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Theater Reviews

Eurydice

ALL THE RAGE A reproduction of Edvard Munch’s The Scream adorning the stage prior to Keith Reddin’s darkly comedic and disturbing morality play serves as a herald for the work’s depiction of suppressed anger in big-city America. Businessman Warren (Reed Rudy) holds his wife, Helen (Therese McLaughlin), in contempt for suspected infidelities; psychopath Sidney (Karl Maschek) will kill anyone who crosses him or his teen bimbo sister, Annabel (Rachel Castillo); and bipolar suit salesman Chris (Daniel Jay Shore) is off his meds and threatening his attorney-lover Tim’s (Michael Sean McGuinness) life when he keeps coming home late. As these and other well-drawn characters cross paths — and pack heat — in Reddin’s surreal fairy tale, it is only a matter of time before it all hits the fan. And when it does, the confrontations can cause laughs as well as chills. While the upshot is fairly predictable, Reddin’s erudite text and a super cast under Brian Shnipper’s fluid direction salvage it. Standouts include Ned Schmidtke as the wealthy yet forlorn eccentric Norton, whose hatred for noise has made him a hermit, and Kevin Fabian as the milquetoast Tennel, whose changing of his name to Fennel does little to change his sad destiny. THE ATTIC THEATRE AND FILM CENTER, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (323) 525-0600. (Martín Hernández)


THE ANGRY GUY IN THE PINK HAT Playwright Ken Brisbois’ imaginative but unfocused comedy tells the story of a rumpled, middle-aged schlub named Joe (Jacques Freydont) who, for one week every year, dons a magical pink hat that instantly transforms him into the Angriest Man in the World. Joe rants and raves, shrieks incoherent vituperation, and clenches his fists, stamps his feet and foams at the mouth. As Joe’s incredible and inexplicable hostility turns him into a local tourist attraction, a young married couple (Andrew Wollman and Kristina Hayes) invite their pals (Jason Frost and Rebecca Lincoln) to set up lawn chairs in front of the maniac to watch him bark. Before long, Joe’s rage infects the spectators, and madness starts to seep into them like butter into a scone. Director Scott Rognlien’s fast-paced production boasts nearly perfect, ironically pitched performances, but the comedy fizzles midway through, and the story flounders into irrelevantly padded and random incidents. Freydont, playing the kind of sputtering, paranoid madman you might see pushing a shopping cart down the street, artfully assays his wrathful character. While it’s a pleasure to watch the two unpleasant young couples get their just desserts and devolve into varying degrees of insanity, the play’s fragmented plot is too disorganized and long-winded to keep our attention for its overlong running time. The Next Arena at the TWO ROADS THEATER, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec 16. (323) 860-8778. (Paul Birchall)


{mosimage}PICK EURYDICE Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House (last winter at South Coast Repertory) and Demeter in the City (last summer at REDCAT) are mere shadows of Eurydice, her reconception of the Orpheus myth that’s being given an achingly beautiful production by Circle X Theatre Company. For this play alone, Ruhl deserves the MacArthur Fellowship that she received earlier this year: Speaking about the different tongues in the lands of the living and the dead, the play itself employs a theatrical language that’s two parts opera, one part vaudeville and one part psychological realism, a blend that invites the theater form to be singular and unique. On her wedding day to Orpheus (Tim Wright) — who speaks only in the language of music — Eurydice (Kelly Brady, playing a smart, silly goose-in-wonderland) — conversing only in the language of books — wanders to the penthouse apartment of the Lord of the Underworld (Jeff Ricketts) to retrieve a letter sent her by her late father (John Getz, perfectly tenderhearted) from the land down under. Much of the play concerns her arrival in Hades after an accident, where she reunites with her dad, whom she mistakes for a porter. Eventually, she learns his “language” and comes to re-understand her origins. When Orpheus storms the gates of hell to retrieve his bride, a tragic love triangle emerges in which Eurydice feels emotionally wrenched between her father and her groom. The play is ultimately about growing up, and old, and saying goodbye to people and worlds we love. One does have to wonder why the production design is so strikingly similar to the Yale Rep production earlier this year. Director John Langs’ artful staging features Robbin E. Broad’s ravishing sound design and Brian Sidney Bembridge’s tiled set of aqua and greens that turns hell into a cool, slippery place that steals memories more through erosion than fire. Circle X Theatre Company at [INSIDE] THE FORD, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (no perfs Dec. 24 & 31); thru Jan. 6. (323) 461-3673. (Steven Leigh Morris)


IN THE CONTINUUM Writer-performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter’s kaleidoscopic two-person, multicharacter show studies the parallel travails of Abigail (Gurira) in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Nia (Salter) in South Los Angeles — each inflicted with HIV by philandering men. The actors are each entrancing — in their eerily similar worlds, continents apart — as the realization of their plight and the damnation of their poverty sinks in. Some of their monologues crackle with insight (a remedially educated salesperson at Nordstrom’s, Nia justifies shoplifting a handbag by its 50 cent cost to the company, plus her $5-an-hour wage, for which she’s supposed to sell such bags for $350). For all this, the story itself is considerably better than the dramaturgy, which speculates on their victimization and the bathos of their descent from one layer of hell to the next. The evening consists almost entirely of exposition passing for confrontation, verbiage delivered to offstage characters. This is supposed to be “theatrical,” but the absence of dialogue takes its toll. (Sometimes they portray the principal victims, bleeding from wounded pride; sometimes, the people who surround them.) Salter is particularly fine as Nia’s mother, who gives her forlorn daughter $60 for a motel rather than welcome her back home. The actors return to their core characters with predictable, prosaic explosions of teary rage that appear more calculated to win Ovation Awards than to get to the heart of the matter, which is anything but histrionic. The play’s main structural fallacy comes to light after almost two hours, when each comes to the realization that “He knew!” — as though that wouldn’t have been their first thought on learning they were infected. Eventually, they each must choose whether, in public, to “out” their comparatively prosperous killers. The play almost screams for these men to appear on the stage, setting the stage for an actual scene — which never arrives. Robert O’Hara directs. Primary Stages at the KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)


THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT There’s an unsettling pertinence to Jean Giraudoux’s 1945 tale about an eccentric matron who saves the city of Paris from a cabal of capitalists and their rabid venality. In Maurice Valency’s adaptation, the action unfolds in post-Katrina New Orleans. Gathered in Countess Aurelia’s bohemian café are a colorful bunch of vagabonds and the unscrupulous millionaire known as the President (Frank Noon), who, after much discussion with the Prospector (Seth Peterson) and Baron (Ali Saam), hatch a plan to cheat the countess out of her property so they can drill for oil. The story has charm, irony and humor, but Anthony Barnao’s staid direction doesn’t draw out these elements. Cast performances are uniformly sound, but it’s Jayne Taini’s formidable turn as the countess that carries the evening. Sphere at the MCCADDEN PLACE THEATRE, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (323) 960-5771. (Lovell Estell III)


THE OLDEST PROFESSION Paula Vogel’s early-career, schmaltz-laden portrait of five septuagenarian hookers never gets past its indulgent premise. Sporting historically relevant overtones, the play takes place in Manhattan at the beginning of the Reagan era. The quintet, colleagues for over 50 years, find themselves in narrowing straits: Their customers are dying, their incomes are shrinking, their health is failing, and they face eviction as upscale gentrification sweeps the town. The pressure brings on both intensified bickering and an oversize bravado that’s supposed to endear these women to us and make us laugh. Unfortunately, it made me wince. Under Ken Sawyer’s direction, these interchanges ring false from start to finish (think Golden Girls in harlots’ dress) and leave us with no sense that anyone here has a clue about working the streets. Of the five, only Sally Wells Cook’s hard-nosed, greed-is-good Ursula appears grounded. By far, the best performance belongs to pianist Beverly Craveiro, whose rousing jazz and ragtime solos outshine play and players alike. ODYSSEY THEATRE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (added perfs Dec. 6 & 13, 8 p.m.; perfs on Dec. 3 & Jan. 7, 7 p.m.; no perfs Dec. 24-Jan. 3); thru Jan. 14. (310) 477-2055. (Deborah Klugman)


{mosimage} OUR LADY OF 121st STREET It’s no great day in Harlem when the body of a venerated nun is stolen from an uptown funeral home in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2002 play. This disappearing act convenes encounters between authorities, neighborhood characters and the merely curious. The purloined “penguin” presents no detective mystery, though, merely an organizing principle that sets the stage for this double-cast production of 10 scenes involving residents who mostly bitch about the claustrophobic endgame they call life in their corner of Manhattan. The chief figures are Balthazar (Scott Anthony Leet), an alcoholic cop investigating Sister Rose’s disappearance; Rooftop (Hansford Prince), a smooth-talking homeboy who left for Los Angeles years ago to become a successful radio DJ; and Inez (Leshay Tomlinson), his bitter ex-wife who stayed behind. People meet in church, the funeral home or a nearby bar — they’re all equally sacrosanct and profane locales in Guirgis’ universe. Director Gloria Gifford displays a sensitive ear for the playwright’s scraped-from-the-asphalt dialogue and has assembled talented actors similarly in tune with the material. However, Gifford’s decision to pipe in pop music during scene blackouts softens Guirgis’ story, which at times seems headed toward the forbidding property owned by Hubert Selby Jr. In a play without a real plot, the characters’ monologues about their pasts make good listening, but ultimately we don’t — or can’t — care that their childhood chums fell down elevator shafts or had bricks bounced off their heads. Like Balthazar and Rooftop, the audience is living in the moment, and when that moment is sentimentalized by pop tunes, all that follows looks suspiciously like an acting showcase. Jamaica Moon Productions at the MATRIX THEATRE, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (800) 595-4849. (Steven Mikulan)


PLEASE TAKE A NUMBER (THE WELFARE ACT) Writer-performer Nia Orms sets her series of monologues in an NYC Welfare Office, where oddball citizens proliferate. Her finely wrought characters include Jenny, an elderly, toothless, homeless woman who spouts statistics, flirts with the males in the audience and imagines a soap opera based on her life; a teenage single mother who wants to be a writer and nurses a crush on Paul Newman; a young black man who fails at drug dealing and tries to launch a singing career by rapping to “Mary Had a Little Lamb”; a Puerto Rican girl who’s totally — but probably erroneously — convinced that she’s destined to be a star; and an African girl named Sudan, who’s rescued from a genocidal attack on her village by a stranger. Orms is a handsome black woman who isn’t afraid of looking grotesque if the character requires it. Her sketches are not always entirely credible (the single mom seems at times both too knowing and too naive) but they’re consistently interesting and amusing, and sometimes touching. Director Graham Streeter ensures that the 60-minute performance moves briskly, with seamless costume and character changes. THE LOUNGE THEATRE, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 960-7745. (Neal Weaver)


{mosimage} WHAT THE RABBI SAW Superbly executed physical comedy distinguishes Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore’s farce about pre-wedding complications. Director Ross Kramer has assembled a terrific cast with a knack for slapstick — the hair-pulling cat fight in bridal clothes is priceless. The gags come off without a hitch, and Kramer’s fight choreography is flawless. When the bride’s sister (Stefanie Chapman) gets her dress caught in the groom’s (Travis Goodman) zipper, it sets off a chain of riotous mishaps. The lovers try to hide their state of undress from the rabbi (Corey Pepper) and the bride’s mother (Kerry Michaels), but that becomes impossible once the bride (Sarah Zimmitti) confesses to having an affair with the best man (Mike Uribes), whose pants are similarly caught in the bride’s dress. As the wedding coordinator (Guy Perry) nears meltdown, the bride’s father (Adam Gregor) starts making moves on the wedding singer (Dré Slaman). Alex Sol and Stefanie Chapman’s set includes the requisite slamming doors, and the hiding-in-the-closet bits are particularly well choreographed by Kramer. The comic timing is pitch perfect throughout, and Chapman, Uribes and Slaman are the standouts among an excellent cast. Dreamworks Ensemble at THE SPACE, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 16 (added perfs Dec. 3, 10 & 16, 2 p.m.). (323) 661-2585. (Sandra Ross)


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