Theater Reviews: 2 Pianos 4 Hands, Coming Home, Cirque Berzerk

Michael Lamont

CABARET The economy is terrible; unemployment is rising; sex and promiscuity abound; traditions are constantly broken, creating backlash from social conservatives — of course, it’s Germany in the early 1930s. Against the backdrop of the Weimar Republic, Kander and Ebb’s 1966 classic musical follows American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Bernardi) through his affair with English singer Sally Bowles (Kalinda Gray), whom he meets in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis are taking over. At the top of the show, the iconic “Willkommen” introduces the club and its dancers — the Kit Kat Girls and Boys — as well as the Emcee (Eduardo Enrikez), whose outrageous persona is a dead ringer for Joel Grey’s 1972 Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse’s movie. When not at the cabaret, Cliff stays in a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Annalisa Erickson), who has a soft corner for local fruit vendor Herr Shultz (Jayson Kraid) and constantly battles with tenant Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) over the stream of sailors who flow through Kost’s bedroom in order to help “pay the rent.” Cliff, on the other hand, pays the rent by giving English lessons. Director Judy Norton’s use of table seating and a working bar completes the cabaret ambiance, but her transitions drag and she fails to bring out the je ne sais quoi — or perhaps ich weiss nicht — that would have made the brilliant source material leap off the stage. Even Greg Hakke’s musical direction is sluggish at times and Derrick McDaniel’s lighting leaves many dark spots onstage. The performances, unlike the German accents, are solid, but only Enrikez really stands out. The MET Theater; 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 9. (323) 965-9996 or (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO  CIRQUE BERZERK A dreadlocked ringmaster tells a misfit girl to flee the land of the corporate zombies, where businessmen in masks and suits sprawl half-dead before tombstones made of suitcases. And she does, committing suicide to descend from the ceiling of the venue’s big-top tent to the underworld circus of the fully dead, whose acts include suicides by hanging themselves from trapezes and a drowned sailor and his wife contorting through a boneless, weightless sexual dance. Later, a troupe of dead brothers makes brilliant use of a trampoline and an oversized photo frame, and a phalanx of hellish Liza Minnellis re-enacts “Cabaret” with flaming chairs. The creative team of Suzanne Bernel, Kevin Bourque and Neal Everett puts on quite a show. The 26 performers and seven-piece band are fantastic — and fantastically served by the costumes of Heather Goodman and Mary Anne Parker, who have the bravado to make an outfit out of an Elizabethan collar, feathers, a bikini top and knee socks. (The production was born at Burning Man.) And because the stage rotates, there’s not a bad seat in the house, even out in this ex–corn field east of Chinatown. Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1245 N. Spring St., Chinatown; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; through July 5. www.­ (Amy Nicholson)

THEATER PICK  COMING HOME A sequel to his 1995 postapartheid play, Valley Song, Athol Fugard’s latest work, Coming Home, tells of the decimation of one person’s dream and the recasting of hope from its ashes. The luminous Deidrie Henry portrays Veronica, a once-aspiring singer who returns to her rural childhood home, child in hand, after 10 bitterly disappointing and difficult years in Cape Town. Resilient and nurturing despite her anguish, Veronica has a single-minded purpose: to establish a home for her son ­Mannetjie (Timothy Taylor and then by Matthew Elam as he ages), who will need support and protection in the event of her demise from AIDS. With her beloved grandfather, her only relative, dead, she turns for help to her childhood friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott), a sweet, slow-minded man who has always loved her dearly but whom her son despises. Spanning five years, the story depicts Veronica’s transformation from a buoyant woman to a sick but seething, determined molder of her son’s future to, finally, a bedridden invalid, yet with enough energy to foster her boy’s burgeoning ambition to write. Part of Fugard’s ongoing reflection of his native country’s woes, the play contains sometimes burdensome exposition, which is offset by its masterfully drawn characters and deeply embedded humor. Under Stephen Sachs’ direction, Henry shines, while Silcott is equally outstanding. As Mannetjie, whom we watch evolving into manhood, Taylor and especially Elam both impress; Adolphus Ward skillfully fashions the ghost of Veronica’s grandfather. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (No perf July 4.) (323) 663-1525. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  GODSPELL This 1971 musical, conceived by John-Michael Tebelak, with music and lyrics by Steven Schwartz, is a sort of anti-Hair. That 1967 show utilized a colorful tribe of hippies to mount a protest against the Vietnam War and challenge the status quo. Godspell took a similar tribe, sanitized and deradicalized it, and put it to work in the service of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. In Act 1, the preachiness is held at bay by solid songs and unbuttoned comedy, and Christianity is given a feel-good New Age spin. Act 2 is more sober, going past the parables, to Christ’s crucifixion. In this production, director Chuck McCollum and choreographer Allison Bibicoff have brought to the show ready wit and clever detail, and have cast it with a crew of wonderfully able, infectiously enthusiastic performers. Sterling Sulieman is a strong, forthright Jesus, with Rene Guerrero doubling as John the Baptist and Judas. Jenny Weaver delivers a potent “Day by Day,” Maria Lee gives a vampish turn to “Turn Back, O Man,” and Jason B. Hightower keeps the comedy coming. The fine ensemble includes Zach Bandler, Talo Silveyra, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Kelly Boczek and Tracy Thomas. Conductor Jan Roper provides solid orchestrations/musical direction, and John Paul de Leonardis has designed the handsome set. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 12. (323) 667-0955 or (Neal Weaver)


GO  INSIDE OUT For the majority, gender seems like one of life’s givens, as genetically determined and as biologically apparent as blue eyes or big feet. The truth of the matter, as Jody Vaclav points out in her thoughtfully written, one-woman memoir, is that acting like a girl or a boy is just that — acting. It’s a role most of us take for granted, though meticulously maintain, with only minor neurotic consequences. The psychic disaster that results when one’s inner gender doesn’t fit with one’s outer genitalia is both Vaclav’s subject and the story of the first 35 years of her life spent as Joe Vaclav. Born a boy amid the mountains and manly virtues of Colorado, Vaclav wryly recounts her struggles to live up to the conservative standards of Western machismo all the while harboring the unutterable secret that “he” was not who she pretended to be. She mostly pulled it off, settling into an amicable marriage and a job as field engineer for a power company, but her perpetual inner torment eventually grew into a suicidal despair and finally a determination to change. And while that decision led to sex-reassignment surgery, Vaclav’s narrative is one of journey rather than destination. It’s a bumpy ride to be sure (director Kathleen Rubin’s staging could be tighter) but one that Vaclav makes with humor, irony and remarkable courage. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through July 11. (310) 306-6298. (Bill Raden)

LITTLE BLACK VEIL The first half-hour of writer-director David Lebarron’s comedy musical is a lot of fun. After that, the ride gets really rocky. The play follows a raucous troupe of drag queens attempting to recover from the death of their beloved “queen bee,” Cherise. Among those affected are Billy (Tony Melson), who left the group earlier and Philip (understudy Derrick Reed). The production showcases the talents of Abby Travis, whose fine music and lyrics aren’t complemented by a similar quality of singing and dancing by the ensemble. But the biggest problem here is a mishmash of a plot. Tossed in for good measure, or so it seems, is a bit of romantic intrigue involving Billy and his lover, Ramon (DT Matias), who, for some strange reason, doesn’t accept Billy’s need to go drag. There’s also an even stranger hook-up between Philip and Jan (Yolanda Banos), who loves her man but can’t accept his need to wear dresses. Both hint at a focus on weightier issues of sexual identity but fall short of credulity. The explosion of bathos that wraps things up is not surprising. Kudos to Christy M. Hauptman for her wonderfully gaudy, Technicolor costumes. Ruby Theater at the Complex., 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m., through July 5. (800) 838-3006. (Lovell Estell III)

SECRET ROSE MINI MUSICAL FEST Five short one-act musicals comprise this fest, with a sixth to be added on June 25. “The Red Bouquet,” by Joshua Fardon, directed by Wynn Marlow, concerns a mismatched couple (Trevor Lissauer and Rebecca Larsen) and their long-suffering waiter (Kelly J. Roberts). In Michael Gordon Shapiro’s “Change of Plans,” directed by Kevin Elliott, a would-be free spirit (Jordan T. Maxwell) balks when his bossy fiancé attempts to domesticate him. Jonathan Levit directs Stephanie Hutchinson’s “More Precious Than Diamonds,” in which a woman (Fay Gauthier) despairs of ever being given a diamond ring, and decides to buy one for herself. These three minimusicals are slight but amusing. The other two are more mixed. Fardon’s “Something Not Real,” directed by Marlow, is more ambitious but less focused, centering on marital angst among urbanites (Dan Wingard, Dan Wiley, Larsen, Carrie Frymer and Derek Houck). Jan Michael Alejandro’s plot-heavy “Myjovi El Musical,” directed by Rachel Myles, concerns an energy-drink manufacturer (Greg Haskins) who is sued by a rock musician named Ben Jovi (Jeff van Hoy) and his lawyer Kirk du Soleil. It’s awkwardly constructed and slackly directed, but rock music and Jebbel Arce’s goofy choreography are crowd-pleasers. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 5. (No show July 4.) (877) 620-7673 or (Neal Weaver)


GO  2 PIANOS 4 HANDS Playwrights Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt have created an amusing play with music about two aspiring piano students. Prodigy isn’t the right word to describe either Ted (Jeffrey Rockwell) or Richard (Roy Abramsohn) because mastery of classical music does not come easily to either preteen boy. Instead, we’re treated to piano teachers (all played by Rockwell and Abramsohn) who delight in humiliating their moderately talented students, which is where much of the comedy comes in. (There are also some funny bits of physical comedy involving piano benches.) While failure to practice brings parental displeasure, the two boys have a unique relationship: One year they’re competing together in a contest; the next year, competing against each other. As the boys grow older, the two take interest in pop tunes, much to the dismay of their classical instructors. Both apply to conservatories, Ted to classical, and Richard to jazz. After both are summarily dismissed, the play tracks their respective plunges into artistic oblivion. Director Tom Frey elicits excellent performances from Rockwell and Abramsohn, so much so that we forget we’re watching adults playing children, and Jeremy Pivnick’s subtle lighting design adds texture to the staging. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (818) 558-7000. (Sandra Ross)

GO  THE WASPS With its amiably hammy seven-person ensemble of mostly veteran character actors who prance around caparisoned in codpieces with Slinkys attached, this high-spirited rendition of the classic Greek comedy proves that Aristophanes and shtick go together like, well, Aristophanes and shtick. Adaptor-director Meryl Friedman’s earlier staging of this production was created to commemorate the opening of the new Getty Villa auditorium. It ran four performances there but has now been moved to this new, much smaller venue on La Brea Avenue, with all its brisk silliness intact. Aristophanes’ play is a barbed satire of the 5th century BC Athenian tradition of paying retirees for serving on a jury. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that Friedman’s take on the material drifts from the political elements, opting instead to meander into delightfully dippy gags and cheerful musical numbers. While digressive, these theatrical sojourns turn out to be oddly faithful to the tone and mood of the original comedy. There are fart jokes, drunken revelry and, for the finale, there’s a trial in which an old man (Peter Van Norden) adjudicates a case involving a dog (Robert Alan Beuth, in wacky dog-drag). As the elderly Athenian fool, Van Norden possesses a Zero Mostel–like comic gravitas, which he uses to comedic advantage in his perfectly timed, bug-eyed, joyously leering turn. Albert Meijer, as the old man’s uptight and pompous son, mugs off him brilliantly. David O’s orchestration of Friedman’s jitterbuglike musical numbers is delightful — and his sound effects, as though from a radio play, mesh perfectly with the sweet and joyful testament to Classical Greek geek chic. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 26. (800) 838-3006. Stinger Productions. (Paul Birchall)


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