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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: The Female of the Species

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Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 2:55 PM

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COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
NEW THEATER REVIEWS
THIS WEEK'S STAGE FEATURE on Palestine, New Mexico

FEMALE OF THE SPECIES

The Geffen Playhouse just announced that Annette Bening will star in Joanna Murray-Smith's comedy, The Female of the Species along with David Arquette, Mireille Enos, Merritt Wever, Julian Sands and Josh Stamberg. Randall Arney directs. Previews start February 2 with opening night on February 10.

Dylan Thomas at the Raven

The Celtic Arts Center presents an evening of readings from the works of the Welsh poet. Saturday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood Info and tickets here 


Charles Phoenix back at the Egyptian

Charles Phoenix's Retro Holiday Slide Show a standup homage to mid-20th century kitsch, plays at the Egyptian Theater/American Cinematheque, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2 p.m. Tickets here

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

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for December 18-24, 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; Fri., Dec. 18, 7 & 9 p.m.. (310) 208-5454.

BROADOPOLY SMC Musical Theater Workshop presents selections from Broadway's latest hits. Santa Monica College, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.. (310) 434-4319.

CHARLES PHOENIX'S RETRO HOLIDAY SLIDE SHOW "In color!" See GoLA., $25 (what??!!). Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m., www.charlesphoenix.com. (323) 461-2020, Ext. 120.

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL The Relevant Stage's adaptation of Charles Dickens'A Christmas Carol, with new arrangements of carols by Ray Buffer and Robert Gross. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Dec. 22-23, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 24, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 2, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 3, 2:30 p.m.. (310) 929-8129.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE MUSICAL Family-friendly musical take on the Dickens classic. Norris Center for the Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Palos Verdes Peninsula; opens Dec. 18; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 544-0403.

DYLAN THOMAS NIGHT An Claidheamh Soluis/The Celtic Arts Center presents readings of works by the Welsh poet. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Dec. 19, 8 p.m., www.celticartscenter.com. (818) 720-2009.

JESUS CHRIST! IT'S CHRISTMAS! The Boofont Sisters' holiday spectacular. See GoLA., $25. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Dec. 18-20, 8 p.m., www.acteva.com/go/boofont. (323) 969-2530.

LARGO COMEDY ALL STARS The show benefits St. Judes. LARGO AT THE CORONET, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Dec. 21, 9 p.m.. (310) 855-0350.

NAVIDAD EN MEXICO Ballet Folklorico Mexicano's Christmas extravaganza. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sat., Dec. 19, 7 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.

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; Thurs.-Fri., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (562) 985-7000.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE: THE GRINCH Hal Rudnick is the sourpussed Grinch, who's visited by Ralphie from A Christmas Story, European Santa and Jesus. Hosted by The Mayor of Whoville (Justin Donaldson). $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., Dec. 22, 8 p.m. (323) 908-8702.

A VEGAS HOLIDAY! SONGS FROM "LIVE AT THE SAHARA"Louis and Keely's Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith in concert, Vegas style. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Dec. 19; Tues.-Wed., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 26, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 31, 4 & 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (866) 811-4111.

>CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

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.; 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 likeQuidam andAllegria - 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 likeFool 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.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 458-8900.

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)., $45-$70. 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.

NEW REVIEW GO FROSTY THE SNOW MANILOW Take one measure of maudlin, '70s TV holiday kitsch; add a dozen, inappropriate pop melodies from the same decade's premiere, adult-contemporary hit maker; fold in generous helpings of sardonically retooled lyrics and camped-up choreography; season to taste with puerile puns, off-color double entendres and relentlessly self-mocking ad libs; and half-bake for an hour with an ensemble of crack clowning parodists. This, in a roasted chestnut shell, is the winning recipe for the Troubadour Theater Company's annual, off-kilter Christmas confections. To their diehard fans, it is immaterial that this year's musically mashed-up targets are the treacly, 1969 cartoon special, Frosty the Snowman, or the sentimental mewling of the Barry Manilow songbook. With top chef/director Matt Walker again at the controls of the comedy Cuisinart, all that matters is that the resulting puree is flavored with his peerless timing and mischievously wry sensibility. Paul C. Vogt fills designer Sharon McGunigle's appropriately ludicrous Frosty costume as the magically animated snowman who hates kids but is nonetheless resigned to being saved from melting by the cloyingly effusive schoolgirl, Karen (Christine Lakin). Walker is the evil magician, Hinkle, who throws plot complications and one-liners in their path. Standouts include Beth Kennedy, who literally stops the show to perform insult stand-up as the Winter Warlock (think Juliette Lewis on stilts); Rick Batalla as the Station Master with Vegas ambitions; Jack McGee as the cantankerous narrator and a jive-talking Santa; and the always remarkable musical director, Eric Heinly, and his Troubadour band. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m. (no perfs Dec. 24, 25, 31, or Jan. 1); thru Jan. 17. (818) 955-8101. A Troubadour Theater Company prduction. (Bill Raden)

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.

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 fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's 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; Fri., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 20, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

NEW REVIEW PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO

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Photo by Craig Schwartz

When U.S. Army Captain Catherine Siler (Kirsten Potter) stumbles into "Bumfuck" -- a New Mexico Indian reservation -- she's already tripping, exhausted from crossing the desert, dehydrated and addicted to her now terminated prescription meds for pain and stress -- and that's before she drinks a peyote-laced beverage given her by one of the Natives, for dehydration. So in Richard Montoya's mess of a new play, which contains the germ of a beautiful idea, there are dreams, and then there are dreams. I tracked at least four plays, each in different styles, for a 90-minute experience without intermission. Lisa Peterson directs. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 24. (213) 972-628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature

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.

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.

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

GO ABSINTHE, OPIUM, & MAGIC: 1920S SHANGHAI 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 that includes jaded "Sing Song Girl" prostitute Bright Pearl (Tina Van Berckelaer), a young virgin prot<0x00E9>g<0x00E9> (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 piglike mobster (Roy Starr). Anchored by Jeanne Simpson'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, gets more than they bargain for when they go slumming at the opium den owned by a seemingly kind old woman (Elyse Ashton). 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). Ashton's wicked old woman is the perfect embodiment of mysterious evil - and the horrific fate of Long's ill-fated naif hilariously suggests an anti-drug teaching moment that's very effective. (Paul Birchall). Artworks Performance Space, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8:15 p.m.; Sun., 6:45 p.m.; thru Jan. 3. (800) 838-3006.

GO ACCOMPLICE: HOLLYWOOD 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. (Steven Leigh Morris). Hollywood Blvd., locations tba http://accomplicetheshow.com

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.
Christmas

BIG BAD ARMO CHRISTMAS Sketch comedy show portraying Armenian family life and holiday traditions. Casitas Studios, 3265 Casitas Ave., L.A.; Through Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Through Dec. 27, 8 p.m., www.itsmyseat.com/BBAS.html. (626) 792-1176.

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.; 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.

NEW REVIEW GO BOB'S HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY It's the holiday season, and, if you can't muster the energy for the whole "goodwill to all men" thing, you can at least drink yourself into a stupor in front of your co-workers and friends, and wind up committing deeds that would shame the shameless. That's the reprehensible albeit charming message of Joe Keyes and Rob Elk's flamboyantly tasteless comedy - a noel celebration that leaves the stage littered with slopped whiskey and beer, crushed cheese balls, smashed furniture, and perhaps a drop or two of bodily fluids. In small town Neuterberg, Iowa, beloved local insurance agent Bob Finhead (Elk) puts on the hog for his friends and customers as they all arrive for his annual Christmas party. And what a crew they are, too: recovering alkie cop Joe (Keyes), whose vow of temperance lasts about 30 seconds; the bigoted, trashy Johnson Sisters (Linda Miller, Melissa Denton, resplendent in fishnet stockings and the world's tackiest Christmas sweaters); drunken town slut Brandy (Johanna McKay, whose shambling, nymphomaniacal turn has to be seen to be believed) stops by - and so does the mayor's wife (Jeanette Schwaba-Vigne), who is having an affair with Bob that's so secret everyone in town, knows about it except for the mayor himself. Conflict arises when former local geek turned tycoon Elwin (David Anthony Higgens) shows up to make Bob a deal that could change his life -though at a terrible cost. Director Matt Roth helms this year's production, bringing an assured eye for gags and a flair for comic timing. Many of the show's funniest drunken antics appear to be improvised, though it's impossible to imagine that the show varies too much from night to night. Occasionally, the chaotic atmosphere tends to get the better of some of the staging: Characters talk over each other or merely roar, making it hard to keep track of who's doing what awful boozy thing to whom. However, the show puts its humor where its mouth is - with gags as frantic and as funny as they are jaw-dropping. Particularly hilarious turns are offered by Keyes' dorky cop, by McKay's slatternly boozehead, and by Schwaba-Vigne's comically unbalanced wife of the mayor. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru December 20. http://plays411.com/bobs. (Paul Birchall)

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.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 667-0955.

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

GO 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. (Deborah Klugman). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 838-3006.

NEW REVIEW GO THE GLASS MENDACITY

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Photo by Kristina Haddad

Devotees of Tennessee Williams will surely delight in this send-up of the playwright's best known dramas. Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth have blended characters and motifs from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire into one big irreverent stew of laughs. Gathered together at the Belle Reeve plantation are Mitch (Ken Johnson, who doubles as a narrator), Amanda (Stephanie Strand), Maggie (Renee Scott), Brick (a dummy named Eliot Barrymore), Stanley (Joe Dalo), and Blanche (Catherine Cronin, who traveled by way of a certain streetcar). The occasion is Big Daddy's (a hilarious Quincy Miller) arrival from the hospital and a celebration of his birthday. As in Cat, the cigar smoking patriarch has cancer but is told he is suffering only from a "spastic colon." And we must not forget dear Laura Dubois (Strand), who limps and vomits her way throughout, while fixated on her menagerie of animals made of ice cubes From this disparate collection of Williams' familiars, the writers weave a quirky narrative involving lust, insanity, infidelity, sibling rivalry, intrigue, and lots of mendacity. It probably helps if you have some knowledge of Williams' plays, (in one scene Stanley calls out "Starland," instead of Stella). Andrew Crusse provides the solid direction. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.; LA.; Thur-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. thru Jan 30. (323) 969-1707. http://arktheatre.org An Ark Theatre Company Production (Lovell Estell III)

GO GROUNDLINGS HOLIDAY SHOW 2009 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 lineup, 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; and 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 during 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, as 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. (Amy Nicholson). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat..; thru Dec. 19. (323) 934-9700.

THE HOUSE OF BESARAB Anyone expectingTamara II may want to give a pass to this disappointing adaptation ofDracula. 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 madeTamara 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. (Bill Raden). Hollywood American Legion, 2305 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 203-2850.

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

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'sLa 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.

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.

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.; Through Jan. 8, 2010, 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Through Jan. 16, 2010, 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 17. (800) 838-3006.

MORRIE AND MYRA BERNSTEIN PRESENT CHRISTMAS! (FEATURING HANUKKAH) ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Sat., Dec. 19, 10:30 p.m.; Through Dec. 26, 8 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.

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.

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 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 humankind - 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 real 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, overly 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. A Neo Acro Theatre Company production. (Neal Weaver). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 465-4446.

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.

THE SANTALAND DIARIES 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, the narrator of Sedaris' tale, performer Nicholas Brendon, 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 wear 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 and foul-mouthed parents to co-workers as deranged as they are elfin. Although Sedaris' 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' 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. (Paul Birchall). The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.theblank.com. (323) 661-9827.

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.

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.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 663-1525.

STATED INCOME 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. While the improbable scheme ultimately pays off, little else does in a disjointed, threadbare narrative beset by too much pedestrian dialogue and too many underdeveloped 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. (Bill Raden). Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.statedincome-theplay.com. (323) 960-7788.

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.

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

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 of life unfulfilled, and looming death, which garnered Albee his third Pulitzer in 1994. In the opening tableau, we first see a senile, elderly woman 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 Boetcher's expressionist "exploded" bedroom set adds a perfect touch. Rounding out the cast is Michael Geniac. (Lovell Estell III). 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.

NEW REVIEW A VERY MERRY HAPPY KOSHER CHRISTMAS
Set in 1978, playwright Mark Troy's musty comedy employs a plethora of zany characters to compensate for its stale gags and banal humor. Two slow-witted thieves - Tony (Jeremy Luke) and Carlo (Joey Russo) - stage a robbery at the New York Public Library. The patrons include a young Jewish nurse named Hava (Shelly Hacco), her Muslim fiancé Mohammad (Abhi Trivedi) and her father, a rabbi (James Engel), who reveals himself to the young couple after stripping off the Santa Claus beard he'd been wearing while stalking them. The rabbi proceeds to rail against their engagement, not only demeaning Mohammad personally but also attacking his faith. At one point the two men launch into a "My God is better than your God" face-off -- an embarrassment, for this Jewish critic. Meanwhile, we learn that "mastermind" Tony has a purpose: to obtain money to buy a Chinese baby on the black market for his uncommitted girlfriend, thus securing her love. With 18 characters in all, the rest of the plot unwinds just as mindlessly. The play's few genuine laughs are overshadowed by the nudge-nudge ethnic stereotypes, reflecting outdated social attitudes. It's regrettable that designer Danny Cistone's handsome set and professional lighting skills were so foolishly squandered. Ronnie Marmo directs. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (no perfs Xmas weekend); thru Jan. 3. (323) 467-6688. (Deborah Klugman)

THE VILLAGE VARIETY PACK See GoLA., $15. The Village at The Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Mon., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.

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 satire of political correctness in academia has a buzz saw to grind, then uses one to make its points about tyranny in the university, based on the author's own experience. In a scene that's like a remake ofOleanna - as though David Mamet's play hadn't sufficiently made its point - professor/standup comedian Dr. Mark Michaels (Nick Huff), makes an "inappropriate" joke in class, offending the dimmest damsel in distress you're ever likely to meet (Sara Mcanarney-Reed). She brings charges against the prof, and we see him tried in kangaroo court before a committee of idiots, led by femi-Nazi Dr. Deborah (Wednesday Hobson). Don't quite know why such an inquisition played as farce ceases to amuse or persuade. Michaels is summarily dismissed, which is supposed to be a bad thing, but I can't say I felt the heavy weight of oppression, given the dreary quality of his lectures we saw. It is unfair that he was fired for telling jokes in class. He should really have been dismissed for his lack of comic timing. That's all in Act 2. Let's back up for a moment into Act 1, which consists of a series of scenes between an elder Mafioso named Jimmy (Camhi) recovering from a stab wound to the stomach. On orders from the Godfather (Ggreg Snyder), Jimmy's son Angelo (Chriss Nicholas) must help his dad during his recovery. Through their comedic banter, we understand how tough-guy Angelo has been influenced by his college professor wife, Dr. Deborah - the same Dr. Deborah who leads the inquisition against Dr Michaels in Act 2. Angelo questions his father's stream of racist, sexist slurs with references to "The Feminimine Misspeak" and "megaculturalism." In that first act lie the seeds of pretty good comedy, were Deborah to actually show up and move things beyond one joke. Alas, it implodes in Act 2 (intended as a separate one-act), when Deborah does show up at her university setting. Act 3 , in the couple's bedroom, is a taut stand-alone one-act in which we see Deborah's droll response to her hubbie's infidelity. But as a wrap-up to the plays before, it's too late to salvage the twisted steel. The leading actors are quite good, and the play gets a nice push from director Rod Oden, staging Act 1 as a boxing match with a squeaky-voiced Ring Girl (Amanda Carr) - who knows exactly what game she's playing - sashaying across the stage between scenes in a bikini, bearing placards announcing what's going on. She is, in fact, the show's highlight, with a humor and spontaneity that the rest of the production desperately needs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 874-1733.

NEW REVIEW GO WOMEN BEHIND BARS. Before the late playwright Tom Eyen went mainstream by writing the book and lyrics for Dream Girls, he made his name as Off-Broadway's most notable purveyor of avant garde raunch, with such plays as this one, and the nudity-laden The Dirtiest Show In Town. Here, Eyen created a broad and bawdy take-off on the B movies and exploitation flicks of the 1940s, but his script owes most to the 1950 John Cromwell women's prison film Caged. Local drag diva Momma plays the corrupt, sadistic Matron as a larger-than-life figure, part Hope Emerson, part Joan Crawford, and part Wicked Witch of the West. As the ingénue-ish Mary-Eleanor, Jessica Goldapple segues deftly from dewy-eyed heroine to tough, hardened chick. Ted Monte plays her hapless husband, who visits her in prison only to be stripped and gang-raped by the other inmates, including Mary K DeVault, who scores as a blond air-head, Tara Karsian who's effective as the tough lesbian Gloria, and Arianna Ortiz as flamboyant Puerto Rican Guadalupe. Director Kurt Koehler, stepping in as an emergency replacement, reduced both cast and audience to helpless laughter. The piece goes on past the point of diminishing returns, but for most of its length it's a raucous crowd-pleaser. Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Dec. 20. (323) 957-1884 or http://.celebrationtheatre.com (Neal Weaver)


CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

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.; thru Dec. 20. (626) 256-3809.

NEW REVIEW GO A CHRISTMAS CAROL

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Photo by Doug Engalla

It takes a village to tell Charles Dickens' morality play, or at least, that's the impression left by director Ernest A. Figueroa. Twenty-five actors crowd his intimate stage and Figueroa divvies up Dickens' lines between them. The great ghost story here rings perlously like a recitation. Allowing Bob Cratchit (Doug Haverty) to mouth off about Scrooge's (Chris Winfield) inner- life makes the humble accountant seem too big for his threadbare britches. (Costumes by Liz Nankin and Maro K. Parian are fantastic.) Though Richard Helleson and David De Berry's musical numbers could use more practice, this production has the smart stroke of turning the three spirits into Bunraku puppets; the third and last, the Ghost of Christmas Future, is frightening, and Marley lurches into Scrooge's chamber with two puppeteers brandishing his long chains on a stick. Jim Carrey's 3-D movie of Carol is this season's best channeler of Dickens' wit, invention and spark. But if you like your tradition live, this production is fine enough.Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman 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. (Amy Nicholson)

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.

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

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.

GBLT: GAYS, BACON, LETTUCE AND TOMATO Tasty treats from Theatre Unleashed's sketch comedy troupe Die Gruppe. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; 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.

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.; thru Dec. 19, 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.

NEW REVIEW MRS. CAGE (Katelyn Ann Clark) is a traditional housewife who treasures the sanctity of marriage. She sniffs disapprovingly when questioned about her divorced daughter, a lawyer. She spends time meticulously pressing her husband's shirts. She shops daily for groceries. After witnessing a fatal shooting in a store parking lot, Mrs. Cage arrives at the police station, murder weapon in hand and undertakes to be questioned as an eyewitness by a seasoned detective, Lieutenant Angel (David Ross Paterson). A weary professional with sharp gut instincts, Angel handles her with firm courtesy, but it's clear he's suspicious. Playwright Nancy's Barr's 70 minute two-character one act is a potentially powerful portrait in alienation, but under Barbara Bain's direction, Clark's prim and mannered delivery doesn't exploit the script's plentiful opportunities. Most of her considerable dialogue is directed outward towards the audience, instead of towards the Lieutenant, depicted by Paterson with consummate skill. The end result is that what might have been a fascinating dramatic gambol between two complex characters (the detective also has his issues) unfolds with prosaic predictability. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 761-2166. (Deborah Klugman)

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.

GO ROBBIE JENSEN: THE 12 STEPS OF CHRISTMAS Into Shane Birdsill's slick, corporate-style set, complete with flip charts, graphic posters and a flat-panel TV 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 onstage, 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 near the end and which could use some editing, the rest of the show offers an amusing evening of interactive entertainment. (Mayank Keshaviah). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, www.plays411.com/robbiejensen. (323) 960-1053.

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.

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.

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

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'sThe 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.

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.

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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (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.

NEW REVIEW LA POSADA MAGICA

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Photo by Enci

Playwright Octovio Solis's holiday musical was a staple at South Coast Rep for 15 years, but budget cuts have forced the producers to transfer the show to the Odyssey Theater, where the unabashed, sweet sentimentality of director Diane Rodriguez's folksy staging fits genially on the intimate new stage. It's a bilingual Christmas tale steeped within the Latino custom of the Posada, in which neighbors dress in robes and travel around their community singing Christmas Carols in honor of Joseph and Mary's journey around Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It may also be a cultural theme that this is a Christmas tale whose themes of joy and hope are also mingled with a haunting melancholy. Left alone in her family home on Christmas Eve, Latina teenager Gracie (Tiffany Ellen Solano), who's grieving over the recent death of her baby brother, has no patience when a traveling Posada passes by, offering to light a candle in her honor. Gracie reluctantly allows herself to be drawn along with the carolers, but unkindly sets about ruining the evening for the others -- until she has the opportunity to prove her own faith. With a gentle, Mariachi-like score by Marcos Loya (who also performs in the orchestra), Solis's musical is warm and heartfelt - and the Posada chorus is so likable, they quickly make friends with the audience. Yet mix of sadness and sentimentality frequently tips into the over-mournful - this is a world in which Death and Santa walk awkwardly side by side, and much of the show might be too downbeat for the kids, even as it keeps with the philosophy that Christmas isn't a negation of the year's sadness but rather an awareness that tragedy and joy are both parts of life. In addition, Rodriguez's production is also unfortunately hampered by pacing lapses, which further undercut much sense of holiday merriment. The show is double cast. Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (310) 477-2055 or http://odysseytheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)

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.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 477-2055.

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.

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 inLovelace: 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; Fri., Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 19, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

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; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.

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