COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
For September 5 - 12, 2008
(New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deobrah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas.
OPENING THIS WEEK
AGRIPPINA A. Giovanni Affinito’s story of Nero and his mom. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 960-7612.
BE BOP A LULA Rex Weiner’s rockabilly drama about Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. THE CAT CLUB, 8911 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.; opens Sept. 8; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 29. (310) 657-0888.
THE BELLE OF AMHERST Kate Randolph Burns is Emily Dickinson in William Luce’s solo play. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; opens Sept. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (866) 811-4111.
A BRONX TALE Memoir written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. Wadsworth Theatre, on the Veterans Administration grounds, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 10; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (213) 365-3500.
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Twentieth-century-scandals interactive tour, created by Kristin Stone. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens Sept. 7; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (323) 960-4451.
ISAAC AND ISHMAEL Chris Kent’s story of two brothers. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 960-7788.
AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT: A VAUDEVILLE Musical comedy about a hapless bridegroom, book and lyrics by John Strand, music by Dennis McCarthy. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Sept. 5; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (714) 708-5555.
IT’S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens Sept. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 960-5563.
MADE ME NUCLEAR: THE OPERETTA Charlie Lustman’s cancer musical. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (866) 468-3399.
MOLIERE PLAYS PARIS Nagle Jackson’s bio of the playwright. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens Sept. 6; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 667-0955.
PROOF David Auburn’s story of a deceased mathematician. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Sept. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (818) 508-3003.
R.R.R.E.D.: THE REDHEAD MUSICAL MANIFESTO Music and lyrics by Katie Thompson, book by Adam Jackman, Katie Thompson and Patrick Livingston. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Sept. 6; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (818) 238-9998.
SHE LOVES ME Coworkers compete in a Budapest perfumerie, book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; opens Sept. 6; Sat., Sept. 6, 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (805) 667-2900.
SUMMER SIZZLE ONE-ACT PLAY FESTIVAL A three-week run of short plays in two alternating series. (Call for schedule.) Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; opens Sept. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (800) 838-3006.
TRUE LOVE Study of the relationship of writer John Patrick and his partner, by Walter Williamson with Larry Thomlinson. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 960-1053.
12TH NIGHT Shakespeare’s comedy. St. Matthew’s Lutheran GLBT Church, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; opens Sept. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (818) 377-4055.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES: LARGER THEATERS
AGAMEMNON Aeschylus’ tale of the return of the Mycenaen king. GETTY VILLA, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 440-7300.
>NEW REVIEW GO AS U2 LIKE IT Troubadour Theater Company is performing its very loose musical-carnival variation on Shakespeare's pastoral comedy, and has evolved its own commedia genre to the point where its shows no longer wear down their welcome by glibness — or perhaps they’ve just figured out the kind of tautness that these sorts of adaptations require. This one flows like silk in an evening of unfettered joy and good humor. At least half of the text is improvised around the bones of Shakespeare’s plot, and there’s an onstage band that vamps the orchestrations to a number of songs by U2. Onstage, somber Duke Frederick (Mike Sulprizio) has usurped the Duchy in France and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior (also played by Sulprizio), to the forest of Arden — here treated as a hippified enclave with the band situated under a gazebo (set by Sherry Santillano). Arden emerges as a kind of metaphor for the Democratic Party and its ostensibly humane values — compared to the dour brutishness of the usurper in charge. Among Sharon McGunigle’s lusciously colorful and animated costumes is a peace-symbol pendant worn by Duke Senior, dangling from a gold chain — the peace symbol is actually the Mercedes Benz logo. You couldn’t get any closer to the realpolitik of the Democratic Party with a ticket to ride on Obama’s jet. Narrating as clown/MC, the “fool” Touchstone, artistic director Matt Walker, in red nose and spiked hair, straddles a line between charm and terror, the dueling, mingling, larger qualities of our life in this oddly hopeful, despondent era. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (818) 955-8101. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature on Thursday morning at www.laweekly.com/theater
GO AS YOU LIKE IT Directors Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall set this evergreen Shakespearean comedy in the years after the American Civil War, but, fortunately, they apply the concept with a light, tactful hand. Ameena Maria Khawaja’s musical direction, Mike Peebler’s exciting fight choreography and Shon LeBlanc’s handsome costumes add to the fun. (NW) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (No perf Sept. 14.) (310) 455-3723.
BABY Parenting musical, book by Sybille Pearson, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., music by David Shire. West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 7. (818) 884-1907.
BEETHOVEN, AS I KNEW HIM: THE MUSIC OF LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN By Hershey Felder. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (310) 208-5454.
GO EDUCATING RITA Director Cameron Watson's lovingly staged production of British playwright Willy Russell's updated 1980 stage play for two actors (probably better remembered for its 1983 film adaptation) couldn't re-emerge at a better time in this country. Just as we're getting increasingly dire reports on the blowback of our economic recession on public education – rural schools cutting back to a four-day week, bus service curtailed, the cost of school lunches being jacked up as the rate of families evicted from their foreclosed homes keeps escalating – along comes Russell's homage to the capacities of learning to change minds and lives. A precocious beauty (Rebecca Mozo) wanders in to the extended education course of musty, aging college professor (Bjørn Johnson), a failed poet who teaches at a university in the north of England. They're both addicts – she to cigarettes, he to booze -- but she has an insatiable curiosity about poetry and appetite to learn literary criticism. Her early essays are emotional responses, and he tutors her – in that crusty, Shavian way depicted in Pygmalion -- to become more objective in her responses. She does, and he gets more than he bargained for. Through the course of their lessons, her life opens up, despite her shattering marriage; meanwhile, caught in pangs of jealousy and personal remorse, his life stumbles towards oblivion. The general pattern has a generic shape of A Star is Born, but the emotional complexities that come with addictions and self-loathing are revelatory. The fire in Mozo's Rita is hypnotic – while her dialect keeps intruding like a small needle: a sound wavering between the south of England, the north of England and Alabama. Johnson is more credible than compelling in a workmanlike performance. Even with these drawbacks, the play's inner tensions come through, and Victoria Profitt's library-office set and Terri A. Lewis' costumes say as much about what's going on between these two as any of their words. Colony Theatre Company 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Sat., Sept. 6, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 11, and Sept. 18, 8 p.m.); thru Sept. 21. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 14. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Educating Rita Photo by Michael Lamont
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE Terrence McNally’s romantic comedy. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (562) 436-4610.
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT “We don’t seem to be able to avoid unpleasant topics,” sighs Edmund Tyrone (Aaron Hendry) to his father, James (William Dennis Hunt), in Act 4 of Eugene O’Neill’s genre-creating family melodrama. The claustrophobic parlor drama is an odd fit for the Theatricum Botanicum’s forested stage, as the ensemble, when not shouting, are perilously close to being drowned out by crickets. (AN) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 455-3723.
MEMPHIS Book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, music and additional lyrics by David Bryan. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (858) 550-1010.
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND Musical romance, book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (310) 825-2101.
ROMEO & JULIET, TOGETHER AND ALIVE AT LAST Sandra Fenichel Asher’s story of a school play. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 7. (562) 494-1014.
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy of manners. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.
>NEW REVIEW GO VANITIES There have been rumblings about how the creative team mounting Jack Heifner and David Kirshenbaum’s new musical — an adaptation of Heifner’s 1976 off-Broadway hit of the same title — have been feverishly changing elements. For example, the intermission that existed in previews has now been removed. This gives the production a chance to dramatize an unbroken sequence of scenes over three decades, showing the coming of age, and aging, of three Texas high school cheerleaders (Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Anneliese van der Pol). The action starts in 1963 with a focus on what seem to be monumental concerns to its three teenage cheerleaders; the trio is fused at the hip, incurious about any world larger than their campus while being intoxicated by their own appearance, status and popularity. (When the announcement of JFK’s assassination comes over a loudspeaker, oneof them, perplexed, can’t imagine how the president of the student body could have been shot in Dallas when she just saw him in algebra class.) However, the costs of that insularity are precisely what the work studies, as the women — each buffeted by the shifting eras — individuate and grow apart. Betrayals and transformative offstage events get revealed, and the play emerges as a musical chick-flick convergence of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart and Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year — somewhere between a portrait of changing times and a soap opera. I won’t even try to predict the production’s odds of success on Broadway, where it’s slated to transfer in February 2009. There’s some tension in style between the considerable dialogue, reflecting the work’s stage-play origins, and Kirshenbaum’s perfectly pleasant, melodic songs, which bring to mind the gentle pop stylings of Dionne Warwick. The scenes are often so strong that the reason for a character bursting into song appears contrived, though the songs — perfectly executed by the band and actors, under Judith Ivey’s nicely honed direction — are lovely on their own terms. The original play ended its character study in 1974 — two years before it opened off-Broadway at the Chelsea Westside Theater Center. The musical extends that frame to 1990, obviously a strategy to prevent a new musical from being an antique curio at birth — and possibly because we haven’t undergone any seismic shift of values since the Reagan era. Heifner’s biggest change, however, is an attitude shift from ennui to the romantic gush of three gals enduring the winds of time and betrayal by sticking together. In a recent interview,Heifner said he was no longer cynical. Perhaps he had his eye on 42nd Street when he said it. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (626)356-PLAY. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Vanities Photo by Craig Schwartz
GO WICKED In this musical riff on the witches of Oz (by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Hollzman), Joe Mantello directs a marvelous spectacle that looks like a diversion but is actually quite the opposite. Eden Espinoza as the green-skinned, bespectacled girl-witch Elphaba has a contagiously smart appeal. After recognizing that Elphaba’s not going to power-play along with the Wizard’s (John Rubinstein) Stalinist shenanigans, Mrs. Morrible (the delightful Carol Kane), starts a witch hunt for the girl, and the whole thing starts to resemble some of the tawdrier chapters in American history. (SLM) Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 11. (213) 365-3500.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES: HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD, DOWNTOWN
GO THE ACCOMPLICES Bernard Weinraub’s documentary drama reminds us of WWII’s less benevolent aspects. He tells the story of Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook (Steven Schub), who devoted his life to attempting to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. Political complexities inevitably overshadow Bergson’s personal life, but they are fascinating in their own right. Deborah LaVine skillfully melds a fine cast into a gripping production. (NW) Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (323) 663-1525.
GO ALL ABOUT WALKEN So these eight Christopher Walken impersonators glide onstage, strutting and yowling and wearing bad wigs. Most are decent Walkens, and the best have mastered the piranha stare and elastic enunciation that snaps the ends of syllables like rubber bands. Walken’s gleeful insanity is realized when director Patrick O’Sullivan challenges his band of Walkens to new Walken frontiers, including an all-Walken Wizard of Oz and and a threatening karaoke cover of “These Boots Were Made for . . .” By the time the Walkens have killed each other off only to rise as zombies and to groove through a gangly version of “Thriller,” my ribs hurt so bad, I felt like I’d been mano a mano with Vincenzo Coccotti. (AN) Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 663-4050.
GO ASSASSINS When composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer John Weidman look at assassins, their vision is wayward, tough, ambiguous, sympathetic and bitterly satiric. Richard Israel’s on-target production is stark and lively; Johanna Kent’s music direction is sure-footed, and the entire cast is splendid. (NW) El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (323) 460-4443.
GO THE BAD ARM — CONFESSIONS OF A DODGY IRISH DANCER Máire Clerkin comes from Irish stock and grew up in London. This blend might explain her satirically grim portrait of the world she grew up in, and the cheerfully British mask she places over it. In some ways, Clerkin's one-woman show is a study in the loneliness of being ignored by her workaholic dance-teacher mother, who focused all her attention on the paying customers. This child's-eye view could be peevish stuff were Clerkin not so intractably good-humored. Nor does she place herself above her mocking portraits, including at age 14 a groping suitor in the dance hall, his eyes boggling, tongue swishing lips as he grabs her hips at arm's length and pushes her around the dance floor like a mop. "Hot in here," he notes. "What do you say we step outside for some fresh air?" "That sounds like a good idea," she chirps back with wide-eyed innocence, and with a politeness that forms the outer crust of British civility. Aside from her animated impersonations and snapshot transitions between them, the focal point of Clerkin's coming-of-age saga is her right elbow, that drifts outward while performing Irish folk dances, a "bad arm" that her mother says is responsible for her placing poorly in so many competitions. The requisite of keeping both arms slammed into one's body emerges as a metaphoric constriction in a world that Clerkin captures so meticulously, with the help of Dan O'Connor's direction and Maxine Mohr's pristinely delicate sound design. Intro to snogging (French kissing) is one of many rites of passage detailed by Clerkin with a blend of intrigue and disgust, as is binge-drinking and the morning-after consequences in one high-stakes public display. Clerkin's glorious riffs of traditional Irish dance and disco, and some intermingling of both genres, make her argument for transcendence with nary a word spoken. (SLM) Bang Theatre, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 31, Sun., Sept. 7 & Thurs., Sept. 11 & 18, 8 p.m. (323) 653-6886.
GO THE BONES OF LESSER MEN Sure-handedly directed by L. Flint Esquerra, Yves Lola St. Vil’splay, in this world premiere production, presents an engaging mix of sex and politics. Set in the 1990s at Elly’s Place, an African-American-owned diner in Brooklyn, the play focuses on an electoral race for governor that includes a viable Black candidate, the much talked about but unseen “Collins.” Among the regulars at Elly’s Place are the youthful Brooklyn (William Christopher Stephens), who can hardly contain his enthusiasm for Collins, while the middle-aged Junior (Freedom) is skeptical of all politicians. When not cooking, Elly (Staci Ashley) provides a maternal influence, which extends to Collins’ mistress (Randa Walker). Early in the play, much of the uproarious humor emanates from Free (Carl Crudup), a teller of tall tales. But the hilarious, well-written banter of Act 1 gives way to something much darker in Act 2 when one of the characters appears with a series of escalating injuries and bruises. Director Esquerra handles the light and dark elements equally well, adding to the shock in Act 2. As with many plays set in diners or bars, playwright St. Vil includes various stock characters, including a street hustler (Antonio Ramirez) and a church lady (Barbara Barnes), but superb character development puts refreshing new twists on these archetypes. (SR) MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (Added perfs Tues., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 27 & Sept. 3, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 28 & Sept. 4, 8 p.m.) (323) 957-1152.
> NEW REVIEW GO BOUNCERS Thirty years after its Edinburgh Fringe festival debut, John Godber’s portrait of the frenetic Yorkshire disco scene has lost none of its poignancy and bounce. Expertly directed and choreographed by Cinda Jackson, performers Chris Coppola, David Corbett, Mark Adair-Rios, Dan Cowan and Phillip Campos play multiple roles, transforming themselves repeatedly and with lightning skill: from menacing sentinels at an alcohol-sodden after-hours club, to that establishment’s hard-partying working-class patrons. The latter include randy blokes manically bent on getting laid, and the alternately coy and bold young women (the ensemble’s female impersonation antics are especially hilarious) who may be looking for romance but are equally in heat. What makes the show compelling as well as comical is the desperation of people confronting a bleak future as society’s expendables – a desperation that frames the coarse antics and fast-paced music. The material gets repetitive toward the end, and the heavy regional accents sometimes make some of the dialogue difficult to follow -- but not so much that it sabotages the laughs we glean from performers who are clearly having so much infectious fun. There’s nary a missed beat nor false note throughout, with Coppola a standout as Lucky Eric – whose occasional meditations on the sordidness of the game separate him from the fray. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. thru Sept. 27. (323) 933-6944. (Deborah Klugman)
Bouncers Photo by Cinda Jackson
>NEW REVIEW BOYLE HEIGHTS This seldom produced work by Josefina Lopez (famous for Real Women Have Curves) is an exploration of the Rosales family through the eyes of 26-year-old Dalia (Nicole Ortega), an artistic soul who writes poetry, talks to the moon and receives grief from her family for not having a “real job.” Set in the family’s Boyle Heights neighborhood in the present and during various times in the past, the play also transports us to Mexico 35 years earlier, as well as to Paris, where Dali and her sister Rosana (Yolie Cortez) go on vacation. The material has potential in terms of exploring the cyclical mistakes of successive generations, as well as the suffocating gossip of Mexican-American enclaves. However, the text suffers from too much obvious exposition, compounded by director Hector Rodriguez’s decision to have the actors “play out” to the audience in a heavy-handed theatrical style at odds the scenes' inherent realism. The amateurish tone this choice creates is occasionally transcended in the acting, namely that of Rosana’s husband, Jaime (Eric Neil Gutierrez), and Dalia’s crush, Chava (Eddie Diaz), but a couple of good performances are unable to save the show. While Lopez has created moving work over the years and Casa 0101 remains an important voice in its community, it has definitely seen better productions. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., E.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (323) 263-7684. (Mayank Keshaviah)
Boyle Heights Photo by Hector Rodriquez
GO CARNY TRASH A burly man named Aye Jaye spins yarns from his life in the carny. Jaye has a rich background in the art of con art. His lecture-demonstration paints a vivid portrait of Americana, mid-20th-century, a rare blend of garishness and romanticism, a study in how Minnesota farmers were dazzled and tricked before there was TV. (SLM) Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m. (323) 666-4268.
THE COMICAL TRAGEDY OR TRAGICAL COMEDY OF MR. PUNCH This lavishly mounted, highly ambitious adaptation of writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKean’s 1995 graphic novel is a marvel of expressionistic spectacle. Unfortunately, no amount of scenic splendor can camouflage a torpid, overly elliptical script lacking even rudimentary character shadings or conflict-driven scenes. (Bill Raden) Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 7. (213) 389-3856.
CRAVE Sarah Kane’s “fantasia of love, lust, pain, humor, sadness, hope and resignation.”. Sierra Stage, 1444 N. Sierra Bonita Ave., W. Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (213) 905-2727.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON Interpretive piece set to the music of Pink Floyd. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sun., 8 & 9:30 p.m. (323) 850-7827.
GO FABLES DU THEATRE The three tales in director Chris Covics' imaginative if occasionally assaultive tour de force are just the top layer of an unpredictable theatrical experience that veers between jaw-dropping creativity and brattiness. At the start of playwrights Brenda Varda and Marva Lewis' trio of one-acts, the entire venue appears to be in a state of chaotic ruin — an actor is laughing drunkenly and slobbering all over an audience member, while other cast members, covered in blood, emerge from behind the stage curtain. The ensemble, finally wrangled like cats into their proper places, perform the vignettes: In "The Stage Coffeehouse," a coffeehouse owner (Ramiq Sayer, flamboyantly channeling The Nutracker's Drosselmyer) oversees the ill-fated romance between two of his patrons. In "Xeera's Night," a succubus (a splendidly sultry Tulie Bouquess) genuinely falls in love with her victim, with horrific results. The play's delicate text is frequently interrupted by mishaps: Fired performers storm the stage, and a rumpled, hirsute critic (not from this paper, thankfully) repeatedly bawls out the cast from his seat. Covics' production shifts in tone from scene to scene — one moment, a genuine homage to French-lite sentiment, as in The Little Prince; the next, a playful spoof of theatrical pretentiousness. The result's an unpredictable show that doesn't just blow out the fourth wall, but hits the fifth and sixth walls as well. (PB) Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Sept. 27. (323) 466-7781. An Unknown Theater and Immanence Theatre Artists coproduction.
GO FINALLY Stephen Belber’s haunting Rashomon-styled drama is powered by Morlan Higgins’ strong, emotionally nuanced performance. He plays four characters: a washed-up semipro football player; a damaged, miserable wife; a dog with a penchant for Byron and Tennyson; and a football coach. These people are linked by a common thread of guilt, violence and betrayal. Matt Shakman’s staging is simple but forceful. (LE3) Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (800) 838-3006.
GROOVE AU GOGO Brilliant shards sparkle in what's otherwise a broken plate-glass window — what creator Jason M. Solomon calls "an acid vaudeville/variety show." Beat-poet "rants" against social contradictions of modern society (performed by Mike Estimé and Jonathan Kite) get mired in the wafer-thin lighting design that plagues the evening. Kiran Deol rises above that impediment, in a speech about an Indian-American defending her assimilation into this country to a relative. There's also an amazing drum solo by the kimono-clad Nanami Iwasaki, and a tap routine by Charon Aldredge. Roger Kabler's celeb impersonations are so fine, they transform the actor, as though even the structure of his face changes. Nice Pete Seeger–ish folk solo by Jeff Murray as well. There are also acts of aggressive mediocrity, but the shadows, echoes and lingering moments of an empty stage betray the abundant talent on the stage, under Kal Clarke's lackadaisical direction. (SLM) Theatre/Theater, 5041 West Pico Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; indef. (323) 422-6331.
THE GROUNDLINGS, YOUR BODY AND YOU All-new sketch and improv, directed by Ted Michaels., $21.50. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m. (323) 934-9700.
INHERIT THE WIND A fictionalization of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s masterpiece tells of a high school teacher, Bertram Cates (John Paul Karliak), who is put on trial for breaking state law by teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution. To argue the case, a nationally famous politician and orator, Matthew Harrison Brady (James Rice), and a well-known trial lawyer, Henry Drummond (Robert Craig), descend on “heavenly Hillsboro,” setting up an ideological clash of titans that is documented by reporter E.K. Hornbeck (Julie Terrell). While cross-gender casting often proves interesting, Terrell, sounding like Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy, doesn’t quite sell the character. Likewise, Craig, who flubs too many lines, and Rice try too hard to be “larger than life.” At times, even the townsfolk are played a bit hyperbolically as simpletons and hicks. Where director Tiger Reel fails to give his actors nuance, he succeeds in his set design, which is cleverly minimalist, even using the walls as prop storage. The color palette of the citizens’ costumes, a simple Puritan black and white, likewise sets a stylized tone. The production uniquely employs a folk band that plays religious music between scenes, but it gets to be a bit much when it holds up the action of the story. One wishes for a more strongly acted and nuanced production, given the resurrection of Evangelical fervor in the last few years that makes the play as relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1955. This production is nonetheless required viewing for anyone who has never seen the play. (MK)Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (323) 908-7276. An Action! Theatre Company Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
LAST DANCE Marsha Norman’s Southern comedy. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (323) 882-8043.
LATINOLOGUES TU Rick Najera’s comedy showcase. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (213) 289-9860.
LONG DAY CUT SHORT Two one-acts by Tennessee Williams: The Unsatisfactory Supper and Hello From Bertha. Actor’s Art Theater, 6128 Wilshire Blvd., No. 110, L.A.; Wed., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 969-4953.
LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna’s romantic comedy. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (323) 960-7827.
MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: ABI’S CHOICE Late-night Masterpiece Theatre parody. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m. (310) 281-8337.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Chris Berube’s take on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (323) 850-7827.
GO MONEY & RUN Wayne Rawley’s popular Seattle serial, inspired by The Dukes of Hazzard and Miami Vice, debuts with its first installment, “Money, Take Run,” in which two hot-blooded criminals, Money (Johanna Watts) and Run (Joshua Sliwa), meet-cute when holding up the same liquor store. When the narrator tells us to “stay tuned for scenes from the next episode,” we can only hope that theater’s fun is less disposable than this show’s TV origins. (AN) Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m. (800) 595-4TIX.
THE PAVILION Craig Wright (Orange Flower Water, Recent Tragic Events) wrote this play “about time,” in 2005, and this is its Los Angeles premiere. Being about time, and small-town folk, it ambles onto the poetical-theatrical turf of Thornton Wilder and Dylan Thomas, which could explain why the narrator (Chris Smith) is clad in black. He reminds us (in case we might forget) that we're in a theater. He propels a styrofoam ball across a wire to represent a shooting star, as background for a very bitter, slightly sweet romance between Kathi (Kristin Chiles) and Peter (Tim Hamelen) at their 10-year high school reunion. (Smith jumps in – often in drag -- to play all the sniggering, swaggering peers Kathi and Peter crash into, many also suffering the heartache of time passing.) Peter is now floundering and Kathi's in a desolate marriage. Peter left Kathi pregnant in high school; on his father's orders, he stopped answering her calls like a cad. And now he's returned to make amends, she's not having much of it, or him, for a while. Chiles' Act 1 shrillness yields to an emotional depth approaching wisdom in Act 2. Hamelen reveals an appealing sensitivity and stoic resolve throughout. Wright includes too much precious narration in order to put a high school reunion in the context of the Big Bang, and the rise and fall of empires. Obren Milanovic directs with wistful intelligence before trying to charm us with the cleverness of the play's many theatrical conceits. Some in the audience might have been charmed. (SLM Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (323) 939-9220.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling’s merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves’ role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. The city’s banks are being hit by a gang of robbers known as the Ex Presidents, surfers who always wear the masks of former chief executives while making their withdrawals (in this version Ms. Condi Rice makes an appearance). Utah gets his man, but not before a Grand Guignol scene of blood and guts that’s so hideously over the top you can’t stop laughing. (LE3) Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (866) 811-4111.
PROBLEM CHILD Part one of George F. Walker’s “Suburban Motel” series. Tres Stage Theatre, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m. (323) 461-3673.
RABBIT HOLE David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winner. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (323) 855-1556.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m. (310) 281-8337.
SISSYSTRATA After last year’s scintillating gay version of The Bacchae the same production team set to work on this adaptation of Lysistrata, Aristophanes' ancient Greek anti-war comedy in which the women of Athens withhold sex from their men until peace is declared. Playwright Allain Rochel and director Michael Matthews leap headlong into a politically-incorrect fantasy in which West Hollywood muscle men are called in to help the Iraq war effort, leaving their sissy boyfriends home to whine, bicker and complain – fabulously. Lip-syncing drag numbers and lisping limp-wristed stereotypes, worthy of Fred Phelps’ slogan “God hates fags,” abound in this self-mocking production. Unfortunately, under Matthews' staging, the caricatures emerge as merely embarrassing rather than hilarious. Only Michael Taylor Gray, in the title role, possesses the needed physical and vocal prowess, yet his character becomes absurdly strident rather than satirical. The butch men are even weaker than the sissies as the whole adventure turns flat and tedious. Marjorie Lockwood’s unflattering costumes, especially for the femmes, would shock any snapping queen who need only swish into any Out of the Closet for better drag. The cartoon set design representing West Hollywood’s enormously popular bar-restaurant The Abbey (substituting for Aristophanes’ Acropolis) provides a bit of visual amusement. (TP) Celebration Theater, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (323) 957-1884, www.tix.com.
GO SONA TERA ROMAN HESS Cuban-born playwright Dennis Miles has composed an elegy to lost love and distant battles, set — as he mentions in the program — somewhere in the world, sometime in the past. An old farmer marries a young girl, who ends up running off with the farmer's even younger son. Miles doesn't bother much with that part of the drama, instead beginning his play with the couple, pregnant and broke, returning to the embittered old farmer for help and forgiveness. Into this scenario, Miles drops a traveling circus troupe and the encroaching front line of a devilish war, thus spinning the action toward the kind of surrealism this playwright is known for, full of heightened language and stylized charm. Director Kiff Scholl's production strives for — but falls shy of — matching that style entirely, making for a lopsided experience. Unspecific blocking and characterization muddy some of the more poetic moments, and though Greg Wall as the farmer and Kathleen Mary Carthy as his cat-crazy companion deliver some strong performances, the rest of the cast appear somewhat lost in this miasma. Davis Campbell's set nails the fractured reality of the world, though actors at times self-consciously avoid smacking their heads into slanted rafters. And Becky Gradjeda's sound design lends a haunting rhythm to the words. (LR) The Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 21. (323)960-7864.
Sona Tera Roman Hess Photo by Ed Krieger
>NEW REVIEW GO SPIDER BITES Consider this assortment of 11 short selections from the Jacqueline Wright sketchbook a fine introductory primer to the playwright’s signature dada-ist inversions of romantic love. The pieces play like prosodic postmortems of relationships gone horribly wrong. With Wright, characters don’t fall in love so much as become ensnared in predatory webs of their own inchoate yearnings, unalloyed cruelties and unnatural appetites. The love bites here carry gruesome venom. Thus, in “Milk,” Kirsten Vangsness’s psychically crippled black widow in a wedding dress satisfies her voracious need for something “warm and red” by literally consuming beau David Wilcox. Likewise, “Mantis” finds a shell-shocked Lauren Letherer prodded by her conscience (Scott McKinley) into coming to terms with “the dead guy . . . on the floor.” In “Sleeping Spider,” a young victim of incest (Vangsness) takes refuge from her broken family by retreating into the fantasy of her own crayon wall drawings come to life. “Pops” shifts gears in a comic burlesque of a gender-switched melodrama as Lynn Odell, Mandi Moss and Wilcox enact the dénouement of a homicidal triangle. But Wright can also transcend the bitter as with “Beautiful,” a sweetly moving meditation on mortality, loss and the authenticity of even a dying love. Director Dan Bonnell matches Wright’s viscerally vivid poetry note for note with graphically compelling stage imagery, precisely tuned blocking, and a razor-sharp ensemble. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 856-8611. (Bill Raden)
THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES Frank Gilroy’s domestic drama. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (323) 460-4443.
SUFFER THE LONG NIGHT Writer Mary Ruth Clarke and writer-director-actor-producer Greg Glienna tell the dizzy tale of an inept community theater. The company's attempting to produce a melodrama about an all-American family held hostage on Christmas Eve by escaped convicts (Jeffrey Markle and Glienna), but they're in the middle of an avian flu epidemic, which has felled most of the cast, so actors are forced to play multiple roles; vital props go missing, blackouts fail to come, onstage doors refuse to open, sound cues are scrambled or missing, and someone unwisely uses a bottle of real booze for a prop, with predictable results. The flu-ridden ingénue (Stephanie Manglaras) throws up in the middle of her love scene, and Glienna's novice crook is a prototypical wooden actor who can't move and talk at the same time. As police detective Beck, Eric Porzadek gets beaned by a falling lighting instrument and wanders about in a daze, convinced he's playing Stanley Kowalski. Meanwhile, the fatalistic stage manager (Mandi Smith) tries vainly to cope. There's plenty of hilarious stuff here and some engaging performances (including Brandon Alexander as an addled high school athlete), but the piece desperately needs sharper editing, pruning and timing. (NW) Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m., thru Sept. 14. (323) 960-7745 or www.Plays411.com/suffer.
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (323) 934-9700.
WOMEN OF MANHATTAN John Patrick Shanley’s study of relationships. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (323) 882-8043.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES: THE VALLEYS
GO FREEDOM OF SPEECH In her solo show, actor Eliza Jane Schneider explains that she had to leave her student life at UCLA so that she could learn something. And leave she did, on a "grant from the LAPD" (she sued for a broken wrist incurred during a student protest of the first Gulf War; Schneider evidently won a settlement). In a decommissioned ambulance, Schneider roamed the U.S.A and just plain talked to just plain folks, rich and poor, all ethnicities, in order to capture their voices — from the Bible Belt to New York's Lower East Side. She recorded them to impersonate them. (Schneider has built a career as a voice-over artist.) She performs as though in the echoes of performance artist Heather Woodbury and actor Alex Lyras (whose one-man portrayal of six characters around an airport played in Hollywood earlier this year). Schneider's aim is to summon voices, which offer aural glimpses onto the human landscape of our nation. That landscape comes with veils of humor over chasms of religiosity and despair. One young man in the Bible Belt is chastised by his date for assaulting her with a peck on the cheek after he spent $150 on her, on meals and gifts. There's something inextricably endearing about his clutch on his own wallet, a clutch he loosens for the sake of pleasing her, and his own dignity. When she snaps at him for his presumption, that innocent peck perhaps laden with deeper desires, he bears an expression of bewilderment that says more than any of his words. That much is a testament to Schneider's performance, her ability to conjure a character through sounds and snippets of words. By design, the piece roams as much as Schneider did on her sojourn. It's forever on the move. Like Schneider's interpretations, it's more eager to move on, as though from some fear of intimacy, than to settle in. This renders the performance a facile tour de force, the celebration of an actor's technique in a show still distilling its larger meaning. Sometimes, to gain a deeper understanding of a person or a place, you need to stick around a while. Sal Romeo directs. (SLM) Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 7. (818) 754-4264.
>NEW REVIEW HANDS-ON THERAPY Playwright Toby Campion's comedy about love and psychotherapy opens with a clever, emotionally ambiguous sequence showing the genesis of a love affair between the least professional psychotherapist ever, and his sultry patient/ inamorata. The show ends with a twist that's genuinely surprising, as well. Unfortunately, between these two dynamic scenes, we must wade through a concatenation of poorly developed concepts, meanderingly and self-indulgent dialogue, and inert characters. Almost from their first session, professional therapist Mike (Michael Etzrodt) is unnerved when his gorgeous patient, Rocio (Liz Del Sol), falls for him. Rocio needs help to resolve her frustration with her domineering mother, Otillia (Alejandra Flores). Mike at first tries to do the ethical thing, which is to curtail therapy with Rocio, but she relentlessly pursues him, not realizing that, like many shrinks in other romantic comedies, he is far more screwed up than she could ever be. Meanwhile, her mom falls for Mike's best pal, Catholic priest Godfrey (Shelly Kurtz). With director Edward Padilla's perplexingly stiff and humorless staging lacking the irony needed to find the comedy in this quirky subject matter, the limp plotting only amplifies the situations' lack of coherence and psychological believability. (Emotions are expressed without even a glimmer of their consequences.) Flores is nicely fiery as the mother – but she's not able to entirely carry the poorly thought-out script. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. www.handsontherapy.tix.com (Paul Birchall)
Hands-On Therapy Photo by C. Raul Espinoza
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME This adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel (book and lyrics by Gary Lamb, music by William A. Reilly) is more like an old-fashioned operetta (with a dash of 19th-century melodrama thrown in) than a modern musical. There’s something enduringly touching about the hopeless love of the hideous, deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo (Bill Mendieta), for the beautiful Gypsy girl Esmeralda (Amy Bloom) But the adapters have been too faithful to the original novel: The Gypsy is so deceived by the transparently vicious guardsman that she often seems like a ninny. (NW) St. Matthew’s Lutheran GLBT Church, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (818) 942-6684.
ICEBERG AHEAD! Jay Parker’s backstage comedy about an heiress and a theater producer. Lizard Theater, 230 W. Main St., Alhambra; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m. (626) 371-0014.
MY OLD FRIENDS Retirement-home musical by Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (818) 841-5421.
ROSE’S DILEMMA Neil Simon’s story about a writer’s-blocked novelist. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (626) 256-3809.
SCAREDYCATS As the Neighborhood Watch group in Cheryl Bascom's new farce is arriving at the home of the Pudneys (Julian Berlin and Dan Wingard) -- “20 miles from Rosemead” -- we see how the local police rep, Officer Melton (Bradley Snedeker), can't keep his paws off Mr. Pudney's blonde vixen wife or, later in the play, the babysitter (Lauren Waisbren) for the stuck-up Gleasons (Derek Long and Meeghan Holaway). The neighborhood is a cauldron of infidelity, bigotry, petty jealousy and paranoia. A gunshot, or what sounds like a gunshot, is reason enough for the group to seize a young Latino (Patrick Gomez) whose father owns a pool cleaning company, and who was caught in the yard looking for his cell phone. Bascom's satire of fearing fear itself might stand a chance in a production that's not so over the top. The glaring mockery in Doug Clayton's staging (Mrs. Pudney opens the play striding across her own living room, weapons in hand) reduces to mere frivolity what borders on an American comi-tragedy: that we'll never be secure by being so insecure. Bascom must take some responsibility for underscoring the obvious: One neighbor greets a very swishy couple (Christian Malmin and Josh T. Ryan) with the salutation, “Hi gays, I mean guys.”) On the matinee I attended, somebody slammed the door and an entire shelf, with its contents, came crashing down, flummoxing the actors. It was a metaphor for the production's hyperkinetic energy defying a higher purpose, or any purpose at all. The show features some strong comedic talent that deserves better – Ben Brannon and Heather Corwin as a neo-con neighbor and his horrible, pregnant wife; Long's sneering lech, Pat Gleason, and Waisbren's opportunistic babysitter with a penchant for playing dumber than she is. (SLM) Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (866) 811-4111. Produced in association with the California Performing Arts Center.
THE SOUND OF MURDER William Fairchild’s thriller about a children’s book writer and his trophy wife. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (818) 700-4878.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES: WESTSIDE, BEACHES
ABIGAIL'S PARTY What might have been provocative 1979, when Mike Leigh's play first appeared, now feels dated. Beverly (Nikki Glick) -- a happily childless, unhappily married woman at the start of her descent into middle age -- and Laurence (Darren Richardson) -- her unremarkable estate agent husband with a love for classical music and sandwiches -- have the neighbors over for drinks. As gin and tonics go down, tensions come up. Playwright Mike Leigh derived much of his work from improvisation, which makes for some pleasantly unexpected turns and subconscious outbursts. However, in revival, it really does reveal itself as a product of its time. Director Julian Holloway shapes this production well for the most part, but a conspicuously contemporary Schwepps bottle and pointless stage business for actors who have to engage themselves while others speak certainly distract from the main action. The cast is primarily strong, with a stellar performance from Phoebe James as a gregarious young party guest. And Charles Erven's set delights in subtleties of the '70s, though Graham Oakes' sound design could actually use some touches of nuance. (LR) Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; from Sept 7: Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (310) 477-2055.
BAD PENNY consists of speeches and dialogues by Mac Wellman that accrue into a theatrical poem/meditation on American life, while casting doubt on the reliability of any kind of knowledge, or judgment, about it. Thirteen characters (played by Cynthia Mance, Troy Dunn, Alisha Nichols, David E. Frank, Kenneth Rudnicki and Mariko Oka) in New York's Central Park intersect. A painter meditates on the sky and the stars, and the vagaries of what can be known about them. A man from Montana tries to cross the park with the flat tire of his Ford Fairlane 500, because he can't find a gas station on the East Side. A woman ruminates on a "bad penny" she picked up, and the curse it will bring. The underlying existential philosophy of the piece hovers somewhere between Camus, Sartre and Ionesco (Wellman devotes an entire chorale to a sequence of familiar clichés that pass for meaning in our culture, as Ionesco did in a number of his plays). One woman walks slowly across the back of the stage, in various attires, holding a punt as though she's rafting. Production designer Charles Duncombe and director Frédérique Michel provide a beautiful scenic backdrop (lush hues of color, a city-park lamppost and slides of New York that slip through the seasons) and well-coordinated presentation style. They're working with a largely young company that makes the language perfectly intelligible, but the interpretation fails to reach the depths of experience that give such meditations an emotional sense that corresponds to the philosophical one. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (Alley entrance); Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 7. (310) 319-9939.
Bad Penny Photo by Paul Rubenstein
GO BURY THE DEAD In Irwin Shaw’s 1935 expressionistic anti-war play, six soldiers, killed in combat in an unspecified war, stand up and refuse to be buried. At a time when the U.S. is still reeling from the effects of its wars in Vietnam and Iraq, Shaw’s play possesses a raw power, but it never lets us forget that it’s delivering a message. For the government, the recalcitrant corpses are first and foremost a public relations and morale problem. Soon, however, the dead men’s women-folk are brought in to persuade them to lie down and submit to burial. In a massive but predictable set-piece, each of the soldiers (Andrew Wheeler, John Pick, Brandon Hanson, Colin Golden, Jesse Luken, and Brian Allman) is confronted with a wife, sister, girl-friend or mother, begging him to stop bucking the system. In a telling moment, one tough wife (Donna Jo Thorndale) asks her husband why he waited till he was dead to stand up and fight back. Matthew Huffman’s somber production is terrific, and so is his cast. The Depression-Era detail offers additional interest, but the piece remains more a potently vivid poster than a play. (NW) The Actors’ Gang, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Sept. 13. (310) 838-4264 or www.theactorsgang.com.
CEMETERY GOLF Jim Loucks’ one-man show about organized religion. Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 13. (866) 811-4111.
CORIOLANUS Intermingling war veterans and theater professionals, director Stephan Wolfert has pared Shakespeare's epic about the Roman warrior Caius Marcius (later dubbed Coriolanus) down to a comparatively lean two hours (with intermission) and fiddled with a bit of the plotting – most noticeably, the demise of the arrogant hero. He holds his own people (who haven't served in the military) in open contempt. After many triumphant returns from battles to a starving populace, and at the urging of his mother, Volumnia (Adeye Sahran), Coriolanus (Daniel Kucan) runs for election as a Roman consul. Echoes of our own politics bounce around the stage as discussions of military experience hang in the air. Ultimately, they just ask the big guy who be polite to the commoners, which he can't endure. Anticipating countless social revolutions to come, Shakespeare has the enraged consular officials ban their own war hero in the name of the people. Understandably, he joins the enemy Volscians and leads the foreign army against his own “ungrateful” homeland. After Corionaus' mother successfully pleads with him to spare Rome, Shakespeare has the Volsciuns kill Coriolanus; but here, he falls on his own sword – not unlike Sophocles' Ajax, who also became deranged from combat, pride the urgings of a woman (the goddess Athena). In an outdoor park setting, Wolfert directs the play on three stages, with terrific amplification, enunciation, atmosphere and sense. The acting has more posturing than layering, so that it vaguely resembles a Tom Cruise flick. (Kucan bears some resemblance to the movie star.) Nice performances, however, by Michael Allen as Roman senator Menenius, Bruce Cervi as Volsciun General Aufidius, and Sarhran as Coriolanus' tormented mother. (SLM) The West L.A. Civic Center, 1645 Corinth Ave., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (310) 428-6610, www.wlanc.com. Veterans Center for the Performing Arts and the Los Angeles Area Veterans Artists Alliance.
>NEW REVIEW FUCKING HOLLYWOOD Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to update a classic. Such is the case with Paul Wagar’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which caused quite a stir when it opened in 1903 because of its candid depiction of sexual dalliances among the upper crust of Viennese society. The mis en scene here isn’t as high brow; Wagar shifts the playground to the environs of Hollywood trying to lampoon tinsel town promiscuity and depravity. Like the original, the adaptation is diced into ten brief scenes. Here, Renae Geerlings, Hal Perry, Peter Ross Stephens, Dee Amerio Sudik and Julian Colleta portray various characters on the Hollywood food chain who engage in naughty bits for one reason or another. A homosexual encounter, a dominatrix ditty, and a threesome are some of the encounters on display. Such Hollywood stereotypes prompt the question: So what? Wagar does make an attempt at gravitas when a couple laboring under a strained marriage actually engage in some rare moments of intelligent dialogue. Andrew Crusse directs. Ark Theatre, 1647 La. Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sep. 28. (323) 969-1707. (Lovell Estell III)
HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES Alan Ayckbourn’s farce about three married couples. (In the Studio Theater.) Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 28, 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (562) 494-1014.
THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT Stephen Adly Guirgis puts Jesus’ disciple on trial. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (866) 811-4111.
THIRD EYE BLONDE “New Age-meets-Old Hollywood” comedy, by Carla Collins and Paul Schmidt, with music by Tyrone Power Jr. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (310) 589-1998.
28 PLAYS LATER Short-attention-span comedies. KOOS ART CENTER, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (Added perf Sept. 14, 4 p.m.) www.alivetheatre.org.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES: SPECIAL EVENTS
BEDLAM AT THE BALLPARK Plus Extra Innings: A Vaudeville Revue. All American Melodrama Theater and Music Hall, 429-E Shoreline Village Dr., Long Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 23. (562) 495-5900.
DADDY WANTED ME TO BE A KENNEDY Workshop production of Suzette Pirozzi’s autobiography. Actor’s Art Theater, 6128 Wilshire Blvd., No. 110, L.A.; opens Sept. 5; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 969-4953.
LODESTONE NO-LIMIT TEXAS HOLD’EM POKER SHOWDOWN & KARAOKE PARTY Benefit for Asian-American theater company Lodestone., $12, $50 poker tournament. Oiwake Restaurant, 122 Japanese Village Plaza, L.A.; Sun., Sept. 7, 6 p.m. (213) 628-2678.
MYSTERIES EN BROCHETTE The beachside hotel dishes out dinner and mystery delights in its Saturday shows with four different performances that alternate., $75, includes dinner. Marina del Rey Hotel, 13534 Bali Way, Marina del Rey; Sat., 7 p.m. (310) 301-1000.
PAPA SPEAKEASY’S BURLESQUE Lovely ladies entertain you. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m. www.theatreyawp.com.
THE WRONG SHOW Victory Variety Hour presents comedy, burlesque, variety, and a full set by The Fuxedos. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Sept. 11, 10 p.m. (323) 668-0318.