Theater Reviews: Hot and Ready, Tooth and Nail
GO AND HER HAIR WENT WITH HER The barbershop has always held significance in the black community, a place where the gents gathered for haircuts and rapped about politics, sports, playing the horses and the latest neighborhood gossip. In Zina Cambin’s diverting drama, a beauty salon run by Jasmine (Pam Trotter), and Angie (Tracie Thoms) is where it’s happening — a laid-back establishment where relevant issues about the lives of black women are confronted with humor and poignancy. This human chemistry has some combustible elements, the most quizzical being the pairing of kindhearted Jasmine — a simple sort, laser-sharp with a joke or a putdown — and young, college-educated Angie, a single mom of imposing independence who frequently gets the best of her less-sophisticated associate. Yet there’s no mistaking the love and respect these sisters feel for each other. For most of this hour-plus show, the ladies don wigs, channel the personas of their eccentric clientele and discuss weightier matters about what it means to be a black woman. The weak link in this otherwise entertaining show is that after a while, the shtick, and some of the characters depicted, aren’t always engaging — a quibble that doesn’t diminish the many energetic, skillful portrayals by these fine performers under Diane Rodriguez’s astute direction. Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 15. (323) 663-1525. (Lovell Estell III)
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
Tooth and Nail
HOT AND READY intimates steamy sex; true to that innuendo, this pair of monologues explores two contemporary women’s perspectives on romance and erotica. Sardonic in tone, writer/performer Juliette Jeffers’ Looking 4 a Chocolate Match.com details one gal’s rocky excursion into Internet dating. Her pursuit of Mr. Right involves meetings with losers, lotharios and married men on the prowl (not vastly different from searching for love the traditional way). While not highly original, the piece does have funny moments, many engendered by Jeffers’ pronounced gift for mimicry in portraying an array of suitors. Her style of delivery sometimes spills over into standup comedy (perhaps because the night I was there, she played to an empathetic and responsive audience), but I had the sense that neither the material nor the performance, while on track, had reached the station yet. Far more fluid and polished, Vanessa Williams’ Feet on the Ceiling is a spoken-word poem that recounts the sexual awakening of an eager 15-year-old from Brooklyn — then catapults its wide-eyed narrator forward several years to her initial experience of unorthodox sex and her first orgasm under the tutelage of an accomplished lover. Delivered with a lithe and graceful physicality, Williams’ narrative transcends its story’s particulars to zone in on what is for so many women a revelatory rite of passage. Denise Dowse directs. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 7. (323) 960-7721. Elephant Stageworks and H&R Productions. (Deborah Klugman)
GO KEEP YOUR PANTHEON/THE DUCK VARIATIONS This charming pair of one-act plays by David Mamet includes his world stage premiere of a clever folly — Keep Your Pantheon, a Roman comedy in the Plautus style, replete with swaggering soldiers, wily rogues and more farcical romping than you can shake a wooden phallus at. In Ancient Rome, impoverished actor Strabo (Ed O’Neill), his Eeyore-like acting partner, Pelargon (David Paymer), and handsome troupe bimboy, Philius (Michael Cassidy), soon find themselves enacting a desperate scheme to save their hides, after Strabo’s performance accidentally offends an audience of soldiers. Prayers to the gods are offered, ungodly lecherous advances are made on the hapless Philius, and ultimately Fate — and the resourceful Strabo — save the day. Mamet’s farce is all breezy froth, which director Neil Pepe dispatches at a perfect, crackling pace. The comedy is blessed with an ensemble of some of our most talented comic character actors, anchored by O’Neill and Paymer. The curtain-raiser features Mamet’s rep perennial, The Duck Variations, in which a pair of guffers (Harold Gould and Michael Lerner) on a park bench debate the world, existence and ducks. Pepe’s intimate staging of Mamet’s subtly pointless — or is it profound? — conversational dialogue is blessed by Gould’s and Lerner’s beautifully organic performances, which elevate the park-bench drama to a level of Godot-like absurdity. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.; thru June 8. (213) 628-2772. (Paul Birchall)
THE NOTHING BOYS Greg Siff’s frankly autobiographical play blends nostalgia and disillusion in a sweetly touching tale based on his high school experiences. After years in Hollywood attempting to break into the movies, Gregory James (Siff) has managed to land only a couple of commercials. While visiting Mom in the hometown, he decides to attend his old school’s 10-year reunion, borrowing a BMW and playing the Hollywood big shot to impress former classmates. But the party is ill-attended, despite the efforts of the school’s ever-cheerful guidance counselor, Marty (Mark Christopher Tracy). The only other attendee is an old acquaintance named Marshall (Jason Weisbrod). It’s only on the school stage, where they once acted together, that they’re able to bridge the gap of years and connect. The play is fairly slight, but it’s inventive and funny, and director Rick Sparks and his actors find enough charm and fun to compensate for its limitations. The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 & 7 p.m., thru May 24. (323) 960-7836 or www.plays411.com/nothingboys. (Neal Weaver)
GO 1001 See Stage feature. Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 8. (626) 683-6883.
GO PIPPIN Tim Dang’s hip-hop/anime staging of Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz’s 1972 Candide-like musical is one of the most taut and accomplished spectacles seen on this stage in some time. Much of the credit goes to Blythe Matsui and Jason Tyler Chong’s rambunctious and snappy choreography, sharply performed by leading player Marcus Choi. Ethan le Phong in the title role of a callow young Pippin — based on the hunchbacked son of Charlemagne — has an etherial, sweet voice that easily handles Schwartz’s pop score. Musically, the three-person band produces an overly synthesized, tinny tone, but that’s not enough to impede Dang’s lush comic book spectacle that’s part Hollywood and Highland, part Kabuki. Plastic boots and mop wigs (hair and makeup by Jackie Phillips) punch up the fairy tale, further accentuated by Naomi Yoshida’s otherworldly costumes. Pippin’s search for meaning in life involves an escapade in war, competition with his prancing, vain half brother (Cesar Ciproampo), flirting with sex and a smidgen of patricide, leading to an epiphany that’s as obvious and true as pop art is meant to be. The fleshy journey may be more life-changing for Pippin than for the audience, but Dang’s exercise in style and sizzle accomplishes most of its ambitions. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 pm.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 8. (213) 625-7000. (Steven Leigh Morris)
TOOTH AND NAIL Gerald (Gregory Mortensen) wants his wife, Ellie (Lynn Odell), dead, only he’s the one with the inoperable brain tumor. In the opening scene of Gena Acosta’s loose-cannon comedy, Ellie’s a riot — a maniacally optimistic chatterbox who practically believes she can change the weather. Acosta’s frothy, clever dialogue and her keen awareness of details have us settling in for a trivial romp, but with the introduction of the Weehawken couple’s three adopted daughters — pregnant Robin (Jennifer Etienne Eckert), childish Rose (Kerry Carney) and sour Dylan (Tara Norris) — and stoned baby-daddy Hamster (Josh Breeding) enters a thornbush of social-problem issues and their pert resolutions, along with Gerald’s addled conviction that he’s Peter O’Toole. As the chaos increases, our engagement diminishes (minutes are filled with overlapped shouting) and Lindsay Allbaugh’s gumptuous direction finds an uneasy balance between frenzy and pathos. But Odell’s rampaging housewife deftly embraces the two; her lunacy has purpose. As the new neighbors whom she’s anxious to impress, Tony Foster and Tom Stanczyk know when to underplay and when to cut loose in a production which, despite its stumbles, has the audience rooting for it to succeed. Lillian Theater, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 14. (323) 960-4410. An Elephant Theater production. (Amy Nicholson)
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