Theater Reviews: Bach at Leipzig, Bingo With the Indians, La Didone
APARTMENT 6 & 9 These two one-acts, written and directed by Matt Morillo, deal with contemporary romantic/sexual conflicts and collisions. In “All Aboard the Marriage Hearse," Amy (Jessica Moreno) and Sean (Keenan Henson) have lived together happily for three years, till she decides they’re going to get married, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t, and the resulting battle, verbal and physical, radically changes their lives while maintaining the status quo. Some of the marriage debate seems overly familiar, but the piece is clever, nicely directed, and beautifully played. In “Stay Over,” adapted from a play by Maria Micheles, Michelle (Moreno) gives her lover Mark (Tom Pilutik) permission, for reasons that are never made clear, to have an affair with someone else. She hits the ceiling, however, when she discovers he’s bedded her kittenish dancer friend Lily (JessAnn Smith). Michelle is a bullying shrew, Mark is a manipulative two-timer, and Lily is a determined baby vamp, willing to go to any lengths — including performing a very naked modern dance number — to win Mark for herself. The result is an evening of over-the-top bickering that soon becomes tiresome. The Lounge Theatre, 6021 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through July 5. (No perf. July 4.) (323) 960-5521 (Neal Weaver)
BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor, Itamar Moses’ sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century, who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for for erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Four composers named Georg and three Johanns vie for the post as Leipzig’s organ master, a position that would guarantee the winner the power to shape the musical, cultural (and, it seems political) fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire — at least the valuable German parts. Intrigues, reality show–style alliances and betrayals abound as the composers plot and prepare for an all-important audition. Between connivances they spout literate, self-conscious oratory covering the artistic soul in and out of relation to the growing feud between Lutheranism and Calvinism. An interesting descent into farce is undercut by the author’s too-precious self-comparison to Molière. Director Darin Anthony serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. The best moments, though, come from Ron Nagle’s powerhouse performance as the only thoughtful character, and from Henry Clarke, who perfectly balances swagger and foppishness as a womanizing nobleman. The production is visually stunning, through an array of exquisite period costumes and wigs designed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (310) 477-2055. (Tom Provenzano)
BINGO WITH THE INDIANS This West Coast premiere of Adam Rapp’s comedy-drama features the powerful up-close ambiance of a grimy New Hampshire motel (no set designer credited but the lighting design is by Michael Redfield), and suffocatingly good performances by the ensemble. A renegade troupe of thespian-criminals, up from New York, seeks to raid a local bingo hall for petty cash. The comedy of the opening scene is something like an American cross between Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and Pulp Fiction. The motel is run by a simple-minded woman, Mrs. Wood (Ann Bronston), and her teenage son, Steve (a partcularly sensitive and nuanced performance by Brian Norris, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Ron Howard). Most of the drama is about the manner in which the visiting trio — two gays and a lesbian (Patrick Flanagan, West Liang and Melissa Paladino) — toy with Steve, who’s clearly aching to follow them back to New York. The heart of the matter is Wilson (Liang) seducing and then sodomizing Steve, capitalizing on his upset that his “girlfriend” (Carryn Cummins) has left him for another woman. (Other than Mrs. Wood, in this play you can’t find a heterosexual with a Geiger counter.) Wilson and his comrade, Dee (Paladino) treat eager-to-please Steve with gratuitous and almost inexplicable cruelty over the young man's reluctance to engage in a sadistic hazing rite in order to join their theater troupe. Steve’s just not man enough for them. Under Andrew Block’s direction, the actors filled their roles with startling truthfulness, but I couldn’t buy that a theater company would behave with the violence of a Mafia clan, or why they would need to treat gentle Steve with such derision. To reject an actor, “Thank you, next” usually does the job. Spitting on him and wielding pistols seems excessive. Perhaps it was simply a brand of humor that, for reasons in the staging or my own sensibilities, crept right by me. Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater. Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO DAME EDNA: MY FIRST LAST TOUR Dr. Barry Humpries AO. C.B.E has for years been terrorizing audience members near the front of the stage, in the guise of the irrepressible Australian diva, Dame Edna. She sports a mauve do, more glittering baubles than a Vegas show queen, and gleeful imperiousness (“You adore me because I adore myself, and it’s contagious”), as she slices through the dignity of anyone she encounters with the tenderness of a lawnmower. (“What a lovely color you’ve got on. I’m sure that very soon it’ll be back.”) She reflects on her late husband, Norm, who suffered from a “prostate murmur” that got ever louder until the neighbors were complaining. “Oh, the years I spent with that man’s prostate hanging over my head.” She delivers her standup act, dragging audience members onto the stage to participate, and even her “daughter” (Erin-Kate Whitcomb), on furlough from the correctional facility, who croons one song. This is humor with mocking kindness and concern, a kind of genteel sassiness, with barbs on aging, appearance and fashion delivered in silky tones, along with the gladioli stems that she hurls into the crowd. Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 21. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO EAST OF BERLIN Inspired by real-life stories (from writers Peter Sichrovsky’s “Born Guilty” and Dan Bar-On’s “Legacy of Silence: Children of the Third Reich”), Hannah Moscovitch’s involving psychological drama revolves around an SS doctor’s son and his struggle to live with the knowledge of his father’s crimes. Teenage Rudi (Russell Sams) grows up in Paraguay oblivious to his parent’s past, until a more jaundiced classmate named Hermann (James Barry) — also the son of a Nazi — decides to wise him up. Profoundly disturbed, Rudi leaps into an affair with Hermann but soon decides to flee the country for Germany. There he takes on a new name and falls in love with a Jewish-American girl named Sara (Carolyn Stotes) whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. (Is this real passion, or is he just looking for a way to atone? the play asks.) For fear of losing her, he conceals his lineage — a circumstance that brings his guilt into even more agonizing focus, even more so when she learns about it anyway. Effectively staged by co-directors C.B. Brown and Sara Botsford, the script’s strongest and most persuasive element is Rudi’s monologue, a vivid piece of storytelling that serves as the work’s compelling spine. With his mien of wry detachment, Sams delivers a credible performance that nonetheless lacks the depth and nuance that make for powerful drama. Stotes is extremely appealing as his love interest, and the scenes between them are among the best. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 19. (818) 508-7101. (Deborah Klugman)
HEDDA GABLER In Henrik Ibsen’s protofeminist classic, poor Hedda (Julie Granata) marries dull professor George (Darrel Guilbeau), and soon has reason to regret it, as she’s not remotely suited for the stultifying life he offers her. With few career or personal options, the bored and bitter hausfrau finds joys in manipulating her former lover Loveborg (Zack Hamra) and school pal Thea (Shanti Bowes) — not merely for her own amusement but also because she dreams of living vicariously through them. Tragedy results. Director Les Miller’s decision to reset the play in the 1950s raises some awkward minor anachronistic issues — after all, if Hedda had lived in the ’50s, she could have sublimated her boredom with a job or by getting an only slightly scandalous divorce. The production is frankly more noteworthy for its intriguing depiction of Hedda herself. In Granata’s at times ferociously angry turn, we are treated to Hedda as Mean Girl — a former high school bully and shallow party gal, as much Hedda Locklear or Paris Gabler, whose breathy smiles and glitteringly insincere simpers over her husband turn into venomously terrifying rictuses of rage the moment his back is turned. Sadly, Miller’s production ultimately feels one-sided, and Grenata’s multidimensional, harrowingly brittle Hedda often feels as though she’s in a totally different play from the one inhabited by the blander supporting cast. Still, Bowes’ sniveling Thea is just the sort of girl whom one can see Hedda smacking around in school. Also engaging is Peter Colburn’s effortlessly oily turn as increasingly sleazy family friend Judge Brack. Ark Theatre at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 11. (323) 969-1707. (Paul Birchall)
THEATER PICK LA DIDONE NYC’s Wooster Group, in partnership at REDCAT, has built its reputation on director Elizabeth LeCompte’s high-tech juxtapositions of video images and live performance. The company’s Hamlet, for example, showed clips of Richard Burton’s recorded rendition against live-action impersonations of the scenes being shown, so that the line between what was living and what was recorded grew deliberately fuzzy. There was also a haunted quality to Burton’s image occasionally skipping back or forward by a millisecond, or disappearing into static, before returning. This was more than the sense of receiving a transmission as though from outer space, it was a 3-D rumination of the essence of mortality and memory, perfectly woven into the play’s themes. The company’s latest, La Didone, does this, and more, by transposing Fracesco Cavalli’s and Giovanni Francesco Busenello’s 1641 Italian opera about widowed African queen Dido’s (the glorious mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn), whose heart becomes possessed with love for the Trojan warrior, Aeneas (John Young), set against Mario Bava’s mid-’60s cult sci-fi flick, Planet of the Vampires, in which a spaceship crew is marooned on a planet, finding that the souls of the crew are becoming possessed by aliens. Possessed souls are the linking thread; the two universes collide and careen with a split-second precision that is intellectually precocious, slightly campy and indescribably moving. Much of the emotion comes from the beautiful and beautifully sung music, and Bruce Odland’s magnificent adaptation of it, employing the electric guitar, accordion and ukulele, as well as period instruments. REDCAT, Disney Hall, 631 W. Second St., southwest corner; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through June 21. (213) 237-2800. A Wooster Group and St. Anne’s Warehouse production.
NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND “I am a sick man ... I am a spiteful man.” Thus begins the narrative of one of Fydor Dostoevsky’s most infamous characters, here portrayed with unsettling energy and passion by Michael Blomgren. Director Zombie Joe has infused a touch of modernity in this production, drawing mainly on the text from the novella, but also adding many references to contemporary time and places. The result is a piece that, although not doing full justice to Dostoevsky’s work — a near impossible task for anyone — does artfully dramatize its core themes of alienation and antirationalism. The opening tableau is jolting, with Blomgren nestled at the feet of his maid Apollo (Noelle Adames), who sings “Ether,” a delightfully grotesque dirge written by Christopher Reiner, with the appropriate eerie musical accompaniment. Blomgren heats up the next 20 minutes with a blistering, full-throttle monologue filled with existential angst and rage, explaining the particulars of what amounts to a wretched existence, and a perverse delight in his own suffering, as well as that of others. A social gathering and a sexual liaison only add to the sense of desolation and madness. The production is short, but it packs a punch from Blomgren’s loaded performance. Rounding out the cast are Heather Lehigh, Lauren Andrea Nelsen, Conrad Lawson and Lauren Vaughan. ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8: 30 p.m.; through June 27. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: ENCOUNTERS If there’s a moral to director Carlos Martinez’s late-night collection of short meditations on urban alienation, it’s that one man’s pain is another man’s comedy. For the playwright who takes this to heart, a mother lode of laughs awaits; for everyone else, it’s melodramatic fool’s gold. The lesson is lost on writer Sebastian Kedlecik, whose “Angel City” and “Blue Eyes Turned Brown at Birth” assay out as portentously turgid essays in adolescent angst. Norman A. Bert’s well-meaning “The Llano Estacado Blues” likewise misses the obvious absurdist vein in its social-welfare critique. It is only in matters of romance and its losers where the pieces finally pan out. These include Phillip Kelly’s “The Tender Creep is Me,” about a mousy but scarily misogynistic misfit (the fine Charles Allen Hutchison) and the woman (Liesl Jackson) resigned to dating him. Hutchison also shines as a would-be Fred to Jennifer Kenyon’s Ginger in Martinez’s whimsical “Tripping the Light Over Coffee and Tea.” Kenyon comes into her own, first as a woman enduring a self-lacerating session before her dressing mirror in Jenn Scuderi’s “Pretty Face,” and again in Sharon Yablon’s “1:58 a.m.” when the actress literally stops the show (and gives new meaning to the expression “cold shoulder”) as the utterly indifferent object of clueless boor Jim Martyka’s desire. Kenyon and Martyka’s flawless timing, plus Yablon’s 18-karat text strike unadulterated, comic pay dirt. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; through June 27. (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.com. (Bill Raden)
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