Theater Reviews: Eve's Rapture, Half of Plenty, The Country Wife
GO THE COUNTRY WIFE Adapted and directed by Richard Tatum, William Wycherley’s 1675 bawdy satire is a sexual cream puff of delight. In cahoots with Dr. Quack (Jim Hanna), Harry Horner (Darin Toonder) passes himself off as a eunuch to polite society — all with the mind to be trusted alone with the wives of gentlemen. His impotency is the focus of much conversation, until the wives find out the truth and start lining up for his services. One who doesn’t trust him with his wife — or with any man for that matter — is Jack Pinchwife (Antony Ferguson), who keeps his wife, Margery (Caroline Sharp), under lock and key. When he finally relents after her constant pleading to see London, he dresses her as a boy, but the duplicity doesn’t fool Horner. She responds to Horner’s kisses, and a mix-up of letters ensues. There’s a subplot involving Pinchwife’s sister Althea (Tracy Eliott), who loves the sober-minded Frank Harcourt (Kenn Johnson) but has been promised in marriage to the foolish Mr. Sparkish (Peter Ross Stephens), an ignorant fop who yelps for wit yet can say nothing witty himself. Stephens turns in an eye-catching performance as the foppish dullard and very nearly steals the show. Tatum handles the ribald humor with flair, and costume designer Denise Nakamura adds hilarity with the outrageousness of the gentlemen’s wigs. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 30. (323) 969-1707. An Ark Theatre Company produciton. (Sandra Ross)
GO THE ELEPHANT MAN Andak Stage Company at the New Place Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 21. (866) 811-4111. See Stage Feature.
GO EVE’S RAPTURE The fall of Adam and Eve has furnished raw material for countless works of art but one rarely as fantastical as Bryan Reynolds’ unpredictable play. A dizzying mix of metaphors, it begins with Satan (Chris Marshall) in command of an armed and loyal jihad of fallen angels; they are determined to take down God by either recruiting Adam (Ryan Welsh) and Eve (Kendra Smith) to their cause, or destroying them. Act I depicts the first couple gamboling in the Garden, notwithstanding Eve’s uneasy sense that there’s more to existence than affectionate kisses and playful body rubs. The end of innocence comes after Satan personally tempts her to bite the apple, then fucks her wildly — leaving them both wowed by their unexpected erotic rapport. Their intercourse marks the beginning of Eve’s total transformation; whereas Adam develops the doldrums, and worse. By play’s end, Eve is one gal you surely wouldn’t want to mix it up with. Part-parable, part–comic strip fable, part–action drama, the play speaks powerfully to the unseen forces and symbols that dominate our lives. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Eden sequences drag, layered as they are with so much saccharine that one’s soon rooting for the Devil to break it up. As the prime mover of the action, Marshall’s performance is one of understated mastery. As his wife/daughter Sin, Sage Howard sizzles. Robert Cohen directs. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960-7721. (Deborah Klugman)
GO HALF OF PLENTY Anyone still trying to trace the roots of the great economic collapse of 2007 can stop digging. Playwright Lisa Dillman’s somewhat schematic satire argues that the monetary debacle responsible for crippling the markets and the existential paralysis gripping her suburbanite protagonists were both spawned by a common corruption of spirit rather than of finance. In fact, the instability that drives Marty Tindall (John Pollono) and his wife, Holly (Carolyn Palmer), to regroup in the ironically named Ardor Park housing development (and postpone having a child) has more to do with Marty’s recent bout of alcoholism and his downwardly mobile new job at the local box factory. Complicating their effort to rebuild their lives — and marriage — is Marty’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, Jack (Robert Mandan), whose presence forces Holly to be both caregiver and co-breadwinner by taking on medical-transcription work. The crisis comes when Holly seeks solace in a romantic correspondence via transcription tape with an unseen albeit married doctor/client while Marty joins the quasi-terrorist “Neighborhood Vigil,” enforcing anti-immigrant, tract etiquette alongside the cell’s creepily charismatic Zooks (the very funny Ron Bottitta and Betsy Zajko). Although a feebly bathetic denouement ultimately suggests Dillman is more interested in the exposition of theme over character, Barbara Kallir’s crisp direction of a spot-on cast, aided by the polished support of a fine design team (particularly Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s trompe l’oeil set paintings), ably fills the gaps with laughs. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 960-7774 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. A Rogue Machine production (Bill Raden)
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THE HERETIC MYSTERIES Adapted from the microhistory by Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, this offering from playwright and director David Bridel centers on the French village of Montaillou in the age of the Cathar heresy. During the late 13th century, the Cathars, who referred to themselves as Good Men and Women, protested what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Catholic Church. As such, they were tried as heretics by a tribunal headed by Bishop Fournier (Isaac Wade), who would later become Pope Benedict XII. The play’s three-act structure (a triptych of sorts) follows the same set of events in and around the town from three different perspectives: those of the kind-hearted shepherd Pierre Maury (David Hardie); the corrupt priest Pierre Clergue (Matt Weedman); and Guillaume Belibaste (Lucas Caleb Rooney), a Good Man possessed by demons. Because of its length, the play has two intermissions during which a puppet show in the courtyard recaps the events of each act in bawdy, farcical style — a creative touch that helped evoke the time period. Bridel’s direction facilitates the swift and imperceptible shifts between time periods and locations, and the cast members, the rest of whom make up the inhabitants of Montaillou, earnestly embody their characters. At more than three hours, however, the piece would benefit from a significant edit not only to clarify its message, which gets lost in the faithful documentation of history, but also to amplify its emotional impact. The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs-Sat., 7 p.m.; through June 6. (323) 653-6886. A Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble Production (Mayank Keshaviah)
NIGHTS OF NOIR: MARKED FOR LOVE/OF DICKS AND DAMES In this pair of one-acts, writer-director Kasey Wilson parodies 1940s film noir by introducing private eye Bolt (Scott Gerard), who though not exactly Sam Spade, is nevertheless good for some laughs. In Marked for Love, the impavid Bolt, who hasn’t had a case in three months, is seen asleep at his desk when he is visited by the seductive, black-clad Vivian (Elizabeth V. Newman), who needs a purloined painting recovered. Solving the crime is not easy, as Bolt must contend with a jealous cohort (Mike Park), a shadowy thin guy (Drew Droege), deception at every turn, as well as his own engaging ineptitude. Of Dicks and Dames is not as cleverly written but still serves up its share of humor. Here, Bolt is enmeshed in a megaconvoluted case involving a missing woman (Lauren Leonelli), the murder of a sinister purveyor of porn (Droege), a creepy, peg-leg German (Eric Charles Jorgenson), and Viola Shylock (Jan Pessin), whose appearance comes courtesy of the Bard. There is more style than substance here, but it eventually adds up to an evening of fun and laughs. And for an added bit of spice, Wilson (a.k.a. Honey Ima Home), does a smoking-hot burlesque routine between acts. Attic Theater and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.; LA. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960-1055. (Lovell Estell III)
GO PAY ATTENTION: ADHD IN HOLLYWOOD, ON THE ROCKS WITH A TWIST In his engaging solo show, writer-actor Frank South describes himself as beset by “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hypomania, alcoholism and issues with authority.” Despite — or perhaps because of — that baggage, he survived 20 years in Hollywood as a writer-director-producer for such TV classics as Melrose Place, Cagney & Lacey and Baywatch. Like a metaphor for his affliction, South unflappably jumps from one tale to another and back again, giving us a taste of his often-jumbled world. Under Mark Travis’ direction, South chillingly personifies his affliction as a screeching imp who constantly orders him to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. South’s stories about two of his mentors — the maverick director Robert Altman, who lectured the insecure South to trust his own judgment; and the consummate Hollywood insider Aaron Spelling, whom South claims stabbed him in the back — are hilarious, instructive and poignant. At times struggling for lines and almost forgetting the name of an actress with whom he worked, South overcomes these dilemmas to deliver a funny and bittersweet tale of someone who, while not conquering them, has at least been able to keep his demons in check. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St.; Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through June 7. (323) 960-7738. A Guest Production (Martín Hernández)
RANTOUL AND DIE Mark Roberts’ bleak comedy has four great characters and a half-dozen great speeches in search of a point. Set in Rantoul, Illinois, it opens with Gary (Paul Dillon) counseling heartbroken bud Rallis (Rich Hutchman) on his pending divorce from Debbie (Cynthia Ettinger), who works down at the Dairy Queen. Gary is a redneck mystic and self-described tiger; his approach to keeping Rallis from slicing his wrists is to choke the fear of death in him. With the entrance of the cruel and curvaceous Debbie (who’s hell-bent on keeping the house and Honda) and her cat-lady boss Callie (Lisa Rothschiller), Roberts opens several inviting routes for his play to explore grief, guilt and mercenary lust. Instead, it stalls, with repetitive arguments and shocks that don’t register as the nasty fun we crave. Director Erin Quigley gets fun performances from her four leads and gives each their moment to hold court over production designer David Harwell’s painstakingly accurate suburban ranch house, complete with dogs that bark each time a character slams the front door in frustration. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 4. (323) 960-4424 or www.rantoulanddie.com. (Amy Nicholson)
GO SETUP & PUNCH Director Daniel Henning seamlessly moves the action between the past and the present in Mark Saltzman’s highly original new comedy. After a bitter 10-year breakup with former writing partner Vanya (Hedy Burress), Brian (Andrew Leeds) contacts her about the copyright to a children’s show they co-produced. Through a series of letters, the breakup of the once happy writing duo is laid bare. The two met at Cornell, and Vanya followed Brian to New York City to kick-start his Broadway aspirations. They audition for a revue, but are told to collaborate with Jan (a mesmerizing P.J. Griffith), a rock star and composer. As the twosome becomes a threesome, Vanya’s unrequited love for Brian, a deeply closeted gay man, spills through. However, Jan, a sexual libertine, opens the closet door for Brian. The sexual tension is one contributing factor to Vanya and Brian’s breakup, but when Vanya is hired for a TV series they had both been working on, Brian goes ballistic. All of this is revealed through a series of letters, which become e-mails, which become phone calls, as the two draw near a rapprochement. Performed without an intermission, Henning keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, even as the two compose letters. Griffith also performs in the smaller role of Miguel, a once-raucous Cornell classmate who has diverged onto a spiritual path. Second Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 21. (323) 661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production (Sandra Ross)
THE SINGING SKELETON The first hour of Stefan Marks’ satire of actors and their odd relationship to theater finds hilarious truth in the absurdity of the odyssey of inexperienced but emotionally connected artists trying to find a path through Hollywood. Spouting eye-rolling platitudes about acting techniques and script-writing, several characters might easily become two-dimensional jokes, but Marks’ ear for actor lingo and a fine cast allow the play to weave a tight fabric of reality out of the ludicrous. Most successful is Barrett Shuler, with a brilliant, deadpan portrayal of Brandon, a first-time playwright nearly as passionate about the work as he is about gorgeous Hannah (Jessica Kepler), whom he hopes to cast (and kiss) as his star. Brian Taubman as his clueless best friend; Mark Gadbois as an aging and idiotic macho actor; and Matt Weight as an Australian pretty boy join in to make this journey through Equity Waiver heartbreakingly funny. The title is not metaphoric but literal, as a singing skeleton (Marks) punctuates the play and play-within-a-play with pithy songs beautifully sung to acoustic guitar. Sadly, Act 2 disintegrates into cheap sketch, still garnering laughs, but from feeble jokes rather than clever insights. Occasionally the foolishness pauses for a melodramatic moment, but the play never regains the polish and painfully funny beauty of Act 1. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (888) 201-0804. Crooked Arrow Productions (Tom Provenzano)
GO TRAFFICKING IN BROKEN HEARTS There’s something hauntingly familiar about Edwin Sanchez’s lowlife romance, and I don’t mean its pre-Giuliani, 42nd Street locale, so palpably invoked by Sanchez and director Efrain Schunior’s blistering stage poetry. The block’s sordid miasma of peepshows, seedy hotel rooms, gay movie houses and Port Authority men’s rooms — cleverly represented in designer Marika Stephens’ triptych of skeletal, neon-trimmed, box scaffolds — comprises the track where Puerto Rican street veteran Papo (a soulful Ramon Camacho) hustles the tricks of his rough trade. It’s also where he falls for Brian (Stephen Twardokus), a chronically repressed attorney and 26-year-old virgin so tangled in the apron strings of a domineering mother that he can’t consummate a hooker-john liaison much less engage in an openly gay relationship. In the meantime, Papo will have to settle for the runaway, Bobby (Elijah Trichon), a 16-year-old package of dangerously damaged goods, who only wants to make Papo a good wife. The arrangement quickly develops into a volatile mix of vulnerability, unrequited desire and wounded pride just waiting for the inevitable spark. Of course, Papo is no hard-bitten Ratso Rizzo; he’s descended from an even more ancient line of Hollywood hokum: the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. Credit Schunior’s skillful sleight of hand, and riveting performances by Camacho and Twardokus for selling such a shamelessly adolescent fantasy, which may be the greatest hustle of the show. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 7. (323) 957-1884 or www.tix.com. (Bill Raden)
UPTON SINCLAIR’S SINGING JAILBIRDS: THE MUSICAL Created by Ray Buffer and composer Robert Gross, this pro–working man musical is adapted from Upton Sinclair’s 1924 melodrama about an ad hoc labor leader jailed for speaking out against a company’s brutally repressive management. Sinclair probably derived inspiration from his own incarceration for a similarly defiant act, which took place a year prior, at a gathering of striking dockworkers at Liberty Hill in San Pedro. Unlike Sinclair, who was soon released, his leading character, Red (Paul Rorie), languishes in a tiny rat-infested cell for an indefinite period. During that time he becomes subject to hallucinogenic fantasies and flashbacks that tell of a loving marriage destroyed by impoverished circumstances. The drama also includes courtroom sequences, and other prison scenes showing men cooped up like chickens; in this adaptation’s most effective scene, a ruthless police official (Adam S.) orders the cell’s windows shut, and the men drop one by one. Buffer, who directs, stages the action on the huge proscenium of San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theatre. The performers tend to look diminished, but Buffer partially compensates with an effective two-tiered set; in some ways, the small cell on a large stage optimizes the theme of a little man at the mercy of larger forces. Otherwise, the production, worthy for its subject matter, has major problems: too many repetitive musical numbers; vocals out of synch with their behind-the-scenes orchestration; questionable lighting; and performances that need serious professional polishing. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 929-8129. A Relevant Stage Theatre Company production (Deborah Klugman)
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