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Critic Bill Raden was struck (in the good sense) by Zombie Joe Underground's 55-minute turbo-charged Turbo Tartuffe (see photo left); Deborah Klugman was similarly impressed by Antaeus Company's take on John Marston's 17th century satire, The Malcontent. Paul Birchall enjoyed John Fleck's latest solo show, Mad Women about Judy Garland and Fleck's own mother, each in decline at roughly the same time.
Coming on Wednesday: This week's stage feature takes us to Houston's Alley Theatre, where Rajiv Joseph's new play, Monster at the Door, is receiving its world premiere. This is Joseph's newest offering since Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, and provokes thoughts about new play development in the regions.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication May 12, 2011:
(Scroll down to the end of New Reviews for OPENINGS THIS WEEK)
NEW REVIEW GO ANTIMAN In the patois of St. Croix, population 60,000, the insult "antiman" means girly and weak. But if it sounds like it means "against humanity," that's not far off from the brutally bohemian upbringing of Sky Matthew Riel Paley, who as a baby was uprooted from Canada to the Caribbean after his dad died of a drug overdose. Paley's solo show howls with pain as he relives being a 5-year-old boy neglected by his hippie mom, Talia, and her abusive, drug-running boyfriend, Georgia Joe. The island howls, too, at its neglect by the Americans who shunned it after revolutionaries machine-gunned eight tourists on a golf course, and the best advice it can give young Sky is to simply try to stay alive. Director Michele Lonsdale Smith helps Paley shape the piece's passion and poetry, though it's the concrete details that resonate. It's hard to believe the thuggish Joe would name-check Georgia O'Keefe, but when mom screams at Sky for not thinking about her needs, the memory stings like a sore bruise. And when Talia declares she's going to raise Sky homeless so he'll learn to appreciate nature, could he be keeping that next chapter back for a sequel? St. Croix looks like paradise, but Paley argues that its failed economy and burnout culture offer its people -- especially the young -- no safe harbor. What lingers is a childhood and a culture with zero hope. That Paley escaped to the mainland with a sense of perspective and a sliver of humor about his misadventures makes this slender, personal show feel like a triumph. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 22. (541) 517-3320, brownpapertickets.com/event/170468. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW GO FLOWER TO FLOWER Tom and Anna (Joseph L. Roberts, Marie Lively) are Plano, Texas, newlyweds with plans for a future together. But four months into the marriage, they have yet to consummate their union, and Anna is starting to worry, in addition to becoming exceedingly horny. Youth pastor Tom is all thumbs and has neither confidence nor experience when it comes to sex. He believes the problem can be solved with petitions for help to the Almighty. Anna, however, is far more practical, and thinks the path to orgasms can be found in bed, i.e., making love with another woman. Thus is established the tug of war between Jehovah and Eros that gives this hourlong piece its comic firewood. The idea of a "threesome" repulses Anna's white-bread husband, whose scriptural references about the evils of homosexuality are lucidly rebuffed when she points out that the Good Book says nothing about lesbians or lesbianism. Things really turn humorously erotic when Martha (Amy Harmon) happens along selling Mary Kay products. Notwithstanding an anemic ending, Christina Cigala's script bristles with lively dialogue and whips up its share of laughs. John Ennis directs capably, and the cast, which is rounded out by Ben Fuller in the role of Tom's brother, turn in good performances. Brimmer Street Productions at the El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 4. (213) 290-2782, BrimmerStreet.org. (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW HAMLET As it's written, evidence that nature has gone awry and foul deeds are afoot in Denmark is supplied in the crucial first moments of Hamlet, when Bernardo, Marcellus and Horatio spot the ghost of Hamlet's father. Following this early revelation, Shakespeare immediately introduces audiences to Claudius, the "smiling villain," whose nefarious actions have set the play's bloody outcomes in motion. It's disappointing then that new L.A. company Player King Productions reorders the play, putting the gravediggers on stage at the outset and cutting all the lines of Act I, scene ii prior to Hamlet's first soliloquy. The textual tampering continues throughout, but does not add up to an entirely off-the-mark production, just one that is frustratingly puzzling at times. In the title role, Samuel Dahl delivers his lines as naturally as an authentic Elizabethan thespian. His kinetic rendering of the character aligns with director Ty Mayberry's vision, which challenges Laurence Olivier's assertion that the play is about character who simply can't make up his mind. Denmark is, indeed, a prison in this production, but Dahl's Hamlet is on a frantic jailbreak from the get-go. The supporting cast supply uneven performances, particularly Jonathan Salisbury's Claudius and Ken MacFarlane's Polonius, both of whom lack essential layers. Danny Cistone's set and lighting design are entirely winning, as is the space, a high-ceilinged, warehouse-like stage at BelleVarado Studios. Mayberry's smart decision to present the show in the round lends to the exquisite overall aesthetic. Varado Studios/Stage 22, 2107 Bellevue Ave., Echo Park; Sun.-Tues., 7:30 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 909-8629, brownpapertickets.com/event/166103. (Amy Lyons)
NEW REVIEW GO MAD WOMEN
Known for his mastery of the intimate, character-driven performance, John Fleck does not disappoint in this offbeat, yet strangely heartfelt solo show. It consists of dramatic portraits of two women, iconic diva Judy Garland and Fleck's own mother, who died from Alzheimer's-related issues some time ago. At the start of the show, Fleck bursts through a stage door and launches into a lip-sync of portions of one of Judy Garland's final performances -- her famous turn at the Cocoanut Grove, where she interrupted her performance to bawl incoherent, self-hating, drug-laced insanity. From there, the story drifts into Fleck's memories of his own beloved mother, as she slowly lost her mind and entered a world of dreams. At first, it's unclear what the two stories can possibly have to do with each other, but as Fleck's haunting storytelling unfolds, the parallel themes coalesce into a simultaneously funny and melancholy meditation on the nature of insanity, dreams and, incidentally, the creative spirit. At one point, Garland's rambling actually subtly shifts into Fleck's mother's unearthly monologue, and we find ourselves unsure which woman we're actually listening to. In director Ric Montejano's breezy, seemingly simple staging, Fleck almost convinces us that's he's just hanging out with us and telling a story. However, the intimacy is deceptive and the adroit performance gracefully dances through powerful issues with emotionally truthfulness. Many performers try to "do" Garland in their show, but Fleck is less interested in impersonating the singer (this isn't a drag show, except arguably for one short sequence toward the end) as he is in trying to touch on her deeper meaning. Eyes a-bugging and tongue a-waggling, Fleck himself mugs joyfully, peppering the show with ad libs and unexpected asides to particular members of the audience, but he's utterly on point when hitting precisely effective, emotionally charged notes. Skylight Theatre -- Skylab, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 29. katselastheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
NEW REVIEW GO THE MALCONTENT
Malevole (Bo Foxworth), the scruffy misanthrope at the nub of John Marston's 17th-century satire, is the proud possessor of a scathing tongue. A frequenter of aristocratic circles, he's tolerated by the reigning Duke of Genoa, Pietro (Mark Doerr), for his bawdy wit and for the lacerating barbs that furnish welcome relief from the dull obsequiousness of the court. Not the plebeian jester he strives to appear, Malevole is really a duke -- in fact, he is the Duke of Genoa, Altofronto, the city's legitimate regent before being maneuvered from office by a lecherous rapscallion named Mendoza (Ramón DeOcampo). Labeled a "tragicomedy" by scholars, the play is an outraged ethicist's critique of corruption and deceit (the tragedy lies in the world's moral morass, I guess, since in the story itself no one actually dies or suffers gruesomely). The plot, with its slapdash details, spins out in intricate metaphor-studded syntax whose handling requires enormous skill. Adapted from the original and directed by Elizabeth Swain, this spirited production does not disappoint. While Foxworth's splenetic cynic is all fire and spit, it is DeOcampo as the treacherous toadying villain -- utterly contemporary in his sociopathic me-ism --- who drives the comedy. In addition to Doerr's artfully finessed Pietro, the accomplished ensemble includes Lynn Milgrim as an unprincipled procuress and John Achorn as a clueless courtier prepared to pimp his wife and daughter-in-law. Designer Tom Buderwitz's handsome set replicates the Blackfriars Theater in which the play first premiered, while A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes add dashing flavor to the farce. (Note: The show is double-cast.) The Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m.; thru June 19. (818) 506-1983, antaeus.org. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW GO TURBO TARTUFFE
Director Denise Devin certainly wasn't kidding when she dropped "Turbo" into the title of her adaptation of Moliére's timeless attack on moral hypocrisy. Happily, it is the only thing about this rollicking, supercharged commedia staging that isn't played strictly for laughs. In radically boiling down Moliére's five-act farce to a head-spinning 55 minutes, Devin has lopped off subsidiary subplots and eliminated enough of the text's footnote-mandatory, 17th-century erudition to give any self-respecting French classicist heart palpitations. For the rest of us, however, she has delivered a concise, inventive and deliriously ribald slapstick worthy of Hal Roach, and one that deftly conjures Moliére's anarchic, subversive comic spirit. Roger K. Weiss portrays Orgon as just the kind of befuddled, moralistic dunderhead capable of being gulled out of family and fortune by the transparent posturing at piety practiced by Tartuffe (a lecherous Tegue S. DeLeon). As the hard-pressed object of his lust, Ashley Fuller plays Orgon's voluptuous wife, Elmire, with equal notes of sauciness and cunning. Sofia Ruiz's spoiled princess of a daughter, Mariane, is a burlesque of pampered, tempestuous privilege. Mike Angelo is all heat and little head as the impetuous son Damis, while Jonica Patella (who is quickly emerging as one of this town's most versatile comic talents) is hilarious as the household's exasperated, clear-eyed maid Dorine. Costumer Jeri Batzdorff's elegant collection of silks, velvets, brocades, ruffles and jabots effectively flavor the period setting. And Sean Curran steals every scene he's in, channeling Charley Chase as the powder-wigged brother-in-law Cléante. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri, 8:30 p.m.; thru June 24. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Bill Raden)
OPENING THIS WEEK
Artifacts of Consequence: Stokastik Theatre Ensemble presents Ashlin Halfnight's story of a future world ravaged by climate change and the individuals trying to preserve modern culture. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru June 5. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, stokastik.org.
The Au Pair Man: Hugh Leonard's comedy about an Irishman in London seeking the position of live-in employee of a mysterious wealthy woman. Starting May 14, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru June 12. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, ravenplayhouse.com, (818) 760-8322.
Bedtime Stories: Roadkill Productions presents 10 short plays that all take place in a bed. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A., (310) 535-6007, psychicvisionstheatre.com.
Don't Believe Me: One-man spoken-word/hip-hop/comedy show by the performer known as IN-Q. Thu., May 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 20, 8 p.m. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 655-7679, plays411.com/dontbelieveme.
Dracula: Staged reading of Charles Morey's adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel. May 18-20, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 21, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., May 22, 4 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 440-4500, latw.org.
Eleemosynary: Lee Blessing's portrait of a grandmother, mother and daughter. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru May 29. Berg Studio Theatre, 3245 Casitas Ave., Ste. 104, Atwater Village, (323) 860-6569.
The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill: SkyPilot Theatre Company presents Jeff Goode's gay Civil War comedy. Starting May 14, Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m. Thru June 19. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, skypilottheatre.com.
Evil Women: Kinetic Theory Circus Arts explores the nature and perception of the female sex through movement, trapeze, contortion, aerial hoop, dance and acrobatics. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Thru June 4. Kinetic Theory Theatre, 3604 Holdrege Ave., L.A., (310) 606-2617, kinetictheorytheatre.com.
Experience Magic!: Ryan Luevano's hybrid of magic show and musical theater. Sun., May 15, 7:30 p.m. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.
INAUGURal High School Theatre Festival: Eight local high schools each perform a musical selection from their theater program's repertoire. Sat., May 14, 10 a.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Four Clowns: Antics of four clown archetypes: the sad clown, the mischievous clown, the angry clown and the nervous clown, conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma. Fri., 11 p.m. Thru June 10. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.
Funky Punks Circus Spectacular: Troubadour Theater Company's kid-friendly clown extravaganza. Starting May 14, Sat., Sun., 11 a.m. Thru June 5. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com.
Gypsy: West Coast Ensemble presents the classic showbiz musical, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru July 3. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A., (323) 595-4849.
ImagoFest 2011: Three one-acts by Mark Donnelly, Tim McNeil and Alex Aves. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru June 12. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 465-4446.
Jack and the Beanstalk: Storybook Theatre's interactive musical take on the classic fairy tale. Sun., May 15, 1:30 & 3:30 p.m. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (562) 944-9801.
Juan and John: Roger Guenveur Smith's memories of his childhood, his parents and a Dodgers brawl. Thu., May 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 21, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 22, 6:30 p.m.; May 24-27, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 28, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 29, 6:30 p.m. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.
Julius Caesar: Theatre Unleashed's all-female version of the Shakespeare tragedy, set in an American community coping with the domestic effects of World War II. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Thru June 18. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 463-3900, studio-stage.com.
Just for the Record: Paul Rodriguez's solo show on his life in comedy. (In Spanish on Sun.) Starting May 19, Thurs., Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Thru May 29. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com.
Krunk Fu Battle Battle: East West Players' world-premiere hip-hop musical, book by Qui Nguyen, lyrics by Beau Sia, vocal music by Marc Macalintal, dance music by Rynan Paguio and Jason Tyler Chong. Starting May 18, Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru June 26. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., downtown, (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org.
Lavender Love: World-premiere comedy by Odalys Nanin. Starting May 14, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 7 p.m. Thru June 18. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, (323) 960-4429, plays411.com/lavenderlove.
Luv: Murray Schisgal's spoof of avant-garde drama. Starting May 18, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru June 26. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.
Miss Coco Peru: There Comes a Time: The latest in song and story by drag diva Miss Coco Peru, written and performed by Clinton Leupp. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru May 22. Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A., (323) 860-7300, lagaycenter.org.
The Mistakes Madeline Made: Elizabeth Meriwether's comedy about a woman who rejects "all things complacent, pampered and clean -- including showering." Starting May 19, Wed;-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru June 4. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-1054, plays411.com/mistakesmadelinemade.
No Word in Guyanese for Me: Hanna Jokhoe's story of a gay, Muslim immigrant who must reconcile her faith with her sexuality. Starting May 14, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Thru June 12. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 558-5702.
Prom Re-Do: Relive that awkward high school prom and benefit Elephant Theatre Company in this retro-party fundraiser. Sat., May 14, 7:30 p.m. Elephant Stageworks' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A., ElephantTheatreCompany.com.
Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind the Sequins: Mitzi Gaynor's one-woman show of music and memories. Sat., May 14, 2 & 8 p.m. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (562) 944-9801.
Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Thru May 28. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., (323) 525-0661, attictheatre.org.
Rumors: Neil Simon's farce about an affluent dinner party and a dead body. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru June 12. Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave., Covina, (626) 331-8133, covinacenter.com.
Tofu Treats and Other Stories: Vegetarian tales of "food, love and skillets" by Monica Palacios. Sun., May 15, 2 p.m. One National Gay and Lesbian Archive, 909 W. Adams Blvd., L.A., (213) 741-0094, onearchives.org.