Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a Pulitzer Finalist About the Iraq War
Burt Grinstead and Laurie Okin in Christopher Shinn's Dying City at Rogue Machine
Lee Melville, a true gentleman and decades-long friend of our theater, died last night. Melville was a critic and editor at Drama-Logue and, most recently, L.A. Stage. More details as they come in.
Christopher Shinn's drama Dying City, about a family in the wake of the Iraq War, being performed at Rogue Machine, is this week's pick. For all the latest new theater reviews, see below.
This week's theater feature is on a one-man show that chronicles five characters, each showing up at a gay bar called the Flash, during a different decade. With this scheme, the play becomes a kind of history of gay attitudes in the U.S.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 23, 2013
At The Flash: A fierce and funny show that condenses LGBT history into the story of five characters: a closeted man in the 1960s, a black drag queen in the 1970s, a club kid in the 1980s, a budding lesbian activist in the 1990s, and a family man and entrepreneur in the 2000s. Written by Sean Chandler, performed by David Leeper, and directed by David Zak. Sat., May 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 26, 2 p.m. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com. See Theater Feature.
PICK OF THE WEEK: DYING CITY: When Peter (Burt Grinstead) unexpectedly shows up at Kelly's (Laurie Okin) Lower Manhattan apartment, the mood is prickly and awkward. That's understandable; Peter is the identical twin of her husband, Craig, a hard-as-nails soldier who recently died in a military accident in Iraq. But during their conversation, many questions tug at this pair, threatening to bring them down into an emotional undertow. Did Craig really die in an accident? Why is Kelly's phone number unlisted and why is she obscuring evidence she may be moving out? Christopher Shinn's writing is sophisticated and elusive, presenting only tantalizing fragments and expecting you to make the connections and piece the backstory together. The language is raw and real -- people really do talk this way -- and Shinn, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for this play, perfectly captures the discomfort of a relationship that exists only through a marital connection yet becomes cathected and extremely complicated. Director Michael Peretzian stages the one-act play well, using lighting and sound cues sparingly but above all extracting superb and deeply expressive performances from his cast of two. Both actors are called upon to negotiate some difficult emotional terrain, and Grinstead, in particular, demonstrates his range. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., May 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through July 8. (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com (Pauline Adamek)
CHESS Like the 1980s, this revival of the Cold War-themed musical that produced the hit song "One Night in Bangkok" is kitschy, colorful and full of spectacle. Yet its return also reveals the contrived, confusing plot and threadbare characters that have perennially plagued this piece. That's to take nothing away from director Tim Dang and his ensemble, who embrace the source material and make it their own. Undergirding their efforts are Adam Flemming's cleverly tiered set and eye-catching projections, Anthony Tran's bold costumes, Dan Weingarten's kaleidoscopic lighting and Ken Takemoto's wonderfully detailed props. Dang chooses the through-sung U.K. version of the show, which heavily features his soloists, all of whom have great pipes. Joan Almedilla (Florence) soars, Elijah Rock (Anatoly) belts with gusto -- though, oddly, without a Russian accent -- and Carey Rebecca Brown (Svetlana) showcases delicate power. Victor E. Chan (Freddie) has moxie but runs hot and cold, while Ray A. Rochelle (Molokov) brings Bond-villain fun to the show. If only the story were as resonant as the vocals, this musical could really be something. East West Players, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 23. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO: THE CRUCIBLE Arthur Miller's play, first produced on Broadway in 1953, was Miller's impassioned response to McCarthyism and the witch-hunts launched by the House Un-American Activities Committee. But the fact that it has become an oft-produced American classic and the basis for two films (including a French version with screenplay by Jean-Paul Sartre) reminds us that it's not just a political screed. Miller presents the Salem witch trials, and the ensuing executions, as a lethal combination of greed, personal resentment, religious fanaticism and hysteria, ordinary human fears and the need to find someone to blame for all misfortunes. It was a climate in which honesty and integrity were dangerous, and lies and manipulation could thrive. Co-directors Armin Shimerman and Geoffrey Wade have given the piece a highly presentational production, in which the actors deliver their lines directly to the audience rather than to each other. This approach drives the ideas home with force and clarity but some loss of psychological subtlety. The large ensemble (all roles are double-cast) delivers a production that is powerful and always engrossing. There are especially fine portrayals, in the performance reviewed, by James Sutorious as Deputy Governor Danforth, Bo Foxworth as John Proctor and Ann Noble as Reverend Hale. Antaeus Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 7. (818) 506-1983, antaeus.org. (Neal Weaver)
KILL ME Scott Barsotti's "dark, abstract horror" has moments of jarring resonance but fails to draw blood where it counts. After a terrible auto accident, Cam (Natasha Charles Parker) emerges from a coma convinced she has encountered supernatural beings from another dimension, and that she's now immortal. Cam's persistent suicide attempts to prove invincibility slowly drive her psychologist sister (Angela Stern) and Cam's lover (Jonica Patella) to desperation in searching for a cure, as Cam sinks further into a delusional, self-destructive spiral. Adding to the deathly atmosphere is the unsettling presence of the "Miseries" -- Paranoia, Dread, Angst and Despair (Yanna Fabian, Karen Nicole, Lamont Webb, Alexander Price, outfitted in Erica Schwartz's splendidly designed, ghoulish costumes). Director Dan Spurgeon elicits good performances, but they don't quite offset a windy script that's lead-heavy with murky philosophical and psychological musings, making it difficult to follow the narrative let alone emotionally connect with Cam's harrowing plight. The protracted finale is little more than morbid bathos. The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 2. thevisceralcompany.com. (Lovell Estell III)
GO: MAHMOUD Like it or not, in a country of melting-pot mongrels, the dislocating immigrant experience is part of our cultural DNA. So it is no surprise that performer Tara Grammy's partly autobiographical solo show (co-written with Tom Arthur Davis) about Toronto's Iranian expatriate community should resonate with such poignant and universal familiarity. Grammy interweaves multiple characters: Mahmoud, a middle-aged cab driver and refugee from the Khomeini revolution; a flamboyant Spanish gay man and his Iranian boyfriend, who has returned to Tehran on family business; and Grammy herself, both as an adolescent born in Tehran but raised in Canada, and as an adult struggling to launch a career in Toronto's film and TV industry. The freshest and funniest material -- aided by Davis' smart and brisk staging -- belongs to the 11-year-old Tara and her fixation on somehow mitigating the physical differences between her own dark complexion and that of her class's most popular blond, blue-eyed girl. What ultimately thwarts all the characters, however, is an Iran of the imagination whose relation to the truth becomes increasingly problematic as headlines from that country's 2009 elections hint at a more complicated and disturbing reality. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 29. (818) 990-2324, whitefiretheatre.com. (Bill Raden)
Gail Johnston and John Combs
This mildly entertaining backstage comedy about the ill-fated debut of an awful play features a talented cast under Bruce Gray's able direction. But Norm Foster's screwball story stays afloat on a raft of clichés and pointed winks: A cultural philistine and his long-suffering wife ring in their silver anniversary during Game Seven of the World Series. An oily director manages his buxom ingénue under his girlfriend's watchful eye, while a starry-eyed waiter banters with a washed-up Shakespearean. Et cetera. The caricatures are meant to make us feel superior to the rubes onstage, but the half-funny jokes grow forced. Despite pitch-perfect performances (Gail Johnston, John Combs and David Hunt Stafford are special standouts), some tender moments and a second act that's snappier than the first, we can see the character arcs coming from a mile away. For a play whose characters grandly extemporize on the magic of theater, this show could use more of its own. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 16. (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org. (Jenny Lower)
THE WOMEN Clare Boothe Luce's 1936 play about the culture of spoiled, rich women preaches some pretty outdated ideas about how to keep your man, but it still sports colorful characters and clever dialogue and, in the right hands, can be fashioned into an entertaining production. This isn't one, however. Directed by Arden Teresa Lewis, the story revolves around Mary (Maria Kress), a gracious woman who discovers her husband has been cheating with a shopgirl (Caitlin Gallogly) and must decide whether to tolerate his philandering or divorce him. Mary has lots of bitchy acquaintances, especially Sylvia (Leona Britton), who have a field day dissecting their "friend's"s woes. Unfortunately, most of the performances are over-the-top caricatures; Kress in particular displays little emotional connection to Mary's pain. Dianne Travis as a feminist writer, Sandra Tucker as Mary's mother and Deborah Webb Thomas and Heather Alyse Becker in various servant roles acquit themselves respectably. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 16. (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org. (Deborah Klugman)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:
Beautiful: A one-woman show, written and performed by Jozanne Marie, about victory over despair and strength in the face of abusive relationships. Directed by Geoffrey Rivas. Produced by The Latino Theater Company. Starting May 25, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 16. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.
The Beaux' Stratagem: Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig both contributed to this adaptation of George Farquhar's early-18th-century comedy, which touches on the tribulations of the unhappily married and the moral shortcomings of the privileged classes. The story features two penniless rapscallions, Jack (Blake Ellis) and Tom (Freddy Douglas), who set out to seduce rich ladies in order to gain control of their fortunes. They soon discover a plot to burglarize the home of a wealthy dowager -- a crime they view as more dastardly than their own plan to defraud by deception. Amusing, with a few hilarious moments, the play on the whole doesn't rise to the level of the best and wittiest farce. (Ludwig's second act, written 65 years after Wilder abandoned the project, is funnier and has more shtick.) The ensemble performs respectably well; Ellis in the pivotal role handles the material adeptly but is missing the kind of unique persona that would make his performance memorable. Highest praises go to comic whirlwind Deborah Strang as a mad eccentric who fancies herself a healer but who kills or maims most of her patients. Angela Balogh Calin's costumes and Monica Lisa Sabedra's hair, wigs and makeup add frivolous fun. Julia Rodriguez Elliott directs. (Deborah Klugman). Sat., May 25, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 26, 2 p.m., $40-$60. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.
CAP Presents: Fuente Ovejuna: The Legend of Lauren Lopez: Young performers reinterpret a masterwork from Spain's Golden Age to address the future of Los Angeles' public schools. A production of the CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP) Theater program. Fri., May 24, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., May 25, 7:30 p.m. REDCAT: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles, 213-237-2800, www.redcat.org.
Chess: A multicultural cast stars in this production of the 1986 musical, about a love triangle between two top chess players, an American and a Russian, competing in a world chess championship. Original book by Richard Nelson, lyrics by Sir Tim Rice, and composed by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles, 213-625-7000, www.eastwestplayers.org.
The Circus Is Coming to Town: Interactive kids play, presented by Storybook Theatre. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 6. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
Fraternity: Set in a private club in 1987, Jeff Stetson's drama explores the journeys of seven successful black community leaders whose lives are forever affected by the tragic 1963 Alabama church bombing. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-964-9768, www.ebonyrep.org.
GO: :Joe Turner's Come and Gone: For this critic August Wilson has always been eloquent on the page, a bit wordy on the stage. This second in his 10-play chronicle of the African-American experience takes place in 1911, a bare 46 years after the Civil War ended. Wilson's vibrant characters are searching -- for love, money, personal freedom or healing and spiritual salvation. Some, like boardinghouse owners Seth (Keith David) and his wife, Bertha (Lillias White), have found their place. Others, like their wild-eyed new tenant, Herald Loomis (John Douglas Thompson), have been irreparably damaged by assaults on their personhood and dignity. Directed by Phylicia Rashad, beautifully framed by John Iacovelli's atmospheric set, with its dark orange and gold hues and misty horizon, the production captures the warmth and passion of a subculture still richly imbued with the magic and myth of its African heritage. Some performances are capable, others outstanding. Chief among the latter are Glynn Turman as the community conjurer and medicine man for broken hearts, and David as his prickly, practical-minded landlord, a money-minded fellow with no time for mumbo-jumbo. Also noteworthy are White as Seth's unflappable spouse, who provides sustenance to all, and Raynor Scheine as the eccentric white peddler he banters with. While these seasoned actors take the material and run with it, others could use stronger direction. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 9, $45-$75. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772.
Miss Julie: What many adapters have done to maintain the potency and relevance of Strindberg's once revolutionary play is to re-contextualize it to allow us to feel even a bit of what audiences experienced in 1888. Recent versions such as Yael Farber's Mies Julie (set in South Africa), Katie Mitchell's Fraulein Julie (told from Kristine's point of view using multimedia), and Ken Roht's Miss Julie(n) (a queer take on the tale) do just that. Neil LaBute, sadly, does not, and his 1929 Long Island setting adds little to the story of dangerous liaisons between upper-class Julie (Lily Rabe) and her father's valet John, (Logan Marshall-Green), who is simultaneously engaged to Kristine (Laura Heisler), the cook. Myung Hee Cho has created a picture-perfect period kitchen, and the amped-up sexuality is affecting at times, but the latter half of the piece, directed by Jo Bonney, becomes too pensive, leaving us more relieved than bowled over at its conclusion. (Mayank Keshaviah). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through June 2. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
: A stage production that highlights the mind of legendary singer Marvin Gaye, based on the first-hand accounts of Marvin's sister Zeola Gaye. Fri., May 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 25, 3 & 8 p.m. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.
Hollywood Babble-On with Kevin Smith & Ralph Garman
TicketsSat., Jun. 24, 10:00pm
Stand-Up, Storytellin, & Sangin'
TicketsSat., Jun. 24, 11:00pm
Agoura Hills Dance presents Alice in Wonderland
TicketsSun., Jun. 25, 2:00pm
La Stand Ups Grad Show
TicketsSun., Jun. 25, 7:00pm
Ya Feel? with Alexis Grossman, Anthony Desamito, & More!
TicketsSun., Jun. 25, 8:00pm
The Pianist of Willesden Lane: A young Jewish pianist tries to pursue her musical aspirations under a Nazi regime in 1938 Vienna. Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder. Starting May 29, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 30, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 9. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical: This spectacular Broadway musical, with over five-hundred Tony Award-winning costumes, is the uplifting story about a trio of friends whom hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love in the Australian outback, and end up finding more than they could have dreamed. Tue., May 28, 8 p.m.; Wed., May 29, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 31, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 1, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., June 4, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 5, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 8, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., June 11, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 12, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 15, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 16, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.
GO: : The Royale: Set in the boxing world of the early 1900s, Jay "The Sport" Jackson tries to fight for his place in history, despite the racial barriers in his way. Loosely inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, the first African American sports icon. Written by Marco Ramirez. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-09/stage/the-royale-marco-ramirez-hot-cat/full/. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through June 2, $20-$50. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
The Scottsboro Boys: A musical based on the infamous "Scottsboro" case from the 1930s, about nine unjustly accused African American men whose lives would eventually spark the Civil Rights Movement. Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Book by David Thompson. Starting May 29, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Thu., June 20, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m.; Thu., June 27, 2 p.m. Continues through June 30. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
Steel Magnolias: Robert Harling's story about a group of friends who gather each week at a salon in Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana, to comfort, tease, and gossip with each other. Directed by Jenny Sullivan. Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $35-$65. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
The Women: This 1936 classic was the first American comedy about women by a woman. Written by Clare Boothe Luce, the story has sex, gossip, and romance, and is set within a world of wealthy and privileged Manhattan women. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 16. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: There are several moments late in Alex Lyras' fascinating performance of Mike Daisey's controversial monologue when Lyras drops the mask of his nameless, first-person investigative narrator and directly pleads for the evening's truth claims as Alex Lyras, actor. The asides are as tantalizing as they are telling. Because experiencing Lyras and director Robert McCaskill's staging of Daisey's Michael Moore-esque mix of polemics and sardonic reportage is to feel weirdly double-distanced from the actuality of its subject -- the harshly impoverished working conditions of Apple's Chinese iPhone and iPad plants. Despite Lyras' persuasive delivery, the show never quite shakes the penumbra of question marks raised by Daisey's own admitted fabrications of his reporting trip to China (said material since excised). The force of each incendiary revelation and Tim Arnold's accompanying photojournalistic video projections somehow feels diminished unaccompanied by a fact-checking footnote that goes beyond the piece's now bitterly ironic emotive linchpin, Lyras as Daisey declaring, "Trust me! I was there." (Bill Raden). Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 5, 800-838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
Alien Citizen: In her solo show, playwright-performer Elizabeth Liang describes lifelong feelings of alienation arising not only from being a child of mixed race and culture but also from being shuttled by her corporate exec dad from country to country. As a girl, Liang, born to a Guatemalan-Asian father and a white American mother, spent her formative years experiencing a variety of cultures -- babyhood in Costa Rica, childhood in New England, adolescence in Egypt, Morocco and Panama -- and feeling like an outsider wherever she went. It might seem like a heavenly travelogue of adventures, but all the upheaval left Liang noticeably insecure. Director Sofie Calderon's intimate production capitalizes on Liang's assured skills as a raconteur, and Liang narrates her tale with underlying threads of irony and melancholy that are inevitably moving. The problem, though, is that the show's protagonist is almost entirely defined by her heritage, and that's not nearly enough of a hook to hang the entire tale upon. It consequently comes across as slight and insubstantial. Asylum Lab Theater, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 1. (323) 938-7491, plays411.com/alien. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $20. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
At The Flash: A fierce and funny show that condenses LGBT history into the story of five characters: a closeted man in the 1960s, a black drag queen in the 1970s, a club kid in the 1980s, a budding lesbian activist in the 1990s, and a family man and entrepreneur in the 2000s. Written by Sean Chandler, performed by David Leeper, and directed by David Zak. Sat., May 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 26, 2 p.m. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com. See Theater Feature.
GO: Cops and Friends of Cops: The title Cops and Friends of Cops references the raucous "cops only" night held monthly at the tumbledown St. Louis bar in Ron Klier's suspenseful drama. While Dom (Paul Vincent O'Connor) prepares the bar for the night's guests, he is joined by the shabby-looking Paul (Johnny Clark), who insists on staying, in spite of Dom's repeated warnings that "the place is slammed with cops" and his prediction that things will "turn rowdy." After Emmett (Andrew Hawkes), plus Roosevelt (Rolando Boyce) and his soon-to-be-retired partner Sal (Gareth Williams), clamor in, the mood turns deeply malevolent -- fast. Emmett's inexplicable browbeating of Paul turns increasingly ugly and confrontational, while Sal's seemingly endless assortment of "all in good fun" racist jokes slowly begin to anger his young African-American partner. This initial ratcheting-up of tension, however, is nothing compared with what happens after a gun is suddenly produced and the reason for Paul's visit is revealed. What follows is anything but predictable. Klier's rough-hewn characters are completely convincing, and the script, in addition to forcefully probing issues of morality, bigotry, loss and redemption, takes hold and allows little in the way of relief, as does Klier's highly charged, violent staging. The ensemble work here is first-rate, while Danny Cistone nails his meticulously crafted bar mock-up, complete with pay phone and old-timey jukebox. (Lovell Estell III). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $25. VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, www.vstheatre.org.
GO: Do Lord Remember Me: During the mid 1930s, the Federal Writers' Project, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, undertook an extensive gathering of oral histories from former slaves about their lives. It is these voices from an ugly past that are the material for James de Jongh's stirring 1977 docudrama Do Lord Remember Me. Characters from the not-so-gallant South include the pitiless overseer; the emboldened runaway; the "house negro," as compared with the "field negroes" outside; masters, both kind and cruel; and the mother whose embittered tears cannot mask her perverse joy over the death of her baby, who is thus freed from bondage. The play tells of the ignominy of the auction block, the whippings, deprivations and suffering, and the unexpected hope and humor. The cast -- Annzella Victoria, Arthur Richardson, Virginia Watson, Alysia Livingston and Charles Mathers -- help make the evening memorable under Wilson Bell's direction. James Esposito's ramshackle slave cabin -- graced with that beckoning symbol of hearth, home and storytelling, a rocking chair -- adds a vibrant realism to the production, as does the singing of time-honored Negro spirituals and the author's fidelity to the time period's crude dialect. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $25, www.chromolume-theatre.com/dolord2.html. Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-205-1617, www.chromolume-theatre.com.
Dying City: One year after his suspicious death, a young soldier's wife and twin brother meet for the first time since the funeral. A psychological showdown erupts as the two fight to reconcile their memories with the ugly truth. Written by Christopher Shinn. Sun., May 26, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 8. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. See Theater Pick
A Fried Octopus: A surreal night of theater, inspired by the dancing women of Toulouse Lautrec's paintings, about the male ideal of art and the feminine divine. Written by Alicia Adams and Justin Zsebe. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 8. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.org.
From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks: the Life and Times of Harry Bridges: A one-man show, in which actor and playwright Ian Ruskin portrays the legendary union organizer Harry Bridges, capturing his passion, struggles and wicked sense of humor. Thu., May 30, 8 p.m. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
Groundlings Prom After-Party: All-new sketch and improv, directed by Damon Jones. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through July 6. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.
Heart Song: A middle-aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith is convinced to join a flamenco class for "out of shape" women which forever changes her life. Written by Stephen Sachs. Starting May 25, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 14. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
Hemophelia's House of Horrors: This cheerfully ghoulish confection, conceived and directed by Dan Spurgeon, with sketches and songs by actor Matt DeNoto, is introduced by emcee Hemophelia (Lara Fisher), a white-face clown in convict-striped tights, who interacts with the audience and sings some zany songs. The horrors are generally tongue-in-cheek, geared to produce laughter rather than chills. The sketches depict a babysitter who persuades her young charges their Mommy is a murderous cyborg, a rather bemused Freddy in the 479th sequel to Friday the 13th, a pair of conjoined twin clowns who have a falling-out when one acquires a girlfriend, and a sinister doctor who eagerly harvests his brother's organs. The direction is tight, the music choices are clever, and there are enthusiastic performances by the eight-person ensemble, including, in addition to DeNoto and Fisher, Casey Christensen, Torrey Halverson, Samm Hill, Brian Prisco, Cloie Wyatt Taylor and Cynthia Zitter. The Visceral Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; through June 8. thevisceralcompany.com. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through June 8, $15. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.
GO:Hot Cat: Exploring the mendacity in family dynamics, unrequited sexual yearnings, and mortality with a synthesis of dance and theater. Directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis. Text by Richard Alger. Also showing as part of the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-09/stage/the-royale-marco-ramirez-hot-cat/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through June 1, $25; students & seniors $20. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
The Matchmaker: Thornton Wilder's all-American farce about love and money. Businessman and penny-pincher Horace Vandergelder searches for a wife and obtains the help of social hurricane and matchmaker extraordinaire, Mrs. Dolly Levi. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., June 15, 2:30 p.m. Continues through June 16. David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.
GO: : The Miracle Worker: There's always a danger of toppling into sentimentality when retelling a story as uplifting and inspirational as the saga of blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller and her tough, determined teacher, Annie Sullivan. Playwright William Gibson avoids that pitfall by emphasizing the humor in the situation, the stubborn cantankerousness of Sullivan (Tara Battani) and the animal desperation of the child Helen (Danielle Soibelman). These actors bring visceral intensity to the battle of wits and will that erupts when Sullivan attempts to civilize the wild child, culminating in the ferocious battle over the breakfast table. Silverware flies and crockery smashes as Sullivan fights to reach the isolated girl with nothing more than physical restraint and the sense of touch. Sullivan's struggle is even harder because she also must fend off interference from an over-indulgent mother (Catherine Gray), a willful, blustering father and a cynical, doubting brother (Tony Christopher). There's occasional awkwardness in the production, due to the difficulty of shoehorning a large, multiscene production onto a small arena stage, but director Thom Babbes elicits fine performances from the five principals. Designer Mark Svastics provides the handsome, flexible sets. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 26, $30; seniors $25; students $20. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.
The North Plan: It's not so easy to milk laughter from a political nightmare. Or at least that seems to be the lesson offered by director David Fofi's staging of playwright Jason Wells' uneasy 2010 mix of paranoid conspiracy and black comedy. The play imagines the Department of Homeland Security engineering a coup whose success or failure pivots on retrieving an incriminating flash-drive file stolen by a dissenting State Department official (Chris Game). When he winds up in the hands of nefarious DHS agents (Dominic Rains, John Forest) at a podunk Missouri police station (on Joel Daavid's convincing set), the fate of the nation rests on whether he can enlist his thick-headed trailer-trash cellmate (Kerry Carney) to join the resistance. Though the farce fitfully kicks in with Act 2, a tediously expository first act and Carney's sledgehammer performance lends the evening all the comic appeal of Seven Days in May as played by Lucille Ball. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, opening night $35; regular performances $25; pay-what-you-can Thurs. May 2 only. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Our Class: A disturbing drama, executed by an accomplished ensemble under Matthew McCray's direction, Tadeusz Slobodzianek's Our Class deals with the alleged massacre of 1,600 Jews by their Polish neighbors in a small town in 1941. The multistranded plot builds around 10 individuals, five Jewish and five Catholic. It begins in their elementary school years, then presses forward in time, portraying how a few instigators help hatred, greed and cruelty to overtake the Polish townsfolk, culminating in acts of unimaginable cruelty against the Jewish minority. Casting a macroscopic net, Act 2 tracks the fate of both perpetrators and survivors as they struggle to get on with their lives using vengeance, repression and denial. One reason the play succeeds so well is that Slobodzianek's characters elude cliché. Heroism and wrongdoing manifest on both sides: A Polish woman of conscience (Melina Bielefelt) hides a former Jewish classmate (Kiff Scholl), a flawed narcissist who later becomes an Israeli interrogator who beats and tortures the accused in his charge. Despite its length and detail, the production stays compelling. Performances are top-notch, with Dan Via a standout as the town's crafty betrayer and twisted psychopath. As the Jew who escaped, Michael Nehring gives voice to the grief and consternation of appalled humanity. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2, $14-$25. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
GO: : Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers: Traditional productions of Peter Pan have relied on huge casts, acres of elaborate scenery and complicated flying apparatus, but director Michael Matthews proves that's all unnecessary in this production of Michael Lluberes' revisionist adaptation. For starters, there's a male actor, Daniel Shawn Miller, playing Peter, and a female Captain Hook (Trisha LaFache, who also doubles as Mrs. Darling); a versatile cast of seven plays all the roles. In a conventional production, all of the actors might seem miscast: They're all too big, tall, mature or muscular for their roles. But here imagination, ingenuity, exuberance and the spirit of make-believe transcend literal reality, and the result is sweet, touching and magical. Lluberes' script simplifies the play but preserves most of its values and ideas. The same actors play both the Lost Boys and the Pirates who hunt them. And the flying is handled with endearing simplicity: The flyers are lifted and carried by the ensemble. The adult actors play children with unsentimental zest. Miller's Peter is athletic, swashbuckling, egotistical and cocky, and Liza Burns' Wendy is both motherly and keenly aware of the sexual underpinnings of her interest in Peter. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 2, $30. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Private Eyes: A play about deception and broken trust, written by Steven Dietz. Starting May 30, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 30. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Rent: Jonathan Larson's legendary rock opera about one year in the life of a group of friends struggling with poverty, love, and the AIDS epidemic in 1990s New York. Directed by Kristen Boulé with musical direction by Morgan Fitch. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 30. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
GO: Shut Up and Dance!: Stella Valente Wilkins' brashly titled production about the redemptive power of dance sounds both too specific and too vaguely feel-goodish to make an effective premise. But since its debut workshop at last year's Hollywood Fringe festival, the solo show has tightened into a charming narrative fueled by Wilkins' self-deprecating charisma and sinuous, high-heeled grooving. An early dose of ADD and an Italian Catholic upbringing in Queens lead Wilkins to pursue a dance career alongside a string of fixer-upper boyfriends. After a stint teaching foxtrot and waltz at Fred Astaire Dance Studios, she eventually makes her way to Miami, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires, where big breaks await her -- along with a trip to the slammer, a sojourn in a convent and a host of other mishaps. The time mostly flies during these detours en route to wisdom, with only occasional bumpiness posed by abrupt musical spurts and too-frequent character changes. Wilkins unites the disparate threads by likening her experiences to ballroom techniques (and faithfully observed dictates from The Rules). We can't all be dancers, but watching Wilkins glide across the stage in a wicked pair of stilettos feels pretty close. (Jenny Lower). Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 30. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, 323-851-2603, www.workingstage.com.
GO: The Size of Pike: Boys will be boys and men will be men, though the distinction between the two is more likely one of personal income rather than emotional maturity. Or so it is with the three middle-aged children (Dennis Delsing, Jon Amirkhan and Gregg Christie) who explore their frayed adult bonds in this engaging revival of playwright Lee Wochner's poignant 1996 comedy. Part of Moving Arts' "20/20 Vision," its 20th-anniversary season of retrospective restagings, the watchwords of director Sara Wagner's audience-immersive production (on Aaron Francis' shabbily un-chic apartment set) are up close and personal -- any closer and you'd be sitting in the actors' laps. The play's action takes place on the eve of the trio's annual fishing trip. Its highlight is Amirkhan playing Costello to Delsing's Abbott in a hilariously extended riff involving a tall tale about a six-inch pike. But such fish stories are central to Wochner's meditation on changing generational codes of masculinity -- a shift that has left Delsing's truculent but physically ravaged carpenter increasingly at odds with his office-working childhood chums as he quixotically tries to live up to a model of pride and rugged self-reliance that no longer has meaning or relevance in a world defined solely by the commodity. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $20. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-3259, www.movingarts.org.
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.
GO: Tis Pity She's a Whore: With this spirited production of Jacobean playwright John Ford's 1629 family tragedy 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, director Miranda Stewart shows that less is indeed sometimes better. At the play's center is the incestuous relationship between siblings Giovanni (Jonny Rodgers) and Annabella (Hannah Skye Wenzel), whose forbidden love, like that of the more celebrated Romeo and Juliet, comes with a heavy price. But Annabella's stunning beauty attracts other suitors as well; there's the dashing Soranzo (Anthony Wells), who has the favor of Annabella's father, Florio (Jerome St. Jerome); the noble Roman Grimaldi (Michael Hanna); and the foppish Bergetto (Kelly Gullett). The competition for Annabella's hand causes a spectacle of intrigues, spilled blood and dead bodies, in true period form. Stewart has updated the play to the 1930s (Steven Sabel and Holly Jeanne's costumes are fetching) and slightly tinkered with the script, but nothing is lost. Her simple, no-frills staging places the focus on the actors, and the cast turns in solidly consistent performances. Hanna and Wenzel temper their portrayals with the right mix of innocence, passion and wanton sinfulness. Charlie Forray, as Soranzo's willing manservant, Vasques, is by turns cunning, cruel and charismatic, while Emily Blokker-Dalquist is perfection as the vicious, spurned adulteress, Hippolita. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $15. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine: A one-man play, written and performed by Ian Ruskin, based on the life of "Founding Father" Thomas Paine. The play brings to life the wit, contradictions and contrariness of a man whose pen sparked the American Revolution and championed the Age of Reason. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO :Trainspotting: Director Roger Mathey and Seat of the Pants Productions return with a solid revival of their 2002 production about four lower-class Edinburgh youths prematurely entombed in a hellish world of sex, heroin addiction and violence. The story is based on the 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh (the source material for Danny Boyle's 1996 film) and adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson. Mathey sacrifices nothing in the way of raw, nausea-inducing moments in this outing (shit really does fly, and there is full nudity), and this time he efficiently uses a larger cast, with some actors taking on multiple roles. Justin Zachary returns as narrator-protagonist Mark Renton, who in spite of numerous attempts at rehab can't kick the habit. Also returning are David Agranov as Mark's close friend Tommy, who eventually succumbs to heroin's lethal allure; Matt Tully as Begbie; and Jonathan Roumie as Sick Boy. In spite of the dismal subject matter, Mathey unearths some necessary humor, a lot of it coming from Mark's often ironic, understated commentary. Still, at times the Scottish accents make it near impossible to understand the dialogue (Tully often sounds like he's chewing a mouthful of oatmeal). Jason Rupert's scenic design consisting of a platform that doubles as a home interior, bracketed by two graffiti-pocked walls, is suitably raunchy. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 2, 323-960-7785, plays411.com/trainspotting. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Translations: The story of a small community of impoverished Irish farmers in the early 19th century, and the British soldiers who set up camp in their village during a mission to translate every geographic name from Gaelic into English. Written by Brian Friel. Starting May 25, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 23. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-5830.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
Attack of the Rotting Corpses: Zombie Joe's disgusting new thriller-comedy about a condo complex in the San Fernando Valley, where the water supply becomes contaminated with a dangerous microbe, transforming the residents (and their pets) into ravenous, flesh-eating zombies. Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through July 12. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Cooperstown: The West Coast premiere of this original drama, about an African American diner employee working a dead-end job in 1962 Cooperstown, New York. Written by Brian Golden. Directed by Darryl Johnson. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 20. NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles.
The Crucible: Set in 1692 and written in reaction to the McCarthyism that gripped America in the 1950s, Arthur Miller's parable of mass hysteria offers a frightening depiction of what can happen when fear clouds fact and reason is replaced by blame. Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 6. The Antaeus Company and Antaeus Academy, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
Fool For Love: A 1983 Sam Shepard play about Eddie, a rodeo stuntman, and May, his "forever connection," whom he finds living in a motel in the Mojave Desert. Directed by Gloria Gifford. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 23, www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?ActCode=92083. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.
The Importance of Being Earnest: Oscar Wilde's classic trivial comedy for serious people. Performed in Japanese with English subtitles projected. Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 26. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale, 818-500-7200, www.lunaplayhouse.org.
Mahmoud: The tale of an aging Iranian engineer-cum-taxi driver, a fabulously gay Spaniard, and a young Iranian-Canadian girl who are all trying to get through the daily grind in a large metropolitan city. Written by Tara Grammy and Tom Arthur Davis. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 29. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
Shakespeare's Richard III: William Shakespeare's beautiful and bloody journey of one man's rise to power and ultimate descent into madness and terror. Directed by Denise Devin. Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 16. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
GO: Smoke and Mirrors: If you've forgotten the childlike joy and sublime wonderment of seeing magic performed, Albie Selznick's theatrical show is an enchanting reminder. The accomplished actor-magician puts on a bewildering tour de force that has more "how did he do that" flashes than can be counted. The show also has a personal element, as Selznick recounts his long path to becoming a master magician, starting when he lost his father at the age of 9 and used magic to escape reality, and then as a means of challenging and overcoming his fears. He knows how to work the crowd, and uses members of the audience in a number of his routines. Toward show's end, he swallows some razors (kids, don't try this), then regurgitates them on a long string, and wows with a demonstration of fire eating and juggling some wicked-looking knives. Other amazing moments are the eerie conjuring of doves out of nowhere and a mind-blowing exhibition of midair suspension. Like all good magicians, Selznick has highly capable assistants -- Brandy, Kyle, Tina and Daniel -- who dazzle with their own magic in a stylish preshow. Paul Millet directs. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me: There's more than a touch of Beckett in Frank McGuinness' grimly funny drama about three men chained up indefinitely in a grimy room somewhere in Beirut. Guilty of nothing more than wrong-place-wrong-time, the hostages -- a boisterous Irishman (Bert Emmett), a frenetic American (Evan L. Smith) and a prim British professor (Lloyd Pedersen) -- pass the time making imaginary movies, writing imaginary letters, drinking imaginary cocktails or imagining the 1977 Wimbledon ladies' finals, in a bid to stave off madness through sheer force of will. Politics, however, hardly surface. Though inspired by the memoirs of Brian Keenan, an Irishman held hostage for four years during Lebanon's civil war, more time is spent on the Irish "troubles" than on the perpetual conundrum that is the Middle East. It's a character-rich approach but one that causes momentum to stall out repeatedly. What keeps the play aloft are three superb performances and the moments when director Gregg T. Daniel's staging achieves the lyrical. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 2. (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com. (Mindy Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 2, $22. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.
Stuck in Neutral: What's it like to be an intelligent person with a rich inner life yet be unable to communicate? in this adaptation of Terry Trueman's novel, the main character, Shawn (Jonathan D. Black), has cerebral palsy and cannot speak or use his limbs. yet his inner self responds to life with all the kinetic energy and sexual curiosity of a typical adolescent. Shawn's mother (Mary Carrig) and siblings love him unconditionally, but his father (David Michael Trevino) is profoundly disturbed by Shawn's disability; he believes his son is suffering and contemplates killing him to spare him pain. adapted by Allison Cameron Gray and Matt Chorpenning and directed by David P. Johnson, the play raises important questions, but needs considerably more work to be transformed from an earnest exploration of the issues to a solid, character-centered drama. As Shawn, Black is appropriately cheeky but in other ways miscast. Trevino is stiff and unconvincing as his dad. Several supporting performers display more gravitas but are held in check by the melodrama, including Carrig, Amy Greenspan as Shawn's sister, Swati Kapila as his dream girl and John Walcutt as an inmate who went to prison for murdering his disabled child. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m..; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 9. themightyorbits.com/stuck_in_neutral/. (Deborah Mlugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 877-620-7673, www.secretrose.com.
Sweet Karma: Henry Ong's drama based on true events about a Khmer Rouge survivor and Oscar winner who was tragically gunned down in the streets of Los Angeles. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 8. Grove Theater Center, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank, 818-528-6622, www.gtc.org.
Through A Glass Darkly: Ingmar Bergman's chamber drama is adapted for the stage by Jenny Worton. Directed by Steve Jarrard, the character study focuses on Karin, who travels with her family to an island off the coast of Sweden after her release from a mental hospital. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through July 7. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-720-2009, www.ravenplayhouse.com.
True West: This 1980 drama puts a spin on sibling rivalry when two adult brothers experience the heavy burden of envy. Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Randall Gray. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 25, $30; seniors and military personnel $27. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.
Urban Death: Zombie Joe's Underground's horror stories. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through June 8. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
ONGOING SHOWS SITUATED IN SMALLER THEATERS ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
Annapurna: Husband and wife actors Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman star in this drama by Sharr White, about two old lovers who reunite for the first time in twenty years. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-25/stage/a-pair-of-two-person-shows-one-starring-comedy-couple-nick-offerman-and-megan-mullaly-lt-em-gt-annapurna-lt-em-gt-and-lt-em-gt-years-to-the-day-lt-em-gt-reviewed/. Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., May 29, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9, $25-$30. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
GO: : Heart of Darkness: In his haunting, solo adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, playwright-actor Brian T. Finney navigates his craft directly through the work's core themes of madness, imperialistic exploitation and, well, the horror. Finney reimagines the story as monologue, artfully orchestrated by director Keythe Farley's psychologically nuanced and ferociously energetic staging. Avoiding the pitfalls of intrusive, radio drama-like narration, Finney and Farley offer a far more immersive experience -- one that is fraught with eerie melancholy. Finney, caparisoned in traditional 19th-century explorer's garb, at first plays the hero as a traditionally plummy, genially affable British sailor. But as his character's voyage up the dark river of the Congo proceeds, and he finds himself desperately interacting with the dangerously insane station chief Kurtz, the performer takes on the lunacy of his characters, creating a harrowing atmosphere with a stylized quality that almost echoes Kabuki theater. Set, sound effects and multimedia visuals are almost characters in their own right: Sibyl Wickersheimer's sole set backdrop, a series of three sails that fold in and out of each other, turning into walls at one moment and screens for contextual slides in others, is brilliantly effective. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $35; students/seniors $30, www.theactorsgang.com/. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, 310-838-4264, www.theactorsgang.com.
I'm Not Rappaport: A new stage production of the Tony award-winning comedy by Herb Gardner, in which seniors Midge, an African American, and Nat, a Jewish man, meet in Central Park and develop a friendship. Directed by Howard Teichman. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-02/stage/colorblind-im-not-rappaport/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-204-4440, www.picoplayhouse.com.
The Last of the Knotts: Sat., May 25, 8 p.m. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.
Looking: A bright and witty story about mid-life dating, written by Norm Foster and directed by Stephanie Coltrin. Fri., May 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 25, 8 p.m. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
GO: : One White Crow: Playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos' drama boasts a charged debate about faith versus science that's engagingly even-handed and surprisingly evocative. Renowned TV celebrity psychic Judith Knight (Michelle Danner) offers an exclusive interview to hard-boiled reporter Teresa (Jane Hajduk), who is mystified by the request, given that she is a fierce disbeliever in the occult and is also the daughter of Christopher Hitchens-like religious skeptic Robert. Robert has recently died and Teresa is sure that Judith is scheming some sort of fake séance for PR purposes -- but the real truth turns out to be far more ambiguous and disturbing. Director Deborah LaVine's nicely character-driven staging crafts figures who represent two extreme poles of dogmatic belief -- Teresa and her Richard Dawkins-like boyfriend Alex (a nicely prickly Rob Estes) contrast arrestingly with Danner's Knight, whose inscrutable, Paula Dean-meets-carnival fortune-teller persona is fascinating. Although Stamos' plot runs out of steam at the end, and the dialogue occasionally falters into banality, the premise is enough to make the play intellectually intriguing. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
Opening Night: The West coast premiere of Norm Foster's comedy, which makes fun of an opening night at the theater, but nonetheless affirms that wonderful things happen for an audience at a live play. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 16. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
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.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through May 26. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
What the Butler Saw: A classic British farce about a naughty physician and his secretary. Written by Joe Orton. Directed by Ben Lupejkis. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $20; students & seniors $18. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-7519, www.morgan-wixson.org.
Years to the Day: A dark comedy written by Allen Barton about two 40-something men who have been friends for decades, and who finally get together for coffee after only staying in touch via social media. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-25/stage/a-pair-of-two-person-shows-one-starring-comedy-couple-nick-offerman-and-megan-mullaly-lt-em-gt-annapurna-lt-em-gt-and-lt-em-gt-years-to-the-day-lt-em-gt-reviewed/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 2, $25-$35. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-855-1556, www.bhplayhouse.com.
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