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Theater Reviews: Closer, Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Ghosts from the future invade <i>The Violet Hour</i>

Sara ShapleyGhosts from the future invade The Violet Hour

GO  ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST Dario Fo’s farce concerns a maniac/master of disguises (Taras Los) who impersonates a magistrate in a Milan police station in order to help oily cops (Adam Edgar, Chris Covics and Stephen Simon) redramatize the events around the “accidental” fatal plunge of an anarchist-detainee from their window — in order to get their story straight. Near the end of Diana Wyenn’s staging, one of the actors breaks into a screed about the hypocrisy of U.S. policy in Iraq, layered onto a history of hypocrisy that goes back to the Carter administration, plus how the funding of the war — for the benefit of a few favored contractors — has plunged us into such debt that we’re now flirting with an economic depression. The other actors look on askance, pleading to return to Fo’s play, which was written before the Carter administration. Yet this moment defies all laws of probability, which point to the audience checking out during a lecture. Mysteriously and comically, the screed beautifully defines the play’s meaning, breaking the action in a play where such breakage is routine. Rarely has screed-as-art been so effective. On its own terms, the farce takes a while to heat up, despite the ensemble’s best efforts. Those efforts do pay off in Act 2, when the mystery of what happened becomes unveiled and the presumption of who was to blame gets inverted. The ensemble, which also includes Richard Hilton and Alla Poberesky, gives heroically insane performances, with nicely contrapuntal comic timing and physical humor. Covics’ set, with tilting stacks of books and file boxes rising through the ceiling, establishes the madcap whimsy that’s sustained throughout. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 702-5280. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Sara Shapley

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Ghosts from the future invade The Violet Hour

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Mr. Marmalade

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Secrets of the Trade (Glover and Brochtrup)

 GO  ALL THE HELP YOU NEED “Who the fuck are you?,” shouts a gun-toting assailant as the lights come up. While we are not sure who the gunman is, we quickly discover that he is a character played by Tim Ryan Meinelschmidt, in his one-man show that chronicles life as a Hollywood handyman. Meinelschmidt describes getting into show business, his first performance on Broadway and moving to Los Angeles, where he started handyman work during an actors’ strike. He recounts jobs done for everyone from Ann the Filipina stripper, to Werner, a foulmouthed German perfectionist, to a fat lady with 57 cats. To add atmosphere to these anecdotes, director Christopher Fessenden has Meinelschmidt build and unbuild the set, which looks like a carpenter’s workshop. Though Meinelschmidt’s impressions of the characters are uneven, there are some solid comic moments, especially in his descriptions of one-upmanship with his friend and co-worker, Mark. Toward the end, the piece turns darker, describing a terrible incident that Meinelschmidt witnessed in Tarzana. Only then do we learn the story behind the gunman from the opening, a chilling climax based on a real-life violent crime. Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 13. (323) 960-7740. A Theatre East Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 CLOSER A sharp, savvy, often visceral work, Patrick Marber’s unblinking probe into the modern-day battle of the sexes emerges bloodless and unaffecting under Vincent Duque’s direction. Structured in short, biting segments, Marber’s caustic tale revolves around Dan (Mark Kay), a sardonic writer of obituaries; Alice (Jacqueline Jandrell), a saucy gamine and former stripper whom he rescues from a near-death hit-and-run; Anna (Kirsty Hinchcliffe), a mature and gracious professional photographer with whom Dan becomes enthralled; and Larry (Stefan Hajek), Alice’s loving and eventually bitterly betrayed husband. The quartet engage in a round of sexual trysts and emotional pyrotechnics initiated by the faithless, manipulative Dan, in which everyone ultimately loses. The production’s glaring problem has to do with a lack of chemistry. Obviously, a play detailing raw sex and the search for love calls for plenty of it; here, the sparks fail to fly. This is especially true of Kay’s Dan, in relation to both women. He’s genial and understated, where he needs to be edgy and provocative for the play to make sense. Jandrell, in various states of undress throughout, postures or vents rather than probing Alice’s vulnerability. Hajek is capable as a wounded male irretrievably bent on revenge, and Hinchcliffe is sympathetic as his guilt-ridden wife. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-7724. An Alpha Company Production (Deborah Klugman)

 ICELAND Writer-director Roger Guenveur Smith staged his performance piece with Treva Offutt last weekend at REDCAT. How one 80-minute work with two actor-dancers, Marc Anthony Thompson’s delicate soundtrack and a few slides can be commissioned by three institutions in three cities (the Public Theatre in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art) opens a small window onto the arts-funding industry. The show has also been presented in L.A. (Grand Performances and the Mark Taper Forum) and New York (PS 122 and the Brooklyn Academy of Music), and at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as the Calabash Festival in Jamaica. You could say that Smith is like Tim Miller, but for straight people. He and Offutt, barefoot and dressed in white, each held a wireless microphone to tell the story of a love affair, and it’s passing strange. Why did Smith, or the character he’s portraying, walk away from Brooklyn and from such a beautiful and devoted woman — evidently a pattern of his or of his character’s — to pursue his art in, yes, Iceland? The piece questions through spoken-word poetry, the essence of a frigid clime, and his frigid heart. All she ever wanted was fidelity, she said. He only promised that he would try. In the performance, he offers a series of rationalizations that float on thin ice, including the volcanoes of the far North — containing the cauldrons of human misery — and his need to jump in. The slide that opens the show, and reappears, is an X-ray of his slightly bent spine, which he uses as a cause of his inability to be “upright.” This beautifully written, gorgeously spoken and haunting ballet studies the consequences of art trumping love, or the love of art trumping the love of life. It is both an exercise in narcissism and a mockery of it, very much in the tradition of Spalding Gray. Because, at this point in its evolution, its societal and global references are mere rationalizations from a man running from one woman to the next, and from one passion to another; Iceland’s internal commitment to a purpose larger than itself is as fleeting as its main character. REDCAT at Disney Hall, dwntwn. Closed. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 GO  INVASION OF THE MINNESOTA NORMALS In Jen Ellison’s play, which might be titled Waiting for Roy, Ruth McKinley (Deborah F. Reed) plays hostess on a rainy night in a 1950s Chicago suburb. As the guests arrive, they remark on the absence of her husband, who is still at work, but nonetheless kick off the evening with liberal amounts of liquor, snide chitchat and questions from a personality test that Roy had brought home a few days earlier. The “game” begins innocently enough, with Walter (Rich Hutchman), Stanley (Peter Breitmayer) and Helen (Anne von Herrmann) reading questions and attempting to answer them truthfully, but it quickly degenerates to reveal simmering hostilities. As the evening wears on, the questions become more pointed, especially when new neighbors from Minnesota arrive and it’s discovered that Robert (Brad David Reed) and Mary (Judy Heneghan) were part of the test’s control group. Tensions escalate, and secrets come to the fore, as the definition of “normal” is questioned, cracking the veneer of domestic Midwestern tranquillity and revealing its dark underbelly. Melissa Denton’s deft direction keeps multiple balls in the air, and Troy Wilderson’s beautifully naturalistic set, complete with a “rain window,” adds to the feeling of claustrophobia in the pressure cooker of the living room. The entire cast give great performances, truly eliciting the suburban discontent in a play that is reminiscent of the works of both Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 960-5771. A Buzzworks Theatre Co. Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

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All the Help You Need

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Invasion of the Minnesota Normals

 GO  MR. MARMALADE Four-year-old Lucy (Heather Ann Smith) is learning that boys are impossible. She wants to play house; they’re content with doctor. Her pal, Larry (Walter A. Lutz Jr.), cops to being a suicidal robber of piggy banks and too eagerly strips down to his Spider-Man skivvies. Her imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade (Scott Brady), is the worst. He batters his assistant (David Jay Barry), checks his BlackBerry all through teatime and blows her off with “This week is terrible — maybe we could do sushi?” Why Lucy conjures up an abusive, coke-head playmate is left for her future therapist. Noah Haidle’s savagely funny comedy is interested in the love triangle that unfolds violently while distracted Mommie Dearest (Deborah D’Ottavio) is out with her latest stallion (Michael Wilson). With two pretend pregnancies and several black eyes, Haidle and director Stephen Ferguson integrate adult humor with a keen kids’-eye view. (When Lucy and Mr. Marmalade slow dance, she rests her feet on his.) Oversize performances complement the quirky tone, particularly Brady’s go-for-broke bastardy, and Smith’s scorned romantic, who acts out with a petulance recalling Pee-wee Herman’s. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 685-9939. A 3KO Broadway Theatre production. (Amy Nicholson)

 GO  OLD TIMES In paying such scrupulous attention to the comic underpinnings of Harold Pinter’s classic, director John Pleshette sidesteps the monotony that often seeps into the staging of the play. The plot of Old Times is deviously simple, and fertile ground for the darkly funny musicality in the prose that Pinter is renowned for. A married couple, Deeley (Dan Cowan) and Kate (Cecilia Specht), who occupy a farmhouse by the sea, await the arrival of Kate’s longtime friend and former roommate, Anna (Cerris Morgan-Moyer). Her entrance at the start of the play gives rise to some welcoming chitchat over drinks, and, at first blush, this reunion seems rather commonplace. But slowly, something deeper emerges, and the mind games begin. Anna seems intent on sparring with Deeley in a contest for Kate’s affections, and as the play progresses, it becomes apparent that there is much more to the relationship between these three characters, as the past and present inexorably collide. Among the ensemble’s crisp, nuanced performances, Morgan-Moyer imbues Anna with a particularly scintillating blend of seduction, vibrancy and innocence. Lost Theatre, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru April 13. (800) 595-4849. (Lovell Estell III)

 GO  SECRETS OF THE TRADE In his sharp, funny comedy drama, Jonathan Tolins (Twilight of the Golds) explores the ambiguities of the mentor-pupil relationship. Gay teenager Andy Lipman (Edward Tournier) longs for a career in the theater and idolizes Martin Kerner (John Glover), a legendary, Tony-winning writer-director. Encouraged by his architect father (Mark L. Taylor), Andy writes a hero-worshiping letter to Kerner, who, charmed by its boyish naiveté, becomes Andy’s mentor. Dad is delighted, but Mom (Amy Aquino), a schoolteacher and ex-dancer, feels threatened and jealous because she’s always been Andy’s chief adviser. She also suspects Kerner’s out to seduce her boy. Tolins knows the milieu well, carefully charting the volatile mixture of affection, idealism and sublimated sexuality that marks the relations between Andy and Kerner, and the dilemma of parents trying to accept their son’s homosexuality. Glover offers a flamboyantly flawless star turn, and Tournier ably captures Andy’s innocence and charm. Bill Brochtrup shines as Kerner’s acerbic personal assistant, while Taylor and Aquino find both humor and nuance as the worried parents. Director Matt Shakman finely balances comedy with emotional probing, and makes terrific use of the tiny space, while Craig Siebels provides the clever, flexible set. Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 20. (800) 838-3006 or www.thedahlia.com. (Neal Weaver)

 THEATER PICK  THE VIOLET HOUR Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play is set on April Fool’s Day, 1919. John Pace Seavering (Thomas Burr) is a young, novice New York publisher who has enough money to only print one book. Will it be the ridiculously massive novel of his former college friend Denis (Jeff Kerr McGivney), who is dating heiress Rosamund Plinth (Elizabeth O’Brick), or the show-business memoir of John’s new girlfriend, a Negro nightclub singer named Jessie Brewster (Angelle Brooks)? As John stalls for time, his stuffy, cantankerous and most assuredly gay office assistant, Gidger (Kyle Colerider-Krugh), tries to deal with a mysterious machine that has just arrived. By Act 1’s end, the two discover the pages it has been spewing out are of book proposals and accompanying manuscripts from the future. They stand appalled and self-consciously naked as they read how their era — and Seavering himself — will be judged by academics not yet born. Director Stuart Rogers brings out all the nuances of this funny yet melancholy fable about decisions and consequences. (It’s also a wicked send-up of our own times, as seen by the disbelieving citizens of 1919.) The likable Burr shows a flair for comic interaction, even if he really isn’t convincing as someone who wants to spend his life publishing books. He gets solid support from the other cast members, especially the over-the-top Colerider-Krugh. Susanne Klein’s costumes neatly evoke the story’s era and Douglas Lowry’s set makes the most of a claustrophobically small stage. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (800) 838-3006. (Steven Mikulan)