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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Wednesday in Wroclaw

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Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 5:02 PM

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THE LATEST NEW THEATER REVIEWS ARE EMBEDDED IN THIS COMING WEEK'S COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

WEDNESDAY IN WROCLAW
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Song of the Goat's Macbeth
Photo by Bartlomiej Sowa


The legendary Russian theater director Anatoly Vassiliev of the

Moscow Drama Theater put in an appearance in Wroclaw, Poland for the

Stanislavsky Festival yesterday. He spoke on a theme that's been

bouncing around in conversations about theater throughout the city - the quality and purpose of voice. That

topic was also addressed by the Polish companies, Theater ZAR, which is

coming to UCLA Live December 1-3, and the company Song of the Goat, which was in

L.A. in 2005 with a piece called Chronicles - A Lamentation

Both companies presented works this week in Wroclaw, Poland, in

brick-walled venues with vaulted ceilings that, in considerably used candlelight and sculpted shafts of traditional lighting design, had the distinct aura of

a church. Both productions pushed the limits of theater's music-dance

spectacle equation. Song of the Goat turned Shakespeare's Macbeth into a

kind of oratory, sung in the liturgical style of Gregorian chants

employing music from ancient Albania. Meanwhile, the barefoot actors

engaged in choreographed fights with wooden sticks wielded like small

batons, that would slam into the ground for contrapuntal rhythms. The

event - skimming the narrative of Shakespeare's play -- took just over

an hour. The first twenty-minutes was a ravishingly beautiful crescendo

of the macabre murders by Macbeth and Lady M -- and Macbeth's subsequent, paranoid hauntings by the dead --  juxtaposed against the etherial music that rose

steadily in tension. The event then settled into a more constant

tonality that lent the feeling and perhaps the literal spectacle of

going through the motions. The piece is still early in its development.

SCROLL DOWN FOR COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

Theater ZAR presented its Gospels of Childhood at UCLA Live in 2007, and will return this fall with Triptych, which also includes a dance-theater piece called Caesarean Section,

a percussive performance about coping with despair. It opens with

sound of glass being smashed. The shards fall into a ditch traversing

the stage - a precisely lit glittering strip of broken glass around

which the characters cavort barefoot, creating muscular images of

contemplated suicide - sometimes comedic. The singing was accompanied

by actors playing cello, violin and accordion


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Street poster in Wroclaw, Polad for a lecture by Russian director theater Anatoly Vassiliev

Speaking through Russian and Polish translators (which created a

small comedy of errors) Anatoly Vassiliev said he took years to understand that

the voice emanating from inside - the psychological voice - speaks to

actions or reactions to the past, whereas the outer or decorative voice

speaks to actions concerning the future. He works to find the purity of

both those voices when unearthing and giving life to ancient texts.

These are exactly the issues being grappled with by these two Polish

companies.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for June 26-July 2, 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

THE CAR PLAYS It's like a drive-in in reverse: Choose between four different series of five 10-minute plays, all set in cars. Woodbury University, 7500 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Toluca Lake; June 26-27, 7, 8 & 9 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

THE CHERRY ORCHARD Chekhov's comedy transplanted to 1970s Virginia, by Heidi Helen Davis and Ellen Geer. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; opens June 27; Sat., June 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 28, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 22, 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 5, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 26, 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (310) 455-3723.

HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME R. Ernie Silva's autobiographical one-man show. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens June 26; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 477-2055.

INSANITY Slasher film director gets confined to a psych ward, music and lyrics by Scott DeTurk, book by James J. Mellon. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens June 26; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (818) 508-7101.

KILL ME DEADLY Bill Robens' hard-boiled P.I. parody. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; opens June 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (323) 856-8611.

METAMORPHOSE "Transcendental theater," part of Theatre Unleashed's "Galleries" series. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; July 1-2, 8 p.m.. (323) 463-3900.

SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre improvs the Bard. Egyptian Arena Theater, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; opens June 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, www.brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.

SONGS I DIDN'T KNOW I KNEW Eddie Padilla sings musical-theater hits by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Jason Robert Brown, David O., Billie Holiday, John Kander and Fred Ebb, and more. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; July 1-2, 8 p.m.. (323) 263-7684.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE Roaring '20s musical, book by Richard Henry Morris, music by Jeanine Tesori, new lyrics by Dick Scanlan. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens June 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 828-7519.

THE YOUNG IDEA PROJECT A trio of staged readings of Noel Coward plays by young actors and directors. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., June 26, 6 p.m.; Sat., June 27, 2 p.m.; Sun., June 28, noon, www.antaeus.org. (818) 506-5436.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

NEW REVIEW GO CIRQUE BERZERK A dreadlocked

ringmaster tells a misfit girl to flee the land of the corporate

zombies, where businessmen in masks and suits sprawl half dead before

tombstones made of suitcases. And she does, committing suicide to

descend from the ceiling of the venue's big top tent to the underworld

circus of the fully dead, whose acts include suicides hanging

themselves from trapezes and a drowned sailor and his wife contorting

through a boneless, weightless sexual dance. Later, a troupe of dead

brothers make brilliant use of a trampoline and an oversized photo

frame, and a phalanx of hellish Liza Minnellis reenacts Cabaret with

flaming chairs. The creative team of Suzanne Bernel, Kevin Bourque and

Neal Everett put on quite a show. The 26 performers and seven piece

band are fantastic, and fantastically served by Heather Goodman and

Mary Anne Parker's costumes, which have the bravado to make an outfit

out of an Elizabethan collar, feathers, a bikini top and knee socks.

(The production was born at Burning Man.) And because the stage

rotates, there's not a bad seat in the house, even out in this

ex-cornfield east of Chinatown. Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1245

N. Spring St., Chinatown; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 & 10

p.m.; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; through July 5. http://www.cirqueberzerk.com  (Amy Nicholson)


CROWNS This musical by Regina Taylor examines the passionate attachment of certain churchgoing African-American women for their hats. Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, it turns on the interaction between Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a tough street girl from Brooklyn raging with grief over the murder of her brother, and various women she encounters after she's shipped off to South Carolina to live with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). The book that was the musical's source material consists of an elegant collection of photo portraits and firsthand reminiscences; Taylor appropriates these as monologues, then juxtaposes them with original dialogue and gospel hymns. The thrust of the show -- increasingly churchly as the evening wears on -- is the effort to educate Yolanda regarding the importance of hats to her identity and her spirituality. Under Israel Hicks' direction, the focus is clear but its execution -- both script and performance -- is disappointing. Five female performers each deliver various monologues that simply don't add up to recognizable characters who serve the story -- itself a cobbled construct. Lackluster choreography, less than top-notch vocals and indifferent lighting also detract, as does the production's two-hour length, without intermission. The strongest element is the outstanding contribution of Clinton Derricks-Carroll in a variety of male roles, but especially as a fervently possessed, pulpit-thumping preacher. In an uneven ensemble, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Suzzanne Douglas are worthy of note, as are the instrumentals, under Eric Scott Reed's musical direction. (DK) Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through July 5. (323) 964-9768. An Ebony Repertory Theatre/Pasadena Playhouse production.

GO CYMBELINE What might Shakespeare have written if he'd been asked by some 17th-century counterpart of a TV producer to come up with something quick, hot and flashy? It's likely an extravagantly plotted comedy like this one, with story ideas snatched from legend, his peers and some of his own better-developed and more sublime works. Regarded today as one of Shakespeare's more minor plays, this comedy revolves around a king's daughter named Imogen (Willow Geer), banished from court by her father, Cymbeline (Thad Geer), for daring to marry the man of her choice. The plucky gal's travails intensify when a villain named Iachimo (Aaron Hendry, alternating with Steve Matt) decides willy-nilly to slander her to her husband Posthumus (Mike Peebler), who then commands a servant to assassinate her for her alleged infidelity. Her wanderings eventually land her on the doorstep of her father's old enemy, Belarius (Earnestine Phillips), who has raised two of Cymbeline's children (thus Imogen's own siblings) as her own. Director Ellen Geer has fashioned an appealing production laced with an aptly measured dose of spectacle and camp. At its core is Willow Geer's strong and likable princess. As her adoring and, later, raging, jealous spouse, Peebler's Posthumus is earnestly on the mark, while Jeff Wiesen garners deserved laughs as the foppish suitor she'd rejected. The latter meets his end at the hands of the princess' newfound brother, well-played by Matt Ducati. (DK) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.

GO DIRTY DANCING Blockbuster musicals based on blockbuster films are multiplying like viruses, but Dirty Dancing is different. Its approach to slapping film on a stage is the zenith of the seamless and shameless. Instead of adding songs, original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein's theater translation mimics scenes with a faithfulness to her treasured 1987 source material that's slavishly high camp. Add in James Powell's extravagant direction and we're served up fantastically expensive cheese that knows audiences don't just want to see Baby (Amanda Leigh Cobb) and Johnny (Josef Brown) dancing on a log, they want to see that log descend majestically from the ceiling and be dismissed when it's served its momentary purpose. By duplicating the pacing, plot and props, Dirty Dancing revels in the luxurious disposability that tells a crowd they're getting their money's worth. Wow factor is key when you're shelling out the cost of several DVDs to watch the exact same thing live -- the set whirls and motors, spitting up bridges and doors and revolving platforms, dancers in great costumes pack the stage, and giant video screens even show us the fractured glass when Johnny punches a window. It's the kind of nonsense that delights both cynics and fans. (Inversely, it's now the script's dabbling into race and class consciousness that feels cheap.) Cobb and Brown are twins for Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, the charming Cobb approaching the role with actual acting, while the muscular Brown has fun aping Swayze's show-pony dramatics. In a strong and massive cast, standouts include Britta Lazenga as the ill-fated dancer Penny and the very funny Katlyn Carlson as Baby's snotty sister Lisa. (AN) Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through June 28. (213) 365-3500. A Broadway L.A. production.

AN EMPTY PLATE IN THE CAFE DU GRAND BOEUF Wealthy ex-pat goes on a solipsistic hunger strike in his own Paris restaurant, in Michael Hollinger's dark comedy. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru June 28. (949) 497-2787.

AN EVENING WITH PATTI LUPONE AND MANDY PATINKIN The Tony Award winners perform the hits of Broadway. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Through June 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 27, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 28, 3 & 8 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.

FARRAGUT NORTH Beau Willimon's satire of political PR. 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.; thru July 26. (310) 208-5454.

FELLOWSHIP! Musical parody of The Fellowship of the Ring, book by Kelly Holden-Bashar and Joel McCrary, music by Alen Simpson. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru July 12, (No perf July 4.). (818) 955-8101.

JULIUS CAESAR Shakespeare's tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., June 27, 4 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 29, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 455-3723.

GO THE LITTLE FOXES Lillian Hellman's 1939 melodrama, set in the South of 1900, studies the voracious appetite for profit by the middle-class Hubbard clan, who look with contempt on both the aristocrats they've replaced, and their black employees whom they continue to cheat. And so the drama offers Hellman's harsh commentary on both the economic and racial foundations of prosperity by those who can afford it, usually at the expense of those who can't. In addition to his perfectly paced production, director Dámasco Rodriquez also scores points for keeping the repugnant N word that Hellman sprinkles so liberally in the most casual conversations. The plot has a Swiss-watch construction, starting with a visit by William Marshall (Tom Schmid) from Chicago, finalizing a business deal to construct a mill in the small town. Financing would involve contributing shares by three partners: Benjamin Hubbard (Steve Vinovich), his brother Oscar (Marc Singer) -- who married and now abuses his aristocratic wife, Birdie (Julia Duffy) -- and, finally, the very reluctant Horace Giddens (Geoff Pierson), who has been recuperating for months in Baltimore from a chronic heart condition. Horace's wife, Regina (Kelly McGillis), is the play's centerpiece, summoning home her ill husband and engaging in all manner of negotiations, including blackmail against the thieving Hubbards, and against her own husband, in order to grab the most money she can for herself. The play contains some Chekhovian ambiance, such as when Birdie confides that she's never experienced a happy day in 22 years, and the program notes refer to the drama as one in a series of "great American plays" that the theater has committed to produce. This may be an observant play, but it's not a great one, as it can't quite crawl inside the hearts of people it's too eager to condemn. And that's the difference between a tragedy and a potboiler. Even McGillis' fine, emotive performance as Regina, offers the tawdry "survival" excuse for her cold-blooded manipulations. It's as lame a rationalization as the serial-killer movies that blame the pathology on the killer's having been abused in childhood. Pierson's Horace is just grand -- tired, wise, yet still on fire to outwit the town's sundry little foxes. Nice turns also by Yvette Cason and Cleavant Derricks and the servants in residence. As Regina's coy daughter, Rachel Sondag makes an impressive transformation, from sweetness to defiance, as she slowly figures out what's going on under her nose. Paradoxically, her kind of moral outrage is also the play's undoing, serving up more of an editorial, authorial opinion than a vision -- an impulse Chekhov, or Tennessee Williams, rarely succumbed to. Gary Wissman's opulent yet frayed-at-the-edges set shows the beginning of a metaphor but not enough to compensate for the shortcomings of this well-crafted but limited play. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena: Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through June 28. (800) 378-7121.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather(about Lena Horne) or Ella(about Ella Fitzgerald). The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through August 2. (310) 208-54545.

OLEANNA Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles star in David Mamet's 1992 drama about a college professor and the charges of sexual harassment lodged against him by a failing student. The play is a reaction against the mindset of an era that featured the despotism of political correctness -- embodied by Anita Hill's 1991 testimony before the U.S. Senate against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for his allegedly sexually explicit conversations while she worked at his secretary at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After all these years, and with Pullman's affable performance juxtaposed against Stiles' stoic confusion and indignation, the play strains more than ever to express some serious ideas through a kangaroo court. (SLM) Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through July 12. (213) 628-2772.


ROS INDEXICAL/SPIRALING DOWN Avant-garde dance and video by Yvonne Rainer. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 28. (213) 237-2800.

NEW REVIEW GO 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS

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Photo by Michael Lamont

Playwrights

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt have created an amusing play with

music about two aspiring piano students. "Prodigy" isn't the right word

to describe either Ted (Jeffrey Rockwell) or Richard (Roy Abramsohn)

because mastery of classical music does not come easily to either

pre-teen boy. Instead, we're treated to piano teachers (all played by

Rockwell and Abramsohn) who delight in humiliating their moderately

talented students, which is where much of the comedy comes in. (There

are also some funny bits of physical comedy involving piano benches).

While failure to practice brings parental displeasure, the two boys

have a unique relationship: one year they're competing together in a

contest; the next year, competing against each other. As the boys grow

older, the two take interest in pop tunes, much to the dismay of their

classical instructors. Both apply to conservatories, Ted to classical

and Richard to jazz. After both are summarily dismissed, the play

tracks their respective plunges into artistic oblivion. Director Tom

Frey elicits excellent performances from Rockwell and Abramsohn, so

much so that we forget we're watching adults playing children, and

Jeremy Pivnick's subtle lighting design adds texture to the staging.

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

& 7 p.m.; through July 26. (818) 558-7000. (Sandra Ross)


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.

ALL ABOUT JACK: THE IMPERSONATORS OF JACK NICHOLSON Patrick O'Sullivan's follow-up to All About Walken, with nine actors doing their best Nicholson. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru July 23, www.plays411.com. (888) 227-2285.

APARTMENT 6 & 9 These two one-acts, written and directed by Matt Morillo, deal with contemporary romantic/sexual conflicts and collisions. In "All Aboard the Marriage Hearse," Amy (Jessica Moreno) and Sean (Keenan Henson) have lived together happily for three years, till she decides they're going to get married, whether he likes it or not. He doesn't, and the resulting battle, verbal and physical, radically changes their lives while maintaining the status quo. Some of the marriage debate seems overly familiar, but the piece is clever, nicely directed, and beautifully played. In "Stay Over," adapted from a play by Maria Micheles, Michelle (Moreno) gives her lover Mark (Tom Pilutik) permission, for reasons that are never made clear, to have an affair with someone else. She hits the ceiling, however, when she discovers he's bedded her kittenish dancer friend Lily (JessAnn Smith). Michelle is a bullying shrew, Mark is a manipulative two-timer, and Lily is a determined baby vamp, willing to go to any lengths ― including performing a very naked modern dance number ― to win Mark for herself. The result is an evening of over-the-top bickering that soon becomes tiresome. (NW) The Lounge Theatre, 6021 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through July 5. (No perf. July 4.) (323) 960-5521

x

GO BIG Director Richard Israel and his fine cast have a first-rate revival of this 1996 Broadway musical, based on the film that made Tom Hanks a star. And if you've seen the movie and think you know the story, think again: You can expect a few witty surprises here. Big (John Weidman, book; David Shire, music; Richard Maltby, lyrics) is a whimsical tale about Josh (L.J. Benet), an undersized teenager whose oversized crush on a schoolmate results in a startling metamorphosis when a carnival contraption grants his wish to be "big." When he wakes up as an adult, Josh (Will Collyer) has his hands full coping with life, his best friend, Billy (Sterling Beaumon), and a heartbroken mom (Lisa Picotte). When he stumbles into a high-caliber job with a toy company, he catches the eye of corporate climber Susan (the outstanding Darrin Revitz) and finds romance, but he ultimately discovers that life as a 13-year-old adult is not all that great. Israel has done a remarkable job staging this piece on a small stage, and manages the large cast -- which features some fine adolescent actors and actresses -- quite well. Christine Lakin's choreography is polished and attractive, with many of the dances evincing an edgy comic expressiveness. Musical director Daniel Thomas does equally fine work. (LE3) El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through July 26. (323) 460-4443. A West Coast Ensemble production.

THE BLANK THEATRE COMPANY'S 17TH ANNUAL NATIONWIDE YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL A month of 12 winning plays by teenage playwrights, with three new plays each week. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 28, www.theblank.com. (323) 661-9827.

NEW REVIEW CABARET THE MUSICAL
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Photo by Anthony Yount

The

economy is terrible; unemployment is rising; sex and promiscuity

abound; traditions are constantly broken creating backlash from social

conservatives -- of course, it's Germany in the early 1930s.  Against

the backdrop of the Weimar Republic, Kander and Ebb's 1966 classic

musical  follows American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Bernardi)

through his affair with English singer Sally Bowles (Kalinda Gray),

whom he meets in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub as the Nazi's are taking

over.  At the top of the show, the iconic "Willkommen" introduces the

club and its dancers--The Kit Kat Girls and Boys--as well as the Emcee

(Eduardo Enrikez), whose outrageous persona is a dead ringer for Joel

Grey's 1972 Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse's movie. When not at

the cabaret, Cliff stays in a boardinghouse run by Fraulein Schneider

(Annalisa Erickson), who has a soft corner for local fruit vendor Herr

Shultz (Jayson Kraid) and constantly battles with tenant Fraulein Kost

(Josie Yount) over the stream of sailors who flow through Kost's

bedroom in order to help "pay the rent."  Cliff, on the other hand,

pays the rent by giving English lessons. Director Judy Norton's use of

table seating and a working bar completes the cabaret ambience, but her

transitions drag and she fails to bring out the je ne sais quoi--or

perhaps ich weiss nicht--that would have made the brilliant source

material leap off the stage.  Even Greg Hakke's musical direction is

sluggish at times and Derrick Mcdaniel's lighting leaves many dark

spots on stage.  The performances, unlike the German accents, are

solid, but only Enrikez really stands out.  The MET Theater; 1089 N.

Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August

9.  (323) 965-9996.  www.plays411.com/cabaret (Mayank Keshaviah)

CARVED IN STONE Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy about a heterosexual writer who discovers he's a gay literary icon in the afterlife. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 9, www.carvedinstonetheplay.com. (310) 473-5483.

CIRCUS THEATRICALS FESTIVAL OF NEW ONE-ACT PLAYS, . Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (323) 960-7846.

NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK COMING HOME
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Photo by Ed Krieger

A sequel to his 1995 post apartheid play Valley Song, Athol Fugard's latest work, Coming Home

tells of the decimation of one person's dream and the recasting of hope

from its ashes.  The luminous Deidrie Henry portrays Veronica, a once

aspiring singer who returns to her rural childhood home, child in hand,

after 10 bitterly disappointing and difficult years in Cape Town. 

Resilient and nurturing despite her anguish, Veronica has a

single-minded purpose: to establish a home for her son Mannetjie

(Timothy Taylor and then by Matthew Elam as he ages) who will need

support and protection in the event of her demise from AIDS.   With her

beloved grandfather, her only relative, dead, she turns for help to her

childhood friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott), a sweet, slow-minded man who

has always loved her dearly, but whom her son despises.  Spanning five

years, the story depicts Veronica's transformation from a buoyant woman

to a sick but seething, determined molder of her son's future to,

finally, a bedridden invalid, yet with enough energy to foster her

boy's burgeoning ambition to write.  Part of Fugard's ongoing

reflection of his native country's woes, the play contains sometimes

burdensome exposition that's offset by its masterfully drawn characters

and deeply embedded humor. Under Stephen Sachs' direction, Henry

shines, while Silcott is equally outstanding. As Mannetjie, whom we

watch evolving into manhood,  Taylor and especially Elam both impress; 

Adolphus Ward skillfully fashions the ghost of Veronica's grandfather.

Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; opens June 20; Thurs.-Sat.,

8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29, (No perf July 4.). (323) 663-1525. (Deborah Klugman)

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.; (323) 960-1056.

ECSTASY: THE MUSICAL What's this? A musical based on the notorious hallucinogenic drug whose psychoactive effects include lust and a strong sense of inner peace? Well, not quite. At times, we suspect that the dreamlike mood of S. Claus' downright strange musical comedy is an attempt to convey what it's like to partake of the drug. Yet, Claus' work is also a cheerful 1970s kitsch-fest, set in a world of flaring bellbottoms, John Travolta-esque disco suits and untroubled hedonism. College freshman Angel (Lisa Marinacci) loves her virgin boyfriend Tom (Meyer deLeeuw), but she can't make him sexually "close the deal" with her. Somehow, Angel magically transports Tom to an alternate universe called the Land of Ecstasy, where Tom's path crosses that of a wickedly sexy Black Widow Woman (Gina D'Acciaro, whose gorgeous, rock-ballad voice is outstanding), a sex-crazed prostitute (Dina Buglione), and a genial space alien (Patrick Hancock). Claus' upbeat score isn't deep, but the work boasts some quick-witted lyrics and some zippy tunes, particularly during the larger production numbers. Director Kay Cole's energetic staging, which is layered with Day-Glo 1970s iconography and Susanne Klein's wonderfully tacky leisure-suit costumes, is offbeat and gleefully campy. Sadly, though, the show's narrative structure lurches from half-baked subplot to subplot -- less dreamlike than sloppy. Sometimes the play seems like a joke told by someone on a drug -- funny, but only if you're the stoned guy telling it. Still, some of the cast's gorgeous voices are clearly more evocative than the flimsy material allows them to show. Buglione's bubbly Sally Bowles-like turn as the prostitute is delightful -- and so is Hancock's toothy, yet sexually androgynous turn as the space alien. (PB) Art/Works Theater, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 12. (323) 960-7789. A Theatre Planners production.


GO EL OGRITO (THE OGRELING) Jesús Castaños-Chima stages Suzanne Lebeau's dark fairy tale (performed in Spanish with English supertitles) with sweetness and depth. It concerns a mother (Julieta Ortiz) trying to protect her young son (the adult Gabriel Romero) from the heredity and instinct of blood lust. His father, you see, was/is an Ogre, or one who eats children. After going through six of his own daughters, he fled to give his infant son a chance. Dad hangs offstage in the forest, watching with admiration as his son struggles with hereditary, demonic passions to eat little animals and, eventually, little children, while his mother strives valiantly to ban the color red from the house, and serve him vegetarian fare grown in the garden -- in these plays, gardens always serve as an antidote to the horrors of who we are. (SLM) 24th Street Theater, 1117 24th St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., times vary, call for schedule; through July 26. (213) 745-6516.

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 EVE'S RAPTURE The fall of Adam and Eve has furnished raw material for countless works of art but one rarely as fantastical as Bryan Reynolds' unpredictable play. A dizzying mix of metaphors, it begins with Satan (Chris Marshall) in command of an armed and loyal jihad of fallen angels; they are determined to take down God by either recruiting Adam (Ryan Welsh) and Eve (Kendra Smith) to their cause, or destroying them. Act I depicts the first couple gamboling in the Garden, notwithstanding Eve's uneasy sense that there's more to existence than affectionate kisses and playful body rubs. The end of innocence comes after Satan personally tempts her to bite the apple, then fucks her wildly -- leaving them both wowed by their unexpected erotic rapport. Their intercourse marks the beginning of Eve's total transformation; whereas Adam develops the doldrums, and worse. By play's end, Eve is one gal you surely wouldn't want to mix it up with. Part-parable, part-comic strip fable, part-action drama, the play speaks powerfully to the unseen forces and symbols that dominate our lives. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Eden sequences drag, layered as they are with so much saccharine that one's soon rooting for the Devil to break it up. As the prime mover of the action, Marshall's performance is one of understated mastery. As his wife/daughter Sin, Sage Howard sizzles. Robert Cohen directs. (DK) Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960-7721.

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

NEW REVIEW GO GODSPELL
click to enlarge rsz_rsz_godspell.jpg
Photo courtesy of the Knightsbridge Theatre


This

1971 musical, conceived by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics

by Steven Schwartz, is a sort of anti-Hair. That 1967 show utilized a

colorful tribe of hippies to mount a protest against the Vietnam War

and challenge the status quo. Godspell took a similar  tribe, sanitized

and de-radicalized it, and put it to work in the service of the Gospel

of Saint Matthew. In Act 1, the preachiness is held at bay by solid

songs and un-buttoned comedy, and Christianity is given a feel-good New

Age spin. Act 2 is soberer, going past the parables to Christ's

crucifixion. In this production, director Chuck McCollum and

choreographer Allison Bibicoff have brought ready wit and clever detail

to the show, and have cast it with a crew of wonderfully able,

infectiously enthusiastic performers. Sterling Sulieman is a strong,

forthright Jesus, with Rene Guerrero doubling as John the Baptist and

Judas. Jenny Weaver delivers a potent "Day by Day," Maria Lee gives a

vampish turn to 'Turn Back, O Man," and Jason B. Hightower keeps the

comedy coming. The fine ensemble includes Zach Bandler, Talo Silveyra,

Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Kelly Boczek and Tracy Thomas. Conductor Jan Roper

provides solid orchestrations/musical direction, and John Paul de

Leonardis designed the handsome set. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944

Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through July

12. (323) 667-0955 or www.KnightsbridgeTheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)


A GRAND GUIGNOL CABARET Evoking the raucous, free-form ambiance and style of a 1920s underground Berlin cabaret, director Amanda Harvey's show scores big on variety, less so on quality. Hosted by the charming, garrulous Gunter (Carlos Peñaranda), the evening opens with a lukewarm ditty called "When the Special Girlfriend," followed by a riotously funny "chair dance," salaciously performed by the female members of the ensemble to the music of " Wagner's "Die Valkyrie," which concludes with the gals spouting water from their mouths like fountain sculptures. Such visual engagement is the cabaret's strength, imaginatively choreographed by Vanessa Forster. Peñaranda's turn as a drag queen and his German-accented rendition of "Ol Man River,"cum overalls and straw hat don't cut it. Two short plays are also on the bill. Haney, Dani O'Terry and Forster created The Little House in Friedrichstadt, a delightful grotesquerie artfully rendered in mime, which tells of fiendish, bloody goings-on in a brothel. Eddie Muller's Orgy in the Lighthouse, adapted from Alfred Marchand's play, is about two brothers who entertain a pair of whores on a holy day; this version is painfully insipid. (LE3) Sunset Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 28. www.brownpapertickets.com or www.legrandguignolkabaret.com

GROUNDLINGS ENCHANTED FOREST This well-executed evening of comedy consists of a random collection of skits by company member Laird Macintosh and various co-writers. In "One Fifth Is All You Need," a man (Steve Little) who believes himself to be of Irish extraction lands in Native-American heaven, where he discovers he's one fifth Native-American and immediately acquires skills in weaving, archery and hand-to-hand combat. In the predictable but nicely performed "Be Grateful for the Good Times," a couple (Macintosh and Wendi McLendon-Covey) on the cusp of an amiable divorce end up at each other's throats, while a mollycoddling divorce counselor (Ben Falcone) tries to mediate. "Soft Butt Firm," finds Melissa McCarthy on-target as a sugar-tongued huckster of her recently acquired product -- a super-absorbent toilet paper. An alcoholic Dad (Little), drunk and abusive at a Thanksgiving get-together, is urged by one and all to hit the road, in "Giving Thanks." Directed by Roy Jenkins, the ensemble proves uniformly adept; while the material is generally amiable and entertaining, none of the segments delivers a knock-out comedic punch. (DK) Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 934-9700.

GO HALF OF PLENTY Anyone still trying to trace the roots of the great economic collapse of 2007 can stop digging. Playwright Lisa Dillman's somewhat schematic satire argues that the monetary debacle responsible for crippling the markets and the existential paralysis gripping her suburbanite protagonists were both spawned by a common corruption of spirit rather than of finance. In fact, the instability that drives Marty Tindall (John Pollono) and his wife, Holly (Carolyn Palmer), to regroup in the ironically named Ardor Park housing development (and postpone having a child) has more to do with Marty's recent bout of alcoholism and his downwardly mobile new job at the local box factory. Complicating their effort to rebuild their lives -- and marriage -- is Marty's Alzheimer's-afflicted father, Jack (Robert Mandan), whose presence forces Holly to be both caregiver and co-breadwinner by taking on medical-transcription work. The crisis comes when Holly seeks solace in a romantic correspondence via transcription tape with an unseen albeit married doctor/client while Marty joins the quasi-terrorist "Neighborhood Vigil," enforcing anti-immigrant, tract etiquette alongside the cell's creepily charismatic Zooks (the very funny Ron Bottitta and Betsy Zajko). Although a feebly bathetic denouement ultimately suggests Dillman is more interested in the exposition of theme over character, Barbara Kallir's crisp direction of a spot-on cast, aided by the polished support of a fine design team (particularly Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's trompe l'oeil set paintings), ably fills the gaps with laughs. (BR) Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960-7774 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. A Rogue Machine production

HARRIETT LEVY -- BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND Todd Waddington is the "chanteuse, priestess, lounge lizard and metaphysical life coach." Wait, I thought Dame Edna was at the Ahmanson?. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 19, www.plays411.com/harriettlevy. (323) 960-7792.

HE ASKED FOR IT Erik Patterson's study of HIV-positive gay men in "Internet chat rooms, Hollywood back rooms and nightclub bathrooms.". Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 19. (323) 654-0680.

HEDDA GABLER In Henrik Ibsen's protofeminist classic, poor Hedda (Julie Granata) marries dull professor George (Darrel Guilbeau), and soon has reason to regret it, as she's not remotely suited for the stultifying life he offers her. With few career or personal options, the bored and bitter hausfrau finds joys in manipulating her former lover Loveborg (Zack Hamra) and school pal Thea (Shanti Bowes) ― not merely for her own amusement but also because she dreams of living vicariously through them. Tragedy results. Director Les Miller's decision to reset the play in the 1950s raises some awkward minor anachronistic issues ― after all, if Hedda had lived in the '50s, she could have sublimated her boredom with a job or by getting an only slightly scandalous divorce. The production is frankly more noteworthy for its intriguing depiction of Hedda herself. In Granata's at times ferociously angry turn, we are treated to Hedda as Mean Girl ― a former high school bully and shallow party gal, as much Hedda Locklear or Paris Gabler, whose breathy smiles and glitteringly insincere simpers over her husband turn into venomously terrifying rictuses of rage the moment his back is turned. Sadly, Miller's production ultimately feels one-sided, and Grenata's multidimensional, harrowingly brittle Hedda often feels as though she's in a totally different play from the one inhabited by the blander supporting cast. Still, Bowes' sniveling Thea is just the sort of girl whom one can see Hedda smacking around in school. Also engaging is Peter Colburn's effortlessly oily turn as increasingly sleazy family friend Judge Brack. (PB) Ark Theatre at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 11. (323) 969-1707.

THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.

NEW REVIEW GO INSIDE OUT For the majority, gender

seems like one of life's givens, as genetically determined and as

biologically apparent as blue eyes or big feet. The truth of the

matter, as Jody Vaclav points out in her thoughtfully written,

one-woman memoir, is that acting like a girl or a boy is just that --

acting. It's a role most of us take for granted, though meticulously

maintain, with only minor neurotic consequences. The psychic disaster

that results when one's inner gender doesn't gibe with one's outer

genitalia is both Vaclav's subject and the story of the first 35 years

of her life spent as Joe Vaclav. Born a boy amid the mountains and

manly virtues of Colorado, Vaclav wryly recounts her struggles to live

up to the conservative standards of western machismo all the while

harboring the unutterable secret that "he" was not who she pretended.

She mainly pulled it off, settling into an amicable marriage and a job

as Field Engineer for a power company, but her perpetual inner torment

eventually grew into a suicidal despair and finally a determination to

change. And while that decision led to sex reassignment surgery,

Vaclav's narrative is one of journey rather than destination. It's a

bumpy ride to be sure (director Kathleen Rubin's staging could be

tighter), but one that Vaclav makes with humor, irony and remarkable

courage. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 11. (310) 306-6298. (Bill Raden)


INVISIBLE HEROES Storytelling by Here and Now Theatre Company. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru June 28, www.hereandnowtheatrecompany.com. (323) 463-3900.

NEW REVIEW LITTLE BLACK VEIL The first half-hour of

writer-director David Lebarron's comedy musical is a lot of fun. After

that, the ride gets really rocky. The play follows a raucous troupe of

drag queens attempting to recover from the death of their beloved

"queen bee" Cherise. Among those affected are Billy (Tony Melson), who

left the group earlier and Philip (understudy Derrick Reed) The

production showcases the talents of Abby Travis, whose fine music and

lyrics aren't complemented by a similar quality of singing and dancing

by the ensemble. But the biggest problem here is a mishmash of a plot.

Tossed in for good measure, or so it seems, is a bit of romantic

intrigue involving Billy and his lover Ramon (DT Matias), who for some

strange reason doesn't accept Billy's need to go drag. There's also an

even stranger hook-up between Phillip and Jan (Yolanda Banos), who

loves her man but can't accept his need to wear dresses. Both hint at a

focus on weightier issues of sexual identity, but fall short of

credulity. The explosion of bathos that wraps things up is not

surprising. Kudos to Christy M. Hauptman for her wonderfully gaudy,

technicolor costumes. Ruby Theater at the Complex., 6476 Santa Monica

Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m., through July 5.

(800) 838-3006 (Lovell Estell III)

LOVE WATER In a drainage pipe near a park and a ditch that might be a space-alien breeding ground, unloved Antonio (Joseph Vega) and overly loved Lulu (Alina Phelan) hide out from their normal lives. He's a teenager escaping his family, which includes a manic mother (Misi Lopez Lecube), who may be lacing his food with poison, and a dad (Chuma Gault) and sister (Jessica Martinez) who don't care either way. She's fleeing a husband (Jon Beauregard) so devoted to her he leaves pies in the park for her. "There's a lot of love in that pie," Lulu tells Antonio, which means something to playwright Jacqueline Wright, whose allegories here are made of flotsam -- her pieces are stitched together with wild images that stir the imagination but don't quite absorb your emotions. Wright is a clear talent, who delights in the theater medium. Overhead Lulu and Antonio's hideout, a broken man bandaged from head to foot describes the joy of bashing out brains in a skiing accident and suggests -- but doesn't quite advocate -- that we jump off a building. Meanwhile, a lonely lecher finds and hatches a gigantic egg, out of which climbs a pale, naked English-speaking creature who demands freedom and caramels. Sibyl Wickersheimer's austere set invites movement, and director Dan Bonnell has his cast run -- rarely walk -- from end to end. But with Bonnell allowing half the cast to use Wright's dreamlike imagery and language as an excuse to heighten their speech, while the other half recognizes the need to ground the characters with natural performances, the production feels too bipolar for us to commit to caring about why Dad eats paper, why Mom wears Antonio's clothes and why Lulu pushes away intimacy. (AN) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 11. (323) 882-6912. A co-production of Open Fist Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre -- The L.A. Project

M-16 Sunday School teacher gives birth to an assault rifle in Robert Shaw's offbeat opera. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Sun., June 28, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., June 29, 8 p.m.. (323) 957-1152.

GO MADNESS IN VALENCIA We get a look-in on Spain's Golden Age via playwright-poet Lope de Vega's 1590 farce about love and lunacy, in David Johnston's pleasing and somewhat audacious 1998 translation. (Johnston's version adds a second, alternate ending.) Across the English Channel at around the same time de Vega and Calderon were fusing dreams and life in their writings, Shakespeare was toying with similar ideas in both The Winter's Tale and A Midsummer Nights Dream. Madness, however, we get no magic potions concocted by the sprites in order to fool mortals into believing that they're donkeys, or "enamored of an ass." De Vega worked from the presumption that people are either mad, or pretend to be so, without any medicinal help. Floriano (Michael Holmes) arrives in the woods around Valencia in a panic that, for the love of a woman, he's murdered a local prince. He confesses this fear to a young beauty, Erifila (Vivian Kerr) - a trusting confession to say the least. Erifilia fled with a servant from her father and his plans to bind her future to an arranged marriage. (The servant strands her in the woods after robbing her of her jewelry and outer-garments.) In order to escape notice, the pair choose to seclude themselves in the safest place around -- Valencia's famed mental asylum - where the pair pretend to be nuts, and where the play's enveloping metaphor for society, and for lovers, takes root. There's an amiable goofiness in Suzanne Karpinski's staging of her 13-member ensemble, and this is the right company to pull off a show so influenced by the Italian Commedia clowning. Holmes' Floriano has a hangdog charm that makes him both a persuasive leading man and idiot savant, depending on whom he's trying to fool, while Kerr possesses a vivacious esprit that spins, when needed, into the requisite arrogance that accompanies sanctimonious betrayal. Kurt Boetcher's relies heavily on burlap and cloth drapery to symbolize the woods, in hues of green and purple. And though Karpinski's tone is a bit languid at the start, the play's tangles of attraction, and their accompanying pangs of jealousy, grow increasingly absorbing. For all the technical details and the abundant merits of Karpinski's production, one does get the feeling that the play has been more staged than interpreted. The canvas on which the play unfolds contains few striking visual motifs that offer an urgent idea of why this play is being performed - beyond the obvious explanation that a few people sort of liked it. As such, it's a delightful museum piece that could be much more, with a greater breadth of vision. Terrific performances also by Laura Napoli, Juliette Angeli, Grandon Clark, and Paul Byrne, among others. (SLM) Fools Theatre, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Sun., June 28, 2 p.m.); through June 28. (310) 281-8337.

GO MERCURY FUR A cross between A Clockwork Orange and the plays of Sarah Kane, British playwright Philip Ridley's controversial drama, set in a dystopian London under siege, follows a group of young men desperate to survive. Elliot (Edward Tournier) and his brother Darren (Andrew Perez) clean up an abandoned apartment to prepare for a party organized by their friend and gang leader Spinx (Greg Beam). They are assisted by Naz (Jason Karasev), a friend who happens to live in the building, and their drag queen friend Lola (Jeff Torres), who arrives with a costume for the Party Piece (Ryan Hodge), a barely-conscious "Paki" boy who becomes the center of attention. Once Spinx finally arrives, along with The Duchess (Nina Sallinen), final preparations are made for the Party Guest (Kelly Van Kirk) who will be their salvation from this hellhole, but as the party starts, things go awry in a series of twisted, violent events. Like the songs of the British trance band Prodigy, one of which plays in the final scene, the drama's layers slowly unfold, culminating in an apocalyptic climax that is foreshadowed, yet nonetheless blows you away with its brutality and horror. Dado's direction brings out the intensity of her actors who throw themselves headlong into this nightmarish world and reveal their characters to be at once gritty, reprehensible, funny, and pitiable. I left the theater disturbed and affected, which after all is the point. (MK) Imagined Life Theatere, 5615 San Vicente Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through June 28. (800) 838-3006. BrownPaperTickets.com. A Needtheater production.

MY THREE SISTERS World-premiere adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters, set in West Texas during "the dirty '30s.". Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 18, (No perf July 4.). (323) 874-1733.

NIGHTS OF NOIR: MARKED FOR LOVE/OF DICKS AND DAMES In this pair of one-acts, writer-director Kasey Wilson parodies 1940s film noir by introducing private eye Bolt (Scott Gerard), who though not exactly Sam Spade, is nevertheless good for some laughs. In Marked for Love, the impavid Bolt, who hasn't had a case in three months, is seen asleep at his desk when he is visited by the seductive, black-clad Vivian (Elizabeth V. Newman), who needs a purloined painting recovered. Solving the crime is not easy, as Bolt must contend with a jealous cohort (Mike Park), a shadowy thin guy (Drew Droege), deception at every turn, as well as his own engaging ineptitude. Of Dicks and Dames is not as cleverly written but still serves up its share of humor. Here, Bolt is enmeshed in a megaconvoluted case involving a missing woman (Lauren Leonelli), the murder of a sinister purveyor of porn (Droege), a creepy, peg-leg German (Eric Charles Jorgenson), and Viola Shylock (Jan Pessin), whose appearance comes courtesy of the Bard. There is more style than substance here, but it eventually adds up to an evening of fun and laughs. And for an added bit of spice, Wilson (a.k.a. Honey Ima Home), does a smoking-hot burlesque routine between acts. (LE3) Attic Theater and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.; LA. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 960-1055.

GOPOINT 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.

RANTOUL AND DIE Mark Roberts' bleak comedy has four great characters and a half-dozen great speeches in search of a point. Set in Rantoul, Illinois, it opens with Gary (Paul Dillon) counseling heartbroken bud Rallis (Rich Hutchman) on his pending divorce from Debbie (Cynthia Ettinger), who works down at the Dairy Queen. Gary is a redneck mystic and self-described tiger; his approach to keeping Rallis from slicing his wrists is to choke the fear of death in him. With the entrance of the cruel and curvaceous Debbie (who's hell-bent on keeping the house and Honda) and her cat-lady boss Callie (Lisa Rothschiller), Roberts opens several inviting routes for his play to explore grief, guilt and mercenary lust. Instead, it stalls, with repetitive arguments and shocks that don't register as the nasty fun we crave. Director Erin Quigley gets fun performances from her four leads and gives each their moment to hold court over production designer David Harwell's painstakingly accurate suburban ranch house, complete with dogs that bark each time a character slams the front door in frustration. (AN) Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 4. (323) 960-4424 or www.rantoulanddie.com.

GO SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! TOO The original School House Rock was a long-running kids' TV show that winningly combined cartoon characters and songs with a high educational content. Here director-choreographer Rick Sparks assembles six terrific, high-energy performers -- Harley Jay, Tricia Kelly, Jayme Lake, Michael "Milo" Lopez, Lisa Tharps and Brian Wesley Turner -- to employ all their skill and pizzazz on songs about numbers, multiplication, parts of speech, American history, government, the bones of the body, financial interest rates, and a score of other useful topics, all turned into lively entertainment. (A math song about multiplying is called "Naughty Number Nine," and the American Revolution is served up in "No More Kings.") There's a scrap of plot, about saving a financially failing diner, but that's the merest of pretexts. Cody Gillette provides crisp musical direction and leads the trio (with Anthony Zenteno, on guitars, and Eric Tatuaca on drums) to provide infectious, hard-driving accompaniments on Adam Flemming's handsome diner set. Clever costumes are by Kat Marquet, and Daavid Hawkins provides hundreds of zany props. If you already know that 7 x 9 = 63, you might feel, as I did, that 20 songs is a few too many, but the kids seem to love it. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; call for schedule; through July 26. (323) 655-7679, ext. 100, or www.schoolhouserockla.com.

SERIAL KILLERS: THE PLAYOFFS Facebook factors into this serialized improv competition: Log in and vote each week on which serials continue, until there is only one! (Final round and awards ceremony, July 11.). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; Sat., July 11, 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 281-8337.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru July 26. (310) 226-6148.

THE SINGING SKELETON The first hour of Stefan Marks' satire of actors and their odd relationship to theater finds hilarious truth in the absurdity of the odyssey of inexperienced but emotionally connected artists trying to find a path through Hollywood. Spouting eye-rolling platitudes about acting techniques and script-writing, several characters might easily become two-dimensional jokes, but Marks' ear for actor lingo and a fine cast allow the play to weave a tight fabric of reality out of the ludicrous. Most successful is Barrett Shuler, with a brilliant, deadpan portrayal of Brandon, a first-time playwright nearly as passionate about the work as he is about gorgeous Hannah (Jessica Kepler), whom he hopes to cast (and kiss) as his star. Brian Taubman as his clueless best friend; Mark Gadbois as an aging and idiotic macho actor; and Matt Weight as an Australian pretty boy join in to make this journey through Equity Waiver heartbreakingly funny. The title is not metaphoric but literal, as a singing skeleton (Marks) punctuates the play and play-within-a-play with pithy songs beautifully sung to acoustic guitar. Sadly, Act 2 disintegrates into cheap sketch, still garnering laughs, but from feeble jokes rather than clever insights. Occasionally the foolishness pauses for a melodramatic moment, but the play never regains the polish and painfully funny beauty of Act 1. (TP) Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (888) 201-0804. Crooked Arrow Productions

THE SOMETHING-NOTHING Fielding Edlow's romantic comedy set in New York's West Village. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru July 2. (323) 960-7753.

THE STICKING PLACE As Shakespeare drafted Macbeth, he thought, "This is solid stuff -- but what if I set it in a swimming pool?" Or not. But director Chris Covics has gone ahead and set it in one anyway for the sole purpose of paralleling Macbeth's doom to the pool's water level. As the Thane's guilt rises, the water surges from the floor and rains down overhead on the four female ensemble (Brittany Slattery, Angela Stern, Erica Stone and Amy Tzagournis) whose white robes tangle and drag with the wet weight. For a few minutes, it's chillingly effective. The ladies enter blindfolded, fumbling their way like primordial lizards in a cave, as though Covics is prodding us to think about the Macbeths' drive to survive and the centuries we've spent reliving their fate. But the miserablist new setting has consequences: drains that gurgle over speeches, distracting fears for the actors' safety, and worst of all, the director's reliance on his gimmick to compensate for the complete mess he's made of Shakespeare's play. It's impossible to follow. Not just because the actors trade off roles fluidly in mid-speech, but because they haven't been directed to articulate the lines in either pronunciation or performance. Happy, scared, female, male, Banquo or Lady M, everything is delivered in a fearful psychotic squeal. At best, it's a Macbethtone poem -- an unpleasant one for audience and actor alike. Or rather, since the 60-minute production closes with the "Tomorrow" speech, Covics has deliberately made the end-all of nouveau-nonsense Shakespeare adaptations, sending us out of the theater with "Signifying nothing" ringing in our heads as a lesson to the cock-eyed creatives. (AN) Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 466-7781.

GO STRANGER Keythe Farley and Eva Anderson's world premiere musical (or more accurately a play with music) is set in the Nevada town of San Lorenzo in 1847. A bandit named Lagarto (Michael Dunn) has murdered the town's sheriff and kidnapped his daughter Lucinda (Molly O'Neill). Lucinda's mother, Miranda, (Ann Closs-Farley, who also creates the beautiful costumes) owns the local saloon and takes in The Stranger (Cameron Dye) who wanders into town one day, running from his own dark past. Lagarto is after treasure Miranda has hidden away, but she refuses to give it up without a fight, rallying the townspeople behind her, including The Padre (Joe Hernandez-Kolski), a morally ambiguous figure. The ambiguity of the priest's motives, as well as the style of the piece evoke, and simultaneously parody, the "spaghetti Westerns" of the 1960s. Composer Anthony Bollas' blues licks mixed with Western rock and Spanish guitar perfectly set the mood, along with Rebecca Kessin's desert soundscape. Francois-Pierre Couture's wood-slat backdrops that appear branded with a hot iron are wonderfully evocative of The Ponderosa as well. Farley, who also directs the piece, masterfully shifts between scenes and creates arresting tableaux, using the set to its full capacity. Dunn charismatically embodies a larger-than-life outlaw, delivering lines full of humor and irony, and the rest of the cast shines as well, from Dye's tough-as-nails demeanor and O'Neill's ferocity to Closs-Farley's Mae West-like spunk and Hernandez-Kolski's silver tongue. (MK) Bootleg Theater; 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (June 21 & 28 only); through July 4. (213) 389-3856. www.­bootlegtheater.com.

THE STUTTERING PREACHER/DAD Levy Lee Simon's one-acts: a comedy about a Baptist pastor and a dramedy about a father and son. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 26. (818) 731-7885.

TINY VAUDEVILLE 826LA hosts this once-a-month variety show benefiting children's writing and tutoring programs. The Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; Last Monday of every month, 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28, www.826la.org/store-tickets/. (213) 413-8200.

THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.

GO TRAFFICKING IN BROKEN HEARTS There's something hauntingly familiar about Edwin Sanchez's lowlife romance, and I don't mean its pre-Giuliani, 42nd Street locale, so palpably invoked by Sanchez and director Efrain Schunior's blistering stage poetry. The block's sordid miasma of peepshows, seedy hotel rooms, gay movie houses and Port Authority men's rooms -- cleverly represented in designer Marika Stephens' triptych of skeletal, neon-trimmed, box scaffolds -- comprises the track where Puerto Rican street veteran Papo (a soulful Ramon Camacho) hustles the tricks of his rough trade. It's also where he falls for Brian (Stephen Twardokus), a chronically repressed attorney and 26-year-old virgin so tangled in the apron strings of a domineering mother that he can't consummate a hooker-john liaison much less engage in an openly gay relationship. In the meantime, Papo will have to settle for the runaway, Bobby (Elijah Trichon), a 16-year-old package of dangerously damaged goods, who only wants to make Papo a good wife. The arrangement quickly develops into a volatile mix of vulnerability, unrequited desire and wounded pride just waiting for the inevitable spark. Of course, Papo is no hard-bitten Ratso Rizzo; he's descended from an even more ancient line of Hollywood hokum: the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. Credit Schunior's skillful sleight of hand, and riveting performances by Camacho and Twardokus for selling such a shamelessly adolescent fantasy, which may be the greatest hustle of the show. (BR) Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 28. (323) 957-1884 or www.tix.com.


TRUCK STOP CAFÉ Sharon L. Graine's stage adaptation of the film Bagdad Café. Playhouse Theatre Players, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 227-5410.

TRUE WEST Hollywood screenwriter and his estranged brother trade roles, in Sam Shepard's play. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 25, www.insightamerica.org. (800) 595-4TIX.

UNA VIEJA MUY BERRACA Pablo Escobar's mom reflects on luxuries of her son's Colombian drug cartel, by Ruben Amavizca-Murua. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 28. (213) 382-8133.

GO VOICE LESSONS Justin Tanner's very funny sitcom shoots darts at a trio of characters who are tied to the dart board by their transparent lunacies and hubris, which makes it an exercise in almost pointless cruelty, though the broadness of Bart DeLorenzo's staging may have contributed to the sense of this Punch & Judy Show masquerading as a satire. In earlier plays, like Pot Mom, Tanner stumbled onto an insight that unearthed the unseen side of a stereotype. His skills at structure, one-liners and caricature are so sharply honed, his persisting challenge is finding something worth saying. Tanner's parody is directed at the vicious and deluded vanity of a hopelessly obviously talentless and aging pop singer, Virginia (Laurie Metcalf), trying to claw her way to TV fame. Can a target get any easier? She cements her ambitions to a voice teacher, Nate (French Stewart), whose initial mask of respectability and ethics slithers down the greasy pole of his own personal desperation. Maile Flanagan further inflates the farce, portraying Nate's zaftig live-in girlfriend, setting up a catfight over the forlorn and increasingly sleazy teacher. For all its petulant ambitions, the evening is wildly entertaining thanks to the irrepressible talents of the cast. It's hard to see how this play would survive without these actors. With a deep and slightly nasal voice, and deadpan responses that should be copyrighted for the mountain of silent thoughts they reveal, Stewart provides the perfect foil for Metcalf's meticulously executed tornado of psychosis and Flanagan's lovely cameo. DeLorenzo deserves credit for the comedy's sculpted timing, and Gary Guidinger's set and lighting depicts with realistic detail the frayed fortress of Nate's living room. (SLM) Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 28. (323) 960-7711.

NEW REVIEW GO THE WASPS
click to enlarge rsz_1rsz_waps.jpg
Photo courtesy of Stinger Productions

With

its amiably hammy seven-person ensemble of mostly veteran character

actors who prance around caparisoned in codpieces with slinkies

attached, this high spirited rendition of the classic Greek comedy

proves that Aristophanes and shtick go together like, well,

Aristophanes and shtick.  Adaptor-director Meryl Friedman's earlier

staging of this production was created to commemorate the opening of

the new Getty Villa auditorium.  It ran four performances there, but

has now been moved to this new, much smaller venue on La Brea Avenue 

with all its brisk silliness in tact.  Aristophanes' play is a barbed

satire of the fifth century BC Athenian tradition of paying retirees

for serving on a jury.  As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that

Friedman's take on the material drifts from the political elements,

opting instead to meander into delightfully dippy gags and cheerful

musical numbers. While digressive, these theatrical sojourns turn out

to be oddly faithful to the tone and mood of the original comedy. 

There are fart jokes, drunken revelry and, for the finale, there's a

trial in which an old man (Peter Van Norden) adjudicates a case

involving a dog (Robert Alan Beuth, in wacky dog-drag).  As the elderly

Athenian fool, Van Norden possesses a Zero Mostel-like comic gravitas,

which he uses to comedic advantage in his perfectly timed, bug eyed,

joyously leering turn.  Albert Meijer, as the old man's uptight and

pompous son, mugs off him brilliantly.  David O's orchestration of

Friedman's jitterbug-like musical numbers is delightful - and his sound

effects, as though from a radio play, mesh perfectly with the sweet and

joyful testament to Classical Greek geek chic.  The Lost Studio, 130 S.

La Brea Ave, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July

26. (800) 838-3006.  Stinger Productions (Paul Birchall)

WHO WROTE THIS SH!T Patrick Bristow directs an improv ensemble through the Hollywood script process, from pitch meeting to DVD review. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru July 30. (800) 838-3006.

YA GOTTA GO HIGHER One-man show on addiction and recovery by comedian Yul Spencer. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru June 28, www.yagottagohigher.com...


CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

THE APPLE TREE Three one-act musicals, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Bock and Harnick. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 12. (818) 745-8527.

GO EAST OF BERLIN Inspired by real-life stories (from writers Peter Sichrovsky's "Born Guilty" and Dan Bar-On's "Legacy of Silence: Children of the Third Reich"), Hannah Moscovitch's involving psychological drama revolves around an SS doctor's son and his struggle to live with the knowledge of his father's crimes. Teenage Rudi (Russell Sams) grows up in Paraguay oblivious to his parent's past, until a more jaundiced classmate named Hermann (James Barry) ― also the son of a Nazi ― decides to wise him up. Profoundly disturbed, Rudi leaps into an affair with Hermann but soon decides to flee the country for Germany. There he takes on a new name and falls in love with a Jewish-American girl named Sara (Carolyn Stotes) whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. (Is this real passion, or is he just looking for a way to atone? the play asks.) For fear of losing her, he conceals his lineage ― a circumstance that brings his guilt into even more agonizing focus, even more so when she learns about it anyway. Effectively staged by co-directors C.B. Brown and Sara Botsford, the script's strongest and most persuasive element is Rudi's monologue, a vivid piece of storytelling that serves as the work's compelling spine. With his mien of wry detachment, Sams delivers a credible performance that nonetheless lacks the depth and nuance that make for powerful drama. Stotes is extremely appealing as his love interest, and the scenes between them are among the best. (DK) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 19. (818) 508-7101.

FIFTY! IT DOESN'T LOOK THIS GOOD ON EVERYBODY Carlease Burke invites the audience to her 50th birthday party. Actors Group Theatre, 4378 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 28. (800) 838-3006.

INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28, www.insideprivatelives.com. (866) 811-4111.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Charles Michael Edmonds' solo show. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 960-5773.

THE MUSCLES IN OUR TOES High school, the cherished never-neverland of pop culture, is the setting for Stephen Belber's hit-and-miss comedy, here in its world premiere. On the occasion of their 20th high school reunion, old friends Les (Daniel Milder), Rag (Michael Benyaer), Dante (Al Espinosa), and Phil (Bill Tangridi) congregate in an old music classroom to reminisce and trade shots of booze. This group is a study in contrasts. Dante is a banker, a new convert to Judaism and is full of swagger and attitude; his brother Phil is "atypically gay"; Les works in theater as a fight coordinator; and Reg, an Iranian, works for the federal government. Unfortunately, the bonhomie mojo of the moment is tempered by the absence of their comrade Jim (Keith Ewell), a tennis-shoe baron who's been kidnapped by rebels in Chad, supposedly in retaliation for the U.S. government's detention of a terrorist. The play's premise, already stretched thin, turns to rice paper when the group hatches an insane plot to free their buddy. Most of the buzz here comes from the raft of one-liners, testosterone-fueled antics and bawdy humor, although it starts great in the absence of a viable plot. Cast performances are fine under Jennifer Chambers' direction. (LE3) El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd., Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. through June 28. (866) 811-4111.

NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND "I am a sick man ... I am a spiteful man." Thus begins the narrative of one of Fydor Dostoevsky's most infamous characters, here portrayed with unsettling energy and passion by Michael Blomgren. In his revival production, director Zombie Joe has infused a touch of modernity in this production, drawing mainly on the text from the novella, but also adding many references to contemporary time and places. The result is a piece that, although not doing full justice to Dostoevsky's work ― a near impossible task for anyone ― does artfully dramatize its core themes of alienation and antirationalism. The opening tableau is jolting, with Blomgren nestled at the feet of his maid Apollo (Noelle Adames), who sings "Ether," a delightfully grotesque dirge written by Christopher Reiner, with the appropriate eerie musical accompaniment. Blomgren heats up the next 20 minutes with a blistering, full-throttle monologue filled with existential angst and rage, explaining the particulars of what amounts to a wretched existence, and a perverse delight in his own suffering, as well as that of others. A social gathering and a sexual liaison only add to the sense of desolation and madness. The production is short, but it packs a punch from Blomgren's loaded performance. Rounding out the cast are Heather Lehigh, Lauren Andrea Nelsen, Conrad Lawson and Lauren Vaughan. (LE3) ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8: 30 p.m.; through June 27. (818) 202-4120.

OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS Joe DiPietro's oft-produced farce about Italian-American family life depends on a few minutes of soppy sentimentality to balance out two hours of caricature. 29-year-old Nick (Ren Bell) spends every Sunday night in Hoboken for dinner with both sets of grandparents - four nearly imbecilic characters who fuss and rant, but never listen to their grandson, who, in turn, constantly yells at them.. When Nick tells them he is moving to Seattle for a big promotion, the old folks move into overdrive to stop him - their big weapon: a blind date with the lovely Caitlin (sweetly played by Alyse Courtney). She shames him for his mistreatment of the grands, which leads to enough household calm to explore some deeper emotions and finally tone the hollering down for the characters to find resolution. The writing is quite funny in its Everybody Loves Raymond style, and the over-the-top performances by Irene Chapman, Robert Gallo, Michele Bernath and director Larry Eisenberg (filling in on a Sunday matinee) garnered constant laughs from an appreciative audience. While the script alternates between bombastic and cloying, Eisenberg keeps his actors fully committed to each moment. Chris Winfield's very naturalistic suburban living room set also helps keeps the cast grounded in some reality. (TP) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (818) 700-4878.

PROOF David Auburn's story of a mathematician's daughter. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (626) 256-3809.

RED, HOT AND BLUE! Director-choreographer Joe Joyce tries to blow the dust off Cole Porter's antiquated musical, but with mixed success. The music and lyrics by Porter can't be faulted other than they have little to do with Howard Lindsy and Russel Crouse's antediluvian book, grafted onto a musical comedy. The very thin plot line concerns "Nails" O'Reily Dusqusque (Allyson Turner) auctioning off the true love of her life, Bob Hale (Kyle Nudo). These two are fine but some of the minor roles are grating. Richard Horvitz (channeling Joe Pesci) plays the comic foil way over the top. Worse though is Sandra Purpuro as Peaches, who strives for a Betty Boop voice and achieves something more akin to nails scratching a chalkboard. Choreographer Joyce does what he can on a postage-stamp-size stage. (SR) Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. thru July 5. (800) 838-3006. By George Productions.

NEW REVIEW SECRET ROSE MINI MUSICAL FEST Five short

one-act musicals make up this fest, with a sixth to be added on June

25. "The Red Bouquet," by Joshua Fardon, directed Wynn Marlow, concerns

a mismatched couple (Trevor Lissauer and Rebecca Larsen) and their

long-suffering waiter (Kelly J. Roberts). In Michael Gordon Shapiro's

"Change of Plans," directed by Kevin Elliott, a would-be free spirit

(Jordan T. Maxwell) balks when his bossy fiancé attempts to domesticate

him. Jonathan Levit directs Stephanie Hutchinson's "More Precious Than

Diamonds," in which a woman (Fay Gauthier) despairs of ever being given

a diamond ring, and decides to buy one for herself. These three

mini-musicals are slight but amusing. The other two offer are more

mixed. Fardon's "Something Not Real," directed by Marlow, is more

ambitious, but less focused, centering on marital angst among urbanites

(Dan Wingard, Dan Wiley, Larsen, Carrie Frymer, and Derek Houck).  Jan

Michael Alejandro's plot-heavy "Myjovi El Musical," directed by Rachel

Myles, concerns an energy drink manufacturer (Greg Haskins) who's sued

by a rock musician named Ben Jovi (Jeff van Hoy) and his lawyer Kirk du

Soleil. It's awkwardly constructed and slackly directed, but rock music

and Jebbel Arce's goofy choreography are crowd-pleasers.  Secret Rose

Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. (No show July 4); through July 5. (877) 620-7673.

www.SecretRose.com  (Neal Weaver)

SEX, LOVE, AND TIME TRAVEL Five comedy one-acts by Daniel Weisman. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (323) 960-1054.


TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: ENCOUNTERS If there's a moral to director Carlos Martinez's late-night collection of short meditations on urban alienation, it's that one man's pain is another man's comedy. For the playwright who takes this to heart, a mother lode of laughs awaits; for everyone else, it's melodramatic fool's gold. The lesson is lost on writer Sebastian Kedlecik, whose "Angel City" and "Blue Eyes Turned Brown at Birth" assay out as portentously turgid essays in adolescent angst. Norman A. Bert's well-meaning "The Llano Estacado Blues" likewise misses the obvious absurdist vein in its social-welfare critique. It is only in matters of romance and its losers where the pieces finally pan out. These include Phillip Kelly's "The Tender Creep is Me," about a mousy but scarily misogynistic misfit (the fine Charles Allen Hutchison) and the woman (Liesl Jackson) resigned to dating him. Hutchison also shines as a would-be Fred to Jennifer Kenyon's Ginger in Martinez's whimsical "Tripping the Light Over Coffee and Tea." Kenyon comes into her own, first as a woman enduring a self-lacerating session before her dressing mirror in Jenn Scuderi's "Pretty Face," and again in Sharon Yablon's "1:58 a.m." when the actress literally stops the show (and gives new meaning to the expression "cold shoulder") as the utterly indifferent object of clueless boor Jim Martyka's desire. Kenyon and Martyka's flawless timing, plus Yablon's 18-karat text strike unadulterated, comic pay dirt. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; through June 27. (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.com. (Bill Raden)

TEN CENT NIGHT Marisa Wegrzyn's Country-Western comedy. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (818) 841-5421.

TRACING SONNY Young voice-over artist Sonny (Jacob Smith) has more problems than a single play can accommodate. His parents adopted him because his dad (Sebastian Kadlecik) was experiencing a spell of impotence, which rendered children unlikely. Then, when the pressure was off, Dad sired a daughter, who later died of a childhood illness. Mom (Sylvia Anderson) blamed ever-angry Dad, and their marriage foundered. Now Sonny has taken up with pretty, animated cartoonist Luci (Vanessa Hurd), whom he met at the zoo, and they're engaged. When she miscarries their baby, the resulting grief and guilt render Sonny impotent. His efforts to remedy the situation are hindered by parental voices reflecting Dad's anger and Mom's accusations of inadequacy. Playwright Andrew Moore attempts to use both the cartooning and the voice-overs as metaphors, but his plot meanders. Short scenes follow one another without climaxes, scenes are interlarded with bits of old animated cartoons featuring Porky Pig, Popeye, Betty Boop, etc., and director Pamela Moore's direction fails to supply dramatic thrust. Smith and Hurd provide charm and skill, making the most of their material, but Anderson and Kadlecik are hindered by sketchy, one-note characters. (NW) Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 28. Produced by Theatre Unleashed. (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.com.


THE UNSEEN Craig Wright's psychological thriller about prisoners incarcerated under a totalitarian regime. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (866) 811-4111.


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

BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor, Itamar Moses' sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century, who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for for erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Four composers named Georg and three Johanns vie for the post as Leipzig's organ master, a position that would guarantee the winner the power to shape the musical, cultural (and, it seems political) fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire ― at least the valuable German parts. Intrigues, reality show-style alliances and betrayals abound as the composers plot and prepare for an all-important audition. Between connivances they spout literate, self-conscious oratory covering the artistic soul in and out of relation to the growing feud between Lutheranism and Calvinism. An interesting descent into farce is undercut by the author's too-precious self-comparison to Molière. Director Darin Anthony serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. The best moments, though, come from Ron Nagle's powerhouse performance as the only thoughtful character, and from Henry Clarke, who perfectly balances swagger and foppishness as a womanizing nobleman. The production is visually stunning, through an array of exquisite period costumes and wigs designed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. (TP) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (310) 477-2055.

CRACK WHORE BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Marnie Olson's 1980s coming-of-age story. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 535-6007.

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.

DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion and talent - both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33 years on the job - who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member -- a well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4 songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative, itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel - part performance, part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. (DK) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (310) 358-9936.

FACING EAST Mormon husband and wife deal with their homosexual son's suicide, by Carol Lynn Pearson. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 5. (562) 436-4610.

HAMLET II (BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL) Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru July 19. (310) 512-6030.

I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT Even by the standards of the venerable 12-step confessional, Jonathan Coogan's one-man memoir of growing up amid the pot smoke, promiscuity and pernicious parenting of the freewheeling Hollywood of the '70s is fairly tepid stuff. Which is not to say Coogan doesn't have a lot going for him as a performer. With a wry, self-deprecating manner and an engaging stage presence, he clearly knows his way around a one-liner. His autobiographical material, however, just doesn't generate the highs -- no pun intended -- or lows demanded by the shopworn victim-recovery formula. Perhaps that's because, in the land of medical marijuana, having been a teenage stoner turned weed dealer scared straight by a brush with the law seems so, well, underwhelmingly ordinary. More likely it's because this "addiction" story, at least as it's framed here by Coogan and his co-writer, director Dan Frischman, seems to constantly shrink before a pair of far more compelling characters always looming in the background -- namely Coogan's colorful, pot-smoking New York-Jew parents. In fact, judging by the unresolved bitterness permeating the piece, its real star is Rosy Rosenthal, Coogan's Ralph Kramden-esque wisecracker of a father (tellingly, the mother's name is never uttered). Far more than any clichés about a "higher power," it is Rosy and his spare-the-fist-spoil-the-child version of tough love that determines the psychic trajectory of Coogan's life and is this tale's true heart and soul. )BR) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 27. (310) 358-9936.

THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 28, 7 p.m.; thru June 28. (310) 399-3666.

MONKEY MADNESS The Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents a "wild and grotesque theatrical event" with pantomime, dance, music and puppetry, written and directed by former Cirque du Soleil clown Daisuke Tsuji. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 18, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.

MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO World premiere of Paul Leaf's account of the controversial 1944 military disaster. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 397-3244.

GO OUR TOWN Upon learning that one of L.A.'s most daring theater companies, the Actors' Gang, is tackling Thornton Wilder's beloved three-act stage perennial about life, love and death, one is keen to witness the group's "take" on the play's universal themes. This play is, after all, the hoop through which almost every high school theater department must jump. Interestingly enough, director Justin Zsebe's interpretation in his intimate yet powerful production is one of surprising and sincere faithfulness to the play's tone and mood. This is a beautifully rendered and moving Our Town. Narrated by Steven M. Porter's genial yet crusty Stage Manager, the play's story of life in a small New England town, centering on the romance and marriage of sweet young Emily (a luminous Vanessa Mizzone) and her beloved George (Chris Schultz), receives a staging whose basic simplicity belies unexpected depths of subtly articulated feeling. Zsebe admittedly tosses in a couple of visual conceits that might cause Wilder to whirl in his grave: There's a character who performs a dazzling yet wholly irrelevant acrobatic dance from a long sash, seemingly just because it looks good; and, during the play's third act, set in the underworld, the deceased characters hang from playground swings, when simple chairs are called for in the script. Yet the ensemble work is deft and subtle -- and moments that are often corny in other, lesser productions evoke laughter and tears here -- from the beautiful scene in which Ma Webb (Lindsley Allen) and Ma Gibbs (Annemette Andersen) shuck their peas, to the touching one in which Schultz's George suffers his wedding night-cum-fear of mortality jitters at the altar. (PB) Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through July 11. (310) 838-GANG. An Actors' Gang production.

ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES Peter Mellencamp's translation of Bertolt Brecht's cautionary tale. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 9, (No perfs July 3-4.). (310) 822-8392.

THE VOISEY INHERITANCE David Mamet's adaptation of Harvey Granville-Barker's 1905 play about financial fraud. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 19. (310) 364-0535.

THEATER READINGS, WORKSHOPS AND SPECIAL EVENTS

BROADWAY UNDER THE STARS Songs from Broadway's 2008-2009 season, performed by Jason Graae, Lucas Grabeel, Dorian Harewood, Jean Louisa Kelly, Vicki Lewis and Valarie Pettiford. John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Sat., June 27, 8:30 p.m.. (323) 461-3673.

BROKEN INK Staged reading of John Ireland's abstract drama. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., June 28, 6:30 p.m., www.playwrights6.org. (323) 860-6625.

CHARLES PHOENIX'S RETRO SLIDE SHOW TOUR OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA The venerable slidemaster celebrates 1950s/'60s car culture. (At the Fairplex's National Hot Rod Museum.). Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona; Sat., June 27, 8 p.m., www.charlesphoenix.com. (909) 623-3111.

HEALING ALOUD: TEADAWORKS NEW PERFORMANCE FESTIVAL SERIES Workshop productions of Maria G. Martinez's Breakfast With My Mother, Raquel Salinas' Mami Mami Quien Soy?, Shyamala Moorty's Carrie's Web and Marcella Pabros-Clark's Healing Mars. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; June 26-27, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 28, 3 p.m.; Fri., July 3, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., July 5, 3 & 7 p.m.. (310) 458-8634.


JAMES BALDWIN: DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAINTOP Calvin Levels' solo biography of the novelist/playwright/human rights activist. L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Sat., June 27, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.

PLAY-IN-THE-PARK READERS' THEATRE An hour of outdoor play readings: Evangeline Ordaz's Mass Transit and Jerry Pappas' Doggonit. Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St., L.A.; Sun., June 28, 5 p.m.. (213) 847-4970.

THEATRE WEST PLAY READING SERIES June 9: Petain by Lloyd J. Schwartz; June 16: SLIP/KNOT by Dayle Reyfel; June 23: Fall Back, Spring Forward by Barbara Nell Beery; June 30: Two Gentlemen of Manhattan by P.G. Sturges; July 7: What Are Friends For? by Victoria Vidal; July 14: Moose on the Loose by Dina Morrone; July 21: There Is a Season by Doug Haverty; July 28: Abandon by Chris DiGiovanni; August 4: Grandma Good by Arden Teresa Lewis; August 11: Zeno's Paradox by Wendy Graf. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 11. (323) 851-7977.

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