Telling Tale: Playwright Heather Woodbury Photo by Nick Amato
Telling Tale: Playwright Heather Woodbury Photo by Nick Amato

Theater Reviews

CRACK WHORE, BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Three actresses play various facets of a single character in Marnie Olson’s one-act about body image. The play ponders the chicken-or-the-egg question: Which came first? The depression or the eating disorder? Mary Pascoe plays the Girl-Next-Door, the pretty, popular one who always gets noticed. As the Crack Whore, Kirsten Severson also gets noticed but for the wrong reasons. Playwright Olson plays the Fat Girl who binges and purges, trying all the while to fill the massive void inside her. All three women have internalized the message that it’s best to “be small, be invisible.” Caroline Marshall’s seamless direction allows the blending of the three women into a single voice — one performer starts a line of dialogue but another finishes it. The male characters are all played by Anthony Cran, who shines in a variety of thankless roles. Red-Headed Angels in association with Roadkill Productions at PSYCHIC VISIONS THEATRE, 3447 Motor Ave., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 14. (310) 535-6007. (Sandra Ross)

PLAYING WITH MY MOTHER Marc Ketchum’s confused and confusing comedy centers on college boy Marty (Graham Norris), who’s plagued by a bullying, manipulative mother, Hope (Kristin Pfeifer). She constantly addresses him as “Little Motherfucker,” belittles his girlfriends and his absent father, and carries on an affair with an offstage lover. Marty’s also hounded by his faculty adviser, Ridley (Skip Pipo), about the autobiographical play he is writing for his Fast Track Humanities course. Megalomaniac Ridley, obsessed with sex, degradation and Emily Dickinson, insists on making the play ever darker, incorporating the notion that Marty is incestuously involved with Hope, and that she pimps him out around the neighborhood. Hope’s ghost (after she has conveniently died) tries to wrest control of Marty’s play for herself: While Ridley attempts to portray her as a monster, she insists in seeing herself as a model mother. These various versions of “the truth” are acted out psycho-drama style, and the action becomes increasingly far-fetched. The actors are game and navigate their way through the tale’s dizzying contradictions with considerable skill, and Ketchum’s script provides some funny scenes, but we’re not left with much when it’s over. Flight Theater at THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (323) 662-7986. (Neal Weaver)

READY, AIM, YOU’RE FIRED! When Our Beloved CEO (Norman Ingar) strides in to the workplace of Jeremy Kehoe’s comedy and says, with swaggering glee, “I’m here to impose some irrational fear into our anonymous employees,” you get a hopeful glimpse of what kind of social satire the play might have been. Unfortunately, it’s a flat-footed sitcom that focuses on Barbara Brooks’ (Stacey Miller) de-evolution from ding-dong to hatchet woman, rewarded with an “employee of the month” certificate and other stupid gifts for her ability to fire employees at the will of the boss, Mr. Mann (Robert Gallo). The reason behind all the firings appears to be unfettered sadism, and the play lampoons the conviction that cruelty is a noble corporate quality, and that drones will sell their souls for compliments and gifts from on high. We’re never told what services or products this company offers, and this lack of specificity renders the play’s truths as more reductive than penetrating, while Richard Alan Woody’s remedial direction has most of the actors staggering through some dreary one-liners. At least Miller’s comedic, bewildered attitude has its charms, but when she fires off the cap gun she uses to dispatch the unfortunate, half the time it misfires — talk about a metaphor. NOHO ACTORS’ STUDIO, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 8. (818) 761-5520. (Steven Leigh Morris)

SEX, DRUGS AND MINIVANS The typical Lisa Ann Orkin tale is a monologue you’d overhear at brunch — a stream of consciousness gush that makes room for offensive jokes but none to take a breath. Her topics are de rigeur for a divorcée: ex trauma, meddling mothers and changing bodies with unfamiliar terrains of back hair. What sets her apart is her charismatic delivery and willingness to plumb her most embarrassing depths (mainly stalking and an awful lot of pot smoking), which makes her feel like the insta–best friend you just hugged in the ladies room. Her latest show punctuates itself with cheery anthem rock that underscores her climb out of postdivorce depression, sung karaoke style by her, Nora Linden Titner and Carol Ann Thomas — pals from temple — while Michael James bangs the drums and Geri Fanilli pounds the keys. Orkin’s sagas tend to overstay their welcome — particularly when she runs through every disastrous speed-dating matchup — yet by the sheer force of her personality, she herself never does. Threaded into the breezy evening are a surprising number of sensitive and revelatory moments springing from the failing health of her 92-year-old aunt and the rock bottom she hits that involves an airplane, three Xanax and a hot-sauce salesman. Orkin may claim to avoid men with depth, but her still bong waters run deep. FAKE GALLERY, 4319 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 21 (no perf Sept. 30). (323) 661-0786. (Amy Nicholson)

SIDES: THE FEAR IS REAL The nightmare of the actors’ audition/performance keeps coming around — once, it was Christopher Durang’s turf in The Actor’s Nightmare — but here Mr. Miyagi’s Theatre Company of New York gives it a whirl in its ensemble-written sketch comedy about the horrors of auditioning. The cast’s vivacity and charm helps compensate for the obviousness of the complaints — idiotic casting assistants who, while reading their sides, draw more attention to themselves than to the auditioner; the terror of being caught clueless in a dance audition and so on. Director Anne Kauffman adds some nice visual touches, such as actors in a casting call wearing competing sweatshirts — “Yale” and “Juilliard.” Among the highlights is the physical humor of the perspiration seeping through Paul H. Juhn’s snappily pressed slacks and collar shirt. When he turns his back, you can see the moisture cascading in a strip from the base of his spine through his buttocks. Having entered the audition, he drops his change, and spends half his audition time on his hands and knees picking it up, coin by coin. Painfully funny. Most of the humor, however, is considerably more generic — so familiar in either experience or folklore, its bite is toothless. The fine cast also includes Sekiya Billman, Cindy Cheung, Peter Kim, Hoon Lee and Rodney To. Mr Miyagi’s Theatre Company and EAST WEST PLAYERS, 120 Judge John Aiso St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (213) 625-7000 or (Steven Leigh Morris)

PICK TALE OF 2CITIES: AN AMERICAN JOYRIDE ON MULTIPLE TRACKS UCLA Live opens its fifth International Theatre Festival on an epic scale: In the Freud Playhouse, Heather Woodbury’s Tale of 2Cities unfolds in two parts, viewed over two evenings or on a single day with a break for dinner; meanwhile, across campus at Royce Hall, the Suzhou Kun Opera Theater of Jiangsu Province presents its three-part, 16th-century work, The Peony Pavilion. Those who were around for A.S.K. Theatre Projects’ 2001 Common Ground Festival will remember Woodbury strutting the Freud stage with a very early solo version of her Tale — a study of multiple characters in Los Angeles and New York crashing into each other over decades. The work’s serial nature came on the heels of Woodbury’s award-wining 1998 performance novel, What Ever: An American Odyssey. Now, several years and grants later, Woodbury is recipient of the first-ever Spalding Gray Award for performance, jointly presented by UCLA Live and New York’s PS 122, where Tale will transfer after its L.A. debut. In this hugely modified version, several actors join Woodbury onstage. Woodbury says that years ago, while walking the hills around Dodger Stadium, she was struck by the ghosts evicted by local history, and those impressions became the genesis of Tale. “It goes back in time quite a bit, but it’s about contemporary people and their lives as well. What happened on both coasts was part of this huge, slow but monumental wave that really altered our sense of neighborhood and what a city is.” UCLA, Freud Playhouse, Part 1 opens Sat., Sept. 30, 2 p.m.; Part II, 7 p.m.; perfs Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 8. (310) 825-2101 or (Steven Leigh Morris)

TONIGHT AT 11! Though Fritz Coleman is probably best known as the weather commentator for KNBC for the last 24 years, he has also worked as a standup comic and written two previous solo plays, It’s Me! Dad! and The Reception. Here he takes a critical-satirical look at the TV news biz, importing voice-overs from several broadcast veterans, including newswoman Penny Griego and helicopter pilot-reporter Chip Paige. Coleman mocks his own position as “a weatherman in a city that has no weather,” and concedes that he is not a licensed meteorologist (“which means I can’t turn on the Doppler radar without another adult present”). He reminds us that TV news is a business, which can’t function without the sale of eight minutes of expensive commercials for every 22 minutes of real programming, and it serves up disasters and violence because that’s what most of us want to see. Some of his comments may be predictable or overly cute, but he also considers the responsibilities of the news organizations, their overinflated claims and their annoying “teasers” designed to keep us from tuning out during commercials. His style is laid back, charming and lightly ironic, and director Richard Kline keeps the wheels turning smoothly. FALCON THEATRE, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (818) 955-8101. (Neal Weaver)

TWO IN A ROOM Writer-director Caroline Gordon-Elliott’s pair of darkly comedic one-acts posits that escaping undesirable situations is possible but not always easy. In The High and the Mighty, capricious Walter (Brandon Epland filling in for Chris Valenti) wants to get rich quick, much to the consternation of his more grounded and long-suffering girlfriend, Lisa (Amy Esacove). When Walter asks his successful Wall Street buddy, Rich (Bob Levitan), for a loan to finance his dubious plan, Lisa’s altruism and Rich’s materialism clash. Meanwhile, Rich’s flighty actress girlfriend Elaine (a hilariously vapid Paige Handler) finds more appreciation from the naive Walter than the venal Rick. Gordon-Elliott’s razor-sharp wit hits the mark throughout, especially when Rich and Elaine trade profanity-laden barbs that sexually excite the other. In Sunday Alibi, the agoraphobic Cammie (Victoria Prescott) and the bitchy queen Sebastian (Byrne Offutt) are constantly at each other’s throat while a silent Jane (Di Koob) watches TV or does jigsaw puzzles. But the vitriolic insults, both achingly funny and sad, eventually get tedious, with Cammie’s final rant serving to transfer her own lack of self-esteem upon the ostensibly silent Jane. Butch Hammett is a sympathetic mailman who may well be Cammie’s salvation from her suicidal ambitions. Running Fools Productions at THE ELEPHANT LAB, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 960-7745. (Martín Hernández)

 WHAT TO WEAR If Robert Wilson is the gold standard for contemporary spectacle, then Richard Foreman represents the 99-cent store end of the spectrum, an eccentric auteur rummaging through the Styrofoam and cardboard detritus of pop culture. He and composer Michael Gordon have created a minimalist opera based on an enigmatic, repetitious libretto whose central character (or rather, whose idea of a central character), Madeline X, endures a kind of fashion torture by the rulers of style. I’ve probably already overstated its meaning because narrative is the show’s most elusive commodity — it’s better to think of it as an ether dream in which a chorus and “movement ensemble,” nightmarishly costumed by E.B. Brooks in a version of the plaid skirts Britney Spears once popularized, are armed with striped golf woods and skulls on poles. The evening is sung through by Sarah Chalfy, Harmony Jiroudek, Marja-Liisa Kay and Marc Lowenstein, who are dressed in what seem to be accessorized hotel housecleaner uniforms, while the stage is often dominated by images of ducks that both menace and are menacing. As a diversion it works for its 65-minute length — if it lasted a minute longer you’d want to cut your throat. When asked at the next MOCA opening what What to Wear was about, viewers will get by with saying something like, “It is what it is.” But then, almost any answer would be the truth — or at least, in this age of artistic shrugs, would not be a lie. REDCAT, W. Second & Hope sts., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sun., 8:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 1 (Oct. 1 perf, 3 p.m.). (213) 237-2800. (Steven Mikulan)


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