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Stage Raw: ZAR

Stage Raw: ZAR

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

THEATER NEW REVIEWS
STAGE FEATURE on Bill Cain's Equivocation and Burglars of Hamm's Land of the Tigers

Stage Raw: ZAR

Theatre ZAR from Wroclaw, Poland has been in Southern California for over a week, conducting workshops of their choral-physical technique at UC Irvine and UCLA. Their Tryptich opens next week at Royce Hall, as part of the UCLA Live International Theatre Festival.

Two of the three segments are to be present on the stage of Royce Hall, where the audience will join them in bleachers on stage. It's part of the attempt to transform the event into a kind of church service. The second part, moves to a rehearsal hall downstairs - the first time, Fret said, that the space has been used as a performance space. For Part III, what Fret describes as a "coda," the audience heads back up onto the Royce Hall stage. The entire event lasts about three hours.

The Polish influence upon L.A. is largely the machination of Joanna Klass, a long time Orange County resident, who tried to establish Polish cultural events when she lived here. She went home to Poland, where she worked for the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw - which explains why Theatre Zar was at UCLA Live two years ago, and is now returning. She's now left the Grotowski Institute and works for the cultural affairs division of the Polish Government. Her job is to spread the influence of Polish culture around the world - and Polish theatre is particularly hip right now. She says her plan is to establish cultural exchanges between Los Angeles (and other U.S. cities)  with various cities in Poland for the international visits of artists, scholars and new play development programs. More specifics when they come in.

Happy Thanksgiving.

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for November 27-December 3, 2009

(The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's

search program.)

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

OPENING THIS WEEK

ABSINTHE, OPIUM, & MAGIC: 1920S SHANGHAI The Grand Guignolers take a luxury cruise to Shanghai, the most decadent city of the 1920s. Artworks Performance Space, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8:15 p.m.; Sun., 6:45 p.m.; thru Jan. 3. (800) 838-3006.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER It's the neighborhood church lady versus a clan of ill-behaved kids, just in time for the holidays, in Barbara Robinson's comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Nov. 27; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (626) 256-3809.

THE BLUNDERS Jon Bernstein's comedy with music about "L.A. ditherers and sweet loons.", (323) 223-3887. M Bar, 1253 Vine St., L.A.; Nov. 27-28, 8 p.m., www.theblunders.com. (323) 856-0036.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL The Dickens story, adapted by Richard Hellesen, music and lyrics by David De Berry. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 28; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.

8 SHADES OF ALICE "A young girl relives her life through eight different personalities on the day she commits suicide," by Layon Gray. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., Nov. 29, 9 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 5, 9 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 12, 9 p.m.. (818) 761-0704.

AN EVENING OF HAROLD PINTER'S POETRY READ BY JULIAN SANDS Including recollections of Sands' time studying under the playwright. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Nov. 29, 5 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 9, 8 p.m.. (310) 477-2055.

EVERYBODY NOSE: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Clown troupe Everybody Nose presents an all-clown version of Charles Dickens' Christmas classic. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; opens Nov. 28; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, ahimsacollective.com/everybodynoseachristmascarol. (310) 396-3680.

FROM THE HEART: JUDE NARITA AND FRIENDS Jude Narita portrays various Asian and Asian-American women. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Nov. 27; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (800) 838-3006.

GIVING THANKS Artists from the World Festival of Sacred Music--Los Angeles celebrate the holidays, including Shakti Dance Company, Halau Keali'i O Nalani and Viver Brasil. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 28, 8 p.m.. (213) 680-3700.

GAY APPAREL: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Dickens get dicked: Jason Moyer's homoerotic re-imagining of Charles Dickens' holiday classic. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 838-3006.

HOLIDAY HANGOVER: AN ANTHOLOGY FOR THE SEASONALLY AFFECTED Theatre Unleashed's collection of original works all taking place the day after Christmas. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Dec. 3; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

JAY JOHNSON: THE TWO AND ONLY! What about Bob? The ventriloquist from Soap keeps the party going. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; opens Dec. 3; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 558-7000.

LA POSADA MAGICA (THE MAGICAL JOURNEY) Octavio Solis' Christmas musical, "performed in English with a Latin beat.". Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Dec. 3; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (310) 477-2055.

THE MELINDA HILL SHOW Or, "How to succeed in the game of life by becoming bisexual, joining a cult, or power hot-tubbing.". Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Dec. 3, 8 p.m., www.acmecomedy.com. (323) 525-0202.

MERCY WARREN'S TEA Revolutionary War drama by Jovanka Bach about anti-British playwright Mercy Otis Warren. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 477-2055.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET Adapted by Patricia DiBenedetto Snyder, Will Severin and John Vreeke, from the novel by Valentine Davies. Canyon Theatre Guild, 24242 Main St. (formerly San Fernando Rd.), Newhall; opens Nov. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.canyontheatre.org. (661) 799-2700.

PANDORA Neo Acro Theatre's story of two young women from different worlds. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Dec. 3; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 465-4446.

THE SANTALAND DIARIES Nicholas Brendon stars in David Sedaris's one-man play about an out-of-work writer who takes a job as a Macy's Christmas elf. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.theblank.com. (323) 661-9827.

SIDESPLIT L.O.L.!: LIVE ALL-STAR STAND UP Comedy by Wendy Liebman, Erin Foley, Kira Soltanovitch, Scott Silverman, Jason Stuart, Oded Gross., $55, includes show and pastry bar. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., Dec. 3, 6:30 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.

SOUTHERN COMFORTS Kathleen Clark's comedy about a "December-December" romance between a Southern grandmother and a Yankee widower. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Dec. 1; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 364-0535.

WINTER WONDERETTES It's the most wonderful time of the year for Roger Bean's musical revue. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens Nov. 28; Sat., Nov. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 5, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 10, 2 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (949) 497-2787.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

NEW REVIEW GO ARIAS WITH A TWIST Poor Joey Arias, a female impersonator here attired in black bra and panties, has just been abducted by aliens. That unfortunate truth takes a while to reveal itself, since the show opens with the sight of a red curtain for a puppet show, that sloooowly rises onto another curtain that slowly parts, revealing yet another curtain . . . You get the joke. Eventually, we see the Dream Music Orchestra - Basil Twist's gorgeous puppet musicians - a visage that melts into a panorama of the cosmos (video design by Daniel Brodie), a floating space ship on which we finally meet Mr./Ms. Arias, strapped to a neon hoop and being swung upside down, swiveled and probed. We see the visions being dreamt by our semi-conscious protagonist, a martini glass floats by, then a decapitated hand with the label, "Jimmy Hoffa" -- before a puppet of Arias plunges and plunges and plunges into the "Jungle of Eden" a psychedelic pyscho-sexual collision of leafy plants, a slithering snake and an eventual meeting of Adam and Eve. (Twist did the design, which largely depends on the mystery of hauntingly dim and focused lighting). The event culminates in the "show" that Arias has been aching to perform, a series of ballads, quite beautifully rendered, and reminiscent of the Henry Mancini era. The piece may take the art of drag into hallucinatory frontiers where no man-woman has gone before, and despite it's self-conscious sense of humor, it does all this by ratcheting down camp cliches, and with admirable craft, you almost believe that there's a point larger than its own artistry. That, of course, is just another hallucination. REDCAT, 631 W. Second Street, downtown; schedule varies; through Dec. 13. (213) 237-2800

GO BABY IT'S YOU Florence Greenberg (Meeghan Holaway) was a restless Passaic housewife with two nearly grown kids (Suzanne Petrela and Adam Irizarry) and a husband (Barry Pearl) resentful of her love for newfangled rock & roll. (When Bernie tells his missus, "Yakkity yak -- don't talk back," he's serious.) Flo left to create Scepter Records, taking with her four local girls whom she shaped into the Shirelles, the original queens of the hop. Floyd Mutrux's splashy doo-wop, jukebox musical tracks the naive but strong-willed exec as she discovers the brief glories of being on top of the charts with a new man at her side, prideful lyricist and producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis). Mutrux and co-writer Colin Escott see this as a story about suits, not singers: The Shirelles (Berlando Drake, Erica Ash, Paulette Ivory and Crystal Starr Knighton, all excellent) get stage time but no individuality except for Drake's Shirley, who makes a play for Luther. But everything is tangential to the music. If the second act didn't start with an endless but excellent cabaret of oldies by composers from Ron Isley to Lesley Gore, there'd be more plot and less applause. From the corner of the stage, a DJ named Jocko (Geno Henderson) interrupts to set the year, and the production is as much about a nostalgic nod to the era of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as it is about the story of an outsider building her kingdom. (Ironically, the least-familiar song is also the best, "The Dark End of the Street," later covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Frank Black.) While Flo and her teen queens deserve more development, the evening closes with a grace note, as the five ladies sing together in harmony, knowing that even if they didn't shake up the world, they seized their own destinies. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through December 13. (626) 356-PLAY. (Amy Nicholson)

GO CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: KOOZA It's been about a decade since the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) was seen at Santa Monica Pier. This touring production marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, and also heralds a return to the simpler, less high-tech formats that informed earlier productions like Quidam and Allegria -- the emphasis here being on the old circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics. But that's not to say that there is something missing here. On the contrary, creator-director David Shiner, who made quite a name for himself as a clown in outings like Fool Moon, has packed this show with drama, comedy, whimsy, music, exotica, slick choreography, and plenty of how-do-they-do-that? moments. The show starts with an Innocent (Stephan Landry) opening a box containing a trickster (Mike Tyus), who reveals the magical world of the circus. And what a world it is! The clowns pull off some dazzling and funny routines, and interact throughout with the audience. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik twist their tiny bodies into letters of the alphabet, among other things. Lee Thompson amazes with a pickpocket routine at the expense of an unsuspecting attendee. Jimmy Ibarra and Angelo Lyerzkysky garnered a standing ovation for their superhuman feats on the Wheel of Death -- a daunting contraption that resembles two interconnected hamster wheels. Marie-Chantale Valliancourt's collage of costumes are stunning. Under the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. Tues.-Thurs, 8 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; through December 20. cirquedusoleil.com/kooza or (800) 450-1480. (Lovell Estell III)

ENTER LAUGHING Joseph Stein's comedy, based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (562) 494-1014.

NEW REVIEW GO EQUIVOCATION

Stage Raw: ZAR

Photo by Michael Lamont


Bill Cain's much-heralded new play imagines Shakespeare (Joe Spano) being commissioned by a deputy (Connor Trinneer) of King James (Patrick J. Adams) to write a drama celebrating the apprehension of conspirators who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. As Shakespeare does his research, he finds himself in a fix between the king's desire for propaganda and his own commitment to the "truth." (Parallels between the aftermath of "The Gunpowder Plot" and 9/11 are more than apparent. The difficulties of telling the truth lies at the heart of Cain's digressive and somewhat bloated play, yet his various variations on that theme form an intricately woven fabric of ideas. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 208-5454.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! THE MUSICAL Broadway take on the Dr. Seuss tale, starring Stefan Karl as the Grinch and John Larroquette as Old Max., $30-$125. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 3. (213) 365-3500.


NEW REVIEW
GO LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST

Stage Raw: ZAR

Photo by Amy Graves/Getty Images

London's distinguished Globe Theatre lives up to its reputation with this traditional but resolutely un-stodgy production. Director Dominic Dromgoole deploys his lively young cast on an airily beautiful simulacrum of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, designed by Jonathan Fensom, who's also responsible for the authentically detailed Elizabethan costumes. Claire van Kampen's original score, played on Elizabethan instruments, further garnishes the production, along with leaping Renaissance dances choreographed by Sian Williams. The King of Navarre (Philip Cumbus) and his three friends (Trystan Gravelle, Jack Farthing and William Mannering) swear a high-minded oath to forsake the company of women and devote themselves to study for three years. Then the Princess of France (Michelle Terry) arrives on an embassy from her father, accompanied by her ladies (Thomasin Rand, Sian Robins-Grace, and Jade Anouka), and the four men instantly break their oaths and fall giddily and symmetrically in love. Horseplay, wordplay, knockabout comedy, slapstick, and musical fart jokes ensue, culminating in a Hellzapoppin moment that ends in a massive food fight. A deft crew of zanies, pedants, proletarians, courtiers, and rustic lovers (Christopher Godwin, Paul Ready, Seroca Davis, Patrick Godfrey, Fergal McElherron, Rhiannon Oliver, Andrew Vincent, and Tom Stuart) all support the lovers. (Neal Weaver). Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Nov. 27, 1 & 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 28, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 29, 2 p.m.. (310) 434-3414. See Stage Feature.

GO MARY POPPINS The riveting theatricality of Bob Crowley's production design, climaxing in chimney sweep Bert (Gavin Lee) soft-shoeing straight up, then upside down across the proscenium arch, and culminating in a showstopping umbrella flight over the audience by the famous titular nanny, produces an excitement that far outshines the limited value intrinsic in much of the musical's written material. Likewise the sublime showmanship of choreographer Matthew Bourne and stage director Richard Eyre hides the flaws in Julian Fellowes' disjointed script and new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. Unlike most of Disney's Broadway smashes that producer Thomas Schumacher has magically transformed from animated film to stage, this is a hybrid between Disney's 1964 movie masterpiece, whose fun and fanciful score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman still holds up, and the operetta gleaned from the original novel (with rights held by the Cameron Mackintosh team). The two styles battle one another for dominance, and neither wins. Most of the film's story lines are banished in favor of closer adaptation of the P.L. Travers books with the familiar songs wedged into the scenes, while the new songs more closely fit the story, but lack spark. Nevertheless the production is an audience pleaser, with demonstrable talent on or off the stage. (Tom Provenzano)., $20-$92. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (213) 628-2772.

GO NEVERMORE Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of idiosyncrasies -- tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The Raven," which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is -- pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiance, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's depicting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. (SLM). Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 666-4268.

GO NOISES OFF There are many stars in Geoff Elliott's accomplished staging of Michael Frayn's oft-produced backstage farce, but the ones that shine brightest may be the stagehands, who, between acts, hand-swivel Adam Lillibridge's elaborate, two-tiered living room set -- which represents the multitiered living room set of a play within the play, being performed somewhere in the British provinces -- inside out, so that the faux living room transforms into backstage directly behind the set, where the actors await their entrances. This is no easy feat, as the set almost touches the theater ceiling, but on opening night, they pulled it off in under 12 minutes, earning a round of applause from those standing by to watch. Frayn's farce is well known by now -- a theater production of a farce on the rails, with a world-weary director (Elliott) who's more than ready to move on to his next production, Richard III; a needy cast, one of whom (Stephen Rockwell) keeps insisting on psychological explanations for what's obviously a series of gags; another (Emily Kosloski, playing a dim-witted sex bomb) who keeps losing her contact lenses; and an elderly resident alcoholic (Apollo Dukakis) who creates dramatic tension from the question of whether or not he'll even show up to make his entrance. As the play-within-the-play continues its tour, in a production that grows increasingly chaotic, the ineptitude gets compounded by sexual dalliances among director, cast and crew that leave a trail of bruised feelings. Elliott's touch is both gentle and conservative, sidestepping many low-comedy sex gags that have accompanied other productions. It is nonetheless skillfully rendered, with lovely performances also by Deborah Strang, Mikael Salazar, Lenne Klingaman, Jill Hill and Shaun Anthony. (Steven Leigh Morris). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Nov. 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 6, 2 & 7 p.m.; Through Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

PO BOY TANGO In Kenneth Lin's ambitious but uninspiring script, Taiwanese immigrant Richie Po (Dennis Dun) calls upon an African-American woman named Gloria B (Esther Scott) to help him resurrect his deceased mother's recipes. The occasion is his daughter's wedding; the two had became acquainted years ago, after Gloria helped nurse his daughter when she battled cancer. For guidance, they rely on videotapes sent by Mama Po (Jeanne Sakata) to her son -- tapes about her cooking in which she also reminisces on Richie's childhood. The play aims to illustrate how food -- nourishing the spirit as well as the body -- can bridge the gaps among individuals from vastly different backgrounds. Unfortunately, too much of the dialogue consists of "remember when" chitchat that carries little dramatic imperative. Toward the end, a fierce argument concerning race finally does erupt after an angry Gloria accuses Richie of disrespecting her, but the conflict seems forced. Likewise, although Mama's narrative includes a single compelling incident, it's mostly quotidian detail from which a clear portrait of the past fails to emerge. The play is directed by Oanh Nguyen; some production decisions do little to augment its underachieved intentions. While Nathan Wang's original music is a plus, designer Shaun L. Motley's sterile set underscores the material's enervated dynamic. And a play that emphasizes the miracle properties of broth should bring some to the stage. (Deborah Klugman). East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (213) 625-7000.

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.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Children's musical, book by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, lyrics and music by Hope and Lawrence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.

RABBIT HOLE David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner about a family turned upside-down after the death of a child. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (562) 494-1014.

RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. In alternating repertory; call theater for schedule. (Neal Weaver). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 240-0910.

GO THE RIVER NIGER Joseph Walker was among a handful of black playwrights who came to prominence during the Civil Rights era and won acclaim for their dramas about the black experience in America. This is a solid, spirited revival of his 1974 Tony Award-winning drama about a family tested by a critical moment of reckoning. The action unfolds in the Harlem residence of Johnny Williams (a dynamic performance by Ben Guillory), a housepainter who writes poetry and whose love for his long-suffering wife, Mattie (Margaret Avery), is matched only by his love of the bottle. The two are anxiously anticipating the arrival of their son Jeff (Dane Diamond), who they believe is returning as a successful U.S. Air Force navigator. But his eventual return instead brings disappointment and trouble for the family. Adding to the crisis are Mattie's cancer diagnosis and the sudden appearance of four of Jeff's old buddies who are now members of a militant black revolutionary group. This is essentially a dated melodrama, but one that nevertheless holds our attention and has fruitful poignancy because of the well sketched, robust humanity of the characters. Director Dwain Perry could do better with more rigorous pacing. Cast performances are uniformly good, particularly Alex Morris, who is superb as Dr. Dudley Stanton. (Lovell Estell III). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (213) 489-0994.

SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL: A CHILDREN'S HORROR STORY FOR ADULTS This musical by writer-composer-director-producer-accompanist David P. Johnson is subtitled "A Children's Horror Story for Adults," but it may not be coherent or credible enough to appeal to either children or adults. Sally (Rebecca Lane) is a blond ghost/waif with a dangerous-looking hatchet embedded in her skull, of which she seems blithely unaware, though she wonders why she has headaches. She has been confined for 50 years in a purgatorial room of a Victorian mansion, accompanied by toy soldier Bartholomew (Matthew Hoffman) and a clown named Nero (Adam Conger) who has a split personality: He's also a cat, a teddy bear and a king. Despite repeated attempts, Sally is unable to open the only door. Her captor is a creature called The Wraith (Rob Monroe), who likes to play Chinese checkers, and tells her that she can't leave till she's willing to remember her past. The piece is a confusing grab bag of random elements cobbled together with some rhyme but precious little reason. Lines like, "There's absinthe in the holy water," may perplex children, and seem pointlessly cryptic to adults. Produced by Theatre West and In Spite Productions. (Neal Weaver). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 851-7977.

TINY VAUDEVILLE 826LA hosts this once-a-month variety show benefiting children's writing and tutoring programs. The Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; Last Monday of every month, 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28, www.826la.org/store-tickets/. (213) 413-8200.

THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.

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

ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

ANTIGONE The classic Sophocles tragedy. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (323) 939-9220.

BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Kristian Steel. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.

BLACK LEATHER Michael Sargent's "comedy of desperation" set in 1981 New York City. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-7781.

GOBLEEDING THROUGH Adapted from Norman Klein's novella of the same title, this world premiere, co-written and co-directed by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, explores historical Angelino Heights (not coincidentally the location of the theater) and the ghosts of its glamorous past. The Unreliable Narrator (David Fruechting) introduces us to the world of the play as it moves fluidly between the past and present. He speaks with Ezra (Ed Ramolete) and Molly (Lynn Milgrim), now two elderly residents of the neighborhood, as he researches a potential murder. Through their memories we learn of a younger Molly (Elizabeth Rainey), who came from Indiana and worked in men's clothing, which naturally brought her into contact with a number of men, including husbands Jack (Brian Joseph) and Walt (Pete Pano), as well as Jack's father and longtime customer Harry (James Terry). Chavez and Portillo's expansive "surround" set, designed by Akeime Mitterlehner, offers a unique staging that, along with the accompaniment of live musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Golia, immerses the audience in the noir world. Francois-Pierre Couture's angular lighting, Pamela Shaw's wonderfully detailed costumes, Claudio Rocha's well-integrated videography and Diane Arellano's installation of historical artifacts -- which the audience is allowed to explore at intermission -- all enhance the ambiance as well. Rainey and Milgrim play their double roles with aplomb, but the piece's main drawback is the lack of dramatic momentum in the writing, making older Molly's line, "at some point, a place becomes more important than a person," ring all the more true. (Mayank Keshaviah). Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (800) 595-4TIX.

BOB BAKER'S HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR Marionettes take kids on a journey to Santa's Workshop, through the eight days of Hanukkah, and more, in this musical revue. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat., 10:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 10. (213) 250-9995.

EXTINCTION College buddies take a sober look at their party days, in Gabe McKinley's world-premiere drama. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/Extinction. (323) 960-7784.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE That's weekly sketch comedy done by some of the best in the sketch biz. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

THE GHOST BUILDING Playwright Damon Chua's madcap stab at a Stoppardian play of ideas may sound fine in theory, but its execution proves frustratingly flat. Part genre spoof, part Hollywood Gothic (by way of Babylon) and part "hauntological" allegory, the play taps the unsolved murder of '20s silent-movie director William Desmond Taylor to create a properly spooky schema with which to haunt the downtown L.A. architectural landmark (on Adam Flemming's hotel-within-a-hotel set). That's where aspiring Filipina novelist Cha-Cha Mangabay (Sandy Yu) checks into the story while packing an unfinished manuscript, a dream of publishing success and a 30-day tourist-visa deadline with which to achieve it. However, the hotel and its host of incorporeal squatters soon draw Cha-Cha into their unearthly reenactments of the crime. Joined by a Sam Spade--like fictional detective (Brian Ibsen), Cha-Cha determines both to solve the mystery and adapt it for her own, hard-boiled roman noir. As the investigation-cum-Derridian deconstruction progresses, the proceedings quickly jump their narrative track and dissolve into a chaotic phantasmagoria of merging identities, abrupt character about-faces and parodic violations of genre and stage conventions. Director Armando Molina and a game ensemble (including standouts Andrea Lee Davis, Pat Cochran and Leigh Rose) do their best to keep Chua's calculated chaos under control but are ultimately defeated by too many overly clever literary conceits and not enough attention to fundamental play craft. (Bill Raden). Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 883-1717.

HAMLET SHUT UP Dialogue-free version of Shakespeare's tragedy, by Jonas Oppenheim. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 281-8337.

THE HOUSE OF BESARAB A new environmental adaptation of "Dracula" with Travis Holder. Audience members eat and drink in the venue's historic Deco Bar before the show. Hollywood American Legion, 2305 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 203-2850.

NEW REVIEW GO LA RONDE DE LUNCH

Stage Raw: ZAR

Photo by Ed Krieger


Peter Lefcourt's amusing Hollywood farce transpires at lunchtime in "the most pretentious restaurant" in town, where everyone meets but no one eats, since the purpose of getting together is less to fortify the body than to pump up the ego and the wallet. Lefcourt constructs his play, inspired by Schnitzler's La Ronde, as a series of two-person scenes. Each participant in this power-driven game of musical chairs wants something from his or her lunch partner -- and all crave an audience with Clive, a mysterious mover-and-shaker whose films gross hundreds of millions worldwide. Among the players are an aging actress (understudy Sondra Currie) with a Bette Davis complex, a burned-out alcoholic writer (Brynn Thayer) smitten with her personal fitness trainer (Haley Strode), a smarmy agent (Joe Briggs), a sugary but calculating bimbo (Fiona Gubelmann), her prey (a wealthy aging lawyer played by Robert Trebor) and, ultimately, Clive himself (understudy Bryan Callen, in a spot-on performance as the quintessentially smug superstar). No small part of the fun is generated by the waitstaff: a quintet of servers, all named Bruce, who comment, Greek-chorus-like, on the goings-on, as well as interacting with the customers and performing a stylistically different musical parody between each scene. Designer Jeff McLaughlin's appealing set, Shon LeBlanc's lively costumes and Tracy Silver's upbeat choreography add to the production's beguiling charm. Terri Hanauer directs. (Deborah Klugman). Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 358-9936.

NEW REVIEW GO LAND OF THE TIGERS

Stage Raw: ZAR

Photo by Ginger Perkins


Burglars of Hamm mingle and mangle The Crucible with Planet of the Apes in a vibrant and painful satire of theater-making in Los Angeles, and the cult of the acting-teacher/director-guru. (Steven Leigh Morris). Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/86591. (310) 440-0221. See Stage Feature.

THE LAST ANGRY BROWN HAT Alfredo Ramos' story of four Chicano friends, former Brown Berets, confronting their past. Hayworth Studio, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 9, (No perfs Nov. 26, Dec. 25, Dec. 31.) www.thehayworth.com. (323) 960-4442.

A LIE OF THE MIND Sam Shepard's story of two families "linked by marriage, but set apart by distrust.". Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.studiofiveproductions.org. (888) 534-6001.

GOLIFE 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 Dec. 27. (323) 960-4412.

LOVE WILL TEAR US APART In this play by Michael Hyman a young gay man is visited each night by the voice of a former lover and is confronted by his inability to get close with anyone and his related substance addictions. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-5773.

NEW REVIEW GO MOLLY SWEENEY Those who can see imagine blindness to be barren of detail. But for 41-year-old Molly Sweeney (Melina Bielefelt), blind since 10 months old, her dark world is intricate and alive: she can tell flowers by feel, and dance wildly through her home without a bruise. In Irish playwright Brian Friel's stark 1996 drama, when Molly's newlywed husband Frank (Matthew McCallum) -- a man bursting with the type of passion that creates (and destroys) civilizations -- convinces alcoholic optician Mr. Rice (John Ross Clark) to "heal" his wife, all three admit the peril. Molly must be taught to see, to spot a peach without touch or smell. "There's a difference between learning and understanding," cautions the doctor, but neither of the men grasp that their real motive for the surgery is personal ego. (The triumphant headlines Frank imagines focus on his joyful tears.) Randee Trabitz directs her excellent ensemble on a stage divided by two translucent scrims. As Molly retreats in to "her world" -- the one Friel validates for the audience (during his first draft of the play, he also underwent cataract surgery) -- she slips behind them until toward the end, we can scarcely see her at all. We're as blind to Molly as her doctor and her husband are to her as well, though we suspect she sees through us all just fine. (Amy Nicholson). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (800) 838-3006.

NIBBLER Just graduated from high school, aspiring musician Adam (Nicholas S. Williams) and his pals hang at the local diner, exchanging the casually benign blather ubiquitous among ennui-saturated suburban youth. Gradually, personal issues emerge. Adam's father is dead and his estranged mom sleeps with another guy. Matt's (Rick Steadman) harping dad thinks he's a loser. Pete (Ron Morehouse) suspects but fiercely denies to himself that he's a "faggot." Tara (Joanie Ellen) worries because none of her guy friends want to screw her. The precocious Hayley (Alana Dietz) sidelines as a phone sex worker. Enter the Nibbler -- manifested first as flashing lights and strange sounds but soon materializing as a black specter with giant claws, whose touch radically alters each of their lives. Or so the premise goes. In fact, playwright Ken Urban's nascent horror spoof never gets past the listlessness that overwhelms its characters. There are revitalizing junctures, as when Matt, post-Nibbler encounter, transforms into a Republican fundamentalist and lets loose a scabrous dialogue that exposes the profound schizophrenia of the Religious right. But such smart sharp writing -- along with the Nibbler's laughably scary appearances -- come only at intervals. Riddled with loose threads, the play suffers its own schizoid split: Is it a send-up, a social commentary or a quasipersonal reminiscence? In an apparent attempt at all three, it scores well at none. Under Mark Seldis' direction, the performances, like the play itself, compel only sporadically. (Deborah Klugman). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 856-8611.

OKLOHOMO! Hollywood troupe attempts a gaytastic version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, Justin Tanner ensues. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.celebrationtheatre.com. (323) 957-1884.

POST Donavon Thomas' drama about the after-affects of the Iraq War on two veterans. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/post. (323) 960-7740.

REAL, REAL LIFE Neil Labute's one-act plays "Medea Redux", "Coax", "The Liar's Club" and "A Gaggle of Saints.". The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, theblackboxtheater.org. (310) 622-4482.

GOSHINING CITY Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in 2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client, John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation that comes from human contact, which his now--late wife couldn't provide to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged, along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he must now explain to his flummoxed wife (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window) that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in the ebbs and flows of verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate, comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long, the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble in a production of such rare beauty. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 663-1525.

SLASHER Allison Moore's comedy thriller. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/slasher. (323) 960-7776.

SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy by the African-American troupe. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Dec. 5. (323) 469-9988.

STATED INCOME Two guys plot to cheat the tax system, by Hugh Gross. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 962-6207.

SUNDAY OF THE DEAD All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

THREE TALL WOMEN Edward Albee's study of contemporary womanhood. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.westcoastensemble.org. (323) 460-4443.

GOTREE An elderly black woman, Jessalyn Price (Sloan Robinson) suffers from dementia in an upstairs bedroom in Chicago's South Side, circa 2000, where she lives with her caretaker son, Leo (Chuma Gault). The story of Jessalyn's past, and of her impassioned, forbidden love, emerges through her too-poetical ramblings, in Julie Hébert's otherwise riveting family drama. The saga comes into clear focus, however, with the help of a Caucasian interloper, Didi Mercantel (Jacqueline Wright) -- a single, emotionally brittle brianiac from Louisiana who "suffers" from some gender ambiguity, and who claims to be the daughter of the man, just deceased, who once loved and abandoned the woman upstairs. Just when you thought August: Osage County had put the family drama to rest for a while, here comes a new play that doesn't ride on the macabre or the Gothic; rather, it's propelled by a kind of anthropological dig of detritus and handwritten missives from decades past, revealing the tugs of history, society and circumstance on a white Southern youth and his black girlfriend, both from Louisiana, trying to build a life together in the land of the free. Leo's daughter, J.J. (Tessa Thompson) chastises Didi that she has no right to seek consolation for her father's death by bursting in their door. "You're not family," J.J. declares. Whether that declaration is a truth, a truism, or a cruel editorial opinion lies at the heart of what this play says about our relations to each other in a nation of interlopers. Jessica Kubzansky's staging brings the characters' wry intelligence to the fore. (Steven Leigh Morris). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, L.A.; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Dec. 13. (323) 461-3673.

VIOLATORS WILL BE VIOLATED Casey Smith's one-man theatrical extravaganza. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.circlextheatre.org...

WACADEMIA Joe Camhi's satirical comedy about a hit man who has to take care of his father, whom he tries to teach political correctness in the same environment with his wife, who is suing an academic colleague for sexual harassment. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 874-1733.

WOMEN BEHIND BARS Sendup of women-in-prison B-movies, by Tom Eyen. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 957-1884.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AS WHITE AS O Against the backdrop of a New York art show titled "The Innocents: 30 Years of Outsider Art in America," this world premiere of novelist Stacy Sims' first dramatic endeavor explores synesthesia, a condition in which senses are cross-wired so that feelings are "tasted" and letters and numbers appear in specific colors, among other things. The "outsiders," in this case, are Jack (Vince Tula) and his father, Sam (Mark St. Amant), who both spent much of Jack's childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, festooning their modest backwoods cabin with the detritus of our consumer society. While such decoration was therapeutic for them after losing Jack's mother, Grace (Elizabeth Sampson), they are discovered by Clara (Lauren Clark), a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in the house and in Sam. Running parallel to this story line, adult Jack is the subject of another work in the same show by Ed (Ramon Campos), who interviews and videotapes Jack in order to create his piece. The play fluidly oscillates between the present and the past, and accomplished director Sam Anderson deftly handles the transitions, though his pacing and shaping of his characters' emotional climaxes are a bit uneven. Desma Murphy's set, enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's subtly shifting lighting, is wonderfully detailed and spatially enhances the piece's thematic elements. The cast has moments of inspiration, but only Sampson consistently delivers the emotional energy required of Sims' script, which itself would be strengthened by fewer tangential story lines, and a stronger central plot. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.

CHATSWORTH Days in the lives of a writer, an actor, a singer, a photographer, and an adult performer in Porn Valley, by Matt Robertson. Warning: "Contains nudity, sexual situations, profanity, simulated drug use, cigarette smoking, gunfire, urophilia, and bad dancing.". Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16, www.plays411.com/chatsworth. (818) 990-2324.

EIGHT Four one-act plays by Adam Kraar, followed by four more one-acts by Michael Bassett. Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 595-4849.

GO EMPEROR NORTON THE MUSICAL One person's madman is another's hero, a sentiment blithely celebrated in Kim Ohanneson and Marty Axelrod's melodramatic musical based on the life and legend of Joshua A. Norton, a failed businessman who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. Luckily for Norton (Matthew Tucker), he lived in San Francisco, a city that embraces the bizarre and which did the same for the putative sovereign. Narrated by newsboy Smiggy (Lucas Salazar), the tale recounts how various business interests exploited Norton's eccentric -- if not insane -- behavior financially while the "Emp" remained a pauper ("commerce over conscience" is a running line.) While the vocalizing and choreography, restricted by the small stage, are often subpar, director Jim Eshom and his cast's commitment to the play's nonsense saves the day. Kyle Clare and Christopher Goodwin are a hoot as two rat-catching dogs who reputedly tagged after Norton; Aaron Lyons is a scheming villain, replete with waxed mustache, battling Matthew Sklar's "ethical" newsman; and Amelia Megan Gotham and Jessica Amal Rice are hookers and sisters with hearts of gold, even if they do screech like hyenas. After all, as one song lyric goes, "It helps to be just a little bit crazy." (Martín Hernández). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (818) 202-4120.

GO THE END OF CIVILIZATION The play doesn't entail an-end-of-the-world holocaust, though it might feel that way to Harry (Eric Curtis Johnson) and Lily (Jaime Andrews), the middle-class couple at the nub of Canadian George F. Walker's ominously dark comedy. One of six in Walker's Motel Series of plays, it takes place against the backdrop of a national financial crisis which has left Harry -- and millions more -- jobless. The prescient Walker wrote this in late 1998. For reasons never entirely clear, Harry has opted to job search from a seedy motel room rather than from his comfortable suburban digs, which are now in danger of foreclosure. Leaving their kids with her sister, Lily has accompanied him as a show of support -- but her confidence, along with the raison d'tre for her entire existence is teetering, as Harry's behavior becomes progressively more erratic and rage-driven. Their new nightmarish existence roils out of control when two detectives (Phillip Simone and Bob Rusch) -- one of whom is obsessively fixated on Lily -- show up, suspecting Harry of having murdered three men. Keeping track of this plot is not always easy, as events are presented in non-chronological order, and it's not till the end that we become privy to the story's point of departure, from which the shattering climax ensues. Under James Sharpe's direction Johnson and Andrews display their marital torments in persuasive three dimensions. Gemma Massot is spot-on as the take-no-prisoners hooker next door while Simone and Rusch are also effective. Yet the punch the production lands only puts us on the ropes; with a bit more timing and finesse it could knock us to the floor. A SkyPilot Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 29, www.skypilottheatre.com. (818) 558-5702.

GRACE KIM & THE SPIDERS FROM MARS Lodestone Theatre Ensemble concludes its 10th and final season with Philip W. Chung's comedy. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 993-7245.

IF YOUR EYES ARE CLEAR Saghatel Harutyunyan's Soviet-era drama, adapted by Aramazd Stepanian. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 500-7200.

INTIMACIES Artist-activist Michael Kearns performs his solo performance piece. DRKRM., 2121 N. San Fernando Rd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 223-6867.

GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper's musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalog followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saintlike perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiny, until the music returns him to his proper place. (Tom Provenzano). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7.

THE MENOPAUSE "CRACK-UP" Judith E. Taranto's solo dramedy about the onset of menopause. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 761-2166.

MOLLY Simon Gray's "love triangle gone awry.". Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 841-5421.

MRS. CAGE Nancy Barr's story of robbery, mayhem, and murder in the supermarket parking lot. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 761-2166.

POLYESTER THE MUSICAL "You can leave disco, but disco never leaves you," say the Synchronistics, a four-piece ABBA-esque band that broke up on the eve of what would have been their big national break: an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. True enough. It's 20 years later, but the blonde (Pamela Donnelly) is still so furious about the brunette (Gwendolyn Druyor) "schtupping" her husband (Christopher Fairbanks) that that lusty night at the Howard Johnson's in Green Bay feels like yesterday. In two decades, none of them has moved on to a new career or love interest. (Fourth member Jim Staahl still lives at home with his mom.) The Synchronistics have reunited for one last performance for a fund-raiser on the public-access station that gave them their start, and everyone's future depends on it. The stakes are so hard-hammered that by the end of Act I, no less than a disco hall of fame, the station's existence, the announcer's (Robert Moon) career, a new tour, an illegitimate child and two marriages depend on the squabbling band raking in $10,000. Phil Olson and Wayland Pickard's musical isn't trying for subtlety. Each of the 16 songs relates directly to the band's mood, and in case we miss the message in disco ditties like "I Want You, But I Hurt You," the characters rehash their feelings afterward -- or in one instance, into a number with, "I'd like to do a song about what we were just talking about." Pickard and Doug Engalla's direction similarly understates nothing, though both Druyor and Staahl manage to soft-shoe in hilarious turns as the not-so-supergroup's humble dolts. (Amy Nicholson). Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 506-0600.

ROBBIE JENSEN: THE 12 STEPS OF CHRISTMAS Tony Matthews and Matt Schofield's comedy takes the audience to a "Robbie Jensen Life Skills Workshop.". NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.plays411.com/robbiejensen. (323) 960-1053.

NEW REVIEW TENT MEETING

Stage Raw: ZAR

Photo by S. Branney

Discredited evangelist and con-man Rev. Edward O. Tarbox (Gary Ballard) uses his religion and talent for gospel-shouting to bully and browbeat his son Darrell (Travis Hammer) and daughter Becky Ann (Amanda Deibert). He's in danger of being run out of town, partially because slightly simple Becky Ann has given birth to a monstrous baby -- and there's no visible father. Tarbox convinces himself that the vegetable-like baby is the second coming of Christ, and he wants to christen him Jesus O. Tarbox. His self-serving visions urge him to pack up his family and his tent, drive to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and hold a revival meeting where he'll reveal the baby as the reborn Messiah. The script by Levi Lee, Larry Larson and director Rebecca Wackler is wildly uneven in tone, alternating stark drama with broad farce. Some of the funniest and most interesting scenes hint there's supernatural influence at work, but the hints lead nowhere. Wackler elicits fine performances from the three actors, and the piece is frequently fun to watch, but it's ultimately frustrating because it doesn't add up, and too many plot elements are left floating in limbo. Mark Colson and PJ King provide the interesting house-trailer set. (Neal Weaver). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 846-5323.

THA' INTIMATE PHIL Philip Bell's solo show, with music by Phil 'n' Nem. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Mon., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28. (323) 674-5024.

YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE: A WALTZ WITH DOROTHY PARKER Ashley Fuller brings several of Dorothy Parker's most celebrated soliloquies to life. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (818) 202-4120.

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

ALL CAKE, NO FILE In this slight cooking-show spoof, performer Donna Jo Thorndale, portraying "celebrity chef Jewell Rae Jeffers," strides onto a kitchen set, caparisoned in an Aquanet-rigid white fright wig, evincing a folksy Southern accent, a chipper grin and twinkly eyes that hint at layers of lunacy lurking just beneath her cheery façade. It's a tone-perfect, dead-ringer imitation of TV chef-lebrity Paula Deen, a wonderful gag -- for about five minutes or so. After that, the joke -- sustaining what's essentially an overlong SNL skit, wears painfully thin, as the cooking-show spoof offers little context or dramatic tension. In director Shira Piven's unobtrusive but ultimately workmanlike staging, Thorndale's performance consists mostly of improvisation as her "wacky chef" character whips up a chocolate cake. On the night I attended, the standout comic moment turned out to be Thorndale's impromptu bloviating when the cake Jeffers prepared refused to slide out of the Bundt pan (seemingly because the pan had been undersprayed with vegetable shortening). Yet, even the patter, which is occasionally peppered with double-entendres and drug gags -- "Ohhhh! I love to see powder in the air!" Jeffers squawks as she flaps some sugar from a colander -- is unexceptional. The show is intended as a fund-raiser for the Actor's Gang's prison theater workshop program. This is a commendable cause -- but, even when it is raised by bumptious musical interludes from Johnny Cash tribute band "With A Bible And A Gun," the production is still a lackluster vignette. (Paul Birchall)., $15. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, www.wtffestival.com. (310) 838-4264.

GO THE BROWNING VERSION Though not as widely known or acclaimed as his contemporary British playwrights, Terence Rattigan was a superb dramatist and chronicler of human emotions. Here, Rattigan's The Browning Version, the gloomy story of an aging schoolteacher crushed by failure and disappointment, receives a stellar mounting by director Marilyn Fox. A well-regarded scholar of the classics, Andrew Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) has spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public school in England but must leave the position because of failing health to take a less-stressful job elsewhere. Now the object of jokes and ridicule by his students, and denied a pension by the school, he has a bearing that is subdued by sadness, yearning and a palpable "gallows" surrender to circumstance. His wife, Millie (Sally Smythe), has given up on being happy with him and has contented herself with numerous dalliances with his colleagues (which she delights in reminding him of), and cruelly undermining what remains of his sense of manhood. Her current lover, Frank (understudy David Rogge), is torn between a sense of guilt, his admiration for Andrew, and the dying embers of lust for Millie. It is only when the professor is presented with a rare translation of Agamemnon from a student (Justin Preston) that his mask of stoic restraint melts to reveal a desperately fragile inner life. From this sedate tapestry of characters, Rattigan artfully probes marriage, relationship and our perverse capacity to embrace lacerating emotional pain and self-deceit, which all unfolds beautifully on Norman Scott's cleverly designed sitting-room mock-up. Fox directs this piece with masterful subtlety and draws devastatingly convincing performances from her actors.(Lovell Estell III). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 822-8392.

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. (SLM). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.

CURRENT NOBODY Melissa James Gibson's take on The Odyssey centers on a photojournalist mom and a stay-at-home dad. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.

DETENTION OF THE DEAD The George A. Romero High School has been overrun by zombies, and five stereotypical teenagers have taken refuge in the detention room, where the teacher has been decapitated. They've barricaded the door, but the zombies lurk outside. Star jock Brad (Mike Horton) is grieving because his best friend/teammate, Jimmy, has just been devoured, while his girlfriend, sex-pot cheerleader, Janet (Crystle Lightning), is hell-bent on having a man -- any man -- break out to rescue her. Bad-boy/class clown Ashbury (Michael Petted) copes with anxiety by getting stoned. Self-dramatizing Goth-girl Willow (Samantha Sloyan) decides death is not so appealing if it's actually imminent. And nerdly Eddie (Alex Weed) thinks he might survive the zombie attack because he's a virgin, and in zombie movies it's always the kids who smoke, drink, dope and have sex who die. One by one, they're picked off, in increasingly bloody, bizarre ways. Rob Rinow's script is a heavy-handed, predictable send-up of generic horror flicks. It has some funny lines, but most of the laughs come from the actors' manic performances and physical comedy. Director Alex Craig Mann keeps the action broad and violent, and David Bartlett provides the effective if sometimes deafening sound. (Neal Weaver). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 358-9936.

ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION John Patrick Shanley's comedy about two lifelong friends. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, (No perfs Nov. 27-29.). (310) 397-3244.

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. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (310) 392-7327.

NEW REVIEW LOVE IN BLOOM

Stage Raw: ZAR

Photo by Zack Medway

 
If you can imagine what one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies would be like if it were set to music and lyrics, you'd have a good idea of the delightful whimsy concocted here by Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. It's a bold, ambitious piece of musical theater with touches of commedia dell'arte and Gilbert and Sullivan plus lots of unexpected turns and plot twists, all of which make the viewing more fun. The story is narrated by Orion (DeCarlo) and Talia (Rudie), the rulers of the Fairy Kingdom, and the setting is the mythical kingdom of Hamelot, where the arranged marriage of the Prince (Tyner Pesch) is to take place. The fate of the kingdom depends, however, on the prince finding his true love, which the King and Queen of fairyland are determined to make happen in order to "restore the balance of both worlds." Tossed in is a melange of rogues, damsels, courtly intrigues, romance, spells, even a frog prince. Following the goings-on it gets a bit ponderous (opening act two is "The Recap" to refresh our memories), but it does pay off. DeCarlo's direction is spot on, while Matthew Wrather and Rudie's music and lyrics provide a level of enjoyment of their own under the playful touch of musical director Selena Dolinsky. Kudos to Ashley Hayes for fairy tale-inspired costumes. (Lovell Estell III). The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 394-9779.

GO NO MAN'S LAND When Harold Pinter's drama was first produced at Britain's National Theatre in 1975, it was a star vehicle, offering virtuoso acting by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Now that the star glamour has worn off, it's possible to see the play more clearly. At times Pinter appears to be imitating Pinter, bringing out all the familiar tropes. Nevertheless, the writing is rich, and director Michael Peretzian gives it an elegant, well-acted production. Two elderly writers, Hirst (Lawrence Pressman) and Spooner (Alan Mandell) meet by chance in a Hampstead pub, and Hirst invites Spooner to his townhouse for a drink. At first, the two seem to be strangers, but gradually it emerges that they have been rivals -- sexual and professional -- since their days at Oxford. Hirst has won the success game, while Spooner lives in genteel poverty. Prosperity and alcohol have left Hirst semi-embalmed, while Spooner is very much alive, and angling for employment as Hirst's secretary-companion. But two slightly menacing caretakers are already in place -- Briggs (Jamie Donovan) and Foster (John Sloan). Their position is ambiguous: Are they Hirst's employees or his captors? Mysteries and contradictions proliferate in an evening of perverse wit and skillful acting. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 477-2055.

THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE Alan Ayckbourn's romantic farce. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 454-1970.

GO THE TROJAN WOMEN In his adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy (so freely swiped from the original that Euripides' byline doesn't appear on the program), Charles Duncombe takes a macroscopic, brutal and unrelenting look at the end of the world. Genocide in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, unsustainable population growth and climate change carry the day, and the play, with excursions into a theme that has punctuated Duncombe's earlier adaptations of texts by Sophocles and Heiner Müller: the relationship between gender and power. Scenes depicting physical mutilation and rape in war zones -- choreographed by director Frdrique Michel -- contain an excruciating authenticity, even in the abstract. Michel undercuts this harrowing tone by incorporating elements of farce in other scenes. This is still very much a work-in-progress, conceived for all the right reasons. As is, the directorial tones wobble like a top, and the adaptation contains far too much explication. The evening also reveals why theater matters, and how this kind of work wouldn't stand a chance in any other medium. It's too smart and too passionate to dismiss. (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (310) 319-9939.

NEW REVIEW THE WANTING The purgatory of unrequited desire is the underlying theme of this balletic rock concert from "Moxy Phinx," the pseudo-anonymous alter ego of local performer (and L.A. Weekly Theater Awards winner) Katrina Lenk. Audiences who recall Lenk's offbeat, tuneful turn as the tragically exploited Linda Lovelace in Lovelace: The Musical, will be fascinated by the edgy alternative performance she offers here in her "Phinx" persona. Caparisoned in flowing rags and furs that suggest a thrift store goth Goddess, "Phinx" performs a series of haunting songs, accompanied by a group of dancers, portraying members of a family who look like they might be right out of Norman Rockwell - except, within minutes of starting the show, the clan suddenly shifts into being something from an Edward Gorey nightmare. In the bizarre family grouping, dad (Michael Quiett) rapes his wife (Whitney Kirk) and longs to do the same to the gorgeous nanny (Jackie Lloyd). Meanwhile, the adorable youngest son (Daniel Huynh) gropes his twin sisters (Liz Sroka and Jennifer Cooper), and also fondles the nanny, before donning a dress. (Thanksgiving should be a blast at this clan's place.) "Phinx"'s haunting voice finds itself somewhere in between the dark throatiness of Ute Lemper and the jaded melancholy of Neko Case - not a bad place in which to find oneself, really. Director Janet Roston's choreography is tight, energetic, and extremely sophisticated - at times, so much is going on on stage, you almost don't know where to watch. The sense of detail in the movement suggests a mood that's both kinky and beguiling - just note Huynh's rictus of what could either be lust or rage as he woos his vacantly smiling sisters. The problem is that the dance seems to have little to do with the songs, which, frankly, all start to sound the same before long - and that the lack of context for any of the material gradually becomes frustrating. Still, the gleefully sour ball atmosphere is ultimately effective at crafting the sad yet bleakly funny meditation on the abject emptiness of longing. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica. Sun., Dec. 6 & 14, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459. (Paul Birchall)

A WINTER'S TALE: A MUSICAL DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL Lively musical adaptation showcasing both the humor and pathos of Dickens' 1843 story of spiritual renewal and redemption. No show Nov. 8. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 828-7519.

WTF?! FESTIVAL Singer/songwriter series, film talkback series, theater and dance series, and literature series, each curated by actor Tim Robbins. Complete schedule at www.wtffestival.com. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.


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