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Theater Reviews: Eccentric, Power, Dracula and More

(Photo by Michael Lamont)

PICK ECCENTRIC Ernest Hemmings’ gruesomely funny play is a cynicism-fest about promiscuity and marital frustration. The Winkermans (James Thomas Gilbert and Rachel Sorsa Khoury) are a caustic pair — highly sexual and bitterly acidic with each other. The solution to their woes, they believe, is to bring in another woman to spice things up. A series of flashbacks and fantasies involving several female acquaintances, who might just be the one, draws them deeper into a malaise of darkness and disappointment. A trip to London then seems the answer, but that only ratchets up this couple’s antipathy to each other. Hemmings’ script is infused with biting wit, amplified by the leads’ satirically over-the-top performances, as well as sharp acting from the other women (Shirley Brener and Carley Marcelle). David L. Stewart’s smart, focused direction captures the play’s every nasty moment, resulting in a hilarious evening that makes one feel a bit dirty for having enjoyed it. RIPRAP STUDIO THEATRE, 5755 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 12 (818) 990-7498. (Tom Provenzano)

THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT Forget the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald — playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis goes for broke imagining what the case against Jesus’ betrayer might sound like if a lawyer from Purgatory tried to get him sprung from Hell. Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Susan Pourfar) brings the case for her misunderstood client to a netherworldly courtroom presided over by a Civil War suicide (Robert Machray), and where she is opposed by a garrulous Arab lawyer named El-Fayoumy (Jay Harik). Witnesses include Sigmund Freud (Rick D. Wasserman), Simon the Zealot (Marco Greco), Jewish leader Caiaphas (Machray) and Judas’ mom (Suzanne Ford). Judas himself (Daniel Jay Shore) is glimpsed out of court, as when Jesus (Joshua Wolf Coleman) tries to get his ex-disciple to adore him. Judas quickly loses focus whenever Guirgis, through Cunningham, denounces witnesses like Mother Teresa (Deborah Puette) for being anti-abortion, or Pontius Pilate (Terrell Tilford) for colonial repression. Actually, Guirgis shows an unerring instinct for knowing just when and how to bring the action to a screeching halt. His shrill courtroom scenes make you wish they had been cut to a background role that would allow the more interesting flashbacks to take center stage. In the end, Judas’ biggest problem isn’t that it’s too preachy or too meandering but that it’s too much — even without intermission it runs a purgatorial two and a half hours. Director Matt Shakman makes excellent use of his Lutheran church space though, and his committed cast captures the urban speech rhythms of many of Guirgis’ characters. Pourfar manages to sparkle in a role choking on outrage; other standouts include David Clennon’s lounge-lizardy Satan and, in a lesser role, Victoria Platt as an angelic juror. BLACK DAHLIA THEATRE at Lutheran Church of the Master, 10931 Santa Monica Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 26. (866) 468-3399. (Steven Mikulan)

STILL PHOTOS Wealthy young opera singer Aubra (Jenni Fontana) was felled by polio. Now partially paralyzed, she has become a recluse, cared for platonically by her upper-class friend, Philip (Kevin Meoak). When Philip goes off to World War II, he must find a live-in companion for Aubra. He settles on Charlie (Rachel Hardisty), the naive Irish fiancée of a young enlisted man, Joe (Dan Roach). With the men away, Aubra seduces Charlie, and they live in sexual bliss till peace descends. Both women then rashly marry their swains, but Aubra indulges in some Hedda Gabler–ish manipulation to keep the affair with Charlie alive, with disastrous results. A parallel plot centers on Grandma (Peggy Lord Chilton), who’s raising her orphaned granddaughter, Emily (Angela M. Grillo). Grandma is, in fact, Charlie, grown older, and reliving her past. Things get murky when Emily begins watching Grandma’s memories like television, and Grandma tries to re-enter her past to make it come out right. Playwright Vanda posits some interesting situations, but the play’s oddball structure and gullible, conventional male characters turn it into a sudsy melodrama. Sharon Rosen directs her able cast with skill, and they keep things interesting, if not always credible. CELEBRATION THEATRE, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 19. (323) 957-1884. (Neal Weaver)

A WOMAN’S PLACE These well-intentioned but stiff one-acts tout a general theme of female strength. Blow-up portraits of women — Rosie the Riveter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Ride — line the stage as this quartet of playlets attempts to define our world through a woman’s lens. Rosemary Frisnio Tookey’s “The Body Washer” grapples with the death of a young Iraqi girl through the intertwined monologues of a National Guard soldier (Nicole Randall), a reporter (Julia Sinclair) and the devout local woman who readies the corpse (Blanche Ramirez) for burial; directed by John Szura, it’s rich but airless. Richard Davis Jr.’s “Ninety-Six Layers of Concrete, Furniture, and Air,” directed by Suzanne Karpinski, is a screwball farce about dreams and depression that’s chirpily illogical. Post-intermission, the night hits its stride in two flawed but fun plays. The sprightly “Pride of Place,” written by Donald Steele and directed by Therese McLaughlin, pits a new homeowner (Jennifer Kramer) against the original owner (Lucy M. Smith), who attempts to convince her replacement to maintain her elaborate Christmas decorations (which lure people from as far away as Connecticut) by explaining that sometimes a house is more than a house — it’s a tradition. The last and grandest play, Danielle Wolff’s “Weightless,” staged by Jerry Kernion and Elizabeth V. Newman, shuttles through seven short speeches on women in space from the fourth-grader who’d rather be lecturing on Cyndi Lauper (Newman) to the housekeeper (Ramirez) who creeps invisibly around NASA headquarters. THE ATTIC THEATRE AND FILM CENTER, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 25. (323) 525-0600. (Amy Nicholson)


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