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Theater to See in L.A. This Week: A Christmas Carol That Crawls Inside Scrooge's Head

Lisa Musser, Scott Harris and Kelly Kitco in A Christmas Carol At Sierra Madre Playhouse
Lisa Musser, Scott Harris and Kelly Kitco in A Christmas Carol At Sierra Madre Playhouse
Christina Harris

A Christmas Carol at Sierra Madre Playhouse crawls inside the head of Scrooge, and nabs this week's Pick of the Week. Our critics also liked a "turbo-charged" A Christmas Carol at Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood. For the latest new theater reviews and regional stage listings, see below.

This week's stage feature looks at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson going to bat for Lewis Carroll, in Sherlock Through the Looking Glass, presented by Porters of Hellgate and the Odyssey Theatre.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication December 5, 2013

PICK OF THE WEEK: A CHRISTMAS CAROL What made Ebenezer Scrooge such a miserable old coot? Adapter-director Christina Harris elaborates on this aspect of Dickens' cautionary tale in Sierra Madre Playhouse's amiable musical production of A Christmas Carol, embellished with songs and upbeat ensemble dancing. Scott Harris portrays the tight-fisted miser as less an icy capitalist than a bad-tempered old man with chronic indigestion (my take). The classic narrative involving Jacob Marley (Karl Maschek) and the ghosts (Kelly Kitko, Hector S. Quintana and Tim Stafford as Christmases Past, Present and Future, respectively) unwinds with enough technical flair and professional skill to preserve one's attention, despite the story's umpteenth retelling. The disciplined ensemble includes teens and children, with the youngsters performing adeptly and -- speaking of the 8- and 10-year-olds -- remarkably on cue, surely a directorial coup. Anthony Bravo's soft-spoken Bob Cratchit and his family, including an endearing Amelia Grace as Tiny Tim, furnish an apt contrast with the story's fantastical characters, all underscored by Jeremy Pivnick's lighting, John Zalewski's sound and Liz Peterson's lively costumes. Still, some of the backstory and drawing room scenes need pruning, and not all the group vocals are quite on the mark. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 7 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., Dec. 18-19, & Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org (Deborah Klugman)

GO: A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Zombie Joe and Sebastian Munoz
Zombie Joe and Sebastian Munoz
Adam Neubauer

The Yuletide Lords of Misrule at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre are presiding over a "turbocharged," nontraditional version of the Dickens classic, which means you can expect a lot of fun and laughs. The opening scene sets the impious tone with an offering of familiar carols performed with sardonic menace by the cadaverous-looking "Steampunk Chorus" (outfitted in a loud mix of raunchy dance-hall garb), led by whiz guitarist Annalee Scott. The basics of the story are all here, but director Denise Devin has spiced the production with a few surprising twists, once again working theatrical magic with her customary no-frills staging, deftly marshaling a sizable ensemble in this limited performance space. Sebastian Muñoz does the honors as Scrooge, and Devin turns in sprightly performances as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, while Zombie Joe makes a memorably scary appearance as the tormented ghost of Jacob Marley. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (818) 202-4120, ZombieJoes.homestead.com. (Lovell Estell III)

 

DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY CHRISTMAS

Coco Blignaut
Coco Blignaut
Paul Storiale

This farce by Paul Storiale kicks off with the Logans, Joanne (Elyse Ashton) and Dean (Rob Schaumann), planning to sell their house, ship Grandpa Logan off to a nursing home and move to Florida. They've invited their three misfit children home for one last family Christmas. Just when the kids are due to arrive, they discover that Grandpa has died in his sleep; they decide to conceal the fact in order to not spoil the holidays. Predictably, endless complications and mishaps ensue, involving daughter Christine (Kara Hume) and her Jewish fiancé (Matthew Clay); son Adam (Alex Polcyn) -- who may or may not be gay -- and his nympho girlfriend (Sara Swain); actor son Braden (Brian Spengel), who has spent his whole life being ignored; and bossy neighbor Mrs. Braskett (Barbera Howard). Storiale's script is broadly written, obvious and short on logic and credibility, but it proved amusing enough to please friendly opening-nighters. Brickhouse Theatre, 10950 Peachgrove Ave., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. Dec. 8, 5 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 3 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (818) 302-3448, christmasfarce.com. (Neal Weaver)

GOD'S GYPSY

Coco Blignaut
Coco Blignaut
Paul Storiale

Originally upper-class and also half Jewish, the real woman ultimately canonized as St. Teresa of Avila rose to prominence in 16th-century Spain during the time of the Inquisition. A nun given to rapturous episodes featuring personal visits from Jesus Christ, Teresa sparred openly with Church authorities over her pious determination to separate wealth and politics from the religious orders. Though Coco Blignaut's God's Gypsy traces much of this intriguing character's trajectory, the play doesn't operate as straight-up biography, opting for an emphasis on her spirituality while, despite an almost three-hour running time (including intermission), skimping on hard facts and useful historical context. As a result, the play quickly begins to suffer from the same overwrought quality that frustrated contemporaries spied in Teresa herself, an aspect not ameliorated by the production's penchant for mannered acting. Instead, standouts here include composer-musician Lili Haydn's romantic score and the handsome, atmospheric set design by Joel Daavid, who pulled double duty as director. Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Jan 12. (866) 811-411, godsgypsy.com. (Mindy Farabee)

ORWELLIAN

Larry Cedar
Larry Cedar
Rich Clark

Larry Cedar's solo show consists of three monologues by George Orwell, presented vivaciously in director Thomas Bigley's engagingly intimate production. In an excerpt from Orwell's essay "Down and Out in London and Paris," Cedar portrays the author, who finds himself slaving in a filthy Parisian restaurant kitchen. This shifts into a monologue derived from Animal Farm, in which Old Major, the grand old Lenin-esque pig, urges his fellow farm animals to revolt. The largest portion of the bill, though, Cedar reserves for a sort of compression of 1984, with poor old Winston Smith describing his dystopic world and his star-crossed romance with the rebellious Julia. With his lanky frame and emotionally subtle voice, Cedar is a brilliant storyteller and Orwell's words come to life through his dryly ironic narration. However, clocking in at well under an hour, the piece's brevity and straightforward simplicity ultimately work against it, and the material feels more like an academic exercise than a dramatic effort. Forty-five more minutes of revolting pigs surely would help somewhat. Porters of Hellgate at the Odyssey Theater, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 15. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)

SHERLOCK THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS Gus Krieger's fantasia about Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Lewis Carroll. Porters of Hellgate and the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., WLA. See stage feature.

 

ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE:

Aladdin and His Winter Wish: Lythgoe Family Productions' interactive family holiday musical. Starting Dec. 11, Wed., Dec. 11, 7 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 & 7 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 24, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 29. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Aspirin & Elephants: This is the 25th anniversary of the first production of playwright Jerry Meyer's angsty family play, and if the plot and situations seem as though they're steeped in the attitude of the 1990s, at least Chris DeCarlo's crisp staging keeps things moving at a good clip. While cruising the Norwegian fjords, middle-aged Jewish dad Steve (Kip Gilman) recovers from a heart attack that has left him feeling unmanned and depressed, even though he's doted upon by his lovely wife (Wendy Michaels). Meanwhile, their daughters are having marital problems: Steph (Amanda Maddox) and her careerist brute of a hubby, Scott (Todd Cattell), are at loggerheads, while Liz (Ryan Driscoll) frets that she earns more money than her aspiring screenwriter husband, Arnie (Michael Marinaccio). Murphy interestingly sublimates the characters' underlying angst and relationship frustrations behind sitcomlike one-liners; the barbs hint at the anger that lurks beneath. Gilman's jokey but indefinably sad Steve is engaging, and so is Michaels' fiercely devoted wife. DeCarlo's staging is serviceably pleasant, but the ultimate message of the piece is still quite trivial. (Paul Birchall). Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Jan. 26. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.
Astroglyde 2013: 10 all-new mini plays, created and performed in ensemble at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre. Fri., Dec. 6, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 20, 8:30 p.m. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
BASH by Neil LaBute at the Asylum Lab: Dark, complex portraits of the evil that exists within everyday life. Written by Neil LaBute. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
Bob Baker's Holiday Spectacular: One of the theater's most requested shows, which has charmed audiences for generations. The Wizard of Fantasy and his sidekick Demi Star embark on a magical journey with a cast of over 100 exquisitely designed marionettes. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Jan. 5. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Bob's Holiday Office Party: A comedy in its eighteenth year, written by Joe Keyes and Rob Elk, about Bob, an insurance salesman in Iowa. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-204-4440, www.picoplayhouse.com.
GO: By the Bog of Cats: Euripides' Medea was a barbarian witch who helped her husband, Jason, claim the Golden Fleece, only to slay her children after he threw her over for a younger woman. Irish playwright Marina Carr's moody drama isn't a strict retelling but it conjures the essence and psychological complexities of the proto-feminist text. In this version, Hester Swane (Kacey Camp) is a tinker, or Celtic gypsy, loath to flee the 9-mile-square Bog of Cats, where she was born, once her mollycoddled former lover (Joseph Patrick O'Malley) leaves her and their young daughter (Talyan Wright) to wed a prim, propertied daddy's girl (Erin Barnes). Camp captures the fierce loyalty and deep woundedness that drive Hester's devastating choices, starting with her girlhood abandonment by her mother. Director Sean Branney elicits fine performances from his ensemble: Casey Kramer is especially good as the Catwoman, a blind Tiresian seer swaddled in feline pelts and mouse skulls. The fatalism of Greek tragedy is well suited to the backdrop of the Irish midlands, with their mystical superstitions and mire of personal histories. Arthur MacBride's simple set evokes the harsh, brittle landscape with economy. This makes for harrowing, satisfying theater. (Jenny Lower). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 8. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 818-846-5323, www.theatrebanshee.org.
Caburlesque Christmas: Holidays at the Knock Shop: A naughty and nice holiday celebration under the management of Papa Clause and Madam Caress. A show with classic burlesque, comedy, and strip tease. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
Christmas 2: What if Jesus never got around to his public ministry -- what if the King of Kings instead remained an underachieving mensch with a hot wife and an overbearing mother, living in a rundown shack in Bethlehem? That's the half-clever premise of this double-cast, world-premiere play, written and directed by Jeff Goode, which marries a loose Christmas Carol plot structure with sitcom sensibilities. Despite a boozy, gyrating angel and Madonna/whore jokes aplenty, the story winds up neither as edgy nor as funny as it tries to be. The show's strongest moments involve the appealingly milquetoast Jesus (Nathan Wellman) and his firebrand cousin John (Anthony Backman), and some soul-searching by a morally compromised Roman centurion (Brett Koontz). But original humor and topical zingers get buried in the oppressively long, domesticated script. By the umpteenth "Did you look under the manger for your [fill in the blank]?" joke, it feels like an interminable episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. (Jenny Lower). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.
GO: A Christmas Carol: What made Ebenezer Scrooge such a miserable old coot? Adapter-director Christina Harris elaborates on this aspect of Dickens' cautionary tale in Sierra Madre Playhouse's amiable musical production of A Christmas Carol, embellished with songs and upbeat ensemble dancing. Scott Harris portrays the tight-fisted miser as less an icy capitalist than a bad-tempered old man with chronic indigestion (my take). The classic narrative involving Jacob Marley (Karl Maschek) and the ghosts (Kelly Kitko, Hector S. Quintana and Tim Stafford as Christmases Past, Present and Future, respectively) unwinds with enough technical flair and professional skill to preserve one's attention, despite the story's umpteenth retelling. The disciplined ensemble includes teens and children, with the youngsters performing adeptly and -- speaking of the 8- and 10-year-olds -- remarkably on cue, surely a directorial coup. Anthony Bravo's soft-spoken Bob Cratchit and his family, including an endearing Amelia Grace as Tiny Tim, furnish an apt contrast with the story's fantastical characters, all underscored by Jeremy Pivnick's lighting, John Zalewski's sound and Liz Peterson's lively costumes. Still, some of the backstory and drawing room scenes need pruning, and not all the group vocals are quite on the mark. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 7 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.
A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens' holiday classic, adapted for the stage by Geoff Elliott. Sat., Dec. 7, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 4:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 22, 2 p.m. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.
GO: A Christmas Carol: The Yuletide Lords of Misrule at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre are presiding over a "turbocharged," nontraditional version of the Dickens classic, which means you can expect a lot of fun and laughs. The opening scene sets the impious tone with an offering of familiar carols performed with sardonic menace by the cadaverous-looking "Steampunk Chorus" (outfitted in a loud mix of raunchy dance-hall garb), led by whiz guitarist Annalee Scott. The basics of the story are all here, but director Denise Devin has spiced the production with a few surprising twists, once again working theatrical magic with her customary no-frills staging, deftly marshaling a sizable ensemble in this limited performance space. Sebastian Muñoz does the honors as Scrooge, and Devin turns in sprightly performances as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, while Zombie Joe makes a memorably scary appearance as the tormented ghost of Jacob Marley. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
GO: Dallas Non-Stop: Young and naive, Girlie (Sandy Yu) has moved from her Philippines village to the city to train at a regional call center for a major American airline. Obsessed with the TV soap Dallas, Girlie fantasizes about moving there to live a dream life. But her single-minded pursuit and ultimate triumph have a price. Christopher Scott Murillo's simple set design of two long platforms flanked by projection screens effectively indicates both an airport runway and the tropical setting (Manila, which we don't learn until 30 minutes into the play). Playwright Boni B. Alvarez maintains a playful tone with flashes of melodrama in this bittersweet but brutally honest story, and the characters are endearing and well delineated. There are lots of laughs when Alvarez briefly amps up the office politics to resemble heated scenes from Dallas, with the mostly Filipino cast hilariously breaking out their best Texas accents and postures. The rest of the time they converse with a thick, sing-song accent (and snippets of Tagalog), which at times is difficult to decipher. Still, Jon Lawrence Rivera elicits great performances from his cast of six, orchestrating the shifting moods extremely well. Kennedy Kabasares is fun as competitive office mate Rodrigo and Anne Yatco shines as Girlie's best friend, but it's Yu who steals the show, despite her sometimes overly effusive performance. (Pauline Adamek). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 9, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 9, $25. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
Disney's The Lion King: Marvel at the breathtaking spectacle of animals brought to life by award-winning director Julie Taymor, whose visual images for this show you'll remember forever. A five-time Tony award-winning production. Fri., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 22, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 26, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 27, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 29, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 31, 2 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 2, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 5, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., Jan. 7, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Jan. 8, 1 & 7:30 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 11, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 12, 1 p.m. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.hollywoodpantages.com.
Dysfunctional Family Christmas: This farce by Paul Storiale kicks off with the Logans, Joanne (Elyse Ashton) and Dean (Rob Schaumann), planning to sell their house, ship Grandpa Logan off to a nursing home and move to Florida. They've invited their three misfit children home for one last family Christmas. Just when the kids are due to arrive, they discover that Grandpa has died in his sleep; they decide to conceal the fact in order to not spoil the holidays. Predictably, endless complications and mishaps ensue, involving daughter Christine (Kara Hume) and her Jewish fiancé (Matthew Clay); son Adam (Alex Polcyn) -- who may or may not be gay -- and his nympho girlfriend (Sara Swain); actor son Braden (Brian Spengel), who has spent his whole life being ignored; and bossy neighbor Mrs. Braskett (Barbera Howard). Storiale's script is broadly written, obvious and short on logic and credibility, but it proved amusing enough to please friendly opening-nighters. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 5 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. BrickHouse Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood, 818-506-5436.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues: Vixen, one of Santa's reindeer, accuses Santa of sexual harassment. When the media descends upon the North Pole, the rest of The Eight are compelled to share their stories and perspectives. Written by Jeff Goode, directed by Royana Black and David Peryam. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Theater 6470 at the Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-0383.
El Grande de Coca Cola: A comedy set in a Trujillo nightclub, where a local impresario, Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, has announced that he is going to produce an international cabaret show. Written by Alan Shearman, Ron House, Diz White and John Neville-Andrews. Fri., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 2 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 8 p.m. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.
GO: Elvis's Toenail: Irish playwright Fionnuala Kenny's Elvis's Toenail is set in Dublin in 1961, when the Catholic Church still maintained its stranglehold on Irish society -- but the first signs of resistance and rebellion were beginning to appear. Rita (played with touching simplicity and conviction by Lenne Klingaman) is pregnant but unmarried. She desperately wants to keep her baby, but both her family and the church want to force her to take refuge in the local convent, where the baby would be taken away and put up for adoption. Since church pressure prevents most businesses from hiring the pregnant but unwed, Rita must change her name and go into hiding, working as a seamstress in a dressmaking establishment run by the sympathetic Mrs. Kelly (Laurie Wendorf). Kelly and her staff band together to help Rita elude the clutches of the pompously fanatical Father Ambrose (Gary Bell). Kenny's play is dramaturgically a bit naive, with scenes that don't climax and too much reliance on voice-overs and offstage voices, but she has created a compelling tale and vivid characters. Directors Joe Banno and Sal Romeo have assembled a fine cast, including Marnie Crossen, Wendorf, McKerrin Kelly, Bell and Katie Savoy. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 8. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank, 818-558-5702, www.sidewalkstudiotheatre.com.
Every Christmas Story Ever Told...and then some: A playful exploration of many different Christmas traditions. Written by Michael Carleton, Jim FitzGerald, and John K. Alvarez. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 14. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
Falling: Exploring the dynamic and complicated reality of a family with an autistic 18 year-old, this play poses difficult questions about loving someone who is hard to love. The Martins try to lead a normal life, but when a relative comes to visit, the entire family is thrown out of equilibrium. Written by Deanna Jent. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-10-24/stage/falling-rogue-machine/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
God's Gypsy: Originally upper-class and also half Jewish, the real woman ultimately canonized as St. Teresa of Avila rose to prominence in 16th-century Spain during the time of the Inquisition. A nun given to rapturous episodes featuring personal visits from Jesus Christ, Teresa sparred openly with Church authorities over her pious determination to separate wealth and politics from the religious orders. Though Coco Blignaut's God's Gypsy traces much of this intriguing character's trajectory, the play doesn't operate as straight-up biography, opting for an emphasis on her spirituality while, despite an almost three-hour running time (including intermission), skimping on hard facts and useful historical context. As a result, the play quickly begins to suffer from the same overwrought quality that frustrated contemporaries spied in Teresa herself, an aspect not ameliorated by the production's penchant for mannered acting. Instead, standouts here include composer-musician Lili Haydn's romantic score and the handsome, atmospheric set design by Joel Daavid, who pulled double duty as director. (Mindy Farabee). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Jan. 12. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
Goldilocks and The Three Bears: Suitable for the kindergarten set, writer Scott Martin's benign adaptation of the classic children's story features Caitlin Gallogly as a friendly and cherished little girl, whose mom (Bonnie Kalisher) just isn't a good cook. Searching for adventure, the tyke stumbles upon the three bears' habitat and, after sampling their food and furniture, makes off with the recipe for Mama Bear's delicious porridge. She's tracked down (with the help of the audience) by Teddy Bear (Jason Galloway); the two meet, find they have much in common, then teach their parents (both sets are played by Kalisher and Anthony Gruppuso) to be unafraid and respectful of each other. Composer Richard Berent's tunes are simple but catchy, as are some of the lyrics (credited to Martin and Rob Meurer). The performers are veterans of this larger-than-life storytelling style; Gallogly is especially endearing and easy to relate to. Lloyd J. Schwartz and Barbara Mallory Schwartz co-direct. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
GO: Groundlings Online University: See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-22/stage/groundlings-el-grande-coca-cola/full/. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. The Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.
Handball: The New York City park (starkly realized by Geronimo Guzman's staid set design) in Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's drama has seen many people come and go, as signified by the mishmash of names scrawled on a faded wall in the handball court. But change is afoot -- a redevelopment committee headed by penthouse yuppies Christopher (Spencer Weitzel), his wife, Laurie (Isabel Davila), and business partner Orlando (David Santana) have other "greener" ideas for the park, which angers Javier (Matias Ponce), whose desire to preserve the past and to become city handball champ makes him resentful of the newcomers and bitterly opposed to their ambitious undertaking. Adding to the volatile situation is the pervasive influence of Panama (Jeffrey DeSerrano), a thug and neighborhood shot caller who has a significant stake in the project. The topical issue of gentrification and its social impact briefly emerges but unfortunately is not explored in depth. Compensating for a dearth of action is Rosenfeld's formidable knack for engaging and humorous dialogue, matched with interesting characters (park regulars Paul Julianelli and Luis Kelly-Duarte are a real kick). Brenda Banda's cast members turn in spirited performances. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Studio Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, 323-463-3900, www.studio-stage.com.
GO: The Homosexuals: Philip Dawkins' comedy revolves around Evan (boyishly cute blond Brian Dare), who arrives in town as a naive, newly out greenhorn but soon joins a mildly incestuous circle of gay friends, including four guys and one girl, Tam (Kelly Schumann), a history teacher and sassy, self-defined fag hag. Collin (Matt Crabtree) falls for Evan on sight, and they become lovers. Michael (Kurt Quinn) is the nice-but-nebbishy guy who can't get laid. Mark (David Fraioli) is a slightly saturnine art teacher and gay activist, whose attempt to seduce Evan ends in a fight. British Mark (Ben Patterson) is buff, black and British, and his attempt to seduce Evan ends in stalemate, perhaps because both men are tops -- though that might be negotiable. Peter (Butch Klein) is a musical comedy queen, who becomes Collin's successor as Evan's lover. Each of the six scenes is interesting and entertaining, but there's little real action and the narrative arc is weak -- a fact emphasized by the playing of the scenes in reverse order, à la Merrily We Roll Along. But the piece is largely redeemed by director Michael Matthews' fine production and excellent performances from all the actors. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21, $26. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers: Written by John Logan Directed by Joe Mantello. Starring Bette Midler. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
GO: In the Heights: If ever there was a critic-proof musical, it is Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes' exuberant, irresistible and almost risibly sanitized 2007 paean to community and immigrant aspiration. Almost, because -- even if the Washington Heights depicted by Hudes' cloyingly wholesome libretto and Marco De Leon's grit-free, storybook-barrio set looks more like Sesame Street than any known avenue above Manhattan's 131st Street -- once Miranda's high-octane Latin hip-hop opener kicks in, and Michael Torrenueva (as the Dominican bodega owner Usnavi) literally sings the neighborhood to life, any qualms melt away in the sheer warmth of this immensely likable company's embrace. Powered by choreographer Daniel Lazareno De Dios' electrifying production numbers, director Rigo Tejeda's staging (a reprise of his 2012 production) expertly weaves Miranda's salsa and merengue rhythms with Hudes' limpid conflicts into a driving and seductive Technicolor fantasy. Standouts include vocal powerhouse Veronica Rosa as Nina, the Puerto Rican Stanford dropout who returns to the 'hood to face the disappointment of her striver parents (Martica De Cardenas and Luis Marquez); James Oronoz as her forbidden (i.e., non-Hispanic) love interest; Vivian Lamolli as brassy gossip Daniella; and Anastasia Silva as the matriarchal neighborhood eminence grise who almost mystically ties up all the plot strands to deliver the evening's celebratory ending. (Bill Raden). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Casa 0101, 2102 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, 323-263-7684, www.casa0101.org.
The Invisible Play: An existential romance about people getting laid off and vanishing-literally-from a publishing house. Written by Alex Dremann, directed by Amanda Weier. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play: A live 1940's style radio broadcast of the American holiday classic, set on the stage of a New York radio station. Presented by the Kentwood Players. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 14. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., Los Angeles, 310-645-5156, www.kentwoodplayers.org.
Just Imagine: Although the wow factor is missing, aficionados of John Lennon probably will appreciate this tribute to the iconic musician, which juxtaposes renditions of his most famous songs with a narrative of his life. Lennon impersonator and lead singer Tim Piper addresses the audience in a confiding manner as he relates events in Lennon's life -- his troubled boyhood in Liverpool culminating in the death of his mother, up through The Beatles, his marriage to Yoko Ono and his transformation into a family man and spokesman for the counterculture antiwar movement. There are no surprises in writer-director Steve Altman's script, and watching and listening to Piper, an American donning a Liverpool accent, failed to persuade me that I was hearing the real McCoy. That said, Piper's backup band, Working Class Hero, performs well and provides an opportunity for those who wish to reimagine the legend to do so. (323) 960-4442, justimaginetheshow.com. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 29. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.
KAWL Presents It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play for the Stage: A play within a play that takes place at KAWL, a struggling 1940s radio station that good-hearted owner Michael Anderson is barely keeping alive. Anderson calls on friends to perform Frank Capra's classic It's A Wonderful Life as its last program. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. The Belfry Stage, Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.
Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel: The echoes of famed German composer Kurt Weill's footsteps will soon be heard on the historic seaside Santa Monica Pier. Tony Award-winning actor/director Paul Sand is creating a limited-run show at what will be called the West End Theatre, transforming an enclosed observation deck at the end of the Santa Monica Pier into what will be a cabaret-style performance space. Fri., Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 & 9 p.m. Continues through Dec. 28. Santa Monica Pier, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 310-458-8900, www.santamonicapier.org.
Ladybird: A warm, funny and unique holiday play about love and sacrifice, created from stories from members of the local community that were shared during workshops with professional theater artists. Written by Laurie Woolery and Victor Vazquez in collaboration with the ensemble. Sat., Dec. 7, 3 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 3 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 3 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 3 p.m. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles, 213-745-6516, www.24thstreet.org.
The Latina Christmas Special: Three comedies about navidades con la familia. Told in one-woman format by three Latina comedians: Sandra Valls, Diana Yanez, and Maria Russell. Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 5 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 5 p.m. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Light Up the Sky: Moss Hart's 1940s comedy about a group of theater luvvies awaiting opening night -- and then suffering the aftermath -- gets an amusing if straightforward staging in director David McClendon's mostly engaging production. Newbie playwright Peter (Nick Denning) anticipates the opening of his first major play, an avant-garde production that has attracted the participation of gorgeous diva actress Irene (Stephanie Erb), a flamboyant director (John Combs) and a boorish money man (Arthur Hanket), all of whom gush over the young man's talent and passion. However, when it looks like the show's a flop, the same fawners turn on the writer, who is forced to learn some sobering truth about the Business they call Show. Director McClendon executes Hart's droll testament to (and critique of) the theatrical world at a crackling pace, though the grotesqueries of the play's stereotypes are sometimes more tired than scintillating, and McClendon's orthodox staging never quite manages to fully enliven it. Still, nice turns are offered by Erb's shrill star, Denning's callow playwright and Martin Turner as an elder playwright who becomes Peter's mentor. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
Live! From the Last Night of My Life: A despondent fellow, Doug (Pete Caslavka), is disillusioned by how he has ended up, stuck in a depressingly menial job working the graveyard shift at a gas station's convenience store. Packing a handgun, he decides to end it all at the conclusion of his shift at dawn. Throughout the night, Doug pontificates at length, recalling key episodes in his past, while playing to the security camera that his oppressive manager had installed. In between interacting with mundane customers -- some moronic, most obnoxious -- Doug is visited by his hostile, screaming parents, his first girlfriend and later his college sweetheart, plus Danny Zuko and John Travolta. With its broadly drawn characters and fantasy elements, sad sack Doug remains this play's naturalistic, fixed point. Playwright Wayne Rawley has done a great job balancing the tone, even throwing in a couple of fun dance routines. But at close to three hours, Doug's last night feels as if it will never be over. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
Lone-Anon: This dramedy centers around Lone-Anon, a friendly, positive, court-ordered support group where forming a connection with other people is not only encouraged, it's mandatory. Written by Neil McGowan. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-11-07/stage/rogue-machine-lounge-theatre/. Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 14. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
GO: Look Homeward, Angel: Ketti Frings' 1958 adaptation of Thomas Wolfe's autobiographical novel tells the story of young writer-to-be Eugene Gant (Grant Tambellini) and his embattled efforts to break free of his grasping, controlling mother, Eliza (Alison Blanchard), and his savagely dysfunctional family, and acquire an education. Frings' script won a Pulitzer Prize in its day, but in some respects time hasn't been kind to it, particularly in the early scenes, which seem weak, unfocused and dated. But once the lesser characters have been introduced, the power of the story takes over, as is the case in director T.L. Kolman's production. Tambellini nicely captures Eugene's raw vulnerability and coltish charm, and Blanchard provides an etched-in-acid portrait of Eliza, whose grasping nature makes her sacrifice the needs of her family to her money-making schemes, and who never lets reality intrude on her chosen beliefs. Geoffrey Wade scores as Eliza's alcoholic, domineering-but-ineffectual stone-cutter husband, and A.J. Jones plays Eugene's tubercular elder brother and mentor, Ben. His performance has its merits, but he coughs enough for a carload of Camilles and foreshadows too strongly and too soon his impending death. August Viverito designed the handsome black-and-white set. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 14. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 877-620-7673, www.secretrose.com.
Lost Girls: Idiosyncratic characters, colorful language and clever one-liners don't always make a dramedy click. John Pollono's latest play is set in working-class New England and revolves around a divorced single mom, Maggie (Jennifer Pollono), who wakes one snowy morning to discover her car and teenage daughter, Erica (Anna Theoni DiGiovanni), missing. A call to law enforcement triggers a visit from Maggie's ex, Lou (Joshua Bitton), a state trooper. Accompanying him is his attractive second wife, Penny (Kirsten Kollender), whose presence fuels an already flammable mix of past resentments, not only between Lou and Maggie but between Maggie and her malcontent mom, Linda (Peggy Dunne). Director John Perrin Flynn has a skilled ensemble, but their talents don't coalesce into a believable narrative. The main problem is the plot's awkward contrivances. The production is often entertaining, but the many loose ends suggest it's been rushed to production prematurely. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
Marilyn - My Secret: This drama-comedy with music chronicles the life of Norma Jean from unwanted orphan, to bit player, to sex goddess. Written by Willard Manus and Odalys Nanin, directed and produced by Odalys Nanin. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, 323-654-0680, www.machatheatre.org/home.html.
Merry F***in' Christmas, Y'all.: Mia Jensen meets her dysfunctional Texas family in a rented vacation home in the Colorado mountains for the Christmas holidays. Written by Marnie Olson, directed by Kerr Seth Lordygan. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Jan. 5. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
Millennium Magic XIV: A program of magic and illusion in its fourteenth year, presented by George Tovar, Jeanine Anderson, and other magicians from the Magic Castle. The performers vary each night. Fri., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 2 p.m. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
GO: Miracle on South Division Street: When playwright Tom Dudzick was growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., in the 1950s, one local landmark was a 20-foot shrine for the Blessed Virgin, beside a small barbershop. According to local legend, the shrine was erected by the barber after the Blessed Mother appeared in his shop one Christmas Eve. Dudzick latched onto the story and used it as the basis for this fictionalized account. The barber's daughter, Clara Nowak (Ellen Crawford), is still, 65 years later, the keeper of the shrine. A devout Catholic (she's appalled by the notion that Jesus might actually have been Jewish), she has turned her three grown children into shills to attract visitors -- and contributions -- to the shrine. But they're growing restive. Garbage collector Jimmy (Brian Ibsen) secretly has a Jewish girlfriend. Ketchup bottler Beverly (Meghan Andrews) is more interested in bowling. Would-be actress Ruth (Karianne Flaathen) is creating a one-woman show based on the inside story behind the family legend. But her revelations transform the legend -- and the family. Dudzick has written a slick, funny comedy, Brian Shnipper directs it with panache and the skillful actors expertly mine the comic possibilities. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
Mom's Gift: Mom, who has been dead for 11 months, shows up at her husband's birthday party as a ghost with a mission. A comedy with a heart, written by Phil Olson, directed by Sherry Netherland. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.
Moskva: Written by the LA Weekly's own Steven Leigh Morris, this comic, macabre fantasy is based on the Russian novel The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. On a hot spring afternoon, the Devil and his entourage, trailing fire and chaos in their wake, emerge from the shadows of the underworld and weave themselves into the absurd and brutal realities of contemporary Moscow. Contains nudity. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, 310-453-9939, www.citygarage.org.
Mr. Potcher's Holiday: A Kentwood Kids musical comedy production about the story of Mr. Potcher, a school consultant, who eliminates all extracurricular activities and holiday celebrations. Iconic holiday characters and students work together to change his mind. Book and lyrics by Bob Silberg, music by Barbara Klaskin Silberg. Sat., Dec. 7, 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., Los Angeles, 310-645-5156, www.kentwoodplayers.org.
GO: The Musical of Musicals, The Musical!: Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogarts's amusing creation is actually an anti-musical musical parsed out into five acts, all of which parody the styles and works of famous composers and lyricists of the genre, all with the same mundane theme: "I can't pay the rent." Four actors play all the roles. Corn is in the style of Rodgers & Hammerstein, with references to Oklahoma, South Pacific and others. Jidder (Eduardo Enrikez) will force June (Jean Altadel) to marry him if she can't pay rent, but her true love, Big Willy (Jason Peter Kennedy), saves the day. A Little Complex is a nod to Stephen Sondheim and casts Jitter as an unhinged, frustrated artist and landlord, with bad intentions toward the equally neurotic Jeune. Dear Abby is pure Jerry Herman (Mame, Hello Dolly), where Mr. Jitters forgets the rent and goes gloriously drag queen, while Aunt Abby (Christina Morrell) plays matchmaker. Aspects of Junita is a poke at Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, with Jitter as the masked madman/impresario and Junita as his romantic interest. Speakeasy is a bawdy take on Kander & Ebb's Chicago and Cabaret. All five segments are a hoot. Kristin Towers-Rowles' direction is excellent, as are the cast performances, but the real star is musical director Richard Berent and his dazzling piano.. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 8. Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-205-1617, www.chromolume-theatre.com.
The Mystery Plays: Two interrelated one-act plays, inspired by the yuletide tradition of the medieval mystery plays. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, directed by Christopher Basile. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 29, 3 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 5, 3 p.m. Continues through Jan. 5. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.
The Nisei Widows Club: How Tomi Got Her Groove Back: Writer Betty Tokudani's cliché-ridden comedy centers on four elderly women whose curmudgeonly cluelessness we are supposed to find endearing. Vain, stylish Tomi (Jeanne Sakata) is mourning her middle-aged son, a mama's boy who for years gobbled her high-cholesterol food, then died young of a heart attack. Her friends strive to be sympathetic but struggle to handle Tomi's drama-queen antics. Their efforts to distract her transport the quartet to a yoga class and later to Hawaii, where they study hula -- each time under the tutelage of a hunky instructor (Tui Asau, playing two roles), for whom they all swoon. Under Amy Hill's direction, the production never strays far from the script's stale sitcom format, with its broad riffs and tired jokes. As Hana, the group's hippest member, Emily Kuroda delivers a relatively subtle and satisfying comic performance. Takayo Fischer as chief organizer salvages her role by staying simple and straightforward. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 8. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles, 213-625-7000, www.eastwestplayers.org.
GO: The Normal Heart: When the AIDS plague emerged in 1981, writer-activist Larry Kramer was devastated to learn that the larger society wasn't remotely concerned that gay men were dying by the thousands, and the gay community was refusing to admit its own responsibility. He set out to call the world to account, and tell unpopular truths to power. Driven by his own passionate concern, he launched ham-fisted attacks in all directions, making himself hated and resented. But in his semi-autobiographical play The Normal Heart, he is considerably defter, capturing the absurdity as well as the courage of his surrogate, Ned Weeks (Tim Cummings), and making his story a chronicle of the times. He reminds us of how terrifying AIDS was when nobody knew what it was, how it was spread or how to avoid it. Director Simon Levy has mounted a deeply moving production at the Fountain Theatre, bathed in the compassion without which it would be merely a horror story, and performed by a deeply committed ensemble. Cummings captures the desperation of a man who cares so much he's incapable of tact or coherence, and Bill Brochtrup ably renders the charm and ultimate disintegration of his lover, Felix. Lisa Pelikan, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Verton R. Banks and the rest of the cast provide terrific support. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
Orwellian: Larry Cedar's solo show consists of three monologues by George Orwell, presented vivaciously in director Thomas Bigley's engagingly intimate production. In an excerpt from Orwell's essay "Down and Out in London and Paris," Cedar portrays the author, who finds himself slaving in a filthy Parisian restaurant kitchen. This shifts into a monologue derived from Animal Farm, in which Old Major, the grand old Lenin-esque pig, urges his fellow farm animals to revolt. The largest portion of the bill, though, Cedar reserves for a sort of compression of 1984, with poor old Winston Smith describing his dystopic world and his star-crossed romance with the rebellious Julia. With his lanky frame and emotionally subtle voice, Cedar is a brilliant storyteller and Orwell's words come to life through his dryly ironic narration. However, clocking in at well under an hour, the piece's brevity and straightforward simplicity ultimately work against it, and the material feels more like an academic exercise than a dramatic effort. Forty-five more minutes of revolting pigs surely would help somewhat. (Paul Birchall). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Parfumerie: Adapted by E.P. Dowdall from the Hungarian play Illatszertar, by Miklos Laszlo. Directed by Mark Brokaw. Set during Christmastime, 1937 in Budapest Hungary, the play centers around two bickering employees at an upscale boutique, who have been building an anonymous romantic relationship through letters to one another for two years. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-246-3800, www.thewallis.org.
GO: A Perfect Likeness: Charles Dodgson, more popularly known as Lewis Carroll, was a fascinating study in contrasts: a conservative, reticent, religiously devout lecturer in mathematics whose incredible imagination bred Alice in Wonderland and other wildly fantastical novels and poems. In writer-director Daniel Rover Singer's 90-minute two-hander A Perfect Likeness, the prim Dodgson (Daniel J. Roberts) spends an afternoon with an even more celebrated literary icon, Charles Dickens (Bruce Ladd), struggling to reconcile his prior adoration for the universally acclaimed older writer with an appalled response to Dickens' rough language, bald earthiness and frank skepticism. Singer's script lends equal weight to both characters, but from the opening curtain Roberts seizes the limelight, with a pitch-perfect portrayal of a personage who might easily have been reduced to caricature. Ladd, a bit too stagily flamboyant at first, gains firmer footing as each character's secrets spill out and the encounter grows more intimate. Aficionados of either writer will appreciate the scenario's biographical detail, but this isn't a biopic and you don't have to be interested in 19th-century British literature to appreciate the play's odd-couple jousting and emotional poignancy. A scene in which Dodgson goes into a trance to reveal his nagging torments is optimally underscored by designer Will Hastings' lighting. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, 626-441-5977, www.fremontcentretheatre.com.
Peter and the Starcatcher: The five-time Tony Award-winning musical play, a swashbuckling prequel to Peter Pan based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 26, 2 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 30, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, 8 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 2, 2 p.m.; Wed., Jan. 8, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 12, 6:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 12. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A humorous adaptation of Robert Browning's classic poem, written and directed by Jennifer Taub Gwillim. Starting Dec. 7, Saturdays, 11 a.m. Continues through Dec. 28. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
GO: Play Dead: Sitting through a performance of the Geffen Playhouse's delightful spook show Play Dead resurrects memories of a long-gone time when such shows were truly scary -- and scads of fun. Performed by Todd Robbins, who co-wrote the show with director Teller (of the magician duo Penn & Teller), Play Dead is a tongue-in-cheek, loving homage to the spectacle and hocus-pocus of the carnie era, when 25 cents would buy a ticket and hot dogs were a nickel. It's also very much a blunt-force display of that curious human fascination with bloodshed, gore, death and the afterlife. Clad in a natty white suit, Robbins makes an ideal host for the proceedings, melding a parlous demeanor with a carnival barker's sturdy voice and the polished delivery of a master magician. Tom Buderwitz's impressive set is loaded with trade items, props and macabre bric-à-brac (a neon "Jesus Saves" sign is situated opposite John Dillinger in a cell). Robbins makes artful use of the many onstage "coffin boxes," wherein lie the restless remains of notorious folks such as serial killer and eater of children Albert Fish. The assorted tricks and illusions are astonishing for their artistry and variety. The final feat of magic is a tour de force. In deference to Robbins' wishes not to give away the tricks, no more can be said other than that the show is a blast from start to finish. (The Geffen warns that the production contains some disturbing images and brief moments of nudity, so material may be inappropriate for children.) (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
The Queen Family's Very Special Holiday Special: The annual Queen family telethon, which this year includes all faiths from Atheists to the Amish. Directed by Will Thomas McFadden. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, 310-838-4264, www.theactorsgang.com.
GO: The Rainmaker: A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others -- her family and society -- have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots -- the kind of experience where you might say, "Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?" The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
A Rubicon Family Christmas Concert: A musical revue of classic and contemporary songs of the holiday season, conceived and directed by Brian McDonald. Fri., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 2 p.m. Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-2900.
The Santaland Diaries: The true story, written by David Sedaris, of an unemployed writer, desperate for work, who takes a job as an elf at Macy's Santaland in NYC. Fri., Dec. 6, 10 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 10 p.m. Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-2900.
Santasia - A Holiday Comedy: The annual holiday romp and multimedia cult hit. Presented by Loser Kids Productions. Fri., Dec. 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 22, 2 & 7 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 24, 8 p.m. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
Seascape with Sharks and Dancer: A romantic comedy-drama, written by Don Nigro, about a love affair between calm Ben and volatile Tracy. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-979-7078.
¡Ser!: A personal narrative that examines a queer Latina's strained relationship with each of her two home cities, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires. Written and performed by Karen Anzoategui. Produced by The Latino Theater Company. Featuring live music by CAVA, Walter Miranda, and Louie Pérez of Los Lobos. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-11-21/stage/a-working-theater/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 8. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.
Sherlock Through the Looking Glass: What happens when Sherlock Holmes, the world's foremost logician, enters a realm where logic does not exist? Written and directed by Gus Krieger. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-12-05/stage/sherlock-through-looking-glass/. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Show Pony: Leslie Jordan in his tour de force, autobiographical one-person show. Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 7 p.m. Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden, Los Angeles, 323-860-7300, www.lagaycenter.org.
Silver Lake Children's Theatre Group: The Midnight Gallery: Four mini-plays, in repertoire: Genevieve, co-written by Maddie Miller; I Do-But I Really Don't, written by Matthew Hammond and William Hammond; Aloha Kiana, co-written by Nicole Klar; The Last 30 Seconds, written by Broderick Miller. For schedule details, visit silverlakechildrenstheatregroup.org. Fri., Dec. 6, 7 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 7, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 7 p.m., silverlakechildrenstheatregroup.org/. Inner City Arts, 720 Kohler St., Los Angeles, 213-627-9621.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks: A touching comedy about a formidable retired woman who hires an acerbic dance instructor to give her private lessons. Starring French film actress Leslie Caron. Written by Richard Alfieri, directed by Michael Arabian. Starting Dec. 7, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 29. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Smoke and Mirrors: A semi-autobiographical, fantastical coming-of-age story about a boy who uses magic to escape reality after the death of his father. Interweaving illusions, special effects, and audience participation, themes of love, loss and magic are explored in this highly stylized show. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 29. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-752-7568, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Something to Crow About: The Bob Baker Marionettes' musical "Day on the Farm." Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Somewhere Like Earth: An interactive education show about the environment and sustainability. For 6 - 11 year olds, their parents and their friends. Written by Mike Funt, directed by Turner Munch. Presented by Four Clowns Jr. as part of the Imaginese Festival at the Attic Theatre. Sat., Dec. 7, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 8, 2 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 2 p.m. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-525-0661, www.attictheatre.org.
Spamalot: A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Adapted from the original screenplay by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle. Directed by Rick Steinberg. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 14. Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 805-495-3715, www.conejoplayers.org.
Speech & Debate: Stephen Karam's multi-media contemporary comedy, about the speech and debate team student Diwata starts when she doesn't get into the high school musical. Presented by the Los Angeles New Court Theatre. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5774, www.complexhollywood.com.
The Steward of Christendom: Set in the early 1930's at an Irish county mental home, where 75-year-old Thomas Dunne has been committed by his daughter. Here, his mind wanders in and out of lucidity as he remembers his childhood, his wife and children, and his career as the head of Dublin's Metropolitan Police, where he rose through the ranks to the highest position a Catholic could hope to achieve. Written by Sebastian Barry. Starting Dec. 10, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 30, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 5. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772.
Wonderful Life: Actor and writer Jason Lott's solo show, a retelling of Frank Capra's classic film It's A Wonderful Life. Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 14, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 2 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 22, 2 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.

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