MABOU MINES DOLLHOUSE The men in director Lee Breuer and performer Maude Mitchells bawdy, touring adaptation of Ibsens play tower at around 4 feet high. Meanwhile, the little turtledove women, so in need of protecting, float around them with about two more feet of height. Sometimes they hold the little men in their arms, while the fellas particularly Mark Provinellis glorious Torvald patronize them. You wont find a more direct satirical hit on the strutting self-importance of the male gender, whose very biological and emotional purpose has grown increasingly dubious in the past half century. Narelle Sissons set places the action in a dolls house with miniature furniture, which opens into the stage of an opera house. The ensemble speaks in fake Norwegian dialect (job becomes yob, joy becomes yoy) adding to a string of verbal and visual puns floating on Breuers wrenching conceit, like foam on the sea. Playing Edvard Grieg etudes on an electric piano, Ning Yu accompanies the action, which is something between a clown show and a ballet, drawing out the innate melodrama of Ibsens text and puffing up the core emotions to a grandiloquence thats almost as large as the mens egos. Mitchells blond featherbrain Nora emerges like a lioness from her innocuous shell, while Honora Fergusson Neumanns dark-haired, smoky voiced Kristine Linde works in perfect counterpoint. Theres never been A Dolls House quite like this, which is its soaring virtue. The Mabou Mines presented by UCLA Live at the Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, UCLA, Wstwd.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (310) 825-2101 or www.UCLALive.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)
(Photo by Richard Termine)MAGIC FLOWERS Like many a holiday confection, playwright-director Bill Sterritts romantic Christmas comedy is more sweet than fulfilling. A modern-day big-city Scrooge, Ethel (Amanda Niles), finds little about Christmas to be merry. She is lonely, bereft of love and claims never to get what she wants (though she has a pretty good gig with an ad agency). When a mysterious Man (Jonny Kahleyn) knocks on her door on Christmas Eve and tries to sell her magic flowers that guarantee romance, the skeptical Edith acquiesces only after the Man tearfully begs her to buy his blooms. Lo and behold, within seconds, Ralph (John Gorman), a handsome co-worker and the agencys golden boy, makes an unexpected visit. Despite Ethels supposed dislike for Ralph, she lets him in, and you dont need to be the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come to know what happens next. Considering this is the 25th anniversary production of Sterritts half-hour piece, its a shame he hasnt used some of those years to develop his characters and their dialogue especially the one-liners. Still, Niles and Gorman make an appealing enough couple that truly personifies the adage dont judge a book by its cover. STUDIO/STAGE, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m.; bring a new toy for Toys for Tots and admission is free); thru Dec. 16. (323) 463-3900. (Martín Hernández)
RICKY JAY & HIS 52 ASSISTANTS The assistants referred to in the title are the cards in a deck. No need to go into how many fellas wound up on Boot Hill because of them. Perhaps none of this would have happened had Mr. Jay been anywhere about. One audience member correctly opined that Jay knows cards and card tricks as well as the Pope knows theology and the Bible. Jay not only can call cards from the deck, he can position them to draw out all aces, or any other combination that will beat your hand. The man is an affable card shark, happily disposed to throw out an anecdote or two about some of the great card handlers of yore and how he learned from them. If youre not familiar with the myriad games in his act, no problem; he gives clear explanations. Of the many tricks that he pulled off with puzzling ease, none was more breathtaking then his tossing a deck of cards in the air, and then predicting the suit and number of the two he randomly caught. Some of the stuff seems repetitive, but that doesnt take the luster off an amazing show. David Mamet directs with just the right easy touch. GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE (Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater), 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 27. (310) 208-5454. (Lovell Estell III)
THE ROADS TO HOME Madness and infidelity tear at two households in Horton Footes tender elegy to Texas family life in the 1920s. In Footes world the men doze, philander or make money while their women get through existence with the crutch of church and the narcotizing tonic of gossip. His three-scene tale is bookended by the slide into insanity of young Annie Gayle Long (Jenny Dare Paulin) and her eventual residence at a state mental asylum. A fine ensemble shoulders director Scott Paulins memorable production; especially notable are Laura Richardson and Wendy Phillips in the roles of two middle-aged wives keeping house long after the heat has left their marriages. LOST STUDIO, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (323) 871-5830. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.
ROCKERS Veteran TV writer Sherwood Schwartzs appealing comedy revolves around three elderly women in a retirement home: curmudgeonly Kate (Pat Crawford Brown), unflagging in her rants against bad food and duplicitous men; openhearted Rose (Elsa Raven), a Jewish matron who greets each day smiling; and vulnerable Louella (Lee Meriwether), a soft-spoken Southern lady nostalgic about the past. Far the most interesting character, Kate longs to quit the home to live with her daughter, Peggy (Arden Teresa Lewis) an option resisted by Peggy who quite reasonably fears her mothers intrusive opinions and prickly tongue. The piece garners points for keeping a lid on the shtick and for spotlighting the isolation of the elderly and the conflicts it engenders. None of this is explored with any depth, however, either in the script or by director Marcia Rodd. As the grousing malcontent, Brown grabs the limelight and never lets go. Ravens solid performance is regrettably diluted by a phony-sounding Yiddish accent, while the lovely, skillful Meriwether is unfortunately miscast in a role written for somebody much older. Lewis bland Peggy is too much of the same too much of the time. THEATER WEST, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (323) 851-7977. (Deborah Klugman)
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SISTER ACT On Broadway, The Sound of Music ushered in an early 1960s optimism and Dreamgirls celebrated the tacky energy of the retreating 1970s. Each of these blockbusters encapsulated its time and was embraced by expansive audiences. Alan Menken and Glenn Slaters Sister Act (a new musical) is an entirely different kind of endeavor so obviously created by committee to combine disparate aspects of the aforementioned shows that it approaches neither their heartfulness nor soul. Menkens score sounds more worked over than fresh. Slaters lyrics are catchy, but offer scant storytelling. Interestingly, the original Whoopi Goldberg film vehicle about a disco lounge singer who hides from her murderous gangland boyfriend in a crumbling convent has plenty to offer a big, flashy musical, but this one is too filled with introspective, momentum-crushing songs aimed at character discovery. The production values acting, singing and dancing (all under the director Peter Schneiders supervision) are highly polished and dynamic, resulting in a much better show than the material seems to support. PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (various added perfs, call for info); thru Dec. 23. (626) 356-PLAY (Tom Provenzano)
SUGAR PLUM FAIRY Though some may dread that inescapable annual return of The Nutcracker, for young dancers and would-be ballerinas, it offers dreams of glory. Writer-performer Sandra Tsing Loh shared those dreams and set her heart on capturing the plum role of Clara till competition from more sylphlike dancers (including her sister) consigned her to the corps de ballet with the fat girls. Tsing Loh finds endless comedy in this saga, and from her first entrance, dressed as a glittery Christmas tree, she holds her audience in thrall. Combining Valley Girl insouciance with wryly disenchanted humor, shes a bundle of broadly comic kinetic energy, impersonating the arrogant, ancient Russian ballerina brought in to direct the local Nutcracker, and exploring the absurdities of her own adolescent angst. Two directors, David Schweizer and Bart De Lorenzo, have joined forces to turn this monologue into an extravaganza, complete with fast pacing, clever staging, multiple costume changes and tons of Christmas décor (both supplied by designer David Zinn), spectacular lighting effects (by Jared Sayeg and Geoff Korf), and nifty sound design (by Stephen LeGrand).And, though this isnt really a childrens show, the 10-year-old boy in front of me was laughing his head off. LUCKMAN FINE ARTS COMPLEX, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (323) 343-6600. (Neal Weaver)
THREE BY MEE: IPHIGENIA Completing a trilogy of Greek-classic adaptations by Charles L. Mee, director Frederíque Michel demonstrates how shes settled into view of theater that contains both the authority of stylistic precision mingled with a tenderness that carries the ache of her characters stresses and regrets. This is the story of General Agamemnons (Troy Dunn) daughter, Iphigenia (Crystal Clark), whom her father sacrificed to the god Poseidon in exchange for fair seas to carry his fleet safely to Troy. Mee underscores the rumblings of Agamemnons army, transforming Poseidons demand into theirs that the tortured officer make a flesh sacrifice to prove his credentials for authorizing the inevitable sacrifices of his troops. (This begs the questions of whether Congress would have so hastily authorized the Iraq war had we a draft that might have put legislators own sons and daughters in harms way.) For reasons that could be in performance, textual or a combination of both, a section bogs down where the soldiers explain their points of view. Other than that, Michel and designer Charles A. Duncombes production consists of a choreographed and elegantly costumed recitative on and around a beached boat that unfolds in a haunting crescendo of argument and emotion centering on the clash between Agamemnons duty to his country and to his family. Lovely, lucid performances by Dunn, Clark and by Marie-Françoise Theodore as Agamemnons agonized wife, Clytemnestra. Sam Littlefield is also grand as Iphigenias androgynous groom, Achilles. CITY GARAGE, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 4. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris)
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? On the wall of Leontas (Yvonne Farrow) Harlem church, a massive banner beseeches her fellow parishioners to abstain from fleshy lusts which war against the soul. Why, certainly, agrees the congregations Queen Bee until her husband (M. Lee White) breaks down and admits hes been on the down low at the park bathrooms and must be tested for HIV. By centering her morality play on the innocent wife instead of the guilty husband (whos kicked out after his confession), Yvette Heyligers sincere but digressive three-hour melodrama largely sidesteps the meaty theological battle between lust and soul in favor of couching a safe-sex message in soap-opera politics. Since her large, talented ensemble must fritter away much of the running time gossiping about everyones sex life and quoting half the Bible, a strong but long-winded Act 3 stretch bogs down as nine characters testify about their connection to HIV. Still, though her sermon runneth over, Heyliger scores a dozen resonant points about everything from black pride to shifty Biblical interpretations while calling upon the church to take the lead in healing this sickness, as it did for slavery and segregation. Twinbiz and Piano Man Productions at the HOLLYWOOD COURT THEATER, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (323) 960-7822. (Amy Nicholson)