Theater Reviews

The Four Man Plan: A Romantic Science

BRIDAL TERRORISM/THE BALCONY SCENE These revivals of two one-act plays present a relationship-themed double feature. Bill Rosenfield’s flimsy comedy, directed by Lewis Hauser, is based on the idea that women over 35 have a better chance of being victims of a terrorist attack than they have of getting married. Taking this concept to heart, May (Genevieve Adell), a member of the Bridal Terrorism Party, plans her wedding and sets herself a deadline for finding a groom, whom she searches for in Central Park. She meets Lionel (Leo Belldaere) and, along with her family, spends the play trying to convince him to marry her. While we sympathize with May’s frustration of “being single and straight in New York,” the play offers little beyond a few laughs. Similarly, Wil Calhoun’s play about a budding balcony romance between Karen (Stephanie Carr), a perky advertising executive, and Alvin (Brian Greene), an agoraphobic writer, goes through the motions without saying much. After Karen befriends the misanthropic Alvin, there is a lot of talk, but very little action until the last 15 minutes or so, when Karen’s ex-boyfriend shows up. The promise of drama gets undercut by the sappy ending, which instead serves up simple, saccharine resolutions. Bryan Keith directs. Vagabond Players Theater Company at THE RAVEN PLAYHOUSE, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 2. (818) 206-4000. (Mayank Keshaviah)

CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA Stunning costumes by Shon LeBlanc, Jack Arky’s arresting sound design and a visually spectacular prologue and backdrop by production designer Joel Daavid cannot salvage this dull rendering of G.B. Shaw’s play about two famous ancient rulers. Rife with Shavian contradiction, Caesar (Henry Olek) is a smart, down-to-earth workaholic, more given to diplomacy than violence (oh, for such a man in today’s Middle East). Past 50 — and very cognizant of it — he’s less interested in bedding Cleopatra (Susan Priver) than in tutoring her in the principles of being a sound monarch. One of Shaw’s more irritating heroines, the 16-year-old Egyptian queen is by contrast childish, small-minded and manipulative — qualities that Shaw may have intended to be offset with adolescent charm but that here start to grate, given Priver’s maturity. Olek likewise misses the mark in exuding an overly genial persona that suggests little of the character’s ability to govern or command. A lot of the dialogue struck me as stilted, but Gregory Franklin as Plotinus, Cleopatra’s ruthlessly purposeful enemy, and Ben Jurand as Caesar’s straight-arrow companion overcome that. Carol Ries directs. LILLIAN THEATER, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (323) 297-4602. (Deborah Klugman)

DAMES AT SEA Countertenor R. Christofer Sands and Kelly Bozcek (as, respectively, a 1930s Broadway diva and a perky ingénue) can carry a tune with authority in this revival of George Haimsohn, Robin Miller and Jim Wise’s 1968 musical, but the authority pretty much ends there. The show-biz valentine concerns the yes-we-can ensemble of a musical within the musical, as bulldozers move in on opening night to level the debt-ridden theater. Director Beau Puckett saturates his production with crotch-grabbing tableaux and sexual puns, loading up phrases such as “We’re staying all night until we lick this thing” with a winking double-meaning that shatters all innocence. The vivacious ensemble pokes us in the ribs with its shtick, proving that enthusiasm and glee cannot compensate for lack of timing, pedestrian voices and remedial dancing, bludgeoned by tinny musical direction and flickering lights. Act 2, however, is an improvement on the shoddy standard established in Act 1. KNIGHTSBRIDGE THEATER, 1944 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (323) 667-0955. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS Norbert Leo Butz reprises his mind-bogglingly over-the-top 2006 Tony Award–winning performance as sad-sack con artist Freddy, in Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek’s musical adaptation of the 1988 film that starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Tom Hewitt plays Lawrence, Freddy’s suave partner-in-crime — a seducer of women for their fortunes on the French Riviera — and the story centers on a bet they make to see who can first fleece a woman they presume to be a dumb cluck from Ohio (Laura Marie Duncan). The lavish production, born in San Diego’s Old Globe Theater and crisply staged by its artistic director, Jack O’Brien, is a nod to vaudeville — from Butz’s tour de force sketch in which he tries in vain to bite off a piece of beef jerky until he’s writhing in circles on the floor, to Freddy’s rescue of Lawrence from a marital commitment by inventing and then impersonating (for the horrified fiancée’s benefit) Lawrence’s idiot brother, a drooling sloth named Ruprecht who farts into jars and who must live near Lawrence or the marriage is off. To win his bet, Freddy tries to woo the female victim’s sympathies by rolling around in a wheelchair, pretending to have paralyzed legs — until Lawrence shows up straight from the borscht belt as Viennese Dr. Shüffhausen, a sadist eager to give his mortified patient a physical to see if any feeling in his legs might have returned. Yazbek’s light ballads and lyrics are filled with a pleasingly skewed romanticism (“I knew a guy who once ate his T-shirt on a dare/Nothing is too wonderful to be true”), Hewitt and Duncan’s voices are glorious, and the ensemble floats in unison to Jerry Mitchell’s choreography. Where Steve Martin’s Freddy was a clown with a sappy heart, Butz plays him as so merciless, even Lawrence is shocked — and that’s a telling improvement. Broadway/L.A. at the PANTAGES THEATER, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (213) 365-3500. Also at ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Tues., Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m.; perfs Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (714) 556-2787. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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GO THE FOUR MAN PLAN: A Romantic Science At Cindy Lu’s romantic nadir, her fairy godmother gave her a scolding. “You’re Chinese — you’re good at math,” she said, and ordered Lu off to develop the Theory of Lovetivity. Though tighter and funnier than most one-woman shows, what begins as a typical examination of dating, therapy and daddy issues takes a welcome turn when Lu slides into a lab coat, wheels out an A.V. cart and flips on an overhead projector. As she explains the methodology behind “4(m)p = u+1,” the two numbers and three variables that landed her a fiancé, the wall dividing art and infomercial threatens to crumble (her manual is for sale in the lobby). If Lu isn’t an advocate of theatrical purity, she’s at least an engaging and bawdy imp. Single ladies will be emboldened by her rational and sound hypothesis on the sexual sciences, though the fun flags when Lu feels obligated to prove it by talking at length about the spiritual connections between her and Earl, the love of her life. Paul Linke directs. RUSKIN GROUP THEATER, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 & 10 p.m.; thru Sept. 2. (310) 397-3244. (Amy Nicholson)

GO I HAVE BEFORE ME A REMARKABLE DOCUMENT GIVEN TO ME BY A YOUNG LADY FROM RWANDA Sonja Linden’s play looks at a Rwandan refugee’s (Erica Tazel) shaky attempts to confront, through writing, the loss of her family during her country’s genocide. Emotionally blocked from taking a personal measure of her tragedy, Juliette runs smack into another kind of international hazard — the Burned-Out British Poet, here named Simon (Louis Lotorto), a man who encourages her to find her voice even as his own writing and marriage have ossified. This story of unimaginable horror is told in the simplest terms, with Linden mostly avoiding the traps of mentor-protégé plays. David Rose’s tight direction steers the evening away from sentimental gestures, and Tazel turns in an especially vivid performance. COLONY THEATER, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 17. (818) 558-7000. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Mikulan)

PARK WORLD Writer-director-performer Caley Bisson’s fable about innocence and experience follows two individuals who journey to an enchanted locale, first as children and then as adults. Dressed in school uniforms, Augustus (Bisson) and his companion April (Megan Rosati) murmur incantations and drink a magic potion before traveling to four distinct lands: Rose World, Sand World, Pond World and Dish World — subdivisions, apparently, of the titular Park World. The two enjoy a chaste kiss and pledge eternal friendship, but when Augustus loses his magic stick, he’s banished from the enchanted surroundings. Act 2 takes place 10 years later when Augustus and April wake up to find themselves in Park World again, but the angry, jaded adults don’t immediately recognize each other. The script has some charm, evoking a childlike sense of wonder in the early scenes, but playwright Bisson never follows up on intriguing references to “fascists” and “what’s out there.” More critically, director Bisson needs to develop more emotional shading in Act 2. Scene changes are particularly awkward, with the actors struggling to position heavy background flats in the dark. Bissonica Productions at the WHITMORE-LINDLEY THEATER CENTER, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (818) 761-0704. (Sandra Ross)

SECOND THOUGHTS Writer-director-composer-performer Tony Tanner’s intimate revue may be the first musical to feature a copy of AARP The Magazine as an important prop. The show, self-described as being “songs and sketches about the fun of being 21 no more,” is the latest in a spate of shows performed by mature actors for the delectation of our growing older audiences. The cast of four (Angela DeCicco, Lloyd Pedersen, Bobbi Stamm and Tanner) displays versatility and verve, with slick and precise piano accompaniment by musical director David E. Cole, assisted by violinist Vera Budinoff. Most, but not all, of the sketches deal with love and romance, both straight and gay, marital and extramarital. “My First Boy” concerns an older woman’s delight at recruiting a young hustler she’s putting through college, “I’m Getting Unmarried in June” dramatizes the joys of divorce, and Tanner provides himself with some clever patter songs, including “The Pumps Are by Cardin” and “I Should Have Worn Red.” The wry and rueful production is well designed to amuse its target audience, but it may prove a harder sell for younger crowds. Paula Higgins provides the stylish couture. LONNY CHAPMAN GROUP REPERTORY THEATER, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (818) 700-4878. (Neal Weaver)


TWELFTH NIGHT The “louder and faster” approach of director Justin Eick is often effective in this energetic redux of Shakespeare’s comedy of love, gender and mistaken identity. Shipwrecked high-born lady Viola (Carrie-Ann Pishnak) pretends to be a boy in the court of Duke Orsino (Justin Scheuer) and act as a go-between to woo the recalcitrant object of his love, Olivia (Jennifer Hoyt). As producers and stars, Pishnak and Hoyt enjoy the bulk of this version’s cutting and successfully carry off some highly original takes on these characters, imbuing them with liveliness and humor. The other characters don’t fare so well. Though cast with good actors, they are relegated to two dimensions, having little growth to illustrate the familiar story. Most disappointing is the handling of Malvolio (Eric Thompson), Olivia’s snide steward who becomes the butt of the play’s low-born jokes. While Thompson creates a funny persona, his Malvolio seems more of a pathetic, imbecilic twit than a mean-spirited snob who needs bringing down — so when he is brought down there’s no glee, just embarrassment. Eick’s biggest mistake is staging an inordinate number of comic moments on the floor in a space that blocks the view from anyone not in the first row. Physically the play is decorated with lovely (uncredited), simple Elizabethan costumes. LOST STUDIO, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 2. (323) 933-6944. (Tom Provenzano)

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