Theater Reviews: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and more

Benjamin Walker as the title character in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

THEATER PICK: BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON“Revisionist history” doesn’t even start to describe this wild and wicked take on the life and times of the seventh president — let’s just say it won’t be necessary to read any Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to prepare for this musical by Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (music and lyrics). Timbers (A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, Hell House) imagines Jackson (Benjamin Walker) as a boyish, passive-aggressive frontiersman, thrust into greatness by historical circumstances, whose bigotry and messianic sense of manifest destiny lead him to eradicate much of America’s Indian population. He is also a populist rock & roll god battling foppish Washington elites while riding the thundering crest of Friedman’s guitar-heavy score. By turns campy and politically snide, the story is so over the top with its hey-dude vernacular speech and cartoon history lessons that we fear it will never step into bigger shoes. Eventually it does, however, as Jackson’s early mistreatment of the Indians comes back to haunt him as president during the Indian-removal campaign. (Parallels with our current president are visible, but the Bush buttons mercifully don’t get pushed too often.) The acrobatic ensemble, like everything else under Timbers’ manic direction, runs with the timing of a giant pinball game. Emily Rebholz’s costumes are mostly anachronistic (lots of cowboy outfits) yet match the show’s malarial conjuring of the past. Bart Fasbender’s sound flawlessly amps the band while hitting the many sound-effects cues, and Jeff Crointer’s lighting emphasizes this circus’s Macbeth-like undercurrent. Finally, Robert Brill’s set (part saloon, part music hall) features a large upstage diorama of North American mammals — which, by play’s end, will figure as a sardonic judgment as Jackson’s youthful wilderness is transformed into the suburban prairie. KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; mats Sat., 2 p.m. & Sun., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 17. No perfs Feb. 5-8. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Mikulan)

Benjamin Walker as the title character in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Click to enlarge)

Ben Kusler

Chuck DiMaria in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Click to enlarge)

The Last Days of Desmond Nani Reese (Click to enlarge)

GO  ARE YOU DELICIOUS? The comedy troupe Dynamite Kablammo serves up wit and talent in a performance that opens on a note of horror. The protagonist (actor/director Greg Kaczynski) in an Edgar Allan Poe-like episode attempts to seal up his companion (Dane Biren) behind a layer of bricks; a moment later, said companion pops up out of a surprise window announcing his discovery of a nightclub — bump-'n'-grind music blasts, drunk horny girls call out to him. The series of sketches that follows continues to surprise. The troupe rattles the audience with tummy-shaking humor: A swashbuckling pirate asserts, "A fish fucked a rock and that's how turtles came to be"; a comedian (Dana DeRuyck) hires an "insecurity" guard to remind her of her shortcomings so she can use the material; things get a little hairy, literally, when a girl (DeRuyck) starts taking hormones and her boyfriend (Matt DeNoto) has to deal. There's even an unforgettable, perverse love ballad about divorce. A number of scenes inevitably dip into sitcom land, but with such a delectable array of fast-moving sketches, the show remains savory. Among the fine cast, standouts Biren, DeNoto and DeRuyck prove to be the kind of folks you want to be your b.f.f., to sit on your couch and make you laugh. Kaczynski's dynamic directing provides swift pacing, and sound/tech maestro Adam Neubauer puts the "ammo" in Dynamite Kablammo. ZJU THEATER GROUP, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (818) 202-4120 or (Sophia Kercher)

GO  IL BIDONE Part of a trilogy that includes La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, Federico Fellini's 1955 film Il Bidone grew out of the Italian neo-realist movement, revolving around three con men who roamed the countryside swindling the poor. Adapter-director Patrick Mapel has taken the basic story and — utilizing the talents of a gifted design team — wrapped it with the fantastical elements associated with the director's later work. Augusto (Ralph P. Martin) is an aging hustler whose sole aim in life is pulling off the successful scam — until a chance meeting with his estranged teenage daughter (Andrea Tzvetkov) provokes a change of heart. His cohort Roberto (Ben Messmer) is an inveterate womanizer, while the trio's weakest link, Picasso (York Griffith), struggles to juggle his life of crime with his more benign persona as artist and family man. This is an impressively mounted production, executed with aplomb by a solid ensemble. Okulus Anomali's music, Fionnagan Murphy's sound, Jeffrey Elias Teeter's lighting and Janne Larsen's set blend to create a haunting aura that is both whimsical and harsh. It's an ironic backdrop to what ultimately emerges as gripping human drama. (Eric Michael Nolfo serves as technical director.) One important reservation: If you haven't seen the film, you might find the shifts in the episodic plot difficult to follow. A "chorus" of five performers, in clown costumes, portray a variety of characters, and their metamorphoses were not always clear to me. Some further clues — more pronounced costume changes or props or simply a note in the program — would be helpful. Rushforth Productions at BOOTLEG THEATER, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (213) 389-3856 or www.­ (Deborah Klugman)CHERRY POPPIN' PLAY FESTIVAL: FRIDAY NIGHT BILL Justin Wheeler's Arc of Joan spins G.B. Shaw's meditation on spirituality and sacrifice — Saint Joan — into a lighthearted update featuring the devil (Jerry James), whom his droll assistant (Steve Sornbutnark) wakes from a centurieslong nap. Lucifer has a quota to fill, and there simply aren't enough incoming souls. For this reason, he contrives to breach the treaty between England and France (peace is so bad for business) by employing an innocent 13-year-old girl, Joan of Arc (Sarah Brooks, in a lovely performance), to stir the French soldiers against the Brits. The angel Michael (Jeremy Aluma) also makes a spectacle-laced entrance. The larger point of hell just being another global corporation has sly appeal, but Andrew Eiden's pallid staging — literally in dim pools — works against the comic tone. Brian Addison's Beco/Me juxtaposes the horrors at a Gitmo-like detention center against a Nazi concentration camp in a docudrama that parallels the plight of a Muslim enemy combatant (Angel Correa) with that of a Jewish internee (Ivan Rodriguez). It's both sobering and, at this point, painfully obvious — the pain deriving from both the powerful imagery and our familiarity with it. The play's overstatement is offset, somewhat, by Olivia Trevino's artful, choreographic staging. Alive Theatre at THE GARAGE THEATRE, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; (562) 433-8337. For information on Saturday and Sunday bills, visit www.myspace/alivetheatre. (Steven Leigh Morris)


GO  CHERRY POPPIN' PLAY FESTIVAL: THURSDAY NIGHT BILL Cal State Long Beach's theater-department undergrads have formed their own troupe to stage a new-play festival that bubbles with energy and meta-theatrical wit. This bill is like revisiting plays by Pirandello and Christopher Durang; that is, these plays show a vivacious glee that's still more emulative than original, but a good sign nonetheless of a company still searching for its reason to be. Buddy MacKinder's Musical the Musical takes a quintet of actors (Chris Chiquet, Alexis Ehrman, Joe Howells, James McHale and Marisa Duchowny) — accompanied on spinet by Alex Boyles — gliding with pro forma choreography (but with terrific energy and style, thanks to Scott Lennard's direction) through a terrible musical, until one (McHale) decides he's had enough and walks out. This turns the leading role of their lives over to the vainest thespian (Chiquet), who dares not ask who's really holding the puppet strings. Some of the singers have wispy voices, but in a comedy about bad theater as a metaphor for life, it's not a problem. Lights Don't Grow on X-Mas Trees is Ryan McLary's farce about the homecoming of young Billy (Chiquet) after he hears some undisclosed bad news from his doctor (Megumi Ageishi). His family is a compendium of self-absorbed asylum inmates in a play that settles too easily into the complaint that the family just won't listen to Billy. Samantha Richert stages this glimpse into the family nut house with such animated mania, she all but shrouds the farce's underlying petulance. Alive Theatre at THE GARAGE THEATRE, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs., Jan. 24, 8 p.m. (562) 433-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Orson's Shadow (Click to enlarge)

Ed Krieger

Grady Hutt and Roses Prichard in Ray Bradbury's Invisible Boy (Click to enlarge)

Francy Cline and Max Brooks in Romeo's Ghost. (Click to enlarge)

GO  HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH Hell hath no fury like a tranny scorned, as playwright John Cameron Mitchell's fierce musical about the wrathful he/she named Hedwig makes abundantly clear. If you've only seen Mitchell and composer Stephen Trask's story in its cult-film version, director Ben Kusler's intimate, but emotionally ferocious, stage production is a must-see. Born a boy in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hedwig (Chuck DiMaria) agrees to have a sex-change operation so he can marry the American GI he loves. However, things go horribly wrong, and Hedwig's accidentally left with just a little extra. Later, after a tragic romance with a callow young man whom she grooms to be a rock star, Hedwig is left adrift in L.A., where she rents out a theater so she can have her own little spite concert. As the spurned rock muse with the heart of platinum, Chuck DiMaria offers a turn that's actually more engrossing and intense than even Mitchell's was in the movie. He also possesses a rock star's voice that's so evocative it sends shivers up the spine, alternating between Bowie-like irony and Rocky Horror campiness. As Hedwig's Drag King Guy Friday Yitzak, Renee Cohen possesses beautifully delicate vocals that provide perfect backup. Director Kusler's feverishly brisk and emotionally subtle staging crackles with an atmosphere of rock & roll excess, which transforms the surreal aspects of the story into a universal meditation on love, loss and, ultimately, forgiveness. MET THEATRE, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 11 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (323) 960-1055. (Paul Birchall)GO  THE LAST DAYS OF DESMOND NANI REESE: A STRIPPER'S HISTORY OF THE WORLD Set in Los Angeles in 2014, Heather Woodbury's one-woman show sends up academics while taking sex workers more seriously. Trying to finish her dissertation on the history of loose women, Amber, an "ethno-feminist-dance anthropologist," seeks to interview Desmond Reese, a reclusive 108-year-old former stripper who lives with 27 cats. With her grant money running low, Amber hurriedly tries to coax Desmond into revealing her life history, or "herstory." Highlights include escaping the Dust Bowl, riding the rails, performing burlesque, selling her body for a living and, of course, stripping. She meets Salvador Dali­, and eventually becomes a wrestler, before retiring. Well-directed by Abigail Deser, Woodbury moves easily between the naive Harvard academic and the salty old pro. Without moving from a chair set center stage, Woodbury masterfully captures the voices and body movements of the two female characters. However, many of the scene changes are awkward, and on the night this critic attended, an overly long intermission added unnecessary length to the show. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 23. (323) 653-6886. (Sandra Ross)


GO  ORSON'S SHADOW A few years ago, Austin Pendleton's drama made quite a splash in the local theater community during its extended run at the Black Dahlia Theater. This expanded version, under Damaso Rodriguez's superb direction and featuring a terrific cast, is even more impressive. It's 1960, and backstage at Dublin's Gaiety Theater, the renowned drama critic Kenneth Tynan (Scott Lowell) has come to visit the legendary Orson Welles (Bruce McGill) to ask him if he would like to direct a production of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros at London's Royal National Theatre, starring Laurence Olivier (Charles Shaughnessy) and his lover, actress Joan Plowright (Libby West). This provocative scenario instantly engages and offers a strong dose of laughter. When Olivier and Plowright appear, the emotional pyrotechnics, pleasant and painful memories, and clashing egos shift into high gear. However, it's the unexpected entrance of Olivier's estranged wife, Vivien Leigh (played with devastating magnetism and charm by Sharon Lawrence), who shows up for rehearsal in Act 2, that makes the show. More than just a mix of personalities or an occasion for meta-theatrical banter, Pendleton's clever narrative also reminds us of the often-painful price of stardom, and the impact it has on the lives of celebrities. Nick Cernoch rounds out this stellar cast. Gary Wissmann's theater-within-the-theater set is masterful. PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 17. (626) 356 PLAY. (Lovell Estell III)

PROVE IT ON ME"I don't like crackers with my soup... that kind of appetite will get me killed," insists lesbian blues singer Georgia Brooks (Sweet Baby J'ai) to Lindsay (Aynsley Bubbico), a wealthy white flapper whose sense of entitlement encompasses Georgia's bedroom. Lindsay argues that you can't see skin color in the dark. Georgia knows better. And so Dee Jae Cox's expository and repetitive play, set during the Harlem Renaissance, bats around the same old dichotomies of white-versus-black and rich-versus-poor as though mentioning hot buttons is the same thing as exploring them. Instead, we get shootings and pregnancies and voodoo spells, and that's enough for audiences who just want acknowledgment that interracial lesbian couples existed in 1929. But paradoxically, there's so little onstage chemistry, it's unlikely we'd root for them to work it out if they were the only lesbians in New York. J'ai does what she can to ground the play in her warm sensuality (singing throaty numbers by Michele Weiss), and there's some odd comic relief from her gin-swilling, chicken-bone tossing Creole aunt (Deborah Kellar). Cox's unending supply of sly double-entendres shows wit, but her resolution doesn't prove that love conquers all — it needs a well-timed stock-market crash. Kelly Ann Ford directs. Los Angeles Women's Theatre Project and Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center at the STELLA ADLER THEATRE, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 2. (323) 960-7721 or www.­ (Amy Nicholson)


RAY BRADBURY'S INVISIBLE BOY Ray Bradbury's one-act stage adaptations of three of his short stories capture their author's trademark brew of whimsy, sentimentality and future shock. In "Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned," a priest (Jay Gerber) finds his church's confessional occupied by a stranger shortly before Christmas midnight Mass. The stranger unburdens his remorse for childhood character lapses committed 60 years before, including an act of animal cruelty. Turns out the priest has a similar secret — could they be the same person? (Hint: Gerber, who turns in a nice performance, plays both roles, with Peter Strauss' lighting design providing clear cues as to which character is speaking.) "The Pedestrian" is classic Bradbury — a Luddite's lament about technology's dehumanizing touch. Two geezers (Jay Gerber and Michael Prichard) go for a nighttime stroll to smell the autumn air, even though apparently people in the Los Angeles of 2049 never walk, and spend their nights at home in front of giant TV screens. The original, prescient story was published in 1951, but it's not made clear onstage why the two men are eventually stopped by a menacing cop car. "Invisible Boy" looks at an Ozarks conjurin' lady (Roses Prichard) whose spell-casting powers have grown weak — right when she wants to bewitch a young man (Grady Hutt) to keep her company for the summer. This slight story should fill anyone's whimsy quotient for a year. Director Alan Neal Hubbs keeps the action flowing for an hour's worth of stage time. Pandemonium Theatre Company at FREMONT CENTRE THEATRE, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (323) 960-4451. (Steven Mikulan)

Elizabeth Mariner

Dane Biren in Are You Delicious? (Click to enlarge)

ROMEO'S GHOST Fifteen years ago at the Complex Theater in Hollywood, Richard Brunner (Richard Scofield) and Kate West (Gia McGinley) performed as Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare's play — a slice of fictitious history invented by playwright Stephen Antczak. And now they've returned as the leading players in different production of the same play, but "with a happy ending." Richard has gone on to be a movie star and alcoholic; Kate, to flounder. A freelance gossip columnist (Franny Cline) for Entertainment Weekly haunts Richard through rehearsals, but not in the same way as Romeo's Ghost (Ben Jones) — a phantom conjured from the lingering memory of Richard's dazzling performance of yore, and a presence intended to throw into counterrelief the clash between emotional and physical realities. That provocative conceit might have stood a chance in a production with even a hint of animation, but Scofield and Jones have such a feeble stage presence, and such hollow voices, that how Richard ever pulled off a forceful Romeo, or became a movie star, emerges as the play's greatest mystery. Director Michael Holmes compounds the matter with sluggish pacing that compromises those jokes on gossip columnists and actors' vanity that somehow bubble up through the tar. McGinley is fine, as is Maxwell Brooks as the producer. Action/Reaction Theatre Company at THE COMPLEX, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 9. (818) 786-1045 or (Steven Leigh Morris)

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