AFTERMATH Elliot Shoenman's comedic drama studies a widow named Julie (Annie Potts), and her almost adult children, still struggling to come to terms with her husband's suicide three years previously. More like an emotionally raw drama with a sprinkling of good laughs, Shoenman's play unfolds like a typical 1950s kitchen-sink drama, the strip-mining kind where secrets and recriminations are laid bare and the obligatory catharsis ensues. This notion is visually supported by co-producer and set designer Gary Guidinger's realistic kitchen- and teenager-bedroom set. What isn't necessary is the slide show across the back flats repeatedly displaying the pathetically inadequate suicide note Julie was left with, which also illustrates her children's passage to adulthood. Everyone in the capable cast gets at least one monologue, from hostile son Eric (Daniel Taylor), to mild-tempered daughter Natalie (Meredith Bishop), to their father's former best friend and Mom's possible new boyfriend, Chuck (Michael Mantell). With her pixie haircut and thick N.Y. accent, Potts wavers from droll to distraught, only sometimes stridently overcompensating for first-night nerves and an ensemble performance that occasionally seemed to lose its rhythm. At its best, the incisive dialogue volleys back and forth like an enthralling game of tennis. Mark L. Taylor directs this slice of dysfunction well. A guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 13. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)
BUT NOT FOR LOVE This long one-act by Matthew Everett, commissioned by the Playshop Theatre in Meadville, Pa., tackles the hotly contested subject of gay marriage. Eleanor (Krystal Kennedy) and her brother Ephram (John Croshaw) are getting married in a double wedding — and both are marrying men, turning the event into a media circus, with protestors, news vans and cops camped outside the church. Eleanor and Ephram's husband-to-be, Patrick (Andy Loviska), are political activists who want their wedding to be a public statement, while Ephram and Eleanor's fiancé, Roland (Chadbourne Hamblin), resent having their private lives turned into a political spectacle. Things are further complicated by Patrick's brother (Nick Sousa), who's a religious zealot, determined to prevent the wedding by any means necessary, and the minister, known as the Duchess (Natasha St. Clair-Johnson), who's a postoperative transsexual. And Duke (Patrick Tiller), the cop assigned to monitor the demonstrations, is strongly attracted to the Duchess, unaware of her gender change. The production, helmed by director Richard Warren Baker, is most successful in its quieter, more human moments than in its strident political declarations, when it topples over into melodrama. The events are not always credible, but there are strong performances from Sousa, St. Clair-Johnson and Tiller. Renegade Theatre, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 14. (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/forlove. (Neal Weaver)
FIREHOUSE Unlike police officers, who are so often feared or mistrusted, firefighters almost always engage the appreciation and respect of the people they serve. Playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia's message-minded melodrama jump-starts around the community's perceived betrayal of that covenant, and the pressure brought to bear upon a firefighter named Perry (Kamar de los Reyes) to make a bogus choice between loyalty to his unit and loyalty to his Puerto Rican ethnic group. A 20-year department vet, Perry is on the cusp of retirement when a crisis erupts at the South Bronx firehouse after a colleague named Boyle (Gerald Downey) rescues another firefighter from a burning building but leaves behind a 12-year-old child. Boyle steadfastly maintains he didn't see the girl for the smoke, but his credibility is open to question — in no small part because of his personal history as a former cop who was tried and acquitted for shooting an unarmed civilian. Whereas the community, represented here by Perry's fiancée, criminal defense attorney Aida (Jossara Jinaro), is up in arms, most of Boyle's buddies give him the benefit of the doubt and pressure Perry to do the same. Garcia gleaned aspects of his story from real-life headlines in this effort to offer up an intrepid examination of how our native prejudices cloud our judgment. Too often, however, the characters seem mere profanity-riddled mouthpieces for one side or another's point of view, a problem exacerbated by Bryan Rasmussen's overheated direction. Most discrepant is Jinaro's counselor-at-law, unconvincing as a perspicacious professional not only by virtue of her miniskirted and otherwise revealing attire but in her strident insistence that Perry take her side for personal reasons rather than principled ones. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; through April 29. (323) 822-7898, theatermania.com. (Deborah Klugman)
GO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Though critics and theater folk may blanch at yet another production of Shakespeare's romantic dream-comedy, Mark Rucker's staging reminds us why it remains the most popular of Shakespeare's plays. The story of four lovers intertwined with faeries, royalty and crude workmen sidelining as thespians is probably the most accessible of all classics, with surefire laughs that work in almost every production. In Rucker's take, the events materialize in an exciting pastiche of varied moments of 20th-century pseudo-European society thrust into a slyly homoerotic mosh pit of punk-disco muscle sprites ruled by powerful bi-curious Oberon (Elijah Alexander) and his Rolling Stones–esque servant Puck (Rob Campbell). Every line of the apparently uncut text is delivered with clarity and humor by a highly skilled cast. But the real star is Cameron Anderson's intense yet functional set, which begins as a huge white expanse before taking us on a whirl down into the center of the Earth, leaving a gorgeous wooded path and, at times, a wooden flying boat out of the imaginary world of Wynken, Blyken and Nod. This stunning set is all the more remarkable as it depends simply on old-fashioned stage rigging rather than show-off hydraulics. Splendid costumes by Nephelie Andonyadis and consummate lighting by Lap Chi Chu complete the picture, while composer John Ballinger and choreographer Ken Roht perfectly marry sound and movement. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; through Feb. 20. (714) 708-5555. (Tom Provenzano)
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GO MR. KOLPERT What to do when you're settled, successful and sociopathic? For bored couple Sarah (Lauren Olipra) and Ralf (Tommy French), the answer is, terrorize Sarah's teetotaling co-worker Edith (Kimberly Dilts) and her meathead husband, Bastian (J.T. Arbogast), at a dinner party for four. Sarah and Ralf claim that they've killed Mr. Kolpert from Accounts and locked him in the trunk. The enraged Bastian makes good on his claim to kill them all, including his missus, who may or may not be joking about having an affair with Mr. Kolpert. Everyone is lying — or "kidding" — in David Gieselmann's comedy of lethally bad manners, and it's cruel fun once the audience is clued in to its odd, bright artificiality. Between the blood and fake vomit are digressions into chaos theory, which hint that there's a method in Gieselmann's madness. What sticks is his caricature of yuppies as being so dulled by civility and chardonnay that the only wake-up is a sharp knife. Director Mike Monroe could scale back Bastian's out-of-the box rage, but otherwise the cast is terrific, with French's oily charm, Olipra's feline callowness and Dilts' nuanced comedic turn as the perfect wife with her own ax to grind. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; through March 9. (323) 644-4946. (Amy Nicholson)
NO. SAINTS LANE The setting for Eric Czuleger's dark comedy is a remote cabin in Scagway, Alaska, where, amidst the battering of a winter storm, Mer (Meredith Schmidt) and her slow-witted daughter, Dizzy (Kirsten Kulken), are again on the run from Mer's violent spouse, Hunter (Adam Navarro), who has just completed his Special Forces duty. This time, Mer has decided to end the abuse permanently by asking her current lover, Jay (Joe Calarco), to kill her husband. Initially, things seem to go as planned, but the celebration is short-lived when the batterer hobbles in bruised and bloodied, with the intention of reclaiming his family. Up until then, the play had some legs, albeit wobbly ones, but most of Act 2 turns into a muddled attempt to explore the volatile dynamics of love, attraction and repulsion, and even the effects of torture on the human psyche — little of which is articulated or emerges from the incoherent structure. The contrived finale is just puzzling. Cast performances are barely adequate, with Calarco (who does a fine job with the sound design) the sole exception. Steve Julian directs. Actors Circle Theater, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 6. actorscircle.net. (Lovell Estell III)
STEALING BUFFALO Profanity, perversion and a pig iron do not a Mamet play make. While the "master" is known for his liberal use of the f-word, the c-word and other unmentionables, his machine-gun dialogue generally contains an undercurrent of danger, social commentary and revelation of character. Many Mamet imitators fail to grasp this subtext and, like Vern Urich and Craig Ricci Shaynak, create pieces that superficially resemble Mamet's patterns but lack his depth. In this take on American Buffalo, Jed (Urich) enters like Teach from the original, uttering a string of f-bombs followed by the word Mamet instead of Ruthie. He has again failed to get the rights to put on his favorite play in Los Angeles. Jed's rotund friend Stu (Shaynak), also an actor, is having troubles of his own with women. After a lengthy lecture by Jed on "bangin' broads" (a phrase that becomes noisome from repetition), the two concoct a scheme to "steal" Mamet's work. A strange attempt to fuse Mamet-speak and Swingers, this unending string of one-liners quickly ventures into tedium, with its numerous tangents, such as a listing of all the celebrities whose sign is Sagittarius, replacing an actual story. The pizza box–laden set (presumably an homage to Mamet's junk shop) lacks any sense of design, and the literal projections only elongate the tangential riffs on pop culture, which grind the action to a halt. While the inspiration for the piece is Urich's own experience, the result lacks the stakes and tension to turn documentary into drama. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 6. (818) 700-4878,thegrouprep.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
WOMEN OF SPOON RIVER: THEIR VOICES FROM THE HILL Lee Meriwether has a long history with a fictional little town. In 1962, Charles Aidman's adaptation of Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters' book of poems, went straight to Broadway following its Theatre West premiere. Meriwether, the still-gleaming former Miss America and current soap opera matriarch, was an understudy for that production. In 2002, Theatre West staged a revival of its Broadway baby, and Meriwether co-starred. In 2011's incarnation, Meriwether and director Jim Hesselman have narrowed their sights, creating a one-woman show that gives voice solely to Spoon River's female residents. The result isn't bad, though the monologues are too brief to offer any real chance for Meriwether to delve into serious character exploration, and the audience any opportunity to reciprocate with real emotional response (especially harsh in the more quietly devastating instances, such as the suggested rape of one underage inhabitant). Still, Hesselman and Meriwether have successfully distinguished each woman, no small feat with 26 characters. The lingering question, however, is why this show, now? Considering there's a dearth of hearty roles for women, especially those older than 40, it makes sense to write your own. But in varnishing an antique that neither showcases your ability nor attracts a younger demographic, both actor and theater have wrung this "River" dry. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Feb. 20. (323) 851-7977. (Rebecca Haithcoat)