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New Theater Reviews

GO ALL MY SONS From its ominous opening tableau to its equally striking climax, director Randall Arney’s staging of Arthur Miller’s 1947 morality play is a superlative production. “To have sons, it’s an honor,” declares Joe Keller (Len Cariou), a man whose fortune was built from supplying parts for U.S. fighter planes in World War II. But Joe’s alleged war profiteering may well have dishonored the war service of his own sons Larry, a fighter pilot lost in action, and Chris (Neil Patrick Harris), who now works for Joe. The production is blessed with stellar performances from Cariou as Joe, whose outward likability masks a cunning businessman, and Laurie Metcalf as Joe’s wife, Kate, whose selfishly manipulative belief in Larry’s resurrection thwarts the budding romance between Chris and Ann (Amy Sloan), Larry’s onetime fiancée. But it’s Harris who is riveting as the conflicted Chris, whose once unquestioning love for his father, and by extension the country he defended, turns to aching disillusion. In Arney’s capable hands, Miller’s classic, even 60 years after its Tony-winning debut, remains a stinging indictment of unbridled capitalism and a clarion call for human decency. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; thru May 18. (310) 208-5454. (Martín Hernández)

THE BRIDE CAN’T STOP COUGHING The bride isn’t a smoker, but she is very, very nervous, walking and coughing down the aisle to the strains of “Ave Maria,” dressed in white (including the orthopedic shoes), at the tender age of 55. Writer-director-performer Linda Lichtman’s autobiographical solo show runs the gamut of good, bad and truly awful relationships. In college, she went to great lengths to create a make-believe boyfriend to impress her gals in her dorm. Her ruse is discovered, and her parents send her to a shrink. Tips from Cosmo aren’t helping — she repeatedly blurts out, “After we get married,” which causes dates to flee. She eventually loses her virginity to a sexy Jamaican gigolo, but not without feeling guilty. Despite a few flings, the 1960s sexual revolution leaves her lonely. During the 1970s, she hooks up with an abusive man who nearly crushes her spirit. Relocating to L.A. from N.Y., she meets the love of her life in, of all places, a Laundromat. Lichtman is very funny, and her playful interaction with the audience is a delight. But the self-directed two-act show could benefit from some trimming — several of the vignettes go on a tad too long. Actor’s Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 560-6063. (Sandra Ross)

CONVERSATIONS ’BOUT THE GIRLS What Eve Ensler did for vaginas, Sonia Jackson aims to accomplish for breasts. Like Ensler, her play is a series of monologues (mostly) spoken by a rainbow of women with a dishware store’s worth of cup sizes, and opens with a list of euphemisms for the body part in question. Jugs. Bongos. Melons. As Jackson’s one-act inadvertently finds, you can ascribe a lot of names to breasts, but it’s a struggle to ascribe that much significance. No question, breasts are truly awesome, but the short pieces tend to lump boobs in three categories: seduction, nuture or, most devastatingly, cancer. The stories that revolve around the latter are rich with the strength — and physical vulnerability — of women, just over 13 percent of whom can expect a diagnosis of the disease in their lifetimes, and Jackson’s exploration of its accompanying pain, anger and insecurities is clear-eyed and relevant. Still, it’s odd to note that in such zoomed-in, female-centered works such as this and Ensler’s, the ladies’ conversations always veer to men and what they think about women’s bodies, and it’s when hashing over cleavage for the third time that this testament to the genuine wonders of the female body feels, ahem, padded. McCadden Place Theater, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 14. (323) 960-4451. (Amy Nicholson)

GO EQUINOX Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, among the most important British painters of the early 20th century, were members of the much revered and reviled Bloomsbury Group. The Bloomsberries (as they called themselves) were a loose congregation of “advanced” writers, artists and intellectuals, including Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell; her sister, Virginia Woolf; homosexual biographer Lytton Strachey; and economist John Maynard Keynes. They rebelled against the moral, sexual and artistic rigidity of Victorianism to celebrate freedom, feeling, creativity and iconoclasm. Vanessa and Duncan were also lovers, whose indestructible relationship continued until her death, despite Duncan’s promiscuous homosexuality. Writer Joyce Sachs imagines a weekend at Vanessa’s country house, Charleston, in 1923, when Vanessa (a radiant Carolyn Hennesy) has sent family and friends away to be alone with Duncan (Robert Stephenson). Her plans go awry when noted mountain climber George Mallory (Ralph Lister) arrives, uninvited, to persuade Duncan to join him on an expedition to Mount Everest. The ensuing three-sided flirtation is pleasant, literate, amusing and bland in a Masterpiece Theatre way. There’s a great deal of talk and very little real action, but director Jules Aaron and his handsome, capable cast make the most of what they’re given, and set designer Tom Buderwitz superbly captures the shabby/elegant bohemianism of Charleston. Judy Arnold Productions at Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 28. (310) 477-2055. (Neal Weaver)

 

GO THE GOLDEN HOUR Set in Los Angeles’ Korean-American community, Philip W. Chung’s compelling play about faith examines what connects us to other people. Two young, attractive lawyers, Laura (Linda Shing) and Stephen (Ryun Yu), seem to be a perfect match. But when Stephen proposes marriage, Laura dodges his proposal, and her ensuing anxiety causes her to crash her car on Wilshire. Close to death, she has an out-of-body experience in which she can hear what the other drivers are saying, including a prayer uttered by an older Korean-American woman. After recovering from the accident, Laura decides to find the woman. Her search is successful in more ways than one — her initial visit to Hee Sun Park (Saachiko) interrupts the older woman’s suicide attempt. Continuing to visit the suicidal woman after she is released from the hospital, Laura learns that she is still mourning the loss of her only child, who was raped and murdered many years ago. Feeling helpless, Laura turns to her pastor (Eddie Shin) for emotional and spiritual support, fearful for Mrs. Park as well as for her own troubled sister (Rachel Morihiro). The actors deliver impeccable performances under Jeff Liu’s assured direction, and Chung’s smart and frequently humorous writing cleverly sidesteps the maudlin and the mawkish. Lodestone Theater Ensemble at GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 21. (323) 993-7245. (Sandra Ross)

A HOLE IN THE DARK The Rosehues are a white family whose patriarch, Desmond (Michael Adler), is a construction contractor suing to prevent the local government from awarding business to his longtime African-American protégé — and next-door neighbor — who has set up his own business. Desmond gets further grief in the form of two neurotic daughters (Robyn Cohen and Corryn Cummins) and a deafeningly altruistic son (Josh D. Green). The checklist of tropes in Hilly Hicks Jr.’s racial farce is pitilessly familiar. Dysfunctional white family — seen it; a long-suppressed “woodpile” secret that wraps up a meandering plot — been there; ugly suburban tract house set — lived it. What is it, then, that makes this production, directed by Darin Anthony, occasionally burp with laughter and simmer with potential? It could be the giddy shifts in history between the present and slavery times. Or it might be the powerhouse performances by Jodi Carlisle as the boozy Mrs. Rosehue and an antebellum plantation owner, and by Leonard Roberts as a female black slave who speaks in modern ghetto patois. Or it could be the sharp, Ortonesque banter that fills in the otherwise ponderous spaces between scene climaxes. Hicks’ play premiered in 1999 but still needs much work for it to be something more than an exercise in audience patience — a piece that could be Twilight of the Golds but now seldom rises above All in the Family. The Blank Theater Company at the Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 28. (323) 661-9827. (Steven Mikulan)

IDLE WORSHIP: Free Fanjul & Brandohead Except for fitting into the titular pun of “Idle” for “Idol,” these plays are far afield from one another in theme, style and, especially, quality. Free Fanjul was written by Dennis Miles for three male actors, but is alternating in rep here with a male cast and a female cast. The story is a frightening riff on those who fall in love with cruel partners — including those who become obsessed with death-row inmates. I saw the exquisite distaff cast (Julia Prud’homme, Jennifer Ann Evans and Cathy Carlton) who produce chills with the depth of their emotional and physical abuse. Director Kiff Scholl manages to happily exploit the few moments of comedy while staying true to the horror of these savage characters. Far from the painful eloquence of the opening play is Chris Danowski’s Brandohead, a sophomoric stab at Ionesco absurdity in which a giant Marlon Brando head (voiced by Phillip C. Curry) bursts into the bathroom of two hapless actors (Terry Tocantins and Michelle Hilyard). Both characters spout meandering diatribes, compared to which Brando’s scenes in Apocalypse Now sound like first-grade primers. Director Dara Weinberg makes a bit of sense with talented performers, but ultimately the event is simply irritating. Theater of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 27. (323) 856-8611. (Tom Provenzano)

 

IPHEGENIA IN AULIS Colette Freedman’s adaptation of Euripides’ classic opens with sound designer Jeanine Stehlin’s hypnotic sea echoes and lighting designer Derrick McDaniel’s auspiciously scarlet shadows. Alas, the magic soon fades. Under Jack Stehlin’s direction, the epic tale of Agamemnon (Thomas Kopache), the Greek general compelled to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia (Jade Sealey) to conquer Troy, assumes the hauteur of tragedy but not the humanity. As the tormented Dad, Kopache’s existential deliberation comes off tortuously cerebral. John Ross Clark, as Agamemnon’s splenetic brother, Menelaus, appears to explode on cue, leveling a powerful scene between the brothers to disappointing theatrics. The drama takes on more emotional substance around Strawn Bovee’s gracious Clytemnestra, convincing as both a queen and Iphigenia’s anguished mother. Jerry Goble also scores points for his understated Achilles. Freedman’s transmutation of the chorus’ speeches into contemporary rhyming couplets comes off as cute rather than clever or eloquent. Circus Theatricals at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 20. (323) 960-1054. (Deborah Klugman)

MY NAME IS EARTHA, BUT YOU MAY CALL ME MISS KITTY! Suzanne Nichols gives an impressive performance as Earth Kitt, in writer/director Sharon L. Graine’s musical tribute to this versatile and dynamic artist. Nichols tells of Kitt’s early life of poverty and deprivation in South Carolina, a vagabond existence in which she, her sister, Pearl, and mother lived hand to mouth, frequently enduring scorn and derision because of Eartha’s mixed-race heritage. It was an aunt in Harlem who rescued her from this abysmal existence, where, before 20, she was touring with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe, with her first big break coming in Paris, a period in her life when she was catapulted to stardom. Kitt’s famous run-in with Lady Bird Johnson is also related, which infuriated LBJ to the point that he had her blackballed from network TV, causing the singer to spiral into a deep depression. With Kitt’s trademark sultry, kittenish voice, Nichols sings songs such as “Thursday’s Child,” “Nobody Taught Me,” “C’est Si Bon” and “I Want to Be Evil” with disarming ease and versatility throughout the evening. KSLG Playhouse Theater Players at the Brewery Art Complex, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Sun. 3 p.m.; thru April 30. (323) 227-5410. (Lovell Estell III)

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE Playwright John Olive’s drama is set in the early days of radio, as the night of 19th-century pre-industrialism gives way to the dawn of the modern media era. In 1923, while passing through a Nebraska feed store, traveling radio salesman Leon (Howard S. Miller) overhears farmer David (David St. James) telling stories, and he offers him a gig yakking it up live on his shortwave radio station. David’s tales, told in flashback, consist of memories of his younger self’s (David Garry) adventures on the road in 1895, traveling with a free-spirited blind girl (Ali Burns) who became his sweetheart. Telling his yarns on the air has the unexpected effect of turning David into history’s first shock jock — fortunately without him having to play butt bongo, à la Howard Stern. Director Wendy Worthington stages Olive’s drama itself as a radio play, with sound effects being rendered by performers sitting on the stage’s periphery. Yet, with a stodgy staging that’s undercut by halting pacing and low-energy performances, Worthington’s sadly plodding production is less intimate and folksy than it is a disappointingly dreary trudge — it’s no Prairie Home Companion, that’s for sure. And, for a radio play, the show’s sound design is crucially uninspired — the low-key charms of many of the audio effects are spoiled by the fact that we can barely hear them. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Fri. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 769-5858. (Paul Birchall)


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