Theater Reviews

{mosimage}PICK GO ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA With shrewd and ruthless cutting, director Ellen Geer reduces Shakespeare’s most sprawling tragedy to a brisk, absorbing two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission. Some important elements may be sacrificed, but the play’s pervading irony is still apparent: By showing the action from constantly shifting points of view, Geer’s production employs a Brechtian distance that’s intellectually fascinating while still gripping, emotionally. The energetic outdoor staging emphasizes physical action and comedy, which serve the play well for the first four acts but leave us a bit unprepared for the tragic finale. Abby Craden plays Cleopatra as a feckless, flamboyant and surprisingly funny drama queen till grimmer events overtake her — and this Serpent of the Nile wears a live boa as a boa. Joel Swetow’s Antony is a slightly over-the-hill warrior, trying desperately to hold on to the powers and passions of his youth. Chad Jason Scheppner provides a touchy but imperious Octavius Caesar, and other noteworthy performances include Steven Matt, Melora Marshall, Mike Peebler, Aaron Hendry, Mark Lewis and R.J. Victoria. The complex plot, which mingles personal with political, requires serious concentration, but the rewards are considerable. (You may need a sun hat and a cushion.) WILL GEER THEATRICUM BOTANICUM, 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723. (Neal Weaver)

GO BLUEBONNET COURT Kelly Ann Ford’s expertly mounted production of Zsa Zsa Gershick’s comedy-drama about lesbians connecting in an unlikely corner of Texas in 1944 is full of surprises, including an ensemble that deftly interprets a relatively low-key lesson about clandestine love. The story, which revolves around a romance between a Jewish writer (Leslie Cohen) and a black motor-court charwoman (Dalila Ali Rajah), captures the nation’s mood of self-assurance at the dawn of the American Century, while hinting at its darker realities. HUDSON MAINSTAGE THEATER, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (323) 960-7721. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature in two weeks.

CATCH & RELEASE This production was plagued by so many opening-night lighting mishaps (possibly — hopefully — attributable to the theater’s air conditioning being run during the performance) that some of the actors’ best lines were in-character ad libs about electrical problems. That doesn’t, however, excuse playwright Rachel Brenna’s tin-eared dialogue or director Michael Uppendahl’s bizarre preference for having his actors speak to one another mostly in profile. (The effect is like watching facing heads of two coins engaged in conversation.) The story is about Angela (Brenna) and Fred (Jeff Kerr McGivney), a young couple experiencing bedroom problems traceable to Angela’s having been sexually abused by her pediatrician when she was a girl. Turns out that the father of a withdrawn elementary school student whom Angela teaches is none other than the doc (William Charlton). What follows is TV culture’s version of a revenge tragedy, but the action is so contrived and confusing that we can only conclude that TV should be left to the experts and not attempted onstage. There are moments when it seems that entire stretches of dialogue have been forgotten — either by the actors or the playwright. ELEPHANT LAB THEATER, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (323) 960-7740. (Steven Mikulan)

CHAIM’S LOVE SONG Marvin Chernoff’s good-natured yarn about a 74-year-old Jewish man (Stan Mazin) befriending an Iowa girl, Kelly (Susie Ruckle), in a Brooklyn park hits a number of false notes, especially in Kelly’s four-day conversion from accusing Chaim of being a rapist and stalker to professing her (platonic) love and singing “Hava Nagila” as she feeds challah to his pigeons. However, the play’s not really about her, or even them. Rather, it’s a pretext for Chaim’s jokes, tall tales, skeletons and nostalgia. Though Mazin plays the character like a comedian, his mournful history alludes to a century of Jewish struggles: a wife orphaned in the Holocaust, kids disrespecting the Shabbat, and a culture that embraces brown rice and divorce over chicken fat and sacraments. As Larry Eisenberg directs her, Ruckle has little to do in this one-sided bonding session besides ask the occasional question and wonder if she’s supposed to look at the supporting players who wander through, reenacting Chaim’s past — particularly his best friend, Oscar (Elliott Goldwag), and his wife, Tzawrah (Irene Chapman). Sweet but unsteady, this light comedy only feels relevant when Chaim and Tzawrah weigh the beauties and demons of a move to Israel. LONNY CHAPMAN GROUP REPERTORY THEATER, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 2. (818) 700-4878. (Amy Nicholson)

GO HAMLET Cassandra Johnson’s rough-and-tumble outdoor staging returns from its local premiere last summer, still anchored by David Melville’s impish Dane, who turns Hamlet’s grief into the tears of a clown. This year, the production appears a bit frayed around the edges, but even that fits the concept. Independent Shakespeare Company at BARNSDALL PARK, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; in rep, call for schedule; thru Aug. 12. (818) 710-6306. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

GO THE LAST CIGARETTE Angela (Mary McHale) is glamour incarnate. Her emerald-green dress, pearl necklace and bright red lipstick perfectly complement her innate grace. From across a bar, Howard (Jim Kohn) watches this beacon of old Hollywood panache as she smokes her cigarette and sips her martini. The sparely furnished set suggests that this interaction could take place at any bar in any city. Also, since the audience does not learn the characters’ names until the end of the play, Angela comes to represent every woman, and Howard, every man. When Howard finally approaches Angela, she blatantly rejects his advances, a move that only makes him want her more. He persists, she resists, and the banter that ensues is so witty and well delivered that it rivals Nick and Nora’s clever chatter in The Thin Man. Still, there is more to this play than playwright Steven Fechter’s crackling dialogue. In a series of brilliantly executed flashbacks, director Joey Tuccio allows a glimpse of the humanity that Angela masks with her impenetrable poise. A darkness lurks beneath the shiny surface of this charming flirtation, a darkness that subtly and accurately reveals the potency of human desire. LOUNGE THEATER, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (323) 513-3431. (Stephanie Lysaght)

GO LITTLE RED This musical adaptation of the story of the famous hooded heroine is both political and family friendly. The tale begins with Little Red (Natalya Oliver), a rebellious Latino teenager, charged with taking a picnic basket to her abuela’s house by her overbearing mother (Magi Avila), who wants her to carry on the generations-old family tradition. Red would rather attend a concert by the Jack B. Nimbles, and she only reluctantly agrees to travel through the Holly Woods to the Lost Angels. Along the way, she meets Corky (Marcel Olivas), a militant activist woodsman, his protean lime-green puppet friend, Bob (Michelle Zamora), and the villain of our tale, Don Coyote (Jean Pierre Garcia). While the book by Anthony Aguilar and Oscar Basulto deconstructs fairy tales in true Princess Bride fashion, the show plays more like Sesame Street — though not in a bad way. In fact, the audience interaction and puppetry make it a good choice for the younger set. Aaron Fischer’s music is appropriate, as are Rebekah Melocik’s lyrics, and Anthony Nelson’s direction makes good use of the small space. While its politics and moralizing make it obvious and heavy handed at times, Little Red nonetheless makes us want to root for it. CASA 0101, 2009 E. First St., Boyle Heights; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m. (added Sat.-Sun., noon, perfs start Aug. 5); thru Aug. 20. (323) 263-7684. (Mayank Keshaviah)

LIZARD Dennis Covington’s young-adult, coming-of-age novel follows the adventures of a teenager alienated from family and peers by his malformed face. The greatest pleasures of this musical adaptation by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon (who also directs) are the relationship scenes and songs showing how young “Lizard” (a soulful David Eldon) is taken in by a pair of children’s theater actors (the outstanding James Barbour and Laura Philbin Coyle). The thespians pull Lizard into their plan to stage an enormous production of The Tempest. Every scene between these three tugs at the heart — especially when Barbour lets go with his seasoned Broadway voice. But many of the larger scenes of Lizard’s picaresque journey through pain to self-realization wander more into showmanship and clever songwriting that don’t serve the story’s intent. As always, the ambition of Open at the Top Company is far-reaching, so even the less successful moments still engage theatrically, less so emotionally. Robbie Gillman’s musical direction and small combo beautifully serve the play and performers. All technical aspects are fine-tuned, particularly Craig Siebels’ set, centered on a huge tree that Lizard climbs to hide from the world. NOHO ARTS CENTER, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 3. (818) 508-7101. (Tom Provenzano)

GO LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST is among Shakespeare’s few “minor” works. It’s worth seeing it on the boards, first because productions are so rare, but mainly because it opens a window onto a little-known view of the Bard’s brain and heart. Simon Abkarian’s very French, starkly presentational staging, set against Ara Dabandjian’s original, moody accompaniment on acoustic guitar, treats the play as a sonnet about the friction between the tempests of love and the compulsions of duty, with great care given to Abkarian’s own choreography and visual tableaux, and Sarah Le Feber’s scrumptiously sexy costumes. A fine ensemble enacts the story of the King of Navarre (Matt Huffman) and three of his noblemen (Ethan Kogan, Daisuke Tsuji and Brian Kimmet) trying to uphold a ridiculous oath of abstinence when a French princess (Nancy Stone) and her entourage of ladies (Lolly Ward, Sabra Williams and Shana Sosin) show up. The saga unfolds around linens and lace and wispy curtains, which also allow for shadow plays. A Russian-themed masked ball that turns slapstick is part of a beautiful spectacle that nonetheless tests one’s patience. The influence of director Ariane Mnouchkine is unmistakable in a show that’s a long and winding road to a haunting, artfully ambiguous conclusion about the exigencies of love. Actors’ Gang at the IVY SUBSTATION, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (310) 838-4264. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

THE OBSESSION OF LUNA On the one day happily married real estate agent Raymond (writer-director Thomas Santiago) decides to drink and drive, he winds up smashing his car, killing his torch-singer wife, Kathy (Kitt Bennett), and crippling his football jock son, Elliot (Luis Arrieta). Elliot understandably blames his dad for his condition — and a guilt-racked Raymond decides to permanently stop taking the medication he’s been prescribed for a multiple-personality disorder. Shortly thereafter, at the Club Venus nightclub, Raymond’s foster brother, Josh (Brad Wilcox), becomes smitten by a mysteriously familiar, sultry lounge singer named Luna, who possesses a suspiciously manly voice in addition to other exotic attributes. Midway through, it becomes clear that Santiago is striving to echo the style and mood of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, as well as Latin American telenovelas. However, Santiago’s stilted writing isn’t up to the challenge: The disjointed situations and shallowly depicted emotions play like camp. Also, the acting suffers from some glaringly uneven and often histrionic performances, though poignant flashes of real personality are offered by Arrieta’s embittered son, and by Elizabeth Goodman as Luna’s jealous rival for Josh’s affections. THE COMPLEX, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 6. (310) 289-7413. (Paul Birchall)

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