THEATER PICK DAUGHTERS OF HEAVEN Michaelanne Forster’s play, which is receiving its U.S. premiere here, studies two adolescents who committed a crime that shocked New Zealand in the 1950s. (The play’s subject was also recounted in Peter Jackson’s 1994 film, Heavenly Creatures.) Pauline Parker (Amanda Jones) and Juliet Hulme (Brittania Nicol) are a pair of madly romantic souls who cling to one another in a time of stifling conformity. Besides completing each other’s sentences, they write novels and poems together, listen to Mario Lanza records, and inhabit a pagan fantasy world in which they reign as goddesses. That is, until they murder Pauline’s mother (Brenda Beck) and are put on trial for the act. The play is half-narrated by Bridget O’Malley (Kerry McGrath), a housekeeper for Juliet’s middle-class parents, and her tone echoes the period’s rigid morality (especially against the girls’ platonic lesbianism) while providing a common-sense foil for both the “educated” hypocrisy of Juliet’s parents and the girls’ breathtakingly delusional behavior. Director Judith Bohannon and an extremely committed ensemble grace this tale with a poetic sadness that makes the show a memorable evening, even though the small stage at times seems built for a dollhouse. Jones, in particular, is a talent to watch, and the intensity of her Pauline is almost frightening. Randy Pool’s outstanding costuming authentically re-creates the 1950s, although one actor inexplicably sports the kind of hippie hair that probably would’ve gotten his character at the time arrested quicker than the girls. Alexia Robinson Studios, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 26. (818) 842-4755. A BrittaniaJones Production. (Steven Mikulan)
GO DON JUAN Molière’s take on the mythic Spanish rake is steeped in the psychology of Mediterranean Catholicism, in which rebellion against God finds expression in sins of the flesh. The play, which created a firestorm of trouble for its author, begins with Don Juan (Elijah Alexander) holding forth on the earthly delights of a good cigar to his servant Sganarelle (J.D. Cullum) and ends with the unrepentant libertine dragged into the fires of hell. In between, we find him bounding from one woman to another, promising marriage to each in exchange for a night of pleasure. Alexander is fine as both Don Juan the rascal-trickster and the swashbuckling sensualist, but the show belongs to Cullum, who clownishly combines the outrage of a moral conscience with narrow-minded puritanism. As on point as the ensemble is, though, over time a suspicion deepens that this play — or, perhaps, translator Richard Nelson’s adaptation — lacks the rhetorical gunpowder of Molière’s more famous satires. More important, there’s no sense that an idea is being explored, or even a plot with any tension developed — there is simply a chain of scenes that run their course. This feeling is reinforced by Michael Michetti’s production, which hasn’t settled on a unified theme or look. Instead, the show relies upon a pastiche of costumes and comic moods that, in an earlier time, would’ve been called “postmodern.” A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in repertory, call for schedule. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. (Steven Mikulan)
GO FORTINBRAS This revival of Lee Blessing’s Hamlet redux picks up at the end of the original tale and has strong contemporary resonance due to the (literally) torturous past seven years under the Bush administration. Fortinbras (Greg Baglia) arrives in the aftermath of the regicide, and from his entrance it is clear that Blessing’s tone is sardonic, commenting on both the original work and itself. One of the few survivors in Shakespeare’s Elsinorian debacle, Fortinbras learns of the course of events from Horatio (Blair Hickey) and Osric (A.K. Raymond), but decides that since he’s “lucked into” the throne, he will “replace the whole story” of what happened, settling on a fabrication about a Polish spy as the catalyst for the massacre. While Fortinbras gets comfortable, he is visited by the ghosts of the dead royals, who all try to persuade him to tell the truth, except for Ophelia (Dagney Kerr), who merely wants to jump his bones. The other aberration is Hamlet’s ghost trapped inside a television set, a strange, anachronistic twist that sticks out like a rapier through an arras. Maria Cominis’ direction keeps the laughs coming but sometimes plays to the crowd a bit much. Baglia’s cleverly minimalist set design stretches elements to their full effect, and Tina Zarro’s costumes are perfectly in period, with modern accents. The cast give solid performances overall, but Kerr, playing Ophelia as a Courtney Love–esque sardonic slut, and Raymond, as the deferential straight “man” Osric, stand out. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 769-5858. A Theatre Neo Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
IMAGOFEST In this bill of one-act plays, three playwrights explore the detritus left behind when a romance passes its sell-by date. In playwright Matt Sauter’s “The Divorce Party,” young wife Monica (Juliet Quentin Archard) abruptly announces her desire to divorce her lumpen husband, Terry (Mike Daily). The couple’s impressionable young daughter, Annie (Anne Asland), looks on in horror as her parents then go through with a previously planned birthday party. Director Bonnie McNeil’s feverishly paced staging gives the constantly flowing venom additional zest. Asland is heartbreaking as the long-suffering daughter — and she has some touching moments with Andrew McReynolds, playing her mentally handicapped cousin. In Alex Aves’ complex breakup chamber piece, “The Other Side of Everything,” a young artist (Aves again) lures her married ex-lover (Nick Cimiluca) over to her apartment in a last-ditch effort to get back with him — or die trying. Director May Quigley Goodman’s staging crackles with rage and despair, with Aves in particular offering a desperate turn as the damaged lover. Playwright Allan Smith’s plodding “Twice on Sunday,” in which a young man (Jeremia Heitman), paralyzed from the legs down following a suicide attempt, is nursed by his generous sister (Alison Evans), lacks the plot needed to rise above its consistently glum mood. Director Roger Mathey’s inert and static staging diffuses any potential tension or emotion the piece might be able to engender. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 6. (323) 465-4446. (Paul Birchall)
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Playing the modern revolutionary, miracle worker and rabble-rouser, Jesus, Scott Charles is delightfully charismatic, and his rendition of “Gethsemane” is flawless and deeply moving. However, a disturbing lack of precision, polish and consistency in the singing blemishes this production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1971 rock musical, which chronicles the last days of Christ’s life. Many songs are off-key and off-tempo, and sometimes devoid of passion — not that having passion while singing off-key would have helped. In sharp contrast, the live accompaniment by Kevin Fosmark, Durand Stewart and Eric Jorgensen, on guitar, drums and violin, is stellar. Director Derek Charles Livingston employs a TV monitor to aid the narrative, but the onscreen print is difficult to discern. The costumes and set are simple, yet effective, and Livingston has efficiently managed his sizable cast on the small stage. Attic Theatre & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 27. (323) 525-0600 (Lovell Estell III)
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LOS ANGELES WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL In an evening called “Politically Speaking,” the first of four programs in this annual festival showcased some accomplished and moving work. A mélange of dance and spoken word, it featured four solo artists of diverse and notable talent. In “America What? I Dream an America,” Ellen Hagan, rendering an intense portrayal of urban youth, delivered a string of penetrating monologues lifted verbatim from candid interviews with 15- to 18-year-old women, about their families, their goals and their opinions of America. With minimal props, Hagan vividly relayed the unvarnished secrets of a scornful suburban rebel, a dutiful daughter of Christian evangelicals, and an incest survivor moving bravely forward with her life. Shyamala Moorty’s dance piece, “Emblem,” was billed as an interpretation of the American bald eagle, but I saw in her fitful, jarring expressiveness — played out with an American flag — a far more topical and tortured critique of American militarism. In her choreographed poem, “In These Moments (Revisited),” dancer and poet Akweta Colbert gave eloquent expression to the marginalized young women poets of Harlem, their voices ignored and discounted by literary academia. “The Fannie Lou Hamer Story” featured singer and storyteller mZuri, embellishing her biopic with stirring gospel hymns and paying inspirational tribute to the title’s civil rights movement activist. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; closed. (Deborah Klugman)
THE MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940 On the eve of WWII, a blizzard traps 10 people (and at least one murderer) in the labyrinthine countryside mansion of German Baroness Elsa von Grossenkneuten (Adrian Lee). The attendees aren’t as diverse as the gang from Clue; instead, they’re all theater denizens who portentously include the artistic team behind a play forced to close after the Stage Door Slasher sliced up three of its chorus girls. John Bishop’s quick and sly comedy thriller jokes more than it stabs, though the two actions dovetail nicely in an opening murder where the shadowy killer can’t find a place to stash a maid’s corpse (Lorianne Hill). Cleverly, besides a headstrong ingénue (understudy Jennifer Sindell), the suspects/victims are too involved in their cocktails and careers to organize a strong army against their assassin. However, the fast pacing, physical choreography and thick accents prove overwhelming for director Alex Sol and the ensemble, who have enough trouble keeping the secret doorways shut. Underneath the goofy hysteria, sound designer Ralph Rodrigues IV’s subtle whistling wind adds a chill. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 11. (323) 661-2585 or www.dreamhouseensemble.com. A Dreamhouse Ensemble production. (Amy Nicholson)
THE SMARTEST MAN IN THE WORLD This musical, based improbably on the life of Albert Einstein, claims to reveal that he had feelings “just like us.” The book, by Russ Alben and John Sparks, with lyrics by Alben and music by Jerry Hart, is awkwardly cast as an interview between Burke (John Combs), a reporter for the Jewish Daily Forwarts, and Einstein (Alan Safier), with flashbacks to events of the scientist’s life. Einstein is depicted as a relentlessly gemütlich, foxy grandpa, with emphasis on his amusing eccentricities — his difficulties in coping with simple arithmetic and his steadfast refusal to wear socks — and his love life. By putting the four women in Einstein’s life onstage at once, the writers suggest that he was a sort of aging, Jewish Don Juan. The four women — the first wife Mileva (an excellent Gail Bianchi), the second wife Elsa (Terri Homberg-Olsen), the lovelorn secretary Helen (Dani Shear) and the mistress Joanna Fantova (Susan Brindley) — are given a throwback, anti-feminist quartet called “Women Are Made for Love,” solemnly intoning that “great men require adulation.” Both book and score are bland and derivative, though the execution is slickly professional, with direction by Herb Isaacs and musical direction by Gerald Sternbach. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 11. (323) 860-6620 or www.westcoastjewishtheatre.org. (Neal Weaver)