Theater Reviews

 ALI: The Man, the Myth, the People’s Champion Short on insight but long on entertainment, performer Vincent Cook and director Anthony D. Spires’ co-written one-person show honors one of the world’s greatest boxers, both in and out of the ring. Cook, a former boxer himself, delivers a formidable performance as Muhammad Ali, reflecting on his childhood infatuation with the sport to his winning the world heavyweight championship to his stance against the Vietnam War that stripped him of his title. Along the way, Cook re-enacts Ali’s shameless self-promotion and inimitable wit with aplomb, especially when impersonating Ali’s verbal jousting and physical tormenting of his opponents. Cook’s gift of mimicry does equal justice to his turns as sportscaster Howard Cosell, promoter Don King, opponents Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, and others. Cook and Spires also reflect admirably on Ali’s own controversial civil rights struggles and conversion to Islam. However, the writers eschew delving deeply into Ali’s more intimate relationships and/or conflicts, such as those with Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammad or his several wives. Still, the show remains a heartfelt glimpse at a man who faced his battles with adversity, from racism to Parkinson’s disease, with deep reserves of playful humor, faith and audacity. THEATRE/THEATER, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (818) 992-6426. (Martín Hernández)

BROKEN GLASS Winner of the 1993 Olivier Award for Best Play, Arthur Miller’s mature work features Jewish characters who see themselves as through a broken mirror. At a time when Hitler is beginning to take over Europe, Sylvia Gellburg (Diedra Celeste), a beautiful housewife, suffers a sudden and mysterious paralysis, prompting her husband, Phillip (Robert Picardo), to seek the help of family friend Dr. Harry Hyman (Tom Ormeny). Harry is unable to find anything wrong with Sylvia, but his attachment to her compels him to continue treatment, leading all of the characters to explore the dusty corners of their relationships and reveal their deepest secrets. Due to his desperate worrying about his wife’s ailment, Phillip’s own health begins to degenerate, eventually leading to his collapse at work in front of his non-Jewish boss, whom he is desperate to impress. Phillip is reminiscent of Willy Loman, but his psychosis has more to do with his Jewish self-hatred and his inability to connect with his wife. The entire cast gives strong performances, and Shira Dubrovner’s direction allows the actors freedom to climb into their characters’ skins and do what comes naturally. THE VICTORY THEATRE CENTER, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., N. Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 3. (818) 841-5421. (Mayank Keshaviah)

CLEANSED The late Sarah Kane’s merciless theatrical portrait uses the setting of an insane asylum to shows the intersections of love, sex and psychosis. A sadist named Tinker (Jeremiah Heitman), posing as a doctor, tortures his inmates (Andrew McCarty, James Kopp and Kimberly Canfield), one of whom is haunted by the ghost of her drug-addicted brother (Jacob Wolber). Between scenes of the overlord submitting his wards to electro-shock therapy, hacking off their limbs and committing other acts of psychological barbarism, he seeks human warmth from a Woman (Caroline Clark) in a peep show booth. Director Roger Mathey’s graphically sexual and occasionally awkward staging, on Jason Rupert’s set of black and white quadrants, embodies the rawness of Kane’s relentless vision. See Stage feature next week. Seat of Your Pants Productions at THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 2. (310) 930-7254. (Steven Leigh Morris)

DIRK Like the book on which it’s based, the plot in this stage adaptation of Douglas Adams’ novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is nigh impossible to follow — but what fun it is to try. Adapted by James Goss and Arvind Ethan David, and innovatively staged by director Jeff Griffith, Dirk features a labyrinthine storyline embracing aspects of both 19th-century ghost stories and 21st-century science fiction. The title character, oddball detective Dirk Gently (Scot Burklin), speaks in clipped tones, often musing on matters like telekinesis and quantum mechanics that have only a tenuous connection to the already convoluted plot. This involves the inexplicable shooting death of a software company entrepreneur (Daniel R. Vasquez); suspicion falls on a naive former school chum of Dirk’s named Richard (Tripp Pickell), a swain of the dead man’s sister (Heather Williams). Besides the spot-on performances, the production is distinguished by its digital scenography (designer Anaitte Vacarro) adroitly interwoven with live action — one minute you see the characters on the screen and the next minute on stage — and by elaborate sound effects (David Marling and Lee Osteen) that underscore the bedlam. As a dotty professor, Carl J. Johnson stands out within an accomplished ensemble. ROAD THEATRE COMPANY, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 N. Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 2 (no perf Nov. 23). (866) 811-4111. (Deborah Klugman)

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THE GOLDEN WATCH CHAIN In Hurt McDermott’s tornado-powered farce, the players start shrieking three minutes in and don’t let up for two hours. They have much to be angry about. On the night self-help swami Page Turner (Kelley Hazen) will be crowned the first female recipient of the coveted Golden Watch Chain award for good citizenship, she’s beset by two blackmailers (Ryan Pfeiffer and Carmen Mormino), a mutinous personal assistant (Thomas Colby), a self-righteous nanny (Darlene Bel Grayson), some incriminating nudie photos from her days as Miss Tigress Euphrates, and her evil estranged twin (Hazen again, pluckily tearing up and around the circular playhouse in an ’80s power suit and sneakers). As the villains cross and double-cross, McDermott finds a few moments to insert clever digs at moral hypocrisy and hollow triumphs, and exponentially more moments to have his characters slam doors and scream. By opening the production with mayhem, co-directors Alexandra Billings and Chrisanne Blankenship-Billings sacrifice buildup for a sustained, but wearying, parade of clockwork entrances, exits and yelps, which the energetic ensemble devours like candy. Windy City Players at the GLOBE PLAYHOUSE, 1107 N. Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 960-1052. (Amy Nicholson)

{mosimage}JITNEY At a time when many playwrights embrace minimalism, the late August Wilson was an unregenerate maximalist, cramming every possible bit of life, passion, eloquent dialogue, rich digression and idiosyncratic character into his work. Here, he depicts life among the employees of a black-owned gypsy cab service in 1970s Pittsburgh. Hard-working manager Becker (James Avery) has become embittered because his much-loved son, Booster (Richard Brooks), has gone to prison for murdering a white woman who falsely accused him of rape. Peppery blabbermouth Turnbo (John Toles-Bey) can’t resist the impulse to mind other people’s business, but he’s quick to grab a gun when he feels he’s been dissed. Army vet Youngblood (Russell Andrews) strives to make his marriage to Rena (Lizette Carrión) work, and provide a home for their son, while alcoholic Fielding (Mel Winkler) can’t forget the wife who left him 22 years ago. A determination to preserve their jobs, pride and honor dominates their actions. There’s little plot in the traditional sense, but plenty of action and good talk. Director Claude Purdy creates a funny, intense, finely modulated production on Joel Daavid’s wonderfully detailed set. And the cast, including Bill Lee Brown, Alex Morris and Daryl Alan Reed, is near perfect. Stagewalkers Productions at THE LILLIAN THEATER, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 960-7721. (Neal Weaver)

LOST AND FOUND Playwright John Pollono attempts to explore the enduring significance of family connections in a soap-operatic work. The action unfolds in the comfortably appointed Massachusetts home of Eva Broncato (Suzanne Ford) that she shares with her two adult children, Marie (Jennifer Pollono) and Tommy (Pollono), a city cop with a bad attitude. Turmoil and discontent prevail. The recently widowed Eva contends with her own emotional frailty, plus Marie’s lacerating insecurities and Tommy’s abusive demeanor. Eva’s past comes knocking in the form of her son, Vincent (Michael Rex), whom she gave up for adoption 35 years ago, and who now wants to establish a relationship with the family. At this juncture, Pollono’s script veers into melodrama and tedium, focusing on Vincent’s homosexuality, Tommy’s affair with a married neighbor (Becky Wu) and Marie’s overwrought romantic problems — all of which feel more incidental than vital. Under John Flynn’s direction, the emotions don’t ring true in marginal performances. LOUNGE THEATER, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m; thru Nov. 5. (323) 960-7820. (Lovell Estell III)

NIGHTS ERRANT: A Fool’s Nocturne This two-man clown show, featuring Stephen Simon and Jon Monastero, is a wacky Dadaist trip. Simon is tall, feckless and unpredictable, while Monastero is short, brooding and mischievous. Under the slick direction of Bryan Coffee, they combine vaudeville, commedia dell’arte and clowning. In their first sketch, they embark on an airplane flight, during which they encounter (as stick puppets) the Space Station, a Halloween witch and the Little Prince before being shot down by Snoopy in his Red Baron mode. Later, they take refuge from an ominous storm (or maybe a war) in what might be a haunted house, or their home, or possibly a dream. They have an unfortunate tea party (the cream is rancid), and, growing weary, climb into their vertical bed. A large, mysterious box seems to contain an elevator, a staircase and various props, including bed clothes, a teddy bear and a storybook. They never speak — at least in words — but the teddy bear and the book do. After hiding in the box, Simon emerges in a black-beaded gown, leading to a giggly flirtation and a mock romantic pas de deux. It’s all very goofy, giddy, funny and executed with infectious charm. Ten West at SACRED FOOLS THEATER, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 281-8337. (Neal Weaver)

SHORT, HORNY AND PISSED Entertainment lawyer Tom Rubin is an affable comedian, and his standup routine — though starting from the premise that his failure to attract women for sex comes from his being so short — spins through topics ranging from being a bachelor to hernia surgery to dieting to growing up in New Jersey. Rubin’s sleek delivery offers a mix of some funny one-liners and those that sink, slowly, while he watches gamely from the spotlight. His shortness, however, may not be the true cause of his sex deprivation with women. It could be his self-proclaimed horniness that drives the gals away. Just a thought, which doesn’t seem to occur to Rubin. But rim shots aren’t really about insight, they’re about riding a wave of stereotypes, like a surfer, and at this Rubin is quite skillful. See Stage feature next week. PROMENADE PLAYHOUSE, 1404 Third St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (800) 595-4849. (Steven Leigh Morris)

{mosimage}TAXI TO JANNAH Mark Sickman’s terminally cute comedy about an Arab immigrant who’s driven by a dream of building a mosque in his community will leave viewers scratching their heads as to his motivation. Nasrudeen (Mueen Jahan) doesn’t seem like an especially devout Muslim, and there is already an established mosque in his neighborhood. Nevertheless, he squirrels away money from his taxi business and, with his father-in-law (Avner Garbi), starts paying rent on a crumbling black Baptist church whose pastor (Archie Lee Simpson) has decided to close before the city condemns and tears down his chapel. (Again, the questions: Why does Nasrudeen pay rent to a man who doesn’t seem to own the building? If the Rev. Johnson does own it, why is the city tearing it down, or why doesn’t he sell the property?) Most of the play, competently directed by Deborah Lawlor, consists of unconvincing setbacks that Nasrudeen suffers from contractors and a city bureaucrat (Sloan Robinson). A subplot involving his son Omar’s (Christopher David) being a target of Arab bashing fades in and out of focus, and Omar’s plight is never developed enough to make a clear statement about the issue. Instead, the taxi driver muddles through with his long-suffering wife (Anna Khaja) who’d rather have a dishwasher and new fridge than a mosque. At least we clearly understand her priorities. FOUNTAIN THEATRE, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 3. (323) 663-1525 or (Steven Mikulan)

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