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Stage Raw: Shining City

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Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 11:39 AM

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STAGE FEATURE on Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas

NEW REVIEW GO
SHINING CITY
click to enlarge rsz_shiningcity.jpg
Photo by Ed Krieger

Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in 2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client, John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation that comes from human contact, which his now-late wife couldn't provide to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged, along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he must now explain to his flummoxed partner (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window) that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in  the ebbs and flows of verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate, comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long, the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble in a production of such rare beauty. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 19. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)  

For all NEW THEATER REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press the Continue Reading tab directly below

NEW THEATER REVIEWS (to be published October 1, 2009


NEW REVIEW ECLIPSED

click to enlarge rsz_eclipsed.jpg

Photo by Craig Schwartz


Playwright Danai Gurira powerfully dramatizes the ugly realities of

women caught up in the Liberian Civil War. The action unfolds circa

2003, inside a derelict jungle compound occupied by the kidnapped

"wives" of a guerrilla commander. Bahni Turpin, Edwina Findley and

Miriam Glover pass the time chatting, grooming hair, scrounging for

food, and, offstage, mechanically satisfying the sexual needs of the

General. The wives are known simply as numbers, bluntly emphasizing

their lack of autonomy and dehumanized condition. Turpin (No. 1) is by

turns sweet and caustic, a comforter and authority figure to the

younger girls. Findley, pregnant with the General's child, possesses an

infectious sense of humor, while Glover (No. 4), is a study in

childlike naiveté. The dynamics change when a former captive turned

fighter (Kelly M. Jenrette) convinces Glover to join the cause, which

puts them at odds with a government peacekeeper (Michael Hyatt), whose

own daughter was kidnapped. Cast performances are quite good, even

though it is difficult at times to understand the dialogue through the

affected West African accents. Sibyl Wickersheimer's jungle set piece

is stunning, and Robert O'Hara provides sensitive direction for this

production, which in spite of its dearth of action and bleak subject

matter, conveys the resilience of the human spirit. Kirk Douglas

Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2

& 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through October 18. (213)

628-2772. (Lovell Estell III)


NEW REVIEW GOGOL PROJECT

click to enlarge rsz_gogolproject.jpg

Photo by Bobby Brown


Director Sean T. Cawalti's production of playwright Kitty Felde's

adaptation of three short stories by Russian Absurdist Nikolai Gogol is

a whirligig of ferocious creativity. In "The Nose," a pompous

small-town politician (Tom Ashworth) wakes up to discover that his nose

has decided to go AWOL, and he's frustrated when the wandering member

transforms into an enormous schnoz capable of rescuing dogs from wells

and romancing local lovelies. "Diary of a Madman" shows a low-level

drone of a civil servant (Ben Messmer, wonderfully bug-eyed) spurned in

love and going insane, imagining he hears local dogs sending each other

love letters. In "The Overcoat," a mild-mannered postal clerk

(Kristopher Lee Bicknell, sweetly channeling Charlie Chaplin) buys a

new overcoat, which ultimately brings him nothing but tragedy.

Performers caparisoned in Pat Rubio's stunning Commedia-style masks

interact with the dazzling puppets designed by the production's

six-person mask crew in a manner that often suggests a spooky Russian

tragic version of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. The astonishing, Big

Bird-sized nose puppet, snorting up Danishes provided by the town

baker, is a particular delight. Elsewhere, the show's imagination is

best showcased in details, from the sequence in which a murderous

barber's fantasies of killing his client are projected in shadow puppet

form on the wall behind him, to the scenes involving the talking dogs,

whose beautiful puppet forms are manipulated Bunraku-style with masked

puppeteers. Ultimately, though, Felde's workmanlike script is so broad

and perfunctory, we feel little emotional connection to the characters

or the situations, and the production's admittedly gorgeous artifice

essentially upstages the storytelling. The end result is an experience

that is undeniably provocative but also assaultive and occasionally

hyperactive. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fridays and

Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m. Call theater for additional

performances; through November 1. (800) 838-3006 or rogueartists.org. A

Rogue Artists Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall)


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;

Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 18. (310) 825-2101.

See Theater feature.

NEW REVIEW GO THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP

click to enlarge MysteryIrmaVep.jpg
Photo courtesy of Deconstructed Productions


It's been 18 years since this manor mystery was the No. 1-produced play

in America, and it hasn't worn out its welcome. In a dreary, rural

house, the widowed master (Kevin Remington) has brought home a bride

(Michael Lorre), a tremulous blond actress who might not have the wits

to survive the local vampires and werewolves (or the grudging maid and

infatuated stable boy). Charles Ludlam's fleet-footed thriller comedy

is in the key of camp, but this production tampers down the winks and

nudges, staging it as an exercise in theatrical imagination. Lorre's

sparse set design is a model of how to turn a small budget into an

asset. The furniture and decorations are drawn with thin, white lines

on flat, black-painted wood, and the actors set the tone by first

finishing the final touches with chalk. Irma Vep is always staged as a

play for two performers, and Remington and Lorre (who also directs) are

great sports, changing from a bumpkin with a wooden leg to a

bare-breasted Egyptian princess in less time than it takes to tie your

shoes. The actors' physicality is great, but dresser Henry Senecal and

stage manager Akemi Okamura also take deserved bows at the end. WeHo

Church, 916 N. Formosa Ave., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

through Oct. 11. (323) 667-1304. A Deconstructed Productions

production. (Amy Nicholson)


NEW REVIEW GO NAKED BOYS SINGING

click to enlarge rsz_nakedboys.jpg

Photo by Michael Lamont


When this musical, written and directed by Robert Schrock, debuted at

the Celebration Theatre in 1998, it was the first show to acknowledge

candidly that it featured nudity for its own sake, without explanation,

justification or apologies. (The opening number was, and is, called

"Gratuitous Nudity.") Some audiences were astonished to discover that,

when the actors are relaxed, uninhibited and enjoying the situation,

nudity is remarkably unshocking. The show has achieved enduring

worldwide success, though a brief L.A. revival a couple of years ago

was decidedly lackluster. One wondered if the show would hold up, now

that the novelty is gone. Not to worry. This new production, featuring

eight talented and very naked men (Eric B. Anthony, Jeffrey A. Johns,

Jack Harding, Timothy Hearl, Marco Infante, Tony Melson, Daniel Rivera,

and Victor Tang), proves that when performed with wit, insouciance and

skill, the show still has the capacity to charm. It's exuberant, and

full of joie de vivre, and when the actors are having fun, the audience

has fun. Though not all the voices are strong, the cast are all

engaging, Schrock's direction is crisp and fast-paced, and the songs

offer ample wit and humor. Gerald Sternbach provides excellent musical

direction. Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8

p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through November 22. (323) 960-4424. (Neal Weaver)  


NEW REVIEW GO THE NEED TO KNOW In a much-evolved solo show that she

first presented at Burbank's tiny Sidewalk Studio Theatre seven years

ago, and which she's been touring ever since, April Fitzsimmons has

grown into the role. Given that her show is autobiographical, this is a

bit like saying she's grown into herself, which is also probably true.

Perhaps the show has taught her more about the complexities of life,

but it's also taught her how to act. Her impersonations of family and

friends, her vocal range, her physical dexterity and her comedic timing

are now more fully accomplished, and a scene referring to Obama has

been added. What starts as a domestic romp from her childhood in

Montana and her fling with a man engaged to somebody else, slides into

an adventure monitoring Russia and the Middle East as part of a U.S.

Air Force intelligence team. Partly to spite her father and her

family's Navy heritage (her father refused to support her wish to

pursue an acting career in L.A.), she joined the Air Force, and found

herself in the south of Italy, working as an intelligence analyst. Even

then, she had a raw morality that simply bristled at evidence of

nuclear materials being illegally trafficked across foreign lands,

evidence that never made it into the press, because the "need-to-know"

standard, and U.S. relations with those foreign governments, prevailed

against it. That bristling was also the germinal fuel of Fitzsimmons'

eventual antiwar activism: It's not wars that protect our freedom, it's

the Bill of Rights, she tells a heckler at a beachfront, antiwar

ceremony honoring U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Having marched with an

M-16, and been privy to the byzantine workings of the

military-intelligence network, Fitzsimmons' has earned the right to

stage an agitprop performance. She describes being a teenager in the

south of Italy, living on the estate of an older Mafioso as refuge from

her barracks. He sidles up to her and complains of his "tensseeon,"

that the cure is "amoooree." Yet Fitzsimmons flips this cheesy pickup

line into poetry, when, at show's end, she speaks of the tensions in

the world, and how the only cure is amore. Steven Anderson directs.

Actors Gang, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2

p.m.; through October 24. (310) 838-4264. (Steven Leigh Morris)


NEW REVIEW SCARECROW

click to enlarge rsz_scarecrow.jpg
Photo courtesy of Ice2Sand Productions


Playwright Don Nigro's Midwestern Gothic makes for an uneasy fit on a

legitimate stage. Perhaps that's because the one-act psychological

horror began life as the script for a 1979 experimental video shot at

the Iowa Writer's Workshop, in which the cinematic, windswept vistas of

Iowan corn fields stood in for the roiling subconscious of Nigro's

sexually frustrated young heroine, Cally (Linda Tomassone). In director

Antony Berrios' production, those fields are necessarily pruned to a

dozen, desiccated stalks (on designer Vincent Albo's farmhouse set),

thereby diminishing the figurative effect and throwing the poetic onus

onto Nigro's humorless, derivative text. The tale deals with the

troubled, claustrophobic relationship between 18-year-old Cally and her

reclusive, repressive, evil-obsessed mother, Rose (Deborah Lemen) --

think Carrie and Margaret White, albeit without Stephen King's

telekinetic fireworks. Their chief contention is over boys and sex,

both of which Rose considers ultimate threats to be kept apart from her

virginal daughter with a shotgun. Rose's vigilance cannot extend into

the adjacent corn fields, however, into which Cally daily disappears to

rendezvous with the mysterious Nick (Ian Jerrell), a beguiling drifter

who may either be a figment of her romantic fantasies or the malevolent

incarnation of Rose's worst fears. Both Tomassone and Lemen acquit

themselves well in the melodramatic clinches (though Cally appears more

salon-groomed than corn-fed), and while Jerrell delivers a measure of

dash, he misses the menace that might stoke Nigro's otherwise

suspense-starved story. Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd.,

N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 17. (818) 859-3160.

Ice2Sand Productions (Bill Raden)


NEW REVIEW GO SHINING CITY  Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in

2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist,

Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some

more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client,

John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing

over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters

worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually

unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed

adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his

selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation

that comes from human contact, which his now-late wife couldn't provide

to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so

gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply

aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged,

along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While

listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and

sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he

must now explain to his flummoxed partner (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine

the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window)

that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains

to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad

clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet

another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another

human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail

manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in

the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's

stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in  the ebbs and flows of

verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate

of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial

reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate,

comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long,

the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble

in a production of such rare beauty. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain

Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December

19. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)  


NEW REVIEW GO THE SOMETHING - NOTHING

click to enlarge rsz_somethingnothing.jpg
Photo by Ed Krieger


An excessively late start, covered by pounding, annoying club music led

this reviewer to notice only the flaws in the first part of this outing

-- but Fielding Edlow's smart script and the fine acting eventually

prevailed. Three solipsistic New Yorkers nearing 30 pride themselves on

their cynical worldliness while simultaneously hiding their desperate

loneliness and fear of intimacy. Liza (Annika Marks) awkwardly uses the

most complicated words in conversation, which is ironically laced with

the youthful crutch of "like" several times per sentence. She persists

in trying to keep up with those she secretly believes are her

intellectual superiors. She is alternately adored and scorned by her

near-psychotic lesbian roommate Luna (a delightfully grotesque

performance by Robyn Cohen) as well as by her love interest, a

narcissistic would-be writer (played with sexual zeal and emotional

vacancy by Michael Rubenstone). The three characters spiral down into

self-pity, lifted occasionally by some moments of genuine human contact

-- generally shut down by the receiving party. Edlow's dialogue bounces

between razor-sharp and languid, creating a weird uneasiness. She ends

the second act with a character shouting, "This is not a Neil LaBute

play" -- a remarkable insight, as the play does feel like a female

response to LaBute's constant woman-baiting. Director Kiff Scholl

smartly allows his hand to disappear, giving over the storytelling to

the richly textured, sad characters. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica

Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; (323) 960-7721. (Tom Provenzano)


NEW REVIEW UNDERGROUND WOMAN

click to enlarge rsz_undergroundwoman.jpg

Photo by Jeff Robinson


Very loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground,

Victoria E. Thompson's dark comedy focuses on a cynical woman who just

wants to be left alone. Thompson performs as Delia Donovan, a woman who

desires only to drink herself to death. Her dysfunctional family has

other plans, however. Led by therapist Elise Rosen (Maaren Edvard), her

family stages an intervention. Self-mutilating daughter Rachel (Maegan

McConnell) can barely hide her resentment as she tells her mother she

loves her. Newly sober son David (Chris Kerrigan) is illiterate, unable

to read the letter penned by the therapist to his mother. Bitter adult

sister Harriet (Hilarie Thompson) resurrects old grudges and blames her

older sister for her not becoming a cheerleader in high school. Delia's

husband, Don (James Loren), writes a convincing enough intervention

love letter -- until it's revealed that he's having an affair with the

therapist. Director Anita Khanzadian elicits superior performances from

Thompson and Edvard, but some of the supporting players are a bit

overblown, bordering on shrill. Two exceptions: Adam Sherman does an

excellent job as Delia's equally cynical nephew, and director

Khanzadian is fine as Delia's mother. Victoria Profitt's homey set adds

to the persuasiveness of the play. The Michael Chekhov Studio in

association with Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., N.Hlywd.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 18. (818) 238-0501.

(Sandra Ross)


 


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