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Stage Raw

For the Record: The Coen Bros.: a Cabaret Show About Big Lebowski Filmmakers, and Other Reviews

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Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 10:41 AM
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Anti-Semitic graffiti found on a market wall in central Houston last month is just one symptom of why The Merchant of Venice belongs on our shores. The Porters of Hellgate have their version running at the Whitmore Theatre in North Hollywood. See Theater feature

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Capsule reviews of the Labor Day weekend included good notices for Los Angeles Theatre Ensembles Comedy of Errors; a cabaret spoofing Coen Brothers flicks, For the Record: The Coen Bros. at Vermont Restaurant; Antonio Sacre's solo show, The Next Best Thing; and Private Lives, down at International City Theatre in Long Beach. Go to the jump for all this week's capsule NEW THEATER REVIEWS

Check out last week's Stage feature on Justin Tanner's Day Drinkers, and Cody Henderson's Wonderlust,. Also -- the current COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 8, 2011:

GO THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

click to enlarge SETH MILLER
  • Seth Miller

Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity can trace elements of its storyline back to Plautus' The Brothers Menechmi, but director Drew Shirley's robustly farcical production of the play offers just as much of a debt of gratitude to Bozo the Clown and the Super Mario Brothers. Antipholus of Syracuse (the gymnastic Mark Schroeder) and his slave Dromio (Cy Brown) arrive in Ephesus for a visit and are immediately taken for their long lost brothers (Roger Stewart and Jesse Sharp, respectively). Antipholus of Syracuse is given a golden necklace and invited to a pleasant dinner with his sexy wife Adriana (Caity Engler), while Antipholus of Ephesus is subjected to beatings, accused of theft, and locked out of his own house. Before all can be made clear, there are many pratfalls, Three Stooges-esque acts of "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk"-ery, and Keystone Cops-like chases. Shirley's production can't be accused of low energy and the pacing feverishly crackles, with the performers milking the dialogue for every mugging opportunity, spit-take, and leering innuendo. On the plus side, you can tell that everyone is having a great time and the mood mixes Shakespearean eloquence with frenetic groping and mummery worthy of Benny Hill. Many of the gags demonstrate both cast and director's assured comic sensibility - for instance, shtick involving Greyson Lewis's creepy executioner (who might just also be the same character as the sultry courtesan) is hilarious. Elsewhere, though, the lack of an editorial eye to temper the endless reflexive jokes suggestS a lack of faith in the original text. Nevertheless, elements such as joyfully agile turns by the likable Schroeder, by Stewart as his more uptight brother, and by Engler as Antipholus Ephesus' ferocious shrew of a wife, allow this to coalesce into a wonderfully clear and accessible production. Outdoor deck of the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica; Wed., Sat.-Sun., 7 p.m. (no perf Sept. 10); thru Sept. 24, powerhousetheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)

GO FOR THE RECORD: THE COEN BROS. A white Russian, the drink highlighted in The Big Lebowski, is the first cocktail on the drinks menu at this Coen Brothers musical revue, and near my seat people were also pounding a jalepeno margarita called the Burn After Drinking, a
take on another Coen title. The dinner theater company, which previously concocted salutes to John Hughes, Quentin Tarantino and Baz Luhrmann, chose their latest subject wisely: the Coens' schizophrenic resume of slapsticks, Westerns, satires, thrillers and Depression-era
Odysseys has siren-songed a wildly eclectic crowd to cram shoulder-to-shoulder in this dark bar, an audience so tightly packed it seemed impossible for the eight-person ensemble to sing and saunter through the mob when even our waiter couldn't get closer than six feet to the table. And bless them, one actor didn't even flinch when an over-enthusiastic German offered him a bite of his chocolate souffle during the opening hymnal "Poor Lazarus" from O' Brother Where Art Thou. The cast got their revenge, though -- during a Fargo skit, tonight's Margo mock-vomited in his lap. The cast can sing and they're capable of comedy between numbers when they're not changing costumes from prairie dresses to argyle sweaters to Viking horns. If there was a larger statement to shape out of the nearly two-hour evening, it'd be that the Coens must be great fun at karaoke -- their soundtracks have an ear for the familiar, but not over-played, hits. ("These Boots Are Made For Walking" aside.) As the ensemble struts up and down the length of the bar top, brushing aside light fixtures and belting out classics like "The Boxer," "Habenera," and "Up, Up and Away," the crowd couldn't resist clapping along. Vermont, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. showatbarre.com (Amy Nicholson)

GO THE NEXT BEST THING

click to enlarge RICH CLARK
  • Rich Clark

Writer/performance artist Antonio Sacre calls himself a story-teller rather than a comic, but that doesn't mean he isn't funnier than most of the comics around -- and a lot more: In his solo-show, written in collaboration with Jim Lasko and directed by Paul Stein, he tells about his delight and ecstasy at finding his perfect woman when both were working in a Chicago Theatre. They were married, and he felt no resentment even when her career in TV and film took off, and he was reduced to the nonentity walking behind her on the red carpet. When she suddenly told him she no longer loved him and wanted a divorce, he was devastated. But his ironic edge and self-deprecating wit allow him to be funny even in despair. He describes the perils of returning to the dating scene, and his adventures as a performer for prison inmates, where his traditional material died on him, and he had to forge a new approach. He tells us a Russian fairy-tale, regales us with his bizarre encounters with self-help gurus, and the eccentricities of his Mexican father and Irish mother. His stories feel authentic even when they veer into fantasy, and his view is fresh, quirky, and unpredictable. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwyd.; Sat., 7 p.m., thru Sept. 24. (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.com/. (Neal Weaver)

PREPOSTEROUS

click to enlarge CHELSEA SUTTON
  • Chelsea Sutton

There is a lesson taught to beginner playwrights that falls under the rubric of "engaging the audience." The idea is that a narrative derives its urgency not from the charm of the characters or the quirks of their situation but from some question or mystery vital to them that lies tantalizingly just offstage. It isn't necessary for Godot to make an entrance, but without him in the play, the audience is waiting -- and exasperatingly -- only for the final curtain. In playwright Jason Britt's drifting and digressive slice-of-life drama, that wait can seem endless. Six close-knit, incestuous 20-something friends come together for three boozy backyard bacchanals (on Michael Harris' uninspired back porch set). There is the brooding Allen (Britt), the volatile Kevin (John Klopping) and his doting girlfriend, Jackie (Laura Lee Bahr), the free-spirited John (Erik Saari) and his girl Wendy (Rachel Kanouse), and the reserved and enigmatic Miranda (Angela Landis). They carouse. They reminisce. They play drinking games. They mourn. They break up. They hook up. (Though not necessarily in that order.) And, when the opportunity presents itself, they cheat on one another. Unable to find a discernable through-line that might tie together the evening's inaction, director Taylor Ashbrook lets her actors off the leash to mug what they can from Britt's amiable but aimless scenes. Though Britt touches on some weighty themes -- i.e., commitment and the contradictory ways of love -- the fact that he could cut any one of the play's three acts with little effect suggests that those thoughts ultimately lead nowhere. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Bill Raden)

GO PRIVATE LIVES

click to enlarge CARLOS DELGADO
  • Carlos Delgado

Director Luke Yankee skillfully showcases the musicality of Noel Coward's wry dialogue in this spot-on production. A fine ensemble pulls off perfect pacing and further steadies Yankee's sure hand. Elyot (a wonderfully fluid Freddy Douglas) is honeymooning with his new wife, Sibyl (Jennice Butler), when he bumps into his first wife, Amanda (an arresting Caroline Kinsolving), who is also on honeymoon with second husband, Victor (Adam J. Smith). Elyot and Amanda had a fiery marriage, the heat of which has not cooled, and their new spouses are wet blankets. Though they try to convince themselves that safe and dull is better than upsetting and chaotic, Elyot and Amanda surrender to passion and flee together. Coward's 1930 script feels fresh here, despite the sometimes one-dimensional characters it engenders. The fact that each character is a simple type - Elyot the urbane playboy, Amanda the modern minx, Sibyl the dippy people pleaser and Victor the gutless good guy - the deft actors bring humanity to the text without neglecting the gleefully frivolous comedy that comes with playing stock roles. And Coward's talent for hanging witty descriptors on dark urges is a sheer delight (When Sibyl annoys Elyot, he semi-politely threatens to cut off her head with a meat axe. When Victor asks Amanda about her fights with Elyot, she proudly boasts that she once "broke four gramophone records over his head," an experience that was "very satisfying").Bill Georges' lighting is as detail-oriented as the entire, precise production. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (562) 436-4610, ictlongbeach.org. (Amy Lyons)

GO ROMEO & JULIET

click to enlarge ZOMBIE JOE
  • Zombie Joe

Director Denise Devin is having quite a run staging abridged versions of the classics over at Zombie Joe's. Not long ago, there was a hilarious version of Hamlet, cum vampires and zombies, and then an equally entertaining version of Tartuffe -- turbo injected. Now comes the Bard's timeless fable of. bickering families and star crossed lovers spiced with an ample amount of jokes, and clocking in at just over an hour. But in spite of the compressed format, the play's essential elements are melded into a smoothly flowing, coherent narrative, mostly employing Shakespeare's text. As with most of the shows here, the production values are minimal. There are some crates of varying sizes, a small but mighty scaffold which provides the necessary support for the balcony scene, and Jeri Batzdorff has designed neatly understated, serviceable costumes. Devin marshals her 11-member cast around this small stage. Robert Walter's boyish good looks and charm serve him well in the role of Romeo. Alexis Justman complements nicely as Juliet, although she could dial down the pubertal giddiness a notch. Also noteworthy are Rafael Goldstein and Curtiss Johns in the roles of Mercutio and Benvolio. ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; ,Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru. Oct. 18, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com (Lovell Estell III)

STRANGER THINGS

click to enlarge JOSE DIAZ
  • Jose Diaz

In a barren, northern clime, Helga (Christel Joy Johnson) and her Mother (Katharine Noon) have converted their farmhouse into a small, makeshift inn; male travelers who stay the night can check out any time they like, but they can never leave.
Instead, Helga and her mother kill them for their money, dreaming of saving enough to escape this winter wasteland and live by the ocean. Into this bleak house steps Johan (Doug Sutherland), the prodigal son who returns home after decades, accompanied by his partner Matt (Brian Weir). Helga's bitterness at Johan's abandonment, Johan's desire to reconnect with his family, and the fate of all men who enter the inn combine to create the dramatic tension that ensues. While the basic story is that of Albert Camus' Le Malentendu (The Misunderstanding), the removing of this adaptation from its 1943 Vichy France backdrop strips it of its crucial philosophical underpinnings. When the only questions become whether Johan will reveal himself and whether his mother and sister will kill him, the larger question of "civilized" people abandoning their humanity is supplanted by a less interesting whodunit. Sure, the proper ambience is achieved by David O's piano tremolos and Cricket S. Myers' barren "windscape" punctuated by reverberating chords. Also fitting are Johnson's biting tone, which is as cold as the weather, and Noon's ghostly demeanor as she drifts about the place. But the bones of this piece -- mirrored in Maureen Weiss' slatted set -- are all that director Ronnie Clark gleans from Camus. The soul? Well, that is another matter altogether. Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (no perf Sept. 17); thru Sept. 25. (310) 281-8341. ghostroad.secure.force.com/ticket. (Mayank Keshaviah

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