GO COLORED CONTRADICTIONS This potpourri of African-American music, dance, poetry and satire exhibits a caliber and exuberance that lift it above its essentially showcase format. The lengthiest segment is a vibrant adaptation of Zora Neale Hurstons 1942 short story, Story in Harlem Slang. Directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis, its a comic face-off, relayed in vivid patois, between two strutting street hustlers (Charles Allen and Freddy DeGrate) desperate to score a meal and some cash off a passing woman (Angie Browne) wise to their antics. The night I attended featured Paul Harris, a master of erotic metaphor, as the evenings spoken-word artist, as well as Amy Lewis, the ensembles only Caucasian performer, whose insightful poem contemplates the experience of a white woman expecting a child of color. In other excerpts, Steve Luthers Looting the Met, directed by Stevie Johnson, skewers the nouveau riche by portraying a wealthy couple (Damon Standifer and Chanell Jones) who ignorantly revel in their power to hoard expensive art, while Paula Mitchell Mannings musical Fade to Black, directed by Angela Duckett, lampoons the ludicrously sad experience of the many gifted black artists historically forced into demeaning roles. Company of Angels, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 18. (323) 883-1717. (Deborah Klugman)
GO FOREWORD: A Housewarming Hereandnow Theater Companys performance collage is at once an incisive commentary on the ethnic-American experience and a testament to how little needs to be explained to people anymore. The players move through nearly a dozen vignettes that range from storytelling to ritual to dance/movement to song and video (and sometimes a mixture of all of them). The cast is mostly strong, a little uneven at times, but thoroughly engaging. Among the highlights is November Morris gesticulated telling of the Hawaiian myth of Maui, and Andrea Apuys hilarious account (scored by a snappy trio of vocalists imitating jazz instruments) of how, when a wealthy white woman mistook her for Japanese in a sushi restaurant, she just went with it. And the dance pieces are spellbinding. As a whole, the evening is beautifully curated and celebrates how far cultural diversity has gone in transforming and shaping the American identity. The show itself assumes that we live in a time and place of complete and seamless cultural integration and therefore avoids talking down to its audience, a refreshing development in the world of minority-based theater companies. Armory Northwest, 965 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.; thru March 18. (626) 744-0380. (Luis Reyes)
GO FORNICATIONALLY CHALLENGED Newly liberated from her former spouse, whom she dubs the Ex-hole, a 40-something female tries to learn the new rules of dating. She attends a singles party, but feels marked as one-night-stand material. Worried about sexually transmitted disease, she goes to buy condoms, and never having purchased them before tries to size them like pantyhose. She dates a series of younger men, all of whom want children, causing a girlfriend to proclaim that 35-year-old men are the new women. (She wonders where an out-of-work actor with three roommates would put the kids.) Frustrated with the dating scene, she goes back to college, finds a job and then promptly resigns in order to date her new boss, a relationship that fizzles before it even begins. The series of dating mishaps is consistently amusing as delivered by Judi Lee Brandwein in her semi-autobiographical one-woman show. The aptly named characters, including the Coffee Guy, Ashton, and the Puppy, all have distinct voices, and Brandwein is a confident performer under Mark Travis crisp direction. The intimate space is well-used, and at 65 minutes the fast-paced show is highly entertaining. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 2. (323) 960-7721. (Sandra Ross)
HAMLET: A Tragic Thrance In Outlaw Style Thrance Companys approach to the Shakespeare classic, Elsinore is a world devoid of discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation, a noble endeavor. On the other hand, as envisioned by director-choreographer Jessica Schroeder, the production also utilizes thrance the combination of theater and dance to move the story along, which tends to muddle an already severely truncated text. In this version, Hamlet (Atim Udoffia) is a Danish princess instead of a prince and is the offspring of her recently murdered father, King Hamlet (Scot Shamblin), and his husband, the Duke Gerard (Joseph Beck), rather than King Hamlet and Queen Gertrude. And it is the kings sister Claudia (Konima Parkinson-Jones) whom Gerard weds, a premature move in Hamlets eyes that exacerbates her already fragile psyche. At times the thrance concept is engaging, such as when Hamlet fends off her lover, Ophelia (Kelly Grete Ehlert), to the strains of Elvis Costellos The Name of This Thing Is Not Love. But mostly the dance movements, which are well-executed, are superfluous, as in Polonius (Morgan Peter Brown) sly moves on Fiona Apples Extraordinary Machine. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 9. (323) 860-6503. (Martín Hernández)
HOPE RUNS ETERNAL The inaugural production of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center is set in the volatile world of the music industry. Playwright Richard Brooks is singer-songwriter Raymond Cash, a man with an ego, a devoted fiancée (Cynda Williams), an ulcer, money problems and aspirations to make it big in the business. At odds over money with Mac (Roger E. Mosley), the owner of the club he regularly performs at, Raymond seems to be headed nowhere until his future sister-in-law, Hope (Victoria Platt Tilford), a famous vocalist, stops in for a visit with her sister. At this point, Brooks script becomes somewhat blasé and predictable, a pastiche of attempted seductions, jealousy and infidelity, with an intrigue involving mob figures tossed in for some petit frisson. The finale is none too satisfying, but Donald Douglass draws some fine performances from his cast. The production features soulful songs and music, and John Paul Lukenbach has designed a magnificent set, re-creating Cashs flat/studio and Macs Bar. The venue, the site of the former Ebony Showcase Playhouse, has been marvelously renovated. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 9 (no perf April 2). (310) 773-8373. (Lovell Estell III)
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INCONCEIVABLE! This curious comedy by Tim and Dan Furlong might be called Trials and Tribulations in the Life of Sperm, as they struggle to fight their perilous way to fertilization. It combines farcical treatment with a fairy-tale plot, and a dollop of romantic comedy, equating biological imperatives with romantic love. The characters sperm and ova are presented as fully developed humans, albeit desperately naive and uninformed. The sperm, Capn and Wiseass (Sean McGowan and Dan Furlong), are sailor boys in navy whites whose arrival in the dangerous land of Eggodonia suggests the storming of the beaches at Normandy. The eggs, independent Ina and flighty Ova (Ashley Schoff and Sirena Irwin), are eager to be fertilized, but clueless. Chastera (Susan Peahl), the high priestess of birth control, has persuaded them that the sperm are yeast infections, and she employs a hormone named Ferizoad (Mark Christopher Tracy) and a host of (offstage) antibodies to fend off the eager lads. Its a clever concept, but not quite clever enough to sustain its 90-minute length. Director Rick Sparks and his able cast strive mightily to keep the touch light and the action brisk, but theyre hampered by a heavy-handed, sketch-comedy script. Globe Playhouse, 1107 Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 769-5555. (Neal Weaver)
ORANGE FLOWER WATER Brad and Cathy and Beth and David these arent the names of swingin city couples but of rural Minnesotans choking on the sameness of small-town life. Playwright Craig Wrights 85-minute one-act looks at the time just before and after Beth and Davids (Julie Quinn and Robert Poe) adulterous affair is exposed by Beths husband, Brad (Tim Sullens). Both Brad and Davids wife, Cathy (Ann Noble), are the ones left behind to pick up the pieces of their lives and to become their childrens main parent. The play is unflinching in its sketch of ordinary people overwhelmed by the most common of social transgressions, and director Carri Sullens production which plays out on and around a bed is powered by Tim Sullens visceral performance as an angry and confused lug. This is a story without the possibility of a happy ending or even sexual revenge, although Wright stumbles by having David deliver a syrupy joys-of-parenting monologue before the shows final blackout. Victory Theater Center, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru April 23. (818) 841-5422. (Steven Mikulan)
THE SLEEPER Gretchens (Amy Tribbey) son has ADD; her teen daughter, bulimia. Her perky non-reaction to both stereotypical child disorders is par for the course in Catherine Butterfields semi-dark comedy, which intentionally lays out a field of clichés (the soccer mom, the red-haired vamp, the workaholic dad) but never quite delves into or deflates what they represent. Not only does this frustrate attempts to examine her characters, but Butterfield tries to use the same Twiggy-thin sketches to explore the societal ramifications of 9/11. See, Gretchens just fallen for her sons math tutor, a handsome, apocryphal college grad (Ray DeJohn) with swarthy skin and a fluency in some foreign tongue or another, which means that in addition to organizing terrorist-alert drills at the middle school and attending neighborhood anthrax-awareness meetings, now the happy homemaker has to worry that shes sleeping with the enemy. While its a nice parallel that the title refers equally to Gretchens paramour and her own decades-dormant spirit, the piece is content merely to bat around ideas that demand to be pinned down and eviscerated. Occasionally, Butterfields script hints at dimensionality, as when Gretchen questions her own knee-jerk racial suspicions, but too often the material relies on easy maxims of the We are all different now variety and director Andrew Barnicle and his leads arent adding any extra heft. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 19. (949) 497-2787. (Amy Nicholson)
GO WASTE OF SHAME H-Bomb (Kyle Johnston) is a slackers slacker. Desperately avoiding gainful employment, he rants dementedly about flying saucers and environmental threats, and sponges off his roommate and former frat brother Chris (Johnny Clark). Chris, too conventional to be an underachiever, has a job, an apartment, a formidable CD collection, and a fiancée. Hes a vicarious slacker, relishing (perhaps envying?) and enabling H-Bombs do-nothing life. Chris live-in fiancée, Melanie (Kimberly Rose Wolter), seems more interested in their impending $30,000 wedding than in Chris, and shes hell-bent on persuading him to expel the scruffy, parasitical H-Bomb from their apartment. At first, writer-director Ron Kliers play seems like a funny, amiable character comedy, till, at the end of Act I, a shocking discovery transforms it into a suspense drama. The discovery, however, is merely a MacGuffin, never explained or referred to again, and the play segues into an existential tragicomedy as bleak as anything in Beckett. Though inventive and brilliantly written, the plays manipulations leave one feeling faintly hoaxed, and the characters are more exasperating than sympathetic. But the production is wonderful, with sure-footed and precise direction, terrific actors, and a quirkily cluttered set by John G. Williams. VS. Theater Company at Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 9. (323) 860-3283. (Neal Weaver)