BIRDY It’s no surprise that a poet-dramatist as fine as Naomi Wallace would be attracted to William Wharton’s 1978 novel (also adapted by Alan Parker in his 1984 film). The dualities of brutality and sensitivity, of flight and imprisonment, sneak up and grab you by the throat. Wallace’s adaptation tracks the intense friendship of two boys, Al and Birdy (Joe Mahon and Jayk Gallagher). Al’s a body builder of Sicilian heritage, while Birdy is an effeminate daredevil possessing a growing obsession with flight, and flying — not as a pilot or astronaut, but as one of the many pigeons he raises and fixates on while growing up. Juxtaposed against flashbacks of their youth are scenes in a post-WWII clinic where both young men have been traumatized by the war. Birdy (played in adulthood by Josh Mann) has regressed into a mute bird state and literally hovers at the precipice of being institutionalized. The adult Al (Eric Losoya) has been summoned to help snap Birdy out of his derangement, guided and goaded by Doctor White (the excellent Don Boughton) — who offers eloquent speeches about the poetical beauty of personal sacrifice to an idea larger than oneself, the traditional recruiting speech for fighting in war. Yet the consequences of the doctor’s rhetoric stand (and perch) before his eyes — Al is bandaged from multiple surgeries after being struck in the face by shrapnel, while Birdy has lost his mind, or has pretended to. Wallace’s adaptation suffers from extended and bloated scenes that might have been intended as explorations of character, but merely fly in circles. And despite a powerful climactic scene and director Matt Wells’ full respect for the words, he’s largely unable to sculpt those words into dramatic crescendos with focus and counter-relief, on Scott Smith’s sharply designed two-tier set. The result is haunting spectacle that floats between inertia and propulsion. Needtheater at THE LOUNGE THEATRE, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (323) 472-0200. (Steven Leigh Morris)
BOYS’ LIFE The psyche of the modern male has been well plumbed since Howard Korder’s 1988 Pulitzer winner, which predated primal drum circles, metrosexuality and Seth Rogan’s entire oeuvre. Unlike Rogan’s slap-happy slugs, Korder’s three Manhattan dudes defy maturation with vigor: Married father Jack (Nick Mills at a barely controlled boil) craves affairs, and bachelors Don and Phil (Nick Niven and Nathaniel Johnson) don’t let their continual declarations of love prevent them from sleeping around or ducking out before daybreak. Though director Bill Heck attempts some updates (the nostalgic Emerson, Lake and Palmer references are now Hanson’s “MMMBop”) over the last two decades, sitcom humor has usurped and defanged Korder’s biting insight into gender warfare. The play feels shallower, but still hits some of its targets. The women (Michelle Mulitz, Allison King, Liz Vital and Farah Bunch) tend to be emotionally protective and verbally unleashed; they’re aware of these horny goons’ failings, but jump in bed with their eyes open because, well, the world’s going to end, so why not? On this intonation of apocalypse (still as menacing as ever) director Heck’s production takes a needed pause from its full-tilt wackiness and its characters’ shortsighted desires as one of them thinks to ask: “What if the greatest curse isn’t that life will end, but that it could continue on like this forever?” Vitality Productions and One Sock Productions at THEATRE ASYLUM, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 10. (323) 960-1055. (Amy Nicholson)
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VIRGIN LOVE This “musical commedia,” (lyrics by Tim Groff and music by A. Torres-Salazar) offers commedia dell’arte with a Latin beat (accented by percussionist Al Keith). All commedia’s traditional characters are here: Athletic Arlecchino (Les Borsay) swings from chandeliers, but, despite his years, he’s still a virgin. He envies the swaggering lover Leandro (a zanily histrionic Lawrence S. Smilgys), who’s simultaneously cuckolding Pantalone (James Tumminia) and Panzanini (Torres-Salazar) with their wives Pasquella (Nicole Ortega) and Franceschina (Kikey Castillo). And he’s also shtupping the flamboyantly gay florist Peppe Napa (Fernando Luis), who is married to peppery, fan-snapping Isabella (Antonio Vega in drag). But Leandro is tired of endless sex, and hopelessly enamored of beautiful, brainless Bonita (Kristen Marie Nielsen). Act 1 is burdened by too much exposition, and not nearly as funny as it wants to be. Act 2 perks up with a multitude of slapstick encounters, wild chases, comic swordplay and improbable intrigues, finally stirring up the kind of celebratory mirth it aspires to. There’s more raunchiness than wit, and it may be the only musical to feature a production number about crab lice. Felipe Alejandro directs with a heavy hand, but Jennifer Soulage’s costumes are elegant, and Roy Rede’s conventional sets are handsome. Ricardo Montalbán Repertory Theatre Company at THE RICARDO MONTALBÁN THEATRE, 1615 Vine St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 8. (323) 461-0663. (Neal Weaver)
WAITING FOR GODOT Superb acting and Andrew Traister’s astute direction make this a first-rate revival of Samuel Beckett’s tragic-comical masterpiece. The director has skillfully avoided the tedium and blandness that too often seeps into the staging of this play by consistently drawing on and accenting its humorous elements, while never losing sight of the play’s dour motifs. As the two tramps doomed to an eternal vigil of waiting for the enigmatic Godot, Robertson Dean as Vladimir and Joel Swetow as Estragon turn in strong, polished performances. But the real magic here is the ineffable chemistry these two share as they endure the pangs of their meaningless ordeal that’s interrupted only by the arrival of a strange pair of travelers, Pozzo (Mitchell Edmonds) and his burdened “menial” Lucky (Mark Bramhall). Edmonds’ outsize presence seems to take over the stage, imbuing his role with equal parts Oxford don and pompous circus ringmaster, while Bramhall projects a creaturely, feral menace fused with comic élan. It all unfolds nicely on Michael Smith’s barren, slanted stage, which arcs into a forbidding mountain range created by scenic designer Adam Rowe and accented by James Taylor’s subtle, compelling lighting design. A NOISE WITHIN, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru Dec. 12. (818) 240-0910, ext. 1. (Lovell Estell III)