Theater Reviews

Urinetown (Photo by Michael Lamont Harlan)

{mosimage} PICK URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL Part political cartoon, part faux folktale, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis’ gloriously irreverent hit Broadway musical delivers a hilarious doomsday scenario. In an unnamed city, the water supply is exhausted, private toilets are outlawed and collective latrines — called Public Amenities — have been instituted on a punitive pay-as-you-go basis. Cue song: “It’s a Privilege to Pee!” Businessman Caldwell B. Cladwell (John Rubinstein) has grown rich by persuading a corrupt legislature to award control of the Amenities to his company, UGC (Urine Good Company). Young Bobby Strong (John Hemphill) leads The Poor in an insurrection against The Rich and their extortionate fees — but he’s also fallen in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Kelly Lohman). Soon, the sappily idealistic poor prove as disastrously misguided as the greedy rich, and the ending is uncompromising: “Urinetown is your town!” Like a crazed Brecht-Weill Lehrstücke, the piece dispenses its satire with a rigorously even hand. Director Calvin Remsberg keeps the touch light, and the ambiance zany. Tracy Powell’s frenetic choreography is all in the service of a production that sends itself up with metatheatrical glee. The score effectively evokes The Threepenny Opera, with forays into other genres including good-time gospel. Interact Theatre Company at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (818) 765-8732. (Neal Weaver)

ARLINGTON Garry Michael White’s long-winded antiwar play starts off looking two years into the future, and then traces U.S. militarism back through seven generations, six wars and one family. White’s worthy intention is to expose masculine duty as the spokes of cyclical warfare, in which sons feel pressured to fill their daddy’s regulation boots, even if Dad lost a limb or a life wearing them. Directors Curtis Krick and Sean Dillon have their hands full shaping White’s ambitious but digressive ramblings. (Time capsule snapshots include Vietnam War–era hippies chattering on about salads, and a WWII vet gaping at Judy Garland as she swills vodka and curses Louis B. Mayer.) Despite a large and enthusiastic cast, the production grows increasingly incoherent. Bogged down in the mix are a few fine ideas that could stand alone if given more development — most notably, Tricia Allen’s turn as a Korean War widow who refuses to bury her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. COMPANY OF ANGELS THEATRE, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 883-1717. (Amy Nicholson)

THE GIMMICK Writer/solo performer Dael Orlandersmith spins a universally poignant tale of friendship and creative aspiration in her story of two gifted and black Harlem street kids: hefty but internally fragile Alexis who loves books and words, and her equally vulnerable best friend Jimmy, a talented painter. Scapegoated at school, abused at home by their alcoholic (and in his case lecherous) parents, the children bond amid dreams of Left Bank exile and artistic glory — only to become painfully estranged when at 15 Jimmy gets to exhibit his work and begins an affair with a fashionably thin — and white — gallery manager. Studded with character and detail, both the piece and performer reach a stirring climax in depicting one teenager’s first experience of raw betrayal. As a writer, Orlandersmith is a poet and vivid storyteller, but, under Simon Levy’s direction, the performance rarely possesses a compelling urgency. Production values are minimal, and David B. Marling’s sound design distracts rather than enhances. FOUNTAIN THEATRE, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (323) 663-1525. (Deborah Klugman)

THE NIBROC TRILOGY: GULF VIEW DRIVE At the end of the prior play (See Rock City) of Arlene Hutton’s trilogy, troops were about to return from World War II to Corbin, Kentucky, threatening young schoolteacher May’s (Staci Michelle Armao) employment and her epileptic writer husband Raleigh’s (Gary Clemmer) prospects of a college education. Gulf View Drive (in its world premiere) fast-forwards to 1953 Florida, where the couple have landed. (Gary Lee Reed’s bungalow and garden set contains a slightly oppressive authenticity, with wild grasses poking through a slatted fence, and a cinder-block façade that suggests both home and prison.) The free-spirited Raleigh now sells his novels while schoolteacher May works with humorless intensity. May’s gentle mother (Linda Kerns) has been visiting since her husband died. The action starts rolling with the arrival of Raleigh’s meddling mother (Bonnie Bailey-Reed) — having lost her Kentucky farm after the death of her husband — and Raleigh’s spunky sister, Treeva (Deborah Lynn Meier), pregnant under very compromising circumstances. May and Raleigh’s marriage strains from too many dependent visitors and not enough space. There’s no hint of the McCarthy witch hunts that were in full swing at this time, but the play does dramatize the first throes of the civil-rights movement. (One character looks out toward the Gulf and forecasts a big storm coming.) The play is about family, the need for it and challenges to it. If you see it after See Rock City, you’ll find the same characters and actors and their quirks, growing ever so familiar, like in a sitcom that plays off the humor of Kentucky natives, like aliens, finding themselves beached and struggling for purpose. Marianne Savell gives this humane comedy a sparkling production, and the perfectly cast actors are on their game. Actors Co-op at the CROSSLEY THEATRE, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; in rep with Last Train to Nibroc and See Rock City, call for schedule; thru Nov. 26. (323) 462-8460. (Steven Leigh Morris)

PHAEDRA Jean Racine’s reinterpretation of Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus, in which queen Phaedra (Jenna Cole) is struck by incestuous cravings for her stepson Hippolytus (J. Todd Adams), receives a committed production here. It’s told in a breakneck 90 minutes on Michael Smith’s austere set that resembles a David Hockney pool crowned with a rectangular halo. Although director Sabin Epstein seems in tune with the story’s latent soap opera undercurrents, Richard Wilbur’s morose translation of rhyming couplets inevitably steers the actors into rigid deadpans. A NOISE WITHIN, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; schedule varies, call for info; thru Nov. 19. (818) 240-0910. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Mikulan)

THE PLAYGROUND With echoes of Rent, writer-director Michael Justen’s urban rock drama follows a group of homeless youths as they struggle to make it on the streets of Los Angeles. More of an MTV-era collage of street life than a meaningful examination of it, the show begins with one of the runaways aggressively panhandling the audience (front-row dwellers, be warned). In the next scene, the cast is scattered across the stage in a dramatic snapshot of runaway life. From there, with the aid of rock music and gritty video clips, the characters’ stories unfold. The complex plot includes pregnancy, rape, molestation, prostitution, homosexuality, infidelity, drug overdose, suicide and more. This too-massive undertaking leaves many components of the story underdeveloped. Still, the show is visually pleasing. Aaron Gaffey’s set is a striking montage of graffitied staircases, chainlink fences and dirty pavement. And director Justen’s production includes some beautiful singing and impressive breakdancing. An 11:11 Experiment at the UNKNOWN THEATER, 1110 N. Seward St., Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 466-7781. (Stephanie Lysaght)

RABBIT HOLE Through streams of taut, colloquial dialogue, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Tony Award–nominated play unwaveringly scrutinizes the emotional layers of grief in coping with despondency. If this were music, it would be like variations on a theme. Precocious Izzy (Missy Yager) tells her older sister Becca (Amy Ryan) about how she slugged a woman in a bar. Slowly the truth slips out of Izzy that she was sleeping with the woman’s boyfriend, and now Izzy is pregnant. This comes on the heels of Becca having lost her 4-year-old son in a car accident, after the boy chased the family dog into the street: One child gone; another on the way. Such is life. Now, what do we do with it? Will Becca’s marriage to Howie (Tate Donovan) survive? Is it better to hide all evidence of the late child, or to fill the home — no, it’s not home anymore, but a house — with reminders? Husband and wife have completely contrary ways of interacting with the teenage driver (a particularly sensitive portrayal by Trever O’Brien) who struck the child and is now consumed by remorse. Meanwhile, Ryan’s performance reveals the quiet, penetrating agony of a life now fueled by rage and despair. Also, Joyce Van Patten has a nice turn as the sisters’ nutty mother. The play shrinks somewhat inside Alexander Dodge’s lavishly ornamented two-tier set, so that this play of grand emotions feels stuffed inside a soap opera. Carolyn Cantor directs. GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 22. (310) 208-5454. (Steven Leigh Morris)

TWO ROOMS IN THE VALLEY Don Scribner’s world-premiere solo performance engages the audience as he relates anecdotes in a folksy manner from a set that is built to look like his two-room San Fernando Valley apartment. Surrounded by the artifacts of his life, Scribner takes us down memory lane, pingponging between his adult experiences and his childhood. He accompanies his stories on guitar, playing original songs that highlight his smooth voice. Unfortunately, the stories soon wear thin and begin to sound like those from the guy you didn’t really know in high school describing his glory days at the reunion. The many characters who populate the show all sound the same, and some Garrison Keillor–esque tales from the Midwest lack the insight or subtlety of A Prairie Home Companion. Scribner’s humor goes begging for laughs, and even when Scribner lets us into the true emotional heart of the piece, he yanks us out before we get uncomfortable. Audrey M. Singer’s direction is adequate, but Scribner’s earnest performance proves that even the path to boredom is paved with good intentions. ACTORS FORUM THEATRE, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (818) 506-0600. (Mayank Keshaviah)

A YEAR WITHOUT SPRING Writer-director Andy Mitton’s problematic black comedy takes place in a not-so-distant future blanketed by perpetual winter. In a dingy apartment, Razi (Mariah Sussman) sleeps amid empty boxes, dead plants, piles of dirty laundry and heaps of unopened mail — until she’s awakened by electric company worker Lionel (Robert Youngs), who’s arrived to shut off her power. An overly chatty compulsive liar, Razi delays Lionel from his task because she has romantic designs on him. Shortly into their “date,” her old acquaintance Cody (Eric Bloom) shows up, telling her he’s AWOL from the USMC, with Officer Dan (Jim Nieb, understudying for Michael Laurino) on his tail. Mitton’s direction isn’t the problem; the writing is. The character of Razi is so obnoxious that it’s hard to invest any emotion in her. Sussman demonstrates range in the quieter moments of the play, but it’s not enough to compensate for the character’s emotional immaturity. The play also hints at a vague political message, but it’s buried underneath the clutter. Sight Unseen Theatre Group at the ODYSSEY THEATRE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 8. (877) 986-7336. (Sandra Ross)

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