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Theater Reviews

GO A SLIGHT ACHE A quaint English country home is the locus of Harold Pinter’s 1958 one-act, a delightfully enigmatic metaphor for the class struggle. If they gave any thought to it all, Flora (Susan Priver) and Edward (Henry Olek), might consider their marriage a failure. Their loveless union has made them strangers in their own home, with a prim Flora finding solace in her garden while the priggish Edward, looking ridiculous in a safari jacket, repairs to his study to write “theological, philosophical essays.” Edward may bully Flora and she may seem subservient, but the arrival of a silent, disheveled and penniless matchseller (Shelly Kurtz) becomes the catalyst for a startling shift of power in their otherwise staid existence. Under Carol Ries’ fluid direction and on Joel Daavid’s meticulous set, the ensemble deliver extraordinary performances, especially Olek, whose transformation from pompous tyrant to quaking peon during his harangues to the silent stranger is outstanding. In one droll scene, Priver’s aptly named Flora brazenly blossoms with sexual longing for Kurtz’s matchseller, whose silence speaks volumes through his eyes, facial expressions and gestures. Throughout, the “slight ache” in Edward’s eyes causes him to clench them shut, as if to avoid witnessing the changes in his once dominant position. The Elephant Lab, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 30. (323) 960-7726. (Martín Hernández)

GO ARMS AND THE MAN George Bernard Shaw’s potshots at the pomposities of love, war and human nature in general can still hit the mark, as in this entertaining production, directed by Michael Murray. Set in fictive Bulgaria, this 1898 classic revolves around a tender-hearted drama queen named Raina (Dorothea Harahan), who fancies herself in love with a pontifical young cavalry officer named Sergius (Mark Deakins). Their relationship hits a snag after she falls for an enemy soldier named Bluntschli (Mikael Salazar), who by chance stumbles into her bedroom seeking sanctuary. A career mercenary, Bluntschli is as sharp and down to earth as Sergius is posturing and bombastic, with the contrast between the two men furnishing the platform for Shaw’s ironic commentaries. The plot moves pleasantly along until Deakins’ appearance midway through the first act, from which point the comedy ignites around his brilliantly quintessential blowhard. The remaining ensemble also deliver the comic goods, but Harahan’s pampered miss could use more layers, and a seasoned Abby Craden is miscast as the family’s alternately saucy and sulky maid, Louka. Also problematic is designer Susan Gratch’s spare, non-naturalistic set, which at times accentuates the performers’ seemingly random movements. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru May 20. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. (Deborah Klugman)

PIPEMAN ON THE MOON Drew (Joseph Bisoglio) is an artist who worships Radiohead; Billy (Keith Hamilton), a linebacker who’s never bothered to look beyond Top 40. Outside, they’d never have found themselves curled up in a cot together, but they’re inside (inside a hospital ward to be precise) and bedridden with cancer. One has it worse then the other, but in writer Hamilton’s quiet slow burner, they’d rather talk about Led Zeppelin and Drew’s crush on a hip but protectively distanced nurse (Annika Marks). As a teenager, Hamilton lived this story before putting it to paper, resulting in its honest determination to eschew histrionics for a hushed character study of two very different reactions to two very difficult diseases. Where Billy wants to shut out the world, Drew’s hurting to take more of it in — even the nurses’ grumblings about their lives outside sound like heaven. While it’s fundamentally impossible to avoid predictability in a tale of terminal illness, and director Casey DeFranco is faced with a few too many short, choppy scenes, the story’s unassuming nature effectively creeps up on the tear ducts — especially when Joanne McGee is on stage as Drew’s lioness of a single mother. Brassy and tender, in the final scene she reduced the audience to sniffles without making a noise. Fine set by Victoria Profitt. Hudson Mainstage Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 21. (323) 960-1053. (Amy Nicholson)

GO POONA THE FUCKDOG AND OTHER PLAYS FOR CHILDREN This latest offering from Sacred Fools is a bawdy, comedic romp through “the land of allegory and myth.” Jeff Goode’s play features a series of vignettes that are loosely tied together by Poona (Jordan Savage), a lonely canine who, in her search for “somebody to play with,” ends up serving as a sports hero, a spokesperson and, as her name suggests, an object of lust. Amid the sexcapades between Poona and The Handsome Prince (Michael Lanahan) are the storylines of the numerous other characters that populate this fantasy universe, including a talking shrub (Bruno Oliver), The Man Who Could Sell Anything (Eric Curtis Johnson) and a pair of aliens (Brendan Hunt and Andy Corren). While the play attempts to satirize a number of our political and social institutions, the numerous storylines and sidebars often get in the way. One of the highlights of the show is a chilling interaction between a child prodigy (Laura Sperrazza) and her Hal 9000-esque computer (Kimberly Atkinson) that seduces her into virtual-reality violence. Carlos Fedos’ set design evokes elementary school pageants of our youth while Adam Bitterman’s direction is efficient but not inspired. Sperrazza, Oliver, Philip Newby and Ruth Silveira deliver notable performances. Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 27 (no perfs May 5, 6, & 7). (310) 281-8337. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 

STITCHING Anthony Neilson’s subtly brutal two-character drama focuses on a young couple, Stuart (Dan Roach) and Abby (Lindsay Lauren Wray). They disagree about everything, both have been unfaithful, and both are experts at playing blame games, but now she is pregnant with his child. In the opening scene, they argue over whether she should have the baby. In the final scene, they decide to do so, in the hope that having a child will give them a clean slate and a new beginning. In between, we see what really happened. Their slates are not wiped clean, and they hold their tattered relationship together by playing out ever-escalating fantasies and sadomasochistic sex games, which eventually involve their child. The early scenes provide clever relationship comedy, and the middle ones are undeniably transgressive, titillating and deliberately shocking, but it’s hard to tell what Neilson sought to accomplish beyond sensationalism. The fractured chronology and dark hints about unexplained events lend it a portentous air, but ultimately it seems to be merely a slick exercise in Grand Guignol. It’s expertly directed by Don Stewart, and acted with cool precision by the actors, whose youthful charm and good looks only make it more disturbing. Ark Theater Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 4. (323) 969-1707. (Neal Weaver)

THE TEMPEST Director N.J. Smeets apparently feels it’s his job to make Shakespeare interesting — as if the Bard couldn’t manage on his own. He gimmicks things up, adding pop songs, employing three Ariels (Eric Hailey, Kathryn Gilbert and Lucy Bansley), and encourages his players to strenuously act out the surface imagery with little regard for internal logic or dramatic intentions. Lines sometimes become hard to grasp, even for one who knows the text. The able principals (Carl Crudup as Prospero, Katie Guman as Miranda, William Caldwell as Caliban and Adam Burch as Ferdinand) might fare better in a simpler production with a more coherent point of view. Smeets presents the text virtually uncut, even when cutting seems needed: Prospero’s speeches to the nymphs and shepherds have been retained, even though the characters they address have been eliminated. In the masque, the male Ariel plays Iris as vaudeville juvenile, while the female Ariels play Ceres as a cooch dancer and Juno as a whip-bearing dominatrix — odd attire for goddesses intent on solemnizing marriage. It’s possible to send up a script, or to play it straight, but doing both at once produces a mishmash of clashing tones, evoking little magic in this most magical play. The Met Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 30. (323) 957-1152. (Neal Weaver)

WIDE AWAKE What do you do when you’re raised in the tiny Sierra Nevada town of Oakhurst, and your father is an ex-Jesuit priest and your mother’s a former nun? Why, the obvious answer, in performer Jennifer Hasty’s case at least, is to create your own one-person show with philosophical undercurrents. Hasty’s solo effort is a tuneful tour de force lounge act, consisting of a number of fabulous covers of classic rock anthems, bracketed between some rather less successful monologues. Hasty’s voice is a rare and powerful combination of haunting folk subtlety, backed with a rich, near-operatic mezzo, and she brings unexpected depth to her all-stops-pulled renditions of ballads by Tracy Chapman, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks and even Elvis Presley. Sadly, though, Hasty’s accompanying monologues, which consist of rambling and surprisingly rigid discourses about morality, are not memorable. Staged by director Bob Koherr as quick-paced “confessionals,” these scenes are so guarded that they ultimately reveal little about what motivates and drives the performer. Instead, the passages possess an emotional prickliness that comes across as awkwardly lecturing — and the show contains a faint whiff of irony, particularly when Hasty follows a Dr. Laura–like sermonette with Janis’ raucous “Me and Bobby Mcgee.” Her irrelevant sneering at shows like American Idol is also unintentionally ironic as well, given that the production basically serves as one long American Idol audition. M Bar, 253 Vine St., Hlywd.; April 28, May 19 & 26, 8 p.m. (323) 856-0036. (Paul Birchall)

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