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Theater New Reviews: Tooth and Nail, Sarah Sarah, Canned Ham

BAD DATES During Act 1 of Theresa Rebeck's monodrama, Haley Walker (Samara Frame) seems to be an addle-pated fashionista with a passion for shoes to rival Imelda Marcos. As a single mother, she has parlayed her way into a job managing a restaurant (and money-laundering operation) run by Romanian Mafia. Mostly, she worries about her clothes, and her unsuccessful efforts to find a good man. (She's also struck by the resemblance of her life to Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce.) She recites a hilarious litany of disastrous first (and last) dates with losers: a pedantic Buddhist, a pompous law professor, et al. But Act 2 peels away the layers of her working life, which she manages with cleverness, hard work and spunk, outwitting the Mafiosi, and saving the restaurant. In an effective metaphor, she spends most for the early scenes applying makeup, and the latter ones assiduously removing it. Under the careful direction of Carolyn Howarth, a seemingly frivolous comedy is transformed into a portrait of a tough and resourceful woman. And Frame engagingly captures both aspects of her contradictory nature. Dan Mailley's wonderfully cluttered set is crammed with enough shoes and outfits to supply a Paris Fashion Week. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; indef. Produced by Lone Star Ensemble. (323) 960-5770, plays411.com. (Neal Weaver)

GO  CANNED HAM While performing at the Ahmanson Theater in 42nd Street, performer Tom Judson shot his first scene in a porn-film, under the direction of ubiquitous entrepreneur Chi Chi LaRue, and, at age 42, he became porn star Gus Mattox. But that was only one chapter in his long, varied career. He performed on Broadway in Cabaret, playing multiple musical instruments. He has written music for TV (Sesame Street), off-Broadway (Vampire Lesbians of Sodom), and film (Metropolitan), and acted off-Broadway as well. His is a colorful story, and Judson tells it here in his solo performance with infectious charm and self-deprecating wit. He's done time as a professional escort, which left him feeling more like a psychotherapist than a sex object, and he was nominated (and lost) so many times for a GayVN award (the Oscars of porn), that he was compared to Susan Lucci, till he finally won as Performer of the Year. Along the way he plays some Chopin on the piano, and tells us about his longtime lover Bruce, who died of AIDS. Under the tactful direction of Kevin Maloney, this is a sweet and funny show. The Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through May 16. Produced by TWEED Theater Works, Kearns Artist Services, and Chi Chi LaRue Productions. brownpapertickets.com/event/100513. (Neal Weaver)

EVA PERON: ENIGMA OF A DESTINY Though Angela Nicholas and Anibal Silveyra's new translation and adaptation of Anibal Aprile's original play aspires to, according to its press release, peel back the paint to discover Eva Peron's true colors, this is little more than a fawning, reverential homage to the much-adored, rags-to-riches wife of Argentinian President Juan Peron. The production, which touches briefly on young Evita's (Julia Szilagyi) destitute childhood before following Eva's (Angela Nicholas) journey from actress to first lady in Buenos Aires, attempts to integrate tango and music as a means of enriching the story. Unfortunately, while Zita Gonzalez's choreography is fine, the dance sequences are more disorienting than complementary. Worse yet, they feel like filler for a story that doesn't have enough to say. There's nothing inherently wrong with theatrically chronicling a historical figure's life. But if it has already been done, both famously and with extensive productions (Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita), a company should have something more substantial to contribute to the conversation before joining in. Anibal Silveyra, who stars as Juan Peron, also directs. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through May 16. (323) 667-0955. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

FULL DISCLOSURE The intriguing setup of Ruth McKee's site-specific play invites the audience to a real home for sale in a secret suburban location in order to enact the role of prospective buyers at an open house. We are greeted by overly eager, aptly named Realtor Sunny (Amy Ellenberger), who insists that shoes be removed or covered with booties. Sunny's over-the-top enthusiasm and pushiness (and plate of fresh cookies) is an auspicious beginning to what looks to be a participatory environmental theater piece. But the prospects soon dim into a long, seriocomic monologue about Sunny's complicated relationship to the house and its owners. The title does not refer to the problems of the home itself but to the annoying personalities who inhabit it. Ultimately the evening is an exercise in Sunny's self-pity, and audiences may feel that they've been trapped in an airplane with a seatmate who won't stop talking about her problems, all of which so obviously stem from her self-absorption, and who fails to recognize how her poor judgment and faulty ethics have been the cause of all her troubles. Sometimes a character's blindness is intriguing. Not so here. Chalk Repertory Theatre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m. 800-838-3006. In order to protect the privacy of the home's hosts, specific addresses will only be given at the time of purchase. (Tom Provenzano)

THE GIFT HORSE In his director's notes, Benjamin Haber Kamine points out that his is only the second staging of playwright Lydia R. Diamond's 2002 melodrama. That's not surprising. Rather than another production, this unwieldy, convoluted and rambling soap opera could have benefited from a second draft. Diamond, who has made something of a career out of dramatizing the emotional travails of the black professional class (Stick Fly), here explores its darker side in the story of Ruth (Ajarae Coleman), the daughter of a sexually abusive, offstage psychiatrist, and Ruth's lifelong friendship with Ernesto (Arturo Aranda), her gay, Latino college roommate. The play charts their sometimes barren and often bumpy love lives, first as Ernesto gets the raw end of a relationship with a sociopathic, Typhoid Mary of an HIV-infected boyfriend (Steven Koller), then as Ruth falls for her psychotherapist, Brian (Horace V. Rogers), as he plumbs the puzzle of why she can't bring herself to sleep in her expensive, Pottery Barn bed. Kamine elicits some fine performances, including Aranda's wonderfully nuanced, 20-year leap from timid freshman to trauma-tempered survivor, and Rogers' chillingly convincing turn as Ruth's stolid if unethical love interest. But a lackluster production design (Aviva Fersht's dual living room set, Austen Hoogen's lights) and a text top-heavy with un-actable narration, un-stageable scene crosscutting and overly cute audience asides all but annihilate Diamond's less-than-convincing moral on the redemptive power of unconditional love. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.-Mon., 7 p.m.; through May 24. (323) 851-2603. A See Kay Theatre Production. (Bill Raden)

GROUNDLINGS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT In a departure from the Groundlings' trademark irreverent, take-no-prisoner sketch comedy that made laughing as involuntary as breathing, this new show, directed by Karen Maruyama, is distinctly low-key and only funny in patches. The evening's biggest disappointment were the two improv segments that bracket the show, where comedians do routines based on audience suggestions. The absence of ease, craft and imagination was palpable. These failings were apparent in other sketch routines as well. "Caltech" has a crew of seismic scientists engaging in silly wisecracking and an overwrought spate of physical comedy and demolition derby with their chairs. "Next Step" finds Charlotte Newhouse and Scott Beehner as teenagers trying to get their sexual desires in sync, but there isn't much wit. A husband becomes vexed trying to relate to his wife in "I'm Listening," which is equally unfunny. "Concert Footage" is a pleasant surprise. After a Taylor Swift concert, Damon Jones, playing a P.R. guy, interviews and coolly insults members of the audience. Michael Naughton is still one of the funniest guys around, and his talents are evident in "Mirror Image," where a special software program allows you a glimpse of what you'll look like in the future, and "Animal Stars," where he is one of a pair of animal trainers. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through July 10. (323) 934-4747, ext. 37, groundlings.com. (Lovell Estell III)

OJALÁ! Jennifer Barry's play about a young, Mexican nanny (Claudia Duran) in 1960s Los Angeles helping a young affluent white woman (Lindsay Lane) care for her accidental child is best when it gets away from its cliché beats and delves into the fragile relationship between its two protagonists. A standout performance from Duran urges the play toward this, and Elizabeth Otero de Espinoza's direction favors the scenes of intimacy between employer and employee. But the plot definitely works against this, pushing the story toward disappointing melodrama. And Barry steps conveniently around the language-barrier issue, which could have helped layer the class tension supposedly at the center of this piece. The play's most beautiful moment is an interstitial that features three Mexican maids engaged in their repetitive domestic labor while one of them sings a doleful song in Spanish. If only the rest of the play could have been consistently as conscious of its theme. Casa 0101 2009 E. First St., East LA. Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 5 pm; through June 6. (323) 263-7684. (Luis Reyes)

GO  SARAH SARAH In playwright Daniel Goldfarb's family drama, the generation gap is not so much a gap as it is a gaping crevasse. In 1961, fearsome Jewish mama Sarah Grosberg (played by Cheryl David with battle-ax aplomb) invites the mousy fiancée (Robyn Cohen) of her beloved son, Artie (Patrick J. Rafferty), for tea and strudel, ostensibly so the two ladies can get to know each other but really so the possessive mamutchka can talk the girl out of marrying her son. As the intimidating matriarch tears into the younger girl like a glutton gnawing on kugel, it falls to Sarah's kindly housekeeper (Bart Braverman) to save the day with an unexpected revelation about his boss. Years later, Sarah's granddaughter Jennifer (also played by David, in such a different, breezy, open turn that she's almost unrecognizable) journeys to China to adopt an orphan, who turns out to be ill and possibly mentally handicapped. Goldfarb's play is mainly set dressing for David's splendid tour de force twin performances as the steely matriarch and her neurotic, insecure granddaughter, turns that are beautifully nuanced and complex. As Sarah, David depicts an immediately familiar type, who's as much a creature of her era as is the more immature-seeming, emotionally drifting Jennifer. Director Howard Teichman's deceptively simple production adroitly captures the mood and feel of two eras, exemplified by different body languages and physical behavior. Braverman is also deft in his two characters — he excels as Jennifer's supportive yet pessimistic father in the play's second half. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd, W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; , Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 27. (323) 821-2449, wcjt.org. A West Coast Jewish Theatre Production. (Paul Birchall)

GO  TOOTH AND NAIL The New Jersey hamlet of Weehawken is the site of the Hamilton-Burr duel, a fitting locale for a comedy where the characters are goaded to the brink of murder. The players are a long-married husband and wife (Gregory Mortensen and Melanie Jones) and their three daughters, all adopted as teenagers. The missus is a domestic dervish; he's sarcastic and near-mute. Gena Acosta's spry play follows the buildup to and fallout from a dinner party/baby shower for middle daughter Robin (Kalie Quinones) and stoner fiancé Hamster's (Aaron Pressburg) baby-to-be, with Robin's two siblings, estranged Dylan (Tara Norris) and bad-luck Rose (Catie Doyle) guilted into attendance along with their new gay neighbors, Michael and Julian (Scott Hartman and Michael Mullen), who have presented them with an atrocious polymer artificial bouquet. ("A space bush!" Jones exclaims.) Chaos is the play's main course, but the meat is dad's announcement that he's decided to stop his treatments for brain cancer. This is a play about the value of life fully — and loudly — lived, and as such, the mother spends the second act raging against the dying of the light by channeling King Henry II. Matt Gourley's direction is a little too hesitant to balance mania and meaning — each actor finds at least one moment to shine, but only Jones navigates the clashing tones: Her blithe chattering is gradually exposed as the desperate optimism of a woman aware she's held her family together by sheer force of will, and her subjects are rebelling. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., May 16, 7 p.m.; Thurs., May 20, 8 p.m.; through May 22. (310) 512-6030. (Amy Nicholson)