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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: How Do Actors Do It?

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Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 2:49 PM
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STAGE FEATURE on My Penis, In and Out of Trouble

HOW DO ACTORS DO IT? As told by Alan Mandell, who was among a dozen or so actors auditioning for the movie This Must Be the Place, starring Sean Penn. The role was for a man 94-years old. Mandell, being in his early 80s, was too young. His friend, Norman Lloyd, who is 96 was also rejected, but for being too old. Lloyd was reputed to have told them, "I can play younger."

THE LOS ANGELES WOMEN'S THEATRE FESTIVAL is currently accepting submissions for 2011. Those interested in participating in the upcoming Festival may send a DVD of the exact and entire performance under consideration, along with an application. The submission deadline is August 31st. For more information and applications, please visit www.LAWTF.com or call (818) 760-0408.

Check back tomorrow for a listing of shows being reviewed over the weekend.

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below


COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 20-26, 2010

Our critics are Pauline Amadek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, 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

ELIZABETH SHAKESPEARE AND THE ASTUTE DETECTIVE ABRAHAM Alan Ross' world premiere about who really wrote the Bard's plays. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Aug. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 394-9779.

GREATER TUNA Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard's small-town Texas comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Aug. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 25. (626) 256-3809.

LIFE OF EASE Phillip William Brock's story of an Oklahoma grandmother and her grandson. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Aug. 26-28, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 2 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 2 p.m.; Sept. 16-8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 2 & 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

MACBETH Zombie Joe's Underground presents Shakespeare's tragedy. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 20; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (818) 202-4120.

MAPPING THE HEAVENS $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Mon., Aug. 23, 11 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

OF GRAPES AND NUTS SeaGlass Theatre presents Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth's Steinbeck parody. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; opens Aug. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 841-5421.

SAD HAPPY SUCKER Lee Kirk's absurdist study of anxiety. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; opens Aug. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 10, sadhappysucker.com...

TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Suzan-Lori Parks' dark comedy about brotherly love and family identity. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens Aug. 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (866) 811-4111.

A WITHER'S TALE Troubadour Theater Company mixes Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale with soulful tunes by Bill Withers. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; opens Aug. 20; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (818) 955-8101.


CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

NEW REVIEW GO FREE MAN OF COLOR

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Photo by Michael Lamont

A young, well-spoken and highly educated black man is tapped to become the leader of a nation. But it's not who you think. The year is 1828, the place is Athens, Ohio, and the man is John Newton Templeton (Kareem Ferguson), a freed slave whose education is facilitated by the Rev. Robert Wilson (Frank Ashmore). Wilson, a strictly principled man, enrolls John in Ohio University. Wilson's wife, Jane (Kathleen Mary Carthy), initially cold to Templeton when he comes to live with them, softens over time; however, she plants doubts in Templeton's head about Wilson's plan to make him the governor of Liberia. Charles Smith's spare three-character study unfolds through intimate moments and intellectual discourse, powerfully examining the issues of its day, as well as questions surrounding citizenship and belonging, which continue to occupy us. The dialogue is especially refreshing for its crisp diction, for which the credit goes to both the cast and director Dan Bonnell. The show also appeals visually, as David Potts' set, consisting of stark silhouettes, brings to mind both the popular 18th century portraiture and African woodcuts. Similarly, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's authentically plain costumes avoid the dual pitfalls of theatrical period garb, which is often either too showy or simply looks fake. The cast is stellar all around, taking us on a journey that stresses the urgency of fulfilling the promises upon which our country was built. The Colony Theater, 555 North Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through September 12. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15; colonytheatre.org (Mayank Keshaviah)


GRIFFITH PARK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL Free performances of Much Ado About Nothing by the Independent Shakespeare Co. Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 913-4688.

HAMLET It's anyone's guess what vision might have guided director Ellen Geer's fervent but unfocused, Medieval-dress version of Shakespeare's most baroque and psychologically nuanced tragedy. There's certainly little hint of the Oedipal undercurrents or political allegorizing that have been a mainstay of 20th-century productions. Nor is there much sign of the paralyzing conflict between faith in purpose and intellectual certainty, which traditionally drives its hero's famously agonized inaction. In the case of Mike Peebler's Hamlet, neither his mission nor its justness ever seems in doubt; Peebler attacks the role with the zeal and righteous wrath of the recently converted. Even his soliloquies are delivered at the audience as if from a pulpit. Gertrude (Melora Marshall) in turn appears more pissed off at her son's increasingly antic disposition than aggrieved by what it might imply about his sanity. Claudius (Aaron Hendry), by contrast, comes off as positively good-natured, a guy caught with his hand in the cookie jar rather than his fingerprints all over a nefarious regicide. Willow Geer is convincing as a feisty yet vulnerable Ophelia, though even here the method of her madness seems more a response to the murder of Polonius (a very broad Carl Palmer) than any jilting by Hamlet. Director Geer keeps it all moving at a fast clip, but some exasperatingly eccentric blocking divides the focus of too many critical turning points -- most egregiously in the mousetrap scene -- all but obliterating their dramatic purpose. (Bill Raden). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Aug. 21, 4 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 28, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 5 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 2, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

LIFE COULD BE A DREAM Writer-director Roger Bean's doo-wop jukebox musical. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (949) 497-2787.

GO LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE Ilene Beckerman's book, on which Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron based their "intimate collection of stories," is the kind you'd grab from the display near the register at a Barnes and Nobles, to serve as a dressy envelope for a birthday check to your goddaughter or an upgraded Mother's Day card. But if the recipient read it instead of tossing in onto a pile of similarly gifted minibooks, she'd find a classy little number, a J. Peterman catalog minus the pretentiousness. With sparse text and barebones sketches, Beckerman records her history through the clothes she and her female relatives wore. Director Jenny Sullivan constructs the stage version in much the same way: The star-studded ensemble wears black (there's an ode to the color, every woman's old faithful) while sitting in a straight line; and Carol Kane, who reads as Beckerman, handles the main prop, a "closet" full of the book's renderings situated on wire clothes hangers. But this is Nora Ephron, and chumminess quickly trumps austerity. The scenes themselves are ruminations on relationships thinly veiled as (mostly) funny riffs on clothes -- Tracee Ellis Ross almost runs away with the show every time the spotlight's hers but particularly so with "The Shirt." Kane, who must be one of the most endearing actors ever, dances her monologues' transitions so delicately and adroitly you can only marvel. There are a couple of moments ("The Bathrobe," "Brides") during which all but those with a particularly voracious emotional appetite will find themselves choking on the syrup. Fortunately, though, the Ephron sisters have nimbly stitched together the scenes so that there's far more head nodding than eye rolling. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (310) 208-5454.

MASTER CLASS Terrence McNally's story of opera diva Maria Callas. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Aug. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM In rep with Hamlet. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 8 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

ON THE FRITZ: AN EVENING WITH FRITZ COLEMAN The KNBC weatherman's comedic observations. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Through Aug. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 22, 2 p.m.. (818) 508-0281.

ON THE VERGE Eric Overmyer's story of three "pre-feminists" on safari. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (562) 494-1014.

GO THE RENDEZVOUS It's been nearly 20 years since New burlesque emerged from the cauldron of the L.A. and New York underground rock and dance-club scenes, which now makes it old enough to be a freshman in women's studies at UCLA and NYU. Director, choreographer, show creator and lead dancer, Lindsley Allen (Pussycat Dolls) gives an eye-popping, postgraduate demonstration of the nouvelle bump and grind as she leads her faculty of Cherry Boom Boom dancers through a raucous evening of retro-themed, terpsichorean tease. And what's not to like about sitting in a Hollywood Boulevard nightclub and watching a chorus of sexy women dressed to the nines in the fetishistic camp of skimpy, Anne Closs-Farley costumes, while lip-synching, shimmying and shaking for 75 minutes to rock & roll and exotica classics on designer Francois-Pierre Couture's seamy-noir set? Extra credit goes to Kelleia Sheerin's sleight-of-hips strip while gyrating inside a Hula-hoop; Ruthy Inchaustegui's gravity-defying, aerial sling dance; and Sharon Ferguson leading a line of corseted dominatrixes through a B&D whip number, fittingly set to the Cramps' "Queen of Pain." Ferguson doubles as the evening's breezy, Texas Guinan-esque emcee, while Angela Berliner and Brian Kimmet do exemplary narrative duty in an engaging, bad-date comedy pantomime threaded between the dance numbers. David Robbins' high-decibel sound and Sean Forrester's kinetic lights set an appropriately louche, red-light mood. (Bill Raden). King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Last Thursday of every month, 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (323) 960-9234.

SMOKE & MIRRORS Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera's mystery, set on a desert island filming location. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (562) 494-1014.

SPEAK OF ME AS I AM It's easy to understand why singers and dramatic artists would want to portray the legendary Paul Robeson. Actor, athlete, intellect and man of principle, Robeson fearlessly battled for justice -- and paid the price. This solo show, featuring opera baritone KB Solomon, meshes some of the highlights of Robeson's life with renditions of the songs ("Old Man River," "Going Home") for which he's most famous. The (uncredited) script relays information about Robeson's life in no particular order but repeatedly returns to his battle with HUAC's hearings and their painful aftermath. Directed by Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, Solomon (whose bio lists music credits but no acting) spins an expository monologue that remains on the surface and seems most suitable for youthful audiences unfamiliar with the material. Designer Michael Boucher has crafted a low-budget but attractive set, and Joyce S. Long's lighting adds professional sheen. (Deborah Klugman). Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Through Sept. 5.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 960-5772.

THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Fri., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723.


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

AS THE GLOBE WARMS Solo performer Heather Woodbury creates elaborate worlds. For her performance What Ever, Woodbury elasticized herself into 100 characters for a sprawling American epic. This follow-up is a semi-political soap opera that will run a new installment every weekend for three months, and, gauging by its launch, Woodbury's interested in charting the rise and fall of the artistic class and the crystallization of the divide between the two Americas. On the 4th of July 1985, a cowed girl picks up a video camera and discovers she's an artist; 25 years later, she's dead and her brother is attempting to describe her archive of tapes to a barbecue of gentrified Californian creatives who deign to do their own sculpting rather than hiring interns for the "dirty" work. On the other coast, a preacher, his shrewish Tea Party wife and their daydreamy teen daughter fret about the BP oil spill and a species of endangered frogs that might prevent them from expanding their church's parking lot. Woodbury has little patience for both blues and reds and loves to skewer the of hypocrisies of both camps. To help her stay true to her own voice, she could use a director (none is credited) to help her shape and simplify her frantic character changes; she has a capable range of accents but spends scenes shifting wildly around in her chair to make sure we're following who's who. Besides the chair, the only prop onstage is a handycam that records each episode for the internet and streams it live on a screen against the wall. It's unclear yet if the distraction will prove purposeful, but what's certain from the starting gate is that the enthusiastic Woodbury has energy for miles (and months). (Amy Nicholson). Echo Curio, 1519 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (213) 977-1279.

ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

CHESS IN CONCERT Music by Benny Anderrson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, lyrics by Tim Rice. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 960-7735.

EAT THE RUNT A satirical comedy written by Avery Crozier, where office politics, sexual harassment, religion, political correctness, and societal and cultural norms are all up for grabs. In each performance audiences decide what roles the actors will play. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs..; thru Sept. 9. (323) 856-8611.

THE EINSTEIN PROJECT Paul d'Andrea and Jon Klein's atomic bomb play. Plus: The Face of Jizo by Hisashi Inoue. Junction Theatre, Barbarella Neighborhood Bar & Kitchen, 2609 N. Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 4, brownpapertickets.com...

ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, plays411.com/elevator. (323) 960-7787.

NEW REVIEW THE EXERCISE
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Photo by Wynsolo Photography

Lewis John Carlino's 1968 play centers on a series of improvisations, conducted by the Actor (Daniel LaPratt, alternating with Keith Wyffels) and the Actress (Anadel Baughn, alternating with Susan Hanfield) in an attempt to solve some troubling acting problems. Initially, it seems they're only casual acquaintances, but as they work, it becomes clear that they have had a traumatic personal relationship. Soon, they are at loggerheads in an age-old conflict: He's concerned with simulating emotion to show the audience, while she wants to use her acting to explore her own identity and achieve gut-level emotional truth. He regards her as a self-indulgent emotional masturbator, and she sees him as a coward who can never allow himself to lose control. Eventually, she challenges him to meet her on her terms. Though the premise is a fascinating one, the production doesn't always work. Baughn is constantly convincing, but it's not until Act 2 that LaPratt achieves the same emotional conviction. And there's something murky here, whether it's inherent in the script or due to a lack of clarity in director Kenn Schmidt's production. Nevertheless, the piece is always interesting to watch, and there's excellent work from both actors. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-7724, plays411.com/theexercise. (Neal Weaver)


FIRST LOOK FESTIVAL OF NEW PLAYS Schedule at openfist.org. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Sept. 18. (323) 882-6912.

NEW REVIEW FLAT In a tween's world, having or not having breasts is usually the first experience of the grass being greener. For every generously gifted fifth grader covertly and desperately binding her rapidly blooming chest with an Ace bandage, there's a Judy Blume character begging God for "something" to fill her training bra. Ellen Clifford never received that something. Heavily influenced by Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, Clifford's autobiographical show recounts past and present episodes, most of which gleefully celebrate her breasts, or lack thereof. The problems arise less from the subject matter -- several of the monologues could run as essays on the popular sort-of feminist Web site, Jezebel -- than with the adolescent-awkward construction and execution. She employs accents where none are needed (the "these my ho boots" bit, confusing in that it's supposed to introduce her struggle with anorexia, is especially cringe-inducing, bordering on offensive) and interacts with the audience by passing around the gel inserts from her push-up bra. Given that this is a show about, well, her, Clifford seems surprisingly uncomfortable throughout the performance, which is exacerbated by a clenched-teeth gaiety. Neither do the two unnecessary performers accompanying her -- the precise, talented mime, Mitchel Evans, and director Lora Ivanova, who only serve to slow the already-bumpy pace -- benefit her. Though some refreshing confessionals ("I'm a terrible Dolly Parton impersonator," she says after lip-synching "9 to 5") provide a smile here and there, ultimately the show feels as artificial as a boob job. The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 28. (310) 622-4482. (Rebecca Haithcoat)


GO FOUR PLACES The family outing on display in Joel Drake Johnson's unsettling comedy resembles a gathering of ornery, wounded jackals. Siblings Warren (Tim Bagley) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart) motor to their parents' Chicago home to take their diminutive, gray-haired mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) out for a what is presumably a pleasant lunch. At first blush, this seems innocent enough, but something about Ellen's painful, labored smile as she hugs the wheel, and Warren's cold, mummified expression, suggest that something is amiss. It isn't long before the moral underbelly of this clan emerges along with some ugly revelations. Mom's harmless exterior drips away with each rum and Coke she knocks back (and every trip to the bathroom, where she pees blood), and there emerges a subtly vicious female, a practiced manipulator who delights in tormenting her children with reminders of their lacerating miseries and failures. But an even darker secret surfaces concerning Peggy's alcoholic, invalid husband (who never appears onstage but is a towering presence, nevertheless), and rumors that she is abusing, and even attempting to murder him. The manner in which Drake tells this story -- blending humor and stark ugliness, while exploring themes of sibling rivalry, marital infidelity and even euthanasia -- is thoroughly engaging and held in sharp balance by director Robin Larsen. The characters are fully fleshed out, both in the writing and the performances, as disturbing for their and their vulnerabilities as for their anger. Rounding out a superb cast is Lisa Rothschiller. (Lovell Estell III)., (323) 960-4424. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 422-6361.

NEW REVIEW THE GOOD NEGRO

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Photo courtesy of the Stella Adler Theatre

A black minister (Phrederic Semaj) stands at his pulpit, exhorting his congregation to fight racial injustice. A member of a "citizen's patrol" (Brian E. Smith) brutally beats a black woman (Theresa Deveaux) for taking her child into the whites-only restroom. These opening scenes in playwright Tracey Scott Wilson's fictionalized account of the early civil rights movement are among its most effective. Williams strives to bring the pages of history into human focus by portraying the infighting among a group of activists struggling to organize nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama, in 1963. At the center of the effort is the minister, James Lawrence, a committed and charismatic leader with a beautiful, devoted wife (Numa Perrier) -- and an adulterous penchant for pretty women. Spied upon by the FBI, the organization is also hampered by contentiousness within its ranks, with Lawrence's fiery second-in-command (Damon Christopher) and a new tactical organizer from out of state (Austen Jaye) at each others' throats. While the play offers a compelling reminder of the vicious racism in our not-so-distant past, the script's docudrama flavor and uncomplicated characters require much finessing on the part of the ensemble. Under Sam Nickens' direction, that hasn't yet happened, with performances, on opening night, ranging from serviceable to over-the-top. The exceptions include Perrier, intense and authentic as Lawrence's betrayed wife; and Deveaux, whose character suffers great personal loss, and whose portrayal of sorrow ably brings home the tragedy of events. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through September 19. (323) 960-1054,plays411/com/good negro. Upward Bound Productions (Deborah Klugman)


NEW REVIEW GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTURE

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Photo by Shawn Bishop

Despite evidence of comic timing, this Groundlings sketch comedy-improv show lacks the kind of comedic distinction that has made the troupe's reputation. Directed by Damon Jones, this outing is a tepid series of scripted sketches, broken up by four improvised sequences where an emcee calls on the crowd for cues. Early on, the audience seemed predisposed to have a good time, judging by the hysterical laughter that seemed disproportionate to the comic stylings onstage. Half-baked routines included a sketch depicting a daffy Stephenie Meyers in drag, which poked fun at the popular author and her fans, and a familiar bit involving couples playing a guessing game called "Taboo." A three-piece band kept the mood vibrant by playing during the interludes, while the cast slipped into yet another fright wig or costume. But as the evening wore on, the long musical breaks between routines provided useful opportunities for people to check their devices. By the third improv sequence, the emcee was fielding facetious suggestions from the audience. That, disassembling improvs, plus some lazy writing, made for a disappointing night. Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through October 2. (323) 934-4747. groundlings.com (Pauline Adamek)


THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.

I'M NOT HERE ANYMORE W. Colin McKay has cast his play in the form of a mystery. Josh (Dayton Knoll) is a former GI who has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffers from combat trauma upon his return home. He has frightening flashbacks, which can drive him to violence, and he's haunted by two people (or are they hallucinations?) from his time in the Gulf. Kim (Casey Fitzgerald) is a girl who was killed by a roadside bomb, and Eddie (Sal Landi) is his former buddy, whom he believes aims to kill him if he reveals dark secrets about his time in the combat zone. There are also two doctors, Mel (Brian Connors) and David (Dig Wayne), who are at odds about Josh's treatment. But there are too many mysteries, and too few reliable "facts" for us to know precisely what's going on. Josh is clearly an unreliable narrator, the two ghosts/hallucinations have agendas of their own, and so perhaps do the doctors. We can never be certain whether Josh is dogged by psychotic fantasies, or telling uncomfortable truths the army wants to keep under wraps by committing him to a mental hospital. Good work from the actors and director Al Bonadies, but the script is perplexing. (Neal Weaver). Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. 323-468-8062.

JEWTOPIA Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson's story of two single men: a gentile obsessed with dating Jewish women and a Jew obsessed with dating gentile girls. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (323) 655-7679.

KARMA, THE MUSICAL "The '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s flash by as an older woman travels back in time to stop her younger self from making the stupid mistakes that have ruined her life," by Susan C. Hunter and Les Oreck. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (323) 469-3113.

KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

LA TOOL & DIE: LIVE! Stage version of Sean Abley's 1970s gay porn film. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (323) 957-1884.

LIVE NUDE BECKETT First off, an answer to the obvious question raised by directors Harry Kakatsakis and Jordan Davis' provocative title: Yes, the six-member cast in this selection of short works by Samuel Beckett are costumed solely in their birthday suits -- that is if you don't count production designer Gary Klavans' Day-Glo-painted stripes and masks that, under technical director Zane Cooper's all-ultraviolet lighting, gives the actors the appearance of wearing garishly fluorescing and (alas!) opaque, stick-figure body suits. From the program notes, the nudity conceit seems to be nothing more than a punning afterthought, arising from the production's aim of "stripping" the pieces "to their 'bare' essence." While such extreme departures from the exacting intentions of a playwright so notorious for being fastidiously protective of his work might seem a sacrilege to some, the true disservice here is to the ensemble. Such dim and distorting black light obscures too much of the actors' expressive faculties, particularly in the evening's mime pieces, in effect forcing them literally to work in the dark. Still, even in such brutalized Beckett, occasional glimpses of the maestro's mordant wit and eloquent anguish shine through, especially via Davis and Amy McKenzie, who give tantalizing hints of the Beckettian voice both in 1975's Footfalls, as well as (with Natalie Rose) in the 1966, three-character "dramaticule," Come and Go. (Bill Raden). Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., 9:45 p.m.; thru Aug. 21. (917) 340-5895 or (818) 720-9651.

MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman. Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer first describes -- then graphically illustrates -- how she abandoned her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An unexpected pregnancy alters her life -- though not her smug irreverence leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's bitter, hollow message. (Deborah Klugman)., $20. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 666-4268.

GO MEDEA Euripides' tragedy concerning a betrayed woman and her monstrous revenge remains a timeless examination of humanity's struggle with its darker, primal urges. With the exception of a misstep at play's end, Travis Terry brilliantly directs a superb cast, relocating the story to a contemporary lunatic-asylum setting. The text reveals a few contemporary words -- and ,i\>trash -- while preserving the antique language that's so rich with imagery and passion. Adalgiza Chermountd's Medea is first heard wailing from behind a white paper wall, part of designer Dionne Poindexter's central set piece of Medea's quarters, which rotates with ease. "Whipping her grief-tormented heart into a fury," Chermountd has a disheveled yet formidable presence, and her multihued interpretation ranges from coherent and ferocious to deranged. Her unspeakable deed is chillingly depicted. Commenting in unison, the chorus of young girl (Shaina Vorspan), mother (Lauren Wells) and grandmother (Karen Richter) double as asylum orderlies, with Shaina Vorspan giving an especially expressive performance. There are some welcome moments of levity in R. Benito Cardenas' playful interpretation of Aegeus, one of Medea's fellow lunatics. A highlight is the scene when Medea's duplicitous ex-husband, Jason (Max Horner), attempts to "correct her exaggeration" with his version of events. Aside from a tacked-on happy ending that feels utterly false, this unpretentious production holds many rewards. (Pauline Adamek). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 667-0955.

MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (323) 960-7714.

GO THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP It's been 18 years since this manor mystery was the No. 1-produced play in America, and it hasn't worn out its welcome. In a dreary, rural house, the widowed master (Kevin Remington) has brought home a bride (Michael Lorre), a tremulous blond actress who might not have the wits to survive the local vampires and werewolves (or the grudging maid and infatuated stable boy). Charles Ludlam's fleet-footed thriller comedy is in the key of camp, but this production tampers down the winks and nudges, staging it as an exercise in theatrical imagination. Lorre's sparse set design is a model of how to turn a small budget into an asset. The furniture and decorations are drawn with thin, white lines on flat, black-painted wood, and the actors set the tone by first finishing the final touches with chalk. Irma Vep is always staged as a play for two performers, and Remington and Lorre (who also directs) are great sports, changing from a bumpkin with a wooden leg to a bare-breasted Egyptian princess in less time than it takes to tie your shoes. The actors' physicality is great, but dresser Henry Senecal and stage manager Akemi Okamura also take deserved bows at the end. (Amy Nicholson). SPACE916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-1304.

NOT ABOUT HEROES Playwright Stephen MacDonald's 1982 drama about the World War I friendship between British poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen is an Anglophile's orgy of poetry and irony. The stage simmers with repressed sexuality and doomed talent -- chilled with that stiff upper lippiness that has boys quoting poetry as they march off to get slaughtered in the Somme. In 1917, at the Scottish mental hospital where they have both been committed for shell shock, wide-eyed novice poet Owen (Robert Hardin) nervously approaches his idol, celebrated war bard Sassoon (Josh Mann), to ask for his autograph and to get his opinion of his own verses about the horrors of WWI. The two men kindle a warm mentor-prodigy relationship that stops an inch short of a lip-lock -- and, even though they never declare their obvious romantic love, Sassoon is left bereft after Owen returns to his unit and dies pointlessly in the trenches. MacDonald's drama is incredibly well-researched -- some might say overresearched, as the piece strives to shoehorn into the text almost every single fact about its subjects' lives. Yet, director Bill Hemmer's elegant if unevenly paced production limns the shifting power dynamic between the two poets, as well as offers a compelling portrait of a war that literally crushed a whole generation of young men into the mud. Hardin's delightfully boyish Owen matures and become ravaged by the conflict, before our eyes -- while Mann's subtly arch turn as Sassoon belies the affection for his prodigy lurking below the surface of his snarky ironic exterior. Although the play is ultimately perilously overwritten and a bit static, the production itself recalls the mood and tone of those fringe British dramas that are frequently staged in the backrooms of London pubs, in which nothing ever seems more crucial than art and beauty. (Paul Birchall). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, plays411.com/heroes. (323) 960-7744.

GO OPUS Because classical music can be such a sublime art form, one tends to regard those musicians as inhabiting a more celestial sphere than the rest of us. Playwright and classically trained violist Michael Hollinger confutes that notion with this percipient drama, which examines the political and emotional fracas within a string quartet. In Hollinger's canny script, the tensions generated among members of a prominent musical group have been exacerbated by an affair between two of them: Elliot (Christian Lebano), a domineering egotist with little tolerance for opposition; and Dorian (Daniel Blinkoff), a supersensitive artist with a history of emotional problems. When Dorian up and quits prior to a prestigious gig at the White House, he is replaced by Grace (Jia Doughman), a conscientious novice with tremendous talent and the inner aplomb to withstand Elliot's needling and increasingly truculent demands. Directed by Simon Levy, the drama begins with a studied manner before launching into full dynamism, as the particulars of the players' dilemmas and entanglements come into focus. In a solid ensemble, Doughman is noteworthy for her character's impeccable truth; likewise Cooper Thornton is highly effective as Alan, the down-to-earth second violinist who reacts with growing consternation and dismay to snowballing events. The performers mime their concerts in admirable sync (sound design is by Peter Bayne, with input from musical advisers Roy Tanabe and Larry Sonderling). Complemented by designer Ken Booth's lighting, Frederica Nascimento's backdrop, with its cubes in autumnal colors, seems reflective of the quartet's rich but cloistered world. (Deborah Klugman). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 663-1525.

NEW REVIEW GO PARASITE DRAG As screwed-up families go, the one on exhibit in Mark Roberts' ultra-dark comedy makes a serious run for the top prize. The first glimpse of Gene (Robert Foster) reveals a sullen man hunched over a kitchen table, with an ice pad on his eye, as he nurses a shiner he got from his wife, Joellen (Mim Drew); she sits, staring out of the door, wryly commenting on the impending tornado about to strike their tiny Midwestern town. Eight years without sex, and trapped in a loveless marriage, they are bonded only by the conventions of small-town propriety, shallow pretense and Gene's fanatical Christian beliefs. The real twister, however, comes in the form of Gene's boorish, foul-mouthed brother, Ronnie (the outstanding Boyd Kestner), and his countrified wife, Susie (Agatha Nowicki), who drop in unexpectedly. Apparent from the outset is the seething resentment between Gene and Ronnie, which Roberts' fine script slowly heats to critical mass, uncovering a dark undercurrent of shared emotional and psychological mutilation. Sordid revelations emerge about the family's troubled past, their mother's bloody suicide and the sexual molestation of a drug-abusing sister, who is now dying of AIDS in a hospital. The final plot turn is raw and dirty. Notwithstanding the play's bleak tapestry, Roberts instills plenty of comic relief into his writing. The characters are well sketched and without a trace or urbanity. David Fofi delivers spot-on direction and draws very good performances from his cast, particularly Nowicki, who artfully blends Southern charm and simplicity with trailer-trash attitude. Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat, 8 p.m.; through September 18. (213) 614-0556. (Lovell Estell III)

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.

REDHEAD CUBAN HOUSEFRAU HUSBAND Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were pioneer celebrities who set the standard for clean, white-bread television comedy. They also were one of Hollywood's original power couples amassing a fortune from ownership of their own studios. But in his self-described musical homage to the I Love Lucy show, writer-director Fletcher Rhoden falls short of telling their story or of telling any story that's the least bit compelling. The herky-jerky script contains no semblance of narrative cohesiveness or flow, though it comes spiced here and there with historic details about Ms. Ball's life. Performer Joan Elizabeth Kennedy fails to channel Lucy convincingly, and is consistent only in singing off-key. Ditto for Derek Rubiano, whose Cuban accent wobbles in a remedial performance. Rhoden's music and lyrics are competent though without a hint of any Latin-American origins or influence in the music. Rhoden's direction does little to shore up the holes in his script. Jodi Skeris and Michael Anthony Nozzi are presumably standing in for other actors as the zany neighbors, but that's hard to tell from the program. (Lovell Estell III). Mount Hollywood Theater, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-9113.

SEX, RELATIONSHIP AND SOMETIMES . . . LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 6, 7:30 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 769-5566.

SHAKE A man named Bill (Jo Egender) and his ex, Peggy (Alina Phelan), stand eight uneasy feet apart after a chance encounter in a park. She's homeless; he's a lapsed alcoholic. What turned their love upside-down? Joshua Fardon's chronological play ticks backward every month for a year, from August 2002 to September 10, 2001, and unpacks the affairs and betrayals and guilts sprung from strangers named Matt (Troy Blendell), Julia (Michelle Gardner) and Robin (Bridgette Campbell). The mystery comes in the reverse momentum. Told forward, it's a soap opera -- going back, a parlor game. We know this drama traces back to the fall of the towers, but when we get there, we realize Bill and Peggy's relationship was already headed to destruction -- 9/11 simply changed the route. More catastrophic is the entrance of Claire (Hiwa Bourne), a femme fatale who uses the disaster for her own ends, though even she, too, is scrabbling for a purpose. Kiff Scholl's direction knows that with every scene, the characters know less and hope more. Under his guidance, Phelan's New York naif is especially heartbreaking. She's a girl with simple dreams, and within the year, even those are impossibly far away. (Amy Nicholson). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (323) 856-8611.

SIT 'N' SPIN Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity; www.sitnspin.org., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m.. (323) 960-5519.

SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT About! $20, seniors $15, children under 2 free. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Sept. 26. (213) 250-9995.

STILL STANDING Playwright Shyla Martin sets out to tell the tale of Laura (Venessa Peruda), a Los Angeles woman who discovers a startling letter while sorting through the belongings of her deceased father. In it, the writer, Celeste Ellis (Monique McIntyre), informs Dad that she has borne him a daughter, and asks for child support. Laura is thunderstruck to discover that she has a half-sister. Her Aunt Sarah (Eileen T'Kaye) urges her to go to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to track down the mysterious sister. But the meeting with that sister, Tracey (Nichelle Hines), proves awkward because, though both women had white fathers and African-American mothers, Laura is ostensibly white and Tracey is recognizably black. When the two women eventually form a bond, it's threatened by unforeseen events. The story is potentially interesting, but Martin's naive dramaturgy dilutes its power. Many short scenes, in different locales, make for long, debilitating scene changes; plot details emerge in haphazard, confusing fashion; and there are red herrings: Tracey's brother (Rondrell McCormick) elaborately hides a mysterious packet, which is never explained or referred to again. Director Nick Mills has assembled a capable cast, but the play's fragmentary scenes and shifting focus defuse their efforts. (Neal Weaver). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Sept. 12. (323) 960-7863.

GO STREEP TEASE "Meryl Streep, gay icon?" I asked Google. She's no Judy Garland, but enough affirmative results returned that, when considered alongside creator Roy Cruz's all-male review of some of Streep's finest screen scenes, she seems well on her way. In her roles, she's checked off, among others, driven activist, "guilty-until-proven-innocent" outsider, and frost-bitten bitch. In her "real" life, she's eschewed ascribing to Hollywood's rigid standards of beauty, becoming successful on her own terms. Cruz and director Ezra Weisz have constructed a well-structured, tight show that's over almost before you want it to be, even though the theater is stuffy to the point of sweaty (further proof of their sense of humor -- hand-held fans emblazoned with Streep's face are given as trivia prizes). In case you lack an "inner Streep," Cruz prefaces each monologue with a synopsis of the movie. Mimicking the Academy Awards' setup, a swell of music sweeps the performer down the aisle and up the stage, and he poses dramatically as the lights fade. Since the cast chose their own pieces, they're all well reenacted; naming a favorite is really more about your own favorite "Meryl moment." That said, Trent Walker's scene from Silkwood is white-trashtastic; and Taylor Negron's from Sophie's Choice coalesces the audience into one being, collectively holding our breaths and back our tears. The show's great affection for the un-diva is best revealed in its gentle ribbing, though: Mike Rose's re-creation of a scene from The River Wild should be included if Ms. Streep ever gets a roast. (Rebecca Haithcoat). BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 653-6886.

A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT "Inspired by William Shakespeare's Macbeth." Presented by Psittacus Productions. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29...

[TITLE OF SHOW] "Musical about making a musical." Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen, book by Hunter Bell. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (323) 957-1884.

GO TOPDOG/UNDERDDOG Lincoln and Booth are bizarre monikers for a pair of siblings. In this solid revival of Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, capably directed by Martin Papazian, names aren't the only ironic peculiarity here. Lincoln (A.K Murtadha) and Booth (M.D. Walton) are African-Americans, named by a neglectful, long-gone father as a joke; they now cling to one another for survival yet harbor volcanic resentments toward each other. The play's potency lies in this attraction-repulsion dynamic and the resultant venomous acrimony, which Parks so neatly dissects. Lincoln, the oldest, is kicked out by his wife and forced to move into Booth's sleazy, trash-strewn apartment. Life isn't unbearably wretched for him; he has a "real" job as an arcade attraction playing the Great Emancipator -- complete with whiteface, fake beard, stovepipe and trashy overcoat -- while patrons shoot him for recreation. Once a master of the three-card monte street hustle, he now salves what's left of his dignity with false hopes and Jack Daniels. His pistol-packing brother, however, dreams of being the ultimate monte player, seeing the game as his ticket out of poverty and an affirmation of his manhood. Parks sketches an ugly portrait of thwarted urban life, sibling rivalry and crippling self-delusion. Though not much happens in this two-hour comedy, the writing is thoroughly engaging. Yet it's Walton and Murtadha's rugged, emotionally charged performances that work the magic. (Lovell Estell III). Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (323) 960-7719.

GO A WOLF INSIDE THE FENCE "You can't lose your way in a history class. You can only go backwards," says Linus McBride (Arthur Hanket), a history teacher who seems to be losing his passion, and possibly his marbles. The target of the advice is Marion McNeely (Charlotte Chanler), a troubled transfer student at McBride's public Oregon high school. With dark secrets of his own, Linus cultivates an attachment to Marion. At the same time, Judy cultivates an interest in the girl, with whom she shares more than she would care to admit, while losing interest in her boyfriend, Math teacher Harold Carson (Colin Walker). What develops is an intense series of events as these wounded animals become entwined in each other's lives. Playwright Joseph Fisher weaves a rich tapestry of dark chocolate secrets and twisted desires, pairing it perfectly with a dry champagne wit that sparkles in the mouths of this talented cast. Hanket, particularly, wields Fisher's rapier wit with impeccable comic timing and an understated manner that leads to some devastatingly funny lines. The credit for this must, of course, be shared with director Benjamin Burdick, who strikes a fine balance between the piece's humor and horror. The minimally staged performance is a good reminder that when fancy sets, lighting and other aspects of modern stagecraft are put away, the heart of good drama is compelling characters and a well-crafted text. (Mayank Keshaviah). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 21, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 2 p.m.; Through Sept. 3, 8 p.m.; Through Sept. 11, 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies, once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer: change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its "disease-of-the-week" dimension surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellowwis a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores' precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 5...

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

AMADEUS Written as Theophilus (from the Greek) on his birth certificate, Mozart's middle name can be interpreted as either "lover of God" or "loved by God." Antonio Salieri clearly believed the latter, and his jealousy of Mozart fuels the drama in Peter Shaffer's 1979 award-winning play. As court composer, Salieri (Peter Swander) has the favor of Emperor Joseph II (David Robert May) and admires Mozart's music -- until he meets the young prodigy. Mozart's (Patrick Stafford) sexuality and vulgarity drive the devout Catholic wild, and as Salieri can't reconcile the philistine with the ethereal music he creates, he becomes determined to destroy Mozart. In that quest, Swander often speaks of passion, yet it rarely feels as if his character possesses the passion his words suggest. Part of this may have been director August Viverito's desire for a slow build, even though it does eventually pay off in Act 2. Stafford's Mozart, on the contrary, is id perfectly personified, with occasional glimpses of the genius hiding behind the schoolboy pranks. Danielle Doyen, who plays his wife, Constanze, pairs well with Stafford, and like the rest of the cast, is capable. However, her 1980s, Madonna-style outfits, along with Mozart's gold pants and the emperor's raspberry zoot suit, are questionable choices by designer Shon LeBlanc. While for Salieri "a note of music is either right or it's wrong," for me the show had a pleasant melody but not one that stuck with me for long. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (800) 838-3006.

BECOMING NORMAN Utah native Norman P. Dixon has had two coming-out parties: first, as a gay man and second as an artist. At times, he's been one or the other -- say, when he graduated with a drama degree from BYU -- but this solo show marks the 45-year-old's insistence on claiming both after spending the last 15 years toiling in office work and retail. The first half of the night follows the artist as pretty blond boy slowly learning that (a) there was a closet, and (b) he was in it. No quick revelation in Orem, Utah, a town, as Dixon describes, "where people didn't even think Boy George was gay." Dixon is a handsome blond with a theatrical voice, and he powers through his life story with a blend of self-congratulation and insecurity. This serves him less well when his autobiography decamps from Salt Lake to Los Angeles and we hit waves of tales wherein his talents are spotted, he's offered a semi-big break and he sabotages himself in fear. Dixon's journey is both topical and familiar -- who hasn't moved out to L.A. with big dreams? -- and its only surprises come from his warm support network. When the former Mormon sent out four dozen letters announcing he was gay, only two respondents were upset. Between anecdotes, Dixon belts out songs he wrote about his struggle, built around words like dreams and wings and flying. We're happy he's happy. Debra De Liso directs. (Amy Nicholson). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (800) 595-4849.


NEW REVIEW BOYS' LIFE Watching director Dan Velez's uninspired production, it might seem hard to believe that Howard Korder's acerbic vignettes of slackers and their caddish sexcapades was a Pulitzer finalist in 1988. Which is not to denigrate either the judgment of the Pulitzer committee or the efforts of a clearly capable cast but merely to question the vision behind a revival that steamrolls the pathos and ulterior probing of an astute script into a pancake-flat excuse for sketch-comedy laughs. Jack (Ben Rovner), Don (David Rispoli) and Phil (Jason Karasev) are a trio of 30-something buddies stuck on the pot-addled threshold between perennial adolescence and defining themselves as men. The group's enabler is the married, albeit savagely cynical Jack, who goads his bachelor comrades into misadventures with women who invariably prove more than their equal. Phil is the most plaintively romantic of the bunch and therefore the most tragically susceptible to Jack's self-serving manipulations. Only slightly more resilient is Don, who surmounts a potentially fatal infidelity to finally break free of Jack's corrupting influence, thanks mainly to the understanding and maturity of his fiancée (Tori Ayres Oman). Rovner gives a standout performance, but Jack's underlying strains of fear and despair -- the comedy's critical dramatic ballast -- are too often lost in the saucy surfaces of Velez's staging. Tanya Apuya's costumes lend occasional wit, but barely perfunctory (and uncredited) lighting and Sarah Kranin's impoverished set prove more hindrance than help. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N.Hlywd.; Thurs. & Sun., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 12. (818) 745-8527, brownpapertickets.com. (Bill Raden)


THE GOOD BOOK OF PEDANTRY AND WONDER Moby Pomerance's witty story of a 19th-century editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (626) 683-6883.

HURRICANE SEASON 2010 Seventh annual competition/festival of short plays. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 508-3003.

IN & OUT: THE U.S. OF ALIENATION World premiere of David Wally's dramedy about human connection. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (866) 811-4111.

IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.

QUICKIES T(h)REE: Comedy al Fresco "Eight brand new, park-themed, 10-minute plays.". Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (818) 627-8425.

SPEECH & DEBATE Stephen Karam's hit 2007 off-Broadway play riffs on the presumed nerdiness of high-schoolers who opt for forensics over sports. In this case, three outcasts are also determined to triple their misfit status via drama, the school newspaper and a "gay-straight-alliance." The journey through youthful angst begins as gay Howie (Matt Strunin) trolls online for sex only to discover, to his major gross-out, that he's sexting with the theater teacher. Meanwhile, ambitious but untalented would-be coloratura Diwata (Tiffany Jordan) captures Howie's attention with her "blogalog" about the same teacher's unjust casting policies. Also pulled into the electronic circle is aspiring reporter Solomon (Simon Daniel Lees), who is obsessed with sexual predators. Through a series of scenes, subtitled with Speech and Debate rules, the three find a mutual attraction bordering on friendship, which ultimately allows them to find solace in their eccentricities. Finally they collaborate on a bizarre musical performance-art piece mixing aspects from the plays of Arthur Miller and Wicked among several mismatched ingredients, which is fascinating in its pure awfulness. Though not quite convincing in terms of youth, the acting of the students is superb, compassionately exploring the constant pain and few joys the characters experience. Unfortunately the same is not true of Nina Donato in a pair of adult roles that fly into caricature -- a choice seemingly pushed by director Jon Cortez to get some laughs, which prove to be at the expense of the production. Cortez also keeps the pace so sluggish through clumsy scene breaks, they interfere with the crispness of his young stars. Mike Rademaekers' clever set easily transforms between schoolroom and bedrooms, which provide the unfollowed cues for agile scene transitions. (Tom Provenzano). Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (877) 620-7673.

STRING OF PEARLS Four actresses play 27 characters in Michele Lowe's drama. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (818) 700-4878.

URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 202-4120.

A WALK IN THE WOODS Lee Blessing's play is set in Geneva, during a disarmament conference, where two negotiators seek to construct a treaty acceptable to both sides. Stodgy, naive, idealistic American John Honeyman (owlish Fox Carney) believes in rationality, and wants to make the world safe from nuclear holocaust. Andre Botvinnik (volatile Larry Eisenberg), a canny, cynical Russian with an impish sense of humor, knows the two powers, the U.S. and Russia, are more interested in seeming to want a disarmament agreement than in actually wanting one. He no longer believes in the reality of their mission, and hopes to make life more palatable by making a friend of Honeyman. He attempts amusingly frivolous conversation, but Honeyman is incapable of frivolity, and likes it that way. Their friendship can only bumble along, with two steps back for every step forward. Their debates are clever, literate and passionate, and their halting steps toward friendship are touching and funny. Richard Alan Woody directs with finesse and draws fine performances from his actors, but he never manages to convince us that the stakes are particularly high, when they couldn't be higher. (Neal Weaver). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (818) 700-4878.


NEW REVIEW GO WITCH BALL

click to enlarge rsz_witchball.jpg

Photo by Adam Neubauer

Centuries ago, a Romanian craftsman blew a glass ball for a widow pestered by a horny, tickling ghost. The blue orb was the size of a large onion and had ten times as many layers. If a human happened on it, they'd lose themselves in its dense levels. So, too, would passing spirits who were quite literally sucked into the witch ball and trapped. Glass, unless shattered, is destined to outlive its owner. And so Zombie Joe's efficient, energetic ensemble of eight -- Jonica Patella, Ashton Reese, Alexandra Ozeri, Christopher Goodwin, Andrew Graves, Nicole Fabbri, Jenny Dylana and Kyle Clare -- take us on the ball's adventure from the Carpathian hills to the Inland Empire with owners that include a wolf pack, a Salem housewife, a serial murderer and a white raccoon. Zombie Joe's episodic script has sharply drawn characters and savage humor, and he frames it as a story about storytelling, about how every tale (and every life) has a beginning, a climax and a denouement. (Though some endings linger on after death the ball watches a corpse slowly decompose.) Directed by Alison Cardoso with ZJU's unique joie de goofing, it's a tribute to yarn-spinning with puppets on sticks and simple silver masks asking audiences to imagine with them in a saga populated by gorillas and lions and demons. Pauline Noriega and Jeri Batzdorff's playful make-up and costuming round out the fleet and fantastical show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (818) 202-4120. (Amy Nicholson)



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

ALIVE THEATER LONG BEACH PLAY FESTIVAL Eleven new plays in 12 days, presented by Alive Theatre. Hotel Lafayette, 528 E. Broadway Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11, alivetheatre.org.

ALL MY SONS Arthur Miller's classic American drama. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 397-3244.

GO BECKY'S NEW CAR "When a woman says she wants a new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a new car, she really wants a new life." In Steven Dietz's smart if tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life comes prancing into Becky's dealership, when slightly spacey billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife, is inexplicably attracted to the earthy "real world" Becky, whose own moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth. Dietz's play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael Rothhaar's whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The play's genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such, the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball comedies -- a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels' bubbly Becky repeatedly invites opinions from audience members -- some of whom are roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change moment -- balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself swept away by Greenquist's charismatic Walter. Although the contrivances of the play's final third are too preposterous to sustain even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty, sympathetic performances -- including Rogers as Becky's goofy son and by Suzanne Ford's graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walter's affections. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 822-8392.

GO BEDROOM FARCE The title is apt, since the action occurs in three radically different bedrooms in a 1975 English suburb. Kate (blond and taffy-voiced Kate Hollinshead) and Malcolm (buff and playful Jamie Donovan) are having a party in their new flat. Nick (Scott Roberts) and Jan (Ann Noble) are invited, but Nick has put his back out and is confined to his bed in agony -- and he's annoyed that Jan is going to the party without him. Obstreperous and self-obsessed Trevor (Anthony Michael Jones) and his noisily neurotic wife, Susannah (Regina Peluso), are also invited, but their tempestuous marriage is rocked by one of its endless crises. When Trevor makes a pass at former girlfriend Jan, Susannah goes into massive hysterics, wrecking the party. Trevor descends on bedridden Nick to "explain" his behavior, while Susannah runs to Trevor's bemused parents, Ernest (Robert Mandan) and Delia (Maggie Peach), for solace. Alan Ayckbourn's play plumbs no great depths, but he's unflaggingly inventive in exploring comic surfaces, and director Ron Bottitta has assembled a likable and deftly stylish cast to keep the pot boiling on Darcy Prevost's huge and handsome set. Kathryn Poppen's trendy '70s costumes add further charm. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 477-2055.

THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE Presented by Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (310) 712-5482.

NEW REVIEW ENGAGEMENT

click to enlarge rsz_engagement.jpg

Photo by Ed Krieger

In writer-director Allen Barton's unexpectedly sour romantic comedy, you can tell that the love match made in hell between smart, emotionally withholding Republican, commitment-phobe Mark (Everette Wallin) and warm, free-spirit liberal Nicole (Audrey Moore) is careening off the rails when Mark tries to propose to her at a fancy restaurant but must instead run from the table to vomit. Mark is glib, funny and negative, while Nicole dreams of a soul mate with whom she has a deep connection. And, while each partner sees the other's flaws, they also think that they will be able to change him or her into the perfect mate -- an operation that ends predictably in tears. Barton's play intends to skewer the notion of modern romance -- e.g., the characters' dealings are interspersed with complaints about Facebook and Twitter, and the inevitable diminishment of the need for human contact that these devices bring. However, more than a commentary about the superficial technical devices that add clutter to our own emotional confusion, the piece's theme truly explores a more timeless concept: the emptiness of valuing being clever over feeling. That said, Barton's writing is not always up to the challenge: The dialogue is talky and repetitious while sometimes being so stridently mean, we can't understand why either of the two lovers would stay in the same room with each other. One problem may be that Barton's coolly ironic, snarky staging never builds any sense of a love that can so quickly change to hate -- it's just hate that turns into more hate. The show is double-cast, but on the night reviewed, Wallin's snarky man-boy was strangely moving while still being thoroughly bilious, and Moore offered a nicely melancholic turn as the increasingly wearied Nicole. As her venomously embittered roomie who finds an unexpected lover herself, Ellie Schwartz delivers the show's most ferocious yet emotionally nuanced performance. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through August 22. (310) 358-9936. Katselas Theatre Company (Paul Birchall)


FOREVER PLAID Stuart Ross' harmony-group musical comedy. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (310) 548-7672.

40 IS THE NEW 15 The Academy for New Musical Theatre presents Cindy O'Connor and Larry Todd Johnson's world-premiere musical about former high school chums hitting the big 4-0. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Aug. 22. (818) 508-7101.

8 MIDSUMMER QUICKIES Eight short plays, written and directed by Caroline Marshall, Tracy Merrifield, Marnie Olson and Kyle T. Wilson. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (310) 535-6007.

GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY From Broadway Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece which is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but run down country house in upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger) are in the twilight of their careers, but regret nothing about a life spent on the road performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiance Jimmy (David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior -- and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration underscoring the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive, yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 399-3666.

KATIE THE CURST The Actors' Gang's adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, a free summer show for all ages. Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Aug. 29, theactorsgang.com...

GO PROCREATION The plays of Justin Tanner are like Rice Krispies. They crackle when you pour in the right actors -- and the actors here from his own company are just right -- and then they kind of wash away. Maybe that doesn't matter. That crackling is the sound of Tanner's satirical barbs directed at the foibles and delusions of L.A. suburban white-trash types. (His latest farce is set in Highland Park.) He does for (or to) L.A. what Del Shores does for (or to) the South. Shores' plays come with more of a message and smidgen more sentimentality. Tanner brings on a gallery of types, lets them go until somebody lands on a revelation, or confession, which may or may not make a jot of difference to the lunatic world being depicted. Maybe it's apt that a play called Procreation should have 13 characters. One of them, Ruby (Danielle Kennedy), is a pregnant grandmother (awaiting octuplets -- she's even brought the sonograms with her) with a sanctimonious gigolo beaux, played wonderfully cocky by Jonathan Palmer. (They both visit SoCal from Colorado, and he offers lectures on healthy lifestyle and self-discipline. He may as well be preaching on the virtues of vitamins to drug dealers.) Everybody here is in debt. Mom Hope (Melissa Denton) runs a novelty store called "Wish on a Rainbow," which smug hubby Michael (nicely goofy by Michael Halpin) announced must liquidate immediately. Can they afford to send their corpulent 15-year-old, bed-wetting son, Gavin (Kody Batchelor), to the fat farm? (He tosses his urine-drenched blanket at his relatives, for his own amusement. He will surely grow up to become a playwright.) Hope's sister Deanie (goggle-eyed Patricia Scanlon) hoards other people's garbage, while her terminally unemployed, good-natured husband, Bruce (Andy Marshall Daley), makes a career out of asking his relatives for loans. There are drug deals, offstage blow jobs and an entire subplot of gay intrigue. Tanner's satire of behaviors roasts not so much a culture of greed as a culture of need -- derived from the cruelty of snarky jokes and emotional neglect. One character says, perhaps ironically, "Let's try to be more mindful of what we say from now on," as though that would fix anything. Call it Molière ultralite. Sitcoms like this depend on the unspoken reactions to the torrent of one-liners. Director David Schweizer has the cartoons just right, but he drives the play on the fuel of its quips rather than the comedic agony that lies beneath them. Which may be why the farce begins to wilt after an hour or so, despite the effervescence of ongoing amusement. The uncredited costumes are very witty. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (310) 477-2055.

STOP KISS "Love, prejudice, and women collide" in Diana Son's play. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (866) 811-4111.

STRIPPED (a comedy about a drama) Who'd have guessed that the gaudy neon sign around the corner advertising Psychic Readings could be hiding a theater. There is indeed a tiny space upstairs for storytelling that is probably more real that the storytelling going on downstairs. In this case, the story is Kirsten Severson's tale of the tumultuous end to her five-year relationship with "The Prince." Accompanied onstage by two video screens, Severson describes the good times in their relationship (including the clever "Peas in a Pod" video montage) before transitioning to the fateful voice mail that begins her descent into insecurity and heartbreak. Originally a solo show titled <0x2026> I Think You Went a Little Far With the Herpes Thing ..., the piece has since been developed into a feature film, and now returns as a half-film/half-staged solo show. The combination of media unfortunately doesn't gel, and despite some good lines and moments, director Carlos Velasco's pacing drags in a number of spots and Severson's stage presence feels halfhearted at times. Instead the video sequences -- which are well lit and crisply edited -- are the show's most engaging aspect. As a short film it could prove visually arresting; as a piece of theater, however, it's little more than another love story gone awry. (Mayank Keshaviah). Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 535-6007.

GO THE TRUE STORY OF JACK AND THE BEANSTALK For the past 12 summers, the Culver City Public Theatre has been staging free plays in cozy Carlson Park for families. Audiences bring picnics, blankets and chairs and gather under shady trees for an hour or so of entertainment -- generally crowd-pleasing fare such as popular Shakespeare comedies and kid-friendly classics. Now playing is an imaginative adaptation (by director Heidi Dotson) of the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk." Dotson cleverly blends the tale of the golden goose with the familiar story of simpleton Jack, who trades the family cow for a handful of magic beans. Nicely expanded into two acts that fill an hour, the retooled story presents the usually terrifying giant (Dean Edward) as a struggling poet with a devious wife (Ronnie Loaiza), and fashions a thoroughly happy ending. Beautifully narrated by the cow, Milky White (Rachanee Kitchel) -- whom, hilariously, only the audience can understand -- this sweet, magical play had little kids and adults giggling. Cute sets, costumes and props, as well as the lovely cast, make this is a delightful, low-tech production. A Children's Popcorn Theater production. (Pauline Amadek). Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., noon.; thru Aug. 22. (310) 712-5482.

THE WAR CYCLE Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents three plays by Tom Burmester: Wounded, Nation of Two, and Gospel According to First Squad. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat..; thru Sept. 11, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.

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