BAIL ME OUT Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin Jr.) views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and betrayal. Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal rights he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted. So he's appalled — though not totally surprised — when his longtime buddy Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance Jones), a married man. Launched from this awkward encounter, the drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving homophobia, racism, noxious born-again religion, suicide, murder and abortion. There's no lack of misogyny, either — so viciously spouted by Joe's employee, Troy (Gary Wolf), that Joe appears comparatively enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos. Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution. Its main problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many events and too many contrivances packed into less than two hours. Directed by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and lighting. Carisa Engle as Joe's common-sense wife furnishes welcome respite from the Sturm und Drang elsewhere. And Jones overcomes the inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute while fiercely brawling the next. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.- Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.; through Oct. 10. (323) 960-7745. plays411.com/bailmeout (Deborah Klugman)
THE 19TH ANNUAL DENISE RAGAN WIESENMEYER ONE-ACT FESTIVAL For part of its 19th outing honoring company founder Denise Ragan Wiesenmeyer, the Attic Theatre has managed to nab two brief new playlets by Broadway veterans Lee Blessing and Wendy MacLeod. Neither of the two plays is particularly substantial, but the works' unexpected flashes of moral ambiguity and psychological nuance make their world premiere here worthy of note. In MacLeod's witty monologue "Undescended," a middle-aged coffeehouse barista and new mother (Jennifer Skinner) gets good news and bad news about her baby: The infant suffers from an unusual testicle ailment, and is also the Second Coming of the Messiah. Director Brian Shnipper's production, both intimate and ironic, possesses great coming timing — and Skinner's hard-boiled, crusty turn as the barista turned Virgin Mother is richly multidimensional. Blessing's dark, character-driven comedy "Into You" posits three disturbed female roommates, all of whom loathe men to various striking degrees, debating the propriety of one of them (Sandra Smith) injecting her one-night stand with her possibly HIV-tainted blood. Other than as a misogynist portrait of nightmare women, the actual point and purpose of Blessing's piece is elusive, and the plot is both contrived and wafer-thin. Director James Carey's sluggish staging is marred by some listless, underprojected performances. The quartet-bill is filled out by Allison M. Volk's "The Last Two People on the Platform," a charming if familiarly Pirandello-esque comedy about a man (Jacques Freydont) and a woman (Amber Flamminio) who mysteriously discover themselves atop a floating platform and come to realize they are characters in a play; and by Frank Anthony Polito's workmanlike "Blue Tuesday," which clumsily links a yuppie couple's marital woes, the activities of an angelic homeless man and the 9/11 attacks in an awkward way that trivializes all three elements. Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 19. (323) 525-0661. (Paul Birchall)
PHENOMENON OF DECLINE The force that drives a dramatic narrative can, in some respects, be described as a good mystery. When a solution is intentionally withheld, as in Peter Weir's groundbreaking 1975 mystery film Picnic at Hanging Rock, it can be to devastating effect. So playwright Joe Tracz's surreal 2005 student script, about a man who has been driven mad by the mysterious disappearance of his twin 15 years earlier, is nothing if not pregnant with possibility. Unfortunately, Tracz uses his nonsolution as a mere pry to open the can of psychological worms at the heart of what is, in fact, a conventional dysfunctional-sibling drama. After spending the intervening years holed up in a remote swamp cabin, 30-year-old Randolph (the brooding Stephan Madar), finds himself visited by his three surviving, albeit spectral sisters, who futilely cajole him into ending his guilt-ridden exile. These are eldest Olivia (Kiera Zoubek), an over-controlling psychotherapist; Lenora (Meredith Wheeler), a vampiric, lesbian party girl; and the angelic Misty (Alia Wilson), who seems equally haunted by the disappearance, though she was an infant at the time. Director Caitlin S. Hart seizes on the text's Gothic elements in a staging worthy of The Old Dark House (augmented by Adam Lillibridge's ratty cabin set, Morgan Edwards' spooky lighting and Brian Wood's eerie sound). But the earnest efforts of a talented cast and crew are not enough to redeem Tracz's squandered conceit or to breathe life into his play's profusion of halfhearted literary embroidery. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 12. (800) 838-3306 or brownpapertickets.com/event/122973. An AthroughZ Production (Bill Raden)
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THE SECRET OF FIFTY, FATHERHOOD AND FACEBOOK In his solo performance, writer-star Vince Cefalu wants to tell you his story. Decades ago, after years of buttoning up and curling lips into a smile, Americans' cheeks started aching. In additional to a swath of personal confessions in pop lit and on TV talk shows, a new subgenre of theater sprung up at the same time: personal war stories, "My Turn" essays and "It Happened to Me" segments. But as the market became saturated with such, only the most spectacular train wrecks, like James Frey's heavily decorated 2003 addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces, caused us to press our faces against the windows as we drove past. That being said, we do love an I'm-still-standing story, no matter how humble. The story doesn't have to be gasp-worthy to have traction, but it does need to be more than a personal catharsis and big-picture advice such as, "Loving unconditionally is the secret." Certainly, Cefalu is sincere, and he, like many, has had more than his share of struggles. Ultimately, though, arranging this handful of monologues into a single piece, as director Lori Tubert has done, makes for a patchwork quilt of a show, in which a couple of swatches just don't mesh: There's a porn bit that's seat-squirmingly awkward, and a Facebook rant that begins with the Jerry Seinfeld–patented "What's the deal with Facebook?" One key is to carve personal reflections into a work that will have resonance beyond closest friends and family, and that's a missing key in Cefalu's project. The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Oct. 9. (310) 622-4482. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT The Bob Baker Marionette Theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a puppet theater for "children of all ages." This 50-year-old production presents a day on the farm, in the shape of a musical revue. In addition to the farmers, Mama and Papa Goat, it features 100 farm critters, including singing watermelons, dancing frogs, a flirtatious fox and Dodo the flapper crow, complete with rolled stockings and a voice provided, via recordings, by Betty Boop. Other "guest" voices include Eve Arden and Pearl Bailey, latter providing the voice for Heloise Horse in her rendition of "It Takes Two to Tango." Also featured is the novelty song "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch," sung by Petunia and danced by a chorus of Onions. Baker's stage is a cabaret-style in-the-round, allowing audience interaction, with the black-clad puppeteers plainly visible. The show is lavish but tailored to fit the taste of its young audiences, who are served ice cream after the show. The puppets are handsome and clever, and there are plenty of the lame jokes dear to young children, but there's also wit that will appeal to adults. (Birthday parties are welcomed on weekends, with presents for the birthday child.) Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, 1345 West First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Sept. 26. (213) 250-9995, BobBakerMarionettes.com. (Neal Weaver)
WAITING FOR GODOT Sir Peter Hall, Britain's acknowledged master stager of Samuel Beckett's towering foundational text of the modern theater, has been quoted as saying, "All actors should have played Hamlet and been in Godot." By "all," of course, Hall didn't mean "any" but rather only the most seasoned and accomplished of players. Regrettably, it's an attitude not shared by director Timothy McNeil, whose excruciatingly tone-deaf, pasteboard production mostly obliterates Beckett's delicate musicality, rhythms and underlying tenderness through miscasting, mugging and unfathomable directing choices. McNeil's laughs-at-any-cost approach violently distorts the play's central, comic duet between tramps Vladimir (Andy Wagner) and Estragon (Alain Villeneuve) — a comedy based in the pair's desperation to combat the boredom and fill the awful silence of their titular wait — into crude, knockabout shtick. Rather than suggesting the antagonistic synchronicity of lifelong, road-weary sidekicks, Wagner and Villeneuve rarely seem to be on the same stage, never mind the same page. In Wagner's hands, the sensitive, intellectual Didi is reduced to an antic village idiot, robbing Villeneuve's otherwise well-grounded Gogo of his pretension-deflating bite. The evening's coup de grâce, however, is delivered by Charles Pacello, whose wild-eyed, off-the-leash Pozzo plays less like Beckett's "big, brutal bully" than a horror-movie Billy Zane on meth. By comparison, Pozzo's inexplicably Tourette's-afflicted slave, Lucky (a far-too-green Deshik Vansadia) seems a masterwork of dramatic subtlety. Studio C Theater at Stella Adler, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 3. (323) 960-7770 or plays411.com/waitingforgodot (Bill Raden)
GO WAITING FOR LEFTY This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document and solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theater audience, and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era — corruption, deprivation, injustice and wars between the haves and have-nots — haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16 wonderfully able actors, who provide the kind of gritty passion and vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union, where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a strike, while the rank-and-file are determined to field their own leader, activist Lefty. Along the way we're introduced to a rich cross-section of Depression-era society, until the meeting erupts in violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the seemingly authentic, uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with nostalgia. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West (near Universal Studios), L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 10. (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org. (Neal Weaver)