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Stage Raw

Earthbound Is a Rare Sci-Fi Musical That Actually Works, Says Bill Raden; Plus All the Holiday Weekend's New Theater Reviews

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Wed, Jul 4, 2012 at 3:06 PM
click to enlarge IAN FORESTER
  • Ian Forester


Critic Bill Raden was struck by both a new sci-fi musical Earthbound, this week's Pick of the Week, as well as by the intensity of a production of Stephen Belber's Tape, set in a motel room for audiences of less than a dozen. Click here For the latest New Theater Reviews, or you can find them after the jump.

I was impressed by the stagecraft but left emotionally cold by the National Theatre of Great Britain's touring production of War Horse, which just rolled into the Ahmanson. Got a kick, however, out of Kristina Wong's solo perf, Going Green the Wong Way, extended at Bootleg before a trip to Edinburgh. 

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication July 5, 2012

CLOSER Patrick Marber's drama is about the emotional baggage that accumulates within relationships and the corrosive damage we inflict on each other in the name of pursuing true love. Professional obituary writer Dan (Noah Benjamin) is married to stripper Alice (Samantha Cutaran), but falls for beautiful photographer Anna (Tristin Daley), who happens to be married to dermatologist Larry (John Sperry Sisk). The complications that ensue leave us thinking that, instead of following their loins, these folks might actually be better off finding a new, less destructive hobby Ñ cannibalism, perhaps. Director Jason Ryan Lovett's intimate production suffers from some pacing issues that prevent the fiery interpersonal chemistry from igniting until midway through. However, after the characters' second or third betrayal, the organic and emotionally charged acting work becomes quite harrowing to watch. A lack of vocal projection and some distractingly uneven British dialects mar some performances, but powerful acting turns are offered by Cutaran's nicely sultry Alice, who twins predatory sexuality with damaged vulnerability, and by Sisk's pompous yet increasingly sardonic Larry. LOFT Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., dwntwn.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 29. (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com. (Paul Birchall)

 GO  THE CRUCIBLE Religious fundamentalism is alive and well in the United States, making Arthur Miller's heavy-handed take on theocracy and the perils of unbridled mass hysteria worth heeding once again. Bill Voorhees directs this effective production of Miller's cautionary classic, set in 17th-century Salem, Mass., and launched when a group of young girls begins accusing innocent citizens of consorting with the devil. Caught up in the frenzy are liberal-minded John Proctor (Voorhees) and his wife, Elizabeth (Lauren Dobbins Webb), an honorable woman targeted for death (the punishment for recalcitrant witches) by John's jealous former paramour, Abigail (Jessica Neufeld). A generally strong cast coalesces to portray a contentious community, torn apart by covetous quarrels over property as well as superstition and fear. Anthony Blackman does fine work as the investigative pastor who comes to recognize the witch hunts for the evil crusades they are. Lorianne Hill epitomizes a bitter bigot relishing the pain of the persecuted as a balm for her own. Most riveting is David Ross Paterson, bone-chilling as the arrogant tribunal magistrate besotted with power. Voorhees' staging is solid, but his flawed hero is the ensemble's weakest link. Joel Daavid's set design and Matt Richter's lighting and sound aptly underscore the direful events. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 14. (323) 960-4443, plays411.com. (Deborah Klugman)

PICK OF THE WEEK: EARTHBOUND Space might be the final frontier, but ever since Broadway's notorious, 1972 science-fiction  debacle Via Galactica, the musical theater has proved gun-shy when it comes to exploring strange new genres or boldly going where no show tune has gone before. Forty years later, composer Jonathan Price and lyricist Chana Wise may have finally broken the sci-fi barrier with this powerfully poignant and wistful "electronica musical." In what might best be described as a haunting elegy for the human race, Adam Hahn's book imagines a not-so-distant future in which the dwindling remnants of humanity -- all seven of them -- survive on a malfunctioning orbiting lifeboat named Miami (Zachary B. Guile did the Star Trek-ish set), floating high above a long-dead Earth. In addition
to holding Miami's alarming physical decay in check, station commander and high priest Dade (JR Esposito) fights off the crew's spiritual despair through a quasi-religious mythology in which Earth is a kind of heavenly afterlife to which they will all one day return. A terrific
ensemble vocalizes Price's soaring ballads, mournful laments and comedy numbers with equal skill, while Chera Holland and Esposito bring the house to tears with their moving duet on "Never." Under Christian Levatino's crisp direction, the production is a wryly perceptive musical meditation on both the suicidal folly and the transcendent beauty of our species' defining irrationality. SkyPilot Theatre Co. at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m., through July 15. (800) 838-3006. skypilottheatre.com (Bill Raden)

GO GOING GREEN THE WONG WAY See Stage feature.

GO
THE LATE HENRY MOSS
In this 2001 play, Sam Shepard delves into areas he knows all too well toxic family relationships and people. Lying dead in his makeshift bed is Henry Ross, and gathered at his derelict home (a stunning blend of Southwest rustic and old world by Joel Daavid) are brothers Ray and Earl (Michael Blum, Ronnie Marmo), who are seeing each other after years of estrangement. It doesn't take long to realize that there is no love between these two: There is a lot of shouting, unpleasant reminiscing and even some shoving about. The "how" of the old man's death and the "why" behind this family's miserable condition is told via a series of flashbacks in Act 2, where Mr. Ross (terrific performance by Gary Werntz), shows what a boozer and monstrous bastard he was. In spite of the circumstances, there are moments of genuine humor that emerge, particularly in Act 2, when the resurrected Mr. Ross seems to take over the stage. This is not one of Shepard's strongest works; he does a more compelling job of dramatizing similar themes in earlier plays like True West and Buried Child. Still, director David Fofi's production is impressive, and he draws high-quality performances from his cast. Theatre 68, 5419 W. Sunset Blvd. LA.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 pm., through Aug. 4. (323) 960-5068. plays411.com/henryross (Lovell Estell III)

OUR HOUSE Theresa Rebeck's entertaining meta-diatribe on the cherished American freedom to be boorish and ill-informed walks a wobbly line between snarky farce and the ache of being a real, live human in a hyper-real culture. This production doesn't entirely pull off that balancing act under Kiff Scholl's otherwise deft direction -- one suspects not all the cast would be up to the task Ñ but the flaw is not fatal. Four St. Louis housemates -- led by unemployed and occasionally pants-less TV junkie Merv (the brilliantly bitter Kyle Ingleman) -- find their quotidian sniping soon escalates into full-blown made-for-reality-TV screaming matches. Prowling the perimeter is the story of rising TV news anchor Jennifer Ramirez, her soulless boss and the network's earnest producer. We've been down this the-media-ate-our-brains road before, but Rebeck -- a Pulitzer finalist and the creator of NBC's Smash --can be ferociously funny, going thoroughly over the top and still injecting sneaky subtlety. Packing all this onto the tiny Lounge stage is a feat, hampered only slightly by a production design more distracting than commentary on distraction. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 5. (323) 960-7773, plays411.net. (Mindy Farabee)

 GO  MY ROMANTIC HISTORY Glaswegian playwright D.C. Jackson's uproarious and award-winning comedy (it gained a Scotsman Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010) transfers well to a New York setting, despite the jarring proliferation of casual profanity such as the c-word. Preoccupied with the chore of forced bonding with coworkers and the perils of office dating, new guy Thomas (a charismatic Henderson Wade) is beset by a number of enthusiastic females before drunkenly succumbing to the charms of Amy (a luscious Emily O'Meara). Jackson cleverly intersperses the action with brutally sardonic and hilarious asides from our cynical leading man, offering incisive commentary and cringe-inducing candor as well as a knowing yet unreliable narrative that shifts in Act 2 to provide insight into Amy's version of events, before Act 3 blends the two viewpoints. Add to that the flashbacks to their first true loves, where Jackson perfectly captures the intensity of high school romances that fail to survive the transfer to college. Excellent and detailed direction from Alejandro Romero produces crisp perfs from the cast of seven and punctuates the humor with ironic song selection and witty sound effects that complement the numerous pop-culture references throughout. Renegade Theatre, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru July 29. (323) 874-1733. (Pauline Adamek)

GO TAPE

click to enlarge IAN FORESTER
  • Ian Forester

Site-specific shows are nothing new. Nor, for that matter, are fully immersive environmental productions. But director Ian Forester's revival of Tape, playwright Stephen Belber's 1999, motel-room "dude" play, takes those concepts to their ultimate extreme. By locking both audience and actors into a confined, low-budget Hollywood motel room where all must jostle for sight lines (and acting eye lines), Forester in effect conscripts ticket buyers as a passive, ghostly chorus to Belber's one-act Rashomon in which three estranged friends (John Pick, JB Waterman, Kate Brown) confront each other at a Michigan Motel 6 a decade after an ambiguously recalled act of betrayal. The text deftly mines the embarrassment and strained silences as the trio wade into a swale of guilt, anger and recrimination --  an awkwardness made excruciating by the sardine-can dynamics of Forester's staging. For the 10-member audience, the effect is less fly-on-the-wall (or in-the-closet-nook or on-the-bureau or wherever-an-actor-isn't) than it is a highly intimate and constantly improvised dance: The spectators, who are required to wear domino masks, must not only closely follow the drama but also anticipate it, if only to nimbly leap from in front of doorways or off of a bed mere seconds before an actor crosses or flops down to wrestle or play a scene. The experience gives a whole new meaning to "in-yer-face" theater. Los Feliz Motel, 3101 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Feliz; Wed., 8 & 10 p.m.; through Aug. 1. brownpapertickets.com/event/255209. (Bill Raden)

WAR HORSE
See Stage feature

 GO  THE WINTER'S TALE The free ticket and open-air staging at Griffith Park's old Los Angeles Zoo are two excellent reasons to set up camp for this tragicomedy, but they're not the only draws. This "problem play" of Shakespeare's, with its intensely paranoid, rash and altogether unsympathetic protagonist, gets a solid staging here, with an even-handed ensemble supporting with equal heft the tricky tragic elements and the broad comedy. Out of the clear blue, Sicilian King Leontes (David Melville) accuses his wife, Hermione (Melissa Chalsma),of having an affair with his friend, Bohemian King Polixenes (Luis Galindo). Leontes' unfounded accusation would indeed be laughable were it not for the tragic ramifications for his family and friends. Melville expertly plays the comic childishness and short-sightedness of our antihero, despite a glaring line blunder the night this critic attended. Chalsma does justice to the play's most tragic role, and Bernadette Sullivan also brings a sober characterization to the proceedings. Andre Martin and Sean Pritchett add proper roguery and clowning to the more lighthearted acts. Director Sanford Robbins mines the text sufficiently but paces the production too slowly. Independent Shakespeare Company at the Old Zoo, Griffith Park; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; in rep through Sept. 2. iscla.org. (Amy Lyons)

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