Two head-tripping plays are the topic of this week's Stage Feature: David Weiner's Cassiopeia at Boston Court and the now-closed Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, presented by Australia's Back to Back Theatre at UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication January 31, 2013:
PICK OF THE WEEK ABSOLUTELY FILTHY Just 'cause I have a ton of dirt on me doesn't make me a monster," says The Mess (playwright Brendan Hunt), the adult incarnation of Pig Pen from the Peanuts comics, who is now a homeless man, in Absolutely Filthy. His desire to be more than an "accumulation of [his] sins" drives the story of a reunion of the old gang after the demise of Charlie Brown (played by Scott Golden, credited as The Deceased -- the characters are given abstract names for legal reasons). Hunt's exploration of the dysfunction of these familiar characters all grown up is darkly hilarious. Through a series of flashbacks, prompted by their arrivals at the church to pay their respects, The Mess' journey to his present state is revealed. While the cast is solid across the board, Hunt truly steals the show, and not just because he keeps his "cloud of dust," a Hula Hoop, in constant motion the entire time he's onstage (a feat in itself!). His clever writing, comic timing and use of understatement to tremendous effect allow Hunt to weave sociopolitical commentary, gross-out humor and insightful observations into engaging and entertaining rants. Director Jeremy Aldridge deftly manages a massive cast, making great use of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's set, itself an inventive homage to homelessness with its junk-themed design. Standouts in the cast include an out-of-the-closet Schroeder (Curt Bonnem as The Pop Star), hard-ass sports agent Lucy (Anna Douglas as The Big Sister) and recovering alcoholic judge Franklin (KJ Middlebrooks as His Honor). It seems that the Fools' late-night series Serial Killers, where this show originated, has once again yielded comedy gold. Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, E. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 7 & 14, 8 p.m.; through March 2. (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING
Writer-performer Sandy Brown pays passionate homage to eight famous African-American women in an energetic solo performance that would benefit from the input of an experienced director. Carefully researched, and aptly costumed for each period, her dramatic renditions inform us about 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, civil rights activist Rosa Parks and acclaimed cabaret entertainer Josephine Baker, among others. Brown sings and dances well and delivers her lines with presence. But the end result can be characterized as detailed impersonations of historical figures rather than emotionally in-depth portrayals with the feel of authenticity. The most successful segment is her depiction of soul singer Billie Holiday, a hard-luck individual who criticized the status quo and was incarcerated for drug use. Brown's focused monologue, and her singing, nab the essence of this woman's torment. With its song-and-dance numbers, her take on Baker also entertains. Theatre Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, Thurs.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. (dark Thurs. Jan. 31-Fri. Feb. 1); Sun., 2 & 6:30 p.m.; through March 24. (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman)
GO RUBY WAX: OUT OF HER MIND
Tackling a topic such as mental illness onstage, particularly one's own, can be risky business: There's the danger of descending into mawkishness, or overcompensating with such hilarity that emotional honesty gets blurred. Ruby Wax's one-woman show sails past these dangers with only minor wobbles. The American-born comedian built her home and career in the United Kingdom, but found herself knocked flat by the mother of all depressions five years ago. After recovery branded her a mental illness pin-up girl, she penned a show and toured it at asylums around the country and, eventually, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ping-ponging around a tangerine stage, Wax displays a fine instinct for pacing; she knows when to let a moment rest, and when to bring in the easel and cartooned flip pads. The Royal Shakespeare Company-trained actress's pitch-perfect imitations lampoon her blue-blooded neighbors' and friends' unhelpful suggestions to "perk up." Despite early forays into tangential territory, Wax is at her best addressing her core material head-on. And with lab-coated detours into the anatomy of the brain and an audience talkback following the show, Wax proves herself seriously committed to depriving herself, and others, of future source material. The Edye at Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica; Wed.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through Feb. 3. (310) 434-3200. (Jenny Lower)
THIS VICIOUS MINUTE Ben Moroski's solo show tells of his long struggle with the alarming practice of self-mutilation, aka cutting, during which he used a shocking variety of instruments to disfigure his skin. His psychological unraveling began at the age of 13, soon after his return from a church-sponsored retreat, when masturbation ended his "committed to Jesus" status. The meandrous script recounts a chaotic path of self-destruction that extended through college and included church counseling, professional therapy, troubled romances and suicide attempts. On the surface, this is a compelling story of a tormented soul with some humor included to allay its grim monotony. But ultimately, Moroski offers zero insight; he speed-reads the surface of his compulsion-addiction and never confronts us with its dark, enigmatic core. He often refers to himself as "fucked up." It would have been nice to understand why he's that way. The Elephant Studio Stage Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17 & 24, 7 p.m.; through Feb. 24. (323)-960-7745, plays411.com/viciousminute. (Lovell Estell III).
TOM RUBIN SUCCESS GURU Writer-performer Tom Rubin's solo show deftly spoofs that breed of irritating self-help seminar in which a motivational expert strives to inculcate you with just the Buddhist qualities needed to destroy your competition and make a pile of money. This is potentially fertile spoofing ground to plow -- who hasn't at some point wanted to take a flying kick at whichever ivory-toothed, twinkle-eyed twit is the late-night infomercial star du jour? Director Rocco Urbisci's adroitly snarky staging perfectly captures the feverish, snake oil-and-adrenaline-filled atmosphere of one of these seminars, assisted by the cheesiness of Stewart Turner's appropriately cheesy slideshow. Rubin's message is drolly ironic. "Failure IS an option!" gushes Rubin, all charisma and inner emptiness, as he preaches a unique and often depressing new religion of mediocrity. Although this is material that, frankly, wears thin after even a couple of moments and plays like a retread of a Saturday Night Live sketch, Rubin's gleeful onstage persona engagingly blends Tony Robbins with the nebbishyness of Albert Brooks. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 22. tomrubin-successguru.com. (Paul Birchall)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
Around the World in 80 Days Adapted by Mark Brown from Jules Verne's classic adventure story. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, 562-436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org.
Backbeat U.S. premiere of Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys' story of the origins of the Beatles. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through March 1. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
Boeing-Boeing Marc Camoletti's international-playboy comedy, translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans, directed by Jeff Maynard. Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.
GO Chapter Two Famous for the broad, mainstream comedies that made him the 20th century's most commercially successful playwright, Neil Simon suffered the shocking loss of his first wife to cancer, leaving him devastated. A new relationship with emerging stage and screen star Marsha Mason pulled him out of depression and into a new chapter of his career in which his bright comedies were infiltrated by darker, sometimes angrier tones that led to his later, more substantial works. This highly autobiographical play mirrors that unhappy passage of his life, beginning with a first act closely resembling his earlier comedies in witty repartee and one-liners, but breaks into emotional pain through Act 2. While a bit clumsier than most of his work, its juxtaposition of light and heavy offer a good indication of his future, deeper dramas. Despite a bit of overwriting, director Andrew Barnicle finds his way through to the heart of the matter with an outstanding cast, headed by Caroline Kinsolving as a young divorcee and Geoffrey Lower as the novelist who stands in for Simon. Each scene between these two captures the essence of loneliness giving way to openness. As her best friend and his younger brother, Leslie Stevens and Kevin Ashworth skillfully provide the broad characters Simon's audiences had expected up to this point. Bruce Goodrich's set presenting two contrasting Manhattan apartments on one stage provide perfect visual cues about characters' economic class as well as elegant space for Barnicle to stage with his signature precision. (Tom Provenzano). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Chinglish David Henry Hwang's East-West comedy. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-708-5555, www.scr.org.
Circus Oz: From the Ground Up Australia's "rock & roll, animal-free" circus, back in Los Angeles for the first time since the 1984 Olympics opening ceremonies. Thu., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 9, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 2 p.m. UCLA Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood, 310-825-4401, www.uclalive.org.
Fallen Angels Noël Coward's 1925 comedy. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Food Confessions Nancy Nufer's "saucy" comedy. Fri., Feb. 1, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-2900.
Freud's Last Session Is it Aslan or the id? In Mark St. Germain's oddly passionless drama, which posits a mythical meeting between atheist psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Judd Hirsch) and Christian fantasy writer C.S. Lewis (Tom Cavanagh), the author suggests one can't have both. It is, of course, a fascinating idea to imagine what would have happened if they had actually met -- yet there's something oddly patronizing about the way the play reduces these two great men to metaphors about religion. Hirsch's elderly, dying Freud resembles a stereotypical old rabbi, while Cavanagh's cheery, bobbing Lewis comes across as the stock cheery vicar from an Agatha Christie mystery -- so much less than their realities. In director Tyler Merchant's agreeable if static production, the peculiarly prosaic goings-on consist of small talk, followed by a surface-level discussion of whether God exists. If theology is your bag, the arguments each character makes are articulate, if predictably echoing the immutable points of view for which Freud and Lewis are well known. There's no attempt to build on the ideas or even to tease anything out of them -- and the result is unmemorable. (Paul Birchall). Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.thebroadstage.com.
The Gift U.S. premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith's comedy about two couples on an island vacation facing a moral dilemma. James Van Der Beek, Kathy Baker, Jaime Ray Newman and Chris Mulkey star. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 10. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
GO Hansel and Gretel Avoiding junk food and getting through tough times together are the upbeat messages in this defanged, radically revised adaptation of the Grimms' classic. Tall lanky Hansel (Joey Jennings) and his petite sister, Gretel (Caitlin Gallogly), are unhappy at home because their out-of-work woodcutter father (Anthony Gruppuso) hasn't the money to feed them. So they take off, and along the way encounter a frustrated, stage-struck witch (understudy Bonnie Kalisher at the performance reviewed), piqued because the play in progress is about them and not about her. Her plan is to capture the children and stuff them with sweets to make them lazy and uninteresting, and then seize the spotlight for herself. But she's foiled by an enterprising bird (Barbara Mallory) who comes to the captives' rescue. Geared to youngsters, both Lloyd J. Schwartz's book and the music and lyrics by Hope and Laurence Juber have unsophisticated charm and even a measure of wit. Jennings' boisterous boy and Gallogly's sweetly admonishing sister present an appealing foil. The ensemble enjoy themselves, and their energy is contagious. As usual, it is the audience-participation segments, as well as the spontaneous commentary from the little ones in the audience, that garner the most laughs. Elliot Schwartz directs. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through March 2, 818-761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, www.theatrewest.org.
The Motherf***er with the Hat L.A. Theatre Works reunites the original Broadway cast -- including Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Yul Vázquez and Annabella Sciorra -- for a staged reading of Stephen Adly Guirgis' play. Fri., Feb. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 2, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 3, 4 & 7:30 p.m., $100, latw.org. James Bridges Theater, 1409 Melnitz Hall, Westwood, 310-206-8365.
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand The British ventriloquist talks to her hand. Wednesdays-Fridays, 9 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 5 & 9 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3, thebroadstage.com/Talk-to-the-Hand. Edye Second Space, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.smc.edu.
GO Nothing to Hide A telling admission in Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães' magic show Nothing to Hide is that shows such as this should be antiquated by now. One of them comes right out and says it: We already live in an era of technological magic, so how can card tricks possibly compete? Apps on an Android phone tell us in the blink of an eye which roads are clogged and which are open, or how many parking spaces are available on Hollywood Boulevard, or the best Italian or Chinese restaurant nearby. If your Houdini Siberian Husky breaks out the back window, a "Tagg" GPS dog tracker will send you timed reports with a map showing the dog's location. In such an age, what could possibly motivate people to fight crosstown traffic in order to sit in the dark, among strangers, and watch two men playing with pieces of paper -- an entertainment from another century? It's like going to a carnie show, without even the macabre glee that carnie shows used to offer. And yet, under Neil Patrick Harris' direction, the show flows like silk. (Steven Leigh Morris). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4:30 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
GO Ruby Wax: Out of Her Mind Tackling a topic such as mental illness onstage, particularly one's own, can be risky business: There's the danger of descending into mawkishness, or overcompensating with such hilarity that emotional honesty gets blurred. Ruby Wax's one-woman show sails past these dangers with only minor wobbles. The American-born comedian built her home and career in the United Kingdom, but found herself knocked flat by the mother of all depressions five years ago. After recovery branded her a mental illness pin-up girl, she penned a show and toured it at asylums around the country and, eventually, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ping-ponging around a tangerine stage, Wax displays a fine instinct for pacing; she knows when to let a moment rest, and when to bring in the easel and cartooned flip pads. The Royal Shakespeare CompanyÐtrained actress's pitch-perfect imitations lampoon her blue-blooded neighbors' and friends' unhelpful suggestions to "perk up." Despite early forays into tangential territory, Wax is at her best addressing her core material head-on. And with lab-coated detours into the anatomy of the brain and an audience talkback following the show, Wax proves herself seriously committed to depriving herself, and others, of future source material. (Jenny Lower). Wednesdays-Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.thebroadstage.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
Absolutely Filthy World premiere of Brendan Hunt's Peanuts parody "for mature audiences only." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 14, 8 p.m. Continues through March 2. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein Ten actors perform nine of Silverstein's plays. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22, plays411.com/ShelSilverstein. McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, 323-856-0665, www.mccaddentheatre.com.
GO Avenue Q How can you not like a musical puppet show that looks a little like Sesame Street but sounds more like South Park? Director Richard Israel's charming local production of the Tony Award-winning musical proves that the show plays brilliantly on a small, intimate stage. After all, Avenue Q is at its heart a puppet show, and what's the point if you're so far back in the house you can't see the puppets? Utilizing a fast-paced staging that's rich with youthful energy, as well as angst, the show boasts some hilarious and surprisingly subtle performers, who also manipulate their puppet characters with style and acrobatic skill. Admittedly, the show is essentially a straightforward staging of the Broadway script -- a nice introduction to the work, but if you've already seen the play, it's not certain that this production adds much to it. Still, it's easy to enjoy Chris Kauffman's amusingly ironic turn as mousy puppet Princeton, and Danielle Judovits' beautifully vulnerable Kate Monster -- and it's fun to experience the lively renditions of peppy ditties on topics as diverse as masturbation, racism and puppet sex. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3, 323-802-4990, domatheatre.com. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, www.themettheatre.com.
GO Bad Apples On the face of it, Circle X Theatre Company's new musical based on the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (book by Jim Leonard, lyrics and music by Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley) sounds like a horrible idea, leading inevitably to a musical that threatens to reduce an international tragedy to camp, or to treat it with portentous, operatic grandeur. Bad Apples does neither, under John Langs' direction. Its musical-theater ancestors are Cabaret and Chicago -- musicals that reach into the darkest crevices of human behavior with sardonic wit and a coating of sexuality. The play's larger point about the thin veneer of civilization comes from a study by Stanford University's Philip George Zimbardo, in which 24 clinically sane participants played roles of prisoner and guard. The two-week study was canceled after only six days, due to the escalating sadistic trauma to the "prisoners" from the sadism inflicted by the participants "playing" their guards. All of this comes accompanied by a three-piece band, by songs of inexorable longing and desire and ambition sung in country ballads and rock ditties. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 2. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
Blood Knot Athol Fugard's Apartheid play. Starting Feb. 2, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 7 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 16, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 23, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-469-9988.
Company Creation Festival 2013 In a cavernous space, a woman (Melissa R. Randel) lies coiled on a hospital bed. Her blackened eyes are wild and sunken. Her bedclothes and bed linen are white; they glow in the darkened room. Suddenly she emerges from her fetal state, discoursing rabidly with herself; then a zombie-like nurse (Shirley Anderson) pops from behind the bed, and the solo rant becomes a raging, ritualized pas de deux. Written by the performers, with no director credited, this hourlong piece of physical theater aims to explore the impact of "transgression" on the human psyche. That motif didn't emerge clearly for me; what did materialize was an intense and gripping depiction of an unhinged mind, a frightening scenario to which lighting designer Brandon Baruch and sound technician Jeff Gardner add chilling dimension. It's all skillfully executed; the problem is, you understand the point well before the show is over. Fabula Hysterica at Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; in rep, call for schedule. (323) 841-9151, sonofsemele.org. (Deborah Klugman). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March 3. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-351-3507, www.sonofsemele.org.
The Deep Throat Sex Scandal Written by David Bertolino, directed by Jerry Douglas. Guest stars: Sally Kirkland and Bruce Vilanch (Jan. 31-Feb. 3), Nina Hartley and Christopher Knight (Feb. 7-10), Georgina Spelvin and Ron Jeremy (Feb. 14-17). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17, 800-838-3006, deepthroattheplay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.
Dirty Filthy Love Story There are two stars in Rob Mersola's new comedy, Dirty Filthy Love Story. The first is David Mauer and Hazel Kuang's set. In a coup de theatre, the entire back wall of what looks like a cardboard-cutout living room drops forward and slams to the ground, revealing the home to be the garbage-bag, stacked-boxes and strewn-clothes rat's nest of the play's hoarder-protagonist, Ashley (Jennifer Pollono). The other star is Joshua Bitton's understated performance as the mentally challenged garbage man Hal, hired by Ashley's next-door neighbor Benny (Burl Moseley) to clean the trash from her side yard so he can sell his home. The sexually charged romance between Hal and Ashley grows increasingly macabre, homicidal and strained, and the play's main joke really turns on the passionate, nihilistic attraction between them. Pollono and Moseley were too screechy at the performance reviewed, under Elina de Santos' absorbing, sitcom-style direction. And I couldn't understand why, in one scene, Benny would fail to defend himself against the lovers, who have targeted him for death. After all, they've already struck him with a frying pan that's now sitting in front of him on the couch. But when he regains consciousness, rather than pick up the weapon, he merely rants about his plight. Such details can be worked out. This is a world premiere, after all. Mainly, though, the play is about its premise and nothing more. With transitional songs referring to a world under siege by garbage, this is a work that could actually be about something. Either it needs to be as thin as farce, or reconsidered more deeply. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
GO Foote Notes A Young Lady of Property & The Land of the Astronauts: Subtlety and skill are on ample display in this duo of Horton Foote one-acts, directed by Scott Paulin. "A Woman of Property," set in Foote's Harrison, Texas, in 1925, revolves around a high-spirited, 15-year-old named Wilma (Juliette Goglia), whose mom has died and whose dad is about to remarry and sell the family home. In an outstanding turn, Goglia's performance captures both the innocence of the play's time and place and the spirit of confused rebellious adolescence that transcends it. In "The Land of the Astronauts," set in 1983, the modern world looms closer to Harrison. The plot concerns a young family nearly torn apart when the father (Aaron McPherson), overcome by a sense of futility, goes off the deep end and pursues his fantasy of being an astronaut. Laetitia Leon is spot-on as his warm, lovely wife, Lorena, who doesn't quite understand but knows how to comfort her man and get him back on track. Supporting performances help weave the sense of community that is the hallmark of Foote's work: among them Talyan Wright, beguiling and utterly professional as Lorena's young daughter, and Matt Little as the helpful young deputy obviously vulnerable to Lorena's charm. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9, $25, $20 seniors & students. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org.
GO The God Particle Complex Chris Bell and Joshua Zeller's "tragic one-act science farce about high energy particle physics, time travel, and the abrupt end of our universe." Saturdays, 10 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9, brownpapertickets.com/event/297800. Artworks Performance Space, 6585 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-871-1912.
The Good Negro Tracey Scott Wilson's rich civil rights drama opens with Rev. James Lawrence (Roger Bridges) stepping out from a halo of white light to punctuate the play's earnest opening salvo, a neatly encapsulating image from director Michael Phillip Edwards. Lawrence, an obvious Martin Luther King figure, has brought his organization to Birmingham, Ala., to invigorate the movement, after disappointing near-successes elsewhere across the segregated South. But the government's clandestine PR battle has followed them to Alabama, and the activists are keenly aware that buckling under an inhuman pressure to remain unimpeachable could cost them the larger war. At two and a half hours, the play makes plenty of room for teachable moments, interpersonal conflict, complicated realities and adroit tone shifts, as with Bill Rutherford (Stephen Grove Malloy), who arrives from Geneva to whip the group into shape, providing both a gently comic presence and ultimately a genuinely moving one. But this production labors to overcome a cast that as a whole hasn't found its chemistry (a different cast performs on alternate nights). (Mindy Farabee). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, 323-960-7774, plays411.com/goodnegro. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
The Grand Irrationality The least rational aspect of this world premiere of playwright Jemma Kennedy's inoffensive Britcom may be in the puzzling disconnect between director John Pleshette's fine facility in eliciting well-etched performances and the self-defeating cumbersomeness of his staging. Kennedy's wisp of a story rides the comic complications that ensue when philandering London ad copywriter Guy (Gregory Marcel) reluctantly takes in his invalided curmudgeonly father (Peter Elbling) as well as his meddling, single-mother mess of a sister (Mina Badie) and her incessantly mewling baby. A subplot involving Guy's tangled sexual dalliances with two clients (Kirsten Kollender, Bess Meyer) adds a measure of moral foam to the froth. The evening's sharpest edges come via James Donovan as Guy's cynical and misogynistic boss, particularly in a priapic and somewhat obvious homage to Neil LaBute. The most ragged arise from Pleshette's own set design. The comic momentum keeps butting into the ungainly scene changes dictated by Pleshette's profusion of sliding panels and clumsy stage furniture. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 3, 323-960-4443, plays411.com/grand. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
Happy Face Sad Face The same tumble we took in a Hollywood crosswalk that made us cry yesterday might make us laugh today. So in theory, R.J. Colleary's idea to take one play and play it two ways back-to-back is shrewd if not necessarily groundbreaking -- it's been a reliable card in improv comedy's deck for years. For this world premiere, Colleary's set-up is a couple arguing over having a baby as visiting in-laws fret over their own looming situation. Both quarrels are interrupted by a knock on the door, and, dum-dum-dum, the plot thickens. Opening-night pacing problems plagued it, but "Sad Face" has the potential to be like the book you speed-read to find out what happens. Trouble is, in "Happy Face," the "replay," the plot just gets goopy. The crux of the story is too serious to be surrounded by such nonsense, which means it gets lost, which means the whole act falls apart. Actor Tom Christensen seasons the kooky but kinda silly turn the script takes with a just-right dose of black comedy, but the other cast members' characters either slide into caricature or just seem amorphous (director Kathleen Rubin should have used more muscle). But hey, look on the bright side -- Colleary has a pretty good, gloomy one-act. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 3 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, brownpapertickets.com/event/266029. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO Hattie ... What I Need You to Know Before there was a Sidney Poitier, a Denzel Washington, a Morgan Freeman or a Halle Berry, there was Hattie McDaniel. In the engaging bio-musical Hattie ... What I Need to Know, Vickilyn Reynolds honors the life of this extraordinary entertainer, who in 1940 became the first African-American to win an Oscar with her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Fittingly, the show opens with a video of that historic evening, after which Reynolds (who bears a noticeable resemblance to McDaniel) appears onstage and, for two hours, does a beguiling job of bringing McDaniel to life. Reynolds' script covers a lot of ground and could use some tightening, and at times her loose, conversational style distracts and meanders. Still, she and director Byron Nora succeed in making McDaniel's story an entertaining experience, recounting her early days singing in a gospel choir; difficulties with her overprotective parents; a string of unhappy marriages; struggles with racism in and outside of Hollywood; and her slow, determined rise to success, which ultimately placed her in the friendly company of stars like Clark Gable, Mae West, Bing Crosby and Marlene Dietrich. As interesting as this all is, the real payoff is hearing Reynolds sing the selection of jazz, blues and gospel songs with commanding artistry and passion. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. theatreasylum.com
How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse It would take a cultural philosopher to adequately explain why zombies have so profoundly resonated with audiences at this historical moment. One does not, however, need to be a Gilles Deleuze to understand its baroque potential for satire. Which is to say that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the genre rules laid down by George Romero will find a lot to like in director Patrick Bristow's amiable, Americanized version of this improv-derived British fringe import by Ben Muir, Jess Napthine, David Ash and Lee Cooper. Bristow is zombiologist Dr. Bobert Dougash. Jayne Entwistle, Mario Vernazza and Chris Sheets are his seminar's panel of conspicuously underqualified experts, who take very seriously the ludicrous prospect of surviving a fictional, species-exterminating epidemic. Bristow expertly leads the crew through some clever wordplay routines worthy of Abbott & Costello, padded out with some genial barbs directed at audience targets of opportunity. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Am Google Craig Ricci Shaynak is Google! Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, i-am-google.com. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Met Someone! Cheryl Francis Harrington's solo show, directed by Kimleigh Smith, is essentially a comedy about the woes of serial dating. As she tells it, she had an idyllic childhood in Harlem, until she moved to California, where she discovered the kind of prejudice that condemned her for being a zaftig black woman. She devoted her entire existence to trying to meet the Mr. Right who'd solve all her problems. She was only able to break the pattern when she realized no man could be her Mr. Right until she came to terms with herself. Harrington is a highly personable performer, despite a tendency to get loud and shrill. And, in structuring her tale, she relies too heavily on a couple of songs, "Tomorrow" from Annie and "Nothing" from A Chorus Line, which make the saga feel more predictable and derivative than it is. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 21, 800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/284287. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, www.workingstage.com.
GO In the Red and Brown Water Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney sets this music-, dance- and myth-infused work in the "distant present," weaving his story around talented young athlete Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick), who risks her future to care for her ailing mother. The play charts a downhill course for this lovely, open-hearted person: Her mother dies, the prized scholarship goes to someone else and Oya is trapped in the barrio, plagued with passion for an unfaithful lover (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and for the same fulfillment as every other woman in her circumscribed community -- a child. It's no accident that Oya's barrenness parallels the predicament in Federico Garcia Lorca's Yerma, or that she bears the name of a Yoruba goddess. McCraney pulls together a confluence of elements -- although predominantly Yoruba -- to present a visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America. Kilpatrick's portrayal embraces every bit of her feisty, soulful character, made more compelling by the intimate performance space. Brown's slick, calibrated womanizer is an aptly fashioned foil and the remaining ensemble is strong. But designer Frederica Nascimento's set, with its pale walls and light wood backdrop, is too tidy and sterile to reflect the play's darkness. Shirley Jo Finney directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 24, $30-$34. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
LoveSick Written and directed by Larissa Wise. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.
Machu Picchu, Texas Written and directed by Timothy McNeil. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17, 323-960-7735. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, www.stellaadler-la.com.
Oh, Yes She Did! From Slave-Ship to Space-Ship: Black Women Pioneers of America Writer-performer Sandy Brown pays passionate homage to eight famous African-American women in an energetic solo performance that would benefit from the input of an experienced director. Carefully researched, and aptly costumed for each period, her dramatic renditions inform us about 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, civil rights activist Rosa Parks and acclaimed cabaret entertainer Josephine Baker, among others. Brown sings and dances well and delivers her lines with presence. But the end result can be characterized as detailed impersonations of historical figures rather than emotionally in-depth portrayals with the feel of authenticity. The most successful segment is her depiction of soul singer Billie Holiday, a hard-luck individual who criticized the status quo and was incarcerated for drug use. Brown's focused monologue, and her singing, nab the essence of this woman's torment. With its song-and-dance numbers, her take on Baker also entertains. (Deborah Klugman). Starting Feb. 2, Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 6:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through March 24. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-422-6361, www.theatretheater.net.
Phaedra's Lust Director Steven Sabel's cunning adaptation of the Racine (and Senecan) tragedy about a horny stepmom who has a major jones for her hot young stepson might have you thinking that you're watching an episode of Cougar Town, if it weren't also so suffused with themes of rage, guilt and shame. Sabel's emotionally rich production focuses on the agony of characters who know that they're doing wrong but can't help themselves -- to say they think with their hoo-hahs would be an understatement. Phaedra (Anna Walters), the wife of Athenian King Theseus (Elias McCabe), is so besotted with a dangerous lust for her stepson Hippolytus (Benjamin Campbell) that she makes a pass at him -- and his response results in a parade of unbelievable horrors. The cast's performances suggest the elevated levels of pure rage and passion of characters actually being driven insane by their desires and furies -- though some of the supporting actors have an unfortunate tendency to jarringly overact. Still, Walters makes a wonderfully driven and ferocious Phaedra, with flashing eyes and snarling desperation, and Campbell's Hippolytus is a wonderfully naive manboy, possessing a surprising vulnerability as he finds himself in deeper than he should be. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
GO Point Break Live! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thedragonfly.com.
Rent Jonathan Larson's rock opera, based on Puccini's La Bohème. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10, plays411.com/rent. The Actors Company, 916-A N. Formosa Ave., Los Angeles, 323-960-7863.
Sixty Miles to Silver Lake Written by Dan LeFranc, directed by Becca Wolff. Starting Feb. 2, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 10, 859-893-5376. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-469-9988.
Smash Cut Written and directed by Rubén Garfias. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., Los Angeles, 213-382-8133, www.fridakahlotheater.org.
Something to Crow About The Bob Baker Marionettes' musical "Day on the Farm." Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident The Visceral Company presents Frank Blocker's solo show. Fridays, Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through March 30, thevisceralcompany.com. Underground Theatre, 1312-1314 N. Wilton Place, Los Angeles, 323-251-1154, www.undergroundtheater.com.
This Vicious Minute Ben Moroski's solo show tells of his long struggle with the alarming practice of self-mutilation, aka cutting, during which he used a shocking variety of instruments to disfigure his skin. His psychological unraveling began at the age of 13, soon after his return from a church-sponsored retreat, when masturbation ended his "committed to Jesus" status. The meandrous script recounts a chaotic path of self-destruction that extended through college and included church counseling, professional therapy, troubled romances and suicide attempts. On the surface, this is a compelling story of a tormented soul with some humor included to allay its grim monotony. But ultimately, Moroski offers zero insight; he speed-reads the surface of his compulsion-addiction and never confronts us with its dark, enigmatic core. He often refers to himself as "fucked up." It would have been nice to understand why he's that way. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 24, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, plays411.com. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. theatreasylum-la.com
Towne Street Theatre's 6th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival This year's theme: "The Black Experience: Past, Present & Future." Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17, 213-712-6944, townestreet.org. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, www.stellaadler-la.com.
GO Track 3 Theatre Movement Bazaar's contemporary adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10, theatremovementbazaar.org. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.org. See Stage Feature.
Walking the Tightrope Mike Kenny's tone poem, presented by LAb24, 24th Street Theatre's resident experimental theater company. Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 30. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles, 213-745-6516, www.24thstreet.org.
What Is Art? "Tripartite multi-medium arts event," featuring an Experimental Visual Arts Gallery, followed by Yasmina Reza's play Art, and "Arts du Spectacle" performers. Fridays-Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5774, www.complexhollywood.com.
When You're in Love, The Whole World Is Jewish World premiere of Jeff Abraham's comedy/musical revue. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 10, worldisjewishtheplay.com. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, 323-655-7679, www.greenwayarts.org.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
And the World Goes 'Round Kander and Ebb musical revue, featuring "Cabaret," "Maybe this Time," "All That Jazz," "New York, New York" and more Broadway hits. Starting Feb. 2, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 10. North Hollywood Performing Arts Center (NoHoPAC), 11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-763-0086.
Cassiopeia Written by David Wiener, directed by Emilie Beck. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 20, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, 626-683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com. See Stage Feature.
Doctor, Doctor! Randall Gray's romantic comedy. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 2, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 1 & 8 p.m. Continues through March 24. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.
GO Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground Even transposed from 19th-century St. Petersburg to the urban wilderness of modern-day Los Angeles, Dostoevsky's hilariously unforgiving novella about the extremes of self-consciousness proves an excruciating roller-coaster plunge into hairpin-turned self-abasement. In this Zombie Joe-adapted musical abbreviation (adroitly directed by Josh T. Ryan), Michael Blomgren vividly brings Dostoevsky's self-lacerating antihero to life with a Rupert Pupkin-like intensity. Blomgren portrays a maniacally misanthropic member of the black-fingernail-polish demimonde -- a narcissistic, North Hollywood slacker "violently and shamefully aware," whose depths of self-pity and supreme pettiness are both paralytic and bottomless. Those depths reach their comic heights in the deranged contest of wills between the protagonist and his dourly laconic manservant, Apollo (a slyly understated TJ Alvarado). Leif La Duke, Julie Bermel and Chelsea Rose cannily caricature the dinner-reunion scene as an agonized study in nouveau riche Hollywood vulgarity, while Jenna Jacobson injects a note of aching pathos as the prostitute Liza. Ryan sets the proceedings into ironic relief with wittily staged renditions of existential rock & roll brooders such as Joy Division's "Atmosphere" (Alvarado), Daniel Johnston's "Devil Town" (Bermel, Jacobson, Rose) and Pink Floyd's "Hey You" (Jacobson and Alvarado). (Bill Raden). Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 22, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., March 1, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Feb. 8. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
The Gambler's Daughter Paul North's script is plagued by basic credibility problems. The daughter in question is Mary (Laura Michl), a successful actuary who, we're told, wants desperately to rescue her father, Lloyd (Edmund Wyson), from his gambling addiction. But she left home seven years ago and hasn't been back since. Instead, she sent him a letter every month, with a check for $2,000, which makes her more an enabler than a rescuer. Lloyd has never read any of the 79 letters, but his slutty, gold-digging girlfriend, Elaine (C. Ashleigh Caldwell), has appropriated the checks for herself. Mary returns home to announce her engagement to cloddish, vulgar Jack (J.R. Mangels). Also present are Mary's grandfather (John Dickey) and Willy (Tyler Derench), Elaine's troubled adolescent son. An overly neat ending improbably solves everybody's problems. Some decent performances, under Brian E. Smith's direction, sweeten the mix. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
Giving Up Is Hard to Do Annie Abbott's one-woman show. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 17. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, 818-841-4404, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.
Golden Girls Live on Stage: Reunion and Christmas Episodes -- A Parody Performed at a gay bar, this show is ideal for people who are ardent fans of sitcom The Golden Girls -- and who also may have had a few drinks. Four male performers in drag enact a "lost episode" in which Dorothy's husband has died and the three other Girls fly in from Miami to lend her support. On one recent evening, a few performers were slow on their lines. While the riffs and gags didn't seem especially funny, the audience laughed heartily. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, brownpapertickets.com/event/297806. Oil Can Harry's, 11502 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-760-9749, www.oilcanharrysla.com.
Love Me Deadly Matthew Sklar's ghost play, directed by Sebastian Muñoz. Starting Feb. 3, Sun., Feb. 3, 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 24. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Smoke and Mirrors Albie Selznick's coming-of-age story with "mind-bending magic." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 18, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Two Cosmic Brothers Unshackle Mother Earth ZJU Theatre Group celebrates "the highs and lows of brotherhood, sisterhood, spirituality, and the laws of attraction." Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
7 Stories Morris Panych's comedy about a man on a ledge. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
A Celebration of Harold Pinter Julian Sands' tribute to Pinter's poems and prose. Directed by Harold Pinter. Sun., Feb. 3, 7 p.m. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
The Laugh Lines One-act comedies by Christopher Durang, David-Lindsay Abair, David Ives, and more. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 3. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast, Malibu, 310-589-1998, www.malibustagecompany.org.
The Misadventures of Rick the Strangler Man Cave Productions presents Brian Peterson's world-premiere comedy. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10, 800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/305288. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, www.electriclodge.org.
Pick of the Vine The eight courses, served at roughly 10-minute intervals, in Little Fish Theatre's short-play festival are not unlike Thanksgiving dinner with your grandparents: There are some buttery, wonderful mashed potatoes and a deliciously spiced homemade pumpkin pie, but the bulk of the meal -- green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce and steamed asparagus -- is a bit bland and banal, if nostalgically comforting. From 594 nationwide submissions, eight plays were chosen for this year's showcase, of which the decadent dessert is surely "The Eiffel Truth" by Susan Apker, which centers on a chance meeting at the Paris landmark. Benjamin (Bill Wolski), a snarky Brit who has just been jilted at the altar, receives sympathy and handkerchiefs from Lucy (Rachel Levy), a kindly Yank who teaches history at Michigan. Though Wolski and Levy are competent in some of the other plays, they find a unique chemistry in this funny and sentimental piece. Holly Baker-Kreiswirth's direction demonstrates sensitivity and a creative use of space, bringing to life Apker's clever writing. The other standout of the evening is "A Fine Romance" by Ben Jolivet, which feels like what Larry David's take on the male-female power-struggle play Venus in Fur might be. In it, a first-grade teacher (Baker-Kreiswirth) chances upon the author of the vampire romance novel she's reading (Don Schlossman) as they share a park bench. To attempt to transcend the awkwardness of their initial flirtation, they begin to role-play as characters from the novel and hilarity ensues. The remainder of the works are mostly comedies, ranging from best friends who practice kissing ("The Kiss"), to a couple who simply can't decide on a baby name ("A Name"), to a gun-slinging deity visiting a do-nothing couch potato to motivate him to live his life ("The Divine Visitation of Joe Pickelsimer"). Two of the works, however, are more serious, including one that explores, through answering-machine messages, the mindset of individuals experiencing 9/11 ("Disconnections"). With a number of sold-out performances and an enthusiastic audience, the showcase clearly has resonance in the community ... just like grandma's comfort food. Perhaps that's why it has been a part of the company's repertoire for more than a decade now. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 6, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 16. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
Plaza Suite Neil Simon's 1968 comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-7519, www.morgan-wixson.org.
GO The Rainmaker A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others -- her family and society -- have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots -- the kind of experience where you might say, "Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?" The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through April 15. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
GO The Snake Can Writer Kathryn Graf (author of late 2011's hit play Hermetically Sealed) perfectly captures the easy and sparkling conversation -- the kind that always resumes midsentence -- among three longtime female friends. Nina (Diane Cary), Harriet (Jane Kaczmarek) and Meg (Sharon Sharth), now middle-aged, all are successful in their careers but unlucky in love for different reasons. The trio frequently gets together to drink wine and share war stories and encouragement as widowed Harriet nervously dips her toe into the online dating pool. Nina's enjoying a new direction with her fine art but can't quite let go of her estranged famous-actor husband, Paul (Gregory Harrison), whose wandering eye begins to size up Meg. What's superb about Graf's insightful play is its refreshing unpredictability, its allegiance to its focus (the women and their enduring friendships) and the raw scenes, of which there are several, in which all six characters express themselves with searing honesty. Plus, there are numerous memorable lines that transcend mere quippery; Meg confesses she feels "ruined by loneliness" while Harriet's new boyfriend, the bisexual Stephen (James Lancaster), confesses to his old flame Brad (Joel Polis) that sometimes being with a woman is "like eating on a full stomach." Steven Robman's sensitive direction (and sensible, unfussy staging) permits the performances to chime with veracity. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
GO Theatre in the Dark This collection of vignettes is performed entirely in the dark. No, really -- upon arrival, you'll notice a solitary candle burning at stage center, which after the preshow announcements is blown out, plunging us into 90 minutes of inky darkness, only very occasionally alleviated by a momentary flash or murky ghost light. Lord help you if you have claustrophobia! If not, however, the collection of one-act sketches is an unexpectedly vivid series of ghost stories, radio-style dramas and other mysterious theatrical episodes that emphasize virtually all senses but sight. Incidents range in tone from Anna Nicholas' macabre "Our Dark Connection," in which seemingly random members of the audience are dragged out of their seats and into the black by an unseen monster, to Friedrich Durrenmatt's compellingly disturbing "The Tunnel," a narrated tale of a man who discovers he's on a train to oblivion (both are directed with maximum eeriness by Ron Sossi). "One of the Lost" is Ernest Kearney's spooky tale of the ghostly final transmission of a Russian cosmonaut on a secret space mission. John Zalewski's sound design is incredibly evocative -- and Sossi and his co-directors artfully manipulate all the senses within the live performance to craft a set of dramas that utilize darkness almost as a character. (Paul Birchall). Like its sister show Dark, More Dark, the second half of the Odyssey's Theatre in the Dark festival, represents truth in advertising. Save for the odd ghostly hospital monitor or the emergence of one pale, glowing blue eye, this collection of 15 short, moody vignettes offers up nearly 90 minutes of theater in the dark, laced with an immersive soundtrack of things to go bump in the night. Clever, deftly choreographed and technically impressive, the production efficiently transports its audience as far afield as the drizzly London of a randy radio play ("Forbidden Fire") or a fairy-laden British forest (an excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream), but the true setting of many of its episodes is the liminal space between consciousness and unconsciousness, life and death, or sanity's thin border, a strange netherworld well calibrated for unleashing the imagination. (Mindy Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Tom Rubin: Success Guru Writer-performer Tom Rubin's solo show deftly spoofs that breed of irritating self-help seminar in which a motivational expert strives to inculcate you with just the Buddhist qualities needed to destroy your competition and make a pile of money. This is potentially fertile spoofing ground to plow -- who hasn't at some point wanted to take a flying kick at whichever ivory-toothed, twinkle-eyed twit is the late-night infomercial star du jour? Director Rocco Urbisci's adroitly snarky staging perfectly captures the feverish, snake oil-and-adrenaline-filled atmosphere of one of these seminars, assisted by the cheesiness of Stewart Turner's appropriately cheesy slideshow. Rubin's message is drolly ironic. "Failure IS an option!" gushes Rubin, all charisma and inner emptiness, as he preaches a unique and often depressing new religion of mediocrity. Although this is material that, frankly, wears thin after even a couple of moments and plays like a retread of a Saturday Night Live sketch, Rubin's gleeful onstage persona engagingly blends Tony Robbins with the nebbishyness of Albert Brooks. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.