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Stage Raw

Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a New Production of Sarah Ruhl's The Vibrator Play

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Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 5:00 AM
click to enlarge Johanna Strapp and Yael Berkovich seeking new adventures in The Vibrator Play - T L KOLMAN
  • T L Kolman
  • Johanna Strapp and Yael Berkovich seeking new adventures in The Vibrator Play
click to enlarge stage_raw_100x100.jpeg
A solid revival of Sarah Ruhl's Victorian-era satire of gender attitudes In the Next Room, Or the Vibrator Play is this week's Pick, as reviewed by Deborah Klugman. Presented by The Production Company, it plays at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood. Another solid revival, of John Logan's Red, a bio-drama about Mark Rothko, at Long Beach's International City Theatre, got appreciative words from Neal Weaver. Nods also for Short Stay at Carranor about a septuagenarian romance that "trades the saccharine for the bittersweet" at Theatre West, and for the kiddie-friendly puppet show It's a Musical World at the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre near downtown. See below for all the latest new theater reviews and for region-wide listings.

Feminism discourse is back on stage - perhaps not seen with this much nuance since Caryl Churchill's Top Girls and Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles in the 1980s. The play is Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn in a Playwrights Horizon's productions currently at the Geffen Playhouse. It's also the subject of this week's theater feature.


NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 30, 2013:

ADULTS, KEEP OUT!

click to enlarge Back Row (l to r): Obi Ndefo and Patrick Censoplano; Front Row (l to r): Ryland Dodge, Gina Rozzo Bishop and Jessica Stone - CYDNE MOORE
  • Cydne Moore
  • Back Row (l to r): Obi Ndefo and Patrick Censoplano; Front Row (l to r): Ryland Dodge, Gina Rozzo Bishop and Jessica Stone
This musical comedy by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo (with music by Matthew Wrather) comes with its own warning, right in the title -- and, unfortunately, discerning theatergoers would be well advised to heed the admonition. The show purports to take place in a land of make-believe, where several kids embark on a quest to an enchanted lake of wisdom. The issues here are not related to the execution -- DeCarlo's staging is lively and spirited, while the unusually likable ensemble of extremely fresh-faced and appealing young performers assay their parts with enthusiasm and genuine vocal talent. However, the play itself, a schematic and derivative fantasy tale couched in flatfooted dialogue and tinny musical numbers, is disappointing. The message of Rudie's play -- that young folks grow out of their childlike imaginative worlds --is by no means dismissable, but the clunkiness of the writing never allows the piece to succeed as either a genuine children's myth or an ironic adult tale. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Sept. 29. (310) 394-9779 x 2, santamonicaplayhouse.com. (Paul Birchall)

FRANK AND AVA

click to enlarge Steffany Northcutt and Rico Simonini - AMERICO SIMONINI
  • Americo Simonini
  • Steffany Northcutt and Rico Simonini
It's hard to imagine at this late date what new light a stage play could shed on the tumultuous, six-year, 1950s tabloid marriage of Hollywood icons Frank Sinatra (Rico Simonini) and Ava Gardner (Stefany Northcutt). And if playwright Willard Manus' two-character drama is any indication, the answer turns out to be very little. That's not to say that Manus' straightforward biographical survey isn't thorough in its chronicle of the pair's fierce ambitions, insecurities and appetites for both alcohol and marital infidelity, or what inevitably happens when that combustive combination is subjected to the unforgiving accelerant of wealth and celebrity. To that end, Simonini (who bears a passable physical resemblance to a 40-something Sinatra) and Northcutt capably trace the eventful outlines of the story, but neither Manus nor director Kelly Galindo's staging ultimately convinces in illuminating the mysterious charisma of the evidently rather venial couple or why we still care. Three Clubs, 1123 N. Vine St., Hlywd; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Sept. 29. hff13.org/1371. (Bill Raden)

PICK OF THE WEEK:
IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY
click to enlarge Johanna Strapp and Yael Berkovich seeking new adventures in The Vibrator Play - T L KOLMAN
  • T L Kolman
  • Johanna Strapp and Yael Berkovich seeking new adventures in The Vibrator Play
                                 In Sarah Ruhl's smart and pointed satire, it's not just middle-class Victorian women who are sexually clueless: it's their men as well. The time is the 1880s, and man of science Dr. Givings (Michael Oosterom) is using a primitive electronic vibrator to treat "hysterical" female patients, who depart reinvigorated and refreshed while his own unhappy wife, Catherine (Joanna Strapp), eavesdrops enviously in the adjoining room. Eventually Catherine summons the courage to surreptitiously invade her husband's office and discover for herself the pleasurable side effects of this pioneering modality. Directed by August Viverito, the play successfully extends well beyond burlesque, sporting shades of Ibsen while focusing on the struggles between the sexes, along with the loneliness, boredom and frustration of traditionally obedient women's lives. At first this production's opening-night presentation seemed stagey and less than ideally crisp, but it gathered steam as the performers grew limber and confident and immersed themselves in the story. Some of the most hilarious moments arise around Yael Berkovich's portrayal of Mrs. Daldry, a formerly weepy neurotic whose vocal responses to the doctor's treatment soar to operatic realms. By contrast, the play's most moving highlights are embodied in Candace Nicholas-Lippman's fine rendering of Elizabeth, the African-American wet nurse hired to breastfeed Catherine's baby when Catherine's own milk stops flowing. An honest working woman mourning the death of her own infant, she hasn't the luxury of the antics of the spoiled upper classes. It is she who enlightens the other ladies about the true nature of the sensations they are experiencing for the first time. The Production Company at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Sept. 28. (800) 838-3006, theprodco.com (Deborah Klugman)

GO:
IT'S A MUSICAL WORLD
Nearly three decades ago, this reviewer attended a production of The Nutcracker with his daughter, and was surprised how thoroughly enjoyable this "children's show" was. Similarly, while It's a Musical World reveals no surprises, the production at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a kick from start to finish, and there's even free ice cream after the performance. It's essentially a musical variety show staged in a large carpeted room with chandeliers, immense red curtains and lots of space for the kiddies to take a front-row seat. The musical selections are culled from country, pop, classical, R&B, rock and familiar musicals, and there's even a marionette from Azusa who sings an enchanting aria. Here is a universe of puppets of all shapes, sizes and artful imaginings. The costuming is an eye-catching panorama of colors and styles, and the puppeteers dazzle with their skills. On display are a troupe of clowns, some ice skaters outfitted in turn-of-the-century garb, a garrulous Eskimo, a burlesque chorus, a disco duet featuring "Turn the Beat Around" and a grand American finale performed with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; Sat-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Sept. 29. (213) 250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com. (Lovell Estell III)

GO:
RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN
click to enlarge Amy Brenneman and Lee Tergesen - MICHAEL LAMONT
  • Michael Lamont
  • Amy Brenneman and Lee Tergesen
                                                                                                The Playwrights Horizons production 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. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Sept. 22. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. See theater feature.

GO:
RED
click to enlarge Patrick Stafford and Tony Abatemarco - SUZANNE MAPES
  • Suzanne Mapes
  • Patrick Stafford and Tony Abatemarco
                                                                                                                                                                                       John Logan's Tony-winning play looks at the life and work of abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, a soldier in the art wars of the 20th century who helped to kill cubism and surrealism. In the play's now, circa 1958-59, Rothko (Tony Abatemarco) is feeling threatened by the new generation of Pop artists, including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, who seem bent on killing abstract expressionism. When Rothko receives a fat commission to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City's Seagram Building, he hires an assistant, Ken (Patrick Stafford), whom he works like a dog and treats with arrogance and irascibility -- but also educates along the way. Their impassioned debate covers a multitude of ideas, including the artist's need for a broad cultural background, the conflict (or symbiosis) between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, and Rothko's lifelong battle against depression. Director caryn desai provides an impeccable production on JR Bruce's soaring set, and she's splendidly served by her actors: Abatemarco eloquently captures Rothko's humor as well as his fervor, while Stafford provides an indelible sketch of the young man who's transformed by their association from shy nebbish to militant challenger of the Master. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 15. (562) 436-4610, internationalcitytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)

GO:
A SHORT STAY AT CARRANOR
click to enlarge Donald Moss and Lee Meriwether - THOMAS MIKUSZ
  • Thomas Mikusz
  • Donald Moss and Lee Meriwether
                                                                          Anticipating a reunion with her married former childhood sweetheart, Irene (1955 Miss America and Barnaby Jones actress Lee Meriwether) enlists daughter Shelby (Corinne Shor) to ferry her to the family's lakeside cabin, Carranor. The septuagenarian divorcee dreads Chet (Don Moss) will break off their budding emotional affair, while her righteous offspring bristles at a presumed seduction that could leave her mother bereft. Reality, it turns out, proffers a more complicated synthesis. Meriwether's performance offers the best reason to see this production: Her stately grace brings dignity to a portrayal that feels both effortless and fully realized. As her conflicted paramour, Moss has the tougher battle but achieves a remarkable degree of sympathy. The staging's major flaw is the unerringly wrong-footed Shelby, who alienates even her husband with her grating presence and relentless harping. Ultimately the hard-working but miscast Shor can't salvage the character from its structural problems: Shelby is supposed to be a dogmatic liberal, but her particular brand of rigidity plays as distinctly more red-state. Yet the narrative resists simplistic moralizing, and for a certain theatergoer may offer a refreshing take on life's final analysis. John Gallogly's direction trades the saccharine for the bittersweet, while Jeff Rack's cozy set complements the December courtship. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 29. (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org. (Jenny Lower)

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. 30, 8 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

Junior's Got Talent! Showcase: An education-focused youth talent showcase. Young dancers, singers, and musicians from the San Gabriel Valley will play before a panel of judges, as part of the Playhouse's Theatrical Diversity Project. Fri., Aug. 30, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 4 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. 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., $25-$35. 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. 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.


Prometheus Bound: A new production of the classic Greek tragedy by The CalArts Center for New Performance. The set features the use of a twenty-three foot, five ton revolving metal wheel, to which the protagonist, Prometheus, is permanently bound. Starting Sept. 5, Mondays, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 28. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 310-440-7300, www.getty.edu.

GO: 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. See theater feature.

GO: Red: John Logan's Tony-winning play looks at the life and work of abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, a soldier in the art wars of the 20th century who helped to kill cubism and surrealism. In the play's now, circa 1958-59, Rothko (Tony Abatemarco) is feeling threatened by the new generation of Pop artists, including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, who seem bent on killing abstract expressionism. When Rothko receives a fat commission to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City's Seagram Building, he hires an assistant, Ken (Patrick Stafford), whom he works like a dog and treats with arrogance and irascibility -- but also educates along the way. Their impassioned debate covers a multitude of ideas, including the artist's need for a broad cultural background, the conflict (or symbiosis) between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, and Rothko's lifelong battle against depression. Director caryn desai provides an impeccable production on JR Bruce's soaring set, and she's splendidly served by her actors: Abatemarco eloquently captures Rothko's humor as well as his fervor, while Stafford provides an indelible sketch of the young man who's transformed by their association from shy nebbish to militant challenger of the Master. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 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). 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.


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. 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.

Tone Clusters: A drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joyce Carol Oates, about an ordinary husband and wife who find themselves trapped under nightmarish attention when their son is arrested as the alleged killer of a neighborhood girl. The playwright will be present on opening night for a panel discussion after the performance. Thu., Sept. 5, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 12, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 19, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 26, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 12, 8 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.

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

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.

GO: Bob Baker's It's a Musical World!: Nearly three decades ago, this reviewer attended a production of The Nutcracker with his daughter, and was surprised how thoroughly enjoyable this "children's show" was. Similarly, while It's a Musical World reveals no surprises, the production at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a kick from start to finish, and there's even free ice cream after the performance. It's essentially a musical variety show staged in a large carpeted room with chandeliers, immense red curtains and lots of space for the kiddies to take a front-row seat. The musical selections are culled from country, pop, classical, R&B, rock and familiar musicals, and there's even a marionette from Azusa who sings an enchanting aria. Here is a universe of puppets of all shapes, sizes and artful imaginings. The costuming is an eye-catching panorama of colors and styles, and the puppeteers dazzle with their skills. On display are a troupe of clowns, some ice skaters outfitted in turn-of-the-century garb, a garrulous Eskimo, a burlesque chorus, a disco duet featuring "Turn the Beat Around" and a grand American finale performed with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. (Lovell Estell III). 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.

A Bright Room Called Day: It 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. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-5830.


GO: eve2: A new take on Adam and Eve, written by Susan Rubin, directed by Mark Bringelson. This time around, Adam and Eve work at a hospital morgue that has lost power in a massive electrical outage. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-15/stage/eve2-susan-rubin/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.org.

Frank and Ava: It's hard to imagine at this late date what new light a stage play could shed on the tumultuous, six-year, 1950s tabloid marriage of Hollywood icons Frank Sinatra (Rico Simonini) and Ava Gardner (Stefany Northcutt). And if playwright Willard Manus' two-character drama is any indication, the answer turns out to be very little. That's not to say that Manus' straightforward biographical survey isn't thorough in its chronicle of the pair's fierce ambitions, insecurities and appetites for both alcohol and marital infidelity, or what inevitably happens when that combustive combination is subjected to the unforgiving accelerant of wealth and celebrity. To that end, Simonini (who bears a passable physical resemblance to a 40-something Sinatra) and Northcutt capably trace the eventful outlines of the story, but neither Manus nor director Kelly Galindo's staging ultimately convinces in illuminating the mysterious charisma of the evidently rather venial couple or why we still care. (Bill Raden). Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1371. Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge, 1123 Vine St., Los Angeles, 323-462-6441, www.threeclubs.com.

GO: Groundlings Online University: See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-22/stage/groundlings-el-grande-coca-cola/full/. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. The Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.

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 Dec. 29. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.

Klepto-MANIA: A Night of Time-Travel, Bullfighting, and Love: Featuring two plays: The Arctic Circle, a new Brechtian comedy about Elin, a woman searching through past relationships, written by Samantha Macher; and The Matador, about a love triangle played out in the bull ring, written by Robert Plowman. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Studio Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, 323-463-3900, www.studio-stage.com.

The Miss Julie Dream Project: A surreal riff on August Strindberg's legendary heroine, Miss Julie. Mina, an actress eager to take on the celebrated role, finds herself in a nightmarish struggle with the character, as this time Julie refuses to accept her tragic fate. Written by Meghan Brown, Samm Hill, J. Holtham, Abbe Levine, Michelle Meyers, Tira Palmquist, Emily Brauer Rogers, Brenda Varda, and Kyle T. Wilson. Directed by Katie Chidester. Thu., Sept. 5, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 6 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 12, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 6 p.m. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-351-3507, www.sonofsemele.org.

GO: One Night in Miami: Although rooted in a historic event, Kemp Powers' period piece about a meeting between Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Malcolm X and Cassius Clay is less about these gentlemen per se than it is about the struggle of African-American men in general to deal with the ubiquitous racism that continually challenges their manhood. The play takes place in a motel room following Clay's victory over Sonny Liston in 1964. At 22, fresh off his triumph, the young boxer (Matt Jones) is both less scarred and less knowing than the others. He's also a recent convert to Islam, which raises the eyebrows of Cooke (Ty Jones) and Brown (Kevin Daniels) -- both alcohol-imbibing, womanizing, pork chop-loving hedonists. Well directed by Carl Cofield, the play heats up around the philosophical divide between Malcolm (Jason Delane) an ideologue and devout Muslim who scorns the White Establishment, and Cooke, a musician and player in the music business who's successfully worked the system for his own gain. (Sadly and ironically, both these men would be dead within a year.) Powers' perspicacious script gives the performers plenty to work with, and they make the most of it, bouncing off each other with savvy, skill and humor. Delane is excellent as an understated Malcolm, struggling to master not only his passions but his well-founded fear that his life is in danger. A charismatic Jones augments an intense portrayal with his gifted singing voice. Giovanni Adams and Jason E. Kelley add menace and levity as Malcolm's bodyguards. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

GO: Open House: An audacious real estate salesman needs to sell an overpriced house during an off season. Enter a seductive, mysterious woman new to California who senses that something wrong has happened in the house, in writer Shem Bitterman's third dramatic production at the Skylight Theater. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-01/stage/shem-bitterman-open-house/full/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.


GO: Point Break Live!: Creating a raucous, rocked-out party atmosphere by blasting preshow music (think "Welcome to the Jungle" at ear-splitting volume), the hilarious spoof show Point Break Live! offers super-soaked excitement in a grungy Hollywood nightclub setting. What do we mean by "soaked"? Let's just say you'd be wise to take them up on the $2 ponchos for sale before the show. The low-tech, seat-of-the-pants, interactive presentation of an abbreviated version of Kathryn Bigelow's slightly corny 1991 cop surf drama is further camped up by a fun-loving cast. The actor playing the central role of Johnny Utah -- memorably portrayed onscreen by Keanu Reeves in his "Woah, dude" stoner phase -- is recruited from among the dozen or so audience members who audition on the spot and are rated by the audience. The rookie performer then goes on to utter dialogue aided by cue cards. (Too bad opening night's guy was virtually illiterate and inexplicably prone to channeling Forrest Gump.) Utah's volatile detective partner, Pappas, is well played by Tom Fugedi, though he would benefit from a bit more crazy Gary Busey and a bit less Chris Farley in his performance. Tobias Jelinek is excellent as the bizarrely spiritual crime boss/surfer guru Bodhi. The plastic ponchos offer protection from the barrage of water spray, blood splatters and -- uh -- other bodily fluids. Stupid fun. Booze available. (Pauline Adamek). Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-466-6111, www.thedragonfly.com.

GO: Rebecca's Gamble: Issues of science, medical ethics and criminal law propel Art Shulman and Robert Begam's provocative courtroom drama. Director Rick Walters has transformed this small venue into a courtroom interior surrounded by audience members, some of whom render a verdict at play's end. The site-specific setting is used to good effect. The accused, Dr. Rebecca Adler (Diane Linder), is charged with murder for her part in the cryonic disposal of her terminally ill patient. Counsel for the defense is Joe Purcell (Randy Vasquez), while the state is represented by Scott Novak (Jerry Weil), with Judge Dale Fox (Henry Holden) presiding. The format follows the procedures of a real court proceeding: Witnesses are called, testimony is given, cross-examination is allowed and a verdict is rendered. There are even a number of emotional outbursts, which are a bit overworked. The compelling thing about this thoughtfully written script is that it explores in detail some topical scientific, ethical and legal subjects that are easily grasped. Cast performances, on balance, are quite good, notwithstanding a few glaring instances of botched lines. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 1. Theatrecraft Playhouse, 7505 1/2 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-876-1100.

GO: A Short Stay at Carranor: Anticipating a reunion with her married former childhood sweetheart, Irene (1955 Miss America and Barnaby Jones actress Lee Meriwether) enlists daughter Shelby (Corinne Shor) to ferry her to the family's lakeside cabin, Carranor. The septuagenarian divorcee dreads Chet (Don Moss) will break off their budding emotional affair, while her righteous offspring bristles at a presumed seduction that could leave her mother bereft. Reality, it turns out, proffers a more complicated synthesis. Meriwether's performance offers the best reason to see this production: Her stately grace brings dignity to a portrayal that feels both effortless and fully realized. As her conflicted paramour, Moss has the tougher battle but achieves a remarkable degree of sympathy. The staging's major flaw is the unerringly wrong-footed Shelby, who alienates even her husband with her grating presence and relentless harping. Ultimately the hard-working but miscast Shor can't salvage the character from its structural problems: Shelby is supposed to be a dogmatic liberal, but her particular brand of rigidity plays as distinctly more red-state. Yet the narrative resists simplistic moralizing, and for a certain theatergoer may offer a refreshing take on life's final analysis. John Gallogly's direction trades the saccharine for the bittersweet, while Jeff Rack's cozy set complements the December courtship. (Jenny Lower). 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.

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.

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.

ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:

GO: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: This polished and entertaining adaptation of Mark Twain's coming-of-age classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a rare case of family entertainment done well. Skillfully directed by Aaron Lyons from a streamlined narrative by Laura Eason, the story tracks the transformation of title character Tom (Mike Rosenbaum) from mischievous kid to thoughtful youth, a metamorphosis that takes place after he confronts the villainous Injun Joe (Brandon Karrer) and saves an innocent man from hanging. Infused with a wistful (but not weepy) ambience brought on by effective music and sound (music coordinators Jeff Doba and Jennifer Zahlit), the production benefits from a versatile ensemble, adept at communicating the human truth within their characters despite the piece's larger-than-life style of storytelling. Among these are Sierra Campbell-Unsoeld as a tender, temperamental Becky; Jason Thomas as Tom's seasoned buddy, Huck Finn; and Karrer, who does triple duty as strict schoolmaster, sanctimonious preacher and dastardly bad guy. Katie Hotchkiss as a schoolmarmish Aunt Polly and Cameron Miller as Tom's more decorous brother wield nuance nicely. As Tom, however, Rosenbaum needs to rein in some of his goofy mannerisms, which don't always ring true. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. & 2:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 7. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.

Auto Parts: A theater piece consisting of four interrelated "parts" which are presented in an order selected by the audience before each show; the narrative line is never the same twice. Written and directed by Steve Stajich. Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, 626-441-5977, www.fremontcentretheatre.com.

GO: Captain Dan Dixon vs. The Moth Sluts From the Fifth Dimension: A nicely acted, crisply directed and neatly written piece of 1950s sci-fi comedy, featuring nearly naked, green-painted, go-go-dancing space aliens -- what's not to love?! Playwright Matthew Sklar stars as Captain Dan Dixon in his creature-feature retro romp through space. Panels of switches, buttons and analog meters signify the interior of a spacecraft as he and his crew of seven rockets into the fifth dimension, causing a purring, whirring sextet of moth-like minxes to materialize. Clad in teeny, gold-lamé hot pants, white go-go boots and pasties, the jiggling, shimmying erotic powers of the Vulvulans gradually infect the brains of almost all on board. The only person apparently immune is Dr. Canigulus (incisively portrayed by Jonica Patella), the ship's brainiac -- thanks to her massive, mutant cerebellum. It's up to her to decipher the true intentions of these insectile invaders. Sebastian Muñoz directs his cast of 14 extremely well; all have fun with the rapid-fire '50s lingo, playing the trashy, B-movie sexploitation tone straight without overly camping it up. Jeri Batzdorff and Corey Zicari (also a blond-wigged moth slut) created skimpy costumes for the babes and Star Trek-inspired suits for the crew. R. Benjamin Warren devised the clever props. Gloria Baraquio is great as Urania, the ship's android and captain's concubine, unhappily ousted by statuesque moth leader Empress Syphla (a sexy and sinister Katherine Canipe). (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 14. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.

GO: Dancing on the Edge: Presented on Zombie Joe's Underground's tiny, bare stage, Dancing on the Edge borrows from the company's long-running spectacle of disgustingly funny horror tableaux, Urban Death, in that it consists of almost two dozen dancelets, all in under an hour. And though one ballerina gets shot in the stomach midleap, such glibness is tempered by a more mature investment in themes ranging from despondency -- "Hurt," choreographed by Carrie Nedrow and performed with spasmic rigor by JJ Dubon -- to jealousy to redemption. The recorded musical selections range from Nine Inch Nails to Debussy. The dancing styles are all over the map, from ballet to hip-hop, and the execution by the dancers is superb. (Steven Leigh Morris). 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. 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.

GO: In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play: In Sarah Ruhl's smart and pointed satire In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, it's not just middle-class Victorian women who are sexually clueless: it's their men as well. The time is the 1880s, and man of science Dr. Givings (Michael Oosterom) is using a primitive electronic vibrator to treat "hysterical" female patients, who depart reinvigorated and refreshed while his own unhappy wife, Catherine (Joanna Strapp), eavesdrops enviously in the adjoining room. Eventually Catherine summons the courage to surreptitiously invade her husband's office and discover for herself the pleasurable side effects of this pioneering modality. Directed by August Viverito, the play successfully extends well beyond burlesque, sporting shades of Ibsen while focusing on the struggles between the sexes, along with the loneliness, boredom and frustration of traditionally obedient women's lives. At first this production's opening-night presentation seemed stagey and less than ideally crisp, but it gathered steam as the performers grew limber and confident and immersed themselves in the story. Some of the most hilarious moments arise around Yael Berkovich's portrayal of Mrs. Daldry, a formerly weepy neurotic whose vocal responses to the doctor's treatment soar to operatic realms. By contrast, the play's most moving highlights are embodied in Candace Nicholas-Lippman's fine rendering of Elizabeth, the African-American wet nurse hired to breastfeed Catherine's baby when Catherine's own milk stops flowing. An honest working woman mourning the death of her own infant, she hasn't the luxury of the antics of the spoiled upper classes. It is she who enlightens the other ladies about the true nature of the sensations they are experiencing for the first time. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 28. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 877-620-7673, www.secretrose.com.

The Pirates of Penzance: Gilbert & Sullivan's comic masterpiece. Sun., Sept. 1, 4 p.m. South Pasadena Library Community Room, 1175 El Centro St., South Pasadena, 626-403-7330.

Ready for the Storm: Written, directed, produced by and starring Randall Gray, founder of -- wait for it -- Stages of Gray Theatre, this world-premiere jukebox musical invites comparisons to another outsized vanity project: Tommy Wiseau's so-bad-it's-good film The Room. However, this misguided effort is unlikely to achieve similar cult status. When successful musician Bobby (Mike Callahan) and actress Jenn (Debbie Kagy) quarrel on their wedding day, Jenn threatens to walk. There the plot ceases, and their insufferable waffling proceeds against a karaoke soundtrack of ballads, pop songs and Broadway hits heavily weighted toward Wildhorn and Cuden's Jekyll & Hyde. No specificity shapes the set, inexplicably adorned with cast publicity stills, or the characters -- "Mom" (Lisa LaBella) never merits a first name, even from the man (Gray) who claims to love her. Despite earnest performances and decent vocals from the young stars (Kagy's voice is better than the script deserves), nothing short of a total rewrite can salvage this show. (Jenny Lower). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 14, stagesofgray.com. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.

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

Adults, Keep Out: A Merry Musical for Adults Only: This musical comedy by Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo (with music by Matthew Wrather) comes with its own warning, right in the title -- and, unfortunately, discerning theatergoers would be well advised to heed the admonition. The show purports to take place in a land of make-believe, where several kids embark on a quest to an enchanted lake of wisdom. The issues here are not related to the execution -- DeCarlo's staging is lively and spirited, while the unusually likable ensemble of extremely fresh-faced and appealing young performers assay their parts with enthusiasm and genuine vocal talent. However, the play itself, a schematic and derivative fantasy tale couched in flatfooted dialogue and tinny musical numbers, is disappointing. The message of Rudie's play -- that young folks grow out of their childlike imaginative worlds -- is by no means dismissable, but the clunkiness of the writing never allows the piece to succeed as either a genuine children's myth or an ironic adult tale. (Paul Birchall). Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.


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). See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-22/stage/groundlings-el-grande-coca-cola/full/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.

Hamlet: An all-female, multicultural production of Shakespeare's classic drama about the vengeful Prince Hamlet, produced by the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company and the Odyssey Theatre. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 12, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 18, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 26, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 2, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 16, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 24, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 27. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.

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. Continues through Aug. 31. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.

The Old Settler: The bonds of sisterhood are tested in this bittersweet comedy set during the Harlem Renaissance. Written by John Henry Redwood, directed by William Stanford Davis. Starting Sept. 1, Sundays, 3 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 27. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-204-4440, www.picoplayhouse.com.

GO: The Rainmaker: A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others -- her family and society -- have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots -- the kind of experience where you might say, "Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?" The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.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.

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