A ten-year anniversary revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart snagged this week's Pick by Neal Weaver, thanks in large part to the power of Simon Levy's staging. Pauline Adamek enjoyed Lorenzo Pisoni's solo clown show at the Taper, while Lovell Estell had good things to say about an Asian-American interpretation of Steel Magnolias at East West Players in Little Tokyo.
In her three-actor spin on Shakespeare's Richard II at Boston Court Theatre, director Jessica Kubzansky puts a laser-focus on the quagmire of language. See this week's theater feature.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 26, 2013
GO: HUMOR ABUSE
As the title indicates, Humor Abuse is no lighthearted evening of sidesplitting laughs. Demonstrating elaborate pratfalls, juggling and elegant comedy bits, Lorenzo Pisoni's solo clown show charts his upbringing as a fourth-generation vaudevillian and performer, focusing mainly on a relationship with his father that was more work than play. Lorenzo took to the stage in his parents' company, the Pickle Family Circus, when he was only 2 years old, honing his clown skills under the tutelage of his father, Larry Pisoni. In recounting their relationship, Lorenzo projects a tone that is bittersweet and melancholy, with an undercurrent of both resentment and deep respect. Frequently subverting our expectations, he engages us throughout his 90-minute confessional show by performing various routines. One is a commedia dell'arte sequence, in which he deftly dons and doffs masks as he leaps in and out of an old steamer trunk. Another is a nail-biting, Chaplinesque routine in which he plays a Sisyphean bellhop struggling to get five pieces of luggage to the top of a staircase. Pisoni's movements are fluid and effortlessly precise and his prodigious skills are a joy to watch, even as his buffoonery is tinged with sadness. Co-creator and director Erica Schmidt has created fine staging, with clever lighting by Ben Stanton and original music and evocative sound design courtesy of Bart Fasbender. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 6:30 p.m.; through Nov. 3. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org. (Pauline Adamek)
LOST GIRLS Idiosyncratic characters, colorful language and clever one-liners don't always make a "dramedy" click. John Pollono's latest play is set in working class New England and revolves around a divorced single mom, Maggie (Jennifer Pollono), who wakes one snowy morning to discover her car and teenage daughter Erica (Anna Theoni DiGiovanni) missing. A call to law enforcement triggers a visit from her ex, Lou (Joshua Bitton), a state trooper. Accompanying him is his attractive second wife, Penny (Kirsten Kollender) whose presence fuels an already flammable mix of past resentments, not only between Lou and Maggie, but between Maggie and her malcontent mom, Linda (Peggy Dunne). Director John Perrin Flynn works with a skilled ensemble, but their talents don't coalesce into a believable narrative. The main problem is the plot's awkward contrivances. Why would Lou bring Penny on official business? Why is he, not some other officer, investigating his own missing car and daughter? Why are Lou and Maggie arguing furiously over the past while their unpredictable daughter is unaccounted for -- perhaps dead or injured? The script has answers but they don't satisfy. As Maggie, Pollono starts out with such intensity that she has almost nowhere higher to go. The production is often entertaining, but the many loose ends suggest it's been rushed to production prematurely. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 4. roguemachinetheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE NORMAL HEART
Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in The Normal Heart at the Fountain Theatre
When the AIDS plague emerged in 1981, writer-activist Larry Kramer was devastated to learn that the larger society wasn't remotely concerned that gay men were dying by the thousands, and the gay community was refusing to admit its own responsibility. He set out to call the world to account, and tell unpopular truths to power. Driven by his own passionate concern, he launched ham-fisted attacks in all directions, making himself hated and resented. But in his semi-autobiographical play The Normal Heart, he is considerably defter, capturing the absurdity as well as the courage of his surrogate, Ned Weeks (Tim Cummings), and making his story a chronicle of the times. He reminds us of how terrifying AIDS was when nobody knew what it was, how it was spread or how to avoid it. Director Simon Levy has mounted a deeply moving production at the Fountain Theatre, bathed in the compassion without which it would be merely a horror story, and performed by a deeply committed ensemble. Cummings captures the desperation of a man who cares so much he's incapable of tact or coherence, and Bill Brochtrup ably renders the charm and ultimate disintegration of his lover, Felix. Lisa Pelikan, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Verton R. Banks and the rest of the cast provide terrific support. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., E. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (no perf Oct. 31); through Nov. 3. (323) 663-1525, fountaintheatre.com (Neal Weaver)
Richie Ferris, Seth Salsbury and Kelsey Schulte
Is the world ready for a 90-minute musical satire of Pokémon, the ubiquitous gaming and anime phenomenon of the 1990s? Considering that an original episode of the patently bizarre children's cartoon ran a mere 30 minutes (including commercial breaks), the appeal of book writer Alex Syiek's affectionate, slightly risqué and overly drawn-out send-up probably depends on one's familiarity with and nostalgia for the perversely Japanglish-accented Pokéverse itself. Josey Montana McCoy is perfectly grating in his impersonation of 10-year-old protagonist Ash Ketchum, and Kelsey Schulte's cloying turn as his pocket-monster sidekick Pikachu is likewise spot on. Best in show goes to the story's hilarious trio of inept miscreants, Jamie Mills, Peyton Crim and Josh Hillinger. While director Joanna Syiek injects some witty visual flourishes (including the uncredited wig work), Andrew Cooper's mostly monotonous, 17-tune score connects only once with any gut laughs -- on the wickedly transgressive "Ash's Lullaby." Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 11:59 p.m.; through Sept. 28. (323) 802-4990, colorandlighttheatre.org. (Bill Raden)
GO: R II
A new production of Shakespeare's Richard II, conceived, adapted and directed by Jessica Kubzansky to be bare and raw, performed by only three actors. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 2, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 9, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, 626-683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com. See theater feature.
SHEET CAKE SLIDING
Jennifer Flack, Alysha Brady, Alexis DeLaRosa, Gwenmarie White, Jenny Gillet, Trevor H. Olsen
Playwright Stacia Saint Owens' black comedy about the travails of an unhappy family crackles with ferocious energy and malice. However, in spite of director Nicholas Newell's commendably crisp staging, the work is undermined by its scattershot, intentionally disjointed structure and a ham-fisted quirkiness. Pompous greeting-card executive and dad John Jones (Trever H. Olsen) considers that he's the embodiment of the American dream, but he's a rigid authoritarian at home, fond of browbeating his family -- and his borderline abusive behavior has reduced his wife to a grinning cipher and turned his kids into damaged basket cases. Although the acrimony between father and family is fairly straightforward, the story is told in fragments, inexplicably narrated by a pair of talking Dalmatians, and anchored by the presentation of a large number of cakes, which symbolize an undercurrent of family rot or something. Performances are sprightly, particularly Jennifer Flack as John's dead-inside, Barbie-like wife, but the work's overall shrillness becomes increasingly irritating and off-putting. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 9. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com. (Paul Birchall)
GO: STEEL MAGNOLIAS
Ruth Coughlin and Patti Yasutake
Robert Harling's comedy-drama about female friendships has seen many stage incarnations since its debut in 1987, not to mention a popular film version with Dolly Parton. Now comes a sparkling revival from East West Players with an all-Asian-American cast. Hiwa Bourne does the honors as the sassy, opinionated Truvy, whose small-town Louisiana hair salon (well designed and accoutered by Christopher Scott Murillo) is a gathering spot for a small group of gal pals. The shy, self-effacing Annelle (Lovelle Liquigan) is Truvy's newest hairdresser and able assistant. Clairee (Dian Kobayashi) is the sobersided widow of the town's mayor struggling to find a purpose in life. M'Lynn (Patti Yasutake) is the overly protective mother of bride-to-be Shelby (Ruth Coughlin), whose battle with diabetes and its poignant aftermath provide a thin but serviceable emotional arc. Then there's the terminally cranky Ouiser (Karen Huie), who, by her own admission, has been in a "bad mood for 40 years." Sprightly banter, ensemble chemistry and comic timing are the heart and soul of this piece, and the cast ably acquit themselves, guided by the perceptive direction of Laurie Woolery. East West Players David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 6. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Lovell Estell III)
THE WIZARD OF OZ Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2011 stage adaptation of the beloved 1939 film hits on two troubling entertainment trends: the increasing, lazy reliance on digital technology to replace theatrical stagecraft, and a much older drift toward sitcom-style quippiness in children's storytelling. Technical challenges that should have inspired ingenious problem solving (How does one create a cyclone onstage?) are hastily dispatched with CGI. More disappointingly, the classic's earnest simplicity has been repackaged for the 21st-century child. The Wicked Witch (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) suffers most in director Jeremy Sams' translation, her terror reduced to cartoonish villainy and self-aware punch lines. Only Dorothy (Julia McLellan at the performance reviewed) plays it absolutely straight, with a spunky sincerity the show could use more of. (See: the likely unscripted f-bomb in act two.) Webber and partner Tim Rice's adequate score blends new compositions with embellished versions of the originals. But there's no magic, so it all feels a bit empty and grim beneath the grins and glamour. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Oct. 6. (800) 982-2787, BroadwayLA.org. (Jenny Lower)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE:
Adults, Keep Out: A Merry Musical for Adults Only: This musical comedy by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo (with music by Matthew Wrather) comes with its own warning, right in the title -- and, unfortunately, discerning theatergoers would be well advised to heed the admonition. The show purports to take place in a land of make-believe, where several kids embark on a quest to an enchanted lake of wisdom. The issues here are not related to the execution -- DeCarlo's staging is lively and spirited, while the unusually likable ensemble of extremely fresh-faced and appealing young performers assay their parts with enthusiasm and genuine vocal talent. However, the play itself, a schematic and derivative fantasy tale couched in flatfooted dialogue and tinny musical numbers, is disappointing. The message of Rudie's play -- that young folks grow out of their childlike imaginative worlds -- is by no means dismissable, but the clunkiness of the writing never allows the piece to succeed as either a genuine children's myth or an ironic adult tale. (Paul Birchall). Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.
GO: Ah, Wilderness!
: Eugene O'Neill's idyllic American comedy, about a young man, his young love, and his coming-of-age. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-09-19/stage/prometheus-bound-getty-villa/full/
. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.
Ashes to Wings: Two actresses, three musicians, and four dancers unite for a soul-shaking expression of femininity. The story of one girl's journey into womanhood, and the spirit within guiding her path. Thu., Oct. 3, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 6, 2 p.m. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, 323-525-0202, www.acmecomedy.com.
Awake and Sing: Clifford Odets' drama, set in 1930s Bronx, about the Berger family's first generation clashing with the younger generation's desire for independence and freedom. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Nov. 3. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.
GO: The Bells of West 87th: Elin Hampton's play derives its comedy from the antics of an eccentric family. At 39, Molly (Cameron Meyer) has never escaped from the tyranny of her critical, exploitative parents, who have decided she's a lesbian because she won't wear makeup, and taunt her about her lack of a social life. Dad Eli (Robert Towers) is an elderly leprechaun obsessed with performing magic tricks and keeping the world informed of the state of his prostate. Domineering Mom Ida (Carol Locatell) walked out on Eli five years ago, and moved in with Molly. Now Molly has acquired a beau, Chris (James Marsters), an amateur poet who works at a miniature golf course, and she brings him home to meet the family, with predictably messy results. Superficially, the piece resembles You Can't Take It with You, but that play's sunny disposition is replaced by a more jaundiced view, as Molly strives to escape her tyrannical family. This is essentially sitcom stuff, but it's cleverly written and acted expertly by a solid ensemble, including Dagney Kerr as Molly's glamorous married sister. Director Richard Pierce keeps things moving briskly on the handsome, two-room set designed by Jeff McLaughlin. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, 323-655-7679, www.greenwayarts.org.
GO: Bob Baker's It's a Musical World!: Nearly three decades ago, this reviewer attended a production of The Nutcracker with his daughter, and was surprised how thoroughly enjoyable this "children's show" was. Similarly, while It's a Musical World reveals no surprises, the production at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a kick from start to finish, and there's even free ice cream after the performance. It's essentially a musical variety show staged in a large carpeted room with chandeliers, immense red curtains and lots of space for the kiddies to take a front-row seat. The musical selections are culled from country, pop, classical, R&B, rock and familiar musicals, and there's even a marionette from Azusa who sings an enchanting aria. Here is a universe of puppets of all shapes, sizes and artful imaginings. The costuming is an eye-catching panorama of colors and styles, and the puppeteers dazzle with their skills. On display are a troupe of clowns, some ice skaters outfitted in turn-of-the-century garb, a garrulous Eskimo, a burlesque chorus, a disco duet featuring "Turn the Beat Around" and a grand American finale performed with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Sept. 29, $15. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Live Arts Exchange (LAX): Local artists perform interdisciplinary dance, theater, art, and music pieces. Visit liveartsexchange.org for a complete schedule of events. Through Oct. 6, liveartsexchange.org. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.org.
GO: Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes: Daniel Beaty's West Coast premiere revives the lost-to-history account of Roland Hayes, a son of former slaves and the first internationally lauded African-American classical singer. Raised in the South on hard work and spirituals, Hayes (Elijah Rock) overcomes early tragedy to perform in Chattanooga's black churches. When an instructor intervenes to provide professional training, Hayes confronts the objections of his sassily beatific mother, Angel Mo (Karan Kendrick), who believes her son is destined for life as a preacher. Condensing Hayes' life story inevitably leads to some whiplash plot twists and hurried catharsis, but Rock and Kendrick's chemistry under Saundra McClain's direction sustains and clarifies the play's themes. Accompanist Kevin Ashworth tackles a grab-bag of supporting roles, perhaps most jarringly as Hayes' father, when his pale skin imbues the endearment "boy" with inadvertent menace. But his presence offers a pleasing, if farcical, dimension. Shaun Motley's handsome, sweeping wooden set stands in for Georgia fields and concert halls alike. Most stirring is Rock's lustrous timbre as the mature Hayes: Harmonizing with Kendrick through earthy spirituals, he soars through von Gluck's "O Del Mio Dolce Ardor" before dipping into a soul-trembling version of "Were You There?" The superb music direction is by Rahn Coleman. (Jenny Lower). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
Broadway Bound: Neil Simon's autobiographical Pulitzer Prize-winning play about Eugene and his older brother Stanley, who are trying to break into the world of show business as professional comedy writers while coping with their parents' divorce. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.
Bulrusher: Set in 1955 in the redwood country of the Bay Area, a multiracial girl grows up in a predominantly white town. Found floating in a basket on the river as an infant, Bulrusher is an orphan with a gift for clairvoyance that makes her feel like a stranger. Written by Eisa Davis, directed by Nataki Garrett. Mon., Sept. 30, 7 p.m. VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, www.vstheatre.org.
GO: The Burnt Part Boys: With a hardscrabble Appalachian setting and a score that engagingly echoes the melodies of Copland, Bernstein and Sondheim, this captivating new musical (book by Mariana Elder, music by Chris Miller, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen) is both a sensitive meditation on grief and a heartfelt coming-of-age tale. Ten years after their dads perished in an accident at an isolated mine, a group of teenagers embark on a pilgrimage to visit the spot. Along the way, they are forced to confront their own mortality, their memories of their family and their goals for the future. Director Richard Israel's intimate and beautifully atmospheric production crackles with youthful energy, and, as the characters embark on their rural journey, the piece takes on the feel of a ghost story of loss and redemption. Under Gregory Nabours' crisp musical direction, the bluegrassy songs are executed with heart and gusto. The ensemble is populated by a cast of mostly young performers with unexpectedly subtle vocal chops and strong emotional range. A powerful turn is offered by Daniel David Stewart as Pete, the angry teen whose impulsive actions force his older brother (an equally powerful Aaron Scheff) to pursue him into the wild. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 20. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 323-655-9232.
GO: Captain Dan Dixon vs. The Moth Sluts From the Fifth Dimension: A nicely acted, crisply directed and neatly written piece of 1950s sci-fi comedy, featuring nearly naked, green-painted, go-go-dancing space aliens -- what's not to love?! Playwright Matthew Sklar stars as Captain Dan Dixon in his creature-feature retro romp through space. Panels of switches, buttons and analog meters signify the interior of a spacecraft as he and his crew of seven rockets into the fifth dimension, causing a purring, whirring sextet of moth-like minxes to materialize. Clad in teeny, gold-lamé hot pants, white go-go boots and pasties, the jiggling, shimmying erotic powers of the Vulvulans gradually infect the brains of almost all on board. The only person apparently immune is Dr. Canigulus (incisively portrayed by Jonica Patella), the ship's brainiac -- thanks to her massive, mutant cerebellum. It's up to her to decipher the true intentions of these insectile invaders. Sebastian Muñoz directs his cast of 14 extremely well; all have fun with the rapid-fire '50s lingo, playing the trashy, B-movie sexploitation tone straight without overly camping it up. Jeri Batzdorff and Corey Zicari (also a blond-wigged moth slut) created skimpy costumes for the babes and Star Trek-inspired suits for the crew. R. Benjamin Warren devised the clever props. Gloria Baraquio is great as Urania, the ship's android and captain's concubine, unhappily ousted by statuesque moth leader Empress Syphla (a sexy and sinister Katherine Canipe). (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 28. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Cinnamon Girl: A mother's mysterious death and a cinnamon plantation owner's violent abuse of power causes Salani, a young cinnamon peeler, to flee the plantation and begin an odyssey on which she discovers life and herself. Set in 1937 Ceylon. Book and lyrics by Velina Hasu Houstin, music by Nathan Wang. Presented by Playwrights' Arena. Mon., Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, 323-655-7679, www.greenwayarts.org.
Cowboy Versus Samurai: The Los Angeles premiere of this re-imagining of the classic Cyrano de Bergerac tale featuring Asian Americans in a small town in Wyoming. Written by Michael Golamco, directed by Peter J. Kuo. Starting Sept. 28, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 20. Inner City Arts, 720 Kohler St., Los Angeles, 213-627-9621.
Death of a Salesman: Arthur Miller's 1949 play about father and salesman Willy Loman, and his struggle to hold on to the American dream. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-708-5555, www.scr.org.
GO: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Any adaptation of a novel is a compromise of approximation whose objective should be to faithfully capture the spirit and ideas of the prose in a dramatically compelling way. Which is why Philip K. Dick fans, who have repeatedly suffered the indignity of having their favorite sci-fi author plundered by dumbed-down Hollywood blockbusters, will cheer adapter Edward Einhorn's 2010, high-fidelity transliteration of Dick's wryly ironic, psychedelic, 1968 hall of mirrors. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the time is a war-ravaged future in which the question of what it means to be human has been vastly complicated by a band of renegade androids passing themselves off as flesh-and-blood (it's the source material for Blade Runner). Freelance assassin Rick Deckard (Eric Curtis Johnson), a man who relies on a mood device to feel anything at all, is charged with weeding the imposters from the populace via administering "empathy tests" and summary execution. Suffice it to say that nothing is what it seems. Jaime Robledo's inventively cinematic staging (on DeAnne Millais' computer-detritus set) and an unusually fine ensemble (including Lynn Odell, Corey Klemow, Marz Richards and Rafael Goldstein) capture all the nuanced terms of Dick's allegory. But the real discovery of the evening is Kimberly Atkinson and her subtly delineated dual turn as the doppelgangers Rachael Rosen and Pris Stratton. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 19, bit.ly/ElectricSheepLATix. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
The Dream of the Burning Boy: In the wake of the sudden death of popular high school student Dane (Matthias Chrans), each of the characters in David West Read's play comes to terms with the tragedy in a flip but ultimately sincere way. This starts with Dane's English teacher, Larry (Jeff Hayenga), and includes Dane's sister, Rachel (a manically intense Jayne McLendon); his girlfriend, Chelsea (Joslyn Kramer); his friend Kyle (Zach Palmer); and his mother, Andrea (a scene-stealing Melissa Kite). As the characters try to find solace, the hidden ways in which they are connected come to light, nudged along by Steve (Tyler Ritter), the young guidance counselor. Director Edward Edwards deftly balances the comedy and tragedy in the piece, playing its emotional intensity palpably and engagingly. But while cast and director give it their all in a tonally spot-on rendition of the high school experience, a number of the characters and storylines could stand to be fleshed out. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. Malibu Playhouse, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 310-589-1998, www.malibuplayhouse.org.
The End of It: Breaking up is hard to do, particularly if you're embedded in a 20-year marriage. That's the not terribly surprising message of Paul Coates' play, illustrated by three couples: one straight (Kelly Coffield Park and playwright Coates), one gay (David Youse and William Franklin Barker) and one lesbian (Ferrell Marshall and Wendy Radford). The three couples appear sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously, suggesting that they are almost interchangeable as they deal with such issues as anger, grief, blame, resentment, loss of desire, fear of aging and abandonment. Coates' script is intelligent, perceptive and sometimes funny, but almost fatally restrained. Only Park is given the opportunity to tap into the raw emotions inherent in the situation. Director Nick DeGruccio marshals his fine actors through a nearly impeccable production, on François-Pierre Couture's blandly elegant set, but no amount of direction can provide the excitement the text fails to supply. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 20. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-1445, www.matrixtheatre.com.
Flowers for Algernon: Deaf West Theatre combines signed and voiced dialogue for a new perspective on this modern American classic, about an intellectually disabled man who undergoes experimental surgery to increase his IQ to the level of genius. Written by David Rogers, inspired by the book by Daniel Keyes, directed by Matthew McCray. Starting Sept. 28, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Nov. 3. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
Fool For Love: Sam Shepard's drama about Eddie, a rodeo stuntman, and May, his lost love, whom he has found living at a motel in the Mojave Desert. Directed by Gloria Gifford. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.
Frank and Ava: It's hard to imagine at this late date what new light a stage play could shed on the tumultuous, six-year, 1950s tabloid marriage of Hollywood icons Frank Sinatra (Rico Simonini) and Ava Gardner (Stefany Northcutt). And if playwright Willard Manus' two-character drama is any indication, the answer turns out to be very little. That's not to say that Manus' straightforward biographical survey isn't thorough in its chronicle of the pair's fierce ambitions, insecurities and appetites for both alcohol and marital infidelity, or what inevitably happens when that combustive combination is subjected to the unforgiving accelerant of wealth and celebrity. To that end, Simonini (who bears a passable physical resemblance to a 40-something Sinatra) and Northcutt capably trace the eventful outlines of the story, but neither Manus nor director Kelly Galindo's staging ultimately convinces in illuminating the mysterious charisma of the evidently rather venial couple or why we still care. (Bill Raden). Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1371. Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge, 1123 Vine St., Los Angeles, 323-462-6441, www.threeclubs.com.
Funny Girl: A spectacle full of song and dance about the story of Fanny Brice, the much beloved comedienne and performer. Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Isobel Lennart. Presented by 3-D Theatricals. Fri., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 2 p.m. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, 310-937-6607, www.rbpac.com.
Gallery Secrets: 4 Plays, 4 Exhibit Halls, 4 Time Periods: Four short plays by four Los Angeles playwrights, performed after hours at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: 1913: A Vast Hoard, written by Tom Jacobson, performed in the Rotunda; 1929: Skins and Bones, written by Ruth McKee, performed in the African Mammal Hall; 1978: Under the Glass, written by Zakiyyah Alexander, performed in the Gem and Mineral Hall; 2013: Prom Season, written by Boni B. Alvarez, performed in the Dinosaur Hall. A production of Chalk Repertory Theatre in conjunction with the Natural History Museum of L.A. County's 100th Anniversary. Fri., Sept. 27, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 7 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 5, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 6, 7 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 11, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 13, 7 p.m. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-763-3466, www.nhm.org.
: A new production of the classic Greek tragedy by The CalArts Center for New Performance. The set features the use of a twenty-three foot, five ton revolving metal wheel, to which the protagonist, Prometheus, is permanently bound. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-09-19/stage/prometheus-bound-getty-villa/full/
. Mondays, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 28. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 310-440-7300, www.getty.edu.
Grace and Glorie: A sweet and funny story of a hospice worker who comes to the aid of an aging grandma in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Written by Tom Ziegler. Sun., Sept. 29, 2 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 9, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 10, 8 p.m. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
The Guardsman: A Hungarian stage star, terrified that his recent marriage is already on the rocks, concocts a scheme meant to invigorate the passions of his starlet wife. His absurd plan unleashes a series of hilariously unintended consequences in Molnár's comic game of love and marriage. Written by Ferenc Molnár, directed by Michael Michetti. Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 2, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 6, 2 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 13, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 2, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 10, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 16, 8 p.m.; Thu., Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 30, 2 & 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.
Hamlet: An all-female production of Hamlet -- why?! The gender-bending (and multicultural) casting permits this motley cast of women to tackle the tragedy's meaty classic roles but adds nothing to the production. Rather, it distracts and detracts. Lisa Wolpe and Natsuko Ohama co-direct and star (as Hamlet and Polonius, respectively) in a lively rendition that gallops toward its (implied) bloody finale. Yet this tragedy could have used a firmer hand on the reins. Some perfs are good, others woeful. Emphatic gestures and shouted delivery, as well as the random sound design, rob the text of its subtleties, making this Hamlet for Dummies. Wolpe's interpretation of the gloomy Dane is bitter, sarcastic, playful and energetic as she roughs up both Ophelia and Gertrude in tempestuous scenes. Unfortunately, Wolpe also sometimes rushes her delivery of the scintillating text. Ophelia (Chastity Dotson) is excellent in her descent from confusion into insanity, while the majestic set of faux stone, with its trapdoor for the grave scene, is superb, including its upstairs realm for the lumbering, un-wraithlike ghost of Old King Hamlet (Elizabeth Swain). The swordplay is excellent; the rest is -- silence. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 2, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 16, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 24, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 27. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Henry VIII: William Shakespeare's classic play about the infamous British monarch, presented in Spanish with English subtitles by Madrid-based theatre company Rakatá. Fri., Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 2 p.m. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3200, www.thebroadstage.com.
Hollywood-Uh, Could-Uh, Should-Uh!: Fri., Sept. 27, 9 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 9 p.m., $15. Cavern Club Theater, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-662-4255, www.cavernclubtheater.com.
The Human Spirit: The story of men and women in South Africa who formed a "Rainbow Coalition" during apartheid in order to make the country a better place for those who were the most disadvantaged and discriminated against. Through Sept. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 2 p.m., www.thehumanspirit-thebook.com. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-4446, www.stellaadler-la.com.
Humor Abuse: Lorenzo Pisoni's tender homage to his circus ringleader father, the art and the discipline of comedy, and the magic of the circus. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through Nov. 3. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772. See New Reviews.