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Theater Reviews

The Chronicles of Steve: The Bossy Bottom (Photo by Chuck Castlebury)

The Chronicles of Steve: The Bossy Bottom (Photo by Chuck Castlebury)

Coming in two weeks, the 28th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards nominees.

BAD HURT ON CEDAR STREET The Kendall family has problems that go way beyond dysfunctional. Mom Elaine (Lisa Richards) chirpily presides over her disastrous brood with optimism that passes all understanding — but she’s hiding a dark secret. Dad (Stephen Mendillo) came home from the Vietnam War an angry alcoholic (also with a dark secret), and son Kent (Grant Sullivan) returned from the first Iraq war with Gulf War syndrome, a serious drug habit — and a dark secret. Second son Todd (Jeff Cole) has never quite found himself. And mentally challenged daughter Phoebe (Iris Gilad) is like a giant baby, too obstreperous to control. She has a boyfriend (Laurence Cohen), also retarded, who bores holes in their house in order to engage her in peculiar sexual encounters. In Act 2, all the dark secrets spill out in a dizzying array of revelatory monologues and confrontations. Mark Kemble’s play begins to seem an almost parodistic evocation of the kitchen-sink dramas emerging from the Actors Studio of the 1950s and ’60s. Salome Jens directs a top-notch cast with a sure and sensitive hand, but the piece contains more pain than one play can comfortably accommodate, and becomes more wearying than moving. James Eric and Victoria Bellocq provide the huge and finely detailed set of the Kendall home. GREENWAY COURT THEATRE, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb 24. (323) 655-7679. (Neal Weaver)

PICK DOGEATERS Adapted from her 1990 novel of the same name, Jessica Hagedorn’s 40-character play is a compelling tale of intrigue set in the Philippines of 1982, when President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, ruled with the haughtiness of depraved monarchs but spent public money like a pair of drunken sailors. Senator Avila (Alberto Isaac) opposes the Marcos’ regime, while his daughter Daisy (Esperanza Catubig), the new Miss Philippines, is secretly involved with a revolutionary from the New People’s Army (Gino Aquino). Meanwhile, Joey (Ramón de Ocampo), a junkie and hustler (and metaphor for the Philippines), sells himself to rich tourists to escape his poverty — or at least to get his next fix. Eventually, they and sundry others cross paths to create a political upheaval that could devastate the nation. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera’s epic staging of his 20-member ensemble is flawless. Stealing the show are Ivan Davila’s drag-queen diva with a secret, Orlando Pabotoy and Liza Del Mundo’s vapid TV commentators, and Natsuko Ohama’s imperious Imelda, who often silently and disdainfully peers at her subjects from above the stage. And, while Hagedorn may humorously riff on her country’s fascination with Pilipino film-star gossip, soap operas and American pop culture, she laments that this attachment may also stifle the Philippines’ efforts to overcome its myriad dilemmas. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 11. (213) 628-2772.   (Martín Hernández)

KABARA SOL As Laurent Tardy’s haunting music floats over the theater, a masked man and his six androgynous minions appear on a stage lit by Dan Reed so that their shadows climb the walls. The man is Kabara Sol, who, in this work by Stephen Legawiec, is a powerful drug lord living in a Southeast Asian port city in the 1930s. The show is a massive undertaking for actor Dana Wieluns, who plays not only Kabara Sol, but also a disabled amnesiac named Genny the Boot and a drug-addicted nightclub singer named China Drago. Wieluns transitions smoothly between the three characters, but seems most at ease as Kabara Sol; indeed, she appears slightly nervous when her turn as Drago forces her to sing. Some of Legawiec’s best lines, however, go to Drago, the damaged blonde who explains, “I have the soul of a poet, the ache of a poet, but not the talent.” The story is engaging enough, but Legawiec’s minimalist set design is the most original part of the production: A single yellow balloon, held by one of the minions, signifies a party. Legawiec directs the 90-minute piece with dancelike fluidity — and, to maintain its flow, without intermission. His intentionally drab costume design contributes a sense of wan lifelessness to the proceedings. Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble at [INSIDE] THE FORD, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 11. (323) 461-3673. (Stephanie Lysaght)

TIP-TOES This 1925 confection of George and Ira Gershwin Tin Pan Alley songs, bound loosely by a wisp of a girl-gets-loses-gets-boy story by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, is offered a pleasant but not quite ripe production. It’s a type of old-fashioned Broadway fare that only thrives under much bigger resources than this small troupe can muster. Though Brian O’Halloran’s musical direction offers some joyous arrangements, it remains the limited sound of a piano and drum set, not the orchestrations that these Gershwin ditties require to sail. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes are bright and expertly period, but are not enough to overcome the lack of a set, which leaves the show visually surrounded by black curtains that sap the energy from the evening. And the energy of the actors themselves seems subdued rather than bouncy and silly as the music and book demand. It’s clear that director-choreographer William Mead knows this material and the style extremely well, but his mostly young and less-than-experienced cast members are unable to reach the lighthearted absurdity he wants. A few of the performers rise to the occasion with aplomb, especially tiny Kelly Stables in the title role, who belts in a voice three times her size. Also noteworthy are gorgeous blonde chorine Nikki Tomlinson, who seems to have time-traveled from a 1920s Broadway kick line, and Matt Kubicek, whose charming cad delivers the goods like a great old-fashioned crooner. WHITEFIRE THEATRE, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 18. (800) 504-4849. (Tom Provenzano)

WINTERTIME Love stories are rarely more interesting than the lovers in question, as seen in this ho-hum production of Charles L. Mee’s disappointingly commonplace farce. It begins when a young couple named Jonathan (Joe Hendrix) and Ariel (Kelsey Ann Wedeen) escape for a weekend to his parents’ secluded retreat. Madly in love, the pair’s happiness begins to unravel after Jonathan’s mother, Maria (Lynn Odell), and her French paramour, Francois (Terry Tocantins), appear, followed by Maria’s bisexual husband, Frank (Scott McKinley), and Frank’s insecure boyfriend, Edmund (Brandon Clark). Jealousy already brews among this neurotic middle-aged quartet; it spirals out of control after the flirtatious Francois baselessly hints at a prior liaison with Ariel. Beneath the froth Mee toys with the grand themes of love and death, but the irony and wit found in so much of his other work are only sparingly evident here. Under Joe Jordan’s direction, the action lacks the precision and timing that make this type of comedy crackle. Tocantins, as chief instigator and gasbag, flaunts a deplorable accent to go with over-the-top histrionics. Among the ensemble, only McKinley’s conflicted family man snagged my interest with an authentic humanity. Alas, designer Dan Mailley’s set, a winter fantasia, augurs a magic that’s never displayed. SACRED FOOLS THEATER, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; perfs Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (310) 281-8337. (Deborah Klugman)