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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Before Kirk Douglas Forgets

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Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 12:57 PM


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Kirk Douglas in Before I Forget. Photo by Craig Schwartz

The gift in Kirk Douglas' one-man show, Before I Forget,  that opened over the weekend in the theater named after him, is his courage, for whatever reason, to tell his story at age of 92 in the aftermath of a stroke. Regardless of his celebrity and the parade of superstars from his life that he trots out through references and in projected slides and videos, the giant has been felled by time, as we all are, or will be, and Douglas' determination to show that, through slurred speech and an ambling gait, is a testament to being human. That testament is both brave and rare, coming from a man of the movie culture, where appearance is everything. He performs with sly wit that emerges through winking expressions; it's also candid to the point of being both charming and maudlin. He tells of meeting his second wife in Paris. She was his assigned translator who spoke five languages - here the image of this French beauty appears on the screen -- "and she knew how to say 'no' in all of them." The show is a crowd-pleaser that offers many personal revelations but no scandal and few insights, despite its excursions into theology and mortality. The man nonetheless commands respect because he's simply, obviously speaking his mind, and that's a considerable risk when there are legacy issues at stake. He's the kind of uncle anyone would boast of. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Fri., March 13, 8 pm. and Sun., March 15, 2 p.m http://centertheatregroup.org. --SLM

ALSO REVIEWED OVER THE THE WEEKEND: Bill Becker's new play, The Painting; Mutineer Theare Company's presentation of Keith Bridges' new play, Lie With Me; Jennifer Rowland's new play, The Contest, at the Powerhouse; The Loft Variety Hour Featuring Naughty Nancy at the L.A. Fringe Theatre and presented by The Loft Ensemble; Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson's dark comedy Stitching, at the Lillian Theater; Menander Theater Company's production of Feydeau's farce, Paradise Hotel at Meta Theatre; John Patrick Shanley's Beggars in the House of Plenty at Theatre/Theater; and Sharr White's Six Years at the Lex.

The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS, are all embedded within this coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS. To access them, click the "Continue Reading . . ." tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for March 13-19, 2009

(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, Deborah 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

4 AT 40: MOTHERS' LETTERS TO THEIR DAUGHTERS Daniela Ryan's solo story of a farm family's generations. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; opens March 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (323) 851-2603.

THE LETTERS John W. Lowell's drama set in the Soviet Union's Ministry of Information. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; opens March 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 19. (866) 811-4111.

LITTLE WOMEN (THE MUSICAL) Based on Louisa May Alcott's story of four sisters, music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, book by Allan Knee. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens March 19; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 939-9220.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder's musical about a husband-and-wife lounge act, on- and offstage at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens March 19; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 208-5454.

MISS ELECTRICITY Picked-on schoolgirl wants to break a world record, in Kathryn Walat's play for kids. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; March 14-15, 1 & 3:30 p.m.. (858) 550-1010.

THE PARABOX Rachel Kolar's futuristic tale of two beings and a box. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens March 13; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 29...

REFUGEES It's culture clash for an ESL teacher in Iran, Armenia and the former Soviet bloc, written and performed by Stephanie Satie. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens March 14; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 960-4451.

THE SECRET GARDEN Musical take on Frances Hidgon Burnett's children's novel, music by Lucy Simon, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens March 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (310) 828-7519.

SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy "with a distinctly African-American sensibility.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens March 17; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 14. (323) 960-7745.

13 BY SHANLEY FESTIVAL Seven full-length plays and six one-acts by John Patrick Shanley. (Weekly schedule alternates; call for info.). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; opens March 17; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 960-7827.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

NEW REVIEW GO BEFORE I FORGET The gift in Kirk Douglas' one-man show performing at the theater named after him is his courage, for whatever reason, to tell his story at the age of 92 in the aftermath of a stroke. Regardless of his celebrity and the parade of superstars from his life that he trots out through references and in projected slides and videos, the giant has been felled by time, as we all are, or will be, and Douglas' determination to show that, through slurred speech and an ambling gait, is a testament to being human. That testament is both brave and rare, coming from a man of the movie culture, where appearance is everything. He performs with sly wit that emerges through winking expressions; it's also candid to the point of being both charming and maudlin. He telling of meeting his second wife in Paris. She was his assigned translator who spoke five languages - here the image of this French beauty appears on the screen -- "and she knew how to say 'no' in all of them." The show is a crowd-pleaser that offers many personal revelations but no scandal and few insights, despite its excursions into theology and mortality. The man nonetheless commands respect because he's simply, obviously speaking his mind, and that's a considerable risk when there are legacy issues at stake. He's the kind of uncle anyone would boast of. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City;  Fri., March 13, 8 p.m. &  Sun., March 15, 2 p.m http://centertheatregroup.org. (Steven Leigh Morris) 


ELLA Jeffrey Hatcher's musical biography of Ella Fitzgerald, starring Tina Fabrique. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 22. (949) 497-2787.

FALLING UPWARD Meet the locals at an Irish pub, courtesy Ray Bradbury. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (866) 811-4111.

FROST/NIXON British talk-show host David Frost interviews ex-president Richard Nixon, in Peter Morgan's play. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 29. (213) 628-2772.

GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's farce about a city dweller's move to a farm house. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (562) 494-1014.

GREASE Summer lovers reunite in the Jim Jacobs/Warren Casey musical, with additional songs from the 1978 film, plus a "Teen Angel" turn by American Idol's Taylor Hicks. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 22. (213) 365-3500.

IXNAY Deceased Japanese-American says no way to reincarnation as a Japanese-American, in Paul Kikuchi's play. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (213) 625-7000.

GO PIPPIN I know we're on the cusp of a Depression and that theater audiences ache for frivolity and distraction, but this one really vexes, largely because it's so damnably seductive. First, Roger O. Hirson's book and Stehen Schwartz's music and lyrics combine into what has been one of the most produced musicals in colleges and high schools in the past 30 years. Add to that Jeff Calhoun's hyper-theatrical staging and choreography of a topflight ensemble in a style designed to accommodate the hearing-impaired actors of co-presenter Deaf West Theater, and you've got a extremely glossy carny show in which the central role is bifurcated between the hangdog charm of deaf actor Tyrone Giordano, and his voiced alter-ego, Michael Arden. The pair share the stage with a huge ensemble, one revealing through the physicality the agony of bliss of Charlamegne's son, Pippin, as he searches for the purpose of life, while the other gives voice to those expressions through a dextrous vocal interpretation and Schwartz's somewhat sappy songs rendered here with effervescent beauty. This is the latest in a series of Candide riffs (much searching for purpose these days), in which Pippin fights in a war, learns about sex as well as domesticity, commits patricide, serves as king, screws up by being benevolent to the peasants and dismantling the army while an Enemy Beyond encroaches. Silly boy. Shut up, go home and till your garden. Let smarter people take care of the empire. Your adopted son will dream and make the same mistakes. Pardon me, but this is crap posing as wisdom, truisms posing as truth, especially at a moment in our history when doing nothing but tending our garden has landed us collectively in the biggest sand trap in American history. I couldn't join the standing ovation on press night. I just couldn't, I was so pissed off - politically, philosophically. If this were just diversion, I'd have risen to my feet. I love diversion as much as anybody. But I felt in this production a creepy, reactionary underpinning that's even out of touch with our new government's position on everybody taking responsibility to pull each other up, collectively. And for this shimmering magic act to close out by cautioning us about the seductive qualities of veneer is a fraud of the first rank. The show is so well done, see it for yourself, and see if you're as annoyed as me. (SLM) Deaf West Theatre and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; (Jan. 31 perf at 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 17 perf at 7:30 p.m.; no perfs Feb. 18-20); through March 15. (213) 628-2772. http://centertheatregroup.org

THE QUESTION J.T. Horenstein's "indie rock ballet.". Ricardo Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St., L.A.; Mon., Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 962-7000.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. (Schedule varies, call for info.). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (818) 240-0910.

GO THE THREEPENNY OPERA Director Jules Aaron's luscious production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's dark-hearted musical is a snappy dramatic delight that, in the words of the play, "has pretty teeth, dear." The tale of sexy, villainous Mac the Knife (Jeff Griggs), his seduction of the virtuous Polly Peacham (Shannon Warne), and his near-destruction in an underworld inhabited by pimps, thieves, murderers, and whores is given a powerful and pleasingly cynical staging. Brecht purists might find some fault with the fact that the polished and assured production lacks a slight edge of rattiness. Yet, this reviewer isn't going to criticize the show for being too skillfully executed - particularly as Darryl Archibald's gorgeous musical direction contains musical renditions of the Weill classics that approach standards of opera. Griggs, a baritone of strikingly evocative ferocity, delivers his lines and musical numbers with a tightly controlled roar, suggesting some kind of a sexy beast who's just barely holding himself from running amok. Warne's Polly artfully shifts on a dime from sweet innocent to brutal fiend, in her rendition of "Pirate Jenny." And as the hardened prostitute who befriends and then betrays Mac, Zarah Mahler's poignant Jenny Diver delivers her musical numbers with a rough pathos and despair. Eileen T'Kaye's wondrously funny snaggle-toothed hag, Mrs. Peacham, and Paul Zegler's pompous and self pitying police chief, are also striking. The translation, by Village Voice theater critic Michael Feingold, is witty and vivid - even if the alteration of some of the lines and lyrics that are well known from the famous theatrical recordings of the show, occasionally engenders some surprise. (PB) International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd, Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.: through March 22. (562) 436-4610.


TIME STANDS STILL is Donald Margulies' newest work, being given its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. It would be nice to see our institutional theaters dip a bit deeper into the lake of American playwrights (perhaps lesser-known ones) so that, as with the National Theatre of Great Britain for example, the theaters can take credit for promoting new voices, rather than just riding on the coattails of the established ones, but that's not the world we live in. It is, nonetheless, a relief and a pleasure to see such thoughtful and well-crafted new writing on the stage. Margulies is a compassionate observer of human behavior, and his play concerns a photo journalist (Anna Gunn), just returned to her Brooklyn digs from a German hospital after being struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She barks at her life partner who's a reporter (David Harbour) over his concerned reluctance to offer her a cup of coffee in public; her pithy attack seems on the surface to be over nothing but a cup of coffee. The play is actually about all that lies underneath -- the morality of her career as a photo-journalist that feeds on the miseries on the world, and spews it back in the form of coffee-table books. One of Margulies' sourer points is the service such journalists provides to liberal consumers who use bad news in the press to fuel their outrage over injustice, and to assuage their guilt over doing nothing about it. But would the world really be better without such journalists, and without those images? (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 15. (310) 208-5454.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS

ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GO THE JAZZ AGE The title phrase, coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the desperate frivolity of the post WWI era, captures the spirit if not the style of Allan Knee's fascinating, melodramatic fantasy of life. The play shows the intersecting lives of Fitzgerald (Luke Macfarlane), his troubled southern belle wife Zelda (Heather Prete), and literary rival Ernest Hemingway (Jeremy Gabriel). Fitzgerald is at the apex of his career when he tries to woo the reluctant, soon-to-be poster boy for machismo into his world. Opposites in style, but with both being enthusiastic expats in Paris, the hard-drinking womanizers bond, spar and occasionally hint at urges toward homoeroticism through more than a decade of rocky friendship. With their live performance of exhilarating period (and some original) music, Ian Whitcomb and his Bungalow Boys punctuate much of the play. Director Michael Matthews and the fine cast follow Knee's heavy-handed writing with fierce dramatics that effectively play like the most overarching characterizations of 1940s plays by Tennessee Williams - with Prete's powerful Zelda resembling Blanche. Kurt Boetcher's set evocatively transforms The Blank's tiny space, pairing masculine wood frames with panels of effete Tiffany's blue. (TP) 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Bvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 661-9827. The Blank Theatre.

NEW REVIEW SIX YEARS Stagey but with redeeming moments, Sharr White's well-intended play examines the post-traumatic stress of a WWII vet. Launched on a note of high melodrama from which it rarely descends, it jump-starts in a dumpy motel room in 1949, where an ex-GI named Phil (G. Scott Brown) has cloistered himself away. Unlike other soldiers who returned home to their families after the war, Phil has wandered about the country. Now he's confronted by his young wife, Meredith (Wendy Kaplan Foxworth), who wants to bring him home and try to salvage their marriage. From that point, the play spans 24 years, tracking the couple's ups and downs against a socio-historical backdrop culminating in the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, neither the play nor the production match their respective good intentions. Framed against a bleak, black backdrop, White's inconsistent script is often derivative. Under Kevin Kaddi's direction, Brown gives his all, but it's clear he hasn't internalized his character's battle-engendered torment. Less challenged, Foxworth gives a believable performance as his long-suffering and ultimately adulterous spouse. The six-member supporting ensemble is uneven; Alex Gunn overcomes an initial awkwardness to present an effective portrayal of Meredith's disappointed lover, while Sarah Cook offers a well-crafted cameo as a gal who contemplates giving Phil a whirl, then cuts and runs when she realizes the baleful imbroglio that might ensue. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 871-1150. Momentum Theatre Group (Deborah Klugman)

GO BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS: A NOT-SO ROMANTIC COMEDY OF BAD MANNERS Rob Mersola's extravagant farce extracts its laughs from its characters' miseries and sexual misadventures: self-loathing, murderous competitiveness, anonymous erotic encounters. Mersola is a clever writer, who exploits the tried-and-true farce structure to engineer a funny final scene in which all the characters are brought together to have their lies, deceptions and shenanigans unmasked. A skillful cast meticulously mines the laughs in this crowd-pleasing date show. (NW). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7829.

BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Pennkin Wright. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (323) 850-7827.

NEW REVIEW GO BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY John Patrick Shanley's semi-autobiographical one-act about growing up in a dysfunctional working class Irish-American Catholic family is smartly directed by Larry Moss. The play opens when Johnny (Chris Payne Gilbert) is five-years old and is only dimly aware that love is missing from his life. His sister, Sheila (Lena Georgas), is escaping the household through early marriage, so the real problems don't start until brother Joey (the excellent David Gail) returns home from the Navy. His death-obsessed mother (Francesca Casale) is disappointed by the gifts he brings, but nothing he can say or do will please his father (Jack Conley). Moss's bold directorial style is most in evidence in the darkly comedic scenes with exaggerated line deliveries such as when cousin Sister Mary Kate (Denise Crosby) leads the family in a mangled version of "Hail Mary." The action jumps ahead 15 years when Johnny's just been thrown out of college and he's doing battle with his elder brother. The final segment is a dream sequence that's been effectively lit by Leigh Allen to emphasize the hellish qualities of the family's life. Johnny knows that his escape from his family will come when he has "the words," for he doesn't want to just hate his parents--he wants to understand them. Conley is superb as the violent father who wields a meat cleaver with ease. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 29. (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)


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Beggars in the House of Plenty Photo by David Zaugh

BLACK WOMEN: STATE OF THE UNION Judging from this uneven assortment of comedy sketches, dramatic playlets and poetry performance pieces, the state of identity politics for black women in the age of Obama hasn't appreciably changed since Ntozake Shange's landmark, 1975 choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Buoyed by a talented ensemble and briskly directed by Nataki Garrett and Ayana Cahrr, the show is at its best when its political agenda gets leavened with incisive humor or sharply observed characterizations. These include Lisa B. Thompson's whimsical "Mother's Day," a satire of African-American, maternal archetypes in the form of pre-programmed, nanny-bot androids Tamika Simpkins, Lee Sherman and the comically gifted Kila Kitu, who play, respectively, an overly doting Aunt Jemima mammy, a Condoleezza Ricean hyper-achiever and a vintage, 1970s black power militant; Nia Witherspoon's "The Messiah Complex," which takes a more serious tack as a lesbian rap star (Lony'e Perrine) recalls her younger, gender-confused, adolescent self (Sherman) and how a troubled relationship with her estranged father (Paul Mabon) informed her sexual and artistic awakening; and Sigrid Gilmer's clever "Black Girl Rising," in which a wannabe super heroine (Simpkins) comes to Kitu's Identity League to be assigned crime-fighting powers only to discover the roles allowed a black girl are somewhat less than empowering. (BR) Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., downtown; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 15. (323) 883-1717.

GO BOHEMIAN COWBOY The original title of Raymond King Shurtz's one-man show was The Gospel of Irony - which would have been a particularly ironic title, had it stuck, since there's not a trace of irony in Shurtz's unwaveringly sincere family memoir, now called Bohemian Cowboy. It's all hinged to his efforts to understand the mystery of his father's disappearance three years ago. The elder Shurtz drove six miles into the Nevada desert in his pickup truck, got out and, evidently, started walking. And now the younger Shurtz is trying to fathom whether or not it was suicide, homicide and just some freak turn of events. The older man was not the best of fathers, his son explains through shards of poignant stories that are as compassionate as they are gracefully written, and spoken. And the father was feeling some humiliation from the physical after-effects of treatments for a form of cancer not specified in the play. The uncredited set contains raw wood slabs of some nondescript interior; when not showing family photographs, a video monitor overhead frames the action with an image of the boundless Mojave. Under Kurt Brungardt's tender direction, background sounds to Shurtz's fantastical mystery tour to the scene of his father's disappearance include howling wind, the rat-tat-tat of search-and-rescue helicopters. The father was a musician, and the son juxtaposes his saga with moving ballads from his memory, as well as his own original compositions. Near the beginning, Shurtz quotes William Styron saying that depression is the inability to grieve. Shurtz's performance is, indeed, a elegy, a theater-poem of Styron-esque insight and elegance. He describes his playwright mother as a poet, while his father was merely "poetical." He meets Jesus in the desert, a figure "with ebony eyes and crooked teeth," while Hamlet accompanies him for some of the drive across the expanse. Hamlet, he says, does not care for Shurtz's song honoring Ophelia. Shurtz performs all this with gentle, wistful intelligence that avoids pitfalls of moroseness and melodrama. Through this deeply personal story of fathers and sons, and marriages gone awry, Shurtz has stumbled onto a romantic allegory, not only for a man lost in the wilderness, but for a country, dangerously tipsy, swerving over the broken center-line of an open road, as though between nostalgia and despondency, beneath a canopy of stars. (SLM) Elephant Lab Theatre, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perfs March 13-14); through March 21. (323) 960-7744. A Theatre 4S Production.

BRIDEZILLA STRIKES BACK! In August of 2002, Cynthia Silver, a struggling actress, was informed by her wedding "event designer" that a British film company, September Films was creating a "documentary series" called "Manhattan Brides," that followed couples through the preparation of their nuptials. Her fiancé, Matt Silver (who still works as a production stage manager on Broadway), was less than impressed and, according to Cynthia's confession, said he didn't like the silky tone of the British producers, and didn't trust them. "It's a reality TV show," he told her. "No, hon," she replied, "It's a documentary series. It's like Nova, but about weddings." Similarly confusing "exposure" with "acting," she also believed that the experience might jump start her performing career. Silver performed her show in the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival; she's now visibly pregnant, and has regained the 15 pounds she says she lost after the "documentary" was aired. Much of the Bridezilla pedestrian, as Silver regales us - on and around Giulio Perrone's wedding cake set piece - about her filmed hysterics while trying to find a wedding dress that would disguise her weight; and her spunky on-film ruminations about the cruel, exploitive ambitions of the wedding industry. Then comes the section that's irrefutably absorbing, when Silver finally realizes the betrayal that we've suspected all along. Months after filming has been completed comes the email from Britain that the "documentary" has been sold to Fox, which is turning into a reality show. The core of her identity crisis is her obsession with what others think of her. As her husband aptly puts it, "Why do you care? They're idiots!" But she does care, and her endearing confession of the profound insight she's learned rings ever so slightly hollow through her tears. She is, after all, still doing this show, still confessing in front of strangers in a film and TV industry town. (SLM) Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-7774.

GO BRUISING FOR BESOS In Spanish besos means kisses but getting them in Yolanda Villamontes' (writer/performer Adelina Anthony) family should come with combat pay. With a philandering father who alternately abuses and romances her emotionally fragile mother, Yolanda develops a distorted view of love that clouds her relationships, most especially that with her mom. Now as an adult on a sojourn from L.A. to visit her sick mother in San Antonio, Yolanda is marooned with a busted radiator on a Texas highway and flashes back to memories of her hardscrabble childhood, her budding attraction to women, and the struggle for her and her mom to accept one another. Anthony's solo performance chronicles a tale of dysfunction with uproarious humor and heartfelt gravity, deftly balancing both and delivering a riveting work. Under Rose Marcario's sturdy direction, Anthony effortlessly embodies a host of characters, from Yolanda's' strutting father and precocious siblings to her sexually confused high school peer, from a fiery Puerto Rican lover to a mother aching from a love-hate relationship. Designer Robert Selander's set, centered on a Ford Mustang grill and car hood made of bleached bones, and John Pedrone's evocative lighting design, combine well with Anthony's journey of self-discovery. (MH) The Davidson/Valenti Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 15. (323) 860-7300.

DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores<0x2019> dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3). Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 12. (323) 954-9795.

GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner), a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City. These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without "representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies. Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision, based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out," there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-1056.

ENTER 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.

GO FILM Local playwright Patrick McGowan's new play has no right to be as good as it is. The central character is the late theater director Alan Schneider (Bill Robens) -- known for staging some of the best plays by Absurdist authors, including Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, and introducing almost all of Samuel Beckett's plays to the American stage. Film has no right to be so good because Schneider, in this play, is an insufferable, flailing bully. The play is Schneider's nightmare -- an Absurdist nightmare, naturally -- a comedy and inexplicably scintillating entertainment about artistic failure. This biographical story, set in 1965 New York, features Schneider trying to make a film from a screenplay by Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward), who has come to New York to work with Schneider. Joining them to star in the slogging, portentous film, also named Film (now regarded by some historians as a "masterpiece") is Beckett's favorite comedian, Buster Keaton (Carl J. Johnson), long past his prime, spiritually at ease with his station in life, and willing to play along with the clueless intellectuals and a film crew whose patience gets sorely tested. Ward's Beckett is a delightfully rueful, awkward and solitary figure, aching in vain (of course) for the affections of the star-struck yet savvy prop mistress (the lovely Deana Barone). Johnson's Keaton (Mandi Moss handily plays the comedian in his younger days) has a pleasingly bemused perspective on Schneider's insane temper tantrums. Framing the story are slivers of Waiting for Godot in both French and English, and, in another nod to Beckett, a vaudeville in front of a curtain, featuring a kind of Mutt and Jeff routine, here played out by Schneider and the source of his envy, director Mike Nichols (who grabbed the job directing the movie of Virginia Woolf), portrayed here as a figure of rare competence by Trevor H. Olsen. Despite his production being slightly too long, director Trevor Biship knows exactly what he's doing, astutely staging the action with supplementary archived film clips on Sarah Palmrose's emblematic set of a stage within a stage within a stage, each with its own curtain, and together depicting the multiple, clashing realities inside Schneider's tormented brain. (SLM) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 21. (323) 856-8611.

FLIGHT: THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH Garth Wingfield's bio-drama about the famous American aviator is more like a overstated, cautionary tale about the perils of being a celebrity. Rather than presenting a structured story with a plot or dramatic arc, the writer gives us a montage of scenes that come across like a collection of news headlines and interviews. Gerald Downey does a fine turn as the Everyman pilot, whose 1927 flight from New York to Paris gave him instant acclaim. And then there's the matter of the kidnapping of baby Charles, and Lindy's foot-in-mouth debacle as a Nazi sympathizer, all of which occurred in the span of 14 years, turning Lindbergh from hero to heel. Wingfield doesn't probe these events in depth, doesn't provide a meaningful context or perspective, which is too bad because we miss a true sense of Lindbergh and his life. (He was also an author, scientist and environmentalist.) Instead, the picture here is of a likable but cranky "aw-shucks," fellow slyly exploited by a bevy of rapacious reporters (played by Eric Charles Jorgenson), who is badly in need of a P.R. man. The acting is spotty at best, but Robin Roy is passable as Anne Lindbergh. James Carey provides good direction. (LE3)Attic Theater & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 14. (323) 525-0600.

FORKING! Daniel Heath's play, in which you, the audience, get to choose your own adventure. FYI: The full title is "Fork Off Down Your Own Forking Adventure Which You've Forked.". Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 962-0046.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

THE GRADUATE British playwright Terry Johnson's fatuous adaptation of Mike Nichols 1967 film and Charles Webb's novel might have garnered laughs had it been played as a satire. No such luck, I'm afraid. Featuring the Mrs. Robinson character in the buff (the producers raked it in when Katherine Turner played the role in London and New York), Johnson's illogical script rips off highlights from the film and juxtaposes them with additional plot points: a drunken tete-a-tete between Elaine (Michele Exarhos) and Mrs. Robinson (Kelly Lloyd), a visit by Benjamin (Ben Campbell) and his parents (Jerry Lloyd and Cindy Yantis) to a psychotherapist, a strip bar sequence with a topless dancer falling into Elaine's lap, and a redo of the wedding scene at the end, with Mr. Robinson (Jim Keily) going after Benjamin with a bat. None of these inanities would matter quite so much if Johnson hadn't also stripped the story of all wit, depth and meaningful social commentary. Directed with little insight by Jules Aaron, the performances range from cartoonish to earnest to an off-putting mixture of both. To be fair, it's difficult to deliver an ultimate rendering given the dreadful material. As the predatory siren, Lloyd might have fit nicely into a well-calibrated farce. Costume designer Shon LeBLanc mysteriously makes Elaine look as dowdy as possible; nor do his designs flatter Lloyd. Set designer Stephen Gifford's drab, functional wood-paneled backdrop underscores this essentially lifeless effort. (DK) El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 460-4443.


GRAND MOTEL The real star of Michael Sargent's new farce is the set - Chris Covics' stunningly realistic back yard of a Palm Springs men-only nudist motel, replete with lawn chairs and lawn, swimming pool containing little rubber duckies, the motel's stacco walls and a sliding door to the room facing the pool. Early in Act 1, aging "degenerate southern playwright" Cornelius Coffin (Dennis Christopher) staggers from that room into the 95 degree heat at 10 a.m., dressed in a white shroud, like Tennessee Williams or "like the men wear in Morocco." As though jolted by a surge of electricity, he flails backwards upon entering the heat, shielding his eyes from the glare and staggering back into his room to retrieve his sunglasses. It's one in a series of funny, small jokes, nicely staged by the author. Coffin is hiding from the East Coast premiere of his latest play, or at least hiding from the reviews that are due out any moment. There's a suicide pact he makes with a male model (Andy Hopper) who insists he has a girlfriend, while Coffin's so called friend, Maria St. Juiced (Shannon Holt), arrives by scaling an eight-foot wall. Holt offers a performances of nicely timed tics and wiggles that reveal her character's idiosyncratic insanity. Another wall-hopper is the local, prancing male escort (Nick Soper). The motel's co-owners (Craig Johnson and Erik Hanson) are struggling to keep the place afloat, though we hear that the competition across the street, another male nudist motel called The Deep End, is fully booked. Nice comedic cameos also by Bruce Adel and Nathaniel Stanton as an aging couple , respectively named Low Hangers and Papa Smurf, who come to P.S. to reinvigorate their otherwise flaccid love life. There is a plot about things not being what they seem, but this is essentially a comedy of manners. Sargent's structure is so languid that once the jokes about the atmosphere tumble away, the play is left wearing mere threads, not unlike its characters. (SLM) Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 28. (323) 466-7781.

HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept - stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast) and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper) entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original, perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . It's slightly paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming, that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly all profiles in courage. (SLM) Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4443.

THE HIGH Teen drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". COMEDYSPORTZ, 733 N. Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 856-4796.

THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA Federico Garcia Lorca story of sexually repressed daughters in a strict Spanish home. (Performances alternate in English and Spanish; call for schedule.). Teatro Carmen Zapata, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 225-4044.

GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.

THE INCREASED DIFFICULTY OF CONCENTRATION. Absurdist playwright, militant anti-Communist and human rights advocate Vaclav Havel is unique as the only working playwright who was also a head of state: he was president of both Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. This piece, translated by Stepan S. Simek, centers on social scientist Dr. Edward Hummel (Scott Rognlien), who's writing an earnest treatise on the nature of happiness and human needs. In private life, however, he's an egocentric male chauvinist, liar and sexual philanderer. In addition to his neglected wife (Kristina Hayes), he has a flamboyant mistress (Sarah Wolter), and makes passes at his secretary (Whitney Vigil). He's also participating in a crack-brained research project conducted by the sex-starved academic Dr. Betty Balthazar (Amy Stiller), her odd-ball assistants (Steve Hamill and Eric Normington), her eccentric supervisor (Bobby Reed), and a temperamental computer named Putzig. Though all the absurdist elements are present -- a fractured chronology, emblematic characters and bizarre events -- it seems like a conventional sex comedy grafted onto a philosophical farce. Director Alex Lippard has assembled an able cast, and the results are often funny, but the play's over-schematic structure makes for arid patches. (NW) The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 28. Produced by The Next Arena. (323) 960-7788.

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 March 29. (213) 389-3856.

GO LAWS OF SYMPATHY A knock-out cast under John Lawrence Rivera's economical direction gives a human heartbeat to Oliver Mayer's "message play" -- the heart being the theme of human cruelty that lies at at the center of Mayer's play about the freeing of Bantu slaves from Somali refugee camps. Though Mayer's dialogue suffers from didacticism. Anita Dashiell and Diarra Kilpatrick turn in fully realized performances as two war-ravaged women in performances that extend beyond the novelty of flushing a never before seen toilet (the gag gets old after a while). The women arrive with rich pasts, as well as a host if dreams, hopes and aspirations -- much to the chagrin of the usually unflappable refugee co-coordinator Mohammed (Ahmad Enani). His angry assistant Betty (Celelete Den) provides some much needed color and humor throughout the play. (The other major humorous bit comes when the Teletubbies, from one of the refugees' favorite TV show, arrive unannounced in "person."). Mayer does deserve credit for creating the morally ambiguous Gerald (Will Dixon), whose plans for the refugees sound vague at best. Act I is entirely taut, but Act 2 trots out a number of clichés and doesn't know quite when to end. John H. Binkly's functional turntable set allows Rivera's fast-paced direction to move quickly from scene to scene. (SR) Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 29. A Playwrights Arena production. (213) 627-4473.

LET THE EAGLE SOAR Merchandise Productions presents sketch comedy with a dash of video, music and dance. I.O. WEST, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 962-7560.

NEW REVIEW GO LIE WITH ME Mutineer Theatre Company makes an impressive debut with Keith Bridges' pitch black new play. The verb in the title is deliberate double entendre in a drama about a family that keeps deflecting the consequences of their hideous behavior in matters of both sexuality and honesty. The device of a matriarch (Emily Morrison) slowly dying in an upstage cot is the only reason that her daughters would come anywhere near the home where they grew up, and where their father, Stan (Christian Lebano), had a lingering sexual relationship with one of them, Carla (Taylor Coffman). The now adult young women are like far-flung satellites whom Stan struggles to bring home in order to say whatever needs to be said to their fading mother. It takes an interloper - Carla's boyfriend, Ian (Jon Cohn) to provide a perspective on the "gentle" abuse (Carla was not raped or forced by her dad to  engage in sex with him) that have transpired in this house. Both daughters now seethe with fury, and not only at their father. Young Susan (Amber Hamilton) cuts herself and tries to hit on Ian, just to spite Carla. Susan's envy of the attention Carla received from her father is one place where Bridges' drama slips off the rails. And the redundancy of Stan's earnest, plaintive appeals to both daughters ("Why do you hate me so much? "What did I do?") would be more credible from an emotional dope, but those appeals become theadbare from such an otherwise savvy character. The play's enormous strength lies in its smart, well-observed dialogue, how its characters deflect painful truths in moody, merciless games of emotional torture, how brash cynicism becomes a line of defense. "I'll be here if you need me," Ian tells Carla in one of their many spats. "Need?" she spits back, contemptuously. The performances are truer than true, particularly the women's ferocity, like wounded animals, and how Lebano turns Stan's endless rationalizations into a kind of psychosis. None of this would ring true without Joe Banno's textured, cinematic staging that helps eek out the mystery, drop by drop, with the help of Davis Campbell's detailed set and the theological bridges of sound designer James Richter's original music. Art/Works Theatre 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 5. (323) 960-7787. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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Lie With Me Photo by Natalie Young

NEW REVIEW GO THE LOFT VARIETY HOUR FEATURING NAUGHTY NANCY Director and emcee Adam Chambers is panicked: his actors are late, his puppets are belligerent, and his star Naughty Nancy is in jail. Still, the show must go on, and so it does with chaotic charm. Chambers recites excerpts from rapper Young Jeezy's interview with Playboy; a Mexican sandwich tap dances across the stage. The harried (and fun) nine-person cast swirls through a glow-stick ballet and a Spanish number that shows off their ability to count from uno to diez, and the set sparks to life with a eighteen marionettes that threaten to upend the evening with TNT, molestation, and an acting lesson hosted by Laurence Olivier's sofa. With the outraged entrance of Nancy (Christina Howard) -- an English prostitute by way of Amsterdam -- comes intermission and then a complete derailment of the show's triumphantly goofy spark, as Nancy seethes and coos through ten miserablist vignettes during which she swills vodka and vents about the lameness of her johns, the perfection of her pedicure, and the pain of her Brazilian wax. Directed by Geoffrey Hilllbeck and acted fearlessly by Howard, it's a great character and a great performance, but also a poison chaser to so much joy. L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru March 15. (213) 680-0392. A Loft Ensemble production (Amy Nicholson)

LOVE BITES - VOLUME 8.0 Eight new plays debut in Elephant Theatre Company's annual short-form festival. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 960-4410.

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 March 29. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.

MAKIN' HAY World-premiere musical about a wealthy cowboy by Matthew Goldsby, based on Moliere's 1668 comedy George Dandin. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 462-8460.

GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer) and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more roll-with-the-punches pal. (DK) Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through April 5. (800) 595-4849. Note: Roles alternate.

GO THE MIRACLE WORKER Though its compelling subject transcends its limitations, William Gibson's fact-based 1959 play is a product of its time, large and sprawling, yet over-tidy in tying up loose ends. In her infancy, Helen Keller (Carlie Nettles) suffers a high fever that leaves her blind and deaf. Science and medicine (circa 1880) can do nothing for her, leaving her locked in her own world. She becomes a monster child, violent, willful, and unmanageable. But her peppery Irish teacher, Annie Sullivan (Erin Christine Shaver), somehow perceives the indomitable intelligence locked inside her head. With profound belief in the power of language, Sullivan sets about teaching the girl a signing alphabet, which eventually enables her to perceive and communicate with the world. The struggle is arduous and violent, and frequently complicated by the well-meaning but misguided Keller family, who indulge the child as a retarded little animal. Director-designer Joel Daavid, faced with the problem of numerous scene changes, has provided a vast unit set, which is handsome but sometimes makes for awkward staging. He's fortunate in his cast, and Nettles and Shaver boldly tackle their violent confrontations, ably supported by Stuart W. Howard, Julie Austin Felder, Ethan Brosowsky, and Elisa Perry. (NW) Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 15. Hayworth Productions. (323) 960-7863 or http://www.plays411/miracleworker

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Charles Ludlam's gothic horror farce. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 20. (323) 969-1707.

NEW REVIEW THE PAINTING comes with very broad brush strokes. Writer director Bill Becker's new play concerns the obsession of a wealthy, recently widowed painter (Sarah Boghatti), living somewhere in America in the middle of nowhere, with a male model (Daniel Richardson) whom she hires as part of a commission by what one would surmise to be a gay client, since the provocative pose requested is to be nude. Though Becker has all his actors keep at least their underwear on at all times, there's nonetheless a leering quality to the writing, which only demonstrates that nakedness doesn't always have to do with clothes. The play also contains the buff grandson (Lorenzo Bonzales) of an off-stage Latina housekeeper. He drops in for reasons that are vague, dramaturgically. There's also another housekeeper, a perky blond (Tricia Alley) whose constantly rebuffed sexual advances towards the model should be a hint of the young man's proclivities, but she doesn't seem to get it. The play is designed to hang on a kind of mystery that's undermined by the blatancy of the character's motives, in both performance and in the writing. In the role of the model, Richardson comes off as cloyingly smug with a presumed intelligence that's out of sync with his pedestrian lines. In Act 2, however, the character reveals a psychotic dimension, and this is where the performance catches up to the character. As the widow, Boghatti shows a delicate intelligence and truthful acting style. She's not a native English speaker, however, and her struggle with the language takes a toll. Alley's seductress is appealingly child-like and Gonzales' groundskeeper is fine. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner Street, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 960-7735. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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The Painting Photo courtesy of Eyecandy Photography

NEW REVIEW GO PARADISE HOTEL The new Menander Theatre Company is off to a rousing start with a harum-scarum production of this classic French farce by Georges Feydeau, nimbly translated by Nicholas Rudall. The hotel in question is a disreputable house of assignation (it advertises hourly and group rates) where, by a series of unlikely coincidences, most of the characters wind up. M. Pinglet (Philip D'Amore) is attempting to elude his domineering wife (Catie LeOrisa) in order to seduce Marcelle (Jeanne Simpson), the wife of his neighbor Paillardin (Michael Bonabel), who's also visiting the hotel for reasons of his own. The sassy French maid Victoire (Eris Migliorini) is out to seduce the clueless young philosophy student Maxime (Chris Arnst). Mathieu (Jim Kohn), a man who stutters only when it rains, thinks the Paradise is a respectable hostelry, and puts up there with his three daughters (Karen Grim, Jen Hoyt and Liza Morgan). The hotel manager (Sid Veda) specializes in spying on the guests, while the over-zealous porter (Jason Thomas) is hell-bent on seducing Marcelle. Sex is in short supply as confusions and contretemps escalate and multiply till loony Inspector Boucard (Eddie Pepitone) carts everybody off to jail. It's a genuinely funny rendition, skillfully played, and nicely directed by Gina Torrecilla. Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Mar. 29. http://gomenander.com Menander Theatre Company (Neal Weaver)


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Paradise Hotel Photo Courtesy of Menander Theatre Company

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 Reeves' 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.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

GO POOR, POOR LEAR In her one woman Shakespeare show-within-a-show, Nina Sallinen nearly triples her age to play a 90-year-old Finnish diva, returning to the stage after decades away to perform King Lear wit just a hat, a doll, and a flower to represent the king's three ill-fated daughters. The aged actress is seemingly in constant motion, thrilled to back in the spotlight, but her overactive mouth, her limbs and, on occasion, her mind are betraying her. When her stubborn legs and distracted brain cause her to freeze up on stage, it's as electric as her shock of white hair that shakes loose in wild directions. A solo performance of King Lear is a vanity piece, however cleverly slummed up with nice touches like the hairdryer Sallinen clicks on so that she can deliver the king's "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" speech into its tinny gale. But what's really at stake for the ancient drama queen is that her estranged daughters -- and the evening's guests of honor -- have instead gone to the movies, spinning her into a manic depression where she acknowledges the parallels between her characters and herself. A shattered second act soliloquy over-explains what we've enjoyed intuiting, but when Sallinen's actress drops her facade and asks the audience to see her for who she really is, the moment is so kinetic that we forget we're still looking at a fictional creation. (AN) The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 26. (818) 430-4835.

ROMEO AND JULIET Young lovers get all emo. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (800) 838-3006.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Tribute to the early years of SNL. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 465-0800.

SIN, A CARDINAL DEPOSED Prosecutor demands answers from a cardinal about sexual abuse in his archdiocese, by Michael Murphy, based on actual court transcripts. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 2. (323) 960-4442.

NEW REVIEW STITCHING Combine equal parts Harold Pinter, EC Comics and Al Goldstein, then shake -- but not stir -- till thoroughly black and blue, and you might approximate the acrid, psycho-sexually explicit minimalism on tap in Anthony Neilson's bleak, 2002 relationship melodrama. Two narrative timelines trace the final, grueling chapters in the troubled marriage of 30-somethings Abby (Meital Dohan) and Stu (John Ventimiglia) when infidelity and an unplanned pregnancy transform a merely bad marriage into a nightmarishly sadomasochistic dance of death. Alternating between past and present, the narrative effectively juxtaposes the bickering couple's fateful choice to remain together and have the baby with that decision's grimly ironic aftermath -- an unseen tragedy and the increasingly self-destructive and brutal role-playing sex games through which the couple attempts to expiate their guilt. Neilson, a graduate of Britain's much-trumpeted "in-yer-face" playwriting school, injects the proceedings with enough graphic sex and violence (including a particularly grisly twist ending) to justify his alma mater's transgressive reputation, but the intended shock effects quickly wear thin. Despite Dohan's searing and soulful turn, Abby is too much of a cipher for Stu's sexually degrading antics to signify as much more than phallocentric pornography. Director Timothy Haskell doesn't mitigate matters by smothering the delicate rhythms of Neilson's abstract text under an overblown, kitchen-sink mise en scene and interminably long scene changes. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 962-7782. (Bill Raden)

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.

WINGS OF NIGHT SKY, WINGS OF MORNING LIGHT Joy Harjo's self-discovery allegory, incorporating spoken-word, storytelling and song. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 667-2000.

YENTA: STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH Annie Korzen critiques life. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 460-4443.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AMERICAN GUILT Starting from the ending and then working its way back, Nick Mills' take on the Bonnie and Clyde archetype deals with 20-somethings who are searching for meaning in their lives and try to find it through acts of defiance. The story centers on the relationship between Sara (Liz Vital) and Jonah (Eduardo Porto Carreiro), the former a nymphomaniac who ironically refuses to curse and the latter a socially awkward depressive who has been seeing his therapist, Jane (Nicole DuPort), for seven years. Also in the mix are Sara's friends Evan (Jeff Irwin) and Hannah (Venessa Perdua), who end up as enablers in Sara and Jonah's scheme and as a result are grilled by Keller (Sean Spann), a police detective investigating the devastating results of it. While there are a few genuine moments of humor and introspection in the writing, most of it ends up sounding like a pseudo-intellectual whine punctuated by pop-culture debates, further exacerbated by the typical early-20s rapid-fire ADD-esque way in which much of it is delivered. Though Mills' directing his own work may have been a mistake, the cast members, especially Spann and DuPort, have good energy and throw themselves into the material fully. (MK) Theatre Unlimited Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 14. (847) 800-1762. A Vitality Productions Production.

GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Family tone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 14. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.

CONFESSIONS OF A VINTAGE BLACK QUEEN Billie Hall's one-man show chockablock full of gospel/blues singing, piano playing, story telling, and comedy. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (818) 762-0057.

GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes, and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife, Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter. Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative, borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Mar. 29. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.

GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who recently helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera at the Hayworth, has scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's liberties they take on the story in now way diminish the quality of the production. Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy count, first seen rising from his grave to put the bite on the lovely Mina (Mara Marini), upon his arrival in England. When Lucy Seward (Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a mysterious illness, her mother, Lily (Karesa McElheny), who runs an asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R. Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This one's all about atmosphere. Desma Murphy's alluring set design is cleverly accented by an enormous backdrop of an incubus sitting on a sleeping woman, inspired by Henry Fuseli's painting "The Nightmare." Luke Moyer's lighting schema is perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an arsenal of haunted house special effects here, including lots of rolling fog and wolf howls, but they never come across as cheesy or overdone; and there are a few scary moments during this 90-minute show, amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 22. (818) 508-7101.

ELOVE - A MUSICAL.COM/EDY This world premiere musical by Wayland Pickard explores an online romance between an older man and woman who are newly single. After a website called "eLove" matches Frank (Lloyd Pedersen) and Carol (Bobbi Stamm), love seems to blossom as they begin chatting online. The opening number "I'm Single" has a catchy tune with some clever lyrics; unfortunately the highlight of the show comes five minutes in. The rest devolves into repetitive and unimaginative quips punctuated by musical numbers that plunge from the pedestrian to something akin to theme songs from '80s sitcoms. Pickard does everything in this production but act; his staging lends it a one-dimensional quality that might have been avoided with greater collaboration. He is so focused on trying to milk puns for laughs that his direction employs hackneyed devices such as talking to pets and monologues delivered out to the audience. Stamm stumbles over one too many lines, though she and Pederson have pleasant voices, but Chris Winfield's cramped set allows them little freedom to physically explore their characters. The piece, in effect, becomes an Ed Sullivan-style stand-up routine with dialogue so trite, it makes George Lucas look like Edward Albee. (MK) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 822-7898. An Angry Amish Production

IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.
LA RONDE Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (818) 500-7200.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Roger Corman's carnivorous-plant musical, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (818) 508-3003.

A LOVELY PLACE FOR A PICNIC Ladislav Smocek's antiwar play, reset in the jungles of Vietnam by Pavel Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru March 24. (866) 811-4111.

MACBETH Shakespeare's tragedy. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (818) 846-5323.

MADAME BUTTERFLY: THE ORIGINAL PLAY The 1999 Secret Rose cast reunites for the play that inspired Puccini's opera. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (866) 811-4111.

MISCONCEPTIONS Seven short plays by Art Shulman. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.

NOSE TALES The Zombie Joe Underground sniffs out "five lovable fools.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850
Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 19. (818) 202-4120.

PICNIC William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winner about a hunky drifter in a small Kansas town. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 11, (No perf March 15.). (626) 355-4318.

THE SIN OF HEROES Two short comedies: Confessions of a Redneck: A 99% True Story by Todd Eller and Harry Flashman by Brandon Hayes. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 474-6227.

GO A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Playwright Martin McDonagh -- a four time Tony nominee is known for his rhythmic, ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with past grievances that neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't even involve them. Here, a part time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney), are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered how she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say, flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the killer that could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story; the focus is on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spins itself into an obsession with fairness where characters glower," Now I have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull down set converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as Higgin's thighs are thick. (AN) Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.

TARTUFFE As Madame Pernelle (Judith Scarpone) is giving her imperious farewell lecture to the family, parading in a peach pantsuit with flowing scarves (costumes by Leah Piehl), about a dozen of her suitcases drop from the rafters. They hit with violent thuds, eliciting a blithe response from the family. Such is the lunacy in this present-day San Fernando Valley suburb (set by Ken McKenzie), modernized by director Josh Chambers from Moliere's 17th century Parisian estate setting. Meanwhile, Pernelle's son and master of the house, Orgon (Tim Cummings), stands on a platform high in the sky, dressed like a CIA agent and being caressed by an identically dressed twin, white-gloved figure in a grey ski mask. The double is the interloper-impostor Tartuffe (Antonio Anagaran). Orgon speaks all of Tartuffe's lines through a microphone, so that the pair are entwined psychologically as well as physically. Their movements are a kind of choreographed duet, and Chambers' direction contains many operatic elements. Though the physicalization simply renders austere what's more amusing (and self-evident) in Moliere's baroque farce - that Tartuffe is a demon who resides inside Orgon's soul - it's nonetheless one of many absorbing theatrical conceits. Another is the complicating reality that Pernelle's family is here lost in space. Granddaughter Mariane (Megan Heyn) lounges forlornly on one of the lawn chairs, inhaling fumes from aerosol cans that lie scattered at her feet. She's also in the habit of cutting herself - perhaps in response to the news that her insane father is pushing her to marry his beloved Tartuffe (i.e. himself?) -- yet Mariane's self-mutilation reveals layers of depressions that would go back years. Curiously, this gives some validity to Pernelle's screed against the family's spiritual malaise. Even Cleante (Matt Foyer) - Orgon's brother-in-law and the play's voice of reason - gives his nicely rendered if slightly tedious advice while lounging and swilling martinis. So we have an unhinged household threatened by the menacing hypocrisy of a pious zealot, whose appearances are accompanied by the dull rumble of Nathan Ruyle's sound design. Moliere's comedic indignation has been boiled down to a slightly glib nihilism. Donald Frame's faithful and full-bodied verse translation is completely at odds with Chambers' staging. The rhyming comes filled with whimsy, yet Chambers is tone-deaf to the humor inherent in the text. Moliere's is a humor of behavior; Chambers' is the humor of despondency. One almost wishes that Chambers would be bolder - staging a meditation on the play rather than the play itself, an opera based on the text rather than the full text itself. What we have instead is bloated austerity - a meringue pie filled with air, yet layered with steak and beans and banana cream. (SLM) Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (626) 683-6883.

THE TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS Playwright Jonathan Tolins's drama of ethics is part moral debate and part family tragedy, in which righteousness comes into direct conflict with pragmatism. On Manhattan's Upper West Side, a young married couple -- Suzanne (Gretchen Koerner) and her husband Rob (Bryan Okes Fuller) -- are delighted when they learn Suzanne is pregnant, and Rob convinces her to allow the fetus to undergo an experimental genetics test. The test comes back positive - positive for probable homosexuality, that is. Much to the shock of Suzanne's charming, artistic gay younger brother David (Eli Kranski), the couple seriously considers aborting the infant, rather than raise a gay son - a choice that is tacitly backed by David's seemingly kind and liberal parents (Penny Peyser and Mark L. Taylor). The debate between David and his bewildered and increasingly hostile family shifts from being a simple meditation on "right to life" issues to a confrontation in which David feels he has to justify his own existence. Although director T. K. Kolman's straightforward production aptly conveys the subtext of hostility and mutual incomprehension lurking beneath the apparently happy family's relations, the staging often lacks nuance and comes across as stodgy. Many exchanges consist of loud roaring and arm waving histrionics, a problem exacerbated by the padded talkiness of Tolins' dialogue. Kranski adds some haunting dimension as the hurt, appalled gay son, and so does Koerner, as the guilt- racked older sister. (PB) Chandler Studio Theater, 12443 Chandler Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 14. The Production Company.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN BEACH TOWNS AND ON THE WESTSIDE

AMOUR, WHERE ARE YOU? A new work of dance theater conceived and choreographed by Nathalie Bronzait and featuring her six member company. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., March 13-14, 8:30 p.m. (310) 315-1459 or http://highwaysperformance.org


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Amour, Where Are You? Photo by Isaac Bright

BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Staged with a warm cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily, though, a more aloof ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional isolation where the polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro) and perfect-on-paper boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold shadow across all dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny roomate Larry (Aaron Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a wrenching and infuriating Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like pathological self-punishment. Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story -- the scene breaks twinkle with sentimental music -- however his cast isn't up to it and hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob from a strange man rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the weather.) Comperatore's combustible Pale has four times the spark of the rest of the ensemble -- when he bursts into the scene, we see the gulf between what Wilson's play could be and what this staging actually is. (AN) Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 397-3244.

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.

NEW REVIEW THE CONTEST Set in an art school studio, Jennifer Rowland's play begins with a game of "what-ifs" between Karl (Albert Meijer) and Amanda (Jules Wilcox), who are not only star students but lovers as well. While they explore their hypothetical futures, their present concerns center on the school's upcoming contest whose winner will presumably take the art world by storm. Into this den of lust, anticipation, creativity and insecurity wanders Faith (Heleya de Barros), a first-year student who befriends Karl and Amanda almost too quickly. Faith latches on to the games they play but takes the questions to a new level, creating a triangle of confusion, jealousy and doubt. Rounding out the ensemble is the sometimes mocked but influential Jerome (Dan Kozlowski), who teaches at the school and serves as a judge in the contest. As the events play out, the winner of the contest is declared, setting in motion a series of events that affects these characters professionally and personally for the next 15 years. Director Sarah Zinsser uses the space well enough and facilitates transitions between the short scenes, but she allows her actors emotional turns that are too quick, never letting us feel the gravity of the stakes at play. Among the cast, only Kozlowski stands out, stealing almost every scene in which he appears. The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 14. (800) 595-4849. A Pudd'nhead Productions Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)


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The Contest Photo courtesy of Pudd'nhead Productions

DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Solo show by Aaron Braxton on education issues. (In the Research Space.). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (310) 358-9936.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY James M. Cain's noir thriller, adapted by Kathrine Bates. (In rep with Violet Sharp, call for schedule.). Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 15. (310) 364-0535.

ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT Jeff Daniels' comedy about deer hunters in upstate Michigan. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (310) 512-6030.

HAMLET, THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE OF DENMARK Shakespeare's tragedy set to the music of Prince. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., March 14, 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 985-5526.

LAUGH-OUT Tribute to Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Found Theater, 599 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 433-3363.

LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (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 March 28. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso trade shots at a Paris bar, in Steve Martin's play. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (562) 494-1014.

TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue, and hilarious, yet believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's other plays, at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a run down Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly kitten-like Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that, although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. (PB) Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 477-2055.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy predates Neil Strauss' The Game by 400 years, during which audiences have yet to decide whether he's confirming or slyly eviscerating gender roles. (In this only recently post-Guantanamo climate, breaking Kate with starvation and sleeplessness and temporal disorientation seems less comic.) This staging seems more concerned with mounting a handsome production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stooges-style slapstick while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The set's minimal props and checkerboard floor underscore the sense of rootlessness - with characters standing by without much to do in a scene, the large ensemble looks like game pieces waiting to move. The cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those that choose naturalism fare best, particularly Geoffrey Owen's intelligent Tranio and Stehlin's shrew-taming Petruchio, who has the easy confidence of Clark Gable. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 26. (310) 477-2055. A Circus Theatricals. production.

13 O'CLOCK Margaret Schugt's two-woman comedy about a writing contest, a narcoleptic, and "a perverted Oompa Loompa.". Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (310) 512-6030.

GO THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE In May 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan (Andrew E. Wheeler ) and eight other peace activists seized 378 draft documents and publicly burned them with napalm to protest the Vietnam War and other American government atrocities. Drawing on court transcripts, this play is an account of their trial, which ended in conviction and prison terms for all defendants. The script - Saul Levitt's stage adaptation of Berrigan's original verse rendition - lays out an impassioned argument for following the dictates of one's conscience, even when it involves breaking the law. Each defendant relays what spurred them to take action: a nurse (Paige Lindsey White) who witnessed American planes bomb Ugandan villages, burning children, a couple in Guatemala (Patti Tippo and George Ketsios) who saw American money used to outfit the police while peasants starved, an Alliance for Progress worker (Corey G. Lovett) who became privy to CIA machinations in the Yucatan. Taking it all in is the presiding judge (Adele Robbins). Her sympathies, reflecting ours, lean toward the defendants, even as she rules against them. Under Jon Kellam's direction, cogent performances successfully counteract the script's didactic language and cumbersome progression, even though Robbins' performance lacks nuance. Perhaps most disturbing is the piece's reminder that the aggression and subterfuge of the Bush Administration constituted not a reversal of past policy, but a radicalized extension of it. (DK) Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (310) 838-4264.

THE ZOO STORY It's two guys, one park bench, in Edward Albee's first play. LOS ANGELES AREA VETERANS ARTISTS ALLIANCE, 10858 Culver Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 559-2116.

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

AFFAIRS OF STATE Spend happy hour with Capitol Hill interns in Kendall Shaffer and Jefferson Eliot's every-other-month series of plays preceded by cocktails. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat., March 14, 6 & 9 p.m., www.brownpapertickets.com/event/55895. (310) 306-1854.

BENEATH THE VEIL Mary Apick and Ginger Perkins' expos<0x00E9> of brutality toward women in the Middle East. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Mon., March 16, 8 p.m.. (818) 249-1428.

BENEFIT FUND-RAISER FOR THE YOUNG ACTORS SCHOOL Wings guitarist Laurence Juber headlines this evening f music, comedy and raffles, hosted by Matt Iseman and Mark L. Walberg. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs., March 19, 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

A BIT OF IRISH St. Patrick's Day celebration of Ireland, with Chris Sullivan's songs, limericks and stories. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Tues., March 17, 8 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.

COOL YOUR J Nick Ross' one-man character comedy. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Wed., March 18, 8 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATRE Traditional Czech and Slovak fairy and folk tales told through puppetry. Music Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sat., March 14. (213) 972-4396.

DARWIN Dinosaur comes to life in this "adventure for all ages," created by Corbin Popp and Ian Carney. (Free to Culver City residents.). Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sat., March 14, 10:30 a.m. & 2 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.

THE ILIAD Homer's epic, transposed to the Normandy invasion of World War II. Caltech Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena; Fri., March 13, 8 p.m.. (626) 395-4652.

THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW Tom, Dick and ... the "Yo-Yo Man.". La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Fri., March 13, 8 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.





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