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Stage Raw: Extraordinary Chambers

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Thu, Jun 2, 2011 at 7:10 PM

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click to enlarge Extraordinary Chambers - MICHAEL LAMONT
  • Michael Lamont
  • Extraordinary Chambers
David Wiener's drama about an American couple with a fragile marriage on a business trip to Cambodia opened on Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse. Check back here on Monday night for Mayank Keshaviah's review, along with all of this coming weekend's New Theater Reviews. Check back tomorrow for a complete list of review assignments.

Tag-team festival coverage: The L.A. Weekly and Back Stage have entered an agreement to repeat last summer's tag-team coverage of the Hollywood Fringe. The two papers will coordinate to avoid double-covering events, in order to maximize the number of productions reviewed. Some Back Stage reviews will appear in the Weekly, and vice versa. Each paper's website will post a full docket of performances reviewed by both papers.

For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below.



COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS FOR June 3-9, 2011

Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III,

Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Amy Lyons, Steven

Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, 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

Blackbird Los Angeles premiere by David Harrower. Starting June 5, Sun., June 5, 5 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 5 p.m.; Mon., July 11, 5 p.m.; Mon., July 18, 5 p.m. Continues through July 25, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 422-6361, theatretheater.net.

Bordering on Love Evangeline Ordaz's comedy about a drag queen beauty-pageant contestant on the verge of losing his Latina stylist to deportation. Starting June 4, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through July 2. Company of Angels at the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, L.A., (323) 883-1717.

Cold Storage Ed Asner and Alan Feinstein star in this JCC's Celebrity Staged Play Reading. Sun., June 5, 2 p.m. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 938-2531, westsidejcc.org.

Encounter World premiere of Ari Blake Wintraub's story a couple thrown together in the wake of 9/11. Starting June 9, Thursdays, Fridays, 9 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 2 p.m.; Sat., July 9, 2 p.m. Continues through July 2. Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 844-7008, lineagedance.org.

Five Uneasy Pieces Todd Waring's study of diverse characters, including an elderly Southern woman, an Aussie art teacher and a French singer. Starting June 9, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 25, fiveuneasypieces.com. Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A..

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum The Ancient Rome comedy, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 10. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-1970.

The Gallerist By Fengar Gael, part of "Botanicum Seedlings: A Development Series for Playwrights." Sun., June 5, 11 a.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Life in the Middle Ages World premiere of Steve Ochs' one-man middle-age lament. Warning: Rated NC-30. Thu., June 9, 4 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 18, 7 p.m.; Mon., June 20, 7 p.m.; Tue., June 21, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 7 p.m., (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/middleages. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

LoveSick "A love story set a dream-world," written and directed by Larissa Wise. Starting June 4, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 17. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., No. 105, L.A., (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com.

The Marvelous Wonderettes Welcome to the 1958 Springfield High School prom, courtesy of playwright Roger Bean. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 19. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (562) 944-9801.

The Merry Wives of Windsor/A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare in rep, see website for schedule. Thru Sept. 25. Sat., June 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Moose on the Loose Dina Morrone's comedy about "a large and loving albeit chaotic Italian extended family." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 10. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.

Much Ado About Nothing Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Thu., June 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 1, 8 p.m., shakespearebythesea.org. Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro, (310) 548-7705.

A Noise Within: Retrospective The Glendale location's final curtain call, followed by a champagne and dessert reception and a silent auction. Fri., June 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., June 4, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 2 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org.

The Old Settler John Henry Redwood's Harlem story circa World War II. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 26. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.org.

The Poor of New York The Group Repertory Theatre presents Dion Boucicault's classic melodrama. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 10. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.

Richard Wakes Up The Wild Onion Theatre Company presents Andrew Lampl's tale of man on a journey underground. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 12, wildoniontheatre.org. Lee Strasberg Institute, Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

Sex and Education Lissa Levin's West Coast premiere about a high school English teacher versus a jock. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through July 10. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 841-5421, thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

Superior Donuts Tracy Letts' drama set in a doughnut shop run by a former hippie radical and his African-American assistant. Starting June 8, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 12, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through July 10. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.

Working: The Musical The TRIBE Productions presents Stephen Schwartz's musical about life on the job. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 10, thetribeproductions.org. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-5774, complexhollywood.com.

Year Zero Michael Golamco's study of two young Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach. Starting June 4, Sat., June 4, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through July 3. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

The Emperor's New Clothes Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of a monarch's invisible attire. Fri., June 3, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 4, 11 a.m., 2 & 4:30 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 2 & 4:30 p.m. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.

Extraordinary Chambers David Wiener's story of a business trip to Cambodia gone awry. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through July 3. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.

Funky Punks Circus Spectacular Troubadour Theater Company's kid-friendly clown extravaganza. Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m. Continues through June 5. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com.

The Gallerist By Fengar Gael, part of "Botanicum Seedlings: A Development Series for Playwrights." Sun., June 5, 11 a.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Girls Night: The Musical Five 30- and 40-something girlfriends spend a wild night out at a karaoke bar. Written by Louise Roche, adapted by Betsy Kelso. Tuesdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Thursdays, Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 5. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com.

GO Krunk Fu Battle Battle Why is it that we keep going back to that hole-in-the-wall restaurant around the corner, despite its hackneyed decor, lack of ambience and slow service? It's because the food is so damn good. Similarly, this world-premiere musical features a book (Qui Nguyen) that's amusing but a bit thin, lyrics (Beau Sia) that are clever but not stellar, and pleasant enough vocals (Marc Macalintal); however, the dancing -- Rynan Paguio's music and Jason Tyler Chong's choreography -- kills and keeps you coming back. The plot is basically The Karate Kid in Brooklyn, but instead of breaking boards, they're breaking it down b-boy style. "Daniel-san" Norman Lee (Lawrence Kao) and his mother, Jean (Joan Almedilla), are forced to move back from Connecticut to the mean streets she grew up on. "Mr. Miyagi" Sir Master Cert (Blas Lorenzo) takes Norman under his wing after Norman crosses reigning b-boy kings Three-Point (Leng Phe), Hype (Troy Terashita) and L.A. (Cesar Cipriano) in coming to the defense of his friend Wingnut (Matt Tayao). The battle is on and only ramps up when Norman falls for Three-Point's girl, the beautiful Cindy Chang (Liza B. Domingo). Director Tim Dang's clever use of projection screens and his lightning-fast transitions keep the show humming, but its tone remains uneven as Dang alternately plays the text earnestly and tongue-in-cheek. The dance tracks seamlessly incorporate a wide range of musical influences, and the dancers (especially the impressive Phe) contort their bodies in seemingly impossible ways. Highlighting their physical pyrotechnics is Dan Weingarten's nimble, kaleidoscopic lighting, which, combined with Adam Flemming's bold set, creates an amazing "glowffiti" effect that pops and locks. (Mayank Keshaviah). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 26, $40-$50. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A., (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org.

The Marvelous Wonderettes Welcome to the 1958 Springfield High School prom, courtesy of playwright Roger Bean. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 19. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (562) 944-9801.

The Merry Wives of Windsor/A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare in rep, see website for schedule. Thru Sept. 25. Sat., June 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Moose on the Loose Dina Morrone's comedy about "a large and loving albeit chaotic Italian extended family." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 10. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.

A Noise Within: Retrospective The Glendale location's final curtain call, followed by a champagne and dessert reception and a silent auction. Fri., June 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., June 4, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 2 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org.

The Old Settler John Henry Redwood's Harlem story circa World War II. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 26. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.org.

GO Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays This highly acclaimed evening of short plays by award-winning playwrights, dealing with the subject of marriage equality, was first presented as a one-time benefit to support gay marriage. Now it's scheduled for a special series of Monday night performances, to benefit the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's efforts to promote marriage equality, with a different celebrity cast each week. All nine plays are winners -- funny, clever, stylish and compassionate -- and none is allowed to devolve into mere propaganda. This Marriage Is Saved, by Joe Keenan, concerns a Christian evangelist, caught in flagrante delicto with a gay hustler, who attempts to salvage his conservative credentials by writing a book called Now I Only Kneel to Pray. In Strange Fruit, writer Neil LaBute looks at a happy gay couple who plan to marry till grim reality intervenes. In On Facebook, Doug Wright adapts a real online exchange in which fur flies as six people, of widely differing views, tangle violently on the subject of gay marriage. Moisés Kaufman sets his moving London Mosquitos at a Jewish funeral, in which a man mourns the loss of his longtime lover to vicious gay-bashers. And Paul Rudnick's The Gay Agenda provides a funny and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a hysterical member of Focus on the Family, who feels her whole existence is under siege by gays and lesbians. The other plays, by Wendy McLeod, Jenny Lynn Bader, Jordan Harrison and Jose Rivera, are equally sharp. If director Brian Schnipper can assemble celebrity casts as skillful as the one reviewed (Amy Aquino, John Getz, Harriet Harris, Peter Paige, Tom Everett Scott and Cynthia Stevenson), this production is a luxury item. (Neal Weaver). Mon., June 6, 8 p.m.; Mon., June 20, 8 p.m.; Mon., June 27, 8 p.m., StandingOnCeremony.net. Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A., (323) 860-7300, lagaycenter.org.

Superior Donuts Tracy Letts' drama set in a doughnut shop run by a former hippie radical and his African-American assistant. Starting June 8, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 12, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through July 10. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.

Three Days of Rain Richard Greenberg's play about two generations of intertwined families. Sundays, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m. Continues through June 12. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.

The Ugly Duckling Interactive kids' musical by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Adryan Russ. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 9, (818) 761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., theatrewest.org.

Year Zero Michael Golamco's study of two young Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach. Starting June 4, Sat., June 4, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through July 3. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org.

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

AfterMath Elliot Shoenman's comedic drama about a widow trying to cope with her husband's suicide. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 26, (800) 595-4849, aftermaththeplay.com. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A..

Attack of the 50 Ft. Sunday Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

Between Us Chickens One-dimensional characters become no less uninteresting when they reveal dark secrets in this triangular love story set in present-day L.A. The setup to Sofia Alvarez's play relies so heavily on the creation of stock characters that it's painfully clear things are not what they seem from the get-go. The problem is compounded by a situational dilemma that's hard to buy, huge swaths of expository dialogue and nearly imperceptible stakes. Sarah (Annabelle Bork) and Meagan (Amelia Alvarez) are Pennsylvania transplants struggling to make meaning in L.A. The 20-something women act out their acclimation anxiety in drastically different ways, Sarah shutting herself in their apartment all day and Meagan hitting a new club every night. Though the pairing of polar opposites can be the stuff of great comedy and/or dramatic strife, Alvarez's hand is too clumsy to make the contrast crackle. When Meagan brings home Charles (Ben Huber), a homeless L.A. native who exhibits strange behavior (he answers Sarah's phone and tells her mother he is Sarah's boyfriend, for instance), things go from mildly inauthentic to entirely implausible. With minimal protest from the exceedingly high-strung Sarah, Meagan invites the wacko Charles to crash on the couch until he can find another place to stay. The girls begin to reverse roles as Charles puzzlingly becomes the object of their desire. A dark Internet scam forces the plot into convoluted territory, while a tired viewpoint of L.A. as a city where moral codes go to die is an ever-present drumbeat of the play. (Amy Lyons). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 19. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., (323) 644-1929, AtwaterVillageTheatre.com.

Blackbird Los Angeles premiere by David Harrower. Starting June 5, Sun., June 5, 5 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 5 p.m.; Mon., July 11, 5 p.m.; Mon., July 18, 5 p.m. Continues through July 25, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 422-6361, theatretheater.net.

Bordering on Love Evangeline Ordaz's comedy about a drag queen beauty-pageant contestant on the verge of losing his Latina stylist to deportation. Starting June 4, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through July 2. Company of Angels at the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, L.A., (323) 883-1717.

GO Caught In the aftermath of Proposition 8 passing in November 2008, one of the regrets of those who fought valiantly for gay marriage and against the proposition was that enough wasn't done to "normalize" gay couples. And while the events in David L. Ray's world-premiere play take place in July 2008, Caught furthers the cause by dramatizing one of those healthy relationships. In it, Angelenos Angelenos Kenneth (Corey Brill) and Troy (Will Beinbrink) are on the eve of their nuptials, a ceremony that will be officiated by their friend Splenda (Micah McCain), who is ordained via the Internet. This blissful scene is interrupted by a visit from Kenneth's estranged sister, Darlene (Deborah Puette), who is very Southern and very Christian, as well as her daughter, Krystal (Amanda Kaschak). In the interludes between scenes, we also see Darlene's husband, T.J. (Richard Jenik), preaching to his conservative congregation in Georgia. Secrets, lies and surprising revelations fuel the drama. Director Nick DeGruccio deftly takes Ray's strong and likable characters from page to stage, sparingly playing up stereotypes for comedy without ever reducing the characters to them. Adding to the authenticity are Adam Flemming's delightfully detailed set and Katherine Hampton Noland's colorful couture. Adding to the emotional investment in the story is a talented cast; standouts include Puette, for her rich and intense portrayal of Darlene; McCain, for balancing divalike comedy with deep sincerity; and Kaschak, for combining fresh-faced innocence and a willfulness to create a very believable teenager. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 26, (800) 595-4849, CaughtThePlay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..

NEW REVIEW COME

TOGETHER: A BEATLES CABARET This homage to the music of John, Paul,

George and Ringo has some terrific moments, but director John Carey and

his cast have some rough edges to smoothen. The show is all about the

Fab Four's love songs, and Carey has selected a cross section of songs

that are fit for the occasion. The music is provided via recording and

incorporates a range of musical styles. The cast of three men and three

women (Scott Charles, Barret Crake, Sheryl Kramer, Amy Tanya Shuster,

Heather Stewart, and John Szura) do many of the songs justice, but there

are a number of instances where the singing isn't up to par.

Inconsistency is the glaring fault with this show, with two of the cast

members either struggling to hit the notes, or not singing loudly enough

to project the lyrics. The gender balance in the ensemble makes for

some wonderful duets, none more so than Szura and Kramer teaming up for

"In My Life" Crake and Shuster's "And I Love Her" -- amidst other

impressively rendered songs. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W.

Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru. June 17. attictheatre.org/tickets (Lovell Estell III)

Curse of the Starving Class Director Scott Paulin poorly serves Sam Shepard's 1978, semi-autobiographical fantasy about a Southern California nuclear family caught up in the throes of spiritual and financial implosion. A certain ungainliness is understandable. Coming just before the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child, the play uneasily straddles the dazzling free-form experiments of Shepard's Off Off Broadway work and the mastery of traditional narrative form that would characterize his "mature" period. The titular curse is of the existential kind -- a starvation of the soul afflicting a family all but abandoned by their dissolute, alcoholic rancher/patriarch, Weston (Kevin McCorkle). His flighty wife, Ella (Laura Richardson), plots with a corrupt speculator (John Lacy) to sell the ranch from under him. Their mercurially hormone-addled, pubescent daughter, Emma (Juliette Goglia), merely wants to "get out." It is left to their embittered son, Wesley (Ian Nelson), to save the family farm by literally putting on his father's clothes and trying to piece the shattered household back together. Unfortunately, salvaging the dramatic gold lurking in the text's surreal collision of incompatible styles would take far more than Paulin's careless, clumsily literal staging. Jason Mullen's mundane lights and Victoria Profitt's disappointing, slapdash set illuminate none of the play's allegorical riches. And the ensemble's exasperatingly ham-handed approach to the language only succeeds in suffocating the screwball comedy while shredding the breathtaking lyricism of Shepard's poetry. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 4. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

Deus Ex Machina and the Hands of the Beholder Minutes into writer-director R.S. Bailey's "dark vaudevillian farce," one gets a sinking feeling. The play (which really feels like two discreet works) takes place in a semi-apocalyptic setting in which God's wrath is at hand and religious zealots have taken over the world. In the prologue, we meet a character named The Historian (Jezter Detroit), who rambles on about history, politics, cause and effect, great events, historical relativism and more. Prompted by the wail of police sirens, he quickly exits, after which the meat of the play begins. Bailey assumes the role of Old Testament Patriarch -- with a dash of mad scientist and Sorcerer's Apprentice tossed in -- who is searching for God before the Day of Judgment. Assisting him are his wife, Majda (Mary Dryden), and son Jesse (Jonathan Brett), who is working on a contraption called a Metatron where God is located, or as it turns out, the dwelling place of his voice. The inspiration for this is purportedly the story of Abraham and Isaac, but it doesn't come across as such, notwithstanding the bizarre sacrifice near the play's end. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 5, (323) 960-7788, plays411.com/dem. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., complexhollywood.com.

NEW REVIEW DRIVE A psychological thriller

tiptoes a thin line between delicious anticipation and skin-crawling

aggravation. When executed well, as in M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, or Rogue Machine's latest, John Pollono's Small Engine Repair,

the tease might be drawn out even until the final act, but the delayed

reveal is satisfying, having been shored up by a foundation of strong,

intriguing storytelling. Unfortunately, writer-director Laura Black's

world premiere play was set to fail before it even hit the stage: With

little attention given to constructing a compelling back story and to

developing the characters' relationships, asking the audience to invest

is a pointless pursuit. Peggy (Jane Hajduk) is chauffeuring her spinster

friends (Beth Robbins and Susan Sommer) to San Francisco when they have

a car accident. The three then attempt to recall what actually

happened. The circuitous, vague nature of the dialogue ("You've been

giving this too much power," "It's the question that brings the

answers") is mind-numbingly frustrating. Scenes that are supposed to

mimic the floating pieces of Peggy's memory stumble clumsily into each

other. Inane refrains ("lemon pudding") keep reemerging for no reason.

But the biggest missing piece of the puzzle is why we're even supposed

to care about the two women in the backseat, other than that they gave

Peggy money for a business that remains unnamed for the duration of the

play. The final insult is the pat, Public Service Announcement that

stands in for a climax. Presented by Playwrights 6 and Open Fist Theatre

Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru June 8. openfist.org (Rebecca Haithcoat)


Eleemosynary Lee Blessing's portrait of a grandmother, mother and daughter. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 5, (323) 860-6569. Berg Studio Theatre, 3245 Casitas Ave., Ste. 104, L.A..

Evil Women Kinetic Theory Circus Arts explores the nature and perception of the female sex through movement, trapeze, contortion, aerial hoop, dance and acrobatics. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 4. Kinetic Theory Theatre, 3604 Holdrege Ave., L.A., (310) 606-2617, kinetictheorytheatre.com.

Facebook The weekly show formerly known as MySpace. Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702.

GO Fernando Richardson's Treacherous Brain In playwright Monica Trasandes' poignant and humorous drama, a man undergoes brain surgery and, in the ensuing confusion, spills some secrets that threaten to shatter his marriage. Uruguayan Fernando (Roberto Montesinos, in an endearing performance) and his American wife, Kate (Natalie Sutherland), are warned by his surgeon that patients can be quite bewildered after a brain operation. But no one is prepared for the jumble of memories that comes tumbling out. At first it all sounds like nonsense, but Fernando's impassioned distress at the possible abduction of a woman named Elisa (a sultry Karla Zamudio), whom he met when visiting Argentina, prompts his best friend, Patrick (Mark Slater), to pursue the mystery. But sneaky Patrick may have an ulterior motive for unearthing the truth. Director Andre Barron elicits superb performances from his well-cast ensemble and allows time for tender, nonverbal moments. Trasandes' compassionate and subtle storytelling approach reveals shreds of information, while her intimate and warm dialogue illustrates the complexities of various devoted relationships. Above all, her carefully constructed play touches on deeper themes of culture clash and the burden of middle-class guilt and proves the heart is more powerful than the brain. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 9. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

Fifth of July Lanford Wilson's comedy-drama set in 1977 about reunited friends who once were antiwar activists in Berkeley. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 25, (800) 838-3006, theprodco.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A..

Five Uneasy Pieces Todd Waring's study of diverse characters, including an elderly Southern woman, an Aussie art teacher and a French singer. Starting June 9, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 25, fiveuneasypieces.com. Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A..

GO Flower to Flower Tom and Anna (Joseph L. Roberts, Marie Lively) are Plano, Texas, newlyweds with plans for a future together. But four months into the marriage, they have yet to consummate their union, and Anna is starting to worry, in addition to becoming exceedingly horny. Youth pastor Tom is all thumbs and has neither confidence nor experience when it comes to sex. He believes the problem can be solved with petitions for help to the Almighty. Anna, however, is far more practical, and thinks the path to orgasms can be found in bed, i.e., making love with another woman. Thus is established the tug of war between Jehovah and Eros that gives this hourlong piece its comic firewood. The idea of a "threesome" repulses Anna's white-bread husband, whose scriptural references about the evils of homosexuality are lucidly rebuffed when she points out that the Good Book says nothing about lesbians or lesbianism. Things really turn humorously erotic when Martha (Amy Harmon) happens along selling Mary Kay products. Notwithstanding an anemic ending, Christina Cigala's script bristles with lively dialogue and whips up its share of laughs. John Ennis directs capably, and the cast, which is rounded out by Ben Fuller in the role of Tom's brother, turn in good performances. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 4, (213) 290-2782, BrimmerStreet.org. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A..

For the Record: Baz Luhrmann Show at Barre's tribute to the writer-director's songs and films. Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 9 p.m. Continues through June 11, (323) 661-6163 x20, showatbarre.com. Vermont, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., L.A..

GO Four Clowns Creator-director Jeremy Aluma's performance piece made quite a splash during its run at last year's Hollywood Fringe Festival. This latest incarnation, with some noticeable tinkering, is every bit as entertaining. The play blends music, dance, physical comedy and narrative performed by four archetypal clowns with red noses and painted faces: Sad Clown (Alexis Jones), Mischievous Clown (Kevin Klein), Angry Clown (Raymond Lee) and Nervous Clown (Amir Levi). Accompanied by the commanding virtuosity of Mario Granville on piano, the clowns tell of the common and uncommon: nasty fights with siblings; a trip to the doctor that resulted in molestation; teen angst; that special event known as a first date; a mom at home trying to cope with family issues. There is a lot of audience interaction that transpires, which adds to the fun. In one especially poignant moment, Lee opens a steamer chest (which is the only prop used) and finds a Christmas gift. What surprises most about this show is the ease and spontaneity with which the performers interact, and their manic energy, which at times seems to take over the stage. There is a fair amount of coarse language and X-rated material (not all of which is funny), so this isn't a show for the kiddies. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through June 10. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.

Fun Family Festival of Tragedy Starting June 4, Saturdays, Sundays, 12 & 2 p.m. Continues through June 26, $17, $10 students, lenfantterrible.org/. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com.

Groundlings State Penitentiary All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Rash. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through July 9. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

GO Gypsy With its huge cast, multiple settings, book by Arthur Laurents, score by Jules Stein and catchy lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, this show has become a quintessential Broadway musical, making demands that are hard to meet in a 99-seat theater. Director Richard Israel proves it can be scaled down without losing its pizzazz. And Jan Sheldrick, as the bullying, possessive Mama Rose, takes a role that has been played by the likes of Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler, and makes it triumphantly her own, with quiet moments as well as brassy ones. Stephanie Wall provides a fine performance as Rose Louise -- the future Gypsy Rose Lee -- marred only by the fact that she's not always audible. The large cast, headed by Michael Matthys as Mama Rose's browbeaten swain, Eric Allen Smith as the young song-and-dance man Tulsa and Kelly Swanson as Mama Rose's other daughter, Dainty June, provides fine support, along with veteran performers Larry Lederman and Tony Pandolfo. Sara J. Stuckey, Kelly Jean Cuir and Jessica Schatz score as the strippers who sing "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." Johanna Kent's music direction and John Todd's choreography keep things lively. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through July 3. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A., (323) 595-4849.

GO House of the Rising Son Tom Jacobson's comedy riffs in the style of Tennessee Williams, in a story about the initiation of a young Los Angeles man into a secret gay dynasty now situated in New Orleans, but dating back to Ancient Rome. Young folklore collector Felix (Steve Coombs) droolingly observes handsome, older biologist Dr. Trent Varro (Paul Whitten) giving a lecture in Los Angeles about parasites. Within 15 minutes of stage-time, they're graveyard hopping from Hollywood Forever to Forest Lawn, after which Felix finds himself with an invite to visit Trent's "family" in New Orleans for the weekend. Family would be dad (Patrick John Hurley ) and grandad (Rod Menzies). The comedy is a gay version of Meet the Parents, but with an actual idea attached that as parasites serve an ecosystem, gays similarly serve a social system. The play concerns issues of secrecy versus candor, of ghost stories versus empirical research, and the legacy of persecuted subcultures driven underground, who form their own rules to play by. Under Michael Michetti's direction, Menzies is particularly fine as the wry and cantankerous dying patriarch. As his son Hurley contains a genteel and gentle Southern swagger that's as endearing as it is wise. Whitten and Coombs also have a rapport that sparks. The visual delights include Richard Hoover's gothic carpeted set with furniture set at angles askew, like a House of Usher that's tilting from a sinking foundation. Sound designer Bruno Louchouarn floats in chords and brief anthems to accentuate moments of gothic melodrama. Nothing is what it seems. This whole blasted crew may just be swirl of ghosts. Though these characters talk and act as though from a play by Tennessee Williams, if they looked in the mirror, they might see Noel Coward's reflection. Spirits haven't been so blithe in a long time. (Steven Leigh Morris). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 12, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., (323) 644-1929, AtwaterVillageTheatre.com.

The House of Yes Wendy MacLeod's comedy about "the ultimate dysfunctional family." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 2. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-5068, theatre68.com.

GO I Never Sang for My Father If the aim of naturalism in theater is the pitch-perfect rendering of reality, then Cameron Watson's urbane staging of Robert Anderson's 1968 drama scores. It revolves around an aging, ailing and cantankerous egotist named Tom (Philip Baker Hall) and Tom's beleaguered son, Gene (John Sloan). A widowed college professor, the soft-spoken Gene has always sought his father's love but has never received it. With Tom now battling dementia, Gene struggles between a mix of duty and a desperate need to bond, and his equally strong desire to establish a new life for himself in California, 3,000 miles away. Constructed as a memory play, Anderson's highly personal work sometimes teeters on the edge of melodrama but ultimately transcends its suburban WASP milieu and mid-20th century perspective with its themes involving fathers and sons, family and self. Hall, a performer whose intense dynamic can barely be contained within the production's small venue, dominates the stage, barking at those around him; his Tom has become a fierce and wounded human animal. Sloan performs impeccably in the less flashy role of the tongue-biting adult Gene is laboring to be; so does Anne Gee Byrd as Tom's gracious, long-suffering wife. As sister Alice, banished from the family for marrying a Jew, the terrific Dee Ann Newkirk metamorphoses from a tight-lipped secondary character into the plot's fiery catalyst. The various shifts in time and place are effectively accommodated by designer John Iacovelli's spare set, with its transparent scrim elaborated on by projection designer Christopher M. Allison's color-imbued drawings. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 5, (310) 701-0788, NewAmericanTheatre.com. McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., L.A., mccaddentheatre.com.

iGhost This new musical, with book by Doug Haverty and music by Adryan Russ, is loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde's short story "The Canterville Ghost." In an effort to update the material, they've given the Ghost a taste for Internet porn. The songs are pleasant enough, and the orchestrations by music director Richard Berent sometimes have an engaging Renaissance lilt, but Haverty's book is contrived, formulaic and patently implausible. In Wilde's original, the Ghost, Sir Simon (Peter Welkin), murdered his wife, Lucinda (Dorie Braun), who placed a deathbed curse on him. Here, he's guilty only of refusing to investigate the imaginary night noises that alarmed Lucinda, so she had to go prowling herself, and fell down the stairs to her death. A young art student, Virginia (Rebecca Johnson), is touched by Simon's plight and sets out to lift the curse that dooms his spirit. Along the way, she wins the heart of the current Lord Canterville, Trevor (Zachary Ford). Director Jules Aaron's efforts are inhibited by the predictable book, but Welkin is a stylish and vocally strong Sir Simon, Johnson's Virginia is spunky and lively, Ford's Trevor offers diffident charm and Braun brings sweet dignity to the ghostly Lucinda. Despite their best efforts, the piece seems much ado about nothing. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 12, 7 p.m. Continues through June 18, (626) 695-8283, brownpapertickets.com/event/169940. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., lyrictheatrela.com.

ImagoFest 2011 Three one-acts by Mark Donnelly, Tim McNeil and Alex Aves. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 12. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 465-4446.

Julius Caesar Theatre Unleashed's all-female version of the Shakespeare tragedy, set in an American community coping with the domestic effects World War II. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 18. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 463-3900, studio-stage.com.

Just Imagine Tim Piper's John Lennon impersonation, including performances of Beatles hits and Lennon's solo work. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 12, (323) 960-4442. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., thehayworth.com.

Keep it Clean Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli. Mondays, 10:30 p.m., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1739.

Killer Queen Peter Griggs' one-man show about a gay boxer who idolizes Freddie Mercury. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through June 5, brownpapertickets.com/event/163688. Empowerment Center Boxing Gym, 8106 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

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). Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 25. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A., (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.org.

Lavender Love World premiere comedy by Odalys Nanin. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 5, 7 p.m. Continues through June 18, (323) 960-4429, plays411.com/lavenderlove. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood.

Life in the Middle Ages World premiere of Steve Ochs' one-man middle-age lament. Warning: Rated NC-30. Thu., June 9, 4 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 18, 7 p.m.; Mon., June 20, 7 p.m.; Tue., June 21, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 7 p.m., (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/middleages. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

LoveSick "A love story set a dream-world," written and directed by Larissa Wise. Starting June 4, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 17. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., No. 105, L.A., (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com.

Magic Strings Bob Baker's marionette variety revue, featuring puppet horses on a merry-go-round, an opera diva on roller skates, a "Day at the Circus," and an all-American grand finale. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A., (213) 250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.

NEW REVIEW GO THE MISTAKES MADELINE MADE

click to enlarge MOXIE STREET PICTURE SHOWS
  • Moxie Street Picture Shows

Ensconced

in a basement office at the home of an affluent Manhattan hedge fund

manager, his neurotic wife and spoiled child, Edna (Kiki Lambden) is one

of 15 assistants for the obsessively orderly household. (The family

has its own policy and procedures manual.) That she works in such a

dungeon-like atmosphere is fitting since she is punishing herself over a

personal tragedy. Despite this bleak backdrop, playwright Elizabeth

Meriwether's one-act is a hilariously uplifting study on forgiveness,

redemption, and showering. Edna's boss/warden is Beth (director

Kimberly Yates), who controls her minions with a criminal perkiness and

on whom Edna fixates her rage. In flashbacks we meet Edna's brother

Buddy (Armand DesHarnais), a reporter whose gruesome experiences

covering an unnamed war-ravaged country have led to his crack-up,

manifested in a fear of bathing. Ironically seeking refuge in Edna's

bathtub, Buddy rails on a country and its people, Edna included, who are

responsible for the horrors he's witnessed. In response to her own

trauma, Edna mirrors her brother's ailment and appends it with desperate

yet comical dalliances with three disparate writers (all portrayed

winningly by John Paul Karliak.) But can another psychologically

damaged co-worker (Troy Blendell), whose copy-machine mimicry and

awkward attempts to endure Edna's increasingly noxious aroma grate on

Edna, though perhaps aid in her healing? Yates' staging and cast are

ideal and an added plus to an engaging tale. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa

Monica Blvd.; Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 4. (323) 960-1054. plays411.com/mistakesmadelinemade. (Martín Hernández)

NEW REVIEW GO 100 SAINTS YOU SHOULD KNOW

click to enlarge SVEN ELLIRAND
  • Sven Ellirand

All

of the characters in Kate Fodor's play, now receiving its West Coast

premier, are searching for some sort of validation, though they seek it

in counter-productive ways. Single mom Theresa (Cheryl Huggins) cleans

houses to support her randy teen-aged daughter Abby (Kate Huffman). When

she takes a job at the local Catholic Church, her rudimentary faith is

revived, and she becomes convinced that the priest, Father Matthew

(Brendan Farrell), can provide some answers. But Matthew has problems

too: he's finding it impossible to pray, and he's been suspended from

his parish because of some George Platt-Lynes photos of male nudes found

in his room. He takes refuge in the home of his mother, Colleen (Pamela

Roylance), a conventionally devout Irish Catholic. There he encounters

Garrett (Marco Naggar), the touchingly naïve young man who delivers

Mom's groceries. Garrett fears he might be gay, and seeks out Matthew

because his Dad said Matthew's a fag. When skeptical Abby (she equates

Bible stories with Babar the Elephant) meets up with Garrett and a

bottle of hooch, the stage is set for disaster. Director Lindsay

Allbaugh deftly mines the rich comedy provided by Fodor's quirky

characters, and elicits lovely performances from all her actors. The

Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hlywd.;

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 26. (877) 369-9112. elephanttheatrecompany.com. (Neal Weaver)

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). Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., thedragonfly.com.

GO Re-Animator: The Musical Re-Animator: The Musical is based on Stuart Gordon's 1985 film, and Gordon is on hand to direct the new musical. The centerpiece is a love story (of course) that's a joke on every love story ever written. Idealistic young hospital intern Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna) has a poor time accepting the death of patients. Standing by a gurney, over the body of a woman who has flatlined, Dan administers CPR in vain, prodding her with electro pads, until the chorus of medics has to sing, "She's dead, Dan/Get it through your head, Dan." His distress over the cessation of life becomes an obsession that threatens his impending marriage to beautiful Meg Halsey (Rachel Avery), daughter of the local university's dean (George Wendt). Big Dean Halsey is an amiable, conservative fellow who's accepting of Dan as a potential son-in-law, despite his lack of old-money social credentials. Well, amiable until he's accidentally murdered, as he later interrupts a gooey romantic interlude between Meg and Dan by crashing through the door as a psychotic zombie. The romance is wrapped around a conflict between dueling scientists: self-proclaimed plagiarist Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin, in a mop wig, whose pinched facial expressions would creep out the most openhearted social worker) and a newcomer to Hill's lab, Herbert West (Graham Skipper, possessing the salty charm -- and costume -- of an embittered undertaker). While Hill drools over Meg, West rents a room from Dan (since Meg won't move in until they're wed). When the romantic couple's pet cat disappears, then ghoulishly reappears post-mortem via West's experiments (props by Jeff Rack), Dan enters a Faust-like partnership with West, seeing the potential fulfillment of his God-defying desire to harness the science of immortality. Mark Nutter's music and very witty lyrics (recalling songs by Tom Lehrer) careen from modern opera to light opera, from melodramatic wailing to -- when the story gets really gruesome -- Gilbert and Sullivanstyle patter songs. The special effects (by Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin and Greg McDougall), such as a body decapitated with a shovel and intestines unstrung from a corpse, are about as good as it gets -- gory without being so naturalistic as to bypass parody. The keys to this kingdom, however, are the combination of the brilliant comic ensemble and Gordon's pristine craftsmanship as a director, supplemented by Jeff Ravitz's lighting and musical director/arranger Peter Adams' building of suspense. Adams performs the score on a synthesizer tucked into the side of the hall, creating the slightly cheesy ambiance that's the life force of Grand Guignol. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 26, (800) 595-4849. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..

Richard Wakes Up The Wild Onion Theatre Company presents Andrew Lampl's tale of man on a journey underground. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 12, wildoniontheatre.org. Lee Strasberg Institute, Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

PostModern Family Sketch comedy by Rob Belushi, Andy Cobb, Celeste Pechous, David Pompeii and Katie Neff. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 24. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A., (323) 464-8542.

GO Small Engine Repair Laced with casual expletives, John Pollono's one-act play packs a powerful punch. When a trio of longtime mates from Manchester, New Hampshire get together for some heavy drinking in Frank's car mechanic workshop ― David Mauer's beautifully realized set ― they reminisce about old times and chat about women, the internet and the virtues of social networking. The pals, confident Frank (John Pollono), ladies man Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and nervy guy Packie (Michael Redfield) indulge in trading insults and mocking digs as they chew the fat. Inappropriate comments, harsh words and hasty apologies are exchanged, but nobody's sure why Frank is busting out the good whiskey. A young college kid (Josh Helman) arrives to do a quiet drug deal with Frank and all of a sudden the scene erupts into terrifying violence. Pollono's script is an exquisitely-modulated gem of a play, gripping the viewer with a storyline that is both shocking and sobering in its commentary on modern interactions in the technological age. Director Andrew Block extracts such realistic performances from his cast that we almost forget we are watching a play, as the appalling action unfolds mere inches away. (Pauline Adamek). Mondays, Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 12, (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., theatretheater.net.

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 lot 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. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 p.m. Bang, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 653-6886, bangstudio.com.

GO The Temperamentals The term NHI was a code word used by Los Angeles police in their case files in the 1950s. It stood for NO HUMANS INVOLVED, and referred to any cases concerning homosexuals, African-Americans, Latinos or other minorities the cops considered undesirable. In those days of virulent homophobia and institutionalized repression, gay activist Harry Hay (Dennis Christopher), designer and Viennese refugee Rudi Gernreich (Erich Bergen) and their friends, Chuck Rowland (Mark Shunock) and Bob Hull (John Tartaglia), organized the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights organization in the U.S. They referred to themselves as "Temperamentals" -- a code word for gays. They also embraced the cause of Dale Jennings (Patrick Scott Lewis), the defendant in the first legal case to successfully challenge the LAPD's entrapment policies. They were a colorful crew: Hay was married for 11 years, and fathered two children before he came out. As a former communist, he was summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in his later years he founded the Radical Faeries. Playwright Jon Marans employs theatrical shorthand and presentational style to tell a wide-ranging, complex tale, and director Michael Matthews gives it a lively staging, assisted by an able and engaging cast. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 5. The Blank's Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 661-9827, theblank.com.

The Traveling Lady Though revised and abbreviated by the playwright and Marion Castleberry in 2005, Horton Foote's 1954 drama still runs the risk of getting bogged down in verbiage, unless deft performances are able to propel it. Accompanied by her young daughter (Michaela Rose Haas), the title character, Georgette (Tara Battani), arrives in a small Texas town to reunite with her husband, Henry (J. Scott Shonka), recently released after six years in the penitentiary. Unlike the townsfolk who knew Henry as a boy, Georgette -- married after only a few months of a whirlwind romance -- knows little of his inner demons. Apprehensive but hopeful, she secures overnight bed and board from a widower named Slim (David Atkinson) and his older sister, Clara (Susan Carol Davis). From the start, it's clear that Georgette's expectations for Henry will not pan out; instead, the story's dynamic turns on the nuanced attraction between her and Slim, held in check by propriety and the awkward circumstances of their meeting. Unfortunately, there's little palpable chemistry between these two pivotal players. Though Atkinson's spare and focused performance is on target as Slim, a good man nursing the secret of his own failed marriage, Battani, while sympathetic, lacks urgency in relaying her character's desperate situation. Haas is commendably professional as the little girl, and Brenda Ballard furnishes skilled comic relief as an elderly neighbor happily relishing her second childhood. Several other supporting performances are either undistinguished or over the top. Under Linda Kerns' direction, the performers sometimes appear stiff and static -- as opposed to comfortably at home -- on set designer Mark Svastics' cozy period front porch. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through June 12. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A., (323) 462-8460, actorsco-op.org.

Unmerciful Good Fortune Edwin Sanchez's story of two strong-willed Latinas, one a young assistant D.A. with a dying mother, the other a clairvoyant fast food worker charged with multiple murders. Mondays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 12, 3 p.m. Continues through June 15, (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/170643. Underground Theatre, 1312-1314 N. Wilton Place, L.A..

Working: The Musical The TRIBE Productions presents Stephen Schwartz's musical about life on the job. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 10, thetribeproductions.org. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-5774, complexhollywood.com.

Young Playwrights Festival Twelve plays by some of the nation's brightest teenage playwrights aged 14-19. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 27. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 465-4446.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

Artifacts of Consequence So Minna (LoraBeth Barr) is upset with Dallas (Adam Briggs) because every time he leaves The Facility to check on a shipment or to visit one of the outposts, he fails to return with FRPs or anything useful for survival. Sure, he has his Pretty Woman routine with young Ari (Dione Kuraoka), who devours the pop cultural and literary diet Dallas has been feeding her, but he's not helping Minna to keep The Facility running. Once Theo (Joel Raffee) enters the picture via the airlock, and becomes pubescent Ari's new best friend and crush, Minna's patience truly wears thin and things begin to fall apart. If you're confused, because I've provided no context for these characters and relationships, then you have a good sense of the play, because neither does playwright Ashlin Halfnight. Yes, we eventually discover that FRPs are Food Replacement Pills, and that The Facility is a giant warehouse where Minna, Dallas and Ari spend their days collecting and cataloging artifacts from an outside world that's submerged underwater. What we never discover is why, nor how, this "liquid Los Angeles" came to be. So despite funny, well-crafted banter (rife with '80s and '90s movie quotes) and a few emotionally resonant moments (both primarily courtesy of Ms. Kuraoka, who brings vivacity and spunk to her character), the overarching story and message of the piece are unclear. Director Evan Charest fails to deepen the one-note characters of Minna and Dallas, and his frequent use of blackouts merely adds to the disconnect already present in the piece. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 5, stokastik.org. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

The Au Pair Man Irish scribe Hugh Leonard's 1968 play is curiously billed as a comedy, but it's really an allegorical, sinister two-hander about the power play between a haughty, elderly Englishwoman and an awkward young Irishman who wanders into her web. Lonely misfit Eugene (Joe Corgan) shows up at the crumbling London mansion of elegant shut-in Mrs. Rogers (Virginia Morris) to collect a debt and is persuaded to stay on as her "au pair" (unpaid live-in assistant). His thick Irish brogue clashes with her clipped British accent. Pretty soon she's walking the same path as Dr. Henry Higgins and attempting to iron out his "Colonial" Irish wrinkles with some strenuous instruction on self-improvement. A genteel yet arch woman, she's adept at putting others ill at ease and seems to delight in toying and flirting with him. He bristles at her classism and taunts, but appears to enjoy her erudition and attention. Finally, he finds an opportunity to turn the tables on her, but has she got one more trick up her sleeve? Leonard's text is incisive at times but feels dated and fusty. Director Joe Praml does well with the slightly complicated set elements and staging, while his cast give such authentic performances that it truly seems as if we have traveled back in time. But the pace feels slow and, at two and a half hours, the play is overlong. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 12, (818) 760-8322. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, ravenplayhouse.com.

Cat's Cradle Leslie Sands' murder mystery set in the English village of Waverton Magna. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 4. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

NEW REVIEW DIARY OF A MID-LIFE CRISIS
click to enlarge SUSAN LEE
  • Susan Lee

Written,

directed and produced by Susan Lee, this indulgent and tedious

autobiographical play chronicles a woman's recovery as she rebuilds her

life during her 40s. Lee has fashioned a navel-gazing show based on her

six-year blog where she tried to make sense of the conclusion of her

16-year long emotionally abusive marriage and the quest to regain her

voice. Essentially a one-woman act, Lee has Eileen O'Connell playing

"Jane" while four other frumpy actors in jeans and black tee-shirts

illustrate the monologue Greek Chorus style, occasionally playing clowns

with red noses or sock puppets to represent the undermining voices in

Jane's head. Clearly, Lee is striving for whimsy but it all plays out

like bad improv with poorly constructed props. Lee sledgehammers her

point home with an astounding lack of insight, such as the occasional

waving of red flags that grow in size when aggression rears its head.

The genuinely terrifying husband is reduced to three repetitive yet

sinister catchphrases, "You have so much to learn," "I will never hurt

you" and "I will never leave you." Fragments of girly pop tunes

occasionally blast out and amateurish slides play on a screen upstage.

When it (and Jane) announces, "Time for Bad Poetry Corner" your heart

plummets. At 70 minutes sans intermission, this shallow exercise in

soul-searching is actually shorter than it seems. Eclectic Company

Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;

Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 4. (818) 508-3003. eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Pauline Adamek)

The Diviners Jim Leonard Jr.'s haunting drama about the relationship between a young boy and a former preacher, set in Depression-era Indiana. Directed by RoZsa Horvath. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 19. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (877) 620-7673, secretrose.com.

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz Steve and Kathy Hotchner's interactive kids musical based on the L. Frank Baum story. Presented by June Chandler's Fairy Tale Theatre. Saturdays, 11 a.m. Continues through June 4. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

GO The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill After a startling revelation is made in Act II of Jeff Goode's funny new comedy, two dumbstruck boys freeze as one says to the other, "Don't say anything; maybe it'll just disappear." The setting might be Kentucky, 1863, but that good ol' Southern methodology prevailed even in free-lovin' California 2008, when Goode's editorial on Proposition 8 was rejected by a major publication because it wasn't election coverage. That dismissal became the springboard for this world premiere, which uses a 19th-century discussion over the imminent Emancipation Proclamation to draw parallels between slavery and homosexuality. Goode's got a knack for clever innuendo: Self-pleasure is thinly veiled as "whittling," and Jude Evans' Klansman/Deputy has a tiny pocketknife. Director Eric Curtis Johnson has found a cast with impeccable comic timing: In the Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer tradition, Brett Fleisher and Matt Valle puzzle over problematic situations before announcing the most logical solutions. With a static setting and a few too-frequent occasions of pedantic dialogue, as Deacon Chickory (a scene-stealing Nathaniel Stanton) takes a slippery slope into preachiness, the play should lose a good half-hour in order to deliver its message more strongly. "We ain't got time to debate this or think about what we're doin'!" Frank Ensenberger's Grocer Baggot sputters on the eve before the Proclamation takes effect. You might be for or against Proposition 8, but kudos to Goode for taking that time. SkyPilot Theater at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 19. (800) 838-3006, skypilottheatre.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 19, skypilottheatre.com. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

Encounter World premiere of Ari Blake Wintraub's story a couple thrown together in the wake of 9/11. Starting June 9, Thursdays, Fridays, 9 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 2 p.m.; Sat., July 9, 2 p.m. Continues through July 2. Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 844-7008, lineagedance.org.

Finding the Burnett Heart James Handy stars as a cantankerous grandfather forced to move in with his kids. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 12. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 563-1100, themissingpiecetheatre.com.

Hamlet, Prince of Darkness Zombie Joe's Underground's Shakespeare-inspired "dark adventure-comedy-thriller," written by Richard Nathan . Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through June 24. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

Having It All At Gate B26 in an airport convincingly designed by Stephen Gifford, five women sit judging each other's clothing. The lady in Prada pumps (Jennifer Leigh Warren) assumes the woman in sneakers (Shannon Warne) must be an immature free spirit; the woman in sneakers is convinced that Prada pumps is a rotten mother. The entrance of a country girl in awkward heels (Kim Huber) provokes condescension; a hipster with crutches (Lindsey Alley) moves Warren to sneer she's a "30-year-old yenta dressed up like the cast of Rent." And when a dizzy hippie (the very funny Alet Taylor) bops in with her yoga mat, the ladies are aghast that she's barefoot. Still, between snipes, each looks at the others and sighs, "How I'd love to be in her shoes." The metaphor of footwear for femmepowerment is staler than the olives at Carrie Bradshaw's fave martini bar, but at least David Goldsmith and Wendy Perelman's well-intentioned musical about the hair-pulling pressure to "have it all" is blessed with a gifted cast, which Richard Israel directs with energy and bite. The ensemble sings numbers about motherhood, marriage, J-Date and downward-facing dog. It's all pleasant, but the show is held back by the homogeneity of the songs, in both John Kavanaugh's music and Gregory Nabours' musical direction, which takes five strong voices and molds them all to the same Broadway bombast. The audience for the musical already knows everything it aims to say; it's simply an excuse to rally a gang of girlfriends for a night at the theater, which seems to suit this production just fine. (Amy Nicholson). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 10. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com.

Iceberg Ahead! Jay Parker's backstage farce. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Mosaic Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 457-5293, lizardtheater.com.

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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com.

The Joyful and Magical Spectacle of Epoxie One-man clown show for young children (preschoolers and early elementary ages), presented by The Jumbo Shrimp Circus. Sun., June 5, 10:30 a.m.; Mon., June 6, 10:30 a.m. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com.

GO The Malcontent Malevole (Bo Foxworth), the scruffy misanthrope at the nub of John Marston's 17th-century satire, is the proud possessor of a scathing tongue. A frequenter of aristocratic circles, he's tolerated by the reigning Duke of Genoa, Pietro (Mark Doerr), for his bawdy wit and for the lacerating barbs that furnish welcome relief from the dull obsequiousness of the court. Not the plebeian jester he strives to appear, Malevole is really a duke -- in fact, he is the Duke of Genoa, Altofronto, the city's legitimate regent before being maneuvered from office by a lecherous rapscallion named Mendoza (Ramón DeOcampo). Labeled a "tragicomedy" by scholars, the play is an outraged ethicist's critique of corruption and deceit (the tragedy lies in the world's moral morass, I guess, since in the story itself no one actually dies or suffers gruesomely). The plot, with its slapdash details, spins out in intricate metaphor-studded syntax whose handling requires enormous skill. Adapted from the original and directed by Elizabeth Swain, this spirited production does not disappoint. While Foxworth's splenetic cynic is all fire and spit, it is DeOcampo as the treacherous toadying villain -- utterly contemporary in his sociopathic me-ism -- who drives the comedy. In addition to Doerr's artfully finessed Pietro, the accomplished ensemble includes Lynn Milgrim as an unprincipled procuress and John Achorn as a clueless courtier prepared to pimp his wife and daughter-in-law. Designer Tom Buderwitz's handsome set replicates the Blackfriars Theater in which the play first premiered, while A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes add dashing flavor to the farce. (Note: The show is double-cast.) (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through June 19, antaeus.org. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 762-2998, deafwest.org.

New Eyes Yafit Josephson gives an accomplished performance in her solo show about a Jewish actress facing down Hollywood's cultural stereotypes. It's marred only by a poorly designed slide show. Josephson slips easily into various personae, combining characters with caricatures to good comedic effect. The opening has her switching from a formidable military officer to her nervous young self on her first day of compulsory military training in the Israeli army. Highlights include a hilarious mime sequence where she uncomprehendingly attempts yoga and another scene where she gives a goofy impression of a macho guy in an Israeli nightclub. Josephson's tall, slender build, piercing eyes and chiseled face lend her a commanding presence, but it's her prominent proboscis that relegates her to the usual gamut of villainous roles, from terrorist to evil witch -- "And no, they didn't have to use a fake nose," she jokes. Her adult journey takes her from the New World back to Israel, where she touches base with her culture, returning to Hollywood with newfound strength of character. Beneath the comedy lies a serious undercurrent stemming from the ongoing war in the Middle East: Land equals identity. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 26, (310) 500-0680, neweyesplay.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

No Word in Guyanese for Me Is there a word to describe the paradoxical human yearning to belong to the club that won't have you? If you're an Indo-Guyanese immigrant living in Astoria, Queens, and you're also an observant Muslim and an out lesbian struggling to retain your Islamic identity, that word might be "conflicted." Or so it might seem in playwright Wendy Graf's somewhat hagiographic, single-character study of a woman torn between Western tolerance and religious orthodoxy. Anna Khaja portrays the orphan Hanna Jokhoe, who is raised by her nurturing Aunty Mommy and cabdriver uncle in her family's Muslim faith. With the onset of puberty comes the religious head-covering that also marks her as different from her American classmates. But it is her deeper stirrings, first for a best friend, later for a sympathetic high school art teacher, that signal a more profound difference. It all comes to a peak when Hanna is married off to her Muslim cousin; betrayed by her visceral repugnance of her husband, she is both outed and made an outcast. Director Anita Khanzadian's intimate staging (nicely accented by Matthew Richter's lights, sound and projections) cleverly choreographs Hanna's transformation with the various scarves of the hijab -- a conceit mirrored in the draperies lining Davis Campbell's set -- which she dons as a girl but strips off as a woman. Khaja skillfully and convincingly navigates the 20-year journey with compelling pathos. And yet, one cannot avoid the suspicion that in her simple, unblemished and almost otherworldly guilelessness, Graf's heroine is less a portrait of a plausibly flawed, complex woman than an airbrushed LGBT poster child for gay pride. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through June 25. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank, (818) 558-5702.

The Poor of New York The Group Repertory Theatre presents Dion Boucicault's classic melodrama. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 10. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.

GO Pursued by Happiness 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 layup 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 rom-coms: 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 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. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 26, RoadTheatre.org. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 752-7568.

Rumors Neil Simon's farce about an affluent dinner party and a dead body. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 12. Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave., Covina, (626) 331-8133, covinacenter.com.

Sex and Education Lissa Levin's West Coast premiere about a high school English teacher versus a jock. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through July 10. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 841-5421, thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

NEW REVIEW GO SOTTO VOCE

click to enlarge ZOMBIE JOE'S UNDERGROUND
  • Zombie Joe's Underground

Words to the wise: Never, but never take a vacation with playwright Robert Riemer and director Zombie Joe. In last year's A Memory of What Might Have Been,

the team transformed an isolated Baja tourist court into a

hair-raising, metatheatrical midnight of the soul for a pair of fugitive

lovers. Now, with Sotto Voce, Riemer and ZJ visit the big island of Hawaii for a delirious, one-act, 55-minute tour of a tortured mind. (Think: Agnes of God on holiday with Ken Russel's The Devils.)

Set in a demented convent of the damned, circa 1965, the psychological

thriller follows Wendy (Vanessa Cate), a traumatized, id-twisted novice

who has been sequestered away by a mother (Lori Hunt) intent on keeping

family skeletons secreted safely in their closet. Unfortunately for

Wendy, her bare cell and contemplative life come with a particularly

malevolent Mother Superior (Brenda Marlene Uribe) and the kind of

cloister that permits unfettered access by the ghosts of her sexually

abusive father (Skip Pipo) and brother (Anthony Marquez). And though

Wendy finds temporary solace in the arms of fellow neurotic Patsy (a

delightfully manic Heather Roberts), the lines between reality and

Wendy's inner demons soon tangle in an inevitable and bloody dénouement.

Along the way, Zombie Joe pushes the boundaries of melodrama to their

Gothic extreme in a weirdly poetic staging that nimbly bridges tender

pathos and the darkest of depraved psychopathology. ZJU Theater Group,

4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru June 11. (818)

202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Bill Raden)

South of Delancey Forty years before The People's Court first packaged binding arbitration proceedings for daytime reality TV, the Jewish-American Board of Peace and Justice was adjudicating the domestic disputes of New York City's Lower East Side faithful over the airwaves of Yiddish radio. Director-creator Karen Sommers has sifted through the original acetate recordings and selected three woefully irreconcilable couples from the rabbinical court's cases, interweaving their stories -- and her invented backstories -- into a persuasive evening of re-enactment and speculative docudrama. Abigail Marks and Michael Rubenstone are Faye and Marty, a war bride and her combat-scarred husband, who are unable to negotiate a postwar peace for their rash and precipitous marriage. Jordana Oberman and Kal Bennett play Helen and Lenore, roommate sisters whose blood ties can no longer take the strain of personalities divided by dysfunction and temperament. Barry Alan Levine and Jodi Fleisher provide comic relief with mismatches Herman and Lilly, whose marital mix of business and pleasure behind a dry-goods counter proves an unmitigated disaster. The show's most fascinating moments occur when Sommers incorporates the original recordings and the Yiddish-speaking judge can be heard feebly throwing rabbinical bromides and blandishments at cases of such hopelessly intractable incompatibility. Sommers' tight staging (with Carol Doehring's crisp lights and period-perfect costumes by Lois Tedrow) and a powerful ensemble lend the proceedings considerable polish, with the exception of Dove Huntley's sprawling apartment set, which has more in common with a Van Nuys split-level than any tenement north or south of Delancey. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 26, (866) 811-4111. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, fremontcentretheatre.com.

Three Sisters or Perestroika Pavel Cerny's adaptation of the 1901 play by Anton Chekhov. Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 12, (866) 811-4111, theatermania.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

GO Turbo Tartuffe! Director Denise Devin certainly wasn't kidding when she dropped "Turbo" into the title of her adaptation of Molière's timeless attack on moral hypocrisy. Happily, it is the only thing about this rollicking, supercharged commedia staging that isn't played strictly for laughs. In radically boiling down Molière's five-act farce to a head-spinning 55 minutes, Devin has lopped off subsidiary subplots and eliminated enough of the text's footnote-mandatory, 17th-century erudition to give any self-respecting French classicist heart palpitations. For the rest of us, however, she has delivered a concise, inventive and deliriously ribald slapstick worthy of Hal Roach, and one that deftly conjures Molière's anarchic, subversive comic spirit. Roger K. Weiss portrays Orgon as just the kind of befuddled, moralistic dunderhead capable of being gulled out of family and fortune by the transparent posturing at piety practiced by Tartuffe (a lecherous Tegue S. DeLeon). As the hard-pressed object of his lust, Ashley Fuller plays Orgon's voluptuous wife, Elmire, with equal notes of sauciness and cunning. Sofia Ruiz's spoiled princess of a daughter, Mariane, is a burlesque of pampered, tempestuous privilege. Mike Angelo is all heat and little head as the impetuous son Damis, while Jonica Patella (who is quickly emerging as one of this town's most versatile comic talents) is hilarious as the household's exasperated, clear-eyed maid Dorine. Costumer Jeri Batzdorff's elegant collection of silks, velvets, brocades, ruffles and jabots effectively flavors the period setting. And Sean Curran steals every scene he's in, channeling Charley Chase as the powder-wigged brother-in-law Cléante. (Bill Raden). Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through June 24. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

Urban Death Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through July 9. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

The View From Here The main character in Margaret Dulaney's comedy is afflicted with a crippling case of agoraphobia, which prevents her from venturing out of her small-town Kentucky home. For the better part of a decade, Fern (Debbie Jaffe) has stayed indoors, occupying herself with snooping on her neighbor Arnold (Derek Houck), babysitting children, gossiping with friend Carla (Sasha Carrera), fielding phone calls from her mother and being there for her barmy sister, Maple (Katherine Browning). The wall of isolation is broken when Fern enters a TV raffle and wins a microwave oven -- which she has to claim in person. Thus is established a semblance of a dramatic arc, which is played out in a predictable manner with Arnold -- whose wife has deserted him and her newborn -- assuming the role of on-hand savior. Fern's disorder and the resultant conundrums are good for a handful of laughs, but Dulaney's story lacks the necessary details about the how and why of Fern's condition. The play's chitchat overwhelms what little action there is and, at a lean 90 minutes, the pall of stasis manifests itself early on. This problem could be partly remedied with sharper pacing by director Inger Tudor. The performances, on balance, are good, especially Carrera, who is start-to-finish convincing and invests Carla with an appealing glow of humanity. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 12. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 506-3903.

Weird on Top Improvisational comedy by Danielle Cintron, Tiffany Cole, Mason Hallberg, Kerr Seth Lordygan, Sarah McCann and Alex Sanborn. Thu., June 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 18, 8 p.m. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

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

Bedtime Stories Roadkill Productions presents 10 short plays that all take place in a bed. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A., (310) 535-6007, psychicvisionstheatre.com/.

Cold Storage Ed Asner and Alan Feinstein star in this JCC's Celebrity Staged Play Reading. Sun., June 5, 2 p.m. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 938-2531, westsidejcc.org.

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune Terrence McNally's two-character romantic comedy. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 12. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica, (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum The Ancient Rome comedy, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 10. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-1970.

GO Juno and the Paycock In director Allan Miller's emotionally deft production of Sean O'Casey's powerful Irish drama, "The whole world's in a state of total chassis." And whatever you make of such a statement, this staging of O'Casey's play artfully mixes blarney and despair in almost equal measure. Set in a squalid Dublin tenement, circa 1920, O'Casey's play focuses on one of the great tragic figures of the theater: amiable, gloating, lying loafer "Captain" Jack Boyle (John Apicella), as lovable as he is overweening. Instead of finding a useful job to please his frustrated wife, Juno (Kitty Swink), Captain Jack boozes it up with his wastrel best pal, "Joxer" Daly (Armin Shimerman). Jack is delighted when he learns he has inherited a small fortune -- but outside their tenement, alarming dangers lurk that destroy his daughter Mary (Jeanne Syquia) and son Johnny (Josh Zuckerman). Miller's staging of this most character-driven of plays commendably showcases personality, and the acting work is both vivid and convincing. In Apicella's blustery turn as "the Paycock," Boyle's not just a lazy, genial sod, he's "King Baby," a strutting alpha male, whose sense of entitlement is noticeably at odds with the squalor of his reality. An equal pleasure is Swink's tightly wound, brittle Juno: In this tough, melancholy performance, the long-suffering, hard-bitten wife clearly knows that she has turned into a hag as a result of picking up after her hubby's irresponsible fecklessness. Jack's true mate, of course, is his reprehensible boon companion Joxer Daly, played with irresistible rattiness by Shimerman, whose oily bonhomie is matched only by the character's spite when Boyle's back is turned. The shabby furniture of Chuck Erven's set in Act 1 turns into slightly fancier furniture in Act 2 (when the family's fortunes look to be made). There's even a working stove downstage, where Juno cooks up a delicious-smelling Irish sausage, which (no insult to the cast of this engaging and moving drama) inevitably steals the scene in which it appears. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 5. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

GO Locked and Loaded Ever hear the joke about the two guys with terminal brain tumors who decide to beat death to the punch? A Jew and a WASP dress up in tuxes, rent a presidential suite stocked with their favorite booze and call some hookers to help them go orgasmic into that good night. OK, so the subject matter and setup of, and even the quietly heartbreaking backstories in, actor-playwright Todd Susman's play are a little derivative -- Leaving Las Vegas and Marsha Norman's play 'Night, Mother spring to mind -- but some very clever writing and smart performances make this West Coast premiere much funnier and more mystical than the approach its predecessors took. Particularly interesting is Susman's deliberate trafficking in stereotypes. Old-monied Dickie Rice (Andrew Parks) is haughty as he hurls three strikes in quick succession at an African-American hooker, sniffing, "Do you know who I am?" and referring to her "Aunt Jemima" style of speaking. Sad-clown sitcom writer Irwin Schimmel (Paul Linke) turns his poison pen on himself and his Jewish heritage, and Catorce Martinez's (Terasa Sciortino) inability to understand English subtleties is the source of many jokes. But in electing Princess Lay-Ya (a very sharp Sandra Thigpen) queen pin, Susman gives the underdog the upper hand, which Lay-Ya uses to force the superficialities aside to reveal the very real, raw pain coursing beneath. After such deep diving, the resurface at play's end is a little easy; nevertheless, the whole shebang is a much more entertaining evening than the premise portends. Chris DeCarlo directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3:30 p.m. Continues through June 26. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779.

Luv Murray Schisgal's spoof of avant-garde drama. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 26. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.

Much Ado About Nothing Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Thu., June 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 1, 8 p.m., shakespearebythesea.org. Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro, (310) 548-7705.

NEW REVIEW NAZI HUNTER SIMON WIESENTHAL

click to enlarge ED KRIEGER
  • Ed Krieger

Holocaust

survivor Simon Wiesenthal was a controversial figure - a hero to many,

a liar to some. Unlike most European Jews, who resettled on other

continents after World War II, Wiesenthal remained in Austria, working

to relocate and reunite Jewish families, and to track down Nazi

criminals even as the U.S. government and other official entities were

preparing to bury the past. But Wiesenthal had enemies: those who

challenged his veracity and who cast especial doubts on his integrity

when, in 1995, he defended Austrian chancellor Karl Waldheim from

allegations of complicity in war crimes. Writer-performer Tom Dugan sets

his solo biopic in 2003, on a hypothetical day when the retiring

Wiesenthal will shutter his humble office after 58 years. A visit from a

group of students prompts the indefatigable nonagenarian to recount his

colorful past, periodically interrupted by calls from his wife (don't

forget the milk, dear) and by communications about his latest quarry, a

guy named Bruner who now tortures for the Syrians. A compact and solid

chronicle, Dugan's script is particularly effective when it takes a

position against vigilantism -- Wiesenthal strongly supported courtroom

justice -- and most eloquent when it calls upon us to join him in

remembering the dead. The production's cardinal problem, under Jenny

Sullivan's direction, is Dugan's kitschy rendering of his subject;

under 50, the performer has ably transformed his appearance to add

nearly half a century, but his old man shuffle along with other benign

Yiddisher mannerisms are laid so heavily over the narrative that they

distract from and dilute its power. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova

Theater, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Sun.-Tues., 7:30 p.m. (no

perf. June 5); thru June 21. (310) 364-0535. (Deborah Klugman)

Sylvia A.R. Gurney's comedy about a man, his wife and his dog. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through July 10. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.

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