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Theater Reviews

GO THE BLACK RIDER: THE CASTING OF THE MAGIC BULLETS Robert Wilson’s 1990 “musical fable” reimagines the German folktale on which Weber’s opera, Der Freischütz, is based, as a kind of Expressionist carnival. His backdrops’ woodcut texture and actors’ Caligari-pallor makeup also suggest an old UFA horror film. In a mythic forest, a clerk (Matt McGrath) must win a shooting contest to secure marriage to his sweetheart (Mary Margaret O’Hara), while a Mephistopholean figure named Pegleg (Vance Avery) obligingly offers some magic bullets. From this point onward, a village of bizarre characters (think Beetle Juice cast by Clive Barker) begin behaving badly, with no one acting remotely sympathetic. As a postmodern scenarist, Wilson shows himself to be in top form, creating indelible images (especially human faces) and splashes of antic sound effects. Yet the evening is needlessly long and isn’t about anything — serving as another expensive example of art for artists. Still, as entertainment, The Black Rider has much to offer, including an outstanding cast that is completely in tune with Wilson’s vision. Tom Waits’ score, a mix of klezmer, calliope and blues, and his woozy, boozy romantic ballads (with their singers sometimes mimicking Waits’ signature growl), nicely clash against the deadpan cynicism of William S. Burroughs’ startlingly vapid book. Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 11. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature.

THE CROOK: A REVIVAL This performance springs from what’s regarded by some as the first Broadway musical, The Black Crook (1866). When svelte Lauren Mace appears in a black Victorian dress and makeup inches thick, countered and encountered by Joe Seely’s nervous Actor in period attire, it appears they’re on to something. Michael Sakamoto plays an impossible-to-please Director; Rochelle Fabb, the Actress/Queen who morphs into Marilyn Monroe swinging on a seesaw over a wading pool and being filmed by Michael Morrissey’s Andy Warhol. When Warhol and the Actor exposed their scrotums beneath women’s lingerie, my patience abandoned me. Suspended above the stage were plastic canisters of Kool-Aid that dripped through transparent I.V. tubes into a sculpture of wine glasses. By the time the actors removed the audience’s folding chairs, leaving us to stand in the gallery, Warhol had turned into Jim Jones making a noisy speech and urging his wards to drink the lethal brew, which was distributed to all in attendance. Toward the end, the actors portrayed a West Virginia–style revival meeting, in which we were encouraged to clap and sing, as though we were enjoying ourselves. An 1866 musical is a terrific place to start a performance. If this company can ban the words “deconstruction” and “subvert” from their mission (as stated in the program), the implicit pomposity might fall away and they might actually get somewhere by having some fun with their vaudeville about the end of the world. And so might we. The actors are excellent. Empire of Teeth and Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bldg. C-1, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru May 6. (310) 392-9396. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO MANNER OF TRUST Bo White’s drama about parental cruelty and sexual abuse is considerably more powerful and engrossing than its drab, unenlightening title would suggest. Unstable Doug (Frayne Rosanoff) is ordered by a magistrate to undergo observation and treatment by therapist Dr. Beth Cooper (Yassmin Alers). Through hypnosis and suggestion, she dredges up his dire, buried memories, which we see in vivid and ever-darker flashbacks. His stepfather, Al (James McMurray), an uber-macho bully and boozer, beats his mother (Diane Perell) and humiliates her children. Doug’s deepest traumas seem to be caused by having to watching helplessly as Al brutally seduces/terrorizes his teenage sister (Nicole Stewart), while Mom clings to deep denial. White’s therapy-as-drama structure parallels that in Peter Shaffer’s Equus, but White substitutes passionate directness for Equus’ deft, ironic sophistication, and in his hands, hypnosis seems like a too-easy quick fix. Despite an inclination to push his story toward melodrama, it reveals earnest strength and conviction, culminating in a final line that is a genuine shocker. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera marshals his excellent cast with a perceptive, unobtrusive hand, and John H. Binkley’s set is handsome and flexible. But be prepared: The scenes of cruelty and child rape are hard to watch. Playwrights’ Arena & Zoe Productions at The Underground, 1312 N. Wilton Pl., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 28. Note: All roles are double cast. (213) 627-4473. (Neal Weaver)

SALOME Richmark Entertainment at the Wadsworth Theater, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 14. (213) 365-3500. See Stage feature.