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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Creative Criticism

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Fri, Sep 26, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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The Great Election at the Odyssey Theatre. Photo by Greg Jardin

For this weekend's comprehensive theater listings, press the READ ON tab at the bottom of this section.

Check back here Monday after noon for new reviews of Hamlet at A Noise Within; The Civilians' This Beautiful City (written by Steve Cosson and Jim Lewis) at the Kirk Douglas; East West Players production incorporating Bruce Lee flicks, Be Like Water; Charlie Lustman's solo show with music about surviving cancer, Made Me Nuclear, at Santa Monica Playhouse; John Stark's The Great Election at the Odyssey; Open Fist Theatre Company's premiere of Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage; Nick Salamone's latest, Sea Change, at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre; a pair of plays by Steve Stajich, Little Black Lies, at the Avery Schreiber; needtheater's west-coast premiere of John Clancy's Fatboy; Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone and Kristina Wong's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Miles Memorial Playhouse, presented by TeAda Productions.

Last weekend's New Theater Reviews can be found at http://www.laweekly.com/2008-09-25/stage/theater-reviews-9-to-5-the-musical-43-plays-for-43-presidents/http://law

for this week's stage feature on The House of Blue Leaves and the larger purpose of the Mark Taper Forum, visit http://www.laweekly.com/2008-09-25/stage/renewal-at-the-mark-taper-forum-is-it-all-skin-deep/

Creative Criticism

Just got back from five days in New York to sit in on the first couple of read-throughs of my play that's just started rehearsals at Abingdon Theatre Company. The whole atmosphere was intensely serious; answering the actors questions as they went through the play line by line, I felt like a student defending a dissertation, and it was great.

They were probing the play's ligaments with questions about time-lines and tone. They also wanted to know in detail about L.A.'s Beachwood Drive, where the play is set and where it takes its title from. Who lives there, what ethnicities, what's the traffic like, the architecture, etc.

What landed on me quite clearly was how the creative and critical impulses hold hands all the time. In this case they were dancing in the same room.

This was theater criticism at its best – driven by relentless curiosity and investigation in order to open up the world of the play. This company of actors made the case for me that artists can be among the most rigorous and qualified theater critics. What came to mind was the reality of one local SoCal newspaper dropping freelance critics from its payrolls and goading crime reporters to cover gallery openings and stage plays – people reluctant to do so because they themselves feel unqualified for the task.

Artist-critics open up the old can containing potential conflict of interest. But weigh that against the real conflict of interest when exhausted news writers are sent to cover an event in a field they know nothing about, when that venue's audience members may be better qualified to write a review. Chances are that a large percentage of that audience will be artists.

The key to sustaining some kind of enriching assessment of the still thriving activity we call theater is is to get qualified people to write on productions that are devoid of their personal friendships and ambitions. No easy answer, but that newspaper's solution is catastrophic for all parties, including their own readers.

For comprehensive theater listings, press theREAD ON tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

For September 27 October 3, 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

ADRAMELECH'S MONOLOGUE Valere Novarina's story of a king who finally breaks his silence, translated by Guy Bennett. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 30; Tues.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (213) 389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.com.

THE CELEBRITY IMPROVISATION SHOWCASE Benefit for the underprivileged children of Free Arts Foundation, featuring Bobbie Chance, Kris St. John, Tracey Bingham, Kiko Ellsworth, Tommy Davidson, and others. Guy's North Night Club, 12665 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; Sun., Sept. 28. (310) 313-4278, www.bobbiechance.com.

CHICO'S ANGELS: CHICAS IN CHAINS The Angels go undercover as high schoolers, in Oscar Quintero and Kurt Koehler's parody. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Thurs., Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (323) 969-2530.

CHILDREN OF A LESSER GODDESS Dorothy Spirus' one-woman show. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 960-7774, www.plays411.com/goddess.

CONVERSATIONS WITH MY FATHER Immigrant tale by Herb Gardner. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (310) 828-7519, www.morgan-wixson.org.

DAVID ICKE: LIVE IN LOS ANGELES The author speaks on mass mind manipulation, global conspiracy, and war. Million Dollar Theater, 307 S. Broadway, L.A.; Wed., Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m.. (800) 984-0897, www.sacredmysterieslive.com

DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE Sarah Ruhl's play about a woman who takes calls on behalf of a dead man. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Sept. 27; Sat., Sept. 27, 7:45 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (714) 708-5555.

DEFYING GRAVITY: STEPHEN SCHWARTZ AND FRIENDS Selections from Schwartz's musicals, including "Wicked," "Godspell," "Pippin" and more. Pepperdine University, Smothers Theatre, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Sun., Sept. 28, 2 p.m.. (310) 506-4522, arts.pepperdine.edu.

DON'T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS Staged reading of Wendy Kout and Michele Willens' bio of politician Douglas, benefiting “The Nation.” Magazine. $100. The Landmark, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 470-0492, tickets.landmarktheatres.com.

THE ELEPHANT MAN Bernard Pomerance's story of the disfigured Englishman. (Call for added perfs.). Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 462-8460.

ENCORE 2008 International City Theatre's annual black-tie fund-raiser, including dinner and auctions., $150-$250. Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Sun., Sept. 28, 5:30 p.m.. (562) 436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org.

FAITHFUL Chazz Palminteri's play about a rejected wife and a hit man. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.

FATBOY John Clancy's "comedic shock opera.". Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (800) 838-3006, www.needtheater.org.

HANDCRAFTED HEALING Staged reading of Nancy Beverly's play about life-threatening illness. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-6625.

JOE'S GARAGE Stage adaptation of Frank Zappa's rock opera, by Pat Towne and Michael Franco. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 882-6912, www.openfist.org.

KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Based on the Manuel Puig novel, book by Terrence McNally, music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (213) 389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.com.

MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: WHAT'S LOVE MADE OF, ANYWAY? Awful screenplays condensed and performed live. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.

MARIAMA Solo show "written, performed and danced" by Marian Oliker. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; opens Sept. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (310) 823-0710, www.brownpapertickets./com/event/41505.

MAX 10 LAUNCH PARTY "Ultra-variety show," with 10 performers given 10 minutes each to do anything, featuring Rudy Perez, Norton Wisdom, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, Terry Silverman, others. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sun., Sept. 28, 7 p.m.. (310) 823 0710, www.electriclodge.org.

NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY Charles Gordone's "Black-black comedy.". Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 2; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 960-4443, www.plays411.com/noplace.

RAZORBACK World premiere of John Pollono's "dark comedy about fathers and sins.". Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-7726, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO/SHOPPING & FU**ING Two short plays, by David Mamet and Mark Ravenhill, respectively. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (800) 595-4TIX, www.insightamerica.org.

THE TELL-TALE HEART Barrie Kosky's adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe story. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Oct. 1-4, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 5, 7 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.

THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY A look inside America's evangelical Christian movement, by Steve Cosson and Jim Lewis, music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens Sept. 28; Sun., Sept. 28, 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (213) 628-2772.

THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK . A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 28, 2 & 7 p.m.; Oct. 15-17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 18, 2 & 8 p.m.; Nov. 12-14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 22, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 23, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 7, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 240-0910, www.anoisewithin.org.

THE WOMEN Clare Boothe Luce's social satire about high-society wives. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (323) 960-1054, www.circustheatricals.com.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCESLARGER 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.” (SLM) 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

GOAS 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 LeBlancs handsome costumes add to the fun. (NW). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (310) 455-3723, www.theatricum.com.

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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (562) 494-1014, www.lbph.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.

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; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (310) 372-4477.

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

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

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

GO L'EFFLEUR DES SENS Choreographer-director Cati Jean has MC Gregg guide us through this French-style cabaret, which consists of nine fleshy, erotic dances performed by the host and a bevy of seven beauties with jaw-dropping precision. Gregg's improvised humor borders on the puerile, but the dancers' dexterity and skill are beyond reproach. The long-running show is slated to close Oct. 30.(SLM). King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 9 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 960-9234, www.kingkinghollywood.com.

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT “We dont 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 ONeills genre-creating family melodrama. The claustrophobic parlor drama is an odd fit for the Theatricum Botanicums 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; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (858) 550-1010.

>NEW REVIEW GO 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL is based on the 1979 hit film, with a rollicking score by Dolly Parton, a clever and fast-paced script by the movie's screenwriter Patricia Resnick, and spectacular direction by Tony-winner Joe Mantello, tells the wild, wooly tale of three women office workers (Allison Janney, Megan Hilty, and Stephanie J, Block) who kidnap their smug, sexist, bullying boss (a wonderfully caddish Mark Kudisch). While holding him captive in his own house, they reinvent the workplace according to their own values, banishing sexual harassment and gender discrimination. It’s a fairy tale, but a hip, hilarious one, with dynamite performances by the three leading women, and a fourth by Kathy Fitzgerald as Hart’s love-struck gal-Friday. Janney, hitherto known as a dramatic actress, proves she can belt out a number and strut her stuff with style, and brings down the house with her big number, “One of the Boys.” Hilty shines as Doralee, the “Backwoods Barbie” played by Parton in the film, and Block proves her versatility as a timid “newbie”, driven back into the work-force when her husband ditches her, who must learn to both smolder and fight back. All technical credits—sets, costumes, choreography, lighting, and musical direction—are gorgeous. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Street, downtown; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Oct. 19. Extra mat. Thurs., Oct. 16, 2 p.m. (213) 628-2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. (Neal Weaver)

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9 to 5: The Musical Photo by Craig Schwartz

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.; 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.; 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 Russian 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.

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; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (310) 458-8634, www.teada.org/home.html.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES SMALLER THEATERS IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD, DOWNTOWN

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 . . ." (AN). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 663-4050, www.plays411.com.

>NEW REVIEW GO ASLEEP ON A BICYCLE is Tony Foster’s humorous journey into a dreamscape world where nothing is as it seems. Linda (Gina Garrison) is lying asleep, but this doesn’t stop her unconscious from roaming wild. In her dream state, she encounters a ravishingly beautiful Italian film star (Maya Parish), an axe wielding murderess,(Alexandra Hoover), her emotionally fragile brother (Josh Breeding), her alcoholic mother (Cheryl Huggins), who finds her self attracted to a lesbian nun (Patricia Rae), and a cheating husband (Robert Foster). Initially these characters appear happenstance with no apparent significance, but Foster gradually and skillfully constructs a delicate, meaningful web of emotional, spiritual and psychological connections between and among them, constantly shifting between past and present, reality and fantasy. The writing is razor sharp and at times quite funny, although context and meaning sometimes become frustratingly obscure. The finale is clearly a case of one twist too many. The play is engaging and intelligently directed by David Fofi, who draws fine performances from a cast that also includes Jade Dornfeld and Deanna Cordano.The bedroom set piece by designer Joel Daavid, with a towering tree, is beautifully imagined and realized. The Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through. Oct. 12. (323) 960-4410. (Lovell Estell III)

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.

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. (AN) 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.

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.

GOFINALLY 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 Shakmans staging is simple but forceful. (LE3). Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.. (800) 838-3006, www.thedahlia.com.

>NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK 43 PLAYS FOR 43 PRESIDENTS Often it’s not just the who, what and why that makes a history lesson viable, but the how – as in how you tell it. That’s the premise behind this witty, sardonic collection of mini-plays about the American presidency. Studded with song and dance, these distinctive one-to-five minute segments – originally created by five writer-performers belonging to Chicago’s Neo-Futurists theater ensemble – reveal some basic human truths about the 43 individuals who have inhabited the Oval Office (as well as some uncomfortable aspects of our nation’s political legacy). Each segment plucks facts from the textbook version of history and combines them with lesser known, more subversive revelations. Among the famous, the infamous and the all-but-forgotten, only a few, including George Washington (Michael Holmes), emerge with reputations untarnished. The ironical portraits include John Adams (Kelley Hazen) as a fretful neurotic who signed legislation shredding the Bill of Rights, Indian fighter William Henry Harrison (Tina Van Berckelaer) who enthusiastically exterminated thousands of Native Americans but on his deathbed sought treatment from a Native American healer, Ulysses Grant (Rafael Clements) who, as a young, man despised guns but was forced to attend West Point by his father. Of particular interest this election season is the sketch about the 1876 electoral college shenanigans that put popular-vote loser Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House. Directed by Paul Plunkett, this production features an accomplished ensemble of six, adept at underscoring both the playful and the poignant. Sacred Fools Theater, 661 N. Heliotrope Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun., 9/21 & 10/26, 7 p.m.; through Oct. 26; 310 281-3887. (Deborah Klugman)

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43 Plays for 43 Presidents Photo by Haven Hartman

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. (MK) 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.

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The Four of Us Photo by Ryan Morgan

>NEW REVIEW THE GROUNDLINGS, YOUR BODY AND YOU In unusual twist for The Groundlings sketch comedy/improv troupe, the title of their latest show actually relates to material in it. Featuring more improv than usual, but a smaller cast, this company ventures into such varied topics as speed dating, old boys clubs, swim meets, and peer support groups; however, the sketches are somewhat uneven, with more missing the mark than hitting it. Highlights include “Playdate,” in which Mrs. Davis (Jill Matson-Sachoff), in her high-waisted ‘80s jeans, seduces her son’s friend; “How To Have A Fun Dinner,” featuring two second graders (Andrew Friedman and David Hoffman), who describe an evening out with their hard-drinking, womanizing uncle; “Some Of That,” in which two dudes (Hoffman and Alex Staggs), who are looking to rent a Venice Beach apartment, play out sexual fantasies in front of their realtor (Matson-Sachoff); and the musical finale “A Real Man,” which features Our Lord and Savior in the flesh. Director Ted Michael does a nice job orchestrating the improvs, but he fails to push his actors to the extremes necessary to bring out the underpinnings to the comedy. Company member Melissa McCarthy, who has been the highlight of previous shows, was conspicuously absent and sorely missed. The Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through October 4. (323) 934-4747. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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 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.

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. (DK) 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

>NEW REVIEW GO PUGILIST SPECIALIST “Victory forgives dishonesty” is the telling slogan that punctuates Adriano Shaplin's military comedy, wherein a quartet of U.S. Marines with varying specialties is recruited for a “black” operation, i.e to assassinate a “target” in some Middle-Eastern country. We observe their initial meetings and some gender tension among them– one officer, Lt. Emma Stein (Kimberly Rose-Wolter) is female and the actor bears a striking resemblance to Lynndie England, though Stein's “secret” past is quite different from the Abu Ghraib inmate brutality scandal that tarnished England's reputation. Some verbal sniping over a generation gap also emerges between young Lt. Travis Freud (Linc Hand) and 50-year-old Colonel Johns (Donald Agnelli, looking robust with a buzz-cut silver pate). Finally, there's the issue of “objectivity” raised by Lt. Stoddard (Max Williams), a piercingly smart officer whose absence of almost any passion at all becomes a kind of comic motif. The humor in Shaplin's play comes from the precocious intelligence of the quartet, and from the tart eloquence with which they articulate philosophies of life and survival that have been shaped by life and death in the military. When the mission finally gets underway, the play becomes cinematic – a style that betrays the hyper-theatricality of its set-up. And its final twist, which delights in mocking the order we try to carve from the chaos of our own emotions -- is both amusing and schematic at the same time. Allison Sie's crisply stylized direction of the fine ensemble comes with a choreographic precision on which the comedy depends. Imagine watching a military parade: this is a production that crawls inside the tiny missteps that would go unnoticed by anybody but those wearing the marching boots. And Shaplin's mastery of military terminology adds credence, and horror, to the troubles we're creating all over the world, often in secret. Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 19. (323) 860-3283. A VS. Theatre Company Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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Pugilist Specialist

NEW REVIEW RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL "Every race or nation that has ever got upon its feet has done so through struggle and trial and persecution," declaims Booker T. Washington (David Edward Perry) in Terrance McNally's musical, based on the sprawling novel by E.L. Doctorow. His words ring with optimism whenever America is laid low, and Zeke Rettman's staging -- despite being messy and overcrowded (the cast plus live band would take up half the seats in the theater) -- taps into the angst and hope at the heart of this play about the America we've wanted but rarely grasped, and which now feels out of reach. When a conservative businessman (Joe Montgomery) leaves his comfortable home for a year exploring the Arctic with Admiral Peary, he assures his wife (Megan Johnson Briones) that "the world will not spin off its axis in a year." But this being the 1910s, it does, and upon his return, he's a frozen caveman to his now radicalized family, which has doubled to include an unmarried black mother (Rachae Thomas), her baby, and her temperamental lover (Kevin Yarbrough). Meanwhile, his brother-in-law (Aaron Jacobs), who once worshipped pop ephemera like siren songbird Evelyn Nesbit (Josie Yount), has taken up labor rights and bomb manufacturing, while a Latvian immigrant (Jon Jon Briones) and his daughter (Danielle Soibelman) confront the obstacles of the American Dream. More passionate than pretty, the dancing and acting rank below the politics, strong singing, and musical director Kelly L. Dodson's rousing ragtime -- a burgeoning turn-of-last-century swinging sound representing the change each character believes in, despite getting knocked around. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (323) 960-1055. A Musical Theatre of Los Angeles production. (Amy Nicholson)

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. (LE3) 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.

REUNION IN BARTERSVILLE Celeste Bedford Walker's comedy-mystery about a high school reunion gone awry. Egyptian Arena Theater, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (323) 960-7787, www.plays411.vom/reunion.

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 860-7300.

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.

NEW REVIEW GO SPEECH & DEBATE Playwright Stephen Karam's quirky high school comedy imaginatively (and sometimes disturbingly) reinvents the witch hunt of The Crucible through the teen age frame of The Breakfast Club, mixing in a touch of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator." In a small, claustrophobic Oregon town, sexually precocious teenager Howie (Michael Welch) engages in come-hither provocative cyberchat with a much older man who turns out to be none other than his own drama teacher. Fiendishly ambitious high school newspaper reporter Solomon (Aaron Himelstein), driven by his own repressed sexuality, finds out about Howie's interactions and wants to make his story public in a huge expose. Along with Diwata (Mae Whitman), a vengeful theater brat who has been passed up by the drama teacher for one too many acting roles, Solomon and Howie form an organization that to the rest of the world appears to be the school's Speech and Debate club, but which, in fact, has a darker and more confrontational purpose. Although Koram's writing occasionally slips on its own soap opera suds, the combination of artistry and a brash, youthful energy is unsettling enough to elicit a few squirms – exactly the kind you'd hope for in the theater. Director Daniel Henning's psychologically shrewd direction drives the action while being engagingly intimate. Himselstein's sweetly neurotic Solomon; Whitman's shrill, driven Diwata; and Welch's technologically sophisticated but emotionally naïve gay boy are hilarious, touching, and disturbing turns. 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct 26. (323) 661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall)

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Speech and Debate Photo by Rick Baumgartner

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.

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.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (213) 382-8133, www.fridakahlotheater.org.

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 SMALLER THEATERS IN THE VALLEYS

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. (NW) 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.

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The Belle of Amherst Photo by Tony Sears

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. (SLM) 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.

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.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The results are tame at best, featuring dated public figures Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, and others. How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove, Eliot Spitzer, or Sarah Palin. (DK). Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (323) 960-4451.

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. (NW) 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/.

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It's the Housewives Photo by Michael Lamont

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

GOSPONTANEOUS FANTASIA With a title that proffers a less-than-subtle nod to another innovative work of animation, artist and composer J. Walt Adamczyk blends computer technology, visual imagery and music into a head-spinning good time. Armed with self-designed software, a computer touchpad, color controls and a joystick, Adamczyk sketches abstract images and shapes in real time that are projected on a domed planetarium ceiling as we just lie back and enjoy. (Martin Hernandez). Glendale Community College Planetarium, 1500 N. Verdugo Rd., Glendale; Every other Friday, 8 p.m.; Every other Saturday, 6:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (626) 688-0778, www.spontaneousfantasia.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 Oct. 4. (818) 377-4055, www.plays411.com/12thnight.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES SMALLER THEATERS IN THE WESTSIDE AND BEACH COMMUNITIES

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.

GOBURY THE DEAD In Irwin Shaws 1935 expressionistic antiwar play, six soldiers, killed in combat in an unspecified conflict, 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, Shaws play possesses a raw power, but it never lets us forget that its delivering a message. Matthew Huffmans somber production is terrific, and so is his cast. (NW). Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 838-4264.

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.

MADE ME NUCLEAR: THE OPERETTA Charlie Lustman's cancer musical. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (866) 468-3399, www.mademenuclear.com.

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 PERFORMANCESSPECIAL 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.

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.

INCANDESCENCE Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque and DJ Imagika present an evening of music and theater., $15 adv, $20 door. The Edison, 108 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 8. (213) 613-0000, www.edisondowntown.com.

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.

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

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