BLINK & YOU MIGHT MISS ME You've seen Larry Blum before — in fact, I'd bet 20 bucks you've seen Blum on TV a dozen times. But unless you know who you're looking for, you might not have noticed him. When his one-man show about his career opens with footage of Meryl Streep's 2010 Golden Globes win and Blum struts out and asks, "Did you notice who took Meryl to the stage?" the audience does a double take. Blum is an on-camera talent escort, a hired gun who makes sure no star snaps a stiletto on her way to accept an award. Before that, he was a dancer, and earlier still he was a celebrity-obsessed gay Jewish teen in late-'60s New York who lost his virginity to a sailor in an alley behind a Nestlé truck. ("Every time I have a cup of cocoa, I still get hard," he reminisces.) Blum's good-humored, self-deprecating show has the patter of a dinner party guest who's told his stories a few too many times, and director Stan Zimmerman could get Blum's one-liners to sound more off-the-cuff. Still, Blum's got bite and it's lucky for him that among the many, many stars he dishes dirt about, at least half are dead or too old to bother calling a lawyer (Roseanne Barr, Raquel Welch and Dionne Warwick should stay away). Though in his youth he hoped to become famous, Blum doesn't paint himself as a has-been, never-was or will-be. He's proud to pay his rent by pursuing his dream — and by being a shameless residual-check hound who even joined Susan Lucci's fan club to help keep track of every nickel he was owed from all the talk shows that ran clips of him taking Lucci's arm during her big Emmy win. (He elbowed her husband out of the way for the honor.) Blum's cascade of quick clips keeps multimedia operator Matthew Quinn busy as they stack up to build a scrapbook of the busiest actor you'd never recognize. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m., thru May 27. (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/blink. (Amy Nicholson)
GO BURN THIS Lanford Wilson was poetic even in his passing. The playwright, who premiered Burn This at the Mark Taper Forum 24 years ago, passed away on March 23, the night the Taper began previews of its first revival production of the play. Even the play's premise feels eerily symbolic: Shaken by the unexpected death of their friend Robbie, three friends find themselves confronting their paralyzed lives. Anna, consumed by her career as a dancer, struggles to create an exciting personal life, but chooses a safe lover in Burton. In a brilliant scene in which Anna awakes to find that the butterflies that had been pinned to her walls are still alive, Wilson introduces her unlikely savior: Robbie's runaway train wreck of a brother, Pale. Crashing wildly into Anna's loft after an all-nighter, Adam Rothenberg's Pale is the hot, pounding heart of this production: As the radiator hisses on, he tells Anna, "I deliver water. I put out fires ... but sometimes you just let it burn." Clutching at his heart, which is "fucking killing" him, and continuing on a coke-fueled rant that ranges from trash-talking the neighborhood to shedding tears over his brother's death, Pale finishes his first scene with a seduction so sexy that he's clearly throwing wood, not water, on this fire. Brooks Ashmanskas, as Anna's gay roommate Larry, is flamboyantly funny but still fleshes out the character beyond campiness. Ken Barnett's Burton is purposely boring. Zabryna Guevara's Anna, with her canned vocal inflections and forced emotion, is the stiffest of the cast. A special nod to Ralph Funicello's set, whose vast, underused space perfectly suits the characters' stunted lives. Coursing with adrenaline, Burn This spurs you as if a firecracker nearly went off in your hand. Live, Wilson shouts, NOW. Nicholas Martin directs. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2:30 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m., thru May 1. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
DADDYO DIES WELL Murray Mednick's poetic, philosophical comedy, the fifth in his series of eight Gary Plays, seems to take place in several spheres at once, ranging from the Amazonian jungle to the Andes, Santa Monica to the afterlife. Salty, aging hipster DaddyO (Hugh Dane) has been run down by a hit-and-run driver, and now he's dying. He summons his actor stepson, Gary (Casey Sullivan), to participate in an Indian soul-cleansing ritual involving the hallucinogenic, vomit-inducing drug ayahuasca. Also somehow present, physically or spiritually, are DaddyO's deceased wife, the ruefully benevolent Mama Bean (Strawn Bovee); his kindly but misanthropic shrink (Jack Kehler); and Gary's two ex-wives, Gloria (Elizabeth Greer), who is on a vision quest in the Andes, and the forbidding and judgmental Marcia (Melissa Paladino). Presiding over it all is the angel of death, Antonio (Peggy Ann Blow), who appears as an ice-cream vendor in a red jumpsuit, and as a masked Indian shaman. Mednick's play is always interesting as it circles, playfully and endlessly, around various life-and-death issues, but it's sometimes so personal as to be hermetic. Dane is engaging and funny as the play's most fully developed character, and the cast skillfully fleshes out the other inhabitants of his drama. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 22. Produced by Padua Playwrights Productions. (323) 960-7724, plays411.com/DaddyO. (Neal Weaver)
THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE Among the hazards of dramatizing hot topics, shelf life can be the most bedeviling. The time it takes to get a scalding current event from headline to script to stage virtually assures that the initiating, blood-boiling public outrage will have long ago chilled into yawning audience indifference. Such is sadly the case with playwright Donald Freed's stale speculative tale about Panamanian General Manuel Noriega (Robert Beltran) and his infamous attempt to seek sanctuary with Archbishop Jose Sebastian Laboa (Tom Fitzpatrick) in the papal consulate during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. As the ailing archbishop prostrates himself in evening prayers, the sounds of gunfire and circling U.S. military helicopters (effectively piped by sound designer John Zalewski) announce the expected, albeit dreaded arrival of both the freshly ousted dictator and besieging U.S. Marines. The exasperated prelate would like nothing better than to turn over his volatile guest to the invaders. The general eventually agrees to leave, but only if the Vatican's former grand inquisitor first hears his side of the story and adjudges the general to be as diabolical as charged. During the ensuing confession, Freed spins a historical web of colonial collusion between church and state, ranging from Columbus and Balboa to Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela pulls out all the production stops — including Francois-Pierre Couture's decrepit, blood-splashed set — but not even veteran talents like Beltran and Fitzpatrick can compensate for the urgency or allegorical lift that Freed's excursive text so sorely lacks. A Latino Theater Company production. LATC, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru April 24. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.com. (Bill Raden)
THE ELEPHANT MAN Just minutes into director John Drouillard's revival of Bernard Pomerance's 1979 drama, a man in a worn hospital gown whose face is fixed in an expressionless stare is introduced as John Merrick and then shuffled off the stage. Not long afterward, Mr. Merrick (Sean Hoagland) is on display, his grotesque deformities itemized in a frosty, clinical manner to an audience of gawkers after he has undergone a breathtaking transformation into the "Elephant Man." The contrast is a nice turn by Drouillard; the fact that it's also an intensely unsettling moment is a tribute to the genius and artistry of the play's makeup designer, Barney Burman. The play chronicles the final stages of Merrick's life after he is given permanent shelter at the London Hospital Medical College and placed under the care of Dr. Frederick Treves (Alex Monti Fox). The play isn't so much about Merrick's condition and dehumanizing "thingification" as it is about the transformative effect he had on those closest to him and our often cynical sense of morality. Though neatly packaged, Drouillard's production lacks the requisite emotional resonance; too often it feels as if we, too, are dispassionate examiners of Merrick's plight instead of being emotionally drawn into it. On balance, cast performances are quite good. Hoagland is impressive as Merrick, and Hillary Herbert does a wonderful turn as Mrs. Kendall, the actress and caretaker who provides Merrick with genuine tenderness. The complex relationship between Merrick and Treves is the soul of this play, but Fox is convincing only in patches, and seems completely out of his depth for this enormously critical role. Vali Tirsoaga has designed a simple yet effective set, and Pheobe H. Boynton's costumes are equally well crafted. El Centro Theatre Circle Stage, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., thru April 24. (323) 960-5081, elcentrotheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
HELL MONEY To attend Ruth McKee's comedy of young, unglamorous poverty, you take an elevator up six floors to a small, one-room loft that places you squarely in the apartment of Katie (Elia Saldana) and Julie (Jennifer Chang). Well, sort of small — it's the "Friends-style version that's more than the 10-by-10 they could afford," cautions the company's rep during a preshow announcement. The girls, 19 and freshly out of the foster-care system, are so broke they live on ketchup and ramen, but they've got big dreams — at least Julie does — of graduating college and defying their low expectations. McKee flirts with deeper emotions, like Julie's fear of abandonment and distrust of men: When she pulls a knife on their neighbor Norman (Ewan Chung) and warns the beautiful, brainless Katie against dating, we sense the pain in her past. But the comedy, directed by Jen Bloom, is all shriek and little substance, a loud melodrama, with an edge of menace from Burt Mosely's turn as a Nigerian drug dealer who put Katie through basic training as a hospital orderly so she could steal pills for him. There's a sneaking suspicion that Saldana is a deft comedian, but there's so much shouting that it's hard to tell. Agenda Loft, 400 S. Main St., Studio 601, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru April 24. (213) 626-0071, chalkrep.com. (Amy Nicholson)
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GO N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK In 2002, three UCLA students collaborate on a racial stereotype–inspired performance piece that blends theater, standup comedy, poetry and hip-hop. A scant two years later their show has transferred to the Los Angeles Theatre Center and garners rave reviews. Before long the trio is touring 32 states and selling out venues, and a grassroots phenomenon is born. As part of that tour, the show with the name people are still uncomfortable saying aloud returns to Los Angeles for a third time since its inception. The brainchild of Rafael Agustin, Allan Axibal and Miles Gregley, as well as their former mentors Liesel Reinhart and Steven T. Seagle (who co-direct), the show features new additions Dionysio Basco and Jackson McQueen, who, along with Agustin, keep audiences rolling with laughter. Since the show first opened, we have seen the rise of Obama and Sotomayor, yet we've also seen open racial slurs from elements within the Tea Party and the passage of SB 1070, Arizona's strict immigration law. Two steps forward, one step back. So more than ever, we need a show that embraces, dismantles and remixes the racial stereotypes that simmer beneath the surface. The three actors do a fabulous job of squeezing in sentimental moments of poignancy, but revert to comedy before they become trite or preachy. Reinhart and Seagle's direction keeps the actors efficiently darting in and out of the Mondrian curtain of colored squares that serves as backdrop, and Kristie Roldan's nimble lighting keeps pace, even if the actors sometimes don't quite find their marks. N.W.C. is most definitely in the house, and you'd be wise to catch it before it's Audi once more. A Speak Theater Arts Production. Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru April 23. (818) 495-4925, nwclive.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Laced with casual expletives, John Pollono's one-act play packs a powerful punch. When a trio of longtime mates from Manchester, N.H., get together for some heavy drinking in Frank's car-mechanic workshop — David Mauer's beautifully realized set — they reminisce about old times and chat about women, the Internet and the virtues of social networking. The pals, confident Frank (John Pollono), ladies' man Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and nervy guy Packie (Michael Redfield), indulge in trading insults and mocking digs as they chew the fat. Inappropriate comments, harsh words and hasty apologies are exchanged, but nobody's sure why Frank is busting out the good whiskey. A young college kid (Josh Helman) arrives to do a quiet drug deal with Frank and all of a sudden the scene erupts into terrifying violence. Pollono's script is an exquisitely modulated gem, gripping the viewer with a storyline that is both shocking and sobering in its commentary on modern interactions in the technological age. Director Andrew Block extracts such realistic performances from his cast that we almost forget we are watching a play, as the appalling action unfolds mere inches away. Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., Mon., 8 p.m. (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)
SOME SWEET DAY Billed as "a love triangle between two people," Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus' romantic comedy Some Sweet Day is actually a tale about a middle-aged guy who goes back in time. Ken (Kobler) still holds a torch for his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Kate McCoy), who suffered an untimely death. Having spent 20 years perfecting a portable time machine, Ken is struck by lightning and catapulted back to his past. Once there, he tries to convince Casey (Nicaolas Smith), the younger version of himself, not to let the girl of his dreams get away. The premise is good and co-writer Marcus, who also directs, does well with the casting, as the two actors playing Ken/Casey are dead ringers. But Marcus stumbles with the tone of the play, which strives for farcical heights but instead suffers from wildly broad acting and shouting delivery. The rapid-fire repartee feels contrived and the jokes are pedestrian, with exchanges such as "Mom, you are not psychic!" "I knew you were going to say that." Even the sight gags are leaden. McCoy, however, shines as the sexy and vivacious Jenny, who's certainly deserving of a trip back to yesteryear. Knightsbridge Theatre, 2044 Riverside Drive, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 6 p.m., thru April 24. (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO A WEEKEND WITH PABLO PICASSO Sitting half-naked in a cardboard box painted to resemble a bathtub, Herbert Siguenza launches into an imagined weekend in the life of Pablo Picasso in a manner that seems entirely fitting: balls out. Siguenza — a painter and impassioned fan of Picasso who's known for his work in the performance group Culture Clash — bases his solo show on a collection of utterances by the mercurial, prolific co-founder of the Cubist movement, setting it in the artist's studio in the South of France in 1957. Tasked with creating six paintings and three vases in less than three days, Picasso, at the age of 76, becomes a whirling dervish of work and wild philosophizing. Though the countless famous quotes (including many heavy-handed statements about love, war and politics) and the protagonist's streak of two dozen eureka moments in 90 minutes sometimes lend an air of staginess to the work, getting to watch Siguenza paint, prowl the stage and lovingly channel the spirit of an eccentric icon more than makes up for the moments of inauthenticity. Scenic designer Giulio Cesare Perrone creates an art studio fit for a legend, and Victoria Petrovich's projection design synchs perfectly with the boldness of Siguenza's performance. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 1. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Amy Lyons)