Theater Reviews: He Asked for It, Office Sonata, Hedda Gabler
BIKING WITH ANDREW SCOTT is an attempt to grapple with the processes of grief, after the suicide of an AIDS-afflicted young man, Andy (Robert Seeley), sends a trio of people whose lives he touched through the famous five stages. These people are Andy’s brusque, workaholic female friend, Stephanie (Pamela Donnelly); his lover, Chad (Scott Crawford); and his mother, Pastor Marie (Bonnie Tyler). Marie has formed her own evangelical church, with a chorus of “minions” following her in rabid agreement and with some appealing a cappella backup that’s among the highlights of Christopher Holder’s staging. Debbie Bolsky’s play is carved into five acts, each depicting one of the stages of grief, which is cumbersomely announced and defined at the start of the section. The focus, however, is on Stephanie, while Andy’s ghost hovers with as much difficulty saying goodbye as the rest of them. Bolsky bolsters the abundant psychodrama with riffs of humor, including scenes with a fortuneteller (Mona Lee Wylde) seeking to get a degree in psychology. I found the quirkiness so strained, the characters’ expressions of despondency so self-absorbed and the play’s focus so diffused, I checked out emotionally. Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6126 Yucca Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 17. (323) 960-7792. A Dillon Street Players Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
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The Glass Menagerie
TicketsSat., Feb. 25, 8:00pm
TicketsSat., Feb. 25, 8:00pm
Long Hard Sets with Ken Garr & More!
TicketsSat., Feb. 25, 10:00pm
The Nighttime Show with Stephen Kramer Glickman
TicketsSat., Feb. 25, 10:00pm
Stand-Up When? with Jodi Miller & More!
TicketsMon., Feb. 27, 8:00pm
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Biking With Andrew Scott
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FROM DOOR TO DOOR When Mary (Cheryl David), the central figure in playwright James Sherman’s genial character portrait of three generations of women in a Jewish American family, vows that she won’t treat her daughter the same way her mother treated her, you know one thing’s for certain: Mary is going to turn into her mother before the show’s over. As a girl, Mary is browbeaten and intimidated by her imperious, pragmatic mother, Bessie (Nan Tepper), whose harshness is a clear product of the difficult life she has had to endure. As an adult, Mary dotes on her own daughter, Deborah (Robyn Cohen), a more liberated child who nevertheless grows up to have a rocky marriage. Sherman’s drama, which consists of scattershot vignettes that take us briskly through the years, sometimes seems pickled in sentimentality. One might wish that director Howard Teichman’s intimate but haltingly paced production boasted more psychological depth, but that is as much the flaw of Sherman’s glib script, which is top-heavy with too-easily-resolved situations. David cuts an unexpectedly tragic figure as the daughter who does exactly what her mother wants but winds up living vicariously through her own child. However, the show’s star turn is Tepper’s fierce matriarch, a performance as sympathetic as it is terrifying. The Electric Lodge Theatre, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 1. (310) 823-0710. An H. and R. Displays Inc. Production in association with Theatre 40. (Paul Birchall)
GO THE GLASS MENAGERIE Who’d have guessed that the image of a tiny glass unicorn, and the severing of its horn, could still pack such an emotional punch in Tennessee Williams’ early dating play. Or the sight of shy, homely Laura (Tawny Mertes) blowing out candles one by one can still come attached to such devastating symbolism for her future. These are shards of simple, tender poeticism so hard to find in new play writing. Director Brian Kite’s production is largely by-the-numbers — amping up the dreamy aspects of memory in the original piano and violin underscoring, composed by Allan Moon and with sound designer Jason Duplissea. The introspective approach of Toby Meuli’s narrator, would-be poet Tom, makes for a lack of style, even competence, in his audience addresses, somewhat remediated when he enters the scenes and battles for solitude and independence with his mother, Amanda (Lori Berg). There’s a depression across the country and Tom, hanging by a thread to his warehouse job, is the only breadwinner. The rest is all Amanda’s imperious, meddling rectitude, which Berg handles with stoic dignity. Mertes’ shell-shocked Laura comes with layers of sensitivity, and the scene with her one “gentleman caller” — on which Amanda pins all hope for Laura’s future — is just perfect, thanks largely to Stephen Van Dorn’s sweet, cavalier guest, Jim, who arouses such false hope in Laura, beautifully transmitted by Mertes. “I am often disappointed,” says Jim, but I’m never discouraged — right before he breaks Laura’s heart. Crossley Terrace Theater, Hollywood Presbyterian Church grounds, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru June 8. (323) 462-8460. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO HE ASKED FOR IT Writer Erik Patterson has written an AIDS play with a difference. His take on the subject is fresh, provocative and unpredictable, his characters are engagingly human, and he finds plenty of comedy along the way. Young Ted (Joe Egender) flees Wyoming for Los Angeles, hoping to make a career in show business. A shy, over-romantic, inhibited gay virgin, he’s too fearful to follow up on his sexual opportunities. He’s been disowned by his family, except for his loyal sister Sophie (Rebecca Sigl), and he’s clueless about navigating L.A.’s gay scene. Advised by a guy at the gym (Brad C. Light), he ventures into an Internet chat room, where he meets handsome karaoke-singing Henry (Ron Morehouse). They’re soon in love, but Henry is HIV-positive and breaks up with Ted lest he infect him. Desperately love-struck, Ted decides he wants to be infected, like Henry, and deliberately seeks out Rigby (Christopher Neiman), another positive with a taste for barebacking. The play then shifts focus to Rigby, who resents his own affliction and actively seeks to infect others, till guilt catches up with him. Neil H. Weiss sensitively directs the terrific ensemble, including Joel Scher and Joe Roche, on Carlos Moore’s neat minimalist set. Theatre of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru June 1. www.theatreofnote.com or (323) 856-8611. (Neal Weaver)
HEDDA GABLER Several years ago, the Fabulous Monsters devised a highly entertaining take on Ibsen’s classic which they named Speed Hedda. This production has gone in an entirely opposite direction, in what could be called Valium Hedda. Danish actress Dina Rosenmeier possesses the stunning beauty that makes Hedda so desired by all men in this stark story of a woman frustrated by the gender restraints that keep her down. Rosenmeier takes too literally Hedda’s complaint that all she can do is “bore herself to death” by performing most of the play in a semitrance. She leads the cast, apparently with the complicity of co-directors Charles Otte and Rick Pagano, in an often inaudible, emotionally sterile outing. The most difficult to understand is the should-be sexy and exciting philosopher-writer Eilert Lovborg who captivates Hedda and her school pal Mrs. Elvsted (Gillian Brashear). As Lovborg, John Livingston seems to be trying to channel James Dean’s mumble-and-scrape style of acting. In an interesting twist, the directors update the second half from the 19th century to the present day with a laptop at center stage, but this choice would seem to obviate the central plot element of a handwritten manuscript that means life or death to Lovborg and Hedda. Though the intensity of the melodrama is weak, the story is told clearly and with admirably cruel humor. Costume designer Christina Wright clearly had fun updating the characters’ style between two centuries. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., WLA; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 31. (310) 477-2055. A Freya Films production. (Tom Provenzano)
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From Door to Door
THE INJURED PARTY See Stage Feature. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 11. (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org.
GO NEVIS MOUNTAIN DEW The title of Steve Carter’s 1978 melodrama refers to a brand of rum from Nevis, the Caribbean island where the denizens of the play, set in 1954 Queens, New York, are from. “Ain’t nothing but truth serum,” is how one character labels the libation, and there’s plenty — sometimes too much — truth waiting to be told once the drinking starts. For Jared (Sammie Wayne IV), encased in an iron lung, there’s the truth that on this, his 50th birthday, he longs for release from his resentment and depression. There’s the truth about Jared’s wife, Billie (a miscast Nancy Renee), and how her husband’s once virile and now listless body has wreaked havoc on her sexuality. Then there’s the truth about Jared’s sister, Everelda (Veronica Thompson), and her pathological need to care for her stricken brother. With so much going on it is hard for director Nancy Cheryll Davis to find focus for her mostly capable cast, especially when Carter’s dialogue leans to the histrionic. Underneath it all, though, lies the bitter truth that it is more often we who make the choices that keep us from our own liberation. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 18. (213) 624-4796. A Towne Street Theater production. (Martín Hernández)
OFFICE SONATA The first thing you notice about Danny Cistone’s glossy NYC advertising-agency set, for Andy Chmelko’s workplace satire, is how the clocks showing London and Tokyo time have stopped, and how the minute hands are not aligned — even though the two cities’ time zones only differ by hours. Assuming this is deliberate, it sets a tone for the blazing dysfunction of this office, which is a cauldron of — and haven for — unfettered sadism. Petty employee errors are punished by the arrival of “The Birdman,” who plants himself by the offender’s desk, then follows the victim to the restroom, and even home, with an index finger permanently raised in the victim’s face. Evidently, punishment takes a higher priority than productivity. Other offenders are hooded, handcuffed and dragged away. There are some lovely touches, such as uber-hyper Marisa (Amanda Randall) ordering her assistant (Jackie Brechner) to “call my children and tell them I love them.” And one scene has the stuff of classic farce, where bored Martin (Stephen Eshenbaugh) logs on to a porn site which infects every computer in the building with a fountain of filth — with Martin’s name attached. The scene is enriched by live dancing girls melting through the office walls. The play flies on such recognizable aspects of every workplace, but it flounders on the presumption that sadism is the entire cause of the agonies being described, which is what makes the farce wear out its welcome, despite Scott Werve’s fine direction of the heroic ensemble. The relentless drive for cost-cutting and efficiency is what decimates morale and makes such places so inefficient and surreal. These unaddressed, mercenary motives would be the egg whites in this soufflé, here left out of the recipe, which is why the comedy doesn’t rise to its potential. Hayworth Studio Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 31. (323) 960-5770 or www.plays411.com/officesonata. Range View productions. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SAFE Sometime in the future, the enemies of America will unleash a barrage of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons upon the populace. Who will survive? What will remain? These are some of the questions lurking at the heart of Chuck Rose’s apocalyptic drama; neither is persuasively explored or addressed. Three hundred feet underground, a luxury bunker — one of many — has been constructed to protect people of importance. Not just government types, but a married couple (Jade Sealey; Tony Pasqualini), a journalist (Cameron Meyer), a young man (John Kassir) and Norman Biederman (Ronald Hunter). Then there are two shadowy figures, Monroe and Dewitt (Tom Groenwald; Jordan Lund), employees of a sinister government agency whose sole purpose is to keep these survivors happy, fed and clueless about what is really happening, aided by intrusive news broadcasts. This premise is as clueless as most of the characters. Most of what we witness is secondhand intrigue, lots of shouting, fighting and a dash of the salacious. Trapped in their comfortable confines, the survivors start to rebel, which ultimately dovetails into a preposterous finale. Rose’s dialogue is awkward (and in many instances, unintelligible), the plot, as thin as rice paper, depends entirely on the melodrama, and with the play’s static nature, you might feel some numbness expanding from your limbs across your torso as the production wears on. Kappy Kilburn directs. The Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 6. (310) 836-7823. A Circus Theatricals production. (Lovell Estell III)
TRAPEZOID In writer Nic Cha Kim’s amiable sci-fi comedy, a robotics company recruits a slam poet named Peter (Lanny Joon) to invest both art and soul into its latest creation. The robot, AIMEE, a square white cube with a female voice box (voiced by Stephanie Lincoln), develops an unhealthy attachment to the young slammer; newly empowered, it throws a wrench into his personal love life while wreaking violence on the less likable members of the company. The latter include Larry (Charles Kim), the boorish engineer who built AIMEE, and Missy (Elaine Kao), the company’s officious attorney. Directed by Chil Kong, the piece leaves many secondary plot points unexplained but succeeds by virtue of its wry humor and lack of pretentiousness. As the beset-upon artist, Joon handles his character’s absurd circumstances with diffident charm. Kim is appropriately obnoxious as his foil and Alberto Isaac’s self-important CEO strikes just the right ironic note. But Kao’s bossy lawyer comes off as stilted and over-the-top while Peter’s girlfriend, Julia Cho, seems prosaically whiny. Designer Dennis Yen’s sound and music add pacing and style, as does costumer Ivy Y. Chou’s use of color. A more sophisticated lighting plot might also highlight the comedy, but designer Louis Delgado’s resources appeared to be limited. GTC Burbank, 1111-B West Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 25. (323) 993-7245. A Lodestone Theatre Ensemble production. (Deborah Klugman)
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