GO A CHRISTMAS CAROL WITH CHARLES DICKENS Ebenezer Scrooge is back once more to learn that love is more important than wealth. Since Charles Dickens was celebrated, in his time, for his lively readings of A Christmas Carol, this play aims to re-create one such reading. It’s intimate; just us, Dickens (David Melville) and his assistant (Mary Guilliams). The production elements are primitive, but that’s the idea. Elaborate lighting and sound effects would only distract listeners from Dickens’ haunting words. The no-frills set is actually, as Dickens points out, “the cleverly concealed set of Jitney” (August Wilson’s play currently running at this venue). The night I attended the show, there were numerous children in the audience, and I worried that they would get lost in the Victorian language. Instead, they remained riveted, going nuts for Melville, especially when he impersonated Scrooge sloppily slurping his gruel. Melville’s Dickens is well balanced: playful without being over the top. Director Melissa Chalsma ensures that Melville focuses, first and foremost, on telling the story. I mean, c’mon, when was the last time somebody read you a story? Independent Shakespeare Company at THE LILLIAN THEATRE, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sun., Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. (818) 710-6306. (Stephanie Lysaght)
A DON’T HUG ME CHRISTMAS CAROL “Don’t hug me,” barkeep Gunner (Phil Olson) says upon greeting an old acquaintance. “It’s so awkward.” Phil Olson and Paul Olson’s new musical adaptation of you-know-what unfolds in a Minnesota karaoke bar — the k-machine offers the only excuse for the actors to burst into song and dance, a contrivance duly and too frequently noted by resident grump Scrooge Gunner. To its credit, the Olsons’ play is self-knowingly dripped in Lutheran cornball syrup, some of which is quite pleasing. Visual puns in the bar, named “The Bunyan,” also include the bathroom signs (“Lumber Jacks” and “Lumber Jills”) plus “Reserved parking for Vikings only.” One day Gunner falls down an ice hole, a tragedy to which his long-suffering wife, Clara (Therese Lentz), responds blithely, “Gunner’s in the hospital. He’s fine, but he’s in a coma.” The ghosts of Xmas past, present and future (Doug Engalla) show the hospital-gown-bedecked patient the many errors of his sarcastic, selfish ways until the jerk starts to feel at least a tingle of remorse. Too many of the insults that Gunner hurls are mean without being witty, which wears down some otherwise tart humor. Nice performances by Lentz and Emily Trempe (playing a dumb-as-a-post wannabe crooner). Under Sean Mulcahy’s direction, Stan Mazin’s choreography is as lame as it gets, which is exactly the point. LONNY CHAPMAN’S GROUP REPERTORY THEATRE, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (added 9 p.m. perf Dec. 31, followed by New Year’s Eve party); thru Jan. 27. (818) 700-4878. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO EAST 14TH: TRUE TALES OF A RELUCTANT PLAYER “Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but knocking on doors is way harder,” claims Don Reed in his autobiographical one-man show about growing up on “Ho Row.” With a Jehovah’s Witness for a mother and a pimp for a father, Reed had a colorful childhood to say the least. His story loosely follows the chronology of his parents’ divorce, his mother’s remarriage to a strict stepfather, and his eventual move-in with his real father. Reed is the consummate showman, keeping the audience in stitches with an expressiveness and physicality that vividly re-creates the world of 1970s Oakland. Most amazing, however, is that between all the laughs, Reed sneaks in a poignant yarn about a young boy from the hood who managed to get out. In relating the episodes from his childhood, Reed fully inhabits the personae of the people in his life — from his libidinous father to his gay older brother to neighborhood fixtures like “Steakface” and “Troutmouth.” The show was so memorable that even days later I found myself quoting from it .?.?. and still laughing. STELLA ADLER THEATRE, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-1053. (Mayank Keshaviah)
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HOLIDAYS ON THE SEA II: THE ISLAND OF HOLIDAY GHOSTS For its annual holiday show, The Actors’ Gang joins forces with La Ballona Elementary School (which provides some 20 actors) and Culver City Middle and High Schools, which supply the technical crew. The play, by director Andrew E. Wheeler, borrows its plot from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and converts it into a politically correct celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan. Many years ago, pirate queen Captain Sally (Molly O’Neill), moved by jealousy, drugged her sister, Arabel (Riki Marx), and set her afloat in a boat to perish. But she landed on a holiday-themed island. Now, aided by a couple of junior-grade Ariels, she causes Captain Sally’s pirate ship to founder, and treats its crew to a pageant of holiday customs. The script is a bit talky for young audiences, but a handful of songs, a cleverly staged shipwreck, shadow plays, special effects and puppets keep things interesting, and the Ballona kids are given a chance to shine as Little Pirates. Nobody is likely to learn much about the various holidays, but the young actors attract a guaranteed audience of friends and doting relatives. Admission is free with donation of a new, unwrapped toy. Actors’ Gang at THE IVY SUBSTATION, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (310) 838-4264. (Neal Weaver)
STREET ANGEL DIARIES More earnest than absorbing, Mary Lou Newmark’s theatrical collage consists of her violin compositions and Ellen Juhlin’s sound design, combined with John Pennington’s choreography of eight performers, reciting stories and ruminations about homelessness in front of Robert M. Fisher’s projected drawings and paintings. Dan Weingarten’s set design has a wall of corrugated tin that slides impressively from the theater’s back wall to the middle of the stage. The intriguing music and soundscape marks the production’s strength. When the actors move and speak, however (“I see no one and no one sees me”; “If we lean on each other, we will never fade to black”), the piece becomes saturated in romantic nobility, a kind of feel-bad, feel-good endeavor that, for the audience, is sort of like eating spinach — packed with minerals, a lot to chew over but not very filling. The creators need to delve beneath the truisms of homelessness for a poetry that throws a sharper light on a topic so desperately deserving of attention. Darin Anthony directs. Zebulon Projects at BOSTON COURT, 70 N. Mentor, Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO TEXMAS In playwright William Wright’s lively comedy, young gay L.A. actor Dorsey (Justin Tanner) decides to bring his yoga instructor boyfriend (Cody Chappel) home to Texas for Xmas to meet his family. Upon his arrival, Dorsey urgently pleads with his trashy, booze-swilling mama, Dot (Danielle Kennedy), for there to be “no big scenes” during the visit. He might as well wish for the sun not to rise or for the dog not to defecate in Dot’s slippers. Even before the frozen turkey is dumped in the deep fryer, Dot has announced her marriage to her 35-year-old handyman (Joe Reynolds), while sister Robin (Rebecca O’Brien) prays to Jesus and other sister Pam (Maile Flanagan) laments her most recent DUI. Wright’s play provides a tissue-thin wraparound narrative for the barn-blasting performances by an ensemble consisting of some of the town’s most gifted comic actors, in director Matt Roth’s energetic if occasionally unfocused staging. The play could benefit from some pruning, as portions of the final third lag, but as the foul-mouthed, hard-boozing hag matriarch, Kennedy dominates her every scene, virtually yanking laughs from the audience with just a puny expression or sneer. Flanagan and O’Brien approach their roles with a wonderful lack of condescension, balancing their dopey outer personalities with unexpectedly sympathetic, multidimensional cores. THIRD STAGE COMPANY, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec 22. (818) 842-4755. (Paul Birchall)
THREE LEFTS Christina Bunner’s dark Christmas comedy opens with a spectacular stage stunt: For a play-within-the-play, actor Ernie (Dennis W. Hall) slips off a ladder while putting up the set’s yuletide lights and nearly hangs himself. After Ernie’s fall, Stephen (Shane Callahan), the writer-director of his plagued autobiographical drama, cancels the single showing of the holiday drama about his parents — the mother who abandoned him and the father who died on Christmas Eve. While the actors strike the set, hyperneurotic Stephen phones his shrink to complain that his estranged brother didn’t show up. Moments later, his brother Luke (Matt Bushell) arrives from the West Coast and is more than a little annoyed that the one-night-only performance has been called off. As the brothers bicker, Ernie, who plays their father, starts acting like a parent, issuing separate “time outs” to the siblings, while the actor playing their mother (Marilyn Rising) — actually a sexy, much younger version of their mom — steps in as peacemaker. Under Mark Wilkinson’s direction, Hall, Bushell and Rising are excellent, but Callahan needs to tone down the Woody Allen mannerisms and slow down his delivery. While Bruner’s script is very funny, some of the gags were muted due to awkward timing. Noble Gas Productions at the LOUNGE THEATRE, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (310) 967-1310. (Sandra Ross)