Nods this week for Laguna Playhouse's production of Neil Simon's Chapter Two and Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground at Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood. For the latest new reviews and comprehensive stage listings, see below.
Tanna Frederick and Robert Standley star in N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker, which just opened at Edgemar Center for the Arts. Why stage this 1956 chestnut in 2013? This week's Stage feature asks just that.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication January 17, 2013:
GO CHAPTER TWO Famous for the broad, mainstream comedies that made him the 20th century's most commercially successful playwright, Neil Simon suffered the shocking loss of his first wife to cancer, leaving him devastated. A new relationship with emerging stage and screen star Marsha Mason pulled him out of depression and into a new chapter of his career in which his bright comedies were infiltrated by darker, sometimes angrier tones that led to his later, more substantial works. This highly autobiographical play mirrors that unhappy passage of his life, beginning with a first act closely resembling his earlier comedies in witty repartee and one-liners, but breaks into emotional pain through Act 2. While a bit clumsier than most of his work, its juxtaposition of light and heavy offer a good indication of his future, deeper dramas. Despite a bit of overwriting, director Andrew Barnicle finds his way through to the heart of the matter with an outstanding cast, headed by Caroline Kinsolving as a young divorcee and Geoffrey Lower as the novelist who stands in for Simon. Each scene between these two captures the essence of loneliness giving way to openness. As her best friend and his younger brother, Leslie Stevens and Kevin Ashworth skillfully provide the broad characters Simon's audiences had expected up to this point. Bruce Goodrich's set presenting two contrasting Manhattan apartments on one stage provide perfect visual cues about characters' economic class as well as elegant space for Barnicle to stage with his signature precision. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Feb. 17. (949) 497- 2787, lagunaplayhouse.com. (Tom Provenzano)
GO DOSTOEVSKY'S NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND
Even transposed from 19th-century St. Petersburg to the urban wilderness of
modern-day Los Angeles, Dostoevsky's hilariously unforgiving novella about the extremes of self-consciousness proves an excruciating roller-coaster plunge into hairpin-turned self-abasement. In this Zombie Joe-adapted musical abbreviation (adroitly directed by Josh T. Ryan), Michael Blomgren vividly brings Dostoevsky's self-lacerating antihero to life with a Rupert Pupkin-like intensity. Blomgren portrays a maniacally misanthropic member of the black-fingernail-polish demimonde -- a narcissistic, North Hollywood slacker "violently and shamefully aware," whose depths of self-pity and supreme pettiness are both paralytic and bottomless. Those depths reach their comic heights in the deranged contest of wills between the protagonist and his dourly laconic manservant, Apollo (a slyly understated TJ Alvarado). Leif La Duke, Julie Bermel and Chelsea Rose cannily caricature the dinner-reunion scene as an agonized study in nouveau riche Hollywood vulgarity, while Jenna Jacobson injects a note of aching pathos as the prostitute Liza. Ryan sets the proceedings into ironic relief with wittily staged
renditions of existential rock & roll brooders such as Joy Division's "Atmosphere" (Alvarado), Daniel Johnston's "Devil Town" (Bermel, Jacobson, Rose) and Pink Floyd's "Hey You" (Jacobson and Alvarado). Zombie Joe's Underground, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., NoHo; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; through March 1. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Bill Raden)
THE GAMBLER'S DAUGHTER
Paul North's script is plagued by basic credibility problems. The daughter in question is Mary (Laura Michl), a successful actuary who, we're told, wants desperately to rescue her father, Lloyd (Edmund Wyson), from his gambling addiction. But she left home seven years ago and hasn't been back since. Instead, she sent him a letter every month, with a check for $2,000, which makes her more an enabler than a rescuer. Lloyd has never read any of the 79 letters, but his slutty, gold-digging girlfriend, Elaine (C. Ashleigh Caldwell), has appropriated the checks for herself. Mary returns home to announce her engagement to cloddish, vulgar Jack (J.R. Mangels). Also present are Mary's grandfather (John Dickey) and Willy (Tyler Derench), Elaine's troubled adolescent son. An overly neat ending improbably solves everybody's problems. Some decent performances, under Brian E. Smith's direction, sweeten the mix. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 10. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Neal Weaver)
PHAEDRA'S LUST Director Steven Sabel's cunning adaptation of the Racine (and Senecan) tragedy about a horny stepmom who has a major jones for her hot young stepson might have you thinking that you're watching an episode of Cougar Town, if it weren't also so suffused with themes of rage, guilt and shame. Sabel's emotionally rich production focuses on the agony of characters who know that they're doing wrong but can't help themselves -- to say they think with their hoo-hahs would be an understatement. Phaedra (Anna Walters), the wife of Athenian King Theseus (Elias McCabe), is so besotted with a dangerous lust for her stepson Hippolytus (Benjamin Campbell) that she makes a pass at him -- and his response results in a parade of unbelievable horrors. The cast's performances suggest the elevated levels of pure rage and passion of characters actually being driven insane by their desires and furies -- though some of the supporting actors have an unfortunate tendency to jarringly overact. Still, Walters makes a wonderfully driven and ferocious Phaedra, with flashing eyes and snarling desperation, and Campbell's Hippolytus is a wonderfully naive manboy, possessing a surprising vulnerability as he finds himself in deeper than he should be. Archway Theater, 305 S. Hewitt St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (213) 237-9933, archwayla.com. (Paul Birchall)
PICK OF THE VINE, SEASON 11 The eight courses, served at roughly 10-minute intervals, in Little Fish Theatre's short-play festival are not unlike Thanksgiving dinner with your grandparents: There are some buttery, wonderful mashed potatoes and a deliciously spiced homemade pumpkin pie, but the bulk of the meal -- green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce and steamed asparagus -- is a bit bland and banal, if nostalgically comforting. From 594 nationwide submissions, eight plays were chosen for this year's showcase, of which the decadent dessert is surely "The Eiffel Truth" by Susan Apker, which centers on a chance meeting at the Paris landmark. Benjamin (Bill Wolski), a snarky Brit who has just been jilted at the altar, receives sympathy and handkerchiefs from Lucy (Rachel Levy), a kindly Yank who teaches history at Michigan. Though Wolski and Levy are competent in some of the other plays, they find a unique chemistry in this funny and sentimental piece. Holly Baker-Kreiswirth's direction demonstrates sensitivity and a creative use of space, bringing to life Apker's clever writing. The other standout of the evening is "A Fine Romance" by Ben Jolivet, which feels like what Larry David's take on the male-female power-struggle play Venus in Fur might be. In it, a first-grade teacher (Baker-Kreiswirth) chances upon the author of the vampire romance novel she's reading (Don Schlossman) as they share a park bench. To attempt to transcend the awkwardness of their initial flirtation, they begin to role-play as characters from the novel and hilarity ensues. The remainder of the works are mostly comedies, ranging from best friends who practice kissing ("The Kiss"), to a couple who simply can't decide on a baby name ("A Name"), to a gun-slinging deity visiting a do-nothing couch potato to motivate him to live his life ("The Divine Visitation of Joe Pickelsimer"). Two of the works, however, are more serious, including one that explores, through answering-machine messages, the mindset of individuals experiencing 9/11 ("Disconnections"). With a number of sold-out performances and an enthusiastic audience, the showcase clearly has resonance in the community ... just like grandma's comfort food. Perhaps that's why it has been a part of the company's repertoire for more than a decade now. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; added perfs Wed., Feb. 6-Thurs., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 3 & 10, 2 p.m.; through Feb. 16. (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO The Rainmaker
N. Richard Nash's 1956 comedy, set
in Depression-era, drought-ridden rural America. Fridays, Saturdays,
7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through April 15. Edgemar Center
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
Boeing-Boeing: Marc Camoletti's international-playboy comedy, translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans, directed by Jeff Maynard. Starting Jan. 19, Sat., Jan. 19, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.
GO Chapter Two: Written by Neil Simon, directed by Andrew Barnicle. Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 20, 7 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com. See New Reviews
Freud's Last Session: Judd Hirsch and Tom Cavanagh star as Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in Mark St. Germain's philosophical debate. Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.thebroadstage.com.
Ganesh Versus the Third Reich: Presented by Australia's Back to Back Theatre. Thu., Jan. 24, 8 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 27, 2 p.m. UCLA Freud Playhouse, 245 Charles E Young Drive E, Los Angeles, 310-825-2101.
GO Hansel and Gretel: Avoiding junk food and getting through tough times together are the upbeat messages in this defanged, radically revised adaptation of the Grimms' classic. Tall lanky Hansel (Joey Jennings) and his petite sister, Gretel (Caitlin Gallogly), are unhappy at home because their out-of-work woodcutter father (Anthony Gruppuso) hasn't the money to feed them. So they take off, and along the way encounter a frustrated, stage-struck witch (understudy Bonnie Kalisher at the performance reviewed), piqued because the play in progress is about them and not about her. Her plan is to capture the children and stuff them with sweets to make them lazy and uninteresting, and then seize the spotlight for herself. But she's foiled by an enterprising bird (Barbara Mallory) who comes to the captives' rescue. Geared to youngsters, both Lloyd J. Schwartz's book and the music and lyrics by Hope and Laurence Juber have unsophisticated charm and even a measure of wit. Jennings' boisterous boy and Gallogly's sweetly admonishing sister present an appealing foil. The ensemble enjoy themselves, and their energy is contagious. As usual, it is the audience-participation segments, as well as the spontaneous commentary from the little ones in the audience, that garner the most laughs. Elliot Schwartz directs. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through March 2, (818) 761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, www.theatrewest.org.
GO Nothing to Hide: A telling admission in Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães' magic show Nothing to Hide is that shows such as this should be antiquated by now. One of them comes right out and says it: We already live in an era of technological magic, so how can card tricks possibly compete? Apps on an Android phone tell us in the blink of an eye which roads are clogged and which are open, or how many parking spaces are available on Hollywood Boulevard, or the best Italian or Chinese restaurant nearby. If your Houdini Siberian Husky breaks out the back window, a "Tagg" GPS dog tracker will send you timed reports with a map showing the dog's location. In such an age, what could possibly motivate people to fight crosstown traffic in order to sit in the dark, among strangers, and watch two men playing with pieces of paper -- an entertainment from another century? It's like going to a carnie show, without even the macabre glee that carnie shows used to offer. And yet, under Neil Patrick Harris' direction, the show flows like silk. (Steven Leigh Morris). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4:30 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Peter Pan: Cathy Rigby stars as The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-365-3500, www.broadwayla.org.
Ruby Wax: Out of Her Mind: The comic actor's cabaret-style show about mental illness. Starting Jan. 23, Wednesdays-Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.thebroadstage.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
18th Annual Hollywood Performance Marathon: "Comedy, pancake juggling, poetry, chin puppets, fire-eating, Cirque du Soleil contortionists, music, magic, monologues and more." All day, all night, until dawn. Sat., Jan. 19, 3 p.m. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
GO 86'd: What would you do for a hefty slice of $5 million? Some answers come along with laughs in this dark comedy by Jon Polito and Darryl Armbruster. At an all-night Big Apple diner (masterfully designed by Danny Cistone), Dame Fortune smiles when one of the oddball regulars (Alan Ehrlich) gleefully announces he's won the lottery, displays the ticket, then dies of a heart attack. The shock and public-spirited concern from the patrons and staff soon is swapped for something more befitting the situation -- greed. Sucked into the ensuing vortex of devious dealings are waitress Angela (Jamie Kerezsi), Nick (Lou Volpe), proprietor Willie the baker (Michael Edward Thomas), Ray (Lucan Melkonian), his gal Kim (Julianna Bolles) and Mamie (the hilarious Susan Fisher), who liberally shrieks obscenities while fastidiously shredding napkins at the counter. Toss in some street toughs, a violent, degenerate gambler (Matt McVay) and a crooked cop (Ed Dyer, in a performance bordering on caricature), and the avarice turns drolly murderous. Watching these scoundrels stumble from one desperate, idiotic scheme and mishap to another is a kick, and director Ronnie Marmo keeps the comic chaos finely tuned. Notwithstanding its predictable plot twists, the show is thoroughly entertaining. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19, plays411.com. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5068, www.theatre68.com.
GO Avenue Q: How can you not like a musical puppet show that looks a little like Sesame Street but sounds more like South Park? Director Richard Israel's charming local production of the Tony Award-winning musical proves that the show plays brilliantly on a small, intimate stage. After all, Avenue Q is at its heart a puppet show, and what's the point if you're so far back in the house you can't see the puppets? Utilizing a fast-paced staging that's rich with youthful energy, as well as angst, the show boasts some hilarious and surprisingly subtle performers, who also manipulate their puppet characters with style and acrobatic skill. Admittedly, the show is essentially a straightforward staging of the Broadway script -- a nice introduction to the work, but if you've already seen the play, it's not certain that this production adds much to it. Still, it's easy to enjoy Chris Kauffman's amusingly ironic turn as mousy puppet Princeton, and Danielle Judovits' beautifully vulnerable Kate Monster -- and it's fun to experience the lively renditions of peppy ditties on topics as diverse as masturbation, racism and puppet sex. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3, (323) 802-4990, domatheatre.com. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, www.themettheatre.com.
GO Bad Apples: On the face of it, Circle X Theatre Company's new musical based on the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (book by Jim Leonard, lyrics and music by Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley) sounds like a horrible idea, leading inevitably to a musical that threatens to reduce an international tragedy to camp, or to treat it with portentous, operatic grandeur. Bad Apples does neither, under John Langs' direction. Its musical-theater ancestors are Cabaret and Chicago -- musicals that reach into the darkest crevices of human behavior with sardonic wit and a coating of sexuality. The play's larger point about the thin veneer of civilization comes from a study by Stanford University's Philip George Zimbardo, in which 24 clinically sane participants played roles of prisoner and guard. The two-week study was canceled after only six days, due to the escalating sadistic trauma to the "prisoners" from the sadism inflicted by the participants "playing" their guards. All of this comes accompanied by a three-piece band, by songs of inexorable longing and desire and ambition sung in country ballads and rock ditties. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 2. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
GO Bob Baker's Nutcracker: If you're a parent or grandparent of little ones and/or you love marionettes, you might consider patronizing Bob Baker's The Nutcracker, a presentation from Baker's five-decades-old puppet-theater company. Geared to the preschool set, it's a loose adaptation of the classic Nutcracker tale staged in a spacious room, with high ceilings, ornate chandeliers and shimmery accoutrements. The star feature is a host of rainbow-hued marionettes, gorgeously costumed and representing the story's full spectrum of family, toys and fairies. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Jan. 27, $20. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
GO A Bright New Boise: Ever wonder what transpires in the heart and mind of a fundamentalist zealot? Samuel D. Hunter ventures into that murky terrain in his dark, droll and ultimately explosive work A Bright New Boise, set in a soulless big-box store in Boise, Idaho. Just arrived from a small town, new hire Will (Matthew Elkins) comes across as a gentle guy and docile worker, although his authorship of a Christian e-novel does set him oddly apart from the average Joe. Will's motive for procuring this particular dead-end job is to introduce himself for the first time to another store employee: his biological son, Alex (Erik Odom). Raised in foster homes, Alex is looked after by his foster brother, Leroy (a razor-sharp Trevor Peterson), a snaky, irreverent rule-breaker determined to protect the unstable boy from the psychological predator he deems Will to be. Funny, compassionate and disturbing all at once, Hunter's quintessentially American scenario portrays an individual trapped in an emotional and cultural wasteland, his life configured by uncaring impersonal forces, his spirit hobbled by unnamed guilt. Elkins' performance -- so palpable and so genuine he might be the guy standing next to you in the supermarket line -- captures it all. Betsy Zajko is on the mark as a no-nonsense, anti-union store manager with a compassionate streak and a relenting heart, while Heather L. Tyler, as Will's coequally isolated co-worker, compounds the pathos. Designer David Mauer's set aptly reflects the unvarnished bleakness of these characters' lives. John Perrin Flynn directs. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 27, 3 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27, $29.99. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
Dirty Filthy Love Story: There are two stars in Rob Mersola's new comedy. The first is David Mauer and Hazel Kuang's set. In a coup de theatre, the entire back wall of what looks like a cardboard-cutout living room drops forward and slams to the ground, revealing the home to be the garbage-bag, stacked-boxes and strewn-clothes rat's nest of the play's hoarder-protagonist, Ashley (Jennifer Pollono). The other star is Joshua Bitton's understated performance as the mentally challenged garbage man Hal, hired by Ashley's next-door neighbor Benny (Burl Moseley) to clean the trash from her side yard so he can sell his home. The sexually charged romance between Hal and Ashley grows increasingly macabre, homicidal and strained, and the play's main joke really turns on the passionate, nihilistic attraction between them. Pollono and Moseley were too screechy at the performance reviewed, under Elina de Santos' absorbing, sitcom-style direction. And I couldn't understand why, in one scene, Benny would fail to defend himself against the lovers, who have targeted him for death. After all, they've already struck him with a frying pan that's now sitting in front of him on the couch. But when he regains consciousness, rather than pick up the weapon, he merely rants about his plight. Such details can be worked out. This is a world premiere, after all. Mainly, though, the play is about its premise and nothing more. With transitional songs referring to a world under siege by garbage, this is a work that could actually be about something. Either it needs to be as thin as farce, or reconsidered more deeply. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
GO Dungeons & Groundlings: Continuing its ever-changing schedule of newly devised comedy scenes, the Groundlings' troupe of jokesters entertains tourists and locals alike. The current lineup consists of six men and two women who all bounce off each other nicely. This show is one of their funniest presentations to date despite using the same trusty formula of a dozen short and sweet, scripted comedy scenes interspersed with four improvised sketches that rely on suggestions from the audience. Jim Cashman is a stand-out in all his scenes, especially "Reunion," in which he plays a blunderer who manages to insult all his former pals at a high school reunion because he's not up on their latest news as broadcast on Facebook. Laurel Coppock also shines in a scene, playing opposite Ryan Gaul, in which a romantic date is derailed when her compulsive OCD rituals become increasingly bizarre. The humor depends largely on awkwardness, such as a sketch where two patrons become unnerved by the touchy-feely and blissed-out wait staff at a new-age vegetarian restaurant. Some of the humor and language is R-rated, and there are some big laughs to be had. Unfortunately, the comedy is limited to white-bread subject matter (perhaps thanks to its all-white cast). (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Jan. 26. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.
Focus Group Play: Carrie Barrett's comedy Focus Group Play is set in a focus group assembled by a manufacturer to research attitudes toward its new products, a group of Meal Replacement Bars. But things don't go quite as planned. The group's pretty blonde moderator (Jen Drohan) desperately tries to keep chaos at bay and gather meaningful reactions from the obstreperous members of the group: Mandy (Celia Finkelstein) is a garrulous, needy young woman, who wants to be a stand-up comic, and whose talent for digression disrupts any reasonable discussion. Marta (Caro Zeller) is a no-nonsense Latina with an unexpected knowledge of geometry. Debbie (Darcy Shean) is a model who specializes in demonstrating household appliances. Jim (Brian Hamill), the only male in the group, is a family man with a touch of paranoia. Pamela (Alissa Ford) is an opinionated firebrand, who spearheads a rebellion against the company's hypocrisy and preposterous advertising claims. Though Barrett's mostly funny script bogs down occasionally, director Eric Hunicutt keeps the pace brisk and the laughs coming. In a top-notch cast, Drohan shines as a young woman trying to maintain her dignity despite impossible odds. (Neal Weaver). Sundays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
GO Foote Notes: A Young Lady of Property & The Land of the Astronauts: Subtlety and skill are on ample display in this duo of Horton Foote one-acts, directed by Scott Paulin. "A Woman of Property," set in Foote's Harrison, Texas, in 1925, revolves around a high-spirited, 15-year-old named Wilma (Juliette Goglia), whose mom has died and whose dad is about to remarry and sell the family home. In an outstanding turn, Goglia's performance captures both the innocence of the play's time and place and the spirit of confused rebellious adolescence that transcends it. In "The Land of the Astronauts," set in 1983, the modern world looms closer to Harrison. The plot concerns a young family nearly torn apart when the father (Aaron McPherson), overcome by a sense of futility, goes off the deep end and pursues his fantasy of being an astronaut. Laetitia Leon is spot-on as his warm, lovely wife, Lorena, who doesn't quite understand but knows how to comfort her man and get him back on track. Supporting performances help weave the sense of community that is the hallmark of Foote's work: among them Talyan Wright, beguiling and utterly professional as Lorena's young daughter, and Matt Little as the helpful young deputy obviously vulnerable to Lorena's charm. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9, $25, $20 seniors & students. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org.
GO The God Particle Complex: Chris Bell and Joshua Zeller's "tragic one-act science farce about high energy particle physics, time travel, and the abrupt end of our universe." Saturdays, 10 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9, brownpapertickets.com/event/297800. Artworks Performance Space, 6585 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-871-1912.
The Good Negro: Tracey Scott Wilson's story of the civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1962. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, (323) 960-7774, plays411.com/goodnegro. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
The Grand Irrationality: World-premiere British comedy by Jemma Kennedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 3, (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/grand. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
Happy Face Sad Face: R.J. Colleary's "comedy-drama": the same story told once as a drama, then as a comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 20, 3 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 27, 3 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 3 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, brownpapertickets.com/event/266029. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO Hattie ... What I Need You to Know: Before there was a Sidney Poitier, a Denzel Washington, a Morgan Freeman or a Halle Berry, there was Hattie McDaniel. In the engaging bio-musical Hattie ... What I Need to Know, Vickilyn Reynolds honors the life of this extraordinary entertainer, who in 1940 became the first African-American to win an Oscar with her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Fittingly, the show opens with a video of that historic evening, after which Reynolds (who bears a noticeable resemblance to McDaniel) appears onstage and, for two hours, does a beguiling job of bringing McDaniel to life. Reynolds' script covers a lot of ground and could use some tightening, and at times her loose, conversational style distracts and meanders. Still, she and director Byron Nora succeed in making McDaniel's story an entertaining experience, recounting her early days singing in a gospel choir; difficulties with her overprotective parents; a string of unhappy marriages; struggles with racism in and outside of Hollywood; and her slow, determined rise to success, which ultimately placed her in the friendly company of stars like Clark Gable, Mae West, Bing Crosby and Marlene Dietrich. As interesting as this all is, the real payoff is hearing Reynolds sing the selection of jazz, blues and gospel songs with commanding artistry and passion. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. theatreasylum-la.com
How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: It would take a cultural philosopher to adequately explain why zombies have so profoundly resonated with audiences at this historical moment. One does not, however, need to be a Gilles Deleuze to understand its baroque potential for satire. Which is to say that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the genre rules laid down by George Romero will find a lot to like in director Patrick Bristow's amiable, Americanized version of this improv-derived British fringe import by Ben Muir, Jess Napthine, David Ash and Lee Cooper. Bristow is zombiologist Dr. Bobert Dougash. Jayne Entwistle, Mario Vernazza and Chris Sheets are his seminar's panel of conspicuously underqualified experts, who take very seriously the ludicrous prospect of surviving a fictional, species-exterminating epidemic. Bristow expertly leads the crew through some clever wordplay routines worthy of Abbott & Costello, padded out with some genial barbs directed at audience targets of opportunity. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Met Someone!: Written and performed by Cheryl Francis Harrington. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 21, (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/284287. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, www.workingstage.com.
I'm Dop3!: Afia Fields' solo performance begins with a quote from Marilyn Monroe: "Dogs never bite me. Just humans." The statement is telling in that it's a nod to both the cruel comments Fields, a burn victim, has heard all her life and to her steadfast ambition to become a star, despite her circumstances. When Fields was 3, a space-heater fire in her Baltimore home took the lives of her cousin and baby brother and left her in a coma with third-degree burns all over her body. In relating her journey of healing in the wake of such tragedy, Fields employs song and dance as well as graphic photos of her surgeries. She and director Debra DeLiso cleverly use the photos to implicate the audience: Will we choose to listen to her describe her pain, or will our eyes fixate -- consciously or unconsciously -- on the harrowing visual evidence of it? While the piece still needs some dramatic development, there's something about witnessing courage in action that is powerful and inspiring, and Field's ability to make it "through the fire" (as Chaka Khan once put it) speaks to just how dope she really is. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19, $30, (443) 928-5941, saiproarts.org. Elephant Studio Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO In the Red and Brown Water: Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney sets this music-, dance- and myth-infused work in the "distant present," weaving his story around talented young athlete Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick), who risks her future to care for her ailing mother. The play charts a downhill course for this lovely, open-hearted person: Her mother dies, the prized scholarship goes to someone else and Oya is trapped in the barrio, plagued with passion for an unfaithful lover (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and for the same fulfillment as every other woman in her circumscribed community -- a child. It's no accident that Oya's barrenness parallels the predicament in Federico Garcia Lorca's Yerma, or that she bears the name of a Yoruba goddess. McCraney pulls together a confluence of elements -- although predominantly Yoruba -- to present a visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America. Kilpatrick's portrayal embraces every bit of her feisty, soulful character, made more compelling by the intimate performance space. Brown's slick, calibrated womanizer is an aptly fashioned foil and the remaining ensemble is strong. But designer Frederica Nascimento's set, with its pale walls and light wood backdrop, is too tidy and sterile to reflect the play's darkness. Shirley Jo Finney directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 24. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
LoveSick: Written and directed by Larissa Wise. Starting Jan. 19, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.
Machu Picchu, Texas: Written and directed by Timothy McNeil. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17, (323) 960-7735. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, www.stellaadler-la.com.
Phaedra's Lust: Seneca the Younger's classic, adapted and directed by Steven Sabel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com. See New Reviews.
GO Point Break Live!: Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thedragonfly.com.
Rent: Jonathan Larson's rock opera, based on Puccini's La Bohème. Starting Jan. 24, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10, plays411.com/rent. The Actors Company, 916-A N. Formosa Ave., Los Angeles, 323-960-7863.
Smash Cut: Written and directed by Rubén Garfias. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., Los Angeles, 213-382-8133, www.fridakahlotheater.org.
Snowangel: Back at the dawn of the '60s, and just before he wisely defected to a far more lucrative career as a Hollywood scribe, Lewis John Carlino specialized in a kind of strained stage blend of vintage lyrical realism and postwar European avant garde. This musty, 1963 one-act about a liaison between a street-hardened prostitute and her introspective john is no exception. Evan McNamara is the relationship-embittered art history professor (named John) who pays $300 for an in-call with the emotional-baggage-laden Ida Darvish, in which the pair will enact an idealized version of the professor's train wreck of a marriage. The prostitute, however, has both her own ideas and deep emotional wounds in need of salving. John Coppola directs with affecting understatement, and both Darvish and McNamara succeed in making the wildly implausible seem possible, but only somebody whose experience of prostitutes and johns comes exclusively from the movies could mistake Carlino's script as having anything to do with Earthlings. (Bill Raden). Sat., Jan. 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 26, 8 p.m., plays411.com. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-988-1175.
What Is Art?: "Tripartite multi-medium arts event," featuring an Experimental Visual Arts Gallery, followed by Yasmina Reza's play Art, and "Arts du Spectacle" performers. Fridays-Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5774, www.complexhollywood.com.
ONGOING SHOWS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
GO Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground: ZJU Theatre Group stages Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella. Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 22, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., March 1, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Feb. 8. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. See New Reviews.
Golden Girls Live on Stage: Reunion and Christmas Episodes -- A Parody: Performed at a gay bar, this show is ideal for people who are ardent fans of sitcom The Golden Girls -- and who also may have had a few drinks. Four male performers in drag enact a "lost episode" in which Dorothy's husband has died and the three other Girls fly in from Miami to lend her support. On one recent evening, a few performers were slow on their lines. While the riffs and gags didn't seem especially funny, the audience laughed heartily. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, brownpapertickets.com/event/297806. Oil Can Harry's, 11502 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-760-9749, www.oilcanharrysla.com.
My Big Gay Italian Wedding: Anthony Wilkinson's same-sex marriage romp, directed by Paul Storiale. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 26. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-766-9100.
Two Cosmic Brothers Unshackle Mother Earth: ZJU Theatre Group celebrates "the highs and lows of brotherhood, sisterhood, spirituality, and the laws of attraction." Starting Jan. 19, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
7 Stories: Morris Panych's comedy about a man on a ledge. Starting Jan. 24, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand: The British ventriloquist talks to her hand. Starting Jan. 23, Wednesdays-Fridays, 9 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 5 & 9 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3, thebroadstage.com/Talk-to-the-Hand. Edye Second Space, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.smc.edu.
GO Nora: Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of A Doll's House restructures Henrik Ibsen's fierce family drama, stripping the play to its emotional essence, a goal that's underscored by director Dana Jackson's spartan but evocative production. On a simple set consisting of some chairs, a Christmas tree in the back and, later, a bed, Jackson's staging puts its emphasis where the play's money is -- on the subtext driving the car crash that is the marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer. Brad Greenquist's brutally curt and entitled Torvald comes across as the sort of business executive who sees a trophy wife as being merely part of his resume, while Jeanette Driver's Nora, with surface-level bubbliness belying an interior desperation and, yes, horror, is subtle and touching. Add to this Martha Hackett's wan, hard-used Mrs. Linde and Scott Conte's self-loathingly desperate Krogstad, and the production boasts some incredibly nuanced characterizations. Although the decision (by Bergman, not Jackson) to add a dramatic, pace-interrupting sex scene to the final act jars, the clarity and power of the show's performances make this a textbook dynamic production of the tragic drama. (Paul Birchall). Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
Pick of the Vine: The Kiss by Mark Harvey Levine, directed by Stephanie Coltrin; A Name by Mark Cornell, directed by Bill Wolski; The True Cost of Heavenly Birth Insurance by Bill Johnson, directed by James Rice; The Divine Visitation of Joe Pickelsimer by Micah McCoy, directed by James Rice; A Fine Romance by Ben Jolivet, directed by Stephanie Coltrin; The Eiffel Truth by Susan Apker, directed by Holly Baker-Kreiswirth; Disconnections by Peter Kennedy, directed by Stephanie Coltrin; One for the Chipper by Adam Seidel, directed by James Rice. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 6, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 16. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org. See New Reviews.
Plaza Suite: Neil Simon's 1968 comedy. Starting Jan. 19, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-7519, www.morgan-wixson.org.
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GO The Rainmaker: N. Richard Nash's comedy, set in Depression-era, drought-ridden rural America. Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through April 15. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org. See Stage feature.
The Snake Can: Diane Cary, Jane Kaczmarek and Sharon Sharth star in Kathryn Graf's world premiere about "the middle years of life." Starting Jan. 19, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
GO Theatre in the Dark: This collection of vignettes is performed entirely in the dark. No, really -- upon arrival, you'll notice a solitary candle burning at stage center, which after the preshow announcements is blown out, plunging us into 90 minutes of inky darkness, only very occasionally alleviated by a momentary flash or murky ghost light. Lord help you if you have claustrophobia! If not, however, the collection of one-act sketches is an unexpectedly vivid series of ghost stories, radio-style dramas and other mysterious theatrical episodes that emphasize virtually all senses but sight. Incidents range in tone from Anna Nicholas' macabre "Our Dark Connection," in which seemingly random members of the audience are dragged out of their seats and into the black by an unseen monster, to Friedrich Durrenmatt's compellingly disturbing "The Tunnel," a narrated tale of a man who discovers he's on a train to oblivion (both are directed with maximum eeriness by Ron Sossi). "One of the Lost" is Ernest Kearney's spooky tale of the ghostly final transmission of a Russian cosmonaut on a secret space mission. John Zalewski's sound design is incredibly evocative -- and Sossi and his co-directors artfully manipulate all the senses within the live performance to craft a set of dramas that utilize darkness almost as a character. (Paul Birchall). Like its sister show Dark, More Dark, the second half of the Odyssey's Theatre in the Dark festival, represents truth in advertising. Save for the odd ghostly hospital monitor or the emergence of one pale, glowing blue eye, this collection of 15 short, moody vignettes offers up nearly 90 minutes of theater in the dark, laced with an immersive soundtrack of things to go bump in the night. Clever, deftly choreographed and technically impressive, the production efficiently transports its audience as far afield as the drizzly London of a randy radio play ("Forbidden Fire") or a fairy-laden British forest (an excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream), but the true setting of many of its episodes is the liminal space between consciousness and unconsciousness, life and death, or sanity's thin border, a strange netherworld well calibrated for unleashing the imagination. (Mindy Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Tom Rubin: Success Guru: "Failure is an option" in this mock motivational seminar. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.