Theater Reviews: Tragedy: A Tragedy, Waiting in the Wings, Good Bobby
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FIT FOR SOCIETY is a pastiche of war veterans’ stories, written by Brian Monahan (who is from a military family) and Stephen Wolfert (a veteran of the U.S. Army). Some are direct, personal accounts, some are first-person dramatic monologues delivered straight to the audience, and some are monologues to an invisible character. While the work is earnest and, at times, powerful, the stylistic disunity weakens the overriding idea. And because the evening runs scattershot over a wide range of veteran themes — most of which have been introduced to us in media coverage of the last 40 years of war — we aren’t challenged by the kind of specificity that opens up new ways of understanding the futility, waste and tragedy of war. Director Stephan Wolfert, however, shapes the performances of his excellent cast well, inspiring an authentic, gripping tone throughout. Standouts include Ian Casselberry’s infantryman divested of his humanity and Arnell Powell’s brusque drill sergeant. And Randy Brumbaugh’s lights are particularly effective on the small, open stage. But what we ultimately see is a truly inspired series of previews for several potentially stirring plays. The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea, L.A.; Sat. & Mon., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues. perf. Nov. 11, 8 p.m.; through Nov. 11. (888) 398-9348. (Luis Reyes)
GO GOOD BOBBY Few families have commanded more public fascination — or newsprint — than the Kennedy clan. In his engaging character study, Brian Lee Franklin constructs a compelling portrait of the “other son,” Robert Francis Fitzgerald, and the historical milieu that shaped him. The play opens at a 1958 subcommittee hearing with “Bobbie” (Franklin) and Senator John McClellan (William Stone Mahoney) aggressively interrogating Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (R.D. Call, in a convincing turn) about Hoffa’s mob connections. From the outset, Franklin creates a profoundly flawed and conflicted image of Kennedy, one that is steadily and skillfully nuanced throughout this production. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in his relationship with his father, Joe, (Steve Mendillo), whose vaulting ambition contoured the lives of all of his sons, and whose approval of “good Bobby” was desperately sought by RFK but, according to Franklin’s play, never fully realized. We follow RFK’s rise to national prominence, his battles during the civil rights era as U.S. Attorney General, his involvement in his brother John’s presidential campaign (and more than a few unsavory deeds during that time), the aftermath of JFK’s assassination, and Bobby’s gradual ascension in the Democratic Party, resulting in his becoming its presidential nominee in 1968. The script is well written, and Franklin can be forgiven for some questionable Oliver Stone moments involving a shadowy CIA agent (Jim Metzler). The performances are uniformly high caliber under Pierson Blaetz’s fine direction. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through Nov. 23. (323) 655-7679. (Lovell Estell III)
GO HALO Nately, Nova Scotia — a town too small for a movie theater — has just been blessed with a major tourist attraction: an image of Jesus on the brick wall of the local Tim Horton’s coffee shop. The Savior makes for good publicity and great business. Horton manager Bob (Gary Ballard) has doubled his receipts, the local chicken shack is selling a 12-piece Apostle Meal, and everyone’s wearing obnoxious baseball hats crowned with a fuzzy halo — made in China, notes agnostic barista Casey (Frances Manzo). Midway through Act 1, it becomes clear that playwright Josh MacDonald is mining for richer stuff than small-town satire. He’s interested in the murky intersections of faith and cynicism, commerce and celebration and miracles and delusion. All of his characters, including Casey’s newly devout jock boyfriend, Jansen (Glen Brackenridge), a fired-up newscaster (Christine Joelle), a hippie priest (John T. Cogan), and a coma patient’s grieving father and daughter (David Hunt Stafford and Emily Button) are fumbling in the dark. Though director Bruce Gray’s ensemble occasionally wavers, the production is strong, nicely framed by set designer Jeff G. Rack’s glowing halo, which hovers above the stage.Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 6. (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. (Amy Nicholson)
MONEY SHOT It’s been all of five Earth years since NASA’s famously overachieving rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, began wandering the Martian terra firma in hopes of identifying traces of extraterrestrial life. If only the space bots had touched down on Daniel Keleher’s pseudo-Labutian burlesque of amateur online pornographers instead. Keleher’s two-hour roar of sexual invective, off-color cliché and raunchy non sequitur is fairly teeming with inhuman caricatures alien to earthly drama. A four-man fuck-film crew, calling themselves the Super Cocks, pin their hopes for the Web-sex bigtime to legendary porn auteur, the Cunt (Kahlil Joseph), who agrees to helm their upcoming gangbang opus. Never mind that the horse-hung, star performer (Shawn Colten) has broken under the strain of concealing an affair with the scriptwriter (Dante Walker) from the group’s violently homophobic, resident sociopath (Gregory Myhre). He needn’t have worried. The loathsome leader is far too preoccupied with seducing Cocks member James Jordan’s new girlfriend, Tiffany (Danielle See), to notice. When the inexplicably compliant girl accepts a particularly degrading role as the film’s multiple-penetrated sex object, the resulting insult and injury expose the men’s overexaggerated macho swagger as the more malevolent expression of sexual violence. Long before that happens, however, any remaining motivational logic is simply drowned out by a mind-numbing, locker-room misogyny that Keleher evidently believes to be witty repartee. Director Justin Huen’s limited range of moods — loud and louder — is not surprisingly less than helpful to his overwhelmed ensemble. The Alexandria, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7776 or www.plays411.com/moneyshot. (Bill Raden)
GO NORTH PHILLY In his solo performance, Ralph Harris portrays himself as a child through young adulthood, while also offering impersonations of his eccentric family, culminating in the 94th birthday party of his grandfather. Stella Adler Theater, 6773, Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor; Wed., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 17. (323) 960-7612. See Stage feature.
GO PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD/THE SHADOW OF THE GLEN Lying within the “great gap between a valiant story and a dirty deed” is the core idea of John Millington Synge’s 1907 classic comedy, Playboy of the Western World, presented by Galway’s Druid Theatre with Synge’s The Shadow of the Glen. Both plays were performed together over the weekend at UCLA. The plays unfolded within Francis O’Connor’s primal rustic set, with its dirt floor and sparse wooden furniture, enclosed by looming stone walls that dwarfed the actors, as though they were Beckettian insects, groveling. This effect was mitigated somewhat by shadowlike crossbeams against the back wall that formed a kind of crucifix, and drew the eye down to the dirt floor. Beyond that, there was little abstraction, just perfectly tattered rags and the frayed dignity of Kathy Strachan’s costumes, and the crisp elegance of director Garry Hynes’ realistic stagings. In Playboy, a fearful, dimwitted young farmer, Christy Mahon (Simon Boyle), takes refuge in a reclusive tavern in County Mayo, only to find the locals struck by his story of having just killed his father, which he renders ever more dramatically with each telling. That the story of such a deed is so glorified forms the play’s glorious perversity. With the arrival of Christy’s father (Tom Hickey) — “his skull bloodied from the wound inflicted by his son” — that perversity twists like a condemned man from a noose. After Christy is implicated as a liar, he tries to actually commit the deed he’s been boasting of, which only further enrages the townsfolk, who loathe the deed as much as they loved the story of it. Lovely performances by the ensemble, from Boyle’s scampering, buck-toothed Christy to Sarah-Jane Drummey’s interpretation of the proprietor’s daughter, with a temper and yearning for excitement that’s as fiery as her shock of red hair. Marcus Lamb loomed as though on stilts, portraying Pegeen’s “afeared-of-everything” would-be suitor, Shawn Keogh, and Catherine Walsh’s Widow Quinn, who has outlived all her children and destroyed her husband, strides the stage like an army lieutenant. The Shadow of the Glen opened the bill as a kind of warmup, sharing Playboy’s story of an old man returning from his alleged death. With echoes of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid, Dan Burke (Hickey) lies on a bed in an isolated hovel, watched over by his embittered wife, Nora (Walsh, here with softer edges and a smaller stride than in her portrayal of the Widow Quinn, yet feisty nonetheless). We learn of the old man’s demise when Nora speaks of it to a visiting Tramp (Peter Gowen). When Nora leaves for a moment, the dead man rises, parched with “drought.” His game is a test of his “bad wife’s” loyalty. The game is as cruel and pointless as in Playboy. Both plays employ rapturously beautiful words to envelop the blistering darkness of the people who speak them. UCLA Live at UCLA, Ralph Freud Playhouse. Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SAVAGE WORLD Inspired by the story of an African-American boxer wrongfully convicted of murdering a white, Jewish couple, playwright Stephen Fife’s sprawling melodrama revolves around the efforts of a reporter named Sol Eisner (Erik Passoja) to establish the athlete’s innocence. The play starts in the present, with the now middle-aged Eisner struggling to provide direction for his university-educated son (Nate Geez), inexplicably hostile and rebellious. It then flashes back to the ’70s, to his meetings with the accused, named Calvin ”Savage” James (Vincent M. Ward), and his labyrinthine search for evidence of the man’s innocence. The juicy core of the conflict is whether Savage, a proven liar, thief and abuser of women, is indeed not guilty. But instead of exploiting this ambiguity with the depths of ferocity it deserves, the nearly three-hour piece meanders through a plethora of manipulated subplots and extraneous characters more suitable to a convoluted B-movie police drama than an intense character-driven drama. Ultimately, the production gains traction from Passoja’s fastidiously calibrated portrait of a solidly middle-class Jewish intellectual — somewhat nerdy — willing to take risks for his principles. The many solid supporting performances include Latarsha Rose as Eisner’s love interest; Tom Badal as his Uncle Jack, whose support Sol craves; and Ernest Harden Jr., as a pivotal witness whose story keeps changing. As Savage, Ward needs more complexity and volcanic heat. Subpar lighting contributes to the production’s lack of focus. L. Flint Esquerra directs. Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7788. (Deborah Klugman). A MET Theatre and Stealfire Productions production.
GO TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY “Is the sense of tragedy palpable?” presses stately news anchor Frank (Frederick Ponzlov) to infield reporter John (Matthew McCray). If either man — or fellow correspondents Michael (Daniel Getzoff) and Constance (Sarah Boughton) — recognizes the question’s absurdity, they aren’t showing it. Gifted with gravitas and eloquence, the four graveyard-shift journalists in Pulitzer finalist Will Eno’s sharp satire on round-the-clock spin are honing panic that the sun has set and may never rise again. Is it true? Facts are nonexistent, but the puffery they spout to fill airtime sure sounds like a crisis. And, as Frank notes, if the morning comes, then we’ll have to pray for afternoon. Our own doubts about whether the crisis even exists cloud Eno’s meaning. But as the pressure to say something unmoors all the newscasters, their anchorman crumbles, begging for nonsense human-interest stories — even little lies. Donald Boughton’s crisply comedic staging deepens as the play eventually reveals its darker resonances: A fumbling man on the street (Jonathan C.K. Williams) first tries to will the media back to life as if they were Tinkerbells or stock market indexes. The man reminds us that if we’re united, our shared uncertainties can become our common faith. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (800) 383-3006 or www.sonofsemele.org. (Amy Nicholson)
GO WAITING IN THE WINGS Noël Coward’s career was in eclipse, and he was dealing with his own declining powers when he wrote this bittersweet comedy set in a charity retirement home for aging actresses. The result is a sentimental and nostalgic valentine to Edwardian era theater, and the leading ladies he adored in his youth. Perhaps its strongest asset is its wonderful roles for older actresses, fully realized in this production. The affectionate portraits are strung on three strands of plot: the long-running feud between glamorous Lotta Bainbridge (Katherine Henryk) and her ancient rival May Davenport (Magda Harout); the efforts of the home’s residents to persuade “the committee” to build them a solarium; and the intrusion of a pushy newspaper columnist (Corinne Shore) who invades their space in search of a “human-interest” story. The piece is saved from soap opera bathos by Coward’s wit, and frank acknowledgement of the realities of decline and death. Director Charlie Mount has assembled a fine large ensemble who offer richly nuanced performances. Among the highlights is Betty Garrett’s impish turn as a woman who has retreated into blissful memories, dementia and playing with matches. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org. (Neal Weaver)
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