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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Pursued by Happiness

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Mon, Mar 28, 2011 at 11:55 PM
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click to enlarge rsz_pursuedbyhappiness.jpg
Photo by Deverill Weekes

Sensible shoes and charmingly dorky delivery aside, Frank Orlis (Mark St. Amant) cuts a dashing figure during the courtship dance. "I have zero recollection of any day but the day at hand," he tells the object of his single-minded pursuit, fellow biochemist Julie Moore (Avery Clyde), while simultaneously informing her he's been watching her. The lay-up works, even if Frank couldn't be less of a Romeo; women, even stoic, serious ones like Julie, respond to feeling like they alone are worth remembering. Keith Huff's new play wriggles in these insights unobtrusively, even if the big-picture ideas ("We're not pursuing happiness as much as happiness is biologically pursuing us") are a little too obvious. But the play is a nice change of scenery from traditional romcoms: The whirlwind romance is actually a practical plot, and the measured Frank and Julie don't ride off into a fairy-tale sunset. Family visits that give the design team a chance to show off (Craig Siebels' set, Adam Flemming's projection, and Jocelyn Hublau's costumes) are so evocatively detailed, but they do feel a little device-y, and leave too many unanswered questions, including one that leaves the audience squirming as well. Still, agile in their double duty as both sets of parents, Elizabeth Herron and Tom Knickerbocker easily could've been Huff's sole motivation for writing the ultimately unsatisfying scenes. Robin Larsen directs. The Road Theatre Company at Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 14. (877) 369-9112. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

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

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication April 1, 2011

NEW REVIEW BLIND SPOTS Sibling rivalry and one-upmanship reach sinister heights when two sisters with diametrically opposed beliefs clash in Colette Freedman's patchy black comedy. The setting is a small East Coast university town. Gretchen (Vanessa Waters), a gay journalist, becomes incensed and decides to publish an editorial damning the anti-gay decrees from the liberal-arts college president. Problem is, this president is her abusive, homophobic older sister, Kate (director Elise Robertson). Gretchen's act of public humiliation ignites an all-out war between the sisters as the pair dredge up recriminations, accusations and even threaten blackmail. Meanwhile Gretchen's cute and sporty young lover, Janna (Jade Sealey), is unaware she might get hit by some shrapnel. Playwright Freedman co-stars as Gretchen's BFF Frieda, giving us a hilarious drunk act and some deliciously bitchy put-downs. Freedman punctuates the often inane banter and heated arguments with plaintive 1960s folk tunes by Cat Stevens and Jesse Colin Young, performed live by Logan Lozier (doubling as the sisters' tragically departed brother). Placing Lozier upstage center, on a raised platform, lends him an angelic presence. Freedman's play features powerful themes and quirky characters (notably the Afro-centric wacky mom Birdy, played by Helen Mary Wilson), but the writing isn't nearly as strong as her ideas. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs., 3 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru April 24. (818) 381-3024, blindspotplay.com. (Pauline Adamek)

NEW REVIEW COME SUNDOWN

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Photo by Agnes Magyari

Myriad missteps in this premiere production of Anthony Cronin's subtext-starved play lead to its stumbling journey. Magical realism meets harsh reality when Mortimer (Jeison Azali), a money-driven developer, eyes a large swath of land occupied by a simple shaman couple, Eva (Sofia Yepes and Nancy Berggren as the young/old incarnations, respectively) and Zak (Bram Barouh and Shelly Kurtz), whose exceedingly corny devotion to each other and the land is marked by syrupy, pseudospiritual outpourings. Swooping in to save the eco-friendly day are Noelle (Shane Adler) and Tom (Timothy George), a pair of green-hearted young lawyers who refuse to let old Eva and Zak be bullied or bribed off their land. But while Noelle and Tom try to save Eva and Zak's quaint, timeless love nest and its surrounding acreage, Eva and Zak are working their woodsy magic to heal the younger couple's wounded hearts and make more of them than business partners. Hefty themes of overpopulation and man's mistreatment of Mother Earth ring hollow amidst the ridiculously saccharine love story. Kurtz's cartoonish acting style kills any chance of genuine tenderness between old Zak and Eva, while George and Adler make mechanical choices that add up to an underdeveloped love connection. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Drive, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru April 14. (310) 397-3244. (Amy Lyons)

NEW REVIEW ELIZABETH BATHORY, THE BLOOD COUNTESS

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Photo by Bea Egeto

Writer/director Bea Egeto's hourlong historical account of the 16th-century serial killer Elizabeth Bathory takes the audience through a fun chronology of blood, lust and justice, but falls short of capturing the complexity of the subject. The Countess Bathory had an obsession with staying young, convincing herself that the blood of young maidens could sustain her youth. She and her small circle of cohorts began kidnapping girls and covering up their disappearances. Eventually enough people suspected her of wrongdoing that she was locked away, claiming her innocence right up until she died in prison, without trial. A large, fantastic cast and razor-sharp staging keep the pace moving, and both Charlotte Bjornbak's young Bathory and Leaha Boschen's storytelling prisoner Bathory tap into the historical countess's dangerous psychosis with aplomb. However, at the top of the play, when Bathory, rotting in prison, implores us to listen to her side of the story, what follows is such a straightforward interpretation of events, when she finally asks us to judge her, we never really get a sense of why she feels so steadfastly innocent. Zombie Joe's Underground Theater, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m., thru April 30. (818) 202-4120. (Luis Reyes)

NEW REVIEW GO GLORY DAYS The thing about the Golden Age of one's life is that when it's happening you think it will never change -- but somehow it always does, and rarely for the better. Composer Nick Blaemire and writer John Gardiner's unusually wise and energetic musical is all about the inevitability of growing up and how we frequently outgrow even our most valued friends. A year after high school graduation, four small-town pals reunite on the local football field, intending to perform a silly prank at the next day's varsity game. Group ringleader Will (Derek Klena) is deeply nostalgic about his friendship with his old pals, all of whom remember him fondly but have moved on: Wisecracking cynic Skip (Alex Robert Holmes) is attending an Ivy League college, while strong, silent Jack (Ian Littleworth) appears to have lost his zest for the old pals. Only red-haired frat boy Andy (Matthew Koehler) seems to be interested in keeping the friendship going, and he's turning into a bit of a thug. Things take a turn when one of the pals makes an unexpected revelation that pretty much reduces the friendship to post-it-in-the-memory-album status. Director Calvin Remsberg's brisk, vivid staging beautifully conveys the passion and vigor of youth -- and musical director James May's lively interpretation of Blaemire's sometimes haunting, sometimes ferocious rock-musical score artfully captures that moment when silly teenagers suddenly realize they're becoming somebody else. This is indeed the sort of show in which the four characters, archetype man-boys all, could easily have strayed into sentimental cliché, but the ensemble limns the sort of tautly defined, personality-rich figures whom you will swear you recall from your own high school days. Klena, a likable young actor, possesses a powerhouse voice and his belts, particularly in the opening and closing numbers, show great range and harmony. Nicely sensitive turns are also offered by Holmes' sardonic but warm Skip (a Jughead surrogate if ever there was one), and by Littleworth, whose rendition of "Open Road," a song about a year spent wandering the country, is the show's evocative highlight. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 24. (323) 965-9996. (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW GO JAMAICA FAREWELL For some people, the American promise lives on. Jamaican-born Debra Ehrhardt always dreamed of coming to the United States, and in 85 animated minutes she relates how a combination of luck and pluck enabled her to do just that. Constructed around this single burning desire, the first part of her autobiographical solo show tells of her formative years in Kingston as the churchgoing daughter of a gentle religious mom and a dad whose drinking and gambling escapades frequently left his family without furniture (his forfeited collateral) or food. In her teens, and frustrated by bureaucratic barriers to obtaining a visa, Ehrhardt began to look around for that magical panacea -- an American male to marry her and carry her off to America. While all these coming-of-age anecdotes are engaging, it is really the second half of her story that intrigues, as it spins into a harrowing adventure filled with brothels, a near-rape, smuggling and the CIA. Throughout, Ehrhardt assumes multiple roles, ably shifting between characters, notwithstanding her sometimes rapid-fire delivery, under Joel Zwick's direction. Unfortunately the wide proscenium at this particular venue fails to foster the intimacy that would serve this story best. (I was sitting toward the back.) With their tropical flavor, Francois-Pierre Couture's set design and J. Kent Inasy's lighting are attractive to view, but Couture's backdrop of horizontal slats ultimately distracts our focus from the performer, whereas Inasy's timid lighting changes don't adequately dramatize the many transitions in her performance. Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., thru April 17. (818) 955-8101. (Deborah Klugman)

GO THE MOTOR TRADE

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Photo by Jeff Murray

Alex Morris and Dan Martin star in Norm Foster's "black comedy." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24.  Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 422-6361, theatretheater.net. See Stage feature on Wednesday.


GO OUR TOWN

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Photo by Donald Songster

Thornton Wilder's chronicle of life in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, 1901 to 1913. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through April 16. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org. See Stage Feature on Wednesday.


NEW REVIEW GO PURSUED BY HAPPINESS

click to enlarge rsz_pursuedbyhappiness.jpg
Photo by Deverill Weekes

Sensible shoes and charmingly dorky delivery aside, Frank Orlis (Mark St. Amant) cuts a dashing figure during the courtship dance. "I have zero recollection of any day but the day at hand," he tells the object of his single-minded pursuit, fellow biochemist Julie Moore (Avery Clyde), while simultaneously informing her he's been watching her. The lay-up works, even if Frank couldn't be less of a Romeo; women, even stoic, serious ones like Julie, respond to feeling like they alone are worth remembering. Keith Huff's new play wriggles in these insights unobtrusively, even if the big-picture ideas ("We're not pursuing happiness as much as happiness is biologically pursuing us") are a little too obvious. But the play is a nice change of scenery from traditional romcoms: The whirlwind romance is actually a practical plot, and the measured Frank and Julie don't ride off into a fairy-tale sunset. Family visits that give the design team a chance to show off (Craig Siebels' set, Adam Flemming's projection, and Jocelyn Hublau's costumes) are so evocatively detailed, but they do feel a little device-y, and leave too many unanswered questions, including one that leaves the audience squirming as well. Still, agile in their double duty as both sets of parents, Elizabeth Herron and Tom Knickerbocker easily could've been Huff's sole motivation for writing the ultimately unsatisfying scenes. Robin Larsen directs. The Road Theatre Company at Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 14. (877) 369-9112. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

NEW REVIEW GO A RAISIN IN THE SUN When it premiered on Broadway in 1959, Lorraine Hansberry's moral fable about class, racial identity and black aspiration was a play perfectly pitched to the political spirit of its time. In her depiction of South Chicago's Younger family, and through the device of a divisive financial legacy, Hansberry neatly collapses five generations of African-American struggle into a stirring stage anthem potently attuned for a Civil Rights movement then entering the climactic decade of its fight for social and economic justice. Director Phylicia Rashad's powerful and poignant revival makes a convincing case that, 52 years later, Hansberry's play has lost none of its melodramatically charged punch. As the family matriarch, Lena, L. Scott Caldwell's performance is a sterling study in faith and fortitude, a woman bowed but unbroken by a lifetime of selfless toil in pursuit of an elusive dream of a better life for the extended family sharing her cramped apartment. That dream finally seems within her grasp thanks to a $10,000 settlement of her late husband's life insurance policy. Instead, the windfall only aggravates the generational divide between Lena and her bitter firebrand of a self-absorbed son, Walter Lee (a forceful Kevin Carroll), who has his own ideas of how to use the money to better the lot of his pregnant wife, Ruth (Deidrie Henry) and 10-year-old son, Travis (Brandon David Brown). The stellar ensemble shines in a production enriched by lighting designer Elizabeth Harper and scenic designer Michael Ganio, whose hauntingly lit tenement towers loom over the Younger household like the crushing weight of history itself. An Ebony Repertory Theatre production. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 17. (323) 964-9768, ebonyrep.org. (Bill Raden)

NEW REVIEW RENT Jonathan Larson's Tony Award winner about the lives of idealistic starving artists living in the squalor of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen is much better suited for presentation in a small theater than one of those cavernous Broadway houses. A more intimate venue, like the comparatively modest Hudson Backstage Theatre that director Jerianne Banson uses in her otherwise uneven production, allows the audience to better connect with the characters and the music. Banson's intermittently chaotic staging crackles with the very vital passion of youth. Some of the show, however, is an exercise in what happens when a great deal of enthusiasm collides with a lack of leavening experience. Larson's musical concerns a group of Hell's Kitchen bohemians, residing either on the mean streets or in a filthy, cold loft, who try to make ends meet while staying faithful to their beloved art. Young filmmaker Mark (Anthony Michael Knott) finds himself in a bizarre love triangle when his girlfriend leaves him for a woman -- while Mark's aspiring-songwriter roommate, Roger (Matt Pick), falls for beautiful but unwell stripper Mimi (Dominique Cox). Apart from the show's most obvious question -- how do these kids afford wraparound head microphones, but not hot water -- the strength of director Banson's production is totally connected to the vivacity of her youthful cast and its unabashed love for the material. On the other hand, Shoshona Zisk's musical direction frequently falters: Although some of the songs are powerful -- particularly Pick and Cox's meet-cute number, "Light My Candle," many of the other numbers suffer from maladroit execution and weak harmonics. Notwithstanding the performers' omnipresent mics, the band frequently upstages the singing, drowning out the performers, who are forced to sing-holler louder to compensate. The show is double-cast. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 23. (323) 960-7822. (Paul Birchall)

NEW REVIEW GO ROCKIN' WITH THE AGES 3, THE MUSICAL This is the third in a series of musical revues designed to give older performers a chance to prove they can still kick up their heels and shine: All (except the instrumental combo) are over 60 years of age, but they are solid pros, with impressive résumés and a treasure trove of skills. The book, by director Bill Reid and musical director Mark Rodriguez, is totally predictable, but it's enlivened by the large ensemble's terrific performances, and by a wonderful array of golden oldies from the 1960s and '70s, including "My Guy," "Hit the Road, Jack," "Stop in the Name of Love," "I'll Be There," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "It's My Party, and I'll Cry if I Want To." The show's first two editions tended to be a bit old-fashioned and tinged with amateurism, but this time around, it's slicker, faster and more consistently entertaining, and audiences respond with fervor and enthusiasm. Raquel Brussolo supplies the crisp choreography, and instrumental accompaniment is provided by an energetic combo headed by Rodriguez on keyboards, Ma'Ryia Mahome on bass, James Munoz on guitar, Leslie Pereira on drums and Rene Van der Tas on second guitar. Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 1. (818) 606-6679, PinkLady7@earthlink.net. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW GO STREEP TEASE If you're a fan of Meryl Streep you'll like director Ezra Weisz's campy homage to the Academy Award-winning actress. The show debuted two years ago and is the brainchild of stand-up comedian Roy Cruz, who has added a few tweaks without altering any of its ticklish appeal. The show uses seven male actors, who perform monologues from a sampling of Streep's oeuvre. This reviewer is a big fan and has seen all of the movies selected (which helps in appreciating the saucy humor on display), although even if you're not familiar with Streep's work, Streep Tease offers lots of fun and laughs. In addition to the performances, Cruz picks audience members to participate in a contest to test their "Streep Wise" worthiness, with a gift going to the winner. Matthew Nouriel does a riotously funny take on Sara Woodruff from The French Lieutenant's Woman (complete with the foggy backdrop), and then does an even funnier version set in a Muslim country with all the customary restraints. Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada is brought to life by Cruz, who does a wickedly bitchy turn salted with just the right tinge of icy detachment. And who could forget the nun from hell, the bossy, fussy, bullying Sister Aloysius Beauvier from Doubt, here fully realized with knuckle-busting ruler, two rosaries and bonnet, by Bryan T. Donovan. BANG, 457 Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m., thru May 28. (323) 653-6886. (Lovell Estell III)

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