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Theater Reviews: American Dead, Alice in Wonderland 2: Behind the Looking Glass

Alice in Wonderland 2: Behind the Looking Glass
Cheryl Games

GO  AMERICAN DEAD Brett Neveu’s play, first commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago — where the playwright earned his wunderkind reputation before immigrating to the film and TV biz out here — recalls an early stage work by Lanford Wilson, Rimers of Eldritch. Both works place their focus on the subtleties and vagaries of plain talk by plain folk, Midwesterners whose cities are rusting, whose farms are being foreclosed and bought out, yet they endure with pleasantries, verbal niceties that become lifeboats bobbing over depths of anguish and violence in the making. This places on the actors and director the burden of responsibility for capturing the unspoken truths beneath the hollow veneer of words. Chicago emigré Dado stages the kaleidoscope of scene with meticulous attention to subtext and the language of facial ticks and flinches, of sadness emerging vaporlike from still faces. The play’s event concerns a long-ago shooting of a local sheriff’s deputy (Deborah Puette) and clerk (understudy Daniel Montgomery) in a grocery store robbery by unknown assailants, and the attempt by the woman’s partner, (Paul Dillon), to find the killers. The chipper barkeep (Bradley Fisher) asks a whole bunch of questions to out-of-towner Dennis (Darin Singleton) regarding a news story of Dennis’ son hiding himself away, and the play slowly funnels in on a conversation Dennis heard in prison, which could be a missing link to the ancient investigation. The play’s core, however, comes from the murdered deputy’s forlorn and bewildered brother (Mark St. Amant), who has become both an alcoholic and an idiot savant — desperate for the attention of his late sister’s widower (David Paluck), as he and his new wife (Ann Noble) pack to move out of town. The play seems superficially trite for a while, until we adjust to the production’s languid rhythms, and its portrait of lingering grief. Dado’s staging even overcomes the venue’s echoey qualties, which double the actors’ workload. The ensemble work is finely tuned, while Ian Garret’s atmospheric platform set and Leigh Allen’s tender lighting design add visual poetry to the lament for somebody and something having slipped away so pointlessly. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 24. (323) 960-7726. A Rogue Machine production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Cheryl Games

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Alice in Wonderland 2: Behind the Looking Glass

Peter Gref/Rialto PR

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They’re Just Like Us

 

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American Dead

 THEATER PICK  ALICE IN WONDERLAND 2: BEHIND THE LOOKING GLASS Goofy, good-natured and outlandishly entertaining, this latest romp from director Matt Walker and his inspired ensemble plucks characters and themes from the Lewis Carroll classic and scrambles them with elements of contemporary pop culture into a satiric hodgepodge of — well — everything. Unlike last year’s A. in W. parody, where the central character was an outsized look-alike for Carroll’s blonde, white-pinafored child, this Alice (Beth Kennedy) resembles the Brady Bunch’s maid, Alice Nelson. Unhappily unmarried, she’s feeling down in the dumps when she’s unexpectedly pitched through her bedroom mirror and into a series of screwball encounters. These involve her quest to become a queen and culminate in her battle with the Jabberwocky, a ludicrously giant puppet emblematic of her own fear (and, to the extent that the piece is directed at everyone’s inner child, ours too). Otherwise, trying to encapsulate the hilarious non sequitur shenanigans is pretty much impossible. For me, side-splitting highlights included Alice’s desperate efforts to administer CPR to a shattered Humpty Dumpty (Mike Sulprizio), an “Alice Anonymous” meeting attended by Alice Cooper (Jack Voorhies), Alice Kramden (Jennie Fahn) and TV series Alice (Lisa Valenzuela), and the monkeyshines surrounding Alice, the White Knight (Walker) and an inflatable rubber tube. Sharon McGunigle’s costumes, Matt Scott’s puppets and the snazzy choreography by Nadine Ellis, Ameenah Kaplan and Christine Lakin form part and parcel of the raucous fun. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; in rep, call for schedule; thru Oct. 12. (818) 955-8101. A Troubadour Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman)

 A COMPANY OF WAYWARD SAINTS The leader-impresario, Harlequin (Andrew Mueller), of a stranded, down-on-its-luck commedia dell’arte troupe meets a wealthy patron who promises them traveling funds if they can improvise a play on a dauntingly large subject: The History of Man. They attempt three episodes: the Garden of Eden, with Tristano (Sarju Patel) as Adam, Isabella (Sarah Yahr Tucker) as Eve, and Scapino (Justin Radford) as the Serpent. Ancient Rome is represented by the death of Caesar, with Pantalone (Jonathan Harrison) as Julius. The Trojan War features the return of Odysseus — played by the blustering Capitan (Marc McHone) — to his suspicious wife, Penelope, portrayed by Columbine (Andrea Pandazedes). Only then do they decide to concentrate on the History of a Man, dramatizing birth, adolescence, marriage and death. Dealing with eternal verities helps the actors heal the resentments and rivalries that threaten their company. Director Joe McClean keeps the action of George Herman’s play lively, but commedia requires a standard of brilliance to rise above the adequate, which describes McClean’s production. Radford is a wonderfully athletic Scapino, but it’s Pandazedes’ knowing, disenchanted Columbine who finds some reality among the hijinks. Wendy Gough Soroka provides handsome commedia masks, and Tchia Casselle supplies colorful costumes. Write Act Repertory Theatre, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 6128 Yucca Ave., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat, 8 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m., thru Aug. 3. (323) 469-3113 or www.writeactrep.org. (Neal Weaver)

 

 SUMMER CAMP AT SACRED FOOLS The late-night shows change every week, but if Fun Time With Quirk & Rayner is an accurate indication of the standard, the rest of the run is worth a visit. Magician, mind-reader and charlatan Rob Zabrecky opened the evening, with the appearance and temperament of your local undertaker. Yes, he could blindly identify the drawings made by random audience members, and he made a pack of playing cards diminish in size each time he shuffled. The real deal was the macabre demeanor and his asides about being an odd child. It was his grandfather’s 95th birthday. The old man made an appearance in an urn topped with a party hat. Englishwoman Moira Quirk followed with a slide show about her two kids with hubby — and main act — Michael Rayner. When you give birth, she explained with droll cheer, first comes the baby, then the placenta, and you feel everything that ever made you interesting as a person dropping out of you. What followed was a pleasing photographic portrait of her young daughters, partly cherubic, partly demonic, told from a reluctantly suburban point of view. Rayner’s been on this stage before, and his act is much the same, which is not a problem, because the heart of the humor is not his ability to juggle a bowling ball and ax and rag doll, or to keep a tennis racket suspended by batting it between two sticks, or to disassemble a cheeseburger by having it roll along a swiftly turning parasol, or to juggle fire sticks while hanging upside down. No, that’s nothing. The act’s real joy comes when he catches the ax mid-flight, tongue perched on the tip of his lip and exclaims with glee, “Oh boy! That was close!” That’s the kid you always wanted to hang out with — the outsider who’s inside a Mad magazineuniverse — and whose oddity is a source of self-respect. Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri., 10 p.m.; Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT “We don’t seem to be able to avoid unpleasant topics,” sighs Edmund Tyrone (Aaron Hendry) to his father, James (William Dennis Hunt), in Act 4 of Eugene O’Neill’s genre-creating family melodrama. By then, all the characters are soused, high and self-defensive from a day spent hashing over each other’s weaknesses. Mother Mary (Ellen Geer) is a mercurial morphine addict; older brother Jamie (Jim LeFave) is a boozing whoremonger; Edmund has resigned himself to dying of consumption, and all three chalk up their agonies to James’ clenched purse strings. Seven decades after O’Neill transcribed his family secrets for the stage, the impact of this Pulitzer prize–winning play has been undermined by its legions of imitators; particularly in today’s post-Oprah therapy culture, the Tyrones’ day of revelations can’t help but feel reductive and stale. Still, it’s an actor’s play — turbulent and meaty — which makes it as irresistible as a tender steak. The claustrophobic parlor drama is an odd fit for the Theatricum Botanicum’s forested stage, as the ensemble, when not shouting, are perilously close to being drowned out by crickets. Director Heidi Helen Davis could tamper down her cast, who seem to overcompensate with theatricality, as though from fear of being out-acted by the formidable Geer and Hunt, though Davis capitalizes on O’Neill’s dry comedy, particularly when maid Cathleen (Nina Kurtz) saunters through to take a tipple. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep, call for schedule; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723. (Amy Nicholson)

Miriam Geer

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Long Day’s Journey Into Night

 

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A Company of Wayward Saints

 THEY’RE JUST LIKE US The Cheap Trick classic “I Want You to Want Me” is a perfect description of the characters in Boo Killebrew’s tongue-in-cheek exploration of modern celebrity culture and the voyeuristic, gossip-loving public that supports it. More a series of interwoven vignettes than a linear through line, the story examines the lives of celebrities, including character-actress Beth (Lisa Clifton) and hip-hop diva Biz (Grace Eboigbe); those involved with them, Beth’s boyfriend, Richard (Nicholas Williams), and Frank (Joel Scher), who is dating someone “in the business”, and those who wish they were celebrities — basically, everyone else. In a clever inversion of the accepted hierarchy, the individual stories eventually dovetail when everyone meets up at the “outer space birthday party” of Marty (Edward Tournier), a mentally challenged boy who dresses like Elliot from E.T. and is clearly unhip. While the dialogue is clever and occasionally downright funny, lampooning many touchstones of celebrity culture, the characters’ stories make them hard to invest in. Nonetheless, Elina de Santos’ nimble direction makes use of every corner of Erin Brewster’s catwalk-style set and elicits solid performances from the cast. Hiwa Bourne’s costumes are also a highlight, as the cast goes through more changes than your average runway model. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 3. (323) 856-8611. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 

 ZASTROZZI Playwright George F. Walker’s quirky comedy thriller, loosely based on a novel by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is about a mismatched conflict between bland sweetness and dark malice. And it will hardly be a spoiler if we tell you the dark side ultimately wins. The world’s most diabolical criminal, Zastrozzi (Philippe Brenninkmeyer), has traveled Europe in search of his greatest enemy, Verezzi (Alex Robert Holmes), a callow and idiotic boy whose connection to the villain is almost ridiculously tangential. Hatching a scheme to destroy Verezzi by using the wiles of sultry. amoral beauty Matilda (Anna Khaja), Zastrozzi hopes to drive the young man to suicide, but complications arise. The production, co-directed by Sara Botsford and Christopher “CB” Brown, crackles with evil deeds and villainous betrayals. Yet the directors’ decision to set the play in the 1940s, with gallons of liquid-ice smoke creating the murky mood of a film noir movie, awkwardly imposes ideas on the drama that aren’t necessarily in the text. Also, the piece sometimes veers into camp, particularly during the last act. Still, the show’s pacing never flags. Brenninkmeyer’s icy Zastrozzi is a nasty delight, and Holmes is hilariously smarmy as the nebbishy object of his loathing. Also noteworthy are the dazzling sword fights, courtesy of choreographer Victor Warren, and Lacey Anzelc’s broodingly murky, nook-and-cranny-filled set. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 24. (818) 508-7108. (Paul Birchall)


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