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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Among the Purposes

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Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 9:42 AM

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COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
NEW THEATER REVIEWS
THIS WEEK'S STAGE FEATURE on Accomplice: Hollywood and Molly Sweeney

Just a rainy-weekend anecdote, but I closed out the winter quarter at Cal State, San Bernardino, where I teach Introduction to World Theater. For the final, the students write a five-minute play, which their peers perform. One playwright, a returning student with a son in high school, wrote about tensions in her family, especially between herself and her son, which was bordering on estrangement. After the performance, she noted that the teenagers' dialogue had actually been written by her son, who told her that her own dialogue was pathetically "old school." Through that process, she said, he started to understand how she was thinking, and the complexities of how she perceived him and their situtation. It had a softening effect, she said. They're now much closer, and speaking to each other again, more like two adults than one adult and one child.


I'm often torn between the view that the theater opens windows of understanding versus windows of diversion. So there's some evidence for the former.

For the docket of plays being reviewed this weekend, plus the latest COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.

SCROLL DOWN FOR COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

Check back here Monday afternoon for reviews of:

BOB'S HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY It's the annual holiday bash at Iowa insurance agent Bob Finhead's office, in Rob Elk and Joe Keyes' ensemble comedy. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL The Dickens story, adapted by Richard Hellesen, music and lyrics by David De Berry. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.- Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 20.

FROSTY THE SNOW MANILOW The holiday classic melded with the music of mushy crooner Manilow. No perfs Dec. 24, 25, 31, or Jan. 1. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Dec. 11; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.

THE GLASS MENDACITY Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth's Tennessee Williams spoof. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 30.

LA POSADA MAGICA (THE MAGICAL JOURNEY) Octavio Solis' Christmas musical, "performed in English with a Latin beat.". Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 24.

MRS. CAGE Nancy Barr's story of robbery, mayhem, and murder in the supermarket parking lot. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20.

PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO Set on an Native American reservation in the Southwest, the story follows an Army captain who has returned from Afghanistan with a secret she can't keep. Performed by Culture Clash group of Chicago. For schedule: centertheatregroup.org. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Dec. 13; Tues.-Sun..; thru Jan. 24.

PEEP THIS! Sketch comedy by "hot chick" ensemble BoomChickBoom. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 15, www.plays411.com/boomchick.

RENT Pulitzer and Tony winner about the lives of young NYC artists too poor to pay for their apartments in the East Village. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; opens Dec. 11; Thurs.-Fri., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m..

A VERY MERRY HAPPY KOSHER CHRISTMAS Dumb criminals break into the New York Public Library on Christmas Eve, by Mark Troy. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

WOMEN BEHIND BARS Sendup of women-in-prison B-movies, by Tom Eyen. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for December 11-17, 2009

(The latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer'ssearch 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

ALAN CUMMING: I BOUGHT A BLUE CAR TODAY Cheeky stories and musical banter in cabaret style. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Dec. 13; Sun., Dec. 13, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 18, 7 & 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (310) 208-5454.

ALICE'S JIVE BOMBER CONCERT An improvised holiday show for the whole family based on the musical "A Jive Bomber's Christmas," about a group of Japanese Americans who attempt to celebrate Christmas behind barbed wire during World War II. Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. First St., L.A.; Sat., Dec. 12, 3 p.m.. (213) 625-0414.

CHARLES DICKENS' A CHRISTMAS CAROL Thirty-three characters of the Christmas classic brought to life by five actors. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens Dec. 11; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 667-0955.

DIAGRAM Created by Eric Bilitch, original music by Chris Kerrigan. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Dec. 12-13; Dec. 18-20, mechanicalstheatregroup.com...

FROSTY THE SNOW MANILOW The holiday classic melded with the music of mushy crooner Manilow. No perfs Dec. 24, 25, 31, or Jan. 1. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Dec. 11; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 17. (818) 955-8101.

THE INTERNATIONALISTS Poor Dog Group re-creates the space race. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; opens Dec. 11; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.plays411.com/internationalists. (323) 960-5521.

IT'S A GREAT DAY FOR SINGING Music selections from operas, operettas and musical theatre follow champagne reception and catered lunch. Contact Hollywood Opera Ensemble at aidamonte19@gmail.com. Woman's Club of Hollywood, 1749 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Wed., Dec. 16, 11:15 a.m....

JACCC ANNUAL NUTCRACKER PERFORMANCE Ballet featuring performers ages 3 to 18. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., L.A.; Sat., Dec. 12, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 12 & 4 p.m.. (213) 680-3700.

LEGACY Fifth-generation granddaughter of Brigham Young's play about Mormonism, polygamy and the state of Utah. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; opens Dec. 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 306-1854.

PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO Set on an Native American reservation in the Southwest, the story follows an Army captain who has returned from Afghanistan with a secret she can't keep. Performed by Culture Clash group of Chicago. For schedule: centertheatregroup.org. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Dec. 13; Tues.-Sun..; thru Jan. 24. (213) 628-2772.

RENT Pulitzer and Tony winner about the lives of young NYC artists too poor to pay for their apartments in the East Village. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; opens Dec. 11; Thurs.-Fri., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (562) 985-7000.

SISTER'S CHRISTMAS CATECHISM, THE MYSTERY OF THE MAGI'S GOLD The billing calls it "a sinfully funny alternative to traditional holiday fare; CSI goes to Bethlehem as Sister hunts under manger and over camel humps in her relentless search for the Magi's gold," benefiting children's toy drive. Music Box, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues., Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 464-0808.

TALES OF DOWNTOWN "THEATER EVENT" Blog about adventures of living in a downtown L.A. loft will be acted out in a premiere event. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sun., Dec. 13, 3 p.m.. (323) 883-1717.

3RD DEGREE CHRISTMAS Comedy team of 3rd Degree Burn will enlighten on topics from Disney's closet to the nutritional value of possum milk. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Sun., Dec. 13, 7 p.m.. (323) 469-3113.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

GO ARIAS WITH A TWIST Poor Joey Arias, a female impersonator here attired in black bra and panties, has just been abducted by aliens. That unfortunate truth takes a while to reveal itself, since the show opens with the sight of a red curtain for a puppet show, which sloooowly rises onto another curtain that slowly parts, revealing yet another curtain ... You get the joke. Eventually, we see the Dream Music Orchestra -- Basil Twist's gorgeous puppet musicians. This visage melts into a panorama of the cosmos (video design by Daniel Brodie), a floating spaceship on which we finally meet Mr./Ms. Arias, strapped upside down to a neon hoop and being swiveled and probed. We see the visions dreamt by our semiconscious protagonist: a martini glass floats by, then a decapitated hand with the label "Jimmy Hoffa" before a puppet of Arias plunges and plunges and plunges into the "Jungle of Eden," a psychedelic pyschosexual collision of leafy plants, a slithering snake and an eventual meeting of Adam and Eve. (Twist did the design, which largely depends on the mystery of hauntingly dim and focused lighting.) The event culminates in the "show" that Arias has been aching to perform, a series of ballads, quite beautifully rendered, and reminiscent of the Henry Mancini era. The piece may take the art of drag into hallucinatory frontiers where no man-woman has gone before, and despite its self-conscious sense of humor, it does all this by ratcheting down camp clich<0x00E9>s, and with admirable craft. You almost believe that there's a point larger than its own artistry. That, of course, is just another hallucination. (Steven Leigh Morris)., $35-$40, $28-$32 students. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (213) 237-2800.

GO BABY IT'S YOU! Florence Greenberg (Meeghan Holaway) was a restless Passaic housewife with two nearly grown kids (Suzanne Petrela and Adam Irizarry) and a husband (Barry Pearl) resentful of her love for newfangled rock & roll. (When Bernie tells his missus, "Yakkity yak -- don't talk back," he's serious.) Flo left to create Scepter Records, taking with her four local girls whom she shaped into the Shirelles, the original queens of the hop. Floyd Mutrux's splashy doo-wop, jukebox musical tracks the naive but strong-willed exec as she discovers the brief glories of being on top of the charts with a new man at her side, prideful lyricist and producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis). Mutrux and co-writer Colin Escott see this as a story about suits, not singers: the Shirelles (Berlando Drake, Erica Ash, Paulette Ivory and Crystal Starr Knighton, all excellent) get stage time but no individuality except for Drake's Shirley, who makes a play for Luther. But everything is tangential to the music. If the second act didn't start with an endless but excellent cabaret of oldies by composers from Ron Isley to Lesley Gore, there'd be more plot and less applause. From the corner of the stage, a DJ named Jocko (Geno Henderson) interrupts to set the year, and the production is as much about a nostalgic nod to the era of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as it is about the story of an outsider building her kingdom. (Ironically, the least-familiar song is also the best, "The Dark End of the Street," later covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Frank Black.) Still, though Flo and her teen queens deserve more development, the evening closes with a grace note, as the five ladies sing together in harmony, knowing that even if they didn't shake up the world, they seized their own destinies. (Amy Nicholson)., $62-$72. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (626) 356-PLAY.

BONNIE & CLYDE World-premiere musical about the infamous lovers and their Depression-era crime spree. Book by Ivan Menchell, music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (858) 550-1010.

GO CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: KOOZA It's been about a decade since the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) was seen at Santa Monica Pier. This touring production marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, and also heralds a return to the simpler, less high-tech formats that informed earlier productions like Quidam and Allegria -- the emphasis here being on the old circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics. But that's not to say that there is something missing here. On the contrary, creator-director David Shiner, who made quite a name for himself as a clown in outings like Fool Moon, has packed this show with drama, comedy, whimsy, music, exotica, slick choreography, and plenty of how-do-they-do-that? moments. The show starts with an Innocent (Stephan Landry) opening a box containing a trickster (Mike Tyus), who reveals the magical world of the circus. And what a world it is! The clowns pull off some dazzling and funny routines, and interact throughout with the audience. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik twist their tiny bodies into letters of the alphabet, among other things. Lee Thompson amazes with a pickpocket routine at the expense of an unsuspecting attendee. Jimmy Ibarra and Angelo Lyerzkysky garnered a standing ovation for their superhuman feats on the Wheel of Death -- a daunting contraption that resembles two interconnected hamster wheels. Marie-Chantale Valliancourt's collage of costumes are stunning. (Lovell Estell III)., $60-$135; children $42-$94.50; students & seniors $45-$112.50. Santa Monica Pier, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 458-8900.

GO CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus' adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Craig Bilknap stages the work crisply with technical aplomb, though it's all a bit actorly. (Steven Leigh Morris). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sun., Dec. 13, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 16, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

GO EQUIVOCATION Bill Cain's much-heralded new play imagines Shakespeare (Joe Spano) being commissioned by a deputy (Connor Trinneer) of King James (Patrick J. Adams) to write a drama celebrating the apprehension of conspirators who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. As Shakespeare does his research, he finds himself in a fix between the king's desire for propaganda and his own commitment to the "truth." (Parallels between the aftermath of "The Gunpowder Plot" and 9/11 are more than apparent. The difficulties of telling the truth lies at the heart of Cain's digressive and somewhat bloated play, yet his various variations on that theme form an intricately woven fabric of ideas. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 208-5454.
Christmas

GO HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! THE MUSICAL The familiar yuletide tale from Dr. Seuss gets a musical face-lift in a touring version of the Broadway production. Narrator Old Max (John Larroquette), a wiser incarnation of the dog belonging to The Grinch (Stefan Karl), introduces the Whos of Whoville and their traditions, as well as the Grinch's desire to put an end to their good cheer. In addition to Albert Hague's widely known "Welcome, Christmas" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," a number of new songs cleverly incorporate traditional Christmas jingles but fails to achieve the iconic status of the aforementioned numbers (though "Santa For a Day," featuring cute-as-a-button Kayley Stallings as Cindy-Lou Who, is sweet). What distinguishes this compact production (90 minutes without intermission) are John Lee Beatty's set pieces, which incorporate Seuss' original line drawings; Robert Morgan's costumes, including the pastel mint hues of the Whos, and the bilious green coat sported by the Grinch; Thomas Augustine's hair and wigs, featuring mounds of colorful curls and swirls; Angelina Avallone's wonderfully detailed makeup; and Gregory Meeh's clever special effects, like the flying sleigh and ubiquitous snowflakes. Director Matt August deftly manages hundreds of moving parts and gets an appropriately over-the-top performance from Karl, whose Grinch surpasses that of Jim Carrey's. Headliner Larroquette has a surprisingly smooth hot-cocoa baritone, but his deadpan delivery is a bit too reminiscent of Dan Fielding. Like any face-lift, this one retains some wrinkles but makes for good family fare. (Mayank Keshaviah)., $30-$125. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 3. (213) 365-3500.

JAY JOHNSON: THE TWO AND ONLY! What about Bob? The ventriloquist from Soap keeps the party going. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 558-7000.

LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE, DIOS INANTZIN The Latino Theater Company presents Evelina Fernandez's adaptation of the 16th-century story of the Virgin Mary's appearance to Mexican peasants. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., L.A.; Through Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m., www.thelatc.org. (213) 489-0994, Ext. 107.

GO MARY POPPINS The riveting theatricality of Bob Crowley's production design, climaxing in chimney sweep Bert (Gavin Lee) soft-shoeing straight up, then upside down across the proscenium arch, and culminating in a showstopping umbrella flight over the audience by the famous titular nanny, produces an excitement that far outshines the limited value intrinsic in much of the musical's written material. Likewise the sublime showmanship of choreographer Matthew Bourne and stage director Richard Eyre hides the flaws in Julian Fellowes' disjointed script and new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. Unlike most of Disney's Broadway smashes that producer Thomas Schumacher has magically transformed from animated film to stage, this is a hybrid between Disney's 1964 movie masterpiece, whose fun and fanciful score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman still holds up, and the operetta gleaned from the original novel (with rights held by the Cameron Mackintosh team). The two styles battle one another for dominance, and neither wins. Most of the film's story lines are banished in favor of closer adaptation of the P.L. Travers books with the familiar songs wedged into the scenes, while the new songs more closely fit the story, but lack spark. Nevertheless the production is an audience pleaser, with demonstrable talent on or off the stage. (Tom Provenzano)., $20-$92. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (213) 628-2772.

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 fianc<0x00E9>e, 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 depicting, 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, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 666-4268.

GO NOISES OFF There are many stars in Geoff Elliott's accomplished staging of Michael Frayn's oft-produced backstage farce, but the ones that shine brightest may be the stagehands, who, between acts, hand-swivel Adam Lillibridge's elaborate, two-tiered living room set -- which represents the multitiered living room set of a play within the play, being performed somewhere in the British provinces -- inside out, so that the faux living room transforms into backstage directly behind the set, where the actors await their entrances. This is no easy feat, as the set almost touches the theater ceiling, but on opening night, they pulled it off in under 12 minutes, earning a round of applause from those standing by to watch. Frayn's farce is well known by now -- a theater production of a farce on the rails, with a world-weary director (Elliott) who's more than ready to move on to his next production, Richard III; a needy cast, one of whom (Stephen Rockwell) keeps insisting on psychological explanations for what's obviously a series of gags; another (Emily Kosloski, playing a dim-witted sex bomb) who keeps losing her contact lenses; and an elderly resident alcoholic (Apollo Dukakis) who creates dramatic tension from the question of whether or not he'll even show up to make his entrance. As the play-within-the-play continues its tour, in a production that grows increasingly chaotic, the ineptitude gets compounded by sexual dalliances among director, cast and crew that leave a trail of bruised feelings. Elliott's touch is both gentle and conservative, sidestepping many low-comedy sex gags that have accompanied other productions. It is nonetheless skillfully rendered, with lovely performances also by Deborah Strang, Mikael Salazar, Lenne Klingaman, Jill Hill and Shaun Anthony. (Steven Leigh Morris)., $44. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Through Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

OMAN ... O MAN! Debbie Allen Dance Academy presents the story of two young men at a military academy, one Omani, one American. Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood; Through Dec. 12. (310) 825-2101.

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.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Children's musical, book by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, lyrics and music by Hope and Lawrence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.

RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. In alternating repertory; call theater for schedule. (Neal Weaver). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 240-0910.

GO THE RIVER NIGER Joseph Walker was among a handful of black playwrights who came to prominence during the Civil Rights era and won acclaim for their dramas about the black experience in America. This is a solid, spirited revival of his 1974 Tony Award--winning drama about a family tested by a critical moment of reckoning. The action unfolds in the Harlem residence of Johnny Williams (a dynamic performance by Ben Guillory), a housepainter who writes poetry and whose love for his long-suffering wife, Mattie (Margaret Avery), is matched only by his love of the bottle. The two are anxiously anticipating the arrival of their son Jeff (Dane Diamond), who they believe is returning as a successful U.S. Air Force navigator. But his eventual return instead brings disappointment and trouble for the family. Adding to the crisis are Mattie's cancer diagnosis and the sudden appearance of four of Jeff's old buddies who are now members of a militant black revolutionary group. This is essentially a dated melodrama, but one that nevertheless holds our attention and has fruitful poignancy because of the well sketched, robust humanity of the characters. Director Dwain Perry could do better with more rigorous pacing. Cast performances are uniformly good, particularly Alex Morris, who is superb as Dr. Dudley Stanton. (Lovell Estell III). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (213) 489-0994.

A RUBICON FAMILY CHRISTMAS Sounds of the season, conceived and directed by Brian McDonald, musical direction by Gerald Sternbach. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (805) 667-2900.

SEUSSICAL Broadway musical for cats-in-the-hat of all ages. Book by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the works of Dr. Seuss. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 937-6607.

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.

WINTER WONDERETTES It's the most wonderful time of the year for Roger Bean's musical revue. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (949) 497-2787.

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

NEW REVIEW GO ABSINTHE, OPIUM, AND MAGIC
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Photo by Mark Bennington

1920s Shanghai is the setting of Debbie McMahon's wonderfully environmental tour de force of clowning, dancing, and blood, which evokes, with ferocious imagination, not just a bygone era, but also the atmosphere of the Grand Guignol.  Upon arrival at the theater, we are ushered into an ante-chamber outside the actual auditorium, which has been set up to resemble a Shanghai bazaar.  There are sallow eyed maidens serving tea - and also warm absinthe, strained through sugar, Thomas De Quincey-style. The scent of the absinthe wafts through the entire theater, melding with dry ice and creating a mood that elegantly mixes pleasure and decay. The play's first act, "Sing Song Girl Sings Last Song," is a haunting ballet of despair, involving a cast which includes jaded "Sing Song Girl" prostitute Bright Pearl (Tina Van Berckelaer), a young virgin protégé (Amanda Street) who dreams of becoming Top Whore, and calculating Madame Old Bustard (Dinah Steward), who plots to sell the virgin to be raped and mutilated by a pig-like mobster (Roy Starr). Anchored by McMahon's pleasingly melodramatic choreography, the dance tackles a compelling story of rage, despair, and vice. Steward's charmingly sinister Old Bustard steals every scene she's in - but  Street's scheming, loathsome virgin is a standout as well. Act 2's vignette, Chris Bell's "The Cabinet of Hands," is a gripping horror tale, with a sharp twist of quirky humor.  A prissy young French couple (Robin Long and Zachary Foulkes), vacationing in Shanghai, get more than they bargain for when they go slumming at the opium den owned by a seemingly kind old woman (Kevin Dulude). As the thrill seeking Westerners get happily stoned on The Dragon's Tail, the old woman's diabolical true nature shows through.  The final scene consists of a jaw dropping gorefest that will have you simultaneously howling with terror and laughter (while slipping your hands in your pockets for safekeeping). Dulude's wicked old woman is a perfect embodiment of mysterious evil - and the horrific fate of Long's ill-fated naïf hilariously suggests an anti-drug teaching moment that's very effective.  Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; check website for added perfs; thru Jan. 3.  http://www.brownpapertickets.com/ Grand Guignolers and [via] Corpora Performance R&D House production (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW GO ACCOMPLICE: HOLLYWOOD
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Photo courtesy of Tom Salamon

Part game, part theater, part tour: It all begins with a phone call disclosing a secret meeting location. Aided by clues and mysterious cast members strewn throughout various locations such as street corners, bars, iconic landmarks and out-of-the-way spots, the audience traverses the city streets, piecing together clues of a meticulously crafted plot. Various Hollywood Blvd. locations, schedule varies.  http://accomplicetheshow.com. (SLM) See Theater feature

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.

BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Kristian Steel. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.

GO BLACK LEATHER Photographer Robert Krapplethorpe -- an unmistakable twist on Mapplethorpe -- is a brazen narcissist. Manic when he's coked up, marginally less so when he isn't, he's an outsized provocateur who revels in outraging others with abrasive remarks and abusive behavior. As portrayed by playwright Michael Sargent, the sexually promiscuous Robert interacts with the world -- "finguratively" speaking -- with a permanently erect and extended middle finger. In this raucous satire, directed and designed by Chris Covics, the people at the receiving end of Robert's umbrage include his well-heeled lover and patron Sam (Jan Munroe); a gallery owner named Jilly (Kathy Bell Denton), with lots of money to lose if Robert should screw up; his African-American S&M partner, Milton (Kevin Daniels); his assistant, Ed (Dustin David); and his gal pal and former sweetheart, ostensibly modeled after Patti Smith, Ratty Spit (Liz Davies). Only with Ratty does Robert evince the barest trace of genuine love and care. Not for the prim or classical-minded, the production -- aptly billed as a "comedy of desperation" -- features lots of bare ass and graphic simulation of rough, homoerotic sex. Between and sometimes during scenes, cacophonous music throbs. The ensemble is solid, although the frenetic pace, reverberating noise and the main character's grating persona create a distraction from appreciating the fragile humanity beneath the clatter. (Deborah Klugman). Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-7781.

BOB BAKER'S HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR Marionettes take kids on a journey to Santa's Workshop, through the eight days of Hanukkah, and more, in this musical revue. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat., 10:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 10. (213) 250-9995.

BOB'S HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY It's the annual holiday bash at Iowa insurance agent Bob Finhead's office, in Rob Elk and Joe Keyes' ensemble comedy. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.plays411.com/bobs. (323) 960-5774.

GO CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE: LOVE, LUST AND OTHER HUMAN ODDITIES The two words that come to mind in describing this one-woman show by Naomi Grossman are "colorful" and "physical." The former hits you as you enter the theater and are treated to the circus-tent backdrop festooned with posters that would make P.T. Barnum proud (courtesy of designers Steven K. Barnett and April Lawrence). The latter becomes quickly evident in Grossman's storytelling style, beginning with a lively game of "Whack-a-Weenie" in which she takes a mallet to male members masquerading as moles (don't bring the kids). Though Grossman has the air of a wide-eyed ingenue, her contortionism along with the dirty details of nine of her dates -- from the stock boy at Trader Joe's, to her yoga instructor, to Argentine soccer players (in the plural) -- prove otherwise. But all is not wine and roses in this comic carnal romp, especially toward the end, when she tackles the darker side of love. Richard Embardo's efficient direction, along with Christopher Ash's nimble lighting and Kelley Rodgers' whimsical soundtrack, helps Grossman quickly move between stories as she darts about the stage, putting to good use the fungible, Willy Wonka-hued set pieces. And while her characters are not quite as sharply drawn as they could be, her energy, impressive physicality and the occasionally clever pun in the writing carry the piece. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 930-1804.

CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE OF JOY L.A. Theatre Works records Lynn Nottage's coming-of-age story. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Through Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 12, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 4 p.m., www.latw.org. (310) 827-0889.

GO EXTINCTION Gabe McKinley's play begins as a fast, funny, hip buddy comedy but grows steadily darker. Fast-talking hedonist and prosperous businessman Max (Michael Weston) regards women as disposable and interchangeable, and has no use for marriage, monogamy or fidelity. His real connection is to his male buddies -- including grad student Finn (James Roday). Max is fixated on their college days of boozing, snorting, gambling and chasing girls, so he arranges a spectacular weekend with Finn in Atlantic City. Finn, however, has outgrown Max's kind of self-indulgence. When he reveals that he's married and expecting a child, Max sees this as a betrayal, and a dangerous threat to his own self-image. He cajoles, threatens, manipulates and bribes Finn into joining his revels, and brings in a couple of working girls (Amanda Detmer and Stefanie E. Frame) to spice things up. But enforced fun proves to be a kind of hell, leading to disillusion, brutality and several kinds of extinction. Weston and Roday give finely etched and contrasting performances, and Wayne Kasserman directs with a skillful but unobtrusive hand this merciless evisceration of whatever it means to have character. Kurt Boetcher provides the clever, beautiful, black-and-white set. (Neal Weaver). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/extinction. (323) 960-7784.

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.

NEW REVIEW GO GAY APPAREL: A CHRISTMAS CAROL A gay comedy with universal appeal, adapter Jason Moyer's entertaining spoof of Dickens' classic imagines Scrooge as a prominent fashion designer who at one time turned his back on true love when he opted for money and success. In this scrambled parody, the bitchy mean-spirited Scrooge  (John Downey III) heads the S&M (Scrooge and Marley) Fashion House, where he mistreats his loyal employee, Bob (Moyer), while spurning the familial overtures of his good-hearted lesbian niece, Belinda (Mandi Moss). Meanwhile, Dickens' martyred innocent, Tiny Tim, has metamorphosed into invalid Uncle Tim (Leon Acord).  When Christmas Past (Moss) shows up (first as one of a trio of Afro-bewigged dancers from the '70s), she ushers back memories  of Scrooge's childhood, when his Dad (Acord) reviled him as a sissy boy for drawing dresses. Later, an enticing Christmas Present (Christopher Grant Pearson) appears in the guise of an  Alpine lad - but Scrooge's overtures are met with a no-no. Co-directed by Moyer and Lauralea Oliver, the show is bedecked with camped-up Christmas songs and designer Jennifer C. Smith's comical costumes.  The bare set and rudimentary lighting design detract a bit from the spectacle, and Downey's miser is too thinly caricatured, even for satire, but the performances in the rest of this adept and versatile ensemble amply compensate. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru 
Dec. 20. (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman)

GEOGRAPHY OF A HORSE DREAMER Sam Shepard's story of a kidnapped cowboy. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/90738. (323) 666-2296.

THE GLASS MENDACITY Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth's Tennessee Williams spoof. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (213) 389-9860.

NEW REVIEW GO THE GROUNDLINGS HOLIDAY SHOW The infamous troupe opens this year's Christmas sketches (plus a token Hanukkah bit) by taking the audience back to 1978 where a variety show host announces the evening's very special line-up, including two mimes, Kowalski and his Amazing Wrench, and a prostitute with a spoon. What follows is equally random: A boss' niece is frozen in grunge-mad 1993 after too much booze at the office party (cell phones send her into a thrashing panic), a newscaster throttles an orphan who's overdosed on cookies, a Cirque du Soleil minotaur reenacts the invention of snow, which involves him thrusting his white-spandexed crotch at a paralyzed audience member. Ted Michaels' direction amps the physical comedy to epileptic heights, causing the crowd to shake with laughter on the performance I attended. As if to ground the evening, two improv segments spun from audience suggestions were set in the mundane terrain of Rent-A-Center and Mattress Giant -- both strip mall spots were mined for gold. The Groundlings are the best local gang for girl performers, letting Stephanie Courtney and Charlotte Newhouse shine in odd, inventive roles; not once were they hemmed in by any dull girlfriend foil. Among a strong cast, Mitch Silpa was the most go-for-broke, and was rewarded with guffaws. Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 934-9700. (Amy Nicholson)

GO HAMLET SHUT UP Writer-director Jonas Oppenheim's whimsical reimagining of Shakespeare's play as a silent movie (music composed and performed by Josh Senick) comes packed with theatrical imagination and a robust sense of humor. It also raises the question of what body language can express, and in so doing just grazes the surface of Shakespeare's multitextured play. (Steven Leigh Morris). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (310) 281-8337.

NEW REVIEW THE HOUSE OF BESARAB
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Photo by Dane Bowman

Anyone expecting Tamara II may want to give a pass to this disappointing adaptation of Dracula. Though the production shares the venue -- the landmark Hollywood American Legion Post -- that housed the legendary environmental stage hit and promises a similarly immersive theatrical experience, playwrights Terance Duddy (who directs and is also the set and light designer) and Theodore Ott's anemic text simply pales before the full-blooded characterizations and labyrinthine simultaneity that made Tamara so richly rewarding. Here the Post stands in for Castle Dracula as Dracula (Michael Hegedus) himself appears in the atrium to welcome the assembled audience "to witness a battle between good and evil." In point of fact, what ensues is essentially the final chapter of Bram Stoker's novel embroidered with the reincarnation-romance subplot of Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film version and a bizarre, mad-scientist twist worthy of Roger Corman. The audience can either follow the Count and his servile assistant, Renfield (David Himes) into "the Great Hall" or wait for Dr. Van Helsing (Travis Michael Holder), Dr. Seward (Jessica Pagan understudying for Terra Shelman) and Harker (Dane Bowman), who soon arrive with a somnambulent Mina (Chase McKenna) on a mission to save her vampire-baptized soul. (Hint: follow Van Helsing; he's where the action -- and the better writing -- is.) Despite the capable cast's game effort and some elegant costuming by Sara Spink (who also does a fine turn as one of Dracula's very pregnant brides), a lackluster production design and stolid direction only compound the exposition-laden script's failure to realize its environmental-theater ambitions. Hollywood American Legion, 2305 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 203-2850. (Bill Raden)

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Frank Capra's film, performed onstage as a live radio play. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 525-0661.

GO LA RONDE DE LUNCH Peter Lefcourt's amusing Hollywood farce transpires at lunchtime in "the most pretentious restaurant" in town, where everyone meets but no one eats, since the purpose of getting together is less to fortify the body than to pump up the ego and the wallet. Lefcourt constructs his play, inspired by Schnitzler's La Ronde, as a series of two-person scenes. Each participant in this power-driven game of musical chairs wants something from his or her lunch partner -- and all crave an audience with Clive, a mysterious mover-and-shaker whose films gross hundreds of millions worldwide. Among the players are an aging actress (understudy Sondra Currie) with a Bette Davis complex, a burned-out alcoholic writer (Brynn Thayer) smitten with her personal fitness trainer (Haley Strode), a smarmy agent (Joe Briggs), a sugary but calculating bimbo (Fiona Gubelmann), her prey (a wealthy aging lawyer played by Robert Trebor) and, ultimately, Clive himself (understudy Bryan Callen, in a spot-on performance as the quintessentially smug superstar). No small part of the fun is generated by the waitstaff: a quintet of servers, all named Bruce, who comment, Greek-chorus-like, on the goings-on, as well as interacting with the customers and performing a stylistically different musical parody between each scene. Designer Jeff McLaughlin's appealing set, Shon LeBlanc's lively costumes and Tracy Silver's upbeat choreography add to the production's beguiling charm. Terri Hanauer directs. (Deborah Klugman). Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 358-9936.

GO LAND OF THE TIGERS Burglars of Hamm mingle and mangle The Crucible with Planet of the Apes in a vibrant and painful satire of theater-making in Los Angeles, and the cult of the acting-teacher/director-guru. (Steven Leigh Morris). Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/86591. (310) 440-0221.

THE LAST ANGRY BROWN HAT Alfredo Ramos' story of four Chicano friends, former Brown Berets, confronting their past. Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 9, (No perfs Nov. 26, Dec. 25, Dec. 31.) www.thehayworth.com. (323) 960-4442.

LE PHOENIX VERT Yet another awful screenplay, courtesy Magnum Opus Theatre. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (310) 281-8337.

GO A LIE OF THE MIND As an inaugural staging, Studio Five Productions' revival of Sam Shepard's 1985 complex, fractured-memory fable proves an auspicious and appropriate debut. Director John Langs' vibrant production is not only handsomely mounted and caustically funny, but, for a play about self-deception and misremembering, it goes a long way toward finally wiping away the memory of the Taper's 1988 austere, Robert Woodruff--helmed L.A. premiere. Believing he's killed his wife, Beth (Natalie Avital), in a jealous rage, Jake (Lance Kramer) flees to his Southern California boyhood home to hide out with his overly doting, widowed mother, Lorraine (Casey Kramer), and black-sheep sister, Sally (Maury Morgan). Unbeknownst to Jake, Beth has survived the assault and been whisked away by her overprotective brother, Mike (P.J. Marshall), to the rural Montana home of their bombastic father, Baylor (John Combs) and ditsy mother, Meg (Jennifer Toffel). While Jake and Beth recover from their respective traumas -- his a self-lacerating guilt that has transformed him into a cowering wreck; hers a severe concussion that has left her physically and mentally impaired -- the story's one truth seeker, Jake's brother Frankie (Logan Fahey), is himself crippled when the befuddled Baylor literally shoots the messenger. While myriad hidden truths will eventually come out, it's not before Shepard lays bare the self-deluding, foundational myths of each family in blistering parodies of Greek tragedy and frontier lore. Along the way, Langs and his flawless ensemble nimbly navigate the difficult transition between brutal domestic violence and sly, screwball farce, aided by Dwayne Burgess' elegantly expressionistic set, Travis McHale's atmospheric lights and the dramatic punch of Tim Labor's sound. (Bill Raden). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.studiofiveproductions.org. (888) 534-6001.

GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop jukebox 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 Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 960-4412.

LOVE WILL TEAR US APART In this play by Michael Hyman a young gay man is visited each night by the voice of a former lover and is confronted by his inability to get close with anyone and his related substance addictions. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-5773.

MOIST! Mariann Aalda and Iona Morris are MILF-y inspirational sexperts, heading (so to speak) the Multiple Orgasm Initiative for Sexual Transformation. Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.. (323) 960-4442.

GO MOLLY SWEENEY Those who can see imagine blindness to be barren of detail. But for 41-year-old Molly Sweeney (Melina Bielefelt), blind since 10 months old, her dark world is intricate and alive: she can tell flowers by feel, and dance wildly through her home without a bruise. In Irish playwright Brian Friel's stark 1996 drama, when Molly's newlywed husband Frank (Matthew McCallum) -- a man bursting with the type of passion that creates (and destroys) civilizations -- convinces alcoholic optician Mr. Rice (John Ross Clark) to "heal" his wife, all three admit the peril. Molly must be taught to see, to spot a peach without touch or smell. "There's a difference between learning and understanding," cautions the doctor, but neither of the men grasp that their real motive for the surgery is personal ego. (The triumphant headlines Frank imagines focus on his joyful tears.) Randee Trabitz directs her excellent ensemble on a stage divided by two translucent scrims. As Molly retreats in to "her world" -- the one Friel validates for the audience (during his first draft of the play, he also underwent cataract surgery) -- she slips behind them until toward the end, we can scarcely see her at all. We're as blind to Molly as her doctor and her husband are to her as well, though we suspect she sees through us all just fine. (Amy Nicholson). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (800) 838-3006. See Theater feature

THE NIBBLER Just graduated from high school, aspiring musician Adam (Nicholas S. Williams) and his pals hang at the local diner, exchanging the casually benign blather ubiquitous among ennui-saturated suburban youth. Gradually, personal issues emerge. Adam's father is dead and his estranged mom sleeps with another guy. Matt's (Rick Steadman) harping dad thinks he's a loser. Pete (Ron Morehouse) suspects but fiercely denies to himself that he's a "faggot." Tara (Joanie Ellen) worries because none of her guy friends want to screw her. The precocious Hayley (Alana Dietz) sidelines as a phone sex worker. Enter the Nibbler -- manifested first as flashing lights and strange sounds but soon materializing as a black specter with giant claws, whose touch radically alters each of their lives. Or so the premise goes. In fact, playwright Ken Urban's nascent horror spoof never gets past the listlessness that overwhelms its characters. There are revitalizing junctures, as when Matt, post-Nibbler encounter, transforms into a Republican fundamentalist and lets loose a scabrous dialogue that exposes the profound schizophrenia of the Religious right. But such smart sharp writing -- along with the Nibbler's laughably scary appearances -- come only at intervals. Riddled with loose threads, the play suffers its own schizoid split: Is it a send-up, a social commentary or a quasipersonal reminiscence? In an apparent attempt at all three, it scores well at none. Under Mark Seldis' direction, the performances, like the play itself, compel only sporadically. (Deborah Klugman). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 856-8611.

OKLOHOMO! Hollywood troupe attempts a gaytastic version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, Justin Tanner ensues. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.celebrationtheatre.com. (323) 957-1884.

NEW REVIEW PANDORA This revisionist retelling of the myth of Pandora's Box was created by director Ben Cox and the ensemble. In it, we're presented with two Pandoras. The mythical Pandora (Victoria Truscott) is created by Prometheus the Fire-Giver (Chris Thorpe) as a wife/lover for Epimetheus (Willie Zelensky), and sent into the world with a mysterious box that she's told she must never open.  Curiosity gets the better of her, she opens the box, and unwittingly releases all the troubles that beset human-kind--but also hope, which makes the troubles and woes bearable. The modern Pandora (Sarah Casolaro) is a more familiar figure: raised by her mother (Faryl Saliman Reingold), with an absent father, she has a sure instinct for picking cruel, unreliable men.  She uses her box to contain negative feelings that threaten to engulf her. The show has many virtues, including effective songs and dances, and the large ensemble is capable and dedicated. But the production bears too many traces of its self-conscious, over-earnest acting workshop origins. The mostly black costumes, and scenes played in virtual darkness, create an overall murkiness, and pacing is disastrously languid. Numerous short scenes, separated by overlong blackouts, vitiate the proceedings and make for flagging interest. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m., thru Dec. 20. http://www.NeoAcroTheatre.com A Neo Acro Theatre Company production.  (Neal Weaver)

PASTORELA The traditional Mexican Christmas play in a modern adaptation. Note: In Spanish. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (213) 382-8133.

PEEP THIS! Sketch comedy by "hot chick" ensemble BoomChickBoom. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 15, www.plays411.com/boomchick. (323) 960-7829.

POST There doubtless will be many fine plays written in the future about the Iraq War and its effect on the men and women who served in it. This, however, is not one of them. In Donavan Thomas' superficial tale about the war's impact on two longtime friends, Michael (Thomas) returns home and moves into the shabby digs (nicely constructed by Erin Sellnow) of fellow veteran and friend Chuck (Nathanyael Grey). The atmosphere of bonhomie quickly starts to evaporate when Chuck's girlfriend, Autumn (Jamie Renee Smith), suddenly and inexplicably begins a romance with Michael. It doesn't take a genius to see at this point that the plot is headed for a tragic love triangle; much of the problem with this clunky script is that the predictable blood-soaked finale takes too long to arrive. Between drinking themselves silly and exchanging barbs, there is some mention of Chuck and Michael's past experiences as soldiers, but they hardly scratch the surface or explain how these two admittedly "fucked-up" guys got that way. Timothy Gagliardo's tepid direction doesn't help. (Lovell Estell III). Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/post. (323) 960-7740.

NEW REVIEW THE SANTALAND DIARIES 
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Photo courtesy of Blank Theatre Company

That master of NPR snark, David Sedaris, sinks his claws into Claus in his artful monologue about the relentless Hell we know better as Christmastime Customer Service.  In director Michael Matthews' intimate and straightforward solo show, performer Nicholas Brendon portrays the narrator of Sedaris' tale, who gets a gig as a Macy's Department Store Elf during the weeks before Christmas.  Any thoughts that the newly minted Elf might come away from the experience with a sense of faith in mankind's goodwill almost instantly wears away under the relentless tide of screeching children, selfish and boorish parents, and seemingly demented Santas. And what a rogues gallery the Great Christmas Public is, running the gamut from barfing children, to foul-mouthed parents, to co-workers as deranged as they are elfin. Although Sedaris's hero is working in the most ignominious gig, the World of Holiday Fun -- amusing on its own terms -- the story's barbed depiction of the retail world will ring drolly true to anyone who has ever had a job when they can't talk back to the rude and the disgusting. Brendon is an appealing performer who makes Sedaris' story his own, nicely conveying the sense of a character whose toothy, cheerful grin masks the disdain of the passive- aggressive store clerk.  If there's a problem with Sedaris's play, it's that the material is almost aggressively lightweight, with the dramatic heft of a scrap of Christmas wrapping paper. Still, if you're into funny jokes about awful customers, the show's frothy charm has appeal.  2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; thru December 20. http://www.theblank.com  or (323) 661-9827. A Blank Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall)

SEASONS END When Charlie Comes Home by Rochelle Perry, Season's End by Susan C. Hunter, Tilly Turley's Christmas Teapot by Michael Sadler, and A Brief Moment for Our Jewish Friends or Ernie Ackerman Explains the Hanukkah Bush by Steven Kobar. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (323) 469-3113.

SERIAL KILLERS Five sketch serials compete to continue, voted on by the audience. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 281-8337.

SEVENTH STORY MAN By Colin Mackintosh & Murray Langston (a.k.a. The Unknown Comic). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Dec. 12, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-8779.

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 wife (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. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 663-1525.

SLASHER Allison Moore's comedy thriller. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/slasher. (323) 960-7776.

NEW REVIEW STATED INCOME
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Photo by Stephen Allison

If there's any truth to the old apothegm about a good actor's ability to wring a compelling performance out of the telephone book, director Mark Blanchard and his gifted ensemble certainly prove it in this premiere of playwright Hugh Gross' fatally insipid recession comedy. Times are tough for real-estate loan broker Mel Malt (Sal Landi) in the wake of the subprime mortgage fiasco. His relationship with his girlfriend, Irene (Michelle Laurent), is on the rocks; his cash-strapped daughter (Laurent) is threatening to take his grandchild (the double-cast Carmen and Rowan Blanchard) off to cheaper pastures; and his banker (Orien Richman) is hounding him for the back payments on the home-improvement loan he took out to float his foundering business. Potential salvation arrives in the form of Stuart Dolittle (the charismatic Michael Malota), an ambitious and ethically ambivalent young intern, who proposes that if they can't earn commissions by getting loans for their fiscally-deadbeat clientele, they can use the confidential income information on their loan applications to rat out customers to the IRS for a percentage of any unpaid taxes. And while the improbable scheme ultimately pays off, little else does in a disjointed, threadbare narrative beset by too much pedestrian dialogue and under-developed relationships. The cast takes up some of the slack with memorably screwball character vignettes (including Richman and Kasia Wolejnio's wicked take on a pair of bickering, Armenian nouveau riche) and director Blanchard eases the pain with a breakneck, Howard Hawksian pace. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 960-7788. Presented by Actorhood. (Bill Raden)

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.

NEW REVIEW GO THREE TALL WOMEN In a 2005 interview given to the Academy of Achievement, Edward Albee said "What could be worse than getting to the end of your life and realizing you hadn't lived it." The words are eerily apropos when considering this haunting theatrical meditation on life unfulfilled, and looming death, which garnered Albee his third Pulitzer in 1994. In the opening tableau, we first see a senile, elderly women simply known as A (a virtuosic turn by Eve Sigall), who is either "91 or 92," seated in her bedroom in the company of a youthful, nattily dressed woman B (Jan Sheldrick) and A's middle aged caregiver C (Leah Myette). The dialogue is brisk, chatty, often loud and angry, often humorous, and laced with colorful, sometimes dark reminiscences that subtly hint at the connection they share. It is early on in Act 2 when we learn that these three females are actually one person seen at differing stages in life -- cross sections of one soul. The conceit allows them access to each other as familiars and strangers, incapable of fully grasping the person that they became, torn between joy, guilt and regret, while awaiting the inevitable approach of death, the "getting to the end of it," as A sadly muses at play's end. Michael Matthews, in addition to drawing stellar performances from his cast, directs this production with redoubtable subtlety. Kurt Boecher's expressionist "exploded" bedroom set adds a perfect touch. Rounding out the cast is Michael Geniac. El Centro Theater, A West Coast Ensemble production. 845 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Thur- Sat, 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. thru Dec. 20 (323) 460-4443. (Lovell Estell III)

THE THREE WISE PLAYS Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster by Sean Abley, Yardsale by Lisa Martin Capozzi, and Musical Musings by Brian Nassau. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 469-3113.

THREE TALL WOMEN Edward Albee's study of contemporary womanhood. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.westcoastensemble.org. (323) 460-4443.

GO TREE An elderly black woman, Jessalyn Price (Sloan Robinson) suffers from dementia in an upstairs bedroom in Chicago's South Side, circa 2000, where she lives with her caretaker son, Leo (Chuma Gault). The story of Jessalyn's past, and of her impassioned, forbidden love, emerges through her too-poetical ramblings, in Julie H<0x00E9>bert's otherwise riveting family drama. The saga comes into clear focus, however, with the help of a Caucasian interloper, Didi Mercantel (Jacqueline Wright) -- a single, emotionally brittle brianiac from Louisiana who "suffers" from some gender ambiguity, and who claims to be the daughter of the man, just deceased, who once loved and abandoned the woman upstairs. Just when you thought August: Osage County had put the family drama to rest for a while, here comes a new play that doesn't ride on the macabre or the Gothic; rather, it's propelled by a kind of anthropological dig of detritus and handwritten missives from decades past, revealing the tugs of history, society and circumstance on a white Southern youth and his black girlfriend, both from Louisiana, trying to build a life together in the land of the free. Leo's daughter, J.J. (Tessa Thompson) chastises Didi that she has no right to seek consolation for her father's death by bursting in their door. "You're not family," J.J. declares. Whether that declaration is a truth, a truism, or a cruel editorial opinion lies at the heart of what this play says about our relations to each other in a nation of interlopers. Jessica Kubzansky's staging brings the characters' wry intelligence to the fore. (Steven Leigh Morris). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, L.A.; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Dec. 13. (323) 461-3673.

A VERY MERRY HAPPY KOSHER CHRISTMAS Dumb criminals break into the New York Public Library on Christmas Eve, by Mark Troy. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (323) 467-6688.

GO VIOLATORS WILL BE VIOLATED Casey Smith's solo mime show (he does scream a lot, but there are almost no decipherable words) consists of 17 brief sketches accompanied by a swath of musical selections in which the silver-haired actor reveals a meticulously crafted and demented insanity. Each character, from a decathlon athlete to a female stripper, is an unwaveringly merciless portrait of self-destruction, which is the evening's theme. It's unabashedly puerile, scatological, nihilistic and as funny as hell. (Steven Leigh Morris). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.circlextheatre.org...

WACADEMIA Joe Camhi's satirical comedy about a hit man who has to take care of his father, whom he tries to teach political correctness in the same environment with his wife, who is suing an academic colleague for sexual harassment. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 874-1733.

WOMEN BEHIND BARS Sendup of women-in-prison B-movies, by Tom Eyen. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 957-1884.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AS WHITE AS O Against the backdrop of a New York art show titled "The Innocents: 30 Years of Outsider Art in America," this world premiere of novelist Stacy Sims' first dramatic endeavor explores synesthesia, a condition in which senses are cross-wired so that feelings are "tasted" and letters and numbers appear in specific colors, among other things. The "outsiders," in this case, are Jack (Vince Tula) and his father, Sam (Mark St. Amant), who both spent much of Jack's childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, festooning their modest backwoods cabin with the detritus of our consumer society. While such decoration was therapeutic for them after losing Jack's mother, Grace (Elizabeth Sampson), they are discovered by Clara (Lauren Clark), a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in the house and in Sam. Running parallel to this story line, adult Jack is the subject of another work in the same show by Ed (Ramon Campos), who interviews and videotapes Jack in order to create his piece. The play fluidly oscillates between the present and the past, and accomplished director Sam Anderson deftly handles the transitions, though his pacing and shaping of his characters' emotional climaxes are a bit uneven. Desma Murphy's set, enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's subtly shifting lighting, is wonderfully detailed and spatially enhances the piece's thematic elements. The cast has moments of inspiration, but only Sampson consistently delivers the emotional energy required of Sims' script, which itself would be strengthened by fewer tangential story lines, and a stronger central plot. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.

ASTROGLYDE 2009 Zombie Joe's Underground presents six all-new performance pieces. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 202-4120.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER It's the neighborhood church lady versus a clan of ill-behaved kids, just in time for the holidays, in Barbara Robinson's comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (626) 256-3809.

CHATSWORTH Matt Robertson's study of living in the margins of the megalopolis -- a commune of actors, models and assorted showbiz wannabes who have gravitated to the San Fernando Valley -- might be defined as weirdly Chekhovian, with its tangle of unrequited loves and the often farcical romantic-erotic escapades of its characters on their road to nowhere. Chekhov's inebriating snuff here gets translated into coke -- the function is the same. Or maybe this is closer to Gorky's The Lower Depths. Director Roger Mathey plays the central role, Matthew (same name as the playwright, huh) -- a corpulent fellow and one-hit-wonder screenwriter who's as spiritually bankrupt as his so-called career -- an insight he's trying to keep to himself. Skinny new kid in town (Ry Higdon) gets hooked on amateur photographer (Dana Wing Lau), who toys and then steps on the callow guy. Mathey's staging is clumsy: The actors must fling open curtains on the side of the stage to reveal their hidden bedrooms, or wherever. Sometimes that's just for a peek at some gratuitous nudity, including a moment of urophilia in case you were drifting off. The guy who yearns to be peed on is the cad playing several women at once -- which is a nice insight. If only the actor weren't so transparently a player. The theme of breaking or broken dreams doesn't resonate because, well, in Chatsworth, what else would one expect? It's just all a little too obvious and a touch too leering to rise above the pedestrian. (Steven Leigh Morris). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16, www.plays411.com/chatsworth. (818) 990-2324.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL The Dickens story, adapted by Richard Hellesen, music and lyrics by David De Berry. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.

EIGHT Four one-act plays by Adam Kraar, followed by four more one-acts by Michael Bassett. Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 595-4849.

8 SHADES OF ALICE "A young girl relives her life through eight different personalities on the day she commits suicide," by Layon Gray. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Dec. 12, 9 p.m.. (818) 761-0704.

GBLT: GAYS, BACON, LETTUCE AND TOMATO Tasty treats from Theatre Unleashed's sketch comedy troupe Die Gruppe. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Wed., Dec. 16, 10:15 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 18, 9 p.m.; Through Jan. 16, 2010, 10:30 p.m.; Wed., Jan. 27, 9 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 30, 10:30 p.m., www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

GRACE KIM & THE SPIDERS FROM MARS Directed by Jeff Liu, Phillip W. Chung's pedestrian romantic comedy centers on two estranged sisters' rivalry for one man's affections. It's Christmas: Maysie (Elaine Kao) returns home from L.A. to suburban New Jersey, with her fianc<0x00E9>, Wayne (Hanson Tse), an up-and-coming Beverly Hills surgeon. Wayne is introduced to Maysie's family, including her maverick sister Grace (Elizabeth Ho), a medical-school dropout and a restless spirit since their mom's death 10 years ago. Inexplicably (like any number of other random incidents), Wayne chooses this occasion to announce that he's decided to pull up stakes and move from L.A. to a rural village in China, where he plans to open a pediatric-AIDS clinic. This upsets the astounded Maysie, who's been cherishing the idea of a cozier, more conventional future. Later that night, Wayne and Grace find themselves drawn to each other. One of the biggest recurring jokes is how all the various women periodically gather teary-eyed round the TV soap opera and weep quietly -- as, secretly, does lovable buffoon Dad (Kelvin Han Yee). At junctures, some popular ballad is piped in, and the characters sing, though not well. In need of wit, a surprise and character development, the script hobbles to its reconciliatory, bittersweet conclusion. Some of the dreariness is abated by the charismatic Ho, who performs with a stylish authenticity that allows you to momentarily ignore the material. (Deborah Klugman). GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 993-7245.

HOLIDAY HANGOVER: AN ANTHOLOGY FOR THE SEASONALLY AFFECTED Theatre Unleashed's collection of original works all taking place the day after Christmas. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.

IF YOUR EYES ARE CLEAR... Saghatel Harutyunyan's Soviet-era drama, adapted by Aramazd Stepanian. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 500-7200.

GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper's musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalog followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saintlike perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiny, until the music returns him to his proper place. (Tom Provenzano). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7.

MARRY, FUCK, OR KILL "Four couples' evolving and dissolving relationships.". Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19...

THE MENOPAUSE "CRACK-UP" Judith E. Taranto's solo dramedy about the onset of menopause. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 761-2166.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET Adapted by Patricia DiBenedetto Snyder, Will Severin and John Vreeke, from the novel by Valentine Davies. Canyon Theatre Guild, 24242 Main St. (formerly San Fernando Rd.), Newhall; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.canyontheatre.org. (661) 799-2700.

MOLLY British playwright Simon Gray based this play loosely on the sensational 1930s murder trial of Alma Rattenbury. He focuses the drama on Molly (Giselle Wolf), a sort of junior-grade Hedda Gabler, who's fighting off the approach of middle age. She gets her way with everybody by ruthless flirtation, and her catchphrase is, "pretty please with sugar on it." Seeking security, she has married a rich, elderly Canadian businessman Teddy (Don Moss), but he's a deaf semi-invalid, their marriage is sexless, and she has strong sexual needs. When she's attracted to Oliver (Max Roeg), a sullen, lower-class boy from the village, she hires him as her chauffeur, and proceeds to seduce him, despite the disapproval of their respectable spinster housekeeper, Eve (Ann Gee Byrd). When Molly moves Oliver into their house to facilitate their nightly trysts, she becomes so reckless that even Teddy catches on. He fires and humiliates the unstable Oliver, precipitating disaster. Yet Gray's play is more of a character study than thriller, almost saved from banality by his intriguing portrait of the volatile, neurotic and vulnerable title character. But it goes flat in the perfunctory, final scene. Jeffery Passero directs his fine cast with finesse, on Elizabeth Hayden-Passero's impeccably tasteful set. (Neal Weaver). Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 841-5421.

MRS. CAGE Nancy Barr's story of robbery, mayhem, and murder in the supermarket parking lot. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 761-2166.

POLYESTER THE MUSICAL "You can leave disco, but disco never leaves you," say the Synchronistics, a four-piece ABBA-esque band that broke up on the eve of what would have been their big national break: an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. True enough. It's 20 years later, but the blonde (Pamela Donnelly) is still so furious about the brunette (Gwendolyn Druyor) "schtupping" her husband (Christopher Fairbanks) that that lusty night at the Howard Johnson's in Green Bay feels like yesterday. In two decades, none of them has moved on to a new career or love interest. (Fourth member Jim Staahl still lives at home with his mom.) The Synchronistics have reunited for one last performance for a fund-raiser on the public-access station that gave them their start, and everyone's future depends on it. The stakes are so hard-hammered that by the end of Act I, no less than a disco hall of fame, the station's existence, the announcer's (Robert Moon) career, a new tour, an illegitimate child and two marriages depend on the squabbling band raking in $10,000. Phil Olson and Wayland Pickard's musical isn't trying for subtlety. Each of the 16 songs relates directly to the band's mood, and in case we miss the message in disco ditties like "I Want You, But I Hurt You," the characters rehash their feelings afterward -- or in one instance, into a number with, "I'd like to do a song about what we were just talking about." Pickard and Doug Engalla's direction similarly understates nothing, though both Druyor and Staahl manage to soft-shoe in hilarious turns as the not-so-supergroup's humble dolts. (Amy Nicholson). Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 506-0600.

RAY BRADBURY'S MERRY CHRISTMAS 2116 Preview of a new musical by the sci-fi master (music by James Hoke) about an aging husband and wife who each buy a spouse-replacement robot as a surprise for their mate. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.

NEW REVIEW GO ROBBIE JENSEN: THE 12 STEPS OF CHRISTMAS Into Shane Birdsill's slick, corporate-style set, complete with flipcharts, graphic posters, and a flat panel television display, self-help "guru" Robbie Jensen (Tony Matthews, who co-wrote the piece with Matt Schofield) comes bounding to work his magic with the audience.  It is December at the Marriott in Woodland Hills, and from the outset Jensen gets his audience clapping and participating in call and response as he introduces his "Four Steps to the Five Happinesses," all while employing a series of Colbert-esque malapropisms.  Matthews' engaging force of personality and smiling eyes draw you in as he relates the story of his friend Enrique from Colombia and his sister Fallopia to demonstrate the effectiveness of the rehabilitative "Robbie House" run by Jensen and his offstage wife.  In the second and third acts, set in Philadelphia and Des Moines respectively, Jensen brings members of the audience up on stage, but Jensen, now separated from his wife, has begun drinking and his seminar falls apart, though not without the hilarity that ensues from inebriation.  Director Craig Woolson keeps Matthews in constant motion, which fits his character well, and Matthews' conversations with himself on the video screen are well timed and executed.  Outside of a first act that drags toward the end and could use some editing, the rest of the show offers an amusing evening of interactive entertainment. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru December 20. (323) 960-1053.  (Mayank Keshaviah)

SANTASIA: A HOLIDAY COMEDY Yuletide yuks, directed by Shaun Loeser. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 26, www.santasia.com. (866) 811-4111.

SIN Wendy Macleod's story of a helicopter traffic reporter in San Francisco on the eve of the 1989 earthquake of 1989. Playhouse West Repertory Theater, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., Dec. 13, 2 & 7 p.m., www.playhousewest.net. (818) 332-3101.

TENT MEETING Discredited evangelist and con-man Rev. Edward O. Tarbox (Gary Ballard) uses his religion and talent for gospel-shouting to bully and browbeat his son Darrell (Travis Hammer) and daughter Becky Ann (Amanda Deibert). He's in danger of being run out of town, partially because slightly simple Becky Ann has given birth to a monstrous baby -- and there's no visible father. Tarbox convinces himself that the vegetable-like baby is the second coming of Christ, and he wants to christen him Jesus O. Tarbox. His self-serving visions urge him to pack up his family and his tent, drive to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and hold a revival meeting where he'll reveal the baby as the reborn Messiah. The script by Levi Lee, Larry Larson and director Rebecca Wackler is wildly uneven in tone, alternating stark drama with broad farce. Some of the funniest and most interesting scenes hint there's supernatural influence at work, but the hints lead nowhere. Wackler elicits fine performances from the three actors, and the piece is frequently fun to watch, but it's ultimately frustrating because it doesn't add up, and too many plot elements are left floating in limbo. Mark Colson and PJ King provide the interesting house-trailer set. (Neal Weaver). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (818) 846-5323.

THA' INTIMATE PHIL Philip Bell's solo show, with music by Phil 'n' Nem. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Mon., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28. (323) 674-5024.

THAT PERFECT MOMENT Baby boomers reunite their band, in Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper's holiday nostalgia. Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 17, www.plays411.com/perfect. (323) 960-7745.

WINTER TALES: A CELEBRATION OF HOLIDAY STORIES Bryan Rasmussen directs this annual cavalcade of comedic and dramatic monologues and holiday songs. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.whitefiretheatre.com.. (818) 990-2324.

X-MAS CABARET Alt-holiday cabaret extravaganza with singer Sixx Carter, comedian Jay Ko, juggler Scott Nery and more. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 508-3003.

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

ANOTHER PLAY OF THE DEAD Roadkill Productions presents a series of short plays by John Bozeman, Tom Coash, Caroline Marshall, Tracy Merrifield, Marnie Olson, and Janet Rathert. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 535-6007.

GO THE BROWNING VERSION Though not as widely known or acclaimed as his contemporary British playwrights, Terence Rattigan was a superb dramatist and chronicler of human emotions. Here, Rattigan's The Browning Version, the gloomy story of an aging schoolteacher crushed by failure and disappointment, receives a stellar mounting by director Marilyn Fox. A well-regarded scholar of the classics, Andrew Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) has spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public school in England but must leave the position because of failing health to take a less-stressful job elsewhere. Now the object of jokes and ridicule by his students, and denied a pension by the school, he has a bearing that is subdued by sadness, yearning and a palpable "gallows" surrender to circumstance. His wife, Millie (Sally Smythe), has given up on being happy with him and has contented herself with numerous dalliances with his colleagues (which she delights in reminding him of), and cruelly undermining what remains of his sense of manhood. Her current lover, Frank (understudy David Rogge), is torn between a sense of guilt, his admiration for Andrew, and the dying embers of lust for Millie. It is only when the professor is presented with a rare translation of Agamemnon from a student (Justin Preston) that his mask of stoic restraint melts to reveal a desperately fragile inner life. From this sedate tapestry of characters, Rattigan artfully probes marriage, relationship and our perverse capacity to embrace lacerating emotional pain and self-deceit, which all unfolds beautifully on Norman Scott's cleverly designed sitting-room mock-up. Fox directs this piece with masterful subtlety and draws devastatingly convincing performances from her actors.(Lovell Estell III). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 822-8392.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Long Beach Shakespeare Company presents the Charles Dickens classic, adapted for the stage by Denis McCourt. Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.lbshakespeare.org. (562) 997-1494.

THE CHRISTMAS PRINCESS Spoiled princess must find three magic Christmas gifts, by Arthur M. Jolly. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 2:30 & 5:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.cruthaighproductions.com. (310) 656-8070.

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. 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. (SLM). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.

CURRENT NOBODY Melissa James Gibson's take on The Odyssey centers on a photojournalist mom and a stay-at-home dad. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.

DETENTION OF THE DEAD The George A. Romero High School has been overrun by zombies, and five stereotypical teenagers have taken refuge in the detention room, where the teacher has been decapitated. They've barricaded the door, but the zombies lurk outside. Star jock Brad (Mike Horton) is grieving because his best friend/teammate, Jimmy, has just been devoured, while his girlfriend, sex-pot cheerleader, Janet (Crystle Lightning), is hell-bent on having a man -- any man -- break out to rescue her. Bad-boy/class clown Ashbury (Michael Petted) copes with anxiety by getting stoned. Self-dramatizing Goth-girl Willow (Samantha Sloyan) decides death is not so appealing if it's actually imminent. And nerdly Eddie (Alex Weed) thinks he might survive the zombie attack because he's a virgin, and in zombie movies it's always the kids who smoke, drink, dope and have sex who die. One by one, they're picked off, in increasingly bloody, bizarre ways. Rob Rinow's script is a heavy-handed, predictable send-up of generic horror flicks. It has some funny lines, but most of the laughs come from the actors' manic performances and physical comedy. Director Alex Craig Mann keeps the action broad and violent, and David Bartlett provides the effective if sometimes deafening sound. (Neal Weaver). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 358-9936.

THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES Santa's reindeer dish on the jolly old soul, in Jeff Goode's Christmas confessional. The Waterfront Concert Theatre, 4211 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey; Mon., Sun., 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, www.cruthaighproductions.com. (310) 449-9550.

EVERYBODY NOSE: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Clown troupe Everybody Nose presents an all-clown version of Charles Dickens' Christmas classic. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, ahimsacollective.com/everybodynoseachristmascarol. (310) 396-3680.

ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION John Patrick Shanley's comedy about two lifelong friends. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 397-3244.

GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight - an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece which is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but run down country house in upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger) are in the twilight of their careers, but regret nothing about a life spent on the road performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiance Jimmy (David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly - but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior - and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration underscoring the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive, yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (310) 392-7327.

LA POSADA MAGICA (THE MAGICAL JOURNEY) Octavio Solis' Christmas musical, "performed in English with a Latin beat.". Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (310) 477-2055.


LOVE IN BLOOM If you can imagine what one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies would be like if it were set to music and lyrics, you'd have a good idea of the delightful whimsy concocted here by Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. It's a bold, ambitious piece of musical theater with touches of commedia dell'arte and Gilbert and Sullivan plus lots of unexpected turns and plot twists, all of which make the viewing more fun. The story is narrated by Orion (DeCarlo) and Talia (Rudie), the rulers of the Fairy Kingdom, and the setting is the mythical kingdom of Hamelot, where the arranged marriage of the Prince (Tyner Pesch) is to take place. The fate of the kingdom depends, however, on the prince finding his true love, which the King and Queen of fairyland are determined to make happen in order to "restore the balance of both worlds." Tossed in is a m<0x00E9>lange of rogues, damsels, courtly intrigues, romance, spells, even a frog prince. Following the goings-on it gets a bit ponderous (opening act two is "The Recap" to refresh our memories), but it does pay off. DeCarlo's direction is spot on, while Matthew Wrather and Rudie's music and lyrics provide a level of enjoyment of their own under the playful touch of musical director Selena Dolinsky. Kudos to Ashley Hayes for fairy tale-inspired costumes. (Lovell Estell III). The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 394-9779.

MERCY WARREN'S TEA The first American woman playwright, Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1815), is such an intrinsically fascinating historical figure, it's almost astonishing that she isn't far better known in the theatrical pantheon. Almost immediately upon learning about this early "Republican mother," we only wish we could see her satire, The Adulateur, in which she apparently skewered the corrupt British governor in pre--Revolutionary War Massachusetts. However, instead of such intriguing material, we get playwright Jovanka Bach's plodding historical treatment. In 1783, playwright-historian Mercy (Donna Luisa Guinan) holds a tea party for her pal Abigail Adams (a nicely starchy Mona Lee Wylde), whose husband, John Adams, is one of Mercy's major intellectual mentors. Mercy is plotting to write the definitive history of the Revolution -- and, for research, she has invited none other than Mrs. Benedict Arnold (Susan Ziegler), to join them, so she can tell her side of the story of her husband's betrayal of the American cause. Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Arnold argue bitterly -- which, one suspects, was pretty much what the observational journalist Mercy was hoping for when she brought the pair together. The basic situation of these Daughters of the American Revolution meeting in one room is clever -- but Bach's drama is not, with its stilted, overly researched dialogue, which often feels as though it has been ripped whole cloth from some history text. Worse, the script lets go of Mercy's story midway through to focus on the much less compelling interactions between Adams and Arnold. Director John Stark's straightforward staging is functional, underscoring the pedantic tone. Ziegler's sultry, twisted Mrs. Arnold is engagingly multidimensional, considering the script's fustiness -- and so is Wylde's tightly controlled Mrs. Adams. (Paul Birchall). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 477-2055.

GO NO MAN'S LAND When Harold Pinter's drama was first produced at Britain's National Theatre in 1975, it was a star vehicle, offering virtuoso acting by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Now that the star glamour has worn off, it's possible to see the play more clearly. At times Pinter appears to be imitating Pinter, bringing out all the familiar tropes. Nevertheless, the writing is rich, and director Michael Peretzian gives it an elegant, well-acted production. Two elderly writers, Hirst (Lawrence Pressman) and Spooner (Alan Mandell) meet by chance in a Hampstead pub, and Hirst invites Spooner to his townhouse for a drink. At first, the two seem to be strangers, but gradually it emerges that they have been rivals -- sexual and professional -- since their days at Oxford. Hirst has won the success game, while Spooner lives in genteel poverty. Prosperity and alcohol have left Hirst semi-embalmed, while Spooner is very much alive, and angling for employment as Hirst's secretary-companion. But two slightly menacing caretakers are already in place -- Briggs (Jamie Donovan) and Foster (John Sloan). Their position is ambiguous: Are they Hirst's employees or his captors? Mysteries and contradictions proliferate in an evening of perverse wit and skillful acting. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 477-2055.


RABBIT HOLE David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner about a family turned upside-down after the death of a child. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (562) 494-1014.

REAL, REAL LIFE Neil Labute's one-act plays "Medea Redux", "Coax", "The Liar's Club" and "A Gaggle of Saints.". The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, theblackboxtheater.org. (310) 622-4482.

ROD MCGIRDLEBUTT STRIKES BACK, OR THE SUN SETS ON THE CYCLONE RACER ONE LAST TIME Final installment of the Garage Theatre's serial comedy by Jamie Sweet. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (866) 811-4111.

SOUTHERN COMFORTS Kathleen Clark's comedy about a "December-December" romance between a Southern grandmother and a Yankee widower. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 364-0535.

THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE Alan Ayckbourn's romantic farce. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 454-1970.

GO THE TROJAN WOMEN In his adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy (so freely swiped from the original that Euripides' byline doesn't appear on the program), Charles Duncombe takes a macroscopic, brutal and unrelenting look at the end of the world. Genocide in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, unsustainable population growth and climate change carry the day, and the play, with excursions into a theme that has punctuated Duncombe's earlier adaptations of texts by Sophocles and Heiner M<0x00FC>ller: the relationship between gender and power. Scenes depicting physical mutilation and rape in war zones -- choreographed by director Fr<0x00E9>d<0x00E9>rique Michel -- contain an excruciating authenticity, even in the abstract. Michel undercuts this harrowing tone by incorporating elements of farce in other scenes. This is still very much a work-in-progress, conceived for all the right reasons. As is, the directorial tones wobble like a top, and the adaptation contains far too much explication. The evening also reveals why theater matters, and how this kind of work wouldn't stand a chance in any other medium. It's too smart and too passionate to dismiss. (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (310) 319-9939.

THE WANTING The purgatory of unrequited desire is the underlying theme of this balletic rock concert from "Moxy Phinx," the pseudo-anonymous alter ego of local performer (and L.A. Weekly Theater Awards winner) Katrina Lenk. Audiences who recall Lenk's offbeat, tuneful turn as the tragically exploited Linda Lovelace in Lovelace: The Musical, will be fascinated by the edgy alternative performance she offers here in her "Phinx" persona. Caparisoned in flowing rags and furs that suggest a thrift store goth Goddess, "Phinx" performs a series of haunting songs, accompanied by a group of dancers, portraying members of a family who look like they might be right out of Norman Rockwell -- except, within minutes of starting the show, the clan suddenly shifts into being something from an Edward Gorey nightmare. In the bizarre family grouping, Dad (Michael Quiett) rapes his wife (Whitney Kirk) and longs to do the same to the gorgeous nanny (Jackie Lloyd). Meanwhile, the adorable youngest son (Daniel Huynh) gropes his twin sisters (Liz Sroka and Jennifer Cooper), and also fondles the nanny, before donning a dress. (Thanksgiving should be a blast at this clan's place.) "Phinx"'s haunting voice finds itself somewhere in between the dark throatiness of Ute Lemper and the jaded melancholy of Neko Case -- not a bad place in which to find oneself, really. Director Janet Roston's choreography is tight, energetic, and extremely sophisticated -- at times, so much is happening onstage, you almost don't know where to watch. The sense of detail in the movement suggests a mood that's both kinky and beguiling -- just note Huynh's rictus of what could either be lust or rage as he woos his vacantly smiling sisters. The problem is that the dance seems to have little to do with the songs, which, frankly, all start to sound the same before long -- and that the lack of context for any of the material gradually becomes frustrating. Still, the gleefully sour ball atmosphere is ultimately effective at crafting the sad yet bleakly funny meditation on the abject emptiness of longing. (Paul Birchall). Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sun., Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

A WINTER'S TALE: A MUSICAL DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL Lively musical adaptation showcasing both the humor and pathos of Dickens' 1843 story of spiritual renewal and redemption. No show Nov. 8. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 828-7519.

WTF?! FESTIVAL Singer/songwriter series, film talkback series, theater and dance series, and literature series, each curated by actor Tim Robbins. Complete schedule at www.wtffestival.com. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.

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