GO BIG BABY Joe Keyes' "serio-comedy" unfurls in a cramped Midwestern apartment shared by Kile (Keyes) and his diminutive, gray-haired mother, June (Danielle Kennedy). This is a couple with colossal issues, and they wear them like comfortable old shoes. Mom is a staunch, churchgoing Catholic who endured an abusive marriage, and constantly fawns over and coddles her grown son. Kile is a scary bundle of pent-up energy and frustration who paces like a caged animal, stays medicated on a bevy of drugs, and frequently gets physical or argues vociferously over the merest trifle. And for most of this 90-minute play, the pair's verbal judo is pretty much what transpires, although Keyes makes the familiar Odd Couple domestic scenario work, thanks to witty writing. Kile's state of perpetual loneliness is unexpectedly transformed when, in a fit of rage, he hurls a broom out of the door and accidentally bloodies the nose of his new neighbor, Nancy (Chloe Taylor). As it turns out, she's got her own emotional baggage, but things really turn funny — and kinky — when Kile discovers that she's a hard-working dominatrix. Notwithstanding a touch of sitcom banality, the script offers its share of laughs, and the three actors perform well under Matt Roth's direction. LOUNGE THEATRE, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (323) 960-5563. (Lovell Estell III)
Kylie Delre and Kevin Blake in "Kerr Package"
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Jen Gabbert and Frank Dooley in "Leading Ladies"
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Anna Nicholas, Andrea Syglowski and Alan Bruce Becker star in "Post Mortem"
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A FEMININE ENDING Plays about music are notoriously disappointing, and Sarah Treem's wry meditation on the challenges facing a young "classical" composer about to marry a pop star proves no exception. Treem aims for profundity, but only truisms emerge from her intermittently engaging discourse on talent and compromise. The shortcomings are elemental, for we never learn why Amanda (a perky Brooke Bloom) wants to write symphonies and concertos, or what she hopes to express through music — only that she wants to be famous. And why is Amanda an oboist? Most composers play the piano or a string instrument. Amanda's scrumptious fiancé, Jack (the hunky Peter Katona), exists mostly as eye candy, parading around in black briefs for one, um, arresting scene. His rival, Billy (Jedadiah Schultz in Dennis Miller mode), is little more than a plot device, albeit a welcome funny one. Only the radiant Amy Aquino — as Amanda's mother, Kim — truly enlivens things. Overbearing but loving, Kim tries to get Amanda to chart her own course and not make the same mistakes she did. Director Timothy Douglas moves both actors and props easily about SCR's typically well-appointed stage, but he never makes us believe a thing. SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 27. (714) 708-5555. (David Mermelstein)
GO HARRISON, TEXAS (See Stage feature.)
GO KERR PACKAGE Kerr Seth Lordygan's four one-acts offer sharp wit and a handful of excellent performances. "Two Jews and a Ham," directed by Joel Rieck, deals with the perplexities of an Orthodox Jewish couple (Jody Fasanella and Marc Segal) when they're given a huge ham by an oblivious neighbor (Aurora Nibley). Kevin Fabian directs "List," in which Rendell (Kevin Blake) and his wife (Kylie Delre) prepare "to do" lists: Each nominates three famous people they'd happily bed if the opportunity arose. Trouble begins when Rendell actually meets rock star Lana (played as an imperious, self-absorbed sex kitten by Rachel Castillo), who's on his list. Blake reappears as retired hit man Stan in "The Hit," directed by Julie Anne Bermel. Stan is disconcerted when a mild-mannered, "nice" but volatile young man (Jason Britt) appears at his door to persuade him to make one last — and highly unorthodox — hit. The horror-fantasy "Deceaseport," directed by Heather Holloway, is the most ambitious but the least satisfying of the plays. In it, a recent rape/murder victim (Delre), assisted by a crew of lost souls, returns from limbo to wreak bloody vengeance on her attackers. In an able cast, the standouts are Blake and Britt, who also mesh beautifully in "The Hit." ECLECTIC COMPANY THEATRE, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 10. (818) 508-3003 or www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Neal Weaver)
GO LEADING LADIES An exceptional performance can transform unexceptional material into a winning show — rarely better illustrated than with R. Christofer Sands' scintillating turn in playwright Ken Ludwig's farce. Sands plays Leo, a desperate down-and-out Shakespearean actor who — along with his reluctant partner, Jack (Tim Coultas) — dons women's clothes in order to masquerade as the female beneficiaries of a dying heiress. The scammers' plan to score bigtime turns tricky after they both fall in love. Leo inconveniently tumbles for the rich woman's niece, Meg (a deliciously calibrated Elaine Capogeannis), who is soon to be married; this compels him to relaunch his male persona in an effort to romance her away from her stuffy fiancé (Frank Dooley). Despite clever moments — a fencing duel played out to scrambled Shakespeare — the humor often lacks a fresh edge, pivoting around the familiar sight gag of a male squirming uncomfortably in female drag. Ludwig even fobs off
Some Like It Hot in the power dynamic he sets up between the two tricksters. Sands, however, is so brilliantly manic, he impeccably captures the brash but conflicted con man, so that even blatantly derivative riffs translate into riotous comedy. Capogeannis and Jen Gabbert, as Jack's ebullient love interest, both hit their comic marks. Other performances are progressing at various stages. Directed by Ken Salzman, the production comes appealingly packaged with designer David Calhoun's attractive set and Lois Tedrow's smart and suitable period costumes, which range from faux Elizabethan to the 1950s. SIERRA MADRE PLAYHOUSE, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 23. (626) 256-3809. (Deborah Klugman)
POST MORTEM Remember when 2008 seemed a million years away? A.R. Gurney's It Happened Here one-act (first produced in 2006) has some fun imagining a religiously authoritarian America of 2015, as well as its antidotal year of 2027. Alice (Anna Nicholas) teaches English at "a faith-based state university in the Midwest," where she fends off the amorous impulses of a graduate student named Dexter (Alan Bruce Becker). Dexter has an ace up his sleeve — he's discovered the last play written by A.R. Gurney, whose name, a mere seven years from today, can be located only in a directory called Minor Figures in American Drama. "You mean there was someone named Gurney who wrote plays?" asks Alice. There are 75 minutes more of this kind of self-referential gag, along with jokes about The New York Times, public television and theater critics. The biggest one involves the recovered Gurney script, titled Post Mortem, which turns out to be an impassioned plea against Bush-era intolerance; thanks to Alice and Dexter, the script eventually single-handedly rolls back the neocon ice age, ushering in a feel-good epoch of political moderation. The "real"Post Mortem is more than just another contemporary burp of liberal indigestion, since Gurney has Alice (now famous and married to Dexter) ask, What will Americans substitute for the Christian right's agenda and how will it keep the latter completely at bay? Unfortunately, Gurney's good at asking the question but not at answering it, except to quote from A Streetcar Named Desire. Worse, having his characters go on prolonged rants against cell phones suggests he's not very good at predicting the future — or estimating the present. The acting, under Jared Barclay's direction, is reminiscent of a long comedy sketch — which is perhaps the best description of this play. Insight America at the LYRIC-HYPERION THEATER CAFΕ, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 17. (800) 595-4849. (Steven Mikulan)
QUEEN CHRISTINA GOES ROMAN Howard Casner's drama suffers from so much exposition of offstage events that not even this play's time-traveling gays can resuscitate it. Inspired by her lover, Sister Gizelle (Konima Parkinson-Jones), Queen Christina (Julie Burrise) converts to Catholicism. She summons Pope Julius II (Donaco Smyth), who's accompanied by his lover, Father Sebastian (Levy Baguin), and also by Roy Cohn (Thomas Colby, in a scenery-chewing performance). While eager for her conversion, the hypocritical men want her to keep her lesbian relationship secret, as does Tchaikovsky (Gregory Blair). Enter King Edward II (Mikhail Blokh), wearing black chaps and a matching crown, who's determined to convince Christina that it is her duty to go public. Blokh brings some much-needed energy to the play, and some of his banter with Burrise's starry-eyed queen hints at the play's potential. But too many cell-phone calls to an offstage Oscar Wilde drive the plot. To compound matters, the play is slackly directed by Chrisanne Blankenship-Billings and Thomas Colby. The costumes by Allan Jensen and Azniv Azizyan, however, provide some much-needed eye candy. Halstead Street Productions at THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 18. (213) 304-1063 or email@example.com. (Sandra Ross)
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Konima Parkinson-Jones (l.) and Julie Burrise in "Queen Christina Goes Roman"
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Nathan Van Williams and Meg Wallace in "Standing On My Knees"
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GO SPLATTER PATTERN Neal Bell's dirge slowly enthralls. It features a time-bending gimmick: A grieving writer named Dunn (Jim Hanna) rewinds his conversations with everyone from his agent (Leslie Gilliam) to his realtor (Jake Elsas). After the death of his partner of 23 years, Dunn can't write a salable script; his career's future hinges on getting under the skin of his tabloid-famous new neighbor, Tate (Donald Robert Stewart), a professor who's been accused of — though not officially charged with — murdering his student (Lindsay Lauren Wray, understated and resonant). Initially, Dunn is drawn to Tate's loneliness and unapologetic emotional outbursts, but as Tate's pain sours from being comforting to repulsive, Bell's artificial world cracks open to reveal two men haunted by the dead, fixated on the morbid and aware that heroes are fading away. Derek Charles Livingston directs capably, but needs a firmer hand on Bell's temporal shiftiness and on the clash between Hanna and Stewart's naturalism and his supporting actors' jarring pertness. The uncredited set design is nicely evocative, with the skeletons of two Manhattan high-rise apartments fringed by black and blood-red paint that looks like it wants to worm its way inside the characters, and possibly the audience. ARK THEATRE COMPANY, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 23. (323) 969-1707. (Amy Nicholson)
STANDING ON MY KNEES The primal, upsetting forces that lead to art also hold the power to decimate mental stability. Such is the paradox in John Olive's intriguing 1982 study of a published minor poetess, Catherine (Meg Wallace), struggling with prescription Thorazine for schizophrenia. The drug may keep the demons at bay, but it similarly bars the inspiration that gives Catherine's poetry its flight. The play begins in Catherine's "artist garret" bedroom as she's recovering from a breakdown. It then takes us through her plateau of comparative normality — including a desk job offered to Catherine by her pushy publisher, Alice (Rachel Hardy) — and a kind of artistic stagnation that leads to her defying her doctor's (Barbara Keegan) orders by cutting back on the drug, and consequently careening toward another breakdown. Through this, she engages in a doomed romance with a smitten, bewildered stockbroker (Brian Barth) — an affair that more or less defines the play's trajectory. Act 1 is a long setup with scant dramatic action that hangs (barely) on exposition about the big "S" disease, symptoms of which are muted by the Thorazine. In Act 2, hell breaks loose, which justifies the wait. Wallace's quality of demure sweetness yields to bouts of rabid hostility and implosions of confidence, matched by Barth's kindly incomprehension of just about everything that means something to Catherine, from her love of dissonant classical music to the flows of dark energy that drive her poetry. As the publisher, Hardy pushes Alice's pushiness like a broom clearing the path of her ambitions — more plausible than textured. Nice turn by Keegan as the shrink who, under Trace Oakley's direction, gingerly negotiates the transformation from every Lifetime movie shrink into an elfin cartoon from some Christopher Durang farce — a figment of Catherine's tortured imagination. Oakley's basic staging contains no bravura performances, yet it's capable enough to hold its own. Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the GARDNER STAGES, 1501 N. Gardner St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perfs Sun., Feb. 10 & 17, 8 p.m.); thru Feb. 17. (323) 860-6569. (Steven Leigh Morris)