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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Face It

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Fri, Oct 17, 2008 at 12:06 PM

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Good Bobby opens this weekend at Greenway Arts Allaince. Photo by Ed Krieger.

Check back on Monday, after noon, for reviews of Good Bobby, plus Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings featuring Betty Garrett at Theatre West; Sefan Wolfert's excerpts from trials and anecdotes of the military experience during a time of war, Fit for Society, at the Veterans Center for the Performing Arts; Stephen Fife's new epic, Savage World, about a champion African-American boxer who may be wrongly imprisoned for the murder of a Jewish couple, presented by the MET Theater; Josh MacDonald's play, Halo at Theatre 40, about what happens when an image of Jesus Christ appears on the side of a diner; Ralph Harris' one-man show, North Philly at the Stella Adler; and Daniel Keleher's Money Shot, which follows a group of over-sexed 20-something entrepreneurs “consumed by their own logic and rituals, they refuse to notice the coming apocalypse wreaking devastation on the outside world”; and John Millington Synge's Playboy of the Western World and The Shadow of the Glen, presented by Ireland's Druid Theatre and UCLA Live.

FACE IT

Highways Performance Space presents Face It -- Torture in the 21st Century: An Evening of Theatre, Art and Discussion on Sunday and Monday, October 19-20 at 7:30 p.m.

The evening includes a performance of Harold Pinter's play, One for the Road about a government inquisitor "who engages members of a family not so much to elicit facts as to administer brutality." The production will feature photographs from "Torture," a recent series by South African artist-activist Clinton Fein, who prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court against Attorney General Janet Reno when he challenged the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act in 1997.

ACLU attorney Michael Rapkin will speak after the performance, joined by documentary filmmaker Nonny de la Pena and digital media artist, Peggy Weil.

1651 18th Street, Santa Monica. (310) 315-1459 or http://highwaysperformance.org

DOUBLE EDGE AT THE SKIRBALL

Double Edge Theatre closes its two-night run at the Skirball Cultural Center (2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard) tonight at 8 p.m. with a performance of Mexican Jewish writer and cultural critic Ilan Stevens' The Disappearance. The work follows the harrowing ordeal of Belgian Holocaust survivor Maarten Soetendrop, now a prominent Shakespearean actor, who seemingly fakes his own kidnapping to call attention to renewed anti-Semitism in post-war Amsterdam. http://skirball.org

WOMEN IN THEATRE BENEFIT

Bonnie Franklin tops the list of awardees for Women in Theatre's fifth annual Red Carpet awards to be held October 18 at The Castaway in its Mountain View Ballroom, 1250 E. Harvard Road, Burbank. (818) 763-5222 or http:/womenintheatre.com

GETTY VILLA THEATRE LAB

The Getty Villa Theatre Lab returns with Surf Orpheus, a poetic re-imagining of the myth of Orpheus, set in SoCal surf culture. Fri.-Sun., October 17-19. http://www.getty.edu/visit/events/theater_lab.html

For this week's stage feature on The Most Mediocre Story Never Told, visit:

http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-16/stage/lies-and-legends/

For last weekend's New Theater Reviews visit: http://www.laweekly.com/2008-10-16/stage/theater-reviews-the-sequence-faithful-two-trains-running/

For Comprehensive Theater Listings embedded with New Theater Reviews), press the READ ON tab below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

For October 17-23, 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

THE ALL NIGHT STRUT! Musical revue spanning 1924 to 1951, including such tunes as "Chatanooga Choo Choo," "In the Mood" and "Fascinating Rhythm.". International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens Oct. 17; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (562) 436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org.

BLITHE SPIRIT Ghost comedy by Noel Coward. Hermosa Beach Playhouse, Pier Ave. at Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach; opens Oct. 17; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 19, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 26, 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (310) 372-4477.

BLOOD BROTHERS Twin boys, separated at birth, are reunited, book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens Oct. 18; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111, www.bloodbrothersla.com.

DESPERATE WRITERS Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber's showbiz satire. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; opens Oct. 18; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (310) 392-7327, www.edgemarcenter.org.

FACE IT - TORTURE IN THE 21ST CENTURY: AN EVENING OF THEATRE, ART AND DISCUSSION Harold Pinter's One for the Road; a talk by ACLU attorney Michael Rapkin on torture; and “Gone Gitmo,” a Second Life installation. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Oct. 19-20, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459, www.highwaysperformance.org.

GOOD BOBBY Brian Lee Franklin's profile of Robert F. Kennedy. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 655-7679, www.greenwayarts.org.

HOW CISSY GREW Non-linear drama about a rebellious girl, by Susan Johnston. (In the Forum Theatre.). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 18; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (866) 811-4111, www.elportaltheatre.com.

"I'M NOT A RACIST, BUT ..." Conceived by Cynthia Ettinger, created by the Actors' Gang. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; opens Oct. 23; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 838-4264.

INTO THE WOODS Brothers Grimm characters interact, in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 23; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 939-9220, www.lyrictheatrela.com.

THE KING AND I Deborah Gibson stars in Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic. Fred Kavli Theatre for the Performing Arts, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; opens Oct. 17; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (805) 449-2787.

LOVE'S OLD SWEET SONG William Saroyan's comedy about a mysterious telegram. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Oct. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006, www.syzygytheatre.org.

MONEY SHOT Daniel Keleher's story of Internet entrepreneurs on a video shoot. The Alexandria, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, L.A.; opens Oct. 18; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 960-7776, www.plays411.com/moneyshot.

MYTH Multidisciplinary work by choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, in association with Toneelhuis theater collective, featuring singer Patrizia Bovi and the Micrologus Ensemble. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Oct. 17-18, 8 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.

ONE-ACT FESTIVAL Eight one-act plays presented by Above the Curve Theatre., abovethecurvetheatre@gmail.com. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (310) 486-0051.

SAVAGE WORLD Stephen Fife's story of an investigative reporter and a boxer convicted of murder, inspired by the true story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 957-1152, www.theMETtheatre.com.

SLEEPING BEAUTY Fairy-tale musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Michael Paul. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; opens Oct. 18; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru March 14. (818) 761-2203, www.theatrewest.org.

SURF ORPHEUS The ancient tale retold as a SoCal surf story, by Corey Madden., free, ticket required. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri., Oct. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 18, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 19, 3 p.m.. (310) 440-7300, www.getty.edu.

10-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL Sixteen new plays presented over two weeks. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Oct. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (866) 811-4111, www.actoberfest.com.

TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY Will Eno's absurdist satire about news media spin. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (800) 383-3006, www.sonofsemele.org.

WOMEN IN THEATRE'S RED CARPET AWARDS Honoring Bonnie Franklin and more. The Castaway, 1250 Harvard Road, Burbank; Sat., Oct. 18, noon. (818) 763-5222, www.womenintheatre.com.

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.

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; Through Oct. 17, 8 p.m.. (877) 722-4849, www.skirball.org.

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

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 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.

NEW REVIEW GO PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD/THE SHADOW OF THE GLEN Lying within the "great gap between a valiant story and a dirty deed" is the core idea of John Millington Synge's 1907 classic comedy, Playboy of the Western World, here presented by Galway's Druid Theatre with Synge's The Shadow of the Glen. Both opened yesterday at UCLA Live. The two plays unfold within Francis O' Connor's primal rustic set, with its dirt floor, and sparse wooden furniture, enclosed by looming stone walls that dwarf the actors, as though they're Beckettian insects, groveling. This effect is mitigated somewhat by shadow-like cross-beams against the back wall that form a kind of crucifix, and draw the eye down to the dirt floor. Beyond that, there's little abstraction, just perfectly tattered rags and the frayed dignity of Kathy Strachan's costumes, and the crisp elegance of director Garry Hynes' realistic stagings. In Playboy, a fearful, dimwitted young farmer, Christy Mahon (Simon Boyle), takes refuge in a reclusive tavern in County Mayo, only to find the locals struck by his story of having just killed his father, which he renders ever more dramatically with each telling. That the story of such a deed is so glorified forms the play's glorious perversity. With the arrival of Christy's father (Tom Hickey) -- his skull bloodied from the wound inflicted by his son -- that perversity twists like a condemned man from a noose. After Christy is implicated as a liar, he then tries to actually commit the deed he's been boasting of, which only further enrages the townsfolk who loathe the deed as much as they loved the story of it. Lovely performances by the ensemble -- from Boyle's scampering, buck-toothed Christy to Sarah-Jane Drummey's interpretation of the proprietor's daughter, with a temper and yearning for excitement that's as fiery as her shock of red hair. Marcus Lamb looms as though on stilts, portraying Pegeen's afeared-of-everything would-be suitor, Shawn Keogh, and Catherine Walsh's Widow Quinn who's outlived all her children and destroyed her husband, strides the stage like an army lieutenant. The Shadow of the Glen opens the bill as a kind of warmup, sharing Playboy's story of an old man returning from his alleged death. With echoes of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid, Dan Burke (Hickey) lies on a bed in an isolated hovel, watched over by his embittered wife, Nora (Walsh, here with softer edges and a smaller stride than in her portrayal of the Widow Quinn, yet feisty nonetheless). We learn of the old man's demise when Nora speaks of it to a visiting Tramp (Peter Gowen). When Nora leaves for a moment, the dead man rises, parched with "drought." His game is a test of his “bad wife's” loyalty. The game is as cruel and pointless as in Playboy. Both plays employ rapturously beautiful words to envelop the blistering darkness of the people who speak them. (SLM) UCLA, Ralph Freud Playhouse, performs nightly through October 18, 8 p.m. (310) 825-2101 or visit http:uclalive.org

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Druid Theatre's Playboy of the Western World at UCLA Live. Photo by Nick Burchel

THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash's romance set in a drought-ridden rural town. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 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 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; 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

GO 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 fun-house 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, which are a timeless blend of modern and period dress. (BR) A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru Dec. 7. (828) 240-0901, Ext. 1 or www.anoisewithin.org.

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Hamlet at A Noise Within. Photo by Craig Schwartz

>NEW REVIEW GO TWO TRAINS RUNNING The seventh of 10 plays in his “Pittsburgh cycle” that chronicles 100-years of African-American history, this is one of August Wilson's talkiest plays, and this production runs well over three hours. Yet the success of director Israel Hicks' revival can be attributed to the consistency and quality of the cast. The setting is a diner, circa 1969 Pittsburgh, that conveniently serves as a neighborhood hangout. Its owner, Memphis (Glynn Turman), is a shrewd businessman with a soft edge, who has some lively patrons: mentally disturbed Hambone (Ellis E. Williams); Wolf (Felton Perry), a numbers man; Holloway (Roger Robinson), a street-corner prophet and believer in magic; and Sterling (Russell Hornsby), an ex-con with more ambition than job prospects. The only woman, Risa (Michole Briana White), is a waitress at the diner who bears horrible self-inflicted scars on her legs. Not much goes on here. Most of the buzz is generated by the gilded funeral of a slick ghetto preacher named Prophet Samuel, and the pending demolition of the diner. Yet Wilson is a master storyteller, and this play is filled with humorous, engaging dialogue and earthly sagacity. In one hilarious segment, Holloway talks of a grandfather who loved being a slave so much, he wanted to die and pick cotton in heaven for a “white God.” And then there is West (Earl Billings), an undertaker who has grown rich on the misfortunes of the neighborhood. These characters form a curious gestalt that eerily mirrors the tumult of the times and the harsh realities of inner-city life. Edward E. Haynes' expansive diner set piece works perfectly for the production. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (323) 964-9766. An Ebony Repertory Theatre production. (Lovell Estell III)

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Two Trains Running Photo by Craig Schwartz

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.

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 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.

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.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER African-American writer-performer Virginia Watson illustrates her life story. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 769-5049, 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.

EARTH SUCKS In writer-director Jonas Oppenheim’s frothy sci-fi musical comedy, Earth’s main contribution to the Cosmos is rock & roll. Angsty high school junior Echo (Emily Stern, perhaps a little too snide) fantasizes about 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 slaves. 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: 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. (PB) ArtWorks Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 2. (323) 960-7744. A Citizens of Earth production.

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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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FIT FOR SOCIETY The military experience during wartime, by Brian Monahan and Stephan Wolfert. (Resv. required.). Mortise & Tenon Furniture Store, Second Floor, 446 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Mon., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 11, 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (888) 398-9348, www.govcpa.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

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. The rest derives from Besser's comic-book satire of self-righteous programs claiming to use the arts to get kids off drugs. Lindsay Hendrickson's staging is perfect. Brian Fountain and Jake Anthony wrote the music. (SLM). Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

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

GROUNDLINGS SPECIAL LADY FRIEND All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mitch Silpa. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.. (323) 934-9700, www.groundlings.com.

JAMES & JOSEPH Jaimyon Parker's anti-drug story. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 960-7724, www.plays411.com.

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

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. (AN) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 22. (323) 882-6912,

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Joe's Garage Photo by Maia Rosenfeld

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 jail 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. (NW) Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through Oct. 26. (800) 595-4849 or www.havoktheatre.com. A Havok Theatre Co. production.

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.

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16, (No perf Oct. 31.). (323) 462-8460.

THE LIEUTENANT NUN Billed as a comedy, playwright Odalys Nanin’s cartoonlike 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 to live as a man. Her proven virginity and her service to the state saved her, 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. (DK) Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Rd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 26. (323) 960-7829.

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The Lieutenant Nun Courtesy ILDK Media

GO LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broders sublime new musical is about the tempestuous marriage of Sonny-and-Cher predecessors Louis Prima and Keely Smith, on- and offstage at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. This has to be the first musical to take a lounge act seriously. In a glorious world-premiere production directed by Jeremy Aldridge, Prima and Smith are re-created with accuracy and richness by the authors, supported by an amazing jazz band. (SLM). Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (800) 838-3006, www.louiskeelyshow.com.

THE MAGIC STRING Egomaniacal would-be writer Cody is more inclined to harangues than normal conversation. His therapist tells him his blockage is due to selfishness, and urges him to live for others. He obediently complies by adopting an obsessive-compulsive carpet-sweeper salesman addicted to marathon apologies. After too many jumpy scenes about Codys literary constipation, playwright/director Nicole Hoelle engineers an arbitrary happy ending. (NW). Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 663-6577.

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.

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.

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 this coming week. .

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Most Mediocre Story Never Told Photo by Ed Krieger

>NEW REVIEW NIHIL OBSTAT Bill Sterritt’s spare three-character play, set in France in 1095 A.D., centers on the machinations within the papacy in the period just before The Crusades. Pope Urban II (Matt Haught) and The Cardinal (Aaron Preston Crothers) are discussing an impending papal dictum when The Cardinal suggests that the Pope’s speech be reviewed by the local Censor (Chris Pauley). The Pope, believing that he is “cloaked in infallibility,” is aghast at the suggestion, but concedes in order to win the support of the peasants he will send into battle. The Censor, despite his humble origins, defies the Pope when The Cardinal forces his hand, resulting in a powerful theological debate on the justification for Holy War. As the Censor grows bolder, we see that this peasant is more honorable and true to his faith than either man of the cloth. While the play initially gets bogged down in its ecclesiastical verbiage, and the parallels to Bush and Cheney are a bit heavy-handed, once the Censor enters the picture, the words come to life and the drama unfolds. Sterritt’s direction paces the dialogue a bit too quickly at first, but the actors eventually slow down, ramping up the tension and the menace within a compact play that runs just under an hour. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through November 2. (323) 793-2153. A SPQR Stage Company Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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Nihil Obstat

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.

NORTH PHILLY One-man comedy by Ralph Harris. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 17, (No perf Nov. 26.). (323) 960-7612, www.plays411.com.

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 performers’ satirical wit, 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 were 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’s 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 (Brian Lohmann, who had somewhere else to be, and didn’t appear onstage that night). 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. (SLM) Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (323) 525-0202.

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

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.

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 play’s essential qualities. 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, in a nicely textured performance), and their intellectually precocious “son,” DJ (Edward Tournier). Dean’s boozy ex, Ruth (Laura Gardner), arrives in a 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 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 worldview 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. (SLM) Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 2 (323) 960-7726.

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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 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. (TP) 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.

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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.

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 STAR-SPANGLED GIRL Neil Simon's comedy about a pair of '60s radicals who fall for the ultra-patriotic girl next door. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (818) 500-7200, www.itsmyseat.com.

TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (323) 960-7753, www.plays411.com/tiltedframe.

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.

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.

>NEW REVIEWTHE WOMEN Clare Booth Luce's The Women is thought of first as an expose of female competition among a pack of well-groomed wildcats who claw until they draw blood, and then out-do each other commiserating. Less remembered is Luce's curious stance against emotional feminism, as betrayed wife and mother Mary (Vanessa Waters) comes to believe that the cause of her divorce wasn't that cheap tramp, Crystal Allen (Stephanie O'Neill), but her own pride. Fempowerment, not femme fatales, wrecks homes. "Love has pride in nothing but its own humility," writes Luce invoking Khalil Gibran, and so the challenge of mounting her play is in scaling its icy peaks and humble lows. Elise Robertson's staging stays in the middle ranges. The 15-woman ensemble is fine; the costumes by O'Neill and Rachel Kanouse are great, as are Robertson's sets. But both the cruelty and the heartbreak are mannered, not meaty. And unlike George Cukor's triumphant film version, the maids, manicurists, and career girls nearly steal the show from under the society dames, though as the fatuous breeder Edith Potter, Emma Messenger is a vicious riot as she flicks her cigarette ashes over her newborn son. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 1. (323) 960-1054, www.circustheatricals.com. (Amy Nicholson)

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The Women Photo by Jeannine W. Stehlin

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

ARMS AND THE MAN George Bernard Shaw's romantic comedy. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (818) 500-7200, www.itsmyseat.com.

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 fling slurs that undercut their moral authority and allow us to question each one’s self-image as the victim. (AN) Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (323) 480-3232 or www.ticketmaster.com.

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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

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

FAHRENHEIT 451 Ray Bradbury's book burner. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 960-4451, www.plays411/raybradbury.

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

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.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The results are tame at best, featuring dated public figures Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, and others. How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove, Eliot Spitzer, or Sarah Palin. (DK). Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (323) 960-4451.

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. (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

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 Madama 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 René 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. (LE3) The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd.; North Hollywood., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. through Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006.

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

MASTERGATE Larry Gelbart's satire about congressional hearings into guerrillas funded via a Hollywood blockbuster. Actors Group Theatre, 4378 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (800) 838-3006, www.brownpaperticketscom/event/44915.

NUTS Tom Topor's play about a high-class prostitute on trial for murder. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (818) 206-4000, www.ravenplayhouse.com.

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.

>NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK THE SEQUENCE For over 80 years, theater artists have been trying to make peace with technology and science, fields that would seem to defy the arts – from Elmer Rice’s disturbing 1923 The Adding Machine; to Heinar Kippart's 1964 drama, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer; to Tom Stoppard’s impenetrable Arcadia in 1993; through David Auburn’s emotionally wrought 2001 psychological exercise, Proof. Generally, though, real science is employed to move the plot along and involve characters without boring the audience with technical details. In Paul Mullin's new play, The Sequence, however, the protagonist is the scientific inquiry at the heart of the play – the mapping of the human genome. In a very pleasing twist of expectations, some fiercely human, comic moments make for breathtaking dramatic tension – stemming from questions of whether the ultimate credit for unraveling DNA should go to scientist Craig Venter (Hugo Armstrong) or Francis Collins (William Salyers) of the federal government, and whether reporter Kellie Silverstein (Karri Krause) should get a Pulitzer prize for writing a story about the two-man race. Mullin’s often outlandish explanations of the subject make this a fascinating, rapid-fire entertainment, that moves from childlike storytelling to music hall and beyond. Director John Langs and his bright (and often over-articulate) actors maneuver with assurance through Mullin's slippery slopes between reality and fantasy. Gary Smoot’s simple but sharp scenery, Jason H. Thompson’s projections and Jose Lopez’s present beautifully crafted visual production – adding Robbin E. Broad and Joseph M. Wilbur’s pounding sound design creates an even more profound environment. Boston Court Theatre, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (626) 683-6883. (Tom Provenzano)

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

CONTINUING PERFORMANCESON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH CITIES

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.

ABSOLUTELY HALLOWEEN A young girl's magical All Hallow's Eve adventure, book, music and lyrics by Chris DeCarlo, Evelyn Rudie and Matt Wrather. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (310) 394-9779.

>NEW REVIEW ASSES & ELEPHANTS Playwright Suzanne Bressler's sweet but unevenly executed romantic comedy offers an election year twist on all themes Romeo and Juliet, in which politics makes for strange bedfellows – or, more accurately, it threatens to prevent the bedfellows from getting to bed. On Election Day 2004, likable young slacker Jake (Brian Kelly), a devoted liberal, decides to throw a house party to celebrate the Dems' almost certain victory – and he invites Ruby (Kristen Pate), the cute former high school classmate he runs into at a local restaurant. Ruby shows up to the party – but Jake quickly discovers to his horror that she's a proud Republican with conservative opinions on government bailouts, the Second Amendment, and the War in Iraq. Notwithstanding this, Jake hopes to win the lovely girl by pretending to be right-wing, and thereby enraging his pals. Complications ensue when the presidential race takes its abrupt historical turn, forcing Jake to choose between love and politics. Bressler's comedy boats a genuinely appealing premise for a breakneck romantic farce – and the work cleverly touches on the idea that our times are so politically polarized, it's hard for love to flourish between people of dissenting opinions. However, the dialogue is top heavy with uninspired gags and banal exchanges, and the play flounders through an inert mid-section. Still, director Elina DeSantos assembles an attractive and energetic ensemble and crafts a production that boasts a variety of intriguing psychological insights. Kelly offers a cleverly nuanced turn as a character consumed by his own self loathing, as he compromises his beliefs for romance, while Pate's Republican beauty is believably sincere. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; added perf election night, Nov. 3, 8 p.m.; through November 3. (323) 960-7711. Election Night Productions. (Paul Birchall)

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Asses & Elephants Photo by Ed Krieger

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.

BUS STOP William Inge's romantic comedy. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 19, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 16, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 494-1014, www.lbph.com.

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.

>NEW REVIEW GO FAITHFUL Tautly directed by Mikey Myers, Chazz Palminteri's darkly comedic and suspenseful play opens with a pajama-clothed Margaret (Reamy Hall) tied to a chair, held at gunpoint by Tony (John Collela), a mafia hit man hired by her wealthy husband Jack (Jim Roof). The phone becomes a character in the play, as Tony awaits a two-ring signal indicating that Jack has established his alibi. But the black-clad assassin is having an existential crisis concerning his sister’s recent death, and keeps calling his neurotic therapist, at whom Tony repeatedly yells “Stop crying!” The downcast Margaret finally asks Tony to kill her — he owes her as much since he interrupted her suicide. The events unfold on Siegfried Ackermann and Ryan Wilson’s understated yet well-appointed set. Myers’ fast-paced direction is well-matched to Palminteri’s machine-gun fire dialogue, which is expertly handled by the three-person cast. Roof is particularly hilarious as the once cocky and now discombobulated husband. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 16. (310) 397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. (Sandra Ross)

HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL Hippies rock out, music by Galt MacDermot, book and lyrics by James Rado and Germone Ragni. Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (562) 985-5526.

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.

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Made Me Nuclear Photo by Cydne Moore

MALCOLM & TERESA BBC TV reporter interviews Mother Teresa, by Cathal Gallagher. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 16. (310) 462-5141, www.gkchestertontheatre.org.

NITE CLUB: BUBI'S HIDEAWAY Kenneth Bernard's 1970 avant-garde play. Mandrake Bar, 2692 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 1. www.myspace.com/bubishideaway.

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; Mon.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org.

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

CONTINUING SPECIAL EVENTS

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

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

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.

PAPA SPEAKEASY'S BURLESQUE Lovely ladies entertain you. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.. www.theatreyawp.com.

THE 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; Through Oct. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 18, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 19, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889, www.latw.org.

Smaller Theaters

GONE, RETURN, UNDONE John Markland's drama about two former best friends. MOTH, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 2. (323) 960-7735, www.plays411.com/gonereturnundone.

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