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Stage Raw: L.A.'s Fringe Fest Coming in 2010

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Wed, Jul 29, 2009 at 1:35 AM

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The latest NEW REVIEWS are embedded in this week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

Also, this week's STAGE FEATURE on improvised musicals

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Alretha Thomas' play continues this weekend at the Imagined Life Theatre. Photo courtesy of Imagined Life Theatre


Can L.A. handle a Fringe theater festival? The geographic/cultural/psychic impediments undid L.A.'s Edge of the World Theater Festival in a town already saturated with content, and not enough audiences. But New York is even more saturated that we are, and they have a sustainable Fringe-fest that's both an audience magnet and launch pad for some of the shows that appear there.

Hollywood Fringe has announced dates of June 17-27, 2010 for another try in L.A. Plans are still being formulated, and we're watching with interest, and hope.

For this weeks COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.


(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


AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare's comedy, re-set in the 1980s San Fernando Valley. (In rep with Snoopy: The Musical; call for schedule.). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens July 31; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 667-0955.

CARNEVIL Michael Teoli's horror musical about the accidental death of a carnival worker. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; July 31-Aug. 1, 9 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

COMEDY IN THE PARK "A sketchy skip through eternal love, fragile relationships and a penchant for black attire," by Lauren Lewis and Cullen Kirkland. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; July 31-Aug. 1, 8 p.m.. (818) 510-8083.

DON'T FORGET TO REMEMBER Patrice Parker's world premiere about a family undone by moral conflict. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (323) 960-7780.

(DUB)ZECK Patrick Kennelly remixes Buchner's Woyzeck with Patty Hearst, transsexual clones and Motorhead. In English, Spanish, French, Polish and German. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sat., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

FRANZ SCHUBERT: HIS LETTERS AND MUSIC Opera diva Julia Migenes and actor Jeff Marlow interpret the classical composer. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.

GOLIATH Middle East faceoff by Karen Hartman. Part of Open Fist Theatre Company's First Look Festival of New Plays. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 9, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 16, 3 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. No barfing allowed. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens July 31; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700.

GUYS AND DOLLS IN CONCERT Jessica Biel, Scott Bakula and Beau Bridges try not to butcher the Frank Loesser musical. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; July 31-Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 850-2040.

7DS Zombie Joe's Underground presents Amanda Marquardt's survey of the seven deadly sins. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 1; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 202-4120.


CATS Me-ow! Felines get funky in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (805) 449-2787.

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

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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 (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.

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.

NEW REVIEW GO FIDDLER ON THE ROOF   Following hard on the ruby-encrusted heels of Broadway's greatest 21st century's phenom Wicked, the Pantages returns to this equally significant Broadway hit from the middle of the last century (nearly a decade as longest running musical) in a spectacular revival. Sholem Aleichem's tale of life in a Jewish shtetl under the thumb of Russia's tzar, dramatized by Joseph Stein with a glorious score and lyrics by Jerry Bock Sheldon Harnick respectively, still generates laughs and other emotions. This production remains loyal to Jerome Robbins' original staging, with expertly recreated direction and choreography by Sammy Dallas Bayes. You won't find any flying or other magical machinery expected in contemporary Broadway fare. It feels like time-traveling 50 years back - yet there's no sense of museum theater here. Leading way is, of course Topol, the Israeli star who first played the lead tole of Tevye on London's West End when he was far too young, then in the 1971 film at the perfect age, now in this "final tour," when he is too old, but still enormously effective as the faithful but constantly God-questioning milkman who sees his Jewish traditions and way of life falling apart. Upon Topol's first entrance he is greeted as a rock star - but the production doesn't rest on his laurels alone; it earns its standing ovation from the merits of the ensemble, musicians and designers. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (213) 365-3500. (Tom Provenzano)

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.

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 Aug. 30. (310) 208-54545.

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

THE MISER Molière's satire of greed, with songs by Ellen Geer and Peter Alsop. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 4 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 22, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 25. (310) 455-3723.

MONTY PYTHON'S SPMALOT Monty Python and the Holy Grail - the 1975 take on Arthurian legend -- is probably not the sharpest sendup in comedians Eric Idle & Associates' body of film work, compared to their later, blistering satire on Biblical lore contained in The Life of Brian (1979) - Brian being Jesus - and on the existential quandaries in The Meaning of Life (1983). The Holy Grail nonetheless contains what was for a generation of fans a blithely anarchistic and singularly British response to a constipated culture. Idle and John Du Prez's long-touring musical, Monty Python's Spamalot, is lifted mostly from The Holy Grail and is at its best when filching dialogue from the movie, with performances that replicate the dry wry humor of faulty assumptions taken to their most idiotic conclusions. In the film, there's a plague sketch in which the city corpse collectors go round with a cart calling, "Bring out your dead." One ill fellow protests that he's "not dead yet," and that in fact he's feeling better. This leads to bickering with the officials until his owner bonks him on the head with a shovel, assuring that he is dead. In the musical, that scene gets played out in a song called "I Am Not Dead Yet," wherein the clout with the shovel occurs twice. Evidently, the joke told once isn't sufficient. With that kind of repetition throughout the musical, the film's brisk tone shifts from the pinpoint sparks of standup comedy to the comparatively lumbering reprises of musical theater, though there's a wonderful parody of Andrew Lloyd Weber torch songs called "The Song That Goes Like This." But the larger issue resides in the motives of creation. Monty Python created comedy in reaction to, and as a comment on, the absurdities of life in Britain, and beyond. In the musical, King Arthur (John O'Hurley) seeks - in addition to the holy grail - a way to get onto Broadway. So this is no longer a vicious comedy about the world, it's a far gentler homage to Monty Python, filled with Sarah Palin jokes and mock-Academy Awards. The idea has undergone a tectonic shift from being pointedly silly to generally silly. These are really the aesthetics of marketing. The result is far more popular than penetrating. The company is unimpeachable, as is Casey Nicholaw's splendidly stupid choreography and Tim Hatley's deliberately cheesy set and costumes. (SLM) 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. (213) 972-4400.

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.

GO NEVERMORE 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, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, 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 whose 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. (SLM) Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 29. (323) 666-4268.

SIDE MAN Warren Leight's jazztastic memory play. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (562) 494-1014.

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.; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (213) 237-2800.

NEW REVIEW THE TEMPEST Many would argue that Shakespeare is not meant to be experienced in a darkened proscenium house with fancy sets, a silent audience and plush seating, but with minimal lighting and sets, a boisterous crowd and no seating at all.  Those preferring the latter will find this production of Shakespeare's final play to their liking. The familiar story about the wronged former Duke of Milan who is banished to an island with his daughter, only to use his powers of sorcery to command the faeries of the isle to exact revenge on his fellow nobles is performed with traditional minimalism, but with much modern commentary and humor.  Director and company co-founder Melissa Chalsma incorporates into the dialogue jokes about cell phones, Martha Stewart, and even the Barnsdall performance space.  Continuing the modern aesthetic are Daniel Mahler's costumes, which feature a blend of bubble wrap, duct tape, and other shiny bits for the faeries and Prospero's cape, in styles ranging from Mafioso (Sebastian) to band geek (Trinculo) to Charlie Chaplain (Stephano).  The latter two work well for the bawdy, vaudevillian duo, who along with Caliban, become the most engaging part of the performance. What's gained in comedy, however, is lost in the somber philosophical inquiry that makes up significant part of the text.  A major reason for this is the setting, which, by allowing food, drink and a "family atmosphere," also suffers from the distraction of crying, talking children.  And while that atmosphere is good for a summer community event, give me the darkened proscenium house for this play. Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (in alternating rep with Henry V, so performance dates vary); through August 30.  (323) 836-0288. An Independent Shakespeare Company. Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)


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.

GO ALTAR BOYZ For those over the age of 15, boy bands have long been fodder for easy ridicule - stir in Christian rock and malicious burlesque becomes ripe for the picking. But in this outing by playwright Kevin Del Aguila with songwriters Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker, derision is superseded by affection. The book is so sweet and so gentle the lyrics that the show lacks a satisfying satirical bite. But the good news is in the performances. Jesse Bradley, Clifford Bañagale, Jake Wesley Stewart, Robert Acinapura and Kelly Rice blend their disparate personalities, boyish charms and harmonic voices to create an ensemble that could easily play it straight for the right audiences. Choreographer Ameenah Kaplan takes great advantage of the boys' uniform physical agility and athleticism, creating song and dance numbers far more entertaining than the overdone Catholic jokes. Musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten and his band (Adam Halitzka, Nick Perez and Carson Schutze) are totally in sync, keeping the show bouncy and charming for 90 minutes. Michael Mullen's too-precious rock costumes are terrific and amusing. Only the imminent threat of forced audience participation slightly dulls the glister. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 957-1884. (Tom Provenzano)

BABY IT'S YOU! American Pop Anthology presents Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's musical biography of Scepter Records founder Florence Greenberg., Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (800) 595-4TIX.

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Photo courtesy of Company of Angels

In playwright Jonathan Ceniceroz's torn-between-two-lovers potboiler, a wannabe actor named Carlos (Vince Tula) leaves his mature and ailing partner to set up house with a coquettish young gent from his acting class. The wallowing melodrama commences with Carlos resolutely packing his bags, deaf to the incessant pleas of wheelchair-bound Gil (Art McDermott). We next see him in his new digs, in thrall to the alluring Jeremy (understudy David Padilla), whose clothes he's possessively concealed  in a power play seemingly intended to proscribe his new boyfriend's coming and goings.  Directed by Josh Chambers, the stilted first act unwinds with a rather depthless display of passions as the financially pressed Carlos struggles to support his increasingly sulky and demanding inamorato.  Act 2 improves, however, first because the script acquires some texture as Jeremy evolves into a narcissistic psychopath,  but more so because Padilla - in his debut stage performance - makes the most of the material to establish a beguilingly ominous presence. MC Dermott is persuasive as the catty but perspicacious invalid. To the playwright's credit, the drama ultimately detours away from a sensationalized denouement into one more sensible and satisfying. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., downtown; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 2. (323) 883-1717. A Company of Angels production. (Deborah Klugman )

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. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO CARVED IN STONE In Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy, it's always cocktail hour in the afterlife lounge shared by Truman Capote (Kevin Remington), 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 Gryphon 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 setting. They add that the door though which he entered occasionally opens, 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. (SR) Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 9, (310) 473-5483.

CHARIOT It is 1987 and the Hills are the only black family in a tidy but sterile suburb of the San Fernando Valley. In a too successful attempt at assimilation, the family members have repressed nearly every emotional and spiritual problem to come their way. In Steven Lee's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink melodrama, Grandmother (Gayle La Rone) arrives from the south in her chariot (an expensive sports car) to spread her wealth and shake the family loose from its self-loathing and hypocrisy. Lee's script gives each of the generally solid actors enormous scene-chewing speeches and director Cary Thompson encourages high-powered performances, which never let up and unfortunately too often turn to screaming matches and chest-pounding. Lee's exhaustive list of dramatic issues center on homosexuality, psychosis, religious rejection, alcoholism and violence. Near the end we wonder why he left out incest - oh, never mind we get to that too. Thomas (TJ) Walker provides an array of terrific costumes which provide the visual cues not found in the very simple set pieces that create the modest suburban home. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3pm.; through Sept. 6. (323) 960-7788. (Tom Provenzano)

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.

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Photo courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre

If we're to believe playwright Mat Smart, which is probably not a good idea, the bloody rampage of a jealous lover in 1894 Columbus, Nebraska led to the "Morgan Morality Act," stipulating that if a woman chose a fiancée over the objections of a former lover who had taken her virginity, her first lover was entitled to challenge her fiancée in a public debate, sort of like a cross between The Dating Game and The Jerry Springer Show. After hearing argumentation from both parties, the woman was free to choose her future mate. If the woman continued to rebuke the challenger, the law forbade him to contact her or to mention her name in public. This anti-stalking bill placed profound confidence in the power of debate in general, and argumentation in particular, to prevent corpses from piling up, as they evidently did in 1894 Nebraska, at least according to the record cited in Smart's play. In Act 1 of his delightful comedy, set in a contemporary Nebraska tavern - here portrayed in the site-specific environs of downtown's Metropol Cafe -- Smart is really grappling with the intersection of commitment and ownership. Jeff Galfer, who originated the role at New York's Slant Theatre Project, is both horrifying and endearing as Scott P. Scooner, a snazzily dressed local denizen whose dream of making it big consists of landing the assistant manager post at the suit shop where he now works as a sales clerk. Scott is a romantic extrovert with a history of suicide attempts over the loss of his love, Courtney (Amy Ellenberger, nicely capturing an emotional descent after floating on air) to a six-figure-salary-earning "dickwad from Sacramento" named James Alexander (Larry Heron, in a suave and smart performance). Courtney's been dating James for two months (compared to her five-year courtship with Scott). During the debate, James offers her a vacation in the Bahamas that only makes her swoon some more, as Scott must endure the site of his ex embracing and kissing his competitor while he's trying to win her back. Thomas (Feodor Chin) gently moderates the debate in a performance of wry intelligence and absurdity, clutching a handbook of the law that stipulates time limits and other protocol for the growingly ludicrous spectacle. After both suitors' presentations, Courtney finds herself paralyzed by indecision, which is when the law's more arcane articles, such as a corn-shucking competition, come into play. Act 2 flies back in time to 1894 and tracks the origins of this "morality act" via a farce with the actors in drag and impressive quick-changes. It's a different play in a different style that presents more of a challenge to the actors than the real-time naturalism of Act 1. It nonetheless tracks the origins of our so-called freedom, and how incapable we are of handing the responsibilities that come with it. Despite the shortcomings of the farce, Jennifer Chang stages the event, and it is an event, with a nimble touch, and Rachel Schachar's costumes are perfect. Metropol Cafe, 923 East Third Street, downtown; Sun.-Mon., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 24. (800) 838-3006 or A Chalk Repertory Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

FERNANDO Art scholar versus curator, by Steven Charles Haworth. Part of Open Fist Theatre Company's First Look Festival of New Plays. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 2, 3 p.m.; Through Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 15, 3 & 7 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

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

A HATFUL OF RAIN Michael V. Gazzo's study of substance abuse. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23, (310) 358-9936.

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Hellz Kitchen Ablaze

Tommy Carter's hard-hitting drama delves into the sadly familiar terrain of police brutality and corruption. After a drug raid in which a team member was shot and killed, a clique of New York City's finest rendezvous in an abandoned, graffiti pocked warehouse, ostensibly to commiserate about their dead partner. Robert Mangiardi, Michael Camacho, Sal Landi, Phil Parolisi, Charles Taylor and Gary Werntz turn in harrowing performances as gritty, street wise narcotics officers whose psychological and emotional black holes are nothing short of terrifying. It isn't long after the team assembles that the real reason for the "party" emerges, and we learn that a bond has been made to split nearly a million dollars in confiscated drug money, which is to be retrieved by this gang in blue's only black member, Dash (Tim Starks). It's while waiting for the payoff to arrive that a toxic stew of racism, fear, suspicion, paranoia and undiluted greed start to erode alliances causing insurmountable conflicts that culminate in crushing betrayals and murder. In addition to chillingly realistic characters, Carter's blunt writing and gallows humor propel this 90-minute drama, which in spite of its dearth of action is never boring or tedious. And director Barry Sattels and his cast excel in opening up the explosive tension of the plot. Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave. L.A.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (213) 712-5021. (Lovell Estell III)

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

KEEP THE BALL ROLLING Skipper by Robert Beiderman, Dead Angel by Dale Andersen, Cupidity by Thomas J. Misuraca, Table for One by Hindi Brooks, Up on the Roof by Mark Harvey Levine, Dear John by Herman Poppe. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (323) 469-3113.

GO KILL ME DEADLY 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 top-notch 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. (DK) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Aug 30. (323) 856-8611.

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Photo courtesy of The Nuclear Family

As they've been doing since 2007, the company of three actors  (Stephen Guarino, Jimmy Ray Bennett and John Gregorio), and pianist Matthew Loren Cohen, staggered through on wit and a prayer to create a 90-minute musical theater piece off-the-cuff, sprung from the core characters of a generic American family: Mom, Dad and Daughter (some nights it's Son). The piece and even the characters' names are different every night, thanks to the unpredictability of audience suggestions, and the trio play different roles at each performance. Every show, however, starts in the "kitchen" - four wooden chairs, two with broken cross-beams - and spirals in and out of control from there, spinning the dual mythologies of The American Family and The American Musical around and around on a spit. It's ribald, insane, and great fun. Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood | Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 9. A NeedTheatre production (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.

OCTOMOM! THE MUSICAL Chicago has gritty realism. New York has Broadway musicals. So what's the L.A. aesthetic? I've heard complaints - I think they were sneers - that L.A. has no unifying theater style, just like it has no unifying geography. Not true: camp. You see more parody of stupid movies, stupid TV shows and stupid people on the stages of L.A. than any other genre - even more than one-person showcases for TV. The latest example is this quite charming, clever-in-parts (the eight kids are sock puppets) and terribly over-hyped (preview coverage on Fox TV and in People Magazine) cabaret about thoughtless and relentless greed, which is probably to our era what religious hypocrisy was to Moliere's. Writer-director Chris Votaire's theatrical comic book, with witty, light music by Rachel Lawrence, interlinks the voracious appetites of Nadya Suleman (the excellent Molly McCook) and Bernie Madoff (John Combs, also fine). It suffers somewhat from the plight of trying to be on top of the news with topics that were in the news cycle a few months ago. But the underlying source of the satire that Voltaire is gunning for certainly hasn't gone anywhere. The insights are broad as a barn. Madoff meets that schemer Ponzi (Blake Hogue, with a keen expression of derangement that works for number of cameos) in a sweet soft-shoe number. It could be in the style of Tom Lehrer, but this is more obvious and less sly. The production's strength lies in Dean McFlicker's musical staging, and the actors' terrific movement skills - particularly that of Dinora Walcott, the crooning emcee. Oh, but the thin voices bring it down. As though this stuff is easy, as though a musical can be without the triple threat of acting, dancing and singing. With the threadbare canned accompaniment, we're missing about a third of the musical-comedy trinity in those whispy voices, sometimes out of key. Not so for McCook's Octomom, beautifully peevish, whining and with a sense of entitlement as bloated as her belly. She carries the show, in tune and on step, like a latter-day Mother Courage. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; indef. (323) 856-1168. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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Photo courtesy of Josh Margolin

ONE NIGHT STAND: AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL Seven young actors don't use wigs for a musical parody concoted in the spur of the moment - this is the improv equivalent of performing without a net.  On the night I saw them, they brewed  a father-son conflict that parodied the literary convention of young people arriving in L.A from the hinterlands to become stars. The lanky Quinn Beswick portrayed a kid in Tennessee confronting his dad (Jonah Platt) about not wanting to live out his father's failed dreams, about not wanting to be a star, but wanting instead to escape to L.A. to pursue his dream of cleaning up after other people who do want to be stars. (No shortage of employment opportunities in that field.) The fresh-scrubbed ensemble showed wit aplenty and boasted bone fide musical theater chops, particularly though the sharp energy and even sharper voices of Samantha Martin and Mollie Taxe. Musical Director Andrew Resnick did piano-accompaniment duties. Hudson Theater Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; through August 22. (323) 960-4429. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.

ONE WOMAN, TWO LIVES Alretha Thomas, past winner of several NAACP 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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23...

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.

SAY GOODBYE, TOTO The Wizard of Oz from Toto's POV, by Amy Heidish. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19, (323) 969-1707.

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

GO SEARCH AND DESTROY Howard Korder's play begins like a mildly absurdist comedy about a feckless, dunderhead Florida ice-show promoter, Martin Merkheim (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 unimpressed 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 (Dan Fishbach and Anthony Duran), and a strung-out coke head (Thom Guillou), who is 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, Fishbach and Guillou contribute sharp comic vignettes, while Howard and Dunn lend a more sinister touch. (NW) The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (323) 960-7776.

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.

SNOOPY!!! THE MUSICAL Larry Grossman and Hal Hacakady's sequel to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 667-0955.

GO STOP KISS Manhattan traffic newscaster Callie (Deborah Puette) meets Sara (Kristina Harrison) the week the young blonde schoolteacher arrives in the city. Both have always identified themselves as straight: Callie's got her friend-with-benefits George (Christan Anderson), who she assumes she'll marry once they both stop trying to find someone better, and Sara has just left her boyfriend of seven years, Peter (Justin Okin), behind in St. Louis in her quest to find a bigger, harder, more worthwhile life. The two women gradually become best friends, deliciously tormented by their quiet hints that they both want a more physical relationship. But no sooner do they stick a tentative foot out of the closet than they're pushed out in the worst possible way -- as a news story about a violent bigot who puts Sara in a coma. Diana Son's time-jumping play about coping with the unexpected skips from their first meeting to Callie's first sitdown with the investigating cop (Jeorge Watson); we're rooting for the couple to get together under the shadow of the consequences. But Son's equal emphasis on romance makes the play looser and more inviting than a social problem drama, and the question isn't about the source of hate, but the depth of Callie's love when Peter announces that Sara's family wants to move her hospital bed back to Missouri. Under Elina de Santos and Matthew Elkin's direction, the ensemble opening night was still a little stiff, but Puette's tender performance captures a haphazard woman realizing that she's finally sure of at least one thing. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 26, (323) 960-7774. A Rogue Machine production (Amy Nicholson)
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.


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Photo courtesy of the SpyAnts

Matt Pelfrey's weird hot mess of a dark satire is a virtual dramatization of lunacy, as seen from the inside peering out.  If you have ever noticed someone walking down the street, with a tin foil hat firmly lodged atop his or her head muttering imprecations about this or that conspiracy, Pelfrey's play is a work that tells you how that tragic figure came to that point.  Mac Winchell (Brett Hren) is a contented cubicle-dwelling office worker whose life is thrown into disarray when co-worker Felix (Eric Bunton) goes berserk and starts shooting up the building. Felix offs himself right in front of Mac, but before he does, he whispers something unmentionable in his ear.  From that moment, Mac finds himself sliding into a bizarre, alternate universe in which everything is deranged and violent.   After inheriting the Terminus Americana, a phone book-sized manual of madness left by Felix as an office Secret Santa gift, Mac wanders the country having a bizarre series of adventures and ultimately being hailed as a prophet in the New Church of Christ The Office Shooter - and you can imagine what one must do to join that organization. Pelfrey's comedy is intentionally meandering, full of seemingly random incidents and a disjointed structure that is meant to be both frustrating and arch.  Unfortunately, a little goes a long way, and two hours of the disconnected babble almost leaves the audience groping for our own tin foil hats. Danny Parker-Lopes's phlegmatic staging suffers from lagging pacing and strangely clumsy blocking.  Although Hren's slow transition from mild mannered office drone to howling loon is chillingly convincing, some of the supporting performances are prone to stiff acting turns and halting line readings.  The Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru August 15.  (323) 860-8786 or A SpyAnts production. (Paul Birchall)

TREEFALL Henry Murray's cabin-fever future shock. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, (323) 960-7774.

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, Loretta (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 Aug. 8. (323) 653-6886. (Mayank Keshaviah) 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. (MK) The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 8. (323) 653-6886.

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 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 9,

YOU LOOK GOOD ON PAPER "In my 20s, I knew who I was -- because I was a slut," chirps solo performer Juliette Marshall with the brazen self-deprecation the blond beauty has wielded for 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, 10 years later, they're divorced ("He was controlling and I was co-dependent -- we were so happy") and Marshall is trying to shape her story into an evening of torch songs and standup. "You Look Good on Paper," is the number about her travails in matchmaking; "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-pianist Mitch Kaplan keep time as Marshall tangos with a handsome stranger and then tries her hand at a dark ditty in which 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." (AN) Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through August 1. (323) 651-2583.


THE APPLE TREE In a series of three one-act musicals by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the duo who brought us Fiddler on the Roof), this 1966 piece thematically explores whether getting what you want leads to wanting what you get. However, unlike the original Broadway version, this production features three (mostly) separate casts and directors. The opener, The Diary of Adam and Eve, a wry take on the familiar Biblical tale adapted from the Mark Twain story, is followed by The Lady or the Tiger?, from Frank R. Stockton's story of a king's barbaric system of justice, and finally by Passionella, a Cinderella-style tale about a chimney sweep who dreams of being a movie star. In the first act, Gary Lamb's direction and choreography are unspectacular, and the energy of the piece, including the pacing of the musical direction, is lacking. In the second, director William A. Reilly's pacing is similarly uneven, as is the level of camp required to sell the material, though Kit Paquin as Princess Barbara really sells "I've Got What You Want." The final act is the highlight of the evening as Matthew J. Williamson's direction features cleverly minimalist set pieces, unique staging, quick costume changes, and the right amount of shtick to bring the material to life. Stephanie Fredericks also shines as Ella/Passionella with her strong vocals, comic flair and timing. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through August 9. (818) 745-8527. (Mayank Keshaviah)
BILLIE AND BOGIE Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart had enough superficiality in common to make them an apt pair for a show about the psyche of two hard-drinking, hard-living New Yorkers. They became icons while still feeling they had something to prove -- Holiday to the bigoted, and Bogart to audiences who underestimated then overestimated his acting ability. This is a fine show, but it isn't the show I've just described. at show. Instead, director Bryan Rasmussen presents Bogie (Dan Spector) and Lady Day (Synthia L. Hardy) as legends gracing us with a few dark anecdotes about their roots. Spector and Hardy are sincere in their affections for these imposing pop figures, but there's a whiff of Wikipedia to their character profiles -- their monologues are arranged chronologically, not thematically, chugging along at the highs and lows of lives about to be cut short while guzzling (but not feeling) enough booze to tranquilize a tiger. With a running time of nearly three hours, we should know Bogie and Billie better than we do by the end. Instead we walk about with the warm melancholy of sharing a drink with a fascinating stranger we'll never meet again. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 990-2324. (Amy Nicholson)
CARAPACE ISLE Jon Courie's story of lesbian's return to her dysfunctional North Carolina home. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16, (323) 860-6569.

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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (877) 620-7673.

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 (Neal Weaver)

GOD BOX Ana Guigui's "musical dramedy" has moments of brilliance but suffers from a lack of coherence and an awkward format. The play is set in a local hotel lounge where she Guigui - the daughter of Aregentinian Jews -- plays piano, she recounts her life as the daughter of a peregrinating symphony conductor, life in New York, and a warm but often testy relationship with her parents and brother. Initially, the material is compelling and often humorous, so much so, that you want to hear more of it. But the real focus of the play is her frustrating search for romance and a soul mate, whose qualities are written down and kept in her "God box." Accounts of a furtive childhood kiss, a first love and sexual outing, the pain of an abortion, and a romantic hookup with a salesman, unfurl in a facile, patchwork that is often difficult to follow and not particularly interesting. Guigui is delightful channeling characters, with the singular exception of a black rapper she encountered, which hovers perilously close to crude caricature. But the woman can play the hell out of the piano, and sings like an angel, with a diverse repertoire that even includes a haunting rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Robert Barker Lyon directs. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. August 2 perf at 1 p.m.), thru Aug. 16. 323-960-5770. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE HOSTAGE In 1959 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 and molded a sly political satire that reveals on both sides of the Anglo-Irish conflict, there is plenty of guilt and hypocrisy, 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 him. 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. (MH) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 16. (818) 846-5323.

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.

LOVE SEX VIOLENCE ETC. Six one-acts by Helena Weltman on the L-word, the S-word, the V-word and the ETC-word. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.


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Photo by Ed Krieger

Judging by this 2004 comedy of manners, Steppenwolf playwright Bruce Norris' worst enemy isn't the left-leaning, urban-professional parenting he targets in his caustic, social satire, but his own penchant for overloaded metaphors and excessively convoluted plots. The action centers on a fateful Thanksgiving gathering hosted by Kelly (Vonessa Martin), a young attorney, and her stay-at-home husband, Clay (Brad Price), as told in flashback to a mysterious, Arab cab driver, Mr. Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur). Kelly and Clay seem to be living the American dream with success, wealth (suggested by Kurt Boetcher's distractingly literal, luxury townhouse set) and two young children. With the arrival of Clay's acid-tongued, plastic-surgeon brother, Cash (Scott Lowell), and his malaprop-spouting, Slavic-immigrant girlfriend, Kalina (Katie Marie Davies), however, a host of simmering tensions and festering family resentments quickly surface, not the least of which concerns Clay's growing alarm at the suspicious genital rash afflicting his overprotected, four-year-old daughter, Kayla (Ava Feldman in a role double cast with Olivia Aaron). Norris is at his best when skewering the culture of narcissism that blinds his Yuppie protagonists to the grimmer truths of the world around them (as when Kelly's claim of childhood abuse by "neglect alternating with sarcasm" prompts naive comfort from Kalina in her own story of her brutal, childhood rape by soldiers). But Dámaso Rodriguez's crisp direction of a talented cast can't mitigate the tangle of telescoping flashbacks, red herrings and a wildly improbable and bathetic dénouement that all ultimately blunt Norris' critiques. Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (626) 683-6883. (Bill Raden)

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.; 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

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, (323) 960-4451.

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Photo by Doug Engalla

Murray Schisgal's two mildly absurdist one-acts chronicle varied aspects of Jewish life.  In the good-hearted but conventional farce The Pushcart Peddlers, directed by Chris Winfield, and set on the New York Waterfront in the early 1900s, wily banana peddler Cornelius (Lloyd Pedersen) cons greenhorn Shimmel (Ren Bell) out of all he owns --but Shimmel falls for Maggie (Melissa Soso), a flower-seller with theatrical ambitions, he quickly learns street smarts. The performances are broad but skillful. The more ambitious and more personal 74 Georgia Avenue, directed by Frances Mizrahi, is set in a formerly Jewish neighborhood that's now entirely black. Martin Robbins (Larry Margo) revisits his childhood home and discovers it's occupied by Joseph Watson (Disraeli Ellison), the son of the janitor at Robbins' old synagogue, who has become more Jewish than Robbins. Joseph fondly remembers the old days from the synagogue and has collected clothes, which mysteriously allow him to assume the identities of their former owners.  When he "becomes" Martin's zayda, it allows Martin to resolve old resentments, and regain respect for his nebbishy father. Both actors deliver fine performances, despite the play's heavy-handed treatment of the supernatural. Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Aug. 22. or (866) 811-4111. (Neal Weaver)   

GO SPRUNG: A LOVE STORY The "sprung" in writer-director Tony Marsiglia's off-kilter, comic grand guignol carries multiple connotations for his antihero chemist, Samuel Nathanson (Marsiglia in a compelling performance). There is the sense of obsessive infatuation, although in the 49-year-old Nathanson's case it is not for his 20-year-old, pregnant girlfriend, Tracy (co-writer Donna Kane), but for the MDMA and methamphetamine crystals he cooks up and deals from his living-room lab. That he also loves to ingest the particularly potent creations he calls "red doxies" leads to the second sense -- the spaced-out, psychotropic paranoia produced by his ecstasy-eating diet. Finally there is the haywire clockwork sense of his tightly wound existence coming un-sprung before our very eyes. As the wild-eyed Nathanson painfully rehearses for the important job interview he is clearly in no shape to make, a succession of skeevy ravers (Jeremy Gladen & Lucas Salazar), psychotic tweekers (a charismatic Tom Wiilde & scene-stealing Amelia Gotham), malevolent cops (Gladen & Jim Eshom) and even a vindictive third wife (Denise Devlin) collide in his seedy apartment and derail his belated attempts to get his runaway train of a life back on track. Marsiglia, a direct-to-DVD horror auteur, successfully transfers his black, surrealist humor to the stage, racking up laughs, an impressive body count and a surprisingly authentic portrayal of the retreat into solipsistic self-destruction that awaits substance abusers of any stripe. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (818) 202-4120. A Theatre Slanty production. (Bill Raden)


AUNT FONDEEN AND THE LOST DUTCHMAN GOLDMINE Free performances, courtesy Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., noon.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 712-5482.

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 erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Director Darin Anthony serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. (TP). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.

CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL South Park's Trey Parker penned this man-eating musical. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, (866) 811-4111.

THE CHAIRS Eugene Ionesco's 1952 tragicomedy. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 13, (Discussion with the cast and creative staff follows Aug. 23 perf.). (310) 319-9939.

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.

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Shakespeare's Cymbeline is a natural for adaptation as children's theatre since it shares many plot elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The play has been much shortened and simplified. Imogen's husband Posthumous and his treacherous friend Iachimo have been eliminated, and the sex and violence are reduced to minimum in slapstick. In this goofy, kid-friendly adaptation by Angela Berliner, King Cymbeline (Stephen M. Porter) is an ineffectual booby, easily manipulated by his evil, ambitious second wife (Donna Jo Thorndale), who wants to marry off her boorish, dim-witted son Cloten (Adam Jefferis) to his daughter Imogen (Erin Anderson). But feisty Imogen (she calls her unwelcome suitor Cloten the Rotten) is having none of this, and takes to the woods, where she's befriended by Belarius (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) and his adopted son Guidarius (Kirstin Hinton), who was raised by wolves, and is given to occasional howling. Many of the jokes are probably over the heads of most children, but they're kept amused by director Will Pellegrini's zanily frenetic staging, and the prospect of free popsicles. The short piece (under an hour) is performed outdoors, and best of all, admission is free.  The Actor's Gang at The Ivy Substation, Culver City Media Park, 9070 Venice Boulevard; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m., thru August 30. Info: (310) 838-4264 or (Neal Weaver)

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 August. 1. (310) 358-9936.

GO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM 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 Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, the U.S. 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 probably wouldn't occur to us. Staged in a makeshift theater space atop a musical band shell behind a West L.A. library, the show's delightfully daffy mood and intimacy combined with the picniclike 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. (PB) West L.A. Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; through Aug. 9. Free.

MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO ]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 noncombatant 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 setup for effective trial scenes in Act 2. An uneven production is graced with some solid performances. (NW) Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 15. (310) 397-3244.

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.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 828-7519.


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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