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Theater Reviews

Window of Opportunity (Photo by Craig Wadlin)

Window of Opportunity (Photo by Craig Wadlin)

THE BODY AND SOUL OF A CHINESE WOMAN Pro­moted as the story of a Chinese woman’s struggle for free­dom and self-realization, this antediluvian comedy instead represents a giant leap backward for women’s issues — not merely decades but centuries. Long past her ingénue years, Amy (Marilyn Zhu) nonetheless remains a bashfully intrepid flower of Asian womanhood, a naive immigrant torn between traditional familial expectations — marry a rich man and have babies — and unfocused fantasies of spiritual and sexual fulfillment. The opposing forces in her life are represented by an insufferably nagging aunt (Ho Jung) and a mischievous inner self (Corrinne M. Chooey) who eventually prods her into the spiked-heels-and-leather-pants guise of a wannabe lesbian who attempts to seduce her English teacher. The plot’s too-numerous-to-mention implausibilities are compounded by playwright C.Y. Lee’s (writer of the 1950s novel The Flower Drum Song) stilted dialogue and the production’s correspondingly hollow performances, under Peter Henry Schroeder’s direction. Zhu, a dancer with no professional acting experience, defines her role with squeals, pouts and simpers. And the between-the-scenes dancing — symbolic of Amy’s repressed yearnings — also lacks the requisite polish. Stella Adler Theater, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 22 (closing perf May 22, 3 p.m.). (323) 960-7744. (Deborah Klugman)

GO BRIGHT BOY This world premiere by Katy Hickman takes us into the idiosyncratically brilliant but controversial mind of Robert McNamara (Garret M. Brown). The play begins with McNamara’s arrival at Mills College on a book tour that coincides with a memorial service for Dean Rusk. While speaking at the service, McNamara collapses and during his ensuing recovery he traverses the pathways of history to face his inner demons. At the same time he strikes up a friendship with Helen (Keliher Walsh), the college president whose Vietnam Vet brother Howard (Hugo Armstrong) is after McNamara. In a parallel storyline, three coeds are protesting by digging a hole in the middle of campus, yet the connection to the rest of the play is frequently lost in the fog of war. The quasi-Brechtian style employed highlights political questions that remain relevant in light of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Laura Fine’s set design evokes the specter of McNamara’s mistakes through the ubiquitous presence of both filing cabinets and Vietnam-era camouflage. James Eckhouse’s direction creates rapid-fire scene changes that are executed with a precision worthy of McNamara himself. Brown and Armstrong give notable performances while Kim Chueh and Tracey A. Leigh demonstrate great versatility. Ensemble Studio Theater–L.A. at Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 7. (213) 368-9552. (Mayank Keshaviah)

GO EVERYMAN FOR HIMSELF Author/director/choreographer Ameenah Kaplan puts a new, personal spin on the tale of Everyman, brilliantly combining dance, spoken word, music, pantomime, Kali stick fighting, acrobatics, con­tortionists, aerialists and the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Everyman (mind-bogglingly agile Michael Gallagher), a Chap­linesque wise fool, is born out of a cocoon of red fabric, equipped with two tools: a map of the world and a book called The Law of the Land. Its rules are brief, cryptic and ultimately unreliable: 1) Take It In, 2) Go With the Flow, 3) Trust Me, and 4) Mate and Propagate. Everyman is joined by a large multitalented ensemble, virtuosos all, who represent the world. First clad in colorful Japanese masks, they become co-workers in a conformist, murderously competitive workplace, members of a semi-primitive tribe and, finally, sinister dark shapes in green neon spectacles. There’s also a woman (sinuous Vanessa Vander Pluym) who is both his partner and opponent. The hypnotically compelling score by Alex Wong, dazzlingly realized by musical director Blair Shotts, is mostly percussion, though steel drums and chanting add occasional melody. Strong design elements, including Kevin Whittaker’s spectacular lighting, complement the extraordinary precision and discipline of the cast. Silverback Productions & Oasis Theater Co. at Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 466-7781. (Neal Weaver)

GO L’EFFLEUR DES SENS Eurohunk Gregg oozes onto the large runway stage lip-syncing to the recorded voice of Joel Grey singing the title song from Cabaret. He is quickly followed by seven gorgeous female dancers who quickly prove that they are not only sexy but extremely well-trained in a variety of dance techniques. This odd but highly entertaining hour created by French choreographer Cati Jean consists of nine semi-erotic dance numbers set to mostly recognizable songs. The most amusing is a silly piece with the women in stiletto heals prancing to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” Other pieces are genuinely beautiful, particularly a number with the women in stretchable white shirts that evinces memories of Martha Graham and Mummenchanz. The most athletic event of the evening is Kate’s performance of an aerial act hanging on a bolt of seemingly thin red fabric — all to a quiet rendition of “Walk On By.” Part of the fascination of the evening is the venue itself — a huge open space with excellent sound and lighting perfect for both stage and disco. King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs., 10 p.m.; thru April 20. (323) 960-9234. (Tom Provenzano)

GO FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER Through the interpersonal and ideological dynamics on the Supreme Court, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s 1975 backroom drama takes a feisty look at the slow right turn that America has been making for about 30 years. A career dissenter, Senior Associate Justice Daniel Snow (Ralph Waite) keeps a cluttered desk, a backlog of one-liners and a bust of JFK on his bookshelf to help cement exactly where he’s coming from. Also, Snow’s wife is suing him for divorce for reasons of abandonment, which adds a smack of unneeded pathos, tilting the play into the corner of the favored boxer. His opponent is a new, conservative appointee, a clean freak and rabidly competitive tennis player who’s also the first woman on the bench, Associate Justice Ruth Loomis (Laurie O’Brien). And this play is really a study of their growing friendship. In a case about a pornographer’s rights, Snow insists that the government has no place dictating what kind of businesses people can run while Loomis plays the moral card. However, when it comes to a corporate exec alleged to have purchased patents for alternative energy sources for the single purpose of stifling alternative energy in support of the oil industry, Snow advocates an entirely more assertive role for government in the workings of business, while Loomis insists that the poor corporation should be left alone. What is decency and what is moral? the play asks. And what precisely is the public interest in both? Issues of a woman’s place, and the otherwise male court’s treatment of the first woman on the bench, render that aspect of the play as antique, but its other dynamics blaze through the decades with chilling pertinence. Allan Miller stages a handsome production with some powerful actors (including Kent Minault as the chief justice). On opening night, the main contestants were both fighting as much for their lines as for their beliefs. Maybe another week? Odyssey Theater Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (schedule varies, call for details); thru June 4. (310) 477-2055. (Steven Leigh Morris)

iWITNESS Franz Jägerstätter’s name may not be as familiar to students of the Nazi resistance as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s or Martin Niemoller’s, but Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol’s drama honors the Austrian as no less an important dissident for his refusal to wear a Wehrmacht uniform during WWII. Most of the play involves Jägerstätter’s (Gareth Saxe) last days in a Berlin prison, where a variety of visitors (psychiatrist, friend, prison guard and priest) vainly try to persuade him to escape the guillotine by performing some form of noncombative military service for the Third Reich. At first we’re impressed by this Everyman’s backbone and moral eloquence. After a while, however, the 105-minute evening, directed by Barry Edelstein, wears thin, despite Neil Patel’s viscerally stark cell set and Russell Champa’s gloomy lighting plot. Not only do we know the narrative’s ending and are not likely to be ambivalent about the Holocaust, but Jägerstätter has no worthy adversary — he stands on the high ground and has all the good lines. iWitness’ dismissal of blind obedience in the name of national unity resonates with both Sobol’s countrymen and the Taper’s post-9/11 audience, but this isn’t the same as making us think. A complex, flesh-and-blood figure would provoke us to ask questions, but all we would likely say to a martyr such as Sobol’s hero is, “You’re right! When you’re right, you’re right!” Center Theater Group, Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; no evening perfs April 18-21; thru May 21. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Mikulan)

JUNE BUG VERSUS HURRICANE In Erin Chandler’s autobiographical play, it takes a Vegas to corrupt a child, and a cast of 14 to tell what’s meant to be a solo show. Erin is a charming Southern girl who has led a largely rootless life, which here cannot be shaped into anything stronger than a mildly charming and entirely rootless two-act. Following her parents’ divorce, Erin and her younger brother, Chan, grow up flitting about from Kentucky (where her family is ex-gubernatorial royalty) to Las Vegas to Texas. It’s a life of booze, debuts and chaos, which Erin glad-hands easier than Chan, whose inner dial is set to self-destruction. The show’s professed intention is to figure out where his path went astray: Was it the casino suits he had for role models, his father’s bombastic shadow, or was it just a devastating combination of hard drugs and hard luck? But Chan is never more than a few scattered snapshots in what’s really a vacation video of Erin’s amusing but hardly distinctive life with its large swaths of inertia and over-emphasis on the sitcom-y local color of rednecks and dancers. Nic Arnzen directs. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 14. (323) 871-5830. (Amy Nicholson)

THE PLAYGROUND Writer/director Michael Justen examines the plight of homeless kids on the mean streets of Los Angeles in a grim study of deprivation, degradation and death, sometimes relieved by poignancy, hope and humor. The show, with rock songs by Gunner Wright, Beth Hart and Sebastian Sage, centers on a loose “family” of kids who hang out in Hollywood: Would-be pop-singer Sera (Erica Katzin) takes up with ruthless pimp Ash (Wright) and winds up a hooker. Sexually conflicted Hayden (Justen), who was molested by his father, attempts to rescue naive Florida girl Luka (Ginny Jones) till they too are recruited by Ash. Wistful hustler Brandon (Joey Borgogna) longs to hook up with Hayden, junkie Tori (Joann Socrates) is pregnant, and Andrew (Ian Kitz) cheerfully panhandles. Others include transvestite Angelina (Renette Johnson), street dancer Paulie (Michael Montoya) and guitarist Hunter (Sage). Justen’s intentions are good, and his script is well-observed and earnest, but the multiplicity of characters make it difficult to endow them with much complexity. The young cast is talented, dedicated and energetic enough to almost distract us from the familiarity of the situations. An 11:11 Experiment at Deaf West Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 6. (800) 595-4849. (Neal Weaver)

GO THE SUBMISSION The dramas of absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco are endemic with bizarre, eccentric characters, none more so than the preposterously dysfunctional family on display here. With their grotesquely deformed noses, petulant temperaments and foul mouths, they set upon the “normal”-looking Jack (Joe Fria) with vicious invectives and pitiful pleadings, all because the poor boy is, well, different. But his submission is not far off. Eventually, the besieged fellow caves in, first professing his love for “hash brown potatoes,” and, lastly, agreeing to an arranged marriage to Roberta (Allyson Kulavis), a woman with three noses and nine fingers on one hand. Act 2 finds the pair in a loving embrace three years later, with the family demanding reproduction, which soon follows with the stage inundated with eggs. Ionesco’s swipe at convention and conformity is cloaked in the meaningless and nonsensical, making it humorous as well as painfully baffling. Kristi Webber’s direction is brilliant, artfully balancing the physical comedy and adding some stylish directorial touches. And her choice of a playground set, designed by Steve Legawiec, complete with wading pool, swing, slide and proverbial white-picket fence evokes an atmosphere that’s part circus, part Twilight Zone. Ronda Dynice Brooks’ costumes are a hoot. Rounding out an excellent cast are Kevin Dulude, Stacey Jack Russo, Carol Katz, Bill McCormack, Frank Stasio, Ryan Templeton and Kelly Van Kirk. Zoo District at the Ford Amphitheater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; call for schedule; thru April 29. (323) 461-3673. (Lovell Estell III)

THE TREE Loosely based on a Shinto myth in which a tree spirit falls in love with a human, Peter Wing Healey and Linda Dowdell’s opera offers an incisive critique of suburban sprawl. Patty Grandy (Catherine Ireland) dumps her idealistic but poor husband, Frank (Mathew Edwardsen), in favor of slick developer Hank (Matthew Acuff). Mourning his lost family, Frank weeps beside a stately oak, eliciting emotion in the tree spirit. Warned by the council of trees against falling in love with a human, the oak tree takes the human form of Jessica Marie de Sappler Castlegrove III (Lucia Lynn, alternating with Khorshed Dastoor). Accompanied by Tolorosa (Marya Basaraba) and Bramble (Clint Steinhauser), Jessica assumes the role of a Canadian movie star to attract Frank. But as Hank’s plan to replace the old mall with an even larger mall gains momentum, Jessica’s world begins to collapse. Unfortunately, Act 2 becomes bogged down with too many characters: wealthy movie stars, youthful performance artists and crazed German architects. Nevertheless, writer-director Healey has an eye for stylish stage tableaux, and the stunning costumes, created by a team of individuals too numerous to mention, are nothing less than gorgeous. Los Angeles Theater Center, Theater 3, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru April 16. (323) 226-1230. (Sandra Ross)

GO WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY Peter Miller (Randy Irwin) is a business executive with a conscience. His boss, however, is not. Roger Sizemore (Matthew Kimbrough), rapacious CEO of a multinational corporation, makes WorldCom’s Ebbers, Adelphia’s Rigas and Enron’s Lay look like choirboys. Miller has that conscience tested at a weekend mountain retreat when Sizemore and his accountant, Carl (a suitably sycophantic Phil Proctor), court him to lead a fiscally dubious project. Add a sex scandal with a prostitute (Hollace Starr) that threatens to sink Sizemore’s chances to be named secretary of the treasury and Miller may be in just over his head. Samuel Warren Joseph’s dark comedy hilariously skewers a take-no-prisoners corporate culture that would do a cost-benefit analysis on human suffering and for which death may be more profitable than life. Under Billy Hayes’ direction Irwin makes a confident turn as the conflicted yet calculating Miller, but Kimbrough’s clichéd Sizemore should have a mustache to twist while dastardly menacing his “inferiors.” Meanwhile, other key characters Byron (Ty Granderson Jones), a profanity-spewing black pimp, and Maria (Roxana Brusso), a heavily accented Latina hooker, suffer from stereotypes of the ethnic persuasion. Still in all, Joseph’s snappy one-liners, Hayes’ adept staging and the play’s numerous twists and turns compensate for these foibles. The MET Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 14. (323) 957-1152. (Martín Hernández)