THE ABORIGINAL TREATMENT CENTER Youve killed the American dream, accuses a grease-painted judge (Lamont Coleman) to janitor Tyrone Smith (Jemal McNeil), whos on trial for diluting his parents civil rights dreams into a modern cliché. An ex-addict with grunt ambitions, five kids, and bad credit, and wearing a minstrels tap shoes with a mop bucket glued to his hand, Tyrone tries to sidestep the disapproval of the judge and his coterie of three women (Erinn Anova, Lynne Connor and Dee Freeman) dressed with a sardonic patriotism in red, blue and spangles. Im just doing my job, man, he defends. But todays black men and women need to think beyond the next paycheck, insists poet/playwright Ron Allen. His soul-affirming journey cranks the anger dial past Capra (who was plenty bitter himself). McNeils own rough-edged direction actually underscores the pieces frustration and immediacy, like a fallen electrical cable shooting off sparks. The play is more a jazz riff on independence than a lucid argument. After the epilogue, where Tyrone re-enters in a Che Guevara tee to re-educate his crack-addled (and roller-skating) janitorial replacement (Tamara Curry), the cast at the after-show Q&A confessed they still dont quite understand Allens play, but they love the message. Me too. ART SHARE LOS ANGELES, 801 E. Fourth Place, dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Feb. 18 (added perf Feb. 18, noon). (323) 930-1055. (Amy Nicholson)
HOGANS GOAT Set in Brooklyn in 1890, William Alfreds talky and very Irish melodrama tells of an ambitious young ward leader named Stanton (Kevin Quinn), who is eager to become mayor. His chief rival and nemesis is the citys wily and corrupt long-term incumbent, Quinn (Orson Bean). The two men have tangled not only in politics, but in love, with both former paramours of a magnetic woman, Ag Hogan, now on her deathbed. Stantons drive for power is complicated by the theological anxiety of his devout wife, Kathleen (Kelly Miller). Written in free verse, the play features wonderful language but awkward plotting, especially in the expository Act 1, where the dying woman is much discussed but never appears. This productions main problem, however, lies in the lead performance; a mercurial and kaleidoscopic interpretation might have generated some mystery, but Quinns driving politician comes across as a mulish, headstrong man whose passions, including that for his wife, never appear to ignite. The tiny stage, with its cluttered, ill-defined set, is also a liability. Well-honed performances among the supporting ensemble do much to compensate for these shortcomings, however; they include Beans unprincipled politico, Kristina Harrison as an alcoholic streetwalker, and Alley Mills as Ags cousin, once sweet on Stanton herself. Elina de Santos directs. PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 4. (310) 822-8392 (Deborah Klugman)
SAY IT TO MY FACE! In her solo show, Selene Luna stands tall at 3-feet-11-inches, while dishing the dirt on celebrities shes worked with on stage, screen and TV, and debunking myths about Little People in the entertainment industry. (Thats so 1800s, she says about the show-biz cliche of posing Little People next to giants.) After the opening burlesque striptease number, Velvet Hammer alum Luna alternates between autobiographical material and observations about Hollywood. Lunas had an interesting life: Her family illegally crossed the border from Mexico and settled in East L.A. She grew up admiring the style of cholos, who, she says, taught her how to put on makeup. Lunas stories about Hollywood are equally fascinating. She tells of her reluctance to play an elf in a film, comparing stereotypical costume roles for Little People to performing in blackface. Family photos, pictures of noteworthy Little People and video clips of Lunas acting work have been seamlessly incorporated into the show. However, director Lawrence Elbert might want to rethink the staging. An onstage swing wasnt particularly well used, nor were some transparent cubes. CAVERN CLUB THEATER AT CASITA DEL CAMPO, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 17. (323) 969-2530. (Sandra Ross)
UG The mise en scène for Jim Geoghans waggish musical is a sewer in a desolate postapocalyptic future where sex is referred to as the grunt naked na na big tickle and our Neanderthal descendents discover the joys of drinking mud, eating wood and even creating show business. The kick here isnt Geoghans storyline (there really isnt much of one) but his bitingly funny lyrics, the late Rick Rhodes sharp musical arrangements and Terry Bartos energetic, ticklish choreography. Act 1 sets the tone for the evening with some amusing ditties such as The Cooking Song, where the soot-smeared, shabbily dressed tribe pays homage to the pleasures of the feast; and These Are Incredible Times, a clamorous celebration of a primitive era. The standout caveman is the garrulous Ug (Danny Blaylock), who seeks to answer mans eternal question with his artfully intoned The Meaning of Life. As it turns out, Ug accidentally discovers the art of drama while relating a story about boar hunting, which inspires a theatrical performance for a bombastic royal visitor (Thom Babbes). There arent any dull moments, and the fine cast is gleefully directed by Jerry Kernion. ATTIC THEATRE AND FILM CENTER, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (323) 525-0600. (Lovell Estell III)
WAGNER AND MENDELSSOHN, MUSIC AND WOMEN In his pedantic drama, Cornelius Schnauber imagines the last two hours in the life of German composer Richard Wagner (Don DeForest Paul), who holds forth on his own greatness and the shortcomings of his fellow composers. He is visited by the ghost of Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn (Jerry Weil), who challenges his anti-Semitism, and, with a ghosts foreknowledge of the future, accuses him of inspiring Hitler, the Third Reich and the Holocaust. (In his prescience, he also tells Wagner about Viagra.) Wagners wife, Cosima (Addie Daddio), appears, to reinforce his anti-Semitism, and serve him tea. He is also visited by the shade of Carlotta Grimaldi (Sharon Edrei), with whom he shared an intense infatuation. The play is likely to be incomprehensible to anyone who doesnt have a working knowledge of Wagners operas, and unsatisfying to those who do. There is virtually no action, much potted history and literary name-dropping, and some romantico-mystical debate about the character of Kundry in Wagners Parsifal. Director Flint Esquerra and his actors strive mightily to enliven the inert material, but they dont have a chance. Only Edrei, beautiful in a wonderful costume by Howard Schmidt, breathes life and conviction into the deadwood. MET THEATRE, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 11. (323) 957-1152. (Neal Weaver)
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CRITICS IN THE VIEWFINDER: Judgment at Annenberg Last Thursday, New Yorker senior theater critic John Lahr was the keynote speaker at an invitation-only event held at the REDCAT Theater by USCs Annenberg School for Communication. His talk, Critics or Crickets, during which he discussed the state of theater criticism, taking the familiar tack of separating critics from reviewers the old Wildean price-of-everything-and-value-of-nothing demarcation. The audience was receptive, and no part more so than the field of critics, both local and from around the country as part of an annual institute hosted by USC and the National Endowment for the Arts. Was Lahr, who currently lives in London, going to grade us? Would we be judged crickets? As a speaker, Lahr projects a slightly rumpled charm that eschews ingratiating gestures while camouflaging blunt opinions. Chief among these is his reasonable belief that some hands-on experience in theater is essential to the making of an understanding and empathetic critic who writes for the theater and not just for a readership. He pointed to his own early apprenticeship at Lincoln Center and involvement in the award-winning Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. Early on he alluded to the Guardians eminent critic Michael Billington as a good reviewer who, apparently, falls short of the critics Acropolis, occupied by the late Kenneth Tynan and others. Lahr, however, surprised his audience by aiming his sharpest adjectives at The New York Times Ben Brantley, whom he excoriated as a man whose real love was not the theater but his own dismissive voice. He proceeded to quote some of Brantleys harsh notices, along with former New York magazine critic John Simons snippy epitaphs. Lahr didnt address the difference between critics who, like Brantley, must crank out their reviews within hours of seeing their show, and those, like himself, who have the luxury of a week or more to digest and analyze a work. Still, he made an erudite case against what he called the diagnostic intelligence the mind in a hurry, while appealing for writing that considers artistry with context. Critics left the REDCAT duly informed, chastened and resolved to resist the impulse to chirp. (Steven Mikulan)