Theater Reviews: Groundlings Singles Cruise,The Next Fairy Tale, 'Til Death Do Us Part

THE FRYBREAD QUEEN
Photo by Tony Dontscheff

THE FRYBREAD QUEEN Murder. Suicide. Secret liaisons. Child sexual abuse. Homicidal ghosts. Just when you think playwright Carolyn Dunn's plot has been stretched to its melodramatic max, she tosses in yet another sensational element. Set on a Navajo reservation, the story concerns the family tensions smoldering among Jesse (Jane Lind), a Native American matriarch, her two daughters-in-law, Carlisle (Shyla Marlin) and Annalee (Kimberly Norris Guerrero), and her granddaughter, Lily (Elizabeth Frances). The ladies have good reason to be on edge: Only a week earlier, Jesse's son Paul splattered his brains all over her kitchen's ceiling and walls. We learn this in little ways via dialogue between Carlisle and Annalee; otherwise it's scarcely evident in anyone's demeanor that such an overwhelmingly bloody and traumatic event has taken place. Instead, there's heated discussion about who makes the best fry bread (a Native American staple). While it's clear there's something else going on beneath this rivalry of housewives, the raw pain engendered by the recent violent death of everyone's son, father, ex-husband or former lover doesn't seem to be it. Directed by Robert Caisley, the performers struggle in vain to make an implausible scenario — which includes possession by Paul's demonized spirit — seem real, with only Marlin attaining some credibility as the least neurotic among them. What does work are four monologues, one from each woman, presented at various junctures throughout the play, in which a recipe for fry bread becomes a metaphor for their Indian pride and their womanhood. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m., thru March 27. (323) 667-2000, autry-museum.org. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  GROUNDLINGS SINGLES CRUISE Sketches by the Groundlings' "A" cast of master improv artists reliably fall into three categories: "inspired" — in which all the right notes of exaggeration, situation and universal recognition ignite an uncontrolled chain reaction of belly laughs; "merely great" — in which an incisive caricature carries the potential for critical comedy frisson but melts down before the finish; and "back to the workshop" — or not recommended for public viewing at this time. Fortunately, this edition racks up enough of the first and so few of the last that it warrants a medical warning for laugh-induced abdominal cramps. At the top of the heap are the pieces that bear the writing credits of Andrew Friedman, Michael Naughton or Mitch Silpa. In "Honeymoon," Friedman and Silpa's irritating preteen ghost twins, Kevin and Kyle, hilariously connect the horrors of The Shining to the hauntings of Eros-deflating parenting. With "Q&A," Naughton and Friedman expertly excoriate the absurd insipidity of play readings and those who attend them. "The Terrys" features Jillian Bell and Silpa striking satiric pay dirt in the surreal fashion faux pas and entertainment non sequiturs perpetrated by TV comedy variety shows of the early '70s. Charlotte Newhouse, Lisa Schurga, Jill Matson-Sachoff and Edi Patterson all shine in respective leaps into the perverse depths of depraved feminine grotesquerie. And director Mikey Day keeps it all moving at a comedy-conducive clip — not counting the tediously long scene blackouts, when audiences must bide their time with the tasty licks of musical director Willie Etra and his jam-seasoned band. Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 8 & 10 p.m., thru April 23. (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com. (Bill Raden)

HAVING IT ALL At Gate B26 in an airport convincingly designed by Stephen Gifford, five women sit judging each other's clothing. The lady in Prada pumps (Jennifer Leigh Warren) assumes the woman in sneakers (Shannon Warne) must be an immature free spirit; the woman in sneakers is convinced that Prada pumps is a rotten mother. The entrance of a country girl in awkward heels (Kim Huber) provokes condescension; a hipster with crutches (Lindsey Alley) moves Warren to sneer she's a "30-year-old yenta dressed up like the cast of Rent." And when a dizzy hippie (the very funny Alet Taylor) bops in with her yoga mat, the ladies are aghast that she's barefoot. Still, between snipes, each looks at the others and sighs, "How I'd love to be in her shoes." The metaphor of footwear for femmepowerment is staler than the olives at Carrie Bradshaw's fave martini bar, but at least David Goldsmith and Wendy Perelman's well-intentioned musical about the hair-pulling pressure to "have it all" is blessed with a gifted cast, which Richard Israel directs with energy and bite. The ensemble sings numbers about motherhood, marriage, J-Date and downward-facing dog. It's all pleasant, but the show is held back by the homogeneity of the songs, in both John Kavanaugh's music and Gregory Nabours' musical direction, which takes five strong voices and molds them all to the same Broadway bombast. The audience for the musical already knows everything it aims to say; it's simply an excuse to rally a gang of girlfriends for a night at the theater, which seems to suit this production just fine. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 24. (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com. (Amy Nicholson)

 

GO  THE NEXT FAIRY TALE Writer-composer Brian Pugach uses a fractured fairy tale to deliver a message of tolerance and acceptance. Four Fairy Godmothers assemble, under the direction of their den mother/director Minerva (a formidable Gina Torrecilla), to create a new fairy tale. The Magic Mirror (campy and flouncy Charls Sedgwick Hall) announces that the hero of the new tale is to be Prince Copernicus (sweetly sappy Christopher Maikish), who doesn't believe in fighting: His weapons are smiles and hugs. When homophobic Minerva learns that Copernicus' true love is another male, Prince Helio (Patrick Gomez), she's appalled and determined to foil their match, lest the world's children be corrupted by a gay fairy tale. She assigns him Hazel (Rachel Genevieve), the most incompetent of the fairy godmothers, to ensure his failure and employs magic spells (including a poisoned apple) to stop him. Director Michael A. Shepperd stages Pugach's goofy musical with an engaging faux naivete, ably assisted by a lively ensemble and richly enhanced by Raffel Sarabia's whimsical fairy-tale costumes. Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 24. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)

OH, MOMMA AND OBAMA Penned by Derek Reid, Nicholas Zill and Kenneth McLeod, this send-up of Barack Obama's female-infested household is fraught with familiar grievances and worn-out jokes, stumbling blocks that prevent the material from growing a serious pair of satirical legs. Barack Obama's (Derek Jeremiah Reid) mother-in-law, Marian Robinson (Lakendra Tookes), meddles in matters of state and thinks she knows best when it comes to her granddaughters, Malia (Alexis Matthews) and Sasha (Nay Nay Kirby). Her daughter, Michelle (Constance Reese), tries and fails to keep the peace between hubby and mom. When Marian gets busted snooping through classified documents, the commander in chief decides enough is enough and sends her to Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, Malia and Sasha are up to no good. Reid's Barack Obama parody is the best thing about the production — he's spot-on vocally and physically. Tookes comes out of the gate with an over-the-top shrillness that never ceases and quickly grows tiresome. A standout of the supporting cast is Natascha Corrigan as Sarah Palin, but the material's trite ring (Sarah Palin is stupid! Sarah Palin talks funny! Sarah Palin is not to be taken seriously!) hinders her. Bill O'Reilly (Robb Wolford), Bill Clinton (Phillip Wilburn) and George W. Bush (Wolford) all appear, but nothing new or striking is revealed about any of them. Piped in music by Howard Bennett and the Rock 'n' Ridicule Band feels canned and flat; Laura Pinho's choreography is clumsy. A TV intermittently broadcasts the real-life people being impersonated onstage, a puzzling device that smacks of mistrust of the audience. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 1. (866) 811-4111. (Amy Lyons)

GO  'TIL DEATH DO US PART: LATE NITE CATECHISM 3 First there was The Flying Nun, then Nunsense (and its sequels), then Sister Act (and its sequels), and now the latest in the series of Late Nite Catechism shows from the gently hilarious Maripat Donovan. Bottom line: Nuns are funny. In this iteration of the long-running Chicago-based original, the focus is on two sacraments: Marriage and the Blessing of the Sick. That is, if you can call a floodlight "focused." While Donovan incorporates pre-written material, weaving it seamlessly into her ad-libbing, the largest laughs are generated from her interactions with the audience. From berating latecomers (like a good Catholic school teacher), to interviewing married couples about their personal stories, to a "Catholic Q&A" session, and finally inviting two couples on stage to play the "Compatibility Game," Donovan is nimble, quick-witted and incredibly engaging. With the house lights on during the performance, she lets few escape, but even those who became the inadvertent targets of her jokes can't stop smiling. Incorporating pop-cultural references in lines like, "You can learn a lot about world religions from South Park" and "There's a famous philosopher I follow ... Beyoncé," Donovan ensures the material stays current. Co-writer and director Marc Silvia keeps Donovan puttering about the stage in a purposeful way, and the set pieces used — especially the tinsel-festooned backdrop for the "Compatibility Game" — are authentically detailed. The snippets from Herb Alpert's "Spanish Flea" played during the game are a nice finishing touch to a piece that will bless your evening with laughter, whether you're Catholic or not. Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m., Sun., 5 p.m., thru April 3. (626) 356-7529, PasadenaPlayhouse.org. A Donovan Entertainment production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 

GO  THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA Hollywood has trained us well: Midway through Horton Foote's Pulitzer Prize–winning play, your mind is racing ahead, tugging at a loose thread in the plotline, guessing what twist lies underneath. But Foote's storytelling style is like a lazy Southern Sunday afternoon spent on the front porch: He lays the play's cards on the table right from the start, then sits back and lets its stories draw you in like the mesmerizing back-and-forth of a rocking chair. Will Kidder (Dick DeCoit) and his wife, Lily Dale (Eileen Barnett), have just settled into a grand new house in Houston, mostly in an effort to avoid painful reminders of their only son, who recently drowned. The title character, their son's roommate who's never seen in the play, is a boogeyman. Though a comfort to Lily Dale, Will squeezes his eyes tight against his existence, hoping he'll just go away. The play's themes are proposed so subtly — aging ("Thirty-eight years ... where'd they go?" Will asks), race relations (one of Lily Dale's old maids, played by Cyndi Martino, smiles warmly, "You haven't changed a bit! And look at me, wore out from cookin' in others' kitchens"), religion, homosexuality, generational conflict, gender roles — that you only feel their full impact upon later reflection. Director August Viverito wisely allows the play's inaction to stand, but his finest decision was casting DeCoit to lead the cast. In less capable hands, Foote's chunks of text easily could bore an audience; but as DeCoit navigates them, verve giving way to slumped shoulders, the crumbling descent of Will's life is just as riveting as it is heartbreaking. The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru April 22 (no perf. March 13). (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)


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