Theater Reviews

Shaw & Wright Inside the Couch (Echo One-Acts)

{mosimage}GO ECHO ONE ACTS 2006: Evening B “I once mistook my wife for a hat salesman,” says widower Hank (Victor Raider-Wexler) in Padraic Duffy’s Old Hat to a woman (Tara Karsian) who’d rather be left alone to eat her sandwich on a park bench than be pestered to buy Hank’s defiled fedora for thousands of dollars, or engage in his absurdist word games. The line is a nod to neurologist Oliver Sacks and his collection of stories from the mental ward (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and Duffy uses this meeting of two aging souls, and the diversionary logic initiated by Hank, to speak about a world where reality is murky, and language sends us spinning into parallel universes. Chris Fields stylishly directs these charming actors in this as well as in Duffy’s other play on the bill, Something’s Hidden Inside the Couch, about a couch potato named Freddy (Christopher Shaw) who vomits pennies from heaven and calls himself a playwright not because he writes plays but because he’s sad, drunk and Irish. His abrasive wife (Jacqueline Wright) has what is probably the most penetrating line in any play seen locally this year: “You want to talk about the future of theater? I’d rather stick a knife in my eye.” She may or may not be having an affair with a character who may or may not be residing inside the couch. Ask Ionesco or Dario Fo. They’ll straighten it out for you. Echo Theater Company at the McCadden Place Theater, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; in rep with Evening A, call for schedule; thru June 11. (800) 413-8669. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS Despite the title, Jim Henry’s new play is not about Ginger Rogers. Henry (The Angels of Lemnos) is writing about love and marriage — a 61-year union that embraces birth, death, infidelities, menopause, Snickers bars and pornographic nicknames. The play is set in a metaphorical attic of memory, richly imagined by set designer Desma Murphy and filled with the flotsam of long and busy lives. This nonlinear lacework of jumbled recollections produces an Act 1 that feels fragmented, but Act 2 pulls the scattered pieces together. Michael Angelo Keeler (Michael Dempsey) and his wife, Jen (Taylor Gilbert), meet at a dance, fall in love, spawn a child and grandchild, separate, and come together again. Shauna Bloom and Shaun O’Hagan change characters and costumes busily to play all the other people in Michael and Jen’s lives. There are some credibility problems: Michael is, at various times, a plumber, a GI in World War II, a clerk in a menswear store, a television salesman, an unemployed drunk, and — improbably — the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Director Ken Sawyer elicits fine, layered performances from his able actors but can’t avoid some awkwardness in the constant shifts of time and place. Road Theater Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 29. (866) 811-4111. (Neal Weaver)

THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELEON SKIN Kirsten Childs wrote the music, book and lyrics for this uneven coming-of-age musical about a black woman’s road to self-realization and the musical stage. A child in the ’60s, the vulnerable Viveca (Lori Woodall) dreams of being both white and the world’s greatest dancer. Beat out for the fairy princess role by a more willowy grade school classmate (Fredericka Meek), and consigned in adolescence to wallflower status, she eventually grabs the wheel of her destiny and moves to New York, where she treads water in a secretarial pool while auditioning madly against her equally desperate peers. Initially bogged down by Woodall’s whiny kiddie persona and a confusing mélange of styles, the piece — and Woodall herself — gathers steam midway, and by play’s end we’re cheering her on. A few too many (21) musical numbers include a couple of forgettable ballads and several heavy-duty songs about war and injustice. The most entertaining and well-written numbers are satiric, fast-paced and involve Viveca’s personal struggle. Lindsey Gearhart directs a tight, spot-on ensemble, who deliver well on choreographer Tom Pardoe’s spunky dance routines. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 11. (310) 204-4440. (Deborah Klugman)

CHALET MIRABEL In their new musical, the husband-and-wife team of composer-lyricist Parmer Fuller and playwright Narcissa Vanderlip recall their first meeting as American kids dumped by rich parents at a posh boarding school in Switzerland. The institution’s overriding orderliness and harsh discipline are intended to mold fine adults, but they tend to break the spirits of the young inmates. Fuller and Vanderlip strive to emulate the charm and sentimentality of The Sound of Music, but out of 18 songs none even has a catchy tune. Although there are some fine voices in the cast, most of the singing is presented in an almost speaking recitative. The large ensemble does its best under Larry Sousa’s often energetic direction and choreography, highlighted by the very talented Lili Fuller and Brian Jordan Alvarez as youthful versions of the writers. Ensemble Theater Company at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru June 11. (310) 202-9229. (Tom Provenzano)

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THE CHALK CIRCLE Even after 60 years, Bertolt Brecht’s mordantly funny The Caucasian Chalk Circle mirrors the entrenched greed, cynicism and brutality of our era. Director K.J. Cowan and Rochelle Abbot’s adaptation is modestly updated and sleek, sacrificing nothing in the alteration. Brecht based the play on an ancient Chinese parable about two women’s claims on a small boy, one inspired by motherly love, the other by selfishness. The action unfolds in war-torn Russia where peasants are arguing over the use of land. One group decides to teach the other a lesson by performing a play, which takes us to the story of the servant girl Grusha (Jazz Beato), who finds herself in charge of the governor’s infant son during a time of insurrection. She takes off on a serendipitous journey where she eludes soldiers, encounters greedy countrymen, marries a dying man and eventually finds herself in court with the child’s real mother (Carrie Lazar), presided over by the rascally Azdak (Corey Mendell Parker), who administers the chalk test to determine who gets custody of the child. This spirited production has some shortcomings, starting with the uneven performances — with the exception of Beato. Most troublesome is the labored singing of Shonnese C.L. Coleman. Attic Theater & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 2 (added perfs June 4, 11 & July 2, 6 p.m.). (323) 525-0600, Ext. 2. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD Bart Delorenzo’s staging of Chekhov’s end-of-an-era masterwork carries some contextual resonance of being the closing production of this theater company. Yet it amps up the play’s vaudeville threads at the expense of its soulfulness — especially since many of the gags aren’t yet tuned. This production hangs on the neurotic gravity of Leo Marks’ earnest student, Trofimov, and Maria O’Brien’s weirdly idiosyncratic Madame Ranyevskaya, the sincerity of whose performance drew me into a kind of mousetrap of growing emotion. Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru July 2. (213) 381-7118. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

GO GARDEN OF REASON It is rare to find a show that has both shades of Ministry and Cirque du Soleil, but MyoKyo Productions has successfully blended elements of industrial hard rock and acrobatic aerials in a refreshing dance performance that offers a unique interpretation of the journey of humankind since the Garden of Eden. Presented in a series of vignettes, the performance begins with a trancelike temptation of Eve, who is presented in duality as both Earth Eve (Josie Walsh) and Spirit Eve (Maude Maggart). Duality remains a theme throughout the performance, showing up in Walsh’s choreography, Kiyomi Hara’s costumes, Justin Huen’s lighting and Paul Rivera’s set design. Rivera also doubles as the Creator, a dark, puppet-master-like figure on stilts who is featured on lead guitar and vocals and looks like he was plucked off of the cover of Izzy Stradlin’s first (and only) album with the Ju Ju Hounds. As the other featured vocalist, special guest Maggart showcases her beautiful voice in the piece, though her philosophical interludes with the audience could have been skipped. Walsh’s direction is crisp, effectively using simultaneity without compromising clarity, and her choreography is innovative, highlighting the athleticism of the dancers in the company. MyoKyo at the Ivar Theater, 1605 N. Ivar Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 11. (323) 461-7300 or (800) 595-4849. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO I CAPTURE THE CASTLE Dodie (Dorothy Gladys) Smith (1896–1990), whose book 101 Dalmations was famously Disneyfied, wrote plays that were successful in England but seldom prospered in the U.S. This piece, adapted by Smith from her novel, is redolent with the atmosphere of England in the ’30s. The Mortmain family, genteel but broke, lives in a crumbling castle. Eccentric novelist father Thomas (Time Winters), afflicted with severe writer’s block, is married to self-dramatizing Topaz (Nike Doukas). When the wealthy American Simon Cotton (Erik Sorenson) arrives on the scene, elder Mortmain daughter Rose (Lisa Valerie Morgan) decides to marry him to solve the family’s financial problems. Second daughter (and narrator) Cassandra (Rebecca Mozo) helps engineer their engagement, only to realize that she herself is in love with Simon. The characters remain blissfully unaware of social problems, and their world is populated by familiar figures of British rural domestic comedy. One half-expects Miss Marple to drop in. The script is an amusing, sweetly faded valentine, enlivened by some solid performances, including telling portraits by Mozo and Winters. Cameron Watson provides deft direction, and Victoria Profit’s wonderfully moldering gothic set includes the castle’s resident gargoyle. Hollywood Food Chain at the Forum, El Portal Theater, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 18. (800) 595-4849. (Neal Weaver)

GO WOUNDED After a successful premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Los Angeles Theater Ensemble brings its exploration of the aftermath of the current war in Iraq stateside. This collectively written story is based on true accounts of wounded veterans who were interviewed at the Fisher House rehabilitation home in Washington, D.C. While the play doesn’t lock and load at the outset, it quickly finds its target, taking us deep into the troubled psyches of veterans who suffer as much from posttraumatic stress disorder as they do from the loss of limbs and faculties. As a result, the mental and emotional baggage from combat make it difficult for them to both reconcile with loved-ones and re-enter mainstream society. A prime example of this conflict is a fierce debate on the justification for oil wars at the top of the second act that, through its own twisted logic, becomes a scarily convincing argument. The numerous split scenes with overlapping dialogue in the piece are handled effectively by director Tom Burmester, and Francois-Pierre Couture’s scenic design is minimalist, emphasizing the characters’ physicality and their psychological struggles. The entire ensemble delivers strong performances that remind us it’s a “long road to healing.” Los Angeles Theater Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theater, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 17 (added perf June 11, 7 p.m.). (310) 396-3680, Ext. 3. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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