Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a Gripping Drama About the Reverberations of a Death | Public Spectacle | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a Gripping Drama About the Reverberations of a Death

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Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM

click to enlarge L to R: Christine Breihan, Inger Tudor, Michelle Hilyard, Brad C. Light and Lauren Letherer - DARRETT SANDERS
  • Darrett Sanders
  • L to R: Christine Breihan, Inger Tudor, Michelle Hilyard, Brad C. Light and Lauren Letherer
click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpg
Collectively, our theater critics were in a very good mood this week, offering recommendations to the majority of shows reviewed: Complete at the Matrix, Echo Theatre Company's A Family Thing, Sexsting at the Skylight, Shirley Valentine at the Falcon, and this week's Pick of the Week, What May Fall at Theatre of NOTE. For all the latest New Theater Reviews and city-wide listings, see below.

Plays from early 20th century America certainly provide a frame for life in the early 21st. Works by Eugene O'Neill and John Steinbeck provide the material for this week's Theater Feature -- the former by The Wooster Group and New York City Players at REDCAT (now closed) and the latter in a very moving production at A Noise Within of Frank Galati's adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication February 28, 2013:

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS

click to enlarge Alex Lyras - CHISTINA XENOS
  • Chistina Xenos
  • Alex Lyras
There are several moments late in Alex Lyras' fascinating performance of Mike Daisey's controversial monologue when Lyras drops the mask of his nameless, first-person investigative narrator and directly pleads for the evening's truth claims as Alex Lyras, actor. The asides are as tantalizing as they are telling. Because experiencing Lyras and director Robert McCaskill's staging of Daisey's Michael Moore-esque mix of polemics and sardonic reportage is to feel weirdly double-distanced from the actuality of its subject -- the harshly impoverished working conditions of Apple's Chinese iPhone and iPad plants. Despite Lyras' persuasive delivery, the show never quite shakes the penumbra of question marks raised by Daisey's own admitted fabrications of his reporting trip to China (said material since excised). The force of each incendiary revelation and Tim Arnold's accompanying photojournalistic video projections somehow feels diminished unaccompanied by a fact-checking footnote that goes beyond the piece's now bitterly ironic emotive linchpin, Lyras as Daisey declaring, "Trust me! I was there." Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; through April 10. (800) 838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. (Bill Raden)

GO COMPLETE Playwright Andrea Kuchlewska combines unlikely ingredients in her comedy: an est-like training program for self-realization, the art/science of linguistics and a stormy love affair involving a pair of obsessive linguists. Eve (Meredith Bishop) and Micah (Scott Kruse) may be experts in the arts of language, but that doesn't mean they can communicate. He has been trying for ages to tell her that he loves her, but she refuses to acknowledge that anything but love of language unites them -- and she never stops talking. In desperation, he signs up for a course with "take control of your life" guru Jack (Scott Victor Nelson) in the hopes that it will enable him to confess his love. But Eve has an intense love-hate relationship with the program, so it becomes one more obstacle. Also present is a little girl named Evie (Tess Oswalt), who may or may not be a childhood incarnation of Eve. The play is always interesting and fun to watch, and director Jennifer Chambers keeps the comedy in the forefront, but the insistently nonlinear structure sometimes proves distracting. Credibility also is an issue. Eve is such a fanatic, intellectual bully and egocentric blabbermouth that one wonders why Micah bothers. Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners and Wilder Theatrics at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs,-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (Sun, March 24, 2 p.m., no eve perf); through March 30. (323) 960-7822 , plays411.com/complete. (Neal Weaver)

THE EARLY PLAYS

click to enlarge Alex Delinois and Kevin Hurley - COURTESY OF THE WOOSTER GROUP
  • Courtesy of The Wooster Group
  • Alex Delinois and Kevin Hurley
A trio of one-acts by Eugene O'Neill in a co-production by The Wooster Group and New York City Players. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., Dwntwn. Closed. See Theater feature.

GO A FAMILY THING The screwed-up clan on display in Gary Lennon's densely bleak comedy gives new resonance to Tolstoy's renowned adage about how every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Turmoil and pain are woven into the DNA of the three Burns brothers of Hell's Kitchen. The oldest, Frank (Saverio Guerra), is a coke addict with a volcanic temper, no job and a wife (Andrea Grano) he despises. Baby brother Sean (Sean Wing) is a gay TV writer, who is first seen preparing to commit suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge; he's stopped by a passerby (Darryl Stephens), who later becomes his lover. Just out of prison, Jim (Johnny Messner), a hulky, tattooed mass of bully-boy attitude and wrath, has vowed to kill Sean because he's gay and Frank because he thinks he snitched him out to the cops. Working it out is what this bunch is ultimately forced to do and, notwithstanding the unpleasant circumstances, it's a load of laughs to watch. Lennon can write funny; he is also a virtuoso of gritty, in-your-face dialogue, and his well-crafted script gives PC niceties the heave-ho. These are engaging, splendidly flawed characters, and the cast turn in vigorous, entertaining performances under Chris Fields' savvy direction. Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 17. (877) 369-9112, echotheatercompany.com. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE GRAPES OF WRATH

click to enlarge Deborah Strang and Steve Coombs - CRAIG SCHWARTZ
  • Craig Schwartz
  • Deborah Strang and Steve Coombs
Adapted by Frank Galati from John Steinbeck's novel. A Noise Within, 3342 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Sat., Feb. 23, 8 p.m.; March 3, 2 & 8 p.m.; in rep through May 11, see website for schedule. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org See Theater Feature

GO SEXSTING

click to enlarge Christian Lloyd and Gregory Itzin - ED KRIEGER
  • Ed Krieger
  • Christian Lloyd and Gregory Itzin
Playwright Doris Baizley consulted with defense attorney Anne Raffanti before writing this revealing one-act about a law-enforcement officer who realizes that the man he wants to entrap is not that different from himself. Estranged from his family, stressed-out FBI agent Richard Roe (Gregory Itzin) labors on a sting operation, visiting online chat rooms and posing as a young girl to provoke the interest of possible sex offenders. His latest assignment targets none-too-bright, middle-aged John (JD Cullum), who likes fishing and country music and whose marital sex life has stalled. But while John nurtures baneful fantasies about young teens, he does exercise self-control, trying hard to stay "just friends" with (he believes) the young female person he's met online. At his superior's insistence, however, Richard continues to entice John with revealing photos and pleas for them to meet -- all so the FBI can score an arrest. Baizley's setup is somewhat simplistic, but Itzin is riveting as a scrupulous man forced to act against his conscience. Cullum communicates smarminess and vulnerability, but his demeanor suggests he's talking to someone directly rather than communicating by email -- a fine point but one that nonetheless diminishes his credibility. Jim Holmes directs. Skylight Theatre Complex, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 14. (702) 582-8587, katselastheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)

GO SHIRLEY VALENTINE

click to enlarge Dee Dee Rescher - CHELSEA SUTTON
  • Chelsea Sutton
  • Dee Dee Rescher
The omnipresent glass of white wine rarely out of reach for DeeDee Rescher's English matron is a perfect metaphor for the title character in Willy Russell's solo piece, which premiered in 1988. Stuck in a drab kitchen in Liverpool, Shirley Valentine, like her favorite libation, sparkles amidst her unremarkable surroundings: a grumpy, detached husband; adult children who only come home when they need something; nosy neighbors trying to escape their own pedestrian lives. Valentine's bright eyes, winsome smile and lively manner cut through the beige of it all, as she recounts stories from her life and dreams of someday drinking wine "in a country where the grape is grown." As luck would have it, her friend Jane has offered her a trip to Greece, but Valentine spends the first act working up the courage because, as she admits to the wall she frequently engages in conversion, she's frightened of life beyond it. While steeling her resolve, she putters about her kitchen, cooking, drinking and sharing -- a fluidity of movement that's a credit to Andrew Barnicle's subtle direction. Russell's writing, with its strong feminist undercurrent, picks up in the second act, and both Rescher and Bruce Goodrich's wonderfully detailed set undergo a real transformation. Valentine's newfound joie de vivre makes her an even more charming and warm raconteur, as captivating as the message she delivers about really living life. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 3. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)

VON BACH

click to enlarge JR Reed and Maia Peters - SCOTT ROGNLIEN
  • Scott Rognlien
  • JR Reed and Maia Peters
Plenty of writers have mined the comedic vault of the Frankenstein tale to great effect. With his comedy Von Bach, writer Owen Hammer manages to send up both the countless horror classics the story begat as well as the parodies, in his own reimagining of Shelley's myth. Modern screenwriter Minna McPheeters (Maia Peters) is impassioned to script the definitive film based on a mad scientist but comes up against a venal producer, Hilary (Summer Stevens), and a litigious heir, Conner (David Wilcox). Worse, she runs into the reanimated corpse of the guy on whom all these movies are based -- Dr. Von Bach himself (a suitably Lurch-like JR Reed). Hilarious and well-crafted short film segments nicely mask the numerous scene changes and flashbacks. Unfortunately, the high caliber of the cinematic bits soon begins to outshine the complex story that's unfolding somewhat prosaically onstage. Hammer, however, strikes a poignant note by having Von Bach reference an Emerson quote: When you commit a crime, "The world is made of glass." Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 10. (866) 811-4111, fremontcentretheatre.com (Pauline Adamek)

PICK OF THE WEEK: WHAT MAY FALL:

click to enlarge L to R: Christine Breihan, Inger Tudor, Michelle Hilyard, Brad C. Light and Lauren Letherer - DARRETT SANDERS
  • Darrett Sanders
  • L to R: Christine Breihan, Inger Tudor, Michelle Hilyard, Brad C. Light and Lauren Letherer
In Peter Gil-Sheridan's thought-provoking drama, a man plummets to his death from a Minnesota skyscraper. It's a terrible event (particularly for the poor fellow), but the random incident becomes the inciting incident for a meditation on how death affects us all. Death, of course, is everywhere and can happen anytime -- but our reaction to it is often unpredictable. For uptight business executive Mack (Nicholas S. Williams), the man's death forces him to confront the desire of his pregnant schoolteacher wife, Jo (Alana Dietze), to abort their possibly disabled child. For Mack's executive assistant, Mercy (a delightfully nebbishy Christopher Neiman), the death provides the impetus to take control over the art he wants to create. And for Arthur (Brad C. Light), a window washer who was the closest witness to the accident, the death throws up a mix of survivor's guilt and terror over the randomness of mortality. Gil-Sheridan's crisp dialogue-driven characters are interconnected in ways that may seem a tad coincidental, but director Mary Jo DuPrey's intimate staging artfully brings to mind the mood of ensemble films by Robert Altman. Performers subtly craft characters grappling with flaws, who change following the death -- and often not in the way one expects. Particularly effective turns are offered by Williams as an engagingly uptight (and somewhat tortured) business executive, by Neiman as a frustrated and bitter assistant and by Dietze as a brittle wife. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 23. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com (Paul Birchall)

ONGOING SHOWS SITUATED ON LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:

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. Continues through March 1. Ahmanson

Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org

The Bird House:

World premiere of Diane Glancy's play. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.;

Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17.

Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles,

323-667-2000, www.theautry.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. (Jenny Lower). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 10, eastwestplayers.org. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles, 213-625-7000.


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, $45-$75. 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. 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. See Stage feature



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.


I'll Be Back Before Midnight: The tone of Peter Colley's thriller hews closer to the telegraphed setups of a slasher film than to the psychological terror of Hitchcock. Though widely produced and even adapted into a 1992 made-for-TV movie, the script has had persistent issues throughout its history: a thin premise, vaguely sketched characters and hackneyed gags, leaving a few chilling thrills to hold the piece together. Those thrills hit the mark when they do arrive, enhanced by both the foreboding upstage space in Stephen Gifford's set and Drew Dalzell's hair-raising sound design. Playing out those thrills are Greg (Tyler Pierce, whose chiseled physique hardly suggests "bookish scientist") and his wife, Jan (Joanna Strapp, who delivers quite a blood-curdling scream), who have come to the country to repair their marriage. Their whiskey-loving neighbor, George (Ron Orbach), and Greg's incestually creepy sister, Laura (Kate Maher), drop in, and mayhem ensues. The actors are strong and have done good work around town, but their talents and Colley and David Rose's direction aren't enough to disguise the holes in the writing. (Mayank Keshaviah). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through March 3. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.



GO: Jekyll & Hyde:

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. (Neal Weaver). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.;

Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through

March 3. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles,

800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.


One Night With Janis Joplin: Musical tribute to the rock legend, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson. 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.


Panama Hattie: Four performances of Cole Porter's 1940 musical, benefiting the Betty Garrett Musical Comedy Workshop. Sat., March 2, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 2 p.m.; Sat., March 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 2 p.m. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.


GO: Shirley Valentine:The omnipresent glass of white wine rarely out of reach for DeeDee Rescher's English matron is a perfect metaphor for the title character in Willy Russell's solo piece, which premiered in 1988. Stuck in a drab kitchen in Liverpool, Shirley Valentine, like her favorite libation, sparkles amidst her unremarkable surroundings: a grumpy, detached husband; adult children who only come home when they need something; nosy neighbors trying to escape their own pedestrian lives. Valentine's bright eyes, winsome smile and lively manner cut through the beige of it all, as she recounts stories from her life and dreams of someday drinking wine "in a country where the grape is grown." As luck would have it, her friend Jane has offered her a trip to Greece, but Valentine spends the first act working up the courage because, as she admits to the wall she frequently engages in conversion, she's frightened of life beyond it. While steeling her resolve, she putters about her kitchen, cooking, drinking and sharing -- a fluidity of movement that's a credit to Andrew Barnicle's subtle direction. Russell's writing, with its strong feminist undercurrent, picks up in the second act, and both Rescher and Bruce Goodrich's wonderfully detailed set undergo a real transformation. Valentine's newfound joie de vivre makes her an even more charming and warm raconteur, as captivating as the message she delivers about really living life. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 3. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)

Sunday Night Solo Series: February 10: Lee Meriwether in The Women of Spoon River; February 17: Jim Beaver in Sidekick; Kres Mersky in Isadora Duncan: A Unique Recital; Abbott Alexander in The Nameless One; Dina Morrone in The Italian in Me; Anthony Gruppuso in The Face Behind the Face, Behind the Face; April 7: Steve Nevil in As Always, Jimmy Stewart. Sun., March 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 17, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 24, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., April 7, 7:30 p.m. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.

ONGOING SHOWS SITUATED 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.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs:

There are several moments late in Alex Lyras' fascinating performance of Mike Daisey's controversial monologue when Lyras drops the mask of his nameless, first-person investigative narrator and directly pleads for the evening's truth claims as Alex Lyras, actor. The asides are as tantalizing as they are telling. Because experiencing Lyras and director Robert McCaskill's staging of Daisey's Michael Moore-esque mix of polemics and sardonic reportage is to feel weirdly double-distanced from the actuality of its subject -- the harshly impoverished working conditions of Apple's Chinese iPhone and iPad plants. Despite Lyras' persuasive delivery, the show never quite shakes the penumbra of question marks raised by Daisey's own admitted fabrications of his reporting trip to China (said material since excised). The force of each incendiary revelation and Tim Arnold's accompanying photojournalistic video projections somehow feels diminished unaccompanied by a fact-checking footnote that goes beyond the piece's now bitterly ironic emotive linchpin, Lyras as Daisey declaring, "Trust me! I was there." Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; through April 10. (800) 838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. (Bill Raden)

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.



GO: Complete:Playwright Andrea Kuchlewska combines unlikely ingredients in her comedy: an est-like training program for self-realization, the art/science of linguistics and a stormy love affair involving a pair of obsessive linguists. Eve (Meredith Bishop) and Micah (Scott Kruse) may be experts in the arts of language, but that doesn't mean they can communicate. He has been trying for ages to tell her that he loves her, but she refuses to acknowledge that anything but love of language unites them -- and she never stops talking. In desperation, he signs up for a course with "take control of your life" guru Jack (Scott Victor Nelson) in the hopes that it will enable him to confess his love. But Eve has an intense love-hate relationship with the program, so it becomes one more obstacle. Also present is a little girl named Evie (Tess Oswalt), who may or may not be a childhood incarnation of Eve. The play is always interesting and fun to watch, and director Jennifer Chambers keeps the comedy in the forefront, but the insistently nonlinear structure sometimes proves distracting. Credibility also is an issue. Eve is such a fanatic, intellectual bully and egocentric blabbermouth that one wonders why Micah bothers. Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners and Wilder Theatrics at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs,-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (Sun, March 24, 2 p.m., no eve perf); through March 30. (323) 960-7822 , plays411.com/complete. (Neal Weaver)

Daynaland:

Dayna Dooley's solo show. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Continues through March 10, 323-960-5772, daynalandtheshow.com. Stella

Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles,

www.stellaadler-la.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.



GO: A Family Thing:

The screwed-up clan on display in Gary Lennon's densely bleak comedy gives new resonance to Tolstoy's renowned adage about how every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Turmoil and pain are woven into the DNA of the three Burns brothers of Hell's Kitchen. The oldest, Frank (Saverio Guerra), is a coke addict with a volcanic temper, no job and a wife (Andrea Grano) he despises. Baby brother Sean (Sean Wing) is a gay TV writer, who is first seen preparing to commit suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge; he's stopped by a passerby (Darryl Stephens), who later becomes his lover. Just out of prison, Jim (Johnny Messner), a hulky, tattooed mass of bully-boy attitude and wrath, has vowed to kill Sean because he's gay and Frank because he thinks he snitched him out to the cops. Working it out is what this bunch is ultimately forced to do and, notwithstanding the unpleasant circumstances, it's a load of laughs to watch. Lennon can write funny; he is also a virtuoso of gritty, in-your-face dialogue, and his well-crafted script gives PC niceties the heave-ho. These are engaging, splendidly flawed characters, and the cast turn in vigorous, entertaining performances under Chris Fields' savvy direction. Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 17. (877) 369-9112, www.echotheatercompany.com. (Lovell Estell III)

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, www.plays411.com/grand. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los

Angeles.

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.


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, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through April

27, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., 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. (Bill Raden). Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March 10. Casa

0101, 2009 E. First St., Los Angeles, 323-263-7684, www.casa0101.org.


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.

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, www.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.


GO: Sexsting:

Playwright Doris Baizley consulted with defense attorney Anne Raffanti before writing this revealing one-act about a law-enforcement officer who realizes that the man he wants to entrap is not that different from himself. Estranged from his family, stressed-out FBI agent Richard Roe (Gregory Itzin) labors on a sting operation, visiting online chat rooms and posing as a young girl to provoke the interest of possible sex offenders. His latest assignment targets none-too-bright, middle-aged John (JD Cullum), who likes fishing and country music and whose marital sex life has stalled. But while John nurtures baneful fantasies about young teens, he does exercise self-control, trying hard to stay "just friends" with (he believes) the young female person he's met online. At his superior's insistence, however, Richard continues to entice John with revealing photos and pleas for them to meet -- all so the FBI can score an arrest. Baizley's setup is somewhat simplistic, but Itzin is riveting as a scrupulous man forced to act against his conscience. Cullum communicates smarminess and vulnerability, but his demeanor suggests he's talking to someone directly rather than communicating by email -- a fine point but one that nonetheless diminishes his credibility. Jim Holmes directs. Skylight Theatre Complex, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 14. (702) 582-8587, www.katselastheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)

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.



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., 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.


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.



The Trouble With Words:

Gregory Nabours' song cycle, with choreography by Janet Roston.

Starting March 2, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues

through March 31, 323-944-2165. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los

Angeles.


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.


Unscreened:

Four world-premiere short plays by Will Wissler Graham, Corinne

Kingsbury, Daria Polatin, and Mallory Westfall. Starting March 3,

Mondays, Saturdays, Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 24,

800-838-3006, unscreenedla.com. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076

Lillian Way, Los Angeles.



Valentine's Triage:

Frank Strausser's Valentine's Day play set in an emergency room.

Starting March 5, Tue., March 5, 8 p.m.; Wed., March 6, 8 p.m.; Thu.,

March 7, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues

through March 31, TheBlank.com. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica

Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-661-9827, www.theblank.com.


Veronica's Room:

The Visceral Company present Ira Levin's 1973 thriller. Fridays,

Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 30, thevisceralcompany.com.

Underground Theatre, 1312-1314 N. Wilton Place, Los Angeles,

323-251-1154, www.undergroundtheater.com.


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.



PICK OF THE WEEK: What May Fall:

In Peter Gil-Sheridan's thought-provoking drama What May Fall, a man plummets to his death from a Minnesota skyscraper. It's a terrible event (particularly for the poor fellow), but the random incident becomes the inciting incident for a meditation on how death affects us all. Death, of course, is everywhere and can happen anytime -- but our reaction to it is often unpredictable. For uptight business executive Mack (Nicholas S. Williams), the man's death forces him to confront the desire of his pregnant schoolteacher wife, Jo (Alana Dietze), to abort their possibly disabled child. For Mack's executive assistant, Mercy (a delightfully nebbishy Christopher Neiman), the death provides the impetus to take control over the art he wants to create. And for Arthur (Brad C. Light), a window washer who was the closest witness to the accident, the death throws up a mix of survivor's guilt and terror over the randomness of mortality. Gil-Sheridan's crisp dialogue-driven characters are interconnected in ways that may seem a tad coincidental, but director Mary Jo DuPrey's intimate staging artfully brings to mind the mood of ensemble films by Robert Altman. Performers subtly craft characters grappling with flaws, who change following the death -- and often not in the way one expects. Particularly effective turns are offered by Williams as an engagingly uptight (and somewhat tortured) business executive, by Neiman as a frustrated and bitter assistant and by Dietze as a brittle wife. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 23. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com  (Paul Birchall)

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 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.


Belz! The Jewish Vaudeville Musical:

Written and directed by Pavel Cerny, with English lyrics by Charles

Kondek. Starting March 2, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Continues through April 14, brownpapertickets.com/event/276015.

Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324,

www.whitefiretheatre.com.

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, www,interactla.org. Avery

Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-766-9100.


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. (Pauline Adamek).

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 30,

crowncitytheatre.com. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North

Hollywood, 818-745-8527, www.crowncitytheatre.com.

Dark Play 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.

Divorce Party: The Musical:

Starting March 3, Sun., March 3, 5 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.;

Saturdays, 2 & 6 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through

April 14, divorcepartythemusical.com. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim

Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-508-4200, www.elportaltheatre.com.


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., 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.


Golden Girls Live: An All Male 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). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues

through March 17. Oil Can Harry's, 11502 Ventura Blvd., Studio City,

818-760-9749, www.oilcanharrysla.com.

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. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2

p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through March

24, 866-811-4111, www.Andak.org. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St.,

North Hollywood.


The Last Days of Judas Iscariot:

Stephen Adly Guirgis' controversial play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through April 6,

brownpapertickets.com/event/314649. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W.

Victory Blvd., Burbank, 818-841-4404, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.


The Baby Project:

Book by Lori Jaroslow, music by Fonda Feingold and Noriko Olling,

lyrics by Fonda Feingold and Lori Jaroslow. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.;

Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17, www.roadtheatre.org. NoHo Senior

Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles.



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,

www.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). 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.

Play On!:

Rick Abbot's comedy about a theater group trying to stage a play.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 24,

abovethecurvetheatre.com. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd.,

North Hollywood, 818-506-3903, www.actorsworkout.com.



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 April 28, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com.

Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood,

www.lankershimartscenter.com.



Therapy:

Jeff Bernhardt's story of three therapists and a patient. Starting

March 2, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17,

800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/322663. Secret Rose Theater,

11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, www.secretrose.com.



Urban Death:

Zombie Joe's Underground's horror stories. Starting March 2,

Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 27. Zombie Joe's Underground

Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120,

www.zombiejoes.homestead.com.



Von Bach:Plenty of writers have mined the comedic vault of the Frankenstein tale to great effect. With his comedy Von Bach, writer Owen Hammer manages to send up both the countless horror classics the story begat as well as the parodies, in his own reimagining of Shelley's myth. Modern screenwriter Minna McPheeters (Maia Peters) is impassioned to script the definitive film based on a mad scientist but comes up against a venal producer, Hilary (Summer Stevens), and a litigious heir, Conner (David Wilcox). Worse, she runs into the reanimated corpse of the guy on whom all these movies are based -- Dr. Von Bach himself (a suitably Lurch-like JR Reed). Hilarious and well-crafted short film segments nicely mask the numerous scene changes and flashbacks. Unfortunately, the high caliber of the cinematic bits soon begins to outshine the complex story that's unfolding somewhat prosaically onstage. Hammer, however, strikes a poignant note by having Von Bach reference an Emerson quote: When you commit a crime, "The world is made of glass." Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 10. (866) 811-4111, fremontcentretheatre.com (Pauline Adamek)


ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:


GO: 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. (Lovell Estell

III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through

March 24. City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan

Ave., Santa Monica, 310-453-9939, www.citygarage.org.

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. (Paul

Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues

through March 17, inkwelltheater.com. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.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.

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, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. See Theater Feature

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. See Theater Feature

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.; Sat., March 2, 3

p.m. Continues through March 2. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda

Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.

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