Weekend Theater Reviews

A Nervous Smile (Photo by Shashin Desai)

{mosimage}PICK GO A NERVOUS SMILE John Belluso, confined to a wheelchair his entire life due to a bone disorder that restricted muscle strength, died earlier this year at the age of 36, while his career as a nationally prominent playwright was rising. For a glimpse at the kind of talent we lost, see Lynn Ann Bernatowicz’s potent staging of Belluso’s morality play about three parents, after years of physical and emotional exhaustion, choosing to abandon their cerebral palsy–inflicted children in order to offer themselves a reprieve from the life sentence that fate has inflicted upon them. Eileen (Francesca Casale) and Brian’s (Louis Lotorto) marriage is on the rocks. A Vicodin addict and alcoholic with a huge family fortune, Eileen doles out a monthly allowance to her adjunct professor of literature and would-be novelist husband. The couple returns home giggling and tipsy from the funeral of a child of somebody in their support group for parents of children with cerebral palsy. They’re accompanied by Eileen’s former best friend, Nicole (Rebecca Jordan) — herself the mother of a C.B. teenager, and their repartee, laced with repressed sexuality and muted hostility, contains echoes of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s soon clear that the “secret” of an affair between Nicole and Brian is no secret at all; in fact, it’s in Eileen’s plans to allow them to run off to Argentina together, while she flees to a new life in London. They’ll simply dump their daughter on the steps of a nearby hospital, with access to money for whoever adopts her. The legality and morality of child abandonment notwithstanding, the play homes in on what, and whom, they’re abandoning — a child with literary gifts and harrowing sensitivity — so that the play, like all good plays, asks what it means to be human. The cast turn in chiseled performances, though the vodka-swilling, Dostoievsky-spouting Russian maid (Lee DeLong) is something of a cliché. International City Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 9. (562) 436-4610. (Steven Leigh Morris)

P.O.P: The Principles Of Perfection Journalist and author Anthony Mora’s latest offering, a deconstruction of America’s infatuation with pop culture and celebrity, tells the story of Sheri (Melissa Tan), a prissy suburban housewife whose obsessions with her cell phone and a perfect body create an ADD-flavored lifestyle that is falling apart. Surrounded by an inattentive husband, a son who wears red Speedos and constantly speaks in unintelligible British slang, and a best friend whose legs are open more often than 7-Eleven, Sheri is driven to weekly sessions with Dr. Meyers (Kevin T. McCarthy), her twisted therapist who subjects his patients to barrages of abusive epithets and psychological torture to alleviate his own insecurities. Mora clearly has an admirable agenda with this play, however the piece often reads on stage as it might on the page — too much talk with too little action, leaving the most interesting characters to our offstage imagination, while Christian Kennedy’s direction suffers from a lack of subtlety and nuance. Tan is a lone bright spot in her portrayal of Sheri, but as the play goes along, her vivacity from the opening scene becomes as fleeting as the celebrity status she chases. Sidewalk Studio Theater, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 22. (818) 558-5702. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO SALSA SAVED THE GIRLS The title is deceptive — no one gets saved in Rose Martula’s dark comedy. Rough around the edges despite the Versace suit, divorced dad Louie (Mikey Bevoni) arrives at his former wife’s Long Island house to pick up his two precocious daughters in order to “spend some quality time with the little fuckers.” While 17-year-old Sabrina (Lindsay Seim) ignores him, 14-year-old Kai (Suzie Cobb) frantically pirouettes around the living room, desperate for Daddy’s approval. Ex-wife Cali (Sandra Purpuro) makes a flashy entrance — she’s a 30-something hottie who’s anticipating a wild night of clubbing with her date. Although Cali wants Louie and girls to leave before her date, Bobby (Don Maloney), arrives, Louie won’t go. In fact, no one leaves, and the assembled trade comic barbs as the liquor flows. The improbable entrance of Cali’s ex-boyfriend, Simon (Leon Acord), escalates the tension, and the insults become increasingly cruel and ultimately vicious. Director Joshua Meltzer draws impressive performances from the cast, particularly Purpuro and Maloney, and avoids what easily could have been a static staging. Robinson Royce’s detailed set provides plenty of color. Eclectic Company Theater, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 8. (818) 508-3003. (Sandra Ross)

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