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Stage Raw: Tracers

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Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 12:33 PM

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NEW REVIEW
GO
TRACERS

click to enlarge rsz_tracers.jpg
Photo courtesy of the Loft Ensemble

Thirty years after its Los Angeles debut, writer John DiFusco's anti-war drama retains its relevance and power. Written collaboratively in the 1970s by DiFusco and seven other Vietnam vets, and directed by Christina Howard with insight and skill, it portrays the trauma of young military recruits plucked from mainstream American life and thrust -- inadequately trained and poorly equipped -- into the nightmare of combat. Howard, displaying a metaphysical perspective, stages the production on a deep cavernous proscenium. Prior to curtain, an intense, almost suffocating, scent of incense permeates the theater; meanwhile, for perhaps 20 minutes, the six "trainees" jog in military unison, the rhythms of their booted tread being ominous and haunting. When at last the performers do, individually, speak, it's in a darkness resourcefully illuminated by handheld flashlights; indeed, throughout the play, the lighting design (consultant Tiger Reel) registers as a quintessential element of the spectacle. The talents of Howard's adept ensemble collectively emerge in a sequence depicting the recruits' initial training under the command of an abusive drill sergeant (the terrific Tucker Smallwood) who addresses them as "maggots" while forcing them to undergo arbitrary punitive discipline. Once in Vietnam, the men medicate their brutalized psyches with dope, alcohol and infantile horseplay -- understandable given their tasks, which include sorting through body parts to try to match limbs with torsos. While not every component of this production is unimpeachable -- the sound design (Howard) and vocal soundtrack, effective in part, can be intrusive -- the imaginative production is compelling. Loft Ensemble at L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 27, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392. Loft Ensemble  (Deborah Klugman)

For all NEW REVIEWS seen over the weekend, press the More tab directly below

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication June 3, 2010


BORN TO BE ALIVE

click to enlarge rsz_borntobealive.jpg

Photo by Shaunessy Quinn

"Diminutive actress/writer/burlesque artist/stand-up

comic/fashion model/activist" Selene Luna stars in the story of her

life. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125

N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; opens May 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;

thru June 27. (323) 860-7302. See Theater Feature on Wednesday.

NEW REVIEW CHASING MONSTERS

click to enlarge rsz_chasing_monsters.jpg

Photo by Armando Molina

The eruption of

laughter that opens Gabriel Gomez's drama is one of the few light

moments in what is otherwise a relentlessly bleak tale. Dominic

(Richard Azurdia) is celebrating his pending nuptials at his favorite

bar with his friend Sandra (Deborah Geer), anticipating a happy future.

In the next scene, with a vicious, alcohol fueled argument between

Dominic and his bride-to-be Amy (Carolyn Zeller), the bottom drops out

of the future, and the play. Utilizing an overlay of dreamy flashbacks,

Gomez attempts to provide context to this story of generational family

dysfunction. We learn of Dominic's early dependency on alcohol, his

conflicted relationship with his emotionally unstable mother Vanessa

(Monica Sanchez) and brother (Xavi Moreno), and his confusion and rage

toward his absentee father. Gomez and director Armando Molina show us

what lies behind this family's torments, but fails to eloquently or

convincingly probe underlying causes that address the "why." More

importantly, he fails to establish emotionally vibrant, credible

connections between these characters, which makes empathy next to

impossible. Dominic becomes nothing more than a hard-luck, loser drunk,

and everyone else just people plagued by nasty problems. Things turn

painfully melodramatic after one character's terminal medical

prognosis, transforming the play into a lugubrious vigil. There's no

argument with the performances, which are uniformly good. Rounding out

the cast is Natalya Oliver. Company of Angels at Son of Semele Theater,

3301 Beverly Blvd.; Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., thru

June. 13. http://www.SonOfSemele.org (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW CRIMES OF THE HEART

click to enlarge rsz_crimesheart.jpg

Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR

The Magrath

sisters are all back home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, to take care of

another family crisis. Mama hung herself, Granddaddy is in the

hospital, and now Babe's gone and shot her husband. Yes, it's all

funny; and if they didn't laugh, they might never stop crying. There

are some subtle touches that do a Southern girl's heart good in South

Coast Repertory's version of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play:

Chick (Tessa Auberjonois) sucks her finger to prevent any lipstick from

bleeding onto her teeth; Babe (Kate Rylie) mixes two parts sugar to one

part water in her lemonade. Under Warner Shook's direction, though, the

care that Henley took to spin a delicately layered cocoon around the

black-fisted blow of suicide, abuse, mental illness, and racism is

trampled by one-note screeching that drowns out any nuance in the

script. The 1978 play's still relevant--Southern women stuck in the

South resort to desperate measures on a daily basis--but this production

not only rips out its heart, but also its head. Henley's sharp-knifed

social commentary (the sisters pity the "half-Yankee" children of a

townie who married a Northerner) is dulled by an ensemble whose crimes

are bad accents and brittle insouciance, and those Southern stereotypes

suddenly seem true and offensive. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town

Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Sun., Tues., Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., Fri.,

Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through June 6. (714) 708-5555

(Rebecca Haithcoat)

NEW REVIEW GO IT AIN'T ALL CONFETTI!

click to enlarge rsz_itaintallconfetti.jpg

Photo courtesy of El Portal Theatre

"Rip

Taylor? Isn't he dead?" opined an unkind family member upon learning

that this weekend I was reviewing the new one man show written and

starring Rip Taylor, the legendary comedian and popular culture

"character." TV viewers of A Certain Age (and older) will doubtless

recall Taylor, an omnipresent fixture of the 1970s, familiar from

countless appearances on game shows like Match Game and Password,

and also a Vegas go-to opening act for stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Judy

Garland, and Eleanor Powell. With his masterfully mugging shtick,

bugging eyes, waggling tongue, and silly one liners, Taylor's style

wasn't for anyone - and it was easy to dismiss his "character" as a

rube. And, yet, as his solo effort (directed by David Galligan) aptly

indicates, any performer who has managed to have as huge career for as

many decades as he has clearly possesses a mighty amount of talent, and

steel willpower. In the opening moments of Galligan's fast moving,

intimate production, Taylor strides onto the stage, clearly somewhat

frail but still every inch the showman. His flapping toupee perches

hilariously askew, as his pointy mustache waves. Next, he whips out a

thick pile of file cards, each containing an individual one liner -

and, in a dizzying display of jaw-dropping gagsmanship, he goes through

every one, over 80 in all, within the first 10 minutes. From there,

Taylor rips off his toupee, tosses it behind him, and switches over to

more serious subject matter (with barely a joke in sight), as he

describes his troubled childhood, his early successes as an MC at the

Atlantic City strip club circuit, his subsequent discovery for the Ed Sullivan Show

while performing at the Catskills, and the gradual honing of his

carefully calculated stage persona, which has been his bread and butter

for over half a century. Many of Taylor's revelations are fairly

surface level, dealing with his interactions with the stars he's come

across - and he often seems so in control over what he's saying, you

could starve to death waiting for any "behind the mask" information

about the performer. Yet, the show is ultimately a compelling

presentation of a life - and it's as much a must see for students and

historians of the comedy of a certain era as it is for folks who just

want to share a warm laugh with a thoroughly amiable performer. El

Portal Theatre, 11206 Waddington Street, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8

p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 6. www.elportaltheatre.com (866)

811-4111. (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW THE MAIDS

click to enlarge rsz_maids.jpg

Photo by Armina LaManna

French poet,

playwright, novelist and thief Jean Genet, dubbed a criminal/saint by

Jean-Paul Sartre, was an eternal outsider who embraced themes of

oppression, betrayal, transgression, and opposition to accepted social

values. Here, he tells the bizarre tale of two sisters, Solange (Rachel

Kanouse) and Claire (Nicole Erb) who are employed by Madame (Meagan

English) as maid-servants. Corroded with self-loathing, they bitterly

resent their menial existence, and become enmeshed in an intense

love/hate relationship with each other and with their employer, whom

they hate, envy, adore, and fantasize about murdering. They have

already, via an anonymous letter, sent Madame's lover to jail, and

whenever she is out, they act out sadistic fantasies of murder and

rebellion. Inevitably the end-game is lethal. Director Armina LaManna

begins the piece with Edith Piaf recordings and a choreographic

interlude that establishes the perverse erotic bond between the

sisters. The actors skillfully and meticulously navigate the shoals of

shifting fantasy and reality. J.C. Gafford provides a handsomely

baroque set, all red velvet, flowers, and ornate porcelain. And Rachel

Sachar designed the costumes, which cleverly dress the sisters in

positive and negative variations on the same uniform. However, Genet is

so subjective and personal that there are no apertures the mind can

slip in through. The Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon

Boulevard, Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., and

Thursdays June 17 & 24, 8 p.m., through June 27. (818) 508-3003 or

http://www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW GO ROAD TO SAIGON You don't need

to be a devotee of theater lore to enjoy director Jon Lawrence Rivera's

assemblage of show tunes, pop standards and showbiz anecdotes. (But it

helps.) You don't even need to be familiar with songs from the

blockbuster musical, Miss Saigon, the source of the evening's theme and

reminiscences. (Because none are present.) All you need is an

appreciation of big talents, and Rivera has gathered three of the

biggest. Besides being Filipino-American actresses, Joan Almedilla,

Jennifer Paz and Jenni Selma all cut their musical-theater teeth

playing Miss Saigon's tragic heroine, Kim, on Broadway or in a national

touring company. Their memories of winning the coveted role become the

"book" for what Rivera clearly hoped would have the appeal of a

real-life A Chorus Line. And while the results feel more like

a talky cabaret revue, what's not to like about a trio of powerhouse

singers belting out beloved Broadway favorites under Nathan Wang's

rousing musical direction (musical staging by Kay Cole). Almedilla's

soulful covers of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and Burt

Bacharach and Hal David's "I Say a Little Prayer" are sensational; Paz

proves her mettle on comedy numbers like "Here I Am" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and "In Short," from the musical Edges; and Selma sizzles on inspirational anthems like "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl,

and Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," as well as more wistful ballads

like the Kelly Clarkson hit, "Beautiful Disaster." East West Players at

the David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo;

Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 625-7000. (Bill

Raden)


NEW REVIEW ROCKIN' WITH THE AGES II

click to enlarge rsz_rockin.jpg

Photo courtesy of The Whitefire Theatre

Considering

the paucity of employment opportunities for older performers, it's not

surprising that they should band together to create their own show,

cast entirely with singers and dancers over the age of 60. Most

performers are eager for love and approval, but when it becomes too

obvious, as it does here, it gets embarrassing. They've put together a

lively show, consisting largely of show tunes, plus a few evergreen

standards like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," performed by Susan Lacroix,

Carmelita Pittman, and Bobbi Stamm, and "The Tennessee Waltz," given a

heart-felt rendition by Sue Smart. "Puttin'on the Ritz" is a lively

tap-dance number, featuring the Razzmatappers and Dennis Wickham. Raffi

Mauro provides a sweetly funny version of "Mr. Cellophane," and joins

forces with Stamm and Hallie Richman in an antic "Two Ladies," from Cabaret.

Big ensemble numbers include "Hey, Big Spender," "Money, Money," and a

raunchy "Cell Block Tango." With such a huge cast, it's impossible to

single out individual performers, but most are able and thoroughly

professional. One wishes some younger performers could see them and be

reminded that with a little old-fashioned projection, one can be heard

loud and clear without relying on body microphones. Whitefire Theatre,

13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., matinees

Wed., Thurs., & Sun., 2 p.m. Produced by The Pink Lady and Senior

Star Power Productions. (818) 606-6679 or

mailto:PinkLady7@earthlink.net (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW SKYLIGHT

Photo by Paul Skipper

click to enlarge rsz_skylight.jpg

Along with his works Plenty and The Secret Rapture,

David Hare's 1995 drama is one of his "Big Lady" plays, in which a

strong willed female protagonist is ultimately hoisted by the petard of

her own glittering ideals. In this case, the woman in question is

sensitive Kyra (Erin Shaver), who has broken up with her former

restaurant tycoon lover Tom (Stuart W. Howard), after his wife found

out about their affair. Kyra, now punishing herself by living in a

frosty flat in an unfashionable part of London, where she ekes out a

living teaching inner city schoolkids, is unexpectedly visited by Tom,

who, now that his wife has died of cancer, is eager to rekindle their

flame. The romantic sparks start to sputter, though, when the piece

sidelines into a fiery debate about the principles and flaws of

Capitalism and Liberalism, which, frankly, is Hare's real concern. It's

possible that in a few weeks director Ken Meseroll's stodgy production

of the seething drama will gel to reflect the play's subtle emotional

shifts and nuances in a more involving way. At this point, though,

Meseroll's staging is merely workmanlike with flat line readings and

stiff blocking, while also missing the psychological edge and layering

implied by Hare's delicate, yet fiercely intelligent script. Shaver

offers a likable, if emotionally restrained turn as Kyra, while Howard

is nicely oily and pompous as Tom. However, it's hard to believe for a

moment that the pair would have had an affair. In addition, the

performers are often so hamstrung by their attempts to wrestle with the

British dialect, you almost wish they had jettisoned it entirely. Set

designer Joel Daavid crafts a beautifully detailed, warm, and intimate

living room set which nevertheless feels utterly at odds with the

frigid description of the location in the play itself. Fremont Centre

Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave, South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3

p.m.; thru June 20. (866) 811-4111. (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW GO TRACERS

click to enlarge rsz_tracers.jpg
Photo courtesy of the Loft Ensemble

Thirty years after its Los Angeles debut, writer John DiFusco's

anti-war drama retains its relevance and power. Written collaboratively

in the 1970s by DiFusco and seven other Vietnam vets, and directed by

Christina Howard with insight and skill, it portrays the trauma of

young military recruits plucked from mainstream American life and

thrust -- inadequately trained and poorly equipped -- into the

nightmare of combat. Howard, displaying a metaphysical perspective,

stages the production on a deep cavernous proscenium. Prior to curtain,

an intense, almost suffocating, scent of incense permeates the theater;

meanwhile, for perhaps 20 minutes, the six "trainees" jog in military

unison, the rhythms of their booted tread being ominous and haunting.

When at last the performers do, individually, speak, it's in a darkness

resourcefully illuminated by handheld flashlights; indeed, throughout

the play, the lighting design (consultant Tiger Reel) registers as a

quintessential element of the spectacle. The talents of Howard's adept

ensemble collectively emerge in a sequence depicting the recruits'

initial training under the command of an abusive drill sergeant (the

terrific Tucker Smallwood) who addresses them as "maggots" while

forcing them to undergo arbitrary punitive discipline. Once in Vietnam,

the men medicate their brutalized psyches with dope, alcohol and

infantile horseplay -- understandable given their tasks, which include

sorting through body parts to try to match limbs with torsos. While not

every component of this production is unimpeachable -- the sound design

(Howard) and vocal soundtrack, effective in part, can be intrusive --

the imaginative production is compelling. Loft Ensemble at L.A. Fringe

Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6

p.m.; thru June 27, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392. A (Deborah

Klugman)

NEW REVIEWA TYRANT'S TALE Pared down to 80 minutes, writer-director Lisa Wolpe's breakneck adaptation of The Winter's Tale

opens with a fatal temper tantrum. King Leontes (Scott McRae) believes

his wife (Heidi Rose Robbins) is hugely pregnant with the child of his

friend -- and now, sworn enemy -- Polixenes (Andrew Heffernan). In

short order, the king has banished or doomed nearly his entire court,

though before she's hauled off and declared dead, Robbins, whose

character is weak from torture and tall with dignity, commands the

stage with a killer last speech. Miraculously, Apollo will set this

right, but en route, the actors rush, shout and muddy their lines with

neeedless accents, and risk losing the audience in so doing. In such a

taut tragedy, Wolpe could easily cut the scene of comic relief between

a shepherd (McRae) and his idiot son (David Glasser) and amp up the

heat, especially in the steamy dance of love between a prince (Glasser)

and a secret princess (Laura Covelli). With tweaks, this very likable

staging could be a pocket-sized success. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130

Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sun..; thru June 27,

brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006. (Amy Nicholson)





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