Neal Weaver enjoyed I'll East You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers starring Bette Midler at the Geffen Playhouse, and about the Hollywood super-agent Mengers. Bill Raden adored The Mystery Plays, an unorthodox and skillfully staged duet of holiday-themed one-acts. Also, Pauline Adamek praised the kid-friendly Peter and the Starcatcher at the Ahmanson.
See below for all of the latest new theater reviews and region-wide stage listings. The theater feature returns next week.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication Dec. 11. 2013
GO: I'LL EAT YOU LAST: A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS Bette Midler and Hollywood super-agent Sue Mengers have many things in common: both were self-invented, and both are marked by a large dollop of sass and brass, a mean wit and a knack for uninhibited, earthy language. So Midler was the obvious choice to play Mengers in John Logan's solo play. But Midler is not content to merely display her own qualities, producing instead a richly layered portrait, deftly directed by Joe Mantello. Logan invites us to an afternoon with Mengers at her lavish Beverly Hills home, circa 1981. She's ensconced on a sofa, in a voluminous blue caftan, her long blond hair swinging, with cigarettes, telephone, booze and plenty of grass on hand. She tells us about her birth in Germany, her family's emigration to the United States to escape the Nazis and her determined rise to power as the agent who represented everybody from Barbra Streisand and Gene Hackman to Cher and Nick Nolte. She's outrageous, gossipy, contemptuous of anyone who doesn't meet her standards, imperious (pressing an audience member into service to fetch her drinks), likable and, ultimately, sad as she realizes her glory days are over, and the world has passed her by. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Neal Weaver)
THE :NV:S:BLE PLAY
The office dork smitten with the comely gal in the next cubicle is a familiar comic setup. In Alex Dremann's strained satire, the unhappy swain, Colin (Trevor H. Olsen), has much bigger problems than the simple disregard he engenders from the willowy Fran (Jennifer Flack): He is literally disappearing! Once an active member of the editing staff of a publishing house for existential books, he's now invisible to his colleagues and utterly forgotten -- even though he can see them and react to their mistakes and misunderstandings. Dremann's clever twist on corporate dehumanization is muddied by glib (as opposed to meaningful) exhortations to personal responsibility and the facile insistence that love is the path to redemption. The writer's discerning theme outpaces his dialogue as well. Directed by Amanda Weier, the production is most entertaining in its second half when Flack, a skillful comedian, takes center stage as the oblivious object of Colin's ardor. As the smarmy dude on the make, Norm Johnson stays within the boundaries of sketch comedy, but his timing and physicality are pitch perfect. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: KURT WEILL AT THE CUTTLEFISH HOTEL
Director-adapter Paul Sand's tour de force of ferocious Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht lieder collaborations, Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel, boasts many of the trappings of a night of difficult theater: The venue, a shabby restaurant backroom at the end of the dodgy area of the Santa Monica Pier, is deliciously seedy, literally perched above the sea during high tide.The stage and all the seating are on the same level, creating dreadful sightlines. And, on the night reviewed, just before the show, fishermen on the dock below pulled up a dying baby shark, covered with tumors. How Brecht would have loved it! The revue consists of some of the great melodies of the Brecht-Weill canon, performed cabaret-style by an ensemble of sexy but sinister performers whose morally ambivalent attitude perfectly reflects the dark, carny atmosphere of the Santa Monica Pier after sundown. Whether it's the sensuously cruel turn offered by Shay Astar, who sings "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" with a cool, luscious voice that seems equal parts ice cream and razor blades, or the piercing vibrata of Megan Rippey's sweet but diabolical "Pirate Jenny," Sand's production, assisted by Michael Roth's dynamically evocative music direction, crafts rich and textured renditions of these wonderful, infernal songs. West End Theatre, Santa Monica Pier, 200 Santa Monica Pier; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 & 9 p.m.; through Dec. 21. thewestendtheatre.com (Paul Birchall)