THEATER REVIEWS: BIG BRO/LIL BRO, HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE AND THE NUCLEAR FAMILY
NEW THEATER REVIEWS
GO BIG BRO/LIL BRO In playwright Jonathan Ceniceroz’s torn-between-two-lovers potboiler, a wannabe actor named Carlos (Vince Tula) leaves his mature and ailing partner to set up house with a coquettish young gent from his acting class. The wallowing melodrama commences with Carlos resolutely packing his bags, deaf to the incessant pleas of wheelchair-bound Gil (Art McDermott). We next see him in his new digs, in thrall to the alluring Jeremy (understudy David Padilla), whose clothes he’s possessively concealed in a power play seemingly intended to proscribe his new boyfriend’s coming and goings. Directed by Josh Chambers, the stilted first act unwinds with a rather depthless display of passions, as the financially pressed Carlos struggles to support his increasingly sulky and demanding inamorato. Act 2 improves, however, first because the script acquires some texture, as Jeremy evolves into a narcissistic psychopath, but more so because Padilla — in his debut stage performance — makes the most of the material to establish a beguilingly ominous presence. McDermott is persuasive as the catty but perspicacious invalid. To the playwright’s credit, the drama ultimately detours from a sensationalized denouement into one more sensible and satisfying. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., downtown; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Aug. 2. (323) 883-1717. A Company of Angels production. (Deborah Klugman )
GO CYMBELINE THE PUPPET KING Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is a natural for adaptation as children’s theater since it shares many plot elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The play has been much shortened and simplified. Imogen’s husband, Posthumous, and his treacherous friend Iachimo have been eliminated, and the sex and violence are reduced to minimum in slapstick. In this goofy, kid-friendly adaptation by Angelina Berliner, King Cymbeline (Stephen M. Porter) is an ineffectual booby, easily manipulated by his evil, ambitious second wife (Donna Jo Thorndale), who wants to marry off her boorish, dimwitted son Cloten (Adam Jefferis) to his daughter Imogen (Erin Anderson). But feisty Imogen (she calls her unwelcome suitor Cloten the Rotten) is having none of this, and takes to the woods, where she’s befriended by Belarius (Mary Eileen O’Donnell) and his adopted son Guidarius (Kirstin Hinton), who was raised by wolves, and is given to occasional howling. Many of the jokes are probably over the heads of most children, but they’re kept amused by director Will Pellegrini’s zanily frenetic staging, and the prospect of free Popsicles. The short piece (less than an hour) is performed outdoors, and best of all, admission is free. The Actor’s Gang at The Ivy Substation, Culver City Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m., through August 30; theactorsgang.com. (310) 838-4264. (Neal Weaver)
GO THE DEBATE OVER COURTNEY O’CONNELL OF COLUMBUS, NEBRASKA
If we’re to believe playwright Mat Smart, which is probably not a good idea, the bloody rampage of a jealous lover in 1894 Columbus, Nebraska, led to the “Morgan Morality Act,” stipulating that if a woman chose a fiancé over the objections of a former lover who had taken her virginity, her first lover was entitled to challenge her fiancé in a public debate, sort of like a cross between The Dating Game and The Jerry Springer Show. After hearing arguments from both parties, the woman was free to choose her future mate. If the woman continued to rebuke the challenger, the law forbade him from contacting her or to mention her name in public. This anti-stalking bill placed profound confidence in the power of debate, in general, and argumentation, in particular, to prevent corpses from piling up, as they evidently did in 1894 Nebraska, at least according to the record cited in Smart’s play. In Act 1 of his delightful comedy, set in a contemporary Nebraska tavern — here portrayed in the site-specific environs of downtown’s Metropol Café — Smart is really grappling with the intersection of commitment and ownership. Jeff Galfer, who originated the role at New York’s Slant Theatre Project, is both horrifying and endearing as Scott P. Scooner, a snazzily dressed local denizen whose dream of making it big consists of landing the assistant-manager post at the suit shop where he now works as a salesclerk. Scooner is a romantic extrovert with a history of suicide attempts after having lost his love, Courtney (Amy Ellenberger, nicely capturing an emotional descent after floating on air) to a six-figure-salary-earning “dickwad from Sacramento” named James Alexander (Larry Heron, in a suave and smart performance). Courtney’s been dating James for two months (compared to her five-year courtship with Scooner). During the debate, Alexander offers her a vacation in the Bahamas, which only makes her swoon some more, as Scooner must endure the sight of his ex embracing and kissing his competitor while he’s trying to win her back. Thomas (Feodor Chin) gently moderates the debate in a performance of wry intelligence and absurdity, clutching a handbook on the law, which stipulates time limits and other protocol for the growingly ludicrous spectacle. After both suitors’ presentations, Courtney finds herself paralyzed by indecision, which is when the law’s more arcane articles, such as a corn-shucking competition, come into play. Act 2 flies back in time to 1894 and tracks the origins of this “morality act” via a farce with the actors in drag and impressive quick-changes. It’s a different play in a different style, which presents more of a challenge to the actors than the real-time naturalism of Act 1. It nonetheless tracks the origins of our so-called freedom, and how incapable we are of handling the responsibilities that come with it. Despite the farce’s shortcomings, Jennifer Chang stages the event, and it is an event, with a nimble touch, and Rachel Schachar’s costumes are perfect. Metropol Cafe, 923 East Third St., downtown; Sun.-Mon., 8 p.m.; through August 24; brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006. A Chalk Repertory Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Following hard on the ruby-encrusted heels of Broadway’s greatest 21st-century’s phenom Wicked, the Pantages returns to this equally significant Broadway hit from the middle of the last century (nearly a decade as longest-running musical) in a spectacular revival. Sholem Aleichem’s tale of life in a Jewish shtetl under the thumb of Russia’s czar, dramatized by Joseph Stein with a glorious score and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick respectively, still generates laughs and other emotions. This production remains loyal to Jerome Robbins’ original staging, with expertly re-created direction and choreography by Sammy Dallas Bayes. You won’t find any flying or other magical machinery so expected in contemporary Broadway fare. It feels like time-traveling 50 years back — yet there’s no sense of museum theater here. Leading the way is, of course, Topol, the Israeli star who first played the lead tole of Tevye on London’s West End when he was far too young, then in the 1971 film at the perfect age, now in this “final tour,” when he is too old but still enormously effective as the faithful but constantly God-questioning milkman who sees his Jewish traditions and way of life falling apart. Upon Topol’s first entrance he is greeted as a rock star — but the production doesn’t rest on his laurels alone; it earns its standing ovation from the merits of the ensemble, musicians and designers. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 7:30 p.m.; through August 9. (213) 365-3500. (Tom Provenzano)
GO HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE
Tommy Carter’s hard-hitting drama delves into the sadly familiar terrain of police brutality and corruption. After a drug raid in which a team member was shot and killed, a clique of New York City’s finest rendezvous in an abandoned, graffiti-pocked warehouse, ostensibly to commiserate about their dead partner. Robert Mangiardi, Michael Camacho, Sal Landi, Phil Parolisi, Charles Taylor and Gary Werntz turn in harrowing performances as gritty, streetwise narcotics officers whose psychological and emotional black holes are nothing short of terrifying. It isn’t long after the team assembles that the real reason for the “party” emerges, and we learn that a bond has been made to split nearly $1 million in confiscated drug money, which is to be retrieved by this gang-in-blue’s only black member, Dash (Tim Starks). It’s while waiting for the payoff to arrive that a toxic stew of racism, fear, suspicion, paranoia and undiluted greed start to erode alliances, causing insurmountable conflicts that culminate in crushing betrayals and murder. In addition to chillingly realistic characters, Carter’s blunt writing and gallows humor propel this 90-minute drama, which, in spite of its dearth of action, is never boring or tedious. And director Barry Sattels and his cast excel in opening up the explosive tension of the plot. Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave. L.A.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 15. (213) 712-5021. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE NUCLEAR FAMILY
As they’ve been doing since 2007, the company of three actors (Stephen Guarino, Jimmy Ray Bennett and John Gregorio), and pianist Matthew Loren Cohen, staggered through on wit and a prayer to create a 90-minute musical-theater piece off-the-cuff, sprung from the core characters of a generic American family: Mom, Dad and Daughter (some nights it’s Son). The piece and even the characters’ names are different every night, thanks to the unpredictability of audience suggestions, and the trio play different roles at each performance. Every show, however, starts in the “kitchen” — four wooden chairs, two with broken crossbeams — and from there, spirals in and out of control, spinning the dual mythologies of The American Family and The American Musical around and around on a spit. It’s ribald, insane and great fun. Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 9; needtheater.org. (323) 852-6963. A NeedTheatre production (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage Feature.
GO ONE NIGHT STAND: AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL
Seven young actors don’t use wigs for a musical parody concocted in the spur of the moment — this is the improv equivalent of performing without a net. On the night I saw them, they concocted a father-son conflict that parodied the literary convention of young people arriving in L.A. from the hinterlands to become stars. The lanky Quinn Beswick portrayed a kid in Tennessee confronting his dad (Jonah Platt) about not wanting to live out his father’s failed dreams, about not wanting to be a star, but wanting instead to escape to L.A. to pursue his dream of cleaning up after other people who do want to be stars. (No shortage of employment opportunities in that field.) The fresh-scrubbed ensemble showed wit aplenty and boasted bona fide musical theater chops, particularly though the sharp energy and even sharper voices of Samantha Martin and Mollie Taxe. Musical Director Andrew Resnick did piano-accompaniment duties. Hudson Theater Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; through August 22. (323) 960-4429. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage Feature.
THE PAIN AND THE ITCH
Judging by this 2004 comedy of manners, Steppenwolf playwright Bruce Norris’ worst enemy isn’t the left-leaning, urban-professional parenting he targets in his caustic, social satire but his own penchant for overloaded metaphors and excessively convoluted plots. The action centers on a fateful Thanksgiving gathering hosted by Kelly (Vonessa Martin), a young attorney and her stay-at-home husband, Clay (Brad Price), as told in flashback to a mysterious, Arab cabdriver, Mr. Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur). Kelly and Clay seem to be living the American Dream: success, wealth (suggested by Kurt Boetcher’s distractingly literal luxury townhouse set) and two young children. With the arrival of Clay’s acid-tongued, plastic-surgeon brother, Cash (Scott Lowell), and his malaprop-spouting, Slavic-immigrant girlfriend, Kalina (Katie Marie Davies), however, a host of simmering tensions and festering family resentments quickly surface, not the least of which concerns Clay’s growing alarm over the suspicious genital rash afflicting his overprotected 4-year-old daughter, Kayla (Ava Feldman in a role double cast with Olivia Aaron). Norris is at his best when skewering the culture of narcissism that blinds his Yuppie protagonists to the grimmer truths of the world around them (as when Kelly’s claim of childhood abuse by “neglect alternating with sarcasm” prompts naive comfort from Kalina in her own story of her brutal, childhood rape by soldiers). Dámaso Rodriguez’s crisp direction of a talented cast can’t mitigate the tangle of telescoping flashbacks, red herrings and a wildly improbable and bathetic dénouement that all ultimately blunt Norris’ critiques. Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 23. (626) 683-6883. (Bill Raden)
74 GEORGIA AVENUE/THE PUSHCART PEDDLERS
Murray Schisgal’s two mildly Absurdist one-acts chronicle varied aspects of Jewish life. In the good-hearted but conventional farce The Pushcart Peddlers, directed by Chris Winfield and set on the New York waterfront in the early 1900s, wily banana peddler Cornelius (Lloyd Pedersen) cons greenhorn Shimmel (Ren Bell) out of all he owns — but when Shimmel falls for Maggie (Melissa Soso), a flower seller with theatrical ambitions, he quickly learns street smarts. The performances are broad but skillful. The more ambitious and more personal 74 Georgia Avenue, directed by Frances Mizrahi, is set in a formerly Jewish neighborhood that’s now entirely black. Martin Robbins (Larry Margo) revisits his childhood home and discovers it’s occupied by Joseph Watson (Disraeli Ellison), the son of the janitor at Robbins’ old synagogue, who has become more Jewish than Robbins. Joseph fondly remembers the old days from the synagogue and has collected clothes, which mysteriously allow him to assume the identities of their former owners. When he “becomes” Martin’s zayde, it allows Martin to resolve old resentments, and regain respect for his nebbishy father. Both actors deliver fine performances, despite the play’s heavy-handed treatment of the supernatural. Lonny Chapman’s Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through August 22. www.lcgrt.com. (866) 811-4111. (Neal Weaver)
Many would argue that Shakespeare is not meant to be experienced in a darkened proscenium house with fancy sets, a silent audience and plush seating, but instead, with minimal lighting and sets, a boisterous crowd, and no seating at all. Those who prefer the latter will find this production of Shakespeare’s final play to their liking. The familiar story about the wronged former Duke of Milan, who is banished to an island with his daughter. How he uses his powers of sorcery to command the isle’s faeries to exact revenge on his fellow nobles is performed with traditional minimalism, as well as modern commentary and humor. Director and company co-founder Melissa Chalsma incorporates into the dialogue jokes about cell phones, Martha Stewart and even the Barnsdall performance space. Continuing the modern aesthetic are Daniel Mahler’s costumes, which feature a blend of bubble wrap, duct tape and other shiny bits for the faeries and Prospero’s cape, in styles ranging from Mafioso (Sebastian) and band geek (Trinculo) to Charlie Chaplain (Stephano). The latter two work well for the bawdy vaudevillian duo, who, along with Caliban, become the most engaging part of the performance. What’s gained in comedy, however, is lost in the somber philosophical inquiry that comprises a significant part of the text. A major reason for this is the setting, which, by allowing food, drink and a “family atmosphere,” also suffers from the distraction of crying, talking children. While that atmosphere is good for a summer community event, give me the darkened proscenium house for this play. Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (In alternating rep with Henry V, so performance dates vary.) Through August 30. (323) 836-0288. An Independent Shakespeare Company production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
Matt Pelfrey’s weird, hot mess of a dark satire is a virtual dramatization of lunacy, as seen from the inside peering out. If you have ever noticed someone walking down the street, with a tinfoil hat firmly lodged atop his head, muttering imprecations about this or that conspiracy, Pelfrey’s play is a work that tells you how that tragic figure came to be. Mac Winchell (Brett Hren) is a contented cubicle-dwelling office worker whose life is thrown into disarray when co-worker Felix (Eric Bunton) goes berserk and starts shooting up the building. Felix offs himself right in front of Mac, but before he does, he whispers something unmentionable in his ear. From that moment, Mac finds himself sliding into a bizarre, alternate universe in which everything is deranged and violent. After inheriting the Terminus Americana, a phone book–size manual of madness left by Felix as an office Secret Santa gift, Mac wanders the country, having a bizarre series of adventures and ultimately being hailed as a prophet in the New Church of Christ The Office Shooter — and you can imagine what one must do to join that organization. Pelfrey’s comedy is intentionally meandering, full of seemingly random incidents and a disjointed structure that is meant to be both frustrating and arch. Unfortunately, a little goes a long way, and two hours of the disconnected babble almost leaves the audience groping for our own tinfoil hats. Danny Parker-Lopes’ phlegmatic staging suffers from lagging pacing and strangely clumsy blocking. Although Hren’s slow transition from mild-mannered office drone to howling loon is chillingly convincing, some of the supporting performances are prone to stiff acting and halting line readings. The Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru August 15; (323) 860-8786 or thespyants.com. A SpyAnts production. (Paul Birchall)
OPENING THIS WEEK
AESOP’S FABLES As re-imagined by the Kentwood Players’ Shirley Hatton. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. www.kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.
AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare’s comedy, reset in the 1980s San Fernando Valley. (In rep with Snoopy: The Musical; call for schedule.) Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, L.A.; opens July 31; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 667-0955.
CARNEVIL Michael Teoli’s horror musical about the accidental death of a carnival worker. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., July 31-Aug. 1, 9 p.m. (310) 281-8337.
COMEDY IN THE PARK “A sketchy skip through eternal love, fragile relationships and a penchant for black attire,” by Lauren Lewis and Cullen Kirkland. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., July 31-Aug. 1, 8 p.m. (818) 510-8083.
DON’T FORGET TO REMEMBER Patrice Parker’s world premiere about a family undone by moral conflict. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (323) 960-7780.
(DUB)ZECK Patrick Kennelly remixes Buchner’s Woyzeck with Patty Hearst, transsexual clones and Motorhead. In English, Spanish, French, Polish and German. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Sat., Aug. 1, 8 p.m. (310) 315-1459.
FRANZ SCHUBERT: HIS LETTERS AND MUSIC Opera diva Julia Migenes and actor Jeff Marlow interpret the classical composer. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 1; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.
GOLIATH Middle East faceoff by Karen Hartman. Part of Open Fist Theatre Company’s First Look Festival of New Plays. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 9, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 16, 3 p.m. (323) 882-6912.
GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. No barfing allowed. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens July 31; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700.
GUYS AND DOLLS IN CONCERT Jessica Biel, Scott Bakula and Beau Bridges try not to butcher the Frank Loesser musical. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., July 31-Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m. (323) 850-2040.
7DS Zombie Joe’s Underground presents Amanda Marquardt’s survey of the seven deadly sins. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 1; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 202-4120.
WWJD ... WHAT WOULD JIMI DO? Felicia D. Henderson’s story of her relationships with her dysfunctional family, Hollywood agents and Jimi Hendrix. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; opens Aug. 3; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 31. www.the-racket-collective.ticketleap.com.
For complete theater listings, go to blogs.laweekly.com/style_council/stage-news.
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