Cody Henderson's intriguing new play, Wonderlust, follows a high school teacher jilted by his wife, and his attempt to cope with the abandonment by designing a course on the science of love. For a review of this, and Justin Tanner's best comedy in years, Day Drinkers, at the Odyssey, see the Stage feature.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication September 1, 2011:
Sketch comedy seems to operate under the rule, "I can talk trash about my family, but you can't." 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, self-proclaimed to be "the world's most psychotic Asian American sketch comedy group," take that premise to a new level in their latest, often funny production. When any character, especially over 60, curses in any sketch, it's always "Goddam," hissed multiple times. When Michael Chih Ming Hornbuckle and Greg Watanabe perform their version of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," one joke is, "What do Asians and Latinos have in common besides having extremely large penises? Vivid imaginations." With a few exceptions, self-deprecation is the central theme of the scenes, but the gag has trouble carrying the entire show. "Keeping Up with the Kandelas," featuring a Filipino Kardashian clan, aims at too easy and tired a target, and has too little depth to really make a dent in the ludicrous family's armor: At this point, poking at them must go beyond Kim's sex tape/big butt fame and her mother's role as pimp. "Aquaman," one of the few sketches that doesn't play the race card for laughs, is the dud of the night, though it's admirable the troupe didn't take the tried-n-true SNL homoerotic superhero direction. All sketch comedy troupes have "off" nights (or years -- SNL, ahem) and The Warriors prove they know how to wrap scenes with winning one-liners ("Hapa Club" and "Computer Dating"). They just need a few more of those to land the next show. 18 Might Mountain Warriors at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (818) 900-2194, 18mmw.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO 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. See Stage Feature.
GHOST OF A CHANCE
About to remarry, a widow named Bethany (Kate McCoy) gets a visit from her dead husband Chance (Flip Kobler), who ardently implores her to remain true to him. No one else sees this persistent and annoying ghost, so her conversations with him create a misunderstanding with her timorous intended, Floyd (Nicaolas Smith), and his meddling mom, Verna (Marti Hale). Written by Kobler and Cindy Marcus, and directed by Marcus, the dusty premise spins off into a jumble of familiar gags and schmaltzy bromides which, against all expectation, coalesce into a pleasant though hardly hilarious or penetrating evening of humor. Several savvy performances embroider this featherweight vehicle, which tiresomely drifts into sappy Lifetime Channel turf before its predictably upbeat finale. Chief among its saving graces is the talented Smith, who turns the role of a stock schlemiel into a priceless comic portrayal. Hale likewise elicits laughs with her parody of a closed-minded matron, and Kobler misses nary a step as the improbably smarmy phantom. The story plays out on designers' Billy Stone and John Lewis' unfussy but nicely appointed set. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (323) 667-0955, 18mmw.com. (Deborah Klugman)
GO GUIDED CONSIDERATION OF A LAMENTABLE DEED
One man's guilty conscience drives the action of Frank Basloe's outstanding new play. It's the night before college graduation for the handsome Tim (Ben Kurland), but there's something depressing about his post-coital nudity. We quickly learn from an omniscient narrator (the effectively even-handed Mattie Hawkinson) that Tim's sexual encounter took place with an inebriated-to-the-point-of-unconscious girl. The rape kicks off Tim's late-night, campus-wide quest for absolution, a sometimes hilariously pseudo-philosophical journey amidst drunken undergrads unready for the real world and childish faculty members modeling bad behavior. The pot-smoking Jewish intellectual clique (led by a hilariously pubescent-minded Edward Kiniry-Ostro) urges Tim to hunt for justification for his foul deed in Genesis 9:20-25, in which the noble Noah drinks too much wine and is, in one interpretation, sodomized by his son. The campus security guard (Ronald Conner) offers no consolation, as he's too busy getting joyless blowjobs from female undergrads to hide his homosexuality. Basloe's cast of intellectually superior characters lacking any signs of emotional depth is at once alarming and hilarious. This failure of academia to supply students with real-world skills is most comically represented in the character of Peter Jennings (J.B. Waterman), who is preparing the next day's commencement address, which promises to be riddled with useless platitudes. Dylan Southard directs with clarity of vision, staging early scenes upstage and pushing the action closer to the audience as intimacy becomes essential. Chris Covics' winning lighting and set design includes six moveable pillars of light that create shifting moods throughout. NeedTheater at Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. thru Oct. 15. (323) 795-2215, needtheater.org. (Amy Lyons)
MADMAN WILLIAM Who was William Shakespeare and how the heck did he ever come up with such clever and enduring stories? The stacks are filled with erudite exegeses, epigonic tributes and prosaic theses that in some way address such questions. Now comes playwright Naomi Claire Wallace's underwhelming contribution to this towering Bard babel: He was crazy. Sure -- crazy like a fox. Wallace's wheezing, quasi-mystical mix of Rod Serling and Luigi Pirandello presents a portrait of the artist (Luke LaGraff) as idiot savant -- a henpecked and inarticulate 16th century insomniac whose creative fever to pen the stories locked in his head approaches psychosis. Meanwhile, in a 21st century London pub, Hamlet (Mike Gerdwagen), Macbeth (Dane H. Haines II), Lear (Clyde F.T. Small) and Mercutio (Phillip J. Wheeler) gather for their semi-regular reunion. Not actors, these are the characters themselves, all garbed in ludicrous modern dress (by Maggie Dougher), and grousing about the 400 years of indignities heaped upon them by screwy scholars, harebrained directors and half-baked concept productions. As the assembly expounds on their creator's all-encompassing genius, in drifts the Bard in his nightshirt to offer that it has something to do with dreaming. Wallace's wan satire essentially amounts to an hour of wide-eyed wonder at the transcending universal appeal of the Shakespearian imagination. An even bigger wonder -- and a far more persuasive testament to Shakespeare's dramatic power -- is that his reputation can so easily shrug off director Glen S. Jimenez's wildly slapdash, miscast and under-rehearsed staging. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Sept. 18. (310) 383-6912, brownpapertickets.com/event/186559. (Bill Raden)
PASSION Stephen Sondheim's 1994 musical, with book by James Lapine, tells a turgid tale of erotic obsession in 19th century Italy. Handsome soldier Giorgio (Nathaniel Reynolds) is sent to a remote provincial outpost, commanded by Colonel Ricci (Duane Allen Thomas). There he encounters the colonel's sickly, unattractive cousin Fosca (Lindsay Zana), who is immediately, passionately attracted to him. She stalks him ruthlessly, using appeals to his pity and devious manipulations to ensnare him. He is initially angry and resentful, trying to shake off her relentless pursuit, but he's a sucker for her tricks, and eventually succumbs, shedding his married mistress, Clara (Melissa Cook). This is all conceived in terms of high romance, but another scenario is possible: He's a weak, passive man, waiting for someone to take control of his life. The events may be credible, but the spin the authors put on them fails to convince. There are competent performances by the three principals, Reynolds, Zana, and Cook, but the large set is awkward, and the staging, by director Marco Gomez, remarkably inept, particularly in the earlier scenes. Sondheim's musical genius is undeniable; less so his choice of libretti. Doma Theatre at the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Sept. 11. (323) 960-4443, domatheatre.com (Neal Weaver)
GO THE PITCHFORK DISNEY Presley and Haley Stray (West Perkinson, Allison Bennett), are 28 year old twins whose existence in a decrepit London consists mostly of foraging for food --mainly chocolate -- and occasionally glimpsing through a window( perhaps playwright Philip Ridley's nod to Samuel Beckett's Endgame) onto a world that's presumably been decimated by a nuclear explosion. Despite their age, they behave more like children than adults. Haley clings to a doll for security, while Presley frequently bursts into scampers of puerile revelry. Their only sources of comfort are recollections of happier days when their parents cared for them and dialogue that's as creepy as their cadaverous hues and the dark circles around their eyes. Fear is at the heart of this piece. At one point, Haley gives a chilling account of being chased by a rabid pack of dogs, and in another, Presley discusses his encounter with a monstrous snake. The outside world intrudes when the enigmatic, cockroach-munching Cosmo Disney (Naomi Gibson), bursts in, and after retching on the floor, indulges in an long, overtly seductive mind game with Presley. As it turns out, Cosmo is one half of a bizarre, traveling show, the other half being the masked Pitchfork Cavalier(Matt Dodge), whose sudden entrance kicks the spooky quotient into high gear. The Pitchfork Disney has a grotesque sort of charm, and despite its lack of action, Ridley's writing is darkly evocative and wryly funny. The performances are of a quality that matches the writing's virtues (though Bennett is leaving the show). Gibson turns in a splendid performance that is equal parts con-artist, seductress and gleeful tormenter. J.P. Rapozo provides solid direction. The Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Sat. 8 p.m. thru Sep. 17. (559) 836-1186. (Lovell Estell III)
A SOUTHERN EXPOSURE Early in the first act of this entirely predictable Steel Magnolias-style riff, young Callie Belle Hurt (understudy Heleya de Barros) loses patience with her grandmother and two elderly aunts. Shouting out that they're only capable of talking around what's important in life, she implores them to just once tackle an issue head on. The same accusation could be leveled at A Southern Exposure, Kelley Kingston-Strayer's play that wants to say something significant about family bonds and the power of cultural roots, but instead skirts both, largely through structural flaws that gloss over every essential dramatic moment. Set in one living room/kitchen in a small Kentucky town -- nicely rendered with down home grandmotherly detail by designer Alexandra Dunn -- the play begins on a momentous day for Callie Belle and the trio of garrulous and overbearing sisters who've raised her --Hattie (Geraldine Fuentes), Ida Mae (Linda June Larson) and Mattie (Cindy Shields). Mildly rebellious Callie Belle has long suspected that her grandmother disapproves of her life choices. Suddenly she's defying her altogether, quitting college to follow a new Jewish boyfriend back to Brooklyn. Aside from one extended digression about the unfathomable appeal of Lady Gaga, the balance of the play feels like a cut and paste from 1987. The author won top prize at an Appalachian theater festival with the work, even as her script doesn't much credit the region, basing jokes on how Kentuckians can't grasp modern art, homosexuality or vegetarianism. Under Gina Stickley's untextured direction, the actors work to broaden the comedy. De Barros gamely goes big, and some charm follows, but it is Shields who brings unexpected flashes of nuance and absurdist flair by inhabiting her dim-witted Mattie rather than merely performing her. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.org. (Mindy Farabee)
GO STONES IN HIS POCKETS Tuta Theatre West, the West Coast branch of Experimental Chicago theatre company, Tuta Theatre, has collaborated with a pair of L.A. comedians (The Groundlings' Andrew Friedman, and Jerry Richardson) who perform multiple roles in Marie Jones' incisive comedy. When a major Hollywood movie production barges in and takes over a small village in Ireland, two locals, Jake and Charlie, try to milk their experience as movie extras for all it's worth. Not only playing the two bickering friends, the actors don hats, scarves and use various signifiers, including altered physicality, to switch deftly from character to character, sometimes with stupefying alacrity. Throughout, the pair portray 15 characters of various ages, race and genders, each well delineated by their adroit personification. Frequently reverting back to the thick-brogued central duo, they also portray the invading Americans: a screaming assistant director, a campy production assistant and the movie's Southern accented and revered leading lady. Just before the end of the boisterous first act, tragedy strikes. This abrupt change in tone is masterfully achieved by the two virtuosi, under Tuta artistic director Zeljko Djukic's confident direction. Natasha Djukic's basic costumes and spare yet versatile set design suggest a picturesque country field, a pub, the star's trailer and more without even trying, although the white wall upstage sets up an expectation of visual projections that never eventuate. Tuta Theatre West at the Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 17. (323) 960-7822, plays411.com/stones. (Pauline Adamek)
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. See Stage feature