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Stage Raw: West

Stage Raw: West

This week's Theater Feature on Camelot and Baal

NEW REVIEW GO WEST

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Speedgraflex

Steven

Berkoff's 1983 tale of adrenaline, lust, rage, and violence amongst a

group of young thugs in 1960s London is written in modified metrical

verse, which makes for a text whose heightened sense of reality is both

unusually challenging and piercingly dramatic. The juxtaposition of

these low born, brawling goons, and the lyrical dialogue that comes out

of their mouths makes for a beautifully ironic tale - the play hints

that the great Shakespearean epics of old are really tales of goons and

criminals. Young thug Mike (Brad Schmidt) leads a gang of East End

thugs whose dapper, shiny suits bely the fact that they're engaged in a

bitter and bloody feud with a rival gang out of Brixton. The battles

usually consist of the gangs getting drunk and beating each other up on

their way home from their pubs. In an attempt to make peace, Mike and

the other gang's chief thug (Joshua Schell) agree to a one on one duel

against each other, with the loser's gang surrendering. As the night of

the fight approaches, Mike suffers self doubts, both over his ability

and his willingness to fight. Berkoff's beautiful, vivid writing is

also dense and quite hard to penetrate. Yet with this startlingly crisp

and at times acrobatic staging, director Bruce Cooper leaps over the

play's hurdles of incomprehensibility and crafts a clear and

emotionally searing production. The piece is perfectly cast: The young

men have pitch perfect East End accents and dead eyes; you'll swear

you're watching Kray-era thugs, who, along with knowing how to throw a

good punch, somehow manage to get their jaws around the mouth-mangling

verse. Nicely volatile turns are offered by Schmidt's brooding Mike,

Kate Roxburgh as his miserable doormat of a mother, and Annie

Burgstede, offering a delicately Julie Christie-like performance as

Mike's sexy but neglected girlfriend. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric

Avenue, Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 6. (310) 823-0710.

Presented by Hellion Pictures. (Paul Birchall)

For all reviews seen over the weekend, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS (scheduled for publication January 28, 2010)

NEW REVIEW GO

BOBRAUCHENBERGAMERICA

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Debi Landrie

When Bob Rauschenberg's mother (Mari Marks)

delivers her tender slide-show about the rural Texas childhood of her

artist son, and none of the slides matches the descriptions she's

offered, you have to know something's up, conceptually. Whether or not

you're familiar with the '50s-'60s collagist painter-sculptor, Charles

L. Mee's 2001 extrapolation of what Rauschenberg might have written in

order to explain how he assembled junk into evocative reflections on

our place in the world stands alone. Marina Mouhibian's set decorates

the stage and the proscenium walls with vintage kitsch as the 10-member

ensemble plays out a series of somewhat interconnecting sketches about

romances gone awry, violence, politics and metaphysics - though there

are digressions for a series of chicken jokes. Bart DeLorenzo's staging

preserves the tone, inherent the text, that's both wry and frivolous,

abstract and pop, with one breakout poetical excursion into Walt

Whitmanesque grandeur, delivered by a hobo (Brett Hren) and accompanied

by Dvorak's Symphony from The New World. [Inside] the Ford, 2580

Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.;

thru Feb. 28. (323) 461-3673. SpyAnts Theatre Company. (Steven Leigh

Morris) See Theater Feature.

NEW REVIEW THE CITY

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Doug Engalla

Director Stan Mazin's

adaptation and update of Clyde Fitch's 1909 play has a lot going for

it. That said, references to Lady Gaga and Desperate Housewives

can't disguise the fact that it's an overly talky melodrama. Act 1

takes place in Middlebrook, where wealthy patriarch George Sr. (Klair

Bybee) holds forth on the values of small town life. However, his wife

Molly (Kady Douglas), daughters Megan (Trisha Hershberger) and Teresa

(Jaclyn Marfuggi), and especially his son, George Jr. (Hector Hank),

are bucking for the lights and excitement of New York City. Interloper

Fred Hannock (Glenn Collins) comes to blackmail George Sr. over

financial improprieties, and before his unexpected demise, George Sr.

reveals to George Jr. that Hannock is his half-brother. The overly long

Act 2 takes place five years later in the family's new abode in New

York City, where George Jr. is hoping to secure his party's nomination

for senator. Lawyer Burt Vorhees (Bix Barnaba) begins the vetting

process, asking George Jr. to pressure Teresa not to divorce her

playboy husband (Alexander Leeb). But a bigger problem is how to get

rid of the drug addicted Hannock who's been installed as George Jr.'s

secretary. Mazin marshals the cast well, but some of the acting is

uneven. Trefoni Michael Rizzi's plush scenic design can't be faulted.

Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28,

www.thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878. (Sandra Ross)

NEW REVIEW GO CONFUSIONS

Stage Raw: West

Photo courtesy of The Lost Studio

Alan Ayckborn's 1974 slate of five one-acts, under John Pleshette's

tight direction of an exemplary cast, illustrates the comical

consequences when we choose not to listen to each other. In "Mother

Figure," a quarreling couple (Steve Wilcox and Abigail Revasch) have to

revert to childhood in order to connect with each other during an

encounter with a formidably maternal neighbor (Mina Badie). "Drinking

Companions" offers us a traveling salesman (Brendan Hunt) in a hotel

bar masking his loneliness with pathetic yet hilarious attempts at

seducing two increasingly harried young women (Revasch and Phoebe

James). What a waiter (Hunt) hears is all that we hear too in "Between

Mouthfuls," as dialogue of one dining couple (Adrian Neil and Bridget

Ann White) is intercut with that of another (Wilcox and Jones), slyly

revealing a salacious secret. "Gosforth's Fete" turns into a debacle as

the organizer of a charity event (Neil) learns a secret from a local

teacher (Badie) that wreaks havoc for him and the teacher's fiancé

(Hunt). And in "A Talk in the Park," a quintet of disparate folks

(Hunt, James, Neil, White and Wilcox) finds their desperate attempts to

connect with each other sadly falling on deaf ears. Life on Its Side

Productions and The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat.,

8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 960-5775. (Martín Hernández)

NEW REVIEW GO DOG SEES GOD:

CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD

Photo by Jonathan David Lewis

Yes, Charlie Brown, you're still a

good man. But in Bert Royal's darkly funny parody of the Peanuts

comic strip, the gang is all grown up, raising hell and dealing with

some very adult issues. CB (Stephen John Williams) has lost his famous

beagle to rabies and is questioning the meaning of life. Van, aka Linus

(Brett Fleisher), has become an affable stoner who has smoked his

beloved security blanket, and his sister Lucy (Dana DeRuyck) has been

incarcerated in a psych ward for setting fire to one of her classmates.

Tough guy "Pig Pen" now goes by the name of Matt (Brian Sounalath) -- a

germaphobe with a trainload of emotional baggage. Most of what

transpires entails watching the screwball antics of these foul-mouthed

sex-obsessed hellions, which renders a goodly share of laughs (the

"Peanuts" dance at the opening of Act 2 is a real hoot). But Royal's

script isn't all about teenage angst and hijinks. The strip's original

cartoonist, Charles Schulz, never backed away from controversy.

Honoring that legacy, Royal's play explodes with physical and emotional

abuse, and CB's coming out of the closet results in a tragic finale.

This all unfolds neatly on Rebecca Patrick's set --two swings, a

graffiti pocked wall and bleachers. Director Mike Dias would do better

with sharper pacing, but he's skillfully balanced the light and dark

elements. Rounding out the excellent cast are Lisa Valerie Morgan,

Collins Reiter and Mikayla Park. Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica

Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., Jan. 31, 7 p.m., thru Feb. 6.

(562) 293-8645. An Urban Theatre Movement production. (Lovell Estell

III)

NEW REVIEW GO HOW I LEARNED

TO DRIVE "Sometimes to tell a secret, you first have to teach a

lesson," announces L'il Bit (Joanna Strapp) in the first lines of Paula

Vogel's highly acclaimed and richly awarded play (including the 1998

Pulitzer Prize for Drama). Set in 1960s rural Maryland, the non-linear,

episodic plot focuses on L'il Bit's questionable relationship with her

Uncle Peck (David Youse) during the different stages of her

adolescence. Because she is more educated than her blue-collar family

and becomes well endowed at a young age, L'il Bit always feels out of

place, finding solace in Peck's company, even if his advances aren't

always appropriate. In addition to the two leads, the three members of

the Greek chorus (Skip Pipo, Jennifer Sorenson, and Allie Grant--of

Showtime's Weeds in her stage debut) fill out the cast,

playing the other members of this dysfunctional family as well as

secondary characters. Director August Viverito, who also designed the

set, finds the perfect balance between the emotion and humor in the

text, all while choreographing the rapid scene changes seamlessly.

Strapp and Youse are captivating in their pas de deux, subtly

expressing powerful emotions, and the chorus members convincingly shift

personas while enhancing the theatricality of the piece with their

secondary function as transition markers and set movers. As has been

its hallmark, this company tackles the challenge of mounting theatrical

classics in a "closet," and once again succeeds admirably, especially

with such an intimate piece. The Chandler Studio Theatre Center, 12443

Chandler Blvd., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru

February 20. (800) 838-3006. www.theprodco.com The Production Company.

(Mayank Keshaviah)

NEW REVIEW THE JAMB

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Susan Lee

Tuffer (Kerr Seth

Lordygan) and Roderick (Brad C. Wilcox) are gay men who have been

friends for 20 years. Though they seem to love one another, they've

never had sex. Now they're on the scary threshold of age 40, and their

conflicts are looming large. Tuffer is addicted to sex, alcohol, and

meth, while Roderick is an angry control freak with a messiah complex.

Tuffer can no longer bear Roderick's constant disapproval, while

Roderick is fed up with having to rescue Tuffer from his own

self-destructive impulses. In hopes of curing Tuffer's immaturity,

Roderick invites him to come along with him on a visit to his ex-hippie

mother (Kenlyn Kanouse) in New Mexico -- but Tuffer will come only if

he can bring his boy-toy Brandon (Garrett Liggett), with whom, it

emerges, he has never had sex. Gay men who only want to cuddle?

Playwright J. Stephen Brantley gives a clever and quirkily amusing

account of his oddball characters, and achieves a resolution of sorts.

But his play doesn't always convince, and one senses a more complex,

unexplored level beneath this tangle of relationships. Director Susan

Lee provides a brisk, straightforward production, and elicits fine

performances from the four actors. The Eclectic Company, 5312 Laurel

Canyon Boulevard, Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru

Feb. 21. (818) 508-3003 or http://www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Neal

Weaver)

NEW REVIEW GO THE KINGS OF

THE KILBURN HIGH ROAD What is home to the emigrant? Is it, in the

lowercase sense, merely the place where one lays ones hat? Or is it a

more mythic capital -- an idea of both origin and aspiration in which

the psychic distance between the two becomes the self-measure of the

man? In Dublin playwright Jimmy Murphy's remorselessly probing elegy,

the question is more than academic. For Murphy's six, middle-aged Irish

expatriates who, 25 years earlier, left County Mayo to seek their

fortunes in London's working-class Kilburn district, home has become a

kind of spiritual sickness that, for one of them, has already proved

fatal. And as the survivors gather in a local pub to mourn his passing,

a potent cocktail of whisky, guilt and recrimination dissolves what's

left of their camaraderie and dreams of youth to reveal only the bitter

disillusionments and regrets of old men. Under Sean Branney's

sure-handed direction, Dan Conroy gives a blistering performance as

Jap, the hard-drinking men's bellicose, hair-triggered leader who, with

his sidekick and flatmate, Git (the fine Matt Foyer), has the least to

show for the lost years while being the most intransigent in his

denial. Maurteen (a simmering Dan Harper) and Shay (John Jabaley)

occupy a middle-ground of resigned acceptance of their meager

circumstances, while Joe (Steve Marvel), as the group's single,

successful exception, serves as the truth-seeking provocateur needling

the friends to a lacerating self-knowledge. The Banshee, 3435 W.

Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28,

www.theatrebanshee.org. (818) 846-5323. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW GO ORPHEUS

DESCENDING

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Ginger Perkins

Lou Pepe stages Tennessee Williams' study of a

singer-songwriter, Val Xavier (Gale Harold) who wanders into a Southern

mercantile shop, a reluctant seducing machine living in and belonging

to a different world. Being both a updated interpretation of the

Orpheus' visit to the underworld, with Biblical allusions heavily laced

into the plot, Williams' saga is study in the how the otherworldy

artist becomes scapegoated and sacrificed to the prosaic reality of the

here-and-now. The theater is a bit of an echo chamber, and Brandon

Baruch's murky lighting doesn't really help Pepe's decisions to

eliminate distracting details such as walls and knicknacks in order to

place us inside Val Xavier head and heart. That said, the

ensemble saves and elevates the event, particularly Denise Crosby, Claudia Mason and

Francesca Casale as the women whose hearts become wrenched by the

musician in the house. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.;

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21,

www.brownpapertickets.com/event/92508. (800) 838-3006. Frantic Redhead

Productions (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

NEW REVIEW THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW In his

much anticipated, first major stage appearance since 1991,

obnoxious-sweet man-child Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) appears at Club

Nokia downtown in what is essentially a slightly updated re-creation of

his CBS kids' show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. It's populated on David Korins' set of colorful animated objects by an array of puppets and the live characters who made the Playhouse

a cult classic among kids of the '80s, and adults who wanted to be

among them. These include Mailman Mike (John Moody), Bear (Drew

Powell), Jambi (John Paragon), Sergio (Jesse Garcia), Cowboy Curtis

(Phil LaMarr), Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), King of Catoons

(Lance Roberts) and Firefighter (Josh Meyers). The spectacle, directed

by Alex Timbers, is really an exercise is nostalgia that aims to

re-start Pee-wee's public life, and in that motive resides the show's

drawbacks. Ruebens is as limber as ever, having barely aged and with

odd, agile and moralistic Pee-wee rollicks in an ill-fitting gray suit,

trademark red bowtie and greased hair. Ensnaring our infatalism and

self-absorption, with moments of poignant generosity, Pee-wee's

7-year-old mentality, locked into his psyche as though with the huge

chain of his bicycle, was and remains a brilliant invention. This show,

however, co-written by Reubens and Bill Steinkellner, with additional

material by John Paragon, is less so. The Pee-wee shtick wears out

quickly, as though even Reubens is getting tired of it, and the droll,

'50s moralizing, captured in vintage cartoons about the importance of

washing hands and showing courtesy in a lunch line, is as thin as the

kind of kitschy wrapping paper you might have once found in Wacko.

There's a lovely moment where Pee-wee suffers the consequences of

giving away a wish he's been granted -- which means he has to suffer

for his compassion by not getting what he wants. Life lesson? Hardly,

when that consequence is gratuitously reversed. The reversal isn't the

problem; it's that happy endings come out of the sky if you're just

nice to people. No, they don't. The campiness and irony is just an

excuse for sidestepping a real idea, or the kind of scrutiny that sharp

kids' entertainments rely on. Club Nokia, 800 W. Olympic Blvd.,

downtown.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 &

7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.peewee.com. (800) 745-3000. (Steven Leigh

Morris)

NEW REVIEW GO PROOF

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Alex Robert Holmes

What's

the link between mathematics and madness? If you inherit your father's

genius, will you also fall heir to his lunacy? Playwright David Auburn

garnered a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for this play that poses

these questions within the framework of a family drama. The story

begins a week after the death of Robert, an acclaimed mathematician

(Brad Blaisdell, appearing in flashback ); mentally ill in his last

years, he'd been cared for by his mirthless, troubled daughter,

Catherine (Teal Sherer). Alone and grieving on her 25th birthday,

Catherine can just barely tolerate the presence of Hal (Ryan Douglas) a

former student of Robert's searching through his papers for some shred

of intellectual value. More annoying to Catherine is her older sister

Claire (Collette Foy), in from New York and intent on whisking

Catherine back with her -- an option Catherine resents and resists. At

the nub of the plot is whether, as Catherine claims, she wrote the

mathematical proof uncovered in a locked drawer, or whether, as Hal and

Claire suspect, Robert devised it during a period of clarity. For this

critic, Auburn's script has always registered as contrived and lacking

subtlety - but this production blows away this bias by virtue of

Sherer's uniquely winning portrayal. That the character - like the

performer -- is wheelchair-bound adds a layer of vulnerability that

brings the play to life for me as it hadn't before. Make no mistake:

Sherer's accomplished performance stands on its own; it's the material

that's been enriched. Kudos also to Foy for excellent work. Bob

Morrisey directs. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North

Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323)

960-7863. (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW GO A SONG AT

TWILIGHT

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Ron Sossi

"I've been in America too long. It's so lovely to see a steak

that doesn't look like a bedroom slipper! . . . Memory is curiously

implacable. It forgets joy, but rarely forgets humiliation." That's

probably not the Noel Coward that you've ever heard before, but Noel

Coward it is. Given that this 1966 bittersweet comedy was one of

Coward's final plays, it's startling to learn that this James

Glossman's beautifully mature staging is actually the show's West Coast

premiere (a pruned one act version of the play was produced here in

1975 in a nationally touring double-bill called Noel Coward in Two Keys,

starring Hume Cronyn.) Is it too late to nominate Coward for some kind

of a "best new writer" award? Some have theorized that the show's

explicit homosexuality-related themes were Coward's attempt at "coming

out" - but even if one doesn't totally agree with the idea, the show

still appears to be years ahead of its time - and this partially

explains why it's so ripe for rediscovery. Ensconced in his Swiss hotel

suite for the season, elderly author-legend Sir Hugo Latymer (Orson

Bean) spits venom at his long suffering, astonishingly supportive wife

Hilde (Alley Mills), who also serves as his secretary and dogsbody. In

fading health, Sir Hugo realizes that his best days are behind him, but

an unexpected visit an unexpected visit from from his former mistress,

Carlotta (Laurie O-Brien), can still bring out the elderly writer's

flamboyant rage. Retired leading lady actress Carlotta wants permission

to publish their long ago love letters in her upcoming autobiography,

but when Hugo refuses, it turns out the woman has an ace in her sleeve,

involving other love letters to someone even further back in Hugo's

past, and memory. Glossman's elegantly melancholy staging showcases

both Coward's glittering writing and the unexpectedly piquant themes of

regret and bitterness. Bean's crusty, curmudgeonly Sir Hugo may miss

the smooth, veneer of civility we expect, but he adroitly conveys the

sense of a twisted, petulant old tool, who's as dismayed by the loss of

his physical faculties as he is regretful of his past mistakes.

O'Brien's faded vixen is wonderfully snarky, with a mischievous malice

suggesting a hurt creature who is enjoying her spiteful vengeance.

Mills' understanding, but coolly clear-eyed wife, turns out to be

unexpectedly powerful. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd, West Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through

March 7. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW GO WEST

Stage Raw: West

Photo by Speedgraflex

Steven

Berkoff's 1983 tale of adrenaline, lust, rage, and violence amongst a

group of young thugs in 1960s London is written in modified metrical

verse, which makes for a text whose heightened sense of reality is both

unusually challenging and piercingly dramatic. The juxtaposition of

these low born, brawling goons, and the lyrical dialogue that comes out

of their mouths makes for a beautifully ironic tale - the play hints

that the great Shakespearean epics of old are really tales of goons and

criminals. Young thug Mike (Brad Schmidt) leads a gang of East End

thugs whose dapper, shiny suits bely the fact that they're engaged in a

bitter and bloody feud with a rival gang out of Brixton. The battles

usually consist of the gangs getting drunk and beating each other up on

their way home from their pubs. In an attempt to make peace, Mike and

the other gang's chief thug (Joshua Schell) agree to a one on one duel

against each other, with the loser's gang surrendering. As the night of

the fight approaches, Mike suffers self doubts, both over his ability

and his willingness to fight. Berkoff's beautiful, vivid writing is

also dense and quite hard to penetrate. Yet with this startlingly crisp

and at times acrobatic staging, director Bruce Cooper leaps over the

play's hurdles of incomprehensibility and crafts a clear and

emotionally searing production. The piece is perfectly cast: The young

men have pitch perfect East End accents and dead eyes; you'll swear

you're watching Kray-era thugs, who, along with knowing how to throw a

good punch, somehow manage to get their jaws around the mouth-mangling

verse. Nicely volatile turns are offered by Schmidt's brooding Mike,

Kate Roxburgh as his miserable doormat of a mother, and Annie

Burgstede, offering a delicately Julie Christie-like performance as

Mike's sexy but neglected girlfriend. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric

Avenue, Venice; Fri..-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 6. (310) 823-0710.

Presented by Hellion Pictures. (Paul Birchall)


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