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DADDY’S DYIN’ WHO’S GOT THE WILL More than 20 years after its Los Angeles debut, Del Shores’ comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas is still good for laughs. Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the “white trash” clan with an African-American cast. Family patriarch Buford Turnover (Sy Richardson) has one foot in the grave, and his children can’t wait to get their hands on his will. Sara Lee (Regan Carrington) is a luckless-in-love spinster, who dutifully tends to the old man. Her sister Lurlene (Michele Harrell) is a religious zealot, while Evalita (Taji Coleman), a trampy six-time divorcée, shows up with a pot-smoking, longhaired “hippie” (Matt Skaja). Orville (Hardia Madden) is the sole male heir, with a ton of emotional baggage, who constantly berates his overweight wife (Pam Trotter). Then there’s the spirited elder Mama Willis (Baadja-Lynne), whose sharp tongue and iron will keep the brood in line. For most of the evening, it’s funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores’ dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don’t emerge forcefully enough under Murray’s understated direction. The production is double-cast. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (323) 954-9795. (Lovell Estell III)
GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND Although this new main-stage show from the comedy troupe long known as the feeder team for TV hits like Saturday Night Live and MadTV lacks some of the ferocious energy and imaginative edge of several of the company’s previous endeavors, the genial collection of comic skits delivers what it promises: an evening of daffy, enjoyable fun. In “Special Delivery,” a group of customers at the post office watches helplessly as a mailman (Damon Jones) cheerfully smashes and drop-kicks their packages. And in “Hot for Teacher,” a new substitute teacher (Lisa Schurga) is reduced to desperate means to fend off a junior-high-school student (Jim Cashman) who has a crush on her. Although a few sketches — such as the awkward and cringe-inducing audience-suggested improvs — get the better of the cast, director Mitch Silpa’s production retains the crisp comic timing and assured ensemble work that maintains the group’s sterling comic reputation. Of the cast, standouts include the brilliantly varied turns offered by Jim Rush, who deftly morphs from solemn straight man to gibbering loon, often within the same sketch, as well as Jim Cashman, who plays hysterical anger with a comic fury that resembles a male Lucille Ball on crack. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; closed. (Paul Birchall)
THE HOLY MOTHER OF HADLEY, NEW YORK What demons lurk among the populace of small-town America? In Barbara Wiechmann’s pretentious drama, it isn’t evil spirits but the Virgin Mary who has the citizens of Hadley, New York (population 2020), aflutter. After an apparition alights in one woman’s kitchen, the word spreads. Soon, other people purport to have seen, felt or spoken with Mary, whose less than benign message is that the judgment is coming. Framed by a pompous pseudoprofound narration (Joel Scher, in the role of narrator, gets mired in the schlock), the script winds through a plethora of soap-operatic plots involving dead or abandoned babies, sick and crotchety old people and troubled families or lovers. Conspicuously missing from the dialogue is any shred of irony or humor. Lots of good talent seems utterly wasted here, and it’s a mystery why the producers from this usually savvy company opted to mount this. Under Jerry Kernion’s direction, most members of the disciplined ensemble rise admirably above the material, in what unfolded as a series of very good, albeit unrelated, scene-study showcases. The best work is from Michelle Gardner, who imparts a down-to-earth vigor (and a touch of comedy as well) to her role as a troubled divorced mom and questioning Catholic. As with the performances, designer S. Wince Logan’s set creates an artful autumnal ambiance for what should have been a better play. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 14. (323) 856-8611. (Deborah Klugman)
THE KENTUCKY CYCLE: PART I When the late Manny Farber criticized formally sterile, self-aggrandizing movies with his coinage, “white elephant art,” he might well have had Robert Schenkkan’s overblown nine-play historical saga in mind. Schenkkan’s ambition is certainly mammoth — a politically corrected recasting of American history as an unbroken chain of avarice, violence and victimization all told through the fatefully intertwined lives of three Eastern Kentucky mountain clans. Part 1, which follows the Biggs, Rowen and Talbert family feud from the Revolution through the Civil War, is high in both melodramatic incident and body count. Miscreant patriarch Michael Rowen (David Vegh) commits enough murders in the first hour to give Ted Bundy a run for his money. But what makes the play a stuffed pachyderm rather than the unique work of personal vision worthy of Farber’s praise is Schenkkan’s stubbornly pedestrian language and preference for the big theme over carefully observed characterization. There’s much dialogue about the patch of bottom land that sparks the epic bloodbath but little of the nuance or poetry that might bring the antebellum landscape to dramatic life. Director Trevor Biship contributes little more than the odd (and sometimes strangely ghoulish) stage flourish. When it comes to suggesting some deeper, inner life to the characters, therefore, the onus falls squarely on the ensemble. To that end, the craggy-faced Vegh is a double delight as both the villainous Michael and his scripture-quoting, sociopathic grandson, Ezekiel. And Kyle Hall brings a fine sense of flawed nobility to the Civil War–era Rowen, Jed. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; in rep with Part 2: Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Dec. 13. (562) 985-5526. (Bill Raden)
KIDNAPPED BY CRAIGSLIST Katie Goan and Nitra Gutierrez’s romp of comedy sketches derived from Craigslist postings offers a facile glimpse at our cultural oddities. In New York, it was performed with four actors, but here, with the looser guidelines of the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity, director Lori Evans Taylor has hired 11 comedians for what’s designed as a kind of Victorian carnival with hints of the electronic age. Matt Maenpaa’s opulent set features a velvet red curtain, a precariously dangling chandelier and wooden crates and closets, through which the actors appear and retreat, as though we’re in something between an attic and the backstage area of Barnum and Bailey’s tent. Marina Mouhibian’s gorgeous vaudevillian costumes bring vivid texture to this circus of interpersonal desperation, perversity, fury and embarrassment. One scene is dedicated to an apology by a woman (Shelby Kyle) for passing wind, loudly, during a date and, again, while having sex. Amy Motta is all flash and tinsel as the carny barker guiding us through the network of misunderstandings and missed connections, including her sweetly rendered ballad requesting her new boyfriend to lay off the sodomy, and the faux-indignation of a gay man (Eric Bunton) having to endure in the stifling heat the sight of a teenage man lolling around nude near his bedroom window. These are highlights, but Taylor pushes the jokes too hard, beyond the range of their own humor, revealing the superficial essence of the project, like a less than enthralling episode of Saturday Night Live. Elephant Lab Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (added perfs Dec. 6 & 13, 10 p.m.; Dec. 18, 8 p.m.); through Dec. 20. (323) 860-8786. Produced by TheSpyAnts. (Steven Leigh Morris)
LOST About to lose his job and seething with rage in general, and road rage in particular, Man (Kevin Vavasseur), while seeking a shortcut home, gets lost on a mountain road outside L.A. The fantasy dramatized in playwright Bernardo Solano’s ambitious, provocative yet ultimately pedestrian drama is so allegorical, Man may as well be Everyman, on a journey into the unknown. But Solano doesn’t have that morality play in mind; rather, the Columbian legend of La Madremonte — a mythical goddess and punishing defender of the environment. Here, she’s named Woman (Marissa Garcia), a sensuous beauty whom Man picks up on the side of the road after noticing her stranded when her car breaks down. Her erotic come-ons (want a bite of my nectarine? – as she slurps the juice while cradling the fruit in a napkin) render the drama a head trip in which reality, Man’s reality, that is, slip-slides in and out of imaginings, including a car crash that may or may not be real, sort of like his passenger. This is a portrait of a lonely man with an ungrateful wife and a hole in his heart, bruised to the point of maddening defensiveness while barely clinging to some fragile code of loyalty, and being tested by this phantom-in-distress. The drama, directed by Tina Sanchez, played out in two adjacent car seats, is too static to be cinematic, despite an impressive ride-film backdrop of a mountain road at dusk, perpetually slipping away, projected behind the car seats. Nor is the play particularly theatrical for exactly the same reason — two people sitting still and having a conversation. The dramatic motion is as illusory as the play’s female phantom. The Genet-like psychological gamesmanship between the pair wears down after the metaphors have sunk in, which is by intermission, if not sooner. These dramatic potholes might not have been so evident were the chemistry between the actors more convincing. Garcia possesses a snappy, freewheeling seductiveness and mystery that keep bouncing off the steely facade of Vavasseur’s resistance. He’s a man-child, perpetually half a beat behind her, and it’s hard to discern if that’s an issue with the character or the performance. Sanchez has cast four actors who rotate with different partners each performance, so there may yet be a sizzling combination that will lift the play into something transcendent. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, downtown; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 883-1717. A Company of Angels production. (Steven Leigh Morris).
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SHOCK THERAPY Psychiatrist Colin (Scott Paulin) and his painter wife, Becca (Lisa Robbins), are throwing a Labor Day bash. But Colin specializes in treating neurotic celebrities who are so needy and demanding that they keep him glued to his cell phone. He’s too preoccupied to notice that his daughter (Sophie Ullett) is planning to run away from home, or that his wife is involved in a love affair with his boorishly obnoxious colleague Branch (Gregg Henry), who specializes in dubious drug therapies. Also on the premises are April, a famous woman psychiatrist (Cece Antoinette), in a shamefully underdeveloped role), and mysterious stranger Jack (Matthew Glave), an ex-con who takes them all hostage. He’s hell-bent on extracting financial restitution for the death of his cellmate, who supposedly died as a result of Branch’s drug experiments. Playwright Tom Baum seems to have intended to write a satire on our “therapized world,” and there is some amusing psychobabble, but any ideas the playwright harbored are lost in the trappings of a lame, old-fashioned farce. Director Jenny O’Hara has gathered an able cast and mounted an expert and expensive production but they can’t conceal the play’s meager purpose. Matt Maenpaa and Adam Hunter provide the airily handsome set, with detailed sound design by Matthew Richter. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Dec.7. (323) 960-4420 or www.plays411.com/shocktherapy. (Neal Weaver)
GO WOYZECK Nineteenth-century German playwright Georg Büchner’s, Woyzeck, an unfinished horror story of the common man crushed by military and medical machines, has been fodder for myriad adaptations throughout the last century, and there’s no sign of its relevance or resonance abating. Woyzeck (Christian Levatino) is a troubled soldier, barely able to support his unhappy and unfaithful lover, Marie (Sierra Fisk), and their infant son. To make ends meet, he volunteers to perform petty tasks for his captain (Allen Andrews) and submits to abasing medical tests, predicated on a diet of only dried peas. The more his body and mind deteriorate from this treatment, the more he is targeted for abuse from everyone around him. Director Bob McDonald places the action in a nebulous world of contemporary Western politics and military confusion. Despite his rapid pacing, he mines every powerful emotion and moments of ugliness and cruelty in stark detail. Areta Mackelvie’s outstanding light design is the more impressive in this small, spartan space, with its obviously limited supply of lighting instruments. Married to the fine lighting is a sharp and sometimes shocking sound design by Adam Phalen, which magnifies McDonald’s intensity. My only quibble comes with several comic interludes, which seem a bit forced, in the style of British music hall, taking it out of the present-day hell so vividly imagined by the creators. Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (818) 841-5422. A Gangbusters Theatre Company production. (Tom Provenzano)