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Stage Raw

Horne's Nest in Arizona: Culture Clash's plays removed from high school curriculum

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Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 9:51 AM
click to enlarge Moby Dick Rehearsed - ROBERT FABIANI
  • Robert Fabiani
  • Moby Dick Rehearsed

Whitmore Eclectic presents Orson Welles' play, Moby Dick Rehearsed, about an acting troupe reluctantly staging a stage production of Moby Dick. See review Tuesday morning. Here are the latest CAPSULE THEATER REVIEWS published last Thursday. Also check out the weekly STAGE FEATURE feature on two solo shows, Joe Hernandez-Kolski's awake, and Jed Mills' Choices .

Want to see a show, check out this week's COMPREHENSIVE STAGE LISTINGS (also can be found after the jump), organized by Openings This week, Larger Theaters, and by geography.

click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpg
CULTURE CLASH'S Richard Montoya wrote us recently that a book of the troupe's plays had been yanked from the curriculum at Tucson Magnet High School. Turns out that's more than just hyperbole. The school's Mexican-American/Ethnic Studies programs have been under fire from newly appointed Attorney General Tom Horne for some time, on the grounds of teaching versions of history that are not patriotic. Last spring, when Horne was State School Superintendent, he wrote a bill challenging the school's ethnic studies program --  which went on to become law, passing both state houses and getting signed off by governor Jan Brewer. The law is scheduled to be heard before the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in the next few months. 

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 5 - 11, 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

Boomermania Baby Boomer musical lampoon, written and directed by Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio. Starting Aug. 6, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 13, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com.

Come Together: A Beatles Cabaret Homage to the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo, directed by John Carey. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., (323) 525-0661, attictheatre.org.

Counter Men Chuck Faerber's world-premiere dramedy about an L.A. waitress whose son is a Marine in Iraq. Starting Aug. 6, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27, (323) 960-5521, plays411.com/countermen. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, whitefiretheatre.com.

Dolls: Not Your Usual Love Story Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo's world-premiere musical comedy starring the Tin Soldier, Music Box Dancer, Raggedy Girl, Porcelain Victoriana, Fashion Doll and more. Starting Aug. 6, Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

Genius From a Blue Collar Neighborhood Maria Menozzi's solo musical play. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2, geniusfromabluecollarhood.com. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

Hairspray See GoLA. Fri., Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 7:30 p.m., $11-$168. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 850-2000, hollywoodbowl.com.

Haunted House Calls Micah Cover's one-night-only interactive performance of magic and mystery. Sat., Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

Into the Woods Brothers Grimm characters interact, in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical. Sat., Aug. 6, 1 & 5 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 1 & 5 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 13, 1 & 5 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 1 & 5 p.m. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.

Life on This Couch Sisters reunite on a couch in Laura Richardson's comedy-drama. Fri., Aug. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 7 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 2 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 25, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 4, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 10, 2 p.m. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

Romeo and Juliet: Monsters in Love The Actors' Gang presents a free outdoor production of Shakespeare's tragedy, populated by monsters and suitable for all ages. Starting Aug. 6, Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-1040.

So Damned Heavenly Bound/You Make Me Physically Ill Two new one-acts: Patty Wonderly's story of three sisters whose father has passed away, and Roger Mathey's tale of a man meeting the nightmarish family of the girl of his dreams. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10, (323) 960-7770, plays411.com/physicallyill. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., elephantstages.com.

A Southern Exposure Kelley Kingston-Strayer's story of a Kentucky grandmother and granddaughter. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 28, 7 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 8, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.org.

The Strand, A Beach Musical Fantasia Family Music's history of the South Bay surf scene. Fri., Aug. 5, 7 p.m., FantasiaFamilyMusic.org. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, (310) 937-6607.

This Melissa James Gibson's play about a widowed young mother and her friends. Starting Aug. 7, Sun., Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 9 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Mon., Aug. 22, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772. See Stage Feature

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

GO The Expert at the Card Table Some would say the best lawyers perform magic in the courtroom. Guy Hollingworth may be such a lawyer, er, barrister, but his preferred magic is of the parlor-show variety. In fact, watching him perform his astounding legerdemain transports one back a century, to a time when such entertainments were commonplace. His affable manner, polished diction and understated British charm only enhance the effect. But Hollingworth is far from a one-trick pony. His show, which debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival more than a decade ago, is as much theater as it is a demonstration of magic. Its title is that of a landmark book on card cheats published by "S.W. Erdnase" in 1902. However, the true identity of this turn-of-the-century card sharp has never been revealed; the debate continues to this day on magic-related blogs and websites. Hollingworth's take on the mystery revolves around a man named Milton Franklin Andrews, beginning with his schoolboy days in Connecticut, when he first became acquainted with card tricks and Erdnase, and continuing on through their adult lives as the duo went on to perpetrate elaborate scams that lead to suicides, murders and an international manhunt. Director (and amateur magician) Neil Patrick Harris, who originally helmed the show in Edinburgh, helps Hollingworth weave myth and magic, seamlessly segueing between storytelling and sleight of hand. And though Hollingworth "explains" his tricks, projects them on an overhead screen and calls volunteers to witness the feats up close, the audience remains mystified by a performer who clearly embodies the title of the show and lives up to the legacy of the book that inspired it. (Mayank Keshaviah). Thursdays, Fridays, 7 & 9 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 4 & 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, (310) 434-3414, thebroadstage.com.

GO Fleetwood Macbeth Troubadour Theatre Company is back with one of its trademark mashups, a rock & roll adaptation of Macbeth as reinterpreted and scored to select hits from Fleetwood Mac. In the spooky opening number, a coven of eight sexy witches (plus hilarious Beth Kennedy as an old crone) dance about in fishnet stockings, corsets and rags and deliver some Busby Berkeley-worthy synchronized dance moves. We next move to a bubble wrap battlefield for an ensemble performance of "Say You Love Me." Rob Nagel channels Sean Connery as King Duncan and keeps the show from getting derailed by too many ad libs and pop-culture references from the jokey cast. Brandon Breault is very funny as a Goth named Seyton (pronounced like Satan) who glides on and off stage on wheelie shoes. He collaborates with the evil Lady M. (the brilliant, brassy Lisa Valenzuela, especially when she belts out "Dreams" and "Rhiannon"). Songs such as "World Turning" suit the banquet scene where Macbeth (Morgan Rusler, in excellent form) hallucinates the ghostly presence of Banquo (Matt Walker). The witches give fantastic renditions of "Gold Dust Woman" and "Break the Chain"; another show highlight is a wistful rendition of "Landslide." All songs are backed by a competent four-piece band. Much of Shakespeare's text remains intact, especially Macbeth's most famous soliloquy. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Aug. 14. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 3. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, lbph.com.

Hairspray See GoLA. Fri., Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 7:30 p.m., $11-$168. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 850-2000, hollywoodbowl.com.

I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, arrangements by Vince di Mura. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 21. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com.

Into the Woods Brothers Grimm characters interact, in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musical. Sat., Aug. 6, 1 & 5 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 1 & 5 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 13, 1 & 5 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 1 & 5 p.m. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.

Mary Poppins Musical adventures of the magical nanny, based on the P.I. Travers stories and the Walt Disney's 1964 film, book by Julian Fellowes, music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, in addition to the classic songs by the Sherman Brothers. Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787, scfta.org.

GO ON GOLDEN POND 

click to enlarge MICHAEL LAMONT
  • Michael Lamont
Ernest

Thompson's original play lacks the high drama of its famous film

counterpart, but has all the heart. The tale concerns Norman and Ethel

Thayer, an aging couple vacationing on a lake for perhaps their last

time, yet returned to some youthful vigor by the advent of 13-year-old

step-grandson. While guilty of overt sentimentality, Thompson's script

creates expertly drawn characters. The joy of this revival, so ably

directed by Cameron Watson, is in its impeccable production values that

begin with the casting of the elderly leads. Watching old pros Hal

Linden and Christina Pickles navigate through a constantly changing

stream of bickering, loving and alternately fearing or bravely facing

death, is a mini-course in consummate acting. This combined with John

Iacovelli's intricately designed country summer home, meticulously

dressed by MacAndME, complements this thoroughly satisfying event. Into

the mix comes  fine teen actor Nicholas Podany, who holds his own with

the veterans, finding multiple dimensions of adolescence. Monette

Magrath also turns in a fine performance as the Thayer's aggrieved

daughter Chelsea, come to make peace with her father. Only Jonathan

Stewart is out of place as Chelsea's nervous fiancé - his stressful

performance seems to belong in a French farce. Colony Theatre Company,

555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.;

Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (818) 558-7000 x15 or ColonyTheatre.org. (Tom Provenzano)

GO ROSE COTTAGES

click to enlarge IAN FLANDERS
  • Ian Flanders
With

its towering trees, intermittent birdsong and starry ceiling,

Theatricum Botanicum's bucolic amphitheater is a wonderfully ironic

venue for a play set in a dumpy tourist motel in South Florida.

Theatricum's production marks the West Coast premiere of playwright Bill

Bozzone's slightly offbeat and somewhat sentimental comedy about the

human urge to form replacement families when our families of origin and

matrimony disappoint or disappear. Rose (an inspired Earnestine

Phillips) fears her dilapidated motel will be shuttered when a health

inspector (Maurice Shaw) notes faulty plumbing and other violations.

Panicked and pissed off, Rose begins to rebuild hope when Jessie (Ellen

Geer), a motel guest abandoned by her New Jersey cop son (Aaron Hendry)

and his selfish, tarty wife (Savannah Southern Smith), befriends her.

Enter Lydell (Graco Hernandez), a lonely teen with a knack for odd jobs,

who completes the reconstructed family unit. Bozzone worked with

Theatricum and re-wrote the role of Rose for a female, a choice that

adds a nice layer of complexity to the already plucky script. Though the

story veers toward oversimplification of human pain at times, Bozzone

smartly redeems sappy situations with left-of-center humor. When Lydell

reveals to Rose that his father is a complete zero, for instance, we

expect tears and tales of tattered rainbows; instead we get an entirely

unexpected story about dad's feigned shooting of Santa Claus, and it's a

scream. The cast is solid across the board, with Geer and Phillips

winning equal leading lady kudos for layering their characters. Heidi

Helen Davis directs with straightforward simplicity, though the pacing

lags near play's end. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 Topanga

Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep, call for schedule; thru Oct. 2.  (310)

455-3723. theatricum.com. (Amy Lyons)

GO
1776
Plays and movies based on history have never been slaves to fact, but Peter Stone's book, covering the tempestuous wheeling and dealing surrounding the creation and passage of the Declaration of Independence, is more faithful than most. It's not entirely accurate: Martha Jefferson never went to Philadelphia (cities were regarded as unhealthy places), and John Dickinson was a man of stature, not the right-wing fanatic depicted here. But the portraits of the Founding Fathers here probably are more accurate than in some history books. Sherman Edwards' songs lean more on musical comedy tradition. This production is blessed with a brace of strong performers. Peter Husmann finds both strength and comedy in the passionate, irascible John Adams, and Victoria Strong scores as his outspoken wife, Abigail. Jeff Drushal provides a stalwart, laconic Thomas Jefferson, and Michaelia Lee is effervescent as his wife, Martha. John Butz captures the wit, practicality and vanity of wily Benjamin Franklin, Joey Zangardi lends a touch of foppish elegance to the ardent defender of slavery Edward Rutledge, and Jason W. Webb is an intransigent but conscientious John Dickinson. Director Todd Nielsen has mounted a strong, clear and eloquent production, while Steven Applegate provides crisp musical direction. Angela Wood supplies the gorgeous costumes. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 13. Glendale Center Theater, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale, (818) 244-8481.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Sleep-clinic musical romance, book by Rachel Sheinkin, music by Brendan Milburn, lyrics by Valerie Vigoda. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla, (858) 550-1010, lajollaplayhouse.org.

The Strand, A Beach Musical Fantasia Family Music's history of the South Bay surf scene. Fri., Aug. 5, 7 p.m., FantasiaFamilyMusic.org. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, (310) 937-6607.

Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur In a sense, Molière's immortal skewering of religious hypocrisy is the Jaguar XK-E of high-performance stage comedies: Its classic lines and comic engineering are readily apparent even when parked, but it is only when humming in the hands of a skilled driver that its true genius finds full expression. Regrettably, with director-adaptor Ellen Geer behind the wheel, this out-of-tune Tartuffe sputters like it's blown a head gasket. Geer tricks out her period-dress (Val Miller's fine costumes), drawing-room production with a handful of original songs (Geer's music, Peter Alsop's lyrics) and the conceit that it is a command performance for Louis XIV, which cleverly sets up the deus ex machina dénouement. But lackluster laughs suggest the incisive, anarchic soul of Molière has all but eluded her. It's not for want of trying. Her ensemble of eminently capable, veteran classicists huff and puff their way through each slapstick Geer throws at them. Yet somehow, Orgon (Ted Barton) merely blusters, Dorine (Willow Geer) grates and Elmire (Misha Bouvion) fades in the clinches. Happily, Aaron Hendry's brilliantly realized Tartuffe is the show-saving exception. Hendry's expressions of agonized piety as he screws Orgon out of house and home is the evening's crowning and excruciatingly hilarious achievement. Daniel Billet also injects rousing physical comedy into his portrait of the hotheaded son, Damis. Even these performances finally prove powerless against Ellen Geer's penchant for filling every nook and cranny of the Botanicum's awkwardly expansive space with business. Her blocking alone suffocates Moliére's funniest set pieces and produces the most irritatingly drawn-out entrances and exits ever seen on a stage. (Bill Raden). Saturdays, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 1, 4 p.m. Continues through Sept. 30. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

This Melissa James Gibson's play about a widowed young mother and her friends. Starting Aug. 7, Sun., Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 9 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Mon., Aug. 22, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.

Richard III Following a couple of progressive festivals, RADAR LA and Hollywood Fringe, with a traditional staging of Shakespeare is like following a gastronomically experimental meal with a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream. It's fine, of course, but you really were hoping for the ice cream to taste like foie gras or something equally surprising. Maybe if Melora Marshall had been playing the title role --director Ellen Geer has employed cross-gender casting -- on opening night, the production wouldn't have seemed so pedestrian both conceptually and in pace. But the play, second only to Hamlet in length, needs the kind of sprightly staging that a theatre carved into the hills of Topanga Canyon just can't support. Unfortunately, the production seems to offset its innate weaknesses with overacting. From the opening monologue, Chad Jason Scheppner's Richard spends more time mugging for the audience than allowing Shakespeare's already wry verse and textual characterization of Richard as anti-hero do their work naturally -- a real shame, considering the glimpses of talent that peek out from beneath this schtick. A couple of actors fare better (notably Earnestine Phillips, whose dagger-throwing delivery works with the vitriol she spits), but none enough to make you glad you stayed for dessert. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sun., Aug. 7, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 3:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 28, 3:30 p.m.; Mon., Aug. 29, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 4, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 17, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

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

GO As You Like It: The Musical Even in L.A., summer weekends feel special, precious because there are so few of them. The sun lingers longer, and we welcome his warm company. The last thing we want is to dash off to a dark, meat-locker-cold theater. Thank goodness the Classical Theatre Lab is on the same page of our beach read. Adapting Shakespeare's rom-com As You Like It into a even more lighthearted romp-slash-musical, director Tony Tanner has done the near-impossible -- make a "Shakespeare in the Park" series the general public will want to attend for the play as much as the picnic opportunity. With virtually no set (the "stage" is a courtyard in the middle of Plummer Park), Tanner's able cast zips through a lean 90-minute version of the story: Exiled to the forest, Rosalind (a saucy, strong-voiced Jessica Pennington) takes on the guise of a boy for protection. Paul D. Masterson's Orlando, who races off in pursuit of Rosalind, buys her masculine identity as well as her offer to accept his professions of love for Rosalind as practice. The adaptation tosses in modern references (as to why Orlando hasn't shown up, Rosalind sings, "As least he can't say he got stuck on the freeway or missed his connecting flight at LAX") and toys with Shakespeare's homoerotic overtones in Orlando's Brokeback Mountain-esque ballad. Daniel Mahler's costumes don't quite match the lyrics: As Rosalind and Celia (Rachele Gueli) sing that they'd "quit karate and lockup my skateboard," skinny jeans and Vans would be more appropriate than '40s-style dresses and heels. Small quibble. Spend a slice of your evening here -- they even wrap in time for you to catch the sunset. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sat., Aug. 6, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 11:30 a.m.; Sat., Aug. 13, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 4 p.m., (323) 960-5691, classicaltheatrelab@gmail.com. Kings Road Park, 1000 Kings Road, L.A..

GO awake Joe Hernandez-Kolski's hip-hop/spoken-word/comedy one-man show. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20, pochojoe.com. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com. See Stage feature.

Bikini Beach Bacchae Pretty ballsy to reimagine Euripides' Greek tragedy The Bacchae as a fun-n-flirty 1960s surf movie. After all, the play ends with a mother proudly presenting the head of her son to his grandfather, convinced she's killed a mountain lion. How do you flip that into a lighthearted conclusion? Well, you don't, or at least director Paul Miailovich's adaptation doesn't. The concept isn't a bad one; figuring Dionysus (Vance Roi Reyes), the god of ecstasy and ritual madness, as a hippie cult leader preaching free love and reefer madness, is actually fitting. Transforming Beverly Hills housewives into Bacchantes (Dionysus' band of female followers) also works: Money can't satiate kept women forever, and the play's many dance breaks, during which they whip their hair and hips, are easily the evening's most charming moments. What's missing is a script to support the concept. The leap from modern-day speech to the original text never makes a smooth landing, and the play ends up feeling as if two entirely different scripts were cut-and-pasted together. The glaring misstep, however, is the reworked ending. The head-on-a-platter gag is too bawdy to be paired with the original text, which Ellen Karsten's Agaue plays too straight. The big joke of the night doesn't just fall flat; it flies right over the audience's head. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A., (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com.

The Blue Room David Hare's intimate noir play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A..

GO The Burning Opera: How to Survive the Apocalypse If art, as Josef Albers insisted, is concerned with the how, not the what, then Ghostlight Gypsies' musical art carnival ranks as an unqualified coup de theater. The "what" in this case is the sprawling, 25-year history of "radical self-expression" in the Nevada desert known as Burning Man, at least as reimagined by composer Mark Nichols and lyricist Erik Davis in their rousing, mythic rock pageant. The "how" is the inspired decision by Nichols and fellow directors Stephen Hues and Julie Lewis to forgo the formality of a traditional theater or mise en scene for the intimacy of a downtown artist's loft and an environmental staging (designed by Daphne Vega and Yoni Koenig) that mixes live actors (in Wendy Doyle's eye-popping fetish costumes) and shadow puppetry with deejays, art installations, roving belly dancers, and food and craft booths. The result is part rock opera and part art party that -- for those old enough to remember -- evokes the anarchic spirit of L.A.'s underground theoretical punk-rock performance art events of the late-'80s. Two large shadow screens flank a live band (Nichols sits in as musical director) as the show sets the misadventures of a pair of archetypal "newbies" (Nichols & Lewis) against the larger tale of the desert festival itself and the eventual falling-out of its founders (Nichols & Troy Guthrie) over the conflict between Burning Man's phenomenal commercial success and its nonconformist ethos. Nichols' winning score works a Hair-era musical vocabulary of R&B and acid rock by way of Kurt Weill, while Davis delivers sardonic counterpoint in the role of the wisecracking narrator, The Bunny. The evening's stars are the polished, 15-member musical ensemble, which collectively boasts one of the best sets of pipes heard on any stage in L.A. this year. The magic comes courtesy of the inventive wit of puppeteers Nathan Fairhurst, James Murray and Vega. (Bill Raden). Fri., Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m., ghostlightgypsies.com. Syrup Loft, 939 Maple Ave., L.A..

Camp Sunday All-new sketch and improv by the Groundlings Sunday Company. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

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 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 Aug. 7, (800) 595-4849, CaughtThePlay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..

Come Together A Beatles Cabaret: Homage to the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo, directed by John Carey. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., (323) 525-0661, attictheatre.org.

GO D Is for Dog begins with deceptive simplicity, as an entertaining parody of the mindless and stultifying conformity of the 1950s. Playwright Kate Polebaum's script focuses on the Rogers family, a robotic quartet consisting of a devoted couple, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers (Guy Birtwhistle and Nina Silver), and their enthusiastically complaisant kids (played by adults), Dick and Jane (Michael Scott Allen and Taylor Coffman). Each morning, a smiling Mrs. Rogers pirouettes through the kitchen to display its glories, and at each breakfast the family pays a jingled tribute to Maxwell House and Aunt Jemima. Only Mr. Rogers, a scientist who works for the omnipotent Conservation Company, is aware of the ominous forces threatening their home. He maintains a protective silence so as not to alarm his loved ones -- until strange phone calls start to intrude on their innocence. Director Sean T. Cawelti and tech director Tyler Stamets marshal a panoply of talent to relay what metamorphoses into a riveting sci-fi tale that, like the best of that genre, comes off as frighteningly prescient. The spot-on ensemble include Coffman's strangely aberrant child and Birtwhistle's caring Dad, a beacon of humanity amidst the bizarre landscape that envelops him. What makes this production so distinctive, however, is its staging -- a coalescing of elements that includes flawlessly calibrated sound (John Nobori) and original music (Nobori and Ben Phelps), artful lighting (Haylee Freeman) and stunning graphics (Matthew T. Hill). The menacing life-size puppets are spooky enough to haunt one's nightmares for a long time. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 463-3900, studio-stage.com.

GO Donna/Madonna Perhaps one of the greatest unexpected pleasures in a committed theatergoer's life is seeing a small-stage solo show that doesn't suck. Transcending the non-sucky to arrive at this entertaining accomplishment is writer-performer John Paul Karliak's self-deprecating ode to his two mothers. To the horror of his adoptive parents, the pre-adolescent Karliak drops the first hint of his homosexuality during a self-produced living-room drag show featuring his uncanny Carol Channing vamp. Witnessing mom and dad's slack-jawed dismay, Karliak scurries into the closet and doesn't come out until his teens, subsequently deciding that playing it straight in front of his kindly, fragile mother is the only way to ensure ongoing receipt of her love. He grows up and moves out of state, creating geographical distance in support of the ruse; mother-son weekly phone calls favor surface over substance. But when life in Los Angeles proves less than rosy, Karliak searches for his birth mother, certain she'll understand him in a way his adoptive mother can't. Surprisingly, he's right. What follows is a study in compassion and abundance, a coming-of-age story that doesn't rely on total abandonment of childlike ways. Though much of the situational comedy feels familiar, Karliak's execution is top-drawer. His delivery is brisk but unrushed, his sense of humor contemplative but unsentimental. Inhabiting the skin of his drastically different mothers, Karliak's range is gleefully apparent. (Amy Lyons). Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 10, (323) 960-4420, plays411.com/donnamadonna. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

GO Dysnomia The play's title refers to a Greek goddess associated with disruption, which is just what befalls the family on display in Marja-Lewis Ryan's fine dramedy. Henry and Mary's (Heidi Sulzman and Trevor H. Olsen) longtime marriage has yielded good jobs, a comfortable suburban life and two attractive children. But angst and boredom have taken over Mary's life, and she can't shake the feeling that something is missing, until she has a casual chat with a friend's lesbian daughter (Ryan). It's obvious at this point what the missing "something" is in Mary's life, and she eventually decides to out herself to friends and family, resulting in moments of hilarity and disquieting expressiveness. Henry implodes into rage and steadfast denial; her friend Carol (Jessie Warner) nearly has a panic attack; Mary's troubled teenage son, John (Ryan Stathos), mirroring his father, becomes a cauldron of rage and resentment; precocious daughter Jodi (the outstanding Isabella Palmieri) handles the situation with seasoned, adult aplomb. Ryan's play is all about being true to oneself, and she makes the point without being shallow or preachy with a text that strikes just the right balance between darkness and light and also is refreshingly forthright. Cast performances are equally fine under Anthony Frisina's direction. It all unfurls neatly on Michael Fitzgerald's serviceable, lived-in kitchen set design. Rounding out the cast is Monroe Makowsky as Carol's husband, Scott. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 21, plays411.com/dysnomia. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 469-9988.

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.

Fear Factor: Canine Edition Sat., Aug. 6, 8 p.m. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632.

GO FREAK MACHINE

click to enlarge CAMILLE SHENKKAN
  • Camille Shenkkan
What

are the two most dangerous words in the theater? Anyone tempted to

answer "performance art" may want to consider the peril and precarious

possibilities inherent in the term "open mic." The ultimate in

un-curated, vox populi free expression, the open microphone is an

engraved invitation to uninhibited exhibitionists of all stripes and

their masochistic, enabling audiences. Happily, as practiced by deadpan

emcee Darren Schroader, the forum proves to be a surprisingly warm and

entertaining talent showcase. Twelve slots are up for grabs, first-come,

first-serve. Schroader mitigates the hazards by imposing an ironclad,

dignity-saving time limit of five minutes per performance. On this

evening, the hits far outweighed the misses with Schroader himself -- in

a Glow Stick-stuck body suit -- warming up the crowd in a delightfully

bent interpretive dance burlesque. Folk-music parodist  Ukulady Jaimie

(a.k.a. Jaimie Devitt) weighed in with her hilarious, ukulele mash-up of

T-Pain's "Apple Bottom Jeans," Lil John and the East Side Boyz' "Get

Low" and Sir Mix a Lot's "Baby Got Back." Broadway belter Rena Strober

showed off her satirical side with an outlandish anthem to the

capaciousness of feminine empowerment, "Vigantic." Bill Lawrence limned a

bewildered Ozarks pet cemetery director delivering a comic eulogy for a

despised poodle in "The Marmot Speaks." And the stand-up team of Doug

Perkins and Kip Madsen gave new meaning to stage fright in their bit,

"Comedy Coach." For the misfires, audience shill Michelle Miracle was on

hand to talk them off the stage with her well-timed wit and ad libbed

quips. Circle X Theatre Company at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269

Casitas Ave., L.A.; last Mon. of every month, 8 p.m., through Sept. 26.

(323) 644-1929. AtwaterVillageTheatre.com. (Bill Raden)

It's Good 2 Be Crazy Meet Merryl (Lindsay Seim) and Joel (Nick Warnock). Actually, you've met them already. They're two of the thousands of young L.A. couples with big dreams and boring realities. Merryl's a valet parker aching to be a singer. Joel is a benefits clerk claiming to be saving for law school. In truth, they're stuck. Until Joel calls Merryl's bluff: He'll support her for a year if she'll actually, you know, write some songs and record a demo. Joanclair Richter's sitcom soap opera is set entirely in the couple's apartment, where every few months she checks in to gauge Merryl's wavering creativity and Joel's increasing frustration. To the play's credit, the lovebirds have their flaws: She's pouty, self-obsessed and passive-aggressive; he's a doting lunkhead happy to have the focus off his own dull life. But there's little momentum in watching two 20-something nonartists talk about art, and director Lynne Moses can't inject energy in a play mostly spent conversing on the couch. In the final scene, there's a frisson of drama with the entrance of Doug (Max Decker, sleazily great), a record executive who tests how much Merryl really wants a contract. But the play's blessing and its curse is over-familiarity. Any Hollywood transplant can identify with Merryl and Joel, but they could also just call up their real-life counterparts and take them out to a much-needed dinner. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 14, (323) -960-5774, plays411.com/goodcrazy. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

The Insidious Impact of Anton David Hilder's not-so-romantic comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A..

Google My Tweet Second City alumni sketch comedy, directed by Marc Warzecha. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 26. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A., (323) 464-8542.

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 Aug. 28. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (310) 213-6955, 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.

Life in the Middle Ages Writer-standup comic Steve Ochs' megapersonal solo show about the inevitable outcome of aging deploys a faux-medieval fairy tale -- projected overhead in Pythonesque mode, drolly narrated by Wendy Cutler -- to contextualize his trek through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief. The amiably irreverent, quip-happy Ochs aims to help viewers follow his lead and make peace with the Grim Reaper. Yet his relentlessly facile text yields few fresh insights that couldn't be found at a new age retreat or Comedy Store benefit night. That said, the attending audience chortled throughout and seemed truly touched by Ochs' beatific guided meditation final. (David Nichols). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 26. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632.

Life on This Couch Sisters reunite on a couch in Laura Richardson's comedy-drama. Fri., Aug. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 7 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 2 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 25, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 4, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 10, 2 p.m. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

Live Nude Groundlings All-new (not all-nude) sketch and improv, directed by Damon Jones. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.

Lost Moon Radio: Episode 10 Thu., Aug. 11, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 12, 9:30 p.m. Artworks Theatre & Studios, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 871-8382, artworkstheatre.com.

LoveSick "A love story set a dream-world," written and directed by Larissa Wise. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. 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.

Othello Arguments have raged for centuries over the enigma that is Iago, Shakespeare's most renowned portrait of incarnate evil. Why, exactly, does the villainous ensign turn his considerable creative energies to engineering the fall of his noble general? Director-adaptor Tiger Reel advances a new theory in this provocative modern-dress production: Iago's malevolence is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a bit of bravura, preshow pantomime, Reel stages an Abu Ghraib-esque army torture scene in which Othello (a sturdy Victor Dickerson) oversees a blasé Iago (the marvelous Jim Hanna) "interrogating" a prisoner on the same platform that later will serve as the fateful marriage bed for Othello and Desdemona (Abbie Cobb). Though the comparison between 16th-century Venice and our more recent military unpleasantness might sound somewhat strained, Reel bolsters his case by pruning back some of Othello's more ennobling early speeches to create one of the bleakest portrayals of the Moor in recent memory. The cuts tend to hamstring Dickerson, who comes off as something of a highly strung U.S. Marine martinet, but they also turn the play over to Iago and hand Hanna the role of a lifetime. The actor imbues the character with an enervated, sociopathic world-weariness that reads as both comic exasperation in his scenes with Roderigo (Sean Spann) and the whiff of a humanizing conscience in his soliloquies. While Reel's argument is finally more facile than convincing, his elegant, futuristic production design and Matt Richter's expressive lights make swallowing it a not-unpalatable experience. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20, (800) 838-3006, theprodco.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A..

Passing Proper/Passion Two one-acts by Trick Emerson. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 21, plays411.com. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-5068, theatre68.com.

Pity of Things A surreal thread runs through this medley of five one-acts. Tommy Smith's dark comedy "PTSD" packs the biggest emotional punch. Ably directed by Sabina Ptasznik, it depicts the homecoming of an emotionally barricaded war vet (effectively portrayed by an understated Jason Denuszek) and the efforts of those around him to communicate. Carl J. Johnson is especially touching as his kind but clueless dad. Nicholas S. Williams steals the evening's spotlight in Bill Robens' "Breaking," directed by Jaime Robledo. A talented mime who moves with agile precision, Williams gives a priceless rendering of the elaborate fantasies of a man undergoing a breakdown. Meanwhile his sister (Krista Conti) watches while confiding her anxious concerns to a friend (Jonathan Klein) -- their dialogue a far less involving and even dispensable aspect of Robens' script. In Jason Grote's "Kawaisoo," Ellie (Jennifer Weaver, alternating with Lauren Letherer) tours through an upscale Manhattan market while conducting an imaginary dialogue with her ex-husband. A stream of discursive small talk reflects both her philistine affectations and her rage. Though an expressive performer, under Sabrina Lloyd's direction, Weaver reveals too much of Ellie's inner landscape too soon. David Guerra's menacing narrator and Ryan Brodkin's striking sound design are the most noteworthy elements in Delondra Williams' "Desert Aria." Directed by Christopher William Johnson, this overly melodramatic piece involves a woman (Alana Dietze) searching for her lost friend in a place haunted by a Medea-like ghost who drowned her children. Written and directed by Phinny Kiyomura, "The Little Darling" is a shard of a play, a stylized interchange between two mid-20th-century women (Kirsten Vangsness and Hiwa Bourne), both named Betty, one of whom channels her anger and self-loathing toward the other. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com.

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.

Poison Apple Sean Galuszka's low-key suspense drama is set in an apartment in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. There's a violent banging on the door and Paul (Chris Sams) emerges from the bathroom, wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a spray bottle. He seems nebbishy, yet there's something sinister about him. He carefully takes his time before answering the door. When he opens it, a hooded man bursts in. Paul sprays him in the eyes. After a brief contretemps, it emerges that the stranger is Jerry (author Galuszka), a friend of Paul's female roommate. Learning she's not at home, Jerry asks if he can wait for her. Paul grudgingly agrees, and proceeds to serve him tea. An increasingly edgy conversation ensues, and the appearance of a lethal-looking butcher knife and a saw hint at violence. Clearly more is going on than meets the eye, including a sexual attraction between the two men. By the end, the play proves to be a love story as well as a tale of homicide. The play is a carefully controlled -- perhaps too carefully controlled -- exercise in suspense. Director Susan Lambert skillfully charts the gradual emergence of the macabre facts, and the two actors cannily play off one another to keep the tension building. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20, brownpapertickets.com/event/185973. SPACE 916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A..

Quake A wife and mother dies on Sept. 11, felled not by bin Laden but by breast cancer. Four years later, this period piece -- its setting circa 2005 made obvious by the thick laptops and dumbphones -- picks up with her husband, Artie (Ray Abruzzo), and daughter, Robbie (Maxie Solters), still reeling. Partially because of playwright D. Tucker Smith's intriguing premise of sadness overshadowed by national tragedy, but also because of the host of distractions welded onto the drama, the drama's weight drags its momentum to a crawl. Robbie, now 14, is acting out for reasons her dad only thinks he can't understand. (He likens his daughter to a Sunday crossword.) At his workplace, a second-tier department store suffering from the flight of disloyal online shoppers, CEO Artie becomes fascinated by a philosophical Armenian janitor (Stephanie Terronez) who sleeps on the store's patio furniture at night. Meanwhile, two customers, a 23-year-old naif (Alex Pierce) and a cynical vet (Marc Aden Gray), lock horns in a battle for turf. Their skirmishes with each other and with Artie draw blood. But Smith is stuck on creating a Glengarry Glen Grief, and the play's diffuse themes and scattered showers of exposition work against the good ideas buried in the material. As co-directors, Smith and Anjali Bhimani try to add impact with melodramatic movie-of-the-week music, another flourish that should be left behind if this premiere-with-potential retools for a second try. (Amy Nicholson). Sat., Aug. 6, 2 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 10, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 20, 2 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

'Roid Rage/Bridge Two by Willard Manus: a monologue about celebrity culture and a play about a jazz musician's nightly practice. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 10. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A., (323) 469-3113, writeactrep.org.

So Damned Heavenly Bound/You Make Me Physically Ill Two new one-acts: Patty Wonderly's story of three sisters whose father has passed away, and Roger Mathey's tale of a man meeting the nightmarish family of the girl of his dreams. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10, (323) 960-7770, plays411.com/physicallyill. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., elephantstages.com.

TWEAKED
click to enlarge KIRSTEN KELLOG
  • Kirsten Kellog
This

undistinguished melodrama about junkies trying to break their habit

gets a boost from several capable performances.  Directed by Sean Riley,

Paul Shoulberg's script revolves around  roommates Charlotte (Isidora

Goreshter) and Maddy (Robin Schultz), both addicted to crystal meth. 

Charlotte, a poet, frequents coffee houses where eventually she meets

Lance (Jake Dahm), a good guy who falls for her and manages to overcome

her jittery reticence.  Maddy has it tougher; she's barred from seeing

her young daughter by the child's father Kyle  (James Tyler Johnson), a

buttoned up Jesus fanatic whose air of calm righteousness masks rage and

a desire to control.  The other two men in their lives are their ultra

strung-out pal  Grogan (Shawn-Caulin Young) and their supplier Trey

(Brent Harvey) a macho low-life.  The play is least interesting at the

start, as the performers, not quite convincingly, depict their addiction

and the physical changes they undergo struggling through withdrawal. 

It grows more involving as the story expands and other relationships

develop.  Both Dahm and Johnson deliver assured performances - the

former as a straight arrow and Johnson in the more complex role of a

twisted puritan who fails to salve his anger with faith.  Young also has

a good scene as a guilt-ridden meth freak at the end of his rope, and

Goreshter, after a shaky start, lands on track.  Production resources

are unfortunately limited at this workshop venue, making some of the

staging less effective than it might have been otherwise. Meta Theater,

7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.;  Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. through Aug.

21. (323) 960-7773. plays411.com/tweaked. (Deborah Klugman)

THE V ROOM

click to enlarge RICH CLARK
  • Rich Clark
This

variety show is presented on the last Thursday of every month, in a

cabaret setting. This, its second installment, seemed a bit slap-dash

and lackadaisical. Two of the acts listed in the program -- a band and

an experimental dance company -- did not appear, and there were many

that did appear, not listed in the program. An insistently gay emcee,

Michael Mullen, spent so much time talking, milking the applause for

every performer, and hawking their CDs that it sometimes felt like an

infomercial. Still, there was some talent. Ninja Betty and the Nunchix

offered several numbers, including "You're a Big Star -- I'm a Star

Fucker." Monologist Joy Nash delivered a comic excerpt from her Fringe

show My Mobster, and Kristin Tower-Rowles (grand-daughter of MGM musical

star Kathryn Grayson) gave us a slick rendition of "Hollywood Baby" --

i.e., "Broadway Baby" with new lyrics. Musical duo Erica Katzin and

David Ryan-Speer harmonized on "Loving You Is Easy" and "Mama, Rock Me."

Other performers included the wryly comic singer-composer Enrique

Acosta, svelte song-stylist Alissa Harris, and comic Erich Wech.

Charlene Modeste put a dark spin on "I Put a Spell on You," and musical

comedy diva Veronica Scheyving performed a stylish rendition of "All the

Good Men Are Gay." DOMA Theatre Company at The Met Theatre, 1089 N.

Oxford Ave., Los Angeles; last Thursday of every month, 8 p.m.; thru

October. (323) 960-5773 or plays411.com/vroom. (Neal Weaver)  



Watson The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes: Jaime Robledo's take on the Victorian crime solver's right-hand man. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.


GO The Word Begins A theatrical machine gun might be an apt description of this two-man show written and performed by Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews: rapid-fire, dangerous, powerful, and unpredictable. Though a West Coast premiere, the piece was originally developed at the Ojai Playwright's Conference, so it might be just as accurate to say "the word returns." What that "word" is, however, varies over the course of a compact but energetic 75 minutes that touch on politics, race, religion, love, and hope. Ensconced in Sarah Ryung Clement's wide-open "graffiti-scape" with minimal set pieces and props, the duo launches on a mission to "take back the word." Beginning with childhood dreams and notions of heroism, Connell and Andrews seamlessly pick up each other's poetic threads as they segue into various dialectics about what's going on, Marvin Gaye style. Yet they're just as much Barry White (albeit a raunchier version of him) in riffing on Hallmark cards and relationships, or suggesting that the solution to racism is to "fuck until everyone is beige." Interspersed in their mash up of theatre, spoken-word, and stand-up comedy are Corwin Evans' video montages that succinctly showcase iconic images to powerfully bring home the duo's message. At times, like a machine gun, the piece sends its ammunition in all directions, losing focus and landing astray of the mark. However Connell and Andrews' palpable energy overcomes the occasional meandering, keeping the audience engaged throughout. Director Robert Egan's taut pacing and full use of the stage likewise contributes to the dynamism of a piece that reminds us, "Until you imagine a better world, you cannot have it." A Rogue Machine, Hip-Hop Theater Festival, and Prana Theatre Group Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Mondays, Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7, (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., theatretheater.net.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea. Mondays, 8 p.m., Free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 466-9917.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

The Big Woogie 4 Noir-Acts: Ray Ramos' four tales set in the world of film noir. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 21, (855) 235-2867, fla.vor.us/bigwoogieproductions. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, ravenplayhouse.com.

Boomermania Baby Boomer musical lampoon, written and directed by Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio. Starting Aug. 6, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 13, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com.

ClassicsFest 2011 The Antaeus Company's seventh-annual festival of theater workshops, readings, and special events. Schedule at antaeus.org. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Aug. 21, (818) 506-1983, antaeus.org. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, deafwest.org.

Counter Men Chuck Faerber's world-premiere dramedy about an L.A. waitress whose son is a Marine in Iraq. Starting Aug. 6, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27, (323) 960-5521, plays411.com/countermen. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, whitefiretheatre.com.

Haunted House Calls Micah Cover's one-night-only interactive performance of magic and mystery. Sat., Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

GO Heavier Than...: Spinning together and mixing up myths from Greek mythology, Steven Yockey crafts an enjoyable fable about love, hubris and human folly. The central character here is the Minotaur, Asterius (the sinewy Nick Ballard, sporting a gigantic pair of horns), a creature part bull and part man imprisoned in a mazelike labyrinth who, in this reimagining, is a sensitive beast tormented by dreams of his long-absent mother, Pasiphae (Jill Van Velzer), and a consuming love for his sister, Ariadne (Laura Howard). His isolation is somewhat assuaged by the divinatory powers and presence of the white-clad chorus (Ashanti Brown, Teya Patt, Katie Locke O'Brien), whose constant chatter and antics account for a good share of laughs throughout. More humor comes when the very gay Icarus (Casey Kringlen) drops in -- literally -- with wings shedding feathers (a portent of things to come), cracking jokes and incessantly hitting on Asterius. Yockey's clever script becomes somewhat puzzling toward show's end, but for most of this 75-minute piece, it is thoroughly engaging. Abigail Deser's fine direction brings out the best in her cast. Kurt Boecher's scenic design team adds a strong element of the rustic with a visually appealing assemblage of towering, crated rocks. Robert Prior's shadow puppets, wings and video design also are impressive, as is his simple mix of costumes. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 21. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, (626) 683-6883, bostoncourt.org.

Hurricane Season 2011 Eclectic Company Theatre's annual playwrights competition and festival, now in its eighth year, showcases new works by promising playwrights, with mixed results. For three weekends a different trio of plays is on offer, along with a ballot for audiences to vote. The final weekend, Aug. 5-7, is reserved for the audience favorites. This review is for Week 2. In "Stalking Pollyanna," written by Hal Corley and directed by Katie Witkowski, Mark Motyl plays a middle-aged gay man who spots his boyhood movie-star crush, Hayley Mills, in a bookstore. During this short play he is goaded by his obnoxious younger boyfriend (Jeremy Mascia) to make contact with the girl from his dreams. Delicate revelations that link the man's gay identity with his childhood fantasy are clouded by the implausibility of his friendship with such an insufferable younger man. Dean Farell Bruggeman's "Damien" is directed by Wendy Radford and consists of two intercut monologues that are tenuously linked: Mark Burford charts his character's fondness for his dog while his neighbor, a crabby, middle-aged Southern woman (well played by Taylor Ashbrook) suspects the aging pooch is possessed by the devil. Best of the night is "Holey Smokes," a tale tinged with horror written by Ellen Elizabeth Steves. A massive hole has inexplicably appeared on some rural property. Defying investigation, the chasm traumatizes the locals and visiting scientists. Within the large cast (Dana Amromin directs well), 12-year-old Brighid Fleming gives an exceptional performance, playing a disturbed child with heart-wrenching conviction. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

I'm Just Wild About Harry Gary Lamb and William A. Reilly's musical adaptation of Brandon Thomas' Charlie's Aunt. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 14. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, (818) 745-8527, nohoartsdistrict.com/theatreweb/crowncity.htm.

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.

Kowalski Marlon Brando auditions for A Streetcar Named Desire, in Gregg Ostrin's world-premiere play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com. See Stage feature

Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck's saga about a pair of itinerant, Depression-era ranch hands in search of a place under the sun, and the tragic derailing of that dream, is nearly 75 years old yet retains its power as a compelling parable about moral ambiguity and human frailties. Director Scott Travers' otherwise respectable staging suffers from the lack of polished, disciplined performances from the two principal actors. As the childlike Lennie, Paulo De Sousa's large, hulking presence is suited to the role, but his performance consistently wavers between being fully convincing and a gross caricature. There are many times when he comes off as a grinning, hyper-giddy lunatic rather than the slow-witted, gentle giant whose penchant for touching and caressing soft things leads to a tragic, accidental murder. As Lennie's cynical caretaker, fellow roamer and only friend, George, Ronnie Gunter turns in an adequate performance, but his overheated hard edge too often eclipses the emotional complexities of his character. Chase Green is outstanding as Curley, the boss's always angry, sawed-off son, as are Benjamin Corns as the affable Slim and Mandy Brown as Curley's flirtatious wife. Jessica Hayes' rustic, bunkhouse beds and props are well done. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 8, comeseetheplay.com. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 563-1100, themissingpiecetheatre.com.

Oscar Wilde's Salome The biblical tragedy, as presented by Zombie Joe's Underground and Fabulous Monsters Performance Group. Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 6. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

Sex and Education Lissa Levin's West Coast premiere about a high school English teacher versus a jock. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 7. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 841-5421, thevictorytheatrecenter.org. See Stage feature.

Urban Death Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through Aug. 13. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

The Walworth Farce Enda Walsh's play about a "misfit family of Irish expatriates who confine themselves to their London apartment, reenacting a bizarre domestic drama." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-5323, theatrebanshee.org.

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

Barrie: Back to Back Two by J.M. Barrie: 1912's Rosalind and 1917's The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-8392, pacificresidenttheatre.com. See Stage feature

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/.

Behold!: A Queer Performance Festival Two months of new LGBTQ "performance, dance, spoken word, theater, multimedia, and ritual." Full schedule at highwaysperformance.org. Fridays, Saturdays; Sun., Aug. 28; Mon., Aug. 29. Continues through Aug. 20. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica, (310) 315-1459, highwaysperformance.org.

GO Blood Wedding In Federico Garcia Lorca's classic tragedy of passion, love brings anything but joy -- it's a source of rage, insanity and violence. A handsome young Bridegroom (Willie Fortes) seeks to marry a beautiful Bride (Nikki McKenzie) over the mild objections of his Mother (Sharon Omi), who recalls that the Bride once dated a man whose family is her family's enemy. The Bride is more than happy to marry the Bridegroom -- but her unresolved past with her ex-lover, the hot, manly Leonardo (Joshua Zar), ultimately brings sorrow to everyone at the wedding. Making good use of the subtext lurking within Tanya Ronder's febrile and intense translation, director Jon Lawrence Rivera's exceptional production of Lorca's drama crackles with emotional tension and undercurrents of unease. Rivera casts the production with mostly actors from the Asian-American community, giving the piece a folkloric mood -- a feeling that's enhanced by his ritualized choreographic blocking and by John H. Binkley's beautifully rendered, moon-shaped platform set design. The performances swing powerfully between emotional extremes, frequently achieving near-operatic heights of intense feeling. McKenzie's desperate, miserable turn as the Bride -- driven by lustful forces beyond her control and horrified by it -- frequently astonishes, as does Omi's brutal shift from prissy mom to flinty, embittered monster. Also engaging is Zar's James Dean-like turn as the virile Leonardo, which is counterbalanced by Fortes' sweeter but intentionally more boyish turn as the Bridegroom. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 11, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 14. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

GO CELEBRITY AUTOBIOGRAPHY Here's the thing about

celebrities: They become convinced that their every word is fascinating,

which makes celebrity autobiographies fascinatingly candid, when say,

Marilu Henner doesn't pause before prattling on about how her Taxi

co-star Danny DeVito must be a great lover because he's the right height

to pleasure a woman while standing. At the start of Celebrity Autobiography,

creator Eugene Pack stresses that every word is exactly as published, a

reminder to cling to, if you find yourself doubting Melissa Gilbert

threatened cheating boyfriend Rob Lowe, "You don't fuck with America's

Sweetheart!" (And then obliviously bragged about it in print.) The

"celebrity" in the title is two-fold; the authors are famous and so are

the reciters, a cast of comedians that includes Laraine Newman, Jennifer

Tilly and Roger Bart. While the words themselves need no

embellishments, some performers like Cheri Oteri can't resist, adding a

yowling, swaggering accent to Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino that

sounds nothing like the Jersey Shore star. But the best bits come

when the actors read with a devastating deadpan delivery, like Fred

Willard's wry recounting of David Hasselhoff's Broadway bow ("I had to

prove I was something more than a guy in a Speedo running in slow

motion"), or Illeana Douglas' genius for transforming Barbra Streisand's

dull accounting of the vegetables in her home garden into a riot of

smug self-satisfaction. The show climaxes with four mash-ups: an assault

of poetry by Suzanne Somers, a seminar in stage divas, a treatise in

disordered eating, and a Rashomon-esque rehashing of the Debbie

Reynolds/Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton love knot. Whose

account to believe? No one and everyone -- when Tilly's Taylor cocks an

eyebrow, truth is beside the point. The Broad Stage, 1310 Santa Monica

Blvd., Santa Monica; call for schedule: (310) 434-3200. thebroadstage.com (Amy Nicholson)

Dolls: Not Your Usual Love Story Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo's world-premiere musical comedy starring the Tin Soldier, Music Box Dancer, Raggedy Girl, Porcelain Victoriana, Fashion Doll and more. Starting Aug. 6, Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

Force 12 With some intentionally ambiguous plays, you must never expect all the truth to be revealed. And so it is with poet playwrights Ron Allen and Jo D. Jonz's imaginative, if overly surreal tour de force. Using exchanges written in a heated blank verse that moodily meshes hip-hop with def poetry jam, the work appears to take place within the head of its narrator, a man who might be a poet or might be a madman. The character of Poet (Jonz, who also directs) wanders about on a Siddhartha-like journey, traveling within a metaphorical terrain known as "The Biosphere," as he finds himself interacting with dueling figures -- a motherly preacher (Nancy Solomons), who appears to represent the artistic side of his brain, and a Cruella De Vil-like villainess (Sharon Fane), who rules the more practical, negative side. There's also a sexy nymphet (Tiffany Rebecca Royale, in Foxy Brown wig) who represents his sexual desires and a woman named "Cannabis" (Garz Chan), who, wearing a diaphanous green shmatta, dances around the stage to symbolize the main character's love for the Delicious Herb (which he smokes constantly for medicinal reasons, of course). Although performer-director Jonz's production often demonstrates skillful stagecraft, particularly evident in Darcel Leonard's tight, beautifully dreamlike choreography and Dana Ric's effectively moody video sequences, the disjointed babble of the non sequitur writing inevitably wears thin and, occasionally, the work's earnestness comes across as ridiculous. In one scene, for instance, a woman comes out wearing a sort of silver fig-shaped bedpan and shrieks, "I am the queen of the vaginas!" In the drama's central narrator role, Jonz offers a fierce, energetic turn that is acrobatic, versatile and powerful -- even when we're not entirely sure what the heck he's up to. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20, force12play.com. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, (310) 306-1854, electriclodge.org.

Genius From a Blue Collar Neighborhood Maria Menozzi's solo musical play. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2, geniusfromabluecollarhood.com. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

It Must Be Him Kenny Solms' story of a "whiz-kid comedy writer from the heyday of variety television, who's now out of luck and out of new ideas." Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org.

GO Margo Veil Moody, mysterious and comedic - Len Jenkin's noir fantasy takes us on a surreal trip as its central character, third-rate actress Margo Veil (Dorie Barton), endures some bizarre shape-shifting adventures guided by an ancient Lithuanian spirit statue. Similar to Alice's journey down the rabbit hole (Lewis Carroll's classic is overtly referenced), our plucky heroine accepts a questionable assignment from her talent agent; assuming the identity of a mourner to accompany a corpse on the train. Instead of gaining a paid passage back to her home country town, Margo is somehow abducted into an underworld where her body is used as a shell for other persons to inhabit. Dream-like logic ensures delightful unpredictability while the cyclical nature of the story provides a neat ending. Contemporary pop-culture references clash with the retro-noir flavor and costuming (elegantly realized by Ann Closs-Farley). Self-conscious narration hands off from character to character and the tone swings wildly from broad comedy strokes and exaggerated acting to a more serious second half (85 mins, no intermission). Much of the humor comes from live sound effects provided by cast members in addition to John Zalewski's expert sound design. While enjoyable, one is left with the impression that had director Bart DeLorenzo the courage to take this material into darker, more sinister Lynchian territory, we'd have an edgier result. Colleen Kane stands out in numerous roles while Jeremy Shranko plays a mean air guitar, redneck-style.(Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 7, 2 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 14. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

mate The Actors' Gang presents a workshop production of Lolly Ward's play about chess champion Bobby Fisher. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 6, (310) 838-4264, theactorsgang.com. Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City.

Moby Dick Rehearsed Whitmore Eclectic presents Orson Welles' play about an acting troupe reluctantly mounting Melville's whale tale. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., lyrictheatrela.com.black

Nazi Hunter - Simon Wiesenthal Tom Dugan's one-man tribute to the late concentration-camp survivor. Through Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Through Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.

Romeo and Juliet Monsters in Love: The Actors' Gang presents a free outdoor production of Shakespeare's tragedy, populated by monsters and suitable for all ages. Starting Aug. 6, Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-1040.

Sganarelle, or The Imaginary Cuckold Molière's lusty farce suffers in the hands of an uneven ensemble that can't quite harness the collective high energy upon which the comedy relies. The text, a new version translated and adapted by Frederique Michel and Charles A. Duncombe, includes plenty of deliciously ridiculous material about prideful men and jealous women, but the production misses too many beats to do the material justice. Young Celia (Lena Kouyoumdjian) loves the dashing Lelio (Justin Davanzo) and the pair intend to wed, despite the protestations of Celia's father, Gorgibus (Tim Orona). Sganarelle (Bo Roberts) is happily married to Madeleine (Cynthia Mance). Trouble comes to all four lovers in the form of bad assumptions and faulty conclusions, errors in judgment that threaten to destroy their relationships. Shortsightedness leads to emotional reactiveness, which leads to giant, impassioned displays of terrible, toddler-like behavior. This would all be outlandishly hilarious were the pacing tight and the actors fully committed to their characters' folly. Roberts self-consciously inhabits the cuckolded Sganarelle because he struggles with the lines and with pacing that falls one step behind the rest of the cast. The standout performance comes from Davanzo, whose every appearance onstage infuses the show with the high-octane quick-handedness it requires. The women unspectacularly hold their own. Duncombe's overall production design is solid, but the lighting includes too many faces erroneously cast in shadow. (Amy Lyons). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 319-9939.

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). (No perfs Aug. 5 & 20.) Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27, roguemachinetheatre.com. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills.

A Southern Exposure Kelley Kingston-Strayer's story of a Kentucky grandmother and granddaughter. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 28, 7 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 8, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.org.

Spider's Web Agatha Christie's 1954 whodunit. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.

Sylvia "Always remember your dog is a dog . . . and woman names make trouble," a stranger (Tom Ayers) warns Greg (Stephen Howard), an empty nester in the thrall of a Labradoodle named Sylvia (Tanna Frederick). The stray bitch solicited Greg at the park, bounded into his Manhattan apartment and immediately made enemies with his wife (Cathy Arden), a smart careerist blonde just getting settled into having the house - and her husband - to herself. Greg, naturally, struggles to stick to the man's advice. So, too, does the audience, as the dog is played by a redhead in a tutu who references The Odyssey and calls Greg her "knight in shining armor." What man could resist? Underneath the tutu, Frederick wears kneepads and with good reason: for two hours, she crawls, leaps, and tumbles with the humans taking turns dragging her around the stage. It's a showy gig and director Gary Imhoff has Frederick - an actress of boundless energy - frolic as if failure meant the pound. If you find Frederick too manic, as I certainly did, you soon side with the missus in wanting to call the dogcatcher. Playwright A.R. Guerney's decision to make a human play canine sharpens the love triangle between man, woman and beast. When Frederick sprawls spread-eagled on the ottoman, what wife wouldn't glare? But Gurney's smart observations about the cross-species bond clash with his sell-out, feel-good ending (was he afraid dog lovers would torch the building?), a flaw further thrown out of whack by Imhoff's need to earn laughs by any means necessary, even updating the 1995 script with Sarah Palin jokes and a dance break to Lady Gaga. By the time the cast takes their final bow to "Who Let the Dogs Out?" all but the most dog-obsessed are eager to vow their allegiance to Team Cat. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org.

Tape Stephen Belber's three-person motel-room drama. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 6. The Little Theater L.A., 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (310) 622-4482, theblackboxtheater.org.

GO THE WAR CYCLE: GOSPEL ACCORDING TO FIRST SQUAD

click to enlarge RAFAEL TONGOL
  • Rafael Tongol
Our

first mistake was writing the country's founding fathers as demigods in

American history textbooks. Generations grew up believing George

Washington was the equivalent of Christ himself -- neither did anything

wrong, according to the bibles of both church and state. Vietnam

veterans learned the hard way that life did not imitate the Gospels, but

for every Born on the Fourth of July, there was another

patriotic rally that elevated service to the country with service to

God. Tom Burmester's electrifying, tight world premiere, the third in

the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's War Cycle series (read Steven Leigh

Morris' cover story

from last August), not only confronts the error and crushing weight of

ascribing immortality to mere men, but also examines the catch-22 of the

fraternity of soldiers. Yes, it's another war play, but the first act

moves so swiftly and the themes are presented so seamlessly, you find

yourself gasping rather than groaning. Burmester's characters could

easily slip into caricature: Eric Anderson's redneck PFC Jackson is a

southern Christian's nightmare, quoting scripture and lecturing another

soldier about his porn collection moments before he gleefully joins the

terrifying, ritualistic chanting of, "Fuck that bitch!" But they all

feel so familiar, and you begin to realize these soldier stereotypes are

like all stereotypes, true on some level. Director Danika Sudik (aided

by Burmester) controls the pace while allowing for necessary outbursts

of the tightly coiled emotion and energy inside each solider, all of

which are scary in a primal way. Which is, after all, the point. The

army, like all fraternities, encourages herd mentality. It doesn't

elevate man; it reduces him to his most animalistic instincts -- or so

the military hopes, because only when men stop reflecting can they do

what must be done to win. The entire ensemble is terrific, but special

mention goes to Jonathan Redding's calm-before-cracking sergeant. Los

Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St.; Santa

Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 396-3680. (Rebecca

Haithcoat)


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