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Stage Raw

Candida, and Other New Theater Reviews . . .

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Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 10:23 AM
click to enlarge AARON MORGAN
  • Aaron Morgan

Chrysalis Stage's revival of G.B. Shaw's Candida at The Complex nabbed this week's Pick of the Week.

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Our critics also liked On Holy Ground with Salome Jens at the MET, in Hollywood. See here for all the latest New Theater Reviews. Also, later this evening, check out this coming week's Stage Features on Beth Henley's The Jacksonian at the Geffen, with Bill Pullman, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan; and a peek at a work-in-progress, Critical Mass' An Alcestis Project, being developed at the Getty Villa under Nancy Keystone's direction.

2012 L.A. Weekly Theater Awards nominees were announced last week. Reservations are now open for nominees at (310) 574-7208; tix for guests and the public go on sale Feb. 23 at http://laweekly.com/theaterawards

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication February 23, 2012

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

click to enlarge IRENE HOVEY
  • Irene Hovey

Considering last year's Occupy Wall Street movement, Charles Manson's late-1960s rants about rich people in Jill Charlotte Thomas' world premiere are eerily relevant: "It's better to give than receive -- but they don't give a fuck about the poor!" Thomas thinks she's plumbing new depths by training her attention on coffee heiress Abigail Folger's role in spurring Manson to carry out the Tate-LaBianca murders. When the play focuses on Manson's prescient manifestos on the rich getting richer, the old expression about being doomed to repeat history if you fail to learn from it looms and causes the audience to wriggle uncomfortably in their seats. (Kudos to Tyson Turrou for not turning the exhaustively picked-over serial killer into a caricature.) But even with a runtime of two-plus hours, nothing much more is revealed other than a little rich girl who dabbled in drugs and one really bad boy. More than 20 scene changes and Rhona Meyers' seriously groovy costumes can't change the fact that this is an untold story for a reason. Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 11; (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

PICK OF THE WEEK CANDIDA

click to enlarge AARON MORGAN
  • Aaron Morgan

George Bernard Shaw wrote the engaging comedy at least partially as a response to Ibsen's A Doll House, about an intelligent woman's attempt to break out of her husband's determined treatment of her as a "child wife." Here, Shaw sketches a woman, Candida (Molly Leland), who infantilizes her clergyman husband by protecting him from exposure to harsh realities. But the tale is told with so much charm that this aspect of the play often goes unrecognized. Rev. James Morrell (Casey E. Lewis) adores his wife, Candida, and proclaims himself "the happiest of men," until the hypersensitive young poet Marchbanks (Michael Uribes), who also loves Candida, tells her husband that he's a pompous windbag unworthy of his wife's love. Marchbanks challenges Morrell to let Candida decide to which of them she belongs. She replies, with understandable anger, that she belongs to herself. Director Andrea Gwynnel Morgan has mounted an elegant and funny production. Leland neatly captures Candida's wit and generosity, while Lewis effectively depicts a man who's forced to realize that his strength and authority are largely his wife's creation. Uribes' Marchbanks is accurately but broadly played, and the supporting cast is excellent on Aaron Morgan's handsome, lovingly detailed Victorian set. Chrysalis Stage at The Complex/Flight Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19; also March 4 & 11, 7 p.m., www.chrysalisstage.com (Neal Weaver)

CRACKED OPEN: LET GO AND LET GOOK For 10 years, performer Suzanne Whang hosted the popular cable program House Hunters and also appeared on numerous sitcoms and entertainment news shows. However, in 2006, she discovered a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with cancer, which has recurred over the past several years. In her often affecting solo show, Whang describes her ferocious and passionate approach to the cancer battle, in a tale that's narrated with humor and more than a little anger. Director Eve Brandstein's production is intimate and crisply timed, though Whang's script itself tends toward prosaic incidents of the "this is how evil cancer is" variety, punctuated with moments of black humor and twisted irony. Whang's artfully vivid onstage persona is that of someone with no patience for fools or for conventional sympathy -- she's clearly not kidding when she opines that she's "going to make cancer [her] bitch and am fisting it in its ass." The trouble may be that the deeply personal, cathartically therapeutic nature of the show does not easily translate to the theatrical need of the audience for a sustained narrative and concrete incident. Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd, Venice; Sun., March 4, 7:30 p.m. wwwsuzannewhangcrackedopen.com. (Paul Birchall)

FINDING FOSSILS

click to enlarge CHRIS GROSS
  • Chris Gross

Crotchety old-timer Vincent (John Gowans) really doesn't like his son, Gus (Chet Grissom). Can you blame him? Gus directs ghastly TV soaps. Though desperate for his father's approval, Gus never wanted to hike or fish up at the idyllic riverside cottage to which Dad has retreated since his wife died. Now Gus and his husband are planning to adopt a 5-year-old black kid, which ruffles Dad's racist and antigay feathers. Unlike in most dysfunctional families, the family members in Ty DeMarinto's rambling, one-act drama are at least honest with each other. As Gus, Grissom gives a mannered yet defeated performance of a guy striving for intimacy. Gowans' drunkard is paranoid and irreparably antisocial. Mark Costello as Johnny, Vincent's sometime neighbor and sole friend, acts almost as a therapist, helping Gus see things from his father's perspective. Desma Murphy's fine set for the cabin also is used for Theresa Rebeck's The Water's Edge, running in rep. Lankershim Arts Center, 5109 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 25. (818) 752-7568, www.lankershimartscenter.com. (Pauline Adamek)

MARISOL

click to enlarge COURTESY, JONATHAN VIGUERS
  • Courtesy, Jonathan Viguers

By all rights, playwright José Rivera's grim, 1993 millennialist cri du coeur should have been perfect for our hell-in-a-handbasket times. Director Don K. Williams and a top-flight production (Michael Allen's graffiti-tagged set, Johnny Patrick Yoder's lights, Melody Brocious' costumes) provide as seedy a setting for Rivera's profoundly unsettling and pessimistic take on the end of days as one could hope. Carolina Castro is convincing as Rivera's titular Puerto Rican heroine, who is bludgeoned to death on a Bronx IRT train only to wake up in a wildly distorted, cosmic-Apocalypse-conflagrated New York. Alex Marshall-Brown, as Marisol's guardian angel, and Katharine Brandt, as her mercurial workmate-turned-Nazi skinhead, both lend fine support. Unfortunately, Rivera so abuses his dream-play license to skirt narrative niceties such as coherent structure and logical dramatic stakes that Jennifer Sorenson, who sprays the ensemble with AK-47 fire in the play's bloody denouement, seems nothing if not a godsend. Art of Acting Studio, 1017 N. Orange Drive, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 10. (323) 601-5310, www.brownpapertickets.com. (Bill Raden)

OLD WICKED SONGS

click to enlarge MICHAEL LAMONT
  • Michael Lamont

The communication gap between an aging pianist and his rage-filled, self-doubting young student amounts to a mildly pleasant contrivance. Stephen Hoffman (Tavis Danz), an American pianist with shattered confidence, visits Vienna to train as a soloist with a musical great. Upon arrival, Stephen discovers he must first take lessons in accompaniment from Professor Josef Mashkan (John Towey), an eccentric old man with a painful past. Mashkan, whose apparent anti-Semitism pisses off the Jewish Hoffman, pushes Hoffman to bring more life experience to his playing, forcing the young man to hit the streets of Vienna in search of joy and pain. When Hoffman visits Dachau, meeting a pretty Jewish girl en route, his life and his music are changed. Both Danz and Towey pull off the roles with ease, engaging in a battle of wills that crackles when they take turns at the piano. But playwright Jon Marans goes for predictable, tidily resolved plot points. He is clearly taken with the music of Robert Schuman, less so with building an authentic relationship between mentor and protégé. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; through March 4. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org. (Amy Lyons)

GO ON HOLY GROUND

click to enlarge Salome Jens in "On Holy Ground" - IRENE HOVEY
  • Irene Hovey
  • Salome Jens in "On Holy Ground"

Stephanie Liss' pair of one-acts explores the timeworn Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the experience of three women. "Daughter of My People" surveys the life of Zionist leader Henrietta Szold, who co-founded Hadassah and helped save the lives of Jewish children during World War II. It's a slightly overwritten monologue gleaned from biographical material, blended with moral and philosophical musings, not all of which are of interest. But the piece soars on the splendid performance of Salome Jens, who imbues Szold with beguiling emotional resonance, infectious optimism and the muted yet palpable sadness of loss. In "Jihad," Liss vividly sketches the emotional and political pyrotechnics of the Arab/Israeli clash. Shula (Lisa Richards) an orthodox Jew, and Reim (Abbe Rowlins), a committed Palestinian jihadist, confront each other after losing both of their daughters in a suicide bombing. Liss takes no sides in this ugly tale but passionately explores both the contrasts between and the shared humanity of both mothers, and the losses that will scar them forever. L. Flint Esquerra directs both pieces, drawing outstanding performances from this cast. Met Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; through March 4. (800) 838-3006. (Lovell Estell III)

SLITHER When Adam (Tobie Windham) bit into the apple, he must not have swallowed, suspects Eve (Inger Tudor). That's why she knows that humankind is God's joke, while Adam and most of this play's menfolk are morons who say things like, "Dang it!" Carson Krietzer's melodrama traces Eve's wisdom from the Garden of Eden to an Egyptian queen (Lina Patel) facing down the Roman rubes, to a snake charmer (Amy Ellenberger) from today, who leaves her daughter (Patel) adrift and granddaughter (Teri Reeves) married to an abusive preacher (Brian Slaten). The script itself has moments of wisdom, but while its metaphors are evocative, they don't add up to much. Under Casey Stangl's direction, battered wife Reeves mistakes acting innocent for playing plumb stupid. Is her point that millennia after cool, confident Eve, women are regressing? I hope not. Staged in Hollywood Forever's Masonic Lodge, a grand red hall that, while too big for the play, gives it gravitas. Chalk Repertory Theatre at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Masonic Lodge, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 4. (877) 435-9845, chalkrep.com. (Amy Nicholson)

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