The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a Play About Professional Wrestling (That's Not a Typo), and Others, Reviewed
SITI Company's Trojan Women (After Euripides) at the Getty Villa is a regal and passionate affair about despair, oddly floating in its own world. See Theater feature. . Also check out this week's STAGE FEATURE on Porters of Hellgate's The Merchant of Venice,, and this week's NEW THEATER REVIEWS (after the jump), with recommendations for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, at the Geffen; What the Moon Saw, or "I Only Appear to be Dead" at Son of Semele; What's Wrong with Angry, at the Celebration Theatre; The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse at Bootleg; and Al Jolson at the Winter Garden, at the El Portal. Here are the COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for the remainder of the week.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication September 15, 2011
THE B-SIDE This short collection of vignettes by director John Miyasaki and the Hereandnow Theatre Company has moments that are exquisitely sublime and expressive, but they can't redeem this terribly flawed production. In the press notes it's stated that the show "examines the often overlooked and under-told stories of people of color in America," but there isn't much storytelling here. Most of the pieces feature music, dance, spoken word and movement, all lacking in consistent precision and polish. Of the 15 or so selections, only a handful are memorable. The best include "Eel," a beautiful Hawaiian folktale about a brother, a sister and a fisherman, an enchanting sketch featuring Verwin GatPandan and Eileen Soong. "Good/Bad" has the ensemble reciting a hilarious litany of what's good and bad about being Asian or Latino, but lines frequently are stepped on, subverting the comic timing. Other ensemble pieces are "Traditions," a humorous and heart-wrenching recitation of holiday practices across a multi-ethnic spectrum, and "Fields of Plenty," a beautifully evoked homage to the lives and struggles of migrant farm workers. Hereandnow Theatre Company presented by Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel. 501 S. Spring St., third floor, dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (call for added perfs); thru Sept. 18. (626) 375-5219, hereandnowtheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
THE CALIFORNIA INTERNATIONAL THEATRE FESTIVAL
Courtesy MIHR Theatre (Aremenia)
Now in its third year, the California International Theatre Festival has moved beyond Calabasas and Ventura (where it still plays this weekend) and into L.A., where it played last weekend at Los Angeles Theatre Center and the downtown AT&T Theatre. I saw three entries on Saturday, revealing the lofty ambition of the kind of international theater programming that was dropped by UCLA Live and is now otherwise relegated to Highways Performance Space and REDCAT. Armenia's MIHR Theatre performed two dance-theater presentations. Komitas' 10 Commandments is an homage to Armenian composer/priest/musicologist Komitas Vardapet, who lost his mind after witnessing the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The simple, elegant dancers performed in pools of light, when their faces weren't enmeshed in the light of flickering candles held near their faces. Colors depicted four paint colors splashed on canvases and on the dancer's costumes. Tsolak Mlke-Galstyan and Shoghakat Mlke-Galstyan were among the ensemble performing moves ranging from tango to apoplectic contortions, accompanied by music ranging from Bach to Slavic folk. Scottish-Canadian Maja Ardal performed solo in her play The Cure for Everything, presented by Contrary Company (from Canada/Iceland/Scotland), about a teenager coming of age in 1960s Edinburgh. Ardal is a squeaky-voiced clown with a polished, animated style, and her play tenderly mingled the hormones of Scottish adolescents with the news of the day, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Mary Francis Moore directed. Over at the AT&T Theatre was the premiere of Cynthia Lewis Ferrell and Peter Michael von der Nahmer's El Canguro (The Kangaroo), a modern opera set in the Guatemalan rainforest about infertile or gay Americans purchasing local babies for adoption, and the brutality of the ensuing trafficking. The accompanying music was canned, a minor disservice to the rich voices and von der Nahmer's provocative, dissonant score. Ferrell's intriguing story was sometimes overwrought, probably a pesky complaint for an opera. For remaining performances, go to citifestival.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO THE CHANTEUSE AND THE DEVIL'S MUSE In co-creators David J and Ego Plum's speculative take on the Black Dahlia murder, the silhouettes of the three musicians -- J on vocals and guitar, Plum on keyboards, drums and backing vocals and Ysanne Spevack on strings -- can be glimpsed as they perform on a scaffolding tower behind a scrim. Onto this screen are projected dreamy, surreal visuals, as well as images of the tragic Elizabeth Short. There's even a screened excerpt from the noir movie Kiss Me Deadly, which occupies a substantial chunk of the one-act's lean 50-minute running time. A conspicuously low budget means that a strobe-lit dance sequence, in which two dancers portray the severed, mutilated corpse, isn't nearly as macabre as intended (we should be but aren't horrified when the two halves separate). Best is the Butoh dance sequence brilliantly performed throughout by Vangeline. Dressed in white tulle like a demented ballerina-bride, with blackened eyes, powdered skin and a grotesque grimace, she embodies the tormented spirit of Short, whose lingering presence slowly builds to a cathartic climax. When Daniele Watts as Ms. Comfort steps up to the mic, she gives a breathtaking rendition of a torchy blues song. The narrative is weak, but the song and spectacle are worthwhile. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com (Pauline Adamek)
GO THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY
Samuel Goldwyn is famously quoted as snarling, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." As demonstrated by Kristoffer Diaz's vibrant and vastly entertaining satire of TV wrestling, sometimes a stage will do just fine. In fact, Diaz's play is all about messages, specifically the incendiary and rabble-rousing kind producers use to boost ratings for the small screen's most popular pseudo-sport. In the case of Diaz's THE Wrestling franchise, no cultural stereotype is too low or harebrained for exploitation. For wrestler Macedonio "Mace" Guerra (Desmin Borges), that makes working for THE's supercilious promoter, Everett K. Olson (Steve Valentine), a mixed blessing. Though Mace is little more than ring dressing to make THE's untalented but charismatic marquee name, Chad Deity (Terence Archie), look good, the Puerto Rican Guerra is a wrestling purist. Even as a child in the Bronx he understood that, beneath the bombastic spectacle, wrestling is the kind of narrative art form with which he can "tell stories." He finally gets his chance when he recruits swaggering hoops sensation Vigneshwar "VP" Paduar (Usman Ally), a second-generation South Asian from Mumbai, who is a street-savvy, polyglot chameleon on Brooklyn's melting-pot courts. The pair become overnight TV stars, but only after Olson rechristens them as crudely demeaning pastiches of Muslim-terrorist-communist anti-American bogeymen. Though buoyed by an outstanding ensemble, it is Borges' spirited and captivating portrait of the artist as a frustrated storyteller that carries the show. Director Edward Torres' taut staging rarely falters in a production graced by Brian Sidney Bembridge's wonderfully hyperbolic wrestling-ring set, Jesse Klug's glitzy and glossy lights and costumer Christina Haatainen Jones' marvelously kitsch creations. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m; thru Oct. 9. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Bill Raden)
GO JOLSON AT THE WINTER GARDEN
Alicia Tannery Donelan
This nostalgic musical, written by Bill Castellino and Mike Burstyn, starring Burstyn in the title role, is a hagiographic biography of singer-actor Al Jolson, featuring many of his trademark songs. Burstyn captures Jolson's distinctively brassy voice and vocal mannerisms with almost phonographic accuracy, and he's ably supported by a trio of backup singers: Jacqueline Bayne, Laura Hodos and Wayne LeGette. There is a wisp of a plot to provide a framework, but it's the songs that matter. They range from the novelty ditty from the early Jolson hit Robinson Crusoe, called "Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night?" performed by Burstyn and LeGette, with interpolated vaudeville shtick, to Jolson standards like "Swanee," "Toot Toot Tootsie," "You Made Me Love You," the schmaltzy "Sonny Boy" and, inevitably, for a finale, "My Mammy." Burstyn's Jolson is genial, laid-back and marked by arrogance and egotism as well as high energy and magnetism. The show is slickly directed and choreographed by Castellino on Timothy R. Mackabee's lavish, glitzy set, with sharp musical direction by Christopher McGovern. There's clearly still a remarkable amount of affection for Jolson, even among the majority of audiences too young to have heard him in his heyday. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat & Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (877) 733-7529, ElPortalTheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
LAUREL AND HARDY You'd expect a play about early Hollywood's famous comedy duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, to have audiences rolling in the aisles with mirth. Instead, Tom McGrath's bittersweet biographical play has the pair of characters posthumously taking turns in relating their life stories, from their disparate childhoods to when they became a comedy team in vaudeville, silent movies and talkies, through to the adulatory obituary read by fellow silent comedy star Harold Lloyd at Laurel's funeral. Both also perform various characters from their separate and joint experiences, which are interspersed with classic comedy sketches. Kevin Blake and Paul C. Vogt give good approximations of Laurel and Hardy, respectively. For fans, there's plenty of familiar funny dialogue and physical business (Stan whimpering and scratching his head, Ollie bashfully wiggling his tie). Robert Petrarca accompanies the show on a tinny upright piano upstage and occasionally gets into the act, lending a hand with some sight gags. McGrath's play is a charming assembly of bio material, marionettes, shadowplay, songs, dance numbers and comedy bits. These include the pair as bumbling piano movers, a disastrous attempt to glue posters that turns vindictive, and famous routines including a cream pie in the face and an obstreperous seltzer bottle. But proceeding at a relaxed pace (and running for two hours and 20 minutes), all this reminiscing proves turgid. With too few pratfalls and slapstick, the laughs are sporadic, even if the gentle humor is, at times, delightfully juvenile. Creative staging by Dimitri Toscas makes good use of a large backcloth, projecting silent movie-style title cards during some sketches as well as a whimsical routine involving Hardy and the manipulated image of Jean Harlow. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com (Pauline Adamek)
MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE
Rachel Corrie was 23 when she died facing down a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. What happened is still hotly contested: Her fellow peace activists claim it was murder, the Israeli government countered it was an accident, the Russian immigrant behind the wheel said, "I scooped up some earth, I couldn't see anything. I pushed the earth, and I didn't see her at all." As for what Rachel saw, we'll never know -- her death is the one moment in this solo show where the words aren't hers. The rest of the show is constructed from her emails and letters and journals, edited by actor Alan Rickman into an arc that follows Corrie as she leaves Olympia, Wash., a restless do-gooder, lands in Palestine an eager aid worker and dies a politicized martyr just seven weeks later. As played by Samara Frame, Corrie is theatrically precocious, slender and manic, a sprite who blurts out lists of her heroes (Jesus and Zelda Fitzgerald included), sings Russian drinking songs to herself on a riverbank, and still considers middle school the defining moment of her personality. Corrie talks -- or rather, yelps, as Frame has to fight to be heard over the crickets -- as though she's aware her time on earth is short and she's in a race to speak a lifetime's worth of words. Director Susan Angelo so amps up Corrie's personality that she doesn't feel like a real person. And a choppy video where Frame swings through the Theatricum's forest while recounting the time Corrie tried to take mental patients to get ice cream doesn't work at all. Angelo's intention is to contrast Corrie's early effervescence with the sudden, somber reckoning that greets her in Palestine when she's immediately told to rescue bodies from a gun battle and she befriends the families whose houses and lives are under continual threat from bombs and bulldozers. But it's the strength she later shows that makes the play compelling. When Corrie lands in Israel, the play detours with a long and careful preface where she makes clear to the audience that she's entering the conflict apolitically -- she makes a firm divide between Jewish people and Israeli policy. But 15 minutes later, she ties on a keffiyeh and her sympathies are clear. (The theater, however, hedges its bets. At the end of every performance is a talkback featuring advocates like the national vice chairman of the Zionist Organization of America, and in my press packet was a brochure titled "My Name Is Rachel Corrie Does Not Tell the Whole Story.") Still, Corrie herself seems inspired by a purer, yet motivationally murkier force: She stays in Palestine because she's ashamed of what she calls her "international white-person privilege." That she could go back to her hippie enclave of Olympia when the Palestinians are trapped weighs her with guilt, and that her presence in an orange flak jacket can stop a gun dares her to step in front of more guns ... and bulldozers. And the world knows what happened next. Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 22. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com. (Amy Nicholson)
REDCAT NEW WORKS FESTIVAL, WEEK ONE
If there was a common denominator to the first program of this year's three-week survey of multidisciplinary experimentation by L.A.-based performers, it might be the evocation of the ethereal. Writer-director-designer Cindy Derby led off with "Edward's House of String," her strangely haunting and at times oddly impalpable puppet fable about "psychological loss." The story follows the hermit-like Edward, a full-sized if skeletally emaciated manikin (manipulated by handlers Chelsea Didier and Whitney Raene), who is drawn out of his wintry solipsism with the help of mnemonically endowed spools deposited on his doorstep by a pair of birds (Derby) from an adjacent tree bristling with balls and bobbins of string. Call it "Krapp's Last String." If her narrative errs on the side of the cryptic, Derby's staging, which includes video-projected, stop-motion "thought clouds" (by Derby, Cat Bruce and Ania Leszczynska) and Ellen Reid's Bernard Herrmann-esque score (performed live by vibraphonist Kassandra Kocoshis and violist Lauren Baba), brims with canny invention and moments of inspired visual poetry. With the piece "Actual Reality," composer Luke Fischbeck and videographer Sarah Rara of the L.A. avant-indietronica duo Lucky Dragons bring their ironic blend of digitally sequenced acoustic instrumentation and image montage out of the loft and into the more formal setting of the theater. This incarnation of the Dragons includes bassoonist Mary Pearson and percussionist Rob Barber sharing the stage with Fischbeck, and flautists Jessica Clocci, Nick DeWitt, Kelly Coats, Karen Adelman and Brian Foote taking up positions in the house. Keyed to projections of a rotating flute, flowers and fireworks, the three movements deploy preprogrammed delays and frequency cancellations to build enveloping layers of surprisingly melodious, harmonious and otherworldly sonic polyphonies. Director-actor Marissa Chibas rounds out the evening with "Clara's Los Angeles." The live, silent-movie video narrative employs L.A. location photography (by John Hawk) and an onstage jazz trio (composer-bassist Nathan Phelps, vocalist Kalean Ung and guitarist Maxwell Gualtieri) to tell the whimsical tale of Clara Villanueva (played both onstage and on camera by Chibas), a Cuban flapper and studio wardrobe mistress from 1926, who magically dances herself into the Los Angeles of 2010. However, what begins as a winsome and witty excursion into urban archaeology and an examination of L.A.'s tenuous connection with its own past soon settles into a sentimental civics sermon on the city's deep Latino cultural roots. REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, 631 W. 2nd. St., dwntwn; Week 1 is closed; festival continues Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (213) 237-2800, redcat.org. (Bill Raden)
GO WHAT THE MOON SAW, OR "I ONLY APPEAR TO BE DEAD" Despite their target audience of children, more than a tinge of the macabre colors fairy tales. A salivating wolf hunts down a little girl on the way to her grandmother's; another little girl freezes to death while selling matches. Inspired, then, is Stephanie Fleischmann's decision to intersect the paths of one of the most famous fairy-tale authors, Hans Christian Andersen, and New York City, circa 9/11, in her world-premiere play. Stringing together the four stories, all riffs on classic Andersen tales, is another of the Dane's works, "What the Moon Saw," in which the moon overlooks a civilization in decline -- which is personified here by Leah Harmon, who hangs over the action playing a pearlescent accordion. That's just one of the excellent design team's fanciful touches, which lend the production the delightful feel of a children's pop-up book: Work boots hold stage lights; when the "sky falls," a bucketful of sand suspended from the ceiling is tipped over; cutouts and silhouettes dance behind a scrim. Though many of Fleischmann's ideas are earthy, director Matthew McCray allows a tendency toward preciousness. In "Friction/Steadfast," Michael Nehring gets shrill as a cross-dressing aunt, and during "Match or Spooky Action at a Distance," Allie Costa and Whitton Frank strip the text of its drama by adding too much into the acting. Still, the latter vignette, inspired by one of Andersen's most heart-wrenching tales, "The Little Match Girl," is the most striking of the night. As a member of the NYFD (a terrifically restrained Alex Smith) digs through the aftermath of 9/11, he says he thinks about the "molecular composition of the firemen's indestructible rubber boots." The contrast between that image and time, 10 years of which have blown away like ash, is a reminder far more indelible than the phrase "Never forget." Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (213) 351-3507, sonofsemele.org (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO WHAT'S WRONG WITH ANGRY?
In 1993, when this play was first produced, the British age of consent for same-sex activity was 21 (16 for straight people) and speaking positively about homosexuality in schools was legally proscribed. Playwright Patrick Wilde's drama takes place in an insular suburb of London and revolves around a gay teen named Steven (Daniel Taylor) who confidently embraces his sexuality even as he endures the homophobic barbs and brutal beatings of his classmates. One day, frequenting the public loo, he has a sexual encounter with his school's star jock, John (Miles Heymann), a boy he has long had a crush on. The remainder of the play charts the duo's on-again/off-again relationship, a behind-closed-doors affair based on real affection and caring but circumscribed by John's inability -- unlike Steven -- to acknowledge his feelings, either publicly or to himself. Director Michael Matthews' cogent staging underscores the strengths of a piece that breaks no new ground but handles familiar themes with sensitivity and skill. Particularly appealing is the group portrait of adolescence that rings true above and beyond any political message. The ensemble does fine work all around, but Heymann is particularly affecting as the troubled John, and Kelly Schumann frequently steals the limelight as Linda, Steven's savvy and stalwart teen confidante. Matthew Henerson also deserves note in his double role of headmaster and Steven's father, both of whom stand in for the forces of intolerance. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. ; thru Oct. 26. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
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