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Theater Reviews

Grace (Photo by Anthony Masters)

THE BOMBA TRILOGY Christopher Kelley’s dizzying trio of talky one-acts toys with the unease between people who make art and their shallow, cynical or absent audience. Every character is isolated by lies, self-absorption and a shifty reality where corpses won’t stay dead and something wicked is always approaching. In Illumination (directed by Hank Bunker), the theater-land memories of a grimy pair of self-described “drunks and whores” (Darrett Sanders and Heather Witt) are savagely derailed by a brute in army pants (Sammie Wayne IV). Though it’s ambiguous whether the artists’ humiliation at his hands symbolizes the physical or budgetary bludgeoning of the arts, politicos are clearly the enemy. Continuing that theme, Fuckjoy (directed by Kelley) shows two perky, sharp-dressed bobbleheads (Inger Tudor and Joe Egender) chattering about how those pesky human emotions interrupt their pursuit of wealth and power. While there’s the suspicion that Kelley’s trifles have more cleverness than profundity, the raucous ensemble has fun with the closing piece, Darkness (also directed by Kelley), which turns an evisceration of Agatha Christie murder mysteries into an indictment of death as entertainment. THEATER OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; perfs Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323) 856-8611. (Amy Nicholson)


DVORAK IN AMERICA With melodies inspired by the works of Antonin Dvorak, Janet Barnet and Alice Lunsford’s musical takes place in 1893, the year the Czech composer taught at the New York Conservatory. With the school term having ended, Dvorak (Fred Ochs) moves his family from the bustle of New York City to the more peaceful climes of Spillville, Iowa, in the hopes of conquering a creativity block. The perfectionist composer frequently takes out his anger on his long-suffering secretary, Kovarik (Drew Messenger Michael). At other times, his frustrations wear on his marriage to his adoring wife, Anna (Dina Bennett). His children, Otilie (Lara Janine) and Tonik (Sterling Beaumon), however, are happy in the small town with its population of Czech émigrés and Native Americans. Into this mix arrives his high-strung sister-in-law, Josephine (Kelly Lester), an actress who seeks to rekindle her romance with the composer. Directed by David Galligan, the acting is stronger than the singing. That said, the melodies are exquisite, thanks in no small part to Wayne Moore’s musical direction. And although Tony Pereslete’s set is entirely functional, Michael Zinman’s perplexing lighting choices are distracting. Longhair Productions Inc. at the WHITEFIRE THEATRE, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (323) 960-4429 or www.plays411.com/dvorak. (Sandra Ross)


THE FAT OF THE LAND In Don Cummings’ new play, aspiring composer James (Robert Gantos) and his best friend, Martha (Larisa Miller) — a sculptor and painter — live an artists’ life of self-examination and muted frustration (with their lack of concentration and/or accomplishment) in rustic upstate New York. Meanwhile, their values and patience are tested by neighbors Beverly and Sam (Mary McBride and John L. Bader) — she’s a religiously oriented housewife stifled by her personality-stifling husband, who’s a judge, both professionally and temperamentally. Sweet blabbermouth Beverly want a baby, but Sam has a sperm deficiency, and so the Christians turn to the atheist artist James for a shot of spunk. Meanwhile, Martha’s nephew — a baby-faced narcissist dancer (Guy Wilson) — winds up in bed with James, while Sam, seething with both envy and contempt, “accidentally” sets fire to Martha’s sculptures. Sam also helps implement a zoning change that will permit residential subdivisions to decimate the forest. Using the same tart wit he displayed in his one-man play, American Air, Cummingssubtly sets the artists’ self-absorbed creativity against their neighbors’ artless bluster and destructiveness — all with a sorrowful Chekhovian languor. Unfortunately, the play is at least half an hour too long with three endings. The artists’ rueful reflections turn whiny, while Beverly’s babble-mouthed pathos starts to grate. There’s also a transsexual (Dan Alemshah) who’s probably there to underscore the identity confusion of everyone in the story. This might have worked had the characters not worn out their welcome. The acting is perfectly pleasant under Kelly Ann Ford’s direction, and Bader’s crew-cut gnome, Sam, has a particularly eccentric appeal. THE THEATRE DISTRICT, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 29. (323) 960-7789. (Steven Leigh Morris)


THE FENCE Playwright-director Johanna Siegmann’s comedy begins with a clever, timely premise and ends with a droll twist. The play takes place at the Texas-Mexico border, where a 50-foot, miles-long fence has materialized overnight. The looming barrier halts the hitherto unpatrolled two-way traffic across the border, leaving several people stranded on the wrong side. Chief among them is Gin (the effective Angelica Pulido), a Mexican woman who’d been shopping for groceries in the U.S. and now is unable to get back home to breastfeed her 3-month-old. Her indignant dialogue with the never-seen Officer Wilcox (Ahmad Enani) — who communicates, deity-like, over a booming speaker — furnishes the satire’s P.C. spine. Eventually, Gin’s dysfunctional family shows up — as do two teenagers, a drunk, a drug dealer, and her customer, and various other frustrated individuals. The 13-person ensemble includes both professional and neophyte performers; under Siegmann’s direction, the timing is frequently off and the gags (such as Gin feeding her baby through a hole in the fence) are overplayed. No question the piece has its heart in the right place, but its particulars need to be pruned and sharpened. UNDERGROUND THEATER, 1312 N. Wilton Pl., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (323) 960-7784. (Deborah Klugman)


{mosimage}GRACE Faith — in God, real estate and the good will of strangers — provides the psychological tumult in Craig Wright’s play, in which a Christian couple (Brad Price and Sara Hennessy) have their dreams implode upon moving to Florida. More of an intelligent TV potboiler than a work of theater, the play nevertheless reaches a narrative fission through Eric Pargac’s sensitive performance as a tormented neighbor who enters the couple’s lives. PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (626) 356-PLAY or www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.


THE GREY ZONE Starker even than most Holocaust dramas, Tim Blake Nelson’s script conjures a vivid portrait of Jewish men who chose a chance of life and special treatment over being executed — though that privilege came with the dark cost of ushering prisoners into gas-chambers, then burning the bodies and cleaning the site. Director Brian C. Weed provides excruciating tension from beginning to end, though this 90-minute piece would have profited from skipping the intermission, which dissipates some of the well-earned horror. A few of the performers cross from tragedy into melodrama but quickly return to the naturalistic mold of this production. Weed superbly handles the technical elements: the surprisingly beautiful desolate set (by David Offner), worn costumes (Sarah Walbridge) and the uncredited, grimy make-up are made even more disturbing through Ventura Alvarez’s lighting. But the most prominent element is the sometimes moving, sometimes frightening original music by Ben Holbrook that underscores the entire endeavor. A guest production at DEAF WEST THEATRE, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (800) 838-3006. (Tom Provenzano)


HISTORY OF THE BLACK MAN starts out drearily and stays there for a while before the evening of comedy sketches takes off. In portraying the history of African-America as both lecture and entertainment, writer-director Kamal Abdul-Jabbaar and co-writer Kyle Erby try to fill, or refill, the very large footprints left by George C. Wolfe’s 1986 The Colored Museum, which, in both writing and performance (at the New York Public Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum) was memorably piquant and poetical. The first half of History of the Black Man is, by contrast, remedial satire, saturated in frivolous ironies — goofy white guys who put on KKK robes and discover their terrifying potency entirely by accident, or Jackie Robinson (Kyle Erby) literally having his patience tested by Brooklyn Dodgers management as a reluctant manager (Cornell Reid) is ordered by club president Branch Rickey to hurl racial epithets at the newcomer. The show gains momentum and wit in the second half with the physical humor of a great O.J. parody by Dion Lack, and a horrifying satire of parents at a ghetto school in a sketch featuring Vertina Love, Sarah Barton and Dominique Purdy. The Edgeucation at THE ACME COMEDY THEATER, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 27. (323) 525-0202. (Steven Leigh Morris)


 HOTEL C’EST L’AMOUR Director-conceiver Daniel Henning seamlessly knits together this collection of pre-existing songs by Michael John LaChiusa. Still dressed in wedding finery, a Bride (Jennifer Malenke) and Groom (Rick Cornette) joyfully enter the honeymoon suite at a posh hotel (the Japanese-inspired set design by Kurtis Bedford). All is well until the groom re-enters with Marie (Ameríca Olivo), who’s wearing a white veil and a black wedding dress. While the Bride and Groom sing “A Lovely Wedding,” Marie joins in, opening the wedding gifts, tossing each aside, undercutting the couple’s pledge of eternal devotion. As Marie insists that “happily ever after is a lie,” the newlyweds begin to experience doubt, as evidenced by their frozen smiles. The hotel staff, Mimi (Vicki Lewis) and Maman (Daren A. Herbert), insert themselves into the proceedings, with Lewis providing the vocal pyrotechnics and Herbert the beefcake. Most of the songs deal with various types of disillusionment, but the lyrics are so bouncy that the story, oddly enough, stays upbeat. Christy Crowl’s musical direction is superb, and the ensemble is pitch perfect. Brisk direction by Henning makes the piece entirely engaging. THE BLANK’S SECOND STAGE THEATRE, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (323) 661-9827 or www.theblank.com. (Sandra Ross)


NO MERCY Constance Congdon’s expressionistic drama is a contemplation of nuclear power and its implications, set simultaneously in 1945 and 1985. In 1945, young G.I. Roy (Matty Ferraro), working at the New Mexico test site for the first atom bomb, has a cryptic encounter with atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Phil Ward), but loses sight in one eye in the first blast. In 1985, televangelist Jackie (Ashley West Leonard) eagerly looks forward to the Rapture because she wants to see Christ. Roy, 40 years later (John Dennis Johnson), now a gospel singer married to agoraphobic Ramona (Susan Merson), is asked to sing on Jackie’s gospel hour, with disturbing results. Young Air Force man Adam worries because his pregnant wife, Jane (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), is ominously overdue. And a silent, lost boy (Robby Stehlin) threads through the action, while Oppenheimer prowls the play’s perimeter like an eccentric, worried ghost, quoting John Donne’s holy sonnets. Congdon’s play combines so many disparate elements that, though provocative and thoughtful, it perplexes more than it satisfies. Director Larry Biederman gives it a faithful, ably acted production on Sibyl Wickersheimer’s huge, inventive set, and Lap-Chi Chu’s lighting and John Zalewski’s sound emphasize the awful powers of the bomb. 24TH STREET THEATER, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (800) 838-3006. (Neal Weaver)


RAY BRADBURY’S AUTUMN PEOPLE Heat may be a common element in author Ray Bradbury’s one-act versions of a pair of his macabre stories, but under Alan Neal Hubbs’ direction, there isn’t much fire generated from the performances. After climbing out of his crypt in Pillar of Fire, a corpse named Lantry (Simon Russell) awakens to a seemingly benevolent state that has eliminated crime, lies and fear, banned fiction in its libraries and has its dead ceremoniously cremated. Convinced he must be a zombie, Lantry starts a killing spree that sets the “peace squad” on his heels and leads him to a ghastly surprise. The characterizations are far from deep, the massive crematorium set is distracting, and Pillar pales as an indictment of censorship compared to Bradbury’s masterpiece Fahrenheit 451. In Touched by Fire, a heat wave approaches a 1930s Dust Bowl town as Mr. Foxe (Michael J. Morrison) tries to convince Mr. Shaw (Jay Gerber) that 92-degree weather causes violent unpredictability in humans. The two retired insurance salesmen attempt to protect an angry and aptly named harridan, Mrs. Shrike (Dale Manolakas), from herself but end up more hindrance than help. Apparently a swipe at homophobia, the piece gets bogged down by unneeded verbosity. Pandemonium Theatre Company at the FREMONT CENTER THEATRE, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 5. (323) 960-4451. (Martín Hernández)


REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT Career Army sergeant Benito Rubio (Ken Arquelio) returns home to Barstow from a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf War only to find wife Gabriela (Maria Tomas) restless and questioning. José Rivera’s 2000 semisurreal play already seems dated, despite its obvious wartime topicality, with the playwright’s poetic dialogue erratically weaving in and out of what is basically a kitchen-sink drama. ART/WORKS THEATRE, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 4. (323) 960-7785. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.


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