Rex Pickett's stage adaptation Sideways: The Play (over at Ruskin Theatre Group), from his own novel about lifein the Santa Inez Valley wine country, gets this week's Pick. Also admired is Matt Chafee's comedy Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies, over at Hollywood's Arena Stage.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication June 14, 2012
GO FLUFFY BUNNIES IN A FIELD OF DAISIES
"It's not easy to say what this play is about. It's not that kind of play," says writer-director Matt Chaffee in the program notes, and he's quite accurate in his assessment. What the play is about, he goes on to say, is "four friends figuring it out ... or not figuring it out. ... It's about entertainment ... and fun ... and people." Correct again. At this point, it's tempting to let Mr. Chaffee write his own review, since he's not prone to self-aggrandizement. What he is, however, is an astute observer, a quality that's reflected in his principal characters -- Nick (a sweet and earnest Dean Cates), Tommy (the delightfully dickish Mike Duff), Baby Boy (an engagingly eager Kip Garwood) and Jennifer (a spunky, expressive Lyndsey Lantz) -- and their uninhibited conversations. The mere fact that the guys refer to Jennifer as "Re" (short for "retard") gives you a sense of Chaffee's brand of "no-holds-barred" humor, which is raunchy and offensive but often quite hilarious. As director, Chaffee favors the 1930s style of overlapping patter; his lines fly like bullets out of his actors' mouths in rapid-fire staccato. All roles are double-cast, but it's safe to assume that no matter who's onstage, the show's direction and writing will leave audiences laughing. Arena Stage at Theatre of Arts, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 28. (800) 595-4849, fluffybunnies.tix.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
A new musical song cycle about gender and race relations in California. Book and lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh, music by Michael John LaChiusa. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through July 1. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772. See Stage feature.
NO WAY AROUND BUT THROUGH
Swaggering, tough-guy actor Scott Caan has cast himself in his play, which makes perfect sense as all characters, bar one, have the same "voice" -- his. A young couple, played by an overly gesticulating Caan and waiflike Robyn Cohen, are at a crucial crossroads in their new relationship. They spend the entire two-act play agonizing about their problems via convoluted discussion. Their inability to communicate effectively boils down to the dated concept "Men and women are different species." This also makes for some intense, earnest and funny dialogue exchanges. Their respective best friends provide excellent foils to the central fractured romance, and are played nicely by Bre Blair and Val Lauren (who also directs the play remarkably well). Caan's stage mom, Lulu, played by Melanie Griffith, doesn't appear until Act 2, and hers is a beautifully poised character with a refreshingly unique voice: finally someone who tells it like it is. All skinny limbs and sculpted face, Griffith give a fantastic and restrained performance. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 8. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)
When is a work of art like an act of political terror? In playwright Sheila Callaghan's brittlest of black comedies, it is when representation crosses the not-so-fine line between symbolic and actual violence. For one-time art-world sensation Trevor Pratt (Melissa Randell) it happens when a chance collision with a plague-infected critter inspires a new piece comprised of pathogen-carrying roadkill. As Trevor's carrion collection begins to claim a human as well as animal body count, the work-in-progress draws the scrutiny of what turns out to be Trevor's most devoted and sympathetic audience -- a cartoonish, one-eyed counterterrorism FBI Man (Daniel Getzoff). Though intended as a kind of Guy Debord-esque skewering of the society of the spectacle, Callaghan's idea-saturated satire simply lacks the teeth to offer much of a political or comic bite. Director Barbara Kallir's polished staging (amid Adam Flemming's live projections) notwithstanding, Roger Corman covered the same ground with greater flair and to far more hilarious effect in A Bucket of Blood. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 5 p.m., through July 1. (213) 351-3507, sonofsemele.org. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: SIDEWAYS: THE PLAY
The well-known saying may be In vino veritas, but in playwright Rex Pickett's adaptation of his novel, booze from a hundred bottles of wine flows around the stage, and the dysfunctional characters still all lie like shag rugs. Pickett's novel, of course, has already been adapted into an Oscar-winning film, but in this deft iteration of the tale, the author returns to his original narrative. The results, in director Amelia Mulkey's winning, funny and wise production, are more involvingly intimate than the movie. Pickett's tale of a pair of middle-aged man-boys enjoying a week of Santa Ynez Valley tippling whilst becoming romantically entangled with a pair of beautiful but naive wine servers boasts a gentle sincerity that's strangely theatrical. You may wonder how a story that is so outdoors-oriented as this tale of touring Santa Ynez Valley wineries could possibly translate to the comparatively close environs of a tiny stage. Yet director Mulkey's production adroitly captures the mood of rural Santa Ynez, with C.J. Strawn's barnlike set populated by a cast of supporting actors with grizzled beards, sunburned faces and tank tops, looking like denizens of the wine country. As Miles, the self-absorbed writer and wine connoisseur, John Colella imbues his character with equal parts self-loathing and vulnerability. Jonathan Bray's turn as Miles' heartless best pal and traveling buddy is a droll study in piglike manhood. Julia McIlvaine delivers an exquisite, luminous turn as Miles' sensitive, inscrutable love interest. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 22. (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com (Paul Birchall)
THAT GOOD NIGHT Here's a question: Do we need another play about a dysfunctional family and its abusive patriarch? Answer: Yes, if that story is told in a fresh, insightful way. Alas, Andrew Dolan's drama feels like a hackneyed mishmash of stale elements skimmed from more organic, invigorating work. In Act 1, four adult siblings and their mom reunite to discuss pulling the plug on their comatose dad. In Act 2, the dying man (Leon Russom ) miraculously revives to thunder across the stage, insulting his wife (Judith Scarpone), beating his eldest son (John Cragen) and copping a salacious feel off that son's "looker" girlfriend (Keelia Flinn). Russom is so absolutely top-notch that you mourn the absence of a noteworthy script, one unburdened of faux intrigues and ludicrous twists. The good news: The characters outrun the plot. Scarpone's dotty matriarch needs to lose some of her shtick; otherwise the ensemble performs well under Scott Alan Smith's direction. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 21. (866) 506-1248, lankershimartscenter.com. (Deborah Klugman)
THE THEORY OF SILENCE It's an intriguing premise, to be sure: The Johnson family has vanished without a trace and nary a sign of foul play. The one thing everybody's pretty clear on is that they haven't just skipped town: Pothead Kyle (Jason Britt) believes they were Soviet spies who outlived the Cold War, private investigator Toby Cole (Tyler Tanner) has ruled out the witness protection program, Jody (Meghan McConnell) is quite convinced the devil is at work, and Detective Fleming (Eamon Hunt) hasn't a clue. In all, 14 townspeople take to the spotlight one by one to conjecture, shuffling past each other in nicely eerie staging. Perhaps due to the presence of six authors, not all of these monologues are created equal. Many become vivid character sketches, deftly conjuring small-town weirdos just bizarre enough to feel real. But shrewd editing would have transformed the production, especially in regards to the inclusion of three heavily repetitive appearances by the local medium Madam Lydia (Taylor Ashbrook), which drag on the play's momentum despite Ashbrook's efforts. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 23. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Mindy Farabee)
TRIO LOS MACHOS
Josefina Lopez's new play recounts an endearing story of three Mexican laborers who start making music together to pass the time in the fields; 50 years and many hit songs later, their brotherhood endures. While the play could use some restructuring and the production is uneven, Trio Los Machos is an often beautiful exploration of the machismo and the corazón of the three immigrants: Paco (played by Adrian Quinonez in his younger years and Henry Aceves Madrid in his older years), Lalo (Gilbert Rodriguez and Miguel Santana) and Nacho (Josh Duron and Roberto Garza). The soul of the play is the music: a combination of popular songs by Trio Los Panchos and new music by Danny Weinstein, with lyrics by Josefina Lopez and Claudia Duran. The cast members are stronger musicians than they are actors, and the gifted guitarists and impassioned singers carry the play to its greatest emotional heights. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through July 8. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org. (Sarah Taylor Ellis)
VODKA AND EURYDICE Rachel Orlikoff's father-daughter dramedy is long on clichéd relationship pitfalls and short on in-depth character study. Charles (Robert Wiener) has chosen boozing and guitar strumming (his guitar, Eurydice, is his best friend) over a solid relationship with his college-age daughter, Abigail (Caity Engler). After years of estrangement, Abigail shows up on dad's ramshackle front porch in an attempt to put behind her the drunken car crash in which father nearly killed daughter. The rocky relationship rehab takes all sorts of predictable turns, including Abigail's bouts of promiscuity and her inability to accept wholesome love from any man. The acting is wooden throughout and Orlikoff's directing is uninspired. Magic Mirror Theater, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 24. (323) 960-5521, mirrortheater.com. (Amy Lyons)