ARTS FREEZE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
In a cost-cutting measure, the Los Angeles Unified School District has frozen district funds until the state legislature returns to Sacramento in January to sort out the State budget gridlock. Arts for L.A. has been quick to point out that the freeze includes existing contracts for the Arts Community Partners Network (ACPN).
Arts Community Partners Network is a project that allows the LAUSD to subcontract professional artists to come into public schools, either for on-site performances or workshops with the children, from dance to music to theater. The symbiosis for all participating organizations is obvious: the arts enrich the education, the education helps build a new generation of artists and arts patrons.
"Payments for work incurred have been delayed and future payments have been frozen for an unknown period of time," reports ACPN, which also describes the "ripple effect" throughout LAUSD, after all services were ordered frozen on December 12.
Over 80 individual artists and arts organizations throughout the city are affected.
Arts for L.A. is urging a campaign to release those arts funds and allow the contracts to be honored, and the program to continue. For more information, visit their website.
THIS WEEK'S NEW THEATER REVIEWS include Inspecting Carol by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Company at Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre; Scott DeTurk & James J. Mellon's Yo Ho Ho! A Pirate's Christmas at the NoHo Arts Center; Troubadour Theater Company's It's a Stevie Wonderful Life at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank; and The Groundlings Holiday Show and the Groundlings Theatre.
This week's New Theater Reviews are embedded in this coming weekend's Comprehensive Theatre Listings. To find them all, simply press the Read On tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for December 25-31, 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
CHINESE NEW YEAR SPECTACULAR Presented by New York's Divine Performing Arts. Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena; Dec. 30-Jan. 4. (888) 973-7469.
FAST & LOOSE #33: THE 10TH ANNUAL NEW YEAR'S EVE SHOW AND MIDNIGHT EXTRAVAGANZA - SUPER ULTRA PLATINUM NITRO EDITION GO!!! Sacred Fools Theatre Company presents eight new plays created in 24 hours. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Wed., Dec. 31, 8 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.
HERSHEY FELDER'S THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK SING-ALONG Selections from Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rogers & Hammerstein, and more. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Wed., Dec. 31, 7 & 10 p.m.. (310) 208-5454.
JUNGUA: DESCENDENTS OF THE DRAGON Acrobats, dancers and martial artists celebrate the cultural traditions of China. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Fri., Dec. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 27, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 28, 2 p.m.; Dec. 29-30, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 31, 2 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.
MY EYES ARE THE CAGE IN MY HEAD Ron Allen's poetic discourse on power and subordination, presented by Skid Row-based theater group Los Angeles Poverty Department. Industry Cafe & Jazz, 6039 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sun., Dec. 28, 6:30 p.m.. (310) 202-6633.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS
A CHRISTMAS CAROL By Charles Dickens, adapted by Jerry Patch. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (714) 708-5555.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL Starring John Goodman, Jane Leeves, Jane Seymour, Christopher Lloyd and Gene Wilder. KODAK THEATRE, Hollywood Blvd. & Highland Ave., L.A.; Through Dec. 27, 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 28, 3 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m.; Through Jan. 1, 2009, 3 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 3, 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 4, 3 p.m.. (213) 480-3232.
GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE Hershey Felder channels the composer. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Mon., 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 11. (310) 208-5454.
NEW REVIEW GO IT'S A STEVIE WONDERFUL LIFE! Ahh, remember the 1970s? When Stevie Wonder was undisputed champ of the pop and R&B charts? When broadcasts of Frank Capra's copyright-orphaned It's a Wonderful Life blanketed the late-night holiday schedules of independent TV stations across the UHF spectrum? (Remember independent TV stations?) Those master meta-parodists at the Troubadour Theatre Company commemorate both Wonders in this genre-twisting, musical lampoon. Originally staged in 2003, director Matt Walker has updated the show's more topical gags while remaining faithful to the original production's winning blend of broad caricature, knockabout clowning, and comically inspired production numbers all scored to the Wonder songbook (albeit with the group's cleverly reworked lyrics). Wonder's anachronistic, ultra-urban sound brilliantly sets Capra's white, middle-American melodramatics into high satiric relief. Doubling as the evening's emcee and its hapless hero, George Bailey, Walker sets the comic pace with a wickedly funny impersonation of Jimmy Stewart's signature Midwestern everyman, in a vintage Afro wig. Equally fine are Erin Matthews as George's wide-eyed love interest, Mary; and Jen Seifert, whose sexually overcharged Violet makes Gloria Grahame's town tramp look like a nun. Nearly stealing the show, however, is is Morgan Russler's Mr. Potter, with his dead-on skewering of Lionel Barrymore's growled scene chewing. The house band faithfully renders Wonder's soulful melodies, while the company retains enough Capra corn to jerk tears, as well as laughs, alongside the maestro. Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; through Jan. 4. (818) 955-8101. Troubadour Theatre Company. (Bill Raden)
SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE serves up a musical theatrical experience akin to mac 'n cheese: warm and agreeable but not enriching. On Broadway, this musical revue of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller classics like "Yakety Yak," "Poison Ivy," and "Jailhouse Rock" -- thickened with other doo wop hits like "Fools Fall in Love" and "Dance With Me" -- ran for 2,036 performances, no small feat for a jukebox musical. Here, director Jeffrey Polk continues in the tradition of assembling nine very different singers and 39 songs about love into a show that avoids even a faint narrative thread. The effect is capable, but constrained. Musical director Darryl Archibald has hammered most of the numbers into a template: They start normal, maybe even a little hushed, then burst into loud, to-the-rafters blues rock. Paradoxically, the reason the second act holds together better than the first is because the four female singers are finally allowed to distinguish their own personalities. Dionne Figgins is a steely sex kitten, DeLee Lively, a burlesque sprite; Sharon Catherine Blank is soulful and warm, and Jackie Seiden in "Pearl's a Singer" reveals that she's a throaty country diva -- it's one of the evening's best moments before, like all the others, she's pressed to go as big and obvious as an American Idol contestant. Male singers Niles River, Robert Torti, Maceo Oliver, T.C. Carson, and deep bass John Woodward III are also quite fine in this inessential show that measures success by the number of people clapping along to "Stand By Me." (AN) El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 4. (818) 508-0281.
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.
XANADU Roller-disco musical based on the 1980 film, book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. 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 Dec. 31. (858) 550-1010.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
GO A GRAND GUIGNOL CHILDREN'S SHOW "Not for children" says the program's subhead -- and they're not kidding. Tapping the same root used by Shockheaded Peter, writer-director Debbie McMahon takes the scariest fairy tales in the world, and draws both their violence and latent eroticism through a vivacious and rude entertainment that's part-French vaudeville and part-British Punch and Judy puppet show. Not meaning to be overly literal, but there was some vagueness as to the era: The production is framed as a touring show, circa 1930, while, at the same time, being a birthday party for Monsieur Guignol, who turns 200 this year. So Puppets Punch and Guignol perch in their wooden booth looking down on their human replicas, as four fairy tales are played with song and dance, with Chris Bell's set (sheet backdrops, mostly) and puppets, Jeanne Simpson's charmingly goofy choreography and Matt Richter's deliberately rambling lighting design. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cross between a snuff tale and pedophile's wet dream, as Ms. Hood (Hannah Chodos) removes her red bonnet (revealing pigtails, of course) before stripping down for the Wolf (Gary Karp), languishing in the bed of Grandma (Vanessa Forster), whom he's just eaten. (There may have been a reference to her being eaten out; at least that joke was made about somebody.) The ensuing carnage shows poor Little Red with an alarmed facial expression, as her bloodied intestines are strewn from her midsection around the stage. "The Ugly Ducking" is a lovely and considerably more benign costume parade about family and tribes. "Rapunzel" is an R-rated production with finger puppets, while "Hansel and Gretel" turns into an impressively disturbing saga of cannibalism, coming from the same country that put a millions of people into ovens. Though the sophomoric Punch/Guignol repartee grows tiring, and the dramatic beats within the fairy tales need paring, there's no denying how the lurid morbidity of the event sneaks up on you. And when the witch, opening her oven, tells Hansel and Gretel, "You thought the famine hasn't come to my house!" the tingles up the spine run hot and cold. (SLM) Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. (no perfs Dec. 26 & Jan. 1); through January 10. (323) 871-1912 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
KEN ROHT'S 99¢ ONLY CALENDAR GIRL COMPETITION Now in its sixth year, director-choreographer Ken Roht's 99 Cents Only theater is beginning to look like a one trick pony. As in past years, the trick is to limit his costume (Ann Closs-Farley) and set (Jason Adams) designers to use only what they can scrounge from the titular discount chain for Roht's decidedly silly burlesques of Radio City-style, holiday musical spectaculars. It's a funny gag -- thanks mainly to the wit and ingenuity of Closs-Farley, whose show-stealing creations dress this year's ostensible lampoon of beauty pageants in the highest of camp. It almost makes one overlook Roht's failure to gird his polished production numbers with the narrative spine of a coherent book. Instead, he and co-composer John Ballinger are content to let their parody coast on their pastiche of Godspell-vintage, R&B showtunes and the bare structural framework of the pageant form itself. And while their clever lyrics often connect, the lack of a story arc or character through-lines means the evening never amounts to more than a concert of disconnected -- and increasingly monotonous -- musical sketches. If storytelling isn't Roht's forte, however, he once again proves his genius at talent recruitment. This year's 28-strong, pitch-perfect company generates enough singing and dancing power to light up an entire Broadway season. (BR) Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (213) 389-3856.
LATINOLOGUES TU Rick Najera's comedy showcase. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (213) 289-9860.
GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeve's role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
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.. (310) 281-8337.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN THE VALLEYS
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 November. (866) 811-4111.
NEW REVIEW INSPECTING CAROL Written by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Company, this 1992 farce pokes fun at Dickens' Christmas classic while lampooning the desperate efforts of a small theater company to stay afloat. Zorah (Kady Douglas), the group's high strung and self important artistic director, is staging the umpteenth annual production of A Christmas Carol. Undermining her efforts is a rebellious actor named Larry (Larry Eisenberg) who wants to inject leftwing ideology into the script. The comedy intensifies after company members mistake a very bad wannabe actor named Wayne (Doug Haverty) for an NEA inspector, and obsequiously grant him free reign to rewrite and refashion the production to his taste. Anyone familiar with the often obstreperous climate within a small arts organization will relish numerous elements of this satire, although jokes stemming from Zorah's casting of a token African-American are outdated. Co-directed by Judith E. and Chris Winfield, this production is hampered by a preponderance of lackluster performances and less than razor-sharp timing, yet some humor still emerges. Especially funny are the reenactments of Scrooge's confrontations with his ghosts, wherein a neophyte actor (Disraeli Ellison) playing all the spirits, freezes up, and Scrooge (Eisenberg) must improvise his way out of the morass. Well-cast as the company provocateur, Eisenberg steals the show in this riff. Fox Carney is also solid as the down-to-earth company accountant surrounded by temperamental "artists." Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. through Jan. 11. (818) 700-4878 or www.lcgrt.com. (Deborah Klugman)
Inspecting Carol Photo by Doug Engalla
GO IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money, and puts all those nuances on stage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad circa 1975. That the play resonates in 2008, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. Mark Blanchard directs the sitcom with his own brand of polish, revealing not so much characters as aspects of love and trust that permeate the culture. Meanwhile, the actors infuse those aspects with at least a couple of layers of subtext, humanity, and some very good timing. (SLM) Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Avenue, Toluca Lake; Fri-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Feb. 1. (818) 762-2282.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST Shakespeare's comedy of courtship is a romance that ends almost tragically, suggesting an early theatrical cliffhanger, one which might have been resolved in a supposed lost second play, Love's Labor's Found. Director Charles Pasternak's mostly workman-like production boasts an obvious and keenly felt affection for Shakespeare. Yet, we're frequently unable to escape the sense that the performers are having more fun discovering the Bard's work than the audience is having watching it, as Pasternak's staging is lacking in a rigorous understanding of the text's subtleties. In the kingdom of Navarre , young King Ferdinand (Eddie Castuera) dedicates himself to a life of asceticism, convincing his best buddies to join him in a three- year vow of chastity. No sooner is the promise made, a sultry French princess (Samantha Stinger) arrives for a visit, accompanied by her trio of luscious best pals. It's not long before the boys' chastity vows have gone the way of a political campaign promise - off like a prom dress. Meanwhile, daffy visiting Spaniard Armando (Gus Krieger), assisted by his uptight manservant, Moth (Dan Sykes), woos sexy beauty Jaquenetta (Maja Miletich). The show is full of awkward arm-waving, pedestrian line readings, and the loud fake laughing that often suggests actors who are unsure of the play's innate comedy. In the end, the charming Wooster-and-Jeeves-like interplay between Krieger's beautifully goofy Armando and Sykes' prim Moth - and the hilarious play-within-a-play that makes up the comedy's finale-- effectively upstages the show's less successfully realized "main" subplot and saves the day. (PB) Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; through December 28. (310) 497-2884. A Porters of Hellgate Production.
WITTE'S END Evan Keliher's comedy about a suicidal screenwriter. Riprap Studio Theatre, 5755 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 10, (No perfs Dec. 26-28.). (818) 990-7498.
NEW REVIEW GO YO HO HO! A PIRATE'S CHRISTMAS In this jolly kids' Christmas musical by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon, a band of pirates raids the North Pole! Will they force Santa to walk the plank? Will they keel haul Rudolph for playing reindeer games? Not to worry: Somali warlords with machine guns, these Pirates ain't. Rather, they are genial privateers of the "Arr" and "Blistering barnacles!" school. Swashbucklin' Pirate Captain Black Eyed Johnny(charismatic Rob Arbogast, bearing an almost eerie resemblance to Patrick Swayze) and his mischievous pirate band arrive at the South Pole and steal all Santa's presents, kidnapping Mrs. Claus (Bonnie MacBird) for good measure. It's up to an intrepid little girl (the role is multi-cast, Daisy Bishop on the night reviewed) to save the day. Mellon and DeTurk's sweet, boisterous musical is charming, briskly executed fun, with a sweetly innocent yet good humored sensibility that's perfect for the very young. Much of the show depends on the energy of the audience, which constantly interacts with the performers in the style of a British Pantomime. The songs are energetic, and some, such as the crowd-pleasing sea shanty "Sail On," have some strikingly sophisticated harmonies. The ensemble enacts the daffy material with absolute commitment, including hilariously mugging turns offered by the pirates in supporting roles. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.,7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 28. (800) 988-4235. NoHo Arts Center Ensemble (Paul Birchall)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO FATA MORGANA Hungarian playwright Ernest Vajda is perhaps best known for the screenplays he wrote for director Ernst Lubitsch (including that for The Merry Widow) but this forgotten gem of a romantic comedy, written in 1915, with a tempestuous young man-meets-older woman love affair at its core, is an engrossing, emotionally nuanced oddity. Innocent teenager George (Michael Hanson), a provincial boy living in his family's isolated chateau in the Hungarian countryside, finds his life turned upside down when his distant cousin's wife, Mathilde (Ursula Brooks), a sultry vixen ten years his senior, arrives from the city for a vacation. In a twist of fate that would not seem out of place in the Hungarian 1915 issue of Penthouse Forum, Mathilde shows up on the doorstep while George's parents just happen to be out for the evening -- and she almost instantly beds the virginal, horny young man. , who afterwards falls in love with her. Complications ensue when Mathilde's pompous lawyer husband (Scott Conte) arrives at the house the next morning. Although Vajda's three act comedy occasionally falls pray to patches of inert dialogue, director Marilyn Fox's psychologically assured production, blessed by Audrey Eisner's gorgeous period costumes, possesses a delicate, melancholy emotional truth. In this fragile relationship. Mathilde, who knows the boy better than he knows himself, adores the idea of living forever in the young man's memory. Performances are deft and multidimensional, particularly Brooks' inscrutable older beauty. (PB) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd, Venice. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Jan. 30. (310) 822-8392.
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 Dec. 27. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
SCROOGE MUST DIE! The Actors' Gang's X-rated take on Dickens' classic tale gives new meaning to the phrase "a blue Christmas." Writer-director Angela Berliner seems determined to reimagine the novel, using much of the original text, interspersed with rants that are jaundiced, scatological, violent and aggressively sexual. (One riff concerns being raped by a herd of buffalo.) Mr. Scrooge (Scott Harris) murders Marley (Justin Zsebe) and throws his body to the wolves at the door. Old Fezziwig (Pierre Adell) is a capitalist exploiter, and his Christmas party degenerates into an orgy with much pan-sexual simulated sex. Nephew Fred (RJ Jones) is declared to be a homosexual, and his wife (Sabra Williams) a slut. The Cratchit family apparently dines on roast rat rather than roast goose, and the young Cratchits are a rum lot: Peter (Seth Compton) is a gin peddler, Martha (Heather J. Thomas) is a hooker, and Tiny Tim (Elora Dannon) seems more interested in masturbating than asking for blessings. There's no real purpose or point of view, merely a compulsion to debunk everything in sight. There are occasional laughs, but brief as it is (just over an hour), the show quickly grows tiresome. (NW) Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., through Jan. 10; variable schedule; call for info. (310) 838-4254 or www.theactorsgang.com. An Actors' Gang production.