Zombie Joe's Goes Saucy in Down & Dirty, Memphis at the Pantages, Plus the Latest New Theater Reviews
Adam Szymkowicz's comic book parody, Hearts Like Fists at Theatre of NOTE takes unrequited love to camp, and gets this week's Pick of the Week. Click here for all the latest New Theater Reviews, or after the jump.
Also check out this week's Stage feature on performance beyond the theater walls: an interview with Heather Woodbury, who performs a distillation of a serial one-woman show, As the Globe Turns, at REDCAT this weekend as part of the New Original Works Festival, and a review of a moving performance installation, American Realism performed last week at LACE and live streamed three blocks away.
New Theater Reviews, scheduled for publication August 9, 2012:
GO THE ADDING MACHINE
Dallas Ocean for GTC
Welcome to the cheerless world of Mr. Zero (a fine turn by David Allen Jones), a numbers-crunching office drone, 35 years on the same job ("Never missed a day!"), whose home life is equally depressing because of his incessantly badgering wife (Karen Kalensky). Things get much worse for him when he is suddenly informed that he's to be replaced by an adding machine. In a flash, Zero murders his boss (David Ghilardi) and is tried, convicted and executed. But his misery does not end at death. In a brief, comical sojourn in the afterlife, he encounters a co-worker he had the hots for (Jane Macfie), but during a philosophical discussion with the creepy but hysterically funny Lt. Charles (Frank Simons), Zero learns he must return to Earth and do it all over again. Call it a reincarnation treadmill. Elmer Rice's 1923 landmark expressionist satire could well have been written last year. Racism, sexual harassment, corporate greed and downsizing are all issues the play humorously essays. This production boasts a solid cast that turns in polished, energetic performances under the crafty direction of Kevin Cochran. Leonard Ogden's toy-box set design, redolent of a continually morphing Lego block, is a hoot. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 18. (818) 528-6622, gtc.org. (Lovell Estell III)
AMERICAN REALISM A live-streamed performance installation about federal migratory work camps during the Dust Bowl. Conceived and Directed by Katherine Brook, Text Arranged by Liza Birkenmeier. Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and Space 15 Twenty, 6522 Hollywood Boulevard and 1520 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood. CLOSED, See Stage feature.
GO DOWN & DIRTY
With its 10-person, almost-all-female troupe of beautiful, corseted dancers stripping and singing to a selection of bawdy American songbook classics, creator-director Vanessa Cate's delightfully fetish-tinged cabaret of "seduction and intrigue" might seem little more than another slightly naughty night of neo-burlesque cabaret. And what's not to like about that? But Cate has a more serious purpose in mind than mere musical titillation. The seduction begins with Natalie Stevei's schoolgirl-uniform striptease to Sally Bowles' "Don't Tell Mama" number from Cabaret, then races through damaged torch songs like Marlene Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again" (sung by Jade Waters Burch), as well as comedy turns like Cate's double-reverse-drag rendition of Cabaret's "Two Ladies" (with Timothy Alonzo and choreographer Natalie Hyde) and the femme fatale-full "Cellblock Tango" from Chicago. With Gracy Ramirez's bleakly ironic, black-and-blue spin on the Ella Fitzgerald sugar-daddy standard "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," Cate laces the evening's rampant hedonism with sobering hints at its emotional and physical costs. Everything is finally brought into fine focus with the closing, company-performed finale of "No Regrets": Edith Piaf's stirring anthem of resilience in the face of youthful follies neatly redeems the show's luridly pandering, all-male-authored music as rousing -- and arousing -- celebrations of female sexual empowerment. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 11 p.m.; through Sept. 15. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: HEARTS LIKE FISTS
Fun well done neatly sums up this brazenly silly and irresistibly funny show. Adam Szymkowicz's comic book parody involves an evil doctor (Keith Allan) pursued by a dedicated band of female crime fighters (Alysha Brady, Alina Phelan, Jennifer Lee Weaver) and a dauntless heroine named Lisa (Lauren Dobbins Webb) battling to save, among other citizens, her brilliant but fainthearted lover, Peter (Rick Steadman). Love unrequited is the recurring motif in this gender-bent spoof; it fuels the dastardly doctor's crime spree; inspires Peter, a dedicated physician with a damaged heart, to design an artificial one; and plagues the peace
of mind of all and sundry, even the staunch and sturdy Amazonian crusaders and the hitherto dazzlingly invulnerable Lisa. No small part of the comedy springs from fight choreographer Andrew Amani's smartly calibrated staging, which the ensemble renders in sync with designer
Mark McClain Wilson's singular sound. In a show where timing is essential, the performers are consistently spot-on, but it is Allan as the tormented evildoer -- his is a caricature with a soul -- who scores the most theatrical thunder.Grace Eboigbe charms as the love-smitten nurse, mad for the oblivious Peter. Composer Michael Teoli's atmospheric music and Brian Griego's props -- two humongous blue-tinted syringes, the killer's weapon of choice! -- highlight the spooky humor. Jaime Robledo directs this goofy gem.Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd.,
Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 1. (323) 856-8611,theatreofnote.com (Deborah Klugman)
I, CALIGULA Eight highly skilled, classically trained operatic singers showcase their voices in this world-premiere musical venture -- but the question is, why? Director-writer Kai Cofer bases the script loosely on Albert Camus' anti-fascist 1938 play with a weak nod to Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade as asylum inmates take on the roles of the mad Roman Caesar and his courtiers. Cofer's disjointed story and torturous direction of cruelty and sexual power plays seem as embarrassing to the diffident performers (most of whom brave the most humiliating of costumes) as they are to the audience in the intimate theater. The music by Cody T. Gillette is occasionally affecting, but the absolute predictability of Cofer's lyrical rhymes is ultimately comic -- though still more interesting than the seemingly endless recitative. Were this a spoof in the spirit of Waiting for Guffman, the agonizing, overwrought playing would begin to make sense, but by all accounts this is a serious outing. High production values are far from expected in small theater, but some sense of effort is. Since no designers are credited, it is clear why the costumes and settings are so haphazard. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 26. (323) 822-7898, icaligulathemusical.com. (Tom Provenzano)
GO MEMPHIS In Memphis, Tenn., in the 1950s, even the music was segregated. Anything written or performed by black artists was called race music, and branded indecent, immoral or even un-Christian. When such music began to cross over into the mainstream, it made for dangerous and turbulent times. This supercharged, Tony-winning musical, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, provides a dynamic picture of that era. Huey (manic Bryan Fenkart) is a white boy who loves black music and, as a DJ, wants to promote it, despite his disapproving Mama (Julie Johnson) and his uptight white bosses. The white establishment regards him as a loose cannon and a dangerous subversive, until it finds out there's an eager audience for this music -- and money to be made. Huey falls for black singer Felicia (Felicia Boswell), who's singing in an underground club run by her brother, Delray (Quentin Earl Darrington), but in an era when interracial relations are verboten, the results are explosive. Director Christopher Ashley keeps the excitement nearly nonstop, assisted by Sergio Trujillo's choreography and his dedicated dancers and spectacular performances by Fenkart, Boswell, Darrington, Johnson, Will Mann, Kent Overshown and Whitney Cooper. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Produced by Junkyard Dog Productions. (800) 982-2787, BroadwayLA.org. (Neal Weaver)
THE PSYCHIC LIVES OF SAVAGES
Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton were famous for their poetry and equally infamous for their unconventional and unhappy lives. That celebrity serves as the launch for Amy Freed's dark, scrambled and at times acerbically funny play. Too distant from the facts to be biographical, it deals in a broader sense with creativity and neuroses (the play's title is lifted from Freud's Totem and Taboo), machismo and self-obsession. What makes the rendering of this material especially challenging is Freed's dialogue, crafted almost wholly in verse that parodies or resembles the writings of these widely regarded poets. Directed by Angie Scott and Nate Edelman, the four lead performers work hard, but end up defeated not only by the dense language but by their characters' abrasive narcissism and the depressive repetition within the plot. The exception is Josephine Keefe, whose Sylvia grasps a bit of enlightenment before her untimely end. Latino Theater Company and Savage Players at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Mon.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 16. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Deborah Klugman)
GO THE SECRET HISTORY OF LOVE Female-to-male transgender artist Sean Dorsey's four-person modern dance opus is performed to a contextual backdrop of recorded voices of elder gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans recalling their memories of the pre-Stonewall era. If you think it's tough for folks today to find a lover in this era of Craigslist, try to imagine what it was like in a time when queer love inevitably came accompanied by a beating from the authorities. It is, of course, a dangerous and often misleading thing to regard the past through the prism of contemporary perception, but Dorsey's evocative, often dreamlike choreography is less about historical pageantry and more about attempting to convey the feelings surrounding the times. The cast of four (including Dorsey) vivaciously essays a series of routines that beautifully convey longing, love and that quality of being haunted. Admittedly, the ballet is generally upstaged by the compelling oral-history narratives, but the emotions of the words are compellingly matched by the dancers' elegant movements. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Closed. (310) 315-1459. (Paul Birchall)
THE REAL DRUNK HOUSEWIVES OF THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY
This reality-show musical parody starts off with a halfway decent dose of comic writing and acting, but by show's end the laughs get buried under a convoluted plot, a crumbled narrative structure and countless missed opportunities. Modeled after Bravo's postseason reunion episodes of the genuinely disturbing Real Housewives franchise, the musical, by Kelly Holden-Bashar and Bill Haller, finds a cast of bejeweled divas being interviewed about the season's exploits. Musical numbers build backstory: Pepsi (Jen Rhonheimer) is a gold digger, Rikki (Robyn Roth) is a drunk, Rene (Leah Mangum) is a slut and so on. Things are mildly entertaining until Rikki's sister is introduced and the reunion episode format literally and figuratively goes south, eventually ending up in Mexico. Roth is the ensemble's standout comedian and singer; Rhonheimer is a close runner-up. A good parody should exaggerate and heighten the comedy of that which already seems ridiculous, but the Bravo show needs no parody, offering far more examples of despicable human behavior than this supposed send-up. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through Aug. 25. (323) 465-0383, complexhollywood.com. (Amy Lyons)
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