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Stage Raw

Begley/Huffman in November, Roger Robinson in Fraternity, Brushing up Our Shakespeare, Plus All the Latest New Theater Reviews

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Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 1:20 PM
click to enlarge l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman - CRAIG SCHWARTZ
  • Craig Schwartz
  • l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman






Our critics were brushing up their Shakespeare over the weekend, with reviews of Cymbeline,
click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpg
Julius Caesar and Henry VI, Part I. Jeff Stetson's 1987 retrospective drama on the effects of church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Fraternity, is this week's Pick of the Week. For all the Latest New Theater Reviews, go to the jump.

Also, in this week's Stage Feature, Yours Truly compares plays about passionate love -- one by Polish company Studium Teatralne (The King of Hearts is Off Again) at the Odyssey Theatre, about a wife seeking her husband in Nazi-occupied Poland and Austria; and Nate Rufas Edelman's The Belle of Belfast looks back at 1985 Belfast, and an orphaned woman's desire for her Catholic priest (Ensemble Studio Theatre/L.A.) at Atwater Village Theatre.

Theatre @ Boston Court has announced its 10th Anniversary 2013 season: The Theatre @ Boston Court announces its 10th Anniversary 2013 Season, Starting January 26: David Weiner's Cassiopeia; the world premiere of a play with rockabilly music, Dan Dietz's American Misfit; the world premiere of Critical Mass Performance Group's Alcestis; and R II, based on Shakespeare's Richard II.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication October 11, 2012

AMERICAN FIESTA Oklahoma-born writer Steve Tomlinson grew up in a loving home. But later, as a gay adult, he coped with parental consternation, which escalated after he disclosed his intention to marry his longtime lover. Tomlinson's 80-minute narrative weaves this personal story into a wry account of his burgeoning obsession with Fiesta cookware, a passion that led to encounters with other collectors of various backgrounds and political stripes. Skillfully rendered by Larry Cedar under David Rose's direction, the play takes clever comic detours, weighing in on American consumerism and illuminating the neurophysiology of desire. In the end, however, the script proves disjointed and overly ambitious; Tomlinson's attempt to turn a tale about ubiquitous dinnerware mania into a plea for national unity and consensus registers as overreach. The large proscenium and designer David Potts' drab set -- which is, admittedly brightened by play's end as Fiestaware is added -- undermine, rather than underscore, the piece's openhearted message. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 21. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org. (Deborah Klugman)

GO THE BELLE OF BELFAST

click to enlarge BETSY NEWMAN
  • Betsy Newman
Nate Rufus Edelman drama about a orphaned young woman's attraction to her Catholic Priest in 1985 Belfast. Ensemble Studio

Theatre/LA at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater

Village;  in repertory, call for schedule; through Oct. 28. (323)

644-1929, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org See Theater feature

BEND IN THE ROAD Modern girls could do a lot worse than Anne Shirley, the fictional budding feminist created by Lucy Montgomery in 1908. Even if she gives in to bemoaning her looks occasionally, she's spunky, whip-smart, speaks her mind brazenly and spits at the notion that women "need" husbands. In this tepid new musical adaptation of Anne of Green Gables by co-writers Benita Scheckel and Michael Upward, the songs are fine, if forgettable; the dialogue is forgivable in its stiltedness because it is, after all, a musical; and the narrative a little long and tiresome throughout before being sped up near the end. Thank goodness, then, for star Alison Woods. The charming Woods is a stubborn Disney princess come to life -- almost literally, as she recently was the animation reference for the one in Disney's Tangled. Woods has a sweet, strong voice, but her mannerisms (scrunching up her face or stomping away in anger, hunching bitterly over her misspelled name on a chalkboard) reveal her to have quite the comic timing. Take your little girl to counteract the Real (Sad and Desperate) Housewives effect. Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Sat., 1 & 7 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.; through Oct. 14. bendintheroadtickets.eventbrite.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

THE CIRCLE Back between the wars, dryly ironic but characterization-thin confections the likes of W. Somerset Maugham's dusty, 1921 drawing-room comedy were the bread and butter of English repertory companies. On little more than a week's rehearsal, technique-steeped veterans could take Maugham's upper-crust archetypes, brittle dialogue and slightly salacious storylines and make them seem like the height of Congrevian wit. Not so with director Jules Aaron's handsome but fitful revival. The issue is not merely that Aaron's experienced ensemble doesn't have the stage chops to pull off Maugham's antique affections -- they don't -- but that few modern actors do. The contemporary stage long ago came to prize gritty naturalism and the inner life over actorly artifice. Thus, while Ross Alden and Shelby Kocee both bring a seductive polish to the play's stock, love-frustrated romantic leads, neither Aaron nor his supporting players are ever quite able to find the light touch or nuance needed to unlock the laughs from Maugham's heavy-handed comedic gargoyles. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Bevely Hills; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m., through Oct. 28. (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org. (Bill Raden)

 GO  CYMBELINE Shakespeare's underperformed romance is a mishmash of familial ties tested, lighthearted foppery, dark betrayals and supernatural interventions. In the hands of director Bart DeLorenzo and a talented ensemble, the sometimes convoluted proceedings ultimately feel like a satisfyingly complex journey, a romp of sorts in which boys become men and childish love matures. DeLorenzo uses doubling to excellent effect, giving several actors both "good guy" and "bad guy" roles. Adam Haas Hunter plays all the naiveté of Posthumus, and makes quick transformations into a bombastically villainous Cloten. Andrew Elvis Miller drips with treachery as the snakelike Iachimo, and shifts into stoicism as Caius Lucius. Keith Mitchell's scenic design captures the play's ever-shifting tone and terrain, as does Ken Booth's lighting. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Thurs., Oct. 25, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 26 & Nov. 16, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 3 & 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 10, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 4 & 18, 2 p.m. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org. (Amy Lyons)

PICK OF THE WEEK: FRATERNITY

click to enlarge l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman - CRAIG SCHWARTZ
  • Craig Schwartz
  • l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman
Jeff Stetson's all-male political drama, written 25 years ago, has a prescient power to it. Set in Birmingham, Ala., the storyline presents a prosperous group of black men, members of a private gentleman's club, and the tragic history that shaped each of their lives. A shocking bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in their hometown resulted in the death of four little black girls, accelerating the civil rights movement.Stetson's story, set in 1987, explores racial issues, elitism, shifting loyalties and eroded principles. When a pompous senator, Charles (2009 Tony winner Roger Robinson), competes with his former speechwriter, the younger and idealistic Paul (TV's Rocky Carroll, from NCIS), who's challenging his seat, Charles demands support from his privileged pals. Initially, there are the typical clubby banter, comedy showboating and gentle ribbing among longtime friends. But it's not long before the gloves come off and some fiery exchanges turn accusatory and menacing. As the men reflect on the ideals that shaped their careers, the actors infuse their performances with the jaded weariness of compromise. While Robinson capitalizes on the comedic elements of his arrogant senator, Henry Miller directs with a firm hand, muting the drama to let its quiet strength emerge. Stetson's play proves bombastic yet provocative. Ebony Rep at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd. | Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 28. (323) 964-9768, ebonyrep.org (Pauline Adamek)

HENRY VI, PART 1
click to enlarge l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman - THE PRODUCTION COMPANY
  • The Production Company
  • l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman
The popularity of Shakespeare's history plays have long lagged behind that of his tragedies and comedies, and Henry VI, Part 1 is one reason why. Shakespeare's earnestly patriotic first play lacks the poetry and moral brilliance of his later work, instead laying the groundwork for England's War of the Roses with a cast of basic villains and heroes. Chief among them might be a demonically inclined Joan of Arc, whose dark arts have suddenly empowered the subjugated French. Meanwhile, back in England, enmity is sowed between the royal houses of Lancaster and York, the former symbolized by a red rose, the latter white. The Production Company has handsomely staged this production, making room for an impressive amount of pageantry and choreography within the constraints of the space. Eerily stylized at times, it is also crisply paced under Christopher William Johnson's direction. Some strange choices emerge, however -- for instance, heavily accenting the French faction only points up the fact that the Brits are all played with American accents. And without any standout performances, the production's aggressive tone might underscore some of the play's humor, but the few quieter moments mainly fall flat rather than wringing some emotional balance from the text. The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; through Nov. 10. (310) 869-7546, theprodco.com. (Mindy Farabee)

 GO  JULIUS CAESAR
click to enlarge l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman - JEANNINE WISNOSKY STEHLIN
  • Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin
  • l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman
There were a handful of other Elizabethan dramas written about Julius Caesar, but Shakespeare's offers a more entertaining dramatization of Rome's political climate (which was as nasty and cutthroat as our own) and the aftermath of the emperor's murder. Principal among the assassins are Brutus (Jack Stehlin) and Cassius (Tom Groenwald), who are the head and talons of the conspiratorial mob. The curious thing about this play is that the focus is really Brutus, not Caesar, and Stehlin (who also directs) renders a superb performance, investing the character with equal parts cunning, glacial detachment and simple human fragility. Equally commanding are Groenwald's voluble, emotionally intense Cassius and Scott Sheldon's dignified and loyal Marc Antony. This is a lean, well managed production with the rest of the large cast turning in good performances in multiple roles. Stehlin's contemporary staging -- which includes some attractive choreography by Jade Sealey -- sacrifices none of the play's on-the-edge intensity. Kitty Rose's smattering of props gets the job done effectively, and her present-day costumes (mostly dark suits) are strangely appropriate and attractive. Noah Silverstein's faux panels of statuary and sculpture are subtly evocative of the period. New American Theatre Company, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (Oct. 21 perf, 7 p.m.); through Oct 21. (310) 701-0788, NewAmericanTheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE KING OF HEARTS IS OFF AGAIN
click to enlarge l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman - STUDIUM TEATRALNE
  • Studium Teatralne
  • l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman
Poland's Studium Teatralne's adaptation and production of Hanna Krall's novel about a Jewish husband and wife in Nazi-occupied Poland and Austria.Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 14. (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2, odysseytheatre.com 
See Theater feature.

 NOVEMBER
click to enlarge l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman - CRAIG SCHWARTZ
  • Craig Schwartz
  • l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman
Craig Schwartz
l to r: Begley, McLachlan and Huffman
David Mamet's Oval Office farce centers on an imploding U.S. president, Charles Smith (Ed Begley Jr.), running for a second term, while his own

re-election committee has cut off funds and his lesbian speechwriter, Bernstein (Felicity Huffman), is already drafting his concession speech.

"Why? Why? We won the first time," he pleads to his chief of staff (Rod McLachlan). Retorts his adviser: "Because you've fucked up everything you've touched." When the play premiered on Broadway in 2008 (starring Nathan Lane), Smith might have been a stand-in for George W. Bush, whose approval ratings then were in the cellar, and what might have transpired if not for term limits: selling pardons to criminals in order to raise campaign funds, and hiking from $50,000 to $200 million his fee from a national turkey association for pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey on national TV. In 2012, the play contains only the faintest echoes of topical parody; rather, it works as a more general satire of a political system for sale. The play's high points are in some of the details. Comedically combining plot elements of Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna, the desperate president of the United States (who wants mainly to walk away with enough funds for a legacy library) finds himself bartering and betraying: Bernstein will give him a poll-boosting speech only after he marries her to her female partner on national TV, a broadcast already promised (for $200 million -- cash) to the national poultry association.Scott Zigler's staging (on Takeshi Kata's scrumptious Oval Office set) has a weird psychological credence, thanks largely to Begley's silky, very funny performance, flush with emotion yet bereft of histrionics. His Smith is a walking moral vacuum, struggling to find something noble within or beyond him. Mamet's dialogue sparkles with P.C.-savaging wit -- undone by absurdity that shatters plausibility: Turkeys explode in the anteroom, and a livid, violent Native American (the fine Gregory Cruz) bursts in while the Secret Service is on a coffee break. Huffman is a terrific foil for Begley, while McLachlan's chief of staff and Todd Weeks' poultry rep also sail through seamlessly. Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.;Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Nov. 4. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO 
SHINER
In Christian Durso's intense two-character drama, 13-year-olds Margot (Laila Ayad) and Jake (Graham Sibley) become obsessed with Kurt Cobain, the suicidal lead singer of Nirvana. Hopelessly square Jake finds a flyer advertising an organization formed to promote grunge music, but he soon discovers that the group has only one member, Margot. She exposes him to alternative rock and he's transfixed. Soon he joins her in a pact to attend a Nirvana concert at the Hollywood Bowl and then kill themselves by jumping off the 101 overpass. Initially she's the leader and instigator, but he's the one who gives concrete shape to her loony plans. She pretends to be shooting up heroin, but he goes out and buys the real stuff. The play exerts a terrible fascination as we watch two naive kids determinedly getting in over their heads. Ayad and Sibley find just the right blend of sweetness, naiveté, angst, bravado and recklessness, and director Neil Patrick Stewart blends them into a perfect team. He also, unlike many local directors, makes the blackouts are part of the performance, amping up the music and sending the actors into overdrive, so the scene breaks become integral to the rhythm of the play. IAMA Theatre Company at Working Stage Theatre, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 14. iamatheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)


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