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Theater Reviews

The Tina Dance

PICK GO JERKER and THE TINA DANCE “You’re my little brother, and I’m gonna teach you how to feel good, how to feel real good. But we gotta be quiet, real quiet, ’cause we don’t wanna get caught.” This conspiratorial line is not taken from an episode of Leave It to Beaver but from Robert Chesley’s 1985 play, Jerker, which had its world premiere the following year at Los Angeles’ Celebration Theater. It told a story about two men, J.R. and Burt, whose only connection is a string of intense phone-sex conversations. The play’s raucous language and simulated masturbation shamelessly proclaimed a new kind of gay theater — right in the eye of the AIDS hurricane. (Chesley, who also wrote Night Sweats and Dog Plays, succumbed in 1990.) For all its freewheeling sexuality, Jerker draws its true force from the empathy and trust that develop between J.R. and Burt as the plague’s shadow lengthens. This landmark work will be presented in a 20th-anniversary production under the auspices of its original director, Michael Kearns, during a month of queer art sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Center, Highways, Tom of Finland Foundation and Space at Fountain’s End. Kearns will also stage a two-weekend viewing of The Tina Dance, the acclaimed, collectively written memoir about that other epidemic, crystal meth. Jerker: Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., Aug. 4-5 & 11-12, 8:30 p.m. (310) 315-1459; and at Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., Aug. 18-19 & 25-26, 8 p.m. (323) 856-6168. The Tina Dance: L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theater, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., Aug. 3-5 & 10-12, 8 p.m. (323) 860-7300. (Steven Mikulan)

BIGGER MAN “This is like where horror movies go down,” says Rick (Richard Augustine), surveying the tasteful pillows and goodie baskets of his and buddy Len’s (Matt Ford) hotel room. For a while, it seems he’s right. Len’s ex, Lily (Jen Kays), is getting married in the morning and, while everyone assumes that he’s still hung up on the girl he used to smoke weed and get rowdy with (not to mention steal from), she, her family and her fiancé have joined a cult. The Foundation (represented by an unnerving Thomas Fiscella) is big into pastels, positivity, guidance-counselor double-speak and spontaneous vomiting; it regards as turnoffs drugs, cussing, coed habitation and everything else central to Rick and Len. Sam Marks’ play might have kept its early momentum if director David Vegh had pushed for more from Ford’s and Kays’ characters, but Len is withdrawn and Lily’s been brainwashed into a plastic optimist, and as neither seems invested in their ideological and romantic struggles, why bother ourselves? When livelier couple Rick and Stacy (Linda Bailey Walsh) transition from ragged debauchery to khaki-clad conformity, Marks’ script gains purpose, as it questions whether stability is worth the suppression of self-awareness. THEATRE/THEATER, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 10. (213) 804-5491. (Amy Nicholson)

THE FIRST BREEZE OF SUMMER Leslie Lee’s 31-year-old drama treads bland, familiar turf in its telling of a post-civil-rights-era black family’s history and daily struggles. Two stories are told here, neither of which is artfully blended. The action is set in a Northeastern city in 1975, where Milton Edwards (Hardia Hadden Jr.) has built a moderately successful plastering business with the help of his son Nate (Chaz Roberson). Nate is tough, hard-working and ambitious — while brother Lou (Jamal Doman) is a studious sort who despises manual labor and dreams of becoming a doctor. The family’s central figure is the pious matriarch Lucretia (Regina Randolph), whose story is told through flashbacks. “Gremmar,” as she is affectionately called, is a woman whose “needs” resulted in her having three children out of wedlock by three different men (one by the son of a white family she worked for), and compelled her to lead a life of deception. These dual narratives contain little that is dramatically gripping or interesting. Between the mundane activities and tribulations of the Edwards clan and the blasé tale of Lucretia’s free loving, the play loses steam early on, a situation compounded by Sam Nickens’ middling direction. Nadjah Dabney gives an inspired turn as the young Lucretia, while other performances are passable. STELLA ADLER THEATER, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 3. (323) 960-7792. (Lovell Estell III)

THE HARD AND HEADY LIFE OF MY PENIS At one point in actor-writer-director Edisol W. Dotson’s sometimes-engaging solo show, he admits to never having been one to jump up and down in excitement. A pity, because that’s just the kind of person Dotson needs to be to enliven his desultory expounding on his favorite body part and his self-discovery as a gay man. Speaking in a monotone, Dotson, bare-chested and sporting “Daisy Dukes” cut-off jeans, reveals tales of his dysfunctional Southern upbringing at the hands — and belt — of a physically abusive father, and confesses his own habit of falling in love with the wrong men. Although he relates almost all of his sexual encounters with vivid detail, Dotson is silent about how his HIV-positive diagnosis has effected his psyche. Adding distraction to Dotson’s limp line deliveries is his penchant for constant motion throughout the show as he moves his props, wanders aimlessly about the stage and inexplicably pots artificial flowers. Dotson needs an outside director who could judiciously trim his tedious show and get him to sit still — not to mention rehearse another week to better learn his lines. RUBY THEATER AT THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 26. (323) 960-4451. (Martín Hernández)

 

IN THE CHIPS! Mac MacDonald and Dan Snellenbarger’s spoofy new musical attempts to warn us about cyberspace and the military-industrial complex. The gentlest thing to say is that this piece is far, far from ready for an audience. Following an interminable, clumsy overture, the show’s tinny recorded music offers little support to four very weak singers in a play that is almost completely sung-through. It is under-rehearsed — we can only speculate that author MacDonald is reading most of his lines for the character of General Major because he had to step into the role at the last moment. Technically the production looks like an in-class acting project with folding tables, black cloth and old computers representing a state-of-the-art, military computer room. John Dickey’s lighting adds a few moments of sophistication — but one wonders why there is an extended strobe effect in a scene where the actors stand perfectly still. ECLECTIC COMPANY THEATER, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 26. (818) 508-3003 (Tom Provenzano)KING LEAR British director Patsy Rodenburg delivers a curiously careless, abstract production of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Though there are fine actors here, including Robert Mandan (Lear), Lawrence Pressman (Gloucester), Diane Venora (the Fool) and Jayne Brook (Goneril), their efforts are constantly undermined. The awkward, uncredited set is a long, narrow ribbon of space flanked by audience members. Actors have no room to maneuver or make effective entrances and exits, and there’s no atmosphere or sense of place. Putting modern business suits on the men straitjackets them, and somehow sanitizes their work. The play itself has built-in credibility problems, which loom large here because they’re never addressed. And what we see seldom matches what we hear. We’re told that Kent is being put in the stocks, but we see him being bound (unsuccessfully) with thin plastic police restraints. When Lear says, “Pray you undo this button,” there is no button. And Shakespeare’s alarums and excursions are replaced by the offstage sound of a helicopter. Deprived of its melodrama and spectacle, the play becomes too genteel and oratorical to justify its three-hour running time. ELECTRIC LODGE, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., thru Sept. 3. (800) 836-3006. (Neal Weaver)THE KITCHEN SINK Writer-director Meghan Gambling’s well-intentioned dramedy about four college girls fumbling towards graduation attempts to capture the last baby steps out of immaturity, but instead exposes its own. While the play has truthful, if hazy, ideas about self-created anxiety, insecurity, best-friendsmanship and modern male chauvinism (in which dudes have learned to disguise their condescension in compliments and shrugs of incomprehension), it’s more sitcom than theater. Jess (Olivia Henderson) is the straight-shooting broad embarrassed by her gooey emotional center; Cal (a solid Amanda Deibert) is the mellow artist; Margo (Audrey Malone) is all lipstick and feelings, while Avy’s (Jenny Morgan) got the marriage-minded boyfriend and predictable future that crept up on her like a fungus. The show’s many choppy scenes (some as short as 40 seconds) make the two-hour running time feel like watching a very special episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years that’s been flooded with commercial breaks. A handful of scenes show that Gambling has an ear for male characters. The hippie (Dan Miller) toying with Jess’ heart is a spot-on creation, and as Avy’s demonized boyfriend, Rudy, Brian Meredith grounds his conservative, bullheaded ball-and-chain in a redeeming sincerity. DORIE THEATER AT THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 6. (323) 960-7863. (Amy Nicholson)

GO LOBSTER ALICE Kira Obolensky’s surrealistic comedy speculates on the six weeks in 1946 that Salvador Dalí spent at Disney Studios working on a short, never-completed, animated film. It was during this same period that Disney animators were laboring on the full-length version of Lewis Carroll’s hallucinatory children’s tale Alice in Wonderland, and the two stories collide here with amusing results. There’s also a real-life Alice (Dorie Barton), a Disney secretary who finds life at the studio becoming curiouser and curiouser. She works for Finch (Nicholas Brendon), a timid, buttoned-down type in charge of the Alice film, who’s beaten a hasty retreat from their office romance. Assigned to supervise the Dalí film, Finch becomes increasingly unglued after working with Dalí (Noah Wyle), a flamboyant, pop-eyed, scarf-tossing, cape-twirling artiste who throws the office into chaos. Director Daniel Henning elicits a superb performance from Barton, but the confrontations between Finch and Dalí would be more effective at a lower volume. Robert Prior’s phantasmagorical set is wonderfully surrealistic, with actors entering and exiting from inside a couch. The costumes, also designed by Prior, are equally eye-catching. THE BLANK’S SECOND STAGE THEATER, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 3. (323) 661-9827. (Sandra Ross)UNFINISHED AMERICAN HIGHWAYSCAPE #9 & 32 In Carlos Murillo’s 90-minute work, eight individuals are driving somewhere in the American night, each burdened by problems comic and ominous. These are not the anarchic highway spirits of Jack Kerouac, but small people bedeviled by life’s petty indignities and destiny’s larger insults. How these drivers cross paths, as the focus darts back and forth among them, and how their dilemmas are resolved, form the evening’s tension. Director Jessica Kubzansky’s mise en scène is dark and memorable, but Murillo’s script often feels like a fragmented roundelay of conversations with the “road” thrown in less as a metaphor than as a convenient connecting device. THEATER @ BOSTON COURT, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 3. (626) 683-6883. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.


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