Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

CURRENT STAGE FEATURE ON
Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Left to right: Chase award recipients Brandon Rainey, Jane McEarney, Center Theatre Group Director of Education and Outreach Leslie Johnson, Chase recipients Joanne F. Karr, Patricia Sciortino and Brian Patrick Byrne. Photo by C. Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging 


The photo is of five arts teachers from school across L.A. County who are receiving $5k each, plus a $100 Chase Gift Card for arts supplies for their schools, in order to integrate theater into their classrooms. The award(s) is being given by J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation in a program administered by Center Theatre Group.  Says CTG:

"Believing strongly in the powerful and positive effects of arts programming, and that an investment in teachers is key to ensuring quality arts education for all students in the Los Angeles County schools, Center Theatre Group's Education and Engagement Department is launching a new theatre educator professional development program."

High grades for good intentions. What could possibly be wrong with this picture? Well, of the five awards being given, only one (Joanne F. Karr of Walnut High School) comes from a standard public school, in a small suburban district adjoining Pomona. The remaining four awards throw grant money at either private schools (Brian Patrick Byrne of Milken Community High School, Patricia Sciortino of Bridges Academy in Studio City and Jane McEarney of Turning Point School in Culver City) or charter schools (Brandon Rainey of Fernando Pullum Performing Arts High School and Lou Dantzler Prep Charter Schools, both in Los Angeles) Note: there are actually six prizes being given, but one is being split between the two L.A. charter schools.

The issue is that even this very modest funding is not going even indirectly to students who need it the most -- those who have been neglected and abandoned by the public school systems, and the collapsing economies that support them. Charter schools are an elite cadre of public schools where there is no tuition, however admission is highly competitive. Charter schools are in a much stronger position to raise money. In short, Morgan Chase Foundation and CTG's education program are sending privileges to the already privileged , while L.A. Unified School District is dropping all elementary school arts teachers by 2012.

The arts, as a source of reflection and redemption, belong to everybody. And so does the investment in them. Teachers who need to wear bullet-proof vests underneath their art smocks deserve at least some of the support that's going around. All teachers who enlist upcoming generations in the arts are treasures to the culture,  but the teachers in districts of neglect are really doing God's work, and are in a position to have the most profound impact.

For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, and this coming weekend's review docket, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for May 7-13, 2010

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas

Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.

OPENING THIS WEEK

ABSINTHE, OPIUM MAGIC: 1920s SHANGHAI The Grand Guignolers take a 1920s luxury cruise to Shanghai, the most debaucherous city of its era. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; opens May 7; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (310) 838-4264.

AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY The Santa Monica College Opera Theatre presents the opera based on Theodore Dreiser's classic American novel -- a complex account of the life and death of a young antihero named Clyde Griffiths. Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Sat., May 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., May 9, 4 p.m.. (310) 434-3414.

BARELY A BEAR A children's play about a bear cub raised by humans and a girl raised by bears who team up to save the forest from developers. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens May 8; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., May 9, 2 p.m.; thru June 26. (877) 620-7673.

BEETHOVEN AS I KNEW HIM Hershey Felder's dramatization of a true story as told in 1870 by the person who spent a good part of the maestro's last two years by his side. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens May 11; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 23. (949) 497-2787.

THE CHARMERS written and performed by Fairfax High School students, and set on ol' Hallows Eve itself, this dark comedy follows two sisters who spend a night warding off the undead. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., May 7, 4 & 7 p.m.; Sat., May 8, 6 p.m.; Sun., May 9, 1 p.m.. (323) 655-7679.

CINDERELLA The world's oldest fairy tale, is adapted for the stage and performed by juvenile artists. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Wed., May 12, 7 p.m.; Thurs., May 13, 7 p.m.. (626) 256-3809.

THE CLEAN HOUSE Sara Ruhl's theatrical and comedic play abut class and the nature of love. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens May 8; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru June 16. (310) 477-2055.

CRIMES OF THE HEART Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy about three Mississippi sisters whom no one and nothing can keep down. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens May 7; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru June 6. (714) 708-5555.

DEITY CLUTCH Gus Krieger's tale of twelve disparate individuals must confront a deadly mystery before the encroching darkness consumes them all. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 30...

DEN OF THIEVES Neo Acro Theatre Company presents Stephen Adly Gurguis' quirky and charismatic group of wayward criminals. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 766-9100.

GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADWAY Dick Van Dyke performs with the Conejo Valley Harmony Oaks Chorus as part of the 13th Annual High School Choral Benefit Show. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Sun., May 9, 4 p.m.. (805) 449-2787.

GROUNDLINGS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT The comedy troupe invites you to fasten your seat belt and put your tray table in the locked position as you take off for the latest main stage show. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens May 7; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 934-9700.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING Ed Asner will narrate the ensemble musical homage to corporate America. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; opens May 11; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 23. (310) 825-2101.

THE ICE BREAKER David Rambo's play about a young geologist who sparks intellectual and romantic chemistry with her reclusive mentor. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens May 12; Wed.-Sun., 2 & 6 p.m.; thru June 6. (310) 364-0535.

(IL)LEGAL CONSENT: HIGHWAYS' 21ST ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION Hosted by John Fleck and featuring performances by Fleck,Kristina Wong, Philip Little and others. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., May 7, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., May 8, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's early experiment in Victorian melodrama; part satire, part comedy of manners and part intellectual farce. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 645-5156.

LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE A collection of stories by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. Cast includes Caroline Aaron, Carol Kane, Natasha Lyonne, Tracee Ellis Ross and Rita Wilson. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens May 11; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 208-5454.

MADAGASCAR JT Rogers' story of three Americans - at three different times - who find themselves alone, in the same hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26...

THE MISMATCH GAME Producer and host Dennis Hensley will be joined onstage by a panel of some of L.A.'s most creative, hilarious and desperate comic minds for what has become a cult favorite. L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri., May 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 8, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 9, 7 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.

1951-2006 Donald Freed's 50-year love story that takes place on the 4th floor of an East Side Brownstone. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens May 13; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 489-0994.

NUNS AGAINST PORN Robert Coles' comedy about three nuns and a porn crew who book the same mountain cabin. Underground Theater, 1312 N. Wilton Pl., L.A.; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat..; thru May 29. (323) 467-0036.

ODE TO THE POLAR BEAR Inupiat Eskimo performance artist Allison Warden interprets the clash between traditional values and corporate intentions, global warming, modern survival and the push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; opens May 13; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 23. (310) 458-8634.

OJALA! Set in the mid-1960s, Ojala! Explores the cultural phenomenon of Mexican nany-maids and the affluent white children they care for. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru June 6. (323) 263-7684.

AN OSCAR FOR MOM Theatre Americana and Show of Support Productions present a pre-Mother's Day program with lunch and musical performances. Proceeds benefit the Farnsworth Afterschool Program. Farnsworth Park's Davies Hall, 568 E. Mount Curve Ave., Altadena; Sat., May 8, 11:30 a.m.. 626-840-3551.

PALOMINO David Cale portrays seven characters in a sensuous tale that follows Kieren McGrath, a mysterious Central Park carriage driver. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens May 7; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru June 6. (213) 628-2772.

SACRIFICE A look at what happens when the lives of two couples, who come from opposite ends of the cultural world, collide, with some wicked interference. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; opens May 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 876-1501.

SARAH, SARAH Daniel Goldfarb's comedy-drama about how families are linked across generations and continents. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens May 7; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27...

SIDE MAN Broadway cast members Scott Wolf and Frank Wood reprise their roles in Warren Leight's tribute to a lost era of jazz and big bands. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; opens May 12; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., May 15, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., May 16, 4 p.m.; thru May 14. (310) 440-4500.

SUGAR HAPPENS A-lee Lulee Productions presents this one-girl show by Sherry Coben and starring Rachel Bailit comedy, based on Bailit's life about a nice Jewish girl's life choices and where they take her. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens May 12; Wed., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 20. 800-838-3006.

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WAY Based on a little-known incident in LA history, this thriller explores the collision of reality and fantasy as two actors juggle various roles to entrap homosexuals for "social vagrancy" in the public restrooms of 1914 Long Beach. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; opens May 8; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 6. (626) 683-6883.

TREASURE ISLAND Robert Louis Stevenson classic, original adventure of pirate tales and coming-of-age stories. Lewis Family Playhouse, Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, 12505 Cultural Center Dr., Rancho Cucamonga; opens May 8; Sat., 1 & 4 p.m.; Sun., May 16, 1 p.m.; thru May 22. (877) 858-8422.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

NEW REVIEW ACTING: THE FIRST SIX LESSONS

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Tom Zeleny

Beau

Bridges was 10 years old when his father Lloyd gave him  Richard

Boleslavsky's primer for actors, Acting: The First Six Lessons.

Boleslavsky studied under Stanislavski and later  developed aspects of

the master's approach and passed them along to Group Theater luminaries

Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman  (becoming in a sense the granddaddy

of the  American Method approach to performance).  This adaptation,

developed and performed by Bridges and his daughter Emily Bridges under

the direction of Charles Mount,  illuminates Boleslavsky's process in a

series of scenes constructed around the relationship between  a theater

coach, played by Beau, and a passionate but initially untrained

theatrical neophyte, portrayed by Emily.  The piece spans five years,

during which time the young actress makes a name for herself  but

always returns to the teacher for professional guidance.  Prefaced with

down-home remarks to the audience, and evoked within a picturesque

1930s framework that they, impressively, put together themselves, this

is a show that you want to like -- but are constrained from enjoying by

the inescapably pedagogical nature of much of the script. Passages

instructing in the precepts of sense memory, observation and so forth

will be familiar to  performers who have attended theatrical workshops,

and pretty much irrelevant to anyone else.  That said, this stylishly

mounted and smoothly executed production is worth viewing if only for

Emily Bridges' translucent presence as a fervid young artist. Theatre

West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

thru May 16.
(323) 851-7977. (Deborah Klugman)

GO AWAKE AND SING Clifford Odets painted a loving portrait of the Berger family in the darkest days of the Great Depression. Three generations live together in their Bronx apartment. Matriarch Bessie (Deborah Strang) is a feisty, loyal woman who's capable of terrible things if she believes they're in her family's best interests. Her husband, Myron (Joel Swetow), is "a born follower"; her daughter Henny (Molly Leland) is pregnant by a man who has dumped her; and son Ralph (Adam Silver) is in love with a girl he can't afford to marry. But it's the grandfather, Jake (the wonderful Len Lesser), who is the household's soul, and delivers the play's message of hope and desperate optimism: "Take the world in your two hands and make it like new. Go out and fight so life shouldn't be printed on dollar bills." Jake is an old Marxist who loves his Beethoven records and his grandson, Ralph. Director Andrew J. Traister captures the play's potent blend of love, longing and frustration, along with its lyricism and zest for language. The cast includes Daniel Reichert as Moe, the man Henny loves; David Lengel as the sad-sack immigrant she marries; and Adam Blumenfeld as plutocratic Uncle Morty. They are all terrific. (Neal Weaver). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Through May 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 8, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 23, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

GO BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO In Rajiv Joseph's comedy, the eponymous Tiger (a pleasingly droll and gruff portrayal by Kevin Tighe, padding around in gray sweats with a shock of silver hair and matching beard) has an appetite. Once he ate two children. "It wasn't cruel," he explains. "It was lunch." And though such high-toned sitcom banter offers a reprieve from any sanctimonious artiness and self-importance, the glibness does wear thin. With crackling dialogue laced with subtext, the play begins as the beast is being guarded by two American GIs, Tom and Kev (Glenn Davis and Brad Fleischer), in 2003 Baghdad. When Tom sticks a piece of meat inside Tiger's cage, his entire hand winds up being severed by the beast's teeth. (How easy it is to lose a part of oneself.) Kev shoots the Tiger with a pure-gold handgun Tom looted during a raid of the Husseins' palace. That gun, and a gold toilet seat he pilfered during the same raid, hold the key to Tom's future back in the U.S., or so he believes. The problem is, it doesn't belong to him. It was once owned by Sadam Hussein's son Uday (Hrach Titizian), who also appears as a ghost, sometimes alongside the ghost of the now-slain Tiger. That gun, that gold, and the barbarism surrounding it, belong to Iraq, so believes Musa (Arian Moayed), a local topiary artist once hired by Uday to sculpt zoo animals out of greenery, and who now works as a translator for the Americans. The play's beauty lies in how it unfolds with the structure of a novel. That structure is breathtaking in Act 1. Focus shifts, scene by scene, from one character to the next, while literary images -- a severed hand, a withering topiary garden of statues, a gun and a toilet seat made from gold -- form a delicate binding. This structure reaches its pinnacle at the end of Act 1. In Act 2, it begins to go in circles. Joseph's view doesn't quite settle at all. It continues to float, like his ghosts, so that his visions of God and Iraq and what we've done there are more like whispers than a conviction -- even the conviction of a feeling.Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

CHICAGO Though the original 1975 production didn't fare as well as its Tony Award--winning 1996 revival (which is still running on Broadway), the popularity of this story of female criminals in Prohibition-era Chicago is a testament to Bob Fosse's original choreography, and musical-theater stalwarts composer Jon Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. Roxie (Michelle T. Williams, formerly of Destiny's Child) and Velma (Terra C. MacLeod) are arrested for murder and sent to Cook County Jail, where Matron "Mama" Morton (Carol Woods) not only shows them how to survive but also serves as promoter for Velma's vaudeville career. Velma, however, becomes jealous of Roxie when she is defended by slick-as-oil lawyer Billy Flynn (a charismatic Brent Barrett) and gains her own notoriety in the press, including through sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine (R. Lowe). The real victim of all this attention-whoring (besides the dead bodies, of course) is Roxie's schlubby but lovable husband, Amos (Tom Riis Farrell). Director Scott Faris and choreographer Gary Chryst re-create the 1996 revival, but in terms of energy and pizzazz, this iteration doesn't quite duplicate the work of their Tony Award--winning predecessors. The show is nonetheless entertaining, with highlights that include the vocal acrobatics of Woods and Lowe; the impressive feather dance in "All I Care About"; the ventriloquist act in "We Both Reached for the Gun," which also showcases Barrett's voice; and Farrell's undeniable charm and understated humor throughout. MacLeod shines as Velma, bold in her moves, mannerisms and sultry sensuality. (Mayank Keshaviah)., $25-$78. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 9, broadwayla.org. (213) 365-3500.

CRIMES OF THE HEART Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize winner. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 16. (805) 667-2900.

NEW REVIEW GO DEMENTIA

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Ed Krieger


Anyone

who survived the deadly HIV plague time of the '80s, when the best and

brightest of the arts community was virtually wiped out by the disease,

can't help but be moved by the pathos of playwright Evelina Fernández's

AIDS melodrama. And while the urgency of the play might have diminished

somewhat in the intervening years of antiretroviral successes, director

José Luis Valenzuela's re-staging of the Latino Theater Company's

acclaimed, 2002 production has lost none of its rousing panache or

theatrical luster. Sal López reprises his tour de force performance as

Moises, a flamboyant theater director drifting in and out of

consciousness on his deathbed in 1995. He spends his lucid moments

planning his final exit scene in a party to be attended by his close

associates, which include his lifelong friend, the gay hairdresser,

Martin (the excellent Danny de la Paz), and best straight

friend/writing partner, Eddie (Geoffrey Rivas), and Eddie's wife, Alice

(Lucy Rodriguez). Moises' less coherent spells are spent in

phantasmagoric dialogues with his conscience and drag-queen alter ego,

Lupe (Ralph Cole, Jr. in a show-stopping performance), who belts out

disco dance hits in between haranguing Moises about coming clean with

his ex-wife, Raquel (Fernández), on the circumstances surrounding their

15-year-old break-up. A first-rate production design, including

François-Pierre Couture's evocative lights, Nikki Delhomme's

Mackie-inspired gowns and Christopher Ash's expressionist-surrealist

set, underscores Fernández's Eros-trumps-conventional-morality theme

with elegance and eloquence. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring

St., downtown; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat. 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;

thru May 30. (213) 489-0994 ext. #107 or http://www.thelatc.org A Latino Theater Company Production (Bill Raden)

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES Audience-participation musical for children and their families, music by Phil Orem, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz and David Wechter. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 851-7977.

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE Malibu Stage Company presents the story of a woman who learns the rules of the road and life from behind the wheel, written by Paula Vogel. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru May 23. (310) 589-1998.

How the Other Half Loves Alan Ayckbourn's comedy about three couples who get together for two dinner parties. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 23. (562) 436-4610.

GO JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS When the title of your musical proclaims that Jacques Brel is alive and well, it seems perverse to stage it as his funeral, complete with onstage coffin and open grave. The piece becomes a bit lugubrious, and its darker aspects are overly emphasized. (The original off-Broadway rendition was more frankly presentational, with a wider emotional range.) Still, this production has much to recommend it, including a quartet of fine performers: Jennifer Shelton and Zachary Ford (who also plays a mean accordion) are the younger couple, while Eileen Barnet and Gregory Franklin supply the voices of experience. All four capture the charm, the passionate feeling that suffuses Brel's songs, and the lyricism and driving force of numbers like "If We Only Have Love," "Amsterdam" and the rousing "Carousel." But Brel is essentially a storyteller, and his lyrics (translated by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman) matter, yet here they are often overpowered by the accompaniment. Jon Lawrence Rivera's direction is always professional, though his sometimes over-busy staging (particularly for the men's numbers) can obscure rather than enhance. Musical director Brent Crayon and a four-man ensemble provide stirring instrumental backup, and John H. Binkley designed the handsome, semi-abstract set. The Colony Theatre, 555 North Third St., Burbank; variable schedule. Call theater for information. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15, colonytheatre.org. (Neal Weaver). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 9. (818) 558-7000.

GO THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A. EINSTEIN In a piece that could be just as accurately titled Waiting for Einstein, the legendary scientist's secretary, Ellen Schenhammer (Kres Mersky, who also wrote the play), keeps at bay a "press corps" waiting for the genius on his birthday. While delivering a steady stream of apologies for his lateness, Ellen buzzes about Einstein's Princeton, N.J., study -- with its hand-carved mahogany accents, floral motifs and ubiquitous shades of brown -- making final preparations for the party. She is at times interrupted by the telephone, on the other end of which is Anna, the incompetent hired help who frustrates the long-serving Ellen. Her description of this frustration is the first of many fingers from the past that poke out of Ellen's psychological space-time continuum. During these interludes she relates how she first came to work for Einstein and his wife, describing life in Weimar Berlin, how the German public received his theories, and even her secret attraction to the man. A veteran of stage and screen, Mersky nails both the Germanic tongue and dry sense of humor, and in weaving her self-admittedly simplistic interpretation of Einstein's theories into her storytelling, she makes us forget that we are waiting for the man himself. Director Paul Gersten keeps Mersky moving about the stage with an industry that lives up to the Germanic stereotype; he also handles time jumps with subtlety. (Mayank Keshaviah). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 851-7977.

GO THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD In John Millington Synge's 1907 comedy, young drifter Christopher Mahon (Michael Newcomer) wanders into a rural, Irish public house, confessing that he just murdered his father during a brawl between the pair, having knocked him on the head with a loy. The bar-mistress, Pegeen Mike (fiery Lindsay Gould) initially goads this reluctant confession from the exhausted, witless fellow, but as it's met with reverence, and "Christy" becomes a local hero and object of desire among the village girls, he re-tells the story of the murder with growing extravagance and pride. This is all fine, until his father (director Geoff Elliott) shows up with a seething head wound, and Christy tries again to do the job correctly. He's now not only a liar but a murderer in the eyes of the locals. The "great gap between a gallant story and a dirty deed" is the crux of the tale, and its meandering morality is part of what incited its initial audience to riot. Playboy contains underpinnings of tragedy stemming from Christy's earnestness and loneliness, and his betrayal by Pegeen Mike. And for all its perversity and farce, it contains some of the most fetching and lyrical love scenes in contemporary literature. Elliot's staging comes imbued with naturalistic detail (Soojin Lee's mud-stained torn costumes, Stephen Gifford's rustic set with sheaths of hay dangling from the ceiling, streaks of rain sliding down the one window) and an acting style to match. Elliot's pacing is just right, gentle enough to catch the emotion and the beauty of the language, yet brisk and smart enough to serve the comedy. Amidst the lovely performances are Jill Hill's Widow Quinn (who shares the dainty, word-wise qualities of Mance's Countess in Figaro); the eccentric and idiosyncratic William Dennis Hunt's Philly Cullen, and Apollo Dukakis' skeptical Michal James Flaherty. Elliot's biggest misstep is miscasting himself as the edler Mahon, when there are actors in his own production that could obviously capture the requisite anarchic lunacy. Elliott is of a classical mould, and imbues the rusty nail of a character with far too much decorum and elegance, in voice and manner. (Steven Leigh Morris). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sun., May 9, 2 & 7 p.m.; Through May 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 22. (818) 240-0910.

NEW REVIEW GO

STARMITES: AN INTERGALACTIC MUSICAL In this astral,

half-actor/half-puppet rock opera, the Starmites -- a cross between

Power Rangers and N*SYNC -- are under attack from the evil Shak Graa

(Matthew McFarland) who threatens to "debase, deflower, degrade and

digest" inner space. Only earthling teen Eleanor (Natalie Storrs) can

save the day -- and luckily for man- and alienkind, she's a comic book

geek who's already boned up on the backstory in Starmites issues 1 to

20,995. Barry Keating and Stuart Ross' musical is slim on plot, but

packed with ditties as Eleanor blasts off into space with the boys

(Michael Joyce, Thomas Krottinger, Jonah Prior and Donald Webber Jr.)

to wrest a magical weapon-instrument from the forest of the sexy space

banshees (Jen Reiter, Riana Nelson, Jessica Perlman and Raquel

Sandler). The technics are great, especially Phil Kong's playful

lighting design, and Diane Adams' vocal arrangements flaunt the

ensemble's talents. But the songs carry on for  longer than their

repetitive lyrics hold interest, then carry on further through several

reprises. Despite its skill, at two and a half hours long, it's

unconscionably long for a musical fueled only by charm. Even Eleanor's

feisty femmepowerment gets bogged down with a several-scene detour

about finding inner beauty. The savior is Steve Edlund's crisp

directing and his enthusiastic cast -- when Storrs rushed to the rescue

at the climax, she thundered onstage with such purpose she accidentally

kicked her shoe to the rafters and closed out the play barefoot. Miles

Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Fri., 8

p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 9. (310) 458-8634.

Ensemble Theatre Company (Amy Nicholson)  


NEW REVIEW THE 39 STEPS

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Craig Schwartz


Though

Patrick Barlow's adaptation of John Buchan's book played on Broadway,

it's the kind of lark that thrives in fringe festivals (it premiered in

London's tiny Tricycle Theatre) - showcasing the quick-change antics of

four actors, playing out a flippant stage rendition of Alfred

Hitchcock's movie(s). There's no small irony that this season-closing

production for the Ahmanson bookends the opener - Monty Python's Spamalot

another stage "homage" to another movie, with many nods to

stage-techniques in particular and to the theater in general. . The

attempt here, under Maria Aitken's direction, is to show how

comedically cheesy stage effects can parody the cinema techniques

employed to show, say, characters scrambling atop the roof of a

fast-moving train. (In one scene, a remote toy train traverses the

stage.) Even as a fake conceit, it's a fake conceit, since  Peter

McKintosh seemingly minimal set comes nestled inside a huge theater

with hydraulically moving pieces and every stage invention that money

can buy. The show is at its best when, with split-second precision,

hats get swapped, jackets and dresses get dropped and exchanged, in

order for Richard Hannay, Eric Hissom, Scott Parkinson and Claire

Brownell to portray a gallery of dozens of characters. The story

follows a British stooge (Hannay) trying to fathom the mystery of a

German spy operation.  The ensemble is amazingly dextrous -- more so

than charismatic, but that doesn't matter in an exhibition of

technique. This is a lot of money to pay for carny show in which some

talented actors pretend to be doing a Hitchcock movie on stage, on the

cheap. I struggled earnestly to find a reason to care, and came up

empty. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown;  Tues.-Fri., 8

p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 16. (213)

628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS

GO ACCOMPLICE: HOLLYWOOD Part game, part theater, part tour: It all begins with a phone call disclosing a secret meeting location. Aided by clues and mysterious cast members strewn throughout various locations, such as street corners, bars, iconic landmarks and out-of-the-way spots, the audience traverses the city streets, piecing together clues of a meticulously crafted plot. (Steven Leigh Morris). Hollywood Blvd., betwn. Highland & Las Palmas aves., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., www.accomplicetheshow.com...

BAD DATES Written by Theresa Rebeck, starring Samara Frame. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 23. (323) 960-5770.

THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL Shirley Jo Finney directs a vivacious five-person ensemble in Ifa Bayeza's choreopoem based on the life and death of the 14-year-old black child from Chicago, brutally murdered during a 1955 working vacation in Mississippi, for the "crime" of whistling at a white, female shopkeeper. His funeral, and the open casket demanded by his mother, became a flashpoint for the nascent civil rights movement. Despite the performances' visceral intensity, its lingering, emotionally exploitive depiction of the murder helps boils the history down to a black-and-white sketch of good versus evil. It provokes righteous self-satisfaction more than our introspection. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 3. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 663-1525.

BECOMING BUTCH Vincent James Arcuri's one-man stage show about his childhood in Queens, to his life among queens in West Hollywood. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru May 25. (323) 957-1884.

BLANK Written by and starring Brian Stanton. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 23. (323) 960-5770.

GO THE BOYS IN THE BAND Harold (Eric Roth), now in his 40s, is aging poorly and self-consciously, and being gay doesn't help. At his Upper East Side apartment, Michael (Matt McConkey) hosts Harold's birthday party in Mart Crowley's 1968 off-Broadway play. Imagine a birthday party with eight gay men, lifted from Edward Albee's template in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with vicious party games aimed at dismantling the illusions and delusions of the various participants. Harold arrives late, in sunglasses and suit, coiffed and manicured like a cross between a Mafia don and a queen, and Roth portrays him with just the right twinge of imperiousness, slightly fey, spouting witticisms that are supposed to be wise but don't always quite land. In the spaces after their launch and before their plunge, you can see his lips tighten and his eyes stare defiantly into the collapse of who he imagines he should be, at this point in his life, at this party. By play's end, he's been mocked for spending hours in front of the looking glass with a pair of tweezers with which he's been gouging his face in order to vanquish telltale signs of aging. This is a play in which a line such as, "Appearances aren't everything" is met with the retort "says Quasimoto," and "Beauty is skin deep" receives sarcastic chortles from the other characters. This is a world where a skin blemish is a life crisis. Such issues as fidelity, monogamy, alcoholism, drug addiction and innumerable variants of self-loathing manifest themselves in verbal and some physical lashings that are as vicariously entertaining as public executions must have been in eras of yore. Underlying the abundant wit and cynical repartee, blended into a couple of moments of affection, lies the larger metaphysics of mortality, manifested in Harold, on his birthday, with the "present" of a dim-witted prostitute (Dustin Varpness). Director Jason Crain's staging comes well-engineered, almost overcoming the impediments of large ensemble dramas that are supposed to unfold realistically. There's the inevitable awkwardness of characters lingering on the margins with nothing to do or say, while histrionics are unfolding in the middle of the room. But there are some good performances here. McConkey's host, slender Michael, combines fierce intelligence with withering wit. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 965-9996. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 16...

CANNED HAM Tom Judson performs his autobiographical solo show. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 969-2530.

CANNIBALS From the endless material regarding the dreams and disappointments of stardom comes this comedy by veteran TV scribe R.J. Colleary about trying to survive in Hollywood. "I act, therefore, I am," is the motto of the United State of Actresses -- a quartet of 40-something thespians who gather weekly to salve their delicate egos and share stories about dwindling job prospects. Mo (Amy K. Murray) is a plus-size mother of three; Elizabeth (Jackie Debatin) is a half-glam, owner-operator of a school for child actors; Linda (Caryn Richman) is a married woman who can't give up the dream; the mouthy Carole (Dale Dickey) keeps finely tuned on antidepressants. The toxic admixture of personalities is good for laughs but doesn't quite offset the play's lack of action, leading to tedious stretches. A ray of light emerges when a "notable" director (Ray Abruzzo) taps the gals for a documentary, but the project is threatened when he brings his accomplished wife (the stellar Robin Riker) along, and investors insist on the participation of a younger actress (Brittany Ross). The saccharine finale holds no surprises. The cast is uniformly fine under Kathleen Rubin's direction. (Lovell Estell III). Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 23. (323) 960-7745.

NEW REVIEW GO CUMBIA DE MI CORAZON

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo courtesy of Bilingual Foundation of the Arts

A

romance with music, set in the netherworld, playwright Tony Campion's

delectable fable depicts a trio of afterlife employees trying to unite

a fisherman named Heriberto (Eliezer Ortiz), dead 50 years, with his

newly deceased wife, Maruca (Carla Valentine). To win her, he must ply

the dazed, then disdainful woman (she doesn't recognize him at first)

with songs from their youth - the spicy enticing rhythms of cumbia, a

popular Colombian dance with roots in slave ritual courtship. For the

workers (Joaquin Jassa, Daniel Restropo and Fanny Veliz),  his success

is crucial as their supervisor (Angel Sabate), a cantankerous spirit in

black hat and cape, is threatening their demotion to the fiery pit if

they fail to maneuver the couple to "The Big House." None of this

unwinds with any logic, nor does it matter.  Directed by German

Jaramillo, the ensemble juggles the whimsy, irony and emotional  truth

embedded in Campion's script with pitch perfect skill. Among the play's

charms is Katherine Castillo as La Angelita, in a beguiling dance-only

performance.   The music's beat is contagious, and by play's end the

audience is hotly rooting for the once truculent, now newly energized

Heriberto, to regain his life's love for eternity.  One major problem

for non-Spanish speakers in an otherwise very enjoyable show: English

supertitles translate only a portion of the text, which is all in

Spanish. Bilingual  Foundation of Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; opens

April 30; Fri.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 30. (323)

225-4044.  (Deborah Klugman)

DURANG DURANG Christopher Durang's collection of comedic one-acts. XRT, 1581 Industrial St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 23. (213) 536-4331.

E.O.: AN HISTORICAL FARCE OF TRULY ELIZABETH PROPORTIONS World premiere of Michael Sadler's new comedy. Tre Stage Theatre, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29, plays411.com/eo...

EVA PERON, ENIGMA OF A DESTINY The story of Evita, a world-premiere play set to music and tango. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 667-0955.

GETTING FRANKIE MARRIED . . . AND AFTERWARDS The setting for Horton Foote's bittersweet comedy is the town of Harrison, Texas, where 43-year-old bachelor Fred Willis (John Lacy) shares a home with his ailing, demanding, control freak of a mother (Judith Scarpone). His painfully ordinary girlfriend of decades, Frankie (Martha Demson), has hung in there with him, much to the consternation of her gossipy friends Isabel (Teresa Willis), Laverne (Laura Richardson) and Constance (Stephanie Erb), who feel that he should marry her. One day, out of the blue, he does just that -- despite a sexual dalliance with gorgeous Helen (Laetitia Leon), who, incidentally, is suing him for breach of promise. The marital bliss, however, is short-lived after both Frankie and Helen reveal that they're each pregnant. Stir in a friend named Carlton (Bjorn Johnson), who may be Fred's half brother, plus a couple of strange plot twists, and things get really fuzzy. Though Foote's writing, true to his form, comes laced with humor and sadness and an atmosphere that inspires gentle reflection, this clearly isn't one of his sharper works, and director Scott Paulin's leisurely pacing makes sitting through the stasis something of an endurance test. The performances are uniformly good, and set designer James Spencer's living room mock-up is stellar. (Lovell Estell III). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 15. (323) 882-6912.

THE GIFT HORSE See Kay Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of Lydia R. Diamond's drama. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Mon., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 851-2603.

HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES Presented by Bootleg Theater and l'Enfant Terrible. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.; thru May 9. (213) 389-3856.

THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.

HARLOW GOLD: EAST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. The Bordello, 901 E. First St., L.A.; Sun., 10 p.m.. (213) 687-3766.

GO HOLY GHOST The ghosts in Jon Tuttle's play -- in a glorious production at Theatre of NOTE, directed by Michael Rothhaar, are the German suicides in an American POW camp in South Carolina near the end of World War II. Among the issues here is how the Germans are not all Germans, one is Serbian (a heartbreaking and tender performance by Rick Steadman) and a couple are Jews who were swept into the German army and have hidden their identity for all too obvious reasons. The surreal story is seen through the eyes of a main character, a newcomer to the scene, a U.S. Army officer named Bergen (Dan Wingard), who registered as a noncombatant due to his principles of nonviolence. He also happens to be Jewish, which goes down only a little better in South Carolina than it might in Nazi-occupied Berlin. And so begins Tuttle's scintillating mash-up and spinning of stereotypes that form a vicious brand of comedy. Almost nobody is quite what they seem, or how they've been labeled -- and Tuttle drives home that point with irresistible humor. The German POWs are guarded by African Americans (who have their own internal seethings), some of whom don't quite understand the epithet schwarze hurled at them. As though this is a competition for who is lowest on the totem pole. Acting as public information officer, Bergen tries to stage a play with the non-English-speaking Germans -- a play about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves. (Irony doesn't come any more blistering than that.) The Serbian with a perfectly executed, excruciatingly inept dialect is cast as Honest Abe. Before the big show, he makes a break for freedom -- with fake beard glued on. The only English he knows are the lines from the stupid play, which he uses to bed some hayseed's daughter (Rebecca Sigl) before showing up in a redneck bar, chased by the private (Rich PierreLouis) who was supposed to be guarding him. What ensues is a kind of Huckleberry Finn morality play, with everything but the morals. The ensemble is as terrific as the play, with standout performances by Doug Burch, Carl J. Johnson, and a gloriously patronizing portrayal by Brad C. Light as the German translator (an S.S. officer in disguise), Light doubles perfectly and metaphorically into the local sheriff. (Steven Leigh Morris). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 856-8611.

GO INFLUENCE The brief, scandal-ridden tenure of Paul Wolfowitz as the director of the World Bank inspired this, Shem Bitterman's third play in his Iraq War trilogy, now having its premiere production. Bitterman turns a sharp, savvy, ferociously satirical eye on the subject of political corruption and lethal infighting in Washington. Young, liberal, idealistic Midwesterner Branden (Ian Lockhart) warily accepts a position at the World Bank, despite the fact that its Director (Alan Rosenberg) is regarded as the architect of the Iraq War. Branden's girlfriend Sally (Kate Siegel), a fanatical liberal, regards the Director as the devil incarnate, but she's co-opted when the Director finds funding for a project dear to her heart: providing micro-funding for economic development in poor countries. Branden soon finds himself caught in a no-win situation between the charming but ruthless Director, and the equally ruthless reformer, Rolf (Christopher Curry), who's seeking to depose him. Heads roll. Director Steve Zuckerman provides an elegant, funny dissection of the dangerous political currents. An original score by Roger Bellon coolly defuses the melodrama, and the accomplished cast deftly underlines the proliferating ironies. Rosenberg shines as the wily but charming Director, and Jeff McLaughlin's handsome set features familiar Washington landmarks. (Neal Weaver). Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.; thru May 9...

IT'S A MUSICAL WORLD Bob Baker's marionette revue that first opened in 1978. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 11. (213) 250-9995.

NEW REVIEW GO JAWBONE OF AN ASS

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Erin Clendenin Photography


The

title is lifted from an Old Testament passage, and is quite fitting for

Nan Schmid's sparkling satire about faith run amok in the heartland.

Paige Marie (Schmid) is a hardcore, Bible-thumping Christian woman who

lives in a world of the thoroughly devoted. When not wearing out her

knees in supplication and prayer, she enjoys cooking all types of

goodies for the locals. The picture isn't perfect, however, because her

hubbie Roy has gone missing; he has a sexual "condition," that compels

him to "flog the old bishop" in public, and he has been fooling around

with Nam's loose-panty friend, Cora Ann (Eliza Coyle). To the rescue

comes the venerable Dr. Admore (knee-slapping turn by Michael Miccoll),

Christian counselor, author, solid American, and "savior of the hour"

whose prescription for Paige's dilemma is to enter the Pillsbury

bake-off and indulge in some risqué cross-dressing. When a body turns

up late in Act 2, the proverbial wrath of God brings righteous judgment

along with some hilarious revelations. It's all good, enjoyable fun

(even if you believe God is a Republican and lives in a red state). Jim

Anzide provides sharp direction, and the three-person cast is a riot.

Circle X Theater at The Lillian Theater, 1078 N. Lillian Way,

Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 962-

0046. (Lovell Estell III)


KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

THE KING OF THE DESERT CoActive Content presents a Mexican American boy's journey of self-discovery though adulthood and the realization of his dreams, written by Stacey Martino. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru June 11. (323) 960-5774.

GO L.A. NOIR UNSCRIPTED After years of perfecting their sharply honed craft of improvising parodies of highbrow masters such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Stephen Sondheim, Impro Theatre decides to slack off a bit with this less demanding satire of film noir. A lot of wordy, mixed metaphors, some cheesy suspense music, a few light gobos representing the shadows of Venetian blinds and voil: Sam Spade and gang of hard-boiled cynics are ready to roll. Well the gambit worked, the easy clichs and furtive looks of the genre flow out of these improvisers so fast and with such surety that they barely have time to listen to each other before letting the next hilarious banality fly. Actually this opening night the folks did get a bit sloppy in their listening -- especially to names -- but their caricatures and situations were so fun that no one was keeping track of improv rules. Company artistic director Dan O'Connor is in his element as the bitter detective, Edi Patterson looks perfectly askance as the sardonic beauty, and Lisa Fredrickson is delightful as an over-the-hill movie star; you may never see them in these specific characters, but you will see them at their comic best. (Tom Provenzano). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 13, plays411.com/lanoirunscripted. (323) 401-9793.

LENNY BRUCE IS BACK (AND BOY IS HE PISSED) Ronnie Marmo is the comedy legend. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 467-6688.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop jukebox musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 960-4412.

THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv, directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

The Maids The Help presents Jean Genet's drama. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sun..; thru May 16...

MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 12. (323) 960-7714.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY Actors Co-op dusts off the still-kicky Philip Barry script, on which the famous 1940 Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart film vehicle was based, to close its "American Classic" series. Feisty socialite Tracy Lord (the stunning Tara Battani) is set on a second marriage, to the newly monied George Kittredge (Daniel J. Roberts), but the nuptials are threatened by both the reappearance of her old-monied, ex-husband (Greg Martin) and the arrival of a no-monied tabloid reporter (Stephen Van Dorn). There are heaps of good performances here under Douglas Clayton's direction; and Alison Freeman does double duty as Dinah Lord, Tracy's tomboy of a little sister, while also serving as the production's dialect coach. Nice details here: Gary Clemmer's (Sandy Lord) blasé inflections are even funnier when fueled by coffee; Martin's droll flippancy is as carefree as a trust-fund baby's spending habit. Yet this is the sparkling Battani's show, and she runs away with it. Considering Barry wrote the play specifically for Hepburn, that's no small task. Battani snaps and crackles and pops even when the show's pace gets soggy: There's a tendency to act between the lines instead of on the lines, which just doesn't sit well with the play's crackerjack dialogue. But with a few more performances to grease its engine, this production could clip along jauntily. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 462-8460.

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE! STRIKES HOLLYWOOD Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Mon., Wed., 8 p.m.; thru May 19. (323) 465-0800.

GO SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE Michael John LaChiusa's dynamic 2005 musical, based on short stories by Rynosuke Akutagawa, examines the nature of truth. The title refers to our proclivity for seeing only what we want to see -- and failing to report it honestly. The piece consists of four scenes. Two, set in medieval Japan, deal with the tormented relationship between two lovers, played by Lesli Margherita and Doug Carpenter. The third, "R Shomon," is set on the night of the New York premiere of Akira Kurosawa's classic film Rashomon and retells its tale in a modern setting. A brash, handsome Thief (Carpenter) sets out to seduce the brassy, sexy Wife (Margherita) away from her Husband (Perry Ojeda). By morning, the Husband is dead, and the three participants deliver wildly conflicting accounts of what happened. The dead Husband's story is told via a Medium (Suzan Solomon). A shifty, unreliable passerby (Jason Graae) provides a fourth version. The fourth scene, "Glory Day," gives Graae a chance to shine but seems to belong to a different play. LaChiusa's stirring score mingles jazz with Japanese inflections. Director Daniel Henning delivers a taut, sexy production, with impeccable music direction by David O, and all five actors provide passionate conviction. The Blank Theatre Company, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 23. (323) 661-9827, TheBlank.com. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 23. (323) 661-9827.

GO SHAHEED

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Maia Rosenfeld


Anna

Khaja illuminates the lives and historical forces surrounding slain

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Stephanie Feury Studio

Theater, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 22. (323)

463-7378. See Theater Feature 


GO SICK "It was an angry poop," exclaims Pamela (Vonessa Martin) to her husband, David (Ramón de Ocampo). She and their 10-year old son, Michael (an adorable Quinton Lopez), wait out the barrage of f-bombs from Gary (Johnny Giacalone), Pamela's drunk brother who is cursing out his wife, Carla (Diarra Kilpatrick), because she threw him out of the house. Pamela and David agree to take in Gary, and in the ensuing intertwined episodes over a period of months (including one unforgettable mac 'n' cheese and marijuana scene between Gary and Michael), we are exposed to the maladies that afflict these characters -- from Pamela's hypochondria and Gary's intoxication to David's libidinous yearning and Carla's cocaine cravings. Even Michael's secretly sexual pediatrician, Dr. Brown (Brendan O'Malley), and Carla's donut-downing, Jesus-loving 12-step buddy, Jeannie (Anita Dashiell), can't shake their dis-ease, until Michael, the anchor in this sea of sickness, gets some bad news of his own. The two-character scenes that dominate the piece showcase Erik Patterson's edgy and hilarious play, and Diane Rodriguez's muscular direction energizes its episodic nature, cleverly turning even the transitions into opportunities for storytelling, such as employing an onstage waiting room for offstage characters. Sandra Burns' flexible, minimalist set (with its wonderful robin-egg blue floor), appropriately illuminated by Adam Blumenthal's harsh hospital fluorescence, provides the perfect backdrop for a talented cast that is solid across the board and keeps us laughing amidst the pain. (Mayank Keshaviah). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 16. (213) 489-0994.

GO SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM has graced the musical theater landscape with wry urbanity for more than 50 years. This 1976 revue of the composer and lyricist's work will delight devotees and features songs from a vast cross section of his work, some familiar and some obscure, all rendered in fine fashion. Brian Shipper has designed an understated set consisting of a large, framed black-and-white photo of a Broadway venue, flanked by bar stools and two panels displaying a collage of smaller pictures of the Great White Way. Coupled with this small venue's intimacy, it creates a cabaret-style atmosphere that accents many of the songs' delicacies and of the composer's devilishly witty lyrics. Director Dane Whitlock has assembled a splendid quintet of performers (Jenny Ashman, Jennifer Blake, Joe Donohoe, Morgan Duke, Nick Sarando), who sing and dance their way through 30 of Sondheim's songs without one dropped note, sometimes prefacing the selections with interesting historical information about the productions. Also featured is music by Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers and Julie Styne, all of whom Sondheim collaborated with on many shows. (The songs are drawn from West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Gypsy, Company, Sweeney Todd and others, as well as lesser-known productions like The Seven Percent Solution and Evening Primrose. Musical Director Richard Berent provides stellar accompaniment on the piano. (Lovell Estell III). The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 525-0661.

GO TEMPODYSSEY Dan Dietz's absurdist comedy attempts to be both a coming-of-age story and a zany satire. The two intentions don't always mesh, but the piece is clever, provocative and great fun to watch. In rural Georgia, young Genny (Devin Sidell) is recruited to work as a chicken choker in her family's poultry business. The job preys on her mind, particularly when she discovers that all those she likes/loves come to grief. Convinced that she is a danger to anyone close to her, she flees to Seattle, where she becomes an office temp because it offers safe isolation. She goes to work for the bizarre Ithaca TechnoSolutions, a bomb manufacturer, and a company so impersonal that all temps are called either Jane or Jim. She's befriended by the current Jim (Liam Springthorp), who believes that only temping -- and a stolen executive key card -- offer real freedom and independence. He introduces her to the Jane's Revenge, a lethal bomb he's stolen from the lab and secreted in the subterranean file room. The loony tale is enlivened by Emily Weisberg's slick direction, and wonderfully engaging performances by Sidell and Springthorp, with solid support from Melli Vytlacil, John Schumacher as Genny's father, and Ted Jonas as a mad scientist. (Neal Weaver). ArtWorks Theatre, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru May 23, needtheater.org. (323) 795-2215.

T.F.N.: TILTED FRAME NETWORK Live improv show simultaneously broadcast via the Internet. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru May 13. (800) 838-3006.

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.

TWO WRONGS Scott Caan's love story set in a therapist's office. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 9. (323) 960-1057.

A WOMAN'S RITE An exploration into the multifaceted emotional lives of women and their relationships, written by the women of the Lyric Theatre family. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 939-9220.

GO THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE In its many incarnations, Gloria Naylor's episodic novel about struggle and triumph among a disparate group of African-American women in a dilapidated urban project anywhere in the country, circa 1975, offers moving, character-driven drama, comedy and social commentary. Tim Acito's musical adaptation captures much of Naylor's storytelling brilliance through his series of mostly solo songs. These explore the women's individual lives in a structure that resembles Studs Terkel's musical, Working. The stories ultimately meet, as the women turn to one another both in anger and for support. Acito eschews the temptation to pigeonhole the music into 1975 black genres, instead allowing such rhythms to infuse his more classical 20th-century musical-theater styles. The result is a stirring hybrid of emotionally charged and simply fun songs that give the extraordinary cast of singer-actors exciting material to perform. Musical director Gregory Nabours works expertly with the strong cast, as he does with his skilled musicians, to create a production of immense scale in this tiny venue. Scenic designer Kurt Boetcher offers just enough set to suggest the slum conditions but stays out of the way of the actorsm and it's all nicely supported by Naila Aladdin Sanders' delightful costume design. (Tom Provenzano). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 6. (323) 957-1884.

YOUR PUNY WEAPONS CANNOT HURT ME! A collection of six 10-minute plays, by various playwrights. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 856-8611.

WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.

ZOMBIENCE! AN IMPROVISED ZOMBIE MUSICAL Directed by Patrick Bristow and Jayne Entwistle. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru June 10

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AUNT DAN AND LEMON Wallace Shawn's play about A reclusive young woman named Lemon, who promises to tell the audience "everything about my life," including reading about Nazi atrocities and the influences by her parents' eccentric friend "Aunt Dan.". Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru May 28. (818) 500-7200.

BIZZZY! Rolland Jacks' 1970s musical nostalgia. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru May 16. (818) 990-2324.

GO COPENHAGEN Though playwright Michael Frayn's virtues as a historian have been hotly debated in the decade since his speculative historical whodunit played on Broadway, no one can deny his instincts as a crack storyteller. After all, dramatic stakes don't come higher than moral responsibility for the development of the atomic bomb. Frayn's thesis is that the Allies' mistaken belief that the Nazis were actively engaged in a bomb program -- a conviction that culminated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- can be traced to a fateful 1941 meeting in occupied Copenhagen between German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Skip Pipo), author of the uncertainty principle and head of the Nazi uranium program, and his former mentor, Dutch theoretical physicist Niels Bohr (David Ross Paterson), the father of quantum mechanics and contributor to the Manhattan Project. The circumstances of that meeting, and the conflicting memories of exactly what was said or was understood by the two principals, are argued and reenacted from the perspective of some otherworldly realm. Bohr's wife, Margrethe (Sarah Lilly), who was present but out of earshot of the disputed conversation, serves as a kind of prosecuting catalyst to the action. The good news is that the intimacy of director August Viverito's pared parlor staging (Viverito is also credited for production design) does away with the ostentatious redundancy of the Broadway production's grand tribunal set; this allows the play's human dimensions -- and riveting, nuanced performances by a terrific ensemble -- to take center stage. (Bill Raden). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 786-1045.

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE Driving lessons come with molestation in Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize winner. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 9. (818) 720-2009.

GO MY SISTER IN THIS HOUSE In 1933 France, two submissive churchgoing maids named Christine and Lea Papin brutally murdered their employer and her daughter, a crime that riveted the country and set off a firestorm of debate about the conditions of the working poor. Director Michael Unger's signed and spoken production of Wendy Kesselman's handsomely staged drama speculates around that event. Stockpiled with the minutiae of the maids' daily routine, it explores the increasingly bizarre psychological dynamics between the perpetrators -- the fastidiously capable Christine (Deanne Bray, voiced by Darrin Revitz) and her clumsier, dependent sister, Lea (Amber Zion, voiced by Lindsay Evans), as well as their relationship with their mean "Madame" (Casey Kramer) and her docile daughter, Isabelle (Jennifer Losi). Performed without an intermission, the plot's unhurried rhythm reflects the excruciatingly slow pace of life in the setting's time and place. Bray and Zion are lovely and expressive in communicating the sisters' bond, forged ever more tightly in response to Madame's nitpicking cruelty, though Christine's dark side could be underscored more emphatically. Kramer's villainess is so fulsomely drawn as to border on caricature; this apparent directorial choice, made to emphasize the melodrama, is handled by this performer with considerable skill. And Losi projects an effective foil as the petulant Isabelle, whose impulses toward kindness are ultimately annihilated by her mother. Tom Buderwitz's set, Leigh Allen's lighting and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes create an ambience of musty money contrasting aptly with this dark, disturbing tale. (Deborah Klugman). Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30...

PLAYWRIGHTS UNION READING FESTIVAL The Nether by Jennifer Haley, Puzzler by Padraic Duffy, Like a Fact by Aaron Henne, Large as Life And Twice as Natural by Dorothy Fortenberry, Chambers by Lisa Kenner, The City She Wants Me by Deron Bos, Frank and Monica by Steve Serpas, Anticipating Leftovers by Jennie Webb, The Price by Jeremy Soule. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Through May 9, 6:30 p.m.. (818) 841-5421.

THE RAINMAKER The N. Richard Nash romantic comedy following a rural farm family during a drought. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (626) 256-3809.

SAVED BY THE PARODY Musical parody of 1990s TV sitcom Saved by the Bell, written and directed by Ren Casey. Presented by Renegade Zombie. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 10:45 p.m.; thru May 29, renegadezombie.com. (866) 811‐4111.

SLEEPING BEAUTY Presented by June Chandler's Faerie Tale Theatre. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru May 8. (626) 256-3809.

THE SUNSHINE BOYS Neil Simon's comedy about wo aging ex-vaudeville stars who reluctantly re-team for a "History of Comedy" special. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 500-7200.

GO SWEET SUE A.R. Gurney's stock in trade is as an erudite chronicler of Wasp culture and romantic conundrums. Here, he is not at his witty, engaging best, but director Ernest Figueroa and a stalwart cast make this problematic play worth a viewing. Sweet Sue is a variation on that old standby, the May-December romance. The action unfolds in the spacious Philadelphia home of Sue Weatherall, a middle-of-the-road artist who has a fling with Jake, a college buddy and roommate of her son Ted. Because Jake is rooming at her house for the summer, he agrees to do some nude modeling for Sue, which, to no one's surprise, gradually turns into a romantic fixation. That not much occurs in this highly talky play is not the problem. The two characters are played by four actors, two Sues and two Jakes. The artifice allows for dual perspectives and approaches, but this double representation becomes confusing, especially when all four actors are onstage, and when the author splices time segments, which he often does. What's more, notwithstanding some humorous moments, there really isn't a lot here that forcibly engages. The romance predictably fizzles. The upside is the fine acting: Figueroa's cast members (Laurie Morgan, Janet Wood, Sean McGee and Brandon Irons) work well together. Wood is especially artful in her portrayal of the older, mature Susan. (Lovell Estell III). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 9. (818) 700-4878.

TURKEY DAY Jeff Folschinsky's Thanksgiving comedy. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 16, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (818) 508-3003.

25 PLAYS PER HOUR Two dozen (plus one!) shorts performed in under an hour. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru May 8, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

THE UNSERIOUS CHEKHOV Frustrated by a nasty review and a tardy director, a troupe of actors gathered for rehearsal decides to pass the time by performing five of Chekhov's lesser-known dramas, translated by George Malko. So begins this quirky outing from Theatre Unleashed, which renders equal servings of vexation, entertainment and befuddlement. The spontaneous-workshop conceit that frames the show is initially humorous but turns distinctly sloppy as the show progresses. "Dirty Tragedians and Leprous Playwrights," directed by Gregory Crafts, follows a playwright sitting on a volcano, while seeking inspiration. Staged with an overabundance of theatrical shenanigans, tumbledown props and costumes, it's oddly charming, mainly because of the cast's wild antics. Andrew Moore directs "On the Main Road," a tale of class conflicts, drunken men and villainy, which takes place in a tavern. Donald Agnelli is stellar as an axe-wielding criminal in this the evening's most interesting piece, and is also very funny. Carlos Martinez and Kim Shannon play the sun and moon in conversation in "Before the Eclipse," directed by Erin Scott. "The Bear," directed by Pamela Moore, takes place in a cabin in Russia, where Darren Mangler portrays a boorish creditor who calls on a widower (Courtney Bell), to collect. The business visit, however, turns into a comical tale of love and lust. Scott also directs "The Night Before the Trial," with Ben Atkinson as a convict awaiting the sentence of the court. (Lovell Estell III). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 8, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

WEIRD ON TOP Improvisational comedy by Danielle Cintron, Tiffany Cole, Mason Hallberg, Kerr Seth Lordygan, Sarah McCann and Alex Sanborn. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., May 13, 8 p.m.; Thurs., June 10, 8 p.m.; Thurs., July 15, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 12, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS

ALTAR EGO With the gulf of incomprehension that frequently gapes between men and women, it's a wonder that anyone ever hooks up. That's the underlying theme in this collection of eight interrelated monologues (credited to playwright James Lyons) about the world's oldest hobby: Yammering about sex until it seems about as interesting as discussing the deboning of a fish fillet. Although the youthfully energetic eight-person ensemble briskly tackles the glib vignettes, the material itself is never able to evade a faint scent of triviality. Lyons (who really should learn how to spell "alter," though it is spelled correctly in the press materials) portrays a cheerfully amoral husband who defends his frequent extra-marital dalliances with the traditional excuse that he truly loves his wife -- but he has needs. Later, Audrey Moore, in a nicely sour turn, portrays the man's wife, who's understandably miffed about the case of the clap she has mysteriously come down with. A particularly droll turn is offered by Leila Vatan, playing an Iranian-American woman, who, caparisoned in the mandatory chador, bemoans her lack of sexual opportunities. And Mike Horton's monologue about a man who has a tiny penis but enormous anger-management issues starts out humorously before shifting unexpectedly into tragedy. In directors Audrey Moore and Leila Vatan's character-driven production, the performers sit onstage in a semicircle, as though they're attending an AA meeting, while watching as each briefly takes center stage. Chuckling gently and indulgently as they observe each other's excesses and humiliations, the mood is both ironic and sweetly forgiving of sexual weakness. However, in the end, the monologues' talky nature is less exciting than actual dramatic interaction would have been. (Paul Birchall). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 15...

GO THE ARSONISTS In Max Frisch's trenchant work of surreal irony, which may be better known by its alternate (and perhaps more whimsically satisfying) title, Biedermann and the Firebugs, decent people invite evil into their homes, try to befriend it, ignore its obvious nature -- and, by doing nothing, are ultimately complicit in its wicked goals. When Frisch wrote the dark comedy in 1958, he was clearly attempting to craft a metaphor for the rise of Nazis amongst the otherwise sensible German population one to two decades prior. Alistair Beaton's new translation amplifies certain of the text's thematic undercurrents of moral blindness to put us in mind of the paranoia and impotence suffusing the so-called War on Terror. Mild-mannered hair-tonic dealer Biedermann (Norbert Weisser) has been told to be on the lookout for a band of diabolical arsonists sweeping through the neighborhood, setting houses ablaze. Yet, this doesn't stop him from inviting into his home a brutish goon named Schmitz (John Achorn), who shows up on his doorstep asking for food and lodging. We quickly deduce that Schmitz has a certain pyromaniacal bent -- and even Biedermann and his primly brittle, suburban wife (Beth Hogan) start to twig that something is wrong when Schmitz and his seemingly psychotic pal, Eisenring (Ron Bottitta), move huge barrels of fuel and bomb detonators into their home's attic. Yet, Biedermann, complacent in his "it can't happen to me" attitude, refuses to see what's happening right in front of him. The performances, as well as the flames, crackle in Ron Sossi's slyly sardonic staging -- performances that combine perfect comic timing with dense, rich personalities. Weisser's nervous (and increasingly delusional) Biedermann and Hogan's uptight wife are hilarious -- but the true scene-stealers are Achorn's rubber-faced, diabolical Schmitz and Bottitta's ghoulish Eisenring, who are simultaneously so chillingly funny and matter of fact, you almost want to invite them to dinner yourself, despite the potentially blazing ramifications. Set designer Birgitte Moos' beautiful two-level set (1950s-style living room and attic) is ingenious, while Sean Kozma's eerie sound design adds a beautifully sinister atmosphere to the goings-on. (Paul Birchall). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 23. (310) 477-2055.

COMEDY VS ART SHOWDOWN "Funny artists and artistic comics battle" in this monthly event, curated by Elisha Shapiro., $5. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Second Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m.; thru June 14. (310) 315-1459.

FULLY COMMITTED Sam Lloyd portrays more then 40 characters in his one-man show. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru May 26. (310) 512-6030.

GHOSTS By Henrik Ibsen. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 8. (858) 481-2155.

HARLOW GOLD: WEST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. Harvelle's, 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs.. (310) 395-1676.

A HELL OF A MESS or OH, WHAT A BLOODY CIRCUS By Eugene Ionesco. Alive Theatre, 3838 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 8. (562) 818-7364.

NEW REVIEW JESSE BOY

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Agnes Magyari


There

are plenty of writers who have trodden down the thickets of dysfunction

that apparently overrun the rural South (my own little Southern

hometown must be the lone exception). Certainly, there are families

with histories of secrets buried so deep you'd need a backhoe to

unearth them.  But to cram a play to bursting with every last and most

lurid of them, as does Robert Mollohan, playwright and star of this

world premiere, feels like little more than shock value for the sake of

shock value. Richie (Mollohan), an Elvis impersonator/car salesman, and

Abigayle (Jaimi Paige), his girlfriend/former lady of the night, live

in a state of vague dissatisfaction dotted with bouts of uneasy peace.

The tension in their trailer home is pulled rubberband tight by

Abigayle's live-in mentally handicapped brother Jesse (the excellent

Zach Book), Jesse's physically handicapped stripper/babysitter Mary-Lou

(Kathleen Nicole Parker), and Richie's homeless uncle Red (Chris

Mulkey).  The performances are, across-the-board, as impressive and

nuanced as the range of Southern accents the cast employs.  But as the

second act hurriedly pulls tricks out of its hat and as the build to

the predictable climax barrels towards the audience, the characters'

emotional evolutions get lost.  Richie's chance for at least a moment

of sympathy is especially squandered--if you're going to stack every

card in the deck against a character, you have to give the audience a

reason to care much earlier than the last fifteen minutes of the play. 

Karen Landry directs. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road., Santa

Monica; Fri.-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 12 (no

performances Memorial Day weekend). (310) 397-3244 (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece which is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but run down country house in upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger) are in the twilight of their careers, but regret nothing about a life spent on the road performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiance Jimmy (David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior -- and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration underscoring the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive, yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., May 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 23, 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 399-3666.


GO THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Figaro (Troy Dunn) and Suzanne (Janae Burris) are about to be wed. Figaro is valet to the Count (David E. Frank), while Suzanne is chambermaid to the Countess (Cynthia Mance). At play's start, Suzanne watches Figaro measuring the proportions for a bed that's to be installed in their new quarters -- within earshot of the Count. A bit of a dolt, Figaro doesn't realize (until Suzanne fills him in) that the closeness of the quarters to their respective employers is actually in the service of the Count's lechery. And so begins a series of traps to ward off the indignity of the Count's attempted restoration of an old right called primae noctis, in which the master of the house is entitled to deflower a bride from a lower class before her wedding. Following the plot's intricacies is like trying to follow the motions of moths around a lamp, though it does sort itself out, not unlike the ribbons and bows in Josephine Poisot's period costumes. And the new translation transfers the subtleties of French idiom very smoothly into English -- with the added delight of actors occasionally lip synching from excerpts of Mozart's opera. The technique on display in Michel's production isn't yet pristine, but on opening night, it was close enough to make its point. The shenanigans unfold on Duncombe's production design of burgundy and blue, accented by two suspended chandeliers. The set's symmetry and elegance works in pleasing juxtaposition against the mayhem of interlopers hurling themselves out of windows, or pretending to. The solid ensemble works in tight conformity to the style: Frank's lecherous count is a comic standout of barely concealed slime, offset by the grace of Mance's weary, dignified Countess. And Maria Chirstina Benthall offers vivacious delight as the libidinous niece of the gardner. (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (310) 319-9939.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE Powdered wigs, cleavage and dildos, oh my! They abound in David Grimm's 18th century farce for the 21st century about a young transvestite prostitute. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (866) 811-4111.

OUT OF THIN AIR California Repertory Company presents this ensemble work featuring California State University Long Beach's graduating MFA actors and a highly autobiographical script was formulated by Patricia Loughrey and Adam Pockross. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru May 15. 562-985-4500.

PROOF David Auburn's story of an ailing math professor. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 9. (310) 454-1970.

SOMETHING HAPPENED Being "on the down low," a practice in which a black man in a committed heterosexual relationship covertly engages in homosexual behavior, became familiar territory in the early 2000s. J.L. King's memoir and subsequent Oprah appearance, a juicy New York Times Magazine cover story, and episodes of popular network TV series like NBC's ER all pitched tents on the hot-property subject. Critics quickly followed, decrying the hype. That's why L. Trey Wilson's world-premiere play feels a little late. Although he focuses more on the effects and not the phenomenon of homosexuality in the African-American community, it's unlikely the sensitive, highly educated Deanna and Doug Piper (Mashari Laila Bain and William Christian) wouldn't be Times subscribers, nor would they not read between the lines in their own house. Beyond that, however, the play is overstuffed with unnecessary characters (a superfluous couple), trite dialogue ("Life lessons -- they're everywhere"), and an unsatisfying wrap-up that's also symbolically confused. The script's weaknesses fortunately don't hide the strength of the cast: Fuschia! and Jeorge Watson stand out. Open homophobia in the black community deserves discussion, especially in an era when an African-American president is advocating pro-gay legislation; yet, the phrase "no homo" is quickly tacked on to even the most innocuous of proclamations in hip-hop culture. This attempt just won't be the moderator. Wilson also directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Pacific Stages, 2041 Rosecrans Avenue #170, El Segundo; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru May 16. (310) 868-2631.

NEW REVIEW SPOOF AND SATIRE

Stage Raw: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Photo by Jonathan David Lewis

In the pantheon of wicked nuns where one finds such diabolical Brides of Christ as Sister Aloysius in Doubt and the unnamed Sister of Late Night Catechism, all homage must be paid to Sister Mary Ignatius, the truly horrific nightmare nun of Christopher Durang's ferocious satire, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You

In director Jeremy Aluma's intermittently droll and ultimately

workmanlike production, the role of the archetypal terrifying

schoolteacher nun is assayed with delicious venomousness by Joanna

Churgin, whose eyes, glowering beneath her wimple, crackle with

madness.  The play's basically staged as a lecture in which Sister Mary

"teaches" us many of the tenets of her particularly unforgiving brand

of Catholicism - including her beliefs that murder and homosexuality

are equally mortal sins, and her less-than-comforting assurance that

God hears every prayer - "Sometimes He just says 'no.'"  Midway through

the lecture, however, several of Sister Mary's former students show up,

first to present a cheesy nativity play but then to confront the nun

with the troubled lives they blame her for not preparing them for. 

Although some of the cast's supporting turns are marred by stiffness,

Churgin's perfectly committed turn as Sister Mary anchors Aluma's

intimate staging; she seems absolutely reasonable with her horrific

opinions, until the piece arrives at its totally unhinged finale. 

Unfortunately, Aluma's stodgily paced production of The Actor's Nightmare,

Durang's traditional companion piece to Sister Mary, fares less well,

lacking the energy and ferocity of the first comedy.  A mild mannered

accountant (Johnny Arena) unexpectedly discovers himself of a play,

whose dialogue he doesn't know, and which appears to be an ungodly mix

of Shakespeare, Noel Coward, and Samuel Beckett.  The play's theatrical

in-jokes mostly fall flat in this mix of heavy-handed blocking and

pedestrian line readings. Arena acquits himself well during the play's

keynote mid-section monologue, during which he appears to lose his

mind. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat.,

8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru  May 29.  (310) 828-7519.  (Paul Birchall)

$TRIP Unfortunately: "No nudity." Written and directed by George Damian. 21 & over. Good Hurt, 12249 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru May 18, striptheplay.com. (800) 838-3006.

TOOTH AND NAIL Gena Acosta's New Jersey-family comedy. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., May 16, 7 p.m.; Thurs., May 20, 8 p.m.; thru May 22. (310) 512-6030.

TROG AND CLAY: AN IMAGINED HISTORY OF THE ELECTRIC CHAIR Michael Vukadinovich's droll comedy is based on intrinsically fascinating subject matter -- the first execution in the 19th century of a murderer by electric chair, and the fracas surrounding it. Much of the tale is told through transcripts of the trial of wife-murdering thug William Kemmler (Ariel Goldberg), a leering, tongue-wagglingly unregenerate brute who ultimately becomes guinea pig for the road test of the "chair that zaps a thousand volts." However, the testimony also includes attempts by electric-chair proponent Thomas Edison (a nicely oily Matt Weedman) to get the device powered by the alternating current invented by his archrival George Westinghouse (Mike Kindle), part of a Machiavellian scheme to have Westinghouse's type of electricity "branded" with death and executions. If only the play relied purely upon history, it would pack a huge jolt. However, even though the often-surreal comic text Vukadinovich shoehorns between the courtroom sequences is smartly arch and intelligent, full of cerebral puns and philosophical repartee, it lacks the connecting wires needed to jump from the page to the stage. Worse, director Gary Gardner's fast-paced but otherwise workmanlike production zips but doesn't zap, relying on cartoonish characters and random, sometimes disconnected incidents, which craft an experience that's more clever than involving, while also unintentionally approaching campiness. In the ensemble, the performers impose impressively strong personalities on their internally disjointed characters, such as Goldberg's turn as the dim brute Kemmler and Paige White's scene-stealing performance as Westinghouse's treacherous and shallow wife. (Paul Birchall). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 15, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.

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