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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Project Wonderland

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Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 6:27 PM

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This week's cover story on Pee-wee Herman; this week's Stage feature on An Oak Tree

NEW REVIEW GO CIRCUS WELT

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Photo by Daniel Cerny

Reminiscent of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret (though sans music), this adaptation by director and producer Pavel Cerny of Leonid Andreyev 1914 Russian play, He Who Gets Slapped,   shifts the setting to Weimar Germany circa 1933. A small traveling circus run by Ludwig Bricke (John Moskal) and his common-law wife/lion-tamer Maria (Stephanie T. Keefer) serves as a haven for those at the margins of society: Jackson (Jeff Williams), a black American clown in whiteface; Tilly and Polly (Justin Hertner and Lee Biolos), a longstanding gay couple; Bezano (Patrick Koffel), the Communist horse trainer; and the newly-arrived mysterious clown named "He" (an impressively nuanced Joshua Grenrock).  As the story, which takes place entirely in the circus dressing room, unfolds, multiple love triangles emerge, though the one of greatest consequence is that between Bezano, Maria, and the bare back rider Consuelo (Tanya Goott), who is engaged by her father Count Mancini (Kurt Hargan) to the wealthy Baron Von Reinhardt (Ed Brigadier), the head of the local SA stormtroopers.  While the remaining vestiges of the original melodrama detract from what could be an extremely compelling piece of theatre, Cerny has done his best to minimize them, and his Brechtian-style entr'acte additions, such as the "news clowns," provide girding for the menacing backdrop of Nazi Germany on the rise. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru February 14. (866) 811-4111.  An Orpheum Theater Corporation Production.  (Mayank Keshaviah)

For other NEW REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press Continue Reading tab directly below.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication January 21, 2010.

NEW REVIEW GO BAAL Peter Mellencamp's adapatation of Bertolt Brecht's early, poetical drama is about the cruelty and demise of a Bacchanalian poet who recognizes, curses and is cursed by civilization's thin veneer. Ben Rock's staging is sometimes forced, more often intense and seductive, with Gregory Sims' growling title character bearing a physical resemblance to young Al Pacino, but with a voice like Tom Waits. Sacred Fools Theatre Company, 660 Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Thurs., Jan. 28, 8 p.m.); thru Feb. 20. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

NEW REVIEW CAMELOT

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Photo by Craig Schwartz

Director David Lee's 8-actor version of Lerner & Loewe's musical chestnut uses its economical imperative to strive for an ensemble concept that makes fun of its own minimal devices. The result is somewhat tentative, a production groping for its purpose, but it's also pleasant. Shannon Stoke's vocally pleasing and gentle King Arthur needs the machismo of Richard Burton, despite his pacifist politics, or the subtext of his wife's (Shannon Warne) erotic distraction is a wee too obvious. Warne's voice is gorgeous, as is Doug Carpenter, who conjurs memories of Robert Goulet playing Lancelot. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (no perf Jan. 19, 27 and Feb. 3; added perfs Feb. 3, 2 p.m.); thru Feb. 7. (626) 356-7592 (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature

NEW REVIEW GO CIRCUS WELT

rsz_circilwelt.jpg

Photo by Daniel Cerny

Reminiscent

of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret (though sans music), this adaptation by

director and producer Pavel Cerny of Leonid Andreyev 1914 Russian play,

He Who Gets Slapped,   shifts the setting to Weimar Germany circa 1933.

A small traveling circus run by Ludwig Bricke (John Moskal) and his

common-law wife/lion-tamer Maria (Stephanie T. Keefer) serves as a

haven for those at the margins of society: Jackson (Jeff Williams), a

black American clown in whiteface; Tilly and Polly (Justin Hertner and

Lee Biolos), a longstanding gay couple; Bezano (Patrick Koffel), the

Communist horse trainer; and the newly-arrived mysterious clown named

"He" (an impressively nuanced Joshua Grenrock).  As the story, which

takes place entirely in the circus dressing room, unfolds, multiple

love triangles emerge, though the one of greatest consequence is that

between Bezano, Maria, and the bare back rider Consuelo (Tanya Goott),

who is engaged by her father Count Mancini (Kurt Hargan) to the wealthy

Baron Von Reinhardt (Ed Brigadier), the head of the local SA

stormtroopers.  While the remaining vestiges of the original melodrama

detract from what could be an extremely compelling piece of theatre,

Cerny has done his best to minimize them, and his Brechtian-style

entr'acte additions, such as the "news clowns," provide girding for the

menacing backdrop of Nazi Germany on the rise. Whitefire Theatre, 13500

Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru February

14. (866) 811-4111.  An Orpheum Theater Corporation Production. 

(Mayank Keshaviah)

NEW REVIEW DOCTOR NOGUCHI Given director-playwright Gary LeGault's pedigree, you would think that a camp meditation on celebrity, based on the star-studded body count of L.A. County's controversial, former Chief Medical Examiner, Thomas T. Noguchi (Hayden Lee), would be a comedic slam dunk. You'd be wrong. Despite a list of credits that includes working with the likes of Charles Ludlam and Warhol superstars Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, LeGault's indifferently staged, pallidly scripted evening delivers little of the outrageous burlesque or incisive social ironies those names might imply. Charting the publicity-seeking coroner's career between Marilyn Monroe's (Julia Stoddard) "suicide" in 1963 and John Belushi's (Jeremy Ebenstein) overdose in 1982, the play unwinds as a series of vignettes in which a quizzical Noguchi ponders the paradox of his illustrious clientele's self-destruction while at the peak of their fame, even as he is visited by each of their resurrected spirits seeking some sort of existential closure. But if LeGault's necrographic portraiture rarely achieves even a Wikipedia-weight likenesses, the production is not without its charms. These are mainly found in Lee's slyly winsome portrayal of a flawed philosopher-poet, whose fastidious pursuit of truth becomes corrupted by his own vanity and the corrosive effects of fame-by-association. With decided deficits in plot and engaging conflict to fuel that performance, however, LeGault's slender conceit simply lacks the comic mileage to make it to the final curtain. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (310) 360-7064. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW GO THE IMAGINARY INVALID
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Photo courtesy of Parson's Nose

Lance Davis' abridged 75 minute adaptation  of Moliere's classic eschews all subtlety in an amusing, accessible romp with plenty of flair and humor. Davis plays Argon, a mousey, myopic hypochondriac in a tizzy over his mounting medical bills.  His solution: to marry off his unfortunate daughter  Angelique (Amanda Pajer) to the loutish son of a quack doctor,  in order to secure his in-law's services for free. Possessed of a gargantuan ego, the self-preoccupied ninny Argon swallows whole the extravagant protestations of love by his beautiful but conniving second wife (Marisa Chandler)  -- even as she plots with her lover  (Mark McCracken), behind Argon's back -- to secure all his wealth. Under Mary Chalon's direction, the production evolves with outsized brio --  a stylistic  approach that succeeds  by virtue of  Davis' considerable  acting skill, in tandem with the talents of Pajer and Chandler, both of whom render their shtick with calibrated craft. Some of the other characters come across as less crisply but are still good enough to keep the farce crackling. Designer Holly Victoria's lovely period costumes add professional polish. Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena;  Fri.-Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 5, (626) 
403-7667. http://www.parsonsnose.com A Parson's Nose Theater Company production (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW IN THE COMPANY OF JANE DOE
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Photo by Jeremy Rousch of Vibble

In Tiffany Antone's choppy farce, the sensibility of a Saturday morning cartoon collides with a potentially fecund philosophical debate on the ego's relationship with the id. Yet, the results are strangely disjointed and unsatisfying. Jane Doe (Jessica Runck) is desperate to scale the career ladder at her marketing job, but her many hours of overwork are being undercut by bizarre nightmares and odd signals from her subconscious - she dreamily fills her briefcase with ice and snow shoes instead of the important files she needs, for instance, while travel brochures for trips to the North Pole mysteriously appear on her desk.   Her well meaning shrink, Dr. Annabelle (Coco Kleppinger), is sympathetic - but Dr. Annabelle's partner, bug-eyed, twitching, and stammering Dr. Snafu (Isaac Wade, annoyingly channeling the mad scientist from the Back to the Future movies) has a more intriguing suggestion.  He offers to clone Jane, so that she will be able to get more done.  It's an idea that you and I both know will clearly end in tears - and, sure enough, Jane's clone (a sweetly gamine Sara Kaye) turns out to be nothing like her original, and winds up eclipsing Jane's life.  With a frenetic staging that makes an imaginative if assaultive impression, director Mary Jo DuPrey's production boasts some tight choreography, strong comic timing and gleeful mugging.  Runck's priggishly brittle Jane is nicely contrasted against Kaye's sweet, earth-mother  clone.  Marika Stephens's calculatedly surreal set - all sloping, angular furniture that puts one in mind of the villain's lair in an old Batman episode - abets the cartoon mood.  However, all the craftsmanship is ultimately in the service of a half baked play, whose uneven tone, glib dialogue and messy plotting get stranded somewhere between a theological argument and a screenplay wannabee about a wacky office. Powerhouse Theater, 3116  Second Street, Santa Monica.  Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6. (310) 396-3680.  Los Angeles Theater Ensemble. (Paul Birchall) 

NEW REVIEW LOYALTIES
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Photo by Vitor Martins

In Tony Pasqualini's drama, Frank (Michael Rothhaar) and Joy (Robin Becker) have lost a son, Andy, to the war in Iraq. Now they have become fanatical super patriots, eager to condemn anyone who questions the war. Their best friends, Mel (Sarah Brooke) and Andrew (writer Pasqualini) also have a son, Michael (Albert Meijer), an émigré from a Muslim country, whom they have adopted. Andy and Michael were inseparable friends throughout their childhood, but their courses have diverged. While Andy enlisted and went to his death in battle, Michael also enlisted, but decided it was a mistake, and deserted his post. Though Mel and Andrew are sympathetic to their son, Frank and Joy are determined to force the boy to face his fears and accept his duty, even by reporting his whereabouts to the authorities. This issue becomes a catalyst, leading to disaster for both families. Pasqualini's play is not really a thesis drama, but it often sounds like one, treating its characters as mouth-pieces. There are, however some potent scenes. Though we're clearly intended to sympathize with Michael, he's too whiny and self-centered to take seriously. Director David Gautreaux has able actors but sometimes allows them to succumb to wearisome hysteria and shouting. Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 ½ Venice Boulevard, Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru March 28. (310) 822-8392 or  http://www.PacificResidentTheatre.com (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW GO PROJECT: WONDERLAND Reverend Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, opens Robert Prior's play by defending his friendship with 11-year-old Alice Liddell before taking major hits off a hookah. (A professor, Michael Bonnabel, scribbling the mathematical formula for Wonderland, leaves that substance out his equation.) Thus, um, inspired, Carroll (Lon Haber) dons a blonde wig and reveals himself as Alice before plunging down the rabbit hole. Apart from the entrance of five other Alices chanting Carroll's lines like a Greek chorus, Prior's Wonderland is familiar turf -- a trip though our childhood memories of the text and the Disney cult cartoon laced with Jefferson Airplane and melodramatic music, but otherwise played straight. The stars here are Teresa Shea's costumes and sets and Lynn Jeffries' puppets, a whirlwind of giant lobster claws and waves of parachute silk and 15-foot flower hats and packs of angry cards buzzing about the stage. Amidst the chaos, standouts include Bonnabel's Caterpillar, Jabez Zuniga's Queen of Hearts, Matthew Patrick Davis's Mad Hatter, Lori Scarlett's Mock Turtle -- hell, pretty much everyone navigating this manic, uncertain, but enthusiastic staging. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 31. (213 389-3856. (Amy Nicholson)

NEW REVIEW TILTED FRAME NETWORK
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Photo by Jordan Photography

Tilted Frame Network is the creation of Combined Artform, a San Francisco based theatrical production company headed by artistic director Matthew Quinn. This multi-media, improv comedy show has audiences and actors in Los Angeles and San Francisco interact with each other via internet and television. It's an intriguing idea with loads of potential but one in need of much fine tuning. The performance I attended started out with the customary routine involving audience suggestions, but quickly morphed into an awkward free for-all, with so-so performances by cast members in both cities. The material, for the most part, was quirky and capable of tickling some funny bones, but little that was breath-taking. One really funny skit was a take on The Dating Game, with Misa Doi, LaKendra Tookes and Natalie Chediak as three eligible bachelorettes. Daniel Sullivan was in the hot seat up in San Francisco asking the questions. Ditto for Paul Baumgaertner as a friendly cable-car pot dealer. A bigger problem besides the hot and cold material was the many technical gaffes that occurred throughout. Blank screens, sound implosions, and malfunctioning monitors kill the spontaneity that is the heart of improv comedy. This show has "test product" written all over it, but there are sparks of  brilliance here that provide hope for future outings. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru Jan. 29.  http://www.tiltedframe.com an Artform production. (Lovell Estell III)
      

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