EAT THE RUNT Sometimes a good concept, a canny script and talented performers add up to less than one hopes for. Directed by Tom Beyer, playwright Avery Crozier's farce starts with a museum-job applicant name Merritt, who employs sex, empathy and blackmail to manipulate his/her way into a job. "His/her" refers to the show's roles being assigned by the audience at the top of the evening, from a pool of actors (each of whom has learned every part) of mixed gender and ethnicity. The night I attended, Merritt was played by a Caucasian woman (Krista Conti). By the end of Act 1, the character has successfully navigated a treacherous interview process, only to be thwarted when a competitor, claiming to be the real Merritt, appears — and a new merry-go-round of manipulation begins. What is most engaging is the piece's biting portrayal of the games people play to secure and/or defend their turf. As to the role shuffling, the point is to demonstrate how gender and ethnicity affect the particulars — but not the substance — of power politics, and to showcase the versatile performers who can carry this exercise off, as this ensemble can (special kudos to alternate Cat Davis and Joshua Wolfe Coleman). The drawback to this setup is its tendency to be roll into glib sketch comedy, and to limit each performer's opportunity to bring a richer dimension to the satire. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs.; through Sept. 9. (323) 856-8611. (Deborah Klugman)
GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of the Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures — taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. 3 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; through Oct. 17. (800) 595-4849. (Lovell Estell III)
GO LAST FARE While playing a reverend presiding over a funeral, Dominic Hoffman introduces us to "three Cs" that have nothing to do with gemstones: clarity, closure and the circle of life. These concepts become the warp and weft of the story Hoffman weaves about a man who has died a mysterious death, and another who is searching for clues to the first man's demise. In his search, the second man (represented by the audience) meets a host of characters, including an expat British cabbie; a resident of a crack house, who's contemplating jumping from the roof; a Beverly Hills call girl; a gay dancer in his West Hollywood studio; and a landlord who fastidiously trims his rosebushes. Each of Hoffman's representations of these diverse personae is distinct and memorable, but some of the funniest lines come from the roof-dwelling man's riffs on race and stereotypes. He is mad about a lot of things, but he doesn't "call it anger." To him it's just "a logical response to a fucked-up situation." Similarly, the response of each character to his respective situation is portrayed with empathy and humor by Hoffman, who also wrote the piece and whose expressions and perfectly placed pauses milk its comedic potential to the fullest. While the details surrounding the man's death become blurred as the show goes on, its examination of human relations becomes sharper. The Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 5. (800) 838-30. brownpapertickets.com/event/121664 (Mayank Keshaviah)
A LIFE OF EASE Philip William Brock's play tells the bizarre tale of a man obsessed with the past, and with his grandmother, Momma Lo (Nicola T. Hersh), who is trapped in it. Momma has two grandsons: June Bug (Dylan Maddalena) is about to marry and move north, while priggish Yale (Richard Michael Knolla) lives in her garage. He hates all things modern, passionately loathes the new shopping center, which is going up across the road, and cherishes memories of the movie Brigadoon. Meanwhile, Momma is lost in memories of her younger self, Lorraine (Jordana Berlin), who went boating on the river with her fiancé Louis (Maddalena), only to have him maroon her on an island as punishment for refusing him premarital sex. While dwelling on that memory, Momma Lo suffers a stroke, which wipes out later memories and makes her believe that she's still in her 20s. Yale becomes entangled in Momma's fantasies, slipping the bonds of sanity, and falling in love with her younger self. This makes for some effective imagery but stretches credibility. Director Amanda Weier and her able cast handle the material with sensitivity, but their efforts are thwarted by the murkiness of the later scenes. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd. Call theater for variable schedule, through Sept. 18. (323) 882-5912, openfist.org (Neal Weaver)
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GO TITUS REDUX Military hero Titus (Jack Stehlin) radiantly returns to Washington, D.C., from the Middle East wars to a grand welcome by the public and his family, but a serious case of PTSD sets in to distort and ultimately obliterate his reality. As his mind descends, his beautiful wife, Tamara (Brenda Strong), becomes an adulterous devil, her two sons (Dash Pepin and Vincent Cardinale) are transformed into murderous monsters who rape and maim his precious daughter, Lavinia (Margeaux J. London), and his mild-mannered neighbor (John Farmanesh-Bocca) transforms into his mortal enemy. The story's pieces are mostly shaped from fragments of Shakespeare's tragedy — but the text quickly jumps from the original Elizabethan verse to contemporary prose, the staging leaps from staid classical poses and violent choreography to Twyla Tharpe–style pop-dance sequences to big-screen film images. Each of the elements under Farmanesh-Bocca's often wild direction offers vividly exciting moments, but the event doesn't congeal. There are filmed pieces that are given too much weight, overwhelming the sections of live movement. Still the talents of seven fine performers are glorious, particularly Stehlin's powerful portrayal of pride crumbling into madness. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 11. (213) 628-2772. (Tom Provenzano)