CAPSIZED FLOTSAM Donaco Smyth’s fun comedy is set in — and ostensibly modeled after — the witty literary England of Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse. But the work bears more similarity to the over-the-top farces of Joe Orton, indulging absurdity rather than incisive social satire. Fading novelist Basil Oakenbridge (Smyth) struggles with writer’s block as bill collectors thunder at the door. When an idiot acquaintance (Scot Carlisle) ends up publishing a book remarkably similar to his own current unfinished work, Basil prods for answers until he discovers the existence of an astral library between the planes of life and death, which contains every book ever written or that will be written. Thus begins an elaborate plan to pull the dynamic books of his future to the present so as to win acclaim once again and pay off mounting debts. And through all of this he tries to maintain the even temper of his live-in lover (Kenn Johnson), who is forced — for publicity purposes — to play the demeaning role of Basil’s butler. Many of Smyth’s jokes, though amusing, are self-conscious rather than folded gracefully into the play’s substance, creating the sensation of a sitcom rather than a solid, whirling Edwardian farce. Under director Douglas Leal’s guidance, however, beautifully wrought characters and delightful performances give the evening an unequivocal charm. Ark Theater Company, 1647 La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (323) 969-1707. (Luis Reyes)
ENCHANTED APRIL The original 1922 novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim, screenwriter Peter Barnes’ 1992 film and Matthew Barber’s Tony-nominated 2003 stage adaptation all contain a beautiful sense of the title adjective in both language and character. In the early 1920s, two middle-class English women plot to escape wet and dreary London — and their husbands — for a month at a castle near the Italian Riviera; to afford it, they bring in some upper-crust ladies to join them. Unfortunately, director Patricia Lee Willson has neither the cast, production team, nor the skills to really draw us into either world. Much of the acting is amateurish — or is it just some highly inaccurate, overzealous English accents that make it seem so artificial? Hardest on the ears were Katie Kocis and Zakry Fin as the couple whose unhappy marriage instigates the proceedings; both are either forcing dialect or are simply undecipherable most of the time. As the ever-cranky, elder widow Mrs. Graves, Lareen Faye gives the evening’s most enjoyable performance and not only because her portrayal is a perfect impression of Joan Plowright’s characterization in the film version. The truest moments come in a few exchanges between the depressed and highly religious Rose (Lacy Altwine) and the castle’s owner, Mr. Wilding (Charlie Bodin), both of whom manage to pull away from the overindulgence of the rest. Marion Wright’s costumes generally work, but Justin Field’s set fails to find the magic of Italia. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N.H.; Fri.-Sat., 8.pm.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 26 (818) 700-4878. (Tom Provenzano)
GO ROSE Playwright Martin Sherman (Bent) and actor Naomi Newman combine forces to tell the tale of Rose, born in an obscure shtetl near Chernobyl. The solo piece opens in Miami Beach in 2000, where 80-year-old Rose reflects on her spectacularly checkered past. Though a fictional character, she’s endowed with an almost documentary reality and a life story that embraces many of the 20th century’s major events. After losing her family in the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, Rose endures two years hiding from the Nazis in the sewers of Warsaw. Her subsequent travails include internment in Displaced Persons camps, being a passenger on the beleaguered ship Exodus as it attempts to reach Palestine, and finally marrying an American before becoming the manager of hotels in racially volatile Atlantic City and Miami Beach. She outlives three husbands, a daughter, and a young lover, and bears a son, who immigrates to Israel. All this is told by Rose as she sits Shiva for a young Palestinian girl, shot by her Israeli grandson in the embattled West Bank — mirroring the fate of her daughter in Warsaw years before. The piece is intimate and epic, compassionate and tough, tragic and funny. Newman plays it with magnificent eloquence, passion and restraint. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 or 7 p.m. Sun. perfs vary, call theater for schedule; thru Sept. 7. (310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
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GO SHIPWRECKED: AN ENTERTAINMENT is an engaging mix of storytelling and fun written by Donald Margulies. The story chronicles the outsized life of one Louis de Rougemont, who regaled Victorian England for a time with grandiose tales of his exploits in far-flung locales. Outfitted in the boots and garb of a pirate/seaman, Rougemont (Gregory Itzin) glibly recounts a saga that begins with a childhood marred by physical and emotional frailty but which is healed by the reading of such exotic tomes as Robinson Crusoe and Tales of the Arabian Nights. As a lad of 16, Louis leaves home and a doting mother to ship out to the Coral Sea in search of pearls. In short order, he’s attacked by a ferocious sea monster, marooned on an island, marries a beautiful Aborigine, battles hostile natives, is worshipped as a god, and, like Gauguin, becomes enamored with life as an islander. A return to England bestows celebrity and fame on our traveler — before he is eventually exposed as a fraud. The superb Itzin imbues his role with an infectious blend of flair and self-mockery. Michael Daniel Cassady and Melody Butiu not only do yeoman’s duty with the props, puppets and special effects (hats off to Christine Marie’s shadow scenic design) but also skillfully portray all the story’s numerous characters, including one loyal, lovable dog. Bart DeLorenzo’s direction is appropriately clever and effective. Geffen Playhouse, 10866 LeConte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 3. (310) 208-5454. (Lovell Estell III)
THEATER PICK SPRING'S AWAKENING Frank Wedekind’s once-controversial play (it closed after one Broadway performance in 1917 amid charges of obscenity), first performed in Germany in 1906, is riveting under lead writer Evan Drane’s direction of a new translation and adaptation by the Los Angeles Theater Ensemble. Set in 1890 in a rural German town, Spring’s Awakening focuses on three teenagers’ attempts to cope with adolescent yearnings and desires, including homosexuality, masturbation, sadism and suicidal ideation. Fourteen-year-old Wendla (Eleanor Van Hest) still believes that the stork brings babies, and her mother (Morgan Early) refuses to enlighten her. Sharing her sexual ignorance is Moritz (Nick McDow), a struggling student who turns to his passionate, more experienced friend Melchior (Luke Bailey) for information. In response, Melchior composes a 20-page document called “On Copulation,” which leads to his expulsion from school. Moritz is also expelled — for poor grades, though — and his deeply felt shame leads to tragedy. The three leads are excellent, as are the many colorful supporting cast members, particularly Jen Bailey as Ilse and Matthew Schueller as Ernst. Drane’s direction is pitch-perfect in capturing the dark humor of the satirical Act 1, as well as striking the right note with the dreadful repercussions that follow in Act 2. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; additional perf Wed., July 23, 8 p.m.; thru July 26. (310) 396-3680, ext. 3. (Sandra Ross)
THIS CONTRACT LIMITS OUR LIABILITY: READ IT! If playwright Joshua Fardon had typed “Finis” instead of “Act 2,” his off-kilter comedy about relationship dry rot could have succeeded as a scathingly funny one-act burlesque. Had director Kiff Scholl been more diligent with his dramaturgical ax, maybe an otherwise capable cast might have been spared the indignity of a pointlessly anticlimactic and laughless second act. Possibly then Fardon might have understood it is character depth — not play length — that sustains comedic narrative. Two couples meet through an ad in the sex classifieds for an evening of mate swapping. However, the empty-headed hosts — malapropism-prone Mark (Jonas Dickson) and accommodating housewife Kathy (Kelsey Wedeen) — get more than they advertise for. Soon they are confronted by cheerfully bizarre swingers Bob (Bill Robens) — a gay, celibate and lapsed Mormon — and his mate, Vivian (Julia Prud’homme), a 39-year-old, perennial virgin. Awkward sex and bitter recrimination grease an already slippery slope, which leaves an alarming body count on the living room rug. The excellent Robens and Prud’homme grab the choicest lines (Fardon is at his best skewering the eco-antiglobal, liberal-lite misanthropy of his self-deluded odd couple), along with the only coherent emotional arcs. The unlucky Dickson and Wedeen are left to wither under cryptically passive, actor-defying caricatures. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7. (323) 856-8611. (Bill Raden)