Theater Reviews: Camelot, IN THE COMPANY OF JANE DOE, BAAL
GO BAAL Peter Mellencamp's adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's early, poetical drama is about the cruelty and demise of a bacchanalian poet who recognizes, curses and is cursed by civilization's thin veneer. Ben Rock's staging is sometimes forced, more often intense and seductive, with Gregory Sims' growling title character bearing a physical resemblance to young Al Pacino but with a voice like Tom Waits. Sacred Fools Theatre Company, 660 Heliotrope Drive, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Thurs., Jan. 28, 8 p.m.); through February 20. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
CAMELOT Director David Lee's eight-actor version of Lerner & Loewe's musical chestnut uses its economical imperative to strive for an ensemble concept that makes fun of its own minimal devices. The result is somewhat tentative, a production groping for its purpose, but it's also pleasant. Shannon Stoeke is vocally pleasing and gentle King Arthur needs the machismo of Richard Burton, despite his pacifist politics, or the subtext of his wife's (Shannon Warne) erotic distraction is a wee too obvious. Warne's voice is gorgeous, as is Doug Carpenter's, who conjures memories of Robert Goulet playing Lancelot. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (No perfs Jan. 19, 27 and Feb. 3; added perf Feb. 3, 2 p.m.); through Feb. 7. (626) 356-7592. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
GO CIRCUS WELT Reminiscent of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret (though sans music), this adaptation by director and producer Pavel Cerny of Leonid Andreyev's 1914 Russian play, He Who Gets Slapped, shifts the setting to Weimar Germany circa 1933. A small traveling circus run by Ludwig Bricke (John Moskal) and his common-law wife/lion-tamer, Maria (Stephanie T. Keefer), serves as a haven for those at the margins of society: Jackson (Jeff Williams), a black American clown in whiteface; Tilly and Polly (Justin Hertner and Lee Biolos), a long-standing gay couple; Bezano (Patrick Koffel), the communist horse trainer; and the newly arrived mysterious clown named He (an impressively nuanced Joshua Grenrock). As the story, which takes place entirely in the circus dressing room, unfolds, multiple love triangles emerge, though the one of greatest consequence involves Bezano, Maria and the bareback rider Consuelo (Tanya Goott), who is engaged by her father Count Mancini (Kurt Hargan) to the wealthy Baron Von Reinhardt (Ed Brigadier), the head of the local SA storm troopers. While the remaining vestiges of the original melodrama detract from what could be an extremely compelling piece of theater, Cerny has done his best to minimize them, and his Brechtian-style entr'acte additions, such as the "news clowns," provide girding for the menacing backdrop of Nazi Germany on the rise. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through February 14. (866) 811-4111. An Orpheum Theater Corporation Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
DOCTOR NOGUCHI Given director-playwright Gary LeGault's pedigree, you would think that a camp meditation on celebrity, based on the star-studded body count of L.A. County's controversial former chief medical examiner, Thomas T. Noguchi (Hayden Lee), would be a comedic slam dunk. You'd be wrong. Despite a list of credits that includes working with the likes of Charles Ludlam and Warhol superstars Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, LeGault's indifferently staged, pallidly scripted evening delivers little of the outrageous burlesque or incisive social ironies those names might imply. Charting the publicity-seeking coroner's career between Marilyn Monroe's (Julia Stoddard) "suicide" in 1963 and John Belushi's (Jeremy Ebenstein) overdose in 1982, the play unwinds as a series of vignettes in which a quizzical Noguchi ponders the paradox of his illustrious clientele's self-destruction while at the peak of their fame, even as he is visited by each of their resurrected spirits seeking some sort of existential closure. But if LeGault's necrographic portraiture rarely achieves even a Wikipedia-weight likeness, the production is not without its charms. These are mainly found in Lee's slyly winsome portrayal of a flawed philosopher-poet, whose fastidious pursuit of truth becomes corrupted by his own vanity and the corrosive effects of fame by association. With decided deficits in plot and engaging conflict to fuel that performance, however, LeGault's slender conceit simply lacks the comic mileage to make it to the final curtain. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; through January 31. (310) 360-7064. (Bill Raden)
GO THE IMAGINARY INVALID Lance Davis' abridged 75-minute adaptation of Molière's classic eschews all subtlety in an amusing, accessible romp with plenty of flair and humor. Davis plays Argon, a mousey, myopic hypochondriac in a tizzy over his mounting medical bills. His solution: to marry off his unfortunate daughter, Angelique (Amanda Pajer), to the loutish son of a quack doctor so he may secure his in-law's services for free. Possessed of a gargantuan ego, the self-preoccupied ninny Argon swallows whole the extravagant protestations of love by his beautiful but conniving second wife (Marisa Chandler) — even as she plots with her lover (Mark McCracken) behind Argon's back — to secure all his wealth. Under Mary Chalon's direction, the production evolves with outsized brio — a stylistic approach that succeeds by virtue of Davis' considerable acting skill, in tandem with the talents of Pajer and Chandler, both of whom render their shtick with calibrated craft. Some of the other characters come across less crisply but are still good enough to keep the farce crackling. Designer Holly Victoria's lovely period costumes add professional polish. Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through February 5; (626) 403-7667, parsonsnose.com. A Parson's Nose Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman)
IN THE COMPANY OF JANE DOE In Tiffany Antone's choppy farce, the sensibility of a Saturday-morning cartoon collides with a potentially fecund philosophical debate on the ego's relationship with the id. Yet, the results are strangely disjointed and unsatisfying. Jane Doe (Jessica Runck) is desperate to scale the career ladder at her marketing job, but her many hours of overwork are being undercut by bizarre nightmares and odd signals from her subconscious — she dreamily fills her briefcase with ice and snowshoes instead of the important files she needs, for instance, while travel brochures for trips to the North Pole mysteriously appear on her desk. Her well-meaning shrink, Dr. Annabelle (Coco Kleppinger), is sympathetic — but Dr. Annabelle's partner, bug-eyed, twitching and stammering Dr. Snafu (Isaac Wade, annoyingly channeling the mad scientist from the Back to the Future movies) has a more intriguing suggestion. He offers to clone Jane so that she will be able to get more done. It's an idea you and I both know will clearly end in tears — and, sure enough, Jane's clone (a sweetly gamine Sara Kaye) turns out to be nothing like her original, and winds up eclipsing Jane's life. With a frenetic staging that makes an imaginative if assaultive impression, director Mary Jo DuPrey's production boasts some tight choreography, strong comic timing and gleeful mugging. Runck's priggishly brittle Jane is nicely contrasted against Kaye's sweet, earth-mother clone. Marika Stephens' calculatedly surreal set — all sloping, angular furniture that puts one in mind of the villain's lair in an old Batman episode — abets the cartoon mood. However, all the craftsmanship is ultimately in the service of a half-baked play whose uneven tone, glib dialogue and messy plotting are stranded somewhere between a theological argument and a screenplay wannabe about a wacky office. Powerhouse Theater, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through February 6. (310) 396-3680. Los Angeles Theater Ensemble. (Paul Birchall)
LOYALTIES In Tony Pasqualini's drama, Frank (Michael Rothhaar) and Joy (Robin Becker) have lost a son, Andy, to the war in Iraq. Now they have become fanatical superpatriots, eager to condemn anyone who questions the war. Their best friends, Mel (Sarah Brooke) and Andrew (Pasqualini), also have an adopted son, Michael (Albert Meijer), an émigré from a Muslim country. Andy and Michael were inseparable friends throughout their childhood, but their paths diverged. While Andy enlisted and went to his death in battle, Michael also enlisted but decided it was a mistake and deserted his post. Though Mel and Andrew are sympathetic to their son, Frank and Joy are determined to force the boy to face his fears and accept his duty, even by reporting his whereabouts to the authorities. This issue becomes a catalyst, leading to disaster for both families. Pasqualini's play is not really a thesis drama, but it often sounds like one, treating its characters as mouthpieces. There are, however, some potent scenes. Though we're clearly intended to sympathize with Michael, he's too whiny and self-centered to take seriously. Director David Gautreaux has able actors but sometimes allows them to succumb to wearisome hysteria and shouting. Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 28. (310) 822-8392. Pacific Resident Theatre. (Neal Weaver)
GO PROJECT: WONDERLAND The Rev. Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, opens Robert A. Prior's play by defending his friendship with 11-year-old Alice Liddell before taking major hits off a hookah. (A professor, Michael Bonnabel, scribbling the mathematical formula for Wonderland, leaves that substance out of his equation.) Thus, um, inspired, Carroll (Lon Haber) dons a blond wig and reveals himself as Alice before plunging down the rabbit hole. Apart from the entrance of five other Alices chanting Carroll's lines like a Greek chorus, Wonderland is familiar turf — a trip though our childhood memories of the text and the Disney cult cartoon laced with Jefferson Airplane and melodramatic music but otherwise played straight. The stars here are Teresa Shea's costumes and sets and Lynn Jeffries' puppets, a whirlwind of giant lobster claws and waves of parachute silk and 15-foot flower hats and packs of angry cards buzzing about the stage. Amidst the chaos, standouts include Bonnabel's Caterpillar, Jabez Zuniga's Queen of Hearts, Matthew Patrick Davis' Mad Hatter, Lori Scarlett's Mock Turtle — hell, pretty much everyone navigating this manic, uncertain, but enthusiastic staging. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through January 31. (213) 389-3856. (Amy Nicholson)
TILTED FRAME NETWORK is the creation of Combined Artform, a San Francisco–based theatrical production company headed by artistic director Matthew Quinn. This multimedia, improv comedy show has audiences and actors in L.A. and San Francisco interact with each other via the Internet and TV. It's an intriguing idea with loads of potential, but one in need of much fine-tuning. The performance I attended started with the customary routine involving audience suggestions but quickly morphed into an awkward free-for-all, with so-so performances by cast members in both cities. The material, for the most part, was quirky and capable of tickling some funny bones but little that was breathtaking. One truly funny skit was a take on The Dating Game, with Misa Doi, LaKendra Tookes and Natalie Chediak as three eligible bachelorettes. Daniel Sullivan was in San Francisco in the hot seat, asking the questions. Ditto for Paul Baumgartner as a friendly pot dealer selling to cable-car riders. A bigger problem besides the hot and cold material were the many technical gaffes that occurred throughout. Blank screens, sound implosions and malfunctioning monitors kill the spontaneity that is the heart of improv comedy. This show has "test product" written all over it, but there are sparks of brilliance here, which provide hope for future outings. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through January 29. tiltedframe.com. An Artform production. (Lovell Estell III)