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Theater Reviews

Photo by Paul Rubenstein

Photo by Paul Rubenstein

GO PICK AGAMEMNON Charles L. Mee’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy (the first in this theater’s season, called “Three by Mee”) concentrates, like Homer’s The Odyssey, on the impulses behind cruelty and war. This is the story of the eponymous general (Troy Dunn) upon his return from a 10-year military campaign to his wife, Clytemnestra (Marie-Françoise Theodore), who seethes that her husband sacrificed their daughter to the gods for favorable sea winds. Frederique Michel stages the play as a choreographed recitation, with a Greek chorus of what appear to be decapitated heads, one of which is a figurehead bust, bolted to the stem of a boat. Michel juxtaposes the violence of the words with, for her, an uncharacteristically gentle staging — as sensuous as it is disciplined in movement and tone, so that the barbaric epic unfolds with a blend of eroticism, religiosity and moments of ironic humor. This is one of the most rarefied and beautiful productions around, aided by shifting, projected images of ancient stone in Charles A. Duncombe’s production design, and recordings of Arvo Pärt’s haunting choral backdrops. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth St. (west alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. (“pay what you can”), 5:30 p.m.; thru July 23. (310) 319-9939. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO THE DARK AGES “I was just born in the wrong time, that’s all,” explains 15-year-old Nevada (Sara Widzer) of her Renaissance-era corset and dress. Romanticizing the past is one way she escapes her thoroughly modern parents (Fred Sanders and D.J. Harner) who are obsessively caught up in gadgetry and ambition. Running away is her other tactic, which flings her into the path of a socially awkward cop (Michael Crider) and an intuitive hippie (Alina Phelan), who just might be the reincarnation of Queen Elizabeth. In Act 1, Laurel Ollstein’s scrappy philosophical comedy labors to set up its fun, if familiar, clichés about disconnection (while riding side by side to the police station, mom calls dad on his cell to tell him he’s an asshole), but, thankfully, after intermission, the explanatory soliloquies are largely dropped as her emotionally starving characters break loose and hunt for fulfillment. Sprightly performances make Ollstein’s people richer than the sum of their tics — Widzer is wonderfully surly and fragile, and Harner is the go-to actress for brittle overachievers with a streak of humanity. Director Katharine Noon keeps a firm hand on the chaos as they seek to navigate the oceans that divide them both from each other and from their dreams. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 9. (213) 627-4473. (Amy Nicholson)

GO DEMETER IN THE CITY Shishir Kurup directs Sarah Ruhl’s new play with music about mothers and daughters (lyrics by Ruhl, music by Kurup and David Markowitz) — a contemporary Southern California riff on the Greek myth of Demeter (Bahi Turpin) and Persephone (Sadé Moore). In the legend, the Devil (Sonny Valicenti) snatches Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, who becomes queen of the underworld. The tears from Demeter’s grief drown Thebes, until Zeus (Peter Howard) intercedes to negotiate a settlement. Ruhl’s heroin-addicted Demeter from Compton gets her baby girl snatched away by Child Services and, years later, by the devil in disguise as a Young Republican on a college campus, which itself hints at the play’s finger-pointing satire. The creators don’t do well weaving the threads of polemic, spoof, tragedy and docudrama, but even this overstuffed burger has an unexpected appeal, thanks in large part to some splendid performances and the disarmingly good-natured cooks in the kitchen. Cornerstone Theater Company at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 5 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 18. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO NO EXIT Jean-Paul Sartre’s baneful, existential tale of the damned receives a sharp, stylish mounting from director Jan Krekan. Sartre’s Hell has no sulfurous flames, doleful wails or horned impresario. Instead, it’s a bleak, well-lit room with drab sofas, where an officious, well-dressed valet (Ary Katz) presides. One by one, he brings in Garcin (Salvator Xuereb), Inez (Lenka Pochyly) and Estelle (Jana Kolesarova), all recently deceased. Each member of this odd trio has a respective tale of woe, as well as sordid transgressions. Garcin was a womanizing coward who beat his wife and was shot; Inez, a sadistic lesbian with a caustic tongue who committed suicide; and Estelle, a vain socialite and adulteress. They muse consistently about their former lives while trying to accommodate themselves to their predicament, their “punishment” heightened by an ability to glimpse the goings-on in the world. Ultimately, the only agony they must endure is each other. Krekan ameliorates the play’s pitfalls of stasis and predictability with some subtle directorial touches. The macabre, ritualized dance at play’s end, performed to Chopin’s March Funèbre is eerily beautiful, and the performances are all excellent. Accent Theater Group at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1336 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 2. (323) 960-7612. (Lovell Estell III)

GO NOWHERE ON THE BORDER Well paced with a dash of humor to leaven its weight, Carlos Lacamara’s flawed but worthy melodrama frames the immigration debate around an encounter between an American border vigilante, Gary (Patrick Rowe), and a Mexican father, Roberto (Lacamara), who’s searching for his daughter in the desert. The two men meet in proximity to the ominously decaying corpse of a woman who had succumbed to heat or exhaustion. While suspicious Gary detains him, the nervous Roberto explains and cajoles, whittling away at the American’s paranoia to uncover the common ground between them. Between their revealing dialogue the play flashes back to Roberto’s daughter, Pilar (Cheryl Umana), accompanied on her grueling journey by a cynical, coked-up coyote (Mark Adair-Rios) and a second undocumented alien, Jesus (David Michie), an honest man making a desperate trip. The play humanizes both sides but, unwisely, presents the farm-bred Roberto as a smart, savvy guy who’s fluent in English. That’s hard to swallow, despite the proffered explanation that he’d once spent two years in Arizona attending night school. Nonetheless, solid performances, a strong view and engaging dialogue outweigh this glaring shortcoming. Lacamara is charismatic throughout, while Rowe delivers a skillful portrait of a true believer. Michie, eschewing schmaltz, is also compelling. Bert Rosario directs. The Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 16. (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman)

GO PLAY IT COOL In 1953 under Los Angeles’ draconian anti-gay laws, denizens of a shadowy queer jazz club had to be wary of every sexual glance and innuendo lest they be hauled off to jail. But at Mary’s Hideaway, queens and dykes bend the rules as far as they can. Larry Dean Harris’ book for this musical has as much substance as the smoke from his film-noirish hero’s cigarette — but we get solid jazz from five fine actor-singers who deliver lyricist Mark Winkler’s music in a delightful evening. Jessica Sheridan belts her way through as Mary, the owner of the bar who gives too much of her heart to sultry songstress Lena, performed by Katie Campbell with sordid aplomb. The runaway star is Andrew Pandaleon, perfect as Will, a fresh-faced farm boy just off the bus from Kansas with dreams of being a famous singer — he is an immediate feast for queer, sleaze-ball, would-be agent Eddie (Steven Janji) and in-the-closet older fellow Henry (Michael Craig Shapiro). Sharon Rosen’s appropriately dark and rhythmic staging directs us away from the play’s flaws and to the cast’s charm and captivating music, arranged and conducted by Louis Durra. Celebration Theater, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 16. (323) 957-1884. (Tom Provenzano)STAGES Easterner Rebecca Golden (playwright Abigail Rose Solomon) moves to San Francisco to “find herself” and pursue a theatrical career. She’s cast as Rosalind in a production of As You Like It and offered the lead in an independent film, which would require her to abandon the play. (Her one concrete decision — to stick with the play — occurs during the intermission.) She drinks too much, deals high-handedly with her roommate, Sarah (Ryan Michelle Bathe), and launches a one-sided affair with her leading man (Nick Hoffa). She’s also haunted by the ghost of her best friend and soul mate, Priscilla (Jules Wilcox), who has a murky agenda and a propensity for climbing on the furniture. Rebecca spends a lot of time talking about her terrible personal pain and ruthlessly latching onto those she’s attracted to, whether they like it or not. Despite some effective single scenes, the play has the feel of highly personal material with which the writer still hasn’t come to terms. The result is confusing and perplexing, making more assertions than it can prove. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera and his cast give the piece an efficient and professional staging, but they can’t make it add up. Rosalind Productions at Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 9. (323) 960-7782. (Neal Weaver)

GO tick . . . tick . . . BOOM! Long before he scored a posthumous Broadway hit with Rent, Jonathan Larson wanted to act in and write musicals. When production opportunities proved elusive, he created a one-man show for himself — an autobiographical rock monologue that he could perform with just a piano and a band. Later, producer Robyn Goodman, director Scott Schwarz and writer David Auburn joined forces to expand and produce the piece in its current form. The title refers to the obsession of Jon (Andrew Samonsky) as he approaches his 30th birthday with little to show for it. He’s launching a workshop production of his musical Superbia!, but that’s not enough to satisfy girlfriend Susan (Tami Tappan Damiano), who wants to move to Cape Cod, or gay friend Michael (Wilson Cruz), who wants him to give up waiting tables and go into advertising. The monologue form sometimes works against the piece: Susan and Michael are never fully developed characters, despite exemplary work by Cruz and Damiano, and Jon can seem exasperatingly solipsistic. But the songs are invigorating, the cast is terrific and the production, leaning heavily on rock-concert style, inspired opening-night audiences to near-hysterical delight. Rubicon Theater Company at the Coronet Theater, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 16. (310) 657-7377. (Neal Weaver)

GO THE TINA DANCE As a locus for innovative and often controversial performances, Highways doesn’t disappoint with Michael Kearns’ latest offering, a collectively written docudrama about the crystal methamphetamine crisis that focuses on true-to-life stories from the gay community. Declaring, “Crystal meth is officially out of the closet,” the “actors” in the piece play themselves (with a couple of exceptions) and detail their own dances with “tina” in a half-celebratory, half-revelatory style. While some of the darker, more serious vignettes are powerful, the piece shines most brightly in its comedic moments that are often more incisive, despite the laughter and farce. The climax of this style is in the personification of Tina (Ian MacKinnon), the “bitch goddess” who makes “Hurricane Katrina look like Mother Teresa.” MacKinnon, in a snakeskin dress with high heels, argyle socks, jelly bracelets and a teased blond wig interlaced with hypodermic needles and test tubes, often steals the show with his (her?) outrageous personality. Kearns’ direction emphasizes the communal aspect of the piece, and the entire cast gives strong performances. Particular standouts include Corey Saucier and Chris Rodriguez. The piece seems cathartic for both the performers and the audience in true “heal as you reveal” style. Highways East at Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., June 16 & 17, 8 p.m.; then at Space at Fountain’s End, 3929 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake; Sun., June 25, 4 p.m. (323) 856-6168. (Mayank Keshaviah)WITHOUT WALLS While chronicling the initial hostility and growing attraction between a despondent and arrogant high school student (Matt Lanter) and his gay theater teacher (Laurence Fishburne) in 1975, Alfred Uhry’s 2002 play ultimately serves to inoculate the audience against the troubling emotions it arouses. Just when it’s about to delve into the murky terrain of power abuse, molestation and earth-shattering loneliness, it pulls back to the palatable position of noble characters punished by a misunderstanding world, so that the play postures as being about something it’s not. Fishburne prances through the role of the teacher, Morocco Hemphill, with a vivacious charisma that floats on muted sarcasm, subtle effeminacy, stock gay flamboyance and some very funny speeches. In the public “production announcement” for the high school, Morocco outlines the reasons for vetoing Oh Calcutta! and The Crucible (Arthur Miller felt there were too many productions in New York, Morocco intones mockingly) before declaring with a tone of quivering excitement his plans to direct The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — a drama that comments on the plight of the men. Christopher Ashley directs a spit-and-polished production that foreshadows the looming crisis with small gestures of physical intimacy between the teacher and the male student. With sweet reserve and steely resolve, Amanda MacDonald plays a female student who is attracted to her peer, and whose offstage father (on the school’s board of directors) echoes the blindly judgmental parents in Lillian Hellman’s The Children's Hour. The story unfolds with such ease while asking so little of us, it makes us wonder why we’re not watching it on TV. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru July 16. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)