DEATH OF A SALESMAN Okay, I admit it: I wasnt looking forward to seeing Willy Lomans dreams shattered yet again. When the play began, however, a strange thing happened. Bob Collins staging of Arthur Millers classic uncovered the element of love thats absent from so many productions. The omnipresent love of his family lurked beneath all of Willys (Eddie Jones) harsh words. Yet rather than detracting from the pain of the story, Willys love for his family made the tragedy of delusions and shattered ambitions all the more heart wrenching. Alan Charofs Charley begins as mere comic relief, but develops into a standout, textured performance, with his late show of loyalty toward Willy proving to be one of the most touching moments of the play. Laura Fines set and Gelareh Khaliouns costumes meet in perfect harmony, both characterized by vintage shades of black and cream, offset by an occasional rosy flourish. Kurt Thums haunting music and Michael Mahlums warm lighting help the story transition smoothly between past and present. Despite the abundance of famous monologues, none of the actors milk their speeches, and the perfect pacing never falters. Productions of Death of a Salesman may be a dime a dozen, but Collins exquisite staging is in a class of its own. Miss O Productions at the ODYSSEY THEATRE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 15. (310) 477-2055. (Stephanie Lysaght)
IPHIGENIA CRASH LAND FALLS ON THE NEON SHELL THAT WAS ONCE HER HEART (A RAVE FABLE) Loosely based on Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis, Caridad Svichs ambitious play with music is set near the killing fields of Ciudad Juarez. Facing a tough election, General Adolfo (Richard Azurdia) plots the murder of his daughter, Iphigenia (Sharyn Gabriel), to secure the sympathy vote. She escapes, soon meeting up with the Fresca Girls (Alexander Wells, Jonathan C.K. Williams and Azurdia), three ghostly maquiladora workers who lead her to a rave where she encounters Achilles (Doug Barry), a drug-addled pop star. (All of this is set against the background of the unsolved murders of young female factory employees in Ciudad Juarez.) Matthew McCrays stylish direction more than compensates for the occasionally awkward juxtaposition of rave aesthetics, social commentary and Euripides. The technical elements are frequently dazzling, including masks by Hallie Dufresne, puppets by Deborah Bird and multimedia projections (Michael Marius Pessah and Barbara Kallir). John Eckerts lighting design and Cricket S. Myers sound design underscore the building menace, and Ryan Poulsons original music also deserves kudos. Son of Semele Ensemble at THE STUDIO SPACE, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 24-26); thru Dec. 3. (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)
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JUDITH: A PARTING FROM THE BODY Playwright Howard Barkers beautiful yet savage one-act drama, based on one of the books of the Apocrypha, might be one of historys first feminist tales, even if its narrative often seems more appropriate for Desperate Housewives than The Little Golden Book of Bible Stories. In ancient Assyria, the Israelites face extermination at the hands of cruel General Holofernes (Mark McClain Wilson). The night before an important battle, a brilliant young Israelite widow, Judith (Julia Prudhomme), sneaks into Holofernes tent. She seduces the General and in the midst of some boisterous begetting, she stabs him to death, while her servant (Krista Conti) chops off his head (with rather more gusto than youd expect). Director Tom Beyer presents Barkers chamber drama as an intimate war of seduction in which each character tries to flex their power, using emotional chemistry and sexuality to see who can conquer whom first. Barkers lyrical writing possesses the heightened reality of opera, but the show fundamentally turns on its often searing performances. Prudhomme, as the young widow, plays a character whos particularly nuanced psychologically and who realizes that she must fall in love with her target to seduce him. Her ultimate murder of him, and her wrenching emotional unraveling from having done so, charts a startling dramatic trajectory that goes from rage to love to heartbreak, and finally to insanity. THEATRE OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon.-Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Nov 14; then Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec 16. (323) 856-8611. (Paul Birchall)