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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Robert Wilson at USC

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Fri, Oct 3, 2008 at 3:18 PM


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Kiss of the Spider Woman now paying at Bootleg. Photo by Michael Lamont Check back here Monday after noon for an early peek (before they get posted to the Website or appear in print) of the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS of Hamlet at A Noise Within; The Acting Academy performing an improvised rock musical at Acme Comedy Theatre; a pair of musicals: Terrence McNally, John Kander and Fred Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman at Bootleg, and Jonas Oppenheim's “cosmic rock opera Earth Sucks at Art/Works; Odalys Nanin's The Lieutenant Nun (based on the memoirs of a cross-dressing soldier) at Macha Theatre; Jay Sefton's “deconstruction of the one-man show,” The Most Mediocre Story Ever Told at Meta Theatre; Stanley Bennett Clay's study of a teacher falsely accused of child molestation, Armstrong's Kid at Theatre Unlimited; John Pollono's “dark comedy about fathers and sins,” Razorback presented by Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater; and David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly at Chandler Studio Theatre. For the latest New Theater Reviews visit http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-02/stage/put-heading-here/ For the latest theater feature on 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/ For this coming week's comprehensive theater listings, press the READ ON tab at the bottom of this section. (Because of early deadlines, the review of This Beautiful City at the Kirk Douglas Theatre will not be in the paper and posted on the regular website until next week; it can be found, however, embedded here in the comprehensive listings, along with all the other New Theater Reviews.) ROBERT WILSON AT USC On Tuesday evening, before his production of Madama Butterfly returned to L.A. (at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion), Robert Wilson addressed an assembly of students, faculty and a few invited guests at the Bing Theatre on the USC campus. In rumpled black jacket and trousers and soft black shoes (over a white shirt), the designer-director walked onto the stage and stood still, and in silence, for about five minutes – eliciting a few awkward giggles, but mostly a kind of hypnosis. When he eventually spoke, which he did for almost two hours, he sometimes stopped, mid-sentence, and froze, for longer than the standard attention span usually tolerates – either to gather his thoughts, or to make a point about the standard, diminishing attention span. TV and even theater, he noted, contain a rhythm of stop-start-stop-start. Quick bursts and cessations of energy. “No no no no no no,” he squealed in a falsetto, chiding, as though speaking to children. Because each movement of music, each motion of gesture is connected to the preceding movement or motion. Animals understand this. They remember through their muscles. For this reason, he, explained, beginning actors must first learn how to stand on a stage in silence, and then how to walk across a stage, like a cat. “When we're aware of the movement, the line continues. . . Proust said he was writing the same novel. Cezanne said he was always painting the same still life.” This is why in Wilson's marathon performances, he feels no qualms about audiences leaving after an hour or two and returning later, or not. Because unlike in Shakespeare, a missing act, or hour, doesn't render a Wilson event diminished or incomprehensible. Nor does he start with words, he explained, complaining that American and British theater is burdened by a pathological dependence on words and sounds. He starts with silence. Only in silence can anything be understood. Sometimes he devotes entire scenes to the sculpting of light. His presentation was part lecture, part autobiography. The history of Robert Wilson and his work has been well documented, but coming from the man himself exposed both the narcissism and brilliance that's led to alternate realities onstage – or, from Wilson's perspective, the reality of his designs that exposes the alternate reality of our lives and more traditional entertainments. (So as not to ignore the stage design, the set included a projected image of a pair of old shoes, in duplicate, which yielded to Wilson's designs from epics ranging from The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin to Einstein on the Beach. Wilson shares with neurologist Oliver Sacks an adulation for the penetrating insights coming from those with senses and brain function impaired – the deaf, the autistic, whose comprehension of the world is, by necessity, more animalistic and consequently more true, and therefore artful. Much of his presentation was an homage to two such men (one he met as child) who participated in the creation of his works and understood them innately. They were, for Wilson, a window onto the world of his art. When he recorded the utterances of one brain-damaged, autistic child, he discovered that the sounds, when inscribed onto paper, formed a sculpture that had the form of a perfect geometry, while the sounds we use to exchange what we think are lucid ideas are comparatively erratic. “If I had gone through Yale and studied theater,” he said, “I would not be making the kind of theater I'm making.” YALE CABARET AT M-BAR On Saturday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 7 p.m., Yale Cabaret presents an evening of French cabaret songs at M-Bar, 1253 Vine Street. (323) 856-0036 or visit http://mbarhollywood.com For this weekend's comprehensive theater listings, press the READ ON tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

For October 4- 10, 2008

(The weekend's 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

ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big city.". Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 960-5574, www.angryyoungwomen.net.

ARMSTRONG'S KID Stanley Bennett Clay's drama about a schoolteacher falsely accused of molesting a student. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 480-3232, www.ticketmaster.com.

ASSES AND ELEPHANTS It's election night for Kerry-Edwards campaigners, by Suzanne Bressler. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Oct. 4; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3, 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-7711, www.plays411.com/assesandelephants.

BABY Parenting musical, book by Sybille Pearson, music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. George Nakano Theater, 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (310) 781-7171.

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL The Weekly World News character comes to life, book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; opens Oct. 9; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (310) 929-8129.

BOOKS WITH FEET Stage performances of J.D. Salinger's “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and Truman Capote's “House of Flowers.” Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (310) 494-0471.

DIVA Howard Michael Gould's Hollywood-insider comedy. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com.

THE DOUBLE GRAND EXPERIENCE Piano music by Deborah Johnson and Wayland Pickard, benefiting the Lonny Chapman theater. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Oct. 4, 1 p.m.. (818) 700-4878, www.lcgrt.com.

EARTH SUCKS "Cosmic rock musical" by Jonas Oppenheim. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 4; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-7744, www.earthsucksmusical.com.

EDGEMAR ANNUAL GALA Featuring comedian Jeff Richards and the cast of Ruthless., $100. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Sat., Oct. 4. (310) 392-7327, www.edgemarcenter.org.

FREAK DANCE: THE FORBIDDEN DIRTY BOOGALOO"Dancers from different worlds come together to save Fantaseez Dance Center," by Matt Besser. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH Eliza Jane Schneider's solo show. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Oct. 3; Oct. 3-4, 8 p.m.; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (818) 754-4264, www.elizajane.com/freedom.html.

HALO The image of Jesus appears on the side of a coffee shop, in Josh MacDonald's play. (In rep with Push, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Oct. 4; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org.

JAMIL CHOKACHI sings at Sterling's Upstairs. Vitello's, 4349 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Sun., Oct. 5, 7 p.m.. (818) 981-3077, www.myspace.com/sterlingsupstairs.

LOVE LETTERS David Birney stars in A.R. Gurney's play. Wayfarers Chapel, 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes; Tues., Oct. 7, 7 p.m.. (310) 377-1650 or (310) 377-7919, Ext. 6 (visitor center), www.wayfarerschapel.org/.

M. BUTTERFLY David Henry Hwang's story of a French diplomat and his Chinese spy lover. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006, www.theprodco.com.

MYSTERY MEAT Monthlong multimedia extravaganza, hosted by Phil Van Hest. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (866) 811-4111, www.garagetheatre.org.

A NIGHT OF FRENCH CABARET SONGS M Bar, 1253 N. Vine St., L.A.; Sat., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 5, 7 p.m.. (323) 856-0036.

NOHO SCENE Free day of theater, music, and dance in North Hollywood. NoHo Arts District, Lankershim & Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., Oct. 5, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.. (818) 980-6646, www.nohoartsdistrict.com.

O SOLO NEO Three solo performers in five shows. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 3; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (818) 202-4120, www.zombiejoes.com.

THE PORTRAIT OF A LIFE A guy gets his portrait painted, by Lori Murphy Saux. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 4; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (818) 508-7101, www.portraitplay.com.

RANT! Five 10-minute rants. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Mon., Oct. 6, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

SO FRESH AND SO CLEAN Comedy, poetry and beatboxing by Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Joshua Silverstein. Bang, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 4; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 653-6886, www.bangstudio.com/.

THE SOUND AND THE FURY: APRIL SEVENTH, 1928 Elevator Repair Service's stage adaptation of Faulkner's novel. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Oct. 9-10, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 11, 3 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 12, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800, www.redcat.org.

THREE LITTLE BIRDS By Kenneth Williams. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Wed., Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 667-2000, www.autry-museum.org/.

THE WOODY SHOW Celebrating the words and music of Woody Guthrie. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Oct. 5, 1 p.m.. (310) 455-3723, www.theatricum.com.

WOMEN WITH DOGS Relationship comedy by Rick Pagano. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; opens Oct. 4; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-5773, www.plays411.com/womenwithdogs.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS

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.

>NEW REVIEW BE LIKE WATER Veteran performance-art monologist, Dan Kwong, takes a stab at multi-character, dramatic narrative with this rather sweet, albeit conventionally scripted, coming-of-age dramedy. If Kwong leaves his avant behind, however, fans will be happy to see his signature arsenal of pop-culture tropes and racial-justice themes survive the assault only slightly blunted. 14-year-old Tracy (Saya Tomioka) is an Asian-American, karate-kicking tomboy, struggling through the psychic obstacle course of adolescence. Familiar sexual identity and self-image hazards are made even more harrowing, however, when complicated by the pernicious racism of Chicago’s Chinatown, circa 1978. But this is the post-Bruce Lee world, meaning Tracy has a virile Asian role model she can emulate when she goes up against the class bigot (Jonathan Decker). More than that, she has the man himself, or at least his conjured ghost (an amazing Cesar Cipriano), as her spiritual trainer. Somehow, the ghost’s faux philosophical doublespeak guides her through a brush with the law (and into a dress) and reconciles her culturally divided parents (Michael Sun Lee & Pam Hayashida). As a playwright, Kwong still has some remedial lessons ahead on curbing television-bred structural and linguistic ticks and on how to write a stage entrance. A lush and polished production by director Chris Tashima and his gifted design team helps to smooth over some of the rough edges, while terrific performances from a likable ensemble make one overlook the rest. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 12. (213) 625-7000, www.eastwestplayers.org. (Bill Raden)

BYE BYE BIRDIE Musical satire of the '50s rock scene, 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.

>NEW REVIEW DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE For about half of Act 1, Sarah Ruhl’s comedy clings (as though to an intriguing but weightless straw) to the situation of a young, single woman, Jean (Margaret Welsh, perky and bright-eyed), discovering that the reason her neighboring diner (Lenny Von Dohlen) at a sidewalk cafe won’t answer his constantly ringing cell phone is that he’s just died. It’s not until mid-act, in a greeting card shop where she and the dead man’s brother, Dwight (Andrew Borba), find their awkward, tender courtship constantly interrupted by that invasive cell phone, that the intrusion of technology on our privacy and humanity start to emerge. In that same scene the pair discover how words on paper are so much more durable than words in air, and the play’s glorious, unfulfilled promise emerges, yet it remains unfulfilled. A rarity without a cell phone of her own, Jean becomes enamored not only with the phone that she filches and keeps answering with a growing addiction, but also to inventing stories about the man’s last words (which she never actually heard because she discovered him dead) – in order to comfort his family members and one mistress (Nike Doukas, speaking in the style of an SNL sketch with an indiscernible Continental dialect). We eventually learn that the dead man also made up stories, ostensibly to “comfort” people, but really to hide his secret, shady occupation which was the source of his prodigious wealth. Somebody in the play points this out as a kind of irony. Somebody points out almost every bit of cleverness being strived for, which is a troubling indication of how the play’s pleasingly ethereal notions need to be explained because they’re too muddled to stand on their own. That both Jean and the dead man comfort people with lies is intended as a literary flirtation with the larger purposes of fiction, legend and myth – themes that have earned Ruhl her well-earned reputation. But the gaping distinction between one character using lies to hide his present occupation, and another using lies to invent a past, are as broad as a barn door that remains unopened. Instead, Ruhl’s play walks around it and takes snapshots from any angle in the hopes that the resulting collage will pass for a cogent story and a portrait of our times. Rather, we get a sketchy treatment of ideas so beautiful, they deserve better. Director Bart DeLorenzo amps up the caricatures of the women in the dead man’s family -- dressing his aristocratic mother (Christina Pickles) in bright red, and draping her with a fox; while his widow (Shannon Holt) emerges as a bundle of perfectly executed comic twitches. The broad style of these scenes strains against the classical-romantic streak that blazes through the courtship between Jean and Dwight. DeLorenzo got to the heart of similar themes with far more unity in Donald Margulies’ Shipwrecked . . . at this same venue, which makes it hard to discern whether responsibility lies with him, or with Ruhl’s perfunctory theatrical treatment of her lovely imagination. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (714) 708-5555. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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Dead Man's Cell Phone Photo by Ed Krieger/SCR

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. (SLM) 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.

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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. (AN) 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.

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An Italian Straw Hat Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR

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. The show tells the wild, wooly tale of three female 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 girl 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 “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, and who must now learn to both smolder and fight back. All technical credits — sets, costumes, choreography, lighting and musical direction — are gorgeous. (NW) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand St., 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 http://CenterTheatreGroup.org.

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9 to 5: The Musical Photo by Craig Schwartz

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

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.

NEW REVIEW GO THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY A few years ago, reflecting on The Trial of the Catonsville Nine presented early at his then new Mark Taper Forum, Gordon Davidson remarked on the death of the docudrama, that theater couldn't compete with the ability of the video camera to capture the microscopic physical detail and subtext of people being interviewed, and what they reveal behind and beneath their words and gestures. Co-writers Steve Cosson and Jim Lewis, working with song-writer-lyricist Michael Friedman and New York-based The Civilians theatre company, demonstrate that one creative solution to this puzzle is to use musical theater to inflate the scale of the presentation, rather than try to put it under the microscope of videocam naturalism. This Beautiful City is an ode to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and follows multiple views from all sides of the local political and theological equations, as pastor Ted Haggard rolls into town, sets up his mega-church and takes a dive when he's outed and finally confesses to using meth. The six-actor company (Emily Ackerman, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brad Herberlee, Stephen Plunkett, Alison Weller, Cosson and Lewis) depicts a range of residents whom the actors interviewed for this piece, from resident atheists to religious zealots to one trans-gender “girl”. Mercifully, these are not parodies that load the argument to spoon feed what a lefty audience in Culver City wants to hear, but interpretations reaching for the deepest and most sincere comprehension of the characters, of how life's agonies turn into religious conversions, how God and Jesus become substitutes for a kind of unqualified love and compassion that simply don't exist in Colorado, or anywhere else on Earth. Some of the interviews are sung – a four-piece band sits perched high stage left, while sermons by evangelists and baptist preachers have their own, innate brand of musicality and choreography. The piece is too long -- the rise and fall of Haggard defines its rhythm, but it keeps going for another 20 minutes, as though it's caught between its commitment to be a musical, docu-dramatic portrait of a city, and the almost classical-Greek study in the hubris of one mega-church leader. Right now, it's trying to be both. Still, if you want to understand this country, and why the good citizens of Silver Lake and Soho are so perplexed by the way things unfold here, Colorado Springs is a pretty good place to start. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (213) 628-2772. Presented by Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles, and the Vineyard Theatre, New York City (Steven Leigh Morris)

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This Beautiful City Photo by Craig Schwartz

GO WICKED In this musical riff on the witches of Oz (by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Hollzman), Joe Mantello directs a marvelous spectacle that looks like a diversion but is actually quite the opposite. Eden Espinoza as the green-skinned, bespectacled girl-witch Elphaba has a contagiously smart appeal. After recognizing that Elphaba's not GOing to power-play along with the Wizard's (John Rubinstein) Stalinist shenanigans, Mrs. Morrible (the delightful Carol Kane), starts a witch hunt for the girl, and the whole thing starts to resemble some of the tawdrier chapters in American history. (SLM). Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 11. (213) 365-3500.

>NEW REVIEW GO WONG FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST Performer Kristina Wong opens her one-woman show under the pretense that she will, in an earnest yet fun-loving fashion, explore the cultural phenomenon of high rates of suicide and depression among Asian-American women. She then proceeds to fail spectacularly at this task, spiraling into a miasma of pseudo-academic cultural theory and her own expression of identity. So what purports to be an entertaining and educational romp through oft-trod territory of identity politics dissolves into a humorous and poignant refutation of there being much commonality to the female Asian-American experience at all. Wong's conclusion is multi-faceted and profoundly personal. She eschews indulging maudlin stereotypes while embracing — or maybe even reclaiming — a personal story at the core of every Asian-American woman. Wong's performance is quick and controlled, allowing her to slowly unveil her portrait of madness with such skill, we barely realizing it's happening. The Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; thru Oct 5. (310) 998-8765. TeAda Productions (Luis Reyes)

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Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Photo by Jen Cleary

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND DOWNTOWN

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.; Tues.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (213) 389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.com.

GO ALL ABOUT WALKEN: THE IMPERSONATORS OF CHRISTOPHER WALKEN So these eight Christopher Walken impersonators glide onstage, strutting and yowling and wearing bad wigs. Most are decent Walkens, and the best have mastered the piranha stare and elastic enunciation that snaps the ends of syllables like rubber bands. Walken's gleeful insanity is realized when director Patrick O'Sullivan challenges his band of Walkens to new Walken frontiers, including an all-Walken Wizard of Ozand 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. 16. (310) 663-4050, www.plays411.com.

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 herself attracted to a lesbian nun (Patricia Rae), and a cheating husband (Robert Foster). Initially, these characters appear happenstance, without 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. (LE3) The Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m., through Oct. 12. (323) 960-4410.

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 Oct. 12. (323) 957-1152.

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.

THE CHALK BOY Teenage girls deal with life, by Joshua Conkel. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 883-1717, www.plays411.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.; 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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 960-7774, www.plays411.com/GOddess.

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.

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

NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK FATBOY John Clancy's 2004 Edinburgh Fringe hit adaptation of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi has landed here just in time for the Wall Street meltdown and one of the most surreal election campaigns in American history. What does a farce from the turn-of-last-century about a slovenly, debauched and debauching glutton- king of Poland and his equally hideous wife have to do with us? Try start with Macbeth, then move on swiftly to Charles Keating. Remember Home sweet Home Savings & Loan? Enron? If that's too far back in time, try Countrywide Financial Corporation and the predatory sub-prime mortgages that we're all now going to pay for. In Jarry's play, the padded fat bastards starved and beat their subjects while attaining ever more riches and power, until a little revolution had the minions chasing their persecutors into the wilderness. Ian Forester directs it like a Punch and Judy puppet show, with padded clowns punching each other until they roll on the ground. Mark Mendelson's cheesy set comes with the painted-on grime of an old vaudeville theater, fake footlights included. Alexander Wells and Rebecca Jordon play the happy-miserable couple in white-face, Fatboy and Fudgie, who do little but eat money like lettuce leaves and gleefully hurl abusive epithets at each other – a none to subtle dramatization of our consumer culture. There's no dramatic arc, it's not that kind of play. Fatboy screams throughout, and mentions this aspect in one of many asides. He wants pancakes, she wants money. The rest is a stream of creative curses that turn obscenity into an art. They actually mention art a couple of times, along with catch phrases like “human dignity,” “truth” and “beauty” -- before they both collapse in paroxysms of laughter. Oh, yes, Fatboy survives his kangaroo trial for international war crimes by mocking the court and murdering his opponents. There's quite a bit of neck snapping, with sound effects. Just when you're ready to dismiss all this is as beyond over-the-top, the lights dim, and Fatboy turns menacing. He looks straight at us, and holds us accountable for living by the values that have gotten our country exactly where it is right now. Fat bastards, that means you. Grand performances also by Alan Simpson, Bobby Reed and Abigail Eiland. Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (800) 838-3006, www.needtheater.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO FINALLY Stephen Belber's haunting Rashomon-styled drama is powered by Morlan Higgins' strong, emotionally nuanced performance. He plays four characters: a washed-up semipro football player; a damaged, miserable wife; a dog with a penchant for Byron and Tennyson; and a football coach. These people are linked by a common thread of guilt, violence and betrayal. Matt Shakman's staging is simple but forceful. (LE3). Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.. (800) 838-3006, www.thedahlia.com.

GO 43 PLAYS FOR 43 PRESIDENTS Often, it’s not just the who, what and why that make a history lesson viable but the how — as in how you tell it. That’s the premise behind 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, a witty, sardonic collection of miniplays about the American presidency. Studded with song and dance, these distinctive one- to five-minute segments — originally created by five writer-performers of 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 their reputations untarnished. The ironic portraits include John Adams (Kelley Hazen) as a fretful neurotic, who signed legislation that shredded 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; and Ulysses Grant (Rafael Clements), who, as a young man despised guns but was forced by his father to attend West Point. 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. (DK) Sacred Fools Theater, 661 N. Heliotrope Ave., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 21 & Oct. 26, 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (310) 281-3887.

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

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 comedy’s underpinnings. Company member Melissa McCarthy, who has been the highlight of previous shows, was conspicuously absent and sorely missed. (MK) The Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through Oct. 4. (323) 934-4747.

>NEW REVIEW GO JOE'S GARAGE Joe (Jason Paige) wants to play music. But after a neighbor (Maia Madison) files a noise complaint with the cops on his garage band, Joe and his girl Mary (Becky Wahlstrom) fall prey to a domino chain of gang rape, venereal disease, wet t-shirt contests, prison time, cyborg threesomes, and madness. What's to blame? "Music," hisses the Central Scrutinizer (Michael Dunn), a robot narrator dangling from the rafters -- certainly not the religious and government figures who sure seem to be pulling the strings. Like novelist Terry Southern, Frank Zappa's weapon against hypocrisy was to confront audiences with a circus mirror of their culture's greed and lust. Some saw their reflection; others argued Zappa was warped. Pat Towne and Michael Franco's world premiere staging of Zappa's narrative album crackles with outrage and grief masked by a leer --- Jennifer Lettelleir choreographs plenty of sex, but like Robert Crumb's comics, it's more repellent than titillating. Musical director Ross Wright and the seven piece band help the snappy ensemble animize Zappa's eclectic sound which ranges from dissonant juggernauts to deceptively sweet ditties. Per Zappa's request, the song "Watermelon in Easter Hay" plays once his hapless everyman has succumbed to creative censorship; the band puts down their instruments, turns off the lights, and cues Zappa's original version. In that isolating darkness, Zappa's limber guitar feels like a lifeline -- we're struck by our need for music, and our need for today's apolitical musicians to break loose and write the next chorus. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (323) 882-6912, (Amy Nicholson)

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Joe's Garage Photo by Maia Rosenfeld

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.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (213) 389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.com.

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.

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

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

GO MONEY & RUN Wayne Rawley's popular Seattle serial, inspired by The Dukes of Hazzardand Miami Vice, debuts with its first installment, "Money, Take Run," in which two hot-blooded criminals, Money (Johanna Watts) and Run (Joshua Sliwa), meet-cute when holding up the same liquor store. When the narrator tells us to "stay tuned for scenes from the next episode," we can only hope that theater's fun is less disposable than this show's TV origins. (AN). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.. (800) 595-4TIX, www.moneyandrun.net.

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.

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

THE PAVILION Craig Wright (Orange Flower Water, Recent Tragic Events) wrote this play “about time,” in 2005, and this is its Los Angeles premiere. Being about time, and small-town folk, it ambles onto the poetical-theatrical turf of Thornton Wilder and Dylan Thomas, which could explain why the narrator (Chris Smith) is clad in black. He reminds us (in case we might forget) that we're in a theater. He propels a styrofoam ball across a wire to represent a shooting star, as background for a very bitter, slightly sweet romance between Kathi (Kristin Chiles) and Peter (Tim Hamelen) at their 10-year high school reunion. (Smith jumps in – often in drag -- to play all the sniggering, swaggering peers Kathi and Peter crash into, many also suffering the heartache of time passing.) Peter is now floundering and Kathi's in a desolate marriage. Peter left Kathi pregnant in high school; on his father's orders, he stopped answering her calls like a cad. And now he's returned to make amends, she's not having much of it, or him, for a while. Chiles' Act 1 shrillness yields to an emotional depth approaching wisdom in Act 2. Hamelen reveals an appealing sensitivity and stoic resolve throughout. Wright includes too much precious narration in order to put a high school reunion in the context of the Big Bang, and the rise and fall of empires. Obren Milanovic directs with wistful intelligence before trying to charm us with the cleverness of the play's many theatrical conceits. Some in the audience might have been charmed. (SLM) Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (323) 939-9220.

GO 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 buzzcut 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 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 under way, the play becomes cinematic — a style that betrays the hypertheatricality of its setup. 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. (SLM) 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.

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 in to 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 to explore 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, and 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 new swinging sound representing the change each character believes in despite getting knocked around more than Jack Johnson. (AN) 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.

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

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.

>NEW REVIEW GO SEA CHANGE This world premiere of Nick Salamone’s latest play offers an elegant study of enduring friendship among five friends (three gay men and two lesbians). From pot smoking, the spaced-out high life of their youth in the '70s, to a sober, sadder and wiser middle age a quarter century later, the quintet explores companionship, sensuality and love on a small fishing boat off Cape Cod. The boat's owner, Gene (Ryun Yu), is outed as a future priest who's sending his lover, Val (Nick Cimiluca), into a tailspin that spurs the entire group into a orgy of philosophy, pop-psychology and nature worship. Twenty-five years later, AIDS and mental illness have intervened in the friends' lives as they reconnect for a reunion on the boat. Salamone's clear sense of character and story sometimes fall prey to some florid language, but director Jon Lawrence Rivera and the fine cast (who also include Fran De Leon, Clay Storseth and Lisa Tharps) are skilled enough to navigate through these overwrought moments. Gary Reed's stylishly crafted boat set provides a vivid sense of place. Elizabeth Huffman's witty costume designs and expert hair and makeup help the actors add further credibility to the age transitions. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valenti Theater, 1125 N McCadden Pl., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 12. (323) 860-7300. (Tom Provenzano)

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Sea Change Photo by Allison Moon

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.

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (800) 595-4TIX, www.insightamerica.org.

GO SPEECH & DEBATE Playwright Stephen Karam’s quirky high school comedy imaginatively (and sometimes disturbingly) reinvents the witch-hunt of The Crucible through the teenage 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, learns of Howie’s interactions and wants to make his story public in a huge exposé. 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 Karam’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 naive gay boy are hilarious, touching and disturbing by turns. (PB) 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.

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 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 SUNDAYA ll-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.

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

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES 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 FREEDOM OF SPEECH In her solo show, actor Eliza Jane Schneider conjures the people she met on a cross-country sojourn in a decommissioned ambulance. She displays a remarkable ability to conjure a character through sounds and snippets of words. By design, the piece roams as much as Schneider did on her sojourn. This renders the performance a facile tour de force in a presentation still distilling its larger meaning. Sal Romeo directs. (SLM). Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Through Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (818) 754-4264, www.elizajane.com/freedom.html.

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

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Inside Private Lives Photo by Kristin Stone Entertainment

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

>NEW REVIEW LITTLE BLACK LIES Playwright Steve Stajich’s tenuously directed and under-produced pair of one acts respectively explores iniquities within the medical profession and the insurance business. In The Ointment, directed by Jane Taini, a dermatologist (Frank Noon) who’s been bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical companies, struggles with his conscience when a company rep (John Malone) pushes him to promote a largely untested product. Noon is quirky and interesting as the conflicted doctor coming up against Malone’s unabashedly Mephistophelian sales guy. But the play soon veers off track with the introduction of a shrilly neurotic patient (played without much calibration by Daisy Mullen) whose angry vengeance furnishes the climax to an increasingly surreal and meandering plot. In Analog, directed by Katherine James, the office staff at an insurance firm becomes discombobulated when their software is recalibrated and the technician discovers shocking material one of them has stored on the system. Much of the dialogue deals with the petty rivalries and resentments among the group. However, notwithstanding some interesting passages – true of both plays, actually -- there’s little depth to the characters, and the story sitrs up much ado about nothing. (That may be because the piece was written in one week as a companion piece to the first.) The standard of performance varies; Paul Tigue as the office nerd and Trevor Anthony as a guy into porno establish the most definitive personas. Avery Schreiber Theatre 11050 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru October 19. (323) 960-5775 or http://plays411.com/littleblacklies A Sphere Artists Production. (Deborah Klugman)

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Little Black Lies Photo by Ed Krieger

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.

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.

12TH NIGHT Shakespeare's comedy. St. Matthew's Lutheran GLBT Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (818) 377-4055, www.plays411.com/12thnight.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALL THEATERS ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS

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.

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

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

FUCKING HOLLYWOOD Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to update a classic. Such is the case with Paul Wagar’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which caused quite a stir when it opened in 1903 because of its candid depiction of sexual dalliances among the upper crust of Viennese society. The mis en scene here isn’t as high brow; Wagar shifts the playground to the environs of Hollywood trying to lampoon tinsel town promiscuity and depravity. Like the original, the adaptation is diced into ten brief scenes. Here, Renae Geerlings, Hal Perry, Peter Ross Stephens, Dee Amerio Sudik and Julian Colleta portray various characters on the Hollywood food chain who engage in naughty bits for one reason or another. A homosexual encounter, a dominatrix ditty, and a threesome are some of the encounters on display prompting the question: So what? Wagar does make an attempt at gravitas when a couple laboring under a strained marriage actually engage in some rare moments of intelligent dialogue. Andrew Crusse directs. (LE3) Ark Theatre, 1647 La. Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sep. 28. (323) 969-1707.

>NEW REVIEW THE GREAT ELECTION The idea of staging Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock's early 1900s comedy about a corrupt election in a small town seems like it should be a natural right now, what with all the chaos and turmoil of our own current national campaign. Unfortunately, though, director John Stark's slapdash production of Leacock's irritatingly dated play suffers from such a weak comic sensibility that it comes across as clumsy rather than timely. In Pahrump, Nevada, the townsfolk launch a recall election against sleazy State Senator Bagshaw (Martin Clark), a buggy eyed old coot and multi-term serving Democrat. The Pahrump Republicans desperately desire to steal the seat and put up local casino and tavern-owner Josh Smith (John Combs), a cigar-chewing whiskered reprobate who hypocritically runs on the Temperance and Prohibition platform. To promote his campaign, Smith temporarily turns his bar into a health food restaurant -- and he even wins an endorsement from the town's pruny preacher (Lynn Wanlass). Much corrupt behavior ensues. Leacock's attempts to evoke folksy satire come across as patronizing and steeped in tired "hick" stereotypes. The play's hillbilly-lite atmosphere is so cheesy, Hee Haw looks like MThe West Wing by comparison. The plot's a muddle that's impossible to follow while director Stark's unfocused direction has the performers shuffling through or mumbling over the work's corny jokes so that they're barely discernible. This may actually be an act of charity. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct 12. (310) 477-2055. John Stark Productions. (Paul Birchall)

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The Great Election Photo by Greg Jardin

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.; thru Oct. 4. (562) 494-1014, www.lbph.com.

>NEW REVIEW MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he’s determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He’s an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we’re to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Nov. 1. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance. (Neal Weaver)

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Made Me Nuclear Photo by Cydne Moore

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

CONTINUING SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS

BEDLAM AT THE BALLPARK Plus Extra Innings: A Vaudeville Revue. All-American Melodrama Theater and Music Hall, 429-E Shoreline Village Dr., Long Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 23. (562) 495-5900, www.allamericanmelodrama.com.

FACE OF THE WORLD FESTIVAL '08Solo 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.

SPARK: AN EVENING OF STORYTELLING Monthly series of storytelling "sparked" by a particular theme. (Resv. required.). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; First Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 3. (866) OFF-MAIN.

TRIO LOS PANCHOS Musical trio reunites, by Josephina Lopez. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (323) 263-7684, www.casa0101.org.

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