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Theater Reviews: Astroglyde2007, Polaroid Stories, Tango

(Photo by Zombie Joe)

 ASTROGLYDE2007 These five solo pieces succeed because of some wonderfully off-the-wall content, good writing, and humorous, energetic performances. Don’t be fooled by Matthew Sklar’s diminutive, nerdish appearance in “The Price of Right.” His script is far from nebbishy. Sklar plays a brainy fast food worker with a formidable command of science and physics, who tries to convince a not-so-bright buddy that UFOs and aliens don’t exist. Jana Wimer’s equally fine slice of writing embellishes her performance in “Rose.” With broom in hand, she portrays the mannequin in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, who runs around in circles being chased by a pirate. The kick here is that she has a lot to say about her loftier ambitions and park gossip, among other things. Jessica Amal’s writing drags in some places in “Warts and All,” but she’s still funny as a neurotic witch with a serious case of career blues who wants to give other gigs a try. The devilishly demented “Here’s to Us” features Mark Hein as a thoroughly convincing mad-scientist type with a ghoulish method of keeping the women he loves around the house. Hein’s script is a piece of work. And for those of you fed up with obnoxious people and Harry Potter fans, the scary, wide-eyed Matt Kilo has the solution as he takes us on a murderous sojourn in “The Overpopulation Police and You.” ZJU THEATER GROUP, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru. Dec. 15. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)

(Photo by Zombie Joe) (Click to enlarge)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Writer-director Jason Moyer updates the outline of Charles Dickens’ novella and fills it with gay attitude and Marjorie Lockwood’s inventive costumes to produce a charmingly queer holiday divertissement. Scrooge (Michael Taylor Gray), now the owner of a fashion house called S&M (for Scrooge & Marley), dresses in gothic black and tongue lashes his underlings and relatives alike for their Christmas sentimentality. Soon he’s visited by the gold-chain-wearing ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley (Bobby Reed), who forewarns him of the appearance of three Christmas spirits. These are portrayed as a Sylvester-like disco queen (Ronn Jones), a party hunk (Matt Marsh) and the mute specter (Michael O’Hara) who points to Scrooge’s unlamented grave. It’s quickly apparent how easily Dickens’ piece lends itself to a gay spoof and, in fact, viewers are left wondering why Moyer didn’t go further and expand his 75-minute comedy. His changes don’t always fit, however. Dickens’ miser embodied the worst of mid-Victorian materialism, but the gay men whom Gray’s Scrooge bullies don’t seem to offer a spiritual alternative. Also, Tiny Tim has been replaced by the rather elderly “Uncle Tim” (Carl Moebus), whose pending death frankly doesn’t pack the kind of pathos that does a crippled youth’s untimely end. With some adjustments (director Moyer must speed some key moments, and a few actors need to tighten their deliveries) this seasonal show could become a perennial. CELEBRATION THEATRE, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 23. (323) 957-1884. (Steven Mikulan)

A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS This holiday celebration offers an embarrassment of riches. Clocking in at just short of two hours, with no intermission, it contains a few too many Christmas songs and celebrity impersonators, and way too much lame comedy. There’s a Laugh-In–style advent calendar featuring faux Goldie Hawn, Jack Nicholson, et al. A “Christmas in Hawaii” number pairs the “Hawaiian War Chant” with a rendition of “Silent Night” in Hawaiian language. A ventriloquist Santa and his rebellious dummy deliver “The Night Before Christmas,” Marilyn Monroe exhales “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a zaftig Ethel Merman offers a rousing and vocally convincing rendition of “O Holy Night,” and a couple of ham-handed hillbilly comedians manage to shoot off Rudolf’s nose. A glittery Carmen Miranda delivers an updated version of “Jingle Bells,” about a ride in a “no-horse Chevrolet.” And a dynamite young lady satirizes Diana Ross, singing “The Little Drummer Boy.” Since the show had no program or credits, I was able to positively identify only Lori Berg, who delivers a suave and stylish “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” under her own name. Design elements include lavish, handsome costumes and elegantly simple sets. The show offers a nostalgic trip down memory lane for older audiences. ACTOR’S CO-OP, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (323) 462-8460. (Neal Weaver)

POLAROID STORIES Those well versed in Greek mythology, specifically Ovid’s Metamorphoses, will catch the literary/spiritual backgrounds to these stories. The uninitiated will still be treated to an intensely raw display of emotion, sexuality and violence as 10 skillful young actors descend into Naomi Iizuka’s deep and dense exploration of the youthful psyche. The setting is a fantasy skid row peopled only with young adults who thrive on storytelling. Whether speaking outright lies or painful truths, the characters, mostly representing mythological figures, interact closely, but rarely achieve real intimacy as they sink into their personal griefs and desire. Maria Markosov’s stark staging and sensitive work with the actors creates a depressing world, but one that is also irresistible in its desolate beauty. All of the performers are committed through each moment. Justin Patterson’s skid row set and the uncredited lighting perfectly support the piece’s somber atmosphere. ACTORS’ PLAYPEN, 1514 N. Gardner St., Hlywd.; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (323) 960-4484. (Tom Provenzano)

 

THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE“Is the whole world going out of business?” laments Edna Edison (Lisa Pescia) as she and husband Mel (Steve Blackwood) stew in their Upper East Side apartment. Fourteen stories below, Manhattan limps along, beset by a heat wave, a crime wave, a recession and a garbage strike. Thirty-five years after the debut of Neil Simon’s comedy-of-commerce, whether the world is going out of business remains a fair enough question. However, director Wallace Langham’s answer seems to be sitcom histrionics that reduce Simon’s outlandish but sympathetic couple to whiners in need of more Valium. Once the walls start crumbling (literally) around the Edisons, who keep agreeing to move and then losing steam, Mel goes crazy, and his siblings — sisters Pearl (Irene Roseen), Jessie (Veronica Alicino) and Pauline (Sheila Shaw), and older brother Harry (a good Robert Trebor) — start fretting about their own obligation to help. But despite several zingers that land, neither the mayhem nor the commiseration crescendo enough to make this production more memorable than a friendly rerun. BEVERLY HILLS PLAYHOUSE, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 1. (310) 358-9936. (Amy Nicholson)

THE RAT PACK: LIVE AT THE SANDS This re-creation of an early-’60s Las Vegas show succeeds on the strength of the music: “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Volare,” “Mr. Bojangles,” and other beloved hits. Frank Sinatra (Stephen Triffitt), Sammy Davis Jr. (David Hayes) and Dean Martin (Nigel Casey) sing their signature numbers, and the performers are all in fine voice. Triffitt does excellent work with Sinatra’s unique phrasing, and Haynes’ performance is terrifically energetic. The music is highly enjoyable. But every time the characters speak the scripted dialogue, much of which is familiar from tapes of their live performances, the show screeches to a halt. Some of the banter between songs is simply corny, but other parts just aren’t funny. (At several points, the quick-thinking Triffitt made ad lib asides to the audience when jokes bombed.) The show also includes the musical Burelli Sisters (Anna Carmichael, Lucie Florentine and Lucy Thatcher), who don’t do much singing but function nicely as eye candy, thanks in part to Chris Woods’ glittery costume design. Musical director Andy Rumble conducts the superb Rat Pat Orchestra, and Mitch Sebastian directs and choreographs. WILSHIRE THEATRE, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (213) 480-3232. (Sandra Ross)

TANGO is Slawomir Morzek’s 1965 answer to Waiting for Godot— a Polish masterwork and existential primer that follows a whacked family who’s living out the consequences of the ’60s cultural revolution. They scorn tradition of all kinds — marriage, romantic jealousy, accruing wealth — by spending their time playing cards, getting drunk and engaging in sexual infidelities that are growing tedious, even for them. The counter-rebel is a young man-in-red named Arthur (Alex Boyles), who scorns his family for being so decadent, which is true, but he, a bundle of nerves, is no work of grace of himself. “We create our own reality” somebody says — a line that’s the embodiment of the Theater of the Absurd, a movement being given a second wind by global climate changes and our own government’s historic duplicity and ineptitude — surpassed only by the Soviets. German director Eberhard Köhler serves up a beautifully conceptual staging that’s refreshingly high-tech free, relying instead on Constructivist set pieces (by Danila Korogodsky), puppets, sheets, and a general sense of mayhem that’s just organized enough to be artful. The stage with ring-side bleacher seating has been carved within an armory in Long Beach. It feels, deliberately, a bit like a mausoleum. Acoustics are not the greatest, but the ensemble is fine, and Chris Kittrell’s minimal sound design — that includes water drops plunking out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata during one particularly suspenseful scene — has just the right, wry touches of humor that form the heart of this production. CAL REP AT THE ARMORY, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Tues.-Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (Dec. 15 perf at 2 p.m.); thru Dec. 15. (562) 985-5526. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 

TWIST With its larger-than-life drag queens, boys being caned in their underwear, and song-and-dance numbers about torrid gay sex, composer-playwrights Gila Sand and Paul Leschen’s queer rock musical reinvention of Charles Dickens’ famous tale puts the “twisted” into the story of Oliver Twist. At the orphanage where he grows up, buff stud-puppy Oliver (Brandon Ruckdashel, hitting just the perfect level of bedroom-eyed, saucy innocence) asks for “more” gruel — but what he gets are more beatings with the whip wielded by the lecherous Mr. Bumble (Matt Stevens). As it turns out, Oliver likes his spankings, for, as zingy ditties with titles like “Bound and Tied” and “Whipping” suggest, this Mr. Twist is a bit of a closet masochist. After running away from home, Oliver falls in with a young male hustler, the Artful Dodger (Chris Carlisle), who recruits Mr. Twist into his family of hookers, overseen by the lustful drag pimp Fagin (Alexandra Billings). It’s not for want of trying that director Paul Storiale’s production doesn’t quite jell, but the staging’s hampered by awkward pacing problems, clumpy choreography and unfocused comic timing. Still, the ensemble’s voices are top drawer — and it’s interesting that the more heartfelt numbers toward the finale are far more involving than the sometimes inert, supposedly humorous numbers early on. Billings, all red hair and waggling tongue, offers a towering turn as a Tim Curryesque tranny Fagin. AVERY SCHREIBER THEATER, 11050 Magnolia Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec 30. (866) 811-4111. (Paul Birchall)


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