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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Shadow Anthropology

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Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 11:46 AM


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Note: This week's print edition will contain capsule reviews for this and the prior two weeks. --SLM

NEW REVIEW 
GO
SHADOW ANTHROPOLOGY
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Photo by Nigel Dookhoo

Ten years after 9/11, the plight of rural Afghanis caught in the crossfire between American forces and the Taliban remains dire. Playwright-director Rick Mitchell lays bare the cruel urgency of their circumstances in this yet unpolished but potentially compelling production. Utilizing music (composer Max Kinberg) and puppetry (shadow artist Maria Bodmann) and depicted with the broad strokes of Brechtian-style theatrics, it begins with the recruitment, by a Blackwater-type firm, of a post grad in anthropology named Fe (Lymari Nadal). A left-leaning Puerto Rican native, Fe has the job of interviewing Afghanis for the U.S.'s human terrain project. Touted as a way to win hearts and minds, the project is a devious attempt to root out insurgents through entrapment. Overseeing the program is a well-paid defense operative named Evan (David Lee Garver) -- an unprincipled super-patriot whose sprawling ego is pumped up by his coke-and-heroin habit and his steady intake of Viagra. A practiced slimeball, Evan nonetheless proves no match for the region's chief warlord, Gulab (Andrew Qamar Johnson), a brazen villain with no compunction about engineering the murder of a hapless farmer (Ray Haratian), whose 21 year old daughter (Claudia Vazquez) he has procured in marriage for his septuagenarian uncle (Eduardo R. Terry). Despite roughness around the edges on opening night, the performances are on track, especially Garver's and Johnson's, whose scenes together zone in on the ubiquitous venality on both sides. Illustrating Afghani women's nightmares is another grotesquely funny segment in which Vazquez' martyred bride undertakes, for her family's survival, to fornicate with her moribund but still lecherous spouse.Part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; in rep thru Feb. 25. sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html (Deborah Klugman)

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

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication February 3, 2011

NEW REVIEW GO AMERICAN DOLLHOUSE Forget weddings, little girls dream of their dollhouses coming to life. In this "theatrical exhibit" of living dolls, creators Chris Barnett and Leah Johnston stage a multimedia production that succeeds not only in indulging childhood fantasies, but also in expanding the idea of what theatre can be. Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Glendale's Gallery Godo, three days in the life of a suburban family in 1955 play out as the family members roam among the audience and amid a fascinating collection of mixed media artwork all loosely related to dolls, the era, or both. Pop art paintings of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe by Mateo Saucedo are clustered around the bedroom of teenage daughter, Suzy (Leah Johnston, who, with Barbie-like webbed hands and a Leave it to Beaver-ready vocal cadence, runs away with the show). Colter Freeman's charred, hypodermic needle-ridden baby dolls frame and foreshadow the action in the dining room. Leah Johnston's props are period precise, down to a box of Trix cereal and loaf of Mrs. Baird's white bread. The play itself comes to a predictable conclusion, and its subject matter is strongly rooted in fields that have already been harvested by Ibsen's A Doll's House and Todd Haynes' 2002 film, Far From Heaven. But by conceptualizing theatre as such an all-inclusive medium that calling American Dollhouse a play doesn't do it justice, Barnett and Johnston may be showing us a glimpse of theater's future. Gallery Godo, 6749 San Fernando Rd., Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru February 5. americandollhouse@gmail.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

NEW REVIEW THE BEVERLY HILLS PSYCHIATRIST

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Photo by

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Photo courtesy of Firefly: Theater and Film

Writer-director Bruce Gooch's barnyard gothic is set on a farm where the horses are dead, the cows sold and the dog eaten by coyotes. Mom's dead, too, and son Zac (Ryan Johnston) is in exile. This leaves Papa (John D. Johnston) alone to work the land, whether or not it needs working, because it's a sin to slack. (The Johnstons are real life nephew and uncle.) Set designer David Potts has draped the walls in dense netting and installed a front porch that looms like a gallows. It's an apt backdrop for when Zac returns to find his muscular pops has gone dangerously senile. And as the set is stockpiled with a hatchet, knife, saw and shotgun, I'd take dad seriously when he threatens that he won't leave his land without a fight. Though Ryan Johnston is miscast as the estranged son, his clashes with John D. Johnston spark. Too often, however, Gooch has them communicate to each other (and us) through monologues and memories -- the script sidesteps as often as it allows them to butt horns head-on. Andrea Robinson is quite fine as a local waitress who swings by to check on the fellas, but the stars of the show are the evocative technics (even if in one climax, the symbolic thunder drowned out the big speech) and the elder Johnston whose presence dominates the play like a frontier Fury. Post Lennie Smalls, overall-clad dementia is tricky business -- at times, the play seems to want the subtitle, "Of Mice and Dad" -- but veteran actor John D. Johnston pivots on a nailhead from mulish to brutish to yearning, giving the play an immediacy it needs to unleash. Rogue Machine and Firefly: Theatre & Film at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-5563. (Amy Nicholson)

NEW REVIEW THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

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Photo courtesy of Chrysalis Stage

Irish scribe Oscar Wilde's Victorian comedy endures as an hilarious comedy of manners, its buoyant text brimming with comic hyperbole and epigrammatic couplets, delighting each new generation of audiences. The Chrysalis Stage places their modest sets and seating on the raised platform of the vast Whittier High School auditorium. Andrea Gwynnel Morgan directs and costumes her mostly young cast and stars as the pompous yet vulgar Lady Bracknell, performing well, despite an over-emphasis on nasal vocal tics and guttural wheezing. Regrettably too old for the part of Jack (the idle young gentleman who invents a fictitious relative to shirk his social duties), Gregory Zide lets the team down with bizarre gestures, a distractingly fake moustache and an attempt at a London society accent that instead wildly rambles throughout the Colonies from South Africa to Australia to Canada. Playing Jack's sneaky, foppish friend Algernon, the mouthpiece of Wilde, Harry Vaughn is fey and playful while Alyson King is clever as the prim and shallow socialite Gwendolen. Jeena Yi's interpretation of precocious Cecily is pure perfection with every line reading, gesture and exemplary comic timing. Chrysalis Stage at Vic Lopez Auditorium, Whittier High School, 12417 E. Philadelphia St., Whittier; schedule varies, call for schedule; thru Feb. 20 chrysalisstage.com. (562) 212-1991. (Pauline Adamek)

NEW REVIEW MLLE. GOD

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Photo by Patricia Williams

Playwright Nicholas Kazan's uninspired spin on Frank Wedekind's "Lulu" plays comes as a cautionary reminder of just how difficult it is to capture libido on a stage. What some might think is the essence of the erotic mystique will certainly seem for others to be little more than an embarrassingly self-revealing mistake. That the latter proves to be the case in director Scott Paulin's pallid production is not for the want of trying. Annika Marks' Lulu contains more provocative posturing-per-minute than one generally encounters at the average "gentleman's club." Unfortunately for a play attempting to explore issues of feminine sexual power and the hegemony of patriarchal gender constructs, Marks' miscalculated stridency conjures all the eros of a cold shower. To be fair, even the great Louise Brooks -- whose performance in Georg Pabst's classic 1929 screen adaptation, Pandora's Box, continues to reign as the definitive Lulu -- would have been lost in the sophomoric self-parody of a text that calls for a gentleman admirer (Tasso Feldman, double-cast with Gary Patent) to involuntarily blurt out an ecstatic "Yes!" every time Lulu bends over. Keith Szarabajka emerges with his dignity fully intact in a fine turn as the Lulu-obsessed painter Melville (also played by Robert Trebor). And Richard Hoover's versatile set and lighting designs, with Jason Thompson's sci-fi tinged video projections, lend the proceedings a stylish gloss. Late in the play, a character refuses to describe Lulu's sexual appeal, adding it is "a certain quality which I wouldn't want to ruin by naming it." Would that Kazan had taken his own advice. Performs with alternating casts. Ensemble Studio Theatre - L.A. at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 27. (323) 644-1929 or ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW NEVERMORE Writer-director Matt Ricthey's far-afield imagining of the life of Edgar Allan Poe is set in a decrepit manse owned by Monty (Briton Green), who hosts a weekend visit by his childhood friend, Edgar Allan (Joseph Gilbert). Hard times have forced the sale of the place where the two played together as kids. Soon after his arrival, things start to swirl in the vortex of a club-footed plot that implodes into gothic chaos. There's murder, parricide, drug addiction, alcoholism and ever-diminishing intrigue. The crowning touches are a dash of incest and a love triangle involving Monty, Poe and Lenore (Chloe Whiteford), Monty's ailing sister, magically risen from the grave. Dramatic license is one thing, but the conspicuous absence of logic and coherence is quite another. On the upside, Ritchey's provides creepy atmospheric density, including the forlorn "caw" of a raven. Patrick Emswiller's dour music is superb, as are the period costumes of Sarah Register. David Graybill's lighting scheme is well conceived, with a portrait of Lenore hanging over a mantle is beautifully accented with light. The set by Davis Campbell is simple, yet effective. Rounding out the capable cast are William Knight as Dudley the groundskeeper, and Steve Patterson as a lawyer named Catherwood. El Centro Theatre Chaplin Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave.; Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 5. (323) 960-1055 or plays411.com/nevermore. (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW GO SHADOW ANTHROPOLOGY
click to enlarge rsz_shadowanthropology.jpg
Photo by Nigel Dookhoo

Ten years after 9/11, the plight of rural Afghanis caught in the crossfire between American forces and the Taliban remains dire. Playwright-director Rick Mitchell lays bare the cruel urgency of their circumstances in this yet unpolished but potentially compelling production. Utilizing music (composer Max Kinberg) and puppetry (shadow artist Maria Bodmann) and depicted with the broad strokes of Brechtian-style theatrics, it begins with the recruitment, by a Blackwater-type firm, of a post grad in anthropology named Fe (Lymari Nadal). A left-leaning Puerto Rican native, Fe has the job of interviewing Afghanis for the U.S.'s human terrain project. Touted as a way to win hearts and minds, the project is a devious attempt to root out insurgents through entrapment. Overseeing the program is a well-paid defense operative named Evan (David Lee Garver) -- an unprincipled super-patriot whose sprawling ego is pumped up by his coke-and-heroin habit and his steady intake of Viagra. A practiced slimeball, Evan nonetheless proves no match for the region's chief warlord, Gulab (Andrew Qamar Johnson), a brazen villain with no compunction about engineering the murder of a hapless farmer (Ray Haratian), whose 21 year old daughter (Claudia Vazquez) he has procured in marriage for his septuagenarian uncle (Eduardo R. Terry). Despite roughness around the edges on opening night, the performances are on track, especially Garver's and Johnson's, whose scenes together zone in on the ubiquitous venality on both sides. Illustrating Afghani women's nightmares is another grotesquely funny segment in which Vazquez' martyred bride undertakes, for her family's survival, to fornicate with her moribund but still lecherous spouse.Part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; in rep thru Feb. 25. sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW GO STATE OF INCARCERATION

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Photo by Anne Maike Mertens

Scared Straight!
has nothing on this often compelling piece of political theater from the Los Angeles Poverty Department, a scathing indictment of the California penal system. The production, by co-directors John Malpede and Henriette Brouwers, starts out unpromisingly enough, with the presentation of a rather tedious Skype video-call from attorney Michael Bien, one member of the legal team that is involved with suing the State for prison overcrowding and inhumane conditions. While this sequence drags, it undeniably provides the expository Parabasis-skewering prison conditions and laws such as "Three Strikes," which have helped to bloat the incarcerated population to farcical levels. The scene also sets the stage for the far more powerful second part, in which the theater curtain is pulled and we find ourselves in the center of a prison dormitory. In some shows, one may feel like one is in prison; in this one, that intent is deliberately visceral: Metal bunk beds line the walls and center of the theater and audience members are crammed into the room, often sharing bunk beds with the actors playing the inmates. The directors interspersed disturbing silences between a series of monologues and starkly delivered poems that illustrate the despair and hopelessness of prison life. In one such silence, convicts recline on their beds, and the guards patrol every inch of the room. During this sequence, the charged quiet belies the undercurrents of seething rage, and the piece approaches the claustrophobia, sorrow, and anger of being in prison. Although it's true that sitting on a nice bunk bed surrounded by a pleasant assortment of theater people and NPR listeners is by no means comparable to being in The Hole at Pelican Bay, Malpede and Brouwers' taut production is evocative and edgy, enhanced by the ensemble's passionate and committed performances. LAPD at Highways performance Space, 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 5. (310) 315-1549. (Paul Birchall)

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