COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for February 5-11, 2010
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
Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.
OPENING THIS WEEK
THE ANDREWS BROTHERS Roger Bean's 1940s musical parody, musical direction by Lloyd Cooper, choreography by Roger Castellano. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; opens Feb. 5; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 7, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (805) 449-2787.
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PERFORMANCE WORKS BY ALEXA HUNTER & DOUG KNOTT Alexa Hunter's To the Lightbox and Doug Knott's Oil Fire and Sunset Strip Self-Improvement Affirmations. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sun., Feb. 7, 7 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
BARBRA'S WEDDING Daniel Stern's comedy about Barbra Streisand's Malibu neighbors. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 28, 2 p.m.; Sun., March 7, 2 p.m.; thru March 7, www.barbraswedding.com. (866) 811-4111.
BEWARE OF CUPID Julia Cho directs a collection of original scenes and monologues all about love. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 21, www.bewareofcupid.com. (323) 874-1733.
CALLIOPE ROSE Bill Sterritt's mythological comedy. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 7; Sun., Feb. 7, 1 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 463-3900.
THE COLOR PURPLE Starring American Idol Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 11; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (213) 365-3500.
THE COLUMBINE PROJECT Paul Storiale directs an all-new cast in his play about the Columbine high school massacre. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 7; Sun., 5 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (818) 766-9100.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) The Reduced Shakespeare Company performs all 37 of the Bard's plays in 97 minutes., $29, $24, $19. Caltech Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena; Sat., Feb. 6, 8 p.m., www.reducedshakespeare.com. (626) 395-4652.
CONFESSIONS OF A VINTAGE BLACK QUEEN Billie Hall's autobiographical survival story ("child molestation, rape, physical abuse, homophobia, racism, and church abuse"). Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (818) 766-9100.
COOL NEGROES Tony Robinson's dramedy about the African-American generation gap. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 465-4446.
COULD I HAVE THIS DANCE Doug Haverty's romantic play about uncertainty, choice and fate. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Feb. 5; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.theatre40.org. (310) 364-0535.
COUSIN BETTE The Antaeus Company presents Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of the literary classic by Balzac. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 6; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 21. (818) 506-5436.
THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES Annette Bening stars in Joanna Murray-Smith's farce. With David Arquette, Mireille Enos, Julian Sands. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Feb. 10; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 14. (310) 208-5454.
"FIRESIDE AT THE MILES" Reading of Marsha Norman's Night Mother, by the Virginia Avenue Project. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Sat., Feb. 6, 8 p.m.. (310) 458-8634.
FOUR BITCHIN' BABES IN HORMONAL IMBALANCE Comedic musical concert about "babes, boys and Botox.". James R. Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance; Sat., Feb. 6, 8 p.m., www.torrancearts.org. (310) 781-7171.
THE FUNERAL VARIATIONS Jeffrey King performs a collection of short plays and monologues. FOWLER MUSEUM AT UCLA, Sunset & Westwood blvds., Westwood; Thurs., Feb. 11, 6 p.m.. (310) 825-4361.
HEAD OVER HEELS Eric Czuleger's new play follows the journey of six women. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 11; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.
INSTRUMENTS OF RISK Sea and Space Explorations' performance-art series curated by Asher Hartman and Carol McDowell continues with Dawn Kasper's on existence: a visual poem, a study in being. SEA AND SPACE EXPLORATIONS, 4755 York Blvd., Highland Park; Sat., Feb. 6, 8 p.m., www.seaandspace.org. (323) 445-4015.
LEAVING KIEV West Coast Jewish Theatre presents Theodore Apstein's play about his family's migration during the Russian Revolution. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 506-8024.
LOVE, SEX, BEER AND ROCK 'N' ROLL: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CUPID Theatre Unleashed's 24-hour theater event, in which writers get just one night to write a Valentine's play, and actors just one afternoon to rehearse it. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Feb. 6, 9 p.m., www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS Magnum Opus Theatre stages an awful unsolicited screenplay. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 281-8337.
MURDER ON THE HIGH C'S Book and Lyrics by Scott Ratner, music and lyrics by Tim Nelson. Westminster Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster; opens Feb. 5; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21...
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND Upright Cabaret presents David Burnham, Kyle Riabko and Jennifer Leigh Warren performing their own selections as well as the music of Robert Goulet, Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.
NORTH ATLANTIC The Wooster Group performs James Strahs' political satire. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; opens Feb. 10; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (213) 237-2800.
THE PEACOCK MEN Ronald McCants' portrait of black men, from pro athlete to ex-con, from slave to music mogul. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 883-1717.
PLAYWRIGHTS 6 STAGED READING SERIES Free readings of plays by
finalists in the 2010 Play Contest, including three new pieces by Los
Angeles playwrights. Underground Theater, 1312 N. Wilton Pl., L.A.;
Tues., Feb. 9, 8 p.m.. (323) 467-0036.
A PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER Thomas Babe's cop drama. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6. (800) 838-3006.
RANT & RAVE Rogue Machine presents "local (vocal) writers" on the topic of love. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 8, 8 p.m., www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 930-0747.
RYAN O'CONNOR EATS HIS FEELINGS Los Angeles solo debut of overweight YouTube sensation Ryan O'Connor. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., Feb. 5, 10:30 p.m.. (323) 957-1884.
SOUVENIR Stephen Temperley's comedy about talentless soprano Florence Foster Jenkins. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Feb. 5; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (818) 955-8101.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE Music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman, choreography by DJ Gray, musical direction by David O, directed by Jeff Maynard. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; opens Feb. 6; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (562) 944-9801.
TEN TOPS! AN ECLECTIC OPEN PERFORMANCE EVENT Ten performers get seven minutes each to do anything onstage, ANYTHING!. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.
TITUS ANDRONICUS William Shakespeare's tragedy. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 13. (323) 856-8611.
TWELFTH NIGHT Chalk Repertory Theatre opens their second season with Shakespeare's comedy. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 5; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.chalkrep.com. (800) 838-3006.
URBAN DEATH: ONCE UPON A NIGHTMARE Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 5; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (818) 202-4120.
WRECKS Ed Harris stars in Neil LaBute's dark study of human nature. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Feb. 7; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (310) 208-5454.
WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM Christopher Durang's satire about America's "homeland insecurity.". Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 6; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 14, www.TheBlank.com. (323) 661-9827.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
AURÉLIA'S ORATORIO Created and directed by Victoria Thierrée Chaplin, starring Aurélia Thierrée. La Jolla Playhosue, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (858) 550-1010.
CAMELOT Director David Lee's eight-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 Stoeke is 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's, who conjures memories of Robert Goulet playing Lancelot. (Steven Leigh Morris). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. (626) 356-PLAY.
CAROUSEL Reprise Theatre Company presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.reprise.org. (310) 825-2101.
DOUBT: A PARABLE John Patrick Shanley's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (805) 667-2900.
FENCES August Wilson's sixth entry in his Pittsburgh Cycle, set in the 1950s. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (714) 708-5555.
GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, starring Hershey Felder. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21, www.lagunaplayhouse.com. (949) 497-2787.
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.
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. (Steve Leigh Morris). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (818) 240-0910.
THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW In his much anticipated, first major stage appearance since 1991, obnoxious-sweet man-child Pee-wee Herman (Paul reubens) appears at Club Nokia downtown in what is essentially a slightly updated re-creation of his CBS kids' show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. It's populated on David Korins' set of colorful animated objects by an array of puppets and the live characters who made the Playhouse a cult classic among kids of the '80s, and adults who wanted to be among them. These include Mailman Mike (John Moody), Bear (Drew Powell), Jambi (John Paragon), Sergio (Jesse Garcia), Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), King of Catoons (Lance Roberts) and Firefighter (Josh Meyers). The spectacle, directed by Alex Timbers, is really an exercise is nostalgia that aims to re-start Pee-wee's public life, and in that motive resides the show's drawbacks. reubens is as limber as ever, having barely aged and with odd, agile and moralistic Pee-wee rollicks in an ill-fitting gray suit, trademark red bowtie and greased hair. Ensnaring our infatalism and self-absorption, with moments of poignant generosity, Pee-wee's 7-year-old mentality, locked into his psyche as though with the huge chain of his bicycle, was and remains a brilliant invention. This show, however, co-written by reubens and Bill Steinkellner, with additional material by John Paragon, is less so. The Pee-wee shtick wears out quickly, as though even reubens is getting tired of it, and the droll, '50s moralizing, captured in vintage cartoons about the importance of washing hands and showing courtesy in a lunch line, is as thin as the kind of kitschy wrapping paper you might have once found in Wacko. There's a lovely moment where Pee-wee suffers the consequences of giving away a wish he's been granted -- which means he has to suffer for his compassion by not getting what he wants. Life lesson? Hardly, when that consequence is gratuitously reversed. The reversal isn't the problem; it's that happy endings come out of the sky if you're just nice to people. No, they don't. The campiness and irony is just an excuse for sidestepping a real idea, or the kind of scrutiny that sharp kids' entertainments rely on. Club Nokia, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.peewee.com. (800) 745-3000. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Geared to the 7-and-under set, this good-natured interactive musical exudes appeal beyond its demographic. Inspired by a German folktale, writers Lloyd Schwartz and Hope Juber's adaptation features a good fairy named Hyacinth (Mary Garripoli) as the prime mover of events. After she welcomes the audience with a song about the importance of "doin' good," along comes a prince (understudy Iain Gray) who sings about "lookin' good." His attitude so annoys Hyacinth that she turns him into a frog, stipulating that he can only return to his natural form if kissed by a princess. The rest of the story proceeds along more or less traditional lines: The frog recovers the lost ball of a querulous princess (Jenn Wiles) who is reluctant to keep her promise to kiss him until pressured by her father, the king (Anthony Gruppuso). Much of the piece's charm stems from the delight -- and the unintended comedic faux pas -- displayed by the youngsters called up on the stage to participate. The non-patronizing performers seem to be enjoying themselves as well. A song "Croak Croak, Ribbit, Ribbit" involving a couple of frog puppets is contagiously entertaining, whatever one's age. The uncredited costumes are fun too. Barbara Mallory Schwartz directs, with songs by Hope Jube and musical director Laurence Juber. (Deborah Klugman). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.
NEW REVIEW GO STOMP In this era of high-tech theatrical extravaganzas, every so often a show comes along whose conceptual framework makes you appreciate the refreshing virtue of simplicity. Such is the case with this percussive spectacle, now in its 15th year of rattling audience eardrums. For the uninitiated, the show is a collage of choreography, dance, performance art and percussion pyrotechnics generated by an eight member troupe who use a mind-boggling array of "found" instruments to make music. These include trash cans, kitchen items, steel drums, matchbooks, push-brooms and even, yes, the kitchen sink. From start to finish, co-creator and director Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas put these performers through their paces, with one sweat-inducing routine after another. The opening segment using bush brooms starts out placidly enough, but it soon morphs into a fiery, imaginative tempest of rhythmic clatter. One of the most stunning moments occurs when the lights darken, and the troupe use the "click" of zippo lighters to create a tune, which is given more impact by the flames. Most remarkable about this 90-minute show is the seemingly endless variety of sound and tonal effects that emerge from what are properly considered commonplace items (my favorite: a number done with crumbled newspapers). And the creators have tossed in a nod to circus tradition with an engaging bit of clown antics. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (800) 982-2787. A Broadway L.A. presentation. (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW GO SWEENEY TODD
Photo courtesy of the Carptenter Center for the Performing Arts
Thirty years ago, Stephen Sondheim's gothic melodrama arrived on Broadway as the game-changer that would usher in an era of operatic opulence in musical theater - paving the way for Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera. In the decades that followed, Sweeney enjoyed revivals throughout regional theatre, joined the repertoire of legit opera companies and was finally revived in a reduced concept in which the ten performers also doubled as their own small orchestra. But now Musical Theatre West has returned Sweeney to his grand guignol roots with a vast productions, faithful to Hal Prince's original production. Director Calvin Remsberg, who toured as Beadle Bamford with the original Broadway cast, has recreated the original's power and majesty with help from a uniformly outstanding cast, partnered with musical director John Glaudini and his full orchestra. Not a moment of the nearly three-hours lags in this gruesome story of the vengeful barber and the bake shop proprietress Mrs. Lovett who contrive to make meat pies from unsuspecting tonsorial clients. Norman Large earns his last name in his huge performance as the cut-throat, and Debbie Prutsman is truly as fine as Angela Lansbury was in 1979. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 7, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 14, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (562) 985-7000. A Musical Theatre West production (Tom Provenzano)
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 protégé (Amanda Street) who dreams of becoming Top Whore, and calculating Madame Old Bustard (Dinah Steward), who plots to sell the virgin to be raped and mutilated by a 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 (Kevin Dulude). As the thrill-seeking Westerners get happily stoned on The Dragon's Tail, the old woman's diabolical true nature shows through. The final scene consists of a jaw-dropping gorefest that will have you simultaneously howling with terror and laughter (while slipping your hands in your pockets for safekeeping). Dulude's wicked old woman is 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 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (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., TBA, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., www.accomplicetheshow.com...
ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 7 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
ACME 2NITE New sketches and old favorites, ACME style. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 9 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
THE ANTARCTIC CHRONICLES Jessica Manuel's autobiographical comedy about her days working on the frozen underside of the earth. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 10. (323) 960-7744.
GO BAAL Peter Mellencamp's adaptation 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. (Steven Leigh Morris). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 20, www.vimeo.com/8382742. (310) 281-8337.
BAGELS Art Shulman's senior romance. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21, www.secretrose.com. (877) 620-7673.
GO BLOOD AND THUNDER In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Marcus (Keith Arthur Bolden) isn't scared of the newly arrived hurricane, Katrina. Marcus is an expert on everything -- at least, he watches a lot of TV -- and vows the water won't rise above 10 feet. But Marcus' theories and conclusions have always gotten him, brother Quentin (Tony Williams) and Marcus' girlfriend, Charlie (Candice Afia), in over their heads with one bad hustling scheme after another. Still, Marcus is convinced he's the brains of the group, even if he has to badger Quentin and Charlie until they agree. When Quentin limps in, sopping wet, still wearing his orange prison jumpsuit with a bullet hole in his thigh, the two siblings have a violent score to settle. Terence Anthony's taut one-act drama is effective agony. Two character twists may not add up, but while the audience perches practically in the living room of Jorge I. Velasquez's realistic, dingy set, with the rain hammering down, the tension is as thick as the storm clouds we imagine overhead. Solid performances keep the spell going, particularly by Afia as the strong-willed girlfriend trying to break free of Marcus' emotional abuse. Sara Wagner directs. (Amy Nicholson). Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 666-3259.
BOB BAKER MARIONETTE THEATER'S FIESTA First of five classic Bob Baker productions in a yearlong celebration of the marionette theater's 50th anniversary. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 11, www.bobbakermarionettes.com. (213) 250-9995.
THE BOB BENDICK PODCAST . Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Mon., 5:15 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
GO BOBRAUSCHENBERGAMERICA When Bob Rauschenberg's mother (Mari Marks) delivers her tender slide-show about the rural Texas childhood of her artist son, and none of the slides matches the descriptions she's offered, you have to know something's up, conceptually. Whether or not you're familiar with the '50s-'60s collagist painter-sculptor, Charles L. Mee's 2001 extrapolation of what Rauschenberg might have written in order to explain how he assembled junk into evocative reflections on our place in the world stands alone. Marina Mouhibian's set decorates the stage and the proscenium walls with vintage kitsch as the 10-member ensemble plays out a series of somewhat interconnecting sketches about romances gone awry, violence, politics and metaphysics - though there are digressions for a series of chicken jokes. Bart DeLorenzo's staging preserves the tone, inherent the text, that's both wry and frivolous, abstract and pop, with one breakout poetical excursion into Walt Whitmanesque grandeur, delivered by a hobo (Brett Hren) and accompanied by Dvorak's symphony From The New World. (Steven Leigh Morris). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 461-3673.
BROAD COMEDY "Six irreverent and hilarious, multi-talented women, known for high-energy musical numbers, left-wing politics, women's issues, and R-rated shenanigans about, well, women's shenanigans.". Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 25. (323) 525-0202.
GO CONFUSIONS Alan Ayckborn's 1974 slate of five one-acts, under John Pleshette's tight direction of an exemplary cast, illustrates the comical consequences when we choose not to listen to each other. In "Mother Figure," a quarreling couple (Steve Wilcox and Abigail Revasch) have to revert to childhood in order to connect with each other during an encounter with a formidably maternal neighbor (Mina Badie). "Drinking Companions" offers us a traveling salesman (Brendan Hunt) in a hotel bar masking his loneliness with pathetic yet hilarious attempts at seducing two increasingly harried young women (Revasch and Phoebe James). What a waiter (Hunt) hears is all that we hear too in "Between Mouthfuls," as dialogue of one dining couple (Adrian Neil and Bridget Ann White) is intercut with that of another (Wilcox and Jones), slyly revealing a salacious secret. "Gosforth's Fete" turns into a debacle as the organizer of a charity event (Neil) learns a secret from a local teacher (Badie) that wreaks havoc for him and the teacher's fiancé (Hunt). And in "A Talk in the Park," a quintet of disparate folks (Hunt, James, Neil, White and Wilcox) finds their desperate attempts to connect with each other sadly falling on deaf ears. Life on Its Side Productions. (Martín Hernández). Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 7, www.plays411.com/confusions. (323) 960-5775.
DITCH Taylor Coffman's "humorous look at the trials and tribulations of love.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.plays411.com/ditch. (323) 960-7787.
GO DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Yes, Charlie Brown, you're still a good man. But in Bert Royal's darkly funny parody of the Peanuts comic strip, the gang is all grown up, raising hell and dealing with some very adult issues. CB (Stephen John Williams) has lost his famous beagle to rabies and is questioning the meaning of life. Van, aka Linus (Brett Fleisher), has become an affable stoner who has smoked his beloved security blanket, and his sister Lucy (Dana DeRuyck) has been incarcerated in a psych ward for setting fire to one of her classmates. Tough guy "Pig Pen" now goes by the name of Matt (Brian Sounalath) -- a germaphobe with a trainload of emotional baggage. Most of what transpires entails watching the screwball antics of these foul-mouthed sex-obsessed hellions, which renders a goodly share of laughs (the "Peanuts" dance at the opening of Act 2 is a real hoot). But Royal's script isn't all about teenage angst and hijinks. The strip's original cartoonist, Charles Schulz, never backed away from controversy. Honoring that legacy, Royal's play explodes with physical and emotional abuse, and CB's coming out of the closet results in a tragic finale. This all unfolds neatly on Rebecca Patrick's set --two swings, a graffiti pocked wall and bleachers. Director Mike Dias would do better with sharper pacing, but he's skillfully balanced the light and dark elements. Rounding out the excellent cast are Lisa Valerie Morgan, Collins Reiter and Mikayla Park. (Lovell Estell III). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, www.UrbanTheatreMovement.com. (323) 469-9988.
NEW REVIEW GO EXILES
Photo courtesy of The Hayworth Theatre
Playwright Carlos Lacamara's drama puts a powerful human face on the Mariel Boat Lift, Fidel Castro's mean joke of 1980, when Cuban-Americans were invited to come to Cuba to fetch their loved ones, to take them to the Land of Opportunity, but were instead subjected to a painful bait-and-switch. Cuban American mechanic Rolando (Alex Fernandez) sails his rickety boat to Cuba, believing that he's going to be bringing his beloved mother to his American home. Instead, the authorities force him to take Rolando's pompous brother-in-law Joaquin (Lacamara), Joaquin's sullen daughter Sadia (Heather Hemmens), and some other extra treats -- a maniac (Khary Payton) and a murderer (Mark Adair-Rios). Midway through the voyage, the boat's motor breaks and tensions flare amongst the passengers. Rolando's teenage son Roli (Ignacio Serricchio) falls for Sadia, while Rolando and his brother-in-law fight over long ago wrongs. Then the murderer makes his move. In David Fofi's emotionally rich, character-driven production the conflicts brew and simmer, aided by the claustrophobic mood provided by John Iocavelli's beautifully rickety boat set. The show's pacing sags occasionally, particularly towards the end, which feels inordinately drawn out -- and the breakdown of the boat seems like a forced plot development to keep the characters from being able to get anywhere. Yet, the the play's emotions crackle, and the piece brims with real fury and regret, whether it's the anger of Fernandez's excellently rigid Rolando, or the snappishness of Hemmens's snide but vulnerable Sadia, forced to abruptly uproot her life. Payton's haunting turn as the maniac, whose lunacy, we discover, springs from years of torture, also stands out. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 960-4442. Hayworth Theater in association with Fixed Mark Productions. (Paul Birchall)
F*CKING MEN Joe DiPietro's observations on the sex lives of modern urban gay America. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (323) 957-1884.
NEW REVIEW GEOGRAPHY OF A HORSE DREAMER
Photo courtesy of Moth Theatre Company
Neither a major nor even a very memorable member of the Sam Shepard
canon, this 1974 script dates from the London-exile period in which
Shepard was still trying to crack the nut of the beginning-middle-end
dramatic structure. Which means it belongs to a handful of tween plays
that share little of the poetical fireworks of the '60s or the craft
and thematic riches of his post-Pulitzer prize work. Nevertheless,
Shepard did write Geography of a Horse Dreamer as a comedy, and that's
where director Jamie Wollrab and the playwright part company. Kris
Lemche is Cody, a Wyoming cowboy whose one-time ability to dream
horse-race winners has turned into a losing streak after he's kidnapped
and virtually imprisoned by gamblers Beaujo (John Markland) and Santee
(the fine Scoot McNairy). When effete mob boss Fingers (an inspired Dov
Tiefenbach) demotes the men to the dog tracks, Cody's prognosticative
powers are temporarily restored, but at the cost of his sanity, which
leads Fingers' cadaverous, henchman/quack, the Doctor (Thurn Hoffman),
to salvage Cody's valuable "dreaming bone" by cutting it out of the
back of his neck. Essentially a seduction-of-the-artist allegory
embroidered by a pastiche of plot and character archetypes from vintage
Warner Brothers gangster melodramas, Shepard's surrealist aims -- along
with their intended laughs -- are all but lost in Wollrab's realistic
mise en scene and some wildly uneven performances. Moth Theatre, 4359
Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6, www.brownpapertickets.com. (323) 666-2296. (Bill Raden)
GRAVITYWORKS L.A. premiere of creator-director-producer Russell Boast's cabaret that's "part comedy troupe/part vaudeville act/part kick-ass music." Cinespace, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Second Level, L.A.; Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 25, www.gravityworkstheshow.com. (800) 838-3006.
HAMLET The Porters of Hellsgate present Shakespeare's tragedy. In rep with Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (951) 262-3030.
HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE Tommy Carter's drama of urban malaise, police brutality, and corruption. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, www.plays411.com/hellzkitchen. (323) 962-0046.
NEW REVIEW JUST A SONG AT TWILIGHT Willard Manus has chosen an interesting subject -- growing up in a Jewish household with a deaf mother in the years of 1928-1942 -- but his autobiographical script seldom gains momentum. Henriette (Lene Pedersen) and her older sister Marion (Janne Halleskov Kindberg) hoped for singing careers, but both lose their hearing in early adulthood. The play centers on the plight of Henriette, her self-proclaimed Bolshevik husband Izzy (Ilia Volok), and their son Ben (Michael Hampton), who yearns to try out for the Giants before he's sent off to World War II. Stifling any sense of a dramatic trajectory, every scene introduces new and different thematic materials: a discourse on ear surgery in the 1920's, a debate over the relative merits of lip-reading versus sign language, an argument about capitalism vs. Communism, rivalry between sisters, father-son conflicts, a lesson in lip-reading taught by an amorous teacher (Darin Dahms), and a war-time romance between Ben and his girlfriend (Julie Bersani). All these elements could be combined in a successful drama, but here they don't mesh. There's good work by the cast, but director John DiFusco isn't able to focus the play's rambling structure. Songs of the times and a historical slide-show do provide evocative period flavor. WriteAct Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca Avenue, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 469-3113 or http://www.writeactrep.org (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW GO KATAKI
Photo courtesy of Prince Livingston Players
Shimon Wincelberg's two-hander is set during World War II on a remote Pacific island (wonderfully depicted in painstaking detail by designer Potsch Boyd). Protagonist Alvin Coombs (Fernando Aldaz) literally drops into the story after he is forced to parachute from his plane during combat. Much to his dismay, the island is not deserted, and he finds himself at the hands of Kimura (Yas Takahashi), an armed Japanese solider who frisks him at knifepoint, taking his cigarettes and cash. Worse, Kimura speaks almost no English, and Alvin almost no Japanese. What begins as grunt, gestures and improvised sign language, however, soon turns into true communication as the mortal enemies get to know each other. None of this is smooth by any means, but it stokes the drama, providing moments of humor, tension and poignancy. Director Peter Haskell brings out this emotional depth in the text, masterfully massaging stretches of silence into powerful conflict, and his elongated transitions between scenes come to embody the Beckettian pace of life for this stranded pair. Haskell is aided by Louis Roth's fight choreography that is at times scary in its violence, and of course by Aldaz and Takahashi's moving performances that are so authentic in their humanity. What is most enjoyable, though, is the return to theatre's origins in basic movement and expression. This creates an atmosphere reminiscent of a time when we took more than a moment to contemplate life. McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru February 13. www.plays411.com/kataki A Prince Livingston Players Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
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 Feb. 28. (323) 960-4412.
THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv, directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
MALINCHE The life and influence of Malintzin Tepenal by Victor Hugo Rascon Banda. (Alternating perfs in English and Spanish; call for schedule.). Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.fridakahlotheater.org. (213) 382-8133.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR Shakespeare's comedy, set in the frontier mining town of Windsor, Colorado. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14, www.LyricTheatreLA.com. (323) 939-9220.
M.O.I.S.T.! 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.; thru Feb. 28, www.MoistOnStage.com. (323) 960-4442.
NEW REVIEW NAKED IN THE TROPICS
Photo by Michael Helms
Writer/director/producer Odalys Nanin's play (with a few songs by Nanin and Daniel Indart) focuses on lesbian immigration lawyer Alicia (Nanin), who is embarking on a love affair with the beautiful Isis (Natalie Salins). But Isis has a teen-aged son, Andy (Carlos Moreno, Jr.), and Andy is a very busy boy. In addition to impregnating his girl-friend Linda (Castille Landon), he has also teamed up with Joe (Daniel Rivera), who introduces him to performing semi-nude (in faintly obscene peek-a-boo loin cloths), gay sex, drugs, and drug-dealing. When Joe frames Andy to take the fall in a drug arrest, the boy is threatened with deportation to Cuba -- though he was born in the U.S. Lawyer Alicia must defend him in court, where her defense hinges on finding the midwife (drag performer Carey Embry, who plays the role as a Kate Hepburn wannabe, complete with accent, mannerisms and the Hepburn quiver) who delivered him, just north of the Mexican border. Nanin's predictable soap-opera script combines countless genres - including lesbian romance, boylesk, after-school-special, musical and court-room drama -- to very little purpose, and the author's slack direction doesn't help. The cast strives mightily to score with thinly written characters who are trapped within the lackluster material. Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb.21. Adult content. (323) 960-1057 or http://www.Plays411.com/nakedtropics (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW NARROW WORLD Daniel Damiano's satire features a disgruntled employee named Harrington (Will McFadden) who overthrows his idiot boss (Dan Sykes) and becomes a corporate Ubu Roi -- Alfred Jarry's sadistic slob who ran Poland into the ground. With the keys to the kingdom comes a princess --the CEO's lonely daughter (Sigi-Blu Zweiban) whom Harrington marries -- and the twist that the CEO (Cody Goulder) has less interest in the bottom line than keeping his daughter's bottom tapped. (He measures Harrington's performance by her happy glow.) McFadden's Harrington rules the show. Cocky, calculating, domineering and dispassionate, he barks his lines like he's conquering Earth (and his hairstyle increasingly resembles that of der Führer). Damiano's script has some funny zingers, but the scenes would pack more punch if chopped in half; Daniel Armas' pared-down production struggles to inject life into a series of long, static conversations. At its cold, ruthless heart, this play about men who talk over other men needs more snap and blood-letting, with a stronger pulse appropriate for a play that ends with a ode to all the tangible pleasures in the world, none of which can be found on a spreadsheet. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (602) 689-7714. A Fresh Baked Theatre Company prodution. (Amy Nicholson)
ON CARING FOR THE BEAST Cornerstone Theater Company presents Shishir Kurup's play "exploring the struggle between spirit and flesh, hope and despair, love and fear.". Inner City Arts, 720 Kohler St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24, www.CornerstoneTheater.org. (213) 627-9621.
GO ORPHEUS DESCENDING Lou Pepe stages Tennessee Williams' study of a singer-songwriter, Val Xavier (Gale Harold) who wanders into a Southern mercantile shop, a reluctant seducing machine living in and belonging to a different world. Being both a updated interpretation of the Orpheus' visit to the underworld, with Biblical allusions heavily laced into the plot, Williams' saga is study in the how the otherworldy artist becomes scapegoated and sacrificed to the prosaic reality of the here-and-now. The theater is a bit of an echo chamber, and Brandon Baruch's murky lighting doesn't really help Pepe's decisions to eliminate distracting details such as walls and knicknacks in order to place us inside Val Xavier elevated head and heart. That said, the ensemble saves and elevates the event, particularly Denise Crosby, Claudia Mason and Francesca Casale as the women whose hearts become wrenched by the musician in the house. (Steven Leigh Morris). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/92508. (800) 838-3006.
PARADISE STREET Title3 theater company presents the world premiere of a new play by Constance Congdon. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 525-0661.
PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Steve Martin's 1993 comedy. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 960-7714.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.
SEASCAPE WITH SHARKS AND DANCER Don Nigro's romantic comedy about love at first sight. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 5, www.sharksanddancer.com. (800) 838-3006.
GO SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED The Impro Theatre specializes in improvising full-length plays in the literary style of prominent writers, including Jane Austen, Tennessee Williams and Stephen Sondheim. Here, under the direction of artistic directors Brian Lohman and Dan O'Connor, they're tackling the Bard, taking the most minimal suggestions from the audience and spinning them into dizzily amusing mock-Shakespearean epics. At the performance I attended, they created a comedy that might be called Much Ado About Bluebirds. Miranda (Lisa Frederickson) is the slightly deaf daughter (she seems to hear clearly only the songs of bluebirds) of the Duke of Kent (Lohman). Kent has decided to marry her off to the elderly Duke of York (Floyd Van Buskirk), but she has already developed a fancy for Price (O'Connor), a young man from the village, who loves her, and has learned to tweet like a bluebird to woo her. The course of true love is threatened by a couple of mischievous fairies (Brian Jones and Edi Patterson) and a man-eating bear, until the blissful final scene, which is as sententious as any old Will created. The company (including Michele Spears and Stephen Kearin) is clever, nimble and quick on its feet, and the result is an amiable, crowd-pleasing divertissement. (Neal Weaver). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 14, www.plays411.com/shakespeareunscripted. (323) 401-9793.
SIT 'N' SPIN Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m., www.sitnspin.org. (323) 960-5519.
NEW REVIEW GO STAGE DOOR
Photo by Kelsey Edwards
In 1936, when Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman's comedy and homage to The Theater (that would be Broadway) showed the divide between the legit stage and the vulgar movie biz in Hollywood (an industry where "You only have to learn a line at a time and they just keep taking it until you get it," and "You don't even have to be alive to be in the pictures,"), the authors were playing off an East Coast/West coast divide. How strangely apt, then, that the play may now speak more to L.A. theater, and its ongoing love-hate relationship with Hollywood, than to the Broadway of yore. If you think this revival is just a valentine to a bygone era, think again. This week, the Pasadena Playhouse is closing its doors. The year after Stage Door premiered on Broadway, the Pasadena Playhouse was named the State Theater of California. It had, in its 12 year existence, produced the entire Shakespeare canon and 500 new plays. In August, 1937, Tempe E. Allison described the Playhouse in the New York Times, as "theatrical refreshment in this dust bowl, if not desert, of the legitimate stage, which has been sucked dry by the gigantic growth of its next-door neighbor, Hollywood." Though that kind of mythology has shifted over the decades, and our legitimate stage is anything but a dust bowl, the authors' portrayal of the theater as a somewhat Quixotic and poverty-stricken home for actresses placing an odds-defying bet on a rare moment of spiritual fulfillment has a current sting of truth, even after more than 70 years. The home, here, is a boarding house for actresses called The Footlights Club. Some like Louis (Katy Tyszkiewicz) are surrendering into marriages they dread while others, like pretty Jean Maitland (Kim Swennen) get swept away by Hollywood and one of its dapper producers, David Kingsley (Arthur Hanket). Problem is, pretty Jean can't really act, even though she's thriving out west as cover-girl material in a land where artists become employees for hire - and often they're hired to sit around in the sun. This theory gets tested when Jean gets shoveled back by the Studio to star on Broadway -- a cynical marketing ploy. Mephistophelean Kingsley, dripping with self-loathing (a nice turn by Hacket), pushes to replace Jean with his own flame, Terry Randall (a smart, sensitive portrayal by Amanda Weier). Terry, who has talent, has no desire for Hollywood and its games. In her deft and stylish staging of a cast that tops two dozen, Barbara Schofield pits the brunette Terry against blonde Jean, the talented against the talentless. Terry had been dating a lefty playwright (Matt Roe) who sold out his pedantically stated ideals quicker than it now takes to swipe a credit card. This production comes on the heels of last year's Light Up the Sky, demonstrating this company's firm grip on smart, sassy period comedies. Detailed set by James Spencer and Shon LeBlanc's textured costumes further feed the ambiance. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 13. (323) 882-6912. (Steven Leigh Morris)
THROW LIKE A GIRL Bill Becker's transgender portrait. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 876-1501.
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.
WHO IS CURTIS LEE? World premiere of Ashford J. Thomas' play set in 1950s North Carolina. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 957-1152.
WISEGUYS Scenes from Casino, Carlito's Way, Bronx Tale, Scarface, Goodfellas, Raging Bull and The Godfather. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.hollywoodfightclub.com. (323) 465-0800.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
CINDERELLA The MainStreet Theatre Company's kids musical, book by Phylis Ravel, music and lyrics by David Coleman. Lewis Family Playhouse, Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, 12505 Cultural Center Dr., Rancho Cucamonga; Sat., 1 & 4 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 7, 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (877) 858-8422.
GO CIRCUS WELT Reminiscent of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret (though sans music), this adaptation by director and producer Pavel Cerny of Leonid Andreyev's 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 long-standing 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 involves Bezano, Maria and the bareback 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 storm troopers. While the remaining vestiges of the original melodrama detract from what could be an extremely compelling piece of theater, 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. An Orpheum Theater Corporation Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (866) 811-4111.
THE CITY Director Stan Mazin's adaptation and update of Clyde Fitch's 1909 play has a lot going for it. That said, references to Lady Gaga and Desperate Housewives can't disguise the fact that it's an overly talky melodrama. Act 1 takes place in Middlebrook, where wealthy patriarch George Sr. (Klair Bybee) holds forth on the values of small town life. However, his wife Molly (Kady Douglas), daughters Megan (Trisha Hershberger) and Teresa (Jaclyn Marfuggi), and especially his son, George Jr. (Hector Hank), are bucking for the lights and excitement of New York City. Interloper Fred Hannock (Glenn Collins) comes to blackmail George Sr. over financial improprieties, and before his unexpected demise, George Sr. reveals to George Jr. that Hannock is his half-brother. The overly long Act 2 takes place five years later in the family's new abode in New York City, where George Jr. is hoping to secure his party's nomination for senator. Lawyer Burt Vorhees (Bix Barnaba) begins the vetting process, asking George Jr. to pressure Teresa not to divorce her playboy husband (Alexander Leeb). But a bigger problem is how to get rid of the drug addicted Hannock who's been installed as George Jr.'s secretary. Mazin marshals the cast well, but some of the acting is uneven. Trefoni Michael Rizzi's plush scenic design can't be faulted. (Sandra Ross). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.
DOROTHY AND THE WIZARD OF OZ Musical adventure by Steve and Kathy Hotchner, based on L. Frank Baum's classic fantasy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 6. (626) 256-3809.
GO HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE "Sometimes to tell a secret, you first have to teach a lesson," announces L'il Bit (Joanna Strapp) in the first lines of Paula Vogel's highly acclaimed and richly awarded play (including the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama). Set in 1960s rural Maryland, the non-linear, episodic plot focuses on L'il Bit's questionable relationship with her Uncle Peck (David Youse) during the different stages of her adolescence. Because she is more educated than her blue-collar family and becomes well endowed at a young age, L'il Bit always feels out of place, finding solace in Peck's company, even if his advances aren't always appropriate. In addition to the two leads, the three members of the Greek chorus (Skip Pipo, Jennifer Sorenson, and Allie Grant--of Showtime's Weeds in her stage debut) fill out the cast, playing the other members of this dysfunctional family as well as secondary characters. Director August Viverito, who also designed the set, finds the perfect balance between the emotion and humor in the text, all while choreographing the rapid scene changes seamlessly. Strapp and Youse are captivating in their pas de deux, subtly expressing powerful emotions, and the chorus members convincingly shift personas while enhancing the theatricality of the piece with their secondary function as transition markers and set movers. As has been its hallmark, this company tackles the challenge of mounting theatrical classics in a "closet," and once again succeeds admirably, especially with such an intimate piece. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 20, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
GO THE IMAGINARY INVALID Lance Davis' abridged 75-minute adaptation of Molière'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 so he may 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 less crisply but are still good enough to keep the farce crackling. Designer Holly Victoria's lovely period costumes add professional polish. A Parson's Nose Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 5, www.parsonsnose.com. (626) 403-7667.
INDULGENCES IN THE LOUISVILLE HAREM John Orlock's story of two spinster sisters in 1902 Kentucky. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 14. (818) 238-0501.
IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy about "lust and trust.". Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (818) 762-2282.
THE JAMB Tuffer (Kerr Seth Lordygan) and Roderick (Brad C. Wilcox) are gay men who have been friends for 20 years. Though they seem to love one another, they've never had sex. Now they're on the scary threshold of age 40, and their conflicts are looming large. Tuffer is addicted to sex, alcohol, and meth, while Roderick is an angry control freak with a messiah complex. Tuffer can no longer bear Roderick's constant disapproval, while Roderick is fed up with having to rescue Tuffer from his own self-destructive impulses. In hopes of curing Tuffer's immaturity, Roderick invites him to come along with him on a visit to his ex-hippie mother (Kenlyn Kanouse) in New Mexico -- but Tuffer will come only if he can bring his boy-toy Brandon (Garrett Liggett), with whom, it emerges, he has never had sex. Gay men who only want to cuddle? Playwright J. Stephen Brantley gives a clever and quirkily amusing account of his oddball characters, and achieves a resolution of sorts. But his play doesn't always convince, and one senses a more complex, unexplored level beneath this tangle of relationships. Director Susan Lee provides a brisk, straightforward production, and elicits fine performances from the four actors. (Neal Weaver). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (818) 508-3003.
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 musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalogue 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 saint-like perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiney, until the music returns him to his proper place. (Tom Provenzano). Platinum Live, 11345 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
GO THE KINGS OF THE KILBURN HIGH ROAD What is home to the emigrant? Is it, in the lowercase sense, merely the place where one lays ones hat? Or is it a more mythic capital -- an idea of both origin and aspiration in which the psychic distance between the two becomes the self-measure of the man? In Dublin playwright Jimmy Murphy's remorselessly probing elegy, the question is more than academic. For Murphy's six, middle-aged Irish expatriates who, 25 years earlier, left County Mayo to seek their fortunes in London's working-class Kilburn district, home has become a kind of spiritual sickness that, for one of them, has already proved fatal. And as the survivors gather in a local pub to mourn his passing, a potent cocktail of whisky, guilt and recrimination dissolves what's left of their camaraderie and dreams of youth to reveal only the bitter disillusionments and regrets of old men. Under Sean Branney's sure-handed direction, Dan Conroy gives a blistering performance as Jap, the hard-drinking men's bellicose, hair-triggered leader who, with his sidekick and flatmate, Git (the fine Matt Foyer), has the least to show for the lost years while being the most intransigent in his denial. Maurteen (a simmering Dan Harper) and Shay (John Jabaley) occupy a middle-ground of resigned acceptance of their meager circumstances, while Joe (Steve Marvel), as the group's single, successful exception, serves as the truth-seeking provocateur needling the friends to a lacerating self-knowledge. (Bill Raden). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28, www.theatrebanshee.org. (818) 846-5323.
ON THE AIR Golden Age of Radio murder-mystery musical comedy. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6, www.plays411.com/ontheair. (323) 960-4420.
ONE MAN, TWO PLAYS Dan Hildebrand in The Nonsense by Kevin Cotter and Whatever Gets You Through the Night by Andrew Kazamia. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 25. (323) 960-5650.
GO PROOF What's the link between mathematics and madness? If you inherit your father's genius, will you also fall heir to his lunacy? Playwright David Auburn garnered a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for this play that poses these questions within the framework of a family drama. The story begins a week after the death of Robert, an acclaimed mathematician (Brad Blaisdell, appearing in flashback ); mentally ill in his last years, he'd been cared for by his mirthless, troubled daughter, Catherine (Teal Sherer). Alone and grieving on her 25th birthday, Catherine can just barely tolerate the presence of Hal (Ryan Douglas) a former student of Robert's searching through his papers for some shred of intellectual value. More annoying to Catherine is her older sister Claire (Collette Foy), in from New York and intent on whisking Catherine back with her -- an option Catherine resents and resists. At the nub of the plot is whether, as Catherine claims, she wrote the mathematical proof uncovered in a locked drawer, or whether, as Hal and Claire suspect, Robert devised it during a period of clarity. For this critic, Auburn's script has always registered as contrived and lacking subtlety - but this production blows away this bias by virtue of Sherer's uniquely winning portrayal. That the character - like the performer -- is wheelchair-bound adds a layer of vulnerability that brings the play to life for me as it hadn't before. Make no mistake: Sherer's accomplished performance stands on its own; it's the material that's been enriched. Kudos also to Foy for excellent work. (Deborah Klugman). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 960-7863.
QUICKIES TOO! SCENES FROM A BAR Original short plays by seven writers, one director, and 23 actors. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (818) 990-2324.
RAY BRADBURY'S WISDOM 2116 Two by science-fiction author Ray Bradbury: Wisdom (1916), a new play, and 2116, a new musical, book and lyrics by Bradbury, music by John Hoke, developed, directed and choreographed by Steve Josephson. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, www.Plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.
THE SENSUOUS SENATOR Michael Parker's 1988 bedroom farce. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org. (626) 256-3809.
NEW REVIEW GO SIDHE Other-worldly shadows inhabit playwright Ann Noble's intense drama about two fugitives from Ireland and their ravaging impact on others' lives. On the run, smoldering Conall (Patrick Rieger) and his oddly passive companion Jacquelyn (Jeanne Syquia) rent a dingy room above a Chicago bar from its tight-lipped owner, Louise (Noble). Louise's steadiest customer is her alcoholic brother-in-law, Vernon (the standout Rob Nagle), who remains inconsolable over the shooting death of his philandering wife Amy, whom he'd worshiped unrequitedly. Bitter and unhappy, both Louise and Vernon are wont to tear at each other fiercely - but their problems pale next to those of Louise's tenants, whose mysterious past hints at savage violence and unspeakable secrets. Just how terrifically unimaginable the latter prove to be is something we don't learn until well into Act 2. Adding a supernaturalistic element to this already densely miasmic plot is Jacquelyn's proclivity for experiencing strange apparitions: namely, the "Sidhe," a mythic tribe of pre-Gaelic fairies with startling powers to affect human - in this case Jacquelyn's - behavior. Full of dark turns, Noble's story is so packed with tension and conflict that at times it's hard to believe only four characters are taking part. Not every twist is credible, even given the play's super-natural standards. And sometimes the heavy Irish brogues makes essential details difficult to grasp. These qualifications notwithstanding, the production is often riveting, under Darin Anthony's direction. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 20. (866) 811-4111. (Deborah Klugman) A Road Theatre production.
SIX DEGREES OF FORNICATION World premiere of David Wally's sex comedy. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 4. (866) 811-4111.
TWELFTH NIGHT Presented by Chrysalis Stage. Vic Lopez Auditorium, 12417 E. Philadelphia St., Whittier; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 21, www.chrysalisstage.com...
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's The Browning Version, the gloomy story of an aging schoolteacher crushed by failure and disappointment, receives a stellar mounting by director Marilyn Fox. A well-regarded scholar of the classics, Andrew Crocker-Harris (the superb Bruce French) has spent the last 18 years as an instructor at a public school in England but must leave the position because of failing health to take a less-stressful job elsewhere. Now the object of jokes and ridicule by his students, and denied a pension by the school, he has a bearing that is subdued by sadness, yearning and a palpable "gallows" surrender to circumstance. His wife, Millie (Sally Smythe), has given up on being happy with him and has contented herself with numerous dalliances with his colleagues (which she delights in reminding him of), and cruelly undermining what remains of his sense of manhood. Her current lover, Frank (understudy David Rogge), is torn between a sense of guilt, his admiration for Andrew, and the dying embers of lust for Millie. It is only when the professor is presented with a rare translation of Agamemnon from a student (Justin Preston) that his mask of stoic restraint melts to reveal a desperately fragile inner life. From this sedate tapestry of characters, Rattigan artfully probes marriage, relationship and our perverse capacity to embrace lacerating emotional pain and self-deceit, which all unfolds beautifully on Norman Scott's cleverly designed sitting-room mock-up. Fox directs this piece with masterful subtlety and draws devastatingly convincing performances from her actors.(Lovell Estell III). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 822-8392.
CHAPTER TWO Neil Simon's 1977 comedy about a widowed writer. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 14. (310) 454-1970.
THE COLLECTOR John Fowles' psychological and cunning thriller, adapted by Mark Healy. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 6. (310) 397-3244.
COMEDY VS. ART SMACKDOWN "Funny artists and artistic comics battle" in this monthly event, curated by Elisha Shapiro. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Second Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m.; thru June 14. (310) 315-1459.
COULD I HAVE THIS DANCE? Doug Havery's story of two daughters and their mother's incurable muscular degeneration. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 364-0535.
11, SEPTEMBER Playwright-performer Paul Kampf may have come up with the perfect rationalization for writing what would seem, at face value, the most implausible plot twists for his psychological thriller. It concerns an affair between a mathematician, Martin Healy (Kampf), visiting New York from his London home to attend a conference, and a waitress, Angela Madison (Liz Rebert), with whom he becomes smitten. Under Gita Donovan's direction, the actors' waves of attraction and repulsion (from mutual distrust that slowly and hauntingly seeps out) have a truthfulness that matches the authenticity of the uncredited studio apartment, where the entire saga plays out. A rising tension from the violence in the air and some very intriguing interconnections add to play's capacity to entrance, and Chris Cash's musical compositions help segue the many scenes with a delicate solemnity, giving the event a cinematic feel. References to chaos and conspiracy theories become the philosophical frame for plot developments that might otherwise raise eyebrows in skepticism. The play rides the line between exploring and exploiting coincidences, yet it gets bogged down in its own psychological realism. This raises questions that can't be answered by chaos theory, or any other -- such as why the characters sometimes blurt out incendiary details of their past, given how neither is particularly trustworthy, or why Martin would drop by uninvited and wind up reading Angela's diary, conveniently left in her bed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, www.11septemberplay.info. (310) 477-2055.
THE EXONERATED Presented by the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. Old Expo Furniture Warehouse, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru March 6...
IN THE COMPANY OF JANE DOE 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 snowshoes 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 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' 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 are stranded somewhere between a theological argument and a screenplay wannabe about a wacky office. (Paul Birchall). Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
IT'S CRIMINAL! THE COMEDY! Courtroom adventures with criminal defense attorney Murray Meyer. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 960-7780.
LOVE IN BLOOM By Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (310) 394-9779.
LOYALTIES 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 superpatriots, eager to condemn anyone who questions the war. Their best friends, Mel (Sarah Brooke) and Andrew (Pasqualini), also have an adopted son, Michael (Albert Meijer), an émigré from a Muslim country. Andy and Michael were inseparable friends throughout their childhood, but their paths 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 mouthpieces. 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. (Neal Weaver). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 28, www.PacificResidentTheatre.com. (310) 822-8392.
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's musical take on the 1934 Kaufman and Hart play. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (714) 777-3033.
NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott's bedroom farce. Norris Center for the Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Palos Verdes Peninsula; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (310) 544-0403.
GO AN OAK TREE On the simplest storytelling level, actor-performer Tim Crouch's play is the tale of a hypnotist falling apart at the seams, who after accidentally striking and killing a young girl with his car, one day finds the victim's father on his stage. Wrenching stuff. But on a conceptual level, the event takes this very emotional saga and uses it as a kind of Ping-Pong ball to bat around the idea of suspension of disbelief -- realities that we create through suggestion. In order to accomplish this, for each performance he employs a different actor, whom he meets less than one hour before the performance, and who reads the role of the father from a script. And so, through a frame of hypnotism that's just one of the play's many artifices, begins a breathtaking examination of the blurred line between what is real and what is suggested, of how we live in dream worlds in order to get by, and how theater itself is a kind of hypnosis that serves this very same purpose. Its brilliance is unfettered, and inexplicably moving, for being such a head trip. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (310) 477-2055.
PICK OF THE VINE Nine original short plays selected from submissions by playwrights from around the world. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 11, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (310) 512-6030.
PRINCESS BEAN'S MESSY WORLD Rock & roll kids musical about a petite punk princess. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat., Feb. 6, 12:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 14, 12:30 p.m., www.princessbean.com. (310) 490-2383.
RUN FOR YOUR WIFE Ray Cooney's marriage farce. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, www.johnsmithcheats.com. (310) 828-7519.
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION The Kentwood Players present John Guare's drama. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, www.kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.
GO A SONG AT TWILIGHT "I've been in America too long. It's so lovely to see a steak that doesn't look like a bedroom slipper! . . . Memory is curiously implacable. It forgets joy, but rarely forgets humiliation." That's probably not the Noel Coward that you've ever heard before, but Noel Coward it is. Given that this 1966 bittersweet comedy was one of Coward's final plays, it's startling to learn that this James Glossman's beautifully mature staging is actually the show's West Coast premiere (a pruned one act version of the play was produced here in 1975 in a nationally touring double-bill called Noel Coward in Two Keys, starring Hume Cronyn.) Is it too late to nominate Coward for some kind of a "best new writer" award? Some have theorized that the show's explicit homosexuality-related themes were Coward's attempt at "coming out" - but even if one doesn't totally agree with the idea, the show still appears to be years ahead of its time - and this partially explains why it's so ripe for rediscovery. Ensconced in his Swiss hotel suite for the season, elderly author-legend Sir Hugo Latymer (Orson Bean) spits venom at his long suffering, astonishingly supportive wife Hilde (Alley Mills), who also serves as his secretary and dogsbody. In fading health, Sir Hugo realizes that his best days are behind him, but an unexpected visit an unexpected visit from from his former mistress, Carlotta (Laurie O-Brien), can still bring out the elderly writer's flamboyant rage. Retired leading lady actress Carlotta wants permission to publish their long ago love letters in her upcoming autobiography, but when Hugo refuses, it turns out the woman has an ace in her sleeve, involving other love letters to someone even further back in Hugo's past, and memory. Glossman's elegantly melancholy staging showcases both Coward's glittering writing and the unexpectedly piquant themes of regret and bitterness. Bean's crusty, curmudgeonly Sir Hugo may miss the smooth, veneer of civility we expect, but he adroitly conveys the sense of a twisted, petulant old tool, who's as dismayed by the loss of his physical faculties as he is regretful of his past mistakes. O'Brien's faded vixen is wonderfully snarky, with a mischievous malice suggesting a hurt creature who is enjoying her spiteful vengeance. Mills' understanding, but coolly clear-eyed wife, turns out to be unexpectedly powerful. (Paul Birchall). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 7, www.odysseytheatre.com. (310) 477-2055.
GO WEST Steven Berkoff's 1983 tale of adrenaline, lust, rage, and violence amongst a group of young thugs in 1960s London is written in modified metrical verse, which makes for a text whose heightened sense of reality is both unusually challenging and piercingly dramatic. The juxtaposition of these low born, brawling goons, and the lyrical dialogue that comes out of their mouths makes for a beautifully ironic tale - the play hints that the great Shakespearean epics of old are really tales of goons and criminals. Young thug Mike (Brad Schmidt) leads a gang of East End thugs whose dapper, shiny suits bely the fact that they're engaged in a bitter and bloody feud with a rival gang out of Brixton. The battles usually consist of the gangs getting drunk and beating each other up on their way home from their pubs. In an attempt to make peace, Mike and the other gang's chief thug (Joshua Schell) agree to a one on one duel against each other, with the loser's gang surrendering. As the night of the fight approaches, Mike suffers self doubts, both over his ability and his willingness to fight. Berkoff's beautiful, vivid writing is also dense and quite hard to penetrate. Yet with this startlingly crisp and at times acrobatic staging, director Bruce Cooper leaps over the play's hurdles of incomprehensibility and crafts a clear and emotionally searing production. The piece is perfectly cast: The young men have pitch perfect East End accents and dead eyes; you'll swear you're watching Kray-era thugs, who, along with knowing how to throw a good punch, somehow manage to get their jaws around the mouth-mangling verse. Nicely volatile turns are offered by Schmidt's brooding Mike, Kate Roxburgh as his miserable doormat of a mother, and Annie Burgstede, offering a delicately Julie Christie-like performance as Mike's sexy but neglected girlfriend. Presented by Hellion Pictures. (Paul Birchall). Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, www.hellion-pictures.com/west. (310) 823-0710.