Theater Reviews: Bunny Bunny, Eenie Meanie, Little Fish

{mosimage}  ALWAYS — BUT NOT FOREVER Playwright Henry Jaglom’s Bergmanesque marital comedy focuses on the frenzied desperation of young wife Dinah (frequent Jaglom muse Tanna Frederick), who’s reeling from the recent unraveling of her marriage to handsome writer Jack (David O’Donnell). The play opens nine months after Jack’s departure, as the histrionic Dinah has managed to sweet-talk her ex into coming over one last time, ostensibly so he can sign their divorce papers. When Jack arrives, though, Dinah pulls out all the stops to seduce him home. Complicating Dinah’s plans are Jack’s understandable recalcitrance, and also the unexpected arrival of some friends, including Dinah’s rigid best pal, Lucy (Kelly DeSarla), and her long-suffering husband, Eddie (Bryan Callen). Jaglom’s comedy is an intensely intimate tale of heartbreak and the desperate lengths to which someone will go to stave it off. With his polished yet cozy staging, director Gary Imhoff pitches the piece with the mildly elegiac Chekhovian mood — complete with midlife dissatisfaction and unrequited love. Although the play’s overwritten midsection is occasionally inert, Frederick’s ferocious acting turn stirs it back into motion: Her performance rings powerfully with emotional pain. With her frowsy cascade of red hair and crackling, animated eyes, she often appears on the edge of madness. Sweet and affecting supporting turns are also offered by DeSarla’s brittle Lucy and by O’Donnell’s increasingly bewildered Jack. EDGEMAR CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 9. (310) 392-7327.(Paul Birchall)

ANON Guys like to hear about sex but never want to talk about it, especially when it comes to their own lives. Understanding this contradiction seems to be the motivation behind Kate Robin’s comedy-drama about an N.Y. couple (Kit Pongetti and Blayne Weaver) whose fling together begins to unravel almost from the start. The play, directed here by Chris Fields, makes some intelligent observations about psychological turmoil in the American bedroom, but careens, at its extremities, between sitcom and therapy. Echo Theater Co. at STAGE 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (800) 413-8669. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.

{mosimage}  BUNNY BUNNY What’s most clear in Alan Zweibel’s play about Gilda Radner is his undying love for her through their 25-year platonic relationship. On Zweibel’s (Michael Cotter) first day as a writer for Saturday Night Live, Radner (Elisa Morse) finds him hiding behind a potted plant, intimidated by all the talent in the room. She joins him, and then volunteers him to write several sketches for her, giving him the confidence to join already established writer-performers such as John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase. Both Zweibel and Radner are part of the early glory years of SNL, Zweibel collecting several Emmys (Radner only won one), and both eventually leave the show. Zweibel moves to Hollywood to write for TV, although he was one of several contributors to Radner’s huge stage hit, Gilda Live. Despite living on opposite coasts, they keep in touch by phone and the occasional visit. Radner eventually marries Gene Wilder, moves west and makes a series of bad movies, before being stricken with ovarian cancer. Under director Todd Stashwick, the actors deliver superior performances, but the play glosses over Zweibel’s cocaine addiction as well as Radner’s ongoing battle with bulimia. Bill Glass plays all of the other characters so well, at times he nearly becomes the central character. HUDSON GUILD THEATER, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 960-5774. (Sandra Ross)

CARNIVALE OF THE UNASSUMING An upper-class lady, the socially and emotionally constricted Viola (the captivating Michelle Zamora), wanders into a carnival. At the start, the tent appears to be your everyday traveling circus with a card-reading Gypsy (Ramona P. Gonzales, delightfully over-dramatic) and a charming, bumbling Clown (George Paez). But when Viola escapes her tarot reading and comes across the ringleader Baron von Scabbington (the sinister Luke Lizalde), he slams Viola into her past. The wayward heroine confronts her fears with the help of a talking mouse, Zamora’s playful puppets and a ballerina — who all illuminate her inner freak show. Co-writers Gonzales, director Selene Santiago, and Zamora have fabricated a fanciful world from the whimsical set. The play beautifully illustrates the idea that what is left unsaid is just as important as what is told — though some of the ambiguity weights things down. There are hints of Viola’s desires for true love and independence, but we never understand precisely what our protagonist is after or if she defies her bleak social position without her carny companions. Nevertheless, the production is magical. The pre-show “Silent Film,” written and directed by Alejandra Cisneros, is equally enticing. Tongue in Chic*ana Productions at CASA 0101, 2009 E. First St., E.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 4. (323) 263-7684. (Sophia Kercher)

EENIE MEANIE Growing up in racially segregated Valley Station, Kentucky, writer-performer Teresa Willis never saw a black person till her family’s all-beige living room was entered by an intriguing African-American piano tuner. She integrated her doll collection just in case she might find a black friend, was fascinated by To Kill a Mockingbird, and her hero was Atticus Finch. Sent to a “Jigaboo High School” in the days of school busing, she was attracted by black men, partially because it scandalized her parents. In her solo show, Willis tells of coming to California, where she weathers the L.A. Riots, which unmask her boyfriend as a violent racist she distrusts more than the rioters. So long as Willis views her autobiography through the prism of race, she is fresh, provocative and funny, and the piece has structural unity. Toward the end, she abruptly reveals her own lesbianism, and though the connection between gay rights and civil rights may have been her point, the narrative focus splits disconcertingly nonetheless. Ultimately, she reverts back to her main theme, examining her elderly father’s emerging bigotry. It’s an engaging piece, ably directed by Elizabeth Swenson with an assist from Martha Demson, and Willis performs it well, but it resembles two plays, uncomfortably blended. Say Tiger Productions and THE OPEN FIST THEATRE COMPANY, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Mon.-Tues., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (No perf. Oct. 23.) (323) 882-6912 or (Neal Weaver)

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS Misty Carlisle’s revival of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize– and Tony Award–winning play has its moments, but not enough of them. From the first scene, between John Williamson (Eric Giancoli), the manager of a Chicago real estate office, and Shelly “The Machine” Levene (Travis Michael Holder), a has-been salesman trying to relive past glory, Mamet’s rapid-fire, machine-gun dialogue sounds more like a dime-store pop gun. As the play progresses through the two days that mark the planning and execution of the robbery of the real estate office, the two-man scenes reveal the dreams and fears of the agents who work at the firm. The scene between Dave Moss (Robert Hugh Starr) and George Aaronow (Jan Munroe) is stronger than the first scene because Starr is dynamic enough and Munroe straight enough to give us shades of Abbott and Costello. Nick Salamone, playing star salesman Ricky Roma, is a bit lackluster in his first scene with James Lingk (Elvin Whitesides), but he brings a great amount of energy to his character in the second act and carries much of it. Director Carlisle unfortunately kills the play’s testosterone-fueled frenzy by slowing down the pacing, turning a pressure cooker into no more than a tempest in a teacup. Delta Highway at THE EGYPTIAN ARENA THEATRE, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323)
969-4935. (Mayank Keshaviah)

PICK KING LEAR See theater pick.

LITTLE FISH Charlotte (Alice Ripley), the jelly-bellied central character in Michael John LaChiusa’s urban avant-garde musical, is a waffling soul, the pathetic victim of her mean-spirited boyfriend’s (Robert Torri) putdowns. When their relationship ends, she hightails it from backwater Buffalo, New York, to Manhattan; there she decides to give up smoking, an endeavor that suddenly alerts her to the emptiness of her life and prompts the painful journey leading to its transformation. Based on two melded stories by Deborah Eisenberg (“Days” and “Flotsam”), with significant chunks of this insightful writer’s prose appropriated to both book and lyrics, LaChiusa portrays the city — and, by extension, the world — as a clattering, cacophonous place, filled with bruised and bruising egos. Charlotte must learn to withstand these before absorbing that most banal but enlightening of truths — her life is hers to enjoy. It’s a jarring trip — and so is the piece sometimes, chock-full as it is with strident rhythms, non-rhyming lyrics and discordant notes (the live music sometimes overtakes the vocals). Whether or not that’s to your taste, the piece ultimately draws you in — and once it does, you’re hooked. The prime magnet is Ripley’s expressionistic performance, which rises to archetypal heights — not easy given the reactive wimpiness of her role. Under Kirsten Sanderson’s direction, she gets strong support from a versatile ensemble that includes, along with Torti, Dina Morishita as her stylishly beautiful friend Kathy,
Samantha Shelton as her crass roommate, and Chad Kimball as her cosmopolitan pal whose veneer eventually crumbles when his lover too gives him the heave-ho. THE BLANK THEATRE, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323) 661-9827 or (Deborah Klugman)

{mosimage}MUSTANG SALLY To her credit, playwright Linda Felton Steinbaum avoids sensationalizing this story about the fallout from a sexual romance between a 31-year-old music teacher (Sally Conway) and a 13-year-old student whom we never meet. Steinbaum doesn’t necessarily accomplish this, however, by taking the high road — in fact, it’s difficult to discern exactly what level or direction she intends for her narrative to take. The presence of a harridan-mother character (Tish Smiley) pushes Mustang Sally’s comedy so far beyond mere “comic relief” that sometimes two different plays seem to be fighting for the same stage. WHITEFIRE THEATRE, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (866) 811-4111. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.

PICK THE SEAGULL  See theater pick.

WILDBOY ’74 There’s evident commitment — love, even — invested in Adrian A. Cruz’s sharp staging of Eva Anderson’s apocalyptic comedy. Ben Messmer plays man-child Ethan Strong, who’s carving a career as a self-help guru — having himself recovered from years of confinement chained in a cellar. This doesn’t sound funny on the face of it, but Strong’s mountain of woes, and his insistence on weaving them into his sermons, strikes the same absurdist chord as Messmer’s blend of the heroic with the pathetic. The play is a study of broken souls wandering across a broken world — here depicted in the uncredited set of corrugated steel and beds slanted into surrealistic angles, as though dropped from the sky. For all its charms, however, the play is a mystery dramatically hinged more securely to revelations than to actions. There are exceptions: Strong’s assistant and enabler, Elliot (Trevor Peterson), undergoes a transformation of sorts, linked to his ill-fated romance with a wanderer (Natalie Urquhart, in a lovely, tart performance), who’s searching for her long-lost sister, Lotte (Lucy Griffin). Lotte has all kinds of poetical ruminations for which there’s a crucial reason in the plot, but that doesn’t prevent them from grinding the momentum to a halt, from which the production has to keep starting over. Calamity Theatre at BOOTLEG, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Mon.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (213) 389-3856. (Steven Leigh Morris)


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