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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Underestimating Public Intelligence

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Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 12:30 PM


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For the latest New Theater Reviews press the READ ON tab at the bottom of this section. New Reviews include Chazz Palminteri's hit Broadway memoir, A Bronx Tale, at the Wadsworth; John Guare's farce The House of Blue Leaves at the Taper; John Strand and Dennis McCarthy's new musical farce, The Italian Straw Hat, first presented as a workshop at SCR's Pacific Playwrights Festival two years ago, and now being fully staged at the Costa Mesa theater; Leslie Lewis' solo show Miracle in Rwanda, at LATCl Ian McDonald's new Lewis Carroll-esque fantasia, The Caucus Race, at The Complex; Itamar Moses' play, The Four of Us, presented by Firefly and VS. theater companies at the Elephant Lab; Charles Busch's '50s farce, Red Scare on Sunset at the Attic; local wit Tom Jacobson's latest, The Friendly Hour, at Road Theatre Company; Laurence Juber, Hope Juber, and Ellen Guylas new rock musical about moms and the PTA, It's the Houswives! at Whitefire Theatre; and Inside Private Lives, the interactive bio-drama spun from historical characters, now at the Fremont Center Theater.

Also, for comprehensive theater listings for this coming weekend, press the READ ON tab at the bottom of this section.

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The Friendly Hour, Tom Jacobson's new play now being performed at Road Theatre Company. Photo by Matt Kaiser

Underestimating Public Intelligence

I found myself last week in the inverted position (for an arts writer) of being interviewed for my play that's just now going into rehearsals in New York. The Abingdon Theatre Company is opening its new season with two plays by theater critics -- Robert Brustein, once regarded as "the dean" of American drama critics, has a new play about Shakespeare, The English Channel, opening this week, followed by a production of my noirish L.A. saga about human trafficking, Beachwood Drive.

This caught the attention of Back Stage's Leonard Jacobs.

http://www.backstage.com/bso/news_reviews/features/feature_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=10038482

He remarked, without impudence, about how strange it must feel to walk among the dinosaurs. He was referring to anybody still writing for the print media in general, and theater critics in particular.

Later that week, I saw Tom Jacobson's new play The Friendly Hour at the Road Theatre Company and spoke with an L.A. Times reporter at intermission, who recalled nostalgically the days when her editors goaded her to dig beneath a story to expose what nobody else knew about. Now, she said, they urge her to find as much puff as possible for blogs.

The exchange brings to mind Henry Louis Mencken's adage that "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Mencken died in 1956. Today, he might take those word back: Our print media seems to be accomplishing that dubious achievement.

Jacobson's play tracks the lives and activities of a women's club in South Dakota, from the late '30s through 2007 -- sort of like a extended, rural version of Vanities, but Jacobson follows his women well into their dotage, which is where it gets to be so heart-wrenching, as they ponder the implication of their significance and insignificance in the larger scheme of things.

What is a the meaning behind the growing obsolesence of a club, or an activity, or a newspaper, or a theater, that provides a core purpose for such a long time.

I suspect that there remains a large hunger for the qualities that the best journalism and the best theater offer: reflectiveness, thoughtfulness, perspective, wisdom, and context, or there wouldn't be so much angst over their misperceived demise. Many stage blogs serve or provoke exactly those purposes (for a sampling, start with Rob Kendt's http://thewickedstage.blogspot.com . Kendt lists some good blogs within his own, and "context" is the prevailing aspect of Jacobson's beautiful play.

All of those qualities will prevail, in different forms, online or off, onstage or off, so long as we remain human.

Ovations

L.A. Stage Alliance announces its Ovations nominees September 22, 7 p.m. The event will be hosted by Ebony Repertory Theatre at the The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. Rsvp to

http://events@lastagealliance.com

For the latest New Theater Reviews and comprehensive theater listings for this coming weekend, press the READ ON tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

For September 19 - 26, 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

ALFRED HITCHCOCK RADIO PLAY DOUBLE FEATURE Live stage versions of "Lifeboat" and "Strangers on a Train." S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheatre, 12601 Mulholland Dr., Beverly Hills; Sept. 19-20, 8 p.m.. (818) 623-4877.

AUNTIE MAME The musical about eccentric Mame Dennis, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, music by Jerry Herman. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; opens Sept. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (562) 494-1014, www.lbph.com.

BYE BYE BIRDIE 1950s musical satire, book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, music by Charles Strouse. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Manhattan Beach & N. Redondo Beach blvds., Manhattan Beach; opens Sept. 20; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 5...

9 TO 5 Workplace comedy based on the 1980 film, book by Patricia Resnick, music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 20; Sat., Sept. 20, 6 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.

AN EVENING WITH GARRISON KEILLOR Sold out. Pepperdine University, Smothers Theatre, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Wed., Sept. 24, 8 p.m.. (310) 506-4522, arts.pepperdine.edu/.

FAKE RADIO: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS Re-creation of the 1946 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. (Also at the Getty Center, Sept. 25, 5 p.m.). Bang, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., Sept. 21, 7 p.m.. (323) 653-6886, www.fakeradio.net.

43 PLAYS FOR 43 PRESIDENTS American presidential history, from George Washington to George Bush, by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo, Chloe Johnston and Karen Weinberg. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Sept. 19; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 21, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 26, 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (310) 281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.

IT'S MAGIC! A TRIBUTE TO SAMMY CAHN Starring Sam Harris, Karen Morrow, Byron Motley, Judith Owen, Freda Payne, Harry Shearer and Steve Tyrell. Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Sun., Sept. 21, 5 p.m.. (323) 655-0111, www.wtbh.org.

LITTLE BLACK LIES Two by Stephen Stajich: “The Ointment” and “Analog.” Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 19; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (323) 960-5775, www.plays411.com/littleblacklies.

THE MOST MEDIOCRE STORY EVER TOLD Jay Sefton's deconstruction of the one-person show. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 21; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (323) 960-7780, www.plays411.com/mediocre.

SEA CHANGE Nick Salamone's story of five friends on a boat over the course of 25 years. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; opens Sept. 19; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 860-7300.

SOMETHING COOL Neile Adams, ex-wife of Steve McQueen, tells her life story in song. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Sept. 20-21, 8 p.m.. (323) 969-2530.

EL VAGON OF THE IMMIGRANTS Silvia Gonzalez's bilingual play about immigrants crossing the border in a boxcar. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (213) 382-8133, www.fridakahlotheater.org.

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE LIVE EXPERIENCE Theatrical arena show about prehistoric creatures, based on the BBC television series. STAPLES CENTER, 11th & Figueroa sts., L.A.; Sept.

25-26, 7 p.m.; Sept. 27-28, 3, 7 p.m. & 1 a.m.. (213) 480-3232.

WONG FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEXT Solo show by Kristina Wong, about mental illness among Asian-American women. (Note: free yarn if you bring your knitting needles.). Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 19; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (310) 458-8634, www.teada.org/home.html.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES LARGER THEATERS

AGAMEMNON The words “justice” and “destiny” keep gurgling up in Robert Fagles' translation of Aeschylus' 2500-year old tragedy, and both the play and this production are at odds trying to fathom the workings of war, and where God (or the gods, in the case of the ancient Greeks) weighs in on the causes of bloodshed and misery. Much later, in liturgical text, Saint Anthony, visiting hell, asks the devil, “And what is the purpose of all this?” The devil replies, “There is no purpose.” That's largely the view of princess Cassandra (Francesca Faridany), dragged from her home in Troy as a slave and concubine in triumphant General Agamemnon's (Delroy Lindo) war cart back to Argos. With hollow eyes and, as Sophocles called it in Ajax, that blank “thousand yard stare,” Cassandra glares defiant, wordless – for a while. Agamemnon's queen, silver-haired Clytemnestra (Tyne Daly) welcomes her into the house in a speech saturated with hostile subtext. (She also welcomes home her long-departed husband, and she has an “issue” with him as well. Once the royal couple have withdrawn into the house, Faridany's Cassandra cuts loose with a speech delivered with harrowing conviction and convulsions that mark the one moment where Wadsworth's formally postured production – costumed by Rachel Myers in color-coordinated togas and wraps -- actually springs to life. This isn't because the other actors don't deliver with superb enunciation, clarity and obvious concern over the curses that continue to plague their characters and their kingdom. It's because Stephen Wadsworth stages the play with the formality of an opera. The only instruments for the music, however, are the actors themselves, sometimes speaking, sometimes chanting in unison, with crescendos and decrescendos, rendering Fagles' beautiful, dense translation as a poetical music which grasps, with straws of logic, for some comprehension of the chasm between justice and revenge. When Cassandra finally speaks her “aria,” it smashes through the carefully manicured presentation with a dance of death, and prophecies of coming destruction – including her own – that takes the production from a debate about Things That Matter into an irrational and surreal explication drawn from the horrors of war. Her speech and its presentation defy all of the argumentation, and its emotional logic, that has come before. It's a portrait of madness that is the essence of the world, as though Cassandra alone met with the devil, who told her, “There is no purpose.” ISLM) Getty Villa, 17895 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 440-7300. or http://getty.edu

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Stephen Wadsworth's Agamemnon at the Getty Villa; Photo by Craig Schwartz (C) 2008 J. Paul Getty Trust

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, www.theatricum.com.

BE LIKE WATER Fourteen-year-old girl trains in martial arts and meets the ghost of Bruce Lee. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (213) 625-7000, www.eastwestplayers.org.

BEETHOVEN, AS I KNEW HIM: THE MUSIC OF LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Writer-performer Hershey Felder is the Liberace of the 21st century – and a better pianist, too. This is not entirely a compliment, despite Felder's expert storytelling skills, his pristine instincts for timing, and his irrepressible love for the classical composers he impersonates in what's become a cottage industry of his monodramas with music. Here, he takes on Ludwig van B., through the prism of Beethoven's last known friend and biographer, Gerhard von Breuning of Vienna. Erik Carstensen's sound design brings the clean, digital sounds of a full orchestra in support of Felder while he's seated center stage at the stool of a baby grand, plunking out one of the great piano concertos. There's a divan stage left, draped in a twinkling cloth cover, and you think-- as Felder rapturously hums from Beethoven's musical treatment of Schiller's poem, “Ode to Joy” -- gads, this isn't 19th century Vienna, this is 21st century Las Vegas. The show is a compendium of fascinating biographical details, smartly told – homing in on the personal agony of a man, whose creation of music is his life's centerpiece, slowly losing the ability to hear. If you know anything at all about Beethoven's life, Felder's show isn't going to add to your knowledge. In fact, audience “aahhed” and “oohed” in recognition of facts and melodies that Felder uses to punctuate the biography. There's more recognition here than surprise, which makes Felder's homage more comfortable than probing. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (310) 208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.

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Beethoven, As I Knew Him

>NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK A BRONX TALE Almost 20 years since it premiered in L.A. at Theatre West and was discovered by Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri's Broadway hit, solo memoir has all the ingredients of an enduring saga – violence and sentimentality, fathers and sons, rites of passage and tests of loyalty. The setting is the Paliminteris' apartment stoop at the corner Belmont and 187th Street in the Bronx where, as a 9-year-old in 1960, Paliminteri, sitting by himself on his apartments front steps (lovely set by James Noone) witnessed a gang shooting. The gang, in this instance, was the Italian mob, but one gets the sense from Palminteri's story that the general shapes of gang warfare and drive-by shootings are as universal as the tests of loyalty they induce. Palminteri describes being dragged to the local police station to identify the shooter -- one self-appointed neighborhood protector named Sonny whom the locals respected and feared. The scene has Palminteri playing himself, with his hand thrust into the sweaty palm of his father, who's praying that the kid will keep his mouth shut – which he does. “I did a good thing, huh dad?” the boy asks, to which the father replies, “You did a good thing for a bad man,” hoping that the matter, and the dubious morality attached to it, will simply dissipate. But Sonny's gratitude slowly emerges, and young Chazz finds himself with a second father, engaged in an ethics clash with his first. The former is loved, the latter, feared; the former works like a horse and can barely pay his rent; the latter has gotten stinking rich by scaring others into doing his works – he delegates and makes decisions; Sonny dismisses the Paliminteri family's love of pro baseball -- “When you're dad can't make the rent, tell him to go to Mickey Mantle, and see what he says” -- because in this world, “nobody cares.” With that philosophy, Sonny encourages the boy to go to college and work his way up in the world. Meanwhile, though the child's Faustian friendship with the gangster, the boy finds himself at the center of attention and a superstar in gambling dens and gangster conventions, a kind of attention that intoxicates him. Jerry Zaks directs a tender production, supported by John Gromada's subtly nostalgic sound design, while Palminteri's skills as capturing and flipping to and fro among dozens of local denizens, including the leading players, provides much of the sharp edge to his story's sweet center. Wadsworth Theatre, on the Veterans Administration grounds, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (213) 365-3500, www.ticketmaster.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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A Bronx Tale Photo by Joan Marcus.

DON'T TALK TO THE ACTORS Fledgling playwright goes Broadway, by Tom Dudzick. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 12, (Added perfs Sept. 11 & 25; Oct. 5, 7 p.m.). (949) 497-2787.

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 into the extended-education course of a 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 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 toward 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 — though her dialect keeps intruding like a small thorn, 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. (SLM) 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.

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, www.ictlongbeach.org.

GO THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES John Guare's 1971 farce looks gorgeous in the newly minted Mark Taper Forum – a venue now as fresh and plush as any in the city. The investment in the building, just now reopened after a two years of remodeling, truly honors the work on the stage. This work, however, doesn't quite reciprocate. It does pack fire on many occasions, and that fire is fueled by the energy interactions between John Pankow and Kate Burton as Artie Shaughnessy – a Queens zookeeper who's also a very aspiring songwriter -- and his profoundly medicated wife, Bananas. With his thinning hair and mantra that he's too old to be a young talent, Pankow's lean and hyperactive Artie struts the stage and slides onto piano stools at the local El Dorado club and in his tawdry living room, with the grin of a used-car salesman and an unfettered desperation to be discovered. Oh, how he yearns to fly away to California like his old pal, movie director Billy Einhorm (Diedrich Bader). He shows a cavalier and abusive disregard for his wife – by flaunting his mistress, Bunny Flingus (Jane Kaczmarek), and making no secret of his plan to have Bananas institutionalized while he and Bunny realize their dreams together in California. Burton's Bananas is this production's centerpiece, mastering the skill of playing madness without showing madness. To the contrary, the world's vainglorious insanity swirls around her, which is Guare's point, while it's clear from her eyes that her task is to keep that lunacy, and the lunatics who run the world, at bay. Walking into this theater, I'd wondered what was the point of reopening the Taper with this college and regional theater hit of over 30 years ago. Burton answers that question with her facial expressions and comportment – Bananas has come come through shock treatments and must continue, with as much dignity as she can muster, to endure life's torments and insults to her obvious intelligence at the hands of the maniacs who govern her life. The farce is set in 1965, when the Pope was visiting New York, yet Burton propels its significance forward to the election cycle of 2008. The fame that almost everyone but Bananas worships is almost beside the point – which is vicious and rabid personal ambition while the world skids off its tracks. I shouldn't bring up Sarah Palin, but why not? Nicholas Martin's opulent production suspends a veneer of dark blue drapery over Artie's grimy Queens apartment (set by David Korins). This frames what's supposed to be an emotionally ribald play with a tempering ornateness, which may be partly responsible for muting the farce that's supposed to be literally explosive. Instead, the comedy feels at a remove, more amusing than hysterical, and more sad at play's close than horrific. I also couldn't grasp what the ragtime strains in Philip G. Allen's sound design had to do with any of this. The final reason for the unintended alienation may well be that Martin wasn't able to find the rhythms and textures among the supporting players. One can't really tell in a single glance. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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The House of Blue Leaves Photo by Craig Schwartz

>NEW REVIEW GO AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT: A VAUDEVILLE Lyricist John Strand and composer Dennis McCarthy's new musical opens with the cast singing "God save your hat!," an ode to an outmoded accessory that's here so central. The new comedy, set in 1906, takes place in Manhattan, where Groom-to-be Fadley (Daniel Blinkoff) has his wedding day derailed by a cheating wife (Michelle Duffy) and her soldier lover (Damon Kirsche), who refuse to leave Fadley's honeymoon suite until he restores her propriety, i.e. her hat -- a monstrosity laden with fake bananas and apples. The amusing mayhem that ensues is almost a mockery of the form -- the soft shoe routines and modest rhymes (one ditty rhymes "chapeaux" with "sombrero"). The jokes are a mix of racy double entendres and self-reflexive gags where Fadley bemoans his disastrous day as being like "one of those vaudeville farces." Still, anchored by the winning Blinkoff's commitment to his nervous bimbo-beaux, the strong-voiced and energetic ensemble capture the audience's heart, bypassing any thought in the world. Standouts include Erika Whalen as the bride, Alan Blumenfeld as her irate father, and Kasey Mahaffy -- whose two supporting turns bring down the house by riffing off modern stoner flicks instead of old Broadway. Executed with precision by director Stefan Novinski and musical director Dennis Castellano, the event is as breezy and inconsequential as the roller skates worn by the crew when changing the set. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; 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. (Amy Nicholson)

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An Italian Straw Hat Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR

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, www.theatricum.com.

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.

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, www.theatricum.com.

SHE LOVES ME Co-workers compete in a Budapest perfumerie, book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; 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.

SOUVENIR Stephen Temperley's portrait of off-key vocalist Florence Foster Jenkins. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (562) 944-9801.

THE THIRD STORY Charles Busch's comic drama connects '40s screenwriters, a B-movie and a Russia fairy tale. 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 Oct. 19. (858) 550-1010.

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, one of 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 are 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. (SLM) 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.

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, WESTSIDE, DOWNTOWN

AGRIPPINA A. Giovanni Affinito's story of Nero and his mom. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 960-7612, www.plays411.com.

GO ALL ABOUT WALKEN: THE IMPERSONATORS OF CHRISTOPHER 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, www.plays411.com.

ASLEEP ON A BICYCLE Tony Foster's "trippy dreamscape.". Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 11.

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, www.tix.com.

BE BOP A LULA Rex Weiner's rockabilly drama about Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. THE CAT CLUB, 8911 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 29. (310) 657-0888.

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 engag ing 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.

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. (DK) The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. thru Sept. 27. (323) 933-6944.

GO CARNY TRASH A burly man named Aye Jaye, with a garish jacket and handlebar moustache, stands surrounded by “pickled punks” (jars containing human fetuses preserved in formaldehyde) and three milk bottles – one perched precariously on the caps of the two-jar base. Jaye spins yarns from his life in the Carny, a life he inherited from his parents in the Midwest. The bottles, arranged in that delicate balance, were the only items left standing after a tornado ripped through the town they were performing in, he explains. That's all you need to know to understand the life of the carny. Jaye has a rich background in the art of con cart. 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. The act includes an assistant named Charity (all funds go to Charity) who contorts herself inside a box around an array of blades slicing through it. For a buck, you can climb up on the stage and witness that Charity's act is for real. You'll learn where the expression “making the nut” comes from, and words like “geek” (a person doing unnatural acts). Jaye recalls a geek being interviewed for work: “If you bite the heads off of seven chickens a week, you'll be kept in all the wine you can handle.” The geek thought it over for a minute before replying, “So what's the catch?” (SLM) Steven Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd, Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; indef. (323) 666-4268.

>NEW REVIEW THE CAUCUS RACE In Ian M. McDonald's absurdist comedy, eight strangers wake up on the 50th floor of a high rise with no escape. Sounds like the first episode of a reality show -- and for much of the first act, it feels like one as the characters argues ideas without listening to anybody else. But as their self-involvement starts to expose their self-interests, McDonald's apocalyptic Act 2 comes into focus. The one pragmatist (Jo Ann Mendelson) realizes that their world is crumbling and no one else cares. The spiritualist (Rebecca Lynch) invents a god, the artist (Ryan J. Hill) touts his shallow art, the athlete (Sean Patrick) is useless, the scientist (Tim Sheridan) is focused on trivia, not solutions, and the politicians (Nick Parmer and Troy Matthews) would rather squabble over the kitchen paint job when the walls are tumbling down. McDonald's characters are too scatterbrained for their ideas to crescendo into an interesting conflict, but the bigger issue is that director Rae Williams substitutes madness for absurdism: The former can be delivered shrieking, which is in abundance; the latter is most convincing when it arrives with a straight face – and that's what's missing here. Tempered and sharpened, this could be a play of obvious but cutthroat intent rather than just a gaggle of screamers running in circles. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (323) 913-1293. A Veritas Ensemble production. (Amy Nicholson)

CRAVE Sarah Kane's "fantasia of love, lust, pain, humor, sadness, hope and resignation.". Sierra Stage, 1444 N. Sierra Bonita Ave., West Hollywood; 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 semi-pro 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. The play shifts back and forth in time, and through worlds of the living and the dead, we learn about the pathetic destiny shared by these characters, the malevolent impact that their relationships have had on them, and their respective perceptions and rationales for their actions. The subject matter is sordid and grim, but the craftiness of Belber’s script allows for some welcome moments of gallows humor, which Higgins masterfully exploits. Perhaps the most jarring irony among many is that the most sensitive and accessible monologue is by a hapless dog betrayed by circumstance and bald cruelty. Matt Shakiman's staging is simple but forceful, as the tale unfolds against the visual backdrop ground of an urban area, as seen from a an aerial view; and it's played out on slightly cluttered, water logged stage. (LE3) Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m (added pers July 2 & 2, noi perf July 4); thru July 6. (800) 838-3006.

>NEW REVIEW GO THE FOUR OF US An exploration of the space between ideals and reality, Itamar Moses’ clever, surprising play takes us inside the lives of novelist Ben (Ryan Johnston) and his best friend, aspiring playwright David (Steven Klein). Ben has just sold his first novel, and seems to be on the fast track to success. David, while happy for his friend, tries to hide the envy that consumes him. From this point, we travel down the road of their long-standing friendship, exploring their psyches in depth as scenes shift seamlessly between the past and the present in the tightly woven and complex structure. Far from completely serious, the witty lines and comic moments along the way give the piece a very natural and believable feel -- including one especially funny sequence, while the pair are traveling in Prague, in which Ben ends up humping a stuffed bear during a conversation about sex. Michelle Tattenbaum’s deft direction not only brings out the humanity in her actors, but also challenges them to execute precisely choreographed scene changes. Mark Guirguis’ set design and Rachel Myers' costumes support Tattenbaum's staging with a minimalism that allows the actors to maintain the performances' dramatic momentum. The Elephant Theater Lab, 1076 N. Lillian Way, W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (800) 838-3006. www.fireflyinc.com A Firefly Theatre and VS. Theatre Company Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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The Four of Us Photo by Ryan Morgan

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, www.groundlings.com.

THE HITLER ROAST Caligula, the Marquis de Sade, Idi Amin, George Bush and others roast the Fuhrer. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (323) 960-7753, www.plays411.com/hitlersroast.

LATINOLOGUES TU Rick Najera's comedy showcase. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (213) 289-9860, www.latinologues.net.

THE LIEUTENANT NUN Comedy drama by Odalys Nanin, based on the memoirs of cross-dressing soldier Catalina De Erauso. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (323) 960-7829.

GO LONG STAY CUT SHORT features gripping stagings of two little-known, heartbreaking Tennessee Williams one-acts. In The Unsatisfactory Supper, crass but caring Baby Doll (Jolene Adams) and her irritable husband Archie Lee (Grady Lee Richmond) finally tell their doting Aunt Rose (Eve Sigall) that, despite having nowhere else to go, she has overstayed her welcome with them. In Hello From Bertha, an aging, alcoholic—and probably mentally deranged—prostitute (Kara Pulcino) resists being thrown out of her brothel by the sympathetic but practical madame (Josie DiVincenzo). Despite some self-conscious blocking, uncertain pauses and a few distracting improv moments, Jack Heller's direction elegantly draws into stark relief the frantic and desperate delusions of Williams' two very different heroines. Each struggles with her own obsolescence and loneliness, one by surrendering herself with open arms to the cold and bitter world, and one by recoiling from it entirely. It's a nice contrast, and one that illuminates unique complexities in the playwright's repertoire of tragic women. (LR) Actors Art Theater, 6128 Wilshire Blvd., LA. Wed., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 969-4953.

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Long Stay Cut Short Photo By Danielle Weeks

GO LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA You can find several clips of singer-partners Louis Prima and Keely Smith, with a small jazz combo behind them, on YouTube. The pair practically invented the genre of the lounge act, playing as they did during much of the 1950s at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, lingering on the margins of fame. Think of them as antecedents to Sonny and Cher, or a musical version of Abbott and Costello. Smith was the “straight-man” woman and long-suffering wife of the hyperactive, philandering Prima, whom you’ll see hopping in front of the bandstand like a maniac, throwing his entire body into each beat, a grin plastered across his face, the biggest ham since Hamlet. Keep these tiny-screen presences in mind when you see Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder’s sublime new musical about the duo and their tempestuous life on and off stage, Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara.Certainly not the first musical to chronicle a musical group — other recent entries include Pump Boys and Dinettes and Jersey Boys — this has to be the first one to take a lounge act seriously, rather than as a spittoon for gobs of ridicule. In a glorious world-premiere production directed by Jeremy Aldridge for Hollywood’s Sacred Fools Theater Company, Prima and Smith are re-created with accuracy and richness — perhaps because the writers are also the leading players. Vanessa Claire Smith’s cropped brunette ’do apes that of Keely Smith’s, a look that Liza Minnelli adopted later — though the silky, tender singing style of both Smiths couldn’t be more contrary to Minnelli’s comparatively ostentatious, belting interpretations. Prima had a more gruff sound than that depicted by Broder, whose sculpted, jazzy tones more closely resemble Bobby Darin’s. What Broder delivers in thunderbolts, though, is Prima’s exuberant, maniacal self-choreography — leaping, lurching, swaying and sashaying. Why this guy is jumping around so much becomes the musical’s central question. The answer to that question could come with dismissing Prima as a narcissistic clown, The creators, however, treat their subject with far more compassion than that, as Prima’s plight approaches tragedy. (Broder played Mozart in the Broadway production of Amadeus, which provides a small window onto the vainglorious hysteria that Broder depicts here so brilliantly.) He croons in musical styles from ’20s Dixieland jazz through ’30s swing, ’40s big band and ’50s scat — and their accompanying lingo (“cats,” “chicks” and “gigs”). Broder’s song-and-dance routine, capturing Prima’s cocky romantic domination over Smith, as well as his solipsistic devotion to his music, is a bravura performance not to be missed. And having an onstage, seven-piece backup band (doubling as supporting players) doubles the impact, particularly with sounds so carefully modulated by musical director Dennis Kaye. A piano, two saxophones, a string bass, drum set, a trumpet and trombone, all on the stage of this 99-seat theater, places us in the equivalent of a small recording studio. When the band hits its stride with enveloping riffs of Dixieland blues and Big Band stylings, hang on to your seat. The musical current is that strong. This journey through Prima’s life comes on the eve of his death in 1978. (Smith is still alive and thriving.) Though it sweeps in biographical details from the ’20s — his “craziness,” he says, captured hearts during the Great Depression — the story kicks into gear during the late ’40s with its AStar is Born plot featuring Smith as the ingenue who saves Prima’s foundering big-band act and resurrects it with a ’50s spin in Las Vegas. And though he’s doing all the jumping and prancing, and giving all the orders, the newspaper reviews focus on her talents, not his. Prima’s jealousy erupts, not so much in offstage screaming matches (he barely speaks to her) but in the tensions that escalate on the stage, which everyone can see, and which perversely renders their act more popular. He actually encourages the onstage hostility, for just that reason. And so, through 16 songs (ranging from “Basin Street Blues,” “That Old Black Magic,”and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to the song that defined Prima’s career, the medley of “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody”) one passionate love and cruel marriage is played out almost entirely between the lines. If the purpose of musical theater is to express in song what can’t be expressed in mere words, this is about as perfect as a musical can get. It’s simple without being simplistic, summing up 80 years of gender relations in 90 minutes. Yet this is not just a musical about men and women but about life, and art as an expression of it; the devastating costs of recklessly turning a private life into a public one; and that old, blinding obsession with fame. Smith’s desperate words accompany her tortured decision to leave her husband, “Life is happening right in your face and you don’t even notice. You don’t hear anything unless it’s in the key of B flat!” I walked out of the theater wrenched by a depth of emotion that seemed to make no sense, coming from a musical about the quaint saga of an almost forgotten lounge act. That’s when I realized I’d been punched in the gut and didn’t even know it. It was a delayed reaction to the blow landed in Broder’s reprise of “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” He just kept on singing that refrain, as the band packed up and left him there, until his death bed slowly rolled in. What may first look like a musical comedy is actually a musical tragedy, ancient Greek style: the deluded protagonist who’s undone by hubris and sent into exile.Exile was a bad end for Oedipus, but imagine if Oedipus’ delusions included eternal celebrity from a Las Vegas lounge act. The program cover contains the slogan, “Nothing lasts forever.” I hope this show does. (SLM) Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (800) 838-3006, www.louiskeelyshow.com. Note: This production has changed venue since this review.

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, www.plays411.net/lovers.

>NEW REVIEW GO MIRACLE IN RWANDA I can’t imagine viewing writer-performer Leslie Lewis Sword's play about surviving the Rwandan genocide without a sense of horror and awe and grief. Co-created and directed by Edward Vilga, it dramatizes the experience of Immaculée Illibagiza, who escaped death by hiding in a 4-foot by 3-foot bathroom with up to seven other women for 91 days. (In 1994, nearly 1 million people, mostly Tutsis, were brutally murdered by their fellow countrymen over three months.) Sword plays all the participants in Illibagiza’s ordeal: among them her father, who with terrible prescience dispatched her into hiding, the courageous elderly pastor who concealed her, her crazed pursuer, and the apparitions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, which comforted her during her tortuous days of confinement. Such is Sword’s skill that with a mere curve of the lip or shift of the eyes she seems to transform from one character to another. Above all it is the translucent eloquence she endows to her main character – heightened by Erick Keil's artful lighting -- that gives the piece its compelling strength. The play’s overarching theme is forgiveness, which Illibagiza eventually comes to realize through prayer. Though the piece’s religious overtones may not be to everyone’s taste, its depiction of the unimaginable -- in tandem with Illibagiza’s spiritual triumph and enduring will to live -- transcends any parochial view. The New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (213) 489-0994, ext. 107. (Deborah Klugman)

MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: ABI'S CHOICE Late-nightMasterpiece Theatre parody. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.. (310) 281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.

MOLIÈRE PLAYS PARIS Help me out here. Say you’re an artistic director planning your season. You’ve got the entire history of stage literature to choose from. Why, then, do you select a sure-fire miss like Nagle Jackson’s universally panned, 1996 biographical pastiche of early Molière? Hubris? The evening mostly consists of Jackson’s own translations of three (justly) obscure Molière one acts. Staged as period performances, the playlets are tied together by the thinnest of narrative threads taken from Molière tradition (namely, the old blood libel of his alleged incestuous marriage). As the middle-aged playwright (Edwin Garcia II) frets about his upcoming nuptials to his ensemble’s teenaged ingénue (Shaina Vorspan), his company performs “The Love Doctor,” a semi-commedia about a miserly father (David Stifel) who refuses to allow his young daughter to marry. A laughless, Frankensteinian affair, it was exhumed by Jackson and cobbled together from the Molière corpus. But neither Christina Howard’s too-strident direction nor the cast’s breathless mugging can generate the comic voltage to jolt this hoary creation to life. Act 2's “The Forced Marriage” fares better; perhaps because it’s the one, virtually untampered-with work by Molière -- an entertaining farce about a middle-aged man (Garcia II) with doubts about his upcoming marriage to his tempestuous teen fiancé (Vorspan). Standouts include Vorspan and Stifel as the stubborn father, Alcantor, who refuses to retract his permission for the union. But it’s Adam Chambers’ hilarious deus ex machina appearance as a ludicrously foppish Louis XIV that walks off with the show. (BR) Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 667-0955.

GO MONEY & RUN If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. To lure audiences away from movies and TV, some theaters are taking cues from their competition. Recent successful productions riff off Showgirls, Point Break and Charlie’s Angels; now 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. Their romantic fireworks are outdone by the goofball supporting characters, which include Tobias Jelinek as a turtleneck-wearing manhunter, Pete Caslavka’s drunken bum, and the grandstanding and fierce Alyssa Bostwick as Big Momma Bob, the local liquor-emporium czarina who wants to see Money strung up by her belly shirt. Rawley’s honed his clever quips and sharp timing — even an opening-credits sequence is a hoot. It’s live, but is it theater? As the narrator (Rawley) tells us to “stay tuned for scenes from the next episode,” and the cast races through a quick montage, the best we and this production can hope is that theater’s fun, albeit flattened reinvention is less disposable than its origins. (AN) Lyric Hyperion Theater Café, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; indef. (800) 595-4TIX.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET Stephen Adly Guirgis' urban drama. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (323) 465-0800.

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.; thru Sept. 13 (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com.

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, www.fordamphitheatre.org.

PUGILIST SPECIALIST Adriano Shaplin's black-op mission. Elephant Theater Lab, 1078 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (323) 993-7204.

RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL Turn-of-the-century America in song, book by Terrance McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 5...

>NEW REVIEW GO RED SCARE ON SUNSET Charles Busch’s raucous political farce takes place during '50s when paranoia over the “commie menace” was bearing down on American society. Screen star Mary Dale (a scintillatingly funny Drew Droege) and husband Frank Taggart (Groundlings alum Chris Tarantino), are a seemingly happy Hollywood couple with a nice house and a saucy, gay houseboy (Dane Whitlock). But dark clouds gather over their abode when Frank falls for sultry Marta (Sonya Tatoyan), who talks him into joining her acting class -- which is really a front for the Communist Party. Frank soon falls under their fiendish influence, and is coerced into doing an unspeakable act. Adding to poor Mary’s dilemma is the plight of her patriotic best friend, Pat Tilford (Michele Begley), who is also the host of a popular radio show. Unfortunately, the reds have some goods on her in a blackmail scheme involving some nasty pictures she posed for. Thrown into the mayhem are outrageous plot twists, chicanery and afinale that careens over-the-top. The writing is sharp and clever, and director Cindy Gendrich modulates campiness and physical comedy with impressive ease. The Attic Theater and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru. Oct. 18. (323) 525-0600 (Lovell Estell III)

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.; thru Oct. 25. (310) 281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.

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 SOME KIND OF LOVE STORY This strange, almost Pirandellian one-act is not what we expect from Arthur Miller. A former New York policeman turned private investigator, Tom (Jack Kehler) is hell-bent on freeing a man he believes has been falsely imprisoned for murder. His only real lead is the woman in the case, Angela (Beege Barkette), but she stubbornly refuses to reveal what, if anything, she knows. Over a five-year period, their sparring has continued: They have been lovers, adversaries and mutual tormentors. He feels that his love for her has brought him back from living death — but he knows he can't trust her. She insists that if she gives him the information he seeks, she will lose him. Neither we nor he can tell if she is a pathological liar, a devious whore, a schizophrenic with multiple personalities, a virtuoso con artist and opportunist, or all of the above. In a single, brilliantly written scene, they play out their story of mutual obsession. Michael Arabian directs with sensitive precision, and his actors serve him with finesse. Barkette is endlessly fascinating as the mercurial, protean Angela, and Kehler provides an admirable foil as an ordinary guy trapped on an emotional roller coaster. (NW) Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 28. (323) 960-4442 or www.thehayworth.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.

SPEECH & DEBATE Dark comedy about misfit adolescence, by Stephen Karam. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (323) 661-9827, www.theblank.com.

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. (BR) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 856-8611.

THE TEMPEST (818) 849-4039. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. www.theatreunleashed.com.

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.

GO TRUE LOVE This biographical play, written and acted by Walter Williamson and Larry Thomlinson, deals with the relations between Pulitzer Prize playwright John Patrick (Williamson) and his lover-companion of 41 years, Bill Meyers (Thomlinson). Patrick’s plays, The Hasty Heart and The Teahouse of the August Moon, had been great hits in the 1940s, but by the end of his life he was regarded merely as a writer of slight, out-dated comedies for amateurs and dinner theatres. But Patrick was “the talent” and the breadwinner (having amassed a large fortune with his movie and television writing), while Meyers was the adult, house-keeper, manager, and facilitator. (Apparently in his writings, Patrick referred to Meyers as The Tall Man and himself as The Little Boy.) This arrangement served them well, despite Patrick’s egotism and emotional demands, till their 80s, when Meyers’ health began to fail, unleashing fears, rivalries and insecurities, and causing their relations to turn toxic. The play is set during their last months together, when bitchy gossip and affectionate exchanges give way to lacerating quarrels and estrangement. These “celebrity portrait” plays seldom achieve real depth, but here the passionate commitment of the two actor-writers makes this a thoughtful, moving picture of emotional ambivalence in a tempestuous relationship. (NW) The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat, 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., thru Oct. 12. (323) 960-1053 or http://Plays411.com/truelove" www.Plays411.com/truelove.

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, www.groundlings.com.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES THE VALLEYS

>NEW REVIEW GO THE BELLE OF AMHERST Few writers embraced as many contradictions as 19th Century New England poet Emily Dickinson. Though a life-long spinster and a near-total recluse from the age of 30, she was a doubter with a longing to believe, a reverent iconoclast, a fiercely romantic virgin, and a timid soul who wrote daring verse. (Oonly seven of her poems were published in her lifetime.) Playwright William Luce captures more of her in this monodrama than one might reasonably expect, weaving her poems into the dialog so gracefully that one hardly realizes what he’s up to till a rhyme or a familiar phrase rings out. Modern scholars have suggested that this shrinking violet may have concealed a lurking serpent: Luce has her say, “My love frightens people.” And her mentor, Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, admitted being afraid of her, and thanked his stars that she lived no closer. Under the deft direction of Tony Sears, actor Kate Randolph Burns gives us a rich, multi-layered Dickinson, capturing her thorny charm and wicked humor as well as the pain and fear of a woman who could write, “Will there really be a morning?” and died uncertain if her “letter to the world” would ever be received. The Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Oct. 12. (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com. (Neal Weaver)

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The Belle of Amherst Photo by Tony Sears

>NEW REVIEW GO THE FRIENDLY HOUR Tom Jacobson's lovely new play chronicles the rituals of a women's club in rural South Dakota from the late '30s to 2007, and we watch the women with whom we grow increasingly familiar age and engage in theological disputes that are really at the heart of the matter. God's purpose, and the purpose of community, interweave and clash through the decades as five fine actors portray many more roles. Leading the pack is Kate Mines' prickly creationist Effie and Ann Noble's proud, forward-thinking Dorcas Briggle who, had she lived somewhere else, would have joined the Unitarian Church. (Deana Barone, Mara Marine and Bettina Zacar round out the cast.) The play desperately needs pruning – its length is partly responsible for a monochromatic quality that dampens Mark Bringleson's otherwise animated and tender staging. If this were scaled down to six pointed scenes from its perpetually unrolling carpet of the club's rites and characters' domestic crises, the impact of the survivors' dotage in 2007 could be that much more gripping. Still, Jacobson has put aside the conspicuous cleverness of his past works, Bunbury and Ouroboros, for an impressionistic landscape that straddles the literary worlds of Anton Chekhov and Thornton Wilder. Desma Murphey's wood-framed set, against which a backdrop of clouds peers through, contains both elegance and allegory, and Lisa D. Burke's costumes contain similar affection and wit. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (866) 811-4111, http://roadtheatre.org. A Road Theatre Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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. (PB) Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. www.handsontherapy.tix.com

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., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.. (818) 942-6684, www.crowncitytheatre.com.

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, www.lizardtheater.com.

>NEW REVIEW INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show’s efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and – with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers’ questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow’s intense Kazan, Mary McDonald’s bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone’s flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi’s sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner’s non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (866) 811-4111. (Deborah Klugman)

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Inside Private Lives Photo by Kristin Stone Entertainment

>NEW REVIEW GO IT’S THE HOUSEWIVES! The Housewives, in this rock musical with book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas, are three moms who put together an act for the PTA talent night, and manage to parlay their performance of “domestic rock” (songs like “The Reynold’s Rap” and “It Sucks,” about vacuum cleaners) into a career that, with wild improbability, makes them bigger than the Beatles. The dramaturgy is slapdash and primitive, with narration alternating with flash-backs, as the three women— Lexie (Jayme Lake) the blond airhead, Lynn (Corinne Decker) the pushy egomaniac, and Becca (Jamey Hood) the rueful song-writer — slog their way through all the way-stations of girl-group musicals: the sleazy manager (Anthony DeSantis), internecine rivalries, scandals, and addiction (in this case, to TV soap-operas). Fortunately, the 19 musical numbers, by Hope and Laurence Juber (with several collaborators) are lively, the choreography by Kay Cole is clever, and the Housewives are attractive, engaging and talented. Director Kelly Ann Ford paces the show nicely, and the handsome set by DC2 and the sometimes wacky costumes by Sharell Martin complement the satiric proceedings. The show is feather-light, but it’s slick, stylish, and goes down easy. A packed house was lapping it up at the performance I attended. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Oct. 12. (323) 960-5563 or http://itsthehousewives.com/. (Neal Weaver)

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It's the Housewives Photo by Michael Lamont

MARIA CASSI The Italian comedienne makes her U.S. debut. (Free; resv. required.). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (626) 356-7529, www.mariacassi.com.

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, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

PROOF David Auburn's story of a deceased mathematician. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (818) 508-3003, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/37443.

GOR.R.R.E.D. – THE REDHEAD MUSICAL MANIFESTO This world premiere musical celebrating redheads was first developed by Adam Jackman and Katie Thompson in the New York cabaret scene as a response to a finding that the gene for red hair could become extinct by the year 2100. The loose storyline centers on a meeting of the Real Redheaded Revolutionary Evolutionary Defiance, led by CEO Victoria (Thompson) and Intern G.J. (Patrick Livingston, who co-wrote the book), whose goal is to increase the redhead population through wanton procreation. During the show there are a series of “testimonials” in which members of the “audience” come to the stage to share their experiences as redheads in song. Stephanie (Shauna Markey) performs the hilarious “I’m Not Pregnant, I’m Just Fat” and Craig (Jackman) similarly leaves the audience in stitches with “I Like You.” The rest of the time Thompson and Livingston carry the show effortlessly with their powerful voices, their acrobatic piano playing, and their spot-on comic timing. The songs, with their bawdy, satirical lyrics, are a treat, and Kevin Cochran’s direction is appropriately over-the-top, bringing out the best in his actors skills at physical comedy. Set against Leonard Ogden’s eye-catching and versatile design, this smartly crafted and executed show left me laughing from start to finish. (MK) Grove Theater Center, 1111B W. Olive Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (818) 238-9998.

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R.R.R.E.D. -- The Redhead Musical Manifesto Photo by Eric Scot/GTC

ROSE'S DILEMMA "I told you to get rid of the sun!" barks author Rose Steiner (Margaret McCarley) to her caretaker, Arlene (Elizabeth Gordon), as part of her daily snark attack against the world. Five years ago, the grande dame of letters lost her pulp fiction lover, Walsh (Don Savage), to a heart attack; no matter, he -- or her imagination's recollection of him -- visits her every night for arguments and nookie. Rose has the force of a battleship while Arlene, who has her own trite agenda, tries desperately to stay afloat. Still, to finish the last 40 pages of his uncompleted manuscript, Walsh presses her to hire a hustling, but prideful ghost writer named Clancy (Norman Dostal), who feels like the most real character in this bantamweight play. Compared to his other comedies, Neil Simon's most recent play is meant to be a sincere parlor play, but its big themes of grief and narcissism still feel more like ideas treated for a sitcom. Among the several poignant throwaway moments is when Rose defends embellishing her memories of a wild trip to Mexico with an invented yarn about shagging through prison bars. Yet, Simon can't resist sweeping that, plotholes, and other gestures towards depth, tidily under the rug in time for a sweet, but unearned resolution. Roxanne Barker directs. 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. (Amy Nicholson)

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Rose's Dilemma Photo by John Johnson

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 author and his trophy wife. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (818) 700-4878, www.lcgrt.com.

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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (800) 838-3006, www.theprodco.com.

12TH NIGHT Shakespeare's comedy. St. Matthew's Lutheran GLBT Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (818) 377-4055, www.plays411.com/12thnight.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES THE 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. (Luis Reyes) 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.

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.

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 prompting 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. (LE3) Ark Theatre, 1647 La. Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sep. 28. (323) 969-1707.

THE GREAT ELECTION John Stark's play about a state recall election, based on a novel by Stephen Leacock. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (310) 477-2055.

GREEK TRAGEDY . . . FILM AT 11! Steve Oreste's reworking of Aeschylus' “The Oresteia.” Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (323) 769-5794.

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., Sept. 28, 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (562) 494-1014, www.lbph.com.

ISAAC AND ISHMAEL Chris Kent's story of two brothers. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 960-7788, www.plays411.net/isaacandishmael.

MADE ME NUCLEAR: THE OPERETTA Charlie Lustman's cancer musical. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (866) 468-3399, www.mademenuclear.com.

28 PLAYS LATER Short-attention-span comedies. KOOS ART CENTER, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. www.alivetheatre.org.

YOU'RE ON THE AIR Michelle Danner's current-affairs comedy. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (310) 392-7327, www.edgemarcenter.org.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES SPECIAL THEATER 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, www.allamericanmelodrama.com.

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.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. (323) 969-4953, www.plays411.com.

FACE OF THE WORLD FESTIVAL '08 Solo performance, music and dance. (Call for schedule.). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sun..; thru Dec. 14. (323) 226-1230.

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.

PUPPET UP! UNCENSORED Naughty improv by Henson Alternative puppeteers. Avalon, 1735 Vine St., L.A.; Sat., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.. (213) 480-3232, www.avalonhollywood.com.

WHAT'S THE STORY? New solo performance works-in-progress. (Also at Cafe Metropol, call for info.). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Mon., Sept. 22, 8 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 27, 8 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 17, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 8, 8 p.m.. (310) 450-1312, www.whatsthestoryla.com.

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