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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Another L.A. Production in NYC

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Fri, Oct 10, 2008 at 12:10 PM


Check back here on Monday for NEW THEATER REVIEWS reviews of Two Trains Running at the new Ebony Repertory Theatre; Clare Boothe Luce's The Women at the Hayworth; Bill Sterrritt's Nihil Obstat at SPQR Stage Company; Paul Mullin's Science Drama, The Sequence at Theatre @ Boston Court, Suzanne Bressler's political comedy Asses and Elephants at Santa Monica Playhouse and Chazz Palminteri's Faithful presented by Ruskin Group Theatre.

More L.A. prods in NYC

Circus Theatricals' acclaimed productions of Shem Bitterman's Man.Gov and Harm's Way open October 17 at the 45th Street Theatre in New York, and perform in repertory through November 9. For more info, visit http://circustheatricals.com

For this week's Theater Feature on UCLA Live's problems with Equity, plus The Civilians' This Beautiful City visit http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-09/stage/culturally-unique-actors-equity-goes-soviet-on-ucla-live/

For the latest New Reviews, visit http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-09/stage/hamlet-razorback-the-most-mediocre-story-never-told/

For Complete Theater Listings, press the READ ON tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

For October 10-16, 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

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER African-American writer-performer Virginia Watson illustrates her life story. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 16; Thurs.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (3223) 769-5049, www.plays411.com.

THE DISAPPEARANCE Based on Ilan Stavans' short story about a Holocaust survivor who fakes his own kidnapping. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Oct. 16-17, 8 p.m.. (877) 722-4849, www.skirball.org.

DRAMAPOCALYPTO! The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights presents this daylong event, including symposiums, a "Monologue Slam," and play readings., free. California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Dr., L.A.; Sat., Oct. 11, 11 a.m.. (323) 957-4752, www.laplaywrights.org.

EDGAR ALLAN POE'S TALES OF TERROR Theatrical readings of The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven and more, by Joshua Kane. Caltech Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena; Fri., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.. (626) 395-4652, events.caltech.edu.

ELOVE: A MUSICAL.COM/EDY Wayland Pickard's Internet love story. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 11; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (818) 700-4878, www.lcgrt.com.

THE FAMILY OF MANN The kooky world of sitcom writing, as seen by Theresa Rebeck. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 769-5858, www.theatreneo.com.

GEM OF THE OCEAN First installment, set in 1904, of August Wilson's 10-play "Pittsburgh Cycle.". Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.

GIRL'S ROOM Joni Fritz's play about three generations of women. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 12; Wed., Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (818) 508-0281, www.elportaltheatre.com.

IMMEDIATE FAMILY Terry Baum's one-woman play about same-sex couples' medical rights. Workmen's Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Oct. 12, 3 p.m.. (310) 552-2007.

JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED Austen-esque tales, improv'd anew each night. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (323) 960-7753, www.plays411.com/janeaustenunscripted.

LATINO NEW WORKS FESTIVAL A weekend of solo performance, dance works and visual art, all exclusively Latino. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Oct. 10-11, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 12, 3:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459, www.highwaysperformance.org.

LEADING LADIES Ken Ludwig's comedy about a pair of actors plotting to scam an elderly woman. (Call for added perfs.). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; opens Oct. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16, (No perf Oct. 31.). (323) 462-8460.

MAGIC? MAYBE... Jennifer Emily McLean's fantasy about a young woman who denounces magic. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; opens Oct. 12; Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Dec. 7. (323) 636-9661, www.theatreyawp.com.

NIHIL OBSTAT Religious leader and son plan a Middle East invasion circa 1095, by Bill Sterritt. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 793-2153.

THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD/THE SHADOW OF THE GLEN Two one-act dramas by John Millington Synge. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Oct. 14-18, 8 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.

PORCELAIN Chay Yew's story of an Asian homosexual's murderous confession. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 10; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com.

PUSH Kristen Lazarian's play about an upscale couple's troubles. (In rep with Halo, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Oct. 11; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org.

THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash's romance set in a drought-ridden rural town. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Oct. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 12, 2 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 19, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 22, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 15, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 6, 2 & 8 p.m.. (818) 240-0910, www.anoisewithin.org.

THE RIVALRY Staged reading of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, starring David Strathairn and Paul Giamatti. (To be recorded for radio series The Play's the Thing.). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Oct. 15-17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 18, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 19, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889, www.latw.org.

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy of manners. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; opens Oct. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (310) 512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.

THE SEQUENCE Paul Mullin's study of a competition to sequence the human genome. Boston Court Theatre, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; opens Oct. 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (626) 683-6883.

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.; opens Oct. 10, 8:30 p.m.; also perfs Sat., Oct. 11, 3 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 12, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800, www.redcat.org.

THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS Nathan Sanders's story of two eccentric sisters. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Oct. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (626) 256-3809.

TWO TRAINS RUNNING Seventh installment, set in 1969, of August Wilson's 10-play "Pittsburgh Cycle.". Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 10; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 964-9766, www.ebonyrepertorytheatre.org.

WAITING IN THE WINGS Noel Coward's play about a retirement home for has-been British celebrities. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; opens Oct. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.

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.

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. (BR) 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.

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.

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. (SLM) South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (714) 708-5555.

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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 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.

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 CenterTheatreGroup.org.

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 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 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 its 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. (SLM)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

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This Beautiful City Photo by Craig Schwartz

>NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK HAMLET Traditionalists beware! Director Michael Michetti’s lean, mean, and stripped to the extreme version of the Bard’s masterwork is out to raise your hackles. For the rest of us, though, Michetti and his abundantly talented ensemble deliver the goods — a riveting, provocative, and lucidly entertaining Hamlet that comes agonizingly close to the definitive. Michetti’s boldest conceit is a radical collapse of Act I. A series of cinematic quick cuts establish Freddy Douglas’ Prince riven by Oedipal angst. Instead of the traditional battlement scenes, Michetti employs an upstage screen of funhouse mirrors and has Hamlet channel the King’s ghost in his own distorted reflection. Exit Dr. Freud, enter Norman Bates. This suggestion of a schizophrenic break transforms Hamlet from hesitant intellectual into calculating killer; it also strips the subsequent action of its moral ambiguity and propels it into a kind of driving, Hitchcockian psychological thriller. François Giroday’s Claudius becomes a silver-tongued, cold-blooded schemer; Deborah Strang’s Gertrude his willing accomplice (when she isn’t unnaturally doting on her son). Matthew Jaeger, as Laertes, brings a disturbing whiff of incest to his brotherly affection for Ophelia (Dorothea Harahan). Tony Abatemarco lightens the load — and scores another of his trademark triumphs — with his superb comic rendering of Polonius. Designer Sara Ryung Clement ties it all together with an elegant, minimalist set and costumes that are a timeless blend of modern and period dress. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru Dec. 7. (828)240-0901, Ext. 1 or visit http://anoisewithin.org. (Bill Raden)

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Hamlet at A Noise Within. Photo by Craig Schwartz

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

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN THE SMALLER THEATERS OF 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 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. 16. (310) 663-4050, www.plays411.com.

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 960-5574, www.angryyoungwomen.net.

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 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.

>NEW REVIEW EARTH SUCKS In writer-director Jonas Oppenheim's frothy sci fi musical comedy, Earth's main contribution to the Cosmos is Rock'n Roll. Angsty high school junior Echo (Emily Stern, perhaps a little too snide) fantasizes of falling in love with a handsome outer space creature who would whisk her away to the stars for a variety of adventures doing whatever it is a human and an alien can do together. To achieve this goal, Echo transmits a song out into the galaxy, luring to earth a wacky outer space rock band, headed by the illustrious Fluhbluhbluh (Lucas Revolution), a handsome young bachelor in a red spandex Gumby suit who speaks through a bug-eyed sock puppet. Unfortunately for Echo, it turns out that her NASA scientist dad (Christopher Fairbanks) has been negotiating with sultry, villainous she-alien Ulinia Swords (Nakia Syvonne), who's aiming to use NASA's radio telescope to broadcast a diabolical siren song that will turn the entire population of the universe into her slave. The piece boasts a number of invigorating hard rock numbers in the style of The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and Devo. Still, the crackling music is integrated into a singularly sloppy book with problems compounded by unfocused gags and Oppenheim's hyperactive blocking. The show would earn more respect as a rock opera without any dialogue at all: Syvonne's hilariously wild-eyed, throaty turn is both funny and tuneful, in the style of Eartha Kitt. And Revolution's alien crooner brings to mind David Byrne. ArtWorks Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through November 2. (323) 960-7744. A Citizens of Earth Production. (Paul Birchall)

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Earth Sucks Photo by Emika Honda

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

GO 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. (SLM) 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.

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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

GO FREAK DANCE: THE FORBIDDEN DIRTY BOOGALOO Much of the propulsion in Matt Besser’s dance confection comes from the great breakdance interludes by the Bad Newz Bearz crew (Joel Lara, Jose D. Martinez, Ernie Rodriguez, Isaac Lara and Jesus Corla). The rest derives from Besser’s comic-book satire of self-righteous programs claiming to use the arts to get kids off drugs. Our hero, Funky Bunch (Michael Cassady), sports a DARE T-shirt and tries to rally a clan of inner-city youth led by an aging homey (Hal Rudnick) who suffers the effects of a brain injury from dancing on the ceiling, as well as the complete evisceration of his penis from too much friction with the ground. There’s even a rich girl (Megan Lynam) — “I’m not so rich that I can’t learn to be poor.” They hunker down in an abandoned office and rehearse their dance moves. Enter the Building Inspector (Besser), in the colonial attire of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, slapping them with a $2K fine. How to endure? A dance contest, of course, pitting their slick moves against the sleazy lap-dance gyrations of their opponents, the Dazzles, led by Drew Droege and featuring Allan McLeod, in a mentally impaired turn that looks like Christopher Walken with a high-pitched manic laugh. Dance-bulge codpieces are like visual centerpieces adorning the actors, under Lindsay Hendrickson’s perfect direction. Brian Fountain and Jake Anthony wrote the music. (SLM) Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; indef. (323) 908-8702.

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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.

>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

>NEW REVIEW KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Manuel Puig’s novel dealt with the volatile relations between frivolous gay window-decorator Molina (Chad Borden), and Valentin (Daniel Tatar) -- an earnest, straight political prisoner -- sharing a South American prison cell. A previous dramatization zeroed in on that relationship. But, writing the book for this musical version, with score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Terrence McNally faced the task of “opening up” the story, and creating opportunities for musical numbers. The Spider Woman (Terra C. Macleod), a symbolic fantasy figure, had to be expanded into a role for a female star. So, like a ballet with too many divertimenti, the story must constantly stop in its tracks to accommodate splashy numbers or conventional, often irrelevant songs. Director Nick DeGruccio and choreographer Lee Martino have mounted a terrific production, with a fine cast, an athletic dance ensemble, a huge and handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, slinky outfits for the Spider Woman by Anne Kennedy, and sterling musical direction by Michael Paternostro. The actors are fine, and make the show moving when the script lets them. But too many numbers and distractions clog the show’s arteries, and the compelling central tale falls prey to Broadway razzle-dazzle. Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through Oct. 26. (800) 595-4849 or http://havoktheatre.com A Havok Theatre Co. production. (Neal Weaver)

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Kiss of the Spider Woman Photo by Michael Lamont

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.

>NEW REVIEW THE LIEUTENANT NUN Billed as a comedy, playwright Odalys Nanin’s cartoon-like dramatization of the life of 17th century Basque noblewoman Catalina de Erauso offers little insight into this unique historical personality and the conventions she battled. Victim of a rigid Spanish patriarchy, the teenage Erauso fled the convent where she’d spent her childhood. She donned men’s clothes and became a Spanish soldier who lived and fought under the name of Guzman. Condemned to death for brawling, she confessed to being a woman and was not only spared execution but -- remarkably -- granted a dispensation by the Pope to continue living as a man. Her proven virginity and her service to the state saved her life, and her memoirs brought her celebrity in her lifetime. Co-directed by Johanna Siegmann and Ivonne Coll, this adaptation features Nanin in the title role and employs broad strokes to portray Guzman as a swaggering courageous hothead, irresistible to women, who go wild over her lovemaking techniques. The play opens on high melodrama, later shifting into a bawdier vein with no hint of tongue-in-cheek. The dialogue is simplistic and the acting over-the-top. No effort is made to give shading to the characters or, more interestingly, to the ideological dynamics behind the church’s acceptance of her transvestism and its apparent “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward her sexual preferences. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 26. (323) 960-7829. (Deborah Klugman)

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The Lieutenant Nun Courtesy ILDK Media

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 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.

>NEW REVIEW GO THE MOST MEDIOCRE STORY NEVER TOLD In his autobiographical one-man show, Jay Sefton takes every aspect of the autobiographical one-man show and dismantles it before our eyes. This is because his show isn't really about his youth in Philadelphia and subsequent move to L.A., nor is it about his older and more macho brother, Joe, whom Sefton portrays and who frequently hijacks the show. Sefton's exploration probes the essence of a story, and the distinctions, if any, between a legend and a lie. Joe keeps goading Jay to make things up or the show will be a bore. The awful truth is that his brother maybe right -- that a normal, honorable if meek youth with caring parents is the pleasant kind of existence that nobody wants to hear about stage, or see in movies, or read in books. Edward Albee once said that he writes a play in order to understand why he's writing it. Sefton's show is so clearly undertaken with the goal of Sefton trying to understand why he should be telling his life story, the result breezes past narcissism on a charm-filled meta-literary excursion, under Debra De Liso's nimble direction – something like a magic carpet ride. Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (323) 960-7780. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature next week.

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Most Mediocre Story Never Told Photo by Ed Krieger

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.

>NEW REVIEW POLITICO! The idea of an almost entirely improvised rock opera, based on a presidential campaign, stuffs the ballot box with possibilities, but the final tally hangs like a dangling chad on the satirical wit of the performers, and their ability to locate a political edge. With the general concept that the Devil is running our political show, and candidates' relatives, with their sundry addictions and improprieties, can drive a campaign manager to drink, the comedy on the night I attended was both obvious and blunt, when surprise and sharpness are called for. Director Joseph Limbaugh appears here as a somewhat lumbering Devil/Satyr (with perky assistant Karina Bustillos, in horns) in order to set up each scene for the actors/characters who happen to be present. Musical director Susan Peahl did a first rate job modulating composer Jonathan Green and Brian Lohman's opening and closing chorals, beautifully sung a cappella by the ensemble. The scenarios include the PR nightmare for Liberty Party campaign manager Molly Hatchet (Kimberly Lewis) – representing candidate Senator Scott Turner (Lohmann) Turner's son, Beverly (Barry O'Neil), is lead singer of the band Involuntary Ragnarock, and has impregnated his girlfriend – as musicians tend to do – and Hatchet was grasping for strategies of containment. Robert Covarrubias has a nice turn as stern Special Agent Gregory Eagleson (who has a soft side) while Alexis Kraus and Diana Costa put in respective appearances as the drug-induced visions of Sacajawea and Susan B. Anthony. Stage presence so frequently fell victim to the the ad hoc essence of improv, I found myself wishing that this American apple-pie filling was more tart, or that somebody would write a script for these guys. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 525-0202. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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.

>NEW REVIEW RAZORBACK John Pollono's “pitch dark comedy” -- set in a rustic Maine cabin – is packed with terrific roles. The roles may be richer than the essential qualities of the play. These qualities start from those in any family drama by Sam Shepard, mingled with the comedy of idiot-thugs pitched against ineffectual poet-philosophers found in Harold Pinter's early plays, and Quentin Tarantino' film, Pulp Fiction. Pollono is a good writer, but with 30 new plays per week opening in L.A. alone, one asks for aspects of originality and theatricality in a new work, rather than those of indie-film derivation which prevail here. Dean (Richard Fancy) is an aging ex-thug with a few months to live, condemned by what appears to be colon cancer. Fancy plays him defined by brute dominance and machismo, yet with clearly elucidated soft-spots for his second wife, Sandy (Suzanne Ford, nicely textured performance), and their intellectually precocious “son,” DJ (Edward Tournier). Dean's boozy ex, Ruth (Laura Gardner), arrives in blather of intoxication, along with the tattooed, bloodied adult son, Rocco (the excellent Jack Maxwell). Turns out Rocco is on the run, and if we never met whom he's running from, or understood why, there wouldn't be an Act 2. The character study of Act 1 yields to the hostage drama of Act 2. Large weapons get brandished, family secrets get unleashed, there are jokes about the overwrought violence in which the play indulges, like the fantasy of a gangster comedy to one day star Robert DeNiro and Chris Rock. In their stead, we get terrific portrayals by Rob Bottitta and Patrick Flanagan as the Mafia up from the city. And though the play's ultimate world view can be found in innumerable DVDs arriving in the mail from Netflix, this is still a good workout for the actors, the writer and for director Elina De Santos, who shapes the action as seamlessly as she can. Stephen Gifford's realistic set is also effective, under Leigh Allen's lights. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2 (323) 960-7726. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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Razorback Photo by John Perrin Flynn

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

THE WAY WE GET BY Eight people deal with various crises, by Neil LaBute. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (818) 685-9939.

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.

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

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN THE VALLEYS

>NEW REVIEW ARMSTRONG'S KID Stanley Bennett Clay's drama about guilt, anger, and repression centers on a trial stemming from 14-year-old Thaddeus (Tory Scroggins) false accusation of molestation against his dad's charismatic gay best friend, Mr. Drake (Clay). After prison time and sizable civil court reparations, Drake's tried to move on after 10 years, though his reclusive digs hint of a life forever divided into Before and After. When Thaddeus, spurred by a range of secret motives, drives up for their first confrontation in a decade, their bourbon-fueled talks quickly escalate from civilities to tirades. Clay has the foundation for a play about modern-day witch-hunts and the wounds of loneliness. At present, however, it's a series of traded speeches where the two men keep reversing their arguments. Clay's direction feels hemmed in; still, as the dignified drunk, he has a bitter hauteur, while Scroggins' more layered and contradictory role results in the young actor coming across as swaddled and stiff. The scenes with the the most frisson come when alcohol and anger spur both men to say slurs that undercut their moral authority and allow us to question each one's self-image as the victim. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 480-3232, www.ticketmaster.com. (Amy Nicholson)

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Armstrong's Kid

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; 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.

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

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 deafinitive personas. (DK) 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.

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Little Black Lies Photo by Ed Krieger

>NEW REVIEW GO M. BUTTERFLY David Henry Hwang’s 1988 drama receives a fine staging by Director Derek Charles Livingston. Hwang artfully blends the story of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly with the incredible case of Bernard Boursicot, a French Diplomat working in China who was convicted of treason in the 1980s. The play spans some 20 years and opens with Rene Gallimard (Sam R. Ross, in a splendid turn) pacing about in a jail cell in France where he recounts the sad, often humorous tale of his decades long love affair with the beautiful opera diva Song Liling (the masterful J.Manabat), whom he met one night at a show. His eerie attraction to the singer gradually evolves into an obsession bordering on idol-worship of this “perfect woman,” even compelling him to divorce his wife, Helga (J.C. Henning). Among a series of surprises slowly unveiled is that the lovely Song is actually a Chinese “Mata hari” who wheedles classified information from the Frenchman. The play's engagement and humor derive from the brilliant subtlety of Hwang's interweaving themes of sex, gender, racism, reality and illusion. Livingston manages his cast superbly, and August Viverito’s minimalist set design serves the effort well, along with his slyly understated costumes. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd.; North Hollywood., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006 (Lovell Estell III)

O SOLO NEO Three solo performers in five shows. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; 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; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (818) 508-7101, www.portraitplay.com.

PROOF David Auburn's story of a young woman who has inherited her father's mathematical genius but worries if she has also inherited his insanity. 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.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES 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.

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; 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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 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; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (310) 929-8129.

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.

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

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.

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. (PB) 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.

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The Great Election Photo by Greg Jardin

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; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org.

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. (NW) 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.

click to enlarge 1_Charlie_Lustman_Made_Me_Nuclear_hat_and_guitar.jpg

Made Me Nuclear Photo by Cydne Moore

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.

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 12. (310) 494-0471.

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

MYSTERIES EN BROCHETTE The beachside hotel dishes out dinner and mystery delights in its Saturday shows with four different performances that alternate., $75, includes dinner. Marina del Rey Hotel, 13534 Bali Way, Marina del Rey; Sat., 7 p.m.. (310) 301-1000.

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

THE NEED TO KNOW April Fitzsimmons' take on bureaucracy during her stint as a Cold War intelligence analyst. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., Oct. 12, 8 p.m.. (310) 880-0911.

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.

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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