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Theater Reviews: Fucking Hollywood, Educating Rita

Spider Bites
Peter Gref/Rialto Pr

GO  AS U2 LIKE IT See Stage feature.

 
GO  BOUNCERS Thirty years after its Edinburgh Fringe Festival debut, John Godber’s portrait of the frenetic Yorkshire disco scene has lost none of its poignancy and bounce. Under the expert direction of Cinda Jackson (who also choreographed), performers Chris Coppola, David Corbett, Mark Adair-Rios, Dan Cowan and Phillip Campos play multiple roles, switching repeatedly, and with lightning skill, between portraying the menacing sentinels at an alcohol-sodden after-hours club and that establishment’s hard-partying, working-class patrons. The latter include randy blokes maniacally bent on getting laid, and the alternately coy and bold young women (the ensemble’s female impersonations are especially hilarious) who may be looking for romance but are equally in heat. What pushes the play from comical to compelling is the characters’ desperation confronting a bleak future as society’s expendables — a desperation that frames the coarse antics and fast-paced music. The material gets repetitive toward the end, and the heavy regional accents sometimes make the dialogue difficult to follow — but not so much that it sabotages the laughs we glean from performers who are clearly having so much infectious fun. There’s nary a missed beat nor false note throughout, with Coppola a standout as Lucky Eric — whose occasional meditations on the sordidness of the game separate him from the fray. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (323) 933-6944. (Deborah Klugman)

 
BOYLE HEIGHTS This seldom-produced work by Josefina Lopez (famous for Real Women Have Curves) is an exploration of the Rosales family through the eyes of 26-year-old Dalia (Nicole Ortega), an artistic soul who writes poetry, talks to the moon and gets grief from her family for not having a “real job.” Set in the family’s Boyle Heights neighborhood in the present and during various times in the past, the play also transports us to Mexico 35 years earlier, as well as to Paris, where Dalia and her sister Rosana (Yolie Cortez) go on vacation. The material has potential in terms of exploring the cyclical mistakes of successive generations, as well as the suffocating gossip of Mexican-American enclaves. However, the text suffers from obvious exposition, compounded by director Hector Rodriguez’s decision to have the actors “play out” to the audience in a heavy-handed theatrical style. The amateurish tone this choice creates is occasionally transcended in the acting — namely that of Rosana’s husband, Jaime (Eric Neil Gutierrez), and Dalia’s crush, Chava (Eddie Diaz) — but a couple of good performances are unable to save the show. While Lopez has created moving work over the years and Casa 0101 remains an important voice in its community, both have definitely done better work. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., E.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (323) 263-7684. (Mayank Keshaviah) 

 

GO  EDUCATING RITA Director Cameron Watson’s lovingly staged production of British playwright Willy Russell’s updated 1980 stage play for two actors (probably better remembered for its 1983 film adaptation) couldn’t re-emerge at a better time in this country. Just as we’re getting increasingly dire reports on the blowback of our economic recession on public education — rural schools cutting back to a four-day week, bus service curtailed, the cost of school lunches being jacked up as the rate of families evicted from their foreclosed homes keeps escalating — along comes Russell’s homage to the capacities of learning to change minds and lives. A precocious beauty (Rebecca Mozo) wanders into the extended-education course of a musty, aging college professor (Bjørn Johnson), a failed poet who teaches at a university in the north of England. They’re both addicts — she to cigarettes, he to booze — but she has an insatiable curiosity about poetry and literary criticism. Her early essays are emotional responses, and he tutors her — in that crusty, Shavian way depicted in Pygmalion — to become more objective in her responses. She does, and he gets more than he bargained for. Through the course of their lessons, her life opens up, despite her shattering marriage; meanwhile, caught in pangs of jealousy and personal remorse, his life stumbles toward oblivion. The general pattern has a generic shape of A Star Is Born, but the emotional complexities that come with addictions and self-loathing are revelatory. The fire in Mozo’s Rita is hypnotic — though her dialect keeps intruding like a small thorn, wavering between the south of England, the north of England and Alabama. Johnson is more credible than compelling in a workmanlike performance. Even with these drawbacks, the play’s inner tensions come through, and Victoria Profitt’s library-office set and Terri A. Lewis’ costumes say as much about what’s going on between these two as any of their words. Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Sat., Sept. 6, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 11 and Sept. 18, 8 p.m.); thru Sept. 21. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 14. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 

 
FUCKING HOLLYWOOD Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to update a classic. Such is the case with Paul Wagar’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which caused quite a stir when it opened in 1903 because of its candid depiction of sexual dalliances among the upper crust of Viennese society. The mise en scène here isn’t as highbrow; Wagar shifts the playground to the environs of Hollywood, trying to lampoon Tinseltown promiscuity and depravity. Like the original, the adaptation is diced into 10 brief scenes. Here, Renae Geerlings, Hal Perry, Peter Ross Stephens, Dee Amerio Sudik and Julian Colleta portray various characters on the Hollywood food chain, who engage in naughty bits for one reason or another. A homosexual encounter, a dominatrix ditty and a threesome are some of the encounters on display. These Hollywood clichés prompt the question: So what? Wagar does make an attempt at gravitas when a couple laboring in a strained marriage engage in some rare moments of intelligent dialogue. Andrew Crusse directs. Ark Theatre, 1647 La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (323) 969-1707. (Lovell Estell III)

 
HANDS-ON THERAPY Playwright Toby Campion’s comedy about love and psychotherapy opens with a clever, emotionally ambiguous sequence showing the genesis of a love affair between the least professional psychotherapist ever and his sultry patient/inamorata. The show ends with a genuinely surprising twist; unfortunately, between these two dynamic scenes we must wade through a concatenation of poorly developed concepts, self-indulgent dialogue and inert characters. Almost from their first session, therapist Mike (Michael Etzrodt) is unnerved when his gorgeous patient, Rocio (Liz Del Sol), falls for him. Rocio needs help to resolve her frustration with her domineering mother, Otillia (Alejandra Flores). Mike at first tries to do the ethical thing, which is to curtail therapy with Rocio, but she relentlessly pursues him, not realizing that, like many shrinks in other romantic comedies, he is far more screwed up than she could ever be. Meanwhile, Rocio’s mom falls for Mike’s best pal, Catholic priest Godfrey (Shelly Kurtz). With director Edward Padilla’s perplexingly stiff and humorless staging lacking the irony needed to find the comedy in this quirky subject matter, the limp plotting only amplifies the lack of coherence and psychological believability. (Emotions are expressed without even a glimmer of their consequences.) Flores is nicely fiery as the mother — but she’s not able to entirely carry the poorly thought-out script. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 21. www.handsontherapy.tix.com. (Paul Birchall)

 

GO  SPIDER BITES Consider this assortment of 11 short selections from the Jacqueline Wright sketchbook a fine introductory primer to the playwright’s signature Dadaist inversions of romantic love. The pieces play like prosodic postmortems of relationships gone horribly wrong. With Wright, characters don’t fall in love so much as become ensnared in predatory webs of their own inchoate yearnings, unalloyed cruelties and unnatural appetites. The love bites here carry gruesome venom. Thus, in “Milk,” Kirsten Vangsness’ psychically crippled black widow in a wedding dress satisfies her voracious need for something “warm and red” by literally consuming beau David Wilcox. Likewise, “Mantis” finds a shell-shocked Lauren Letherer prodded by her conscience (Scott McKinley) into coming to terms with “the dead guy ... on the floor.” In “Sleeping Spider,” a young victim of incest (Vangsness) takes refuge from her broken family by retreating into the fantasy of her own crayon wall drawings come to life. “Pops” shifts gears in a comic burlesque of a gender-switched melodrama, as Lynn Odell, Mandi Moss and Wilcox enact the dénouement of a homicidal triangle. But Wright can also transcend the bitter, as with “Beautiful,” a sweetly moving meditation on mortality, loss and the authenticity of even a dying love. Director Dan Bonnell matches Wright’s viscerally vivid poetry note for note with graphically compelling stage imagery, precisely tuned blocking and a razor-sharp ensemble. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 4. (323) 856-8611. (Bill Raden)

 

GO  VANITIES There have been rumblings about how the creative team mounting Jack Heifner and David Kirshenbaum’s new musical — an adaptation of Heifner’s 1976 off-Broadway hit of the same title — have been feverishly changing elements. For example, the intermission that existed in previews has now been removed. This gives the production a chance to dramatize an unbroken sequence of scenes over three decades, showing the coming of age, and aging, of three Texas high school cheerleaders (Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Anneliese van der Pol). The action starts in 1963 with a focus on what seem to be monumental concerns to its three teenage cheerleaders; the trio is fused at the hip, incurious about any world larger than their campus while being intoxicated by their own appearance, status and popularity. (When the announcement of JFK’s assassination comes over a loudspeaker, one of them, perplexed, can’t imagine how the president of the student body could have been shot in Dallas when she just saw him in algebra class.) However, the costs of that insularity are precisely what the work studies, as the women — each buffeted by the shifting eras — individuate and grow apart. Betrayals and transformative offstage events are revealed, and the play emerges as a musical chick-flick convergence of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart and Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year — somewhere between a portrait of changing times and a soap opera. I won’t even try to predict the production’s odds of success on Broadway, where it’s slated to transfer in February 2009. There’s some tension in style between the considerable dialogue, reflecting the work’s stage-play origins, and Kirshenbaum’s perfectly pleasant, melodic songs, which bring to mind the gentle pop stylings of Dionne Warwick. The scenes are often so strong that the reason for a character bursting into song appears contrived, though the songs — perfectly executed by the band and actors, under Judith Ivey’s nicely honed direction — are lovely on their own terms. The original play ended its character study in 1974 — two years before it opened off-Broadway at the Chelsea Westside Theater Center. The musical extends that frame to 1990, obviously a strategy to prevent a new musical from being an antique curio at birth — and possibly because we haven’t undergone any seismic shift of values since the Reagan era. Heifner’s biggest change, however, is an attitude shift from ennui to the romantic gush of three gals enduring the winds of time and betrayal by sticking together. In a recent interview, Heifner said he was no longer cynical. Perhaps he had his eye on 42nd Street when he said it. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 28. (626) 356-PLAY. (Steven Leigh Morris)


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