Theater Reviews: Hot Pants, Cold Feet, Liberty Inn, Side by Side by Sondheim
GO EXTROPIA Imagine how sonically colorless a world without traditional music would be. Actually, not very, according to the "retro-utopia" environment of this show, created and originally produced by the Seattle-based company Collaborator. Though its residents inhabit a future drained to such grayness that it's not even as cool as The Matrix, Foster (Sam Littlefield) wakes one morning to discover he's been slipped a red pill that allows him to "hear too well." Fortunately, Arial (Alexandra Fulton) has long been dancing to the beat of the, uh, plastic straw squeaking in and out of the fast-food cup lid, and they orchestrate all kinds of funk out of frogs croaking, birds chirping and rocks skipping. While the performers are, as they say in this show, "sufficient," music director Mark Sparling and musician Miho Kajiwara deserve credit for making the show a marvel. Relying on sounds from such "found objects" as a hairbrush, a wooden spoon and a skillet cover (okay, and of course, the omnipresent MacBooks), they provide live sound effects for everything from tooth-brushing to factory machine-whirring, and turn it into music. Extropia optimistically believes in our innate need to create, and in our ability to scrounge something out of nothing when those Macs are taken away, though it is actually a protest against the yanking of public-arts funding. In that spirit, this production plans to perform pro bono in various L.A.-area schools. Night performances are followed by live acts such as On Blast, Bullied by Strings, The Naked and Cherry Boom Boom. King King, 6553 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Sun., 8 p.m.; through April 18. (323) 960-7721. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO GROUNDLINGS SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN In this sprightly, very funny revue, The Groundlings again show why they are L.A.'s go-to company for sketch comedy. Of course, the sketches, in director Mikey Day's crisply paced, surgically focused production, hew to a number of rules that are familiar by now to Groundlings fans. One rule: First dates will never turn out well — such as the one in which a woman (Lisa Schurga) self-sabotages a promising romance by making a series of appallingly unsuitable, compulsive personal revelations, or the one in which a hilariously dorky pair of teens on prom night (Jim Rash and Annie Sertich) paw and stumble their way through their loss of virginity. Another rule: Folks who have facial hair are invariably ripe for ridicule, be it the creepy, whiskery pair of recovered addicts (Nat Faxon and David Hoffman) delivering a not entirely convincing testimonial at a rehab clinic, or the woefully white bread, mustachioed aspiring dancers auditioning ineptly for a spot on an MTV show. Judging from this outing, the company's sensibility seems to be evolving into slightly edgier terrain, with characters who sometimes appear darker and more nuanced than we've seen before. The ensemble work is tight and often brutally funny — but particular standouts include some brilliantly versatile turns from Steve Little, as a monstrous office worker with a gluttonous appetite for break-room animal crackers, from Annie Sertich, as the world's least-coherent restaurant waitress, and from the ever-astonishing Jim Cashman, assaying a variety of roles, including half of a screechingly dysfunctional gay couple, to a dippy dude trying to create a "flash mob" video of one. Director Day commendably cuts the generally uneven "audience participation" sketches that are frequently a Groundlings show downfall. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through April 24. (323) 934-4747. (Paul Birchall)
HARAM IRAN Jay Paul Deratany's dramatization of the real-life trial and execution of two teenagers convicted of being gay in Iran in 2005. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 4. (323) 957-1884. See Theater feature.
HOT PANTS, COLD FEET This compendium of sketches, written and performed by Will Matthews and Cassandra Smith, with direction by Leonora Gershman, zeros in on the subject of marriage, from the disastrous proposal to the hyperkinetic ring bearer on a sugar high. The show combines live action with videos, enabling the actors to catch their breaths between sketches, and eliminate dead time. Video passages include a proposal in which attempts to create a romantic mood are punctured by nosebleeds and projectile vomiting, and an audition tape by a cornball, down-market wedding band. Other sketches focus on the difficulties of making a seating plan for the wedding dinner, a confrontational visit to a wedding boutique with Matthews as the bitchy proprietress and difficulties with rival caterers. Hip and zippy one-liners fly thick and fast, and a very friendly audience was kept in stitches. (It appeared that on the night I attended, many of those in the audience were participants in the filmed sequences.) It's a short program at about 30 minutes, but the admission price includes a full evening of performances by various sketch-comedy and improvisational groups. I.O. West, 5366 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues., 8 p.m.; through April 20. (323) 962-7560. (Neal Weaver)
GO LIBERTY INN Carlo Goldoni's La Locandiera, first produced in Venice circa 1750, has held the stage sporadically ever since, providing a vehicle for such theatrical divas as Eleonora Duse. Now it's been made into a musical, with book and lyrics by Dakin Matthews and music by B.T. Ryback. Matthews emphasizes a feminist slant, and transfers the action to Liberty, N.Y., in 1787. Mirandolina (Deborah May), the clever, independent proprietor of the Liberty Inn, inspires amorous feelings in her guests, including a rich English count (John Combs) and a vain, impecunious French marquess (John DeMita). She humors her lovesick swains for the sake of business, but a woman-hating Hessian captain (Norman Snow) offers a challenge, so she sets out to enchant him. Her flirtation is so successful that her loyal servant, Faber (Bill Mendieta), must rescue her from the violently enamored captain. Part of the fun is, ironically, the plot's predictability. The songs, with Matthews' playfully rhyming lyrics, are more clever than memorable, but director Anne McNaughton stages the piece con brio, and the cast (including Charlotte DiGregorio and Mark Doerr) plays it with zest, aided by Dean Cameron's lavish colonial costumes and classically simple set. NewPlace Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. (no perfs Easter weekend); through April 25. Produced by Andak Stage Company. (866) 811-4111, Andak.org. (Neal Weaver)
MEN OF TORTUGA Jason Wells' behind-the-scenes examination of a corporate assassination plot takes us into the executive suite (nicely detailed by set designer Sara Ryung Clement), where power brokers Jeff King (Alan Brooks) and Tom Avery (William Salyers) discuss with hired gun Taggart (Robert Pescovitz) the trajectory of a proposed bullet through a glass window, in forensics-level specifics. As their discussion, monitored by senior group member Kit Maxwell (Dana J. Kelly Jr.), continues, we come to learn of a business deal gone sour and of a revenge plot to rectify it. The spanner in the works, however, is Kit's decision to take young idealist Allan Fletcher (Michael Matthys) under his wing. The Bourne-style plot by this corporate cabal that begins promisingly in medias res at the top of the show unfortunately doesn't pay off as expected. Alexis Chamow's direction is partially responsible, as it lacks the dynamism and menacing energy necessary to create suspense, but Wells' writing, especially in the second scene, is equally weighed down by stretches of dialogue that stagnate in a discussion of ideas instead of a dramatic execution of them. The cast is capable, and Doug Newell's Mission Impossible–style music is a nice touch, but neither can rescue the interest of the audience, who end up being the plot's true victims. Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through March 28. (626) 356-7529. A Furious Theatre Company Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO ROCK 'N RIDICULE The country might be flat broke 'n broken, but we have an embarrassment of riches in material for political and social satire, which this new show by Acme Comedy Theatre cleverly demonstrates. Howard Bennett and the four member Rock N' Ridicule Band are showstoppers, spinning off jazz, blues and R&B tunes with the utmost precision, and also providing some well-timed sound effects. Nicholas Zill's book and lyrics are equally impressive, as is the nine-member cast who prove themselves remarkably versatile under Robert Otey's direction. With few exceptions, the 24 skits are very funny, mixing song-and-dance routines that are humorously blended with just the right mix of physical comedy. No sacred cows here: El Presidente takes it on the chin more than a few times. "We Will Barack You" (sung to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You"), is a hilarious ditty performed by the entire company, while in "Barack A Bye Baby," the Commander In Chief (a hilarious Derek Reid, who also does a great take on Tiger Woods), is smitten with insomnia and resorts to some unusual remedies. Natascha Corrigan is a hoot in several turns as Sarah Palin, the funniest being a golf lesson she gets from Reid. Louie Sadd steals the show with his clueless stare, eyes-blinking, language-contorting take on (almost) everybody's favorite foil and punch line. George W. Acme Comedy Theatre 135 N. LaBrea Ave., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; through April 25. (323) 525-0202. (Lovell Estell III)
SALAM SHALOM Saleem's story of a Palestinian PhD candidate housed with an Israeli graduate student at UCLA. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through April 16, SalamShalomThePlay.com. (323) 655-7679. See Theater feature.
GO SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM Stephen Sondheim has graced the musical theater landscape with wry urbanity for more than 50 years. This 1976 revue of the composer and lyricist's work will delight devotees and features songs from a vast cross section of his work, some familiar and some obscure, all rendered in fine fashion. Brian Shipper has designed an understated set consisting of a large, framed black-and-white photo of a Broadway venue, flanked by bar stools and two panels displaying a collage of smaller pictures of the Great White Way. Coupled with this small venue's intimacy, it creates a cabaret-style atmosphere that accents many of the songs' delicacies and of the composer's devilishly witty lyrics. Director Dane Whitlock has assembled a splendid quintet of performers (Jenny Ashman, Jennifer Blake, Joe Donohoe, Morgan Duke, Nick Sarando), who sing and dance their way through 30 of Sondheim's songs without one dropped note, sometimes prefacing the selections with interesting historical information about the productions. Also featured is music by Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers and Julie Styne, all of whom Sondheim collaborated with on many shows. (The songs are drawn from West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Gypsy, Company, Sweeney Todd and others, as well as lesser-known productions like The Seven Percent Solution and Evening Primrose.) Musical Director Richard Berent provides stellar accompaniment on the piano. Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 17. (323) 525-0661. (Lovell Estell III)
THE STORY OF MY LIFE Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's nostalgic musical about two childhood best friends, Alvin (Chad Borden) and Thomas (Robert J. Townsend), is set among packed bookshelves stretching nearly 15 feet high. They represent both the bookstore where Alvin spent his entire life and the memories the two boys made together — each typed, bound and filed away. On one occasion, Alvin urged Thomas to pick a memory and write it down; he did, and promptly left Alvin behind in their small, rural town for big-city fame. Now, Thomas is back in the bookstore/memory bank and pressed to write Alvin's eulogy, a grim task continually derailed by his former best friend's sunny ghost, who flits around forgivingly to remind him of moments that mattered — touchstones like snow angels, butterflies and It's a Wonderful Life, which were for them mutual obsessions and are for us heavy-handed metaphors. Directed by Nick DeGruccio, the likable production never gels; like the feckless Thomas, it never commits. Even postmortem, Alvin is so selflessly sweet that their seismic tensions register as inconsequential tremors. A few intense cheek kisses ask, "Were the lifelong bachelors in love love?" — a question this staging is unsure how to answer. Musical director Michael Paternostro guides the duo through an amiable evening of songs, the standouts being "1876" (Thomas' ode to his influence, Mark Twain), and "People Carry On" (Alvin's farewell to his dead mother's bathrobe and to the tangibles that slowly usurp the memories they represent, and the people who created them — not unlike the books of Tom Buderwitz's set.) Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood: Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 4. havoktheatre.com. (Amy Nicholson)
TALES OF AN URBAN INDIAN Though it bears the imprint of his Native American roots, Canadian writer-performer Darrell Dennis' quasi-autobiographical solo show weaves a story that might fit any confused youth, regardless of background. Played out on a sparsely furnished set (a table and chair and a few boxes), the piece recounts the coming of age of one Simon Douglas, who lives with his teenage mother Tina and grandmother on a reservation, until his mom is wooed by a white guy, who spirits them off to Vancouver. Later, after Tina's politically correct lover berates her for becoming too assimilated, they return. From there, Dennis' yarn oscillates between the two locales as it tracks Simon's sexual awakenings, his adolescent angst, his discovery of the theater, his descent into alcohol and drug addiction and, finally, his remorse and redemption. Throughout, Simon is portrayed as coping with identity issues in an unsympathetic or patronizing Caucasian world. One of the piece's more effective dramatic highlights involves the death of Simon's childhood friend Daniel, a young gay driven to suicide by the cruel taunting of his peers, including Simon himself. Directed by Herbie Barnes, the production relies on R. Craig Wolf's lighting shifts to mark scene changes and intensify dramatic highlights, with variable success. Dennis, who depicts all roles, is an animated and insightful storyteller, but his performance at times seems set to automatic pilot; also, his juxtaposition of a stand-up comedy approach with sequences of emotional intensity — such as his remorse over Daniel's death — can be jarring. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 667-2000. (Deborah Klugman)
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