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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: The Receptionist

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Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 3:10 PM


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Also, this week's LATEST NEW REVIEWS and STAGE FEATURE on Hair, at the Chance Theatre

NEW REVIEW THE RECEPTIONIST
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Mullally in action: Photo by Enci

If there is a premise behind playwright Adam Bock's superficial political satire, it might be the notion that even Adolf Eichmann had a beloved mother, and, no doubt, an efficient receptionist too. It is in the latter's domain of a generic, office waiting room (in Chris Covics' appropriately bland-moderne set) that Bock places his comic cautionary study in the mindless, bureaucratic surrender of moral judgment to the dictates of duty -- what Hannah Arendt meant by "the banality of evil." And there are few duties more banal than Beverly Wilkins' (Megan Mullally of NBC's Will & Grace). Holding down the front desk of the innocuous-sounding "Northeast Office," the veteran employee sorts the mail, makes the coffee and screens the incoming calls for her harried boss, Mr. Raymond (Jeff Perry), at least when she isn't gossiping on the phone or giving relationship advice to Mr. Raymond's flighty, love-hungry assistant, Lorraine (Jennifer Finnigan). It is only with the surprise visit of the Central Office's affable Martin Dart (Chris L. McKenna) and Mr. Raymond's inexplicable absence that Beverly's comfortable routine begins to unravel and the horrific nature of the Northeast Office's "services" is finally brought to light. Though Mullally nails the officious manner and mercurial pettiness of the practiced office functionary, Bart DeLorenzo's detail-mired direction ultimately proves unable to bridge the miscalculated disconnect between Bock's cobweb-thin characterizations and the discordant heft of his message. Evidence Room and Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (310) 477-2055.  (Bill Raden)

For all the LATEST NEW REVIEWS, press the Read On tab directly below:

NEW THEATER REVIEWS (scheduled for publication August 19)

NEW REVIEW GO ADELINE'S PLAY

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Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble

"This play is just about the swellest thing on paper."
That's one example of the oozy '30s-style language in Kit Steinkellner's new comedy at the Powerhouse Theatre in a knockout production by Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble that sneaks up on you and then won't let go. See Theater Feature on Thursday. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica; through September 25. Tickets at http://latensemble.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)

NEW REVIEW
BLOCK NINE
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Photo courtesy of the Elephant Theatre

Tom Stanczyk's play, "an unapologetically same-sex, retro noir 1930's gangster homage," is performed in two alternating versions -- one with an all-male cast, reviewed here, and the other all-female. It's less comedy of manners than comedy of the mannered, suggesting the novels of Jean Genet re-played as farce. Though the characters are cops and gangsters, like Genet's pimps and hustlers, they're more concerned with their images and gestures than their professional careers. Cop Phil (Kenny Suarez) persuades his skittish, vulnerable partner/lover Hank (Jeremy Glazer) to go undercover on Cellblock 9 to get the goods on tough mobster Lips (Matt Rimmer). Then one torrid kiss from Lips turns Hank to jello, and leaves him wallowing in a hilarious orgy of would-be submission, longing to be violated. Instead, Lips passes him along to eccentric blond muscle-man and mob-boss Cody (Max Williams), who keeps two minions on tap: naïve young Johnny (Josh Breeding), and foppish pseudo-Frenchman Armand (Louis Douglas Jacobs). Despite the pervasive haze of homoeroticism, Cody's more inclined to shoot them than to fuck them. While director Pete Uribe has assembled a highly attractive and accomplished cast, and deploys them with flair and wit, ultimately the play seems like a comic sexual tease that never quite delivers. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; in rotating rep through September 20; call theatre for schedule.  (323) 960-4410. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW BREAKING AND ENTERING
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Photo by Ed Krieger

A young woman named Milly (Meredith Bishop), a fan of American literature, and of great novelist Wallace Trumbull (Steven Shaw), breaks into the now aging and secluded writer's home one stormy night, on the seventh of the World Series, which Trumbull is trying to follow on his battery-powered  radio, since the electricity has blown. It's a marathon game of absurdist proportions, broadcast by commentators (Lary Ohlson and Chrstopher Gehrman), who appear periodically behind a translucent screen built into Jeff G. Rack's gothic living room set. One of the commentators is - perhaps too coincidentally -- a Trumbullophile, liberally peppering his sports commentary with Trumbullisms that understandably annoy his on-air partner, since the witticisms are not particularly witty or relevant. Such is the idiosyncratic humor of Colin Mitchell's comedy-mystery. The play is a touch too schematic: Milly breaks in bearing an original manuscript of her own novel, which she hopes to get Trumbull to read. That there is no copy of her opus (which is really a prophetic book of revelations telling the story of her break-in) is used in one of the play's many intriguing plot twists.  I didn't believe that she'd bring her only version to a stranger's house and offer to leave it there, no matter how famous the guy is. If she were fibbing about that detail in order to up the ante, I'm not convinced the savvy Trumbull would have believed it either.  This is a tiny but significant detail in a very clever play that grapples and compares dueling themes: reality and illusion, fame and fraud. The play sparks and shines when it reaches the intersection of these two ideas, but the road to that intersection is a bumpy one. This may have less to do with the writing, and more to do with Mark L. Taylor's staging, with the way Shaw's tentative performance is juxtaposed against Bishop's sometimes grating impudence and indignance. Bishop's Milly may be more clever than we'd thought, but she's also more annoying than we'd anticipated. I'm guessing a more accomplished production would be of greater service to Mitchell's intricate play. Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Dr. (on the Beverly Hills High School campus); Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through September 13. (Steven Leigh Morris)     

NEW REVIEW FUGGEDABOUTIT!
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Photo by Charles M. Howell IV

Gordon Bressac, one of the great writing talents behind televisions iconoclastically brilliant Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs, has sadly lost touch with his stage roots from New York's La Mama, as his West Coast premier as a theatrical auteur falls flat. His farce follows 90 minutes in the life of Guy, a male fashion model (Shaw Jones, excellent playing straight man to an assemblage of crazy characters), who, after becoming a total amnesiac in an accident, is surrounded by friends, lovers and a mafia hit-man, all trying to jog his memory. The plodding story has each visitor taking Guy through an important memory, which we witness through flashback. The characters are appropriately two-dimensional for the comic format, but acting choices are mostly weak cliches, particularly a gay couple (Charles M. Howell IV and Christopher Le Crenn) stepping right out of Boys in the Band, a pouty dumb blond (Jessica Rose) grasping for a Marilyn Monroe impression, and a cookie cutter gangster (Arman Torosyan), who has more in common with the gays than he wants to admit. The play is preceded by a pointless curtain-opener, presenting a two-bit Noel Coward and Gertude Lawrence type pair (Bressac and Mary Broderick) preparing for a stage entrance. The most enjoyable part of the evening is Andrew Murdock's ongoing audio montage of songs about memory. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (323) 960-7753. (Tom Provenzano)

NEW REVIEW THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Koni McCurdy gives a fierce performance as Lady Bracknell, under Patricia Wylie's functional direction of Oscar Wilde's comedy. Otherwise, the play is pretty limp. There were a number of stepped-on lines the night this critic attended. A bigger problem is Jason Perlman's overly rapid delivery as Algernon -- many of Wilde's best lines are so rushed, the audience has no time to react. Brent Hamilton and Jessica Culaciati make a serviceable pair of lovers as Jack and Gwendolen. However, the accents are all over the place, particularly from Betsy Reisz who has difficulty pulling off the role of well-bred Cecily -- the object of Algernon's affection. Wilde might be spinning in his grave, but the essential comedy is still amusing. The plot concerns two gentlemen who both call themselves Earnest, and a comedy of mistaken identities ensues. Osa Danam brings some charm as the befuddled governess Miss Prism, but McCurdy's performance deserves special praise because it offers a slightly vicious twist on Lady Bracknell. Jeri Deiotte's costumes are fine, and Victoria Profitt's practical set design eases the transitions between scenes. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; no perf Sun.,. Aug. 16; thru Sept. 26. (626) 256-3809. (Sandra Ross)

NEW REVIEW INTIMATELY WILDE
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Photo courtesy of Olio Theatre Works

It's easy to understand why  dramatic artists might be attracted to the story of  the brilliant and iconic Oscar Wilde. Unfortunately, writer-director Terra Taylor Knudson's  dramatization of the life and trials of this complex and tragic figure treads familiar territory, offering little fresh insight. The play begins in Wilde's (Tom Thorn) prison cell before flashing back to accounts of his marriage, his meeting and subsequent affair with Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Ryan Michael Hartman), and his series of trials, which culminated in his conviction for "gross indecency" and his sentencing to two years hard labor. A stilted rendering of events, the script never delves beneath the surface by attempting, for example, to explore the complicated mysteries of sexual attraction, or probing the anguish Wilde's wife (Knudson) must have undergone, first from her husband's physical rejection and later from  the disgrace brought on by the trial.  The production's main problem, however, is Thorn's performance, which is constrained by the image of Wilde as a dandy with a disdain for convention. That he was, but Thorn's too glib mannerisms fail to do justice to the scope of Wilde's intellect and compassion.  Hartman occasionally livens things up with the antics of the spoiled Bosie, and Tom Polzin is effective as the implacably doltish Marquess of Queensberry. Lyric Theatre, 520 North La Brea Ave, Hollywood; Thurs-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 13. (323) 939-9220. An Olio Theatre Works production (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW GO LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL I'll admit it. I'm a bald, mustachioed, macho man who enjoyed this saccharine sweet, feel-good girly girl musical. I even found some of it amusing. A lot of the credit goes to the infectious charm and stellar performance of Becky Gulsvig in the role of Elle Woods, the blonde California sorority girl who follows her ex-beau Warner (Jeff McLean) to Harvard Law School to win him back. When it's all over, Elle has faced off with shark-attorneys, made a host of interesting friends, played matchmaker, found true love with Emmett (D.B.Bonds) and learned something about life, love and the value of being true to one's self. The book for this stage adaptation of the popular 2001 movie is by Heather Hach, and is vigorously choreographed and directed by Jerry Mitchell (La Cage Aux Folles and Hairspray). Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin's music and lyrics are not memorable, being as as sugary-sweet as the story itself. David Rockwell's grand, pink-themed sets are stunning, even a bit overwhelming at times, and the same can be said of the collage of blinding colors in Gregg Barne's costume design. Yet the show is such a guilty pleasure, I'm going back with my daughter. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat. 2 &8 p.m., Sun., 1&6:30 p.m., thru. Sep. 6. (800) 982-2787. A Broadway L.A. production (Lovell Estell III)  

NEW REVIEW OUTSIDE OF THE BOX There's a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney vibe to this talent showcase for a school of circus arts. Each act shows off its best stunt: two men (William Smith and Eric Yu) dress like bunnies and kung fu fight, a contortionist (Hannah Finn) outfitted like a mall-dwelling punk teen bends herself into a pretzel over angry poetry, a dancer (Dana Dugan) in a wet slip presses water prints against the floor. Between acts, the mute stagehand (Scott Renkes) clowns around and discovers a prop that serves as a harbinger of the next routine as the two-person Kleinkunst Kabarett (accordionist Ari DeSano and singer Morgan Lariah) wheeze musical accompaniment. Director Stephanie Abrams, who also mimes a comedic suicide routine, could stand to get more energy from her performers who move capably but tentatively through their routines -- their movements need the confident snap of a circus that knows it'll wow 'em. Burlesque dancer Christina Aimerito brandishes her fire batons with a solid amount of sass, but it's dancer Onamare who slides in wearing a sexy hajib, garters, bondage ropes and two foot-long flaming rings who burns down the house. Kinetic Theory Experimental Theatre and The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 525-0661.  (Amy Nicholson)

NEW REVIEW THE RECEPTIONIST If there is a premise behind playwright Adam Bock's superficial political satire, it might be the notion that even Adolf Eichmann had a beloved mother, and, no doubt, an efficient receptionist too. It is in the latter's domain of a generic, office waiting room (in Chris Covics' appropriately bland-moderne set) that Bock places his comic cautionary study in the mindless, bureaucratic surrender of moral judgment to the dictates of duty -- what Hannah Arendt meant by "the banality of evil." And there are few duties more banal than Beverly Wilkins' (Megan Mullally of NBC's Will & Grace). Holding down the front desk of the innocuous-sounding "Northeast Office," the veteran employee sorts the mail, makes the coffee and screens the incoming calls for her harried boss, Mr. Raymond (Jeff Perry), at least when she isn't gossiping on the phone or giving relationship advice to Mr. Raymond's flighty, love-hungry assistant, Lorraine (Jennifer Finnigan). It is only with the surprise visit of the Central Office's affable Martin Dart (Chris L. McKenna) and Mr. Raymond's inexplicable absence that Beverly's comfortable routine begins to unravel and the horrific nature of the Northeast Office's "services" is finally brought to light. Though Mullally nails the officious manner and mercurial pettiness of the practiced office functionary, Bart DeLorenzo's detail-mired direction ultimately proves unable to bridge the miscalculated disconnect between Bock's cobweb-thin characterizations and the discordant heft of his message. Evidence Room and Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 20. (310) 477-2055. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW TWELFTH NIGHT or WHAT YOU WILL
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Courtesy of Classical Theatre Lab

Director Armin Shimerman's genial, unevenly paced production of Shakespeare's romantic comedy boasts cross dressing as well as crossed garters.  Nobleman Orsino (John D. Crawford) loves noblewoman Olivia (a nicely shrill Victoria Hoffman) but she only has eyes for Orsino's servant, who just happens to be the shipwrecked beauty Viola (Julie Alexander) in disguise. A complication (which can be traced all the way back to Plautus if you try) ensues when Viola's twin brother Sebastian (Michael Yurchak) arrives in the kingdom and is mistaken for his sister - er, brother.  Shimerman's production is staged in a building courtyard in West Hollywood's Plummer Park, and the locale lends a playful, upbeat atmosphere.  A few production elements border on being merely workmanlike, including some functional-at-best acting turns and bouts of stiff blocking that never tuck into the piece's humor.  However, the show is punctuated with a few colorful gags - the foolish trio of Michael Matthys's boorish Sir Toby, Barry Saltzman's hilariously foppy Aguecheek, and Will Badgett's sourpuss Feste catawrualling love songs on Olivia's doorstep, for instance, or Stephen Moramarco's thoroughly prickly Malvolio attempting to woo his mistress, a hilariously uptight turn channeling what appears to be 100 generations of nightshift accountants.  Although pacing problems inevitably slow some portions of the show, this is a fine, intimate introduction to this coruscating comedy, perhaps best for those not overly familiar with it.  Classical Theatre Lab, Plummer Park, 7336 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood; Sat.-Sun., 5 p.m.; through August 23.  Free.  (323) 960-5691.  (Paul Birchall)





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