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Theater Reviews

(Photo by Sconyers/Stein)

  THE BACCHAE Charles L. Mee’s take on Euripides’ Theban tragedy is an acquired taste. Written in the early 1990s, it’s a kind of postmodern celebration of Minoan matriarchy, with scoops of other people’s sexually charged writing thrown in, with authors ranging from Georges Bataille to Valerie Solanas. So it can be lyrically beautiful or sound like open-mike night at A Different Light. King Pentheus (Troy Dunn) is a staunch advocate of heterosexual rationalism and black suits. He loathes the carnal chaos represented by the god of wine, Dionysus (Justin Davanzo) and the Bacchae, his woman followers who live without men in the wilderness. Or does he? Halfway through this 75-minute production, we realize that Pentheus has quite a few secret sides to him, especially when he dresses in women’s garments to infiltrate the cliff-dwelling women’s camp. There’s not much in the way of linear “storytelling” here, and the show relies upon movement, music and declarative oration as much as dialogue. Director Frederíque Michel displays a confident scenarist’s eye in her stage compositions, and her production shimmers with a languid beauty. She’s ably assisted by production designer Charles A. Duncombe, whose weathered shoreline set, complete with beached boat, gives a sense of shipwrecked ambition, and whose velvety lighting bathes the ensemble, many of whom appear nude or seminude. Josephine Poinsot’s witty costuming swings from modern to timelessly diaphanous. CITY GARAGE, 1340½ Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 22. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Mikulan)

  THE BOW WOW CLUB In his trilogy, For the Love of Freedom, playwright Levy Lee Simon demonstrated an epic grasp of French colonialism and revolution in Haiti. Here, he brings the psychological baggage of domestic colonialism and slavery to a contemporary barbecue in suburban New York, to the 25-year reunion of a club of African-American men from Harlem who prided themselves on their sexual prowess and camaraderie. Two and a half decades later, they gather with wives and significant others to the home of former Army jock Kirk (John Marshall Jones), now struggling with self-worth, and that of his religious wife, Diane (Nancy Cheryll Davis). After tribal, macho greetings (including dog calls and hugs), we (and they) discover that Chuck (Terrance Ellis) is gay; Alex (Erik Kilpatrick), once a spokesperson for black identity, has married and impregnated a white scholar of interracial relations (Addie Daddio); star crooner Lester (understudy James Black) shows off his success with expensive gifts and shows up with a French model (Amanda Aardsma), whose short, clingy dress and the gyrations she does in it bring out the venom in Beverly (Maimie-Louise Anderson), whose marriage to Sal (Freedom) is already being battered by life’s sharp rocks. Infidelity, love, sexuality and wounded pride form the cornerstone themes, resulting in the idea that merely surviving the heritage of slavery is a major victory. Dan Martin’s somewhat uncrafted direction benefits from the actors’ charisma — particularly that of Jones, Davis, Freedom, Anderson, Ellis and Black. MASTERINGTHEAUDITION.COM and THE STELLA ADLER THEATRE, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 15. (323) 960-5521. (Steven Leigh Morris)

PICK   THE CAR PLAYS One creative solution for a theater without a space is to take their show on the road. If there’s no road available, try a parking lot. That’s what Moving Arts is trying in The Car Plays , a distant echo of Wolfskill Theatre Company’s drive-in version of Marat/Sade , several years ago, in a parking lot for an audience viewing from their cars and listening via speakers provided by the theater. Here 20 plays (of 10 minutes or less) are performed inside 20 cars, lined up in four rows of five. Though performances run from 6 to 10 p.m., your ticket is good for an hour, or five plays. From the theater’s foyer, a carhop escorts you to the first vehicle, where you’ll climb in with one or two passengers. Stage managers shut the doors until the actors arrive. I saw a rehearsal for Paul Stein’s “Two Fellas, One Fella.” Gary Marschall and Jon Amirkhan jangled car keys and eventually climbed in the front seats, bickering about Amirkhan’s crude Armenian taste and Marschall’s American arrogance. Dialogue revealed they had walked a considerable distance for this “pick up,” which concerned a body in the trunk; here, things started to turn Tarantino-esque. Moving Arts promises an experience unlike most, and is truly living up to its name. Moving Arts at THE STEVE ALLEN THEATER, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., Sept. 16, hourly perfs 6-10 p.m.; $15. (866) 811-4111.  (Steven Leigh Morris)

  DO LORD REMEMBER ME Next time you hear some guy bitching about how there’s no good theater in L.A., hogtie him, toss him into your car and drive straight to the Raven Playhouse for Wilson Bell’s staging of Do Lord Remember Me; that ought to shut him up. James de Jongh’s historical musical consists of the authentic oral histories of former slaves, woven together with Negro spirituals. The cast is composed of five actors who play multiple parts. There are no extraneous actors in the cast, and the set and lighting reflect that same minimalism. Aside from the rare, well-placed flash of red, lighting designer Christopher Singleton refrains from fancy effects. James Esposito’s set consists of only three chairs and a box. All this economy allows for the stories to take center stage. I was wishing that Arthur Alonzo Richardson, as Slave, would never leave the stage. His ability to inhabit each of his characters is incomparable, and his soulful performance is tempered by touches of playfulness, even in the darkest scenes. With such heavy subject matter, it’s amazing that this production is so much fun. Despite the immeasurable pain these ex-slaves endured, the final, prevailing sentiment is not bitter, but grateful, that “God done spared a few o’ us to tell da tale.” Chromolume Theatre Company at the RAVEN PLAYHOUSE, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (310) 315-3537. (Stephanie Lysaght)

PICK   SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE Man Bites Dogma is the theme of the S.F. Mime Troupe’s latest farce, Godfellas , which skewers the religious right as well as those progressives who idolize ideas. In this loopy fable written by Michael Gene Sullivan, Jon Brooks, Christian Cagigal and Eugenie Chan, a Mafia-like Ecumenical Syndicate, while wrapping itself in the memory of 9/11, pushes for a mandatory day of national prayer — and the insertion of God into the Constitution, “where he belongs.” The syndicate has ulterior motives besides seeking a peaceable kingdom, however, and those are exposed by a pair of fumbling secular humanists. Aided by the ghost of Tom Paine, our heroine and hero try to stem the evangelical tide with only reason on their side. More than a mere nostalgic connection to lefty street theater, the 47-year-old troupe is proof that politics and art can mix, and on a shoestring budget. This show, with music and lyrics by Bruce Barthol, Amos Glick and Pat Moran, marks a rare Southland appearance for the company. The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Wed.-Fri., Sept. 20-22, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 23, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 24, 2 p.m. (Thurs. pay-what-you-can student/senior single tickets). (415) 285-1717 or www.sfmt.org. (Steven Mikulan)

PICK  SECOND ANNUAL LATINO NEW WORKS FESTIVAL “A lot of mythologies that used to be projected toward Mexicans in the past have shifted and are now being projected toward the Arab, the brown man as violent, as primitive, as hateful of progress,” explains performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. “More and more, the war on terror overlaps with the war on immigrants, and that worries me profoundly.” Gómez-Peña and his troupe, La Pocha Nostra, are among the few creative forces exploring the intersections between Latinos and the Middle East. This week, Gómez-Peña presents a new piece exploring this theme at Highways, as part of the Second Annual Latino New Works Festival. Created with collaborators Roberto Sifuentes, Violeta Luna and Rene Garcia, the piece, Mapa-Corpo: Therapis Violentis VJ Mix , is the second part of a trilogy. It involves an interactive process Gómez-Peña calls “occu-puncture.” The performance is a homecoming of sorts for Gómez-Peña, one of the founders of Highways. The festival also includes new works by Richard Coca, contra-tiempo, Sergia Perez and Emanuel Loarca. In the exhibition space, Hector Silva presents his exquisite and erotically charged portraits of muscular cholos. HIGHWAYS PERFORMANCE SPACE, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., Sept. 15-16, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m.; $20 Fri.-Sat. ($15 students), $15 Sun. ($10 students). (310) 315-1459.  (Daniel Hernandez)

  A STILL, SMALL VOICE It’s not a backhanded compliment to say that Mitch Hale’s character study of four alcoholics trapped in a church basement closely recalls a hard-luck adaptation of The Breakfast Club. Both share a sincere interest in their mixed bag of misfits that accords their fights, hugs and stalemates a commendable degree of honesty. Their A.A. meeting has been washed out by a freak L.A. thunderstorm, allowing homeless wretch Aaron (a wonderfully grimy Kenny Johnston) as much time as he needs to bait Ray (Jason McNeil), Joe (Jay Laisne) and Judy (Steffanie Thomas) into wringing his neck. (“This is not good for my serenity,” Ray sighs.) To Aaron, a weaselly, hobbled ex-vet, he’s stuck with a meathead, a liar and a princess who can’t fathom his misery. Hale suggests that what substance abusers need in addition to acceptance and rules is a big smack upside the head when they start trying to one-up each other’s self-victimization. The play’s insights into the climb out of destruction don’t dig much deeper than that, and Hale expresses them mostly through speeches and cyclical arguments. Yet the cast — particularly Johnston and Laisne — is so good, and director John Ferraro’s attention to character detail is well complemented by a thoughtful production design that includes David Parke’s sound and Scott Ramirez’s set. 4th Dimension Theatre Company at THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 8 (no perf Sept. 21). (323) 960-1055. (Amy Nicholson)

THEY SHOOT MEXICANS, DON’T THEY? Based loosely on her family history, director/co-writer Teresa Chavez offers a glimpse at how Hollywood stereotyped Mexicans and other Latinos in this ambitious yet rather listless production that mixes dance, music, video images and live action. In 1927, dance instructor La Maestra (co-writer Rose Portillo) provided performers for The Mission Play, a highly romanticized and whitewashed portrayal of the Spaniards’ “civilizing” of California’s native population that was popular with L.A.’s white denizens. When a producer (Michael Manuel) plans to film the play, conflicts emerge between La Maestra’s commitment to traditional choreography and her nephew Raoul’s (Manuel again) penchant for the modern, as well as between the producer’s vision of Mexican society and that of La Maestra. While entertaining and enlightening, the play contains a convoluted story that gets further bogged down with subplots. One depicts the comical efforts of Raoul’s sister, Rosita (Portillo), to become the next Dolores del Rio; another follows the modern-day descendant of La Maestra, Gloria (Portillo again), a film historian who screens vintage bigoted film clips. The evocative musical interludes from the band Orquesta California, composed by members Martha Gonzalez and Quetzal Flores, and Francisco Martinez’s diverting choreography are added pluses for this well-intentioned presentation. AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (323) 667-7000. (Martín Hernández)


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