Theater Reviews: Betrayal, Eh Joe, An Attic an Exit
GO THE ACCOMPLICES We often call World War II “The Good War,” but Bernard Weinraub’s documentary drama reminds us of its less benevolent aspects. He tells the story of Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook (Steven Schub), who devoted his life to attempting to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. His efforts are continually thwarted by the American political establishment, as well as the Jewish establishment, led by Rabbi Stephen Wise (Morlan Higgins). In Weinraub’s eyes, the chief villain was Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long (Brian Carpenter), who had jurisdiction over immigration and refugees. A patrician WASP and friend of FDR (James Harper), he loathed all foreigners, and Jews in particular. He blocked immigration by imperiled refugees, and when he couldn’t block them, he delayed them to death, or strangled them in red tape. Weinraub’s heroes include Bergson, his friend Merlin (William Dennis Hurley) and Ben Hecht and Henry Morgenthau (both strikingly played by Dennis Gersten). Ironically, though our government refused to aid European Jews, it did launch a mission to rescue the famous Lipizzaner Stallions. With such a fact-based drama, political complexities inevitably overshadow Bergson’s personal life, but they are fascinating in their own right. Deborah LaVine skillfully melds a fine cast into a gripping production on Travis Gale Lewis’s bleakly effective set. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 24. (323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
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An Attic An Exit
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ADDING MACHINE Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith’s musical based on Elmer Rice’s 1923 play. Minetta Lane Theatre, New York. See Stage feature.
THEATER PICK AN ATTIC AN EXIT This fascinating, if oblique, performance-art piece from collaborator-performers Rachael Lincoln and Leslie Seiters might take place in an attic, one infers, or it might occur in some other, more abstract space — it’s left to our imagination. Lincoln and Seiters interact with each other during this hourlong balletic piece, each resplendent in similar spiky white hair and white smocks. One moment they’re playing a comical tug of war involving a pair of gigantic suitcases attached by a long string; the next, the pair writhe in each other’s arms in an intimate pas de deux. They might be portraying identical twin lovers or they might be playing the same person at two different points of time — again, it’s never certain. What is clear, though, is that this work, which plants itself more on the “dance” side of the theatrical spectacle scale, is deceptive: While it appears to be a random collection of incidents, Lincoln and Seiters’ choreography is a complex and beautifully subtle harmony of theatrical elements, punctuated by wry whimsy, and whose influences range from mime and Noh to Laurie Andersonesque robot movements and Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. The result is a performance that is as eye-catching and as mesmerizing as it is inscrutable. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru July 27. (323) 466-7781. A Lean To Production. (Paul Birchall)
GO BETRAYAL Unlike the seedy environs of Harold Pinter’s earliest celebrated dramas, the mise en scène of his 1978 tale of infidelity and deception is upscale, middle-class London, and centers on “respectable people.” Betrayal opens with a short scene in which Emma (Nike Doukas) and Jerry (Daniel Reichert), a literary agent, meet in a café; after some small talk she announces that she has told her husband (a publisher and Jerry’s good friend), Robert (Leo Marks), about their seven-year affair. From this point, the scenes unfold in reverse chronological order, and the hypocrisy and deceit underlying these characters’ lives become apparent, a web of treachery that’s seductive both in its simplicity and in the facile manner by which it’s tolerated — but nevertheless poisonous in its effect. As unpleasant as the subject matter is, there are moments of dark humor that are cleverly accented under John Demita’s superb direction of this excellent revival. (The action, whose passages are marked by dates written on a chalkboard, has been moved to the 21st century.) All three actors, who easily handle their British accents, turn in fine performances, subtly and convincingly channeling a range of psychological states and emotions that evolve over time. Marks is particularly effective, dosing his character with a blend of aloofness and venomous sarcasm. Rounding out the cast in a small role is Harris Matthews. New Place Studio Theater, 10950 Peach Grove St., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 3. (866) 811-4111. An Andak Stage Co. production. (Lovell Estell III)
THE COMICAL TRAGEDY OR TRAGICAL COMEDY OF MR. PUNCH The Rogue Artists Ensemble’s lavishly mounted, highly ambitious adaptation of writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKean’s 1995 graphic novel is a marvel of expressionistic spectacle. Unfortunately, no amount of scenic splendor can camouflage a torpid, overly elliptical script lacking even the rudimentary character shadings or conflict-driven scene dynamics essential to compelling drama. Much of the blame must go to director-adaptor (with Miles Taber) Sean T. Cawelti and his quasi-commedia mise en scène. Designer Joyce Hutter’s meticulously re-created Punch and Judy puppet show forms the allegorical touchstone for Gaiman’s moody mystery of a man (Taber) coming to terms with fractured childhood memories of a fateful summer spent at his grandfather’s seaside arcade. Taking his cue from this, Cawelti’s staging employs a staggering array of grotesque masks (by Patrick Rubio), shadow puppetry, entrancing digital video projections (by Brian White) and a haunting score (by composer Ben Phelps) in order to evoke the cinematic sweep of McKean’s illustrations. In his very faithfulness to his source, however, he fails to translate its visual syntax into the spoken language of the theater. But if that leaves little for his actors, it’s a field day for Cawelti’s outstanding crew of talented designers and musicians. This team’s ultimate tribute may be the fact that the more one ignores the live performance for the show’s awesome production values, the better the evening becomes. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m. (no perfs Aug. 8-10); Sat., 4 & 8 p.m. ; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 31. (800) 838-3006. A Rogue Artists Ensemble production. (Bill Raden)
deLEARious Lyricist-playwright Ron West and composer Phil Swann’s overly ambitious travesty about King Lear, modern musicals and the King James Bible is often fun, always energetic — but ultimately overbearing. West and Swann also stage, musically direct and play featured roles in this rollicking, far-too-long exercise that seeks to sink to the lowbrow brilliance of the Troubador Theater Co.’s musical Shakespeare parodies, while reaching for Spamalot’s organized chaos. Many of the lyrics succeed with clever silliness, and a large portion of the melodies are catching. The three-tiered plot (set, according to the program, in “AD 60,” “1603” and “Office in Los Angeles 2008”) begins as Shakespeare (Michael Churven) attempts to write Lear in spite of constant criticism from newly crowned King James (Bruce Green), who has blackmailed him into adapting the Bible in English verse. Soon we travel into Lear’s pre-Christian Britain, embodied by a cast of humorously inept, not-yet-ready-for Broadway singer-actors. These two interweaving plots show some absurd comic bravado. However, the third, contemporary narrative, portraying an alcoholic, womanizing West and long-suffering Swann, crushes the enjoyment. This portion falls into the inwardly directed cynicism of Curb Your Enthusiasm but without the fuzzy warmth of Larry David. The production elements do nothing to help. Jeff G. Rack’s sparse set gives no sense of place, and Rosalie Alvarez’s contemporary costuming leaves us without any period context for the jokes. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwd.; perfs in rep with The Comedy of Errors. Call theater for schedule; thru Aug. 30. (323) 882-6912. (Tom Provenzano)
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The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch
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The Next Big Thing
EH JOE Liam Neeson stars in Samuel Beckett’s TV play. Lincoln Center Festival, Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, New York. See Stage feature.
LIFE IN A MARITAL INSTITUTION James Braly performs his solo show at the Soho Playhouse, New York. See Stage feature.
THE MARRIAGE OF BETTE AND BOO Roundabout Theatre Company at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Laura Pels Theatre, New York. (212) 719-9393. See Stage feature.
GO THE NEXT BIG THING It’s 1983, and 17-year-old Chip (Brandon Ruckdashel) coerces high school friends Robert (Jason Director) and Mickey (Mike Thompson) into starting a garage band. His bandmates’ musical inexperience doesn’t worry the starry-eyed Chip, who immediately begins auditioning girl singers. The boys get lucky and find the immensely talented Kim (Matisha Baldwin), thereby increasing their chance to play an elite gig: a postprom party hosted by superpopular, big-haired Cyndi (Heather Belling). While all seems to be going well for the band, Chip’s mother, Melissa (Missy Gibson), bombards her son with negative criticism. Less a has-been than a never-was, Melissa carries a grudge against the entire music industry, particularly her former manager Tom (Curt Bonnem), who — naturally — signs Chip’s band. With book by Jeff Favre, the characters are compelling, as are some of Gibson and Mike Flanagan’s lyrics, but most of Gibson and Flanagan’s music sounds like recycled Hall and Oates. Sharell Martin’s fabulous period costumes give this musical comedy the production’s best representation of the 1980s. Under Flanagan’s musical direction, Ellen D. Williams, as Melissa’s lesbian lover, delivered the evening’s strongest vocal performance. As directed by Favre and Rachel Maize, Gibson strikes a rather one-note performance in comparison to Ruckdashel, who demonstrates immense stage presence through quicksilver facial expressions and a dazzling smile. art/works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (323) 960-4418 or www.thenextbigthingmusical.com. (Sandra Ross)
THE STRANGERER Mickle Maher’s loose weave of Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger through the prism of the 2004 U.S. presidential debates. A production of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck presented by Barrow Street Theatre, New York. See Stage feature.