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Theater Reviews

Marat/Sade

 CORPUS CHRISTI While this revival production hasn’t brought the protests and death threats of the original nearly a decade ago, Terrence McNally’s controversial play continues to re-examine many of our society’s religious and cultural beliefs. Its retelling of the Jesus story, with Jesus being a gay man in 1950s Corpus Christi, Texas, is especially relevant at a time in which our nation is up in arms about gay marriage. The play adroitly balances education with satire, reminding us of the true message of the Bible while still poking fun at the modern perversions of Christ’s original teachings. It frequently breaks the fourth wall, with actors speaking directly to the audience, changing into costume onstage, and even setting up and taking down the set during the show. The entire cast gives great performances, and its diversity in terms of gender, race and age accentuates the message of inclusiveness in a play that is typically performed by 13 young men. Nic Arnzen’s direction deftly incorporates music and movement into the piece, creating an ending that is almost cinematic in its scope. MCCV at the ZEPHYR THEATRE, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 16. (323) 852-9111. (Mayank Keshaviah)

FRANK SINATRA F*#KED UP MY LIFE: Confessions of a Romance Addict For 15-year-old John Ciccolini, Frank Sinatra was not just an icon but a spiritual presence who first appeared to the horny kid in his New Jersey bedroom with advice on how to score with “broads.” Forget that the adolescent looked “kind of like Woody Allen but not as good-looking.” Under Sinatra’s ongoing tutelage, Ciccolini learned that the way into a woman’s heart — and her pants — was through song, a highly successful strategy that served him well into his adulthood. Frankie also admonished Ciccolini, who fell in love at the drop of a skirt, to avoid emotional commitment — bizarre counsel from a purveyor of love songs that got our hero plenty of casual sex but left him inconsolably lonely. Under Wendy Kamenoff’s understated direction, writer-performer-vocalist Ciccolini’s one-person show balances the hilarious and the bittersweet with aplomb, from portraying his conquest of — or being conquered by — a Catholic high-school tart to the dissolution of romance in his parents’ once passionate marriage. Ciccolini is a consummate actor and singer, portraying a bevy of colorful characters, especially the somewhat misogynistic Sinatra, and belting out tunes in this heartfelt celebration of one man’s journey from wannabe libertine to hopeless romantic. Jersey Girl Productions at the HAYWORTH THEATRE, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (800) 838-3006. (Martín Hernández)

THE GOOD THIEF Conor McPherson’s early play is a story told entirely by a petty thug (Conor Lovett), who, in the midst of an assignment to “scare” a Dublin businessman named Patrick Mitchell, unwittingly sets off a chain of murder and mayhem. Following the blood fest at the Mitchell home, he carts Mitchell’s semi-willing wife and her young daughter to a refuge in the Irish countryside. Through the escapade, the narrator arrives at an epiphany about his own obsession with a promiscuous girlfriend who just left him for his employer. The play’s violence and sexual candor lies entirely in the words, which Lovett recites amiably, standing inert in front of a white screen. He does wander stage left through the midsection of the 70-minute monologue, then returns for the finale — which contains about two endings too many. Under Judy Hegarty-Lovett’s gentle — perhaps too gentle — direction, Conor Lovett counters the story’s melodrama by reciting it with an unwaveringly soft-spoken introspection when some wavering would have been quite welcome. The dynamic of how the various characters unfold in McPherson’s tale is intriguing, but the wordplay is not sufficiently clever or poetical (as, say, that of James Joyce or Samuel Beckett, or even McPherson’s later plays) to justify the radio-drama approach. RUBICON THEATRE, 1006 Main St., Ventura; in rep with Belfast Blues, call for schedule; thru Sept. 17. (805) 667-2900. (Steven Leigh Morris)

JERKER It’s been 20 years since Robert Chesley’s little gem of an AIDS play first roared from L.A.’s Celebration Theatre, and its original director, Michael Kearns, presents this anniversary show with all its visceral punch and tender ache intact. Over a series of sexually charged phone calls, two gay men (Joe Gill and Dean Howell) build a bond of lust, friendship and trust, even as the pandemic darkens their Castro Street neighborhood. This production is mostly a readers’ theater presentation (there’s limited stage movement and the actors don’t really refer to their scripts) but is no less a must-see for it. MOVING ARTS, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 856-6168. See Stage feature next week. (Steven Mikulan)

MARAT/SADE “But we decided war must cease/So they gave us 14 months of peace.” When Peter Weiss’ rich and resonantly cynical play about the French Revolution opened on Broadway in 1966, it seemed to refer to the Vietnam War, among other things. Now it suggests even more sharply Mr. Bush’s misguided and inept Iraq adventure, with Napoleon standing in for Dubya. Set in an insane asylum in 1808, the piece depicts a fictional production of a play by the Marquis de Sade (Robert Baker) about the assassination of the French radical Jean-Paul Marat (Simon Russell) by romantic idealist Charlotte Corday (Amy Peterson). The script is so packed with satiric comment, aphorisms, slogans, paradox, historical references and political militancy that it invites psychic overload, and no one production can exhaust its possibilities. And the bizarre setting and episodic structure provide a field day for ambitious directors. Director/set designer Patrick Adams can’t compete with the huge resources and frightening inventiveness of Peter Brook’s original production, but it skillfully carves out its own identity, assisted by a fine, large ensemble. The new score by composer Joshua Charney serves the words less well than Richard Peaslee’s earlier version, but it too has its own validity. The Blue House at SACRED FOOLS THEATER, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 17. (866) 219-4944. (Neal Weaver)

 

THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI As the title character, Jamil Chokachi turns in a tremendous performance in Tiger Reel’s new adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play about fascism. Set in Chicago, the drama follows the ascendancy of gangster Ui from small-time criminal to demagogue. When a crooked City Councilman (Dan Cole) greenlights a scheme benefiting the corrupt Cauliflower Trust, Ui and his gang step in to provide protection — and the result is arson, murder and chaos. The gangsters crush dissent, manipulate the courts and silence the press. As the slide projections make clear, Hitler’s rise to power underpins Brecht’s play, and Reel, who also directs, slips in several allusions to George W. Bush. Chokachi is impressive as a swaggering gangster who quickly absorbs lessons in public deportment, and Nikitas Menotiades, Amanda Karr and Edwin Garcia II provide strong support. Unfortunately, the production is somewhat uneven. The vivid commedia-style makeup is in tune with Brecht’s Theater of Alienation, but the same cannot be said of Vicki Conrad’s costumes and Mike Schadel’s music. Although individual performances are noteworthy, the crowd scenes don’t really capture the tidal wave of popular sentiment that propels Ui to power. KNIGHTSBRIDGE THEATRE, 1944 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; indef. (323) 667-0955. (Sandra Ross)

SEX & WORK It makes perfect sense that playwright Rick Pagano directs his own work here, because only he would have any idea what this evening of foolishness is supposed to be about. On paper, it’s a buddy comedy involving two men who jet around the world (or, at least, around Joel Daavid’s set for Caesar and Cleopatra) making shady deals to dump toxic waste in other countries’ backyards. But, quite apart from the fact that there’s nowhere near enough technical detail to believably re-create this commercial milieu onstage, nearly all our time is spent watching characters swill drinks as the horndog Rico (Steven Schub) chases every skirt in sight, and pal Lee (McCaleb Burnett) swoons over Jennifer (Jennifer Siebel), a kind of blonde superwoman who’s always a step ahead of our guys selling submarines and buying governments. We get the feeling, from time to time, that this is supposed to be a farce with a moral, but that gets lost among all the national stereotypes that are peeled off from comic books. Perhaps most inexplicable is why this is a buddy story at all — there’s absolutely no business reason why Rico needs Lee, much less why he would insist on Lee’s presence on his quest to amass a fortune. We’re told the two were in high school together, as if that should explain everything. LILLIAN THEATRE, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (866) 811-4111. (Steven Mikulan)

SHAKESPEARE’S VENUS AND ADONIS Sitting in Zombie Joe’s North Hollywood storefront theater is like wandering into a diorama made by the happiest kid you know. The walls of Jeri Batzdorff’s set are painted to resemble an enchanted forest, complete with winding vines and tumbling waterfalls. Here, Shakespeare’s epic poem about the goddess of love and her male muse comes to life. In director Zombie Joe’s staging, six women, clothed in black, recite the poem while weaving around the stage in a sensual, interpretive dance. Between the zany lights, innovative musical accompaniment (Christopher Reiner) and striking movements, this production makes Shakespeare feel anything but antiquated. Unfortunately, because the movements are so central here, the poem itself sometimes feels like a mere soundtrack. Still, the production really works; flashy lights aside, the six actors’ devotion makes it soar. None of them display tentativeness, even when the staging calls for them to gyrate in “trembling ecstasy” or “die with beads of hot desire.” They are so invested in the piece that the audience can’t help but get excited too. Sure, there’s a slow patch or two, but this kind of fearless experimentation and devotion to it reminds us why we go to the theater. ZOMBIE JOE’S UNDERGROUND, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 17. (818) 202-4120. (Stephanie Lysaght)

 

YOU NEVER CAN TELL Crabby Crampton (William Dennis Hunt) is so steeped in British mettle that he refuses the nitrous oxide in the dentist’s chair. Pain toughens the soul, he insists, and he needs that strength when his estranged family surprises him at lunch. After their 18-year separation, his feminist wife (Ellen Geer) now goes by the surname Clandon, as do their three nearly grown children, Gloria, Dolly and Phillip (Willow Geer, Jamie Snow and Michael James Thatcher), whom she’s raised in Madeira as libertines. These delightful brats treat their father with less respect than they give their sage butler (Steve Matt), which infuriates the old stuffed shirt and allows George Bernard Shaw’s turn-of-the-20th-century social comedy (and Heidi Helen Davis’ fine staging of it) to play with the generation gap of an era when tradition, reverence and the romantics locked horns with scientific empiricism and the suffragettes. Though clearly Shaw’s sympathies lie with the rebels, a romantic subplot between hardheaded Gloria and Valentine (Jeff Wiesen, as a ne’er-do-well who claims he’s “learned how to circumvent the women’s-rights woman”) concedes that as soon as a new movement gains traction, opportunists figure out how to make it trip over its own ideals. WILL GEER THEATRICUM BOTANICUM, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; schedule varies, call for info; thru Oct. 1. (310) 455-3723. (Amy Nicholson)

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