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Stranger Things at Atwater Village and Comprehensive Theater Listings

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Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 8:32 AM
click to enlarge RON FREDERICK
  • Ron Frederick

Ghost Road Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Ronnie Clark's Stranger Things. "

click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpg

Check out this week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS (go to the jump), plus an extended STAGE FEATURE on David Harrower's Blackbird, presented by Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater; and this week's capsule NEW THEATER REVIEWS

CalArts Center for New Performance among A-Ha! Program Recipients:  MetLife Foundation and Theatre Communications Group have announced their fourth round recipients of the A-Ha! Program, which supports "creative thinking and action of TCG member theaters with the goal of impacting the larger theater community." Five theaters were awarded $25,000 each -- the CalArts grant will go towards convening a "TEDx conference" of disciplines in various fields of performance. The other recipients are Perseverance Theatre, Douglas Alaska; Curious Theatre Comany, Denver; Salvage Vanguard Theatre, Austin; and The Wooster Group, New York.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 26 - Sept. 1, 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

Day Drinkers Justin Tanner's new comedy set in a dive bar. Starting Aug. 27, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 5, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

Ghost of a Chance Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus' supernatural romantic comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A., (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com.

Guided Consideration of a Lamentable Deed Frank Basloe's lurid take on "the mysterious borderline between adolescence and adulthood that is college graduation." Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 15, (323) 795-2215, needtheater.org. Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A..

My Name Is Rachel Corrie One-woman play taken from the writings of a 23-year-old America activist killed in Gaza (portrayed by Samara Frame), edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner. Starting Sept. 1, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheatre, 12601 Mulholland Dr., Beverly Hills, (818) 753-4600, theatricum.com.

An Omelet for Vinnie Ed Asner headlines this staged reading of Jayne Lyn Stahl's play about an estranged father and son reunited at a halfway house. Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/187828-. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 589-1998.

Passion Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical love triangle, set in 1863 Italy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11, (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/passion. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., theMETtheatre.com.

Private Lives Noel Coward's comedy about exes honeymooning in the same hotel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.org.

Rabbit Hole David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winner about a family turned upside-down after the death of a child. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-1970, theatrepalisades.org.

Ready for Our Close-Up Staged readings of four original plays, produced by the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Project. Sat., Aug. 27; Sun., Aug. 28, (818) 471-9100, lawomenstheatreproject.org. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..

Steel Magnolias Bonnie Franklin stars in Robert Harling's play about friendship and community. Starting Aug. 27, Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, (805) 667-2900.

This Is Our Youth Kenneth Lonergan's story of three teenagers in 1982 Manhattan. Fri., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 7 & 10 p.m., smarttix.com. Michael Woolson Studio, 8801 Cashio St., L.A., michaelwoolson.com.

Wonderlust A recently jilted high school biology teacher instructs his students to study the science of love, by Cody Henderson. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

GO BEAU JEST

click to enlarge TIM DIETLEIN
  • Tim Dietlein

So what's an attractive Jewish girl supposed to do when she's dating a man who's a gentile but doesn't want her parents to know about it? The solution to that dilemma provides ample comic fodder in James Sherman's 1990 romantic comedy in this fine revival by director Martin Lang. Sarah Goldman (Alison Robertson) is a single woman leading a seemingly happy life that includes a job as a teacher and a budding romance with the affable Chris Cringle (Shawn Cahill). However, her parents, Miriam (Elaine Rose) and Abe (Mario Di Gregorio), are pressuring her to find an eligible Jewish bachelor to marry. After consoling them with a fantasy of the perfect husband she claims to be dating, and with a family dinner on the agenda, she hires an out-of-work actor to stand in for her invention. Enter the handsome Bob Schroeder (Kelly Flynn), aka Dr. Ben Steinberg, who seems to save the day. The scheming and scamming Sarah perpetrates to maintain the ruse furnish most of the laughs here. Playwright Sherman milks the situation for every bit of comic potential. The performances are top-down solid under Lang's equally strong direction. Rounding out the cast is Danny Michaels as Sarah's therapist brother, Joel. Glendale Center Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., some performances Wed., 8 p.m., and Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m. (call for dates); through Sept. 24. (818) 244-8481. glendalecentretheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)

Ennio Family-friendly solo spectacle by Ennio Marchetto, "The Living Paper Cartoon." Fri., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 28, 2 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.

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.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie One-woman play taken from the writings of a 23-year-old America activist killed in Gaza (portrayed by Samara Frame), edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner. Starting Sept. 1, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheatre, 12601 Mulholland Dr., Beverly Hills, (818) 753-4600, theatricum.com

GO On Golden Pond 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, returned to some youthful vigor by the arrival of a 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, which 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. 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. (Tom Provenzano). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org.

Private Lives Noel Coward's comedy about exes honeymooning in the same hotel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.org.

GO Rose Cottages 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, 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 rewrote the role of Rose as 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. (Amy Lyons). Fri., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 3, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Sleep-clinic musical romance, book by Rachel Sheinkin, music by Brendan Milburn, lyrics by Valerie Vigoda. 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.

Steel Magnolias Bonnie Franklin stars in Robert Harling's play about friendship and community. Starting Aug. 27, Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, (805) 667-2900, rubicontheatre.org

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). Sun., Aug. 28, 730 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. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 9 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 630 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772. See Stage Feature.

The Underpants Steve Martin's take on dropped panties, adapted from Carl Sternheim's 1910 German farce Die Hose. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, lbph.com.

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. 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

¡Asiático! Asian-American sketch comedy, courtesy 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 4, (818) 900-2194, brownpapertickets.com/event/186386. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., complexhollywood.com.

GO Bakersfield Mist Jackson Pollock's most famous paintings have polarized critics since the artist first attacked a horizontal canvas. That polarization feeds writer-director Stephen Sachs' new play, which uses a Pollock painting as the central symbol of class war. Mouthy Maude (Jenny O'Hara) spends her days lapping up Jack Daniels and watching police procedurals in her kitsch-filled Bakersfield trailer, until a painting she buys at a yard sale steals her focus from the idiot box. Convinced the cheap buy is a bona fide Pollock, Maude summons erudite art expert Lionel (Nick Ullett) to assess the painting's authenticity and value. Immediately disgusted with the crass, tasteless Maude, Lionel aims to quickly view the so-called Pollock and flee the mobile-home scene. But Maude's initially undetectable cleverness sparks a game of one-upmanship. Sachs directs the two-hander with an abundance of spirit, smartly letting the outstanding actors brawl and emote with delightful abandon. O'Hara brings a gleeful raunchiness to Maude throughout, but forces her character out of hiding to confront the quiet sadness shrouded by all that brass. Ullett's finest moment comes in a frenzied monologue that mirrors Pollock's creative process. While Lionel tells Maude he is there to evaluate the painting, not her, the play winningly sets out to disprove this lie at every turn. Jeff McLaughlin's set makes trailer-park life seem at once enviously cozy and exhaustingly humiliating. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1525, fountaintheatre.com.

GO Blackbird Los Angeles premiere by David Harrower. Saturdays, Sundays, 5 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 12, (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., theatretheater.net. See Theater feature.

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 Come Together: A Beatles Cabaret Having seen this show some time ago, it's good to report that a number of rough edges have been smoothened, so that this cabaret-style tribute to the music of the Beatles returns in fine form. This go-round, instead of a bland backdrop, the stage is festooned with a colorful collage of posters from the group's albums and individual concerts. Also, in this version there are four actors (two men, two women) instead of six, which makes for a smoother run and less distraction. Some new songs have been added, but the bulk of the selections are the Beatles' popular love songs, which Marc Ginsburg, Betsy Hammer, Victoria Summer and John Szura sing with nary a missed note under James Carey's direction. What really makes this show is the laid-back, cabaret atmosphere, which was completely absent before. Also added are a few well-timed gags. The instrumental soundtrack has undergone a few tweaks as well -- it's a tad more conventional, but it makes for easy listening. Some highlights are "If I Fell," flawlessly rendered by Ginsburg; "Hello" and "Come Together" performed by the group; and "We Can Work it Out," sung by Szura. (Lovell Estell III). 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 DANCING AT LUGHNASA

click to enlarge RON FREDERICK
  • Ron Frederick

Irish playwright Brian Friel admires and has adapted plays by Anton Chekhov. And like so many gentle comedies by the Russian master, Friel's bittersweet period drama is less concerned with events than with the emotional survival of ordinary folk in a formidable and changing world. Friel's quasi-autobiographical play is set in an Irish village in August 1936 and revolves around five impoverished and unmarried sisters. Narrating their fortunes is the now-grown illegitimate son of the youngest sibling, Christina (Molly Leland), Michael (Gino Costabile); he is the playwright's alter ego. Having neither money nor romance, Michael's mother and aunts gather comfort from each other, along with a bit of joy from their recently acquired "wireless," a cantankerous appliance that intermittently furnishes music they can dance to. One significant event is the return from Africa of their elder brother, a priest named Jack (Donal O'Sullivan). After 25 years, his muddled metamorphosis from Catholic missionary into humanist and celebrator of Dionysus is startling to everyone. Another ripple in their lives is created with the brief reappearance of Christina's lover, Gerry (ZackaRya Santoro), the father of her child. But even as the couple dance in each other's arms, their son, Michael, is describing the twilight destiny of their liaison, and of his family as well. Directed by Aaron Morgan, this is a solid production that captures the play's considerable heart and depth, despite the miscasting of one performer and other still unperfected performances on opening night. As the lovely Christina, Leland radiates with inner life, while Suzy Harbulak draws a skilled portrait of the reserved sister, Agnes. Costabile furnishes the piece with a firm anchor, an understated yet persuasive storyteller, he is equally adept in his role as a 7-year-old boy. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 960-7711, plays411.com/lughnasa. (Deborah Klugman)

Deed Frank Basloe's lurid take on "the mysterious borderline between adolescence and adulthood that is college graduation." Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 15, (323) 795-2215, needtheater.org. Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams 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 Sept. 10, 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, losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.

GO Freak Machine 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, this 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 (aka Jaimie Devitt) weighed in with her hilarious, ukulele mashup 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 standup 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. (Bill Raden). Last Monday of every month, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 26. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., (323) 644-1929, AtwaterVillageTheatre.com.

Ghost of a Chance Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus' supernatural romantic comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A., (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com.

Google My Tweet Second City alumni sketch comedy, directed by Marc Warzecha. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A., (323) 464-8542, secondcity.com

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., elcentrotheatre.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 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.Guided Consideration of a Lamentable

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama set in purgatory. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (323) 960-1055, plays411.com. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., studio-stage.com.

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 Remember the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie was grasping for column ideas and threw out socks missing their mates as a possible analogy? More than a whiff of that reaching clings to Laura Richardson's living room couch-centered new comedy in Open Fist's First Look Festival. The play begins with promise: Desiree (the likable Stephanie Erb) shows up at the apartment of her sister, Cece (Katy Tyszkiewicz), with a big bag and little explanation of how long she plans to stay. The dialogue is humorous, a thinly veiled tiptoeing around the real question you want to ask but can't of family houseguests: "How long are you going to interrupt my present with our past?" Director Benjamin Burdick controls the pace, making a rapid-fire duel over Cece's eating habits much funnier than the subject matter warrants. But while Richardson writes wacky but not unbelievable characters (as Cece's boyfriend, Conor Lane's sweetly goofy Skeez is a stoner Starbucks barista in acupuncture school) and captures their family dynamic, the story gets lost and never finds its way out. Too many storylines -- a flighty mother for whom Cece harbors irrational anger, a dying aunt, Cece's serious OCD, Desiree's carload of unresolved problems -- clutter up the stage, but the real problem is the lack of any one strong enough to carry the show. An unfunny dream sequence is supposed to absolve Desiree of her past, but the real groan comes after the weak comparison of Cece's couch to people. The sisters manage an unsatisfying resolution that ostensibly explains Cece's outrageous bitchiness, but more than a few quickie clean-ups are needed to salvage this Couch. (Rebecca Haithcoat). 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.

GO Live Nude Groundlings The Groundlings stay fully dressed in their latest sketch comedy and improv show, and thank heaven: In the skit "Breathe Me," about two fumbling dancers with an overload of sexual tension, Annie Sertich places her face so close to Alex Stagg's leotard-clad crotch, it's a wonder she doesn't suffocate. (Don't worry, parents, you can't see anything through the fringe on his toga.) I'd call that sketch a standout, except that this is the most uniformly solid Groundlings show I've ever seen, thanks to its emphasis on eclectic ideas threaded by comedy that arrives with plain-spoken ease. Sometimes it even has a bite, as in "Marco," when a posh, bored couple (Michaela Watkins and David Hoffman) lasers in on charming their shy Latin waiter (Mikey Day). But when he gives in to their insistence that he have a drink at their table, the wife clutches at her purse. In "Career Placement," Day plays a seventh-grader depressed when a standardized test concludes that he should be a night floor manager at Michael's. And Sertich has another raw moment as a struggling actress trying to charm the casting agents (Staggs and David Hoffman) who want her to fess up to an embarrassing personal story for a cheese commercial. Like many a Hollywood lost soul, she can't gauge the difference between what's amusing and what's shockingly personal. Comediennes Watkins and Sertich own the show, and director Damon Jones makes sure neither is stuck playing the girlfriend. (He even gives them the first improv all to themselves.) In every skit, their characters are uniquely memorable and brazenly funny. Among the strong cast of six, only Day gives Watkins and Sertich a serious challenge, playing everything from a Death Star desk jockey kissing up to Darth Vader to a squealing girl at summer camp in a bit of drag that's strikingly accurate at capturing the mind of a swoony preteen. (Amy Nicholson). 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.

Love's Labour's Lost Presented by Independent Shakespeare Co. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27, (818) 710-6306, iscla.org. Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr., L.A., iscla.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.

Madman William Naomi Claire Wallace's study of Shakespeare's characters, set in a London pub. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (310) 383-6912, brownpapertickets.com/event/186559. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

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.

GO Moby Dick Rehearsed In 1955, Orson Welles' obsession with the extraordinary resulted in this fascinating play, starring himself as a 19th-century actor-producer who puts aside a production of King Lear to assay his adaptation of Melville's masterwork. Gathering his actors who have learned their parts by rote, he asks them to rehearse by improvising staging, using anything at hand to represent the whale ship Pequod on its dangerous mission to catch the great white whale. Director Aliah Whitmore's vision, beautifully realized by production designer Jacob Whitmore and lighting designer Grant Dunn, creates a vivid visual impression of 1860 artists. A fine cast, most notable James Whitmore Jr. as the pertinacious whale hunter Captain Ahab and Dustin Seavey as the gentle narrator/sailor Ishmael, breathe humanity into Melville's strenuous prose. The otherwise extraordinary production's only flaw is that the performers too easily fulfill the difficult task of physical improvisation, denying the illusion that this is the first time this play is being given life. (Tom Provenzano). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., lyrictheatrela.com.

Passion Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical love triangle, set in 1863 Italy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11, (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/passion. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., theMETtheatre.com.

The Pitchfork Disney The Smiley Face and the Frown present Philip Ridley's 1991 surrealist play. Saturdays, 9:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 850-7827.

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.

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. 27, 8 p.m. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.

GO RAISED IN CAPTIVITY

click to enlarge TONY MAESTO
  • Tony Maesto

Though Henry David Thoreau observed, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," the desperate characters in Nicky Silver's dark comedy are never quiet about it. They shriek, rage and caterwaul, and a good, miserable time is had by all. Sebastian (director Alejandro Romero) has lost his mother (Betina Mustain) to a freak plumbing accident, his lover has died of AIDS, and now he's fallen in love with Dylan (Marco Dapper), a murderer on death row. When he decides to part company with his longtime therapist (Mustain again), she's plunged into an orgy of hysterical self-loathing and self-mutilation. Sebastian's twin sister, Bernadette (Krystal Kennedy), is married to a dentist (Anthony Trexler) who hates teeth and decides to abandon his profession to become a painter, but their plans are skewed when she discovers she's pregnant -- and things swerve toward magic surrealism when her baby starts walking at 4 months. Director Romero gives the piece a stylishly over-the-top production, though we could do with a little less screaming. The actors inhabit their roles with skill and abandon, while Dapper and Mustain shine in their dual roles. The Renegade Theatre, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Sept. 18. (323) 960-7792, plays411.com/raised. (Neal Weaver)

Ready for Our Close-Up Staged readings of four original plays, produced by the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Project. Sat., Aug. 27; Sun., Aug. 28, (818) 471-9100, lawomenstheatreproject.org. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..

SO DAMNED HEAVENLY BOUND/YOU MAKE ME PHYSICALLY ILL

click to enlarge ROGER MATHEY
  • Roger Mathey

Roger Mathey makes clear in the program notes to his one-act, You Make Me Physically Ill
(Mathey also directs) that his purpose is to bring closure to the
lunacy of a former romantic but unconsummated relationship. Yet there
are serious doubts as to whether his personal catharsis comedy
translates into a more commonly understood language about the essences
of what makes men and women tick together, or not. Mathey's stand-in is a
guy named Will (an earnest and sweetly bewildered performance by Karl
Wade), visiting the family of his perky love interest, Jennifer (Emily
Tisler). The pipe-voiced Tisler plays the role with a kind of
caffeinated good nature that melts into a defiant defense to Will of her
family, whose abusive, incestuous lunacies form the many, many butts of
one joke. Before making their escape, Will's friends (Claire Moles and
Steve Garza) make clear that he's about to go down the rabbit hole; the
only remaining suspense in what's directed as a '50s sitcom with
laughtrack is how Orton-esque perverse this family can be. Upon Will's
arrival, Dad (Mathey) offers Will a back rub, having emerged from the
back room from a romp on the bed with all his kids. Thereafter, Dad
makes several reappearances from the bathroom with fly open while teen
daughter Sally (Amanda Castruita) wipes her mouth with the back of her
hand. Meanwhile, Jennifer is deaf to Will's pleas that her family is
nuts, culminating in her eponymous accusation. Though, to his credit,
Mathey takes pains not to demonize his ex, for inquiring minds, his
comedy only raises the larger question of what actually happened, since
the relentless, and ultimately threadbare, farcical condemnation of her
family is more peevish than persuasive. The bill opens with Patty
Wonderly's So Damned Heavenly Bound, also directed by Mathey,
about three sisters squabbling over their entitlement to the estate of
their just deceased father. Despite attempts at jocular repartee, the
play takes seriously what Del Shores ridiculed so pointedly in his farce
Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will? As one of the characters
emoted through a monologue of sibling rivalry, one audience member
groaned involuntarily out loud, "Oh ... God," which tidily sums up the
entire experience. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 10. (661) 212-0241, plays411.net. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Stones in His Pockets Tuta Theatre West presents Marie Jones' story of a big-budget Hollywood film production taking over an Irish village, with 15 roles performed by two actors. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17, (323) 960-7822, plays411.com/stones. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..

SUN SISTERS

click to enlarge LUI SANCHEZ
  • Lui Sanchez

By
the time Vasanti Saxena's mother-daughter drama begins to traverse
complex emotional terrain, it's almost a case of too little too late.
Riddled with conversational platitudes and hinging on a generic conflict
rooted in a tired treatment of the generation gap, Act 1 fails to
deliver any semblance of dramatic stakes. Near play's end, however, a
rare authorial rallying occurs, resulting in a few narrative payoffs
that, though not revelatory, stand on firm dramaturgical ground. Jessica
(Andrea Lwin) comes home to take care of her cancer-stricken mother,
Angie (Momo Yashima). As the two women pick through boxes in the attic,
Angie also pokes around in Jessica's personal life, bemoaning her
daughter's lesbian lifestyle and decision to have a baby with her
partner. The dull squabble goes on far too long before Angie succumbs to
dementia and the first of many flashbacks affords a glimpse into
Angie's past. Young Angie (Elaine Kao), as it rather predictably turns
out, shares several of Jessica's, ahem, interests. The dramatic irony
runs thin as it becomes increasingly clear that secrets will not be kept
for long. But the flashbacks introduce the most engaging character in
the play. Evelyn (an effectively restrained Jully Lee) is a woman born
before her time, and it's her narrative that lends the entire story an
element of refreshing unpredictability. Company of Angels at the
Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, downtown; Fri.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 489-3703, companyofangels.org. (Amy Lyons)

This Is Our Youth Kenneth Lonergan's story of three teenagers in 1982 Manhattan. Fri., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 7 & 10 p.m., smarttix.com. Michael Woolson Studio, 8801 Cashio St., L.A., michaelwoolson.com.

TREAT YOURSELF LIKE CARY GRANT

click to enlarge RANDOLPH ADAMS
  • Randolph Adams

Thomas
(Kim Estes), a black man, sits on death row for murdering his white
wife after she filed for divorce. With weeks to go before his execution,
it looks bleak -- except to the dogged young attorney Roberta (Erin
Carufel), hair clenched in a tight French twist, who hounds Thomas' cell
demanding he help her prove his innocence. Her problems are twofold:
The convict insists he's actually Cary Grant, and worse, he's
uninterested in escaping the gallows. "Death row is one nonstop
par-tay!" Estes chirps in his best imitation of Grant. (It's decent, but
he's done no favors by writer-director Rick Pagano's call to run clips
of the real Grant on the wall behind him, reminding us of the
impossibility of capturing Grant's cavalier cool.) The fundamental
problem of Pagano's play is that the dead man walking is merrily
sauntering toward death. The only person desperate to keep him alive in
this cast of seven is his workaholic lawyer, and she doesn't even like
him much; to her, the man is just an obstacle in the case she wants to
win. Even the play doesn't seem to care much if Thomas survives till
Christmas -- it's preoccupied with how this incarcerated kook will heal
Roberta's love life and her daddy issues, and the solutions feel a bit
culturally musty. When she asks Thomas, "Why are you aspiring to be a
dead white man?" his counter is, "Why are you trying to be a live one?"
And his advice that she should loosen up, let her hair down, wear
lipstick and be a woman comes across doubly retrograde with 70-year-old
classic romances projected around the room like instructional manuals,
and the ghost of Thomas' dead wife (Christine Syron) silently slinking
around in an ultra-femme dress to give her man coffee and shoulder
massages. Pagano knows there are some intriguing racial and cultural
issues buried in his story, but his efforts to sweat them out aren't
working. Is Thomas' Cary Grant shtick insanity or just his idealization
of a life that transcends his prison? We're led to flip-flop back and
forth. By the time the play clutches at some implausible coincidences,
you're ready to go home and slip on a DVD of Bringing Up Baby
to watch a heroine with real strength and substance. Elephant Stages,
Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 18, (323) 960-7745, plays411.com/carygrant. (Amy Nicholson)

Trigger Playwright Kyle Jarrow tells the improbable tale of unfaithful husband Ryan (Michael Trucco) and his serial infidelities. During a night on the town, he picks up pretty blonde Jill (Jen Eldridge) and takes her back to her apartment for a night of sex. But when he makes a move on her, there's a loud clap of thunder, and a cellphone call from the police informs him that his wife, Karen (Lisa Brenner), was in a serious automobile accident at the moment of the first thunderclap. A local news anchor (Dana Kelly Jr.) reports a series of worldwide disasters, convincing him that his misdeeds have the power to trigger cataclysms. The accident leaves Karen paralyzed from the neck down, plunging Ryan into guilty despair. Devoutly religious hospital attendant Anton (Gugun Deep Singh) attempts to persuade him of the power of prayer. What seemed to be a satirical farce about religious superstition and delusions of grandeur abruptly turns into a drama about miracles, faith and the power of prayer. And with that turn, credibility goes out the window. Despite herculean efforts by director Damaso Rodriguez and his cast, the play remains fractured by its disparate elements and uncertainty of tone. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17, brownpapertickets.com/event/187180. The Blank's Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 661-9827, theblank.com.


VIVIEN Daytime drama star Judith Chapman adopts the troubled persona of Vivien Leigh in Rick Foster's hagiographic one-woman bio-play in its Los Angeles premiere. Foster attempts to illustrate a luminous career undermined by mental illness and a rocky marriage, and introduces us to Leigh two months before her death from tuberculosis, as she's about to undertake rehearsals for Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. As Leigh reminisces, she conducts imaginary (one-sided) conversations with others that figured in her life, such as the thorn-in-her-side savage critic Kenneth Tynan, paramour Peter Finch and, of course, Laurence Olivier, her actor husband of 20 years. Startling us with occasional profanity, Chapman perfectly mimics the actress's distinctive clipped British accent and the exaggerated intonation of this fragile and mercurial leading lady. As Foster's scenes seem random in their progression, Chapman's performance is similarly unpredictable and tinged with insanity. Yet hers is a restless interpretation, bouncing around the stage and constantly gesticulating as if to stave off possible boredom. Viewed by today's standards, Leigh had a tendency to overact. In opting for an overly melodramatic though arguably apt rendition, Chapman outdoes Leigh's rampant theatricality, which is topped by an expressive and dramatic mad scene to rival Lucia di Lammermoor. Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Sat., Aug. 27, perf is at 5 pm. Sun., Aug. 28, perf at 3 p.m.; added perf Mon., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.); through Sept. 4. (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)

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.

Wonderlust A recently jilted high school biology teacher instructs his students to study the science of love, by Cody Henderson. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

Boomermania Baby Boomer musical lampoon, written and directed by Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 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.

Counter Men Imagine the cast of the sitcom Cheers as mostly ex-Marines. Now fast-forward 20 years, replace the Boston bar with a Glendale restaurant, and you'll have a pretty good feel for this world premiere by Chuck Faerber, whose clever title refers to both the function these men served in the military and the section of Mo-Par's where they park their keisters. Among them are Eddie (Alan Woolf), the elder statesmen who fought in Korea and is obsessed with the lottery; Carl (Bart Braverman), who served in Vietnam and has prostate problems; and Tim (Shelly Kurtz), the perennial jokester who lost his wife to cancer too soon. Doting on this shiftless trio is veteran waitress Joyelle (Marion Ramsey), whose no-nonsense exterior barely hides the paralyzing fear she feels for her son serving in Iraq. To pass the time, the three musketeers fawn over the antics of Mackie (Paul Haitkin), an actor between jobs who is entertaining precisely because he is young, dumb and full of ... patriotic bravo. There are a few plot points, such as Mackie's enlisting in the Navy and Joyelle confronting her worst fears, but the play is really a character piece, and a funny one at times. It even features some merry melodies, courtesy of Teo (Michael Uribes), the Filipino musician who sleeps in a booth with his synthesizer. Yet despite director Richard Kuhlman's impressive maneuvering of 14 actors in and out of scenes, the dearth of true drama leaves one wanting. Sure, there are some crackling fireworks along the way -- especially in the tense political moments between Braverman and Haitkin. However, the tension is undercut when all the loose ends are neatly tied up at the conclusion, just like in your favorite sitcom. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27, (323) 960-5521, plays411.com/countermen. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, whitefiretheatre.com.

GO Devils Love at Midnight As any longtime fan can testify, the Grand Guignol Gothicists of Zombie Joe's Underground could perform the phone book and make it look like a blood-curdling issue of EC Comics. Fortunately for this short, late-night evening of original playlets and poetry torn from the sketchbook of Zombie Joe himself, the featured texts are nothing so prosaic. Rather, the seven pieces (mostly -- and inventively -- directed by Jana Wimer) constitute a virtual key to comprehending the tortured, Catholic-guilt-twisted fatalism that both informs ZJU's aesthetic and provides their stage-zeit with its haunting, hallucinatory geist. Thus, in the opener, "Folly of Love Fulfilled," Davern Wright, Joanna Bartling and Kyle Clare enact a parable of love, family and fate, in which redemption is annulled through the irony of its reverse-sequenced narrative. "Only Ever One" explores love lost via an idiot-child trance channeler (a mesmerizing Amy Gotham) exploited for dubious, otherworldly comfort by her brokenhearted sister (Anne Westcott) and a bereaved pilgrim (Denny Zartman). "The Sad Soul-Searching Spirit of Sweet Lil' Violet Nantucket" takes a grotesque look at transgressive desire in its tale of two inmates from Serenity Farms Asylum (Zartman and Wright) grave-robbing the skull of a gruesomely abused and murdered former patient (Gotham). The evening's visual keynote is provided by "Procession of Devils," in which director Sebastian Munoz inflects ZJ's wry meditation on the veniality of his San Fernando Valley youth with Hieronymus Bosch-like theatrics. Shayne Eastin and Michael Maio illuminate the shorter verse pieces with their original score and engaging stage presence. (Bill Raden). Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.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.

Love, Lust & Lunacy: The Naked Truth About Relationships Written and performed by comedian/talk show host Debi Gutierrez. Sun., Aug. 28, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 7 p.m., (323) 960-5772, plays411.com/lovelustlunacy. Ice House, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, icehousecomedy.com.

Next Window Please Five bank tellers and their nurturing manager, all female, are distraught when they learn of a bank merger bringing potential layoffs. The delicate balance of their workday relationships is further upset by the arrival of an ambitious, charming and handsome junior executive (Chris Wolfe) who, like a cat among the pigeons, shows up to observe for a week and then advise his superiors who should keep her job. Playwright Doug Haverty uses the small Santa Monica branch of a bank as the setting for his examination of the daily routine of these six vivacious, opinionated and financially strapped working women (Stephanie Colet, Kady Douglas, Bianca Gisselle, Trisha Hershberger, Shelby Kocee and Gina Yates). Scenes that chart their final workweek are intercut with insightful monologues as each character takes a turn in a spotlight to share personal confessionals with the audience. Though lazy theatrically, this device nonetheless permits the individual stories to sneak into our hearts. Creating a range of multicultural characters seems a good choice, but having three of the five tellers speak in broken English does not. Haverty's heartfelt comedy skirts its potential by substituting a feel-good tale of feminine camaraderie for conflict or a ruthlessness that would be far more reflective of the times. While the acting is mostly good, this production's pace is infuriatingly sluggish and protracted under Richard Alan Woody's direction. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 17. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.

Romeo & Juliet Zombie Joe Underground's "fast-paced, high-impact" take on Shakespeare's tragedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 8. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.


GO To The New Girl From the Former Mrs._____:Sound Advice for My Husband's Wife or Mistress The trophy wife (Niki Nowak) of a prominent televangelist considers divorcing and/or exposing her husband for his affair with a gay man. A spoiled matron (Ashley Fuller, alternating with Jennie Floyd) berates the pretty young housekeeper who has complained of her spouse's sexual harassment. A woman who has suffered multiple miscarriages (Monica Lawson) excoriates her mate's new lover and casts a curse on the child they are expecting. An elderly woman (Rosina Pinchot), happily married for 57 years, shares the story of her marriage with her Alzheimer-stricken husband's new companion, a woman he fell in love with in a nursing home. Directed by Jeanette Farr, Samantha Macher's play relays the stories of 10 betrayed or forsaken women, each of whom speaks to the paramour who has ensnared her beloved's affections. Macher wrote this play at the request of this company's members to counterbalance the overwhelmingly male-oriented perspective of their past productions, a request for which they deserve credit. Not all the narratives are equally developed -- some trail off without sufficient resolution -- and some performances are of a notably higher standard than others. Still, Macher's writing reflects the humor and detail of an insightful storyteller. Pinchot captures the spotlight with a heartrending portrayal of a lost and cherished love. Also notable are Tifanie McQueen as an abused wife livid enough to murder her rival, and Shelby Janes as a pregnant gal bidding a welcome good riddance to her crackhead boyfriend. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (800) 838-3006, skypilottheatre.com. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

Urban Death Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

GO The Walworth Farce As the house lights darken, a lone spotlight lingers on the door of the set. One man, Blake (Cameron J. Oro), sniffs at a stretchy blouse and sprays it with air freshener before ironing it. Another, Dinny (Tim Cummings), sits center stage, slowly polishing his shoes. The last man, Sean (Adam Haas Hunter) rushes through the door, latches its four locks, races into the kitchen and freaks out as he unpacks his purchases. They're all prepping for an in-house performance, though you don't realize it yet. Your mind scrambles as the bizarre play-within-a-play unfolds -- is this some kind of crazy game? No, it's Enda Walsh's riveting black comedy. In a festering hole of a London flat (nicely detailed by Arthur MacBride), the father, Dinny, stars and directs sons Blake and Sean in a staging of a day from their past in Ireland. There's a conspicuous wackiness in Blake playing the female roles, and of Dinny casting himself as a brain surgeon. It's a comedy, right? Until the sky blackens with a sudden, violent outburst from Dinny. By the time an outsider (Brie Eley as the checkout girl from the grocery shop that Sean visits every day) enters the fray, you feel the play teetering ever closer to foreboding territory. In slicing open a deeply disturbed family, Walsh explores how a parent's fear and best intentions can warp and cripple the minds of his children. Yet the play also is a study of how people soothe and stabilize themselves with habit, and families mentally rewrite history in order to live with their past. Director Tim Byron Owen's excellent ensemble nimbly handles the aerobically taxing and emotional performance. As in the best of stories, the full impact of its implications slams you only after you close the book. (Rebecca Haithcoat). 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.

THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD

click to enlarge LIA PERASON
  • Lia Perason

It's not all silly patter and comically exaggerated melodrama in Gilbert and Sullivan's relatively grim story of wrongful imprisonment, forced marriages and the tears of a clown -- all taking place in the Tower of London. Set in the year of Queen Elizabeth's death, the libretto mocks Shakespearean speech, mostly achieved through plenteous thees and thous -- well matched by Shon LeBlanc's decorative period costuming and designer Edward Haynes Jr.'s heavy stone set. Director Eugene J. Hutchins and musical director Brian Asher Alhadeff make the most of a mix of performers who range from impressive amateurs to fine professionals. The title character, who escaped unjust execution into the arms of a wandering singer (excellent soprano Michelle Caravia), is played with energetic charm and a gorgeous tenor voice by Joseph Gárate. But the standout of the overstating is the extremely boyish Matthew Welch as tragic jester Jack Point, who gambols through the proceedings with an endearingly exaggerated cockney dialect before letting loose with a heartbreakingly powerful baritone that seems nearly impossible from his compact physique. Some of the staging, and especially the fight choreography, was not quite ready for opening night, but the enthusiasm of the participants made up for most shortcomings. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Sept. 24. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Tom Provenzano)


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


GO 4.48 Psychosis Playwright Sarah Kane's kaleidoscopic drama premiered shortly after her suicide in 2000. At the time, one British theater critic called the work a "70-minute suicide note" -- and, of course, even with the best will in the world, it is almost impossible to separate the intense and ferociously angry text of the work from the tragic real-world story surrounding it. This is particularly true when you consider that the lyrical writing overtly deals with issues of depression and mental illness from the point of view of the sufferer -- it may be one of the best plays to depict suicidal depression from the inside out. Set, as the program notes, "inside a deranged brain," the work consists of a series of fragmented exchanges that often take the form of inchoate expressions of rage twinned with frustrated awareness of a lack of control. A clearly unstable young woman (Cynthia Mance) sits center stage, bracketed by two figures in chairs behind her and another figure, a seemingly severed head in a bird cage -- all of whom mutter abrasive vituperations at the hapless girl. A pair of other performers portray the doctors attempting to treat her -- though they offer only the coldest comfort to the angst-ridden heroine, offering such utterances as "I know nothing of you, but I like you!" Frederique Michel's harrowing and edgy production, replete with eerie sound effects and dialogue interspersed with characters suddenly lurching into rhythmic spasms and twitching, hauntingly captures the state of mind of someone with tunnelvision perception in which all thoughts, excuses and opinions inevitably lead to one ultimate act of self-negation. Designer Charles Duncombe's sterile hospital room-like set and the percussive sound effects suggest the heroine's matter-of-fact view of her own madness and feelings of emptiness. The production delivers a disturbing and striking theatrical experience. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 3. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 319-9939, citygarage.org

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. Sun., Aug. 28; Mon., Aug. 29. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica, (310) 315-1459, highwaysperformance.org.

Day Drinkers Justin Tanner's new comedy set in a dive bar. Starting Aug. 27, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 5, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

Dolls: Not Your Usual Love Story Situated at the midpoint between Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker and Disney's Toy Story 3, this new musical -- from local theater stalwarts Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo -- explores the secret life of dolls. Despite a fascinating premise, the pairing of a simple love story and commedia dell'arte archetypes with high-flown wordplay and allusions results in a serio-comic tone that, rather than working on multiple levels, becomes a bit muddled. A menagerie of castoffs, squeezed into a cramped "toy box" decorated in pink Victoria's Secret stripes, mourn the maturation of their owner and wonder at the veracity of the legend that dolls in their situation are given the chance to become real children. As they await the moment when one of them may be chosen, they reveal their histories, fears, doubts and longings through song. Initially, the overuse of spotlights and the static, declamatory style of DeCarlo's blocking suggest a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Victorian "teapot stance." When that choice turns out to be more sincere than spoof, it becomes difficult to take seriously the more tender and philosophical moments in songs such as "Leaving" and "What Is a Child?," two of the most thematically interesting in the score. Still, the poised ensemble, decked out in colorful costumes by Ashley Hayes' (Rudie's pseudonym), is a memorable sight, especially Melissa Gentry, who nimbly executes the numerous changes required of Fussy Fanny. Nancy Dobbs Owen, as Valentina Ballerina, impresses with her body control, remaining en pointe or stone still for long stretches, and Serena Dolinsky, as Marguerite the Victoriana, has a wonderful expressiveness that highlights her skillfully crafted "cracked-face" makeup. (Mayank Keshaviah). 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.

END DAYS

click to enlarge ENCI
  • Enci

Verisimilitude, psychological depth and emotional truth aren't necessarily requisites for a winning stage comedy. But they help. So do a measure of genuine wit, a certain subtlety of craft and, well, some occasional belly laughs. Stint on too many of these and the result could easily resemble playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer's seriously unfunny fractured-family fable. Laufer's one-note joke rests on the character of Sylvia Stein (Abigail Revasch), a supremely self-involved and over-controlling Jewish mother whose history of phobic manias have produced a dour, resentful and rebellious outcast of a punk-rock teen daughter, Rachel (Zoe Perry). Worse, Sylvia's recent conversion to Rapture-proselytizing, evangelical Christianity has made Rachel's home life a living hell and sent her father (Loren Lester) into a near-catatonic depression (the less said of his nonsensical brush with 9/11, the better). Sylvia's religious hysteria also has provided her with her own personal savior -- a figment of Jesus (the hilarious Andrew Ableson) that follows her around, vamping poses from kitschy fundamentalist Christ paintings (in the production's sole, genius sight gag). For the rest of the family, the Messiah proves to be Rachel's dweebish, love-struck classmate, Nelson (Charlie Saxton), a fellow outcast in an Elvis jumpsuit whose sympathetic, nonjudgmental guilelessness inexplicably redeems the household. Unfortunately, such feeble whimsies rarely rise above the implausible and are more commonly reduced to shrill caricature by director Lisa James. Designer Jeff McLaughlin's clumsy kitchen-sink set hampers rather than helps either the ensemble or the comedy, while Jeremy Pivnick's lighting runs the gamut of illumination, from off to on. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 31, Sept. 14 & 21, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 8 & 29, Oct. 6 & 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 2 p.m.; through Oct. 13. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Bill Raden)

Genius From a Blue Collar Neighborhood With its reliance on the traditional tropes of the solo show genre, this autobiographical tale of a Midwestern heroine (writer-performer Maria Menozzi) who dreams of moving to the Big Apple and becoming a star runs the risk of being dismissed as somewhat trivial. However, it would be a mistake to do that, for the stock elements of Menozzi's show are unexpectedly leavened by undercurrents of pathos and wise melancholy -- a rarity in this kind of one-person effort. As she enters the stage, Menozzi, a clearly warm and laid-back figure, meets the eyes of almost every member of the audience, treating us less as passive viewers than as trusted friends and confidents. Her narrative, which unfolds gently in director Che'Rae Adams' intimate production, recounts memories of a blissfully happy Michigan childhood as the beloved daughter of working-class parents. While punctuating her stories with a series of Bruce Springsteen-like folk song numbers, Menozzi describes her brief sojourn in Manhattan before she returned home to Michigan after an illness and decided to go "straight" into careers in teaching and counseling. An interesting aspect of Menozzi's story is the underlying theme of forgiveness for decisions made and life paths chosen. Yet the details she presents do not necessarily make for compelling stagecraft -- it's hard to sustain much excitement during the description of Menozzi's flubbing a word during a spelling bee when she was 13, for instance. Additionally, her commendable message of midlife acceptance would be a lot more engaging if her story were not treated so guardedly -- we sense there is a lot of drama near, but the material Menozzi opts to share with us only hints at it. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 2, geniusfromabluecollarhood.com. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

GO Gospel According to First Squad Our first mistake was profiling 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; 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 Spencer Kramber's calm-before-cracking sergeant. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 27. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-3680, powerhousetheatre.com

It Must Be Him What does a formerly successful TV writer do when he hits his 50s and can't sell a script? He writes a mildly amusing musical play about his woes. Although the medley of original songs (composed by Larry Grossman and Ryan Cunningham) doesn't appear until the last third of this 80-minute play, Kenny Solms' autobiographical comedy is mostly fun and frothy, and populated by just about every gay male stereotype you can name. Louie (David Pevsner) is all washed up. He's middle-aged, with a hot young boyfriend (Nick Cobey) who's leeching off him, a slacker assistant (Andy Fitzgerald), an irate agent (Stephen Marshall), a sassy, uncooperative Latina maid (Veronica Alicino) and an antsy bookie who needs to get paid (Jim Shipley). And if Louie can't sell his screenplay, he's going to lose his $2 million mansion. Problem is, Louie's script is an unconvincing romantic comedy. Pressured by the others, Louis deftly switches a character name and suddenly his show becomes a pornographic gay musical before his agent shuts it down. Solms keeps the mood light by injecting ghostly appearances from Louie's adorable Jewish parents (Michael Edelstein and Beth Lane) and high school girlfriend (Mor-gan Smith Feldman) into his tormented scenes of angst. While the show has an uneven and nightmarish mise en abyme quality (this time a screenplay within a play), there are plenty of sitcom gags, puns, one-liners and spiky banter. Director Brian Drillinger wrestles with a pastiche of styles, emphasizing broad comedy tinged with hysteria, while Stephan Smith Collins gives showstopping turns in various clichéd roles. (Pauline Adamek). 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.

An Omelet for Vinnie Ed Asner headlines this staged reading of Jayne Lyn Stahl's play about an estranged father and son reunited at a halfway house. Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/187828-. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 589-1998.

Rabbit Hole David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winner about a family turned upside-down after the death of a child. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-1970, theatrepalisades.org.

GO Romeo and Juliet: Monsters in Love This family-friendly spectacle transforms Shakespeare's tragedy about lovers into a musical romp in which slapstick prevails and the doleful denouement turns into a cautionary "this-coulda-happened-but-fortunately-didn't" ending. As is often the case with family entertainment, it's the theatrical embellishments that shine. Adapted and directed by Cynthia Ettinger, the production's premise is that the audience is watching a troupe of Transylvanian monsters perform their interpretation of the play -- staged outdoors in a park setting. The Friar (the likable and effective Donna Jo Throndale) narrates with merry panache. Dressed in an embroidered emerald-green robe, she acts as intermediary with the audience as well as perpetrator of the upbeat finale. The rest of the ensemble -- company veterans and a few youthful interns -- merrily dance and cavort their way through the storyline, to a mix of mostly rap and rock rhythms, in tandem with the uncredited droll sound design. The monster theme doesn't quite play, and I've seen cleverer parodies, even for kids, but the execution is entirely polished and the show is as fun as intended. Designer Lynne Marie Martens' mélange of colorful costumes and the performers' delightfully diverse makeup (uncredited, as is Christiane Georgi's animated choreography) add considerably to the mirth. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, Sundays, 11 a.m. Continues through Aug. 28. Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 836-1040, theactorsgang.com

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, citygarage.org

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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 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 In a heritage museum of the not-too-distant future, one can easily imagine an exhibit -- located somewhere between the working blacksmith shop and the demonstration of the manual typewriter -- of an antique curio known as the "West End Mystery." A kindly docent might explain how mystery novelists such as Agatha Christie married the genre's red herrings and drawing-room conventions to a fusty Edwardian dramaturgy in comedy-thriller puzzlers represented by director Bruce Gray's staging of Dame Agatha's Spider's Web -- a one-dimensional work of pure surface whose success or failure rides on the ability of an ensemble to misdirect an audience from its creaking plot mechanics through the amusing mannerisms the actors lend its eccentric, English-gentry archetypes. The docent might point out such genre hallmarks as the picture-perfect realism of the country manor set (designer Jeff G. Rack); a murky mix of motives including drug trafficking, hidden treasure and a child-custody dispute; a colorful, subterfuge-prone heroine (Julie Lancaster); her quick-minded guardian (David Hunt Stafford); a doddering family friend (Philip Persons); a keen-eyed detective inspector (Richard Hoyt Miller); and, oh yes, a corpse (Umberto Pecorino). Before shuffling his indifferent charges on to the automatic-record-changer phonograph display, the docent might wryly note how the otherwise workmanlike production only leaps to life whenever Amy Tolsky takes to the stage as meddling gardener Mildred Peake, in a delightfully quirky performance worthy of Elsa Lanchester. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 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.


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