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Stage Raw

Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a Docudrama About Slavery

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Thu, May 2, 2013 at 4:30 PM
click to enlarge Alysia Livingston and Charles Mathers - JAMES ESPOSITO
  • James Esposito
  • Alysia Livingston and Charles Mathers

click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpeg

Lovell Estell III found Chromolume Theatre's production of Do Lord Remember Me stirring, and made it this week's Pick. Neal Weaver also found a multimedia Brecht on Brecht at Atwater Village Theater praiseworthy. See below for all the latest new theater reviews and regionwide stage listings.

This week's theater feature looks at a pair of plays in small theaters that examine black-white relations -- Wallace Demmaria's new play Colorblind at Meta Theatre and Herb Gardner's 1985 comedy I'm Not Rappaport at the Pico Playhouse, though the latter is more about aging.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 2, 2013:

GO: THE ANATOMY OF GAZELLAS Pregnant, suicidal teenager Alex (Elia Saldana) flees an abusive junkie mother and goes in search of her grandmother, a woman she believes to be a powerful shaman. Along the way Alex is assisted by a pair of funky spirit guides who take the shape of feisty, tough-talking grifters: Hopey (Elizabeth Francis) and Maggie (Bianca Lemaire). Alex also holes up at a halfway house for young, ex-con women, run by evangelical leader Dona Lydia (Cristina Frias), whose preaching and strict rules clash with Alex's more prosaic beliefs. A creative loner, Alex sketches gazellas ― half female, half gazelle creatures ― and wears wire horns to honor her "tribe." Janine Salinas Schoenberg's all-female, one-act drama trains its empathetic focus on the lost young women on the fringes of society, but with one hoof in a fantasy realm and the other planted in a harsh world, the parallel stories never quite jell. The assembled characters ― gang girls, street toughs and psychos ― captivate our attention despite some exaggerated performances. Saldana is good as the autistic-savant protagonist. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera stages the action well, employing surreal touches such as projected animation and water imagery to good effect, while Mylette Nora's costumes perfectly complement the characterizations. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 19. (323) 644-1929, brownpapertickets.com/event/365475. (Pauline Adamek)

GO: BRECHT ON BRECHT Playwright George Tabori assembled a huge master script ― too massive for inclusion in any one production ― of materials collected from the works of Bertolt Brecht. Directors are urged to make their own selection from the myriad pieces, which include poems, songs, scenes and transcripts of Brecht's wily testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. This production is selected and directed by Alistair Hunter, on the 40th anniversary of his 1973 production of the piece for the Scorpio Rising Theatre, which ran for three years in repertory. It emphasizes Brecht's role as a savage, disenchanted social critic who distrusted governments ― all governments ― and includes songs from The Three-Penny Opera, Mother Courage and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Also in the mix are "The Jewish Wife" episode from Fears and Mysteries of the Third Reich, some clever and bitterly ironic poems and amusing anecdotes, all performed with gusto and finesse by the five-person ensemble of Gil Hagen-Hill, Daniel Houston-Davila, Belinda Howell, Susan Kussman and Gregg Lawrence. While the prose selections remind us of Brecht's quieter, more thoughtful side, it's the bitterly satiric Kurt Weill songs and ensembles that prove to be the highlights. The Other Theatre Company at Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through June 9. (323) 960-1054, plays411.com/brecht. (Neal Weaver)

GO: COLORBLIND

click to enlarge Wallace Demmaria and Taja V. Simpson - TAMMY BAGHDASSARIAN
  • Tammy Baghdassarian
  • Wallace Demmaria and Taja V. Simpson

Tackling the racial issues of the United States, this drama follows the life of controversial spiritual leader Mr Clinton Muhammad and his attempted assassination. An original play by Wallace Demarria. Fri., May 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 5, 8 p.m., $25. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-6963, www.anthonymeindl.com/theatres.htm. See Theater Feature.

PICK OF THE WEEK: DO LORD REMEMBER ME

click to enlarge Alysia Livingston and Charles Mathers - JAMES ESPOSITO
  • James Esposito
  • Alysia Livingston and Charles Mathers
During the mid 1930s, the Federal Writers' Project, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, undertook an extensive gathering of oral histories from former slaves about their lives. It is these voices from an ugly past that are the material for James de Jongh's stirring 1977 docudrama Do Lord Remember Me. Characters from the not-so-gallant South include the pitiless overseer; the emboldened runaway; the "house negro," as compared with the "field negroes" outside; masters, both kind and cruel; and the mother whose embittered tears cannot mask her perverse joy over the death of her baby, who is thus freed from bondage. The play tells of the ignominy of the auction block, the whippings, deprivations and suffering, and the unexpected hope and humor. The cast ― Annzella Victoria, Arthur Richardson, Virginia Watson, Alysia Livingston and Charles Mathers ― help make the evening memorable under Wilson Bell's direction. James Esposito's ramshackle slave cabin ― graced with that beckoning symbol of hearth, home and storytelling, a rocking chair ― adds a vibrant realism to the production, as does the singing of time-honored Negro spirituals and the author's fidelity to the time period's crude dialect. Chromolume Theater, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 19. (323) 510-2688, crtheatre.com (Lovell Estell III)

I'M NOT RAPPAPORT:

click to enlarge Carl Crudup and Jack Axelrod - MICHAEL LAMONT
  • Michael Lamont
  • Carl Crudup and Jack Axelrod

A new stage production of the Tony award-winning comedy by Herb Gardner, in which seniors Midge, an African American, and Nat, a Jewish man, meet in Central Park and develop a friendship. Directed by Howard Teichman. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-204-4440, www.picoplayhouse.com. See Theater Feature.

LOVE, SEX AND VIOLENCE, ETC

click to enlarge Alejandro Edda and Aria Bruss - SHAYLA KUNDERA
  • Shayla Kundera
  • Alejandro Edda and Aria Bruss

The catch-all "Etc." fails to excuse the scattershot approach taken in this uninspired collection of vignettes directed by Pavel Cerny, in which little love or sex ― and no violence ― appears. Playwright Helena Weltman (Cerny's wife) waited 20 years before first writing in English, but her grasp of American colloquialisms isn't the issue ― it's the tiresome slog through exhausted tropes and an uneven thematic progression from high dirge to light comedy. In the problematic first half, somber attempts at Pinter-esque staccato dialogue come off as stilted, with performances so physically restrained they verge on robotic. The acting and writing improve after intermission, when both stop trying so hard, as in the charmingly benign encounter between two flirtatious singles (Gina Rizzo Bishop, Aiden Cardei) bantering over drinks, and a "will-they-or-won't-they?" tussle between a Spanish-speaking handyman (Alejandro Edda) and a prima donna model (Aria Bruss) trapped in an elevator. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 5. (800) 838-3006, whitefiretheatre.com. (Jenny Lower)

THE NORTH PLAN

click to enlarge Chris Game, Dominic Rains - JOEL DAAVID
  • Joel Daavid
  • Chris Game, Dominic Rains

It's not so easy to milk laughter from a political nightmare. Or at least that seems to be the lesson offered by director David Fofi's staging of playwright Jason Wells' uneasy 2010 mix of paranoid conspiracy and black comedy. The play imagines the Department of Homeland Security engineering a coup whose success or failure pivots on retrieving an incriminating flash-drive file stolen by a dissenting State Department official (Chris Game). When he winds up in the hands of nefarious DHS agents (Dominic Rains, John Forest) at a podunk Missouri police station (on Joel Daavid's convincing set), the fate of the nation rests on whether he can enlist his thick-headed trailer-trash cellmate (Kerry Carney) to join the resistance. Though the farce fitfully kicks in with Act 2, a tediously expository first act and Carney's sledgehammer performance lends the evening all the comic appeal of Seven Days in May as played by Lucille Ball. An Elephant Theatre production at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through June 1. (855) 663-6438, ­elephanttheatre.org. (Bill Raden)

RAISE ME UP

click to enlarge Stuart Pankin and Joey Shea - I.C. RAPOPORT
  • I.C. Rapoport
  • Stuart Pankin and Joey Shea

Playwright Lisa Phillips Visca's elegiac but lightweight story of her parents' lifelong love affair is a warm-hearted romance that will delight fans of genial, sweetly sentimental tales. Those who seek snark and edge must look elsewhere. The play opens with an introduction featuring elderly Louis (Ben Feuer) and wife Daphne (Marla Adams) preparing for a night on the town ― but then the story flashes back to show the pair's courtship, as the younger Louis (an extremely affable Michael Marinaccio) woos the beautiful girl (fiery Serena Dolinsky) who becomes his love. The story is told from the elder couple's point of view, which gives Visca's text an appealing wisdom and gentleness. Although the work may be top-heavy with borderline-hoary stock characterizations ― Lenora May as Louis' ferocious Italian mama and Stuart Pankin as Daphne's stern Greek papa, for instance ― the performers assay the admittedly stereotyped roles with charm. Some pacing problems mar director Chris DeCarlo's staging, and the narrative occasionally drifts from the lack of underlying conflict, but the piece possesses an engagingly old-fashioned mood that feels as timeless as romance itself. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 23. (310) 394-9779, ext. 2, santamonicaplayhouse.com. (Paul Birchall)


ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE

American Buffalo: A new stage adaptation of the 1977 Broadway classic by David Mamet, in which out-of-luck and misguided misfits plot the theft of a rare coin collection. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-18/stage/geffen-playhouse-american-buffalo/full/. Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 12, $47-$77. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.

The Beaux' Stratagem: Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig both contributed to this adaptation of George Farquhar's early-18th-century comedy, which touches on the tribulations of the unhappily married and the moral shortcomings of the privileged classes. The story features two penniless rapscallions, Jack (Blake Ellis) and Tom (Freddy Douglas), who set out to seduce rich ladies in order to gain control of their fortunes. They soon discover a plot to burglarize the home of a wealthy dowager -- a crime they view as more dastardly than their own plan to defraud by deception. Amusing, with a few hilarious moments, the play on the whole doesn't rise to the level of the best and wittiest farce. (Ludwig's second act, written 65 years after Wilder abandoned the project, is funnier and has more shtick.) The ensemble performs respectably well; Ellis in the pivotal role handles the material adeptly but is missing the kind of unique persona that would make his performance memorable. Highest praises go to comic whirlwind Deborah Strang as a mad eccentric who fancies herself a healer but who kills or maims most of her patients. Angela Balogh Calin's costumes and Monica Lisa Sabedra's hair, wigs and makeup add frivolous fun. Julia Rodriguez Elliott directs. (Deborah Klugman). Tappan Wilder, nephew of playwright Thornton Wilder, will discuss the life and legacy of his celebrated uncle on Sun. May 5, at 5:30 p.m. Sat., May 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 12, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., May 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 25, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 26, 2 p.m., $40-$60. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.

CAP Presents: Fuente Ovejuna: The Legend of Lauren Lopez: Young performers reinterpret a masterwork from Spain's Golden Age to address the future of Los Angeles' public schools. A production of the CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP) Theater program. Also playing at REDCAT on May 24 and 25. Fri., May 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., May 4, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., May 11, 7:30 p.m., Free. Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Road, Los Angeles, 323-223-2475, www.plazadelaraza.org.

The Circus Is Coming to Town: Interactive kids play, presented by Storybook Theatre. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 6. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.

GO : Eurydice: Playwright Sarah Ruhl's melancholy and slightly surreal drama is a whimsical take on the classic Greek myth of Orpheus, the divinely inspired musician who defied nature and descended into Hades to retrieve his slain wife. This exciting modern interpretation shifts the emphasis throughout the story from Orpheus (an impassioned, romantic Graham Sibley) to Eurydice (a beautiful naif, Jules Wilcox). Quickly establishing the besotted state of the young betrothed lovers with adoring banter, Ruhl's dialogue is full of wistful and playful exchanges while permitting the occasional poetic flourish. Jeanine A. Ringer's dreamy blue underwater set evokes first a beach and then a drippy and damp underworld, while a wandering minstrel on violin (Endre Balogh) approximates the haunting melodies of Orpheus' lyre that bewitch the denizens of Hades. Performances are mostly good, with Ryan Vincent Anderson charmingly menacing as the predatory and seductive "Nasty Interesting Man" and, later, Lord of the Underworld. Unfortunately, the trio of women playing the stones (famously moved by the exquisitely mournful music of Orpheus) comes across as shrill and lacking in gravitas. Nevertheless, Geoff Elliott's direction adroitly realizes his conceptual vision, right down to the presence of water and rain, both real and projected (projections by Brian Gale). (Pauline Adamek). Thu., May 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 18, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 19, 2 p.m. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.

Experience The Beatles with Rain: The acclaimed Beatles cover group performs live. Tue., May 7, 8 p.m.; Wed., May 8, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 11, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 12, 1 & 6:30 p.m., $25-$105. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.

Falling for Make Believe: An intimate look at the life and times of lyrical genius Lorenz Hart, half of the legendary Broadway duo Rodgers and Hart. Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Book by Mark Saltzman. Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 19, opening night $50; general performances $20-$42. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.

Fela!: The true story of Fela Kuti, who created a new type of music, Afrobeat, and mixed these pounding eclectic rhythms with incendiary lyrics that openly attacked oppressive military dictatorships that ruled Nigeria and much of Africa. His songs of rebellion were an inspiration to millions. Book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 5, $20-$120. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.

God's Man in Texas: If David Rambo's play were Hamlet, Claudius, rather than killing King Hamlet, would have been appointed co-monarch and merely irritated him for two hours onstage. Such a diluted version of a succession struggle, transposed to a fictional Rock Baptist megachurch, is the driving "conflict" between the elderly Dr. Gottschall (Ted Heyck) and his potential replacement, the younger Dr. Mears (Christian Lebano). Mediating their "struggle" is Hugo Taney (Paul Perri), the church's resident gopher and audio/visual specialist, who's in recovery from the excesses of his youth. He's also the resident scene stealer, as Perri plays Hugo's self-deprecation and obsession with clip-on microphones to the hilt. Lebano, who shined in Opus, has a smooth, preacherly baritone but is a bit lukewarm, while Heyck's one-note bluster and roar becomes tedious. Director Nancy Youngblut's staging employs creative elements, but her frequent blackouts exacerbate the filmic style of a script that equally suffers from characters spending too much time describing offstage events. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 18, $25; seniors $22; youth (13-21) $15; children 12 and under $12. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.

GO : The Grapes of Wrath: There are no weak links in Michael Michetti's staging of The Grapes of Wrath. It is a study of characters adrift, American refugees of the Great Depression, starting with the decision of the Joad family to leave Dust Bowl-cursed Oklahoma for California. On the horizon of the dusty plains is the hope of opportunities afforded by the Golden State, where they imagine they can pluck oranges from the trees and crush grapes with their feet. Matt Gottlieb beautifully portrays an evangelical preacher turned humanist, spending much of the action off by himself pondering where on earth he's going and what on earth he's done. Mostly he's struggling for a definition of what's holy, and it usually settles on something closer to men and women than to God: "When you're working together, harnessed to the whole shebang." The stage is populated by wonderful actors, such as Deborah Strang as Ma Joad, indescribably nuanced in her portrayal of a dignified woman whose strength is cleaved by apprehension; by Lindsey Ginter as her simple husband, perpetually eager to avoid conflict and to accommodate; and by Steve Coombs as their short-tempered, ex-con son, who's quite the opposite of his dad. Amidst the brutality of what would today be called climate change, the play is a battle cry for all of us to treat each other with dignity. Its humane view is almost theological, biblical, in its depiction of one character's sacrifice for his people. (Steven Leigh Morris). 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.

Habitat: In Judith Thompson's NIMBY drama, kindly Lewis Chance (Sal Lopez) opens a group home for homeless youth in a wealthy Toronto enclave, triggering all the predictable squabbles over property values, racism and good intentions. In Canada, Thompson is a major playwright known for works about marginalized figures, and through her lens this familiar outline refracts into a study of family dynamics and the hostile psychological habitats in which we trap ourselves and others. It's an ambitious approach, and the second act labors under the effort, straining too hard to provoke empathy and sacrificing character believability to politically minded artifice. The motif of monologues delivered to the invisible forces that bind, however, nicely showcases the able cast, especially Nina Silver as a woman bewildered by her status as a grown-up child and tormented by her own imperfections. (Mindy Farabee). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 12, $10-$40. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.

Joe Turner's Come and Gone: August Wilson's historic drama about newly freed slaves in the American North attempting to forge a new life amid emotional and financial obstacles. Directed by Phylicia Rashad. Starting May 8, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 9. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772.

Lonesome Traveler: A journey into American folk music from the 1920's to the 1960's, spanning the United States from the hills of Appalachia to the nightclubs of San Francisco. Written and directed by Rubicon's Artistic Director James O'Neil, with musical direction by Trevor Wheetman. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 19, $35-$59; students $30. Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-2900.

The Royale: Set in the boxing world of the early 1900s, Jay "The Sport" Jackson tries to fight for his place in history, despite the racial barriers in his way. Loosely inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, the first African American sports icon. Written by Marco Ramirez. Starting May 5, Sun., May 5, 6:30 p.m.; Thu., May 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 12, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through June 2, $20-$50. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: A revival of the classic musical in which an 1850's pioneer in Oregon tries to marry off her brothers. Book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay. Lyrics, music, and new songs by Johnny Mercer, Gene De Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 5, $20-$70. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.

Shades: Paula Caplan's drama starts out as a meaningful exploration of war's toll on the human body and spirit, but then ventures into predictable, watery melodrama. Jerry (Will MacMillan) is a tough but affable Jewish veteran of World War II who looks forward to retiring from his successful restaurant business. His son, Don (Jed Sura), is a proud Vietnam vet battling a lung infection and a nagging disillusionment with the government, while his sister, Val (Kim Chase), is a former anti-war protestor who cares for a paralyzed Vietnam vet (Toni Lewis) and struggles to understand the men in her life. These characters are fully likable, especially Jerry, but Caplan doesn't construct a consistently substantive and convincing link between them. It's a story told in frustrating starts and stops, now here, now there. Toward play's end, the action morphs into a protracted soap opera-style epic about Val's litany of contextually implausible and banal emotional hang-ups. Gary Lee Reed's stodgy direction doesn't help. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 5, $30; members $15; students, seniors, veterans $20; Thursdays $10 -$15. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.

Steel Magnolias: Robert Harling's story about a group of friends who gather each week at a salon in Chinquapin Parish, Louisiana, to comfort, tease, and gossip with each other. Directed by Jenny Sullivan. Starting May 4, Sat., May 4, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., May 5, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sun., May 12, 7 p.m.; Thu., May 16, 2 p.m.; Thu., May 23, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $35-$65. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.

TESLA: A Radio Play for the Stage: The story of Nikola Tesla's life as a brilliant but controversial inventor and futurist during the late 19th and early 20th century. Starring French Stewart and Sandra Tsing Loh. The play is staged as a radio drama featuring live sound effects. From playwright Dan Duling with direction by Michael Arabian. Sat., May 4, 6 p.m., $20 advance tickets; or pay-what-you-can at the door. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

Theatricum Botanicum 40th Anniversary Open House: Enjoy guided tours with costumed characters and a peek at a company rehearsal, as well as theater games such as stage combat, Elizabethan dance, fencing, and juggling, and a sneak peek of the 2013 five-play Summer Repertory Season on the main stage at 3 p.m. Sat., May 4, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Free. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.

Transfiguration: Two short plays about homosexual identity: On Tidy Endings, a drama by Harvey Fierstein, and TransMe, a comedy by Rod Brumback. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 12, $30; students, seniors, veterans $20; members $15. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.

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

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." (Bill Raden). Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 5, 800-838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.theatreasylum-la.com.

Alien Citizen: A funny and poignant one-woman show about growing up as a dual citizen of mixed heritage in Central America, North Africa, the Middle East, and New England. Written and performed by Elizabeth Liang. Starting May 4, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $20. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.

The Anatomy of Gazellas: In this drama, a mysterious teen arrives at a transitional house for young women run by a charismatic evangelical leader and develops her own plan for salvation. Written by Janine Salinas Schoenberg and directed by Playwrights' Arena Founder and Artistic Director Jon Lawrence Rivera. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 19, $25. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com. See New Reviews.

The Assistants: Hunter Thompson described the TV business as a "cruel and shallow money trench ... a plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs." Unfortunately, the sting -- and truth -- of this gloriously unflattering assessment isn't discernible in Joel Sinensky's comedy about the sordid inner workings of television land. Reality TV show host Ted Hartford's (Micah Cohen) privileged world unravels when a contestant kills herself on the show. What's worse, ambitious assistant Tori (Jessica Botello) and co-worker Chad (T. Michael Woolston) conspire to use a tape of the incident to advance their careers (how is never credibly explained). When the tape is leaked, a top-level executive (Bree Pavey) and Ted's egotistical agent (John Perry Sisk) become enmeshed in a network calamity. There is abundant material here for a compelling story, but the squishy premise doesn't hold up. Incoherence and gaps in the narrative are particularly jarring and troublesome in the second act. Annabeth Bondor Stone directs. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 5, $18. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.

Beirut: "Beirut" is the spiteful nickname given to a section of the Lower East Side of New York, where citizens who've been infected with an unnamed disease are tattooed and quarantined. Written by Alan Bowne. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 19, $20. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-469-9988.

Bitch Trouble: Stories About Friendship: Written and performed by Alice Johnson Boher. Wed., May 8, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 12, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 10, 8 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/316188. Cavern Club Theater, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-969-2530, www.cavernclubtheater.com.

 GO: Brecht On Brecht: A multimedia revue focusing on the work of Bertolt Brecht, featuring poems, songs and excerpts from some of Brecht's greatest plays, including Fears and Mysteries of the Third Reich and The Threepenny Opera. Conceived by George Tabori from various translations and directed by Alistair Hunter. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fri., May 17, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 18, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 19, 2 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 2 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9, $25; students and seniors $18. Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-556-1636, www.atwaterplayhouse.com. See New Reviews.

Cops and Friends of Cops: A morality play about right vs. wrong, with two cops, a bartender, and a man with a secret. Written and directed by Ron Klier. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $25. VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, www.vstheatre.org.

Colorblind: Tackling the racial issues of the United States, this drama follows the life of controversial spiritual leader Mr Clinton Muhammad and his attempted assassination. An original play by Wallace Demarria. Fri., May 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 5, 8 p.m., $25. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-6963, www.anthonymeindl.com/theatres.htm. See Theater Feature.

PICK OF THE WEEK:   Do Lord Remember Me: The words and songs of the last generation of Americans who were born into slavery, recorded during President Roosevelt's 1930's Works Progress Administration interviews. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 19, $25. Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-205-1617, www.chromolume-theatre.com. See New Reviews.

GO : Dreamgirls: Director Marco Gomez's mostly straightforward but pleasingly intimate staging of Tom Eyer and Henry Krieger's now classic Motown rock musical engagingly captures the ferocious ambition, passion and inevitable disappointments of the story of the rise of a girl band -- a tale whose incidents eerily echo the narrative of The Supremes. Within the comparatively tiny environs of a 99-seat theater, Gomez's production packs far more glitter than you'd actually expect to get into the space: The gorgeous Dreamgirls, resplendent in Michael Mullen's gorgeous 1970s diva gowns, sashay angelically in front of shimmery tinsel curtains. The show boasts many fierce performances, from Welton Thomas Pitchford's nicely creepy, soulless agent Curtis, to Jennifer Colby Talton as the deliciously icy Deena. As Effie, the sultry-voiced, but un-fan-friendly lead singer ousted from her group, Constance Jewell Lopez possesses a haunting voice and vulnerability, particularly during the production's nicely evocative show-stopper, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Although some performers' voices wear a little ragged by the end -- and Rae Toledo's ocstcasionally clunky choreography is sometimes a little awkward during the larger production numbers -- the pleasures of the show itself, under Chris Raymond's assured musical direction, are strong enough to sustain interest. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 5, domatheatre.com. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, 323-957-1152, www.themettheatre.com.

The Ghastly Horror Variety Show: Captured Aural Phantasy Theater blends pop culture and the absurd to bring vintage comic book horror to life. Wed., May 8, 8:30 p.m., $10. El Cid, 4212 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-668-0318, www.elcidla.com.

Groundlings Prom After-Party: All-new sketch and improv, directed by Damon Jones. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through July 6. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.

Hamlet: A fast-paced contemporary stage adaptation of the Shakespearean classic, directed by Cooper Sivara. Fri., May 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 5, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed., May 8, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 9, 8 p.m., $20; students and seniors $15. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-595-4849.

Hemophelia's House of Horrors: A horror-themed comedy and variety show featuring seven experienced comedians and their hysterical tales of the macabre, horrifying original songs, and strange puppetry. Conceived and directed by Dan Spurgeon, sketches and songs by Matt DeNoto, puppets by Jana Wimer. Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through June 8, $15. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.

Hot Cat: Exploring the mendacity in family dynamics, unrequited sexual yearnings, and mortality with a synthesis of dance and theater. Directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis. Text by Richard Alger. Also showing as part of the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through June 1, $25; students & seniors $20. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.

Kill Me: An abstract horror play, written by Scott T. Barsotti, which examines the fuzzy lines between belief and reality. After a horrific car accident, a young woman emerges from a coma convinced that beings from another dimension have made her immortal. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2, $20. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.

Mad Forest: When Eastern European Communism collapsed, only Romania spilled a lot of blood -- from soldiers firing on citizens to the Christmas Day execution of its husband-and-wife dictators, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. When familiar faces quickly regained power, Romanians wondered if the events of late 1989 should have been labeled a revolution at all. Mad Forest delves directly into that abyss, spinning history into parable via playwright Caryl Churchill's canny postmodern aesthetic. Part 1 sets the stage with tableaux of Romanian life under the secret police. Part 2 becomes an oral history of the violence, and Part 3 dramatizes the unraveling of hope, goodwill -- and, to some extent, sanity -- in the messy aftermath. Mad Forest, with its heavily expository nature, may not have stood the test of time as well as some of Churchill's other works, but its engagement with the impotent rage of those whom history treats as pawns remains on point. Director Marya Mazor stylishly wrangles her large cast and multimedia staging. (Mindy Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 4. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org.

GO : The Miracle Worker: There's always a danger of toppling into sentimentality when retelling a story as uplifting and inspirational as the saga of blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller and her tough, determined teacher, Annie Sullivan. Playwright William Gibson avoids that pitfall by emphasizing the humor in the situation, the stubborn cantankerousness of Sullivan (Tara Battani) and the animal desperation of the child Helen (Danielle Soibelman). These actors bring visceral intensity to the battle of wits and will that erupts when Sullivan attempts to civilize the wild child, culminating in the ferocious battle over the breakfast table. Silverware flies and crockery smashes as Sullivan fights to reach the isolated girl with nothing more than physical restraint and the sense of touch. Sullivan's struggle is even harder because she also must fend off interference from an over-indulgent mother (Catherine Gray), a willful, blustering father and a cynical, doubting brother (Tony Christopher). There's occasional awkwardness in the production, due to the difficulty of shoehorning a large, multiscene production onto a small arena stage, but director Thom Babbes elicits fine performances from the five principals. Designer Mark Svastics provides the handsome, flexible sets. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., May 18, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 19, $30; seniors $25; students $20. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.

Neverwhere: After assisting a distraught and injured woman named Door (Paula Rhodes), milquetoast office worker Richard (Bryan Bellomo) embarks on a journey that draws him into a fantastical, subterranean world beneath London. Neil Gaiman's Wizard of Oz-esque story promises a magical subculture of strange characters, terrifying beasts and exciting twists and turns, but director Scott Leggett's disappointing production delivers a meandering fairy tale and a series of quests that lack tension or genuine threat. The danger set up within each exposition-laden scene is resolved too quickly, before we amble on to the next mini-quest. Hot on Door's trail are assassins Mr. Croup (Ezra Buzzington) and Mr. Vandermar (Bryan Krasner) who, despite their dastardly deeds, are played too comedically to pose genuine menace. Several cast members are guilty of overacting, while most seem to be concentrating more on reproducing British accents than on clarity of expression. Michael James Schneider's cunning, stitched-together set feels underutilized. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 11, $25. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.

The North Plan: A dark, dystopian comedy by playwright Jason Wells, in which a ruthless splinter group seizes power in Washington and a bureaucrat for the State Department finds himself trapped in a small Missouri town. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, opening night $35; regular performances $25; pay-what-you-can Thurs. May 2 only. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. See New Reviews.

GO:  Our Class: A disturbing drama, executed by an accomplished ensemble under Matthew McCray's direction, Tadeusz Slobodzianek's Our Class deals with the alleged massacre of 1,600 Jews by their Polish neighbors in a small town in 1941. The multistranded plot builds around 10 individuals, five Jewish and five Catholic. It begins in their elementary school years, then presses forward in time, portraying how a few instigators help hatred, greed and cruelty to overtake the Polish townsfolk, culminating in acts of unimaginable cruelty against the Jewish minority. Casting a macroscopic net, Act 2 tracks the fate of both perpetrators and survivors as they struggle to get on with their lives using vengeance, repression and denial. One reason the play succeeds so well is that Slobodzianek's characters elude cliché. Heroism and wrongdoing manifest on both sides: A Polish woman of conscience (Melina Bielefelt) hides a former Jewish classmate (Kiff Scholl), a flawed narcissist who later becomes an Israeli interrogator who beats and tortures the accused in his charge. Despite its length and detail, the production stays compelling. Performances are top-notch, with Dan Via a standout as the town's crafty betrayer and twisted psychopath. As the Jew who escaped, Michael Nehring gives voice to the grief and consternation of appalled humanity. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 5, $14-$25. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.

Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers: A dark retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic Peter and Wendy that explores the original ideas and inspirations behind the iconic fantasy of Peter Pan. Written by Michael Lluberes. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 2, $30. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

Proof: This Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by David Auburn explores madness and familial relationships through troubled heroine Catherine, her estranged relatives, and her deceased father. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Fri., May 3, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 8 p.m. Continues through May 12, $25; students and seniors $10. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.

Shut Up and Dance!: A one-woman show written by and starring comedian/actress/dancer Stella Valente, in which she weaves together her love of dance, upbringing in Queens, and adventures in Argentina. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 30. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, 323-851-2603, www.workingstage.com.

The Size of Pike: A sharply comic, coming-of-middle-age story about friendship, identity and bonds among men. Written by Lee Wochner. Directed by Sara Wagner. Recommended for mature audiences. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $20. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-3259, www.movingarts.org.

Tomorrow: Skylight Theatre Company, Rogue Machine, and York Theatre Royal present Donald Freed's new play. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-03-21/stage/donald-freed-tomorrow-macbeth-george-w-bush/full/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 5, 702-582-8587, ktcla.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

GO : Slipping: Playwright-director Daniel Talbott doesn't make it easy for us. He tells his story in a defiantly nonlinear fashion, making multiple references to offstage characters we know little or nothing about. He explains nothing and ends his play with a non sequitur. But despite this obfuscation, he keeps us fascinated: He presents us with the puzzle pieces and leaves it to us to put them together. His central character -- one can't call him a hero -- is Eli (Seth Numrich), a seriously troubled young gay man. He pursues sexual encounters but fears real intimacy. He blames his mother, Jan (Wendy vanden Heuvel), for being unfaithful to his father, whom he loves but despises for his ineffectuality. He practices self-mutilation and, predictably, falls in love with Chris (Maxwell Hamilton), a self-hating homophobe, who loathes his attraction to Eli and transforms it into violence. And when Eli encounters classmate Jake (MacLeod Andrews), who honestly and forthrightly loves him, he sabotages the relationship. The piece -- the first work by the L.A. branch of New York company Rattlestick Playwrights Theater -- emerges as a hip, savvy study of emotional and sexual ambivalence, beautifully directed and acted by a terrific ensemble. Hamilton is particularly striking as the tragically conflicted Chris, who helplessly reveals his homosexual feelings even while strenuously denying them. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through May 5, $34; $15 seniors; $10 students, www.rattlestick.org/rattlestick-LA. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.

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.

Tis Pity She's A Whore: John Ford's classic tale about incestuous lust, forbidden love, and bloody murder is staged in a 1930s mafia setting under the direction of Miranda Stewart. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $15. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.

GO : Trainspotting: Director Roger Mathey and Seat of the Pants Productions return with a solid revival of their 2002 production about four lower-class Edinburgh youths prematurely entombed in a hellish world of sex, heroin addiction and violence. The story is based on the 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh (the source material for Danny Boyle's 1996 film) and adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson. Mathey sacrifices nothing in the way of raw, nausea-inducing moments in this outing (shit really does fly, and there is full nudity), and this time he efficiently uses a larger cast, with some actors taking on multiple roles. Justin Zachary returns as narrator-protagonist Mark Renton, who in spite of numerous attempts at rehab can't kick the habit. Also returning are David Agranov as Mark's close friend Tommy, who eventually succumbs to heroin's lethal allure; Matt Tully as Begbie; and Jonathan Roumie as Sick Boy. In spite of the dismal subject matter, Mathey unearths some necessary humor, a lot of it coming from Mark's often ironic, understated commentary. Still, at times the Scottish accents make it near impossible to understand the dialogue (Tully often sounds like he's chewing a mouthful of oatmeal). Jason Rupert's scenic design consisting of a platform that doubles as a home interior, bracketed by two graffiti-pocked walls, is suitably raunchy. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 2, 323-960-7785, plays411.com/trainspotting. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

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 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 18. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles, 213-745-6516, www.24thstreet.org.

Wolves: For a few minutes Steve Yockey's horror spoof -- pretentiously billed as a psychological drama -- shows literary promise. A narrator (Katherine Skelton) with an air of foreboding tells us about Ben (Nathan Mohebbi), a nebbishy guy from a small town who salves his loneliness with casual lovers, then freaks when they don't want to commit. When his ex, Jack (Matt Magnusson), now a platonic roommate, brings home a handsome "wolf" (Andrew Crabtree), Ben loses it big-time and the blood flows. Hinting at deep truths and dark revelations, the piece then segues into banal dialogue among three guys in a sex triangle. Anyone who's ever been caught up in a dating scene, gay or straight, could improvise this drivel. None of the performers rises above the material, including Skelton, whose storyteller assumes a grating simper. Designer Tim Swiss' lighting displays accomplished talent and Cricket S. Myers' sound is effectual. Michael Matthews directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 5. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com.

ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:

American Misfit: A 1950s sock hop is the unlikely setting for playwright Dan Dietz's formally daring but sometimes bewildering meditation on this country's foundational heart of darkness. Based on the grisly, real-life predations of the Harpe brothers (Daniel MK Cohen, AJ Meijer), who terrorized Tennessee's backwoods in the 1790s, this fanciful ode to both Tocqueville and Sun Records employs a rockabilly-fueled original score (by Dietz and Phillip Owen), irreverent impersonations of famous founding fathers (by Larry Cedar and P.J. Ochlan) and a somewhat politicized reading of the Harpes to argue that, for better or worse, civilization -- and America in particular -- finds its richest expression in its most contrary and disruptive discontents. And if Dietz's nomadic reasoning holds more water as political theory than as engaging stage narrative, the combination of Michael Michetti's fertile direction, Lee Martino's thrilling swing choreography, Ann Closs-Farley's vividly imagined costumes and Omar D. Brancato's four-piece band (fronted by a smoldering Banks Boutté) goes a long way toward shoring up the leaks. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 8, 8 p.m. Continues through May 12, $34. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, 626-683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com.

Astounding Zamora Sideshow: Zamora the Torture King and Doctor Odd star in this modern sideshow revival, featuring outrageous human feats involving beds of nails and razor-sharp swords. Fri., May 3, 8:30 p.m., $15. California Institute of Abnormal Arts (C.I.A.), 11334 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-221-8065, www.ciabnormalarts.com.

Billy & Ray: Widely considered to be one of the most influential film noirs, 1944's Double Indemnity is not only a masterpiece of the genre but also an artful example of how filmmakers were inspired by the Hays Code, the censorship restrictions governing Hollywood from 1930 to 1968. Drawing on the contentious partnership that produced the film -- director/co-writer Billy Wilder famously clashed with his first-time screenwriter, Raymond Chandler, who went on to feud equally furiously with Alfred Hitchcock -- playwright Mike Bencivenga's light comedy is a love letter not only to the movie itself but to classic Hollywood in general and creative ingenuity in particular. Handsomely staged and snappily paced by director Garry Marshall, the production picks up in the second act when Wilder (Kevin Blake), presented as a lovable scamp, and Chandler (Shaun O'Hagan), unfortunately drawn as pretty much a milquetoast, get some of their best opportunities to banter. (Mindy Farabee). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through May 5, Opening night $52-$57; Weds and Thurs $34.50-$37; Fri, Sat, Sun $39.50-$42; students $27. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank, 818-955-8101, www.falcontheatre.com.

Bullshot Crummond: A parody of a 1930s British sleuth movie, the dashing Captain Hugh "Bullshot" Crummond must save the world from his wartime adversary, while also winning the heart of a jolly nice young lady. Written by Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman, John Neville Andrews, and Derek Cunningham. Presented by Advent Theater. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1:30 p.m. Continues through May 19, $20; students and seniors $15. First Christian Church, 4390 Colfax Ave., Studio City, 818-763-8218, www.fccnh.org.

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 May 12, crowncitytheatre.com. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-605-5685, www.crowncitytheatre.com.

Dirty Little Demon: Joseph Le Compte's sex thriller. Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through May 3. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

GO:  Fragments of Oscar Wilde: Vanessa Cate's adaptations of La Sainte Courtisane, A Florentine Tragedy, The Nightingale and the Rose, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Salome. Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through May 18. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

Grimm Nights Vol.1: Hollywood: Grimm's classic fairy tales set against the mean streets of modern-day Hollywood. Written by Vanessa Cate, Matt DeNoto, Samantha Levenshus, Sebastian Muñoz, and Adam Neubauer. Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 5, $15. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

The Importance of Being Earnest: While the latest offering from the Banshees is surely earnest, director Sean Branney and the ensemble don't quite capture the delicate rhythms of Oscar Wilde's language nor the precise comic timing necessary to properly realize Earnest. The conflict between Jack (Cameron J. Oro) and Algernon (Kevin Stidham) initially misses the mark, as Oro is too congenial to delineate the contrast between the bachelors, leading Stidham to overdo the cheek a bit. Their dynamic soon recovers but it never finds Jack's stringent propriety, which provides the necessary foil to Algernon's antics. Andrew Leman's Lady Bracknell, while quite different from Dame Edith Evans' classic portrayal, comes into her own and continues the tradition of male casting for the role. Gwendolen (Sarah van der Pol) and Cecily (Erin Barnes) are pleasant and perky, but their claws aren't razor sharp in their classic tête-à-tête over tea, though Barnes' energy gives Cecily a youthful exuberance. There is brilliance in Branney's "set-change ballet" between Acts II and III, showcasing Arthur MacBride's artfully crafted set, but it's not enough to elevate a merely competent take on the classic. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 5. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 818-846-5323, www.theatrebanshee.org.

The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later: An examination of Laramie, Wyoming and its changes and adaptations since the murder of Matthew Shepard. Written by Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber. Also playing is the companion piece, The Laramie Project. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 19, $27-$35. The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, 714-777-3033, www.chancetheater.com.

Love, Sex, Violence, Etc.: A collection of five short works from playwright Helena Weltman, which promises to take its audience on a tour of human emotions emerging from the deepest tragedy to the funniest comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 5, $20; students and seniors $18. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com. See New Reviews.

Low Tech: Playwright Jeff Folschinsky's confused stab at an artificial-intelligence comedy juggles a number of potentially compelling ideas, any one of which might have powered the thoughtful and penetrating critique of global smartphone dependency to which his too-brittle, overly broad science-fiction satire aspires. The freshest may be the notion of a near-future, Siri-esque "neural operating system" that results in a romance between the technology's spokesmodel (Amanda Smith) and the humanlike cognitive avatar (Fuz Edwards) that exists only in her mind's eye. Unfortunately, rather than following its twisted sociopathology -- imagine Dr. David Bowman and HAL 9000 as lovers rather than deadly antagonists -- Folschinsky squanders the premise on lowbrow sight gags, sitcom one-liners and unearned redemptions. Director Chelsea Sutton only compounds those deficits with a two-note staging (shrill and loud) that abdicates any real wit or intelligence to costumer Ken Patton's canny, retro-future homage to sci-fi films of the 1960s and '70s. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 19, $18. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.

The Owl and the Pussycat: In this comedy, two polar opposites, would-be writer Felix and would-be actress Doris bring mischief and spark into each others lives. Written by Bill Manhoff. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 12, $20. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.

Sculptress of Angel X: This surreal but disappointingly choppy opus from playwright-director Zombie Joe is an attempt to explore that strangely thin boundary separating the creation of art from, well, the act of whoring out oneself along the boulevard. A mysterious, white-haired aesthete (Kelby Cross) spots a sexually voracious prostitute trolling her trade on the street and discovers she's actually the legendary artist Wyler Benoit (Melita Camilo), sculptress of a world renowned image of innocence, Angel X. Through a series of scattershot flashbacks, staged in director Vanessa Cate's awkwardly humorless production, we discover the cataclysmic road of excess -- hooker mom, loving but incestuous artist uncle, drug and sex addictions -- that led Wyler to her simultaneous life as artist and prostitute. Aytpically, Zombie's play is at its most engaging in the early moments, when the text and presentational style are ambiguous and open to interpretation. The underlying theme of gorgeous art arising from the chaos of sexual dysfunction is engaging, but midway through, the work adopts a more conventional narrative that devolves into glum, melodramatic cliché. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through May 10. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.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 May 26, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me: A story inspired by true events, about the horrors of captivity and unbreakable friendships. Three men are held captive in a 1980's Lebanese prison and are forced to cope with daily challenges, fear and uncertainty. Written by Frank McGuinness. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 2, $22. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.

True West: This 1980 drama puts a spin on sibling rivalry when two adult brothers experience the heavy burden of envy. Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Randall Gray. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 25, $30; seniors and military personnel $27. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.

Urban Death: Zombie Joe's Underground's horror stories. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through June 8. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

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

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: A hit musical comedy revival about the intelligence of young people. Book by Rachel Sheinkin. Music and lyrics by William Finn. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 12, $25; students and seniors $23. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, 310-454-1970, www.theatrepalisades.org.

Annapurna: Husband and wife actors Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman star in this drama by Sharr White, about two old lovers who reunite for the first time in twenty years. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-25/stage/a-pair-of-two-person-shows-one-starring-comedy-couple-nick-offerman-and-megan-mullaly-lt-em-gt-annapurna-lt-em-gt-and-lt-em-gt-years-to-the-day-lt-em-gt-reviewed/. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 8, 8 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., May 22, 8 p.m.; Wed., May 29, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9, $25-$30. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.

Assisted Living: A funny, touching look at interpersonal relationships, written and performed by husband and wife team Paul Dooley and Winnie Holzman. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 13, $45 opening night; $25 Fridays; $30 Saturdays and Sundays. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.

Blood Knot: Two brothers in South Africa, one black and one who passes for white, try to move out of the ramshackle village in which they reside. Written by Athol Fugard. Directed by Oscar and Golden Globe Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through May 19, $25. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast, Malibu, 310-589-1998, www.malibustagecompany.org.

Embraceable Me: A story of an abiding love that begins as a mutual appreciation between two high school misfits with a common interest. Written by Victor L. Cahn and directed by Ryanne Laratonda. Sun., May 5, 2 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 11, 8 p.m.; Wed., May 15, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 16, 8 p.m. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.

GO : Heart of Darkness: In his haunting, solo adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, playwright-actor Brian T. Finney navigates his craft directly through the work's core themes of madness, imperialistic exploitation and, well, the horror. Finney reimagines the story as monologue, artfully orchestrated by director Keythe Farley's psychologically nuanced and ferociously energetic staging. Avoiding the pitfalls of intrusive, radio drama-like narration, Finney and Farley offer a far more immersive experience -- one that is fraught with eerie melancholy. Finney, caparisoned in traditional 19th-century explorer's garb, at first plays the hero as a traditionally plummy, genially affable British sailor. But as his character's voyage up the dark river of the Congo proceeds, and he finds himself desperately interacting with the dangerously insane station chief Kurtz, the performer takes on the lunacy of his characters, creating a harrowing atmosphere with a stylized quality that almost echoes Kabuki theater. Set, sound effects and multimedia visuals are almost characters in their own right: Sibyl Wickersheimer's sole set backdrop, a series of three sails that fold in and out of each other, turning into walls at one moment and screens for contextual slides in others, is brilliantly effective. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 18, $35; students/seniors $30. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, 310-838-4264, www.theactorsgang.com.

I'm Not Rappaport: A new stage production of the Tony award-winning comedy by Herb Gardner, in which seniors Midge, an African American, and Nat, a Jewish man, meet in Central Park and develop a friendship. Directed by Howard Teichman. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-204-4440, www.picoplayhouse.com. See Theater Feature.

One White Crow: An investigative journalist is assigned to profile a renowned television personality and psychic medium intent on proving her powers. Written by Dale Griffiths and directed by Deborah LaVine. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.

GO : The Rainmaker: A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others -- her family and society -- have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots -- the kind of experience where you might say, "Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?" The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through May 19. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.

Raise Me Up: Playwright Lisa Phillips Visca's joyful and touching tribute to her parents and their moonstruck love story. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 19, $25; students, teachers, seniors, members of the military $22.50; children under twelve $15. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com. See New Reviews.

Rank: In Irish playwright Robert Massey's dramedy, the collection of low-life characters on offer proves that one needn't have an American passport to be a scoundrel and a reprobate -- the same sort of crooked sleazes may be found even on the Emerald Isle. Carl (Kevin Kearns), a sad-sack Dublin taxi driver with a gambling addiction, is in debt to local thug boss Jackie (Ron Bottitta), who has given Carl half a day to come up with the money he owes. When Carl's father-in-law, George (David Schaal), who happens to be Jackie's former underworld ally, teams with Carl to perform a heist, double crosses ensue -- albeit of the most predictable type. Like many plays from Ireland, Massey's piece possesses a distinctive verbal style -- the dialogue is meandering, sometimes lyrical, and full of wit. However, director Wilson Milam's drab production suffers from sluggish pacing, which exacerbates awareness of the narrative's often glaring logical flaws. Performances possess an intriguing intensity suggesting danger, but it's left to Bottitta's leering, blustering, Jack Nicholson-like mob boss to carry the show with his multidimensional personality. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 8, 8 p.m. Continues through May 12. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.

What the Butler Saw: A classic British farce about a naughty physician and his secretary. Written by Joe Orton. Directed by Ben Lupejkis. Starting May 4, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 26, $20; students & seniors $18. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-7519, www.morgan-wixson.org.

Years to the Day: A dark comedy written by Allen Barton about two 40-something men who have been friends for decades, and who finally get together for coffee after only staying in touch via social media. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-25/stage/a-pair-of-two-person-shows-one-starring-comedy-couple-nick-offerman-and-megan-mullaly-lt-em-gt-annapurna-lt-em-gt-and-lt-em-gt-years-to-the-day-lt-em-gt-reviewed/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 12, $25-$35. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-855-1556, www.bhplayhouse.com.

Yesterday's: Twelve actors and musicians star in this comedy about Candy, the owner of a failing Hollywood jazz club, who tries to keep her business afloat. Live music accompanies this original piece, created and performed by Theatre by the Blind. Written by Colin Simson and Lindsay Nyman. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 5, $20; pay-what-you-can on April 21 only. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, 310-656-8070, www.promenadeplayhouse.com.

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