Bryan Harnetiaux's new play, Holding On -- Letting Go is difficult to watch for the way it captures the realistic agonies of a wife slowly losing her husband to liver cancer. It is nonetheless a tender drama, well rendered under James Reynolds' direction at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena.
Also, check out this week's Stage Feature on Cornerstone Theater Company's first entry in its "Hunger Cycle," Café Vida. Also currently up, a reaction to the invaluable, ever-provocative Colin Mitchell's post on L.A. Stage Alliance's panel last week on arts criticism.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 10, 2012
GO Café Vida
The Latino Theater Company presents Lisa Loomer's world-premiere play, directed by Michael John Garcés. Part of Cornerstone Theatre Company's "The Hunger Cycle Plays," created in partnership with Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Café. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 414 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 20. (866) 811-4111, CornerstoneTheater.org/CafeVida. See Stage Feature
COPY Whatever else a metaphor might be, in the theater it is also a compact between writer, actors and audience to accept the onstage fiction as the outside world that it claims to represent. In playwright Padraic Duffy's fractured nonsense play, this concept gets dissected with the sadistic glee of a child pulling the wings from a fly. The office in which Wendy (Cat Davis), Betty (Gabby Sanalitro) and Brad (Stephen Simon) work is not an office, at least not in any meaningful sense, since even their Boss (Troy Blendell) can't remember what business they're in. Just as the photo that disconsolate cat fancier Theo (Phil Ward) unsuccessfully tries to reproduce on the office's capricious photocopier is not his beloved deceased feline, merely a "degraded copy." Unfortunately, it all proves a kind of quicksand; without convincing circumstances to play, the actors are swallowed by Duffy's surreal incongruities. That director David LM McIntyre eggs them on to such broad mugging makes it excruciating. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 2. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com. (Bill Raden)
GO HOLDING ON -- LETTING GO
Bryan Harnetiaux's new play focuses on family dynamics as the 51-year-old husband, Bobby (Barry Wiggins), in a childless marriage, enters a hospice for terminal liver cancer. It recalls a couple of Pulitzer Prize-winning, end-of-life plays -- Michael Cristofer's The Shadow Box and Margaret Edson's Wit. Bobby's wife, Lee (Iona Morris), is a highly motivated sports coach whose brash exterior, cellphone addiction and oh-so-busy schedule serve to mask the inner terror of a woman who lives on hope and doesn't quite know how to cope with her husband's irrefutable terminal diagnosis. There's little poetry here in facing the dark; rather, scenes between husband and wife and husband's crusty mother (Amentha Dymally), hospice worker (Jill Remez) and social worker (Lamar Hughes) in performance (under James Reynold's tender direction) and in the writing have a blend of TV-drama realism and the subtle awkwardness of characters who don't quite know what to say. Soon, they're all dancing slowly around death's black hole. Bobby eventually must choose between his growing pain and the mental blurring effects of morphine. This is, in many ways, a drama about capitulation, made both chastening and harrowing by its attention to clinical and psychological details. Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (no perfs May 11-13); through May 27. (866) 811-4111, fremontcentretheatre.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO FELLOWSHIP! You don't have to be a Hobbit fan to appreciate this good-humored musical spoof of The Lord of the Rings, although familiarity does help. Under Joel McCrary's direction, with musical direction by Gary Stockdale, a multitalented ensemble sings, dances and exuberantly cavorts around a tiny proscenium, parodying the tale about an odd band of hobbits, elves and fairies on a quest to rescue the world from evil. Frodo (Cory Rouse), the pivotal hobbit hero, is an absent-minded fellow and the object of the not-so-secret lust of his rotund and swishy sidekick, Sam (a hilarious Peter Allen Vogt). The camped-up rivalry between Legolas (Kelly Holden-Bashar), an outsized elf, and Gimli (Lisa Fredrickson), a fierce macho dwarf, lays the foundation for more uproarious laughs. First performed in 2005, the show's gags (book by McCrary and Holden-Bashar) remain fresh and the performers' delivery sharp. The lyrics (credited to the ensemble) are clever, although some lines are lost to poor acoustics. McCrary does a terrific job coordinating the nine-person ensemble in the cramped space, with puppetry and a drop-down screen charting the plot's quirky progression. The music is by Allen Simpson, with percussionist Chris Kirshbaum's drums underscoring the comedy. Trepany House at Steve Allen Theatre, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 & 11 p.m.; through June 29. (323) 666-4268, fellowshipthemusical.com. (Deborah Klugman)
GO MISSIONARY POSITION This is the second part of Steven Fales' Mormon Boy Trilogy, which is now running in full spectrum on different nights at the Hudson Backstage Theater. This segment is more blithe than the others, as Fales devotes a good deal of running time telling of his activities as a missionary in Portugal, and the often humorous events and ceremonies that occurred beforehand. Fales has poster-boy good looks, an instantly disarming smile and the beckoning sort of personality that makes this 90-minute show easy listening. But it's not all smiles and cheer, especially when he touches on issues about his gradual alienation from the church, his homosexuality and the attendant doubts and anguishes. With nothing but a large portable tool box for props, he draws his audience into a vibrant landscape of characters, places and humorous experiences. If you've ever wondered what goes on in those resplendent Mormon temples, here's your chance to find out. We are treated to the inner workings of an "endowment" ceremony, complete with toga and a fig-leaf apron for the naughty parts. If there's a glitch here, it's in Fales' tendency to ramble, but that hardly detracts from what is a darn good show. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; through May 26. plays411.com/mormonboy. (Lovell Estell III)
Playwright Dennis McIntyre examines the tempestuous life of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani (Matt Marquez), famous for his stylized, elongated figures and voluptuous, long-necked nudes. We see him, in Paris circa 1916, with his friends and fellow painters Chaim Soutine (Nasser Khan) and Maurice Utrillo (Daniel Escobar). All three men were alcoholics, but they were also talented and prolific painters. To present their friendship as merely a series of comic drunk scenes, as director Bjorn Johnson does, seems a serious distortion. We also encounter the Polish poet and art dealer Leopold Zborowski (Jeff Lorch), but the play's emotional center is Modigliani's stormy relationship with his volatile mistress, Beatrice Hastings (Nicole Stuart), whom he finally drives away with his disorderly life and potential for violence. McIntyre has chosen a rich subject but makes disappointingly little of it. Ruben Gomez and Jon Collin Barclay also contribute stylish turns. Thrill Ride Productions at Open Fist, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; through May 24. openfist.org. (Neal Weaver)
OUT THERE ON FRIED MEAT RIDGE ROAD
In a small West Virginia town, Mitchell (Neil McGowan) has just lost his job at the local spork factory, not to mention his car, his girlfriend and his apartment. He finds a newspaper ad for an affordable, extended-stay hotel room with a beer-bellied hillbilly with a heart of gold named JD (Keith Stevenson, who also wrote the play). The writing is uneven and the play lacks an overarching point, but the ensemble of hotel neighbors -- which includes gangster Tommy (Jason Huber), his hysterical girlfriend, Marlene (Kendrah McKay), and their decidedly un-PC landlord, Flip (Michael Prichard) -- make the most of the comedy. Stevenson's writing and fantastically funny performance exudes sympathy for these characters, who are hilarious Southern stereotypes as well as everyday philosophers and artists in their own way. Guillermo Cienfuegos' sitcomlike direction propels the hourlong one-act, and Norman Scott's hotel room set is commendable for its kitschy, lived-in detail. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 20. (310) 822-8392, pacificresidenttheatre.com. (Sarah Taylor Ellis)
PARIS/THE SOLVIT KIDS
Playwright Clara Mamet is the daughter of that other more famous playwright named Mamet, and has clearly learned a thing or two about writing exchanges that snap and sneer. In "The Solvit Kids," which she co -wrote with Jack Quaid, a pair of teen actors (Mamet and Sol Mason), known for playing kid detectives in a movie series adapted from a famous set of young-adult novels, desperately try to pen one last mystery movie following the death of the author who gave them careers. Although director Paul Sand's staging moves quickly and Mamet imbues her lines with some snarky simmer, it is hard to relate to any situation that appears onstage: The emotions don't ring true or correlate to anything that might happen in reality, producing an off-putting effect. In "Paris," which Mamet wrote on her own, a young girl (Mamet again) and her intellectual father (John Pirruccello) drink coffee and talk about their love lives. We might suspect that may be the sort of conversation the Mamet family has at the breakfast table on a slow Sunday morning -- but even here, the dialogue lacks depth, the performers are flat and the issues are too slight to sustain interest. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 2. (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)