PICK GO AS YOU LIKE IT The Independent Shakespeare Company proves it can muster the wit, verve, lightness of touch and cheeky irreverence to make Shakespeares comedy genuinely funny. Two performances define and dominate it: Melissa Chalsmas Rosalind is beautiful, sweet, clever and sometimes zany, finding comedy in unexpected places. In her scenes with her handsome, hunky Orlando (Sean Pritchett), the chemicals sizzle and charm. David Melville transforms the clown Touchstone into a deadpan star turn. Hes already shown us an antic Hamlet, but here hes anarchic, wielding his jesters cap and bells in ways that verge on pornographic. Directors Sanford Robbins and Chalsma provide the fast-paced staging, and the large cast lends admirable support. Andrea Gwynnel Morgans Celia is a fine foil for Rosalind, Hayden Adams is appropriately sinister as evil Oliver, and Freddy Douglas is unexpectedly elegant as melancholy Jacques, while Jennifer Mefford and Aisha Kabia score as sluttish Audrey and love-lorn Phebe, respectively. Rachel Ford Pritchetts excellent no-period costumes add exotic touches as needed. Best of all, the show is free but make reservations. And bring a blanket. Independent Shakespeare Company, the Great Lawn of Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; in rep, call for schedule; thru Aug. 13. (818) 710-6306. (Neal Weaver)THE CHICAGO CLUB RUMBOOGIE Despite an uneven production, Jerry Jones new play about a Southside Chicago club in the 1940s has much to recommend it. Two brothers, Ben and Ed Powell (Carl Crudup and Fitz Houston), get into bed with the Mob to repay a debt: Gangster Tony Castalla (Bobby Jasmin) is now calling the shots. Demanding a 60-40 split, Tony fronts Ben and Ed enough money to turn their modest bar into a swinging nightclub. The mobster also wants the brothers to secure the cooperation of an incorruptible neighborhood cop, Two-Gun Pete (Kenneth Foster in a firecracker performance). Under Chris Palmquists clumsy direction (actors bump into furniture, entrances and exits are frequently awkward, stage business is unwieldy), the story moves in fits and starts. However, the play surges to life with the appearance of the nightclubs tremendous five-piece band (Elijah Anderson, Bobby Brown, Kozy Washington, Sigmond Dillard and Bill Eddings). Unfortunately, the play cant quite sustain the same energy level, but the band takes center stage for a considerable portion of the evening. Singers Carla Stephanie Bagnerise and Constance Denise are equally terrific. MET THEATER in association with Carl Crudup Productions, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 13. (323) 957-7752. (Sandra Ross)DEATH OF A SALESMAN The story of Willy Loman, the ultimate Everyman, is unquestionably as relevant today as it was when Arthur Miller wrote it in 1949. The depiction of the market forces that weigh against him, plus Willys inability to accept his lot in life and his subsequent descent into self-deception, is timeless. In Elina de Santos staging, however, Willy (Richard Fancy) comes off as so miserable and aggressive that he closes all windows to empathy. Sharron Shayne also misfires as Willys wife, Linda: By accentuating her excessive worship of her husband, she becomes merely ignorant of his myriad shortcomings rather than being stoically perceptive. Toward the end of Act 1, Shayne finally demonstrates Lindas acumen when she reprimands her sons for disrespecting their father. Hes not the finest character that ever lived. But hes a human being, asserts Linda, with such wisdom and sincerity that, for the first time, her audience is hard-pressed not to sympathize with Willy. Those qualities are fixed in the lines, however, and it may be too little, too late for this staging. Lindas sons, Happy (David Clayberg) and Biff (Greg Vignolle), share a playful rapport that refreshes the production in its slower patches, though they sacrifice their believability in the flashback scenes by playing so young. PACIFIC RESIDENCE THEATER, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., & Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 23. (310) 822-8392. (Stephanie Lysaght)
THE ID AND BOB Matt (Ken Barnett) is a young, handsome and witty gay New Yorker who seems incapable of getting laid or holding a job that pays more than minimum wage. Oh, and did I mention hes white and educated? These facts alone, if not placing Jed Seidels dating-game comedy in the realm of gay science fiction, then at least position it as a kind of perverse, inside-out Walter Mitty yarn the story of a man who has everything going for him yet still cant make anything click. Nevertheless, director Joe Salazars production has its charms, thanks to Kurt Boetchers spare but suggestive set and Lisa D. Katzs ambitious lighting plot. Barnett is engaging enough in his role, and Rex Lee turns in a feisty performance as Matts repulsively self-centered blind date, Bob, whose relative success in life should make us all think twice about what we wish for. LILLIAN THEATER, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 22. (866) 794-7529. (Steven Mikulan)
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NOCTURNE Fifteen years ago I killed my sister is the provocative confession that begins playwright Adam Rapps tale of loss and semiredemption. (This is a solo performance adapted from Rapps multicharacter play.) At 17, an unnamed piano prodigy (Michael Cormier) accidentally ran over his 9-year-old sister in front of their home in suburban Joliet, Illinois. His mom went mad, his dad almost killed him and the son went to New York to escape them and his devastating act. Finding work in a used bookstore, he uses old books as furniture, symbolizing the restructuring of his life through fantasy and his inability to connect with other human beings. Over the years he writes a novel based on the accident, conducts a doomed love affair and is summoned home to his fathers deathbed. Under Rob DeRosas direction, Cormier rushes through the prosaic script with hardly a pause for breath, resulting in numerous flubbed lines. Cormier acquits himself better in the final sequence when he portrays the dying father, a bittersweet moment depicting one mans lonely struggle with mortality. ELEPHANT PERFORMANCE LAB, 1078 Lillian Way, Hlywd.: Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 15. (323) 960-7753. (Martín Hernández)
GO RECENT TRAGIC EVENTS Minnesota playwright Craig Wright, whose autopsy of suburban marriage, Orange Flower Water, was a recent hit at the Victory Theater, presents a gruesome comedy that is by turns angry, absurdist and just plain fun. A blind date arranged for the day after 9/11, a twin sister whos missing in New York and one characters improbable relationship with Joyce Carol Oates are some of the ingredients that make this a wickedly droll evening. THEATER TRIBE, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 22. (866) 811-4111. See next weeks Stage feature for a longer review. (Steven Mikulan)
GO TAKING THE JESUS PILL The seamiest underbelly of American Southern Christianity comes under attack by rocker Charlie Terrell, who brings his original album to life with gothic, melodramatic scenes of sex, drugs, booze, murder and false religion all placed between his combination of rock-a-billy and bluegrass numbers with his band the Mojo Monkeys. The Christian-infused drama follows the plight of Johnny: 316, sharply played by Brandon Karrer, a drifter who falls for a preachers daughter (Nikki McCauley), garnering the wrath of her Antichrist father (Michael Childers). Each scenelet is gloomier and more depraved than the previous as we move to some sense of redemption. This is really not a rock opera as advertised, since only the band members sing, but it is an interesting form that brings rock audiences into the theater with enormous enthusiasm for the songs, the overwrought play, the ubiquitous dancing girls and the generous drinks in this frightening, overcrowded venue. KING KING, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 9:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (323) 960-9234. (Tom Provenzano)
TWELFTH NIGHT With his cyclonic energy and contagious joy, Jim LeFaves hard-drinking, mischievous layabout, Sir Toby Belch, may be the best reason to see this competent but unexceptional production. Director Ellen Geer sets the play in the Edwardian age, using period songs and costumer Elizabeth Huffmans playful costumes to underscore the comedys light-hearted elements. Less in evidence are the wit and chemistry that can make Shakespeares classic truly sparkle. The attractive Catherine Taltons tremulous, shipwrecked Viola lacks layers. As Olivia, the persuasive Willow Geer seems every inch a moneyed gentlewoman accustomed to command, but her passion for Taltons cross-dressed ingénue appears contrived. Joshua Wolf Colemans genial Duke Orsino could use sharper edges, and while Alan Blumenfelds bearlike Malvolio roars entertainingly across the stage, he misses some of the pathos at the heart of his pompous buffoon. WILL GEER THEATRICUM BOTANICUM, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep with Antony and Cleopatra, call for schedule; thru Sept. 30. (310) 455-3723. (Deborah Klugman)WEDDING SINGER BLUES There are some bitingly funny moments during Carla Zilbersmiths one-woman musical, and just as many that annoy. Zilbersmith channels an array of characters to tell the story of Carla, an aspiring singer with a big heart and bigger dream, who takes work as a singing waitress at Tempura Fugit, eventually winding up as a wedding singer. She encounters a gruff Vietnam vet, a performance artist, her doubting-Thomas grandmother, sleazy agents and more. Zilbersmith impersonates these characters well, and they provide some of the funniest moments during the show. But the script and Zilbersmiths storytelling style have a bad case of Saint Vitus dance, making the story difficult to follow and much of the material has the feel of warmed-over standup offerings. (Also, she too frequently steps up to the mike and sings snippets of songs that become a distraction from, rather than an enhancement of, her story.) With this shows flaws of structure and focus, only Zilbersmiths demonstrable talent as a comedian and singer keeps it afloat. CORONET THEATER, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 16, (310) 657-7377 (Lovell Estell III)