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Stephanie Miller's Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour

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Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 9:37 AM

click to enlarge The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity - MICHAEL LAMONT
  • Michael Lamont
  • The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Kristoffer Diaz's comedy about television wrestling, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, just opened at the Geffen Playhouse. Check back on Tuesday for the review, and for capsule reviews for all other shows seen over the weekend. Check back this coming Saturday for a complete list of shows being reviewed.

For this weekend's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, go to the the jump. Also check out this week's STAGE FEATURE on Porters of Hellgate's The Merchant of Venice,, and last week's capsule NEW THEATER REVIEWS

click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpg
The California International Theatre Festival kicks off this weekend at LATC with entries by Komitas' 10 Commandments & Colors by MIHR Theatre (Armenia) The Cure of Everything by Contrary Company (Canada) and Roadway Closed To Pedestrians (Chaussée Interdite aux Piétons) by Macadâmes Theatre Corporal (France) Also scheduled is Scenario: For A Non-Existent, But Possible, Instrumental Actor by Evoe Performing Artists (Germany), Concert Under the Stars with Marjana Sadowska (Ukraine) Dan Guerrero's ¡Gaytino!, written and performed by Dan Guerrero 9/13, 9/15, ; Café Burlesqu-O!, a racy speakeasy of fiery street poetry, burlesque sketches, and musical numbers; El Canguro (The Kangaroo), a rainforest opera in concert, written by Cynthia Lewis Ferrell and composed by Peter Michael von der Nahmer See Stage feature next week.

Dial Global's Stephanie Miller is bringing her Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour to the Wadsworth, Sept. 21 and 22. Miller and radio show cast members Hal Sparks, and John Fugelsang brings together three of today's brightest "liberal comedians" for an evening of humor from the political left. The show will benefit local charities and the content will reflect local issues.

REDCAT's New Original Works Festival gets going tonight with Marissa Chibas: Clara's Los Angeles: "Chibas playfully integrates silent cinema shot by John Hawk with live music inspired by the Roaring '20s as Clara attempts to find her way in the modern city."; puppeteer Cindy Derby: Edward's House of String: "a moving and mysterious performance in which stop-motion animation, live puppetry and hand-crafted scenic elements create potent images that delve into realms of psychological loss."; and Lucky Dragons: Actual Reality: "Inquiring into the complexities of digital mediation, composer Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons gathered thousands of Google Alerts for the seemingly redundant phrase "actual reality" as the basis for his latest multichannel composition." Thurs.-Sat, 8:30 p.m.

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Sept. 9 - 15, 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. This week's listings were compiled by Rena Kosnett

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

Cabaret The classic, appropriately reprised by the Reprise Theatre Company. Directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Starting Sept. 13, Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Thru Sept. 25. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood, (310) 825-2101.

Dungeon Master Celebrating its 10th-anniversary season in Los Angeles, this show combines the realms of improv acting with a role-playing adventure twist. Dorks, this is your mothership. Sun., Sept. 11 & 25, Oct. 9 & 23, Nov. 6 & 20, 7 p.m., 7 p.m. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A., (323) 469-3113, writeactrep.org.

Falsettos The Third Street Theatre's first production will be this Tony Award-winning musical, directed by Richard Israel. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., L.A., (888) 718-4253.

Celebrity Autobiography: The Music Edition With Roger Bart, Illeana Douglas, Will Forte, Lainie Kazan, Laraine Newman, Eugene Pack, Dayle Reyfel, Jonathan Silverman, Fred Willard, Rita Wilson. See GoLA. Wed., Sept. 14, 8 p.m., $45. Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (213) 765-6800, grammymuseum.org.

Laurel and Hardy Kevin Blake and Paul C. Vogt star as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, as they flash back to their loves and careers in vaudeville, silent movies and talkies. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. Thru Oct. 2. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com.

The Leopard John F. Goff depicts Ernest Hemingway near the end of his life as he reflects on achievements and adventures in far-flung parts of the world. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A., (323) 960-7784, plays411.com/theleopard.

Richard III Lisa Wolpe directs and stars in this gender-bending production of Shakepeare's classic tale. Starting Sept. 10, Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Oct. 2. Studio Theatre at Cal Poly Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave., Building 25, Pomona, (909) 869-3900.

The Ride Down Mount Morgan Isabell Mejias Fox directs Arthur Miller's play, starring Richard Johnson, Nathalie Blossom and Olga Konstantulakis. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 589-1998.

Seascape A lizard couple has to decide between evolution into the human world or remaining in their scaly existence in Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.

The Stories of Isaac Leib Peretz Performer Matt Chait interprets a selection of stories by one of the greatest Yiddish writers of the 20th century, performed with a klezmer score by Israeli violinist Lior Kaminetsky. Starting Sept. 10, Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., Thurs., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 10. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-7780, plays411.com/peretz.

Super Sidekick A new children's musical from rising L.A. playwright Gregory Crafts. Starting Sept. 11, Sun., 2 & 4 p.m. Thru Oct. 2. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632.

The Tempest Zombie Joe's takes on Shakespeare's classic. Directed by Denise Devin. Fri., 11 p.m. Thru Oct. 28. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

To Carry the Child Ashley, a struggling young artist, returns to the bosom of her dysfunctional family on Carapace Isle after being abandoned by her lesbian lover. Starting Sept. 10, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (323) 860-6569, plays411.com/thechild.

The Vault: Unlocked The Latino Theatre Company presents an original multidisciplinary theatrical show, described as genre-bending as well as culturally and politically relevant. Starting Sept. 15, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 8. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.

What The Moon Saw The premiere of this collection of gritty urban riffs on five classic tales by Hans Christian Andersen, set in a post-9/11 world. Written by Stephanie Fleischmann. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A., sonofsemele.org.

What's Wrong With Angry? Michael Matthews directs this play about a young man who discovers he has to get angry in order to deal with British society's prejudice against homosexuality. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Thru Oct. 26. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com.

A Widow of No Importance Shane Sakhrani's comedy about an Indian widow turned cougar. Starting Sept. 14, Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A., (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org.

Windows On The World Noah Wyle and Virginia Madsen lead this all-star reading. Proceeds benefit Blank Theatre's play development program, the Living Room Series. Mon., Sept. 12, 8 p.m. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 465-4446.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

The AfterShocks An aftershow cabaret following The Underpants, with spoken word, song, dance, and video. Fri., Sept. 9, 11 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 10, 11 p.m. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, lbph.com.

GO Beau Jest 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. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Glendale Center Theater, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale, (818) 244-8481.

Cabaret The classic, reprised appropriately by the Reprise Theatre Company. Directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Starting Sept. 13, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood, (310) 825-2101.

California International Theatre Festival Presented in association with the Latino Theater Company. Schedule and tickets at thelatc.org. Fri., Sept. 9; Sat., Sept. 10; Sun., Sept. 11. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Kristoffer Diaz's comedy about TV wrestling. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.

Celebrity Autobiography: The Music Edition with Roger Bart, Illeana Douglas, Will Forte, Lainie Kazan, Laraine Newman, Eugene Pack, Dayle Reyfel, Jonathan Silverman, Fred Willard, Rita Wilson. See GoLA. Wed., Sept. 14, 8 p.m., $45. Grammy Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (213) 765-6800, grammymuseum.org.

Jolson at the Winter Garden Re-creation of Al Jolson's Sunday concerts at Broadway's Winter Garden Theater, by Bill Castellino and Mike Burstyn. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25, (877) 733-7529. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.

Laurel and Hardy Kevin Blake and Paul C. Vogt star as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, as they flash back to their loves and careers in vaudeville, silent movies, and talkies. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank, (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com.

Madame President Elizabeth Montgomery's romantic comedy about the first female president. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2, (866) 811-4111. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.

Milk Like Sugar Teenage girls enter into a pregnancy pact, by Kirsten Greenidge. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla, (858) 550-1010, lajollaplayhouse.org.

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. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com.

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)

The Ride Down Mount Morgan Isabell Mejias Fox directs this Arthur Miller play, starring Richard Johnson as Felt with Nathalie Blossom and Olga as his wives. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 589-1998.

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). 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.

Seascape A lizard couple has to decide between evolution into the human world or remaining in their scaly existence in this Pulitzer Prize winning comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.

Steel Magnolias Bonnie Franklin stars in Robert Harling's play about friendship and community. 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.

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). 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.

Trojan Women (After Euripides) Jocelyn Clarke's adaptation of the Euripides tragedy. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (310) 440-7300, getty.edu.

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

The Vault: Unlocked The Latino Theatre Company presents an original multi-disciplinary theatrical show, described as genre-bending as well as culturally and politically relevant. Starting Sept. 15, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 8. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.

A Widow of No Importance Shane Sakhrani's comedy about an Indian widow turned cougar. Starting Sept. 14, Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A., (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org.

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., 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

The B-Side Hereandnow Theatre Company presents the "overlooked and under-told stories of people of color in America." Sat., Sept. 10, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 17, 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m., hereandnowtheatrecompany.com. Alexandria Hotel, The Blackbox, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, L.A..

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. 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 Stage 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.

The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse David J's speculation on the Black Dahlia murder. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com.

D3LiNQUENTZ One-woman "comedic experience" by Stefany Northcutt. Starting Sept. 10, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 18, 4 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 4 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2, d3linquentz.com. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A., (323) 469-3113, writeactrep.org.

GO Dancing at Lughnasa 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. (Deborah Klugman). Sun., Sept. 11, 2 p.m., (323) 960-7711, plays411.com/lughnasa. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., complexhollywood.com.

GO Day Drinkers Set in the kind of downtown L.A. bar (set by Gary Guidinger) that has denizens pounding on the door at 9 a.m. to be let in and start drinking, Justin Tanner's best comedy in years is a deceptively facile look at what draws people to and from each other. Old Mick (Tom Fitzpatrick) is enamored with Val (Danielle Kennedy), cashing out a retirement account to buy her a $7,000 ring, which Val pawns for a pittance and puts up little resistance to the seductions of Mick's son, Bradley (Jonathan Palmer). Meanwhile, barkeep Daniel (Todd Lowe) can't even get wife Jenny (Chloe Taylor) to kiss him anywhere near the lips, because of a recent fling she had with her stud brother-in-law, Caleb (Cody Chappel). Maile Flanagan and Melissa Denton pass through, as a pair of lesbians en route to a family gathering in Lodi -- can their marriage endure the pressures of the trip, or of each other? Beneath what looks like the stuff of almost nothing, couched in marvelous physical humor under Bart DeLorenzo's direction, and a string of very funny one-liners, emerges a clear and larger vision. This is a love story (or stories) in which so many core decisions are made from perceived opportunity and economics. Bradley shows up for the sole purpose of preventing his geezer dad from squandering the potential legacy of his last remaining funds. Despite what looks like a romantic reunion in a troubled marriage, Jenny tells Caleb that if she were 10 years younger, she'd leave her barkeep husband, but now she's put whatever money she had into the bar. Whether their marriage endures or doesn't, that bitter truth will underlie it, meaning her husband is doomed if he harbors any serious hope for reciprocated affections. If you read between the lines and the laughs, there's a fury at work, a rage at cold-hearted self-interest that is, and always was, the driving engine of most societies. The rest is garbage, and few writers can satirize garbage with Tanner's skill. It's hard to tell if the balance between comedy and anger that so delicately keeps insight from teetering into petulance comes as much from the writing as from DeLorenzo's taut staging. As comedy ensembles go, the eight actors are like the well-oiled cylinders in a fine old gas-guzzling Caddie, blowing smoke in our eyes, masking roadkill and other horrors of the highway. (Steven Leigh Morris). 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.

Dreams in Variation Written and directed by Kristen Boule, based on music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim & Jule Styne, Stephen Schwartz, Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, Cy Coleman & Ira Gasman, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Mel Brooks, Elton John & Tim Rice, Alan Menken & Jack Feldman, Richard Alder & Jerry Ross, Jerry Herman, John J Bucchino, David Yazbek, Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, Jason Robert Brown, Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus, Jacques Levy & Steven Margoshes, Charlie Smalls. Fri., Sept. 9, 8 p.m. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-4252, hudsontheatre.com.

Dungeon Master Celebrating its 10th Anniversary season in Los Angeles, this show combines the realms of improv acting with a role playing adventure twist. Dorks, this is your mothership. Sun., Sept. 11, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 25, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 9, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 23, 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 6, 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 20, 7 p.m. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A., (323) 469-3113, writeactrep.org.

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. 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.

Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over Written and performed by J. Michael Feldman. Thu., Sept. 15, 8:15 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 20, 8:15 p.m., fairytaletheater2011.com. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0202, acmecomedy.com.

Falsettos The Third Street Theatre's first production will be this Tony award-winning musical, directed by Richard Israel. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, (888) 718-4253, showclix.com. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., L.A..

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

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 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, campuswide 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 movable pillars of light that create shifting moods throughout. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 15, (323) 795-2215, needtheater.org. Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A..

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 Oct. 9. 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.

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.

The Leopard John F. Goff depicts Ernest Hemingway near the end of his life as he reflects back on achievements and adventures in far-flung parts of the world. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9, (323) 960-7784, plays411.com/theleopard. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A., workingstage.com.

Life in the Middle Ages Steve Ochs' midlife-crisis memoir. Fri., Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 29, 8 p.m. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.com.

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). 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.

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.

Making Love Over There Tom Dugdale's collection of short works, starring Patrick Riley and Zoe Chao. Starting Sept. 15, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 1, brownpapertickets.com/event/197285. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.com.

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)

The 9/11 Ten Minute Plays American Science Theatre presents the top 10 finalists in their playwriting contest. Sun., Sept. 11, 7 p.m., americansciencetheatre.com. Woman's Club of Hollywood, 1749 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 876-8383, womansclubofhollywood.org.


Over There: Comedy Is His Best Weapon 60 Miles North Productions presents P.J. Walsh's solo comedy show. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.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.

GO The Pitchfork Disney The Smiley Face and the Frown present Philip Ridley's 1991 surrealist play. Saturdays, 8 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.

GO Raised in Captivity 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. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (323) 960-7792, plays411.com/raised. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A., www.theactorsplaypen.com/.

So Damned Heavenly Bound/You Make Me Physically Ill 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. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10, (323) 960-7770, plays411.com/physicallyill. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., elephantstages.com.

GO 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. Continues through Sept. 17, (323) 960-7822, plays411.com/stones. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..

The Stories of Isaac Leib Peretz Performer Matt Chait interprets a selection of stories by one of the greatest Yiddish writers of the 20th century, performed with a klezmer score by Israeli violinist Lior Kaminetsky. Starting Sept. 10, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 10, (323) 960-7780, plays411.com/peretz. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., complexhollywood.com.

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


Treat Yourself Like Cary Grant 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. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (323) 960-7745, plays411.com/carygrant. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..

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.


What The Moon Saw The premiere of this collection of gritty urban riffs on five classic tales by Hans Christian Andersen, set in a post-9/11 world. Written by Stephanie Fleischmann. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Oct. 9. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A., sonofsemele.org.

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.

What's Wrong With Angry? Michael Matthews directs this play about a young man who discovers he has to get angry in order to deal with British society's prejudice against homosexuality. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 26. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com.

Windows On The World Noah Wyle and Virginia Madsen lead this all-star reading. Proceeds will benefit the Blank Theatre's new play development program, "The Living Room Series." Mon., Sept. 12, 8 p.m. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 465-4446.

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.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

Bayside High School Musical Ren Casey's musical

parody of '90s sitcom Saved by the Bell. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues

through Oct. 26, baysidehighschoolmusical.com. Victory Theatre Center,

3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 841-5421, thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

It's Just Sex Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com.

Kowalski Brando auditions for A Streetcar Named Desire, in Gregg Ostrin's play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18. 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., 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.

The Merchant of Venice The Porters of Hellgate present Shakespeare's tragic comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, (818) 325-2055. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. See Stage feature.

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.

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)

Richard III Lisa Wolpe directs and stars in this gender-bending production of Shakepeare's classic tale. Starting Sept. 10, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2. Studio Theatre at Cal Poly Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave., Building 25, Pomona, (909) 869-3900.


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)

Salome Oscar Wilde's biblical tragedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Mosaic Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 457-5293, lizardtheater.com.

September 10 Art Shulman's study of the aftermath of 9/11 on a husband and wife, a tagger, a sportswriter, a street vendor, a fireman, an evangelist, and others. Sat., Sept. 10, 2 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 11, 7 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 17, 2 p.m. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Interactive kids' musical. Saturdays, 11 a.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

The Tempest Zombie Joe's takes on the Shakespearean classic. Directed by Denise Devin. Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through Oct. 28. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.

To Carry the Child Ashley, a struggling young artist, returns to the bosom of her dysfunctional family on Carapace Isle after being abandoned by her lesbian lover. Starting Sept. 10, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, (323) 860-6569, plays411.com/thechild. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, ravenplayhouse.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, 

Weird on Top Improvisational comedy by Danielle Cintron, Tiffany Cole, Mason Hallberg, Kerr Seth Lordygan, Sarah McCann and Alex Sanborn. Thu., Sept. 15, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 14, 8 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 9, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 28, 8 p.m.; Wed., Jan. 18, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 16, 8 p.m.; Thu., March 15, 8 p.m.; Thu., April 19, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 14, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 26, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 16, 8 p.m. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

The Yeomen of the Guard 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. (Tom Provenzano). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 24. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.

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

Barrie: Back to Back: Two by J.M. Barrie 1912's Rosalind and 1917's The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25. 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/.

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)

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 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. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 7 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 6, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 9, 7 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 16, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.

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.

Ripe Wendy Hammers' dramedy about the loss of a friend and her "big, fat, Jewish ass." Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 19, ripetheplay.com/tickets.html. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779, santamonicaplayhouse.com.

A Southern Exposure Kelley Kingston-Strayer's story of a Kentucky grandmother and granddaughter. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 10. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.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.; Fri., Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 4, 5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 20. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org.


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