Weekend Theater Reviews

CUTTIN’ UP Director Israel Hicks’ staging of Charles Randolph-Wright’s play, set in a quintessential black barber shop, pulls off that rare feat of capturing a people’s culture without jabbing us with melodramatic gestures. The show is an adaptation of Craig Marberry’s book of interviews conducted during 18 months of traveling around the country. Randolph-Wright sets his play in an L.A. barber shop owned by elderly Howard (Adolphus Ward), who hires Andre (Darryl Alan Reed), a footloose barber who’s been drifting across the country from one hair-cutting job to another. Some of the stories that Marberry collected are channeled through Andre’s recollections and come to life in reenactments in the three chairs of Howard’s shop. Rudy (Dorian Logan), a young hip-hop fan, is the third cutter, and fills out the shop’s age spectrum. Although much of the evening consists of what amount to comedy sketches populated by an ensemble of familiar ghetto characters (ministers, cops and con men), the show should not be confused or compared with the slapstick of the Barbershop films. Instead, Cuttin’ Up keeps returning to the sober image of the wandering black man — without a city or destination and, in Andre’s case, without a mother. There are also sly history lessons, as when Howard explains how the popular fade cuts originated in the antebellum South when slave owners used these distinctive styles as a form of brand marking their wearers, if caught traveling, as escaped slaves. That said, the show runs too long and Randolph-Wright loses his focus halfway through. Hicks’ ensemble, however, is electric and Reed turns in a fine performance as an invisible man who is just beginning to see himself. PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru April 15 (no perfs March 20 & 28, 8 p.m.; April 4, 8 p.m.; added perf April 4, 2 p.m.). (626) 356-PLAY or (Steven Mikulan)

PICK  GALATEA Frank Tangredi’s tale of a sculptor named Merle (Lorianne Hill) seeking a muse who’s “dead inside” builds into a rich and complex study of stereotyping, guilt and grudges. Her model, gravel-faced Kate (Adrian Lee), has been in a punishing marriage to Al (Ron Quigley) for 35 years. Immediately sure that loutish Al’s to blame for Kate’s sullen misery, Merle and her pushover boyfriend Adam (Ross Kramer) attempt to enrich the elderly woman’s world with art books and museums, and then they blame her husband for her apathy. But this isn’t a simple case of patriarchal oppression; like most marriages, there’s scars on both spouses — many of them self-inflicted. And as Al ingratiates himself to these spiritual do-gooders, these old wounds are doused with fresh vinegar. The play runs long and is crammed with truncated scenes, but Tangredi’s gift for depth and resonance, plus a strong ensemble, pulls the audience along past every emotional land mine, including the ones he wisely leaves unresolved. Alex Sol directs. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 14 (added perfs March 18, 25 & April 7, 2 p.m.). (323) 871-1970.  (Amy Nicholson)

WHEN GROUNDLINGS WALKED THE EARTH There was a time when you left a Groundlings show with a stomachache from too much laughter. Although the troupe is still loaded with talent, the edgy, irreverent, over-the-top writing and humor that was its trademark has all but evaporated. More puzzling is the fact that this show is touted as having a prehistoric theme, yet none of these skits show anything of the sort. It certainly offers some laughs, with writing that vacillates between the mundane and the outrageous. “Stoopified” is a bizarrely funny skit about a first date between friends (Kevin Kirkpatrick, Michaela Watkins) that ends in a most unusual manner. Unfortunately this clever number is followed by the low-voltage “Dinner Talk,” in which two couples banter about the politics of the day and the war in Iraq. This authorial patchiness sets the tone for the entire show, which is made all the more glaring by Ben Falcone’s tepid direction. However, “Norman Dies” is a hoot, depicting a recently deceased man (Andrew Friedman), who learns that the afterlife isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “Inferno’s Demise” is equally funny: The brilliantly comedic Jim Rash presides over the denouement of a comic book nemesis. GROUNDLINGS THEATER, 7307 Melrose Ave., W. Hlwyd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; indef. (323) 934-4747. (Lovell Estell III)


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