This week's theater feature takes a look at a pair of old-style sketch comedies -- one at The Groundlings and El Grande de Coca Cola at Ruskin Group Theatre -- and tracks their origins to vaudeville.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 22, 2013:
A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAYIt almost sounds like the setup to a Borscht Belt joke: A Freudian (Nicole Monet), a gay Reichian (Graham Kurtz), two Stalinists (Laura Crow, Mark Jacobson), a Trotskyite (standout Miles Warner), an artist (Erin Anderson) and an actress (Teya Patt) walk into a room. The Trotskyite says, "History repeats itself; first it's tragedy, then it's farce." The punch line to Tony Kushner's 1985 meditation on the irrational forces that negate humankind's march of progress is that the room is in 1932 Berlin, the tragedy is Hitler's rise to power and the farce is fascism's seeming recapitulation in our times. Director Jeremy Lelliott's lush revival has wisely replaced an original thread of Reagan-era editorializing with a series of militaristic dance numbers by choreographer Carly Wielstein. And while that pushes the piece closer to a sort of pedantic half-Cabaret, Lelliott's naturalistic pitch is unable to obviate the play's nagging and tedious tendentiousness. Coeurage Theatre at Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Sept. 15. (323) 944-2165, coeurage.org. (Bill Raden)
GO: GROUNDLINGS ONLINE UNIVERSITYWritten and Performed by The Groundlings, Groundlings Theatre, 7303 Melrose Ave., West Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; runs indefinitely. (323) 934-4747, groundlings.com See theater feature.
NAKED AND CRAZY/DEFENDING MEDUSA Part of the Loft Ensemble's first Solo Fest, these one-acts are a mixed bag of the humorous and poignant, themed around women's life issues and transitions. Naked and Crazy is a pair of hourlong segments by two performers. The charming Meghan Gambling opens with a coming-of-age yarn highlighted by memories of a clumsy first kiss, sexual escapades on a gravestone, shoplifting lessons from Grandma and losing her virginity to a man's bike. Gambling has a gift for impersonations, and she also plays a mean guitar and sings well. Sascha Alexander tells of an eating disorder and her unhealthy obsession with "thin." The script is sometimes digressive but she does garner laughs with her frequent musings about weight, fighting food urges, discussions with her long-suffering therapist, pole-dancing lessons and a hilarious ditty about a visit to the gym sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things." In Defending Medusa, Christina Joy Howard details what growing up was like as the daughter of a demanding -- and frequently demeaning -- Vietnamese mother and American father, and her quest to find her inner "goddess." It's framed as a "once-upon-a-time fairy tale," and is propelled by great writing and Howard's furiously energetic, heartfelt performance. Adam Chambers directs. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., dwntwn., Sun. Aug. 25, 9 p.m., (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com. (Lovell Estell III)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:
Citizen Twain: Val Kilmer's homage to the humor and deeply multi-faceted personality of great American storyteller Mark Twain. Written by and starring Kilmer. Every performance concludes with a talkback about the play, and Kilmer removing his extensive makeup on stage for the audience to see. Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 & 8 p.m.; Tue., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
GO: Merlin: The Untold Adventures: Begat of a demon, gifted with second sight and shape-shifting powers, the druid Merlin provides much of the momentum of the Arthurian legend. In the process of retelling the fabled wizard's backstory, playwright-director Ellen Geer has concocted a high fantasy with a strong antiwar flavor. The work's emphasis on meshing threads of pagan philosophy and Christian references -- with a side trip to mythical Atlantis thrown in for good measure -- can cause matters to become a little thematically and dramatically muddled. Yet Geer's brisk and buoyant direction makes excellent use of her atmospheric venue, incorporating a moody electronic ambiance alongside some elegant pageantry, thoughtful fight choreography and enchanting choral interludes. Lead Melora Marshall at times overplays her Merlin with a borderline cartoonish physicality, but it is a performance overall grounded in the epic earnestness and warm humor of Geer's text. (Mindy Farabee). Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.A Midsummer Night's Dream: A summer standard, this is the Theatricum's signature production of Shakespeare's wondrous enchanted forest tale of love, fairies, and the power of nature. Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
Rapture, Blister, Burn: The West Coast premiere of this new comedy, in which feminism's foibles are challenged among three generations of women. The ladies share their raucous and refreshing approaches to navigating work, love and family. Written by Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Peter DuBois. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.Red: John Logan's Tony Award-winning drama about an aging Mark Rothko and his studio assistant. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 5, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 12, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, 562-436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org.
The Royal Family: The work's the thing in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's gentle 1927 spoof of the Barrymore dynasty, which forms the centerpiece of Theatricum Botanicum's 40th-anniversary season. The venerable, oak-nestled venue's own founding family fills in as the board-treading Cavendish clan. Artistic director Ellen Geer slings Downton Abbey-worthy zingers as dowager Fanny, while sister Melora Marshall and daughter Willow Geer carry the torch as the next generations of theatrical luminaries. All three women nail the benign entitlement and cozy security that comes from knowing you're an institution, but the dated material may be more thrilling for its cast than the audience. More compelling than the distant Barrymores is the play's exploration of pursuing the creative life at the cost of domestic and personal stability. Director Susan Angelo wisely avoids interfering with her cast's marvelous instincts, but a tighter rein would keep us from sharing Marshall's bewilderment when the madcap pace proves too frenetic. (Jenny Lower). Sun., Aug. 25, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 31, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 4 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.A Short Stay at Carranor: A new drama about the enduring power of true love and the harsh realities of what it takes to make relationships work. Written by William Blinn, directed by John Gallogly. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
Taiwu Children's Ancient Ballads Troupe: The Paiwan tribe of the Taiwu village of southern Taiwan will perform ancient tales, rituals, and songs that have been passed down in the tribe for generations. Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, 213-680-3700, www.jaccc.org.GO: The Taming of the Shrew: The slapstick, or batacchio, which originated in the commedia dell'arte of 16th-century Italy, is a wooden device used to create a loud, smacking sound. So it seems fitting that in staging Shakespeare's contemporaneous tale of a headstrong woman who finally meets her match, director Ellen Geer plays its physical comedy to the hilt, incorporating slide whistles, drums and other noisemaking devices to punctuate the onstage pratfalls, fisticuffs and acrobatics. The choice is mostly effective, but it's Geer's vivacious staging of the battle between Katharina (a hilariously histrionic Willow Geer) and Petruchio (a charmingly macho Aaron Hendry) that makes the show. Their terrifically torrential tango is complemented by Petruchio's servant, Grumio (Melora Marshall), who delivers perfectly pitched Shakespearean asides and wordplay, showcasing both sides of the "wise fool." The remaining cast members, clad in Val Miller's gorgeous period costumes, admirably execute their roles as well. The play's conclusion, with its seeming support for the patriarchy (or is it to be merely taken as farce?) is a bit jarring. Nonetheless, this wonderful, sylvan hideaway, where 40 years ago its namesake founder created a haven for artists, retains its rustic charm and remains an excellent setting for a night of Shakespeare. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
The Baby: With its atmosphere of gleeful perversity, playwright-director Dan Spurgeon's adaptation of Abe Polsky's 1970s cult movie is so weird it will almost have your eyes a-bugging and your jaw a-gaping -- but that's frankly due to the strangeness of the source material itself. Mousy, spinsterly-seeming social worker Mrs. Gentry (Jana Wimer) arrives to inspect the home of single mom Mama (drag artist Frank Blocker), who is raising Baby (Torrey Halverson), a grown, exceedingly attractive young man in his early 20s, who sleeps in a crib, wails like an infant and pee-pees in his diaper with gleeful abandon. Mama, who has many secrets (not including the fact that she's played by a burly dude with a deep voice) loathes the nosy Mrs. Gentry, but the eagle-eyed social worker eventually reveals a few creepy secrets of her own. No one would call this cheeseball material anything more than trivial, but Spurgeon's often hilarious production boasts crisp comic timing and a delicious campiness. Wimer, resplendent in her hideous, beige, 9 to 5-esque officewear, offers a wonderfully deadpan performance, which is engagingly offset by Blocker's leering, bug-eyed turn as Mama. However, the standout is Halverson's unsettling infant -- he's the poster boy for the piece's atmosphere of escalating unwholesomeness. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31, www.thevisceralcompany.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies: For 11 years, Kabin Thomas was a popular and respected professor of music at the University of Arkansas, until he was fired in 2006, ostensibly for his frequent use of profanity in his lectures. Kabin, an African-American, also apparently offended Southern sensibilities when he displayed a photo of a lynching during a lecture on Billie Holliday and the song "Strange Fruit." His story is the subject of Joni Ravenna's drama, with the affable, burly Ernest Harden Jr. doing the honors as Thomas, portraying the character as equal parts inspired academic and street-corner rabble rouser. Subject matter isn't the problem here so much as lax structure and writing. Ravenna's script is primarily formatted as a series of casual lectures, sans questions, and the instructor tends to ramble. That's especially true in Act 1, while in Act 2, narrative gaps and the lack of coherency becomes a problem: The play chronicles Thomas' new life in Los Angeles, as well as his struggle with personal demons. Under T.J. Castronovo's direction, Harden's performance is satisfactory but not impressive. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15, plays411.com/beethoven. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, 323-957-1152, www.themettheatre.com.
Bob Baker's It's a Musical World!: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater continues its 53rd season with a day at the circus, a stop at an enchanted toy shop, and a visit to a teddy bear's picnic. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.Breakthrough: A new rock/rap musical about overcoming addictions. The story follows the lives of a group of young adults in downtown L.A. who are struggling with alcohol, sex and drug addictions. Written and directed by Dana Morris, choreographed by Steven Nielsen. Fri., Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 2:30 p.m. Art Share L.A., 801 E. Fourth Place, Los Angeles, 213-687-4278, www.artsharela.org.
GO: Eat the Runt: Playwright Avery Crozier and director Tom Beyer return to Theater of NOTE for more laughs with their raucous satire, which takes a flamethrower to social proprieties, workplace decorum and some sacred PC cows. The format hasn't changed since it was performed in 2010: The audience determines which role the seven performers are to play by drawing names right before the performance. It's a slick gimmick. The mise en scene is an upscale art museum during a job interview for a candidate named Merritt, who has flown all the way in from California. It isn't long before it becomes apparent that the interviewee is no ordinary job applicant. Her (or his) face time with staff members morphs into bouts of sexual harassment, racist caricaturizing, office backstabbing, gossip and even a brief discussion on anal sex and hemorrhoids. Things really turn crazy when another candidate pops up claiming that she or he is the real Merritt, causing a lot of confusion -- and laughs -- with a coup de grace involving religious ecstasy, speaking in tongues and a sacred foreskin. This is solid ensemble work, with the funniest performances, in the performance reviewed, turned in by Chris Neiman as a jittery, coked-out curator and Tricia Munford as Merritt 2. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 24. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.Heart Song: A middle-aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith is convinced to join a flamenco class for "out of shape" women which forever changes her life. Written by Stephen Sachs. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-30/stage/fried-octopus-bootleg/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
GO: I Am Not Mark Twain: Steven Cragg's award-winning solo show, about the story of a man's cross-country trip to have sex with an ex-girlfriend, during which he embodies the essence of Mark Twain. Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 29. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. See New Reviews.
Just Imagine: Although the wow factor is missing, aficionados of John Lennon probably will appreciate this tribute to the iconic musician, which juxtaposes renditions of his most famous songs with a narrative of his life. Lennon impersonator and lead singer Tim Piper addresses the audience in a confiding manner as he relates events in Lennon's life -- his troubled boyhood in Liverpool culminating in the death of his mother, up through The Beatles, his marriage to Yoko Ono and his transformation into a family man and spokesman for the counterculture antiwar movement. There are no surprises in writer-director Steve Altman's script, and watching and listening to Piper, an American donning a Liverpool accent, failed to persuade me that I was hearing the real McCoy. That said, Piper's backup band, Working Class Hero, performs well and provides an opportunity for those who wish to reimagine the legend to do so. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.GO: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: Judas on trial! Yes, in playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama, the man who double-crossed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver is tried for his treachery, with the case being heard in a magical courtroom somewhere in Purgatory. Fiery defense attorney Fabiana (Sarah Ruth Ryan), a recently deceased modern gal, seeks to get Judas (a nicely brooding Robert Walters) released from hell and takes it to the celestial court. Oily, vaguely sinister Prosecutor Yusef (Robert Paterno) summons a variety of witnesses to testify against Judas' redemption, but in the end, guilt or innocence actually resides in a desperate, and beautifully tragic, interaction between Judas and Jesus. Guirgis' text provides an often engaging exploration of all sides of the drama's theological issues, but the real pleasures are found in director Josh T. Ryan's vibrant, fast-paced production (a redo of the same producer's spring staging of the same play, at Victory Theatre). Lively and wonderfully multidimensional performances leaven the potentially dry aspects of the religious debate. Ruth Ryan's ferocious defense attorney and Paterno's increasingly haunted prosecutor are particularly adroit acting turns, but it's the impeccable comic timing and emotionally sophisticated work by Robin Michelle McClamb's wonderfully dotty yet theologically rigid Mother Teresa, Marc Erickson's terrifying Satan and Walters' inscrutable Judas that anchor the show. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 24. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Revelation: Playwright Samuel Brett Williams' comedy takes place during The Rapture -- you know, the day when God summons up to Heaven all the righteous souls, leaving behind the lustful, the angry, the greedy and the just plain doofy. Into this last category falls young Brandon (appealingly Everyman-esque Marco Naggar), a likable shlep who wakes up in a doomsday Manhattan where airplanes fall pilotless from the skies, cars smash driverless into walls and faces erupt with pus-filled boils. Joining up with his sultry next-door neighbor Rebecca (Zibby Allen, nicely ironic) for a crosscountry road trip in search of a way into Heaven, Brandon endures all sorts of biblical misadventures in an insane world. Many of the play's calculatedly wacky comic strip-like incidents become repetitive, but the ferocious pacing of director Lindsay Allbaugh's quick-witted staging keeps the story sailing straight along. Plus, Williams' writing is nicely black-humored, and the performances are sprightly, hitting a perfect note of creepy quirkiness. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., 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.
Tom Rubin: Success Guru: A one-man comedy by Tom Rubin that skewers and mocks a self-help seminar. Fridays, 9 p.m. Continues through Aug. 30. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-0383, www.complexhollywood.com.What Doesn't Kill You: An Evening of One-Act Plays: You'll Just Love My Dad, a drama about an estranged father and his daughters, written by Stephanie Jones and Peter Schuyler, with direction by Stephanie Jones; and It Feels Like Her, about a daughter's wish, her drunken mother, and their ultimate twist of fate, written by Bree Pavey and directed by John Sperry Sisk. Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.
GO: Blistered Hands and Bloody Mouths: Stage horror can be many things. In the hands of a master, it can tap the unspoken nightmares of an audience to power an allegory about life's dystopian realities. Then there's the kind presented here by playwright-actor Sam LaFrance -- a Grand Guignol thrill ride of ratcheting grotesquerie, viscerally shocking switchbacks and plunging moral depravity that has no higher ambition than to provoke screams and laughter. Don't worry too much about plot -- everything you need to know about the lowlifes who inhabit LaFrance's twisted Southern Gothic world is summed up by Valorie Hubbard (who also directs) in her priceless, opening rictus of terror at the news that Ray (LaFrance) has somehow escaped from death row and is planning a return. Ray's imminent homecoming isn't good news, particularly for his ex, Millie (Anastasia Charalambous), an unnaturally cool blonde who has been plotting her own escape back to her native London. If LaFrance springs his suspense on the early side and then tries to tie off too many psychological loose ends, the result is still an entertaining -- and literally jaw-dropping -- blend of spilled blood and the blackest of comedy. (Bill Raden). Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com
Dancing on the Edge: Denise Devin's theatrical dance production that explores beauty, laughter, tears and love within a sexy mosaic of movement. Directed by Denise Devin, featuring choreography by Donna Noelle Ibale, Randall Morris, Carrie Nedrow, Jade Waters-Burch and Cody Whitley. Saturdays, 11 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 21. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Fool For Love: Sam Shepard's drama about Eddie, a rodeo stuntman, and May, his lost love, whom he has found living at a motel in the Mojave Desert. Directed by Gloria Gifford. Starting Aug. 24, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.Greeks 6 - Trojans 5: Drawing on the traditions of ancient Greek comedy (masks, songs, a giant phallus) Chuck Faerber's mildly amusing farce is a zany rendition of the siege of Troy by a crack team of dimwits. Ten years into the Trojan war, the Greeks are still anxious to retrieve their abducted Helen from the impenetrable fortress city of Troy. A scheme involving a massive wooden horse is set into motion. Unfortunately, its hapless crew lacks a clue. Faerber has concocted a very silly if overlong doo-wop musical play full of daffy characters, such as Smegma (George Alvarez), a psycho killer; Mucilage (a very funny Matt Shea), an anxiety-crippled private who sees the horse gig as his ticket out of latrine detail; and Sgt. Acacia (Cheryl Bricker) a no-nonsense Amazonian leader swayed by lust. David Zurak is good as military leader Agamemnon, who adopts the disguise of Sargassus, a soothsayer delivering directives from the capricious gods. John Marzilli is very funny as tough-talking commander Megamanus and David Ghilardi is great in two roles. Perfs are strong; the laughs, insufficient. (Pauline Adamek). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8, plays411.com/greeks. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
Murder in Disguise: An interactive murder mystery presented by SanZman Productions Renaissance Murder Mystery Players. When a distinguished judge is murdered, the evidence points to a prominent lawyer. The audience ultimately must decide if the attorney is guilty. Sun., Aug. 25, 7 p.m. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.One Day Play: A full length play will be written, rehearsed, and performed in one day. Writers include Kerr Seth Lordygan, Caroline Marshall and Marnie Olson. Sun., Aug. 25, 7 & 9 p.m. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
GO: El Grande de Coca-Cola: This comic extravaganza, written by Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman and John Neville-Andrews and first produced in 1971, went on to become an international hit. Now the Ruskin Group brings it back, and to insure it retains its original comic glory, two of the original creators have returned: Shearman provides the direction and musical direction, and House reprises his role as the irrepressible emcee Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, presenter of "Parada de las Estrellas." But the Parade of Stars turns out to be just a gaggle of his enthusiastic but inept friends and relations, who gamely attempt to perform every act in the popular repertoire, including tango, hip-hop, magic, sharp-shooting, wire-walking, the high trapeze, Shakespearean recitation (in Spanish) and slow-motion combat. Inevitably, their efforts prove hilariously disastrous. It's a tribute to the inventiveness of the ensemble (House, Nina Brissey, David Lago, Lila Dupree, Aaron Jackson and Paul Denk) that the variations on this one joke never grow stale or repetitious. They are all skilled and exuberant comedians, but a special word must be said for Jackson, who brings a devil-may-care physical recklessness and a wistful, eager-beaver charm even to his slapstick. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. See theater feature.
Hook: The 30 Minute Musical: Director/adaptor Brooke Seguin's musical (with music by Seguin, Dan Wessels and James Lent) is an upbeat, if slight, production that boasts an ensemble of talented, energetic young performers who demonstrate engaging vocal skills and a high degree of onstage charisma. That's the good news: The bad news is that the play they've all gotten together to perform is a 30-minute adaptation of the tedious 1990s Spielberg gobbler Hook -- source material so mediocre it rarely offers opportunities for either sprightliness or camp. Seguin's droll production condenses the story into a crisp paced half-hour and peppers it with quick-witted, if easy, rhyming song numbers. Tom Lenk offers a spot-on imitation of the twitchy Robin Williams, in full midlife-crisis Peter Pan mode, while Daisy Eagan steals the show in her quirky turn as a seemingly nymphomaniacal Julia Roberts/Tinkerbell. However, even with the cast's best efforts, the material is so forgettable, almost all memory of the show evaporates like fairy dust after we've left the theater. (Paul Birchall). Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 8 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/435493. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 323-655-9232.Kitchen Witches: Performing comedy isn't rocket science. It's actually much more difficult, both to define and to send into orbit. Call it an aerodynamic balance of characterization, situation and timing É and about six weeks of rehearsal. So when director Ryanne Laratonda was forced to recast her two leads the day before opening, it probably was a mathematical certainty that, 36 hours later, this second performance of playwright Caroline Smith's 2003 cable-access cooking show satire would be the stage equivalent of the Challenger disaster. That's not to say that the efforts of replacement stars (and courageous troupers) Madeleine Drake and Adriana Bate won't eventually cohere into something more than a cold stumble-through. It's more that it's a pointless injustice to actors, audience and play alike to open a production with its stars still on book and having not yet discovered any rhythms or nuances that might add up to laughs. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
A View From the Bridge: Many consider Arthur Miller's dramas moral tragedies, but you also can think of them as mysteries, as their narratives contain events whose true meaning only becomes clear at the end. Longshoreman Eddie (Vince Melocchi) is a salt-of-the-earth type who thinks he's doing a good deed when he lets a pair of his wife's distant cousins, both illegal immigrants from the old country, move in with his family. He soon has reason to rue this decision, though, as his lovely niece, Catherine (Lisa Cirincione), falls in love with the more handsome of the two cousins, Rodolpho (Jeff Lorch) -- and Eddie is destroyed by his own inexplicably over-the-top jealousy. This is a mostly powerful, admirably straightforward production by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, which stumbles slightly during the clumsy, frenetically staged final sequence. The production is anchored by Melocchi's nicely gruff Eddie, whose turn suggests a character swept along by passions he lacks the articulacy to express. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.