Theater Reviews

(Photo by Anthony Masters)

PICK GO BACK OF THE THROAT  Not since a couple of dark suits named Goldberg and McCann paid an inquisitive visit to a sensitive soul named Stanley has there been a more harrowing game of cat-and-mouse played out onstage. Yussef el Guindi’s drama unfolds in the apartment of a young Arab-American some time “after the attacks.” Khaled (Ammar Mahmood) is at first gently, almost apologetically questioned by two government cops (Doug Newell and Anthony Di Novi), but the lawmen soon ratchet up their game, having been led to Khaled’s by his former girlfriend, Beth (Vonessa Martin). Director Dámaso Rodriguez keeps the show’s menace to the scale of a human nightmare, never allowing the 75-minute play to become a PowerPoint lecture about police abuse against Arabs. Furious Theater Company, Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theater, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru July 29. (626) 356-PLAY. See longer review in next week’s Stage feature. (Steven Mikulan)

GO FENCES August Wilson’s ability to transmute seemingly simple subject matter into dramas of epic dimensions makes itself apparent in Fences, the story of a black family beset by demons in 1950 Pittsburgh. Patriarch Troy Maxson (Charlie Robinson) was a former Negro League baseball star whose career was aborted by racism. His job as a garbage collector offers no respite from the talons of bitterness and anger that control his life; he frequently browbeats his loyal, long-suffering wife, Rose (Elayn J. Taylor), and his youngest son, Cory (Tjader France). Oddly, his only source of fellow-feeling comes from his brain-damaged brother, Gabriel (Dig Wayne). This is a house of dark secrets and passions that inexorably explode in an ugly denouement involving infidelity. Fences is unquestionably one of Wilson’s finest plays, not because of intricate plotting or complexity of narrative, but because of the vortex of emotions on display. Jeffrey Hayden’s direction is stellar, though this production soars because of the actors’ manic energy and skills. Also in the fine ensemble are William Stanford Davis, Jonathan T. Floyd and Wynter Daggs. Thomas Brown’s rustic set piece is artfully conceived. Saint/Hayden Company and the ODYSSEY THEATER ENSEMBLE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru. Aug. 6. (310) 477-2055. (Lovell Estell III)

GO GROUNDLINGS GOOD TIME PIG FARM Despite its title, the latest Groundlings sketch-comedy offering has nothing to do with pigs or farms. The show features a mix of zany characters and often-improbable situations that are sometimes uneven, but always creative. Accompanied by a live band that plays hits of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s during the transitions, and incorporating video as well as stuffed animals and puppets, the model for SNL-style comedy is clearly evident. (This troupe launched many of the SNL comedians.) Highlights include “Carpool,” a sketch about a teenage daughter and her inappropriately behaving mother, who is far too open about sex and bodily functions. “The Writing Is Good” lampoons Hollywood executives with gusto, and “Lifelike” features a little boy whose toys come to life — but not quite in the way he wanted. Roy Jenkins’ direction keeps the show running at a smooth clip and particular standouts include Jill Matson-Sachoff, Kent Sublette, Hugh Davidson and Steve Little. While the performance is entertaining, one gets the sense that, like its NYC television counterpart, some of the troupe’s most innovative and original material may be in the past. GROUNDLING THEATER, 7307 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Sept. 16. (323) 934-4747. (Mayank Keshaviah)

HAPPY DAYS: A Family Musical! Garry Marshall jumps the shark — again — in this unfortunate musical rehash of his ’70s TV series. The cast is fine under Marshall’s direction, and Randy Skinner’s energetic choreography is well-suited to Paul Williams’ catchy music and lyrics. The problem is Marshall’s book, which borders on insipid. Instead of the enigmatic hood of the series’ debut season, the defanged Fonzie (Joey McIntyre) is a cuddly hero, a point endlessly reiterated by the characters. When the Fonz tells the kids to go to the library on Friday night, off they go to study. (He even accompanies them to the College Boards to offer encouragement.) A potentially interesting plot thread about Fonzie becoming obsolete is quickly dropped, and the play refocuses on a romantic scenario involving Fonzie’s love interest, Pinky Tuscadero (Jackie Seiden). Instead of a shark, the play has a wrestling match which pits Fonzie and Pinky against the bad-to-the-bone Malachi Brothers (Matt Merchant and Matt Walker in an amusing bit). Ryan Matthew hits the musical’s comic high notes as Ralph Malph, one of Richie Cunningham’s (Rory O’Malley) pals. The piece achieves some droll moments with self-referential jokes about Laverne and Shirley, Charles in Charge and the infamous shark, but they’re few and far between. FALCON THEATER, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 13. (818) 955-8101. (Sandra Ross)

 

HERCULES ON NORMANDIE James Eric and Mark Kemble’s new musical about salvation in these harrowing times, with original music by Mario Padilla and Gordon Glor, is still a promising work-in-progress — magical, mystical and cluttered. A quartet of storylines bring together a Catholic priest (Pierson Blaetz) assigned to a church on L.A.’s Normandie Avenue, recovering from a nervous breakdown (he’s set up as the play’s central character before turning into a mere adjunct for the story); an African-American nicknamed Hercules (the excellent Daryl Keith Roach) who, with an angel, breaks out of San Quentin the day before his scheduled execution (for murdering his wife’s brother in a fit of misguided jealousy); Hercules’ son, Miguel (Eduardo Enrikez), whom Hercules never met, and who is now a political radical after returning from military service in Iraq; Miguel’s cohorts and love interests (Bethany Pagliolo and In-Q); a pair of angels (David Ari and Tabitha Goodwin); Hercules’ blind mother (Diane Sellers), who experiences a miracle, and so on. Any of these characters could carry the musical, but in carrying equal weight, all of them blur its view. (There are plenty of opinions expressed, but that’s not the same as a view.) And somebody here needs to be on cliché-watch. During a scene where a gay, white hip-hopper (In-Q) is assaulted by black thugs, an African-American couple in the audience walked out shaking their heads in dismay. There’s some fine ensemble work here, and musically the songs are quite arresting and sophisticated; however, they tend to reinforce what we already know rather than driving the story or deepening our understanding of the characters. One notable exception is Pagliolo’s “I’d Like to Know You,” sung to her Iraq-vet boyfriend, who clearly has intimacy issues. GREENWAY ARTS ALLIANCE, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 29. (323) 655-7679, Ext. 100. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO KING CAT CALICO FINALLY FLIES FREE! Edgar Landa’s animated staging of Aaron Henne’s new play is a remarkable exercise is serious goofiness, a comedy about loneliness, abuse and addiction. This surreal romp crawls inside the head of an animal hoarder who’s arrested for criminal neglect of the 150 felines residing in her tiny abode (15 were found in her freezer) and we watch the critters, played by the graceful ensemble, shuffle through the big yellow door, while our heroine, Heidi K. Hendrickson (Laura Carson), struggles to push it shut. The plot consists of Heidi’s trial, some flashbacks and depictions of her fragile mental state and chronic addiction. (An appearance by a pill-popping Rush Limbaugh [Charls Sedgwick Hall] strains the metaphor a bit.) During the raid on Heidi’s house, King Cat Calico (Mark McClain Wilson) breaks free, so the play also examines what “freedom” really means. We see hints of Heidi’s molestation by her father (Don Boughton), who, in a repeated tableau from the confines of a screened yellow box, guiltily offers Heidi a kitten before driving away to kill himself. Despite the cartoon take on a harrowing theme — the judge (Elizabeth Clemmons) and court-appointed psychiatrist (Michael Kass) contort in sexual paroxysms while trying to do their jobs — Henne’s depiction of Heidi’s obsessive-compulsive disorder is right in line with the empirical research in the field, though it’s unlikely Heidi would have been jailed after a first offense, especially when the charge is animal neglect, not cruelty. However, this production never ceases to engage the imagination, thanks in part to Reagan’s whimsical costumes, while set designers Maureen Weiss and Josh Worth have carved emblematic cubicles and cages around the newspaper-lined stage floor. SON OF SEMELE ENSEMBLE, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (added perf Mon., July 10, 8 p.m.); thru July 16. (800) 838-3006. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO LEMONS ARE FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY Claire Titelman’s self-directed solo performance is as fun as it is bizarre, and that’s saying something. When it begins, a young woman (Titelman) is sitting at her kitchen table wearing a little girl’s party dress, surrounded by platters of roast chicken and deviled eggs. She appears to be waiting for somebody, although it soon becomes clear that her guest will never arrive. She explains that for years she has confined herself to her kitchen, meticulously preparing to host a birthday party. There is no set; the show is actually performed in a tiny kitchen. Initially, it’s awkward to be so close to the performer. Soon enough, however, a sense of intimacy develops between this perverse character and her 10-person audience. Over the course of the half-hour journey, she reveals the reason for her cloistered, ritualistic existence. Unfortunately, once exposed, the events of her traumatic past prove less interesting than the peculiar rituals they spawned. Even though the soliloquy deflates toward the end, Titelman’s intriguing, obsessive mannerisms keep the piece afloat. The character’s mother euphemistically describes her as “specific,” yet there is an undeniable universality about this young woman; look past the deviled eggs and chiffon, and this is a play about the comfort of routine and the seductive power of isolation. PRIVATE RESIDENCE, 420 ½ Rialto Ave., Venice; Thurs.- Fri., 8 p.m.; thru June 30. (323) 620-2692. (Stephanie Lysaght)

 

PLAY: The Play Mutiny looms before the curtain ever rises on the Garage’s trailer-park melodrama about an eagle scout (Matt Anderson), his mama (Jessica Varis), and his ex-con daddy (Eric Hamme) as audience members are jarred from their cups of Charles Shaw by star Anderson shrieking at director Kristal Greenlea that he is an artiste on the verge of abdication. The show must and does go on, but just as mother Varis confesses to her neighbor (Amy-Louise Sebelius) that she’s about to do something self-destructive and let her ex move back in, the set self-destructs around them, and walls and props crash to the floor. What next for these waylaid actors? A cooler full of beer and a big finger to their director, who pleads with them to do something — anything — to entertain us. Which, largely, they don’t. After trading a few stories and regressing into a playground battle of Red Light, Green Light, the ensemble have some fun toying about with acting exercises (Greenlea’s challenge to “Show me a scene that means nothing” results in a spry takedown of the avant-garde that culminates with Sebelius direly chanting, “Crustacean, crustacean, crustacean”). But the likable troupe (who wrote this piece together) haven’t laid down rigid enough ground rules for us to relish watching those walls get shattered. If their awareness of the audience, self-consciousness, frustrations, and motivations were better defined, these restraints would make the chaos seem more — not less — free-spirited. Yammy Swoot’s fine lighting helps keep things organized. GARAGE THEATER, 251 E. Seventh Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 22. (866) 811-4111. (Amy Nicholson)

ROCIO! In Spite of It All A lonely man (Shalim) needles his way into the life of two former Spanish-television divas (Marlene Forte and Lidia Ramirez) as they battle to rekindle their glory days. Oliver Mayer’s new musical has the makings of a fantastic piece: a compelling, humorous premise that waxes melodramatic in all the right places, catchy up-tempos, heartbreaking down-tempos, and a stage that lends itself to a showy extravaganza. If only the extravaganza were there. Part of the void is due to the appearance of underrehearsal and the underutilization of three vivaciously beaming dancers. Then, the piece runs only 40 minutes, as if this show is the Cliffs Notes to a much more involved work. With what he has to work with, director Armando Molina stages the piece expertly. And Mayer’s language, especially in his reworking of established songs, lends itself beautifully to the poeticized musical-theater form. But the fascinating characters never find their shape, the story snaps to its conclusion, and the venue’s multileveled thrust stage, replete with spiral staircase and a side-drawn purple curtain, begs for this show to be more. KING KING, 6555 Hollywood Blvd.; Sun.-Mon., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (323) 960-5765 or kingking.com (Luis Reyes)


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