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Theater Reviews: Arias With a Twist, La Ronde de Lunch, Love in Bloom

Tent Meeting
S. Branney

GO  ARIAS WITH A TWIST Poor Joey Arias, a female impersonator here attired in black bra and panties, has just been abducted by aliens. That unfortunate truth takes a while to reveal itself, since the show opens with the sight of a red curtain for a puppet show, which sloooowly rises onto another curtain that slowly parts, revealing yet another curtain ... You get the joke. Eventually, we see the Dream Music Orchestra — Basil Twist’s gorgeous puppet musicians. This visage melts into a panorama of the cosmos (video design by Daniel Brodie), a floating spaceship on which we finally meet Mr./Ms. Arias, strapped upside down to a neon hoop and being swiveled and probed. We see the visions dreamt by our semiconscious protagonist: A martini glass floats by, then a decapitated hand with the label “Jimmy Hoffa” before a puppet of Arias plunges and plunges and plunges into the “Jungle of Eden,” a psychedelic pyscho-sexual collision of leafy plants, a slithering snake, and an eventual meeting of Adam and Eve. (Twist did the design, which largely depends on the mystery of hauntingly dim and focused lighting.) The event culminates in the “show” that Arias has been aching to perform, a series of ballads, quite beautifully rendered, and reminiscent of the Henry Mancini era. The piece may take the art of drag into hallucinatory frontiers where no man-woman has gone before, and despite its self-conscious sense of humor, it does all this by ratcheting down camp clichés, and with admirable craft. You almost believe that there’s a point larger than its own artistry. That, of course, is just another hallucination. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., downtown; schedule varies; through Dec. 13. (213) 237-2800 (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  EQUIVOCATION Bill Cain’s much-heralded new play imagines Shakespeare (Joe Spano) being commissioned by a deputy (Connor Trinneer) of King James (Patrick J. Adams) to write a drama celebrating the apprehension of conspirators who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. As Shakespeare does his research, he finds himself in a fix between the king’s desire for propaganda and his own commitment to the “truth.” (Parallels between the aftermath of “The Gunpowder Plot” and 9/11 are more than apparent. The difficulties of telling the truth lies at the heart of Cain’s digressive and somewhat bloated play, yet his various variations on that theme form an intricately woven fabric of ideas. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 208-5454 or geffenplayhouse.com. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

GO  LA RONDE DE LUNCH Peter Lefcourt’s amusing Hollywood farce transpires at lunchtime in “the most pretentious restaurant” in town, where everyone meets but no one eats, since the purpose of getting together is less to fortify the body than to pump up the ego and the wallet. Lefcourt constructs his play, inspired by Schnitzler’s La Ronde, as a series of two-person scenes. Each participant in this power-driven game of musical chairs wants something from his or her lunch partner — and all crave an audience with Clive, a mysterious mover-and-shaker whose films gross hundreds of millions worldwide. Among the players are an aging actress (understudy Sondra Currie) with a Bette Davis complex, a burned-out alcoholic writer (Brynn Thayer) smitten with her personal fitness trainer (Haley Strode), a smarmy agent (Joe Briggs), a sugary but calculating bimbo (Fiona Gubelmann), her prey (a wealthy aging lawyer played by Robert Trebor) and, ultimately, Clive himself (understudy Bryan Callen, in a spot-on performance as the quintessentially smug superstar). No small part of the fun is generated by the waitstaff: a quintet of servers, all named Bruce, who comment, Greek-chorus-like, on the goings-on, as well as interacting with the customers and performing a stylistically different musical parody between each scene. Designer Jeff McLaughlin’s appealing set, Shon LeBlanc’s lively costumes and Tracy Silver’s upbeat choreography add to the production’s beguiling charm. Terri Hanauer directs. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 358-9936. A Katselas Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman)

LAND OF THE TIGERS Burglars of Hamm mingle and mangle The Crucible with Planet of the Apes in a vibrant and painful satire of theater-making in Los Angeles, and the cult of the acting-teacher/director-guru. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; resumes Dec. 4, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m. (310) 440-0221. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

LOVE IN BLOOM If you can imagine what one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies would be like if it were set to music and lyrics, you’d have a good idea of the delightful whimsy concocted here by Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. It’s a bold, ambitious piece of musical theater with touches of commedia dell’arte and Gilbert and Sullivan plus lots of unexpected turns and plot twists, all of which make the viewing more fun. The story is narrated by Orion (DeCarlo) and Talia (Rudie), the rulers of the Fairy Kingdom, and the setting is the mythical kingdom of Hamelot, where the arranged marriage of the Prince (Tyner Pesch) is to take place. The fate of the kingdom depends, however, on the prince finding his true love, which the King and Queen of fairyland are determined to make happen in order to “restore the balance of both worlds.” Tossed in is a mélange of rogues, damsels, courtly intrigues, romance, spells, even a frog prince. Following the goings-on it gets a bit ponderous (opening act two is “The Recap” to refresh our memories), but it does pay off. DeCarlo’s direction is spot on, while Matthew Wrather and Rudie’s music and lyrics provide a level of enjoyment of their own under the playful touch of musical director Selena Dolinsky. Kudos to Ashley Hayes for fairy tale-inspired costumes. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 394-9779. (Lovell Estell III)

GO  LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST London’s distinguished Globe Theatre lives up to its reputation with this traditional but resolutely un-stodgy production. Director Dominic Dromgoole deploys his lively young cast on an airily beautiful simulacrum of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, designed by Jonathan Fensom, who’s also responsible for the authentically detailed Elizabethan costumes. Claire van Kampen’s original score, played on Elizabethan instruments, further garnishes the production, along with leaping Renaissance dances choreographed by Siân Williams. The King of Navarre (Philip Cumbus) and his three friends (Trystan Gravelle, Jack Farthing and William Mannering) swear a high-minded oath to forsake the company of women and devote themselves to study for three years. Then the Princess of France (Michelle Terry) arrives on an embassy from her father, accompanied by her ladies (Thomasin Rand, Siân Robins-Grace and Jade Anouka), and the four men instantly break their oaths and fall giddily and symmetrically in love. Horseplay, wordplay, knockabout comedy, slapstick and musical fart jokes ensue, culminating in a Hellzapoppin moment that ends in a massive food fight. A deft crew of zanies, pedants, proletarians, courtiers and rustic lovers (Christopher Godwin, Paul Ready, Seroca Davis, Patrick Godfrey, Fergal McElherron, Rhiannon Oliver, Andrew Vincent and Tom Stuart) all support the lovers. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; variable schedule thru Nov. 29. (310) 434-3200, thebroadstage.com. (Neal Weaver)

GO  MOLLY SWEENEY Those who can see imagine blindness to be barren of detail. But for 41-year-old Molly Sweeney (Melina Bielefelt), blind since 10 months old, her dark world is intricate and alive: She can tell flowers by feel, and dance wildly through her home without a bruise. In Irish playwright Brian Friel’s stark 1996 drama, when Molly’s newlywed husband Frank (Matthew McCallum) — a man bursting with the type of passion that creates (and destroys) civilizations — convinces alcoholic optician Mr. Rice (John Ross Clark) to “heal” his wife, all three admit the peril. Molly must be taught to see, to spot a peach without touch or smell. “There’s a difference between learning and understanding,” cautions the doctor, but neither of the men grasp that their real motive for the surgery is personal ego. (The triumphant headlines Frank imagines focus on his joyful tears.) Randee Trabitz directs her excellent ensemble on a stage divided by two translucent scrims. As Molly retreats into “her world” — the one Friel validates for the audience (during his first draft of the play, he also underwent cataract surgery) — she slips behind them until, toward the end, we can scarcely see her at all. We’re as blind to Molly as her doctor and her husband are to her as well, though we suspect she sees through us all just fine. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (800) 838-3006. An Oasis Theater Company production. (Amy Nicholson)

TENT MEETING Discredited evangelist and con-man Rev. Edward O. Tarbox (Gary Ballard) uses his religion and talent for gospel-shouting to bully and browbeat his son Darrell (Travis Hammer) and daughter Becky Ann (Amanda Deibert). He’s in danger of being run out of town, partially because slightly simple Becky Ann has given birth to a monstrous baby — and there’s no visible father. Tarbox convinces himself that the vegetable-like baby is the second coming of Christ, and he wants to christen him Jesus O. Tarbox. His self-serving visions urge him to pack up his family and his tent, drive to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and hold a revival meeting where he’ll reveal the baby as the reborn Messiah. The script by Levi Lee, Larry Larson and director Rebecca Wackler is wildly uneven in tone, alternating stark drama with broad farce. Some of the funniest and most interesting scenes hint there’s supernatural influence at work, but the hints lead nowhere. Wackler elicits fine performances from the three actors, and the piece is frequently fun to watch, but it’s ultimately frustrating because it doesn’t add up, and too many plot elements are left floating in limbo. Mark Colson and PJ King provide the interesting house-trailer set. Theatre Banshee, 3435 West Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Dec. 13. (818) 846-5253, theatrebanshee.org. (Neal Weaver)

THE WANTING The purgatory of unrequited desire is the underlying theme of this balletic rock concert from “Moxy Phinx,” the pseudo-anonymous alter ego of local performer (and L.A. Weekly Theater Awards winner) Katrina Lenk. Audiences who recall Lenk’s offbeat, tuneful turn as the tragically exploited Linda Lovelace in Lovelace: The Musical will be fascinated by the edgy alternative performance she offers here in her “Phinx” persona. Caparisoned in flowing rags and furs that suggest a thrift-store goth Goddess, “Phinx” performs a series of haunting songs, accompanied by a group of dancers, portraying members of a family who look like they might be right out of Norman Rockwell — except, within minutes of starting the show, the clan suddenly shifts into being something from an Edward Gorey nightmare. In the bizarre family grouping, Dad (Michael Quiett) rapes his wife (Whitney Kirk) and longs to do the same to the gorgeous nanny (Jackie Lloyd). Meanwhile, the adorable youngest son (Daniel Huynh) gropes his twin sisters (Liz Sroka and Jennifer Cooper), and also fondles the nanny, before donning a dress. (Thanksgiving should be a blast at this clan’s place.) “Phinx”’s haunting voice finds itself somewhere in between the dark throatiness of Ute Lemper and the jaded melancholy of Neko Case — not a bad place in which to find oneself, really. Director Janet Roston’s choreography is tight, energetic and extremely sophisticated — at times, so much is happening onstage, you almost don’t know where to watch. The sense of detail in the movement suggests a mood that’s both kinky and beguiling — just note Huynh’s rictus of what could either be lust or rage as he woos his vacantly smiling sisters. The problem is that the dance seems to have little to do with the songs, which, frankly, all start to sound the same before long — and that the lack of context for any of the material gradually becomes frustrating. Still, the gleefully sour ball atmosphere is ultimately effective at crafting the sad yet bleakly funny meditation on the abject emptiness of longing. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sun., Dec. 6 & 14, 7:30 p.m. (310) 315-1459. (Paul Birchall)


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