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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Circle X and Bootleg Hook Up to Read Plays

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Thu, Sep 9, 2010 at 7:59 PM
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Theater FEATURE on John Steppling

CIRCLE X AND BOOTLEG HOOK UP TO READ PLAYS

Circle X Theatre Company and Bootleg are joining forces to present a series of Monday night readings of new works, starting September 13, at the Bootleg venue. Playwrights selected so far include Sam Marks, Kristin Newbom, Dan LeFranc and Jason Grote.

Bootleg is located at 2220 Beverly Boulevard, between Alvarado and Commonwealth. Free admission. No tickets or reservations required.

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for September 10-16, 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

ANAIS: AN EROTIC EVENING WITH ANAIS NIN Anais Nin's missing weekend, by Michael Phillips. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 15, . (818) 506-9863.

BEAST ON THE MOON Richard Kalinoski's story of hope, humanity, and love. Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17...

THE BIRTHDAY BOYS Aaron Kozak's play about captured American soldiers in Iraq. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 16; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (800) 838-3006.

CANDIDA George Bernard Shaw's look at love and marriage. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 667-0955.

DAVID: THE MUSICAL King David of Bethlehem as you've never seen him before! Book and lyrics by Craig Costanza, music by Tim Murner, additional Book and Lyrics by Rich Lyle, stage adaptation by Michelle Holmes. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 10; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (800) 838-3006.

DEAR HARVEY The Beat Project presents Patricia Loughrey's biography of Harvey Milk, with original music by Thomas Hodges. Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 16; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 2, plays411.com/dearharvey. (323) 960-7782.

ELIZABETH SHAKESPEARE AND THE ASTUTE DETECTIVE Alan Ross' world premiere about who really wrote the Bard's plays. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 11; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 394-9779.

FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS Alan Ball's bridal comedy. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 465-0383.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE Center Theatre Group presents Tennessee Williams' classic memory play. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 12; Sun., Sept. 12, 7 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (213) 628-2772.

HAPPY ENDING (Who Will Live, Will See) John Sinner details an "apocalypse-fearing family and their meta-physical histrionics.". Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sept. 10-11, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.

JUST KEEP TALKING Eileen O'Connell shares stories of her Irish father. With Tanya Perez's Honor & Fidelity: The Ballad of a Borinqueneer. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m.. (88) 838-3006.

LA VIE EN ROUTE A collection of works by Mark Harvey Levine. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (818) 766-9100.

LOUDER THAN WORDS Celebrity musical revue, co-hosted by actress Alyssa Milano and Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey, benefiting Break the Cycle's campaigns "to educate teens and young adults about safe and healthy relationships.". The Music Box, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 464-0808.

LOVE, SEX, & VIOLENCT TOO (OR FALE ADVERTISING) Short plays by Czech-American playwright Helena Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens Sept. 12; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (866) 811-4111.

MARTYRDUMB Comedy by Jason Britt and Kerr Seth Lordygan. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (818) 508-3003.

THE MULATTO SAGGA Juliette Fairley's one-woman show about race relations in America. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Sun., Sept. 12, 3 p.m., brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.

MYSTERIOUS SKIN Alien-abduction drama by Prince Gomolvilas, based on the novel by Scott Heim. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; opens Sept. 15; Wed., Sept. 15, 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (213) 625-7000.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR. AND FRIENDS David Williams is Sammy!. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m.. (323) 293-1356.

THE SHADOW BOX Michael Cristofer's tales of the terminally ill and their families. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 5 p.m.; Sept. 16-18, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 5 p.m.; Sept. 24-25, 8 p.m.. (310) 399-3666.

THE SHADOW ROUTE 66 Radio Theatre re-creates vintage radio broadcasts. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sun., Sept. 12, 7 p.m.. (626) 256-3809.

A SOLDIER'S PLAY Soldier story by Charles Fuller. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 589-1998.

STEPPING ON A FEW TOES Toes Jasmynne Shaye's story of her Southern childhood. Bill Becker's NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. 323-839-0023.

WATER Two soldiers, an American and an Iraqi, find themselves in adjacent cells in a Baghdad prison, by Marios Stilianakis. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-7711.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

THE CLEAN HOUSE "Sarah Ruhl's unpredictable and sublime rumination on the importance of laughter and mess in our lives.". International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Fri.; Sat.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (562) 436-4610.

ELEKTRA Sophocles' Greek tragedy, in a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 440-7300.

ETHEL MERMAN'S BROADWAY! Rita McKenzie portrays the showbiz belter in numbers like "I Got Rhythm," "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses.". Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (949) 497-2787.

GO FREE MAN OF COLOR 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. (Mayank Keshaviah). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (818) 558-7000.

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; 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.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (562) 494-1014.

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 Sept. 26. (310) 208-5454.

GO MASTER CLASS In the wooded Theatricum Botanicum, though the crickets are competing to hit the high "C," they can't rattle Ellen Geer's imperious turn as Maria Callas -- the soprano is used to swatting down her rivals. Today, her targets are the overconfident Julliard students in her master class: they're too soft, too simple. When it comes to la Divina and her precious time, these three coeds (Elizabeth Tobias, Meaghan Boeing and Andreas Beckett) can't win. Weak voices are an insult, better voices an affront. Would you expect hugs from a scrapper who saw even the audience as her enemy? Terrence McNally's fanged comedy is gleeful schadenfreude when Callas destroys these hopefuls and burnishes her own legend but sublime when discussing the art of opera -- after she's shredded the students' egos, she gifts them a foundation to rebuild. But while director Heidi Helen Davis helps Geer sharpen her knives, both are lost in McNally's too on-the-nose inner monologues. These are meant to expose Callas' vulnerability, particularly in her memories of Aristotle Onassis, who by the play's setting had already dumped the diva for Jackie Kennedy. Here, these raw pains ring like fluttery pop psychology -- if Callas heard them, she'd shriek. "This isn't just opera, this is your life," she commands, and like Tosca and Medea, she is the heroine of her own tragedy. (Amy Nicholson). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.

GO ON THE VERGE When you receive the hieroglyphic text, "omg r u going to b here l8r?" from your mother, not your preteen cousin, the days of spitting at the spelling of "Quik," or "E-Z," seem positively quaint. Indeed, "language takes a beating in the future," says Harriet Whitmyer as Fanny, one of three spirited, prefeminist explorers in Eric Overmyers' time-tripping, word-whirling play. For those greedy geeks of us who've always gobbled sentences faster than they're written, Overmyer offers the equivalent of a buffet table buckling under the weight of one of each of Jonathan Gold's "99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die": All deserve your undivided attention, but the next tastes equally as delicious as the last. Yet the true coup is that Overmyer actually says something with all those lovely words. Though the women (a terrific Anna Kate Mohler and Susan E. Taylor complete the trio) are trekking -- lustily, not fearfully -- through "terra incognita," they are unmitigatedly familiar with their internal ranges. This is an Eden where women can take nips of liquor from their own flasks, eat "bear chops and moose mousse" and wield knives and guns with the ease of gangsters, while simultaneously bemoan "life without a loofah" and sweat over the sight of a man (the funny Diego Parada). Fear steadily increases, as the future begins to tumble into their consciousnesses but so does their inclination to embrace it, for better or worse. Daniel Bergher's and Sean Gray's light and sound designs nicely complement the dialogue-thick script. Andrew Vonderschmitt directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (562) 494-1014.

RUINED Lynn Nottage's 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner set in the war-torn Congo. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 208-5454.

THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; 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.

GO TITUS REDUX Military hero Titus (Jack Stehlin) radiantly returns to Washington, D.C. from the Middle East wars to a grand welcome by the public and his family, but a serious case of PTSD sets in to distort and ultimately obliterate his reality. As his mind descends, his beautiful wife,, Tamara (Brenda Strong) becomes an adulterous devil, her two sons (Dash Pepin and Vincent Cardinale) are transformed into murderous monsters who rape and maim his precious daughter, Lavinia (Margeaux J. London), and his mild-mannered neighbor (John Farmanesh-Bocca) transforms into his mortal enemy. The story's pieces are mostly shaped from fragments of Shakespeare's tragedy -- but the text quickly jumps from the original Elizabethan verse to contemporary prose, the staging leaps from staid classical poses and violent choreography to Twyla Tharp-style pop-dance sequences to big-screen film images. Each of the elements under Farmanesh-Bocca's often wild direction offers vividly exciting moments, but the event doesn't congeal. There are filmed pieces that are given too much weight, overwhelming the sections of live movement. Still the talents of seven fine performers are glorious, particularly Stehlin's powerful portrayal of pride crumbling into madness. (Tom Provenzano). Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (213) 628-2772.


GO WAITING FOR LEFTY
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Photo by Tom Mikusz

This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document, and solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theatre audience, and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era -- corruption, deprivation, injustice, and wars between the haves and the have-nots -- haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16 wonderfully able actors who provide the kind of gritty passion and vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union, where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a strike, while the rank and file are determined to field their own leader, activist Lefty.  Along the way we're introduced to a rich cross-section of Depression Era society, until the meeting erupts in violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the authentic-seeming, uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with nostalgia. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West (near Universal Studios), Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru October 10. (323) 851-7977 or  theatrewest.org (Neal Weaver)

GO A WITHER'S TALE The Troubadour Theatre Company, led by writer-director and chief jester Matt Walker, is renowned for witty mash-ups of Shakespeare with pop tunes. Watching this lampoon of A Winter's Tale and Bill Withers, die-hard Troubie fans may lament the less-than-usual ratio of comedy to drama. Combining a handful of Withers' gentle pop hits with Shakespeare's problematic play (is it a drama? is it a romantic comedy?) makes for a more low-key experience than usual. Echoing Othello, an irrationally jealous King (Matt Walker) incarcerates his pregnant wife, Hermione (Monica Schneider), on suspicion of fraternizing with his best friend, King Polixenes (Matt Merchant), and orders the execution of their baby girl. The somber saga builds to Walker's showstopping rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine," enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's elegant lighting design. Clocking in at 90 minutes (no intermission), this show's strength lies in the plaintive musical numbers. The five-strong band is superb and features some haunting underscoring and solos from John Krovoza on cello and violin. The entire cast sing, harmonize and dance exquisitely -- credit Ameenah Kaplan for her deceptively simple yet tight choreography. Sets for a Troubie show are typically spartan, which makes Sharon McGunigle's luscious period costumes particularly noteworthy. A Troubadour Theatre Company production. (Pauline Adamek). Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (818) 955-8101.

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

ANNA KARENINA Chrysalis Stage presents Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel. Little Vic Backstage, 12417 E. Philadelphia St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19, chrysalisstage.com. (562) 212-1991.

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

NEW REVIEW BAIL ME OUT
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Photo by Roger Kuhns

Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin Jr.)  views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and betrayal.  Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal rights  he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted.  So he's appalled --  though not totally surprised -- when his longtime buddy Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance Jones), a married man.  Launched from this awkward encounter,  the drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving homophobia, racism,  noxious "born-again" religion, suicide, murder and abortion.  There's no lack of misogyny either - so viciously spouted by Joe' s employee, Troy (Gary Wolf),  that Joe appears comparatively enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos.  Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution.  Its main problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many events and too many contrivances packed into under two hours. Directed by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and lighting.  Carisa Engle as Joe's commonsense wife furnishes welcome respite from the sturm und drang elsewhere.  And Jones overcomes the  inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute while fiercely brawling the next. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.- Sat., 8 pm, Sun. 7 pm; thru  October 10. (323) 960-7745.  plays411.com/bailmeout (Deborah Klugman)

COMEDY DEATH-RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

ENGAGEMENT 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. (Paul Birchall). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 358-9936.
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.

THE GOOD BOY Solo performance piece by Michael Bonnabel about growing up with deaf parents. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (213) 389-3856.

THE GOOD NEGRO 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. Wilson 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. Upward Bound Productions. (Deborah Klugman). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (323) 960-1054.

GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTUTRE 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. (Pauline Adamek). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (323) 934-9700.


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.

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.

GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures -- taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estell III). 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.

L.A. LIGHTS FIRE Eric Czuleger's vision of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 12, coeuragetheatre.com/rsvp...

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.

LIFE OF EASE Philip William Brock's play tells the bizarre tale of a man trapped and obsessed with the past, and with his grandmother. Momma Lo (Nicola T. Hersh) has two grandsons: June Bug (Dylan Maddalena) is about to marry and move north, while priggish Yale (Richard Michael Knolla) lives in her garage. He hates all things modern, passionately loathes the new shopping center, which is going up across the road, and cherishes memories of the movie Brigadoon. Meanwhile, Momma is lost in memories of her younger self, Lorraine (Jordana Berlin), who went boating on the river with her fianc<0x00E9> Louis (Maddalena), only to have him maroon her on an island as punishment for refusing him premarital sex. While dwelling on that memory, Momma Lo suffers a stroke, which wipes out later memories and makes her believe that she's still in her 20s. Yale becomes entangled in Momma's fantasies, slipping the bonds of sanity, and falling in love with her younger self. This makes for some effective imagery but stretches credibility. Director Amanda Weier and her able cast handle the material with sensitivity, but their efforts are thwarted by the murkiness of the later scenes. (Neal Weaver). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Sept. 12, 2 p.m.; Through Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 2 & 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.

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.

MOTHER Writer-performer Mary-Beth Manning's musings on her mom. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 960-7714.

NEW REVIEW  THE 19TH ANNUAL DENISE RAGAN WIESENMEYER ONE ACT FESTIVAL For part of their 19th outing honoring former company founder Denise Ragan Wiesenmeyer, the Attic theater has managed to nab two brief new playlets by Broadway veterans Lee Blessing and Wendy MacLeod.  Neither of the two plays is particularly substantial, but the works' unexpected flashes of moral ambiguity and psychological nuance make their world premiere here worthy of note.  In MacLeod's witty monologue "Undescended", a middle aged coffeehouse Barista and new mother (Jennifer Skinner) gets good news and bad news about her baby:  The infant suffers from an unusual testicle ailment, and is also the Second Coming of the Messiah.  Director Brian Shnipper's production, both intimate and ironic, possesses great coming timing - and Skinner's hard boiled, crusty turn as the Barista turned Virgin Mother is richly multi-dimensional.  Blessing's dark, character-driven comedy "Into You" posits three disturbed female roommates, all of whom loathe men to various striking degrees, debating the propriety of one of them (Sandra Smith) injecting her one night stand with her possibly HIV-tainted blood.  Other than as a misogynist portrait of nightmare women, the actual point and purpose of Blessing's piece is elusive, and the plot is both contrived and wafer thin.  Director James Carey's sluggish staging is marred by some listless, under-projected performances.  The quartet- bill is filled out by Allison M. Volk's "The Last Two People On The Platform," a charming, if familiarly Pirandello-esque comedy about a man (Jacques Freydont) and a woman (Amber Flamminio), who mysteriously discover themselves atop a floating platform and come to realize that they are characters in a play; and by Frank Anthony Polito's workman-like "Blue Tuesday," which clumsily links a Yuppie couple's marital woes, the activities of an angelic homeless man,  and the 9/11 disaster, in an awkward way that trivializes all three elements.  Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd, Los Angeles; Fri,-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19.  (323) 525-0661.  (Paul Birchall)

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.

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. (Lovell Estell III). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat..; thru Oct. 2. (213) 614-0556.


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.


SAD HAPPY SUCKER If the devil is truly to be found in the details, then playwright Lee Kirk's painfully pallid homage to French Absurdist master Eugene Ionesco isn't in need of a dramaturg so much as an exorcist. The play begins promisingly enough, with the introduction of Eddie (Eddie Bell), a young suburbanite whose feet have become mysteriously rooted in place where he stands in the back yard of his dotty Mother (Lauri Johnson). It's the kind of patently surreal premise whose real-world, life-and-death consequences Ionesco would have explored with a deliriously relentless logic to foreground a deeper, ontological inquiry. However, unlike on planet Earth, where the first responders to such a crisis might be an EMT unit or the fire department, Kirk sends in a spectacularly inept doctor (Valentine Miele), who somehow still makes house calls. When the physician becomes likewise immobilized but is told no rope is available for an attempted winch to freedom, even that obstacle is given the lie by an ignored, albeit handy garden hose pointlessly ornamenting Christian Zollenkopf's incongruously realistic backyard set (convincingly accented by Alicia Ziff's diurnal lighting). Director Sean Gunn and his supremely gifted cast do manage to milk Kirk's situational ludicrousness for sporadic laughs. But these are not enough to finally push the text's bantamweight dramatic stakes (the characters' imperiled dignity) and non sequitur-laden plot into the heavyweight division of Ionescan existential despair. brownpapertickets.com/event/121721. (Bill Raden). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 10, sadhappysucker.com...

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS 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.

NEW REVIEW  GO SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT The Bob Baker Marionette Theatre is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary as a puppet theater for "children of all ages." This 50-year-old production presents a day on the farm, in the shape of a musical revue. In addition to the farmers, Mama and Papa Goat, it features 100 farm critters, including singing water-melons, dancing frogs, a flirtatious fox, and Dodo the flapper crow, complete with rolled stockings, and a voice provided, via recordings, by Betty Boop. Other "guest" voices include Eve Arden, and Pearl Bailey, providing the voice for Heloise Horse in her rendition of "It Takes Two to Tango." Also featured is the novelty song "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch," sung by Petunia and danced by a chorus of Onions. Baker's stage is a cabaret-style in-the- round, allowing audience interaction, with the black-clad puppeteers plainly visible. The show is lavish, but tailored to fit the taste of its young audiences, who are served ice-cream after the show. The puppets are handsome and clever, and there are plenty of the lame jokes dear to young children, but there's also wit to appeal to adults. Birthday parties are welcomed on weekends, with presents for the birthday child. Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, 1345 West First Street, Los Angeles; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (213) 250-9995 or  BobBakerMarionettes.com (Neal Weaver)  

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 Sept. 26. (323) 653-6886.

[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.; thru Sept. 11. (323) 957-1884.

GO TOPDOG/UNDERDOG 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.

TRUE WEST Sam Shepard's story of sibling rivalry. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 939-9220.

UNDER MILK WOOD Dylan Thomas' play for voices. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat..; thru Sept. 11...

WAIT UNTIL DARK 2010 Paul J. Grace presents Fredrick Knott's classic thriller. Theater 6470 at the Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (626) 272-2075.

NEW REVIEW  WAITING FOR GODOT
click to enlarge rsz_godot.jpg
Photo by David Meistrich

Sir Peter Hall, Britain's acknowledged master stager of Samuel Beckett's towering foundational text of the modern theater, has been quoted as saying that "all actors should have played Hamlet and been in Godot." By "all," of course, Hall didn't mean "any," but rather only the most seasoned and accomplished of players. Regrettably, it's an attitude not shared by director Timothy McNeil, whose excruciatingly tone-deaf, pasteboard production mostly obliterates Beckett's delicate musicality, rhythms and underlying tenderness though miscasting, mugging and unfathomable directing choices. McNeil's laughs-at-any-cost approach violently distorts the play's central, comic duet between tramps Vladimir (Andy Wagner) and Estragon (Alain Villeneuve) -- a comedy based in the pair's desperation to combat the boredom and fill the awful silence of their titular wait -- into crude, knockabout shtick. Rather than suggesting the antagonistic synchronicity of lifelong, road-weary sidekicks, Wagner and Villeneuve rarely seem on the same stage, never mind the same page. In Wagner's hands, the sensitive, intellectual Didi is reduced to an antic village idiot, virtually robbing Villeneuve's otherwise well-grounded Gogo of his pretension-deflating bite. The evening's coup de grace, however, is delivered by Charles Pacello, whose wild-eyed, off-the-leash Pozzo plays less like Beckett's "big, brutal bully" than a horror-movie Billy Zane on meth. By comparison, Pozzo's inexplicably Tourettes-afflicted slave, Lucky (a far-too-green Deshik Vansadia) seems a masterwork of dramatic subtlety. Studio C Theater at Stella Adler, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 3. (323) 960-7770 or plays411.com/waitingforgodot (Bill Raden)

WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.

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.; 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, Yellow is 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 Oct. 17...


CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

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.

BILLIE: BACKSTAGE WITH LADY DAY Life and times of jazz singer Billie Holiday (Synthia L. Hardy). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 960-4418.

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. (Bill Raden). Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (818) 745-8527.

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

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.

MACBETH You can almost always expect generous displays of the gleefully grotesque from the folks at Zombie Joe's, and this production of the Bard's Scottish play is no exception. Director Amanda Marquardt has added some ghoulish effects that neatly embellish the play's supernatural elements. But any minimalist staging of a play, especially Shakespeare, places much of the burden of success on the actors, and this group doesn't quite pass muster. Aaron Lyons and Skye Noel acquit themselves passably in the key roles of Macbeth and his blood thirsty Lady. But there's something amiss in their onstage chemistry; too often they give the impression of spoiled, squabbling siblings rather than a conniving, ambitious king and queen. Some liberties taken with the original narrative proffer some jarring surprises and fun. The biggest problem is the overheated pacing: There are many, many instances where the actors simply tear through their lines, rendering them all but unintelligible and spoiling the potency and beauty of Shakespeare's prose. The showstoppers and scene stealers are, however, Lauren Parkinson, Nicole Fabbri and Lana Inderman, who are from start to finish terrific as the three witches. (Lovell Estell III). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (818) 202-4120.

NEW REVIEW  THE SECRET OF FIFTY, FATHERHOOD, AND FACEBOOK
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In his solo performance, writer and star Vince Cefalu wants to tell you his story. Decades ago, after years of buttoning up and curling lips into a smile, Americans' cheeks started aching. In additional to a swath of personal confessions in pop lit and on TV talk shows, a new sub-genre of theater sprung up at the same time: personal war stories, "My Turn" essays and "It Happened to Me" segments.  But as the market became overly saturated with such, only the most spectacular train wrecks, like James Frey's heavily decorated 2003 addiction memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," caused us to press our faces against the windows as we drove past. That being said, we do love an I'm-still-standing story, no matter how humble.  The story doesn't have to be gasp-worthy to have traction, but it does need to be more than a personal catharsis and big-picture advice, such as, "loving unconditionally is the secret." Certainly, Cefalu is sincere, and he, like many, has had more than his share of struggles.  Ultimately, though, arranging this handful of monologues into a single piece, as director Lori Tubert has done, makes for a patchwork quilt of a show, in which a couple of swatches just don't mesh: There's a porn bit that's seat-squirmingly awkward, and a Facebook rant that begins with the Jerry Seinfeld-patented "What's the deal with Facebook?" One key is to carve personal reflections into a work that will have resonance beyond closest friends and family, and that's a missing key in Cefalu's project. The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8:00 p.m.; through October 9. (310) 622-4482 (Rebecca Haithcoat)

TAPE Stephen Belber's acclaimed three-person motel-room drama, directed by Joelle Arqueros., $20. Bill Becker's NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. 323-839-0023.

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

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.

GO WITCH BALL Zombie Joe's Underground's supernatural adventure through space and time. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (818) 202-4120.

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

ALIVE THEATRE LONG BEACH POPPIN' PLAY FESTIVAL For the third consecutive year the CSULB alums present four to five courses of theater per night, divided into three different prix-fixe menus. The appetizer common to all three nights, "What Can We" by Craig Abernathy, is a five-minute exploration of making theatre. The concept is interesting, but the flavors don't quite gel, so the meal gets off to a shaky start. The meat-and-potatoes main course is Nathaniel Kressen's "Jumper's with the Gypsy," a tale of two lost souls in the city that never sleeps. From the start, it's hard to invest in either character, and outside of a couple of good lines, the scenario seems contrived in its attempts at being deep. Lloyd Noonan's "An Agreement Between Father and Son" is a dark comedy in which a father and son make a pact to deal with pain-in-the-ass Grandpa. It is dark all right, relentlessly, so that darkness seems its only purpose. Finally, "Eddie, A Musical About Failure" by R. Edward and Ellen Warkentine provides the sweet ending to the evening. Unfortunately it's less a chocolate souffl<0x00E9> and more a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The generic score consists of series of character songs that, while amusing and fun, don't tell much of a story. In fact, the entire meal is perfectly encapsulated in a line from one of its songs: "I know it's light on consequence and plot, but it's what I've got." An Alive Theatre production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Hotel Lafayette, 528 E. Broadway Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11, alivetheatre.org...

GO ALL MY SONS With the recent BP oil disaster, the Enron debacle, and the misadventures of financial moguls like Bernard Madoff, it is no wonder that theater company artistic directors all over town are dusting off their copies of Arthur Miller's magnificent evisceration of capitalism, American corruption and moral hypocrisy. However, it is difficult to come up with new and innovative ways to present the often compelling piece. Shakespeare and Beckett, to name a pair, can be staged in a variety of settings and directorial styles, but Miller's play gets to the heart of a family standing around on a front porch next to a fallen tree. Director Edward Edwards stages his intimate and psychologically nuanced production almost like a mystery -- even during the play's seemingly banter-filled opening scenes, we sense an underlying unease and sadness; the puzzle is spotting all the clues and then piecing them together to understand what is really going on. Edwards' production is anchored by crackling acting work. Paul Linke's unusually crusty Joe Keller, the family patriarch who let an underling take the rap for a mechanical error that killed a number of pilots during World War II, is full of alpha male bluster and bonhomie, but even from his first appearance, his eyes possess a resigned coldness that suggests the truth he's hiding and has accepted only too well. In Catherine Telford's turn as Kate, Joe's grief-sick wife, we see a character whose denial-stoked belief that her beloved, MIA son will return from the war is a means of tamping down the ferocious rage that ultimately explodes in the play's final act. As Joe's idealistic son Chris, Dominic Comperatore's shyness shifts to disgusted anger, a turn that hints at the possibility he was aware on some level of his father's sleaziness. Although uneven turns are offered by some of the supporting cast, Maury Sterling's crushed boyish performance as the scorned son of the framed co-worker is brilliant, as is Austin Highsmith's unusually appealing Ann, whose shocking reveal about the dead son (often one of the more contrived plot twists in most productions) is here powerfully well-motivated and believable. (Paul Birchall). 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. 19. (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 HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Shirley Jackson's horror story, adapted by F. Andrew Leslie. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 454-1970.

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

THE MEN OF MAH JONGG Richard Atkins' comedy about four mature Jewish men finding happiness through the ancient Chinese game of mah jongg. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 364-0535.

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. (310) 396-3680.

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