Theater Reviews: Jen and Angie, I'm Just Wild About Harry

Norman's Ark
Ed Krieger

GO  BOISE U.S.A. Playwright Gene Franklin Smith’s character-driven drama about gay persecution in the ’50s avoids politically correct preachiness, and instead conveys a powerful message through crackling stagecraft. In 1956, Boise, Idaho, is on the brink of becoming a big city, complete with all the urban troubles and crimes that come with it. Amid this atmosphere of civic insecurity, 17-year-old hustler Eldon (Westley Thornton, nicely weasely) gets arrested for lewd behavior — and to save his skin, he publicly names his many clients, sparking a witch hunt. The subsequent prosecutions spread from child molesters to homosexuals to political opponents of the town’s Machiavellian mayor (George McDaniel). Caught in the trap is respected bank vice president Joe Moore (Kris Kamm), who watches as his happy family life crashes and burns. Director Arturo Castillo’s energetic and taut staging fiercely renders the ironic contrast between the era’s Norman Rockwell wholesomeness and the savagery of the prosecutions for homosexuality. The play is remarkably well cast with performers who look as though they are truly denizens of their era. In the role of an increasingly appalled psychiatrist (imported to provide lip service to the clinical value of the mayor’s prosecutions), understudy Scott Victor Nelson gives his introspective character a searingly haunted quality. Other moving turns are offered by McDaniel as the oily and bigoted mayor, Kamm as the destroyed banker, and Melissa Kite as the banker’s equally shattered wife. Matrix Theater, 7657 Melrose Ave., Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 29. (323) 960-4420. A Salem K Theatre Company Production. (Paul Birchall)

Ed Krieger

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Norman's Ark

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Jen and Angie

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Money and Run

GO  I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY As if Charley’s Aunt were not flighty enough for an early-20th-century chestnut featuring cross-dressing — nor Frank Loesser’s 1948 musical version, Where’s Charley? — impresarios William A. Reilly and Gary Lamb have taken the story another step into silliness. Long on dreams and ideas but short on budget, these producers have taken the public domain original, set it in a 1912 college and paired it with a set of 21 songs also from the public domain, including “Daisy, Daisy,” “Aba Daba Honeymoon” and the title tune. The result, though technically shaggy, is delightful. Every song is a sentimental chunk of Americana and musical director Reilly plays them with bouncy perfection. The energetic cast dances through what’s left of the original dialogue and happily croons through the music. Casey Zeman is particularly charming as Babbs, who is tricked by his two buddies into pretending to be a very rich aunt from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”) to help them propose to their gals — whom they cannot see unchaperoned. Reilly and Lamb direct the whole show “louder and faster!” and this cast never lets them down. Crown City Theater, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat ., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 15. (818) 377-4055. (Tom Provenzano)

JEN AND ANGIE Ohmygod, Angelina Jolie just gave birth to Brad Pitt’s twins in France! I saw the rumor broadcast last night on an MTA TV news bulletin while riding up Fairfax on the 217 bus. Jolie’s manager denies the story. If you just have to know what’s going on in the lives of Jolie and her former rival for Pitt’s affections, his ex Jennifer Aniston, check out this two-woman comedy act featuring Christina Casa as the very pregnant, pouty-lipped United Nations–humanitarian-award winner — a credit she references multiple times, somewhere near her deep-throated warning to Aniston, “Don’t touch my lips, they’re for blowjobs.” Through big, dark shades, Jolie shows no contempt for Aniston, merely an imperious, impervious devotion to Greater Causes. Sara Chase turns in a sweet performance as the perpetually exasperated Aniston, who finds herself in the same section of the same plane occupied by Jolie and a floppy life-size mannequin of Brad Pitt, in a hauntingly evocative portrayal. The plane crashes and the trio find themselves on a deserted island, home to a sweet reversal of fortune. Backstage after the show, Casa and Chase said they keep reworking the act, using fresh reports from the tabloids. Their portrayals are rough-hewn shadows of characters whom some people, I guess, are really invested in — which is part of the joke. To make fun of royalty, you have to believe that it matters. The show, which has run six months in New York, was written by Laura Buchholz and Casa, and is tartly directed by Susanah Becket. Upright Citizens Brigade, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs., June 5, 8 p.m. (323) 908-8702. (Steven Leigh Morris)

THEATER PICK  LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA See Stage feature. Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 29. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  MARCH ON, DREAM NORMAL Well served by its intimate venue, Jeanette Scherrer’s slice-of-life drama communicates the torments of a soldier newly returned from Iraq. Home in St. Louis with his parents — played with persuasive nuance by Jack Kandel and Marie Del Marco — Jim (Brett Nichols) suffers horrible recurring nightmares in which he recalls how his former sergeant brutally commanded him to run down a child in the road. Insane with remorse, he seeks help through the VA, where an overscheduled and desensitized military doctor (Skip Pipo) prescribes diazepam and sends him on his way. Jim’s mental anguish mounts, leading to an altercation in a bar that costs him the firefighting job he desperately desires. Co-directed at an unhurried pace by Scherrer and Patty Ramsey, the play traipses familiar territory but proves incisive in the end. True to life, it has no pat finale. Several family-at-home scenes drag but — in this tiny theater, where the audience and playing areas overlap — that same slowness also contributes to a sense of heightened realism. As Jim’s pregnant sister-in-law, who romanticizes his unassuming machismo, the perky Shannon Nelson is lively and appealing. A kink in this capable ensemble comes from the miscasting of one actor. Set designer David Nett makes excellent use of a small space. Costumes (Nelson), props/set dressings (James Paul Xavier) and sound (Ryan Poulson) also add colorful ambiance. Paul E. Richards Theater, 2903 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 22. (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman). A Lucid by Proxy Production.

GO  MONEY & RUN If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. To lure audiences away from movies and TV, some theaters are taking cues from their competition. Recent successful productions riff off Showgirls, Point Break and Charlie’s Angels; now Wayne Rawley’s popular Seattle serial, inspired by The Dukes of Hazzard and Miami Vice, debuts with its first installment, “Money, Take Run,” in which two hot-blooded criminals, Money (Johanna Watts) and Run (Joshua Sliwa), meet-cute when holding up the same liquor store. Their romantic fireworks are outdone by the goofball supporting characters, which include Tobias Jelinek as a turtleneck-wearing manhunter, Pete Caslavka’s drunken bum, and the grandstanding and fierce Alyssa Bostwick as Big Momma Bob, the local liquor-emporium czarina who wants to see Money strung up by her belly shirt. Rawley’s honed his clever quips and sharp timing — even an opening-credits sequence is a hoot. It’s live, but is it theater? As the narrator (Rawley) tells us to “stay tuned for scenes from the next episode,” and the cast races through a quick montage, the best we and this production can hope is that theater’s fun, albeit flattened reinvention is less disposable than its origins. Lyric Hyperion Theater Café, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; indef. (800) 595-4TIX. (Amy Nicholson)

Sandra Tinto

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Tomahawk

NORMAN’S ARK The Old Testament is back in another musical, this one by Jerome Kass and Glen Roven, nicely staged by Peter Schneider. Though this Trojan Horse has been touring in various incarnations since at least 2002, it may be the biggest local theatrical event since Val Kilmer parted the Red Sea at the Kodak Theatre in 2006. A cast of 200, including local gospel choirs and dancers, and a bevy of cherubic kids playing the animals (in Ann Closs-Farley’s wonderful costumes) provide backup for the story of some family stuck on their roof during a flood in the middle of the country. Schoolteacher Norman (the appealing Philip Casnoff) — in a red cardigan, of course — knows his Shakespeare but fumbles any practical task, which earns him the derision of his two sons (B.J. Wallace and Noah Galvin, in fine performances) and the sympathy of his very young daughter, Jenny (Tiffany Espensen). One of the boys has a good line about not wanting to be negative, and therefore describing the house as being “half full.” Norman’s wife, Alice (Karole Forman, great voice), is black, Norman and their sons are white, and the daughter is Asian. All (or much) of humanity is on this roof, you see. On reading the program note that “we have been inspired ... to encourage our audience to take the message of Hope, Love & Survival,” I felt my intestines start to tangle into extremely small, tight knots, causing painful contractions accompanied by layers of perspiration. God (Dawnn Lewis) makes an appearance in a white robe. She sings very well indeed, and expresses annoyance at what we’re doing to her planet. Tiffany asks why, as a child, she should be punished for that, and God winks something about mysterious ways. Norman’s contribution to the crisis consists of retelling the transporting legend of Noah’s Ark (accompanied by amazing lighting effects). For no reason whatsoever, the family come to respect Norman within his fiction, until they’re rescued. (That must be the “Hope, Love & Survival” part.) Quite often, though, we’re not rescued. That’s also a valuable lesson for children, which can be taught without provoking paranoia. Despite its noble gathering of community participants, who perform with talent and open hearts, the project itself fails to draw a crucial distinction between compassion and delusion. John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., E. Hlywd.; Tues.-Sun., 8:30 p.m.; thru June 8. (323) 461-3673 or www.fordamphitheater.org. (Steven Leigh Morris)

TOMAHAWK The titular tomahawk is brandished by a naked man (Lewis Brians, only nominally naked) in a Native America getup, who recklessly roams the neighborhood in this musical play by writer-director James Domine, based on his novel The Naked Man and featuring songs by the garage band the Screaming Clams. Program notes inform us that the play is a quest for truth, but the search proves futile. The shallow, cartoonish characters include a pair of gleefully corrupt cops (Rob Martinez and Christopher Jones) and a couple of boorish slackers, C.J. and Dogue (Chris Benton and Michael Fox), who devote themselves to bonking any woman in sight, smoking grass, arguing about the existence of God and extraterrestrials and cadging beer from their disreputable landlord, Hal (Brians). Barfly Mama Cass (Debbie Stavitsky) quite accurately informs us, at the end of Act 1, that “none of this means a damned thing.” The actors and the band give it their all, but this script is dead in the water. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru June 15. (818) 347-4807. (Neal Weaver)

WET SPOTS: THE STORY PROJECT The flier for the show is provocative — a close-up shot of a woman’s crotch, moisture soaking through her hot-pink panties, dark pubic hair peeking out from the fuchsia lace. Text runs along her inner thigh: “Tiny dances about the female orgasm.” But this production of dance and spoken word by the Suarez Dance Theater shied away from the transgressive or shocking. Instead, it shared a series of tales that were as much about the inner journey to orgasm as the physical one. “Micro Theater,” as the company calls its work, was staged within three tiny cottages in a residential area of Venice. The audience was guided in groups of five or six to each performer’s space. The small rooms provided an instant intimacy, and the home environment lent itself to a sense of voyeurism. Dancers could be found in the kitchen, the shower, the closet, even soaking in a hot tub. One piece, about a girl having a spontaneous orgasm on the dance floor during a rave, took place entirely in bed. But the height of the voyeuristic experience was the dance by Bonnie Lanvin and Meg Woolfe, about sexual dysfunction within a relationship. They moved through the rooms of one cottage as though they lived there, their dance one of everyday life and annoyance. The audience had to follow the dancers on their unpredictable path, and the tight quarters would sometimes only allow peeking around a corner to catch a glimpse of their motion. As captivating as these small performances were, strung together they felt disjointed and random. There was no arc to the storytelling, no real payoff at the end. For a show about orgasms, it left the audience — frustratingly — without a climax. Venice Beach Eco Cottages, 447 Grand Blvd., Venice; closed. (Pandora Young)


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