Theater Reviews

Hazard County (Photo by Aboutface Photography)

GO BENEATH RIPPLING WATER In her one-woman play, with stories abounding with perceptiveness and humor, solo performer Sybyl Walker tells three alternately sad and sassy tales of love-tormented women. Earthy and streetwise, longtime loser T-Baby gets help from a women’s support group (“Survivors of the Love War”) only to fall off the wagon after meeting smooth-talking Rudy, who again betrays her. The light-skinned “passing” Pearl (I read this as a period piece) meets the man of her dreams, a wealthy Caucasian, then flees, humiliated, after he discovers her ethnicity, despite his undaunted desire to marry her. Mentally challenged but no fool, Lavender finds love at an annual “special citizens” picnic, and spends the year counting the days to her next carnal tryst. A gifted writer, whose stories abound with perceptiveness and humor, Walker is also blessed with a wonderful voice and, when apt, can either sinuate or strut impressively about the stage. Here, directed by Gregg T. Daniel, she plays all roles — including the men — in a praiseworthy performance that nonetheless could use pacing adjustment and fine tuning to bring her material to its full flowering. Company of Angels Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Sat., 5 p.m.; thru April 8 (added perfs April 6-7, 8 p.m.). (323) 883-1717. (Deborah Klugman)

BLISS Angry widow Jo-Lynne (Dorothy Keesee) approaches Chick (Steven Pop), a semidemented gas-station attendant, to commission a hit on Curtis Lowe (Louis Iacoviello), who killed her husband with a single lethal punch. Since the husband was attacking Curtis with a baseball bat, the killing was ruled self-defense and Curtis went free. Chick agrees to kill Curtis in exchange for $1,000 and 10 blowjobs, but he’s an inefficient killer, riddled with conflicts and crackbrained ideas. He savagely beats Curtis, then settles in for a session of drinking, conversation and ongoing threats. When he learns that Curtis and Jo-Lynne were involved in a passionate, unconsummated love affair (though Curtis didn’t know his victim was Jo-Lynne’s husband), volatile Chick can’t decide whether he wants to kill Curtis, expiate his own guilt, practice Godlike forgiveness, or play Cupid and bring the erstwhile lovers together again. Unfortunately, playwright Benjamin Bettenbender seems equally uncertain where his play is going, so it veers wildly between absurdist comedy and preposterous melodrama. And the complicated back stories emerge so late that they seem more like belated justifications than motivating forces. Though the actors provide conviction, and co-directors Keesee and John Szura have staged it skillfully, the play perplexes more than it satisfies. Attic Theater, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru May 7. (323) 525-0600, Ext. 2. (Neal Weaver)

THE CHILDREN’S HOUR Lillian Hellman’s 1930s melodrama studies the effects of a lie told by a malevolent schoolgirl, Mary (Stephanie Marquis), about two of the teachers, Karen and Martha (Liz Pellini and Sarah Taylor), at an East Coast boarding school: Mary reported that she heard “strange noises” coming from the women when they were alone — a strategy by the young manipulator to be sent home to her gullible grandmother (Laura Julian). Because of the politically connected grandmother’s half-baked yet furious indignation, the reputations and lives of the teachers are destroyed by the smear of lesbianism. And Hellman sneakily raises the prospect that in the lie is a glimmer of truth. This could have been a great play, were the grandmother not so relentlessly and groundlessly sanctimonious, and were Mary not so unyieldingly diabolical. Instead, Hellman’s indignation has the same self-righteousness she complains about in her characters. Yet if you can’t understand why this gay-themed theater is staging the play, just look at the linguistic hand-hold between “righteous” and “religious right.” Matt Bankston’s staging is quite crisp, though the style waffles between one over-wrought cameo and the underplayed realism of the schoolchildren. As the accused, Taylor is just grand, and Pellini eventually warms up to that standard. As the grandmother and principal child, Julian and Marquis are similarly captivating. There’s also a nice turn by John Mullen as Karen’s long-suffering fiancé. Celebration Theater, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 7. (323) 957-1884. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO EDEN Irish writer Eugene O’Brien sets his play in a small, rural town where the social life occurs mainly during “the holy trinity” — the three weekend nights devoted to drinking, partying and pub-crawling. Billy (Andrew J. Turner) and Breda (Jennifer Pennington) have two small daughters after 11 years of marriage, but for Breda, their life together has become a sexual wasteland. She has at last managed to lose the weight that led her to being dubbed “Pig-Arse,” and hopes her newly svelte figure will rekindle the erotic flames. Billy finds her renewed affection merely threatening since he’s no longer attracted to her, and is hell-bent on bedding beautiful Althea Egan. In the Irish storytelling tradition, O’Brien casts his work as a long double monologue, in which Billy and Breda give disparate versions of a fateful Sunday night that ends in a way that neither anticipated. O’Brien strains the limits of the monologue form to provide a group portrait of the town’s hard-drinking, hard-fighting, sexually competitive citizens, and he introduces a host of characters we hear about but never see. Nevertheless, it’s a rueful, touching comedy of lost hopes, failed expectations, shattered illusions and occasional serendipity. Martha Demson provides sympathetic, perceptive direction, with impeccable performances by Turner and Pennington. Buzzworks Theater Company at Elephant Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 960-7612. (Neal Weaver)

THE FORCE OF CHANGE According to British and Irish news reports, playwright Gary Mitchell, author of this Northern Irish drama, is currently in hiding, his family having been run out of their Belfast home by loyalist paramilitaries. However, if you’re expecting an evening of charged political theater, prepare to be surprised: Mitchell’s play is, at its heart, a traditional, somewhat claustrophobic, but steadfastly apolitical cop drama. Ambitious female Royal Ulster detective Caroline (Peggy Goss) becomes infuriated with her increasingly sullen and passive-aggressive partner, Bill (Barry Lynch), as they’re assigned to “break” a recently captured young thug (Rick Crawford), whom they know is an active member of the Loyalist terrorist army. But the thug has his own agenda — and as the interrogations continue, Caroline gradually grows to suspect Bill of trying to undercut her authority. Mitchell’s drama has some suspenseful moments, but the plot peters out into awkward diversions — and the finale strikes one as being both improbable and irresolute. Director John Swanback’s staging is quick paced, though there isn’t really much for the characters here to do but sit in chairs and bicker. Goss’ brittle Caroline, Lynch’s bumbling, sleazy Bill, and Crawford’s rat-faced, smirking thug are all wonderfully vivid acting turns. McCadden Place Theater, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 7. (818) 780-0661. (Paul Birchall)

THE GOOD LIFE Love — the word heard round the world. In Daniel Brooks’ philosophical comedy, it’s heard more than in all the episodes of Dr. Phil, commercials for e-harmony, and Meg Ryan flicks combined. Brooks’ two couples, mistress and boy-toy all wonder what is love, as they argue and kiss in various co-minglings. Mainly, however, they talk, often in lengthy and meandering monologues. The jilted mother (understudy Andrea Lockhart) recites from her diary; the aggrieved husband (Philippe Brenninkmeyer) yells into a cell phone at his embittered half (Larissa Laskin), who blames her own Mercutio-esque rants on the booze. Directors Sara Botsford and C.B. Brown acknowledge the audiences’ stage of siege by letting their fine cast look bored or uncomfortable when any character’s speechifying takes over, but the play clicks only in its rare moments of action. While Brooks bandies about worthy if inconclusive theories on the relationship between love, passion and need, this often-intelligent piece is spotted with glib or ridiculous moments that undercut its ambitions as an intellectual exercise. 49th Parallel Theater at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 30. (818) 752-4709. (Amy Nicholson)

{mosimage} GO HAZARD COUNTY In its West Coast premiere, Allison Moore’s play combines the cheeky charm of the Dukes of Hazzard with the darker realities of the modern South. It brings us the story of Ruth Horton (Tracy Elliot), a single mother of twins who has been recently evicted from her home and has to move in with her cousin, Camille (Mary Pringle). Into this already volatile situation enters Blake (Michael Agrusso), a Fox News producer from Los Angeles looking for his next big story. While Blake is at first uncomfortable in the small Kentucky town, he soon begins to take a keen interest in Ruth and the story of her late husband’s murder. As Ruth and Blake delve deeper into each other’s lives, Moore explores issues surrounding the contemporary South that go beyond the traditional red state/blue state divide into the realities of politics, racism and mass media. As Ruth, Elliot gives a strong, nuanced performance, as do Chairman Barnes and JoBeth Prince, who play her children, Quinn and Quintin, and various other characters. Richard Tatum directs. Ark Theater Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 23. (323) 969-1707. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO PILGRIM Composer-playwright John Stothers has been crafting this musical spectacle for well over a decade, in search of absolute excess — visually, aurally and dramatically. In a world suggested by the darkly Gothic images of 16th-century painter Hieronymus Bosch, Stothers explores archetypal episodes of power and human cruelty as he pits wealthy guild masters against enslaved crafters. A mostly heavy, angry rock score occasionally gives way to emotional ballads, all sung with remarkable power and energy by the young cast. Director Nick DeGruccio is perfectly in tune with Stothers’ taste for extravagance, using every inch of the large proscenium stage for his huge directorial canvas. This includes highly charged acting and singing plus Cirque du Soleil–inspired dream sequences with aerial artists directed by choreographer Josie Walsh. The entire design team, particularly scenic artist Tom Buderwitz, have concocted a gleeful show that, by design, bursts at the seams. Rustycup Productions at the Ricardo Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 9. (800) 595-4849. (Tom Provenzano)

STRING Is there a difference between wooing and stalking? Ryan (Chuck Raucci), a pizza-delivery man who aspires to be a lawn-fertilizer salesman, believes he’s wooing Raina (Shannon Jarrell), a poet with a day job in a bookstore. After the two meet cute, Ryan tracks Raina down at her workplace, where she’s waiting for her boyfriend, Derek (co-director David Nett), a medieval literature scholar. When Ryan asks her out on a date, Raina indicates she’s not interested, but he shows up at her house anyway with tickets to an Eminem concert. Things become even more awkward when Derek arrives to squire her to an academic awards banquet. Later the same evening, Ryan shows up again, proving he’s nothing if not persistent. Juxtaposed against this lopsided love triangle is a subplot involving Raina’s sister, Joy (Shannon Nelson), who has her own problems with her husband, Cliff (Richard Wylie). As the two sisters, Jarrell and Nelson deliver top-notch performances under Nett and Patty Ramsey’s brisk direction. And though playwright Jessica Lind has a knack for snappy dialogue, the play breezes over issues related to class and status as it hurtles toward the denouement that true love conquers all. Paul E. Richards Theater Place, 2902 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 30 (no perf April 16). (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)

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