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Stage Raw

Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including Two Naked People in a Cage

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Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 3:11 PM
click to enlarge Megan Kim and RJ Jones - PAUL M. RUBENSTEIN
  • Paul M. Rubenstein
  • Megan Kim and RJ Jones

click to enlarge Emma Degerstedt and Ben Rovner
  • Emma Degerstedt and Ben Rovner
Charles A. Duncombe's new play Caged at Santa Monica's City Garage is a rumination on the oddities of our species via the exhibition of two naked souls in a museum cage. It's also this week's Pick of the Week. Nods, too, for Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical at the Pantages and a new drama about a cantakerous, aging lefty and the impact of his age on his children, A Heap of Livin', presented by Inkwell Theater Company at the Odyssey.

Our 2012 L.A. Weekly Theater Awards nominees are out. Lost Moon Radio hosts the bash at the Avalon in Hollywood, April 8. Doors open 6:30 p.m. Nominees can RSVP for their complimentary ticket at (310) 574-7208. (Also, call if you have questions.)  Or buy tickets at our L.A. Weekly Theater Awards ticket site.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication February 21, 2013:

PICK OF THE WEEK: CAGED Not long ago, people regarded as exotic or subhuman were tossed into cages for the viewing pleasure of the American public. Such was the dreadful fate of Congo pygmy Ota Benga, who was displayed with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. In Charles Duncombe's world-premiere drama, Caged, Megan Kim and R.J. Jones are naked, snatched-from-the-jungle "noble savages," who, confined in a cage stocked with toys, convincingly channel primitive angst, lethargically striding about, communicating and reacting with grunts and violent upsurges and hitting each other playfully. Extended commentary about the exhibit is provided by a keeper (Katrina Nelson) and an interviewer (Leah Harf), whose theories and statements of facts are a bladed mix of the outrageously comical and idiotic. But it's the cavalcade of spectators and their assorted hang-ups that provide the wallop of humor and irony here: a boy with his parents wanting to see tricks; a man meeting another man for a blow job; several couples in distress, mirroring the plight of the captives; a lonely woman seeking affection; an elderly woman with a huge ax to grind. The contrasts and the heavy-handed subtext are striking -- and unsettling. Though not overly dramatic, Duncombe's smartly written script is delightfully provocative and insightful. Performances are sharply calibrated under Frederique Michel's direction.  City Garage at Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 24. (310) 453-9939, citygarage.org (Lovell Estell III)

CHRISTMAS IN HANOI

click to enlarge Emma Degerstedt and Ben Rovner - EAST WEST PLAYERS
  • East West Players
  • Emma Degerstedt and Ben Rovner
Some ghosts wear sweatpants and Harvard hoodies, while others appear shrouded in fog or hunched on human chests like succubi -- but the metaphysical implications of those distinctions remain hazy in Eddie Borey's world premiere, winner of the East West Players Faces of the Future playwriting contest. Directed by Jeff Liu, the family drama examines the legacy of the "American War" through mixed-race siblings -- a stoner, acupuncturist beach bro and his brittle, anesthesiologist sister -- who make a pilgrimage to Vietnam a year after their mother's death. Borey tackles important questions, but their power is obscured by more fundamental concerns over clarity and structure. In striving to metaphorize the country's wounded underbelly, Borey pushes toward a supernatural climax that seems lifted from one of his horror screenplays. Further development by the relatively young Borey may help dimensionalize the characters (Elizabeth Liang's Winnie especially suffers from almost unjust self-righteousness) and season its already rich premise. East West Players, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 10. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Jenny Lower)

COMPANY

click to enlarge Emma Degerstedt and Ben Rovner - ED KRIEGER
  • Ed Krieger
  • Emma Degerstedt and Ben Rovner
Stephen Sondheim composed the lyrics and score to his innovative "concept musical" in 1970, with book by George Furth. For a comedy musical about love, it proves resolutely unromantic and honest. And, surprisingly, its acerbic wit and laserlike scrutiny of marriage, dating and relationships does not feel at all dated. Director Albert Marr's incorporation of cellphones and Facebook effortlessly adds a contemporary feel. The loose story centers on Robert (a charismatic Ben Rovner), a handsome, single, mid-30s New Yorker surrounded by well-meaning but smug married friends. Their cheerful efforts to push him toward joining their club are undermined by their conjugal lives, which are fundamentally flawed or dysfunctional. The ensemble's vocal skills are good but not stellar, though Julie Black sings brilliantly as funky girlfriend Marta. Also impressive is musical director William A. Reilly's furious piano and synth live accompaniment. Despite some appealing performances, this company's average Company barely matches Sondheim's marvelous material. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 30. (818) 745-8527, crowncitytheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek) 

 GO  A HEAP OF LIVIN'

click to enlarge Jayne Brook and Larry Pressman - LEW ABRAMSON
  • Lew Abramson
  • Jayne Brook and Larry Pressman
In Elliot Schoenman's evocative family drama, Lawrence Pressman plays iconic folk singer "Ramblin' " Harry Roe, whose impeccable, 1960s left-wing credentials include marching with Dr. King, singing with Pete Seeger and protesting at Kent State. Now elderly and frail, sustained mainly by his memories of the good old days, Harry's a crotchety penance to his two long-suffering daughters. Older daughter Pearl (a marvelously brittle Didi Conn) has served daddy like a drudge through his declining years, while younger daughter Eden (Jayne Brook) has fled across the country to avoid having anything to do with her neglectful papa. On the eve of a massive tribute concert set to honor Ramblin' Harry, the sisters confront their varying degrees of resentment and rage. Schoenman's play is functionally a drama about children confronting the role of being caregivers for an increasingly recalcitrant elder, but the piece also thoughtfully encompasses a debate on the regrets of children forced to live in a genius parent's shadow. Although Schoenman's dialogue occasionally veers awkwardly into the realm of soapy melodrama, director Mark L. Taylor's production crackles with heartfelt emotion. Brook's prissy Eden and Conn's rumpled, increasingly bitter Pearl are great turns, but they ultimately orbit Pressman's powerful portrayal of a steely, idealistic artist. Inkwell Theater Company at Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 17. (310) 477-2055, inkwelltheater.com. (Paul Birchall)

I DON'T HAVE TO SHOW YOU NO STINKING BADGES

click to enlarge Daniel E. Mora and Carmelita Maldonado - ED KRIEGER
  • Ed Krieger
  • Daniel E. Mora and Carmelita Maldonado
It comes as something of a surprise that this Casa 0101 production is L.A.'s first revival of Luis Valdez's wryly transgressive interrogation of Hollywood's jaundiced representation of Mexican-Americans. After all, the play had its 1986 premiere in a lavish production at LATC, and the industry's history of pandering to prejudice has hardly improved. That said, though director Hector Rodriguez adds some original sardonic touches, his staging never quite rises to the level of formal sophistication demanded by the text. Act 1, which introduces Monterey Park power couple Connie (Carmelita Maldonado) and Buddy Villa (Daniel E. Mora), isn't supposed to play with the banality of an insipid TV sitcom, it's meant to burlesque it. Things improve in Act 2 when the play's angry energy -- nicely articulated by Alex Valdivia as the Villas' Harvard-dropout son -- is finally unleashed in Valdez's hallucinatory, feverishly funny pastiche of movie genre tropes. Casa 0101, 2102 E. First Street, Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through March 10. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org. (Bill Raden)

 GO  JEKYLL & HYDE: THE MUSICAL This musical thriller, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn, never rises above the level of melodrama, but it's thumping good melodrama. The tale of the good Dr. Jekyll and his monstrous alter ego (which appeared in the late '90s on Broadway, where this production is slated to return) is staged rather stodgily until it takes a headlong leap into expressionism, with a dazzling array of projections, sound and lighting effects that are riveting in themselves. Composer Wildhorn is a clever craftsman, but his score is more successful dramatically than musically. And too many of the songs seem less designed to advance the plot than to showcase the virtuosity of the singers. Fortunately, there are a couple of virtuosos on hand to do the honors. Constantine Maroulis, an American Idol finalist, is spectacular as both Jekyll and Hyde, and Deborah Cox makes a striking figure as Lucy, the good-bad-girl who attracts the attentions of both. There's a smashingly clever denouement, superior to superior to previous endings I've seen in film versions. In the more conventionally written roles, there are strong vocal performances by Teal Wicks, Laird Mackintosh and Richard White. Tobin Ost's lavish sets and costumes, Jeff Calhoun's brisk direction and Daniel Brodie's projection design enhance both drama and spectacle. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no eve perf March 3); through March 3. ((800) 982-2787, HollywoodPantages.com. (Neal Weaver) 

LADYHOUSE BLUES

click to enlarge Kitty Swink and Tro Shaw - DAKIN MATTHEWS
  • Dakin Matthews
  • Kitty Swink and Tro Shaw
It's 1919. Times are changing. Workers are striking. Women are demanding the vote. Then as now, bigoted fundamentalists like Liz Madden (Kitty Swink), the Ozark-born matriarch in Kevin O'Morrison's flawed melodrama, are digging in their heels. Liz smirks at newfangled inventions like electricity and phones, denounces all things foreign, including the French language, and emphatically favors her son over her four daughters. A character like this can spark juicy drama, but this production, under Anne McNaughton's direction, is disappointingly bloodless, underscoring the contrived aspects of the script. Although the action takes place during a hot spell that people complain about, nobody sweats. The women peel potatoes and stir stuff, but nothing is out of place in the kitchen. The performances are variously off-key: As Liz's eldest daughter, Liza de Weerd displays remarkable vocalizing power for someone with TB. Swink, radiating little maternal warmth, vents Liz's biases in a chilly vacuum. Andak Theatre Company at New Place Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., N. Hlywd.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m.; through March 24. (866) 811-4111, andak.org/sc/ladyhouse.shtml. (Deborah Klugman)

ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE:

Backbeat This Beatles-origins jukebox musical isn't the first time Iain Softley (with co-stage adaptor Stephen Jeffreys) has tried to bottle the lightning of Britain's legendary Merseybeat scene. His first go was the 1994 film of the same name, which also used the band's formative Hamburg period as the backdrop for Softley's tale of the tragic love triangle between the band's original bassist, painter Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood), John Lennon (Andrew Knott) and famed Hamburg groupie Astrid Kirchherr (Leanne Best). To the credit of the musician-actors (with Daniel Healy as Paul McCartney, Daniel Westwick as George Harrison and Oliver Bennett as drummer Pete Best) and musical supervisor Paul Stacey, director David Leveaux's polished production convincingly re-creates the early-Beatles sound along with their bad-boy Liverpudlian swagger. Unfortunately, despite designer Andrew D. Edward's austere Kaiserkeller set and a host of fog machines, the book simply lacks the poetics to power up its source screenplay to the Ahmanson's vast stage. Rather than the sordid and electrifying immediacy of the Hamburg club scene, the Beatleholics-only brew delivers little more than its soundtrack. (Bill Raden). 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.

GO Chinglish The title is the slang term for unintentionally hilarious translations that appear on Chinese signage, meant to help the recent onslaught of English-speaking tourists. Verbally thrilling playwright David Henry Hwang uses these misadventures in translation as a springboard into a fascinating tale of colliding cultures in a new world where America is more involved with China than ever but no longer dominant. Cleveland sign maker Daniel (Alex Moggridge) travels to a midsize city in southwest China, where he proposes to solve the culturally embarrassing practice of Chinglish signs. Hwang slyly captures the cliche about Asian inscrutability with remarkably biting humor as well as sharp ethical questioning of capitalism, international distrust and the meaning of marriage. Daniel, who touts his own honesty, is surrounded by dissemblers, including a Mandarin-speaking Australian (in a wondrously bizarre performance by Brian Nishii) who promises to help him through the maze of Chinese bureaucracy, here in the form of old-school cultural minister Cai (Raymond Ma) and his ambition deputy, Xi Yang (Michelle Krusiec). Sex, corporate intrigue and political conspiracy swirl through director Leigh Silverman's fast-paced, brilliantly acted production. That swirl is matched by David Korins' perfectly crafted sets, which move in fascinating patterns through the nimble use of two turntables. Brian MacDevitt's lighting and Darron L. West's sound add to this outstanding production. (Tom Provenzano). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 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.

Christmas in Hanoi Some ghosts wear sweatpants and Harvard

hoodies, while others appear shrouded in fog or hunched on human chests

like succubi -- but the metaphysical implications of those distinctions

remain hazy in Eddie Borey's world premiere, winner of the East West

Players Faces of the Future playwriting contest. Directed by Jeff Liu,

the family drama examines the legacy of the "American War" through

mixed-race siblings -- a stoner, acupuncturist beach bro and his brittle,

anesthesiologist sister -- who make a pilgrimage to Vietnam a year after

their mother's death. Borey tackles important questions, but their

power is obscured by more fundamental concerns over clarity and

structure. In striving to metaphorize the country's wounded underbelly,

Borey pushes toward a supernatural climax that seems lifted from one of

his horror screenplays. Further development by the relatively young

Borey may help dimensionalize the characters (Elizabeth Liang's Winnie

especially suffers from almost unjust self-righteousness) and season its

already rich premise. East West Players, 120 Judge John Aiso St.,

Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 10. (213)

625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Jenny Lower)

GO Fallen Angels While their men are away, the wives will play, or so it is in Noël Coward's comedy, which is like a stylish version of Desperate Housewives, circa 1920s London. It follows close friends Julia and Jane (Pamela J. Gray and Katie MacNichol), whose cosseted, middle-class existence has them pining for excitement and romance. When word suddenly arrives that Maurice Duclos (Elijah Alexander), a dashing Frenchman with whom both women years earlier had a sexual dalliance, is in town, the comedy kicks into high gear, as each tries to scheme her way back into Maurice's supposedly welcoming embrace. This is Coward at his urbane, witty best. Watching these "respectable" British ladies twirl away into girlish giddiness, then nose-dive into a martini-soaked, insult-lobbing spectacle of jealousy and flying fur, is hysterically funny. This production soars on superb performances, as the girls are a kick from start to finish; Mary- Pat Green does a terrific turn as Saunders, the maid. Art Manke's direction is flawless, and Tom Buderwitz has designed a strikingly fastidious drawing room as a backdrop. Prior to the performance reviewed, Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps gave special tribute to Mike Stoller (of songwriting team Leiber and Stoller) and his wife Corky, whose generous gift of $1 million in 2010 helped return this venerable theater to financial solvency. (Lovell Estell III). 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. Sundays, 2 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.

GO The Gift In this provocative comedy-drama, Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith tells a tale of two married couples who meet at an upscale tropical resort. Sadie (Kathy Baker) and Ed (Chris Mulkey) are rich, square Angelenos: He's a smugly successful tool manufacturer, but they are childless, and she's feeling disenchanted about their marriage. Chloe (Jaime Ray Newman) and Martin (James Van Der Beek) are young, idealistic and very much in love. He's a dedicated conceptual artist, she's a serious arts writer. The dissimilarities of the two couples prove a source of fascination: Each feels the other has something they lack. They become inseparable. When Ed is washed overboard in a boating accident, Martin leaps in and rescues him. Ed feels he owes his life to Martin, and wants to give him something in return. He asks Martin what the gift should be, and the answer proves both shocking and unnerving. Murray-Smith finds rich comedy and abundant sharp one-liners in the earlier scenes, but the later revelations are less persuasive. Director Maria Aitken elicits strong performances from her cast, but the chic minimalist set by Derek McLane emphasizes a pervasive unreality. (Neal Weaver). 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.

The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck's Dust Bowl novel, adapted by Frank Galati. Sat., Feb. 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 24, 2 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 2 & 8 p.m.; Mon., March 4, 2 p.m.; Sun., March 24, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thu., April 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., April 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 20, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 21, 2 p.m.; Fri., May 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 11, 2 & 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.

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.

In My Life: A Musical Theatre Tribute to the Beatles Sat., Feb. 23, 8 p.m., plays411.com. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro, 310-548-7672, www.warnergrand.org.

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical This musical thriller, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music

by Frank Wildhorn, never rises above the level of melodrama, but it's

thumping good melodrama. The tale of the good Dr. Jekyll and his

monstrous alter ego (which appeared in the late '90s on Broadway, where

this production is slated to return) is staged rather stodgily until it

takes a headlong leap into expressionism, with a dazzling array of

projections, sound and lighting effects that are riveting in themselves.

Composer Wildhorn is a clever craftsman, but his score is more

successful dramatically than musically. And too many of the songs seem

less designed to advance the plot than to showcase the virtuosity of the

singers. Fortunately, there are a couple of virtuosos on hand to do the

honors. Constantine Maroulis, an American Idol finalist, is spectacular

as both Jekyll and Hyde, and Deborah Cox makes a striking figure as

Lucy, the good-bad-girl who attracts the attentions of both. There's a

smashingly clever denouement, superior to superior to previous endings

I've seen in film versions. In the more conventionally written roles,

there are strong vocal performances by Teal Wicks, Laird Mackintosh and

Richard White. Tobin Ost's lavish sets and costumes, Jeff Calhoun's

brisk direction and Daniel Brodie's projection design enhance both drama

and spectacle. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.;

Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no

eve perf March 3); through March 3. ((800) 982-2787,

HollywoodPantages.com. (Neal Weaver)

Little Women Book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, music by Jason Howland. Thu., Feb. 28, 8 p.m., plays411.com. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.

Menopause: The Musical Wed., Feb. 27, 2 p.m. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, 818-243-2539, www.alextheatre.org.

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, $47-$127. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.

One Night With Janis Joplin Musical tribute to the rock legend, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson. Starting Feb. 24, Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m. Continues through April 11. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

The Wooster Group & New York City Players: Early Plays Based on the "Glencairn" pays by Eugene O'Neill. Fri., Feb. 22, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 24, 3 p.m., $45-$50. REDCAT: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles, 213-237-2800, www.redcat.org.

ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:

GO 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. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 7 p.m.; Thu., March 7, 8 p.m.; Fri., March 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 7 p.m. Continues through March 2, $20. 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.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Adapted from the monologue by Mike Daisey, performed by Alex Lyras. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 10, 800-838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.theatreasylum-la.com.

Blood Knot Athol Fugard's Apartheid play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 23, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, bloodknot.nathanaeljohnson.com. 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.

Complete West Coast premiere of Andrea Kuchlewska's comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 23, plays411.com/complete. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-1445, www.matrixtheatre.com.

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 March 24. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.

Don Juan Adapted and directed by Steven Sabel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 16. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.

A Family Thing The Echo Theater Company presents Gary Lennon's drama. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 17, 877-369-9112, EchoTheaterCompany.com. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.

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). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 22, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 23, $25, $20 seniors & students. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org.

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. Continues through Feb. 24, brownpapertickets.com/event/266029. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.

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 Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges It comes as

something of a surprise that this Casa 0101 production is L.A.'s first

revival of Luis Valdez's wryly transgressive interrogation of

Hollywood's jaundiced representation of Mexican-Americans. After all,

the play had its 1986 premiere in a lavish production at LATC, and the

industry's history of pandering to prejudice has hardly improved. That

said, though director Hector Rodriguez adds some original sardonic

touches, his staging never quite rises to the level of formal

sophistication demanded by the text. Act 1, which introduces Monterey

Park power couple Connie (Carmelita Maldonado) and Buddy Villa (Daniel

E. Mora), isn't supposed to play with the banality of an insipid TV

sitcom, it's meant to burlesque it. Things improve in Act 2 when the

play's angry energy -- nicely articulated by Alex Valdivia as the Villas'

Harvard-dropout son -- is finally unleashed in Valdez's hallucinatory,

feverishly funny pastiche of movie genre tropes. Casa 0101, 2102 E.

First Street, Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through

March 10. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org. (Bill Raden)

.

I Wanna Be Loved: Stories of Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues Barbara Morrison is Dinah Washington! Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 31. Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, 4305 Degnan Blvd. Ste. 101, Los Angeles, 323-296-2272, www.barbaramorrisonpac.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.

Love Bites "An evening of dysfunctional, not-so-romantic short plays." Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 2, 855-663-6743, ElephantTheatre.org. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

LoveSick Written and directed by Larissa Wise. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 10. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.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). 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.

Sexsting Written by Doris Baizley, in collaboration with Susan Raffanti. Presented by Katselas Theatre Company. Starting Feb. 23, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 14, 702-582-8587, katselastheatre.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

Sixty Miles to Silver Lake Dan LeFranc's emotion-tinged drama attempts to explore the thorny relationship between a father and son struggling for connection after an ugly divorce. It takes place in Ky's (Wes Whitehead) Volvo as he travels to Silver Lake for a weekend along with son Denny (Daniel David Stewart). It's the chemistry between Ky's rough edges but soft heart and Denny's boyish innocence and vulnerability that provides emotional heft, not the play's beggarly thin plotline. The father spends much time plying his son for info about his ex-wife's shopping habits, love life, motherly peculiarities and shortfalls; there is also a lot of pointless talk about soccer and a great deal of puerile wisecracking The dearth of substance in much of the dialogue is telling early on. Some jarring moments impart the distinct sense that the time frame of this ride is not what it seems, but this bracketing artifice is mainly clunky and confusing. Performances under Becca Wolff's direction are satisfactory. (Lovell Estell III). 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.

Sketches From the National Lampoon Conceived and produced by

Matty Simmons, with original songs by Richard Levinson.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through

March 17, 323-337-1546, nationallampoon.com. Hayworth Theatre, 2511

Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thehayworth.com.

GO A Heap of Livin' In Elliot

Schoenman's evocative family drama, Lawrence Pressman plays iconic folk

singer "Ramblin' " Harry Roe, whose impeccable, 1960s left-wing

credentials include marching with Dr. King, singing with Pete Seeger and

protesting at Kent State. Now elderly and frail, sustained mainly by

his memories of the good old days, Harry's a crotchety penance to his

two long-suffering daughters. Older daughter Pearl (a marvelously

brittle Didi Conn) has served daddy like a drudge through his declining

years, while younger daughter Eden (Jayne Brook) has fled across the

country to avoid having anything to do with her neglectful papa. On the

eve of a massive tribute concert set to honor Ramblin' Harry, the

sisters confront their varying degrees of resentment and rage.

Schoenman's play is functionally a drama about children confronting the

role of being caregivers for an increasingly recalcitrant elder, but the

piece also thoughtfully encompasses a debate on the regrets of children

forced to live in a genius parent's shadow. Although Schoenman's

dialogue occasionally veers awkwardly into the realm of soapy melodrama,

director Mark L. Taylor's production crackles with heartfelt emotion.

Brook's prissy Eden and Conn's rumpled, increasingly bitter Pearl are

great turns, but they ultimately orbit Pressman's powerful portrayal of a

steely, idealistic artist. Inkwell Theater Company at Odyssey Theater,

2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.;

through March 17. (310) 477-2055, inkwelltheater.com. (Paul Birchall)

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 Carson McCullers wrote that the essence of the Southern Gothic is a "fusion of anguish and farce that acts on the reader with an almost physical force." McCullers, of course, meant "high" Southern Gothic. This 17-character, late-night literary burlesque by solo performer/writer Frank Blocker aims somewhat lower. Any anguish here stems from the risibly purpled prose of the apocryphal potboiler he enacts, a heavy-breathing Dixie whodunit straight off the checkout of a Piggly Wiggly called The Reigns of Aberdeen. Its farcicality has less to do with its hackneyed plot or ludicrous caricature of small-town Mississippi than it does with the sheer physical dexterity of Blocker's quick-change characterizations. And though the satire tends to err on the side of the overly broad, whenever Blocker zeroes in on his target -- such as his "June Bug" chapter's incisively funny, extended parody of Steinbeckian portentousness -- the results are priceless. (Bill Raden). 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.

Terminator Too Judgment Play Interactive sci-fi spoof, from the folks who brought you Point Break Live!. Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through March 30, brownpapertickets.com/event/306759. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-466-6111, www.thedragonfly.com.

The Meat Shall Inherit Four Letter Theatre presents David Gallic's dark comedy. Fri., Feb. 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 23, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 28, 8 p.m.; Fri., March 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 2, 8 p.m., 541-870-3297, fourlettertheatre.com. Studio Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, www.studio-stage.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. 24, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, plays411.com. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

To Be Young, Gifted and Black Robert Nemiroff has taken some excerpts from diaries, political speeches and letters written by his former wife, Lorraine Hansberry, and combined them with scenes from her plays to assemble a sketch of the life, work and intelligence of this important and idealistic American playwright. To Be Young, Gifted and Black, however, is not a play. Rather, it is a series of staged monologues and duologues, with the cast of eight each taking their turn in a spotlight on simple risers. The subject matter is worthy and intellectual, and some of the excerpts are impassioned and impactful. It's largely serious with a few comedic observations sprinkled throughout, yet the staging and general tone of the evening are dull and slow. Additionally, ill-timed and sluggish lighting cues, along with perplexingly random sound effects, drag the show's length to two and a half hours. The cast all give fine if restrained performances, with some singing beautifully. Greyson Chadwick shines in a handful of dramatic and emotional scenes. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., March 16, 2:30 p.m. Continues through March 17. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.

Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love Brad Fraser's "swinging" story, set in 1989 Edmonton, Alberta. Presented by Rise Above Theatre Movement. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through March 10, 800-838-3006, chromolume-theatre.com. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, www.attictheatre.org.

GO Walking the Tightrope Given that so many examples of children's theater are simply appalling -- the equivalent of Muffin the Puppet singing "Sharing Is Caring and Obey your Parents" or some such rubbish -- what a pleasure it is to see a work, aimed at a young audience, that possesses both intellectual heft and genuinely involving emotion. Playwright Mike Kenny's drama Walking the Tightrope is about grief, but the handling of the subject is deft and nuanced, while also being told from a child's point of view. The play takes place in a British seaside town, circa 1950s, as little girl Esme (a beautifully gamine but not obnoxious Paige Lindsay White) arrives for her annual visit to her grandparents. She discovers that her grandmother is nowhere to be found and her sad grandfather (Mark Bramhall) fibs that she has gone to join the circus, a lie that Esme quickly realizes is meant to keep the old man from accepting the truth himself about his wife's passing. Richly evocative, director Debbie Devine's heartfelt production is touching and truthful without descending into mawkish sentimentality. Bramhall's crusty, grieving granddad and White's thoughtfully perky Esme are great together. Tony Duran also delivers a standout turn, as the ghostly presence of the grandmother's spirit. (Paul Birchall). 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 May Fall Written by Peter Gil-Sheridan, directed by Mary Jo DuPrey. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 23. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.

GO When You're in Love, The Whole World Is Jewish World premiere of Bob Booker's comedy/musical revue, directed by Jason Alexander. See Stage feature. 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. See Theater feature

ONGOING SHOWS SITUTATED 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. 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.

Benched Richard Broadhurst's play about a depressed elderly man rescued from the brink of suicide by a solicitous angel of death strives to be wise and poignant but comes off as sappy and conventional. Planning to poison himself while sitting on his favorite park bench, Max (Eddie Jones) gets rattled when he finds it occupied by a laid-back guy named Randall (John Towey), who refuses to move. The two cross verbal swords, after which Randall reveals his celestial status and launches a campaign to persuade Max to live out his natural lifespan. The plot meanders through a series of capricious coincidences that undercut the story's internal logic. Meanwhile, details about Max's life and what has driven him to this desperate point are sparse, so the performers must fill in the gaps. Jones is disappointingly one-note in displaying anger and depression, while Towey has yet to develop an interesting persona. Anita Khanzadian directs. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 24, interactla.org. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-766-9100.

Cassiopeia Written by David Wiener, directed by Emilie Beck. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, 626-683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com. See Theater feature

Company Stephen Sondheim composed the lyrics and score to his

innovative "concept musical" in 1970, with book by George Furth. For a

comedy musical about love, it proves resolutely unromantic and honest.

And, surprisingly, its acerbic wit and laserlike scrutiny of marriage,

dating and relationships does not feel at all dated. Director Albert

Marr's incorporation of cellphones and Facebook effortlessly adds a

contemporary feel. The loose story centers on Robert (a charismatic Ben

Rovner), a handsome, single, mid-30s New Yorker surrounded by

well-meaning but smug married friends. Their cheerful efforts to push

him toward joining their club are undermined by their conjugal lives,

which are fundamentally flawed or dysfunctional. The ensemble's vocal

skills are good but not stellar, though Julie Black sings brilliantly as

funky girlfriend Marta. Also impressive is musical director William A.

Reilly's furious piano and synth live accompaniment. Despite some

appealing performances, this company's average Company barely matches

Sondheim's marvelous material. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St.,

N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 30. (818)

745-8527, crowncitytheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek) 

Dark Story or Stories for Boys Presented by the Young Actors Ensemble. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 3, brownpapertickets.com/event/316822. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-761-0704.


Doctor, Doctor! Writer-director Randall Gray recklessly defies all the rules of dramaturgy -- and not in a good way. He sets his play in a combined medical practice that features a psychiatrist and former Nazi torturer (Mark Colbenson), his seemingly psychotic secretary (Wendy Rostker), a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood (Rick Lee), a dementedly sadistic dentist (manic Jon Christie) and a song-belting secretary who wins the lottery (Sara Jane Williams). The plot, such as it is, is a series of tenuously related incidents. Gray has turned the piece into a pseudo-musical by inserting, seemingly at random, some current hits and old chestnuts, including "I Will Survive," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha, Ha!" The mostly young and dedicated cast give their all to overcome inept script and direction. But ultimately it's just bad community theater. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, 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). Fri., Feb. 22, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., March 1, 8:30 p.m. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

Giving Up Is Hard to Do The best moments in Annie Abbott's one-woman show center on the intimate and raw details surrounding her mastectomy and subsequent decision to forgo reconstructive surgery. Her tempered grief, and her insecurity as she later dives, one-breasted, into the online dating pool, create sharply funny and poignant scenes, which later include breaking into acting, the sudden death of her lumberjack-sized husband and her older daughter's epileptic seizures. Abbott is a likable storyteller who never lapses into self-pity, but she ventures into a market glutted with one-person shows. The presentation -- combining an unclear framing device, an oddly artificial present-tense narrative and overly animated staging, directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) -- at times feels forced. For a cozy chat over a cup of coffee, I can think of few better companions than Abbott, but this show may find limited appeal. (Jenny Lower). 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.

Jane Austen Unscripted Presented by Impro Theatre. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through April 14. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

Ladyhouse Blues It's 1919. Times are changing. Workers are

striking. Women are demanding the vote. Then as now, bigoted

fundamentalists like Liz Madden (Kitty Swink), the Ozark-born matriarch

in Kevin O'Morrison's flawed melodrama, are digging in their heels. Liz

smirks at newfangled inventions like electricity and phones, denounces

all things foreign, including the French language, and emphatically

favors her son over her four daughters. A character like this can spark

juicy drama, but this production, under Anne McNaughton's direction, is

disappointingly bloodless, underscoring the contrived aspects of the

script. Although the action takes place during a hot spell that people

complain about, nobody sweats. The women peel potatoes and stir stuff,

but nothing is out of place in the kitchen. The performances are

variously off-key: As Liz's eldest daughter, Liza de Weerd displays

remarkable vocalizing power for someone with TB. Swink, radiating little

maternal warmth, vents Liz's biases in a chilly vacuum. Andak Theatre

Company at New Place Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., N. Hlywd.;

Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m.; through March 24. (866) 811-4111, andak.org/sc/ladyhouse.shtml. (Deborah Klugman)

Love Me Deadly Matthew Sklar's ghost play, directed by Sebastian Muñoz. Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 24. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

My Big Gay Italian Wedding Italian gay boy Anthony (Nick Losorelli) finally gets up the nerve to propose to his hunky, Polish boyfriend, Andrew (Josh Saleh), and tell his conservative parents, Angela (Mary Cavaliere) and Joseph (Robert Gallo), that he wants a big, traditional Italian wedding. They react with consternation -- "First Obama, now this!" -- but eventually come around. But Angela consents to the wedding only if Andrew's mother flies in from Florida for the occasion. When she refuses, Anthony's black friend, Rodney (Ronaldo Cox), agrees to impersonate her, in a blond wig. The farcical proceedings culminate in a wedding ceremony of (barely) controlled chaos, with two rival best men, feuding lesbian bridesmaids, a drunken Rodney and a flamboyant gay wedding planner (Matt Hudacs), all ending in traditional Italian dances. Both Anthony Wilkinson's script and Paul Storiale's direction tend toward the broad and obvious, but the enthusiastic audience didn't seem to mind. theatreunleashed.com. (Neal Weaver). Fri., Feb. 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 2, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 3 p.m.; Fri., March 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 16, 8 p.m. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-761-0704.

GO Smoke and Mirrors If you've forgotten the

childlike joy and sublime wonderment of seeing magic performed, Albie

Selznick's theatrical show is an enchanting reminder. The accomplished

actor-magician puts on a bewildering tour de force that has more "how

did he do that" flashes than can be counted. The show also has a

personal element, as Selznick recounts his long path to becoming a

master magician, starting when he lost his father at the age of 9 and

used magic to escape reality, and then as a means of challenging and

overcoming his fears. He knows how to work the crowd, and uses members

of the audience in a number of his routines. Toward show's end, he

swallows some razors (kids, don't try this), then regurgitates them on a

long string, and wows with a demonstration of fire eating and juggling

some wicked-looking knives. Other amazing moments are the eerie

conjuring of doves out of nowhere and a mind-blowing exhibition of

midair suspension. Like all good magicians, Selznick has highly capable

assistants -- Brandy, Kyle, Tina and Daniel -- who dazzle with their own

magic in a stylish preshow. Paul Millet directs. (Lovell Estell III).

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.

Shirley Valentine One-woman show starring DeeDee Rescher. Written by Willy Russell, directed by Andrew Barnicle. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 3. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank, 818-955-8101, www.falcontheatre.com.


Von Bach Owen Hammer's comedy, directed by Scott Rognlien. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 10, 866-811-4111. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, www.fremontcentretheatre.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.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Caged Not long ago, people

regarded as exotic or subhuman were tossed into cages for the viewing

pleasure of the American public. Such was the dreadful fate of Congo

pygmy Ota Benga, who was displayed with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo in

1906. In Charles Duncombe's world-premiere drama, Caged, Megan Kim and

R.J. Jones are naked, snatched-from-the-jungle "noble savages," who,

confined in a cage stocked with toys, convincingly channel primitive

angst, lethargically striding about, communicating and reacting with

grunts and violent upsurges and hitting each other playfully. Extended

commentary about the exhibit is provided by a keeper (Katrina Nelson)

and an interviewer (Leah Harf), whose theories and statements of facts

are a bladed mix of the outrageously comical and idiotic. But it's the

cavalcade of spectators and their assorted hang-ups that provide the

wallop of humor and irony here: a boy with his parents wanting to see

tricks; a man meeting another man for a blow job; several couples in

distress, mirroring the plight of the captives; a lonely woman seeking

affection; an elderly woman with a huge ax to grind. The contrasts and

the heavy-handed subtext are striking -- and unsettling. Though not

overly dramatic, Duncombe's smartly written script is delightfully

provocative and insightful. Performances are sharply calibrated under

Frederique Michel's direction.  City Garage at Bergamot Station, 2525

Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through

March 24. (310) 453-9939, citygarage.org (Lovell Estell III)

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.

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 & 7 p.m.; Sat., March 2, 3 p.m. Continues through March 2. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.

GO Nora Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of A Doll's House restructures Henrik Ibsen's fierce family drama, stripping the play to its emotional essence, a goal that's underscored by director Dana Jackson's spartan but evocative production. On a simple set consisting of some chairs, a Christmas tree in the back and, later, a bed, Jackson's staging puts its emphasis where the play's money is -- on the subtext driving the car crash that is the marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer. Brad Greenquist's brutally curt and entitled Torvald comes across as the sort of business executive who sees a trophy wife as being merely part of his resume, while Jeanette Driver's Nora, with surface-level bubbliness belying an interior desperation and, yes, horror, is subtle and touching. Add to this Martha Hackett's wan, hard-used Mrs. Linde and Scott Conte's self-loathingly desperate Krogstad, and the production boasts some incredibly nuanced characterizations. Although the decision (by Bergman, not Jackson) to add a dramatic, pace-interrupting sex scene to the final act jars, the clarity and power of the show's performances make this a textbook dynamic production of the tragic drama. (Paul Birchall). Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.

GO Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy Music and book by Bill Robertson, Tom Sage and Cliff Wagner. Directed by Dan Bonnell. See Stage feature. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 30. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, See Theater Feature, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.

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 May 19. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.

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.

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