Theater Reviews

Theatre Unlimited's Static

GO PICK STATIC and HIGHWAYS BIRTHDAY BASH As one character in the performance Static eats lunch and watches a TV news report about the atrocities of Darfur, a second character — similarly motionless — describes in detail the horrors she was subjected to as a victim of Darfur’s nightmare. When the victim appears on the TV screen, for a fleeting moment, the worlds of the two characters intersect. The production by the English company from Leeds, Theatre Unlimited, appears to be a political variation on a similarly stark two-character recitation by another innovative Midlands performance troupe — Forced Entertainment’s Exquisite Pain, about the essences of grief and heartbreak. The U.S. premiere of Static will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs of Michal Ronnen Safdie.” SKIRBALL CULTURAL CENTER, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri., Aug. 18, 8 p.m. (866) 468-3399 or

To celebrate Highways’ 17th birthday, dance troupe Diavolo, Method Contemporary Dance, Bradley Michaud and Jay Bartley, Holly Johnston, LABdp and Stephanie Nugent take the stage on Fri., Aug. 18, 8:30 p.m. On Sat., Aug. 19, 8:30 p.m., Holly Hughes returns with a “sapphic sampler” of new work, plus a presentation by Luis Alfaro. HIGHWAYS PERFORMANCE SPACE, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 453-1755. (Steven Leigh Morris)

BANG! Christian Kennedy’s extremely raw restaging of Anthony Mora’s perverse yet intensely human love story seems at first excruciatingly pedestrian. It slowly grows on you, thanks to a subterranean chemistry between actors Rico Simonini as an aging poser, John, and Jennifer Tetlow as Janie, the psychotic teenager he tries to protect from a cult. An improvisatory theater-vérité naturalism leads to some circular repetitions of dialogue that deflate the drama, further flattened by long, silent scene changes in the dark. Adapting his own novel, Mora hasn’t found the play’s dramatic form, and John’s motives remain dubious. So I can’t really explain why this story is so arresting. Perhaps it’s the noir view of psychologically untethered characters, and a refreshing unpredictability of what will happen from one minute to the next. The play also features Ann Convery and Roberto Sanz Sanchez. SIDWALK STUDIO THEATER, 4150 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 22. (818) 558-5702. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

GO CURTAINS Rupert Holmes, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s new musical. AHMANSON THEATER, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 10 (added perfs Aug. 24, 31 & Sept. 7, 2 p.m.; no 7:30 p.m. perfs Aug. 27 & Sept. 3 & 10). (213) 628-2772 or See Stage feature. DAYS OF WHINE AND ROSES Despite the silly-clever title, writer-performer Jessica Bern’s autobiographical monologue offers few roses, and the whines are more like snarls. As she tells it, her parents were nonobservant Jews, remote and uninterested; and her sisters, unfeeling ciphers. She gave her virginity as a Christmas present to a callow high school athlete who then dumped her before marrying a Catholic, whose mother “kept his balls in a glass on her nightstand.” “When I was fucking him,” she says, “I always felt like I was fucking my mother-in-law.” After a long struggle to conceive, she had a daughter, followed by a divorce, a failed online courtship and so on. Though the piece is called a comedy, and there are some laughs (and winces) of recognition, Bern views her characters with a jaundiced, harshly critical eye, which makes it hard to care about them or her. Under the aegis of director Paula Killen, Bern performs with considerable skill, but if she has learned anything from her adventures, she doesn’t reveal it. ELEPHANT LAB THEATER, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 31. (323) 960-1056. (Neal Weaver)

FAMOUS BLUE Eleven sketches by Phinneas Kiyomura provide a good showcase for the author of Lydia in Bed, although it’s uncertain what the draw for theatergoers is, since the anthology doesn’t jell as a unified event. Codirected by Andy Mitton and Sam Roberts on a barren set of gray platforms, a cast of six barefoot actors does its best work in Kiyomura’s more serious pieces. “Famous Blue Raincoat,” which opens the show, is an enigmatic, late-night conversation between two roommates who have evidently shared a relationship with a woman who has recently given them the slip. Actors Kiyomura and David Wilcox are both named Leonard, suggesting the roommates are actually two masks of one personality — one remorseful, the other laconic. (“Leonard” also pays homage to Leonard Cohen, from whose song the piece takes its name.) Kiyomura and Wilcox work their opposing personas into a tense dialogue that recalls early Pinter blackouts. Likewise, “Will,” a vignette about a woman (McKerrin Kelly) institutionalized by her own choice, is a melancholy reflection on freedom. (Other ensemble members include Scott McKinley, Nicholas S. Williams and Theresa Walsh.) On the other end of the spectrum is “Diabolical Enemy,” a disposable goof on animated superheroes that seems to have spun out of a Groundlings improv. Elsewhere in the bill, characters have names like Cain, Hero, Heroine, Wolf — requiring a viewer patience that is rewarded with fine acting but not always by clear storytelling. THEATER OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 16. (323) 856-8611. (Steven Mikulan)


FOODSEXWORKSLEEPGOD Writer-director Ron West’s satire of the myriad follies of modern society is a mélange eliciting both hearty laughs and considerable confusion. The eight-actor ensemble (Jamila Alina, Amelia Borella, Challen Cates, Chad Fifer, Bruce Green, Hepburn Jamieson, Aaron McPherson, Andrew Schlessinger) display commendable verve while blitzing through a flurry of scenes that, according to the press materials, is a “hybrid of one-act plays and improvisational devices.” Despite their energy and commitment, the actors aren’t in synch with one another, the tableaux meet each other in a sloppy dissonance, and some of the material is either flat or obtuse. Nonetheless, the group succeeds in putting the screws to such cultural icons as Brad Pitt, “from my cold, dead hand” Charlton Heston, and Jennifer Aniston fretting why she and Mr. Pitt didn’t have kids. There are also some funny parodies of group-therapy sessions, church support groups, health-food fanatics, racism, obscenely silly relationship snafus, and an Oleanna-inspired tête-à-tête between a college professor and his feisty student. The production, however, needs more biting, incisive writing and an overhaul of the staging. NEW OPEN FIST THEATER, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwyd.; Fri-Sat., 8p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 16. (Lovell Estell III)

GO JOANNA’S HUSBAND, DAVID’S WIFE The stage is set for yet another two-person play about marriage: A man and a woman, David and Joanna (Vaughn Armstrong and Lissa Layng), sit at “his” and “hers” desks, divided only by a large bed. Despite the standard-issue marriage set, however, this play is far from ordinary. It begins with David’s painful discovery that his wife, Joanna, has left him, and his subsequent decision to read her journal. Playwright Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey expertly weaves a series of flashbacks through David’s reading of the journal; because Norman Cohen’s staging of this revival production is as fluid as Forsythe Hailey’s dialogue, the jumps in time are never jarring. In the flashbacks, Layng plays a character half her age, yet she portrays young Joanna as heart-wrenchingly innocent and not at all cutesy. Armstrong, for his part, does an excellent job of navigating the tension between David’s stubborn pride and his desire to see his marriage through his wife’s eyes. Act 1 is a hard act to follow, literally, and Act 2 drags in places; still, Joanna’s Husband, David’s Wife is an original, soulful piece that stands out among the plethora of plays that explore the complexities of marriage. FREMONT CENTER THEATER, 1000 Fremont Avenue, S. Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (866) 811-4111. (Stephanie Lysaght)

LITTLE ARMENIA It was savvy of the Fountain Theater to commission a trio of Armenian poet-playwrights to write an homage to the community that surrounds the theater. The result, under Armina LaManna’s direction, is a somewhat insightful, somewhat generic collage of minidramas about how the process of assimilation into America crashes into various generations of Armenian-Americans. The performances are quite appealing, but the writers (Lory Bedikian, Aram Kouyoumdjian and Shahé Mankerian) haven’t found enough cultural idiosyncrasies to defy our expectations of what goes on in Hollywood’s Armenian enclaves. However, audiences from that neighborhood, seeing themselves reflected from the stage, may have a more enthusiastic view. FOUNTAIN THEATER, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 3. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

GO MUCH ADOOBIE BROTHERS ABOUT NOTHING Epitomizing the Doobie Brothers’ dreamy declaration — “What the people need is a way to make ’em smile” — this raucous Troubadour Theater Company production interweaves the Doobies’ music with Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing. It’s 1970s Garden Grove, not “China Grove,”where the Bard’s antics abound and where avowed bachelor Benedick (Eric Anderson) may well have met his match in the belligerent yet beguiling Beatrice (Jen Seifert). While Benedick trades barbs with Beatrice (their back-and-forth exchanges of “you’re so stupid” is a scream), fellow courtier Claudio (Joseph Leo Bwarie), and Beatrice’s cousin, Hero (Lynette Rathnam), get the hots for each other, an affair being thwarted by the evil Don John (director Matt Walker) — the bastard brother of Benedick and Claudio’s lord, Don Pedro (Darren Herbert). Along the way we are treated to the local constabulary’s Keystone Kop–style slapstick, Don John and his ludicrous lackeys’ nefarious plotting and, of course, tongue-in-cheek reworkings of Doobies’ tunes accompanied by Nadine Ellis’ vibrant choreography. Aided by director Walker’s clever staging in a limited playing space are Sharon McGunigle’s 1970s-meets-1570s costumes, and the cast’s improvisational dexterity. It all adds up to another laugh-filled triumph for the Troubies. MILES MEMORIAL PLAYHOUSE, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (310) 979-7196. (Martín Hernández)WATERMELON — GIT IT WHILE IT’S HOT!!! Writer-performer Cece Antoinette grew up in an all-black housing development in Dallas in the ‘60s. Delivered with warmth and energy, her autobiographical show recalls coming of age under her mom’s vigilant eye. An opinionated matriarch, her mother was determined to transform her tomboy daughter into a lady and to preserve her “watermelon” for her future husband-to-be. From childhood, Antoinette imagined herself a goddess in development, a notion she transposes here into a tongue-in-cheek conceit which frames (not always neatly) her anecdotes and impersonations. Among these are portraits of the charm school mistress who imbibed gin from a bottle of mouthwash and a Jewish schoolmarm who desperately struggled to prove her cool to her all black group of students. Antoinette’s comedic talents are unmistakable; under Joyce Guy’s direction, however, her pell-mell narrative would benefit greatly from more judicious pacing and clearer transitions. The show’s amateurish lighting design (no designer is credited), with spotlights that sometimes miss their target, is also a distraction. THEATER DISTRICT, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (323) 957-2343. (Deborah Klugman)


GO A YANKEE TRADER Strong performances ground this first staging of Kato McNickle’s promising but sketchy drama about a man, his wife, and a season of storms. On the cusp of the New England Hurricane of 1938, hardscrabble pitchman Dillon (Mark Arnold) swaps his emotional security for his physical safety: He offers up the protection of his wife Katie (Heidi Mages) and children (Jaymee Bishop and Sterling Beaumon) to Katie’s wealthy childhood sweetheart (Sean Mahon) in exchange for a fast car and an escape route from an attempted murder charge. Though the men never set terms, Dillon’s pride makes him vow that he’s not entitled to reclaim his bride of 13 years unless he returns the car unscratched. This inexplicable fit of stubbornness unleashes a maelstrom of arguments and, though ridiculous, is par for the course in this curious world where ostensibly sane and intelligent characters refuse to act in their best interests, holding out for ill-chosen desires beyond reason. Equally odd is the theme of Dillon’s ghostly mother pressing him to “know who you are.” (The answer is clear that he’s a congenital thug who hides his black ancestry — probably an inadvertent linkage that still made me uncomfortable.) Yet for all these quibbles, the play is a worthwhile and well-staged exploration of the destructive power of ego, aspiration, and poverty. EL PORTAL FORUM THEATER, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (866) 811-4111. (Amy Nicholson)


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