Theater Reviews: Chinese Coffee, Daddy, Love, Sex and the IRS
BLINK & YOU MIGHT MISS ME Writer-performer Larry Blum has had a curious career, ranging from production assistant to actor, dancer on Broadway, film and television, stand-in, and on-camera escort leading glamorous female stars (Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Susan Lucci) to the stage to accept their awards. He adores stars and drops their names without restraint in this amiably bitchy compendium of celebrity dish. He tells us what it was like to be groped by Van Johnson (during a stock production of How to Succeed in Business ...), to lift Roseanne in a dance number and to stand in for Simon Cowell on American Idol. He recounts a bizarre encounter with Ronald Reagan, who mistook him for a Gulf War hero, and tells us he somehow filched Lucille Ball's driver's license. He's clearly not fond of Raquel Welch or Roseanne, but he adores Lily Tomlin. His stories tend to serve up the rich and famous warts and all, and he often prefers the warts. He's a clever, funny, accomplished raconteur who filters his stories through a flamboyantly gay sensibility. Director Stan Zimmerman keeps things brisk and stylish. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 6. (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/blink. (Neal Weaver)
GO CHINESE COFFEE Playwright Ira Lewis' 1992 drama, making its West Coast debut, hails from an era of manly Manhattan-centric plays in which a pair of gentlemen brawl like scalded cats over matters of honor and art. As a work of theater, the play's talkiness, which borders on self-indulgence, clearly indicates why the piece is rarely performed. However, as a tour de force for the two actors, it compellingly showcases a wide range of emotions. One icy night, scruffy, starving New York writer Harry (Guy Camilleri) barges into the tiny Greenwich Village apartment belonging to his old pal Jake (Matt Chait). Jake supposedly has been reading Harry's manuscript, but has been curiously quiet about what he thinks. When Harry forces his pal to declare his true feelings about the novel, the unexpected reaction tests the pair's relationship. Lewis' drama is a philosophical debate — the conflict between a true artist, who might well wind up penniless, and the artistic wannabe who lacks talent and drive. But it's also about the peculiarly fragile nature of friendship, particularly the tepidly lukewarm bond between friends who share adversity and little else. Director Jack Heller's staging crackles with ferocious energy, elevating the potentially clunky dialogue, but the slight plot does not effectively justify why the pair agree to continue talking and remain in the same room after it's clear they hate each other. Still, the acting is robust and movingly organic. Chait's turn as the embittered, ironic artistic failure is compelling: Is he sad or angry that his friend has created a work of art when he himself cannot? Camilleri portrays his rumpled oaf of a starving writer with a neurotic mildness that at first suggests shyness; as the play's events unfold, however, it's clear his anxiousness belies an artistic confidence and iron will that his friend can't possibly ever reach. Flight Theatre at the Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Feb. 13. (323) 960-7792. (Paul Birchall)
GO DADDY Dan Via's Off-Broadway hit, receiving its L.A. premiere, is set in the context of the impassioned debate over gay marriage. Handsome gay newspaper columnist Colin (Gerald McCullouch) and buttoned-down lawyer Stewart (playwright Via) have been best friends for 20 years. Despite a bit of hanky-panky in their college days, their friendship has never become a love affair, though they're closer in many respects than some lovers. When Colin begins an affair with Tee (Ian Verdun), an eager young man half his age, it's a seismic shock to the long-standing relationship. Stewart is resentful of the boy's incursion in their lives, and suspects there's more to Tee than meets the eye. But when he tries to tell Colin about his doubts and suspicions, Colin dismisses them as mere jealousy. Though Via's play gets off to a slow start, things that initially seem cryptic or merely casual prove to be of crucial importance as it progresses, and the piece builds to a startling finale. Director Rick Sparks elicits finely nuanced performances from his three principals, and Adam Flemming provides the handsome and flexible unit set. Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Feb. 13. (323) 960-7738, plays411.com/daddy. (Neal Weaver)
FATIGUED How does a playwright honor the personal sacrifices of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans without seeming to endorse the corrupted policies that sent them into battle? Although it is not the explicit subject of this pair of original one-acts, this dramatic conundrum hovers over the Company of Angels' uncertain attempt to tabulate the psychic costs paid by warriors and their families. In Jerome A. Parker's melodramatic "Ballad of Sad Young Men" (directed by Kila Kitu), Joe (a terrific Joshua R. Lamont) and Greg (Charles Maceo) spend a brief stateside break between combat tours trying to anesthetize their emotional war wounds by swilling rum in their old neighborhood haunts. While the apparently stable Greg conceals a diabolical outlet for his unresolved rage, the openly brittle Joe manages to find the hope of redemption in the nurturing arms of a former one-night stand (Juanita Chase). Gabriel Rivas Gomez's "Scar Tissue" adopts a more nuanced literary tack in its story of an emotionally remote cardiac surgeon (the fine Monica Sanchez) who is forced to finally deal with the loss of her army-medic daughter (Carolyn Zeller) by the death of an invalid soldier (Chris Hampton) ironically impatient to have his own heart defect repaired so he can be returned to action. Director Nathan Singh's smart staging receives able support in Ivan Noel Acosta's nicely expressive set and lights. But the evening's otherwise worthy intentions are fatally undermined by the plays' nagging reluctance to directly take a point of view on the war itself — a flaw that ultimately implicates the production in the cause of its characters' tragedies. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Jan. 23. (866) 811-4111, companyofangels.com. (Bill Raden)
GREEDY The opening tableau of Karl Gajdusek's comedy gives the impression that an engaging evening of theater will follow. While motoring along on a rainy night, Paul (Kurt Fuller) receives a call on his cell phone from a distraught woman who promises him a startling amount of money in exchange for his help. After this tantalizing, cryptic exchange, however, the script turns both puzzling and effete. The origin of the call is a pair of sibling scammers who are out for a good score. Louis (Brad Raider) is a luftmensch and inventor of sorts who hopes that a grotesque contraption he calls a "Kofi" machine will make him rich; sister Keira (Maggie Lawson) is a gritty ex-druggie with a ton of emotional issues. They share their trashy digs with Louis' lady Janet (a fine Amanda Detmer). Their mark, Paul, is a doctor with some pocketbook problems, a Russian wife who wants a baby and an outsized dream of life unfettered. The bulk of the play shifts between the two homes (designer Kurt Boetcher's dual-view mock-up is well done) with much time and dialogue spent on what is negligible, instead of the ugly fraud that lies at the heart of the play or the psychological portraits of those involved, neither of which are artfully or convincingly constructed. The only surprise comes at the end, but it doesn't redeem the sputtering path toward it. That's not to fault the actors, who perform well under James Roday's direction. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m., through Jan. 29. reddogsquadron.com. (Lovell Estell III)
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE For some, a computer is a word-processing machine and a gateway to the Internet. As long as they are able to type documents, send e-mails and surf the Web, they feel they're making full use of this machine. Others, however, use the very same machine to its full technological capacity: making complex calculations, designing eye-catching graphics or composing the next great symphony. In interpreting the work of an accomplished playwright like Martin McDonagh, directors and actors have the same options: Tell the story straightforwardly and competently, or delve deeply into the words and the spaces between them to bring out the richness of their meaning. Like the vast majority of us, director Patrick Williams chooses the former option in staging McDonagh's satire on Irish terrorism. In it, a cat belonging to Padraic (Patrick Rieger), a soldier in the Irish National Liberation Army, is found dead by Davey (Devon Armstrong) and brought to Padraic's father, Donny (John Gilbert), who's supposed to be taking care of it. When Padraic hears that his favorite feline isn't fit, he returns to Inishmore and runs into not only Mairead (Jannese Davidson), Davey's gun-toting sister who's keen to join both Padraic and the cause, but also a crew of INLA members angling to take over his turf. Violence and mayhem ensue, and liters of blood are shed, all of which is a lot funnier than you'd expect. Unfortunately, neither the acting nor directing brings the laughter to full throat. The characters are played too earnestly instead of hyperbolically, a move that injects subtlety into a piece that revels in extremes and caricature. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Feb. 12. (562) 494-1014, lbplayhouse.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
LOVE, SEX AND THE IRS The IRS thinks Jon and Leslie are married. Problem is, Jon (Nathanial Dobies) has lied on his returns and his male roommate, a ticked-off Leslie (Bret Colombo), must wear a dress and wig to fool the tax man (George Cummings) who wants to meet the "missus." Furthermore, the emergency drag wardrobe comes from Jon's fiancée, Kate (Tamara Lynn Davis), who's already been sneaking Leslie into her panties. Gay marriage is so foreign to William Van Zandt and Jane Millmore's 1979 sex farce that when Jon's estranged mom (Sally Richter) barges into the charade, she weeps that Jon and Leslie have inspired God to destroy Manhattan — for being a straight couple living in sin. (The one woman who realizes there's a man under those tights, the very funny Carole Catanzaro as Leslie's girlfriend, thinks being gay is cause to be committed to a mental hospital.) Director Christopher Chase tries to place us squarely in the '70s, littering the set with fondue pots, cans of Tab and posters of Farrah Fawcett. Even so, the comedy's last source of tension, a landlord (Barry Agin) snooping for co-ed cohabitation, feels like a confounding homage to Three's Company. At least taxes are more certain than social mores. But before bringing life to the near alien past, Chase's priority is to macho-up Dobies and Colombo, both too fluttery to play a violent schemer and a ladies' man thrust into playing the oddest of odd couples. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m., through Jan. 30. (661) 547-1173. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW EYES Yafit Josephson gives an accomplished performance in her solo show about a Jewish actress facing down Hollywood's cultural stereotypes. It's marred only by a poorly designed slide show. Josephson slips easily into various personae, combining characters with caricatures to good comedic effect. The opening has her switching from a formidable military officer to her nervous young self on her first day of compulsory military training in the Israeli army. Highlights include a hilarious mime sequence where she uncomprehendingly attempts yoga and another scene where she gives a goofy impression of a macho guy in an Israeli nightclub. Josephson's tall, slender build, piercing eyes and chiseled face lend her a commanding presence, but it's her prominent proboscis that relegates her to the usual gamut of villainous roles, from terrorist to evil witch — "And no, they didn't have to use a fake nose," she jokes. Her adult journey takes her from the New World back to Israel, where she touches base with her culture, returning to Hollywood with newfound strength of character. Beneath the comedy lies a serious undercurrent stemming from the ongoing war in the Middle East: Land equals identity. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs. & Sat., 8 pm., Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 13. whitefiretheatre.com/New_Eyes.html. (Pauline Adamek)
THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN For all the talk of our sociocultural evolution, look no further than the sixth installment of the gory-glorifying serial-killer movie series Saw, or the rapt attention given to an especially gasp-inducing murder trial, as a gauge of Americans' fascination with the instinct to kill. Not just kill, either — the stronger the scent of blood, the hungrier the public's appetite. You could finger Lizzie Borden's 1892 trial as the trigger for this obsession. Writer-director Steven Sabel's world premiere is adapted from the transcripts of the double hatchet murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, for which their daughter Lizzie was arrested and ultimately acquitted. Sabel wisely keeps the stage bare, focusing instead on recollections that twist so sharply you almost need a crib sheet to keep up. Jeremy Mascia's lead prosecutor, Hosea Knowlton, relies on overbearing theatrics as his primary cross-examination tactic, but it's in line with the typical portrayal of the courtroom in film; Annie Freeman is as wide- and wild-eyed as famous photos of the accused. The play feels lacking, but perhaps that's more a reflection of our CSI culture than of the material. Tom Newman's icy original music, particularly the hollow whispering of the children's jump-rope rhyme "Lizzie Borden took an ax," is literally hair-raising. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., through Feb. 5. (818) 202-4120. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
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