Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including an Ionesco Vaudeville Musical
This week in L.A. theater, Ionescopade, the vaudeville musical based on Eugene Ionesco's plays, was our pick of the week, while Alcestis at the Boston Court also got a "Go." All new theater reviews are below.
As Steven Leigh Morris is on vacation this week, our stage feature is a piece on L.A.'s booming indie improv scene, by Anthony D'Alessandro.
New theater reviews, published July 3:
GO: ALCESTIS How do we live with the fact of our death every moment of every day? According to stage collagist Nancy Keystone's reworking of Euripides, the specter of our end informs everything we do. Not an especially original thought, perhaps, but as presented by Keystone's Critical Mass Performance Group, it forms the basis for a visually inventive and wryly ironic meditation on the bathetic pomp and occasionally incredible circumstance of mortality. At its center is Keystone's modern-dress riff on the myth of Queen Alcestis (Kalean Ung), whose uxorial virtues extend to substituting her own life for that of her husband, Admetus (Jeremy Shranko), in a deal brokered by Apollo (Lorne Green) to circumvent the king's untimely demise. Like Euripides, Keystone's version examines the manifold repercussions of Admetus' self-centeredness (hint: not good), albeit with side trips into metaphysical philosophy, scathing satire and allegorical vaudeville. Throughout it all, a precision ensemble expertly navigates the drama -- Ung and Shranko's breakfast-nook coda is a tour de force of nonverbal eloquence -- along with Keystone's dance movements, which include cool quotations of Lucinda Childs and Pina Bausch. The highlights are Sarah Brown's chic costumes, Randall Tico's witty sound and Nick Santoro as Herakles in a show-stealing cross between wrestler Roddy Piper and musician Andrew W.K. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun 2 p.m.; through July 28. (626) 683-6883, Bostoncourt.org. (Bill Raden)
BRONZEVILLE Intolerance comes in many colors. In Tim Toyama & Aaron Woolfolk's somewhat contrived period melodrama, an African-American family moves into a home presumably left vacant when its Japanese owners are interned during World War II. But Henry (Jeff Manabat), a young Japanese man who's rebelled against internment, is hiding out there. When he's discovered, most of the family respond compassionately and vote to shelter him. Unfortunately, the family patriarch, Jodie (Dwain A. Perry), reacts with paranoid suspicion, his hostility further deepening when an attraction develops between Henry and his sheltered daughter (Iman Milner). Staged effectively by director Ben Guillory, the play deserves credit for tackling racism in its many guises, but its basic setup seems implausible and its messaging is often unsubtle. There are solid performances from supporting players, including Milner, a spot-on Aaron Jennings as Jodie's musician brother, CeCelia Antoinette as the elderly great-grandmother and Kellie Dantzler as Jodie's nurturing wife. Landon H. Lewis Jr. steals the spotlight as a local bartender in one of the play's best-written scenes, and another bar scene enacted entirely in mime is a comedic highlight. Perry, who reprises his pivotal role from the drama's 2009 production, exudes a strong skilled presence, but the performance I saw lacked spontaneity and the production suffers for it. Manabat also needs to buff up his credibility considerably, especially in the crucial interrogation scenes. LATC, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.; continues through July 21. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: IONESCOPADE More than most of his contemporaries, Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco had a devilishly bleak and irresistibly engaging sense of humor to his vision about the absurdity of the world and human existence. It's clearly on display in Ionescopade, the vaudeville-style musical based on his plays (The Bald Soprano, Exit The King, Rhinoceros and others) and poetry under the wily direction of Bill Castellino, with music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden. It's a load of laughs -- spiced with a few dark, sobering moments. Songs, mime, slapstick mayhem and mirthful wordplay are packaged in a string of vignettes, hosted by a comic/mime designated as the Writer (Alan Abelew). There is even a very bald soprano. David Potts' cartoonish scenic design provides the appropriate backdrop for this plunge down the theatrical rabbit hole, and Mylette Nora has designed an eye-catching variety of odd costumes. Among the more memorable skits are a bizarre cooking class conducted by a garrulous French chef (Joey D'Auria, who also appears as a man with a rhino horn); a spirited gathering of devotees to a headless autocrat; an International Peace Conference of shouts, accusations and gibberish; and a family of clowns (from The Bald Soprano) all named Bobby Watson. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W. L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; added perfs July 11, 17, 25 & 31, 8 p.m.; through Aug. 11; Odysseytheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
Judy Gold in The Judy Show
THE JUDY SHOW Obsessed by the fantasy families of TV shows she devotedly watched while growing up, "6-foot-2, observant Jew and lesbian mom of two" Judy Gold apparently has spent most of her adult life pitching uninterested network executives a sitcom about her unremarkable life. Instead, we have a play called The Judy Show that has nominally been transferred to the stage from a stand-up comedy club. That is to say, the 85-minute show remains an extended stand-up piece. There's an added scenic element of seven television screens of varying size positioned upstage displaying everything from baby photos and brief home movies to images from the iconic TV family sitcoms to which Gold makes frequent reference, plus an upright piano on which she occasionally bashes out a show's theme. She traces her experiences at Jewish summer camp, high school, Rutgers and, later, her career as a stand-up comedian and her family life. The jokes fall flat and Gold's story doesn't bear sharing. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Check website for schedule; through July 28. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Pauline Adamek)
Katie Lynn Mapel, Oriko Ikeda, Redetha Deason, Sebastian Muñoz, Tim McCord and Donna Noelle Ibale in The Raven
THE RAVEN This production, directed by Zombie Joe, consists of four adaptations of short works by Edgar Allan Poe: the short story "The Oval Portrait," two short poems -- "Song" and "Alone" -- and the longer narrative poem "The Raven," with its haunting refrain of "Nevermore!" All four pieces are narrated rather than dramatic, and reflect the 19th century's fondness for horror stories and Romantic despair. "The Oval Portrait" and "The Raven" are presented as choral readings, with interpretive movement, dance and gesture, by an ensemble of six actors (Redetha Deason, Donna Noelle Ibale, Oriko Ikeda, Katie Lynn Mapel, Tim McCord and Sebastian Munoz). The two poems are sung by composer Christopher Reiner, who also wrote background music for the narrative pieces. His incidental music is effective, but the songs' contemporary feel is at odds with Poe's Victorian locutions. It's an interesting experiment, but in the end it seems pretty rarefied and bloodless. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through July 26. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Neal Weaver)
THE ROYAL FAMILY The work's the thing in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's gentle 1927 spoof of the Barrymore dynasty, which forms the centerpiece of Theatricum Botanicum's 40th-anniversary season. The venerable, oak-nestled venue's own founding family fills in as the board-treading Cavendish clan. Artistic director Ellen Geer slings Downton Abbey-worthy zingers as dowager Fanny, while sister Melora Marshall and daughter Willow Geer carry the torch as the next generations of theatrical luminaries. All three women nail the benign entitlement and cozy security that comes from knowing you're an institution, but the dated material may be more thrilling for its cast than the audience. More compelling than the distant Barrymores is the play's exploration of pursuing the creative life at the cost of domestic and personal stability. Director Susan Angelo wisely avoids interfering with her cast's marvelous instincts, but a tighter rein would keep us from sharing Marshall's bewilderment when the madcap pace proves too frenetic. Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., July 6 & 13, Aug. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 20, Aug. 17 & 31, Sept. 7, 21 & 28, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 14, Aug. 4 & 18, Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25 & Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m.; through Sept. 28. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com. (Jenny Lower)
Melissa Weber Bales and Vince Melocchi in A View From The Bridge
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE Many consider Arthur Miller's dramas moral tragedies, but you also can think of them as mysteries, as their narratives contain events whose true meaning only becomes clear at the end. Longshoreman Eddie (Vince Melocchi) is a salt-of-the-earth type who thinks he's doing a good deed when he lets a pair of his wife's distant cousins, both illegal immigrants from the old country, move in with his family. He soon has reason to rue this decision, though, as his lovely niece, Catherine (Lisa Cirincione), falls in love with the more handsome of the two cousins, Rodolpho (Jeff Lorch) -- and Eddie is destroyed by his own inexplicably over-the-top jealousy. This is a mostly powerful, admirably straightforward production by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, which stumbles slightly during the clumsy, frenetically staged final sequence. The production is anchored by Melocchi's nicely gruff Eddie, whose turn suggests a character swept along by passions he lacks the articulacy to express. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 25. (310) 822-8392, pacificresidenttheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
Shows that are ongoing or not yet reviewed:
The Assassination of Leon Trotsky: A Comedy: A new comedy that finds Leon and Natalya Trotsky in Mexico during their final days as guests of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, when a group of actors revolts and turns their world upside down. Written by Peter Lefcourt and directed by Terri Hanauer. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through July 28. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
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.
Bitch Trouble: Stories About Friendship: Written and performed by Alice Johnson Boher. Wed., July 10, 8 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/316188. Cavern Club Theater, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-969-2530, www.cavernclubtheater.com.
Bob Baker's It's a Musical World!: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater continues its 53rd season with a day at the circus, a stop at an enchanted toy shop, and a visit to a teddy bear's picnic. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
The Boomerang Effect: A comedy, written by Matthew Leavitt, consisting of five interrelated short plays that peek into the sex lives of five different couples in various bedroom scenarios. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 27. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-9111.
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.
Citizen Twain: Val Kilmer is Mark Twain in this solo show about the American author and his legacy. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through July 14. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
Cooperstown: Brian Golden's drama is a well-intentioned homage to the monumental career of Jackie Robinson, with the action set in a diner (a stunner by Desma Murphy) in Cooperstown on the eve of Robinson's Hall of Fame induction. Junior (Cecil Burroughs), a black man, hopes to wheedle a promotion to manager of the diner from its white owner, whose cynical political ambitions would be aided by hosting the induction dinner. Trouble looms, however, because of a planned civil-rights protest by Junior's ultra-militant sister (Jamye Grant) and her cohorts. On site for the ceremony is an endearing baseball groupie (TJ McNeill), whose amorous puppy-dog attachment to waitress Dylan (Alexa Shoemaker) makes for a humorous diversion but is as insubstantial as Junior's puzzling relationship with the owner's neglected wife (Ann Hu). There is much to enjoy here, especially if you're a baseball fan. Director Darryl Johnson's cast perform consistently well, but Golden's winding, here-and-there script makes disappointingly ineffective use of the rich potential of the subject matter. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 20. NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles.
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. (Neal Weaver). 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.
The Divine Sister: Charles Busch's off-Broadway comedy homage to movie and pop culture nuns. Thu., July 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 13, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., July 14, 4 p.m. James Bridges Theater, 1409 Melnitz Hall, Westwood, 310-206-8365.
Dreaming in Color: Blind writer and actress Caitlin Hernandez draws from her own experience to create this original play, about a sixteen year-old girl who loses her sight, but is guided by her mother's love and the encouragement and determination of a quirky but sensitive teacher who helps her learn new ways to navigate through the world. Sat., July 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 3 p.m.; Fri., July 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 14, 3 p.m. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, 310-656-8070, www.promenadeplayhouse.com.
GO 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. (Pauline Adamek). Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 5, $30. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
The Fantasticks: The enduringly popular 1960 American musical, about a boy and a girl who are destined to be together, despite their chosen paths in life which almost steer them apart. Book and lyrics by Tom Jones. Music by Harvey Schmidt. Directed by James Fowler and Barbara Schofield. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through July 13. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.
The Fourth Wall: Peggy, a woman of generally good taste, has left one wall undecorated in her living room, to the consternation of her husband, Roger. A comedy with songs by Cole Porter. Written by A.R. Gurney, directed by Randall Gray. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 20. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.
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. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-30/stage/fried-octopus-bootleg/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
I Do! I Do!: The story of Michael and Agnes and their fifty years of marriage takes place around a large four-post bed and features the musical standard, "My Cup Runneth Over." Book by Harvey Schmidt, music and lyrics by Tom Jones, directed by Alan Souza. Starting July 9, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., July 11, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., July 20, 2 p.m.; Thu., July 25, 2 p.m.; Sat., July 27, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 1, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 3, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 8, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 10, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 11. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Just Imagine: Backed by a live band, Tim Piper channels John Lennon in this multimedia rock 'n roll tribute that celebrates Lennon's life and music. Sat., July 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 3 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.
The Last Days of Mary Stuart: Director Becca Wolff has created an "electro-opera," as it is designated in the program notes, about the tumultuous reign and ugly demise of the woman known as Mary, Queen of Scots. It's a mostly successful venture, but don't come expecting a lesson about this extraordinarily messy chapter in English history. Wolff has taken a bare minimum of facts and, combined with hefty creative license, crafted an entertaining musical that features some good vocals and an inviting electronica score by Byron Kahr and John Nixon. It all takes place in an intimate night-club setting, complete with tables for your drinks. Marianne Thompson does the honors as Mary Stuart, and Laila Ayad is Elizabeth I, with both actresses bringing searing passion to Wolff's lyrics. The electronica band of Kahr, Nixon and Ryan Adlaf do their part with the musical arrangements, while Elizabeth Harper furnishes an eerie but effective lighting schema. Forget the history; come for the songs and music. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 18, 8 p.m. Continues through July 20. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-351-3507, www.sonofsemele.org.
Long Live The King: The story of a young Indian couple who arrive in Australia the day Elvis Presley dies, and who, due to the pressures of migration and the impending birth of their first child, drift apart from one another. A funny and poignant tale, told using the music of The King. Written and performed by Ansuya Nathan. Fri., July 5, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 7 p.m.; Fri., July 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 14, 7 p.m. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Love Songs, A Musical: Six friends and colleagues live through the vagaries of love and marriage. Book, music, and lyrics by Steven Cagan, directed by Kay Cole. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 28, www.crtheatre.com/lovesongs.html. Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-205-1617, www.chromolume-theatre.com.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Tim Robbins directs this workshop production of Shakespeare's summer tale about mystical romance and foolish humans. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 27. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, 310-838-4264, www.theactorsgang.com.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A summer standard, this is the Theatricum's signature production of Shakespeare's wondrous enchanted forest tale of love, fairies, and the power of nature. Sun., July 7, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., July 13, 4 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 8, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 15, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 22, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
GO A Midsummer Saturday Night's Fever Dream: With its partner-swapping plot twists, high-strung lovers and mind-altering magic flowers, Shakespeare's most popular comedy was meant for the excesses of the disco age. The Troubadour Theater Company's sequined reboot of one of its classic mash-ups embraces the polyester suits and gold chains in this unfailingly energetic romp directed by Matt Walker. Choreographed within an inch of its life, the show weaves in glam-era hits punctuated by sassy grooving from the triple-threat cast. (Katherine Malak's Hermia and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne's Hippolyta offer some of the night's sleekest moves.) A trampoline even provides a launch pad for some exquisitely timed acrobatics. There's an actual script in there, too, the original text peppered with whip-smart jokes and bawdy sight gags. The hijinks leave room for some wicked improvising, with Walker, who doubles as puckish Robin Goodfellow, the chief offender. The quartet of lovers may get the most stage time, but Rick Batalla's Nick Bottom and his motley crew of thespians steal the show. The production's controlled mania would work best as one intermissionless push; the abbreviated second half felt labored, and some '90s-vintage jokes could use refreshing. It should take only a few hours or so -- this cast could, and do, make jokes in their sleep. (Jenny Lower). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 4 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through July 7. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank, 818-955-8101, www.falcontheatre.com.
GO ModRock: This jaunty jukebox musical, with book by Hagan Thomas-Jones, direction by Brian Lohmann, arrangements by David O, musical direction by John Ballinger and choreography by Michele Spears, is set in England in 1965, when London was said to swing like a pendulum. Younger Brits are divided into rival factions: The Mods are obsessed with fashion and dressing up, while the Rockers dress down in Levis, T-shirts and leather jackets. The Mods regard Rockers as roughneck hooligans, and the Rockers consider Mods fops and sissies. In a nod to Romeo and Juliet, Mod Kate (Melinda Porto) falls for Rocker Adam (Steven Good), despite the unspoken rule that the two groups can't fraternize. A fierce rivalry develops between Adam and Simon (Scott Kruse), Kate's clotheshorse brother. When the two groups converge on the same popular night-spot, an improbable but lively rumble ensues, staged by Joe Sofranko. The rudimentary plot may be predictable but there's ample compensation by an engaging, top-notch cast, including Michael Hawley and Harley Jay as goofball Rockers. The 20 hit songs include "Downtown," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "For Your Love" and "There's a Kind of Hush." (Neal Weaver). Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Continues through July 28, bs.serving-sys.com/BurstingPipe/adServer.bs?cn=tf&c=20&mc=click&pli=7241149&PluID=0&ord=[timestamp]. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-508-4200, www.elportaltheatre.com.
GO One Night in Miami: Although rooted in a historic event, Kemp Powers' period piece about a meeting between Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Malcolm X and Cassius Clay is less about these gentlemen per se than it is about the struggle of African-American men in general to deal with the ubiquitous racism that continually challenges their manhood. The play takes place in a motel room following Clay's victory over Sonny Liston in 1964. At 22, fresh off his triumph, the young boxer (Matt Jones) is both less scarred and less knowing than the others. He's also a recent convert to Islam, which raises the eyebrows of Cooke (Ty Jones) and Brown (Kevin Daniels) -- both alcohol-imbibing, womanizing, pork chop-loving hedonists. Well directed by Carl Cofield, the play heats up around the philosophical divide between Malcolm (Jason Delane) an ideologue and devout Muslim who scorns the White Establishment, and Cooke, a musician and player in the music business who's successfully worked the system for his own gain. (Sadly and ironically, both these men would be dead within a year.) Powers' perspicacious script gives the performers plenty to work with, and they make the most of it, bouncing off each other with savvy, skill and humor. Delane is excellent as an understated Malcolm, struggling to master not only his passions but his well-founded fear that his life is in danger. A charismatic Jones augments an intense portrayal with his gifted singing voice. Giovanni Adams and Jason E. Kelley add menace and levity as Malcolm's bodyguards. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through July 28. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
GO Ophiliamachine: "I expel all the semen which I have received. I transform the milk of my breasts into deadly poison." Lifted from Heiner Muller's eternally confounding Hamletmachine, the words are a fitting part of the opening tableau of Polish playwright Magda Romanska's similarly themed postmodernist drama, now in its world premiere at City Garage. Seated behind an old typewriter on a stage that's segmented into halves, Ophelia is realized as something of a triadic entity -- brain/narrator, terrorist and madwoman (Kat Johnston, Megan Kim, Saffron Mazzia), while Hamlet (Joss Glennie Smith), situated in the other half of the stage, mostly watches television. Romanska uses this framework for a vigorous deconstruction of the feminine psyche, image and gender roles, and her script -- heavy laden with dense imagery and symbolism -- explores love, sex, violence, politics, class sensibilities, feminist aesthetics, the vacuities of mass culture and the timeless mystery of death. This is theater that's not easily accessible and is devilishly bleak at times, but it's not without shards of humor, and is relentlessly provocative and challenging under imaginative direction by Frederique Michel. The production is nicely embellished with a collage of visuals projected on a huge screen and two monitors. Cynthia Mance, RJ Jones and Leah Harf round out the cast. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through July 28. City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, 310-453-9939, www.citygarage.org.
Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers: A radical retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic, written by Michael Lluberes. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-661-9827, www.theblank.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.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
Republic County: Zombie Joe's Underground is not exactly the first company that leaps to mind as a likely interpreter of Plato. But any doubts that playwright Joe Musso's blithely antic burlesque of The Republic is in the right theater are quickly swept aside the first time Lizzie Borden (a blood-spattered Carrie Daniel) rushes onstage swinging her fabled ax. Musso's political allegory references Monty Python or Benny Hill as much as it does the father of Western philosophy (or Wes Craven). Dorrie Braun is the unstable evangelical in charge of this not-so-ideal state's biggest employer, the county employment office, and runs the government-cheese-for-work program for a list of degenerate clients/poets (played by David Wyn Harris, Cimcie Nichols, Edgar Allan Poe IV and Justin Vanden Heuvel) that reads like the index of the Norton Anthology. Director Roger K. Weiss' somewhat wobbly staging nails a respectable percentage of Musso's outlandish laugh lines, a score that promises to improve as the show finds its comic footing. (Bill Raden). Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through July 6. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
GO revolver: Chris Phillips' cannily written play examines the need to stand up against oppression and avenge violence with violence versus the necessity for love and forgiveness. The six scenes are alternately comic, brutal and surreal. The piece initially seems fragmented, but the interrelatedness of the scenes, and their thematic unity, gradually emerge. Among the more striking scenes are a flamboyant tango danced by Jesus Christ (Terrance Spencer) and Judas (Daniel Montgomery), wittily choreographed by Janet Roston, and a posthumous encounter between Matthew Shepard (Daniel Montgomery) and his assailant Aaron (AJ Jones). Ryan Bergmann has assembled a terrific team of actors, and directs them with skill and nuance. Robert Paterno scores as Jim, who's bent on wreaking terrible revenge on the man (John Colella) who raped and abandoned his lover. And there's a gem of a performance from Matthew Scott Montgomery, who brings fatalistic charm, fearful vulnerability, and impeccable comic timing to his two roles: He's Nelly, an effeminate actor who's limited to playing gay bit parts, while his ex-lover Butch (Jones), whom he both loves and resents, achieves far greater success by "acting straight." And he's also a young gay reporter interviewing his hero, a crusading gay journalist (Colella). (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 21. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com.
Sister Act: The Musical: A feel-good musical comedy about a wannabe diva who enters into the witness protection program, and ends up bonding with an unlikely crew of sisters. With original music by Oscar award-winning composer Alan Menken. Tue., July 9, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 10, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 13, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., July 14, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., July 16, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 17, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 18, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 20, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., July 21, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., July 23, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 24, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 25, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 27, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., July 28, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.
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.
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.
Steel Magnolias: An eclectic group of ladies share their joys and sorrows in this beloved comedic drama by Robert Harling. Fri., July 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 2 p.m.; Wed., July 10, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 13, 8 p.m. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
Summer Shorts: A night of 10 minute original comedies featuring 8 plays ranging from "Albert Einstein's Brain" to "Chick Flix" focusing on the funny side of life. Ron Burch, Bette Smith, Michael Erger, Jay Boyer, Anne Flanegan, Andy Bloch and Daniel Guyton are the writers. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 16. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.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 July 20. Grove Theater Center, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank, 818-528-6622, www.gtc.org.
The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's rowdy romp about the lovely Bianca and her sister "Katherine the Cursed," who must be married off before Bianca is allowed to entertain suitors. Sat., July 6, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 14, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., July 28, 3:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 2, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 3, 4 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 10, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 11, 3:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 16, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
Through a Glass Darkly: In playwright Jenny Worton's adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's 1964 brooding film, the often transcendent sadness of the cinematic original makes only a tepidly involving transition to the stage. Sparks fly and despair settles in like the crust atop chocolate pudding for members of a Swedish family during its vacation. The escalating mental illness of daughter Karin (Meg Wallace) is prompting her to say things like, "Vacations mean you have all the time to look into the abyss!" As Karin disappears more into a world of delusion, dad David (Anthony Auer) seems more interested in finishing his novel -- with tragic results. Director Steve Jarrard's staging captures the underlying melancholy of the film, but the adaptation lacks the subtlety of Bergman's original -- this production is claustrophobic and ponderous. Wallace offers a genuinely moving turn as the emotionally decomposing daughter, but Auer's bristly, self pitying David misses the gravitas needed to locate his character's sympathetic elements. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 7. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-720-2009, www.ravenplayhouse.com.
Trouble in Chiozza: Set in a rustic Italian fishing village, this comic romp is about two rival families with daughters of marrying age and the young fishermen who come to court them. Written by Carlo Goldoni with translation by Robert Hoyem, directed by Louis Fantasia. Starting July 6, Saturdays, Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through July 28. Kings Road Park, 1000 Kings Road, Los Angeles, 310-657-2616.
GO Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini: Sequels are tough. Expectations are generally high and you can never attain the novelty factor of the first outing. Writer-director Jaime Robledo's Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini, the second installment in his Watson series, is less dazzling (far fewer action set-pieces) and more talky than the first but maintains his inventive staging and bizarre humor, sending his beloved characters on an ultimately darker, more spiritual journey. Estranged for the past 10 years, sleuthing duo Dr. Watson (Scott Leggett) and Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria) reunite to solve a string of grisly murders marked by signs of the occult. Their hunt takes them to New York City, where they encounter a legendary escape artist, the mysterious Harry Houdini (a charismatic Donal Thoms-Cappello), who seems to know more than he's letting on. Meanwhile, Watson is spooked by visions of his departed wife, Mary (CJ Merriman). With its fractured timeline, Robledo's plotting is more ambitious and demanding than the first installment, 2010's Watson: The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes, yet offers deeper rewards. He neatly incorporates cinematic conventions, such as showing a murder re-enact itself in slow-motion rewind. Nods to Hitchcock (a runaway carousel, cleverly staged) and Bruce Lee (the hall-of-mirrors sequence) delight, as do numerous pop-culture references. Carrie Keranen is a welcome addition as Violet Hunter (a minor character from Doyle's novels and Watson's love interest) and her gowns (period costuming is by Linda Muggeridge) are especially gorgeous. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 27. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
GO We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915: Don't let the disconcerting title put you off: We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury's compelling drama is a stunning work of ferociously creative stagecraft. In director Jillian Armenante's deceptively improvised-seeming production, a group of actors, under the leadership of a young, angry actor (Julanne Chidi Hill, fierce), attempt to stage a play about a 19th-century African atrocity during which the German army slaughtered entire populations of African tribes. It sounds dire, I know, but the tale is told impressionistically, sometimes as a rehearsal exercise, sometimes as a dreamlike set of dances, fights and interactions. A ladder becomes a railroad trestle, a Sparkletts water bottle becomes a tribal drum, and Spolin-esque theater games are mocked but then utilized to make searingly powerful emotional points about race and morality. Through exercises meant to channel an atrocity, the cast simultaneously juggle a number of issues, from the near-comic self-absorption of actors, to the ultimate inability to depict true evil, to a final, unbearably disturbing coda that suggests the past is not nearly as distant as one would wish. Armenante's assured intellectualization and the perfect comic and dramatic timing of the cast together craft a rare work of charged political agitprop that awakens us to the pure imaginative potential of the theater. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 11. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-1445, www.matrixtheatre.com.
Yes, Prime Minister: An award-winning British comedy of political power and intrigue, set against the backdrop of the collapsing Euro, austerity measures, and the 24-hour news cycle. Written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, directed by Jonathan Lynn. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-06-20/stage/yes-prime-minister-geffen-neva/full/. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through July 14. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
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