Theater Reviews

Joe Tuner's Come and Gone

GO CHEKHOV AND MARIA Playwright Jovanka Bach paints a bittersweet portrait of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (Ron Bottitta) and his sister, Maria (Gillian Brashear), near the end of the dramatist’s life and at the height of his popularity. This throws into question Maria’s worth to her famous brother — at least in her own mind — especially since, at the age of 42, he has surreptitiously married Olga Knipper, a notorious coquette of the Moscow Art Theater. Maria feels that this marriage has left her abandoned in her older age. In Bach’s vision, the siblings seem like characters straight out of Uncle Vanya, tortured by the machinations of their own lost desires, and in the midst of a passive struggle to halt the inexorable advancement of obsolescence. Brashear’s portrayal of the aggressively self-sacrificing sibling hits poignant beats but loses ground somewhat in moments of both levity and sincerity. However, she plays well against Bottitta, who balances the Russian scribe’s worsening fits of consumption with a rambunctious jocularity. Director John Stark’s straightforward staging of his late wife’s play serves the nature of the piece well, but some distracting sound cues and confusing staging muddy a few aspects of the production. Nonetheless, the subject is fascinating and the play is deceptively remarkable, a bit like Chekhov’s own writings. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 9. (310) 477-2055. (Luis Reyes)

GO DIBUJOS DE NUESTRA FRONTERA (SKETCHES OF OUR BORDER) This series of vignettes, both humorous and harrowing, touch on various aspects of Latino life. Performers James Donlon (who also directs), David Guerra, Stephanie O’Neil, Carlos Orlando Peñuela and Victoria Ramos utilize several performance styles, from mime to clowning to movement, in enacting stories drawn from true experiences and developed jointly by the gifted ensemble. In a hilarious commentary on racial discrimination in Latin America, Guerra plays a director of telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas) auditioning actors for a new show. Despite the Spanish proficiency of the darker-skinned performers, they are relegated to servants’ roles while it’s the European-looking, Spanish-deficient actors who get the high-profile leads. The most moving work is a re-enactment of the 28 days Ramos’ aunt spent as captive of a brutal coyote (immigrant smuggler) in Mexico during her journey from Colombia to the U.S. The cast expertly portray multiple characters and even make inanimate objects come alive in this grim but life-affirming saga. A skit by Peñuela is an undercooked tale of conflict with his macho older brother, and director Donlon’s own mime work, exceptional though it may be, falls outside of the show’s larger theme. Fremont Center Theater, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru April 9. (866) 811-4111. (Martín Hernández)

GO JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE Set in Pittsburgh in 1911, the action in the second of August Wilson’s 10-play “Pittsburgh Cycle” unfolds in a comfortably appointed boarding house owned by Seth Holley (the feisty Gregg Daniel) and his amiable wife, Bertha (Lorey Hayes). The tenants are a colorful bunch: There’s Jeremy (Andre Jackson), a womanizing road worker; and Bynum (the outstanding Adolphus Ward), a shaman/healer with mysterious powers who defines a man’s soul as a “song,” an inner guiding music. The house is something of a way station for blacks migrating to the North, and when Herald Loomis (Bernard K. Addison)— a hulking, intimidating man filled with volcanic rage and bitterness — shows up with his daughter looking for his wife, aptly named Martha Pentacost (Adenrele Ojo), the shackles of the past collide with destiny and the supernatural. Like many of Wilson’s plays, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is rife with symbolism, the salient interplay of past and present, and razor-sharp dialogue. It takes a special director and cast to meld all these elements, and Ben Bradley does just that. Travis Gale Lewis has designed a beautiful set that evokes the time and place, splendidly complemented by Naila Aladdin-Sanders’ meticulously designed period costumes. Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 7. (323) 663-1525. (Lovell Estell III)

GO THE LION IN WINTER Twelfth-century Europe may have been brutally barbarous, but playwright James Goldman depicts the internecine battles over succession to the English throne as an elegantly witty chess match — or a clever game of “Gotcha!” The time is December 1285, and King Henry II (Jim Beaver) is holding Christmas Court. He has summoned his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Bridget Hanley), whom he has kept imprisoned for the last 10 years, and their three sons, Richard Lionheart (Yancey Dunham), conniving Geoffrey (Matt Richey) and rapscallion John (Adam Conger), each eager to snatch the throne. Also present are young King Philip of France (Jason Galloway) and his sister Alais (Kendra Cover), who is Henry’s mistress though she’s engaged to Richard. Henry wants young John to inherit his throne, while Eleanor is backing Richard. The ensuing battle mixes backstabbing, treachery, ever-shifting loyalties and brilliant repartee. Beaver is a virile, histrionic Henry, well matched by Hanley as his lovingly treacherous wife. Director Mark Travis, eager to emphasize the ferocity beneath the words, hypes things up with a knockabout prologue, percussion, animal sounds and meaningless tableaux on a faux Stonehenge set by Jeff Rack. If you can get past these distractions, it’s an engrossing production. Theater West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 851-7977. (Neal Weaver)

 

GO THE QUALITY OF LIGHT Set in the South of France in the hills above the Côte d’Azur, Richard Martin Hirsch’s bittersweet play tracks the relationship of an unhappy, 40-something divorcée, Claire (D.J. Harner), and a discontented younger man, Jack (Patrick Rafferty). Claire’s melancholy stems from the recent death of her son, who committed suicide rather than serve time in a juvenile detention facility. When Jack intrudes on her solitude, she rejects his romantic overtures, claiming she is unable to feel anything. Trying to escape his own demons, Jack is nothing if not persistent. Following some verbal sparring, Claire faints, and Jack assumes the role of caretaker, which leads to an awkward intimacy between the two. As their relationship unfolds, a painter (Steve Longmuir) discourses on art, and his words provide a commentary on the burgeoning romance. Snappily directed by Jo Black-Jacob, Hirsch’s play is witty and refreshingly literate. Harner turns in a superb performance, and Jean-Pierre Gillain and Margaret McWilliams provide strong support. Vincent Roca’s evocative set design unobtrusively incorporates slide projections. Act 2 could use some trimming, but that’s a minor quibble. Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theater, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 22 (added perfs April 2, 9 & 16, 2 p.m.). (562) 494-1014. (Sandra Ross)

GO QUIDAM Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil combines old-fashioned acrobatics and gravity-defying stunts with modern costumes, music and machinery to create a mystical experience that explores “the marvelous, the unsettling and the terrifying.” Eschewing both dialogue and pyrotechnics, the performers thrill the audience with unbelievable balance, timing and strength, creating visual poetry that transcends language. The show is structured as a series of acts that are loosely interwoven by the journey of Zoë (Letitia Forbes), who is guided through the realm of fantasy by harlequin ringmaster John (Mark Ward). In the dreamlike sequences, her Mother (Denise Wal) and Father (Steve Ragatz) periodically perform as well. Highlights of the show include “Diabolos,” which features young Chinese girls flipping, tumbling and dancing while keeping in motion large wooden spools that twirl on their strings, “Banquine” in which superhuman acrobatic stunts are performed by 15 Slavic artists, and “Statue — Vis Versa,” in which a man (Jerome Le Baut) and a woman (Asa Kubiak) create a balancing act that stretches the human body to the limit. Director Franco Dragone keeps the show impeccably timed and coordinated, while Dominique Lemieux’s costumes bring the characters to life in bold colors contrasted with haunting earth tones. Cirque du Soleil under the Grand Chapiteau, next to the Queen Mary, Long Beach; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; thru April 16. (514) 790-1245 or (800) 678-5440. (Mayank Keshaviah)

ROSSETTI’S CIRCLE Poet/painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Daniel Kaemon) was as infamous for his personal life as he was famous for his art. A drinker and carouser, he married the ailing Elizabeth Sidal (Amy Fitzmaurice), his ideal model, after a 10-year liaison. She committed suicide two years later. Guilty and grief-stricken, Rossetti placed the lone edition of his poems in her coffin, shocking society years later when he disinterred her to retrieve them. Well-staged and ably structured, much of writer-director Anne Hulegard’s melodrama nonetheless exhibits the cloying feel of a retrogressive female fantasy. Paradoxically, none of the female characters is especially interesting. Instead, Kaemon’s charismatic performance dominates the play, salvaging a first act whose dynamic turns on that gratingly clichéd dialectic, the good woman versus the tart. Far more interesting than the artist and his women is his symbiotic relationship with William Morris (Adam Smith), a loyal compatriot who financially supported him even during Rossetti’s affair with his wife. A lively Brian Graves lends skillful support as another faithful friend. The set (designers Hulegard and Graves) makes excellent use of the limited space. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 29 (call for Sun. perfs; added perf April 27, 8 p.m.). (323) 960-7792. (Deborah Klugman)

GO THE STONES Are adolescents as culpable as adults when an innocent prank turns potentially criminal? That is just one of the questions raised in Tom Lycos and Stefo Nantsou’s problematic yet compelling one-act drama. When 15-year-old bike rider Yahoo (Joe Hernandez-Kolski) and 13-year-old skateboarder Shy Boy (Justin Huen) playfully toss some stones off an L.A. freeway overpass, they accidentally strike a moving car’s windshield. The ensuing tragedy results in criminal charges for the two, with Yahoo seeming ambivalent, even proud of his dilemma, while Shy Boy is remorseful and tormented by the result of his actions. Even the investigating cops (played by the same exceptional actors) take opposing views and even quiz audience members for their opinions on the kids’ culpability. Sibyl Wickerscheimer’s ingeniously movable set pieces serve as skateboarding ramps, jail cells and detectives’ offices, and Paul James Pendergast’s evocative music and sounds accent the boys’ abject alienation. Yet, in adapting this Australian play to a city where the majority of “at-risk youth” are of color, under Corey Madden’s direction the boys are clearly portrayed as white. As such, the piece sidesteps any critique of a judicial system that incarcerates kids of color at a higher rate than white kids for similar offenses. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; thru April 9. (213) 628-2772. (Martín Hernández)

 

GO TALK RADIO “You’re a prick in the conscience of the country,” chirps a caller to shock jock Barry Champlain (Christian Levatino). Insult? Maybe — not that Barry would mind. He’s spent the last decade-plus fielding calls from the irate, the lonely, the rambling masses yearning to break free on his regionally popular, anything-goes daily talk show. And tomorrow, his caustic, literate, King Solomon-with-a-brewski act (one minute, he’s sounding off on the economy and the Indians; the next, telling a teary pregnant teen that, hey, it took two to tango) goes national. Which is a silver cloud with a very black lining, as more listeners means more suits wringing their hands over Barry’s kneejerk inability to make nice, and his character-assassin’s eye for the sourness in everyone. Eric Bogosian’s 1987 one-act (here confidently staged by Leon Shanglebee and his very fine ensemble) has the longevity and resonance of Sidney Lumet’s Network, and shares its ominous curiosity about media control, desperate exhibitionism and the dangerous distraction of fluff — demons that have only gotten stronger in these Dancing With the Stars days. In this incisive production, what lingers beyond Barry’s frustration is Bogosian’s whisper that the public can’t even place hope in our straight-talking iconoclasts, who themselves may have been commissioned and sculpted by hucksters looking to make a buck. Gangbusters Theater Company at Theater 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 960-7861. (Amy Nicholson)

VERONICA’S ROOM Novelist/playwright Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, Death Trap) has built a reputation for constructing clever suspense-thrillers, and here he mines the same vein, with decidedly mixed results. Susan (Sada Bagdonoff) and her boyfriend, Larry (Shane Callahan), are approached by John and Maureen Mackie (Chris Winfield and Diane Frank), who claim that Susan bears an uncanny resemblance to their former employer, Veronica, who died of tuberculosis in 1935. They persuade gullible Susan to impersonate Veronica in order to give peace of mind to the dead woman’s dying and deluded sister, Cissie. They take Susan to Veronica’s room, outfit her in Veronica’s clothes, and before she knows it, she’s locked in. The Mackies now claim she is Veronica, declare her mentally unbalanced, and accuse her of murdering Cissie. There are few thrills here, but there is suspense — if only of guessing how Levin will resolve his improbable plot. Director/set designer Shira Dubrovner provides a finely executed set and subtly conveys the growing menace, ably abetted by an excellent cast, with particular kudos to Frank. But ultimately, our emotions are harrowed to very little purpose. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theater, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 29. (818) 700-4878. Note: All roles are double cast. (Neal Weaver)


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