Stage Raw: The Singing Skeleton
The Singing Skeleton Photo courtesy of Stella Adler Theatre
NEW REVIEW THE SINGING SKELETON The first hour of Stefan Marks' satire of actors and their odd relationship to theater finds hilarious truth in the absurdity of the odyssey of inexperienced, but emotionally connected artists trying to find a path through Hollywood. Spouting eye-rolling platitudes about acting techniques and script writing, several character might easily become two-dimensional jokes, but Marks' ear for actor lingo and a fine cast allow the play to weave a tight fabric of reality out of the ludicrous. Most successful is Barrett Shuler whose brilliant, deadpan portrayal of Brandon, a first-time playwright who is nearly as passionate about the work as he is about gorgeous Hannah (Jessica Kepler) whom he hopes to cast (and kiss) as his star. Brian Taubman as his clueless best friend, Mark Gadbois as an aging and idiotic macho actor, and Matt Weight as an Australian pretty boy join in to make this journey through Equity waiver heartbreakingly funny. The title is not metaphoric but literal as a singing skeleton (Marks) punctuates the play and play-within-a-play with pithy songs beautifully sung to acoustic guitar. Sadly Act 2 disintegrates into cheap sketch, still garnering laughs, but from feeble jokes rather than clever insights. Occasionally the foolishness pauses for a melodramatic moment, but the play never regains the polish and painfully funny beauty of Act 1. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (888) 201-0804. Crooked Arrow Productions. (Tom Provenzano)
For other NEW THEATER REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press the Continue Reading tab directly below
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for May 29-June 4, 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
OPENING THIS WEEK
APARTMENT 6 & 9 Two comedies by Matt Morillo: All Aboard the Marriage Hearse and Stay Over. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens May 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 5. (323) 960-5521.
CYMBELINE Summer season at Theatricum Botanicum opens with Shakespeare's romance/tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; opens May 31; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.
AN EMPTY PLATE IN THE CAFE DU GRAND BOEUF Wealthy ex-pat goes on a solipsistic hunger strike in his own Paris restaurant, in Michael Hollinger's dark comedy. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens May 30; Sat., May 30, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.;
Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Thurs., June 11, 2 p.m.; Sun., June 21, 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (949) 497-2787.
A GRAND GUIGNOL CABARET Le Grand Guignol Kabarett presents Orgy in the Lighthouse, The Little House in Friedrichstadt, "vintage lesbian duet, wet Wagnerian chair dance, classic drag" and more. Plus: pre-show absinthe and German beer presentation. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; opens May 29; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28, www.legrandguignolkabarett.com. (323) 876-1501.
LETTERS TO A STUDENT REVOLUTIONARY Elizabeth Wong's commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 111 N. Central Ave., L.A.; Thurs., June 4, 6 p.m., letters.metamorphosistheatrecompany.org. (213) 830-1880.
THE LITTLE FOXES Lillian Hellman's 1939 story of greed. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino
Ave., Pasadena; opens May 29; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (626) 356-PLAY.
MERCURY FUR Philip Ridley's controversial drama about two brothers in a dystopian London who organize violent sex parties for wealthy fetishists. Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; opens May 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru June 28, www.needtheater.org. (800) 838-3006.
THE MUSCLES IN OUR TOES Former classmates at their high school reunion vow to rescue a kidnapped friend, in Stephen Belber's world-premiere comedy. (In the Forum Theatre.). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens May 30; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 28. (866) 811-4111.
OH MY TIGER Dance-theater parable by playwright Sibyl O'Mallet and choreographer Mira Kingsley. Plus: Miwa Matreyek and Chi-wang Yang's video performance project Ocean Flight.. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; May 29-30, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., May 31, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
O.P.C.: OBSESSIVE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS Stockard Channing headlines this reading of Eve Ensler's new play. Discussion follows with Ensler and cast. Santa Monica Bay Woman's Club, 1210 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri., May 29, 8 p.m., www.globalgreen.org/opc. (310) 395-1308.
RED, HOT AND BLUE! Cole Porter's 1936 screwball comedy musical, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens May 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 5. (800) 838-3006.
SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK LIVE TOO! Teacher saves his favorite hangout from foreclosure through the magic of songs from "Schoolhouse Rock.". Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; opens May 30; Sat., May 30, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 7:30 p.m.; thru July 26. (323) 655-7679.
SERIAL KILLERS: THE PLAYOFFS Facebook factors into this serialized improv competition: Log in and vote each week on which serials continue, until there is only one! (Final round and awards ceremony, July 11.). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens May 30; Sat., 11 p.m.; Sat., July 11, 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 281-8337.
STANDING IN THE GAP Denizens of Downtown L.A., some homeless, tell their tales. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., May 30, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 31, 3 & 7 p.m., www.brownpapertickets.com/event/66571. (323) 883-1717.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
GO AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' Come for Act 2. Richard Maltby, Jr. directed this music-bar revue of songs from the Fats Waller era, many composed by Waller, with words by a stream of lyricists, including Maltby, Jr. Like the director, choreographer Arthur Faria has also returned from years-long involvement with the 1978 Broadway show to streamline this revival -- dwarfed somewhat by the Ahmanson' barn-like scale. The glitz of shimmering streams of small lights that rim the feet of stairways, or blast in an arc over John Lee Beatty's art deco set (lighting design by Pat Collins), only gets in the way. Music director William Foster McDaniel sits parked at a spinet that floats across the stage through the wonder of hydraulics. I found Act 1 insufferable, with the women in the five actor ensemble overplaying the same bits of mock-jealousy and forced, girly eroticism, as though Malby, Jr. adhered to the dubious principle that if a gag fails once, keep repeating it until it works. The interpretations of 15 songs in Act 1, including "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Squeeze Me," ranges from competent to painful, with the uber-effect of cheesiness stemming from the strain of forcing an intimate revue into the kind of overly broad performing style that it just can't accommodate. Act 2, is like a different show. The glitz recedes, and the style settles into something more earnest and simple -- even the vaudeville bits, such as Eugene Barry-Hill's terrific rendition of "The Viper's Drag" in which he wobbles amidst jazzy crooning about the pleasures of reefer. Most of the act, however, is committed to blues and ballads, sung with emotional earnestness and simple tech support, with the help of the great eight-piece band behind them, and McDaniel on piano. The show is about the music and contains a wit that 's far more savvy and wry that the style of humor in Act 1. The music also provides a mirror onto the ambitions and torments of people in the years before WWII. When the performers (also including Doug Eskew, Armelia McQueen, Roz Ryan and Debra Walton) are left alone to do what they do best, the show takes flight. The company turns "Black and Blue" into an ethereal quintet, accompanied only by the piano, that could be been plucked from a church service. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through May 31. (213) 638-4017 or http://centertheatregroup.org.
GO BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO Provoked by an American guard named Tom (Glenn Davis), the Tiger (Kevin Tighe) in a cage in the Baghdad zoo, circa 2002, lops off Tom's hand and is swiftly shot by Tom's partner, Kev (Brad Fleischer). This is a story of people, and creatures, who keep losing parts of themselves, and every image stands for something else. The tiger was shot with a gold revolver pillaged from the Uday Hussein's palace by Tom -- along with a gold toilet seat that he hopes will be a source of financial security upon his return to the U.S. Gold and the gold rush forge a pit of woe. Among the living and the ghosts populating Rajiv Joseph's panorama is a topiarist named Musa (Arian Moayed), though the occupying American soldiers inexplicably call him Habib. And throughout the Magritte-like dreamscape wanders the ghost of that Tiger, now pondering the purpose of existence and original sin, as though being caged in war-torn Baghdad weren't punishment enough for whatever crimes he committed as a Tiger, kidnapped and airlifted from Bengal. Joseph's symbolism and magic-carpet ride are quite magnificent, supported by Moisés Kaufman's staging on Derek McLane's set of blue-hued tile with a mosque archway, rimmed with gold. And, of course, Musa's topiary figurines that wander in and out, like the growing population of ghosts. (SLM) Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through June 7. (310) 628-2772.
COLLECTED STORIES Donald Margulies' slices of life about an aging author and her young mentor. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru June 14. (714) 708-5555.
CROWNS This musical by Regina Taylor examines the passionate attachment of certain churchgoing African-American women for their hats. Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, it turns on the interaction between Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a tough street girl from Brooklyn raging with grief over the murder of her brother, and various women she encounters after she's shipped off to South Carolina to live with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). The book that was the musical's source material consists of an elegant collection of photo portraits and firsthand reminiscences; Taylor appropriates these as monologues, then juxtaposes them with original dialogue and gospel hymns. The thrust of the show -- increasingly churchly as the evening wears on -- is the effort to educate Yolanda regarding the importance of hats to her identity and her spirituality. Under Israel Hicks' direction, the focus is clear but its execution -- both script and performance -- is disappointing. Five female performers each deliver various monologues that simply don't add up to recognizable characters who serve the story -- itself a cobbled construct. Lackluster choreography, less than top-notch vocals and indifferent lighting also detract, as does the production's two-hour length, without intermission. The strongest element is the outstanding contribution of Clinton Derricks-Carroll in a variety of male roles, but especially as a fervently possessed, pulpit-thumping preacher. In an uneven ensemble, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Suzzanne Douglas are worthy of note, as are the instrumentals, under Eric Scott Reed's musical direction. (DK) Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through June 14. (323) 964-9768. An Ebony Repertory Theatre/Pasadena Playhouse production.
GO DIRTY DANCING Blockbuster musicals based on blockbuster films are multiplying like viruses, but Dirty Dancing is different. Its approach to slapping film on a stage is the zenith of the seamless and shameless. Instead of adding songs, original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's theater translation mimics scenes with a faithfulness to her treasured 1987 source material that's slavishly high camp. Add in James Powell's extravagant direction and we're served up fantastically expensive cheese that knows audiences don't just want to see Baby (Amanda Leigh Cobb) and Johnny (Josef Brown) dancing on a log, they want to see that log descend majestically from the ceiling and be dismissed when it's served its momentary purpose. By duplicating the pacing, plot and props, Dirty Dancing revels in the luxurious disposability that tells a crowd they're getting their money's worth. Wow factor is key when you're shelling out the cost of several DVDs to watch the exact same thing live -- the set whirls and motors, spitting up bridges and doors and revolving platforms, dancers in great costumes pack the stage, and giant video screens even show us the fractured glass when Johnny punches a window. It's the kind of nonsense that delights both cynics and fans. (Inversely, it's now the script's dabbling into race and class consciousness that feels cheap.) Cobb and Brown are twins for Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, the charming Cobb approaching the role with actual acting, while the muscular Brown has fun aping Swayze's show-pony dramatics. In a strong and massive cast, standouts include Britta Lazenga as the ill-fated dancer Penny and the very funny Katlyn Carlson as Baby's snotty sister Lisa. (AN) Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through June 28. (213) 365-3500. A Broadway L.A. production.
LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN Oscar Wilde's satire of Victorian-era marriage. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 13. (562) 494-1014.
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 June 28. (310) 208-54545.
MARRY ME A LITTLE & THE LAST FIVE YEARS For Marry Me a Little, Craig Lucas and Norman Rene constructed a wisp of a plot to incorporate 16 existing Stephen Sondheim songs. In it, two New Yorkers, a man (Mike Dalager) and a woman (Jennifer Hubilla) each spend a lonely Saturday night at home. Since one set serves for both apartments, we see both obliviously pursuing their solitary lives within a single space. Director Jules Aaron seems to distrust the original concept, allowing them to be aware and interact, so the thematic loneliness is nullified. The result resembles a musical revue, or an overproduced concert. The Last Five Years, written/composed by Jason Robert Brown and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, depicts, in 14 songs, the dissolution of a relationship, seen from opposite perspectives by writer Jamie (Michael K. Lee) and Cathy (Jennifer Paz): He sees their relationship chronologically, while she views it retrospectively, leaving us to piece together the fractured tale. The performers are all capable, but only Lee brings needed dynamism. Since one play concerns a relationship that never happens, and the other depicts a deteriorating one, they make for a grim evening, though the opening-night audience seemed enthusiastic. )NW) East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, 129 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 21. (213) 625-7000 or eastwestplayers.org.
SPIT LIKE A BIG GIRL Clarinda Ross' one-woman memoir of growing up Southern, coping with her father's death, and raising her disabled daughter. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru June 7. (805) 667-2900.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
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.
ALWAYS AND FOREVER Annoyed teenager road-trips to Tijuana for her quincea-era dress fitting, in Michael Patrick Spillers' tribute to Latino-American culture. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 14. (323) 263-7684.
AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare's comedy, courtesy Declan Adams Theatre. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 20. (213) 926-2726.
GO BIG Director Richard Israel and his fine cast have a first-rate revival of this 1996 Broadway musical, based on the film that made Tom Hanks a star. And if you've seen the movie and think you know the story, think again: You can expect a few witty surprises here. Big (John Weidman, book; David Shire, music; Richard Maltby, lyrics) is a whimsical tale about Josh (L.J. Benet), an undersized teenager whose oversized crush on a schoolmate results in a startling metamorphosis when a carnival contraption grants his wish to be "big." When he wakes up as an adult, Josh (Will Collyer) has his hands full coping with life, his best friend, Billy (Sterling Beaumon), and a heartbroken mom (Lisa Picotte). When he stumbles into a high-caliber job with a toy company, he catches the eye of corporate climber Susan (the outstanding Darrin Revitz) and finds romance, but he ultimately discovers that life as a 13-year-old adult is not all that great. Israel has done a remarkable job staging this piece on a small stage, and manages the large cast -- which features some fine adolescent actors and actresses -- quite well. Christine Lakin's choreography is polished and attractive, with many of the dances evincing an edgy comic expressiveness. Musical director Daniel Thomas does equally fine work. (LE3) El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through June 28. (323) 460-4443. A West Coast Ensemble production.
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.
BINGO WITH THE INDIANS Adam Rapp's dark comedy about scheming thespians. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru June 7, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-7774.
CIRCUS THEATRICALS FESTIVAL OF NEW ONE-ACT PLAYS, . Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (323) 960-7846.
Hollywood, West Hollywood, Downtown
COME BACK LITTLE HORNY In playwright Laura Richardson's clever sourball of a family comedy, mom Susan (Wendy Phillips) and dad Ian (Scott Paulin) used to be artists, but now they're retired -- read "tapped out" -- and they seem to spend most of their time sniping at each other. Meanwhile, their closeted gay son Loki (Brendan Bonner) and borderline schizophrenic daughter Nora (Jennifer Erholm) still live at home, subjected to endless sneers and veiled insults thrown in their direction. Into this toxic atmosphere comes the family's one successful scion, Stanford University professor and bestselling author Raven (Danielle Weeks), who, estranged from her clan, shows up for a visit, bringing along her newly adopted pet dog Horny (delightfully played in canine drag by Jason Paige, whose leg-humping, slobbery performance all but barks with the unfiltered love that the human characters can't express to each other). Raven's latest book is a hostile but truthful roman à clef about her family -- and, as they peruse the book, the clan is forced to confront the miserable truth. Director Martha Demson's character-driven production artfully emphasizes the subtext underlying the family's brittle relationship. Not a line is spoken that doesn't seep with layers of corrosive back story. Although the pacing occasionally falters -- and the piece frankly could use some cutting, particularly during the final third -- the writing is smartly full of just the sorts of lines you hope never to hear from your mother. The ensemble work boasts some ferocious acting turns, particularly from Phillips' scathingly bitter mother and Weeks' superficially loving, passively hostile daughter. (PB) Lost Studio Theatre, 130 S. LaBrea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through June 20. (310) 600-3682.
NEW REVIEW GO THE COUNTRY WIFE Adapted and directed by
Richard Tatum, William Wycherley's 1675 bawdy satire is a sexual
creampuff of delight. In cahoots with Dr. Quack (Jim Hanna), Harry
Horner (Darin Toonder) passes himself off as a eunuch to polite
society--all with the mind to be trusted alone with the wives of
gentlemen. His impotency is the focus of much conversation, until the
wives find out the truth and start lining up for his services. One who
doesn't trust him with his wife--or with any man for that matter--is
Jack Pinchwife (Antony Ferguson) who keeps his wife Margery (Caroline
Sharp) under lock and key. When he finally relents after her constant
pleading to see London, he dresses her as a boy, but the duplicity
doesn't fool Horner. She responds to Horner's kisses and a mix up of
letters ensues. There's a subplot involving Pinchwife's sister Althea
(Tracy Eliott) who loves the sober minded Frank Harcourt (Kenn Johnson)
but has been promised in marriage to the foolish Mr. Sparkish (Peter
Ross Stephens), an ignorant fop who yelps for wit yet can say nothing
witty himself. Stephens turns in an eye-catching performance as the
foppish dullard and very nearly steals the show. Tatum handles the
ribald humor with flair, and costume designer Denise Nakamura adds
hilarity with the outrageousness of the gentlemen's wigs. Hayworth
Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;
thru May 30. (323) 969-1707. An Ark Theatre Company produciton. (Sandra
GO THE CRUCIBLE In the days of HUAC and Senator Joseph McCarthy, when it was dangerous for any left-leaning writer to criticize government actions, playwright Arthur Miller approached the subject indirectly, writing about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 as a metaphor for McCarthy's reckless accusations. But as this illuminating production makes clear, the play remains eloquent and relevant, and director Marianne Savell gives it a sharp new focus. In addition to examining the plight of John and Elizabeth Proctor (Bruce Ladd and Nan McNamara), both accused of witchcraft, she highlights two of the accusers: The paranoid, egocentric, hysterical Reverend Parris (Daniel J. Roberts) is ultimately destroyed by the madness he has unleashed, while decent man of conscience Reverend Hale (Gary Clemmer) believes the charges of witchcraft until it's too late to halt the madness. The witch-hunt, launched by a toxic brew of superstition, fear, lies, self-righteousness and individual malice, becomes an inexorable force, grinding up accusers and accused. Ladd and McNamara deftly capture the flawed but powerful integrity of John and Elizabeth, while Roberts and Clemmer subtly delineate the growing despair of the two clergymen. They are given strong support by a huge and able cast. (NW) Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2:30 p.m., additional matinee Sat., May 16, 2:30 p.m., through June 7. (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 June 28. (323) 954-9795.
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. (323) 960-1056.
GO EL OGRITO (THE OGRELING) Jesús Castaños-Chima stages Suzanne Lebeau's dark fairy tale (performed in Spanish with English supertitles) with sweetness and depth. It concerns a mother (Julieta Ortiz) trying to protect her young son (the adult Gabriel Romero) from the heredity and instinct of blood lust. His father, you see, was/is an Ogre, or one who eats children. After going through six of his own daughters, he fled to give his infant son a chance. Dad hangs offstage in the forest, watching with admiration as his son struggles with hereditary, demonic passions to eat little animals and, eventually, little children, while his mother strives valiantly to ban the color red from the house, and serve him vegetarian fare grown in the garden -- in these plays, gardens always serve as an antidote to the horrors of who we are. (SLM) 24th Street Theater, 1117 24th St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., times vary, call for schedule; through June 21. (213) 745-6516.
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.
NEW REVIEW GO EVE'S RAPTURE
Eve's Rapture Photo by Bryan Reynolds
fall of Adam and Eve has furnished raw material for countless works of
art but one rarely as fantastical as Bryan Reynolds' unpredictable
play. A dizzying mix of metaphors, it begins with Satan (Chris
Marshall) in command of an armed and loyal jihad of fallen angels; they
are determined to take down God by either recruiting Adam (Ryan Welsh)
and Eve (Kendra Smith) to their cause, or destroying them. Act I
depicts the first couple gamboling in the Garden, notwithstanding Eve's
uneasy sense that there's more to existence than affectionate kisses
and playful body rubs. The end of innocence comes after Satan
personally tempts her to bite the apple, then fucks her wildly -
leaving them both wowed by their unexpected erotic rapport. Their
intercourse marks the beginning of Eve's total transformation; whereas
Adam develops the doldrums, and worse. By play's end, Eve's one gal
you surely wouldn't want to mix it up with. Part parable, part comic
strip fable, part action drama, the play speaks powerfully to the
unseen forces and symbols which dominate our lives. Perhaps not
surprisingly, the Eden sequences drag, layered as they are with so
much saccharine that one's soon rooting for the Devil to break it up.
As the prime mover of the action, Marshall's performance is one of
understated mastery. As his wife/daughter Sin, Sage Howard sizzles.
Robert Cohen directs. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 960-7721. (Deborah
F YOURSELF: AN EVENING WITH FAMKE ROUMSTEAD Just a few doors north of Canter's Deli in a small storefront on Fairfax, a Rubenesque woman with close-cropped dark hair sashays about the stage and invites you to "learn how to f yourself." She is Famke Roumstead, sexologist, lecturer, Manatee Community College Alumnus . as well as your private dancer for the evening (yes, she treats us to her version of the Tina Turner classic). "I don't look romantical . but I am," she tells the audience as she begins the show with one of a number of clever, Bush-like neologisms. In a fairly short set (clocking in at around 40 minutes), Roumstead riffs on sexual taboos, debunks sexual stereotypes and exposes archaic archetypes of femininity and female sexuality. Her deadpan style and comic timing are weirdly reminiscent of the great Stephen Wright, though at the same time the two couldn't be more different. And as the show is at an improv theater, Roumstead doesn't hesitate to request audience participation, including engagement in a breathing exercise to find our "genitalia spirit animals" and calling volunteers onstage to assist her in various demonstrations. While the show could use a little tightening in terms of direction, it's a pleasant diversion. (MK) Bang Comedy Theater, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 30. (323) 653-6886.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
FUBAR Karl Gajdusek's new play deals with two San Francisco couples whose lives overlap as they deal with addiction, temptation, and realization. Mary (Alice Dodd) and David (Ron Morehouse) live in the shadow of a mountain of boxes belonging to Mary's deceased mother, who was violently abused by her husband. David's high school buddy Richard (David Wilcox) and his wife Sylvia (Amanda Street) experiment with designer drugs, frequent clubs, and engage in cyber sex. When Mary becomes a victim of violence while taking a walk, she becomes hell bent on fighting back and joins a boxing gym where she is trained by D.C. (Richard Werner). As Mary and David's marriage falls apart, David, chasing youth and excitement, becomes enmeshed in the lives of Richard and Sylvia, sinking into their drug-addled lifestyle. Director Larissa Kokernot employs projections creatively, but she fails to get much emotion from her cast and certain choices, such as on-stage costume changes and a naturalistic cooking scene, are more confusing than anything. Despite the accomplishments and lengthy resumes of the playwright, director and cast, the play's characters, relationships and scenarios just don't sing, leaving the audience with a cocktail of ideas and images that remains beyond recognition. (MK) Theater of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 30. (323) 856-8611. www.theatreofnote.com.
FUGGEDABOUDIT Male model with amnesia meets his "friends," by Gordon Bressack. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru June 14. (323) 465-0800.
GROUNDLINGS ENCHANTED FOREST All-new sketch and improv, directed by Roy Jenkins. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 934-9700.
NEW REVIEW GO HALF OF PLENTY
Half of Plenty Photo by John Flynn
still trying to trace the roots of the great, economic collapse of 2007
can stop digging. Playwright Lisa Dillman's somewhat schematic satire
argues that the monetary debacle responsible for crippling the markets
and the existential paralysis gripping her suburbanite protagonists
were both spawned by a common corruption of spirit rather than of
finance. In fact, the instability that drives Marty Tindall (John
Pollono) and his wife, Holly (Carolyn Palmer), to regroup in the
ironically named Ardor Park housing development (and postpone having a
child) has more to do with Marty's recent bout of alcoholism and his
downwardly mobile new job at the local box factory. Complicating their
effort to rebuild their lives -- and marriage -- is Marty's
Alzheimer's-afflicted father, Jack (Robert Mandan), whose presence
forces Holly to be both caregiver and co-breadwinner by taking on
medical transcription work. The crisis comes when Holly seeks solace in
a romantic correspondence via transcription tape with an unseen albeit
married doctor/client while Marty joins the quasi-terrorist
"Neighborhood Vigil," enforcing anti-immigrant, tract etiquette
alongside the cell's creepily charismatic Zooks (the very funny Ron
Bottitta and Betsy Zajko). Although a feebly bathetic denouement
ultimately suggests Dillman is more interested in the exposition of
theme over character, Barbara Kallir's crisp direction of a spot-on
cast, aided by the polished support of a fine design team (particularly
Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's trompe l'oeil set paintings), ably fills
the gaps with laughs. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.;
Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323)
960-7774. A Rogue Machine production (Bill Raden)
THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 8033 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.
GO THE IDEA MAN The unspecified manufacturing plant at the heart of Kevin King's comedy-drama has a "Gillette account," referring to the razors and razorblades being produced there, among other products. The detailed set design (credited to Elephant Stageworks) includes welding stations lined along the walls of the tiny stage. The realism in the design creates a naturalistic and enveloping atmosphere of the workplace, which supports and, in subtle ways, also stifles King's richly textured examination of the class divide within that factory and, by implication, across America's dwindling manufacturing base. When Al Carson (James Pippi), a bright machinist and union rep, visits the salubrious home of plant manager Simmons (David Franco), Al's awe and awkwardness are apparent in Pippi's expressions, while behind him, we see welding machines, which is a intrusion. As directed by David Fofi in a style that combines earthy David Mamet/Steppenwolf Theatre realism with occasional hints of a sitcom in the making, the ensemble is so good that the production rides largely on the strengths of the atmosphere and the actors. Al has just won the "suggestion of the month" prize, for a design generating exponentially more efficiency in the production of razorblades. The idea could be worth millions of dollars in potential savings to the company, and for this, Simmons is willing to reward Al with a check for $100 and a laminated plaque with his name on it -- on the condition that Al signs over the rights to his design. Al understands the insult; he's no fool What ensues is a series of artfully conceived scenes between the Al and staff engineer Frank (Robert Foster), who's task is to make Al's idea "work" -- a blue collar-white collar cat-and-mouse game in which the roles of cat and mouse keep shifting. That Simmons would invite top management to fly in from God knows where, this coming weekend, no less, for a presentation on Al's suggestion -- even before Frank has had the opportunity to test it -- reveals a management style so reckless, it's hard to believe. Yet it's on this somewhat contrived stress test that playwright King builds the play's suspense. King's ideas are so fine, they deserve refining. (SLM) Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through June 6. (323) 960-4410.
MADNESS IN VALENCIA Not the Santa Clarita suburb, but the infamous Spanish asylum whose residents are equally insane, courtesy playwright Lopa de Vega. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 28, 2 p.m.; thru June 28. (310) 281-8337.
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 30. (323) 960-5771.NEW REVIEW
NIGHTS OF NOIR: MARKED FOR LOVE/OF DICKS AND DAMES
Nights of Noir Photo by Ed Krieger
this pair of one-acts, writer-director Kasey Wilson parodies 1940s film
noir by introducing private eye Bolt (Scott Gerard), who though not
exactly Sam Spade, is nevertheless good for some laughs. In Marked for
Love, the impavid Bolt, who hasn't had a case in three months, is seen
asleep at his desk when he is visited by the seductive, black-clad
Vivian (Elizabeth V. Newman), who needs a purloined painting recovered.
Solving the crime is not easy, as Bolt must contend with a jealous
cohort (Mike Park), a shadowy thin guy (Drew Droege), deception at
every turn, as well as his own engaging ineptitude. Of Dicks and Dames
is not as cleverly written, but still serves up its share of humor.
Here, Bolt is enmeshed in a mega-convoluted case involving a missing
woman (Lauren Leonelli), the murder of a sinister purveyor of porn
(Droege), a creepy, peg-leg German (Eric Charles Jorgenson), and Viola
Shylock Jan Pessin), whose appearance comes courtesy of the Bard. There
is more style than substance here, but it eventually adds up to an
evening of fun and laughs. And for an added bit of spice, Wilson (aka
Honey Ima Home), does a smoking hot burlesque routine between acts.
Attic Theater and Film center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.; LA. Fri.-Sat.,
8 p.m... through June 27. (323) 960-1055. (Lovell Estell III)
OCHRE & ONYX: THE LANGSTON HUGHES PROJECT Langston Hughes celebrated the notion of black as beautiful long before the slogan became a watchword for social change. Spotlighting our nation's ongoing racial divisions, writer Lynn Manning's message play attempts to make a connection between Hughes' brief coming-of-age sojourn in Mexico in 1920-21 and the modern-day struggles of a young slam poet named Nubia (Lauryn Whitney) who must deal with her personal anger and prejudice. The latter scenario ignites around Nubia's gnarly relationship with an affable African-Latina painter, Lisa (Melissa Camilo), who has enthusiastically sought out their artistic collaboration, but whom Nubia resents for her Hispanic roots. The play alternates between what happens with these women and the more interesting historical drama involving Hughes (Maurice Glover) and his crusty, domineering dad (Rodney Gardiner), who wants the poet to give up poetry and move to Mexico, where, as a black man, he can get some respect. Hughes' early life -- his tremendous emotional conflicts and the nascent beginnings of his inspirational ideas -- is fascinating fodder for drama, but the script strays off the mark with painfully excessive melodrama and too much time spent showing the naïve hero learning to carouse with more jaded companions. Glover has a pleasant quality but his performance is none too deep. Whitney brings to the role lots of fierce passion (the poetry is terrific), but she's hampered by the script's overall didacticism. Under Nataki Garret's direction, both she and Camilo come across as symbols for opposing attitudes rather than fully developed characters. (DK) Los Angeles Design Center, 5955 S. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 31. (323) 599-0811. A Watts Village Theater Company production.
ONCE UPON A MATTRESS Princess-and-pea musical, adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 21. (323) 939-9220.
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.
GOPOINT 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.NEW REVIEW
RANTOUL AND DIE Mark Roberts' bleak comedy has
four great characters and a half dozen great speeches in search of a
point. Set in Rantoul, Ill., it opens with Gary (Paul Dillon)
counseling heartbroken bud Rallis (Rich Hutchman) on his pending
divorce from Debbie (Cynthia Ettinger) who works down at the Dairy
Queen. Gary is a redneck mystic and self-described tiger; his approach
to keeping Rallis from slicing his wrists is to choke the fear of death
in him. With the entrance of the cruel and curvaceous Debbie (who's
hellbent on keeping the house and Honda) and her cat lady boss Callie
(Lisa Rothschiller), Roberts opens several inviting routes for his play
to explore grief, guilt and mercenary lust. Instead, it stalls out with
repetitive arguments and shocks that don't register as the nasty fun we
crave. Director Erin Quigley gets fun performances from her four leads
and gives each their moment to hold court over production designer
David Harwell's painstakingly accurate suburban ranch house, complete
with dogs that bark each time a character slams the front door in
frustration. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat.,
8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 4, www.rantoulanddie.com. (323)
960-4424. (Amy Nicholson)
THE REAL THING "Loving and being loved is so illiterate," sighs playwright Henry (Jay Huguley) in Tom Stoppard's dramedy about commitment to your amour and emotions. Henry boasts that he's too superior to feel jealousy; his confusion at being cuckolded is channeled into his brilliant, but bourgeois living room dramas, which -- like him -- risk sounding flip. He's frustrated with drafting an earnest love story for his new actress wife (Susan Duerden), and Stoppard's self-aware digressions feel like the author's apologia for any potential weaknesses. Luckily, such meanderings are few. Before long, Henry's loudmouthed cynicism eases into a convincing case that he's the last romantic in England. The brittle wit of the first act softens after intermission when a tenderized Henry offers his definition of fidelity. However, to breathe, these observations need a light, deft touch. Instead director Allen Barton instead cranks up the emotionalism, even ending several scenes in a deafening climax of screams and music. Whatever Huguley is bellowing at the ceiling is drowned out in the fury, a misstep for a play that worships the power of words. (AN) 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. A Katselas Company production
GO RICHARD III REDUX: OUR RADICAL ADAPTATION The radical part of this stylish, modern-dress patchwork isn't so much in director John Farmanesh-Bocca's decision to preface Richard III with a flashback version of its chronological antecedent, Henry VI, Part 3. Nor is it in the Procrustean condensation required to fit both plays into an evening that clocks in at a mere 100 minutes. What is radical is the Veterans Center for the Performing Arts production's argument that doing so makes for a more sympathetic, emotionally traumatized Richard (Stephan Wolfert). If the case isn't airtight, blame Shakespeare -- even Clarence Darrow would cop a plea before the persuasive power with which the Bard prosecutes his most irredeemably sociopathic of stage villains. That the effort proves such a rollicking good time is strictly the fault of Farmanesh-Bocca and his iridescent ensemble (ably lit by Randy Brumbaugh). Wolfert's antic performance as the crook-backed usurper is almost Lon Chaney-esque in its physical dimensions, confidently spanning the valiant-defender-of-York honor in Henry and the gleefully scheming gargoyle of Richard. Bruce Cervi and Tim Halligan provide nuanced support as Richard's ill-fated brothers caught in the cross hairs of dynastic ambition, while the versatile Carvell Wallace inflects the conspiratorial Buckingham with a distinctly Kissingerian menace. The best reason for this redux, however, may be Lisa Pettett's tantalizing turn as Queen Margaret, a portrayal of matriarchal political manipulation right out of The Manchurian Candidate. (BR) Mortise & Tenon Furniture Store, 2nd floor, 446 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sun. & Mon., 8 p.m., through June 8. (888) 398-9348. A Veterans Center for the Performing Arts production.
NEW REVIEW GO SETUP & PUNCH Director Daniel Henning
seamlessly moves the action between the past and the present in Mark
Saltzman's highly original new comedy. After a bitter ten year breakup
with former writing partner Vanya (Hedy Burress), Brian (Andrew Leeds)
contacts her about the copyright to a children's show they co produced.
Through a series of letters, the breakup of the once happy writing duo
is laid bare. The two met at Cornell, and Vanya followed Brian to New
York City to kick start his Broadway aspirations. They audition for a
revue, but are told to collaborate with Jan (a mesmerizing P.J.
Griffith), a rock star and composer. As the twosome becomes a
threesome, Vanya's unrequited love for Brian, a deeply closeted gay
man, spills through. Jan, a sexual libertine, opens the closet door for
Brian, however. The sexual tension is one contributing factor to Vanya
and Brian's break-up, but when Vanya is hired for a TV series they had
both been working on, Brian goes ballistic. All of this is revealed
through a series of letters which become emails which become phone
calls as the two draw near a rapprochement. Performed without an
intermission, Henning keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, even as
the two compose letters. Griffith also performs in the smaller role of
Miguel, a once raucous Cornell classmate who has diverged onto a
spiritual path. Second Stage Theatre, Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd.,
L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 21. (323) 661-9827.
A Blank Theatre Company production (Sandra Ross)
\THE SINGING SKELETON
The Singing Skeleton Photo courtesy of Stella Adler Theatre
THE SINGING SKELETON The first hour of Stefan Marks' satire of actors
and their odd relationship to theater finds hilarious truth in the
absurdity of the odyssey of inexperienced, but emotionally connected
artists trying to find a path through Hollywood. Spouting eye-rolling
platitudes about acting techniques and script writing, several
character might easily become two-dimensional jokes, but Marks' ear for
actor lingo and a fine cast allow the play to weave a tight fabric of
reality out of the ludicrous. Most successful is Barrett Shuler whose
brilliant, deadpan portrayal of Brandon, a first-time playwright who is
nearly as passionate about the work as he is about gorgeous Hannah
(Jessica Kepler) whom he hopes to cast (and kiss) as his star. Brian
Taubman as his clueless best friend, Mark Gadbois as an aging and
idiotic macho actor, and Matt Weight as an Australian pretty boy join
in to make this journey through Equity waiver heartbreakingly funny.
The title is not metaphoric but literal as a singing skeleton (Marks)
punctuates the play and play-within-a-play with pithy songs beautifully
sung to acoustic guitar. Sadly Act 2 disintegrates into cheap sketch,
still garnering laughs, but from feeble jokes rather than clever
insights. Occasionally the foolishness pauses for a melodramatic
moment, but the play never regains the polish and painfully funny
beauty of Act 1. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.,
Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (888) 201-0804. Crooked
Arrow Productions. (Tom Provenzano)
SIX STRANGE TALES OF LOVE Sy Rosen and Katie Echevarria Rosen's one-acts on the many incarnations of love. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 30. (818) 685-9939.
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 June 14. (323) 960-7740.
THE STICKING PLACE Chris Covics re-imagines Shakespeare's Macbeth via "images borrowed from the ensemble's dreams and nightmares.". Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 466-7781.
GO TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED The audiences tosses in a couple of suggestions at the start of the show, from which Impro Theater spins a full-length improvised drama in the style of Tennessee Williams. Clearly the types are pre-set. Floyd Van Buskirk's "Daddy" is a compendium of Night of the Iguana's ex-Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's Big Daddy. Director Brian Lohmann's Marquis is a flat-footed, slightly neurotic fellow tossed out of service in WWII by a 4F army classification. His withering self-respect gets crushed beneath the boot of Buddy (Dan O'Connor), home from the service and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There's an off-stage Veteran's Day Parade for atmosphere (one of the audience suggestions was "November," so there you go.) Tenderly comedic performances also by Jo McKinley as the repressed Widow Oleson and by Tracy Burns as the town slut Loretta, and especially by Lisa Fredrickson as the smart, aging romantic, Charlene. Is there any hope of enduring romance in this isolated mushpot of Williams' universe? The company guides the drama into a savvy bitter-sweet resolution. This is a tougher challenge than the company's prior effort, Jane Austen Unscripted, because the types of repression that form the essences of the comedy are comparatively languid in Williams, whereas the Austen sendup sprung from the starched collars and feelings that couldn't be expressed - because that would have been impolite. Williams' characters say what's on the mind, usually two or three times in various poetical incarnations: That's the detail that these actors nail on the head. Once that joke has arrived, the challenge is to avoid making a glib mockery of Williams' drawling explications and the sometimes ham-fisted poetry. It's a trap the company studiously avoids, so that the event lingers somewhere between satire and homage. It's a very smart choice. Nice cameo also by Nick Massouh. (SLM) Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 31. (800) 838-3006. An Impro Theater production
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.
TOUCH THE WATER Julie Hébert's collaborative play about the Los Angeles River. Rio de Los Angeles State Park, Bowtie Parcel, entrance adjacent to 2800 Casitas Ave., L.A.; Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru June 21. (213) 613-1700, Ext. 37.
NEW REVIEW GO TRAFFICKING IN BROKEN HEARTS There's
something hauntingly familiar about Edwin Sanchez' lowlife romance, and
I don't mean its pre-Giuliani, 42nd Street locale, so palpably invoked
by Sanchez and director Efrain Schunior's blistering stage poetry. The
block's sordid miasma of peepshows, seedy hotel rooms, gay movie houses
and Port Authority men's rooms -- cleverly represented in designer
Marika Stephens' triptych of skeletal, neon-trimmed, box scaffolds --
comprises the track where Puerto Rican street veteran Papo (a soulful
Ramon Camacho) hustles the tricks of his rough trade. It's also where
he falls for Brian (Stephen Twardokus), a chronically repressed
attorney and 26-year-old virgin so tangled in the apron strings of a
domineering mother that he can't consummate a hooker-john liaison much
less engage in an openly gay relationship. In the meantime, Papo will
have to settle for the runaway, Bobby (Elijah Trichon), a 16-year-old
package of dangerously damaged goods who only wants to make Papo a good
wife. The arrangement quickly develops into a volatile mix of
vulnerability, unrequited desire and wounded pride just waiting for the
inevitable spark. Of course, Papo is no hard-bitten Ratso Rizzo; he's
descended from an even more ancient line of Hollywood hokum, the
proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. Credit Schunior's skillful
sleight-of-hand, and riveting performances by Camacho and Twardokus,
for selling such a shamelessly adolescent fantasy, which may be the
greatest hustle of the show. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica
Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 7,
www.tix.com. (323) 957-1884. (Bill Raden)
WILDWOOD: A WESTERN FABLE Wild West saloon turns 99-seat theater in Tom Patrick's parody. Hayworth Studio, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 31, email@example.com. (213) 389-9860.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
BREAKING THE CODE Hugh Whitmore's biography of Alan Turing, "the father of modern computer science," who was criminally prosecuted and chemically castrated for his homosexuality. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 7, 3 p.m.; Sun., June 14, 3 p.m.; thru June 20, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
COURTING VAMPIRES Far from the traditional fare surrounding the fanged denizens of the dark, this world premiere from playwright Laura Schellhardt explores the mindscape of straight-laced Rill Archer (Carey Peters), a woman whose free-spirited younger sister Nina (Maya Lawson) becomes seduced by a vampire named Jim Slade (Bo Foxworth, who plays all of the males roles). Seeking justice and solace, Rill, dressed in robotic gray, retells the sequence of events that led to the seduction, skipping around in time and space while revealing the sisters' relationships with each other, their father and Rill's co-worker Gill. Set against Kurt Boetcher's set design that resembles a giant file cabinet, and complemented by Tim Swiss' lighting design, the scenes in the courtroom of Rill's mind are by turns funny and gravely serious, exploring the characters' fears, desires and inhibitions. Schellhardt is clearly accomplished, penning lines chock-full of witty lingual gymnastics and unique turns of phrase. Director Jessica Kubzansky sets the bar high as usual, ensuring that her actors navigate the complex rhythms of the text and carve out their characters in sharp relief. The cast members too are talented and faithfully trace the twists and turns of their characters, especially Foxworth, whose multiple roles are clearly defined. Unfortunately, the whole doesn't end up equaling the sum of its parts, leaving the audience with numerous great moments that don't fuse into a powerful or coherent story. (MK) Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through June 7. (626) 683-6883.
NEW REVIEW GO THE ELEPHANT MAN A staid but well-acted
revival of Bernard Pomerance's 1979 Tony Award-winning drama about the
deformities of a man in Victorian London, and the deformities of the
society that embraces and exploits him. Andak Stage Company at the New
Place Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 21. (866) 811-4111.
(Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28, www.insideprivatelives.com. (866) 811-4111.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Charles Michael Edmonds' solo show. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 960-5773.
OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS Italian grandparents scheme to keep their single grandson from moving away, in Joe DiPietro's family comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (818) 700-4878.
POE-ZEST One-man show by Edgar Allan Poe IV, the horror author's great-great-great-grandnephew. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Sat., May 30, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 31, 3 p.m., www.itsmyseat.com. (818) 500-7200.
RICHARD II The Porters of Hellsgate take on Shakespeare's doomed king. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru May 31. (818) 761-0704.
GO TEN TO LIFE Leave logic at the door and you'll get your full quota of laughs from this quartet of one-acts, each of which blends sci-fi, sex and absurdity in an entertaining way. Written by Annette Lee, "Hacienda Heights" is about a homicidal teen (Ewan Chung) living with a sexually predatory and abusive mom (Janet Song) and even more abusive grandmom (Emily Kuroda). Off to commit mass murder, he's forestalled when his alternate self (Feodor Chin) arrives from another dimension to redirect his aggression toward the villains at home. In Nic Cha Kim's "RE:verse" (the evening's funniest and most satisfying), a man (Chung) headed for his 10th high-school reunion undergoes extensive cosmetic surgery at a bargain-basement price; the catch is that it's for three days only, after which he'll revert -- at an inconvenient moment, of course, else it wouldn't be funny -- to his former self. Tim Lounibos' "Be Happy" concerns the power struggle between a psychiatrist (Chin) and his patient-wife (Peggy Ahn). The setup is confusing at first and it's a bit of a wait to the final payoff -- but worth it. Judy Soo Hoo's "The Red Dress" is about a married woman (Song) who, strangely, keeps insisting to her husband (Elpido Ebuen) that they renew the warranty on her "red dress" -- a plea he rejects, precipitating hellish consequences. No small part of the production's humor comes courtesy of designer Dennis Yen's sound and Christopher M. Singleton's lighting; the latter highlights the erotic and/or gruesome scenarios that intermittently play out behind set designer Philippe Levine's classy sliding screens. (DK) GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 7. (818) 238-9998. A Londestone Theatre Ensemble production.
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.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH COMMUNITIES
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.
BABYLON HEIGHTS Munchkins go wild on the set of The Wizard of Oz, by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanaugh. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 20. (866) 811-4111.
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.
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 May 30. (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.; thru May 30. (310) 828-7519.NEW REVIEW
THE HERETIC MYSTERIES Adapted from the
microhistory by Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, this offering from playwright
and director David Bridel centers on the French village of Montaillou
in the age of the Cathar heresy. During the late thirteenth century,
the Cathars, who referred to themselves as Good Men and Women,
protested what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political
corruption of the Catholic Church. As such, they were tried as
heretics by a tribunal headed by Bishop Fournier (Isaac Wade), who
would later become Pope Benedict XII. The three act structure of the
play (a triptych of sorts) follows the same set of events in and around
the town from three different perspectives: those of the kind-hearted
shepherd Pierre Maury (David Hardie), the corrupt priest Pierre Clergue
(Matt Weedman), and Guillaume Belibaste (Lucas Caleb Rooney), a Good
Man possessed by demons. Because of its length, the play has two
intermissions during which a puppet show in the courtyard recaps the
events of each act in bawdy, farcical style - a creative touch that
helped evoke the time period. Bridel's direction facilitates the swift
and imperceptible shifts between time periods and locations, and the
cast members, the rest of whom make up the inhabitants of Montaillou,
earnestly embody their characters. At over three hours, however, the
piece would benefit from a significant edit to not only clarify its
message, which gets lost in the faithful documentation of history, but
also amplify its emotional impact. The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second
St., Santa Monica; Thurs-Sat., 7 p.m.; through June 6. (323) 653-6886.
A Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT Even by the standards of the venerable 12-step confessional, Jonathan Coogan's one-man memoir of growing up amid the pot smoke, promiscuity and pernicious parenting of the freewheeling Hollywood of the '70s is fairly tepid stuff. Which is not to say Coogan doesn't have a lot going for him as a performer. With a wry, self-deprecating manner and an engaging stage presence, he clearly knows his way around a one-liner. His autobiographical material, however, just doesn't generate the highs -- no pun intended -- or lows demanded by the shopworn victim-recovery formula. Perhaps that's because, in the land of medical marijuana, having been a teenage stoner turned weed dealer scared straight by a brush with the law seems so, well, underwhelmingly ordinary. More likely it's because this "addiction" story, at least as it's framed here by Coogan and his co-writer, director Dan Frischman, seems to constantly shrink before a pair of far more compelling characters always looming in the background -- namely Coogan's colorful, pot-smoking New York-Jew parents. In fact, judging by the unresolved bitterness permeating the piece, its real star is Rosy Rosenthal, Coogan's Ralph Kramden-esque wisecracker of a father (tellingly, the mother's name is never uttered). Far more than any clichés about a "higher power," it is Rosy and his spare-the-fist-spoil-the-child version of tough love that determines the psychic trajectory of Coogan's life and is this tale's true heart and soul. )BR) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 13. (310) 358-9936.
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.
THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 28. (310) 392-7327.
A NUMBER A widower (John Heard) discovers that a hospital has bred clones of his bachelor son (the aptly named Steve Cell), making him a father to an unknown number of identical young men. The son, Bernard, is confused, but open to meeting his brothers; the dad immediately cries "lawsuit!" -- allowing playwright Caryl Churchill to plunge straight away into her themes about the boundaries, rights and values of an identity. (And when Bernard suspects he's not the original, is that even worse?) Churchill argues that personality is separate from genetics and introduces us to three Bernards as distinct as Goldilocks' bears: one bitter, one sweet, and one conflicted. Cell plays all three, and it's hard not to interpret director Bart DeLorenzo's decision to signify the role-switching by having Cell button, unbutton or strip off his overshirt as a lack of trust in either the performer or the audience. Their father is clearly hiding a secret, and Heard captures him as a man defeated before the play even begins -- he resolves every confrontation by telling the Bernards what they want to hear. If there is one truth under his lies, it'd be the play's only singularity: While the clones share a disgust for him, it springs from different reasons. "You don't look at me the same way," the widower says of how he tells them apart. But unlike him, we never see the clones or their father as people, only players in a fable that's constrained by the very dichotomies it wants to explore. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through June 21. (310) 477-2055.
GO OUR TOWN Upon learning that one of L.A.'s most daring theater companies, the Actors' Gang, is tackling Thornton Wilder's beloved three-act stage perennial about life, love and death, one is keen to witness the group's "take" on the play's universal themes. This play is, after all, the hoop through which almost every high school theater department must jump. Interestingly enough, director Justin Zsebe's interpretation in his intimate yet powerful production is one of surprising and sincere faithfulness to the play's tone and mood. This is a beautifully rendered and moving Our Town. Narrated by Steven M. Porter's genial yet crusty Stage Manager, the play's story of life in a small New England town, centering on the romance and marriage of sweet young Emily (a luminous Vanessa Mizzone) and her beloved George (Chris Schultz), receives a staging whose basic simplicity belies unexpected depths of subtly articulated feeling. Zsebe admittedly tosses in a couple of visual conceits that might cause Wilder to whirl in his grave: There's a character who performs a dazzling yet wholly irrelevant acrobatic dance from a long sash, seemingly just because it looks good; and, during the play's third act, set in the underworld, the deceased characters hang from playground swings, when simple chairs are called for in the script. Yet the ensemble work is deft and subtle -- and moments that are often corny in other, lesser productions evoke laughter and tears here -- from the beautiful scene in which Ma Webb (Lindsley Allen) and Ma Gibbs (Annemette Andersen) shuck their peas, to the touching one in which Schultz's George suffers his wedding night-cum-fear of mortality jitters at the altar. (PB) Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through May 30. (310) 838-GANG. An Actors' Gang production.
NEW REVIEW GO PAY ATTENTION: ADHD IN HOLLYWOOD, ON THE
ROCKS WITH A TWIST In his engaging solo show, writer-actor Frank South
describes himself as beset by "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder, hypomania, alcoholism, and issues with authority." Despite -
or perhaps because of - that baggage he survived 20 years in Hollywood
as a writer-director-producer for such TV classics as Melrose Place,
Cagney & Lacey, and Baywatch. Like a metaphor for his affliction,
South unflappably jumps from one tale to another and back again, giving
us a taste of his often-jumbled world. Under Mark Travis' direction,
South chillingly personifies his affliction as a screeching imp who
constantly orders him to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. South's
stories about two of his mentors, the maverick director Robert Altman,
who lectured the insecure South to trust his own judgment, and the
consummate Hollywood insider Aaron Spelling, whom South claims stabbed
him in the back, are hilarious, instructive, and poignant. At times
struggling for lines and almost forgetting the name of an actress with
whom he worked, South overcomes these dilemmas to deliver a funny and
bittersweet tale of someone who, while not conquering them, has at
least been able to keep his demons in check. Santa Monica Playhouse,
1211 Fourth St.; Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through
June 7. (323) 960-7738. A guest production. (Martín Hernández)
GO THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES The central character in Moliè's comedy, here translated and adapted by FrééMichel & Charles Duncombe could be and often is a punching bag. But not here. Arnolphe is another in a stream of Moliè'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) Garage, 1340½Fourth Street (alley entrance); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 319-9939.NEW REVIEW
UPTON SINCLAIR'S SINGING JAILBIRDS: THE
MUSICAL Created by Ray Buffer and composer Robert Gross, this
pro-working man musical is adapted from Upton Sinclair's 1924 melodrama
about an ad hoc labor leader jailed for speaking out against a
company's brutally repressive management. Sinclair probably derived
inspiration from his own incarceration for a similarly defiant act,
which took place a year prior at a gathering of striking dockworkers at
Liberty Hill in San Pedro. Unlike Sinclair, who was soon released, his
leading character, Red (Paul Rorie), languishes in a tiny rat-infested
cell for an indefinite period. During that time he becomes subject to
hallucinogenic fantasies and flashbacks that tell of a loving marriage
destroyed by impoverished circumstances. The drama also includes
courtroom sequences, and other prison scenes showing men cooped up like
chickens; in this adaptation's most effective scene, a ruthless police
official (Adam S.) orders the cell's windows shut, and the men drop one
by one. Buffer, who directs, stages the action on the huge proscenium
of San Pedro's Warner Grand Theater. The performers tend to look
diminished, but Buffer partially compensates with an effective two
tiered set; in some ways the small cell on a large stage optimizes the
theme of a little man at the mercy of larger forces. Otherwise, the
production, worthy for its subject matter, has major problems: too many
repetitive musical numbers, vocals out of sync with their
behind-the-scenes orchestration, questionable lighting and performances
that need serious professional polishing. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W.
Sixth St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru May 31.
(310) 929-8129. A Relevant Stage Theatre Company production. (Deborah
SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
BETTY GARRETT'S 90TH BIRTHDAY BASH Celebration of the actress and co-founder of Theatre West, with cocktails, dessert and a live show. Proceeds benefit Theatre West., $250. Music Box, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., May 31, 5 p.m., www.theatrewest.org. (323) 851-7977.
COMEDY IMPROV FOR KIDS BY KIDS . L.A. Connection, 13442 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 12 & 3:30 p.m.. (818) 784-1868.
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