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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: The Virgin is Back

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Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 3:48 PM

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THE VIRGIN IS BACK

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No, not Madonna, but La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, -- floating above all the city's productions of A Christmas Carol, and anti-productions of A Christmas Carol.

Latino Theatre Company's religious-historical spectacle has Aztec

dancers parading through the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in

Evalina Fernandez's adaptation of the 16th century text, The Nican Mopohua.

The story tells of how she visited lowly Mexican peasant Juan Diego

four times, resulting in a miracle with each visit. In Spanish, with

English subtitles, Dec. 9-10, 7:30 p.m., 555 W. Temple Street,

downtown. (866) 811-4111. Photo courtesy of Latino Theatre Company


For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Dec. 10-16, 2010


Our critics are Pauline Adamek, 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

ASTROGLYDE 2010 "Truth, terror and titillation," courtesy Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Dec. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 202-4120.

BULLSHOT CRUMMOND AND THE INVISIBLE BRIDE OF DEATH Ron House's sequel to his 1972 comedy (that was co-written by Diz White), Bullshot Crummond Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Dec. 10; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 16, bullshotisback.com. (800) 595-4849.caught

GIRL NEXT DOOR: A POLE-DANCE SOIRÉE King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Dec. 12, 9 p.m.. (323) 960-9234.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THOMAS JEFFERSON, CHARLES DICKENS & COUNT LEO TOLSTOY Staged reading of Scott Carter's play, benefiting Green Dot Public Schools. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 855-0350.

THE GRADUATE Staged reading of the coming-of-age story, presented by L.A. Theatre Works, with Kathleen Turner and Matthew Rhys reprising their roles from the original London production. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Sat., Dec. 11, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 4 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY It's Christmas Eve, 1946, at WBFR radio in Manhattan. Presented by Theatre Unleashed. M Bar, 1253 Vine St., L.A.; Thurs., Dec. 16, 8 p.m.. (323) 856-0036.

JOHN LLOYD YOUNG Cabaret in the lobby of the Pantages Theatre., $125. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 933-9266 ext. 59.

JOHN VANCE SINGS the Henry Mancini Songbook With Jeff Colella on piano. Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center Theater, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert; Sat., Dec. 11, 7 p.m....

JULIA Vince Melocchi's study of 50-year-old love. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; opens Dec. 11; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (310) 822-8392.

LOST MOON RADIO'S HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR "Time-travel to 1976 and celebrate the season with a mix of greatest hits and new material about everything from bell-bottoms to the Baby Jesus.". Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.; Dec. 16-18, 8:30 p.m., lostmoonradio.com. (323) 931-4636.

MISCLETOE, MUSIC & MAYHEM! Holiday cabaret show by Phil Johnson & Matt Thompson. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; Dec. 16-18, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.. (858) 481-2155.

MILLENIUM MAGIC Rob Zabrecky hosts an evening of illusion. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.. (323) 851-7977.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING William Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens Dec. 12; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (213) 628-2772.

NEW YORK WATER Celebrity Staged Play Reading Series presents Sam Bobrick's comedy, plus a Q&A with the playwright. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.. (323) 938-2531.

A SACRED FOOLS HOLIDAY AT HOME "Friends, food, carols, cocoa, sing-alongs and more," hosted by Matt Valle and Cindy Caddel. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 10, 11 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.

SLANTED SALON Experimental collaboration of Los Angeles writers, directors, comedians, actors, dancers and musicians. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 6 p.m.. (323) 667-0955.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

CALLIGRAPHY Large prosceniums don't always favor the stories they frame. The cultural arena in Velina Hasu Houston's new play may be transnational, but her drama involving mothers and daughters and the problems of aging and Alzheimer's is surely an intimate one -- and perhaps better told that way. The conflict revolves around the newly widowed Noriko (Emily Kuroda) a former Japanese war bride who resides in the U.S., and her embittered controlling sister Natsuko (Jean Sakata), who lives in Japan. Each has a daughter: Hiromi (Melody Butiu), responsibly concerned when her mother Noriko becomes disoriented; and Sayuri (Fran de Leon), a fast-living gal who resents Natsuko's demands for devoted caretaking after the older woman breaks both legs. Staged by director Jon Lawrence Rivera, the play spotlights the unraveling family mores in Japan that have furnished younger women more choices but have also left elderly people vulnerable, much as they are here. The action, punctuated by Bob Blackburn's ceremonious sound design and Nathan Wang's original music, plays out on designer Ann Sheffield's stark and lusterless set -- its expansiveness diminishes an already sparse emotional dynamic. Another serious glitch involves the flashback sequences in which Kuroda implausibly portrays her character as a young woman romanced by her future husband (Kevin Daniels). Nor do we sense much familial chemistry elsewhere. Only Sakata's acerbic dragon lady is consistently persuasive; the scenes between the two estranged sisters (when they finally do meet after decades of separation) are the most compelling in this essentially toneless production. Through Dec. 12. (Deborah Klugman). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (866) 811-4111.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL South Coast Rep's 31st season of the perennial holiday favorite. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Sat., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 12 & 4 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 24. (714) 708-5555.

GO CINDERELLA This very amusing romp transplants English music hall and holiday pantomime into the heart of Hollywood, following British tradition but bending it enough to make fun of local folk. Directed with perfect overstatement by Bonnie Lythgoe, Kris Lythgoe's thin, thin script provides just enough story to support a constant flow of gags, dances and familiar pop tunes to fill two hours with frothy entertainment. Leading the way are Eddie Driscoll and Mark Edgar Stephens as ugly stepsisters Cowell and Seecrest (just one of many jokes mocking American Idol), whose hilariously grotesque drag and bawdy humor play to both adult and childlike senses. Top singing honors go to Jennifer Leigh Warren, whose Fairy Godmother croons a ringing rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Gorgeous Prince Charming (Harry Potter's Freddie Stroma) and lovely Cinderella (Veronica Dunn) are perfect foils for a cast of crazy characters, including comic Benny Harris as Cinder's best pal, who also guides the audience through the journey. Young, enthusiastic dancers move well through choreographer Mark Ballas' contemporary ballets. Magic, animals (real and pretend) and buckets of spectacle help make this family fare a great treat for the season. (Tom Provenzano). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 508-0281.

DADDY LONG LEGS Turn-of-the-century orphan story, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, book by John Caird, based on the novel by Jean Webster. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 26, (No perf Dec. 25.). (949) 497-2787.

DICK VAN DYKE: STEP IN TIME! Dick Van Dyke's new musical memoir, written by Van Dyke and Joshua Ravetch. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Fri., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 15, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 22, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 2 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 29, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 30, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 2, 2 p.m.; Through Jan. 7, 2011, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 9, 2 p.m.; Through Jan. 14, 2011, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 15, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 16, 2 p.m.. (310) 208-5454.

FASCINATING RHYTHM Melissa Manchester is the guest vocalist in Rubicon Theatre Company's ballroom dance event. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (805) 667-2900.

GO GREAT EXPECTATIONS Neil Bartlett's translation, in conjunction with Geoff Elliott (who nimbly performs two idiosyncratic roles) and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's staging of it, strips Charles Dickens' sprawling novel down to its two central threads. The stage result is less textured than the page result, but that may be a necessity of the theater. Brought here into sharp focus are two plots, one personal and the other social. The first contains the ironies accompanying the change of fortune after young Pip (nicely played by Jason Dechert, bewildered as a youth, then with a growing if muted arrogance as an adult) steals food for escaped convict Magwitch (the excellent Daniel Reichert). Magwitch will repay the young man with a kind of bounty that will leave him utterly perplexed -- sending his morals crashing into his class consciousness. The interweaving story concerns the morbid and ancient Miss Havisham (Deborah Strang, glorious, as always) and her perverse, revengeful plot to break Pip's heart through the pawn of her beautiful niece, Estella (Jaimi Paige). In this production, that plot is really the emotional heartbeat, thanks to the chemistry between the actors. The crisply staged production features innumerable eccentrics who float through this dual spine structure. The result is far less picaresque than the novel, yet for all the strengthening of the two main cross-beams, the drama is, ironically, more ambivalent in its conclusions. Even Dickens' feed-bad, feel-good blend of despondency and sentimentality is here muted, when you'd think that such a structural paring down would result in a clearer view. Nonetheless, I found that ambivalence oddly appealing. A few over-wrought performances tempers this otherwise robust production. Through Dec. 10. (Steven Leigh Morris). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Through Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.

HAMLET Presented by UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Department of Theater MFA Program in Acting. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 3 p.m., thelatc.org. (866) 811-4111.

GO HARPS AND ANGELS Among the reasons for Newman's appeal to theater producers is the character-driven essence of so many of his songs, creating a kind of bridge made of rope between pop and musical theater. Yet his most piquant, probing and soulful songs are not those that made him famous. When he's at his best, Newman conjures and compresses just a handful of perfectly crafted lines spoken by characters who may be too delicate, too multifaceted and too filled with internal contradictions for a culture bent on reduction. After hearing the title cut from Newman's recent album Harps and Angels, musical theater scholar Jack Viertel pitched the Mark Taper Forum a revue, named after that album. The smart and absorbing result, directed by Jerry Zaks (musical staging by Warren Carlyle), is a huge relief for the potholes it avoids. The game ensemble (Ryder Bach, Storm Large, Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean, Katey Sagal and Matthew Saldivar) hits more moments of authenticity and of Newman's looming perspective than in prior Newman revues, thanks in large part to Zaks' empathy for the songs' narrator-subjects, the cast's restraint and intelligence, and the terrific eight-piece orchestra (conducted by pianist Michael Roth; orchestrations by Roth and David O). Viertel has arranged a Newman potpourri with somewhat vague and arbitrary thematic linkages between the songs, some of which are character-driven, some parodies, and some political-historical lectures. It may not be possible to take so much material and carve it into probing themes on the stage -- which is exactly what the albums themselves accomplish. In trying to be an homage and ensnare so much, the individual songs come through clearer than the sum of them, while the most disturbing ditties, with the darkest insights into our collective pathologies ("Wedding in Cherokee County" and "Rednecks") haven't been included. Perhaps they would be too grating against the production's glitz. That glitz, reflected in Brian Gale's flashy lighting design, shines out oddly against the ruminative, brooding essence of Newman's music -- even his parodies and comedies. Newman is a closer cousin to Jacques Brel and Loudon Wainwright than to, say, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Much of the sound points to the former, much of the look points to the latter. (Steven Leigh Morris). Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 22. (213) 628-2772.

THE HOLIDAY GEM Holiday musical revue, presented by One More Productions. Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (714) 741-9550.

THE HOT CHOCOLATE NUTCRACKER Debbie Allen's take on the Christmas ballet, with an original score by Mariah Carey, Arturo Sandoval, Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen, James Ingram, Shiamak Davar, Tena Clark and Thump. Royce Hall, 340 Royce Dr., Westwood; Sat., Dec. 11, 2 & 7 p.m., thehotchocolatenutcracker.com. (310) 825-2101.

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Interactive kids' musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Ben Lanzarone. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.

THE LION IN WINTER James Goldman's historical drama, set circa Christmastime 1183. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (562) 494-1014.

GO MAESTRO: THE ART OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN From the first piano notes and hauntingly beautiful singing in his one-man bio show, writer-performer Hershey Felder grips the audience in the palm of his hand and never lets go. Beginning by analyzing one of the most famous melodies of West Side Story, "Somewhere," Felder points out the tritone and minor sevenths in a brief, fascinating tutorial on how that composition was created. He then crawls inside Bernstein's skin, as well as adopting various other personae, taking us through the legendary conductor-composer's eventful life. At 100 minutes without intermission, this musically infused evening, directed and austerely staged by Joel Zwick, rolls through Bernstein's fascination with music from early childhood, his quest for accomplished teachers and mentors, and touches on his creative struggles, his successes and career disappointments as well as his private family life. Felder glosses over certain details (merely hinting at an early seduction by an older mentor), but later gives some heartbreaking insight into Bernstein's homosexuality and how that exploration destroyed his marriage and, more profoundly, crushed his own conflicted spirit. This is a captivating performance of a fascinating life, vividly and emotionally related. (Pauline Adamek)., $75, $85. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 208-5454.

GO NEXT TO NORMAL Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Tony Award-- and Pulitzer Prize--winning family tragedy is that rarity of rarities: a Broadway show that's as good as its hype. One might walk into the theater expecting to see a Mental Illness of the Week family tearjerker, but what one gets is a richly wise and searing musical about madness and sorrow, rage and forgiveness. The show's opening ferocious quartet, "Just Another Day," presents a family in deep emotional rot. Diana (original Broadway cast member Alice Ripley, reprising her towering turn) is clearly mentally ill, and haunted by the ghost of her long-dead son, Gabe (Curt Hansen) -- but Diana's enabling, desperately bewildered husband, Dan (Asa Somers), is unraveling just as fast. Meanwhile, their unhappy, emotionally neglected daughter Natalie (Emma Hunton), finding it too hard to compete against the memory of her dead brother, drifts into drugs and depression. Director Michael Greif's staging is fierce and dynamic: One might expect a story on these themes to be heavy and dreary, but the production crackles with energy and intensity. Scenic designer Mark Wendland's surreal, three-level, cagelike set at first seems like an odd fit for this family tale, but the way the characters romp all over the structure elegantly illustrates the madness in Diana's mind. Kitt and Yorkey's score may consist of memorable, fin-de-millennium rock numbers, but the music also engenders heightened realism with operatic grandeur. We're particularly lucky for the opportunity to see Ripley's reprise of her original Diana -- her ferocious renditions of "I Miss the Mountains" and "You Don't Know" are likely to be the decade's most memorable show tunes. Also compelling are Hansen's sweet, oddly disturbing Gabe and Hunton's vulnerable and self-damaging Natalie. (Paul Birchall). Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2, centertheatregroup.org/normal. (213) 628-2772.

THE PLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS Family-friendly adaptation by Fred Cusick and Diane Moore. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (562) 494-1014.

RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR Starring the Rockettes!. Nokia Theatre, 777 Chick Hearn Court, L.A.; Through Dec. 12. (213) 763-6030.

GO UPTOWN DOWNTOWN As Mel Brooks wrote in The Producers, "If you've got it, flaunt it!" Some living legends delude themselves and cause fans to quietly cringe, but not this one: Leslie Uggams has still got it. Slender and glinting in sequined black pants, she shimmies and sings her way though the highlights of a lifetime spent onstage. Though she remained somewhat physically restrained during her opening night performance, she made up for it with a vocal dynamism that would shame those less than half her age. When you begin your career at age 6, perform 29 shows a week at the Apollo from the ages of 9 to 16, and graduate to the comparatively cushy (oh, just eight shows per week) world of Broadway, a voice like that's a requirement. Plenty of jazz standards kept the well-heeled crowd tapping their toes, and Uggams struttin' her stuff. Showcasing her staggering range, the delicate strokes with which she touched Gershwin's "Summertime" were no less powerful than her lusty belting of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." The spoken transitions were a little stiff, and felt forced; naturally, this Broadway baby seemed most at home when singing. It's better to show than tell anyway; and mimicking the vocal styles of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington (all of whom she's sung with), she showed why she's still working over 60 years since she began. Don Rebic leads a sophisticated, happy orchestra that equals Uggams' mastery. Through Dec. 12. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (626) 356-PLAY.

NEW REVIEW GO

WEST SIDE STORY If you've ever come across a letter or diary entry

written by a younger version of a parent or grandparent, a whole new

window into that person opens up, humanizing them in a way that may

otherwise have seemed impossible. This touring production of the 2009

Broadway revival does the same for Jerome Robbins' musical set in 1950s

New York and loosely adapted from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

In fact, librettist Arthur Laurents, who both revived it and directed

the Broadway version, stated, "The musical theatre and cultural

conventions of 1957 made it next to impossible for the characters to

have authenticity. Every member of both gangs was always a potential

killer even then. Now they actually will be." And indeed they are:

menacing, libidinous, unvarnished and raw. However, grit is not the

sole element of heightened authenticity in this revival. The

translation of a large portion of Laurents' book and Stephen Sondheim's

lyrics into Spanish (courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star

of In The Heights, itself an echo of West Side Story) rounds out the Puerto Rican sabor

of the Sharks and their girlfriends, taking them beyond caricature and

stereotype--not to mention the indignity of being played in brownface.

In a sense, this production, which also reproduces Robbins' original

choreography courtesy of Joey McKneely and a talented cast, could be

considered more faithful to Robbins' original vision than any major one

to date. David Saint's direction is crisply paced and lightly played,

crescendoing at the appropriate moments without spilling over into

brassy Broadway-gasms. James Youmans' 'industrial minimalism' scenic

design features strong diagonals that are accentuated by Howell

Binkley's angular lighting, which radically and beautifully shifts

during the prismatic dream ballet of "Somewhere." "America" features

particularly gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies that feature the

delicately powerful soprano of Ali Ewoldt (Maria), whose voice plays

nicely against the resonant baritone of Kyle Harris (Tony). Musical

director John O'Neill skillfully utilizes them both in holding the

musical numbers close to climax without providing a release until the

last possible moment. And though their contributions are more

theatrical than vocal, Mike Boland (Krupke) and Christopher Patrick

Mullen (Lt. Schrank) serve as the properly menacing long arm of the

law, instead of the stooges they are often played as. As a result, the

overriding authenticity of the piece keeps this classic as dangerous,

edgy and relevant in 2010 as it was in 1957. The Pantages Theater, 6233

Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Dec. 21 - Jan. 2 (holiday schedule):

Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Thurs., 2 & 8 p.m.; Fri. 2 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19 (800) 982-2787. BroadwayLA.org (Mayank Keshaviah)


GO THE WOOSTER GROUP: VIEUX CARRE

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Photo by Nancy Campbell

Multimedia staging of Tennessee

Williams' memory play about a young writer in a New Orleans boarding

house. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7

p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (213) 237-2800. See Theater feature.



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

AFTER SCHOOL GROUNLDINGS All-new sketch and improv, directed by Heather Morgan. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.

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.

BOB BAKER'S NUTCTRACKER The marionette characters of Bob Baker Marionette Theater's take on the holiday favorite include the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugarplum Fairies, the Mouse King, and 100 more. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 16. (213) 250-9995.

BOB'S HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY It's the annual holiday bash at Iowa insurance agent Bob Finhead's office, in Rob Elk and Joe Keyes' ensemble comedy. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 960-5774.

THE BLUE ROOM David Hare's 1998 play, based on La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, brownpapertickets.com/event/135312. (323) 666-2296.

CAUGHT David L. Ray's study of the controversy over same-sex marriage. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 2, 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 23, (No perfs Dec. 24-25 & 31.) CaughtThePlay.com. (800) 595-4849.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Adapted by Doris Baizley. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 462-8460.

COLD LANG SYNE With its vexingly mundane chitchat, the first act of Gregory Blair's patchy whodunit scuppers what could have been a strong play. Men who are old friends and their dates/spouses gather at a cabin (Mike Jespersen's impressive mock-up) for a New Year's Eve bash hosted by Trevor (Douglas Myers) and his wife, Aggy (Holly Montgomery-Webb). Present are Perry and Leanne (Mikhail Blokh and Sandra Purpuro), a detective named Garth (Les Brandt) and his lover, Denny (Dwight Turner), and Mark and Helen (Michael Harris, Bobbi Berkmen). The play doesn't show a pulse until the stroke of midnight, when one of the characters suddenly keels over. Most of Act 2 takes a fairly predictable turn, with Garth assuming the lead role in the hunt for the murderer. Unfortunately, the process, which sometimes borders on the ludicrous, doesn't offer much in the way of suspense. Blair somewhat redeems his play with the run-up to a truly unexpected plot twist at the end, but it's still too little, too late. Douglas Green directs. Ipso Facto Theatricals and Pix/See Productions. (Lovell Estell III). Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 31, (No perf Dec. 24.) plays411.com/coldlangsyne. (323) 960-4412.

DIARIES OF A K-TOWN DIVE . . . Susan Park's one-woman show set in a hole-in-the-wall bar in L.A.'s Koreatown. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 960-1054.

DOUG LOVES MOVIES Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.

DRUNK TALK Lance Whinery's interactive pub comedy. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-6111.

ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 654-0680.

NEW REVIEW GO EXIT 10

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Photo courtesy of Theatre 68

The

formula for a classic country song is simple: hard livin', hard lovin'

man, born with a rambler's soul and a soft spot for whiskey and women,

leaves his long-suffering lady because he knows he's no good for her.

Playwright Daniel Dean Darst was a studio music writer in Nashville, so

he's built his semi-autobiographical world premiere on just that

premise. When he steps onstage as Mike, Stetson shadowing his

sunglass-shaded eyes, weaving stories in a slow, low voice reminiscent

of the voice of God (if God once had a pack-a-day Marlboro habit) and

singing songs that blanket the audience in a haze of longing, you lean

forward to breathe in every word he sighs out. But when he passes the

stage on to the past, and a younger version of himself, it's a rude

awakening from the sweet, sad nostalgia he's conjured. As Young Mike,

Paul Teodo still has Darst's poetic words to speak, but not his gift of

storytelling. Bryan Bellomo, who plays persnickety to perfection (he

uses an oil rag to answer the phone in the garage in which the two men

work), is more nuanced eating a donut in semi-darkness than Teodo is in

a monologue venting his frustration to his deceased father. In Act 2,

set designers Jade and Patricia Altman awe with a 1960s diner that's

faithful down to its handwritten chalkboard menu (the plastic Coke

bottle spied behind the counter the lone errancy), and Darst's

reappearance draws relief. Too bad it's momentary. Go, but be prepared

to leave wanting more of him, not this particular production. Michael

Altman directs. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun,

7 p.m.; thru January 23. (323) 501-0511. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GROUNDLINGS HOLIDAY SHOW Holly jolly sketch and improv, directed by Damon Jones. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 25. (323) 934-9700.

GO HEAD: THE MUSICAL Composer-lyricist Kevin Fry's delightfully campy horror musical, based on Roger Corman's 1962 gore-fest The Brain That Wouldn't Die, is not only enjoyable on the level of Midnight Theater excess, it's a quick-witted show by any standard. Its catchy score and clever, bloodthirsty lyrics are in the style of Little Shop of Horrors. And how can you not love a musical that features a severed head warbling songs of love and hatred? Beautiful, virginal Jan (Stephanie Ann Saunders) is administering fellatio to her boyfriend, Bill (Charles St. Michael), in the front seat of their car as they speed through the woods -- an ill-advised, foolhardy act they soon have reason to regret as, in the ensuing car crash, Jan's head is chopped off. Not to worry, though: Bill, it turns out, is a mad scientist and has invented a formula that will keep Jan's head alive until he can find a new body onto which to transplant it. While Bill runs off to scour the strip clubs for a suitable albeit unwilling donor, Jan is left hooked up to a table, singing the blues. If the sight of a severed head dangling by its jaws from a man's manhood isn't enough to make you howl, then the image of Saunders' strangely seductive Jan, her head on a table, singing a love song to the hideous Franken-monster (Chance Havens) Bill keeps locked in the closet, will do the trick. In director L. Flint Esquerra's taut production, the ensemble assay their silly characters with glee and conviction. Fry's musical style strives for '50s doo-wop, but his comic instincts are comparatively timeless, evident in lyrics such as, "He will find you a new hottie/Chop off her head and give you her body!" Under music director Robert Shaw's helm, the ensemble's vocal work is top-notch, with droll performances that are equal parts operatic and cheesy. In addition to Saunders' perky yet monstrous Jan, particularly sprightly turns are offered by St. Michael's spooky, intense mad scientist and by Becca Battoe and Fiona Bates, playing ill-fated women of ill repute, one of whom comes to grief at Bill's hands. St. Michael, in particular, has a memorably evocative falsetto: perfectly in tune, but edged with a fierce madness that puts one in mind of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Paul Birchall). MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 10, 9 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 17, 9 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 8 & 10:30 p.m.. (323) 960-5770.

HOT A handful of well-written plays have forged gripping dramatic material from an apocalyptic scenario: Alan Bowne's somewhat dated AIDS-era drama Beirut and Henry Murray's Treefall, recently staged here at Theatre/Theater, artfully probed the complexities and bonds of human relationships in a ruined world. Here, playwright Daniel Keleher is more interested in laughs and low farce. In the midst of a murderous pandemic, Jones (Gregory Myhre) and Benny (James Jordan) seem to be doing fine, ensconced in a ruddy apartment with plenty to drink, engaging in loads of pointless frat-boy banter. The play's pulse is felt when Horn (fine performance by Shawn Colten), whose job entails disposing of the dead, drops in and agrees to procure a woman for Benny, which he soon after does, dragging her onstage in a sack. From here, under Mel Shapiro's lax direction, it only gets worse. Act 2 opens with Benny decked out in a tux with his equally spruced-up comatose lover, and Jones tending to his near-dead fianc<0x00E9>e in a wheelchair. There is a feeble attempt at gravitas made toward the end involving the sudden appearance of a vaccine, and the morality of euthanasia, but by then, one is past all caring. (Lovell Estell III). The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 969-1707.

GO HYPERBOLE: ORIGINS It's not easy to wrap sentences around this fantastical storytelling spectacle created by a collaboration of artists under Sean T. Calwelti's direction. The launching point is the mid--20th century and a laboratory whose apparatus is the "origin" machine, a fanciful contraption reminiscent of sci-fi circa the 1940s and 1950s. The machine is operated by a conscientious engineer and his somewhat airheaded assistant, who, like Icarus, dreams of strapping on wings and taking flight. Each time the machine is activated, it precipitates an oblique and fanciful tale about the origin of something: music, fire, sin, love/lava (jealousy), the chicken and the egg, the rabbit in the moon -- and creation itself. Each narrative is presented with wordless mime, elaborated on by a profusion of lighting, sound, videography, puppetry, masks and music. As impressive as these technical elements are, they never outrun the stories themselves, each of which offers a quirky fable about some aspect of the human condition. The superb production values (overseen by tech director Daniel Geesing) include designer Katie Polebaum's expressive masks, so many of which capture the essence of a singular sentiment or passion, as well as Kerry Hennessy's imaginative costumes and John Noburi's indispensably animating audio design. A terrific seven-person ensemble displays amazing versatility in presenting this plethora of parables and yarns. (Deborah Klugman). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 461-3673.

GO JEWTOPIAIt'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 Jan. 2. (323) 655-7679.

NEW REVIEW GO KEN ROHT'S 99 CENT-ONLY SAME-O ELECTRIC BALLAD

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Photo by Ashley West Leonard

Writer-director-choreographer-composer Ken Roht originally launched his

series of annual extravaganzas as shows utilizing mostly cheap

materials available from the 99¢ Only Stores, but this year to

dramatize sustainability, he's added a subtitle, Paper Not Plastic, and

added a dazzling array of paper and cardboard from Green Paper

Alliance. The results are wondrous. To craft this "whimsical-surrealist

theatrical collage," Roht has assembled a cast of 18 versatile actors,

singers and dancers, co-written the stirring score with musical

director John Ballinger, provided the lively choreography, and

assembled a huge cadre of designers and visual artists. They've

concocted a show that suggests the Ziegfeld Follies on acid. David

Offner has designed the handsome set of butcher paper and corrugated

cardboard, and designer Ann Closs-Farley created the ingenious and

eye-popping paper costumes, awash in butterflies and flowers. As a

response to the passing of Proposition 8, Roht builds his show around a

pair of male lovers, Eddie and Fred (Max Faugno and Stephen Heath), and

for a finale he provides them with a lavish gay wedding. Like all the

99¢ Only shows, this is a holiday celebration, if not exactly a

Christmas show. It's more like Mardi Gras or the Winter Solstice.

Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 3 p.m.; thru December 19. (213) 389-3856 or bootlegtheater.org Neal Weaver)


KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.

KISS MY MISTLETOE!Holiday comedy vignettes, starring and written by Josefina Lopez, Miriam Peniche, April Ibarra, and Blanca Melchor, a.k.a. the Pinche Mentirosa Sisters (PMS). Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 263-7684.

GO LA RAZON BLINDADA (THE ARMORED REASON) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play -- one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival -- not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah Klugman). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (213) 745-6516.

NEW REVIEW THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT

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Photo by Ed Krieger

Stephen

Adly Giurgis sets his play in Purgatory, where Judas is on trial for

his betrayal of Jesus, with events and characters filtered through a

decidedly modern, urban sensibility. For most of Act 1, it's engrossing

stuff, but Giurgis' tone grows uncertain, and he seems to be playing

both ends against the middle: After establishing an irreverent, sassy,

revisionist tone, he veers into a reverent, earnest mode. And the piece

goes on too long, well past the point of diminishing returns.

Fortunately director Jeremy Aluma has given it a terrific production,

with a huge and sterling cast. Tony Gatto shines as the irascible

judge, Nick Mills is a flamboyant prosecuting attorney, and the defense

attorney played by Jessica Culaciati defends her client by indicting

everybody else, from Mother Teresa (Angie Light) to Caiaphas the Elder

(Adam Tsekhman) and Pontius Pilate (Paul Tully). Levi Sochet's Satan is

a smooth, glad-handing hipster, Lowam Eyasu is a Saint Monica with

attitude, and as Judas, Vincent Mentry gives texture and credibility to

a role that is largely passive till near the end. Fred Kinney and Staci

Walters provide the fancifully handsome set, with ominous sound design

by Adam Smith. The Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. Produced by Urban

Theatre Movement with Company of Angels. urbantheatremovement.com (Neal

Weaver)

LAUGHING WITH MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN Dressed in a kimono, Gwendoline Yeo takes the stage for her one-woman show quietly, head bowed. In a halting voice fringed with a lilting accent, she recounts the harrowing tale of stealing across the ocean from Singapore to San Francisco with her family. Then, with a swoop of her arm, Yeo knocks down the assumptions and sympathies you've formed in those three minutes, and proceeds with the story of her life as her family's black sheep. The blessing and curse here is that her struggles of having teen angst so different from the American variety, and yet so similar, are the most intriguing plotlines in her piece. When she takes off on tangents (the club scene, the creepy relationship with her professor) that have either no or unsatisfactory conclusions, the show loses steam; likewise, although she's adept at the multitude of accents she mimics, there are moments of linguistic indulgence that act as speed bumps. Still, Yeo's a vivacious performer, especially when playing her Chinese long zither, and a self-aware writer -- little touches like a Hello Kitty backpack, the high school Asian-American "popular girl" blaring Notorious B.I.G., and her aunt's emphasis on a prize of jade earrings all gently rib both the stereotype and the culture on which it's based. With squares of canvas hung around the stage onto which images are projected, the economical scenic and lighting designs (by Adam Flemming and Leigh Allen, respectively) are complementary to each other as well as to Yeo's script. Mark St. Amant directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, brownpapertickets.com/event/120935. (800) 838-3006.

GO THE LIMITATIONS OF GENETIC TECHNOLOGY Former L.A. Weekly critic and playwright Luis Arturo Reyes' darkly cerebral satire opens with a snazzy set of video mock-commercials touting the benefits of a megalithic corporation's genetic engineering program, and concluding with the ironic motto, "Our product is people!" Set in the near future, the play posits a world in which genetic technology has allowed almost every dream to come true. The population now has the ability to be beautiful and perhaps immortal. Yet even as people have their livers swapped out after a brisk night's boozing, and teenagers capriciously get themselves genetically implanted with elf ears and a tail to fit the fashion, more complicated issues are afoot. When, at a company party, a holographic image of eternally boyish corporate CEO York (Kyle Nudo) announces his suicide, the corporation is thrown into chaos. Reyes' drama is unabashed science geek chic -- intelligent, imaginative and full of wit -- but the sometimes awkward technical jargon and dense, philosophy-filled exchanges take a long time to spark much emotional momentum. Midway through, though, comes the desire by the new company president (Jeffrey Wylie) and his marketing executive wife (Harmony Goodman) to create a young baby android. With the couple's growing affection for a creature they at first consider a science experiment, the play reaches an incredibly moving tragedy. Director David Watkins Jr.'s intimate production occasionally suffers from energy lapses, but designer Steven Calcote's videoscreen and chrome set quite effectively creates a futuristic mood. In his turn as the indefinably spooky, Peter Pan-like company CEO, Nudo engagingly balances scientific detachment with childlike innocence. Sarah Lilly, as his world-weary wife, offers a splendidly nuanced turn that's equally mischievous and sad. Wylie and Goodman, as the corporate parents "testing" the cloned baby, are appealing as their characters nicely evolve from cold businesspeople into a loving dad and mom. (Paul Birchall). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, brownpapertickets.com/event/131828. (323) 856-8611.

THE LITTLE FLOWER OF EAST ORANGE Midway through the first act of Stephen Adly Guirgis' dysfunctional family drama, a seven-hours-sober Danny (Michael Friedman) stands on the side of the road, determined to hitch a ride. Smoking black-tar heroin and sucking on a gin-infused Slurpee, his stray cat girlfriend, Nadine (Kate Huffman), states the obvious: "There are no cars." Finally, he concedes. Guirgis' script is as full of promise and as weighted down as lead character Danny. He's a rising star of a writer who's been derailed by drugs, alcohol, conflicted love for his co-dependent mother (Melanie Jones) and debilitating anger toward her deaf father (Timothy McNeil). In rehab for just a week, Danny learns his mother's gone missing in New York City. His bitter sister, Justina (Marisa O'Brien), sick of being the grown-up in the family, greets his arrival with a subtle guilt trip. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten like old toys; hallucinations that appeared during the first act end up being so irrelevant you wonder if they were figments of your imagination. Still, you're rooting for Danny, played by Friedman with a sweetly open acknowledgement of his own wobbly existence, and for the action to stop turning onto streets with no outlets. Near the end, however, Danny shrugs, "I spent my whole life standing on the precipice, waiting for someone to knock me off so I could start living," and Guirgis succinctly sums up the problem with his play. David Fofi directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, elephanttheatrecompany.com. (877) 369-9112.

LONG TIME SINCE YESTERDAY Middle-aged girlfriends reunite for a funeral, by P.J. Gibson. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; Fri., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, 3 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 3 & 8 p.m.. (323) 293-1356.

MOM/BARRAGE Two one-act plays by Peter Basch and Ellen Sandler, presented by Ark Theatre Company. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 969-1707.

ON EMOTION "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson is apropos for both the Son of Semele Ensemble and for its latest offering from Mick Gordon and neuropsychologist Paul Broks. Their collaboration centers on a question voiced early on by cognitive behavioral therapist Stephen (Michael Nehring), who asks, "Are we just puppets of our emotions?" The subject of the question and his experiment is Anna (Melina Bielefelt), a disturbed artist who has been befriended by Stephen's daughter Lucy (Sami Klein), who herself is experimenting with older men. It is also no coincidence that Anna makes puppets; her latest creation is an astronaut puppet for Stephen's autistic son Mark (Alex Smith), who is obsessed with stars and Star Trek. Mark, sadly, does not repay her in kind, as his inadvertent experiments with his eidetic memory bring to light uncomfortable truths. Director Matthew McCray utilizes Adam Flemming's clever video design, Sarah Krainin's awesome "starry floor" and Ian Garret's lighting to full effect in the transitions between scenes, which are nicely choreographed. However, the script's lack of stakes and character empathy make McCray's job difficult within the scenes, which are filled with tepid emotions that feel manufactured. But while the result of this theatrical experiment is not wholly successful, the ensemble is to be commended for embodying the words of Erasmus Darwin: "A fool is a man who never tried an experiment in his life." (Mayank Keshaviah). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12...

100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Barrington Moore Jr. wrote a treatise called Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery and Upon Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them. Beth Lapides' cabaret show is a sweet-natured and understandably facile fly-by over the depths probed by Moore. It features composer Mitch Kaplan on keyboards (the original music is written and performed by the pair, except for music by Howie B and Peter Matz), and blends some pointed satire of Hollywood culture ("The absence of yes over time equals no") and focuses on Lapides trying to carve meaning from the crisis of her unexpected eviction from L.A., due to a home sale by the owner, and her relocation to Palm Springs. The attempt to convert formulas for sanity, contentment and even happiness gets projected onto charts where she relocates the traditional focal points of unhappiness, happiness and merely being "fine" -- which is equated with purgatory. Change creates anxiety and crisis, yet crisis is necessary for discovery, self-discovery and new perspectives. It's a sweet lecture with some songs, both new age and a new-age parody at the same time. Lapides is an amiable performer with an unexceptional voice. But the voice is not the point. The show was created to both entertain and to sort out a coping mechanism for life's anxieties. The lessons aren't exactly earth-shattering, but the show is engaging nonetheless. (Steven Leigh Morris). Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 15. (323) 651-2583.

NEW REVIEW OUR BEDS ARE CROWDED There's never exactly two

people in a relationship. Some days, a couple's crowded by memories of

their exes; other days, they're together but feeling alone. Christie

Perfetti's seven short plays about relationships are at these two

extremes: these floundering lovers are thinking of someone else, or

more often, talking directly to the audience as though their amour

didn't exist. What's rare is a moment of two-person connection -- for

every intimacy Perfetti invites us to witness, there's a complicating

soliloquy where one partner attempts to predict and elude the other's

reaction. And lest we connect to these 14 struggling souls as people,

she's stripped them of their names and dubbed them The Receptionist,

The Russian and The Mistress, etc. In "The Neighbor," a bored artist

(Liana Johnston) is waiting for the boy next door (Gregory Guardino) to

tick her off and then try to get in her bed. In "The Proposal," an

overworked doctor (Tracey Silver) tries to outwit her girlfriend's

(Diane Chernansky) fight-starting emotional tests. Perfetti's stories

are shot through with cynicism and a small, furtive hope that love

could somehow, maybe, one day, be simple. But director Stefan Lysenko

can't heat up these icy tales, and the stiff ensemble and nearly three

hour running time aren't helping. Still, Annie O'Neil's solo

performance in "The Magazine" sticks with you after the curtain. She

plays a bereaved mother who discovers her teenage son's porn

subscription after her death. These lesbian leather nudie mags are

first a toast to her boy's secret joys, then a painful monthly

reminder, then an opportunity for her husband to play hero, and lastly,

a symbol of the youth she traded in to be a mother. As her feelings

evolve, we feel lucky to be let into her inner journey. Write Act

Theater, 6128 Yucca St., Hlywd.; Mon.-Tues., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 21.

(323) 469-3113. (Amy Nicholson)


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.

RENDITION IN DAMASCUS Playwright John Christian Plummer's character-driven moral drama is almost undone by the sheer randomness of its plot, which somehow encompasses disparate figures such as a maniacal Protestant minister with a butcher's knife, a philandering husband who might be possessed by the devil, and a professional torturer working for the U.S. government. Minister Sarah (Courtney Rackley) finds her faith sorely tested when her professor husband Hal (Pete Caslavka) confesses that he has been having an affair with Sarah's church secretary, Missy (understudy Laurel Reese on the night reviewed, sweetly perky). Worse, Hal's excuse for his errant behavior is that he has started to hear voices in his head: Someone claiming to be none other than "A Satan" told him to cheat on his wife. While Sarah storms off to Misty's house, intending to do her great bodily harm, Hal gets a visit from his brother Schuyler (David Stanbra), who just got back from Iraq where he tortured a hapless suspected terrorist to death. Complications ensue when His Infernal Majesty (Satan) again takes over Hal's body Exorcist-style. Plummer's play does not lack for potentially intriguing themes, but they're poorly tied together and the thought processes are sometimes choppy -- a play that equates in moral importance the notion of a man torturing someone to death and a rather prosaic, tawdry love affair requires more logical underpinnings than this work possesses. Still, director Kiff Scholl's crisply staged, intimate production boasts some nicely committed acting work, particularly in the turns by Caslavka's creepy, possibly possessed Hal and by Rackley's brittle Sarah, whose character's emotional decomposition is shattering. Through Dec. 3. (Paul Birchall). Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 10, plays411.com/rendition. (323) 960-7719.

GO ROCCOPELLA Embellished with funky MTV-inspired videos, writer/solo performer George Spielvogel's goofy, good-natured comedy sports an array of ditzy characters who share a zest for musical performance. Not that any of these would-be songsters actually sing well or play an instrument. Teenage Rocco, alone in his bedroom, dreams of being a musical mastermind without, he admits, possessing any musical talent. His sister Sylvia likes to picture herself as a rock 'n' roll diva. His grandpa recollects songs he once crooned to his dead wife. An interloper -- a boorish Texas cowboy -- stumbles into Rocco's bedroom on his way to a karaoke bar; his dance instructor, Mr. Russle, displays a distinctive mincing style, counseling the absent Rocco (he's in the yard cleaning up dog poop) to develop his own. Co-directed by Spielvogel and Thomas Blake, the show, which runs less an hour, features minimal set and lighting, a minor note given Spielvogel's suitably daffy wigs and costumes and his amiable comic manner. The entertaining and invariably salacious videos (by Michael Regalbuto) serve as extensions of each sketch. (Deborah Klugman). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-6111.

ROCK 'N' ROLL In his virtuoso stage collages of literary erudition and clever, philosophical legerdemain, playwright Tom Stoppard has long established himself as the idol of hip literature majors and student playwrights eager to flex their fledgling intellects. Part of that attraction undoubtedly can be attributed to the fact that Stoppard's plays typically are drawn from the library rather than life experience, opting for intellectual ingenuity over psychological depth. So it is a pleasant surprise to find his 2006 meditation on the personal costs of the '60s cultural and political upheavals reaching beyond inspired pedantry for something decidedly more autobiographical, poignant and personal. Spanning the period between the Soviet Union's 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to the collapse of Eastern European communism 20 years later, the play follows Jan (Benjamin Burdick), a Czech graduate student studying at Cambridge and immersed in the rock-fueled social movements that were roiling British society. When he finds himself trapped in Prague by the Soviet occupation, Jan is reluctantly drawn out of his apathy into the role of political dissident. Back in England, a similar metamorphosis affects Jan's hard-line Stalinist mentor, Cambridge don Max (Will Kepper), whose pro-materialist dogma keeps him at odds with upheavals in his personal life. Whatever pathos might be offered by Stoppard's text, however, never materializes in Barbara Schofield's indifferent and unfocused staging. Though Beth Robbins is magnificent as Max's cancer-riddled wife, and projections by Liam Carl Design provide a colorful accent to James Spencer's and Kis Knekt's otherwise undistinguished set, little else in the production musters the cathartic energy of its titular music. (Bill Raden). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (323) 882-6912.

THE SANTALAND DIARIES The Blank Theatre Company presents David Sedaris' solo play, performed by Nicholas Brendon. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 661-9827.

A SCROOGE AND MARLEY CHRISTMAS CAROL: A NEW TWIST ON A CLASSIC TALE Ebenezer Scrooge resists his homoerotic urges for boytoy Jacob Marley in the Knightsbridge Theatre's adaptation of the Dickens' story. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., Dec. 11, 2 & 6 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 2 p.m.; Through Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 18, 2 & 6 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 2 p.m.. (323) 667-0955.

SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (310) 281-8337.

NEW REVIEW THE STORIES OF CESAR CHAVEZ Staged sparely,

with no director credited, writer-performer Fred Blanco's solo show

looks at the life of Cesar Chavez, interspersing his ruminations with

portraits of other people who played a significant role in this notable

man's life. Blanco frames his chronicle around a prayerful communion

between Chavez, a steadfast Catholic, and the Virgin of Guadalupe, whom

he turns to for strength and guidance during one of his fasts,

protesting the inhumane treatment of Hispanic farm workers. First

developed as an educational vehicle, the story harks back to Chavez's

Texas childhood, when he was physically chastised in school for

speaking Spanish, and up through his adolescence, when he and some

friends were harassed for sitting in the "whites only" section of a

movie theater. We follow his transformation into a national labor

leader. The show's most dynamic moments paradoxically came not from

Blanco's portrait of the storied hero but instead from his portraiture

of Chavez' nemeses - one of them a ruthless employer with zero respect

for the workers' humanity, and the other a rival activist, whose rage

against injustice brought forth a call for violent action that Chavez

firmly opposed. Both monologues serve as solid showcases for Blanco's

skills as a performer, more so than his rendering of Chavez, a

performance which lacks immediacy. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N.

Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Tues., Dec.

14, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 281-8337. (Deborah Klugman)

SUMMER IN HELL "They're not nice people" is something of a refrain in playwright Miles Brandman's surface-skimming amorality tale of sex, drugs and privilege among the decadent idle rich of the Long Island shore. It is also an understatement, at least when applied to Brandman's iniquitous and narcissistic young protagonists, Milt (Tyler Jenich) and Pat (Amy K. Harmon). Dumped at the family's beach house for a week of surf and sun, the unchaperoned first cousins become bored with their routine of incest, sunbathing and backbiting. To liven things up, Milt lures over one of Pat's former conquests, the hunky working-class townie Nick (Dan Gordon), who has kept his distance from the disreputable pair since his engagement to priggish local heiress Barbara (Melissa Powell). No sooner does Nick jump at the bait than Milt arranges for Barbara to catch her fiancé and Pat in flagrante delicto. In the ensuing emotional fireworks, Milt relieves Barbara of her virtue along with her illusions regarding both hers and Nick's putative moral superiority. If this sounds like something out of Molère, Brandman plays it for anything but laughs or satire. Director David Jette turns in a polished production that includes Sarah Krainin's redwood sun-deck set and Ian Garrett's summer-sweltered lights. And while a superb cast looks like they're having a field day -- particularly the leering and insinuating Jenich -- the play's lack of social or psychological insights limits its figurative reach to a cynical contempt for its own characters. (Bill Raden). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, brimmerstreet.org. (213) 290-2782.

GO THE SUNET LIMITED John Perrin Flynn's topnotch staging of Cormac McCarthy's 1996 two-character play shows that the author is a gifted dramatist as well as being a superb novelist. A life and death struggle emerges in the dingy apartment of an ex-con named Black (Tucker Smallwood), who has just rescued White (Ron Bottitta), from a suicide leap off a subway platform. That their names are racial signifiers is just one of the dynamics McCarthy uses to mine the ironies in this simple scenario. Black is poor, uneducated and a committed man of faith, an inner city Good Samaritan whose redemption came in prison and who unwaveringly believes in the value of life and God's grace, while White is a hyper-rationalist, successful university professor and defiant atheist who is weighted down with crushing despair and hopelessness. It's a high-stakes intervention where both men state their cases with unbridled passion and eloquence engendering a back and forth shift of empathies, and one never gets the sense of an immutable moral center or merely listening to lectures. McCarthy, who is noted for his sparse dialogue and powerful imagery, exhibits an uncanny ear for ghetto argot, but just as nimbly utilizes the idiom of the academic. When at the end, White erupts and expresses a weltanschauung of the darkest hue, one is reminded of Nietzsche's remark about staring into the abyss. Complementing Flynn's fine direction are the equally superb performances. Through Dec. 19. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-4424.

GO TAKE ME OUT Baseball star Darren Leming (Ary Katz), the central figure in Richard Greenberg's provocative 2002 comedy-drama, is a paragon of talend, skill and virtue. Half black and half white, he has become baseball's golden boy, admired and adored by teammates and fans until he impulsively decides to come out as gay, and the press runs with the story. He thinks that because he's young and rich and famous and talented and handsome, he's immune to negative consequences. But like a rock dropped into a pond, his revelation produces ever- widening ripples that undermine his world. Bigotry and religious fanaticism rear their heads, as irate fans accuse him of desecrating the sacred sport. As for his teammates, it's a loss of innocence: They're forced to confront the homoeroticism that underlies their comfortable locker-room intimacy. Most deeply affected is newly recruited relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Garrett Matheson), a naive, dim, barely literate orphan from the deep South, where racism and homophobia were bred in his bones. He's ultimately both victim and aggressor, driven by feelings he doesn't understand, to an act of ambiguous but lethal violence. Greenberg probes issues of sexual identity, moral ambiguity, personal responsibility and baseball, in pungent, idiosyncratic dialogue laced with subversive wit. Director Michael Matthews has assembled an almost perfect cast on Kurt Boetcher's intimate in-the-round set, and he explores the play's complexities with finely focused exuberance. Katz skillfully charts Leming's transformation from Apollonian serenity to a man forced to acknowledge his failings and vulnerability. Tom Costello brings comic chops and rich conviction to the shortstop Kippy, the play's narrator, who's shattered when his sentimental do-good-ism produces disastrous results. And there's a deliciously deft comedy performance by Thomas James O'Leary as Leming's fey, gay financial manager, who regards his boss as a hero and finds a wondrous epiphany in the world of baseball. His aria comparing baseball to democracy is as penetrating as it is funny. They receive solid backup from the sterling cast. Tim Swiss' lighting design and Veronica J. Lancaster's sound are integral to the action. This is Celebration Theatre's most ambitious and impressive production in years. (Neal Weaver). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 957-1884.

TEXAS CHAIN SAW YULETIDE Will Franken's one-man holiday horror show. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (800) 838-3006.

THE TRAGEDY OF ROMEO ANDJULIET The Merry War Theatre Group sets Shakespeare's play in the upscale Verona Hotel & Casino. American Legion Hollywood, 2035 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Through Dec. 12, 8 p.m., merrywar-theatregroup.com. (323) 851-3030.

GO THE TRAIN DRIVER South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have dealt with the havoc wrought in his country by apartheid, but his more recent works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to encompass the guilt and grief that were the legacy of his homeland's decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us, unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area of the city, Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing the train driver could have done to save them, but he is consumed with guilt over his role in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate his guilt. Elderly, impoverished grave digger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is sympathetic, but also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster. Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned, barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's desolate, gravel-covered shanty set to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow -- anger over being forced to kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death -- is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the grave digger that captures attention every moment he's onstage. Fugard has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless -- but the play cunningly concludes with a tragic coda suggesting that, to the underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals. (Paul Birchall). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 663-1525.

GO WATSON In the opening scene of writer-director Jaime Robledo's new play, the corpulent title character (Scott Legett) wanders into London's 221-B Baker Street, having been advised by a gypsy to "go back to where it all began, before it was too late." The sleuth, Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria), whose adventures Watson has followed and documented, died some time ago -- or so Watson believes. But nothing is quite what it seems. It would be beside the point to recount the plot. Let's just say it concerns Queen Victoria, Sigmund Freud (both played by the gut-bustingly droll French Stewart), double agents and secret intel involving a competition for the possession of Cyprus between the Ottoman Empire, led by Abduhl Hamid; and the Russians, represented by Czar Alexander III. (Both of these are played by puppets.) In order to fathom what the hell is going on, the coked-up Holmes and his somewhat reluctant sidekick Watson -- whose adventures are placing his own marriage to Mary Watson (CJ Merriman) at risk -- embark on an odyssey by train and boat and horse and air balloon from Victoria Station to Budapest to the top of a minaret in some unspecified Muslim country. Oh, yes, they're pursued by the villainous Professor James Moriarty (Henry Dittman), who may or may not be a figment of Holmes' cocaine-induced paranoia. In case this sounds too cinematic for the stage, consider how the walls of scene designer Erin Brewster's London flat fold away and open up to flights of theatrical devices. The visual wonder is complemented by Andrew Amani's balletic fight choreography and fueled, aurally, by Ryan Johnson's recorded original score, performed on cello, viola and violins. Fria has an odd body shape, a robust and athletic build with contrapuntally sloping shoulders. His Holmes is a neurotic cousin to Buster Keaton -- fleet-footed with quick and precise comic instincts. It's a gorgeous performance, surpassed only by one tour de force riff in which Dittman portrays five characters at Victoria Station (a husband, his wife, a train conductor, an urchin beggar and a policeman) almost simultaneously, by literally changing hats. This delightful and at times inspired production contains moments of comic mastery stemming from the traditions of Vaudeville. (Steven Leigh Morris). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (310) 281-8337.

NEW REVIEW THE ZOMBIE HOLIDAY SPECIAL This irreverent

departure from the customary Yuletide faire has some gleaming moments

of comedy, but not enough to leave a lasting impression. It's formatted

as a Christmas TV special hosted by a family whose members consist of

the living and the undead. Mom and Dad (Patrick Bristow and Peggy Etra)

have that squeaky clean '50 sitcom look, as does son Gavin (Grant

Baciocco), daughter Merry (Vanessa Whitney) and lovable ol' Grandma

(Alison Mork). There's even a token Jew named David (Matt Vlahakis),

who sports a yarmulke and prayer shawl. The comic sizzle comes from the

Jayne Entwistle as Holly, and Chris Sheets as Grandpa -- both are

green-faced zombies joining the festivities post-mortem. Despite

Director Bristow's best efforts to sustain the humor, overkill sets in,

and the jokes wear thin. The cast really shines during the

improvisational segments. In one hilarious instance, the family puts on

a display of culinary pizzazz, accompanied by a hilarious musical

ditty. Improvatorium at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd.,

Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (323) 960-7612. (Lovell Estell

III)


CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

THE ANIMALS AND ME Vinnie Torrente's play about "the rights of all mankind, as seen through the eyes of animals.". Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, plays411.com/theanimals. (323) 960-7726.


GO THE AUTUMN GARDEN Lillian Hellman was in her mid-40s when she wrote this astute comedy about the pitfalls and perils of middle age and the accompanying sense of loss that filters through our lives. A kind of Chekhovian group portrait, it takes place in 1949 in a genteel boarding house on the Gulf of Mexico coast. The establishment caters exclusively to the longtime friends of its sweet-natured spinsterish proprietress, Constance (Lily Knight), still pining for beau Nick (Stephen Caffrey), who left her high and dry for his still current wife, Nina (Jane Kaczmarek), 20 years ago. Nick is now an artist of some renown, and his return for a brief visit stirs excitement, especially for Constance's friend Rose (Faye Grant), a simpering Southern coquette whose marriage is on the rocks. The play's secondary motif -- the masquerade of ignorance surrounding homosexuality in the mid-20th-century South -- emerges in the engagement between Constance's French niece, Sophie (Zoe Perry), and Frederick (Joe Delafield), the son of Constance's prim and proper friend Mary (Jeanie Hackett). Directed by Larry Biederman, the production begins somewhat stiffly before gathering steam as the multiple plotlines unwind, then coalesce, and the intimacies -- especially between the married couples -- are finessed. As Constance, Knight's touching vulnerability draws you in. Perry is excellent as the shrewd, long-suffering Sophie; so is Anne Gee Byrd as Mary's mother, a deliciously sardonic grand dame who minces no words. As the story's villainous rou<0x00E9>, Caffrey's skill is unimpeachable, but his drunken predator is so unappealing that it's hard to see how he might ever have charmed anyone. (The production is double-cast.) Antaeus.org (Deborah Klugman)., antaeus.org. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, antaeus.org. (818) 506-1983.

BOBBY AND MATT Kevin Cochran's story of two unlikely friends, one a brigadier general, the other a renowned gay writer. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (818) 528-6622.

GO THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO Marisa Wegrzyn's kitchen-sink comedy kicks off the Road Theatre Company's 20th season. Filled with colorful, mostly female characters, Wegrzyn's wacky slice-of-life snapshot is set in the small town of Baraboo in snowy, freezing Wisconsin. The loose plot concerns in-laws who feel no constraints expressing their sentiments. Beneath the prickly conversation lies a festering mystery: What really happened to Val's husband, Frank? He was pronounced dead, although no corpse was found. Frank's brother, Donal (Carl J. Johnson), and cop sister, Gail (the hilarious Rebecca Jordan), harbor suspicions that their sister-in-law, Val (Janet Chamberlain), did away with Frank, seeing as she's pretty handy with a meat cleaver. Val's grown daughter, Midge (Nina Sallinen), seems to be dabbling in nefarious activities, supplying local teen meth chemists with prescription meds. But it's Midge's interference with her uncle Donal's family life that causes her strife. Director Mark St. Amant beautifully stages his cast with a sure but subtle hand, eliciting superb performances and spot-on comic timing. Jeff McLaughlin's homely set is impressively realistic -- right down to a working sink -- and neatly fills the small space. (Pauline Adamek). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW GO A CHICAGO CHRISTMAS CAROL In 1906, Upton Sinclair Jr's muckraking novel The Jungle

exposed the appalling and oppressive conditions workers faced in the

unsanitary U.S. meatpacking industry, and the furor that followed led

to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. William A. Reilly has

devised a clever merging of this backdrop with Charles Dickens' story

"A Christmas Carol." With lyrics by Gary Lamb and directed by Brent

Beerman, Reilly's musical transplants the familiar yuletide plotline

from London to 1908 Chicago, where the stone-hearted, money-grubbing

Scrooge (Lamb) is busy raising rents and turning people out on the

street. With corrupt cops in his pocket, Scrooge keeps rabble-rousing

union workers such as Timothy Cratchit (Mikhail Roberts) under his

shoe. When Scrooge is visited by the imposing ghost of his former

partner Marley (a seemingly 8-foot-tall Dave Berges with a nice basso

profundo) Scrooge reflects on the decisions of his past and his lost

love. The cast of 13 is well-costumed by Tanya Apuya and Caitlin Erin

O'Hare, but less well served by the tame choreography and

unimaginative, unambitious songs, one of which ("Memories Past")

borrows liberally from "Baby It's Cold Outside." Yet Paton Ashbrook as

Scrooge's intended, Isabella, shares a lovely duet with him in "When We

Are Wed" and Sadie Calvano shines as the little girl cast onto the

street. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Sun.,

3 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 745-8527.

(Pauline Adamek)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL An all-new musical adaptation of the Dickens holiday tale. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 7 p.m.; Through Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (626) 256-3809.

THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES Secrets of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer et al, by Jeff Goode. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, chancetheater.com. (714) 777-3033.

GAM3RS Brian Bielawski's one-man "computer-gaming-geek" show, co-written and directed by Walter G. Meyer. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, gam3rsthewebsite.com. (858) 224-2553.

HERALDS Setting: A bustling office with phones ringing off the hook, constant interruptions announcing yet another sale, barely lidded excitement; a newspaper. Wait, a newspaper? Yes, down to the inevitable transfer to news online and a tryst sparked by a woman's arousal over the executive editor's "power," Jon Cellini's play feels a little dated. After all, dailies have already transitioned through a couple of stages of grief over the imminent demise of the "way they were," and have settled into grimacing acceptance of the uncertain future. To give Cellini credit, he does nod to the obsoleteness of his subject matter when a character comments on how "we philosophize after our expired lives -- ironic considering this show, right?" Still, he uses the now-tired controversy over a cartoon about creationism as a launching pad for a discussion on the dangers of the religious right advocating censorship. Though he's spliced this humdrum dilemma with visits from a Socrates who watches TMZ, a Galileo who scoffs at LeBron James and a Goebbels who blames Saturday Night Live for America's "weak" men, Cellini also rests on tired stereotypes such as a Godfather-esque queenpin of a church secretary (Maia Danziger). Director Stuart Rogers smooths the busy show to a nice flow, but he allows too much slack in the pace precisely when it's in dire need of tautness. The play's not bad, but all the good stuff is buried in the back pages. It would be remiss not to mention the able-bodied cast, especially the restrained, excellent performance of Heather Robinson as Gert. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, brownpapertickets.com/event/136062. (800) 838-3006.

INSPECTING CAROL Daniel Sullivan's holiday comedy about a Midwestern regional theater company and their attempt to mount A Christmas Carol. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 2, (No perf Dec. 24.) thegrouprep.com.. (818) 700-4878.

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.

GO THE PUB PLAYS: THE FIELD Under Sean Branney's direction, John B. Keane's beautifully modulated drama is set in an rural County Kerry pub, where locals gather to see who will end up owning the field that old Maggie Butler is selling. Will an outsider swoop in and snatch it, or will a swaggering local farmer have his way? Barry Lynch brings a formidable menace to his role as the intimidating farmer, "The Bull" McCabe. This is a man with a massive sense of entitlement and a bulldozing force of will. Having leased the land from the old widow for years in order to graze his cattle and gain access to the river, McCabe's had his heart set on owning the "handsome parcel of land" for decades, as did his father before him. Keane's chilling drama is an incisive commentary on the local folk, presenting copious drinking, snarky small town gossip, incessant childbearing and domestic violence as part of the fabric of everyday life. One scene in Act 2, when McCabe's loyal son Tadgh (Travis Hammer) dares to ask why his parents haven't spoken for 18 years, will make your blood run cold. Excellent performances from all. Through Dec 12. (Pauline Adamek). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 846-5323.

THE PUB PLAYS: WAR Celebrated Irish novelist Roddy Doyle sets his play on the battlefield of a large, packed Dublin pub where rival teams of locals scuffle it out during a rowdy and riotous quiz night. As the empty bottles of Guinness pile up, the increasingly intoxicated participants trade wit, useless trivia and abuse, vying to claim bragging rights and an electric kettle. Doyle's play is ostensibly an energetic comedy, but flashpoint tempers, ferocious shouting matches, strident accusations of cheating, vulgar gestures and various colorful insults ("fookin' eejit!") wear you down after a while. Add the interspersed flashbacks to the casually abusive home life of the most volatile character, George (Tim Cummings), and suddenly all that bellowing isn't so funny, especially when his gentle wife, Briget (Kacey Camp), is cowering in the corner. Of course this is Doyle's point, but he makes it with a tightly clenched fist, pounding away. Alice Ryan is good as the cute barmaid who keeps the lecherous lads at bay with her arsenal of comebacks. Passable Irish accents from the hardworking cast of 16. In repertory with John B. Keane's drama The Field. (Pauline Adamek). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 846-5323.

REMEMBERING THE LADIES Karen Cadle International presents the multi-media event starring British entertainer Toni Morrell. (In the Forum Theatre.). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 29, (No perf Dec. 25.). (866) 811-4111.

SANTASIA Yuletide yuks, brought to you by A Loser's Kids Productions. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 24, santasia.com. (866) 811-4111.

GO SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTCHE KABARETT This latest, late-night creation from sardonic, surrealist director-choreographer Amanda Marquardt is so straightforward and simple in its concept and execution that it's a wonder no one thought of it before. Take the Kander & Ebb musical classic Cabaret, jettison the treacly and preachy Joe Masteroff book, and stage the results as a brisk and breezy, melodrama-free evening of simulated Weimar nightclub entertainment. The schmutzigen is provided by the indecently flamboyant Luke Wright, who, from opener "Willkommen" through his solo on "I Don't Care Much" to the show's finale, vamps his way through an endless string of double entendres to stake a creditable claim to the role of MC that made Broadway stars of Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Marquardt herself appears as Sally Bowles (replete with Liza-like false eyelashes), displaying an appealing set of pipes on such signature numbers as "Don't Tell Mama," "Cabaret" and "Mein Herr." Wright returns (wearing little more than an uncredited but campy pair of tuxedo briefs) with chorines Skye Noel (also credited as dance captain and co-choreographer) and Eva Ganelis, as the trio strut their comic stuff in "Two Ladies." But, you might ask, if there's no book, what about the musical's politics -- and what does that have to do with us? Relax. Marquardt gets in her licks, and puts the Deutsche Kabarett, political-satire bite back into Cabaret with "High Chancellor," a hilarious, show-stealing strip number, with Jonica Patella in Hitler drag, bumping, grinding and goose-stepping to the Nazi march "Erika." (Bill Raden). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (818) 202-4120.

THE SECRET GARDEN The kids' lit classic turned musical, book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Lucy Simon. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, chancetheater.com. (714) 777-3033.

GO SWEET MAMA STRING BEAN: A CELEBRATION OF BLUES WOMAN ETHEL WATERS The unwanted product of violence -- her mother was raped at knifepoint when only 12 -- Ethel Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia during the early 1900s. She ran with a rough street crowd and developed a hustler's sassy attitude. By the time she fled her own abusive marriage at just 14, she had a soulful singing voice that would draw attention at parties. Soon after, Waters was singing the blues onstage to appreciative crowds while living the rough life of touring on the black vaudeville circuit; eventually she became the highest-paid black recording star in the country, the first female black singer to be heard on radio and, later, the highest-paid female performer on Broadway. She brought the house down at New York's Cotton Club singing "Stormy Weather" and won a Grammy Award in 1933. Waters was the second black performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, for her performance in Pinky (1949). ValLimar Jansen brings Waters' distinguished career to the stage with a fine jazz trio, accompanied by husband Frank Jansen on keyboards. Wearing glittering gowns and feathered headdresses, ValLimar wraps merry humor and an indomitable spirit around her engaging performance as she skips and shimmies her way through 16 classic blues songs, and her mellifluous, full-bodied voice has the depth of strong coffee. (Pauline Adamek). Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 31, fremontcentretheatre.com. (866) 811-4111.

NEW REVIEW GO TRAVELING CARNIVAL FREAKSHOW

click to enlarge rsz_travelingcarnival.jpg

Photo by Chelsea Sutton

If Tod Browning and the Brothers Quay had collaborated on a stage version of The Island of Dr. Moreau,

the results might have resembled this whimsical Gothic fairy tale by

writers Questa Gleason & Chelsea Sutton (Sutton also directs).

Though billed as a "holiday-themed show," the production's most

refreshing aspect is the absence of a Santa or a sleigh or a shred of

tinsel. Rather than the North Pole, the setting here is a carnival

freak show (courtesy of Lucila Caro's sideshow-tent set) run by the

nefarious barker and black witch, Rena (assistant choreographer

Danielle Cintron). The dominatrix-like Rena's form of vivisection comes

via a knife thrust from her magic dagger, which reverses H.G. Wells by

turning hapless humans into grotesque beasts. Her victims include

Wilhelmina (Beth Ricketson), who has been transformed into a crone

Tarot reader, the henchmen/slaves Santo (choreographer Mason Hallberg)

and Freak (Sahar Yousefi), and star attraction Zada (Gleason), "The

Wooden Monstrosity." When Rena's itinerant hell show crosses paths with

the penniless Edwin (Jeff Newman), however, his love-at-first-sight

passion for Zada may just prove the white magic of Rena's undoing.

Hallberg's charming dance sequences and the addition of a weekly guest

burlesque artist (this evening featured the fetching, temporarily

tulle-attired Bebe Firefly) inject some appealing spectacle, but the

star of the show is designer Lori Meeker and her vividly expressive

monster masks and costumes. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel

Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru

Dec. 19. (818) 508-3003 or eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Bill Raden)

URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 8, 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (818) 202-4120.

URNED HAPPINESS Lean Dog-Mean Dog Productions presents Ernest Kearney's comedy about "a cremated cadaver, a murdered clown, and a confused polka band.". T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (800) 838-3006.

YES SVETLANA, THERE IS A GRANDFATHER FROST Without a single pedantic word, Jeff Goode's comedy rebuts the commonplace impression that Soviet times are ancient history. His thoughtful play about the essence of truth is set in the newspaper office of a large Soviet city, where a plan is afoot by the authorities to raid an "unauthorized" Christmas-tree lighting ceremony. The newspaper gets a prefab story, describing specific injuries that haven't yet occurred but are being carefully plotted. Journalist Tserkov (Morry Schoor) wants the story to run early, to warn the protesters. But his editor, Madame Editrix (Erika Godwin), will have no part of such faux heroics. If you're so concerned about the truth, she chides him, why does it have to come with your byline? Truth quietly whispered is just as true as truth that's printed or broadcast. Despite a cumbersome stretch in Act 2, the play's delightful plot twists spin out a view of bureaucracy and complicity in the hoaxes of an era that point directly to us, which is the point. I don't know why director Gideon Potter chose to have the actors speak in English in a Russian accent, which only suggests that the play is about them and not us. And they couldn't find any Russian speakers in Glendale or Hollywood to give the company the correct pronunciation of devushka? Devushka (Lisa Younger) is the seemingly na<0x00EF>ve yet sly secretary. The wistfully wry ensemble also includes Tyler Rhoades, as a cad journalist, and thugs well-played by Ken Lyle and Bub Rusch. There were some technical difficulties at the performance reviewed. That aside, the comedy really deserves a more taut staging to match its scintillating ironies. (Steven Leigh Morris). Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (800) 838-3006.

YO HO HO! A PIRATE'S CHRISTMAS Pirates invade the North Pole, book by James J. Mellon, music and lyrics by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, noon; Sat., Dec. 18, noon; Through Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 23, (No perfs Dec. 10 & 17).. (818) 508-7101.

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

AIN'T WE GOT FUN! Vaudeville-style songs and skits, written by Ben Hensley and Michael Montiel, directed and choreographed by Lindsay Martin. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 656-8070.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND A Kentwood Kids production of Lewis Carroll's classic. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (310) 645-5156.

ANNIE Kentwood Players present the little orphan musical, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11, kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.

BACKSTREET: THE MUSICAL Jewish immigrant musical, book, music and lyrics by Chris DeCarlo, Evelyn Rudie an Matthew Wrather. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 394-9779.

CYRANO DE BERGERAC Ruskin Group Theatre takes on the legend of 17th-century French dramatist/duelist Savinien de Bergerac. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (310) 397-3244.

GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a star identified in the program only as "The Crooner." James Thompson's authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting, a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter, numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie. Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as "That's Life," "New York, New York" and "Fly Me to the Moon," you'd swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, edgemarcenter.org. (310) 392-7327.

ISLAND OF BRILLIANCE Dawn O'Leary's story of a college gal and her low-IQ sister. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 16. (310) 822-8392.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT The Mechanicals Theatre Group present the story of murdered gay teen Matthew Shepard, by Moises Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theater Project. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, mechanicalstheatregroup.com...

LE TICK TOCK Edgemar Theatre Group's "provocative and sensual cabaret-style entertainment.". Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 22. (310) 392-7327.

THE LITTLE NEBBISH Eliza Gale's satire about "lust, greed, murder and revenge set in a Norwalk telemarketing agency.". Berubian's Theater, 5388 N. Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 850-7827.

MURDERERS Jeffrey Hatcher's quirky whodunit. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 364-0535.

NEVERMORE Jeffrey Combs portrays Edgar Allan Poe. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; Through Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.. (858) 481-2155.

GO THE NIGHT OF THE TRIBADES Generally speaking, biographies of even immortal artists rarely produce compelling dramas. Whatever mysterious alchemy transmutes raw experience into refined art is simply too interior and remote from the dramatic, social arena to ever satisfactorily be laid bare on the stage. Swedish playwright Per Olov Enquist's delightfully sardonic, 1975 take on the marital woes of Scandinavian literary giant August Strindberg (in Ross Shideler's spry, 1976 translation) may be the notable exception. Drawn from a period when Strindberg (John Prosky) was an adherent of what might be charitably termed "Darwinian male chauvinism," the play opens on the read-through rehearsal of Strindberg's short, 1889 one-act, "The Stronger," the writer's self-flattering portrayal of the affair between his wife, the actress Siri von Essen (Sarah Underwood), and her lover, Marie Caroline David (Linda Castro), which ultimately scuttled the Strindbergs' already foundering marriage. In a stroke of sadistic pique, Strindberg has cast the real-life lovers to play their fictionalized counterparts. The results only recapitulate the hapless playwright's emasculating trauma, and play as if the author of "The Dance of Death" had written an episode of Fawlty Towers. Director Thomas P. Cooke's mercurial production and a superb cast (including Craig Anton's hilariously vapid ham actor, Shiwe) capture all of Enquist's mordant wit, while a peerless production design team (Catherine Baumgardner's museum-grade period costumes; Jeffery Eisenmann's antique, backstage set; Ronan Kilkelly's expressionistic lights) lends the proceedings a literate gloss. Through December 11. (Bill Raden). Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11, calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.

NIGHTSONG FOR THE BOATMAN Perhaps playwright Jovanka Bach was attempting an update of Euripides' Alcestis: in both plays, a selfish man tries to elude death by persuading someone else to die in his place. Poet/college professor Harry Appleman (John Di Fusco) gambles for his soul with Murlie (Alexander Wells), the thuggish boatman who ferries the dead across the river Styx. He loses the game, but wants to welsh on the deal. Harry is so obnoxious and arrogant, it's hard to care what happens to him. He hasn't written anything substantive in years, but feels his identity as an artist absolves him from all responsibility. A spoiled, drunken, irresponsible egomaniac, he seduces his students, treats his mistress (Nicole Gabriella Scipione) shabbily, and abandons his wife (Donna Luisa Guinan) and daughter (Amanda Landis). In the incoherent, contrived and ultimately silly second act, Harry continues to seek someone else to die his death. The piece is awkwardly written, with many short scenes that just seem to stop rather than reaching any climax, fail to raise much tension, separated by clumsy scene changes. Director John Stark does little to bolster the pretentious script, but the capable actors (including Michael Byrne, Geoffrey Hillback, and J. Lawrence Landis) struggle manfully to make sense of a preposterous plot, and designer Jaret Sacrey provides a handsome set. Through Dec. 12. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 477-2055.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER Musical revue of songs by Stephen Sondheim. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 454-1970.

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