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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Clowntown City Limits

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Mon, Jul 13, 2009 at 1:49 PM

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

NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK CLOWNTOWN CITY LIMITS
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Photo by Ed Rachles

Imagine a personable, grimy, makeup-smeared, cigar-chomping guy in a tank top, not unlike Tommy Lee Jones, playing cards outdoors on the porch of some trailer with a grunting little guy in a cowboy hat but also with smeared makeup who makes up the rules as he goes, spies conspicuously on his opponent's cards and goes into paroxysms of glee with his fraudulent victories. The "loser" -- here named Big Bugs (Jim Turner) - is not angry at all. Nor does he appear to be drunk, though his nose is very red, from the clownface that he didn't wash off. Rather, he's bemused by the antics of the little victor, named Corky (Mark Fite). The pair comprises half of the quartet of the clowns named Two Headed Dog. Corky can only grunt (he's nonetheless very expressive) because he was gored in the head by a bull during his former stint as a rodeo clown. Welcome to Clowntown City Limits. What sets Big Bugs into a rage isn't Corky's cheating but the very mention of Whistles (Craig Anton), a traditional clown in bright orange attire, a bulbous nose and frizzy hair, who gets all the bookings for kiddies' birthday parties. The mere idea of Whistles sends Big Bugs down a fast-track of fury, cursing like a loan shark in a David Mamet play; meanwhile, for reasons undisclosed yet sort of apparent, his peers (aside from Whistles) remain unemployed, and probably unemployable.  The fourth is a cadaverous fellow named Adolph (Dave "Gruber" Allen) who looms around like a doorman making subtle, quizzical expressions at the absurd goings on around him. John Ferraro's staging is on the red nose. Andy Paley's original music (performed by Paley, Jeff Lass, Mike Bolger and Mike Uhler) offers beautifully understated accompaniment to this Beckettian no-man's land that features a ravishingly brilliant repartee (script by Joel Madison, Dale Goodson and Bob Rucker) between Big Bugs and Corky: Corky can't resist making the insult to Big Bugs:: "You're a piece of shit." (These are the only words he's capable of uttering.) With each volley, Big Jim responds with a return, each wrapped in an increasingly baroque story that culminates in rimshot rhythm with the words written in a fortune cookie or in skywriting, how the entire universe is declaring that it's Corky who's a piece of shit. Corky absorbs each return like a blow to his already damaged head, yet can't resist the automatic reply by employing the only wit he has at his disposal: "You're a piece of shit."  And so it goes. As funny and pointless and circuitous as life on the margins - which, according to this show, is pretty much life in general. Steven Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Thursday, July 30, 8 p.m.; then from September, first Sunday of every month, 8 p.m. (323) 666-4266 http://steveallentheater.com
--Steven Leigh Morris   

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, including the LATEST NEW REVIEWS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS FOR JULY 17-23, 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 BEST IS YET TO COME: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN An elegant evening of songs performed by a stellar cast. Call for schedule. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., July 19. (805) 667-2900.

BUZZWORKS THEATER COMPANY'S CELEBRITY TRIBUTE TO THE '80S TV funny folk including Melissa Peterman, Mo Collins, Cedric Yarbrough and others skewer the Brat Pack movies. L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Mon., July 20, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF See GoLA., $25-$75. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens July 21; Tues.-Sun..; thru Aug. 9. (213) 365-3500.

IT'S CRIMINAL! An idiosyncratic travelogue through the justice system by L.A. criminal defense attorney Murray Meyers. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri., July 17, 9 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.

PERICLES REDUX Based on Shakespeare's play. Times vary. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens July 17; Wed., Fri.-Sun..; thru July 26. (213) 628-2772.

SIXTH ANNUAL NEW ORIGINAL WORKS FESTIVAL (NOW) There are three cycles in this forum for inventive multimedia works. Call for schedules. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; opens July 23; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (213) 237-2800.

100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Comedian, writer and yogi Beth Lapides blands the story of her life with actual advice on how to be happy. Writers Boot Camp, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bldg. I, Santa Monica; Sun., July 19, 7:30 p.m....

74 GEORGIA AVENUE & THE PUSHCART PEDDLERS Two plays by Murray Schisgal. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 17; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 700-4878.

AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare Festival's Bard in the Garden presents U.S. debut of this show as it tours. SOUTH COAST BOTANIC GARDEN, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula; July 23-26, 8 p.m.. (310) 544-1948.

BILLIE & BOGIE Back-to-back solo shows about Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens July 18; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 990-2324.

BLACK ANGELS OVER TUSKEGEE Re-opening of Layon Gray's salute to the legendary World War II airmen. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 17; Sun., 3 & 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru July 19. (818) 761-0704.

CREATURE/CREATIONS (A POLITICAL FABLE ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY AND DELUSION IN OPPRESSIVE TIMES) One-woman show written by Argentinian Eugenio Griffero during the country's military dictatorship. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; opens July 17; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru July 18. (310) 315-1459.

DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Bert V. Royal puts the Peanuts gang in high school dealing with sex, drugs, violence and homophobia. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (877) 620-7673.

OCTOMOM THE MUSICAL Social parody of Octo-proportions, complete with flying babies and the character Bernie Made-off with your money, from Chris Voltaire. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens July 18; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (323) 644-4946.

ONE NIGHT STAND: AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL Talented 20somethings concoct a brand-new musical on stage every night. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens July 23; Sat., 8 & 9:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22...

ONE WOMAN, TWO LIVES Alretha Thomas, past winner of several NAACP and other theater awards, is writer of this play about the effort to protect a family by a woman with a past, played by Kellita Smith of "The Bernie Mac Show.". Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; opens July 17; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 23...

RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR Fake Radio, an old-time radio comedy troupe performs work written by a young Blake Edwards in the '40s. Cocktails at 6:30 p.m. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., July 19, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 653-6886.

SMALL THINGS An ensemble work of the Richard Evans Mime Project inspired by a love of Russian clowns, silent film comedies, Frank Capra films and Looney Tunes. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens July 17; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru July 18. (310) 281-8337.

SPRUNG: A LOVE STORY Tony Marsiglia's play about the psychedelic misadventures of a crazed scientist searching for happiness. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 17; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (818) 202-4120.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE

AS YOU LIKE IT Aquila Theatre presents Shakespeare's comedy. (Also at the South Coast Botanic Garden, July 23-26.)., Free with food donation; $30 for reserved seats; $75 for opening night celebration. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., L.A.; Through July 19, 8 p.m., www.freewillLA.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/70312. (213) 481-2273.

GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD In 1950, writer-director Josh Logan transferred Chekhov's play to the American South in an adaptation called The Wisteria Trees. Now, director Heidi Helen Davis, and Ellen Geer have reset the play near Charlottesville, Virginia, and updated it to 1970. The ex-serfs have become the descendants of slaves, and Chekhov's Madame Ranevsky has become Lillian Randolph Cunningham (Ellen Geer), the owner of the famous cherry orchard that's "mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica." Though it's a very free adaptation, it admirably preserves the play's flavor and spirit. And while Davis' production skewers the characters for their vanity, folly and ineptitude, it treats them with affectionate respect. She's blessed with a wonderful cast, including William Dennis Hunt as the landowner's garrulous, fatuous brother; J.R. Starr as an ancient family retainer; Melora Marshall as the eccentric governess Carlotta; and Steve Matt as the grandson of slaves -- and a go-getter businessman who longs to be the master. The production is easygoing, relaxed, faithful in its own way, and often very funny. It may be the most fully integrated (in every sense of the word) production of the play that we're likely to see. (NW) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; call for schedule; through September 26. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com.

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 by hanging themselves from trapezes and a drowned sailor and his wife contorting through a boneless, weightless sexual dance. Later, a troupe of dead brothers makes brilliant use of a trampoline and an oversized photo frame, and a phalanx of hellish Liza Minnellis re-enacts "Cabaret" with flaming chairs. The creative team of Suzanne Bernel, Kevin Bourque and Neal Everett puts on quite a show. The 26 performers and seven-piece band are fantastic -- and fantastically served by the costumes of Heather Goodman and Mary Anne Parker, who 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-corn field east of Chinatown. (AN) 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. 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) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (626) 356-PLAY.

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 FARRAGUT NORTH Who says they don't write them like they used to? Playwright Beau Willimon's enjoyable if facile romp in the cesspools of backroom presidential-primary electioneering is a throwback to a species of earnest, political-insider melodrama thought extinct with the onset of the '60s -- think Gore Vidal's The Best Man updated with the sex and cynicism of cable's Mad Men. Chris Pine (Star Trek's new James T. Kirk) stars as Stephen Bellamy, an ambitious, 25-year-old wunderkind press spokesman, who, under his mentor, campaign manager Paul Zara (the excellent Chris Noth), works for an idealistic, albeit unseen Howard Dean-like favorite during the Democratic Iowa caucuses. In the midst of spinning his candidate's record and seducing a young campaign intern (Olivia Thirlby), Stephen's confidence is shaken and his loyalty tested when rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (standout Isiah Whitlock Jr.) urges him to defect by suggesting that the apparent lead of Stephen's candidate is a carefully orchestrated illusion: "You need to decide whether you want friends or whether you want to work for the president." Stephen's choice not only unmasks his true character but also serves as Willimon's coda for what lies at the rotten heart of national politics. Director Doug Hughes' polished, high-octane production (imported from its New York premiere) benefits from the flash and circumstance of David Korins' network-newslike set and Joshua White and Bec Stupak's animated video projections. (BR) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (310) 208-5454.

JULIUS CAESAR Shakespeare's tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; 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.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's macabre musical about a man-eating plant, based on the 1960 Roger Corman film. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., July 19, 7 p.m.; thru July 25. (562) 985-7000.

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.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 4 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 455-3723.

NEW REVIEW MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT
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Photo by Joan Marcus

Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through September 6. See Theater feature.

MY WAY: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA Singers croon Sinatra tunes. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (949) 497-2787.

PUPPET UP! UNCENSORED Henson Alternative's improv-comedy puppet show. Avalon, 1735 Vine St., L.A.; Sat., July 18, 8 p.m.. (323) 462-8900.

GO 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS 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 preteen 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. (SR) Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 26. (818) 558-7000.

TEEN ANGST A-GO-GO! See GoLA., $10. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 18, www.myspace.com/capturedauralphantasy. (213) 840-4754.

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

ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. 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.

ALTAR BOYZ Musical satire about a Christian boy band, book by Kevin Del Aguila, music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 957-1884.

ANNA IN THE TROPICS Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize winner about Cuban immigrants working in a cigar factory. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (213) 382-8133.

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.

CABARET THE MUSICAL 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 Nazis 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 boarding house 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 ambiance, 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 onstage. The performances, unlike the German accents, are solid, but only Enrikez really stands out. (MK) 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)

NEW REVIEW GO CARVED IN STONE
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Photo by Norm Palley

In Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy, it's always cocktail hour in the afterlife lounge shared by Truman Capote (Kevin Remingotn), Quentin Crisp (Leon Acord), Oscar Wilde (Jesse Merlin) and Tennessee Williams (Curt Bonnem). Witty aphorisms fly fast and furious, as each writer tries for the perfect bon mot to top the others. Into this literary hothouse stumbles Gyphon Tott (Levi Damione), who can't believe he's dead. He's further perplexed by the denizens of the lounge because he's heterosexual. The other writers explain that he's a gay icon, which has brought him to their cozy lounge. They explain that the door though which he entered occasionally opens up, but the four literary heavy heavyweights have no desire to move on. Judy Garland and Bette Davis (both played by Amanda Abel) make a brief appearance, and leave just as suddenly. William Shakespeare (Alex Egan) stays around for a while longer to much hectoring from the lounge habitués. Tott's status as a gay icon unfolds slowly--he borrowed background scenery from a gay writer, bringing up the question of plagiarism. The cast is superb under the fast moving direction of John Pabros Clark, and the pacing and timing are remarkable. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 9, www.carvedinstonetheplay.com. (310) 473-5483. (Sandra Ross)

CHARIOT Steven Lee's study of racism and homophobia. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (323) 960-7788.

NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK CLOWNTOWN CITY LIMITS

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Photo by Ed Rachles

Imagine a personable, grimy, makeup-smeared, cigar-chomping guy in a tank top, not unlike Tommy Lee Jones, playing cards outdoors on the porch of some trailer with a grunting little guy in a cowboy hat but also with smeared makeup who makes up the rules as he goes, spies conspicuously on his opponent's cards and goes into paroxysms of glee with his fraudulent victories. The "loser" -- here named Big Bugs (Jim Turner) - is not angry at all. Nor does he appear to be drunk, though his nose is very red, from the clownface that he didn't wash off. Rather, he's bemused by the antics of the little victor, named Corky (Mark Fite). The pair comprises half of the quartet of the clowns named Two Headed Dog. Corky can only grunt (he's nonetheless very expressive) because he was gored in the head by a bull during his former stint as a rodeo clown. Welcome to Clowntown City Limits. What sets Big Bugs into a rage isn't Corky's cheating but the very mention of Whistles (Craig Anton), a traditional clown in bright orange attire, a bulbous nose and frizzy hair, who gets all the bookings for kiddies' birthday parties. The mere idea of Whistles sends Big Bugs down a fast-track of fury, cursing like a loan shark in a David Mamet play; meanwhile, for reasons undisclosed yet sort of apparent, his peers (aside from Whistles) remain unemployed, and probably unemployable.  The fourth is a cadaverous fellow named Adolph (Dave "Gruber" Allen) who looms around like a doorman making subtle, quizzical expressions at the absurd goings on around him. John Ferraro's staging is on the red nose. Andy Paley's original music (performed by Paley, Jeff Lass, Mike Bolger and Mike Uhler) offers beautifully understated accompaniment to this Beckettian no-man's land that features a ravishingly brilliant repartee (script by Joel Madison, Dale Goodson and Bob Rucker) between Big Bugs and Corky: Corky can't resist making the insult to Big Bugs: "You're a piece of shit." (These are the only words he's capable of uttering.) With each volley, Big Jim responds with a return, each wrapped in an increasingly baroque story that culminates in rimshot rhythm with the words written in a fortune cookie or in skywriting, how the entire universe is declaring that it's Corky who's a piece of shit. Corky absorbs each return like a blow to his already damaged head, yet can't resist the automatic reply by employing the only wit he has at his disposal: "You're a piece of shit."  And so it goes. As funny and pointless and circuitous as life on the margins - which, according to this show, is pretty much life in general. Steven Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Thursday, July 30, 8 p.m.; then from September, first Sunday of every month, 8 p.m. (323) 666-4266 http://steveallentheater.com (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO COMING HOME A sequel to his 1995 postapartheid 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, which is 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. (DK) Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (No perf July 4.) (323) 663-1525.

DEATH, LIES AND ALIBIS Riffing full-length improvs on the works of famous writers is becoming something of a cottage industry -- Impro Theatre has busted open works of Jane Austen, Stephen Sondheim, Anton Chekhov, Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare. Here, director Patrick Bristow (formerly of the Groundlings and currently also with Puppet Up Uncensored) does his own take on Agatha Christie's literary idiosyncracies with a company named Improvatorium. Creating an improvised production from a couple of audience suggestions in the style of Ms. Christie is, well, murderously difficult -- even with Christie's pro forma structure of a group trapped in a locale, a mysterious death, and an investigation of some sort. The 10-person ensemble comports itself with moments of brilliant off-the-cuff wit intermingled with references to the play's climactic sporting event -- three-legged and potato-sack races. Part of the joy is the strain for dignity, as the circumstances around them prevail against it, combined with their posh attire (wardrobe by Leslee Harman and the cast). Obviously, the event changes nightly, but when I attended, the momentum rolled into a few mud holes and the evening was more a series of lovely, delicate cameo performances rather than a larger view of what Agatha Christie meant to her audience -- or means to ours -- or even a satire of the essences that ensure her works endure. Amidst the very good company, Bristow and Jayne Entwhistle are standouts. (SLM) Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; every other Thursday, 8:30 p.m.; through August 20. (323) 962-1632. An Improvatorium 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.

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

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.

HARRIETT LEVY -- BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND Todd Waddington is the "chanteuse, priestess, lounge lizard and metaphysical life coach.". 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.

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 KILL ME DEADLY
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Photo by Darrett Sanders

Few literary figures seem as blatantly ripe for satire as the gumshoe detective. Playwright Bill Robens ably answers the call with an entertaining spoof about an obtuse private dick named Charlie Nichols (Dean Lemont) and his obsession for a witless scarlet-clad siren named Mona (Kirsten Vangsness).   Called in to forestall the murder of a wealthy dowager, Lady Clairmont (the comically skillful Kathleen Mary Carthy), he's soon embroiled with the usual parade of tough guy gangsters, dumb cops, and seductive debutantes.  Obstacles confront Charlie everywhere - his client soon ends up dead - but none prove as treacherous as his buxom, doe-eyed lady love, whose predilection for homicide he myopically ignores.  Savvily staged by director Kiff Scholl (with fight choreography by Caleb Terray and videography by Darrett Sanders), the  script successfully parodies the genre's multiple clichés and evocative parlance, even as it lacks the razor-sharp edge of  a topnotch farce.  (The show goes on a bit too long); still the adroit supporting  ensemble makes the most of the piece's convoluted subplots -- among them Nicholas S. Williams as Lady Clairmont's effete son Clive, Phinneas Kiyomura as an eyewitness to her murder and  Ezra Buzzington as her suspiciously  implicated butler.  As the hero, Lemont demonstrates facileness. With her pouty lips and batting eyelids, Vangsness' outrageous Mona becomes the show's star. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug 1. (323) 856-8611. (Deborah Klugman)

MY THREE SISTERS John Walcutt directs his own adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters with decidedly mixed results. Set in West Texas during the Depression, Walcutt's adaptation is accessible and, at times, clever. However, the flaws in this production outweigh the witty conceit of putting Russian émigrés in Dust Bowl Texas. Moreover, the adaptation suffers from too many anachronisms ("My brother -- the loser"), and the liberal use of the word fuck detracts from the verisimilitude. Jimmy Nall gives the one standout performance as Alexander, the love interest of the adulterous middle sister, Masha (Kristina Kontor). As Olga, the eldest sister, Diana Elizabeth Jordan had pronounced delivery problems on the night I attended. (The show is double-cast.) While the youngest sister, Irina (Aidee Salgado), yearns desperately for New York (instead of Moscow, as in the original), two suitors (Jimmy Blakeney and Afshin Hashemi) vie for her attentions. Driving the plot are the actions of brother Andre (Andrew E. Tiles), a wastrel who, without telling his sisters, mortgages the ranch to pay off his gambling debts. In the meantime, Andre's vulgar wife, Natalie (Dana Joiner), bullies everyone at the ranch to consolidate her own power. Walcutt's direction is overly broad, at times verging on camp. And Andrew J. Traister hams it up as Ivan Romanich, a family retainer. (SR) Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through July 18. (323) 874-1733.

NEW REVIEW GO NEVERMORE
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Photo courtesy of Steven Allen Theater

Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of idiosyncrasies - tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The Raven" which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, gets steady more impeded by the after-effects of a bottle of whiskey that he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoffy, macabre display it is - pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown who's heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through August 2. (323) 666-4268. (Steven Leigh Morris)     

GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.

RAY BRADBURY'S YESTERMORROWS The sci-fi author's short stories "The Meadow," "Cistern" and "A Device Out of Time," adapted for the stage. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.

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 August. 9. (323) 655-7679, ext. 100, or www.schoolhouserockla.com.

NEW REVIEW GO SEARCH AND DESTROY
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Photo by Adam Tsiopani

Howard Korder's play begins like a mildly absurdist comedy about a feckless, dunder-head Florida ice-show promoter, Martin Merkheimer (Brian Ridings), who owes $47,000 in back taxes. When he becomes obsessed with late-night TV self-help guru Dr. Waxling (Joseph Dunn), he decides he must make a movie of the doctor's novel, Daniel Strong, as part of his self-empowerment campaign. But the doctor (who has marketing problems) is not impressed by Martin's high ideals and wants cold hard cash. And the play turns darker. In his pursuit of money, Martin becomes involved with a receptionist (Meagan English) who wants to write gory horror flicks, a shady businessman (Adam Hunter Howard), a couple of drug dealers (Ron Fishback and Anthony Duran), and a strung-out coke-head (Thom Guillou), who's political consultant to a conservative senator. The pursuit of self-improvement leads only to sleaziness, corruption, and self-destruction. Korder's script ricochets between picaresque comedy, morality play, melodrama and a play of ideas; it's fun to watch, and director Joshua Adler has assembled a terrific cast. Ridings makes Martin's bumbling desperation believable, Fishback and Guillou contribute sharp comic vignettes, while Howard and Dunn lend a more sinister touch. The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru August 23. (323) 960-7776. (Neal Weaver)   

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.

GO SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED The idea hasn't lost anything in the decade since I reviewed this concept-driven improvisation. Shakespeare Unscripted is an impromptu story inspired by the Bard's work, using Elizabethan literary conventions and stylistic nuances. Audience members are asked for suggestions to start things off, and if something sounds good, the "play" is on. A slow start is common, but as the actors get warmed up, the wit, charm, energy and creativity on display are delightful and entertaining. The night I attended, the subjects chosen were "river" and "waterfall," and the cast did a snappy job of creating a storyline about two lost brothers, exiled from their kingdom; a mother mourning her lost sons; a jilted, German suitor, who is cuckolded by an enchantress;, and tossed in for good measure, a scheming pair of siblings and some humorous courtly intrigue. Most of the fun here comes from trying to guess where the plot is heading and seeing the cast members straining to contain their own mirth. The production utilizes alternating casts, and is co-directed by Brian Lohmann and Dan O'Connor. (LE3) Theatre of the Arts, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. through Aug. 1. (800) 838-3006. Impro Theatre.

SHIVA FOR DINNER Improvisation, music, dance, song and ancient spiritual techniques "reveal the actors' inner lives.". Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27, www.shivafordinner.com. (310) 729-2660.

STOP KISS Diana Son's "homage to life's abrupt and unexpected transformations.". Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 26, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-7774.

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. through July 25. (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.

SUNDAY OF THE DEAD All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.


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.

TRUE WEST After a nearly 30-year tenure in the repertory canon, Sam Shepard's satirical portrait of the playwright as an existential combat zone has more than demonstrated its resilience under fire. Boasting one of Shepard's most celebrated comic conceits -- the odd-couple pairing of struggling Hollywood screenwriter Austin (Tiger Reel) with his estranged, dissolute vagabond of an older brother, Lee (Andre Carriere) -- and what is certainly a bravura feat of dramatic misdirection, the play uses deceptively straightforward naturalism and accessible situational comedy to lure its audience into the shifting surfaces and unsettling ambiguities of Shepard's carefully constructed, ulterior metatheatrics. Unfortunately, the textual tack into allegorical waters leaves director Wendy Obstler and her lamentably misconceived production irretrievably beached. Obstler's insistent oversimplification of the brothers' fratricidal conflict as some kind of pathological projection of parental personalities not only cuts her actors off at the knees but also makes nonsense of the characters' critical merging of identities in Act 2. Carriere has enough confidence and personal charisma to salvage Lee as a creditable exercise in manipulative cunning and savage self-interest. But without a coherent Austin (Reel's goes missing due to inaction) to engage, even that personal triumph can't rescue Shepard's ruminations on the writer's quest for authenticity and truth. (BR) Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through July 25, www.insightamerica.org. (800) 595-4TIX. Njoy Productions and The Lion's Den.

NEW THEATER REVIEW WIFE SWAPPERS "It's nice to have new blood.  We get sick of the same asses and tits all the time," says Jake (Jonathan Palmer) as he and his wife Lorette (Mary Scheer) welcome the much younger Paul (Cody Chappel) and Karen (Chloe Taylor), to their American-flag festooned Orange County home for a swingers party.  While Karen is uncomfortable, Paul seems eager to explore, throwing himself into a world straight out of the "free love" 1970s, complete with wooden hot tub.  To try to get in the mood, Karen looks for liquid courage, but in the first of many ironies, Loretta informs her that alcohol is "against the rules" and generally frowned upon by these staunch Republicans . . . who nonetheless freely imbibe on the sly.  Soon the group is joined by old friends Gina (Melissa Denton), her husband Mac (Michael Halpin), and Shirl (Jodi Carlisle). All is fun and games until Paul's friend Roy (Todd Lowe) arrives unexpectedly and goes too far, leading to a quick dissolution of the party.  Justin Tanner, who wrote and directed the piece, pens snappy banter that cleverly juxtaposes disparate elements to mine their comic potential, but his overt commentary on the hypocrisy of these Christ-and-country-loving patriots who love to fuck each other's wives, is awkward at times.  Among the cast, Denton stands out with her sexually explicit motor mouth, though the rest also play their roles with aplomb.  The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 8.  (323) 653-6886.  (Mayank Keshaviah)

NEW REVIEW YOU LOOK GOOD ON PAPER
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Photo by Robert Joyce

"In my 20s, I knew who I was -- because I was a slut," chirps solo performer Juliette Marshall with the brazen self-deprecation the blonde beauty has wielded over a decade of monologues about her quest for love. In her first, she readied herself for the right love. In her second, she married him. Now, ten years later, they're divorced ("He was controlling and I was codependent -- we were so happy") and Marshall is trying to put shape her story into an evening of torch songs and stand-up. "You Look Good on Paper," is the number about her travails in match-making; "When Did I Become a Cougar?" questions if she should accept a young bartender's offer of passion. Drummer Denise "Delish" Frasier and musical director and pianist Mitch Kaplan keep time as Marshall tangos with a handsome stranger and then tries her hand at a dark ditty where she asks a doctor if she could be mentally ill. (His assessment: "adjustment disorder.") Marshall is earnest about trying to make sense of her past and grab the reins of her future, but she and director Clifford Bell seem to be too close to the material to make it about anything bigger than cocktail chatter translated to the stage. Fittingly, she ends one song with "I don't know how to end this song . . . yet." Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. (323) 651-2583. (Amy Nicholson)

GO THE WASPS With its amiably hammy seven-person ensemble of mostly veteran character actors who prance around caparisoned in codpieces with Slinkys 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 intact. Aristophanes' play is a barbed satire of the 5th 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 jitterbuglike 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. (PB) 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.

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 26. (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 August 22. (818) 508-7101.

GO EQUUS Director-set designer August Viverito and his colleagues have mastered the art of clarity and intensity when working in a tiny space such as this. Peter Shaffer's drama has always told the harrowing tale of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna), who must discover why a severely troubled teenager, Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), has gouged out the eyes of six horses with a hoof pick. What's different here is that Hanna's Dysart suffers an anguish at least as deep as the boy's, and this carries the play from clever melodrama into the realm of tragedy. Dysart slowly realizes that Alan has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which horses are his gods -- and has enacted a strange Passion Play. The doctor understands that to cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and most profound experience of his life. The boy's fierce passion forces Dysart to recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence. Viverito has cast it beautifully, with riveting performances by Hanna, Stafford and a splendid supporting cast, who make us feel the play, as well as understand it. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; selected Sundays, 3 p.m.; through August 22. (800) 838-3006, or www.theprodco.com. (Neal Weaver)

ETERNAL EQUINOX Vanessa Bell (Gillian Doyle) and Duncan Grant (Christopher McFarland) were prominent members of the Bloomsbury Set. Visual artists, they've shared a studio and occasionally a bed for more than 40 years, conceiving a child together despite Bell's marriage to someone else and Grant's committed preference for male lovers. (The child was raised by Bell's husband, Clive.) Set in 1923, Joyce Sachs' period drama speculates on a love triangle involving these two longtime friends and George Mallory (Justin Ellis), the mountain-climbing adventurer and darling of British society, who famously perished scaling Mount Everest in 1924. In Sachs' portrait, competition for the erotic attentions of the devastatingly attractive Mallory provokes awkward and, at times, painful tensions within the household. Under Kevin Cochran's direction, the piece scores with its capacity for nuance and its focus on the gap between the ideal of free love and plain old human jealousy. The production also gains color and ambiance from designer Leonard Ogden's enlivening set and costumes and David Darwin's lighting. Too often, however, the slow-going dialogue unwinds like a disappointingly airless episode of Masterpiece Theater, with the self-absorbed characters engaged in far too much speechifying about the past. Doyle gives an intelligent, well-calibrated performance, but despite her showing, our sense of a tried-and-true connection between Bell and either McFarland's smug narcissist or Ellis' stolid hunk never ignites. (DK) GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 25. (818) 238-9998 or www.gtc.org.

NEW REVIEW GO THE HOSTAGE
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Photo by Ralph Nelson

In1959 Dublin, a young British soldier is held captive by the Irish Republican Army while an equally young IRA volunteer awaits execution for killing a policeman. Should the British carry out the Irishman's sentence, the IRA will do the same to the Englishman. Playwright Brendan Behan, himself a former IRA member, took this dire premise to mold a sly political satire that reveals there is plenty of guilt and hypocrisy on both sides of the Anglo-Irish conflict, which tend to be drowned in swigs of Guinness or shots of Jameson. Pat (John McKenna) is an ex-IRA soldier who with his "wife" Meg (Jenn Pennington) runs the establishment whose denizens include assorted whores (male and female), a daft ex-IRA leader (Barry Lynch) and other sundry lumpenproletariat. When a steely IRA officer (Mark Colson) hides a British conscript (Patrick Joseph Rieger) in the house, tensions and hilarity ensue as assorted characters begin to question the rationale for the soldier's fate, especially a young girl (Amanda Deibert) who falls for the soldier. Director McKerrin Kelly and company have culled text from the original Irish version and the subsequent English one to craft a boisterous production filled with songs and jigs, characters chatting with the audience and a provocative finale. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (818) 846-5323. (Martín Hernández)

INSANITY In this unexpectedly inert musical from James J. Mellon, Scott DeTurk, and Larry Russo, Zarek Saxton (Kevin Bailey) is a B-movie director who, midway through filming his latest slasher flick, drops a designer drug, sees visions, and decides to make a totally different movie -- one he hopes will cure war, feed children and save the world. In other words, he wants to make a movie that will go direct to video. Perhaps understandably, producer Ramsey (a nicely oily Bob Morrissey) decides to commit the director to a mental hospital, and tries to bribe top shrink Megan (Dana Meller) to certify him as nuts so she he can toss Zarek off the movie. While he's in the bin, Zarek casts a darkly ironic outsider's eye on the various emotional problems of the inmates -- a collection of damaged souls whom he comes to admire. The play's shift in tone from sassy Hollywood spoof to a mawkish recycle of One Flew Over The Cockoo's Nest is awkward and strangely uninvolving -- and the play's central relationship, between the arrogantly self-important Zarek and the smirking, humorless Megan, thuds. Strangely enough, the relationship between DeTurk's unmemorable, smooth jazz score and Mellon's overly complicated lyrics is not much better, although Bailey's comical rendition of "You Couldn't Write This Shit," in which his character ridicules his fellow patients behind their backs, has some toe-tapping potential. In a supporting role as an actor with emotional problems, Brad Blaisdell's character shows some depth, while Sabrina Miller, as the director's self-absorbed leading lady and girlfriend, conveys the Hollywood mood believably. The rest is a comparatively dull opus that hasn't yet gelled. (PB) Noho Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (818) 508-7107, ext. 7.

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 Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.

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.

GO TEN CENT NIGHT Marisa Wegrzyn's Texas melodrama is as emotionally overloaded as a jukebox favorite. A country star and abusive father of two sets of twins has shot himself in the head, orphaning his children just when the youngest girl, Sadie (Alison Rood), needs a heart transplant -- literally and metaphorically (She's just realized she's in love with her twin brother Holt (Shane Zwiner). Older daughter Dee (Caitlin Muelder) is furious that Sadie has asked Dee's twin, Roby (Tara Buck), a hard-drinking singer, to come back to the ranch, which she does, handcuffed to a police chair and pursued by a handsome mute (Martin Papazian) and a gangster (Gareth Williams) with a magic dime. Maria Gobetti's naturalistic direction delays our awareness of and enjoyment in the script's mythological ambitions; with the second act entrance of a local whore (Kathleen Bailey), who controls the hearts, bodies and bank accounts of Dee and Roby, we're in waters as deep and loaded as the Oedipus myth. Staged more like a comic soap opera than a fable with fangs, its rhythm could be sharper, but once the ensemble gets rolling, we're humming along. (AN) Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through Aug. 2. (818) 841-5421.

THE UNSEEN In some unspecified country, two prisoners, Valdez (Matt Kirkwood) and Wallace (Darin Singleton) have been held for years in isolation cells. They are close enough to talk to but not to see each other. They don't know why they have been incarcerated, or by whom. They are constantly questioned and tortured, and subjected to nerve-shattering noises. They spend their days carrying out private rituals, and playing word and memory games in an attempt to preserve their sanity. The only mortal they see is the guard Smash (Douglas Dickerman), who is both torturer and caretaker. Craig Wright's allegorical new play keeps its larger meaning sketchy, perhaps because it lacks a concrete context. It's interesting mainly for the interaction of the two men, and the strange and whimsical nature of Smash. Wright directs his play skillfully on Desma Murphy's handsomely bleak set. Kirkwood and Singleton provide richly detailed portraits of the two men who comfort themselves with escape fantasies, and Dickerman creates a bizarre figure as the guard who hates his charges because he can't help feeling their pain as he tortures them. (NW) The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through August 22. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.com.

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 Rob 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.
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CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF Traumas of a Southern clan, by Tennessee Williams. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar, Palos Verdes Peninsula; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 19, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 26, 2 p.m.; thru July 26. (310) 378-9353.

CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling, in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself. (SLM) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779.

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.

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.

GO HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME While R. Ernie Silva's older brothers were doing hard drugs, he hid out in his room and watched Masterpiece Theater. Silva wasn't a nerd; he break-danced, liked weed, and grew dreadlocks. But he lived in Bushwick, and to cops, bosses and his mom, being a young, black male in Bushwick meant you were and would always be just like everyone else. Railroaded into a life headed for rehab or death, Silva grabbed a boxcar heading west to go on an American walkabout. Silva is a charismatic talent with slender build and wide grin. The story of his travels, co-written with James Gabriel and directed by Mary Joan Negro, taps into his charm and energy, sending him up and around a set of simple black boxes, strumming his guitar, Savannah, and impersonating the noteworthy, from Richard Pryor and Jimi Hendrix to August Wilson. The travails of young artists and their search for self-definition are a familiar solo show trope, but even the heightened moments -- the death of a brother, an auspicious visit from an eagle -- feel earned, not manufactured. I expect we'll see a lot more of Silva, and this very solid monologue is a good place to get acquainted. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 8. (310) 477-2055.

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 Aug. 1. (310) 358-9936.

NEW REVIEW GO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
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Photo courtesy of Veterans Center for the Performing Arts

In a forest of fairies, skater boy Lysander (a nicely slacker-y Rett Nadol) runs off with his sweet fiancée Hermia (Rachel Emmers, whose Valley Girl-like accents add comedic luster). However, mischievous fairy Puck (Joey Pata) casts a spell on Lysander so he falls for Hermia's pal Helena (drolly neurotic Adeye Sahran).  Meanwhile, fairy queen Titania (Amanda Arbues) is enchanted into falling in love with a boorish Bottom (Kenneth De Abrew, playing the well known character as an East Asian Oliver Hardy) who has been turned into a donkey for the day.  Director Stephan Wolfert's charming staging of Shakespeare's romantic comedy fantasia is a co-production between the Veteran's Center for the Performing Arts, the US Veterans' Artists Alliance, and Shakespeare Santa Monica.  The show's ensemble is a mix of professional actors and military veterans - and one or two of whom are both at the same time, since the vocations are not mutually exclusive.  One might expect the presence of veterans to give the show a somehow therapeutic undercurrent, but in fact the show is just good comedy, boasting some polished clowning. If it weren't for the program bios, which mention the performer veterans' time served and military branch (alongside the usual list of turns in standards like Noises Off and Blithe Spirit) the idea that the briskly staged and thoroughly enjoyable show has a connection to the armed forces would probably not even enter our minds.  Staged in a makeshift theater space atop a musical bandshell behind a West LA library, the show's delightfully daffy mood and intimacy combined with the picnic-like atmosphere offer a laid back, unpretentious spectacle that's perfect for summer - and for Midsummer.  While some performers may wrestle with the verse or fall prey to weak diction, the show's energy and innocently romantic comic timing craft a production that's hard to resist.  West L.A. Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; through Aug. 9. Free. Veterans Center for the Performing Arts and the U.S. Veterans' Artists Alliance (Paul Birchall)

GO MONKEY MADNESS In writer-director Daisuke Tsuji's cracklingly clever tour de force, which takes place on a planet of apes from which Roddy McDowell is conspicuously absent, a group of actors playing monkeys schmutz up their hair, cover themselves with brown paint, squawk and go chee-chee-chee in the aisles, and even toss feces at the audience. (You can examine the contents for yourself. )Tsuji's amusing and ironic play tells the story of a strapping young monkey (Randy Thompson), who dreams of becoming a human being. His main reason for this wish is so he can fall in love with a sweet, human girl (Olivia Choate), who, in turn, wishes only that she could become a sexy monkey gal. Act 1 consists of the monkey boy's Siddhartha-like attempts to find his place in the world -- he participates in what appears to be a simian rave (crisply and dynamically choreographed with dazzling Janet Jackson-esque moves by Anne Rene Brashier) and then heads to Monkey College. Just when one begins to suspect Monkey Madness is a one-concept piece, events in Act 2 take on a more mythic feel, as a creepy spirit (a towering, showstopping puppet from Cristina Bercowitz) offers both monkey and human the chance to realize their dreams -- for a terrible price. Tsuji's artfully and energetic staging is both smart and dazzling -- spectacle here meshes engagingly with undercurrents of cerebral wit. A veteran of Cirque du Soleil, Tsuji uses shtick, choreography, a touch of Bunraku, and evocative acting -- and the show sizzles with quirky antics and, ultimately, unexpected sadness. The ensemble enact their simian roles with ecstatic glee, particularly Dee Amerio Sudik's monkey-elder lady in a performance so seductive, you forget you're really watching a human. Thompson's sweet monkey boy is equal parts Curious George and tragic boy-beast. Powerhouse Theater, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m. (Wed. perfs Pay as You Can); through July 18. (PB) A Los Angeles Theater Ensemble Production. www.latensemble.com.

NEW REVIEW MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO

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Photo by Amy Jacobson

During the American Revolution, George Washington opposed arming African-Americans, "lest they turn our weapons against ourselves." This attitude prevailed in the American Military until after World War II. The Navy allowed black seaman to serve only as non-combatant cooks and day laborers, and at Port Chicago, near San Francisco, they were deployed as stevedores, loading volatile explosives onto transport ships. Neither white officers nor black workers received training in handling explosives, safety rules were ignored, workers were driven to meet dangerous, impossible quotas, and workers were told the ammo "couldn't possibly explode." But on July 17, 1944, it did explode, killing 320 men and injuring 390. Fifty black seamen, ably represented here by actors J. Teddy Garces, Eric Bivens-Bush, Pedro Coiscou and Durant Fowler, refused to return to ammo-loading duties under the same terrible conditions, and were falsely accused of conspiracy/mutiny. White officers fabricated evidence in a kangaroo court, where the attorney for the defense (the excellent Maury Sterling) was hamstrung at every turn. Because the issues were so completely black and white, playwright Paul Leaf can't avoid melodrama. His brief Act 1 is a set-up for effective trial scenes in Act 2. An uneven production is graced with some solid performances. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica;Fri-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru August 15. (310) 397-3244. (Neal Weaver)  

GO ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets, one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it's hard to imagine doing Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying staging of the Marxist maestro's classic, anti-morality play, St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the 1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias' costumes), the story cleverly inverts the Jeanne d'Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark (a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an antipoverty crusader whose "Warriors of God" mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse closings. Joan's efforts to get the men back to work lead her to financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that Mauler is cynically using Joan's appeals to further his scheme. When she subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped mission, she is cast into the street, where she belatedly realizes the pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by Peter Mellencamp's vivid, new translation and an unerring ensemble (including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel Riordan), Rothhaar's production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the principles of epic theater. (It's also a showcase for the multitalented Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler's scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & Co. not only prove that the old, dialectical dogmatist still has teeth but that Brecht's bark and his bite are both wickedly entertaining. (BR) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (310) 822-8392.

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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 828-7519.

GO THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE David Mamet's streamlined adaptation of Harley Granville-Barker's 1905 drama succeeds on many levels. Granville-Barker's play about an Edwardian family dealing with the explosion of a Ponzi scheme retains its dramatic impact. Mamet's compressed adaptation of the four-hour original adds dramatic thrust. Moreover, the play resonates due to contemporary misdeeds on Wall Street. In the drama, the Voysey family lives in Edwardian splendor as a result of the outwardly successful investment firm managed by father (Patrick John Hurley) and son Edward (Alec Beard). When Edward uncovers financial fraud, he confronts his father, who freely admits deceitful practices. After Voysey senior dies, Voysey junior fights valiantly to keep the firm afloat -- it's either that or a prison sentence. The drama climaxes when a chief client (David Hunt Stafford) wants to liquidate his investments. Many of the play's lighter moments are provided by Edward's blustering brother, Major Booth (Jon Woodward Kirby). As Edward's stalwart fiancée Alice, Debbie Jaffe stands out among the players. Avoiding any Edwardian stuffiness, Bruce Gray confidently directs the large cast of Voysey family members and retainers, creating a strong sense of ensemble work. Suzanne Scott's lovely period costumes are complemented by Jeff G. Rack's luxurious set design. (SR) Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Drive (on the Beverly Hills High School campus), Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 19. (310) 364-0535.

SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS

THEATRE WEST PLAY READING SERIES 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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