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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Medea

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Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 6:34 PM

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THE LATEST NEW REVIEWS ARE EMBEDDED WITHIN THE COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

STAGE FEATURE on Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas

NEW REVIEW GO MEDEA

click to enlarge rsz_medea.jpg

Photo by Michael Lamont

There's admirable ambition in David Sefton's first effort producing a spectacle from the ground up, for UCLA Live. And director Lenka Udovocki's lucid and visually astute rendition is right on track for the scale and substance of such an undertaking. She stages the play on a floor of sand against the rude concrete back wall of the palace beyond, with a corrugated steel door and shed (set by Richard Hoover). There's also a visual motif of power lines that crackle and short- circuit, and the play is accompanied by a chorus of Cal Arts and UCLA students, who sing much of their dialogue in unison while the Lian ensemble underscores scenes with musical riffs played live onstage with Persian instruments. This is an elegant and elegiac production. The challenge of this and, we hope, future endeavors like it, is to overcome the time constraints that mitigate against the military precision of movement and the vocal dexterity and comfort levels of ensembles that have been performing together for years. In the title role, Annette Bening reveals intelligence and raw emotional honesty but not the range so essential for this Herculean role -- compared to say Yukiko Saito's Elektra (for Tadashi Suzuki) whose voice transforms from the gravel pits to the that of a songbird in an instant; or Maude Mitchell's Amazonian Nora in the Mabou Mines Dollhouse. Bening's Medea and her Jason (Angus Macfadyen) play out their respective agonies with unwavering conviction, which includes some evocatively harrowing tenderness, but this epic still dwarfs them. UCLA, Freud Playhouse; through Oct. 18. Info here. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature on Thursday

Check back here Monday afternoon for review of April Fitzimmons' The Need to Know at the Actors' Gang; Don Nigro's Scarecrow presented by Ice2Sand Productions at the Avery Schreiber Theatre; Victoria E. Thompson's Underground Woman at Theatre Unlimited Studios; Danai Gurira's Eclipsed at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; Deconstructed Production's The Mystery of Irma Vep, at The WeHoChurch Space; Naked Boys Singing at the Macha Theatre; Fielding Edlow's The Something -- Nothing at The Lounge Theatre; Kitty Felde's The Gogol Project, presented by Rogue Artists Ensemble at Bootleg; and Conor McPherson's Shining City  at the Fountain Theatre

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for September 25-31, 2009

(The weekend's NEW REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below.
You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's
search program.)

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III,Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas


OPENING THIS WEEK

DISCOVER LOVE Belarus Free Theatre's drama based on the true story of a political dissident. In Russian with English supertitles. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Oct. 1-3, 8:30 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.

LOL! LATINA ON THE LOOSE Mina Olivera's solo performance. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (213) 489-0994.

THE NIGHTMAN COMETH The cast of FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia star in the rock-opera parody inspired by their TV show. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri., Sept. 25. (323) 962-7600.

BIG RIVER: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN Actors Co-op presents Mark Twain's classic, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 1. (323) 462-8460.

DON JUAN TENORIO By Jose Zorrilla. Bilingual Foundation of Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 225-4044.

FAKE RADIO Old-time radio dramas performed live: Meet Me in St. Louis (Thursdays), The Lone Ranger (Fridays), The Philadelphia Story (Saturdays). Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24, www.fakeradio.net. (877) 460-9774.

GOGOL PROJECT Nikolai Gogol's short stories Diary of a Madman, The Overcoat and The Nose, adapted by Kitty Felde, with score and songs by Ego Plum, and puppetry, masks and digital projections by Rogue Artists Ensemble. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 1, www.rogueartists.org. (800) 838-3006.

LATIN@ NEW WORKS FESTIVAL In procliTvities, female artists share their take on "sexuality, eroticism and the centrifugal force of their clitoris." In Queer Economy, Butchlalis de Panochtitlan and La MariColectiva team up. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sept. 25-26, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459
.
MIX TAPE: TAKING FLIGHT Six original one-acts by Little Bird Productions. Elephant Stageworks, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 1; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-7770.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE.

NEW REVIEW GO ART Playwright Yasmina Reza's scintillating 1994 comedy debates a variety of ideas, and you find yourself agreeing with the last comment a character makes - until the next guy says something that is just as clever.  Nouveau riche Parisian dermatologist Serge (Francois Chau) purchases a 200,000 franc painting by a trendy modern artist.  The trouble is, it's a blank white canvas - and no amount of describing it as a masterpiece of "plain magnetic monochrome" will prevent Serge's prissy aesthete best pal Marc (Bernard White) from questioning his friend's intelligence and sanity.  When Marc and Serge's amiable buddy Yvan (Ryan Wu) attempts to make peace between the squabbling pair, it becomes clear that deep seated hostilities undercut the various relationships -- and you know there's going to be trouble when one character starts fingering his magic marker.  For a play with such philosophical subtext, director Alberto Isaac's crisp and smart production gives touching attention to the characters, assisted by Christopher Hampton's glib yet emotion-packed translation.  Alan E. Muraoka's chic white set, minimalist except for a few Top Design-esque pieces of furniture, perfectly captures the pseudo-trendy art world. White's uptight and slightly smug Marc is hilariously passive-aggressive, while Chau's cheerfully upbeat Serge keeps you guessing whether he's a genius or an idiot.  However,  Yu's Ivan is the show-stopper -- a goodnatured nebbish battling both his Bridezilla fiancée and his pals' eventually revealed low opinion of him. The play's brilliance lies in the way it has you believing that nothing is more important than settling the question of which of the three is right in their definition of art.  David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 11.  (213) 625-7000.  An East West Players Production.  (Paul Birchall)

GO AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY Tracy Letts' 2007 Great American Family Drama, or so we'd believe from the national press, four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, has pulled in at last to the Ahmanson Theatre in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production, handily staged by Anna D. Shapiro. (Steppenwolf was the company that commissioned the work.) The drama, set in Oklahoma, consists of almost four hours of revelations about a truly fucked-up family, liberally peppered with dashes of Gothic humor. Oh we love our gothic family epics. Pulitzer Prizes have gone to Crimes of the Heart, The Kentucky Cycle, and now this. We meet Beverly Weston (Jon DeVries), a crusty, hard-drinking T.S. Eliot-quoting member of literati pontificating to his newly hired Cheyenne Indian housekeeper (DeLanna Studi) about the point and pointlessness of existence. (She will eventually be seen sitting cross-legged on a bed, perched at the pinnacle of Todd Rosenthal's three-tier set, as a kind of metaphor of the stoic, silent and dignified tribe these resident clowns superseded.) He's hiring the sweet-natured woman to care for his cancer-afflicted spouse (Estelle Parsons), who wanders between cogency and unconsciousness, between staggering forward and lying prone, from all the pills she's imbibing. The next thing we know, Beverly has disappeared, along with his boat, and this can't be good. What follows is a gathering of the clan, and what a clan. Imagine a cross between Long Day's Journey Into Night and Del Shore's Comedy, Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will? It has some of the gravitas of O'Neill's classic and much of Shore's brand of sitcom humor. This very combination, on the four-hour boiler, results in, well, a very funny, and finely performed potboiler. Compared to O'Neill, it's a mere shadow, but compared to the gloss of so many family dramas on our stages, Letts is at least reaching for a suggestion that his clan represents the state of America in the world. "This country was always a whorehouse," is how a character recalls Beverly's conviction. "At least it had promise. But now it's just a shit hole." The reach is a bit of a strain - present a nutty, masochistic family onstage and then say, hey this is the U.S.A., and as funny as much of the farce may be, the play feels as long as it is largely because the power of subtext, of the unspoken, keeps getting punctured by the jokes. It doesn't dig deep enough to justify its length, but when it does make that subterranean plunge, and lays off the one-liners for a span or two, the power of the drama, and of these terrific actors, rumbles through the theater with exquisite grandeur. Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through October (213) 972-4400. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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.

ECLIPSED Danai Gurira's study of "the wreckage of war.". Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (213) 628-2772.

GO GASLIGHT Patrick Hamilton's 1944 potboiler (originally Angel Street) continues to be one of the most revived theatrical chestnuts because its melodrama is so unapologetically intense. In an unfashionable section of late-Victorian London, our heroine Mrs. Manningham (Corrine Shor) is tormented by demons of insanity and the cruel taunting of her domineering husband (John Cygan). Additionally the master is sensually attentive to the young buxom maid (Emily Bridges) - or is it her imagination? Jeff G. Rack's lavishly detailed burgundy set, with perfect gaslight effects by lighting designer Yancey Dunham, creates the ideal atmosphere for the dripping suspense. The actors, under Charlie Mount's austere direction, commit fully to the chilling revelations as we move slowly towards a known outcome. Don Moss is particularly delightful as a hard-bitten Scotland Yard detective, even though he joined the production late in rehearsals and was still a bit shaky on his lines at the performance I saw. Likewise the smallish role of a comic maid (in a fine performance by Mary Garripoli) turns into a tense ally of the oppressed Mrs. M. Costumes by Valentino round out this very satisfying production. (Tom Provenzano) Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; opens Aug. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (323) 851-7977.

JULIUS CAESAR One must give director Ellen Geer credit for at least attempting to add some tragic ballast to the usual mix of Bard-lite romances and comedies that typically monopolize summer Shakespeare stages. That said, Geer turns in a curiously staid and colorless revival of what is ostensibly an Elizabethan version of a high-octane political thriller. Given that the political arena in this case is a Republican Rome riven by the rising dictatorship of Julius Caesar (Carl Palmer), the thrills should be of the rhetorical, persuasive kind as the anti-Caesarean conspirator Cassius (Melora Marshall) sets about turning the conscience of the noble, putatively pro-Caesarean Brutus (Mike Peebler). With Marshall's singularly strident Cassius (in some gender-bent casting that is as close to a staging concept as this production comes), however, there is little to distinguish the fawning manipulator who plays on Brutus' patriotism and vanity in Act I from the petty and corrupt quarreler to whom Brutus finds himself joined in Act IV. The missing contrast proves fatal to Peebler's performance, reducing Brutus from a man ensnared by his sense of honor to the most gullible Roman of them all. Aaron Hendry delivers a suitably athletic and ruthless Marc Antony, making the famed "Friends, Romans, countrymen . . ." funeral oration the evening's show-stopper, while Alan Blumenfeld's robust Casca and Susan Angelo's ambition-inflected Portia both provide noteworthy support. (Bill Raden) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; 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 September 27. (310) 208-54545.


NEW REVIEW MATTHEW MODINE SAVES THE ALPACAS

click to enlarge rsz_matthewmodine.jpg
Photo by Michael Lamont

Oh, dear. Blair Singer's comedy about a washed-out former celeb, Matthew Modine (played by Matthew Modine, somewhere between appealing and appalling) trying to crawl his way back onto the A-list by enlisting himself in a hip charity with the help of jaded publicist Whimberly North (Peri Gilpin) is not bad for a comedy dreamed up, as Neil Simon would say, somewhere on the 23rd floor. So down they go to the Equadorian Andes in all their Hollywood ignorance and arrogance to save a dying indigenous tribe and their alpacas, and down we go with them, wondering how could a movie-biz satire -- directed by John Rando in a deliberately goofball style somewhere between Benny Hill and Saturday Night Live - go so astray. There's such talent on this stage, from the inimitable Mark Fite of the perverse clown-show Clowntown City Limits, to French Stewart - a comedian who can milk a deadpan stare literally without blinking an eye - the mystery of what makes a comedy work seems almost terrifying. There are moments of lowbrow comedy that suggest the promise of what this could be. As is, Singer's lackadaisical comedic logic is held together with the very frayed duct tape of charm and silliness, so that the satire plays itself out as a string of jokes that skewer the obvious. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood;� Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; also Sat., 3 p.m. and Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 18. (800) 745-3000. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature
 

NEW REVIEW GO MEDEA There's admirable ambition in David Sefton's first effort producing a spectacle from the ground up, for UCLA Live. And director Lenka Udovocki's lucid and visually astute rendition is right on track for the scale and substance of such an undertaking. She stages the play on a floor of sand against the rude concrete back wall of the palace beyond, with a corrugated steel door and shed (set by Richard Hoover). There's also a visual motif of power lines that crackle and short- circuit, and the play is accompanied by a chorus of Cal Arts and UCLA students, who sing much of their dialogue in unison while the Lian ensemble underscores scenes with musical riffs played live onstage with Persian instruments. This is an elegant and elegiac production. The challenge of this and, we hope, future endeavors like it, is to overcome the time constraints that mitigate against the military precision of movement and the vocal dexterity and comfort levels of ensembles that have been performing together for years. In the title role, Annette Bening reveals intelligence and raw emotional honesty but not the range so essential for this Herculean role -- compared to say Yukiko Saito's Elektra (for Tadashi Suzuki) whose voice transforms from the gravel pits to the that of a songbird in an instant; or Maude Mitchell's Amazonian Nora in the Mabou Mines Dollhouse. Bening's Medea and her Jason (Angus Macfadyen) play out their respective agonies with unwavering conviction, which includes some evocatively harrowing tenderness, but they're playing as though on toy pianos in a production, and a context, that calls for the real thing. UCLA, Freud Playhouse; through Oct. 18. Info here. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature on Thursday

GO THE MISER Director Ellen Geer delivers a hilarious and highly polished production of Moliere's comedy. It's a faithful rendition, despite the fact that she's garnished it with several original songs (written with Peter Alsop), a dog, and some creative anachronisms: Neither cod-pieces nor horn-rimmed glasses quite belong in 1668, but they prove capital laugh-getters. The production's greatest asset is Alan Blumenfeld, who delivers a wonderfully demented, larger-than-life performance as the miser Harpagon, calling on the traditions of music-hall, vaudeville and burlesque to create a portrait of monstrous greed and vanity. He's ably assisted Mike Peebler as his rebellious, clothes-horse son Cleante, Melora Marshall as the flamboyant match-maker/bawd Frosine, Ted Barton as a choleric cook/coachman, and Mark Lewis as Cleante's sly, wily side-kick, La Fleche. As the young lovers, Peebler, Samara Frame, Chad Jason Scheppner, and understudy Jennifer Schoch capture the requisite romance, while lampooning the coincidences and shop-worn theatrical conventions of the genre, and a large cast provides fine support. The lavish costumes, including Cleante's outrageous suit-of-too-many-colors, with its gloriously obscene, giggle-inducing cod-piece, are by Shon LeBlanc and Valentino's Costumes. (Neal Weaver) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga; thru September 27; in rep, call for schedule (310) 455-3723.

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 Sept. 27. (323) 666-4268.

THE NIGHT IS A CHILD A suburban kid in Brookline, Massachusetts - a good kid, a fine student, a personable young man -- goes on a killing spree at his local school, leaving dozens of children and teachers dying in pools of blood. Charles Randolph Wright's play studies the family of the teenage killer who took his own life in the bloodbath, concentrating years later on the mother, a widow named Harriet (JoBeth Williams). On the anniversary of the rampage, Harriet goes AWOL to Rio de Janeiro, thereby mystifying her concerned adult son and daughter (Tyler Pierce and Monette Magrath) as to her whereabouts. She arrives not speaking a word of Portugese, yet she stumbles upon a vivacious, native guide named Bia (Sybyl Walker), whose sweet energy, and that of an inexplicably accommodating hotel owner named Joel (Maceo Oliver) lands her a room on the otherwise overbooked Ipanema beachfront. Joel must have had a reason for canceling somebody else's reservation in order to make room for Harriet. If he was charmed by her befuddlement being in a foreign country, for which she'd taken no pains to prepare by learning even the rudiments of the language spoken there, it was a charm I missed. Why Joel would randomly cancel the reservation of one guest in order to make space for this tourist-in-distress is the first in a series of improbabilities that form the glue of Randolph-Wright's Post-It note of a play. (Steven Leigh Morris) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Oct. 4. (626) 356-7529.

GO OEDIPUS THE KING, MAMA! Troubadour Theater Company's musical parody of Sophocles' play, of musical shtick, of Elvis mania and of cheesy theatrical devices comes in the tradition of the Troubies' mashing of classic lit into pop music (Twelfth Dog Night, Alice in-One-Hit-Wonderland, Much Adoobie Brothers About Nothing). The event's thrill hangs on the tautness of the theatrical wires that bind the classical source material, the music and free-wheeling improvisation. (Steven Leigh Morris) Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through September 27. (818) 955-8101.

OKLAHOMA! Civic Light Opera South Bay Cities presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (310) 937-6607.

GOPEACE If you don't like your walking peace symbol to be a slightly bewildered pot-smoking goofball (John Fleck) who, during an entirely gratuitous interlude, leads the crowd in a ditty that literally sings the praises of masturbation ("It felt so nice, I did it twice"), look elsewhere. Low comedy doesn't come any lower than this: huge balloon phalluses poking out from tunics, or bashing audience members as the characters parade through the crowd. We're talking Aristophanes here -- the child prodigy class-clown playwright of ancient Greece (the "class" may be overstated) who loathed corrupt authority figures almost as much as Molière would a couple of millennia later. We're also talking Culture Clash, the Latino sketch comedy trio (John Glore, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza) penned this adaptation of Aristophanes' comedy with his compatriots. The blending of ruthless parody with self-confident and at times simple interpretations of Right and Wrong has proven to be a rare, sustaining formula, and it's on full display here, under Bill Rauch's animated and often whimsical staging. Trygaeus, or Ty Dye (Fleck), ventures to heaven on a "dung beetle" to free Peace (a statue) from lockup in Heaven. A noise neighbor diva (Amy Hill) turns in a very big cameo. Montoya, in one of Shigeru Yaji's many stunning costumes and Lynn Jeffries' puppet masks that somehow re-proportion the human body) plays the war machine, a thug who tries to stifle Ty Dye's efforts at every pass. Heaven is, of course, the Getty Villa Museum, directly behind the amphitheater stage, also decorated with free-rolling Yoga balls, and a huge portable mound of pop culture (or poop culture) detritus referred to as a "shit pile." (Set by Christopher Acebo). There's a joke for every corner of the region, from Montebello to Malibu, and the adapters have reconfigured the play's finale so that Aristophanes' happy ending with a marriage gets tossed for the visit of a sweet, silent child, who faces down War. The update is a fine idea, particularly as the sheer energy of the hijinx start to wear down. Yet it takes us no further than the classic Vietnam War photograph of a female Hippie protestor facing down a National Guard bayonet with a daisy. And that was at least four American wars ago. If war is so bad, why do we love it so much? To trace the warring impulse to father issues, as this adaptation does, keeps the show enshrined in the same pop psychology that it mocks so well throughout. The production is beautifully accompanied by the femme-trio mariachi band, Las Colibri. (Steven Leigh Morris). Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (310) 440-7300.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER Cocktail party musical, songs by Stephen Sondheim. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (714) 708-5555.

SOLITUDE Inspired by Octavio Paz's collection of essays, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Evelina Fernández's drama with music attempts to explore core issues of family, love, death and cultural identity, but the result fails to make much of an impression. On the occasion of his mother's funeral, an emotionally distraught Gabriel (Geoffrey Rivas) invites a small group of friends who attended the ceremony to his luxurious penthouse for an after-party. Present are a character simply called The Man (Robert Beltran), Johnny (Sal López), Angel (Fidel Gomez), Ramona (Fernández) and Gabriel's wife Sonia (Lucy Rodríguez). Amidst the revelry, the sad story of Gabriel's relationship with his mother slowly emerges. She was a woman he abandoned years before her death because he was ashamed by her poverty. Other secrets come to the fore during the long evening that reveal startling connections between the guests, and forces them to confront the painful realities of their past and present. Fernandez is adept at writing with cheeky humor, but is less so at exploring the substance and soul of her characters. Much of what transpires appears as narrative convenience or airy contrivance, particularly the lead-heavy emotional finale, which features a moving song by Lopez in Spanish. Urbanie Lucero's choreography is attractive, but the colorful Mexican dancing is sometimes layed on too thick by director Jose Luis Valenzuela. The performances are quite good, however, particularly Beltran who has a formidable stage presence. Semyon Kobialka's cello accompaniment is flawless, and Francois-Pierre Couture's skewed picture-frame scenic design effectively suggests how we're skewed by our experiences. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru. October 3. (213) 489-0994. (Lovell Estell III)

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

VISITING MR. GREEN If you're Jewish -- or grew up in New York or another American urban metropolis -- you've probably met the kind of cantankerous old codger depicted in playwright Jeff Baron's sometimes heartwarming but mostly preachy and predictable message play. Mr. Green (Jack Axelrod) is a grieving 86 year old widower and an observant Jew. He doesn't get out much nor does he care to. Into his life comes a young gay man named Ross (Antonie Knoppers), assigned to the community service task of assisting Mr. Green after he nearly ran him over with his car. Unfriendly at first, Green warms to Ross after learning that he's Jewish too ("Why didn't you say so in the first place?" ) - but soon turns away in disgust after Ross informs him of his homosexuality. The rest of this somewhat contrived and dated (think 1970s, though the play premiered in 1996) plot follows the coming together of these two individuals as Ross pours out his soul and Mr. Green reveals the existence of a long-estranged daughter. One problem with this polarized setup is Green's unworldly attitudes: He doesn't understand the word gay and thinks American Express is a train. This might be credible coming from an immigrant but hardly from a native-born former shop owner, which Green is. That Ross doesn't know where his grandparents emigrated from also seems a stretch). Under David Rose's direction, Knoppers grows believably impassioned; Axelrod, on opening night, created a convincing bigot but his performance needs more shading and nuance. (Deborah Klugman) Colony Studio Theater, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; (added perfs Sat., Sept. 5 & 12, 3 p.m. and Thurs., September 17 & 24, 8 p.m.; thru September 20. (818) 558-7000.

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

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 ANITA BRYANT DIED FOR YOUR SINS The title of Brian Christopher Williams play suggests a slick, sassy gay comedy, and so it is--but it is much more than that, something far richer. Growing up during the Nixon era, deeply closeted 11-year-old gay boy Horace (a terrific Wyatt Fenner) develops a monstrous crush on his hunky gym teacher (Nick Ballard). Horace and his family weather the Vietnam War, and big brother Chaz (Nick Niven) flees to Canada to escape the draft. In the recession of the 1970s, Dad (Tony Pandolfo) has economic reverses, and Mom (Jan Sheldrick) loses her job. And when Anita Bryant (Madelynn Fattibene) launches her militant campaign against gay rights, Horace learns that there are people who will hate him for who he is. He must come out to his loving but irascible parents, and he's overcome by jealousy when he realizes his adored teacher is having an affair with a neighbor (Sara J. Stuckey). He retaliates by betraying the teacher, in a way he knows is shameful. Williams' play becomes a funny and touching family saga as well as the tale of a bright gay kid striving to grow up. Richard Israel provides wonderfully nuanced direction, and the entire cast is splendid. (Neal Weaver)El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through October 4. (323) 460-4443 or tix.com. A West Coast Ensemble production.

ART EXPLAINED! Dr. Maxley's "Whole-Body Lecture Performance.". Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (310) 281-8337.

18TH ANNUAL DENISE RAGAN WIESENMEYER ONE-ACT PLAY FESTIVAL Four new one-act plays: Cross Purposes by Frank Cossa, Bethany/Bakol by Wendy Graf, Lessons & Carols by Demetra Kareman, Jon and Mary Go to Pluto by Matthew Tucker. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 525-0600.

THE FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL M Bar, 1253 Vine St., L.A.; Fri., Sept. 25, 8 & 10 p.m.. (800) 838-3006.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE That's weekly sketch comedy done by some of the best in the sketch biz. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GO F*CKING MEN Ah, the late 1980s, the halcyon days of male nudity, where the promise of on stage gay promiscuity and frontal views were surefire ticket sellers throughout the world of waiver - well those days are back in Joe DiPietro's all-male rendition of Arthur Schnitzler's classic 1900 play of sexual mores, La Ronde. Ten scenes pair two strangers becoming intimate, with one of the duo moving on to the next scene until the circle is completed. DiPietro keeps to his generally middle-of-the-road style of dialogue (well known from oft produced Over the River and Through the Woods and I Love You You're Perfect, Now Change) which actually brings a subtle reality to the more sordid moments of gay indiscretions. Director Calvin Remsberg has gathered a fine ensemble, mostly perfectly cast from the nearly infantile, stoned sexiness of college boy Kyle (Michael Rachlis) to the nervous, violent energy of GI Steve (Johnny Kostrey). Only the fine Chad Borden is miscast as a closeted action movie-star - his characterization is just so obviously gay. Tom Buderwitz's scene design concept with moving screens and furniture pieces is initially fascinating, but becomes quite clumsy and distracting. However sound by Lindsay Jones, lighting by Jeremy Pivnick and costumes by Daavid Hawkins are all sharp and collaborative. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 957-1884. (Tom Provenzano)

GO THE GOLDEN GAYS Even non-fans of The Golden Girls will be amused by John Patrick Trapper's uproarious play with music, which simultaneously spoofs the TV series and the neuroses of aging gay men. Diagnosed with Sitcom Affective Disorder by the unconventional Dr. Leche (Aaron Barerra), four gay men turn to drag in order to work out their identification with characters from The Golden Girls. Samuel (David Romano) identifies with the acid-tongued tongued Sophia, mother of the imperious Dorothy, who's impersonated by Damien (John W. McLaughlin). Promiscuous Blanche is played by the equally promiscuous Blaine (John Downey III), and Roger (Irwin Moskowitz) rounds out the quartet as the ditzy Rose. The plot is secondary to the reprise of various scenes from the much-beloved TV show. The uncredited costumes are hilarious, particularly Dr. Leche's get ups, with additional kudos for dragographer ChaCha Cache. Trapper's lyrics make the musical numbers equally hilarious, thanks in part to musical director Robert Glen Decker. Lori J. Ness Quinn's over-the-top direction matches perfectly with the outrageous material, which includes lots of Bea Arthur jokes. The actors turn in superior performances, with a special nod to McLaughlin's Dorothy. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. http://plays411.com/thegoldengays. (323) 969-2530. Wild Stance Productions. (Sandra Ross)

GO GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP Just when you thought it was safe to swear off laughing forever, the Groundlings have unleashed another solid show. Under Mikey Day's direction, the best bits are weighted toward the beginning: John Connor's sidekick meets his own protective Terminator, an 18-inch dancing robot; two octogenarian '70s sitcom stars radiate diva 'tude while fumbling through a commercial for the AARP; and, my favorite, a post-championship rally for the Lakers where a fan opens up to Kobe Bryant via the news, looking into the camera and vowing, "You could make me learn to trust again." Director Day keeps things at a nice clip, staying on top of five funny improv exercises, despite loud insistence from a tipsy audience member (who wanted more of her suggestions used) that everyone else in the crowd was a plant. In a uniformly good cast, Jeremy Rowley's Kobe obsessive stands out, as do both ladies, Stephanie Courtney and Charlotte Newhouse, the latter of whom braved an instantly-embarrassed theatergoer's improv prompt that she speak "Asian." (Amy Nicholson) Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700.

HEYDRICH/HITLER/HOLOCAUST An apostle of the Holocaust and, with Himmler, a chief engineer of the Final Solution, Reinhard Heydrich has been depicted in numerous books and films. Assassinated in 1942, this ambitious villain kept files on fellow Nazis as well as on suspected enemies of the Reich - one reason, perhaps, for the persistent rumors about his "Jewish blood." Playwright Cornelius Schnauber has seized upon this aspect of his biography to construct a muddled and implausible play in which Heydrich (Oliver Finn) is portrayed politicking around these insinuations. Another element in the fantastical plot is this virulent anti-Semite's confrontational dialectic with a Jewish maid named Anna (Jessica Sherman), who has somehow maintained gainful employment at Nazi headquarters. Spokesperson for humanity, Anna implores Heydrich to recognize that Jews are human beings, promising to save his life if he helps rescue some of them. (Heydrich's real-life brother actually did abandon Nazism to help save some Jews, before committing suicide.) Later, Anna is brought before Hitler (Don Paul, whose Fuehrer struck me as a deluded insane asylum inmate) - whom she challenges with bravado, yet survives. Stilted and declaimed with dreadful German accents, the play rolls out like a cartoonish nightmare, with much dialogue devoted to airing Nazi ideas, as if we didn't understand these already. Under L. Flint Esquerra's direction, little attempt is made to get beyond posturing -- except for Sherman who, against tremendous odds, manages a credible performance. (Deborah Klugman) MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 11; (323) 957-1152.

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

HOW KATRINA PLAYS Judi Ann Mason's multimedia "docu-play" of Hurricane Karina. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24, www.howkatrinaplays.org. (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.; indef. (323) 856-8611.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., and Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4412.


LIQUID Directed and designed by Chris Covics, Brenda Varda's farce benefits from superb technical arrangements. From Susannah Mitchell's original costumes to Paul Bertin's sound design, the artistry of this production is clearly on display. Most particularly, Perry Hoberman's video and visuals are creatively delightful--and downright scary in other places. Covics' over-the-top direction is well-suited to the material, but not all the actors are up to the task at hand. A bigger problem is the writing: Varda's winsome ecological fable is undercut by stilted dialogue. The plot concerns a scientist, Nevah (Daniella Dahmen), who is looking to save the planet the planet from global warming through the creation of CO2 eating algae. Nevah is set to marry Odam (Kyle Ingleman), but the terrorist Chaet (Craig Johnson) interrupts the ceremony, intent on stealing the scientific formula. He's thwarted when a tsunami hits the island. Nevah, Odam and Chaet survive the tsunami, but wash up in different places. These vignettes take them from an island made of trash to an oil rig to a pirate ship to a floating retirement home filled with cannibals. Varda takes potshots at multinational corporations, oil companies and refuse disposal, but much of the writing seems off-the-cuff. Shirley Anderson puts in a nice turn as a designer healer for tourists who becomes a blind seer, and Bruce Adel shines in several different roles. (Sandra Ross) Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 466-7781.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Hard-core, exploitation-cinema auteurists have probably still not forgiven Howard Ashman (book & lyrics) or Alan Menken (score) for their 1982 musical burlesque of Roger Corman's immortal, low-budget horror allegory about the moral price of success. And, judging by director Jaz Davison's somewhat awkward staging on John Paul De Leonardis' clumsy, turnstile set, final absolution won't be forthcoming. By transforming Seymour (Mark Petrie), the green-thumbed shop assistant at Mushnik's Skid Row Florists, from the serial-killing schnook of the Corman original to merely a passive-aggressive facilitator of the botanical puppet monster Audrey II (the voice of Pamela Taylor) and her homicidal appetites, Ashman blunts Corman's edgy black comedy into a kind of anodyne Merry Melody. Of course, it is precisely Menken's melodies -- his crowd-pleasing takeoffs of doo-wop and early Motown rock classics -- that have always been this show's irresistible soul, and under Debbie Lawrence's capable music direction, that remains the case here. Leslie Duke, as Seymour's Brooklyn-honking love interest, Audrey, elevates every number she sings, particularly in her sweetly funny rendition of "Somewhere That's Green" and her soulful turn in the duet, "Suddenly, Seymour." Taylor rocks the house with her rousing Audrey II solo, "Mean Green Mother." But the production's outstanding pipes belong to vocal powerhouse Cloie Wyatt Taylor, whose incandescent gospel stylings are all but wasted in the supporting, choral role of Chiffon. (Bill Raden) Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (323) 667-0955.

LOST IN RADIOLAND World premiere of Ryan Paul James and Denny Siegel's 1940s-era comedy. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 467-6688.

MANish BOY Writer-actor-comedian Ralph Harris is a clever writer, and a very funny man. His eloquent and affectionate portrait of his feisty 94-year-old grandfather is a comic gem, strongly rooted in reality: This is not merely stand-up comedy, but fine, richly detailed acting through which he conjures his African-American family. He also presents sketches of his "devil dad" father, and a drug-saturated uncle. But there's a dis-connect between his individual sketches, and the framing device he chose. He begins his tale with a phone call from a girl-friend of 20 years ago, informing him that she thinks her son is his child. She wants him to come back to Philadelphia to take a DNA test. He must face the possibility that he has a 20-year-old son. He returns to South Philly, and his mother's basement, where he dredges up memories of his past. The possible son is a red herring, not organically connected to his other stories, so the performance seems contrived. This is unfortunate because, though his best material is really wonderful, the shape of this production, broken up by many unnecessary blackouts, is awkward and distracting. Director Mark E. Swinton serves Harris well when he leaves him free to perform his character portraits, but he allows too many distractions to impede the flow. (Neal Weaver) Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 960-1056 or www.plays411.com/manishboy.

MANUSCRIPT Paul Grellong's 2005 play is impossible to describe without ruining its many intricate plot turns. Let's just say it involves three recent Ivy League college chums settling into a party in a Brooklyn Heights home owned by the family of Harvard student, David (Adam Shapiro). At the start, childhood friends David and Chris (Patrick J. Adams) appear jittery over the visit of Chris' new girlfriend, Elizabeth (Katharine Brandt). But nothing in this play is what it seems. (Steven Leigh Morris) Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 3. (323) 960-5774. Tall Blonde Productions and Elephant Stageworks.

NEW REVIEW GO MOTHER

click to enlarge rsz_mother.jpg
Photo courtesy of Imagined Life Theatre

Writer-performer Mary-Beth Manning's mother Joan was a loving, mercurial and idiosyncratic woman, whose rapid mood changes sometimes bewildered her impressionable young daughters.  The youngest of 15 children from a blue-collar Irish American family, she --  and her husband Ray, Mary-Beth's father - grew up, married and reared their family in a small Massachusetts town.  Lively and well-crafted, Manning's show pays tribute to her mother's expansive spirit, chronicling their complex relationship from her own kindergarten years - when her parent loomed large and intimidating -- through adulthood when, as a struggling actress in New York and L.A., she still spoke regularly to her mom about her career and her love life (a habit for which she sought psychiatric intervention). The play takes a more somber turn after Joan is diagnosed with breast cancer Emerging from the shadow of a strong-willed, colorful and/or influential parent is common, in literature and in life; under Diana Castle's direction, Manning's storytelling gifts, her timing and sense of irony for the most part create an entertaining and involving solo show that transcends the ordinary, though its hundred minute length, without intermission, is a strain. The preponderance of  some anecdotes, especially in the prodution's final third, dilutes what we already anticipate as the story's poignant climax. Imagined Life Theatre, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct 3. (866) 811-4111. (Deborah Klugman)


NEW REVIEW GO MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING "Welcome to Shakespeare on the Rocks," says Vesper Theatre Company President Corey MacIntosh before this fledgling company begins to perform the Bard's play  inside the second bear cave from the left at the Old Zoo in Griffith Park. It's an apt setting for this scrappy and strong production, fed by young energy and funded by donations stuffed afterward into a hat. As cross-temper'd lovers Benedick and Beatrice, MacIntosh and Courtnie Sauls have a combustible chemistry that fuels this comic romance about double-dealing and pride. Besides an early speech by villain Don John (John Dimitri) that sounds cheekily like a libertarian blowhard on AM radio, director Tim Landfield has no interest in shoehorning in modern relevance. This is simple Shakespeare, gamely and crisply performed outdoors as the sun cools off into early evening. Special kudos to Patrick Blakely, who plays the good Don Pedro with a plummy confidence that feathers into his hair, a winged, hair-sprayed froth last seen on a Hall and Oates album cover. The Old Zoo in Griffith Park, Crystal Springs Drive and Griffith Park Drive; Sat. & Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (323) 207-6365. A Vesper Theatre Company production.

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.


RUBY, TRAGICALLY ROTUND The theater-in-the-round set for Boni B. Alvarez's dramedy about a Filipina college student named Ruby (Ellen D. Williams, in a great performance) puts its actress on a center pedestal and encourages the audience to take in a 360-degree view of a self-described "fat girl" as she tries to wriggle into her tightest jeans. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera confronts the audience head on with Williams' weight: She strips, straddles her boyfriend (Kacy-Earl David) and above all, stands with confidence, daring us to deny her sex appeal - and it's hard to deny when she struts her vamp walk. Her mother Edwina (Fran De Leon), however, disagrees. A former Miss Manila, she'd rather hide Ruby away like a fairy tale beast while she presses her more timid daughter Jemmalyn (Marc Pelina) to practice around the clock for first prize in the Miss Sunnyvale pageant. Backed by her sassy chorus of junk food-loving friends (Angel Felix, Alison M. De La Cruz, and Regan Carrington), Ruby vows to take the crown herself, even if her imposed group diet turns her posse into the Lord of the Fries. Alvarez's play has an up-with-Ruby cheer that undermines its call for equality and empowerment: Ruby's quest for the crown reveals her care only about the swimsuit, not the talent or the interview, and Jemmalyn's legit argument that she alone has put in the effort to win gets dismissed by the playwright as being petulant. A subplot where Edwina betrays her husband Jepoy (Robert Almodovar) with wealthy white neighbor Kline (Mark Doerr) hints that beautiful women are limited by their reliance on looks, but largely seems designed only to give the gorgeous villain more stage time. Alvarez and Rivera's climax obliges in a Grand Guignol finale that turns this into a play about child abuse, not fat pride. Though riveting and well-acted, the alternately chipper and dark play feels as bipolar as the undiagnosed Edwina herself. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (213) 489-0994. A Playwrights Arena production (Amy Nicholson)

GO SAVIN' UP FOR SATURDAY NIGHT A thunder'n'lightinin' romance between ex-spouses crackling around a restraining order lies in the vain heart of Jeff Goode (book) and Richard Levinson's (songs) new musical, set in an undisclosed locale that sounds a whole lot like west Texas. And though this is a countrified variation on Erin Kamler's urban and urbane Divorce! The Musical, that played at the Coast Playhouse earlier this year, director Jeremy Aldridge does double-duty to seduce us into an environment, as he did with last year's hit at this same theater, Louis & Keely, Live at the Sahara. David Knutson's set transforms the theater into small town canteen/gas station, with plastic L.P records and American flags pinned to the wall. Jaimie Froemming's Texas costumes can make you feel a tad out of place for leaving that shirt with the fringe and the cowboy boots in the closet. And there are other striking similarities between Savin' Up and Louis & Keely: a marriage on the rocks, an onstage band (honky-tonk rather than jazz, consisting of musical director/guitarist John Groover McDuffie, who's also on Pedal Steel; Peter Freiberger on bass; Dave Fraser on piano; John Palmer on drums; and Al Bonhomme, alternating on guitar). Levinson's songs are a throwback to early Elton John, when he was working with Bernie Taupin, with a twist of Randy Newman's harmonic grandeur. Each of the two acts opens with a ballad accompanied just by piano ("Dr. Bartender" and "Small Town") that have simple yet haunting harmonic progressions from John's earliest albums, and the shit-kicking Act 2 "Gotta Lotta Rockin' To Do" is a musical nod to John's "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)." Also echoing Louis & Keely is a dimension that makes this show just right for L.A. -- a prevalent tension between narcissism and the capacity to give of oneself, that's perfectly embodied in the delusions of Eldridge, Jr. (Brendan Hunt), a local homophobe who believes he possesses the charisma and style of Elvis Presley. In fact, he has a slight speech impediment and a deranged glint in his eye. His singing act dominates the bar, with his name in lights as a backdrop. (A number of the bulbs tellingly need replacing, like in his own emotional circuitry.) Can he win back his ex, Lucinda (the vivacious Natascha Corrigan) - a woman of machine-gun wit and fury who works double time to penetrate the impenetrable veneer of Eldridge's ego? Things get touchy, when Eldridge's long time friend, bartender Doc (the bear-like Bryan Krasner) finally has the guts to make a move of Lucinda, while sweet Patsy (Courtney DeCosky) cares for Eldridge - but not that much. It's a thin entertainment, enhanced by Allison Bibicoff's sashaying choreography, but an entertainment nonetheless. Its tone of sentimentality sprinkled with metaphysics is embodied in the song "Here," beautifully rendered by Rachel Howe, who plays a daffy waitress. The place and people can make you so insane, you want to flee, she croons: "And I know someday/We're all just gonna disappear/So I want to take the time right now to say/I really love it here." Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct 4 & 11, 7 p.m.; through Oct. 24. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

SCHOOL FOR SUCKERS Real life stuns 20-somethings, by Sascha Alexander, John Dardenne, Ben Giroux, James Robinson and Juliana Tyson. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 960-7822.

7 DEADLY SINS Chris Berube's interwoven vignettes. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Tues., 9:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 29. (323) 850-7827.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 226-6148.


SOMEONE'S SOMEBODY Regina Louise's monodrama centers on her role as a black child in search of a family. She was abandoned by both her mother and father. Over the years she was sent to more than 30 foster homes, most of which she fled. A counselor in a children's home where she was sent loved her and wanted to adopt her -- but the authorities forbid it, since the counselor was white, and they insisted that she needed a black upbringing. She desperately wanted to be with someone who cared about her, but that didn't concern the bureaucrats. It's a fascinating rags-to-riches tale (she eventually wrote and sold a successful autobiography), but there's something slightly schizophrenic about the way she tells it. She talks about her utter powerlessness to control her own destiny, yet she emerges as a highly confident, competent, and savvy young woman. Would be nice to know how she got there. She tells us she has a son, but we never learn the circumstances of his birth, or the identity of the father. Louise is a deft writer-actor and singer who threads songs through her narrative. But I kept ruminating on the story's crucial aspects that she left out. Lee Sankowich directs. The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 5. (323) 960-7738 or http:/plays411.com/someone'ssomebody" (Neal Weaver)

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.

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

THY KINGDOM COME In his theatrical debut, playwright Jarad Sanchez explores a little known corner of Mexican history, dramatizing how the inhabitants of the village of Yanga overthrew their colonial masters and became the first free town in the Americas. While the African slave Yanga (Joel Virgil), for whom the town was named, primarily orchestrated the battle against Spain, a fierce Aztec slave named Santiago (Ryan De Mesa) becomes the focus of the play's action when he is forced to care for the infant of a colonial master who is killed during a revolt. Despite the rich source material, and the important story, the heavy-handed exposition and the lack of depth in both the dialogue and character relationships fail to mask the fact that Sanchez initially wrote this for the screen. Elizabeth Otero's direction similarly doesn't theatricalize the material effectively, with her brisk pacing of the short scenes leaving one hungry for higher stakes and fuller character exploration, as well as greater use of nonverbal nuance. Tony Carranza's costumes, however, are both aesthetically appealing and appear historically accurate. As always, CASA 0101 fulfills an important role in the community and should be applauded for presenting a story that, with some adjustments, has the potential to powerfully dramatize the intersection of African and Latino colonial history. (Mayank Keshaviah). Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 263-7684.

TOMMY'S PLACE "A neighborhood advocate, a pizza delivery boy and an ex-dock worker -- each of them lonely and starving for connection -- unexpectedly find themselves together in a Hoboken apartment, through no choice of their own." From Chicago's Annoyance Theatre., $10. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (323) 465-0383.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's Victorian comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 27, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 4, 3 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 17, 3 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 25, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 1, 3 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 7, 8 p.m.. (818) 700-4878.

NEW REVIEW  GO CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD
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Photo by Michael Lamont

Most productions of Mark Medoff's pioneering 1979 drama about the romance between a deaf student and her hearing-abled teacher are directed and staged from the point of view of a hearing audience, who are introduced to the world of the hearing-challenged.  Yet, director Jonathan Barlow Lee's haunting production of the play, staged by Deaf West Theater to celebrate the piece's 30th anniversary and the epochal role the drama played in the advent of Deaf Theater, is compellingly told from the point of view of the deaf, with those who can hear being subtly poised as outsiders.  The play tells the story of beautiful, deaf student Sarah (Shoshannah Stern), a pupil at a school for the deaf who steadfastly refuses to learn how to communicate - either verbally or through ASL. Although Sarah's choice exiles her from any contact with the hearing world, the young communications instructor assigned to her, James (Matthew Jaeger), finds her fiery spirit irresistible - and they eventually fall in love, a romance that is ultimately threatened by the stresses of their two hugely different worlds.  Though Act 2's focus on 1970s earnest-revolutionary issues inevitably causes the dramatic momentum to sag, Medoff's play has aged less in terms of its activist stance for the deaf and more in terms of the tightening of protocol in teacher-student relationships over the decades: The romance between a teacher and his student now actually seems somewhat creepy, and we can't help but wonder whether James' kind concerns for his student would be so intense if she weren't so physically attractive to him.  Still, Lee's production -- orchestrated for audiences at all level of hearing ability -- dazzles, and the ensemble, encompassing hearing, deaf, and hard-of-hearing actors, offer beautiful, subtle acting turns.  Stern's ferocious performance as Sarah is particularly powerful.  With the exception of one elementally searing moment, the actress doesn't utter a sound - yet, we're struck by how much passion and love can be communicated via ASL during her operatic, yet paradoxically silent performance.  Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 11. (866) 811-4111.  (Paul Birchall)

GO THE CROSSING Whatever might be meant by a "Scottish national voice," say something between the Romantic lyricism of Robert Burns and the sentimental whimsy of filmmaker Bill Forsyth, writer-performer Rachel Ogilvy certainly speaks it fluently. Her hour-long, first-person, dramatic monologue fairly bristles with the saccharine-dipped eccentrics and evocative local colors of her story's Edinburgh setting. Chiefly, though, it echoes in the melodious burr of her hard-nosed, high-strung heroine, Rose. A young, substitute math instructor who finds herself thrust into the stress-torquing environs of a new job among hostile, teacher-eating 14-year-olds, Rose is not what one would call a "people person." Blame a severe, emotionally distant mother and the childhood trauma of her loving, half-remembered father's mysterious suicide, which has left her a haunted, withdrawn outsider primed for a nervous breakdown. Rather than heading for the nearest psychoanalyst's couch, Rose embarks on the somewhat quixotic pursuit of winning over her disinterested students by turning to her late father's obsession for the Golden Gate Bridge as the centerpiece of an elaborate lesson plan in analytic geometry. The effort quickly turns into a harrowing journey of relived memories that takes her to Edinburgh's Forth Rail Bridge -- the site of her father's fatal leap and a perilous emotional precipice of unresolved guilt which she must cross to survive. Ogilvy uplifts her potentially weighty tale with brittle humor and a sweetly affective performance in a production benefited by Paul Christie's fluid, economical direction. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; (added perfs Thurs., 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 27, 2 p.m.); thru Oct. 3. (818) 558-5702. (Bill Raden)

DIARY OF A CATHOLIC SCHOOL DROPOUT Layon Gray's profile of a young woman contemplating suicide. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 27, layongray.ticketleap.com. (818) 761-0704.

FINDING NEO Original one-acts by Denise Devin, Alex Dremann, Michael Erger, David Garry, Mark Harvey Levine, David Lewison, Marina Palmier, Donaco Smyth, and Ralph Tropf. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 29. (877) 620-7673.

FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS World-premiere play with music by Laurie Stevens and Ronald Jacobs. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (877) 620-7673.

GO FRIENDS LIKE THESE Playwright Gregory Crafts' drama is billed as a show about teen violence, conjuring up images of gangs with guns or distraught loners firing wildly into a crowd of peers. In fact, while the latter event eventually finds its way into Crafts' story, that's not its central focus.Instead, the play is mostly about some of the pernicious perils of adolescence - specifically the targeting of geeks by jocks, and the painful experience of the outcast in a teen community worshipful of its own rigid standard of "coolness." At the heart of the plot is the blossoming friendship between Garrett (Matthew Scott Montgomery), a sullen geeky kid, and Nicole (Sarah Smick), a pretty cheerleader who's just called it quits with her boyfriend Jesse (Alex Yee). Disgusted with Jesse's arrogance and infidelity, Nicole finds herself drawn in by Garrett's candidness and unassuming manner. To the surprise of all, and the chagrin of some, their relationship blooms. Especially disturbed are Jesse - stunned that Garrett has become his rival, and Diz (Sari Sanchez), Garrett's former girl chum, who believes him to be her soul mate and now seethes with jealousy. Understated from the top, Montgomery's performance deepens and expands as his character gradually undergoes changes. Smick is likewise layered and sympathetic, and Sanchez plays her one note role exceptionally well. Yee and Ryan J. Hill as everyone's buddy are also effective. Designer Andrew Moore's visually grating and incongruent backdrop needs rethinking. Sean Fitzgerald and Vance Roi Reyes co-direct. The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Deborah Klugman)

GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE There's wonderful irony in the fact that, though Oscar Wilde's enemies succeeded in branding him a sodomist, and sentencing him to two years hard labor, they accidently conferred upon him a kind of posthumous glory, fame and historical importance that he probably wouldn't have achieved otherwise. Writer Moises Kaufman captures the tale's ironies and complexities by taking an objective, documentary approach, and constructing his play as a mosaic of primary sources: court records, personal letters, autobiographies, memoirs, and newspaper accounts. Susan Lee directs with brisk, efficient clarity, and Kerr Seth Lordygan contributes a serviceable if slightly colorless portrait of Wilde. Though Wilde's friend and lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, was an obnoxious egotist, he must have had considerable charm and glamour to have captured Wilde's love and loyalty, but Joshua Grant plays him as charmless, petulant and prissy. Andrew Hagan is persuasive as Wilde's nemesis, the malicious, paranoid Marquess of Queensbury, and Darrell Philip and Dean Farrell Bruggeman score as the rival attorneys. The notion of casting women (Casey Kramer, Allie Costa, Beth Ricketson, and JC Henning) as Oscar's "rent boys" seemed initially perverse, but they provide deft characterizations and sly comedy. (Neal Weaver) The Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru Oct. 11. (818) 508-3003.


GO THE MATCHMAKER When playwright Thornton Wilder lifted the character Frosine from Molière's The Miser, and transplanted her in his adaptation of a 19th Century Viennese farce by Johan Nestroy, he can't have realized that he was launching her as one of the most enduringly popular characters in 20th Century American theatre. Renamed Dolly Gallagher Levi, she became the formidable protagonist of both The Matchmaker and the Jerry Herman musical version, Hello, Dolly! The play remains a delicious piece of faux Americana, which doesn't need the songs to be a zany theatrical warhorse. Dolly (Amanda Carlin) is playing matchmaker for wealthy Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (James Gleason), but she's actually out to capture him for herself. When Horace heads for Manhattan to woo widowed Mrs. Molloy (Alyss Henderson), his two clerks, Cornelius (Patrick Rafferty) and Barnaby (Colin Thomas Jennings), take advantage of his absence to run off for a Manhattan adventure of their own. Comic confusions, mistaken identities, and multiple romances result. Director Dave Florek's production is sturdy rather than brilliant, but he elicits plenty of charm from his large, engaging cast. Particularly noteworthy are Don Fischer and James Greene in goofy featured roles. Jeff McLaughlin's sets and Sherry Linnell's costumes capture the period flavor. The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 West Victory Boulevard, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., thru Oct. 18. Produced by Interact Theatre Company. (818) 765-8732. (Neal Weaver)

MOM'S THE WORD Mom writers write about motherhood. By Linda A. Carson, Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard, and Deborah Williams. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 508-0281.

NEW REVIEW PAINTING CHURCHES Playwright Tina Howe's title is a pun: the only Churches here are people, Gardner and Fanny Church, and their portrait-painter daughter Margaret. Gardner (Edgar Mastin) is a world-famous poet, now sinking into senility and perhaps Alzheimer's. Narcissistic Fanny (Diane Frank) is frazzled and exhausted from taking care of her increasingly dependent husband. Margaret (Krisztina Koltai) has gone off to NYC to study art, and is beginning to make a name for herself. Now Fanny is attempting to move Gardner out of the Boston home they can no longer afford or take care of, and into a much smaller cottage. Margaret has returned home, to assist with the move, and to paint a portrait of her parents. She's also seeking their respect. Gardner and Fanny are unable to recognize her career and achievements, and she's equally incapable of perceiving their plight, refusing to acknowledge Gardner's ever-diminishing powers, or Fanny's increasing desperation. Howe's script may be better than it appears here in director Kappy Kilburn's slapdash, obvious and unfocused production. (It doesn't help that Frank seemed uncertain of her lines.) The Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood; in rep with Heroes and Boston Marriage; call for schedule; through Nov. 7. (818) 700-4878. (Neal Weaver)

PULP GRAVEYARD Theatre Unleashed takes on "comic books, pulp fiction and dime-store novels," old-time live radio drama style. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, www.theatreunleashed.com...

SCARECROW Don Nigro's psychological thriller. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (818) 766-9100.

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET Stephen Sonheim and Hugh Wheeler's musical thriller. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.

UNDERGROUND WOMAN Delia Donovan's hippie-turned-curmudgeon comedy. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 18. (818) 238-0501.

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

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.

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED Douglas Carter Beane's look at Hollywood dealmaking. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 828-7519.

THE NEED TO KNOW April Fitzsimmons' journey from military recruit to peace activist. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 838-4264.

THE NERD Larry Shue's comedy about a nerd. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 11. (310) 454-1970.

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. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (310) 477-2055. (Bill Raden) An Evidence Room/Odyssey Theatre Ensemble production.

NEW REVIEW SOCK & SHOE The "Sock" portion of this pair of clown and puppet acts features former Cirque du Soleil maestro Daisuke Tsuji in the latest incarnation of the nouveau pantomimist's quest to take clowning out of the circus and onto the performance-art stage. Call it clowning for those who hate clowns. "Death and Giggles" (co-created by Tsuji and puppeteer Cristina Bercovitz) eschews the Cirque's more egregious audience pandering and slapstick grotesquerie for an often lyrical and richly metaphoric exploration into the metaphysics of dying. Framed by an ocean-surf drowning, the narrative has Tsuji, who is made up in simple whiteface and dressed in a sports coat and tie, on a balloon-strewn stage, improvising and miming his way through a series of life memories, ranging from a petulant, hyper-active child being called to dinner, to a school cafeteria food fight, to the sexual awakening of adolescence, through adult experiences of love, marriage and loss. Each scene is punctuated by the wit and vivid atmospherics of composer Jonathan Snipes' striking sound design which, in what may be the show's cleverest conceit, is cued by Tsuji's bursting of successive balloons as each, drowning breath is released. The evening's curtain-raiser, "Sole Mate," an ingratiatingly cute exercise in close foot puppetry, has Bercovitz's sneaker sing the titular, romantic ballad (music by Snipes, lyrics by Snipes, Bercovitz & Jessica Erskine) as it searches through Erskine's mismatching footwear for its missing mate. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri., 9 p.m. (added perfs Sat., Sept. 26 & Oct. 10, 8 p.m.); thru Oct. 23. (310) 838-4264. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW THREE SISTERS

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Photo by Enci

As with much of Anton Chekhov's work, this play about the Prozorov family deals with the decay of the pre-Soviet Russian aristocracy at the end of the nineteenth century and the uncertain future that lies ahead for the country.  Set in a provincial town, the story centers on the lives of the titular femmes, Olga (Vanessa Waters), Maria (Susan Ziegler) and Irina (Murielle Zuker), who have lost their father and live in the family home with their older brother Andrey (Scott Sheldon) and his wife Natalia (Cameron Meyer), while they long to return to the glamour and excitement of Moscow.  The challenge with Chekhov, of course, is striking the fine balance between the almost slapstick comedy and heartbreaking tragedy that alternately define the lives of his characters.  Company co-founder and director Jack Stehlin does a laudable job with the humor in the text, and his balletic transition between Acts III and IV is innovative; however he never fully draws out the emotional weight of loss in the piece, leaving it to ubiquitous Russian "philosophizing."  Kitty Rose's layered set facilitates the numerous entrances and exits, and Zale Morris' finely detailed costumes have the appropriate period feel to them.  The cast, too, is solid, but Meyer stands out in completing her emotional journey on stage and making us feel something, even if hatred, for the vicious figure she becomes.  Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m. (Wed. perfs until Oct. 14 only); Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Sun. perfs Oct. 18 and Nov. 8,  7 p.m.); thru November 8.  (310) 477-2055, ext. 2.  A Circus Theatricals Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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