy

tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and

an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke

machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory

Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.,

Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 2. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.

GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who recently helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera

at the Hayworth, has scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram

Stoker's vampire tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L.

Balderston's liberties they take on the story in now way diminish the

quality of the production. Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy

count, first seen rising from his grave to put the bite on the lovely

Mina (Mara Marini), upon his arrival in England. When Lucy Seward

(Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a mysterious illness, her mother, Lily

(Karesa McElheny), who runs an asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham

Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's

betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R. Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating

Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This one's all about atmosphere. Desma

Murphy's alluring set design is cleverly accented by an enormous

backdrop of an incubus sitting on a sleeping woman, inspired by Henry

Fuseli's painting "The Nightmare." Luke Moyer's lighting schema is

perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an arsenal of haunted house special

effects here, including lots of rolling fog and wolf howls, but they

never come across as cheesy or overdone; and there are a few scary

moments during this 90-minute show, amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3)

NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 17. (818) 508-7101.

THE FOOD CHAIN Nicky Silver's sex comedy about former gay lovers, a

married couple, and eating disorders. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim

Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3.

(323) 860-6569.

GOTHMAS Kerr Seth Lordygan and Laura Lee Bahr's goth (or really, nu

metal) musical opens on Halloween when depressive Helena (Bahr) slits

her wrists. The debut production itself would benefit from its own

cruel cuts. At its black, festering, wonderful heart, Gothmasis a love

triangle between self-absorbed best frenemy roommates -- hetero Helena,

gay Garth (Lordygan) and their selfish bisexual hustler lover Joe

(Kadyr Gutierrez, who capitalizes on the duo's need for freakdom by

suggesting they share him. Clocking in at three-hours, this bleak charm

of this 12-member ensemble's behemoth would be better served if every

element were chopped in half. There's a fantastic piece buried in here,

especially once director Justin T. Bowler doubles the cast's narcissism

and hysteria, which would help the play find consistent footing between

songs that ache with betrayal and ones that sting with unrepentant,

grim glee. (And once Joel Rieck's choreography eases away from the

literal -- when Helena sings she's got "nothing to lose, nothing to

grab," the entire cast clutches at the air.) This run is worth seeing,

however, as a midnight cult fave-in-process with some inspired axe

murders. (AN) Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd.,

Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (323)

960-7712.

NEW REVIEW

THE LAST HIPPIE: A WESTERN NOVEL Performer-designer Vincent Mann's

claims that his solo show (directed by Rachel Rebecca Roy) "began as an

(almost) finished novel." Those origins are clear in his epic,

autobiographical performance, that runs over two-hours with

intermission. Mann's saga starts during his youth in mid-'70s San

Antonio Texas, centering on his and his high school pals' magnetic

attraction to mind-altering drugs and the personal-metaphysical

explorations that were part and parcel of the Hippie movement, which

was fading even then, in the wake of the subsequent pre-Reagan,

greed-is-good generation. Among the performance's many virtues are

ability to take a personal story and attach it to the sensibility of an

era - and Mann accomplishes this with erudition and literacy.

Eventually, as his friends fall by the wayside, he flees his town on a

kind of  spiritual quest from Texas to Colorado Springs, working as a

janitor for minimum wage. Here, the Quixotic essence of the Hippies'

scrambled ideals, and Mann's stake in those ideals - including

enlightenment through hallucinagenic drugs - unravels into mere

autobiography, a stream of events that represent little beyond

themselves. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks;

Tues., 8 p.m.; through May 12. (818) 783-6784. (Steven Leigh Morris)    

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE John Lahr updates Richard Condon's

political thriller. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley

Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2,

www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.

MR. MARMALADE Noah Haidle's black comedy about a 4-year-old girl's

imaginary friend, a combative, cocaine-fueled porn addict. Two Roads

Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; thru May 17. (800) 838-3006.

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY Serial-killer musical, adapted by Douglas J.

Cohen from William Goldman's novel. Part of the 2009 Festival of New

American Musicals. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Toluca Lake;

Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru

May 17. (818) 558-7000.

NOSTALGIA AND DREAMS White Buffalo Theatre Company presents Brett

Holland's poetic drama. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 24. (818) 569-3037.

SONG OF ST. TESS Chris Collins' tragedy about a San Francisco

divorce. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 10. (323) 960-7735.

TEN TO LIFE As Lodestone Theatre Ensemble prepares to close its

doors after 10 years, it will present four one-acts from veteran

writers of its own ranks (Nic Cha Kim, Annette Lee, Tim Lounibos, and

Judy Soo Hoo). GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Toluca Lake; Sun., 2

p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 7. (818) 238-9998.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK Stephen Mallatratt's ghost story, adapted from

the novel by Susan Hill. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd.,

Sherman Oaks; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru May 13. (866) 262-6253.

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's comedy

classic about a kooky clan. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre

Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru June 6.

(626) 256-3809.

WESTSIDE AND BEACHES

THE ACCOMPLICES Bernard Weinraub's documentary drama about an

activist's efforts to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. Odyssey

Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru June 14. (310) 477-2055.

NEW REVIEW

AND THE WAR CAME As the global economic meltdown continues to cast its

pall over the land, it's easy to forget about those other Bush-Cheney

contributions to human misery still raging in Afghanistan and Iraq. For

this reason alone, director Joanne Gordon's sentimental stage memorial

to the sacrifices made by Iraq War veterans and their families deserves

the sincerest of salutes. Through a collage of interwoven sketches and

onscreen projections (supervised by J. Todd Baker), Gordon, nine

writers and a fine ensemble attempt to convey a sense of the sometimes

whimsical but usually tragic experiences of the serving Americans

touched by the war. The best of the pieces are predictably those that

stray the least from their source material. These include writer David

Vegh's "Nicole," in which a young, newlywed enlistee (Beth Froelich)

matter-of-factly recounts how her marital bliss is cruelly cut short

when her childhood-sweetheart husband ships out only to become a combat

fatality, and Brian Addison's "All Quiet," in which an American Moslem

serviceman (Arber Mehmeti) describes the conflict between family, faith

and duty engendered by the war. All too often, however, the narratives

simply get tangled in Gordon's overly elliptical structure and taste

for the maudlin. And would it really have been a disservice to veterans

for Gordon to have included some antiwar voices or, god forbid, those

of the Iraqis themselves? National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St.,

Long Beach; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; May 8-9, 8 p.m.; thru May 9. (562)

985-5526. A Cal Rep production. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW APPLE Emotional bonfires crackle around the infidelity of an

ordinary, married guy, Andy (Albie Selznick), with a beautiful woman,

Samatha (Carmit Levité), who just happens to be a medical technician

whom Andy's wife, Evelyn (Ellyn Stern), sees frequently during her

breast-cancer diagnoses and treatments. Evelyn is dying, there's no

question, and her philandering husband lies stretched on a rack of

grief and self-loathing - careening between his physical passion for

his healthy mistress and his torment as a care-taker for his fading

wife. Does his expressed adoration of his spouse stem from something

larger than guilt and self-recrimination? "I'm rotten," he confesses to

her. She knows what's going on, and thank goodness she's no peach

herself. Foul-mouthed and sometimes petulant, she reveals a

mean-streak, telling hubbie that she never loved him. That could be

true, but it's more likely to be the only kind of revenge she can

inflict. The larger question explored in Canadian Vern Thiessen's

absorbing play hangs in the murky territory between lust and love, and

Rachel Goldberg's wisely abstracted and seductive production tries to

clarify that distinction, despite stretches of gratuitous poetical

narration that tilt the tone towards the mawkish. Jeff G. Rack's park

bench set and the projected images of Benjamin Goldman's animation

design contribute to the sense of a poem in motion. On opening night,

the ensemble was just starting to find the play's unspoken truths, and

will doubtless unearth more through the production's run. Levité's

smart, charming mistress finds herself smitten with Andy for reasons

still vague, though in one scene at the clinic, her defiant defense of

Evelyn's wishes, overriding Andy's will, could be a kind of punishment

of him. Stern's ill Evelyn is further along, handily negotiating cross

currents of wisdom and peevishness, while Selznick nicely handles

Andy's sometimes cloying yet convincing earnestness and he tries to man

up. The production invites no easy moralizing, though there is the

suggestion that the vow "till death do us part" probably shouldn't be

rushed along - the parting or the dying. Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Dr. (on

the Beverly Hills High School Campus), Beverly Hills; in rep, call for

schedule; through May 24. (310) 364-0535. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Stage Raw: The Seafarer

Apple Photo by Ed Krieger

BETRAYAL

Harold Pinter's bizarre love triangle. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre

St., San Pedro; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru May 14. (310) 512-6030.

GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from

reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had

suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning

national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or

later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and

were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the

current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe.

It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind

that Molière's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing -

will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel

(who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy

translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that

offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of

social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we

shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe,

and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a

deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn)

aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of

his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane

master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols).

The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer

Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of

Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed

by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by

Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs

Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin

even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a

lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing "tears of a clown" masks, a

choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and

spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock

style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of

75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the

performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the

broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act

2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing

again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the

likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A

Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking

Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman

extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his

eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with

delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street,

Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thorugh May 8. (310)

319-9939.

BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a

funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Staged with a warm

cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily, though, a more aloof

ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional isolation where the

polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro) and perfect-on-paper

boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold shadow across all

dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny roomate Larry (Aaron

Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a wrenching and infuriating

Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like pathological self-punishment.

Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story -- the scene breaks

twinkle with sentimental music -- however his cast isn't up to it and

hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each

other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob from a strange man

rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the weather.) Comperatore's

combustible Pale has four times the spark of the rest of the ensemble

-- when he bursts into the scene, we see the gulf between what Wilson's

play could be and what this staging actually is. (AN) Ruskin Group

Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; through May 9. (310) 397-3244.

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's

family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse,

1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec.

27. (310) 394-9779.

GO DESPERATE WRITERS: THE FINAL DRAFT This demented

farce by Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber should be catnip for

those who love Hollywood in-jokes. Ashley (Kate Hollingshead) and David

(Brian Krause) are lovers and writing partners; though they've been

writing for years, they've never sold a script. Ashley's convinced that

producers never actually read their scripts, so she kidnaps three of

them (writers Grenrock and Schreiber, and Andrew Ross Wynn) at

gunpoint, locking them in a wire cage in her living room (built before

our eyes by trusty techies). She prepares a gourmet meal for the

producers, while David reads to them -- despite their protests -- a new

script. The reading is punctuated by phone calls from agent Vanessa

(Jennifer Taub), a death by apoplectic fit, an earthquake, a

resurrection, and a home invasion by a pair of robbers (Scott Damian

and Stephen Grove Malloy) who drop off their pix and resumes on their

way out. And, oh, yes, the rental agent (Vivian Bang) arrives to show

the house to prospective tenants (Damian and Eden Malyn). The actors

are game and skillful, and director Kay Cole keeps the action spinning

along on Francoise-Pierre Couture's set, cleverly designed as an

architect's blueprint. (NW) Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St.,

Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., thru May 10.

1(800) 838-3006 or http://desperatewriters.com.

DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion

and talent - both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress

about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year

veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early

experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33

years on the job - who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings

the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the

beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even

more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member -- a

well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's

counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from

dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the

frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own

upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with

the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4

songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is

its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of

Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative,

itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses

to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel - part performance,

part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of

power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. (DK) Beverly Hills

Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

through April 18. (310) 358-9936.

FENCES August Wilson's story of an African-American family's unyielding

struggle to overcome the barriers of bigotry in the 1950s. (May 15 show

is by invitation.). Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa

Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30. (310) 828-7519.

FIFTH OF JULY Lanford Wilson's farm-family drama. Long Beach

Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru May 23. (562) 494-1014.

HAY FEVER Noel Coward's 1924 comedy. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre

St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., May 17, 7 p.m.; Thurs., May

21, 8 p.m.; thru May 23. (310) 512-6030.

INCORRUPTABLE Michael Hollinger's Dark Ages farce. (In rep with Apple,

call for schedule). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241

Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

& 8 p.m.; thru May 21. (310) 364-0535.

IS HE DEAD? In the West Coast premiere of a newly discovered comedy

by master of American humor Mark Twain, a struggling artist stages his

own death to drive up the price of his paintings. International City

Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; thru May 24. (562) 436-4610.

LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman

decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic

slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football

season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an

unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the

Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable

pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured

and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at

explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens

seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self

worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each

of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a

sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor

weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the

shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering

the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into

scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects

to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a

reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized

as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice

Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2. (310)

822-8392.

MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman

was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone

cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful

siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery

removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and

extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was

declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his

experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being

told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the

solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors,

memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on.

But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly

life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched

in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable

performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful

humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If

anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of

scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and

optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through May 30. (866) 468-3399 or

http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

GO MISALLIANCE Be warned that G.B. Shaw's wordy

comedy of manners lopes for along for almost the entire first act

before finally taking off. And then it really flies. It's Set in 1909,

in the plush home (artfully realized by designer Stephen Gifford) of a

successful underwear retailer named Tarleton (Greg Mullavey), whose

daughter Hypatia (Abigail Rose Solomon) has become engaged to a whiny

aristocratic nerd (Orestes Arcuni). At first the play totters under the

weight of Shavian didactics: a plethora of chitchat about generational

and class conflicts, the experience of aging and the liberation of

women. The bright spot in this intermittently sleep-inducing stretch is

Solomon's captivating turn as a sharp young gal chafing under the

strictures of her gender; she's seconded in her charm by Maggie Peach,

endearing as her wise, albeit mildly ditzy mother. Happily, Act 2 gets

a lot livelier when an airplane piloted by a dashing young aviator

(Nick Mennell) and a liberated lady acrobat (Molly Schaffer) crashes

into the family greenhouse, followed by the clandestine entry of a

pistol-packing gunman (David Clayberg) determined to do Tarleton in.

The confrontation between the merchant and his would-be assassin forms

the nub of the second act's considerable humor, and it's heightened

further by the on-target performances of Mennell as Hypatia's new love

interest and Schaffer as the latest object of Tarleton's philandering

affections. By play's end, under Elina de Santos' direction, the

production has redeemed its dullish beginnings, delivering up more than

our ticket's worth of laughs. (DK) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30. (310)

477-2055.

A NUMBER Caryl Churchill's meditation on identity. Odyssey Theatre,

2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru

June 21. (310) 477-2055.

OUR TOWN Thornton Wilder's slice of Americana. Actors' Gang at the

Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30. (310) 838-4264.

PAY ATTENTION: ADHD IN HOLLYWOOD, ON THE ROCKS WITH A TWIST Frank

South's hypomanic, alcoholic one-man show tells how a New York

waiter/performance artist unleashes all his issues and finds himself

capapulted onto the TV-writing fast track. The Other Space at Santa

Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sun., 6 p.m.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 7. (310) 394-9779.

GO THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES The central character in

Molière's comedy, here translated and adapted by Frédérique Michel

& Charles Duncombe could be and often is a punching bag. But not

here. Arnolphe is another in a stream of Molière's aging, patronizing

nitwits (like Orgon on Tartuffe) who presume that they can control the devotions and passions of young women in their care. In Tartuffe,

when Orgon's daughter protests his insistence that she break her

wedding plans to her beloved suitor in order to marry the clergyman he

prefers, Orgon figures her rebellion is just a impetuous, child-like

phase. In The School for Wives, there's a similar mind-set to

Arnolphe (Bo Roberts), who has tried to sculpt his young ward, Agnes

(Jessica Madison), into his future wife. He's known her since she was

4, and he's strategically kept her closeted, as though in a convent,

hoping thereby to shape her obedience and gratitude. Just as he's about

to wed her, in stumbles young Horace (Dave Mack) from the street below

her window, and the youthful pair are smitten with eachother, soon

conniving against the old bachelor. Horace, not realizing that Arnolphe

is the man keeping Agnes as his imprisoned ward, keeps confiding in the

older man about his and Agnes' schemes, fueling Arnolphe's exasperation

and fury. Perhaps it's the use of director Michel's tender, Baroque

sound-tracks, or the gentle understatement of Roberts' performance and

Arnolphe, but the play emerges less as a clown show, and more as a

wistful almost elegiac rumination on aging and folly. Arnolphe tried to

create a brainless wife as though from a petri dish, an object he can

own, and the more she rejects him, the more enamored he becomes of her,

until his heart breaks. The pathos is underscored by the obvious

intelligence of Madison's Agnes - an intelligence that Arnolphe is

blind to. The production's reflective tone supersedes Michel's very

stylized, choreographic staging (this company's trademark). The ennui

is further supported by a similarly low-key portrayal by David E. Frank

as Arnolphe's blithe friend and confidante, Chrysalde. In In fact, when

lisping, idiot servants (Cynthia Mance and Ken Rudnicki) keep running

in circles and crashing into each other, Michel's one attempt at

Commedia physicality is at odds with the production rather than a

complement to it. Company costumer Josephine Poinsot (surprising she

doesn't work more) provides luscious period vestments and gowns, and

Duncombe's delightful production design, includes a gurgling fountain,

a tub of white roses, and abstract hints of some elegant, Parisian

court. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley entrance); Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 319-9939.

TUNA DOES VEGAS Texan townsfolk head to Sin City in Jaston Williams,

Joe Sears and Ed Howard's fourth installment of their "Greater Tuna"

satire. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada

Blvd., La Mirada; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 &

8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (562) 944-9801.

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

BEHIND BARBED WIRE Some 50 teenage actors and writers collaborate

with playwright Virginia Grise and bring in their personal experiences

to explore issues surrounding immigration in this country. Will be

continued at REDCAT May 23-24; call for info: (213) 237-2800. PLAZA DE

LA RAZA, 3540 N. Mission Rd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., May 9,

2 p.m.; thru May 9. (323) 223-2475.

CIRCLE X FREE READING SERIES Full schedule at

www.circlextheatre.org. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Wed.,

8 p.m.; thru May 27. (323) 463-3900.

DEBBIE REYNOLDS: AN EVENING OF MUSIC AND COMEDY . El Portal Theatre,

5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3

p.m.; thru May 10. (866) 811-4111.


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