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Theater Reviews: All in the Timing, Hair, Life Could Be a Dream

ALL IN THE TIMING Frequently performed and durably diverting, this series of six short plays by David Ives takes ironic potshots at our established notions of time, language and genius. In “Sure Thing,” a meeting between Bill (Jacob Smith) and Betty (Erin Frisbie) replays with numerous permutations, its varying outcome linked to the choice of words Bill employs to win Betty’s favor. In “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” Trotsky (a comically bewigged Smith, with an ax planted in his skull) repeatedly learns of his death from an encyclopedia but fails to forestall it. In “Words, Words, Words,” three chimps set out to write Hamlet, testing an experimenter’s theory that given enough time, great literature will emerge from even the most unpromising quarters. In “The Philadelphia” (as a Philadelphia native, I have an especial appreciation for this one), a distraught and frustrated fellow named Mark (Sean Fitzgerald) learns from his buddy Al (Joe Neuhaus) that he’s stuck in a philadelphia — a metaphysical abyss where things always go wrong. The antidote for this unhappy state, Al explains, is to consistently demand the opposite of what one truly desires — a winning strategy illustrated after their contrary waitress (Katie Sikkema) brings Mark what he really wants after he’s tried ordering everything else. Directed on a shoestring by Carlos Martinez, the production features an uneven ensemble, but the humor is mostly sustained, with Frisbie, Smith and Neuhaus proving to be most versatile and adept. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd. (in rep, call for schedule); through Aug. 30. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Deborah Klugman)

AS YOU LIKE IT One argument for setting Shakespeare’s gender-bending romantic romp in the ’80s is that androgynous pop stars defined that decade. Boy George, Michael Jackson and Siouxsie Sioux are here via Amiens (Dana DeRuyck), Touchstone (Allana Barton) and the depressive Jaques (Terra Shelman), though it’s tough to disassociate and think of them as the Bard’s men, particularly when Touchstone moonwalks. The rest of Paul Miailovich’s cast is made of Valley girls and dream boyfriends, as though from a John Hughes flick, plus several drag queens — most notably Rene Guerrero’s Rosalind, who is both a knockout and a darned fine actor. Her performance, along with Scott Hartman’s Orlando and Amanda Vermillion’s Celia, does what it can to inject some actual Shakespeare into what’s essentially just a happy, fun time stunt complete with sing-alongs. It has the all-ages crowd tapping their toes to “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” At two and a half hours, it runs an hour past its welcome — and Miailovich never met a double-entendre he couldn’t accentuate with a crotch grab — but I suppose it’s a way to get kids to see a Shakespeare, even if at the end, they couldn’t explain what happened. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; in rep with Snoopy: The Musical; call for schedule. (323) 667-0955. (Amy Nicholson)

GO  CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL Humankind can be said to be divided into two, mutually exclusive populations: those who believe South Park co-creator Trey Parker is the second coming of Molière, and those who dismiss his loopy brand of scatological satire as the sophomoric product of a developmentally arrested mind. Unbeknownst to the latter, the former have rescued Parker’s cinematic freshman effort, his 1996 feature-length genre spoof, Alferd Packer: The Musical, from cult obscurity and transferred it to the live stage (most notably at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Judging by director Jessica Variz’s rough-and-tumble version, the True Believers should be placated; even if the film’s MGM-dance-number send-ups are irremediably absent, the surviving book, music and crude production values are all pure Parker. The primary joke is in the inappropriate nature of Parker’s source material — the 1874 trial of guide Alferd Packer (Bill Woods), who was charged with surviving a harrowing winter’s stranding in the Colorado Rockies by eating the five men (Eric Ruiter, Eric Hamme, M.S. Cliff E. Threadgold, Daniel Theyer, Andrew Pedraza) he had been leading to the Breckenridge gold camps. Throw in a little bestiality in the form of Packer’s beloved horse, Liane (Calli Dunaway), her human rival, Polly Pry (Sara Collins, the show’s only trained voice), the odd, puerile pun (“Fudge, Packer?”), and you have a Trey, Trey risqué ode to the redemptive power of romantic, human love. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 22. (866) 811-4111 or thegaragetheatre.org. (Bill Raden)

GO  CLOSER THAN EVER This musical revue is a compendium of 23 numbers by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire (Big and Baby), directed by Chil Kong, with crisp and inventive musical direction by Akira Nakano, and choreography by the late RedRunningbear Savage. The songs emphasize the comic, the wry and the rueful, but they embrace a wide range of subjects, from aging and midlife crisis to fatherhood, lesbian motherhood and unrequited love. Six principal players (Kong, Sharline Liu, D.T. Matias, Blythe Matsui, Paul Nakauchi and Erin Quill) perform the songs with panache, complemented by an ensemble of four (E.J. Ariola, Jully Lee, Jiehae Park and Miley Yamamoto). Quill and Nakauchi offer standout performances with fine support all the way down the line. Musical highlights include the comic “She Loves Me Not,” sung by Matias, Matsui and Nakauchi, the wacky “Miss Byrd,” with Liu, Nakauchi’s touching song about a father’s legacy, “If I Sing,” and Nakauchi and Quill’s ironic account of a muddled marriage, “There.” Quill shines in “Life Story,” and the stirring ensemble numbers include the title song and the grimly humorous “The March of Time.” Kong directs (and performs) with wit and style. Lodestone Theatre Ensemble at CTG Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 30. (323) 993-7245. (Neal Weaver)

 

GO  EL VERDE: ¡VIVA LA FRITA! Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of El Verde (writer-performer Anthony Aguilar), a masked superhero in Fictional City, USA, with a fondness for green and “powers even he isn’t sure of”? In this third installment of the cheeky comic book spoof, pop artist Candy Warhol (Jeremiah Ocañas) is dedicating a clothing line to the dauntless El Verde but is thwarted by the nefarious Frita Kahlo (the hilarious, scene-stealing Karla Ojeda), a criminal mastermind with a mania for monkeys and mind control. As El Verde matches wits with Frita, who plots to seize the cloaked crusader’s popularity and expose his secret identity, his devotion to duty threatens his marriage to the long-suffering Martha (Blanca Melchor). Interspersed are parodies of TV commercials, from Dos XX’s “World’s most interesting man” send-up, written by director Alejandra Cisneros, to hip-hopping insects in the PSA for a bug support group, penned by Gabriela Lopez de Dennis, plus playful swipes at L.A.’s own amorous mayor. Due to the small stage, Cisneros has some awkward moments in the blocking, but her comic timing and exuberant cast — and mellifluous announcer, Oscar Basulto — compensate for any technical blemishes. CASA 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 30. (323) 263-7684. (Martín Hernández)

FERNANDO While it would be pleasant to report that Steven Haworth’s tale of love and art challenges the boundaries of drama in some innovative way, this strangely slight opus — part of the Open Fist Theatre Company’s eight-week First Look festival — turns out to be a prosaic romantic comedy. Priggish, mediocre art historian Zacharia Smythe (Bjorn Johnson) is in Madrid to research Fernando de la Cruz, a minor Spanish artist who vanished mysteriously several years ago. While examining one of Fernando’s paintings for clues, Smythe gets into an argument with a sultry, fiery museum curator named Teresa (Persia White), who finds Smythe arrogant and repulsive. Teresa’s disgust with Smythe’s manners notwithstanding, the pair embarks upon a tempestuous and unlikely affair — during which Smythe discovers that his new amor used to be the lover of the artist he’s searching for. Haworth’s play is at its most involving when we’re left guessing as to whether the ambiguous Teresa truly loves Smythe or is just using him to locate Fernando for her own purposes. Midway through, however, the piece falters into the zone of stock romantic farce, hampered by the contrived nature of the central relationship: Why would a brilliant, assured beauty like Teresa fall for a glum shlub like Zach? Although the show is salvaged by White’s charismatic and peppery turn as the Spanish ice princess, the piece is otherwise weakened by the writer’s heavy reliance on stock characters. Charles Otte’s fast-paced staging is offset by the main characters’ strange lack of chemistry, which undercuts the intended romance. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., Aug. 15, 8 p.m. (323) 882-6912. (Paul Birchall)

GO  HAIR An exuberant ensemble brings Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot’s 1967 rock musical to life, provoking reflections on a fleeting moment of Quixotic defiance against both war in South East Asia and the marketing machine at home. Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (714) 777-3033. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

GO  HORROR FEST These four horror-themed vignettes run the gamut from the darkly humorous to ghoulish. The bill opens with Zombie Joe’s creepy “Procession of Devils.” As directed by Denise Devin, it’s a delightfully grotesque danse macabre with Kyle Clare, Amelia Megan Gotham, Conrad Lawson, Billy Minogue and Rhea Richardson as a brood of flesh-eaters whose insatiable appetites cause them to turn on one of their own. The script is as unsettling as the performers’ eerie, orgiastic movements. Ada Neubauer directs Greg Kaczynski’s “End of the Road” with Jim Eshom and Gotham portraying tattered survivors of an apocalyptic event who are forced to inhabit an abandoned building. Reduced to eating polluted canned goods and reminiscing about their former lives, they eventually fall prey to the darker forces surrounding them. Prosaic writing doesn’t complement the actors’ energetic performances, and the director’s overuse of gory effects doesn’t help. In Eshom’s “A Lesson Learned,” Jana Wimer and Lucas Salazar are forced to take refuge in a derelict house because of a storm; the house’s bloody history and restless spirits make the evening fatally memorable. Gotham’s direction and technical design are nothing short of superb. Neubauer’s “Growing” is a riotously funny take on a mad scientist. Dr. Scofield (the fine Conrad Lawson) plays a desperately unhinged inventor whose master plan is to create a new life form called “Victa Proventus” (Andrew Fish in a hoot of a creaturely costume). But, alas, the experiment goes awry and starts to feast on everything in sight. Wimer cleverly directs. Zombie Joe’s Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Aug. 29. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)

 

GO  LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy “Sh Boom” and “Rama Lama Ding Dong” to anthems like “Earth Angel,” “Unchained Melody,” “The Great Pretender” and “The Glory of Love.” In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-&-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they’re incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4412. (Neal Weaver)

GO  7DS Picking up the story where the old, Amicus horror omnibuses of the ’60s left off, creator-director Amanda Marquardt’s campy, late-night homage to the medieval morality play is the show for those who couldn’t afford to plunk down $80 for Cirque Berserk. Marquardt’s theme is the seven deadly sins; her subject, however, is the punishments these lurid personifications of Wrath (Aryiel Hartman), Gluttony (Dariean Henderson), Pride (the fine Celeste Creel), Lust (Claude Duhamel), Sloth (Josh Tolle), Envy (Mishelle Freire) and Greed (John Klopping) wield to those in the afterlife being treated to the tortures of the damned. (Presumably what awaited the likes of Joan Collins and Ian Hendry after being pushed into the void by crypt keeper Ralph Richardson.) For these sinners, perdition takes the form of a three-ring circus, presided over by ringmaster Satan (a muscular Lamont Webb), in which the miscreant souls must reenact their transgressions on each other at the prodding of an entire demonology of harlequinlike assistants. Thus you have the proud Creel as a narcissistic, albeit bulimic bathing beauty who is subsequently humiliated by a lustful Duhamel by being transformed into a hausfrau automaton. Duhamel and his partner in carnality, the angry Hartman, later get a steam pressing with hot, electric irons ... and so on. The nonverbal episodes are elegantly staged using mime, dumb show, tableau vivant, gibberish and a knockabout style of interpretive dance that should have Isadora Duncan rolling in her grave. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; through Aug. 22. (818) 202-4120. (Bill Raden)


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