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Theater Reviews: How Katrina Plays, Mom’s the Word, Elections and Erections, To Kill a Mockingbird

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL Poor but smart surgeon’s daughter Helena (Michelle Terry) cures the king of France (Oliver Ford Davies) of a potentially fatal illness, and the grateful monarch grants her wish to marry the handsome young nobleman Bertram (George Rainsford), whom she has always loved from afar. Bertram, appalled at the idea of marrying a peasant, flees the court with his slimeball buddy Parolles (Conleth Hill), enraging the king and horrifying Bertram’s mother (Claire Higgins). However, Helena sets into action a complex scheme to get what she wants. On October 1, the National Theater of Great Britain broadcast the closing night of Marina Warner’s glittering production of Shakespeare’s most Machiavellian romantic comedy, taped live from London’s Olivier Stage. The show is the second in the National Theater’s new Travelex-supported season of live plays, filmed in High Definition and beamed to movie theaters around the world. Most filmed stage productions are flat and one-dimensional, but director-for-the-screen Robin Love uses multicamera angles and choreographed closeups to elegantly capture simultaneously the intimacy of the character-driven tragicomedy and the scope of designer Rae Smith’s toweringly gothic Ghormengastly set. Warner’s production generally favors melancholy over laughter — not an unnatural choice for this most emotionally dark of Shakespearean comedies. Terry offers a crackling, ferocious turn as the driven Helena, one that’s just a few steps short of being a full-on stalker. As the object of her obsessive affection, Rainsford is hilariously gormless, suggesting the difference in emotional maturity between young men and women. Higgins’ angst-filled yet beautifully sympathetic mother contains a power better suited for tragedy than comedy. And Hill’s prissily oafish Parolles, done up with greasy, long hair recalling Meatloaf, is a joyously loathsome performance. Admittedly, L.A. is a city that has plenty of fine theater, but these digital productions offer an unmissable opportunity to see one of the great theater companies of the world, at least in some incarnation. Mann’s Chinese Theater, 6925 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. Closed. A production of the National Theatre of Great Britain. For information on the next show in the series, go to ntlive.com. (Paul Birchall)

GO  BOBBY BENDON GETS BY In an unnamed town in the Inland Empire, somewhere between the releases of Van Halen’s “1984” and “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” young married couple Glen (Nicholas D. Clark) and Trish (Audrey Malone) dream of Los Angeles — or specifically, the oasis of Reseda, where before the baby arrives they want to buy a three-bedroom house and run into Goldie Hawn at the grocery store. The first step is getting Glen’s metal band, Torch, signed at next week’s Battle of the Bands. But guitarist Bobby (Liam Springthorpe), Glen and Trish’s high school best friend, is having a near meltdown over the public access seductress Mamazon (Erin Anderson), who he fancies is his girlfriend, even though she hangs up whenever he calls in, looking for a date. Brian Soika’s dramedy is heavy on spandex and wigs and light on dramatic thrust, though it works well as an honest, slim story about the need to be better than average at something, be it love or music. Marah Morris directs a strong ensemble who looks resplendently retro in costume designer Ayesha Mesinger’s Scrunchies, tube socks and torn jeans. With musicians Andy Creighton, Jonathan Hylander and Sean Johnson rocking out stage right on Torch hits like “Stilettos” (a CD comes in the program). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through October 25. bluehousereservations@gmail.com. (323) 320-0127. (Amy Nicholson)

GO  ELECTIONS AND ERECTIONS As his character Evita Bezuindenhout, Pieter-Dirk Uys is South Africa’s answer to Barry Humphries’ Dame Edna Everage — a balding, white drag queen who has built a career on ridiculing authority figures and celebrities. Uys, however, doesn’t skewer his audiences, which Humphries’ Edna does with glee. (The nightmare in one of Edna’s shows is to be singled out and commented on for one’s lack of fashion sense, or spouse, or hometown, or any arbitrary aspect the satirist will hold up high for ridicule.) Comparatively speaking, Uys is deadly serious, because the social issue that concerns him most is so deadly — the AIDS epidemic, which Uys sees as tantamount to genocide, in his homeland. For this reason, he takes his one-man creations into schools and tries to start conversations about sexuality, conversations that have been traditionally silenced by British Colonial and Afrikaaner rule. Imagine Puck’s dad, and you might get a sense of the wit that animates Uys’ performance. He stands in front of three milk crates, which contain his dresses and shoes — so essential for drag, as he ably demonstrates. “The back straightens and the balls just disappear.” Impersonations of Desmond Tutu and ex-president Pieter Botha show meticulous technique, and are a window onto a world far away, in both geography and history. Americans will find points of connection, however, in the varying ways that bigotry and sexual repression are universal phenomena. Though Uys insists that if he needs to explain where he’s coming from, he’d rather just move on with his entertainment, his act (which also features an array of fictitious belles) comes laced with political and sexual commentary. The need to discuss sex openly, and protect oneself from whatever deadly diseases accompany it, would seem obvious, but if that weren’t a difficult discussion in both nations, Uys wouldn’t have an act, or a purpose. His show has a wondrous blend of political cynicism (he now ribs the ruling ANC Party as he had once mocked Botha) and optimism. The latter derives from a love of life — even one ensconced in death — that gives this show its energy. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Fri., Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m. Also at Renberg Theater, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hlywd.; Sat., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 11, 7 p.m. (323) 860-7300. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage sidebar.

 

GO  HOW KATRINA PLAYS The late Judi Ann Mason’s character study swirling around the tempests of hurricane Katrina is partly an act of devotion to her brother, journalist BJ Mason (Christopher Carrington), who died at his computer while reporting on the effects and aftereffects of the disaster. The play is a poetical docudrama, accompanied (too sparingly) by the fine Bourbon Street Band. A montage of scenes intersect. Drag queen Bella Sera (Wil Bowers) emcees a traditional hurricane party, with the vivacious ensemble, but in this story, it’s the hurricane and not the party that gets out of hand. Director Tchia Casselle guides a series of monologues and scenes that depict an elderly woman (Elisabeth Noone) abandoned and trapped in a nursing home as the waters rise; a mother (Kvon Harris) and her 10-year-old son (Justin Galluccio) separated by the flood, and who then spend the play seeking each other, sometimes in different cities; a mixed-race couple (Barika A. Croom and Jacob White) on their honeymoon hold each other in an attic, as the floodwaters rise. And Kimberly Niccole turns in a tender, harrowing performance as a young woman seething with racism. Beamed, still images from the disaster accompany the narrative, which, via words and the performances, provides a visceral sense of what it must have been like in the filthy holding pen of the Houston Astrodome. The performance is a memorial filled with a grim, grimy and a sometimes animated testament to who we are, and what we become, in the wake of disaster. Write Act Repertory Theater, 6128 Yucca Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through October 24. (323) 469-3113. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  THE ILLUSION Translator Ranjit Bolt’s adaptation of Corneille’s 17th-century classic starts out stodgily but soon swerves merrily into comic gear. A remorseful father (Kevin McCorkle) seeks the help of a magician (Alexander Wright) in tracking down his estranged son. It turns out the young man, Clindor (Benny Wills) — attached to a fatuous nobleman named Matamore (Jon Monastero) — has been acting as emissary for this overblown buffoon to a lady named Isabelle (Nicole Disson). Something of a Don Juan, Clindor has clandestinely wooed both Isabelle and her maid, Lyse (Kendra Chell), who now smolders with jealousy, aware that her opportunistic paramour has upped his sights on the social ladder. Directed by David Bridel, the production gets laughs from Monastero’s lisping braggart-nobleman, whose grandiose claims to be a mighty warrior and lover evaporate at the mere whiff of a challenge. As the maid, Chell airs much of the script’s wit and wisdom in a smart, snappy performance. Disson and other supporting players also deliver the goods. Wills is fine as the dashing hero, but the production might have been more interesting if he’d played it less upright and instead exploited the character’s deviousness a little more. Eventually the play’s humor deflates, as the magician’s tale mutates into a portrait of adultery and of the marriage between Isabelle and Clindor gone awry. Christina Wright’s costumes add color and charm. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 21. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  MOM’S THE WORD Six mothers wrote these intertwined jokes and rants about parenting, and even those who haven’t undergone birth themselves (a minority in the audience I was part of) feel sympathy pangs after Kimleigh Smith starts the show by screaming and pleading for the pain to go away. That agonizingly true opener arcs from “What have I done?” to “How couldn’t I have done this?” Though the trajectory of the show is a vindication of motherhood, the five actors (all parents themselves) cathartically focus on the smelly, slimy, exhausting, self-denigrating, unsexy, paranoid and bewildering qualities motherhood elicits. This certainly isn’t a Precious Moments valentine to parenting; happy moments are so rare, it’s a small feat that director Jerry London makes the closing sufficiently upbeat that the parents in the house don’t immediately make a dropoff at the nearest orphanage. In a nifty bit of casting, Smith, Gina Torrecilla, Becky Thyre and Cathy Schenkelberg are joined by real-life gay dad Hutchins Foster, who steps into an originally female role with just a few tweaks. This casual and enthusiastic evening is worth a babysitter for moms and dads who want to hear others speak the unspeakable. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. (818) 508-0281. (Amy Nicholson)

 

PARADE Alfred Uhry, Jason Robert Brown and Harold Prince’s musical based on a miscarriage of justice against Leo Frank (T.R. Knight), a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year-old Mary Phalen (Rose Sezniak) in the pencil factory where she worked, and where Frank was superintendent. Rob Ashford’s sumptuous staging, and Brown’s caressing ragtime/pop score, are in the service of what’s aiming to be tragedy of mythic proportions. Uhry’s predictable storytelling, however, invites us to react to the obvious rather than reflect on the mysterious, turning the entire event into child’s play. Christopher Oram’s set, featuring a shape-shifting Confederate mural, under Neil Austin’s lighting, is gorgeous to look at. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through November 15. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

THAT PERFECT MOMENT What is it about rock & roll that makes it so stubbornly resistant to conventional dramatic representation? Perhaps it’s that the rock metanarrative — the collective absurdity of backstage misbehavior, egocentric pettiness and self-destructive excess that is somehow transcended in the artistry and catharsis of the live performance — runs so close to self-parody that it can only be captured in documentary or satire (or both, i.e., This is Spinal Tap). Whatever the reason, playwrights Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper’s warmed-over band-reunion dramedy misses the mark by an L.A. mile. When ponytailed, 60-something literature professor, Mark Vanowen (Tait Ruppert), hears that a label is interested in his former, never-signed, ’60s protest band, The Weeds, for an oldies compilation, he promptly recalls his old bandmates to discuss reforming for a support tour. The problem is former drummer Skip (Bruce Katzman), now a prosperous Republican with a McMansion in Calabasas, who holds the song rights along with a vindictive grudge against Mark for jumping ship at the moment of The Weeds’ almost-success. Complicating matters is Mark’s wife, Sarah (Kelly Lester), who abruptly walks out after he chucks his department’s chairmanship for a last stab at rock & roll glory. Though director Rick Sparks elicits spirited performances from a stellar cast (including Sha Na Na’s Guerin Barry and the comically gifted John Bigham), neither Adam Flemming’s sterile apartment set nor the play’s atonal text musters the authenticity needed to make this production rock. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. plays411.com/perfect. (323) 960-7745. (Bill Raden)

GO  SECRETS OF A SOCCER MOM Playwright Kathleen Clark’s comedy is a funny and touching tale about rekindling lost dreams or letting them go. It’s another soccer Sunday and three middle-class, suburban housewives are teamed up against their 8-year-olds in a mom-versus-son tournament. Nancy (Jennifer L. Davis) is a 40-ish former model seemingly resigned to a less glamorous life, Lynn (Tammy Taylor) is a 30-something who single-handedly and thanklessly runs the local PTA, and Allison (Michelle Coyle) is in her 20s and new to the unnamed neighborhood, as well as to soccer — she totes a copy of Soccer for Dummies. Despite Allison’s protests, they decide to throw the game so their kids can feel good, a choice they later realize is a metaphor for how they sacrifice their own goals and feelings for the sake of their families. “How can you feel trapped by what you love?” one of them laments as they reveal their true feelings and end up bonding as a team, both on and off the field. Clark’s balance of snappy one-liners and serious reflection (especially an Act 2 monologue delivered by Davis) makes up for the play’s predictability. The cast is exceptional under Donald Shenk’s first-rate direction. StillSpeaking Theatre, 2560 Huntington Drive, San Marino; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through October 18. (626) 292-2081. (Martín Hernández)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel suffers from a lack of narrative drive due to the inclusion of an adult narrator. In the much-beloved story, Scout (Rachel Arnold), her brother, Jem (Dalton O’Dell), and friend Dill (Taylor Cosgrove Scofield) spend a long, hot summer in 1935 Macomb, Alabama, trying to get Boo Radley (Price Carson) to come out of his house. Scout also observes how her lawyer father, Atticus (Jim Gleason), handles a trumped-up rape charge against a black man named Tom Robinson (Myron Primes), levied by the racist Bob Ewell (David Wells) and his daughter Mayella (Hayden Wyatt). Although well-intentioned, this adaptation’s use of a both 7-year-old Scout and her adult self (Penny Louise Moore, who also directs) gives the play a strained earnestness. However, the acting can’t be faulted, and director (and set designer!) Moore astutely marshals the large cast on the small stage, which also benefits from her set design. The child actors are terrific, particularly Scofield. Gleason achieves the right gravitas as Atticus, and Wells makes an outstanding snarling villain. Actors Repertory Theater at Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 25. brownpapertickets.com/event/74143. (800) 838-3006. (Sandra Ross)

 

THE TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare’s most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner’s feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard’s nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it’s because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It’s a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in alternating repertory; call theatre for schedule. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. anoisewithin.org. (Neal Weaver)

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