ALWAYS & FOREVER Michael Patrick Spillers comedy follows the travails of a young L.A.-tina during the run-up to her quinceañera. It is about many other things too and thats its big problem. An overly ambitious project that tries to examine the adulation surrounding the late singer Adan Chalino Sanchez, as well as botanica spiritualism, Chicano nationalism and several romantic subplots, the play winds up tripping over its own best intentions, even as it offers some cleverly observed moments. Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez has assembled a spare but smart-looking production highlighted by set designer Chris Kuhls use of photographic screens. Watts Village Theater Company at [INSIDE] THE FORD, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats Sun., 2 p.m.; audio-described perf Sat., April 21, 2 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 461-3673. See next weeks Stage feature. (Steven Mikulan)
PICK WHY MARRY? Why stage Jessie Lynch Williams long-forgotten 1917 social comedy the first-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize? Like an old photograph of a pre-suffragette, it conjures a road map showing where the gender wars have been fought across the century. The play contains as much effervescent wit as plays by Williams British contemporaries, G.B. Shaw and Oscar Wilde, with echoes of Ibsens A Dolls House . From New Yorks high society, it tells of the determination by emancipated Helen (Aimee Guichard) to run off with biologist Ernest (Greg Baglia), to work in Paris out of wedlock, no less. Meanwhile, Helens sister, Jean (Christine Krench), uses her coquetry to bag wealthy Rex (Tripp Pickell), for whom she has almost no feelings. What else can she do with her life? she asks. Problem is, the scandal of Helens behavior might jeopardize her sisters plans. The attempts by their pompous, hypocritical brother (a delightful comic turn by Steven Benson) to sustain the double standards of protocol bring into sharp focus marriage as a form of voluntary human trafficking. The play almost heartbreakingly foreshadows the free love of the 60s, and the soaring divorce rate that followed, underscoring the eternal verity that in a culture spun from commerce, nothing is for free. The play contains some pedantry, which director David Cheaney more or less overcomes with his productions charm offensive. His own Wildean courtyard set nicely complements Guichards gorgeous costumes. The winking ensemble is pitch perfect especially sassy Guichard, and David St. James in a splendidly wry performance as a local judge capable of sussing out the distinction between what must be and what can be. Theater Neo at the Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 19. (323) 769-5858. (Steven Leigh Morris)
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