The third annual Hollywood Fringefestival is now history, and this L.A. Weekly best of award goes to Eric Davis' demonic Red Bastard. Also check out this week's Stage Feature on Theatricum Botanicum's production of Shaw's The Heartbreak House, and the Fringe's Guy Zimmerman's The Black Glass.
Our critics were in a VERY good mood this week, serving up a Pick of the Week to Rogue Machine's The New Electric Ballroom, by Enda Walsh, and recommending everything on the docket. Click here for all the latest New Theater Reviews.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication June 28, 2012:
GO THE BLACK GLASS
Guy Zimmerman's amalgam of Dr. Faustus and Agamemnon, via the story of a contemporary L.A. CEO who sacrifices his own daughter to the devil porn industry. Padua Playwrights and Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature.
GO HEARTBREAK HOUSE
George Bernard Shaw's Chekhovian comedy about England on the cusp of World War I. Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga Canyon; in repertory, call for schedule, through September 30. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature.
GO THE IMMIGRANT
Mark Harelik's 2000 musical, based on his play first presented locally at the Mark Taper Forum in 1986, offers a warm and winning portrait of Russian-Jewish immigrant Haskell Harelik (Gary Patent), who settles in rural Texas in 1909, where his wife (Dana Shaw) bears three children. Inspired by the experiences of playwright Harelik's grandparents, the tale centers around the close but ultimately tense relationship between Haskell and the kindly gentile couple (Anthony Gruppuso as banker Milton and Cheryl David as his open-hearted wife, Ima) who take the immigrant under their wings. They help the impoverished fruit vendor build a mercantile business, but a wedge develops between Haskell and Milton over differing cultural and political beliefs. Director Howard Teichman and a skilled design team make fine use of the intimate space. Less successful are the songs of lyricist Sarah Knapp and composer Steven M. Alper, which primarily feel prolonged and superfluous. Nonetheless, the rich and affecting ethnic flavor of this piece shines through via the uplifting narrative and splendid performances. West Coast Jewish Theatre at the Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 15. (323) 860-6620, wcjt.org. (Les Spindle)
GO JITNEY This piece, in a much earlier version, was August Wilson's first full-length play. But in 1996 he decided to revise it into the seventh play in his celebrated 10-play series set in Pittsburgh and marking the 10 decades of the 20th century. Director Ron OJ Parson has given it a sterling production, rich in mood and passionately executed. Becker (Charlie Robinson) is the proprietor of a gypsy cab service in the Hill section of Pittsburgh, where regular cabs won't go. But he and his colorful roster of drivers are in danger of losing their livelihood, due to the forces of urban renewal intent on tearing down the old neighborhood. Becker also is coping with his son Booster's (Montae Russell) release from prison after a 20-year murder sentence. Becker's drivers include the bossy, nosy, pistol-packing Turnbo (a gloriously funny Ellis S. Williams); hard-drinking Fielding (David McKnight), who's convinced his wife still loves him, even if he hasn't seen her for 22 years; and Youngblood (Larry Bates), who's just made a down payment on a house for his wife (Kristy Johnson) when he learns his job is in jeopardy. The performances are terrific. Set designer Shaun Motley provides the shabby, lived-in office of the car service and Vincent Olivieri's sound design provides eloquent musical punctuation. South Coast Repertory at Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through July 15. (626) 356-7529, PasadenaPlayhouse.org. (Neal Weaver)
GO LEADING LADIES
Ken Ludwig's a sophisticated guy. The playwright is responsible for some of the more glamorous Broadway productions of the past 20 years or so -- the Gershwin-inspired Crazy for You, for which he wrote the book, scooped up pretty much every award out there -- and he's known for keeping madcap classy. He's a Shakespeare fan as well, and in this 2004 romp he riffs on the template for the "mistaken identity" crisis, Twelfth Night. Two down-on-their luck Shakespearean actors (the funny David Engel and John J. Joseph) dress in drag as a dying woman's long-lost nieces in order to score her $3 million fortune. Of course, things get sticky when one falls for the pretty, betrothed girl of the house, and her suspicious fiancé sets about unearthing their real identities (are the writers of Wedding Crashers Ludwig fans?). The "man falling for a girl while undercover in drag" plotline is nothing new (see: Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie), and setting the play in the 1950s gives it an unappealing staleness. But the writing is crisp, and director Richard Israel's cast maintain a nice skip in their steps. International City Theatre at Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 1. (562) 436-4610, itclongbeach.org. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Much has been made of the difficulty in classifying the Bard's notoriously challenging send-up of moral absolutism and hypocrisy. When the laughs are elusive, it is written off as a so-called "problem play." When the delicate nuances of its characters' risible flaws are fully illuminated and Shakespeare's satire flares into view, only then is it recognized as a comedy. Director Ellen Geer's lively modern-dress version lands somewhere in between. Set against the California counterculture of the 1960s -- replete with hippies, reefer smoke, riot cops and engaging renditions of 1968's protest-song hit parade -- Geer's production never lacks for rousing spectacle. As Angelo, Adam Mondschein's compelling portrait of puritan intolerance corrupted by power and ungoverned desire is both suitably chilling and all too familiar. Willow Geer's Isabella, the untouchable object of that desire, takes incorruptible chastity to its absurd and equally blinded extreme. The show's comic heavy lifting is left to the capable shoulders of Melora Marshall's deliriously dissolute and ingratiating male-drag Lucio and Gerald C. Rivers' slyly punning Super Fly pimp Pompey. Earnestine Phillips shows off remarkable pipes as the song-belting, dashiki-clad Mrs. Overdone and Erica D. Schwartz's costumes lend the proceedings the surreal frisson of a DMT-demented revelry at Burning Man. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga; Sun., July 1, 15, 29, Aug. 19 & 26, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., July 7 & Aug. 11, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 22, Aug. 5 & 12, 7:30 p.m., Sat., Aug. 4, 18 & 25, Sept. 1, 8 p.m.; through Sept. 1. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM
There is something oddly redolent of Samuel Beckett in Enda Walsh's story about the woeful plight visited upon three sisters, The New Electric Ballroom. In a small cottage in an isolated fishing village in Ireland, the lives of Breda (Lisa Pelikan), Clara (Casey Kramer) and Ada (Betsy Zajko) are lived out in shared misery, boredom and pain. Older siblings Breda and Clara have shut themselves away for decades because of an ugly incident in their past, the particulars of which they now re-enact over and over again like a macabre ritual, even going so far as to dress up in old, ill-fitting clothes. Ada, who still has a spark of feminine attractiveness, grudgingly facilitates her sisters' humorously grotesque actions, yet seems strangely detached and unaware of their significance. What relief there is comes in the way of visits by dippy fishmonger Patsy (Tim Cummings), who, in spite of the torrent of abuse they subject him to, also plays a role in their ongoing fantasy. Though not much happens here, there is hardly a sense of dreary stasis. These characters make a thoroughly engaging impression, performances are top-flight, and Leigh Allen's lighting design and John Perrin Flynn's direction are wonderful. Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.: through July 30, roguemachinetheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE SAVANNAH DISPUTATION
Though it talks of religion, Evan Smith's comedy of substance is less concerned with ideology than with the loneliness and fear that drive people to defend dogma. Elderly siblings Mary (Anne Gee Byrd) and Margaret (Bonnie Bailey-Reed) share a home and their Catholic faith but little else. Mary is sharp-tongued and opinionated, Margaret docile, impressionable and easily unwound. When a fresh-faced Pentecostal proselytizer (Rebecca Mozo) comes knocking, Mary gleefully slams the door; Margaret, however, lets her in, unknowingly inviting a stormy dialogue about doctrine that lays bare the longings behind each disputant's self-fashioned façade. Director Cameron Watson has marshaled a crackerjack ensemble; any tilt toward stereotype in the writing is obscured by impeccably vivid performances. As the family priest drafted to champion the faith, Josh Clark first proves he can convey worlds without speaking a single line. Byrd is hilarious as the cantankerous Mary, and Bailey-Reed is pitch-perfectly endearing as her spooked-by-her-own-shadow sister. But it is Mozo, whose character blends sex, Southern courtesy and steely fundamentalism, who delivers the most illuminating performance. Smith's passages involving biblical scholarship are informative for those interested; those who aren't will be entertained anyway. Designer Stephen Gifford's detailed set anchors this polished production. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; through July 8. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org. (Deborah Klugman)