Stage Raw: Unpronouncable
THEATER AWARDS UPDATE
Here is the complete list of NOMINEES for the 30th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, being held Monday, March 30 at the El Rey. Admission for nominees is free; nominee RSVPs are now being accepted at (310) 574-7208. Tickets for guests and members of the public go on sale February 5 at laweekly.com.
(Please note, guest tickets are $20 each, not $15 as I posted on Monday.)
New York comedian Kumail Nanjiani makes his L.A. debut with a one-night only presentation of his one man show Unpronouncable at Upright Citizen's Brigade on Thursday, January 22, 5919 Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. (323) 908-8702.
That would actually be Teen Witch! A Musical Comedy directed and adapted for the stage by Mike Zara & Colleen Smith. It's Monday night, January 26, 8 p.m. at The Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles. (323) 934-4747. Tickets are $6.50.
The Third Annual Sheldon Epps Theatrical Diversity Project Celebration, hosted by Angela Bassett and Courtney V. Vance, with special guest Gabrielle Union, will be hold on Tuesday, January 27 at the Pasadena Playhouse. Doors open 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. The event includes pre-show cocktails and champagne/dessert at intermission. The evening honors Brenda Galloway and celebrates the life of Lena Horne with a special performance of the bio- musical, Story Weather, starring Leslie Uggams. The Pasadena Playhouse run of Stormy Weather, suggested by the biography, Lena Horne, Entertainer (Chelsea House Publishers) is scheduled to open January 30. Tickets for the January 27 benefit start at $100. Call Lisa Rudin (626) 737-2807 for details.
"MAMA AFRIKA" REMEMBERED
KSLG Playhouse Theatre presents a tribute to the late South African vocalist/activist, Miriam Makeba, who died in November at the age of 76. Tribute to Miriam Makeba will be held on Sunday, January 25, 3 p.m. at The Harry Mastrogeorge Theatre, 600 Moulton Ave (corner of 1900 North Main & Moulton) in Los Angeles. (323) 227-5410
826LA'S TINY VAUDEVILLE
826L.A. hosts the first of the monthly series, 826LA's Tiny Vaudeville at the Echoplex, 1822 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, Monday night, 8:30 p.m. The show is being held on the last Monday of every month as a benefit for its Free Writing and Tutoring Programs for Children. Purchase tickets here. This coming Monday's show is hosted by Craig Cackowski and includes Dave (Gruber) Allen, the Dan Bern Orchestra, Dave Foley, Garfunkle & Oates, James Adomian and more.
THEY CALL ME MR. FRY
Santa Monica Playhouse Benefit Series and Sew & Sew Productions present Jack Freiberger's one-man show about his experiences as a first-year teacher in South Central Los Angeles. Sunday, January 25, 3 p.m.. $20. ($15 for teachers). Call (310) 394-9779, Ext. 1
The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, which can be accessed by pressing the Read On tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for January 23-29, 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, Deobrah 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
AMOUR, WHERE ARE YOU Performance artist Nathalie Broizat's look at love. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Jan. 23-24, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
CHICAGO Kander and Ebb's Prohibition-era musical. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Fri., Jan. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 24, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 25, 2 & 7 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.
DAI (ENOUGH) Iris Bahr's solo show, set in a Tel Aviv cafe just before a bombing. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; opens Jan. 29; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 960-4410.
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.
GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 23; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.
HUNTER GATHERERS Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's dinner party of the macabre. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; opens Jan. 24; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 356-PLAY.
INTIMATE APPAREL Lynn Nottage's story of an illiterate African-American seamstress. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; opens Jan. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 8, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (562) 494-1014.
THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 23; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 965-9996.
MONSTERS AND PRODIGIES: THE HISTORY OF THE CASTRATI Mexico City's Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes presents Jorge Kuri's 18th-century-opera farce. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Jan. 28-31, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 1, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.
THE NEO-SACRED REVIVAL: THREE SHORT PLAYS FOR THE MODERN SOUL Sharon Yablons' "Acts of Love"; Guy Zimmerman's "Hammers"; Heidi Darchuk's "Tiny Trumpets." Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. Fourth Place, L.A.; opens Jan. 23; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (213) 625-1766.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a scarred recluse and the diva he adores. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.. (213) 365-3500.
A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Martin McDonagh's thriller about an Irish cemetery worker. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 23; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.
PIPPIN Deaf West Theatre and Center Theatre Group present a sign-language-interpreted production of the Stephen Schwartz musical. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 25; Sun., Jan. 25, 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 15. (213) 628-2772.
TAKING OVER Danny Hoch's solo show about the effects of gentrification. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens Jan. 23; Fri., Jan. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (213) 628-2772.
TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's English-manor comedy. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 24; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 25, 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (310) 477-2055.
THE TINY VAUDEVILLE SERIES 826LA, the nice people who offer free writing and tutoring programs for kids, now host a monthly thingy called The Tiny Vaudeville Series. Each features a different lineup of performers of the gifted variety doing things that could be defined as humorous. For this first show, Craig Cackowski (great name) hosts cutups Dave (Gruber) Allen, The Eban Schletter Orchestra, Dave Foley, Garfunkel & Oates, James Adomian, Derek Hughes, Marc Horowitz's live 24/7 talkshow, Jeremy Konner, Al Madrigal, and more! With musical guest Pop LeviAny act called "Garfunkel and Oaktes" can't be bad, I say., $10. The Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Jan. 26, 8:30 p.m.. (323) 413-8200.
URBAN DEATH: A NEW DARKNESS Zombie Joe's "theatrical thrill ride of terrors, taboos and trepidations.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 23; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (818) 202-4120.
VIBRATING SUN Pole-dancing troupe Goddess 13 gyrates to the music of Vibrasol in this performance piece exploring female identity. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; opens Jan. 23; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 1. (323) 466-7781.
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Edward Albee's study of marital dysfunction via party games. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7711.
Theater Special Events
FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION Gerard Alessandrini's spoof of the Great White Way. Pepperdine University, Smothers Theatre, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri., Jan. 23, 8 p.m.. (213) 480-3232.
L.A. STAGE ALLIANCE PLANNING MEETING Doug Clayton and Terence McFarland moderate a discussion on creating forums relevant to the Los Angeles theater community. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Mon., Jan. 26, 7:30 p.m.. (800) 838-3006.
MORE ARTS; LESS MARTIAL Mr. Brody's one-person show. Coffee Fix, 12508 Moorpark St., Studio City; Fri., Jan. 23, 8 p.m.. (818) 762-0181.
NATIONAL ACROBATS OF CHINA Gymnastics, martial arts, music and illusion for all ages. Torrance Cultural Arts Center, James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance; Fri., Jan. 23, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 781-7171.
THEY CALL ME MISTER FRY Jack Freiberger's recollection of his job as a South-Central schoolteacher. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sun., Jan. 25, 3 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
TINY VAUDEVILLE 826LA hosts this once-a-month variety show benefiting children's writing and tutoring programs. The Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 26; Last Monday of every month, 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28, www.826la.org/store-tickets/. (323) 413-8200.
TRIBUTE TO MIRIAM MAKEBA Honoring the late vocalist and activist, a.k.a. Mama Afrika. Brewery Art Colony, Harry Mastrogeorge Theatre, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Sun., Jan. 25, 3 p.m.. (323) 227-5410.
ZONA ROSA Staged reading of Carlos Morton's play. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Sat., Jan. 24, 2 p.m.. (323) 960-7829.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS Jules Verne's classic comedy adventure sets into motion with seemingly stuffy, 19th Century Brit Phileas Fogg (Matthew Floyd Miller), when he proposes a wager to his social club fellows that he can indeed pull off the title deed. Embarking instantly with the help of a new manservant, the bumbling but faithful Passapartout (Gendell Hernandez), Fogg engages trains, boats and elephants in his zeal to win the bet. All the while the pair is tracked by Detective Fix (Howard Swain), who believes Fogg to be guilty of grand larceny. Feminine company is provided by Aouda, an Indian woman they rescue from being incinerated alive on her husband's bier. In addition to these central figures the cast portray more than 30 smaller roles in a frenetic chamber theatre piece combining first-person narration, complex characterizations and two-dimensional caricatures. Kelly Tighe's smart scenery amusingly captures the melding of Verne's old century technology with futuristic sensibilities - most effective is a large turntable, interestingly operated by highly visible stage-hands rather than electricity. Director Michael Butler keeps the actors racing through the story, averting any fear of boredom; nevertheless the production is far from satisfying. Adaptor Mark Brown presents little if any wit in the language, or humor in the action to compensate. Brown and his fine actors try to goose it with increasingly silly gags and anachronisms, from which they earn the play's only laughs. As this is the case they are fortunate to include comic actor Mark Farrell more than 20 roles (including a William Shatner-esque Cavalry commander) with a shameless sketch-comedy flair. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun. , 2 p.m.; added perfs Jan. 22, 2 p.m. and Feb. 1, 7 p.m.; through Feb. 8. (949) 497-2787 or www.LagunaPlayhouse.com. (Tom Provenzano)
GO THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash's comedy is in many respects conventional Broadway fare of the 1950s, written with love for its characters who care about each other deeply, even when they're not good at expressing it. It's also a richly funny play, being a comedy of character rather than one driven by wise-cracks. Phyllis Gitlin's staging offers no virtuoso performances, but her tightly-knit ensemble brings the piece to throbbing life. Loren McJannet-Taylor makes a poignant figure of the spinster Lizzie, who feels that life has passed her by because she's plain and has never been able to attract a man. She achieves a bit of theatre magic by becoming beautiful in the moment that the con-man rain-maker, Starbuck (Kevin Deegan), tells her that she is. Mitchell Nunn ably captures the helpless frustration of her father, determined to make his daughter happy even if he doesn't quite know how. Paul Breazeale is all boyish charm as the kid brother Jimmy, who, like Lizzie, is dominated by their puritanical controlling brother, Noah (Sean Gray). Cort Huckabone over-plays his "Aw, shucks!" shyness as the love-sick sheriff's deputy File, and Deegan works a bit too hard to demonstrate Starbuck's charm, but in the end they serve the play admirably. (NW) Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Feb.7; (562) 494-1014 or www.lbph.com.
>NEW REVIEW WAITING FOR GODOT Director Andrew Traister's traditional staging of Samuel Beckett's masterwork has all the technical elements of a scintillating rendition - the repartee between Estragon and Vladimir (the thoroughly accomplished Joel Swetow and Robertson Dean) is swift and comical, yet with studied interludes of silent agony that texture the comedy with the profoundest existential depths - at least in the musicality. Mitchell Edmonds' pompous Pozzo struts with his slave, Lucky (Mark Bramhall) with the embodiment of solipsistic insensitivity. They're a quartet of clowns incapable of taking the simplest action to lift themselves, or each other, out of the swamp of life, as aging and death close in on them so inexorably. For all that, this is more of a recitation of the play than an enactment of it, like the staging of a radio play. It's as though the company's first aim is to hit their marks, aurally and physically, in order to satisfy the play's veneer. The cost of that is a production that delivers that veneer with only the vaguest signs of a deeper feeling of the characters for each other. Beckett's theatrical poem comes off as more impressive than moving - an unfulfilled use of the obvious talents at work here, since this play can be, at its heart, a deeply felt lament in the guise of comedy. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep through Jan. 25. (818) 240-0910. (Steven Leigh Morris)
WORDMAGIC Linguist Laurel Airica dissects the English language through trance-like verse and wordplay. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 1. (310) 899-1059.
YOU, NERO Imagine a young Paul Lynde in a toga and you might get some sense of Danny Scheie's swishy portrayal of the eponymous, blood-sucking Roman emperor in Amy Freed's new comedy. As he sashays around the stage, you can't quite tell from moment to moment whether he's kidding or about to disembowel you. When Nero commissions the eager-skeptical hack playwright Scribonius (John Vickery, bearing an expression of perpetual concern) to write a bio-epic about Nero, to portray him as a nice fellow rather than the sloth who murdered both his mother (Lori Larsen) and the wife he abandoned for blond beauty mistress, Poppaea (Caralyn Kozlowski), jokes fly about new play development -- because Freed's homage to Plautus is really about the redemptive powers of theater. In an age when the thoughtful-stodgy kind of plays penned by aging Scribonius yield to Roman Idol entertainments that Nero cherishes (and even performs in), Scribonius' dramatic study of Nero and his mother actually incites a murder - oops. So much for theater bringing out the best in us. Oh yes, and Rome burns. Yet the scintillating ideas and funny repartee in Freed's play feel rushed into production. Not only is the script still in need of some serious clipping (there are stories told twice in succession by different characters for little apparent reason), Sharon Ott's staging feels oddly lethargic and too polite for the slapstick and farce that resides latent in the text. Like in the plays of Plautus, the plot is so thin, the comedy really hangs on the mercurial humor. The style over substance demands effervescent performances, and only Scheie rises to that standard amidst an otherwise perfectly pleasant ensemble. (SLM) South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Jan. 25. (714) 708-5555.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
THE SERMONS OF JOHN BRADLEY Young John Bradley (writer-performer Hunter Lee Hughes) steps into the pulpit of his Texas church to conduct damage control after his preacher father is implicated in a spectacular sex scandal. Then he's an out gay man, defending gay marriage, assisted by his handsome lover-friend, Trevor (Gavyn Michaels). He founds his own Transformation Ministry, but his mission as a truth-teller is undermined by his own self-delusions -- and his sermon implodes when his stash of crystal meth tumbles into view. (Trevor's massive, flagrant infidelities have apparently provoked Bradley's disillusionment and addiction.) In a curious performance piece, Bradley and Trevor, clad in 2Xist briefs and lots of glitter, play out their tempestuous erotic relationship in a dance choreographed by Ashley Osler. In the final scene, a secular communion, we're invited to partake of bread, apples and water. Hughes' play is fragmented and oddly constructed, with each scene introduced by a New Age-y Shaman (Mary T. Sala), who invokes animal spirits, pounds a drum, and makes dire predictions. Hughes is an able actor, but his play founders on the attempt to embrace too many themes, underpinned by an unresolved conflict between spirituality and carnality. The result, though often interesting, is both precious and murky. (NW) The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., through Feb. 1. (323) 957-4611. Produced by Fatelink Productions.
>NEW REVIEW GO BATTLE HYMN In a fit of passion and adoration, young Martha (Suzy Jane Hunt), has a fling with a pretty (and pretty oblivious) school chum, Henry (Bill Heck), as he's about to join the Union army during the Civil War (despite the couple's Kentucky home). Finding herself pregnant and alone, Martha eventually learns that Henry finds other men more attractive than her. After being spurned by her minister father (William Salyers), who banishes her to relatives far away, Jim Leonard's lovely new play, a variation on Voltaire's Candide, follows Martha as she traverses the country and the century, finding herself in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of Love, still pregnant, still waiting for "the right time" to bring her infant into the world. Leonard's play is more emotionally moving that intellectually rigorous - a compendium of symbols that add up to a century of clashes between America's founding principles and the betrayals of those principles that show up through history - from slavery to gay rights to religious hypocrisy. This land is our land? Hardly. And yet the prevailing symbol is that of birth, and re-birth, of ourselves. Leonard's structure has a few problems. Dwelling on the Civil War era through Act 1, and then racing through time in Act 2, its surrealism would be less jarring if the play's motion were more carefully proportioned. He's been given a first rank production with John Langs' quasi-cinematic staging, featuring some moving musical backdrops composed by Michael A. Levine. Bryan Sidney Bembridge's set and lighting have just the right amount of visual animation, without too much glib winking. Hunt simply charms as Martha, with a wide-eyed conviction that's largely blind to the betrayals that lurk around every corner; John Short and Robert Manning, Jr. complete the finely textured ensemble. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through February 21. (323) 461-3673. A Circle X Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Battle Hymn Photo by Ross MacKenzie
>NEW REVIEW BOADICEA Writer-director Bill's Sterritt's treatment of the legendary Icenian queen's revolt against the first-century Roman occupation of Britain is more a play of ideas than heroic exploits. It's too bad, because if Sterritt had lavished the same attention on simple stage craft that he does on transcendentalist philosophy, he might have landed the postmodern tragedy he intended rather than the arid dissertation he actually bags. The intellectual game that Sterritt hunts is the age-old dichotomy between civilization and nature. The two sides are personified by Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus (Matt Haught), whose mandate is to peacefully Romanize the British tribes through civil means, and "nature's regent," Queen Boadicea (Gowrie Hayden), who's initial accommodation with Rome ends in humiliation -- the rape of her daughters (Ashby Plain, Lindsay Lauren Wray) and the annexation of her lands by licentious procurator, Catus Decianus (a charismatic Sean Pritchett). Arousing her warrior nature, the queen initially mauls the Romans until Suetonius sheds the mask of civility to unleash the animal brutality of imperial power. Unfortunately, Sterritt's stilted, quasi-heroic dialogue, curiously flat staging and his reliance on symbolic relationships rather than the interpersonal kind robs the proceedings of any real pathos. With no character-driven conflicts to play off, the cast does their best (Hayden and Pritchett are standouts), but even Brando would have been hard pressed to crack the role of "civilization." Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 463-3900. (Bill Raden)
Boadicea Photo by Ivy Augustana
BURIED IN SOPHIE'S TOMB: MY BARKING DOG LOG TO THE WEST HOLLYWOOD SHERIFF'S DEPT. Richard Lucas' six-month "barking dog" journal. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 661-0786.
"DP": DOLLY PARTON, DOMESTIC PARTNERS & OTHER FEMALE MYSTERIES Amy Turner explores Dollywood. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (323) 653-6886.
ECHO ONE-ACT FESTIVAL Original commissioned one-act plays by Julia Cho, Padraic Duffy, Hilly Hicks Jr., David Ives, Brian Tanen and Sharon Yablon. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (800) 413-8669.
GEM OF THE OCEAN August Wilson's 10-play chronicle of the 20th-century African-American experience (this is the first play in the cycle) is one of the great achievements in dramatic literature. But you don't get that sense here. The performances lack the necessary polish and emotional resonance, and director Ben Bradley is not at his best. (LE3). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (323) 663-1525.
GO A GRAND GUIGNOL CHILDREN'S SHOW "Not for children" says the program's subhead -- and they're not kidding. Tapping the same root used by Shockheaded Peter, writer-director Debbie McMahon takes the scariest fairy tales in the world, and draws both their violence and latent eroticism through a vivacious and rude entertainment that's part-French vaudeville and part-British Punch and Judy puppet show. Not meaning to be overly literal, but there was some vagueness as to the era: The production is framed as a touring show, circa 1930, while, at the same time, being a birthday party for Monsieur Guignol, who turns 200 this year. So Puppets Punch and Guignol perch in their wooden booth looking down on their human replicas, as four fairy tales are played with song and dance, with Chris Bell's set (sheet backdrops, mostly) and puppets, Jeanne Simpson's charmingly goofy choreography and Matt Richter's deliberately rambling lighting design. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cross between a snuff tale and pedophile's wet dream, as Ms. Hood (Hannah Chodos) removes her red bonnet (revealing pigtails, of course) before stripping down for the Wolf (Gary Karp), languishing in the bed of Grandma (Vanessa Forster), whom he's just eaten. (There may have been a reference to her being eaten out; at least that joke was made about somebody.) The ensuing carnage shows poor Little Red with an alarmed facial expression, as her bloodied intestines are strewn from her midsection around the stage. "The Ugly Ducking" is a lovely and considerably more benign costume parade about family and tribes. "Rapunzel" is an R-rated production with finger puppets, while "Hansel and Gretel" turns into an impressively disturbing saga of cannibalism, coming from the same country that put a millions of people into ovens. Though the sophomoric Punch/Guignol repartee grows tiring, and the dramatic beats within the fairy tales need paring, there's no denying how the lurid morbidity of the event sneaks up on you. And when the witch, opening her oven, tells Hansel and Gretel, "You thought the famine hasn't come to my house!" the tingles up the spine run hot and cold. (SLM) Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. ; through February 7. (323) 871-1912 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
GREATER TUNA Small-town Texas satire, by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 667-0955.
GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND This genial collection of comic skits delivers what it promises: an evening of daffy, enjoyable fun. Director Mitch Silpa's production retains the crisp comic timing and assured ensemble work that maintains the group's sterling comic reputation. (PB). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (323) 934-9700.
HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept - stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast) and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper) entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original, perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . It's slightly paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming, that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly all profiles in courage. (SLM) Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4443.
KEN ROHT'S 99￠ ONLY CALENDAR GIRL COMPETITION Now in its sixth year, director-choreographer Ken Roht's 99 Cents Only theater is beginning to look like a one trick pony. As in past years, the trick is to limit his costume (Ann Closs-Farley) and set (Jason Adams) designers to use only what they can scrounge from the titular discount chain for Roht's decidedly silly burlesques of Radio City-style, holiday musical spectaculars. It's a funny gag ― thanks mainly to the wit and ingenuity of Closs-Farley, whose show-stealing creations dress this year's ostensible lampoon of beauty pageants in the highest of camp. It almost makes one overlook Roht's failure to gird his polished production numbers with the narrative spine of a coherent book. Instead, he and co-composer John Ballinger are content to let their parody coast on their pastiche of Godspell-vintage, R&B showtunes and the bare structural framework of the pageant form itself. And while their clever lyrics often connect, the lack of a story arc or character through-lines means the evening never amounts to more than a concert of disconnected ― and increasingly monotonous ― musical sketches. If storytelling isn't Roht's forte, however, he once again proves his genius at talent recruitment. This year's 28-strong, pitch-perfect company generates enough singing and dancing power to light up an entire Broadway season. (BR) Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (213) 389-3856.
LA RONDE Round and round we go, Arthur Schnitzler's roundelay of pass-the-torch love affairs involves a Prostitute, a Soldier, a Parlor Maid, a Young Gentleman, a Young Wife, a Husband, a Sweet Young Thing, a Poet, an Actress, and a Count. This is the world premiere of the late Carl R. Mueller's subtly modernized adaptation that has hints of contemporary colloquialisms while sustaining the stiff flavor of 19th century Austria. Two personable young actors, Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett, portray the entire gallery of characters. Thank goodness for the suspended, delicate neon signs that have the names of their characters glowing in the sky (set design by Steve Barr) or the characters would be hard to differentiate. This may be the central weakness in a technically polished production (John Zalewski's sound design has jazzy or pop strains playing subtly behind many of the courtships; Soojin Lee's lacy costumes hint at the late 1800s.) On the other hand, the lack of differentiation may the point of Larry Biederman's staging. Well into the second hour of this dance, sans intermission, the actors start lip synching their pre-recorded dialogue in a blending effect. Sometimes the recorded voices are disembodied. In a later scene, the Count kisses the video image of the Actress on a wall, showing that he's enamored of the idea of her rather than the person. It's all a bit Wooster Group-ish, but that company's actors sizzle. If the purpose is to show the disembodiment of what we call romance, in its various permutations, the actors still need a range of features to define the progression of characters, or the directorial vision disintegrates into a long, technically ambitious blur. (SLM) Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (323) 960-7792.
>NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK Moss Hart's sharp, hard-boiled 1946 farce, Light up the Sky, is the quintessential backstage tale of the mid-20th century. His characters are often based on real people: fast-talking producer Sidney Black (Benjamin Burdick) and his sassy ice-skater wife, Frances (Andrea Syglowski), are almost certainly meant to suggest Mr. and Mrs. Billy Rose. The characters are types, but Hart transmutes them into archtypes, readily recognizable to those too young to remember the era they represent. We meet them in a hotel in Boston, where they're preparing for the out-of-town opening of a show they hope will go off "like a roman candle in the tired face of show business." There's the self-dramatizing star Irene (Laura Flanagan), her dim-bulb husband (Richard Michael Knolla), and her earthy, disenchanted mother (Barbara Schofield). The pretentious, over-emotional director (Colin Campbell) is said to cry at card-tricks, and the callow young playwright (Dominic Spillane) must undergo his theatrical baptism by fire. Hart's script crackles with wit and wise-cracks, and, under the clever direction of Bjorn Johnson, the laughter is near-constant on Victoria Profitt's art-deco set. Burdick is a dynamo of verbal pyrotechnics, and he's evenly matched by most of the cast, who make the most of Hart's cynical/sentimental Valentine to show business. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 7. (323) 882-6912. (Neal Weaver)
Light up the Sky Photo by Maia Rosenfeld
GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
>NEW REVIEW GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer) and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more roll-with-the-punches pal. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through March 8. (800) 595-4849. Note: Roles alternate. (Deborah Klugman)
MISSIONARY POSITION Steven Fales' solo show about his days as a Mormon missionary in Portugal. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 8. (323) 957-1884.
MIXTAPE: I HEART MIXTAPE Seven original one-acts by emerging writers. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 25. (323) 960-7770.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeve's 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.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
POPE JOAN Christopher Moore's musical about a girl pope. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 960-4412.
>NEW REVIEW RESIGNATION DAY Terry Southern wrote Easy Rider, Barbarella, Doctor Strangeloveand a host of other classic movies along with searing and clever articles and stories steeped in a Hippie intellectualism, from an eara in which Abbie Hoffman and Lenny Bruce were prophets. He is certainly a man whose life makes for interesting theater, and despite some missteps, playwright Charles Pike has written a generally interesting semi-biographical work. However, two distinct plays emerge out of Pike's "day in the life" approach to his subject. One is a deep and disturbing, darkly comedic portrait of a mad genius of the '60s (a suitably sardonic Chairman Barnes) disintegrating into professional seclusion. The other is a punch-line-laden, vaudevillian romp packed with iconic characters (including William Burroughs played with rich dryness by Roy Allen). The collisions of these two tracks keep either from melding into a singular stage experience. The cast is mostly good, despite some sloppy timing (possibly the result of a jittery opening night). But David LM McIntyre's loose staging does dull some potentially sharp and funny moments. The play is set on the day of Richard Nixon's resignation, a day of joy for Terry and his gaggle, who spend the second act spouting wry liberal vitriol, perhaps tacitly lamenting that their enemy-- and essentially their purpose-- is gone. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 Heliotrope, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 21. (310) 281-8337. (Luis Reyes)
Resignation Day Photo by Haven Hartman
REVERB Leslye Headland's story of a musician's struggle with success. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (323) 851-2603.
ROMEO AND JULIET Shakespeare's family feud, re-imagined as Catholics versus Evangelicals. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (213) 926-2726.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 281-8337.
TEEN WITCH! A COMEDY MUSICAL Magical hijinks, adapted for the stage by Mike Zara and Colleen Smith. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 26. (323) 934-9700.
TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 960-7753.
THE TODD & MOLLY SHOW: IN EVERYONE'S PANTS THERE'S A DANCE Sketch comedy by Molly O'Leary and Todd Heughens. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26, www.plays411.net/thetoddandmollyshow...
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.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
>NEW REVIEW GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Familytone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 14. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production. (Paul Birchall)
The Bird and Mr. Banks Photo by Matt Kaiser
>NEW REVIEW GO THE DINING ROOM A.R. Gurney's engaging, bittersweet 1982 play details life in a dining room -- or, rather, several dining rooms -- inhabited by a multitude of characters. Short, overlapping vignettes transpire around a dining room table: a birthday party, illicit meetings, student projects, and, of course, family gatherings. Most of the bits present snapshots of family dynamics stressing the universality of what happens around a table, despite the WASPy leanings of the material. With minimal costume changes, the actors use vocal mannerisms to carve out distinct characters, often with physical transformations to suggest age and vitality. Particularly memorable vignettes include an architect trying to convince a psychiatrist to tear down the walls of the dining room to make an office, two teenagers drinking gin mixed with vodka and Fresca, a Thanksgiving dinner interrupted by a mentally failing matriarch and a student filming an old-fashioned aunt for an anthropology class. The events take place on Vandy Scoates expansive, well-appointed set, and the six actors (Matthew Ashford, Mimi Cozzens, Robert Briscoe Evans, James Greene, Tracy Powell and Amanda Tepe) all demonstrate colorful versatility. Kay Cole's fluid direction is most in evidence when vignettes overlap one another without distracting the audience from the dialogue. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. thru Feb. 15. (818) 765-8732. An Interact Theatre Company production. (Sandra Ross)
FAR FROM AN ANGEL'S GAZE Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, writer-director Jude Anchang's heavyweight drama highlights the plight of innocent victims in central Africa's bloody civil strife. Laurent (Tejay Bah), is a young businessman obsessed with the rape of his wife, Philomene (Yetide Badaki), at the hands of insurgent terrorists. Ignoring his priest's (Sadiq Abu) admonitions, he vengefully commits a murder that provokes further threats to his fellow villagers. Meanwhile, the convalescing Philomene is being sought by her former suitor, Fabrice (Bambadjan Bamba), who is now an officer within the militia responsible for the rapes and other vicious atrocities. Overwritten, murky and/or chronologically confusing in places, the play nonetheless features strong passages, interesting characters and visceral themes. The action is executed in broad strokes, but Badaki is lovely and sympathetic as an intelligent woman struggling for her dignity after a devastating act, and Bamba brings resonance to her haunted pursuer. Both Brandi Satterwhite as an honorable police officer and Robert Okumu as the guerillas' cruel commander bring nuance to their roles. The production would be far more involving if Bah, a novice performer, had more range. (DK) Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. 8 pm; through Jan. 31. (323) 354-5159. A Sacred Drum Theatre Production.
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show's efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and - with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers' questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow's intense Kazan, Mary McDonald's bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone's flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi's sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner's non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. (DK) Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (866) 811-4111.
GO IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money, and puts all those nuances on stage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad circa 1975. That the play resonates in 2008, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. Mark Blanchard directs the sitcom with his own brand of polish, revealing not so much characters as aspects of love and trust that permeate the culture. Meanwhile, the actors infuse those aspects with at least a couple of layers of subtext, humanity, and some very good timing. (SLM) Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Avenue, Toluca Lake; Fri-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (818) 762-2282.
IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.
MODERN LOVE Anthony Mora's story of a film producer obsessed with his directorial debut. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (818) 558-5702.
MURDER ON THE BOUNDING MAIN Jack Chansler's oceanliner mystery. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 256-3809.
OLD BROADS CAN'T DUNK Senior-citizen basketball league gets a new coach, in Art Shulman's comedy. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (818) 288-7312.
THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT Young Latinos fetishize a white suit, in Ray Bradbury's tale. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 15. (323) 960-4451.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH COMMUNITIES
BEAU JEST Jewish girl invents boyfriend to please her parents, in James Sherman's comedy. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 828-7519.
GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Moliè's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing - will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. Bourgeois Gentlemanwas first presented the year Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing gtears of a clownh masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through February 21. (310) 319-9939.
CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
GO FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family's isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin's wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen ten years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George's parents just happen to be out for the evening -- and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man. , who afterwards falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde's pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda's three act comedy occasionally falls pray to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox's psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner's gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship. Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man's memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks' inscrutable older beauty. (PB) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Jan. 30. (310) 822-8392.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through January 31. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
PICK OF THE VINE An evening of new short plays, culled from more than 600 submissions. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 8, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 512-6030.
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