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Stage Raw

Sarah's War, Other New Reviews, and L.A. Weekly Theater Awards Info

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Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 10:59 AM
click to enlarge "Sarah"s War is this week's Pick. Go to the jump for all other new stage reviews. - JORDAN ELGALBY
  • Jordan Elgalby
  • "Sarah"s War is this week's Pick. Go to the jump for all other new stage reviews.

The nominees for the 33rd annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards can be found here.

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Lauren Ludwig directs Lost Moon Radio, host of the bash, with an ancient Greek theme. (Wear your toga!) It takes place Monday night, April 2, at the Avalon on Vine Street, in Hollywood. Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:30. Tickets for guests and the public will be available Feb. 23 here. It's open seating. Tickets are $25 each. All nominees get one comp, all nominated companies (in "production" categories) get 10 comps per company. For queries or for NOMINEE rsvps only, please call (310) 574-7208.

You are a nominee (1) if your name appears in the posted article, (2) for any nominated ensemble category, if your name appears in the your show's program as an actor, (3) for production of the year, revival production or musical of the year categories, if your name appears in your show's program as an actor, author, director, producer, stage manager, choreographer or designer, (4) in production design category, if your name appears in your show's program as a designer, director or producer.

Press here for the latest New Theater Reviews, or go to the jump. The weekend's Stage Listings coming tomorrow.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication February 16, 2012

ART If you were to order an eighty-dollar entrée at a three-star Michelin restaurant, only to discover that it was under-salted, then you would have a sense of the disappointment that characterizes this star-studded but ultimately unsatisfying production of Yasmina Reza's award-winning play. The story is simple: three Parisian friends, Marc (Bradley Whitford), Serge (Michael O'Keefe), and Yvan (Roger Bart), argue about Serge's decision to spend 200,000 euros on a painting that appears -- to Marc at least -- to be little more than a monochromatic white canvas. While the story, like the painting, appears plain on the surface, the art of it is in Reza's nuanced and hilarious exploration of the human condition through the potential disintegration of a long-standing friendship. The fact that such nuance and hilarity is rarely realized is attributable to both director and cast. O'Keefe's take on Serge's artsy pretension feels cold and distant, while Whitford lacks Marc's requisite biting snark, and neither escalates their outrage to the point where we believe a 15-year friendship is on the rocks. Only Bart's perennially put-upon Yvan feels authentic, so it's not surprising that he garners the most laughs. Director David Lee's decision to have the actors play to the house so frequently, as well as his lethargic pacing and eternal pauses, undercuts the stellar source material. In a play about art, at least the design satisfies, as Tom Buderwitz's set cleverly mirrors the painting in question and Kate Burgh's costumes subtly delineate the personalities of the three friends. The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; thru February 19. (626) 356-7529, www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO BUDDHA: A FANTASTIC JOURNEY

click to enlarge EVE BRENNER
  • Eve Brenner

here are an estimated 500 million practicing Buddhists in the world today, one of whom is Evan Brenner, the creator and performer of this one-man play about the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha. Drawing on material from the Sutras, the sacred Buddhists texts, Brenner weaves a simple yet engaging narrative that tells of the Buddha's early life of luxury and wealth in India; his chance encounter with suffering and subsequent disillusionment with the world; and his fateful decision to renounce his birthright and trod the difficult path of salvation to find a solution to the pain and misery of human existence, which at the age of 35 culminated in his attaining enlightenment, or nirvana. Despite the esoteric subject matter, none of this is difficult to understand. Brenner touches on the faith's basic concepts while sidestepping the dense thicket of theory and philosophy. His conversational style, in concert with an unpretentious script and good direction by John Reilly, makes this an entertaining and, yes, enlightening 90 minutes. Jaeger Smith and Sheela Bringi provide superb musical accompaniment on the tabla and flute. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; also Sun. March 4, 3 p.m.; thru March 4. (800) 838-3006, thebuddhaplay.com. (Lovell Estell III)

THE FALL TO EARTH

click to enlarge DAVID COLCLASURE
  • David Colclasure

What separates a competent stage performance from one that is transcendent and transforming? Call it translucency -- simultaneously conveying a character's outward, public demeanor while hinting at the demons lurking within. The tension between the two sides is the essence of the dramatic. It's also what's missing from JoBeth Williams' perfectly competent turn as playwright Joel Drake Johnson's mild-mannered monster of a mother. To be fair, it's hard to imagine anyone lighting a fire under this exasperating dysfunctional-family tale. The play opens with a 25-minute soft-shoe of issue-avoiding chit-chat between Williams' Fay Schorsch and her estranged daughter, Rachel (Deborah Puette), so maddeningly mundane that by the time any real emotional fireworks do erupt -- and any compelling clue emerges as to why the two women are sharing Tom Buderwitz's photo-realist motel room set -- it proves far too little and way too late for director Robin Larsen's otherwise perfectly competent staging. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 1. (310) 477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com. (Bill Raden)

MINE

click to enlarge CHRIS A. PETERSON
  • Chris A. Peterson

Bekah Brunstetter's play tells the tale of a young poet (who's no longer writing poetry) named Annie (Kieren Van Den Blink), who works in a coffee bar. She's been dating young businessman Doug (Adam Harrington) but she's also involved with young would-be singer Sam (Sam Daly). Solid, successful Doug wants to love and take care of her, while feckless Sam seems a more glamorous figure with whom Annie shares fantasies of traveling to exotic places. Brunstetter's play is curiously nebulous and meandering, as Annie bounces back and forth between the two men. Only Doug seems to really know what he wants, while the other two just drift. The action is frequently halted while Sam performs a song, and most scenes fail to climax or provide clear decisive action. Brunstetter writes interesting dialog, and the actors offer agreeable performances, though Dep Kirkland's direction is vague. It all seems aimless. Little Beast Theatre Company at Elephant Lab Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 11. (323) 960-7788, www.plays411.net/mine. (Neal Weaver)

NEW JERUSALEM

click to enlarge HOPE BURLEIGH
  • Hope Burleigh

Playwright David Ives' intellectually fierce drama is a play for those of a mind to groove to debates about Baruch Spinoza's dialectic of God as Nature. Though director Elina deSantos' thought-provoking production crackles with philosophical insight, the play is less than affecting on a dramatic level. In 17th-century Amsterdam, the Jewish community is ordered by the Christian civic leaders to excommunicate the young, firebrand theologian Spinoza (Marco Naggar, appealingly intense), whose writings are a threat to religious worshippers of all faiths. The trial, conducted by venerable Rabbi Levi Mortera (Richard Fancy, a perfect mix of wisdom, kindness and anger), gradually proves Spinoza's wisdom but seals his tragic fate. Ives strives to make the theological debate as compelling dramatically as it is intellectually, but the attempt tends to fall flat, the result of overwritten dialogue and characters who represent philosophical points of view rather than people. Still, Fancy's 's towering turn as the rabbi who finds himself challenging his own tightly held beliefs is powerful. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 11. (323) 821-2449, www.wcjt.org. (Paul Birchall)

PICK OF THE WEEK: SARAH'S WAR In 2003, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was mowed down by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to stop it from demolishing a Palestinian home. Her death stirred international controversy; some critics accused the Israelis of murder while other observers maintained that Corrie's demise was an accident and that she and her compatriots were the instigating dupes of Arab terrorists. The event prompted the 2005 drama My Name Is Rachel Corrie, based on Corrie's diaries and edited by Alan Rickman. Sarah's War, by Valerie Dillman, is somewhat different: Less biographical, it's an attempt to explore how the life and death of such a self-sacrificing individual might affect others. And while it dwells too insistently on the squabbling among Corrie's grieving family members, Dillman's work ultimately succeeds in illuminating the event's human, political and moral particulars. Director Matt McKenzie's discerning eye and ear are evident in both the production's well-calibrated pacing and its solid performances. Abica Dubay's Sarah is a cogent portrait of a vulnerable young woman who pursues her ideals despite her fear and her growing doubts. Offsetting that vulnerability are Marley McClean as her tight-lipped, doctrinaire colleague, Dina Simon as a Palestinian woman furious at Sarah's meddlesome naivete, and Will Rothhaar as the Israeli driver in whose memory she is indelibly embedded. And Adria Tennor Blotta's portrayal of Sarah's conventional sister Liz unexpectedly morphs into one of the evening's performance highlights. Hudson Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 3 p.m.; thru March 18. (310) 657.5511,  

It would take an exceedingly strong cast and director to breathe new life into this old chestnut about a desperate theater producer in frantic search of a hit. Though director Michael Lorre and his solid cast manage more than a few shining moments, the story feels stale and the ham-fisted comedy never hits its requisite screwball stride. Adapted by Ken Ludwig from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1932 Broadway hit, the play takes place aboard a luxury train running between New York and Chicago in the first half of the 20th century. Producer Oscar Jaffe (Arthur Hanket, the cast's clear comedic standout) needs to square with creditors after a string of flops. Starlet and old flame Lily Garland (Stephanie Erb) might be Jaffe's last chance for a comeback, but she's got another producer on her mind. The zany train ride includes love affairs, an escaped lunatic and an outlandish plan to stage the definitive Passion Play. But the hijinks fall short of frantic here, killing the comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru March 17. (626) 355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Amy Lyons)

GO YOURS, ISABEL

click to enlarge LINDSAY SCHNEBLY
  • Lindsay Schnebly

What may be intended as the point of Christy Hall's new epistolary play, in its American premiere, is a snapshot of gender attitudes during the four years of the play's action, 1941-45. But that's old news -- women expected to marry and have kids, discouraged from entering the workplace until they were needed and then kicked out of the munitions plants, depending on whether the men were around. The play actually ensnares something far more interesting: Trenton, N.J., homebodies Isabel and Nick (Heather Chesley, Rick Marcus) get separated by WWII when he's sent off for army training and service overseas, and the play is the saga of that separation, with flickering connections through the letters they write (and here recite, in addition to playing multiple characters). What may be a factor of the writing, but is certainly pronounced in performance under Marianne Savell's staging on Gary Lee Reed's platform set, is the aching gulf of incomprehension as two children evolve into two adults, so that when they reunite, they barely recognize each other. Lovely, spritely performances have two forceful characters dancing their way into ennui. Actors Co-op at the David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru March 11. (323) 462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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