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Theater Reviews: La Posada Magica, Women Behind Bars, Peep This

GO  BOB’S HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY It’s the holiday season, and, if you can’t muster the energy for the whole “goodwill to all men” thing, you can at least drink yourself into a stupor in front of your co-workers and friends, and wind up committing deeds that would shame the shameless. That’s the reprehensible, albeit charming message of Joe Keyes’ and Rob Elk’s flamboyantly tasteless comedy — a noel celebration that leaves the stage littered with slopped whiskey and beer, crushed cheese balls, smashed furniture and perhaps a drop or two of bodily fluids. In small-town Neuterberg, Iowa, beloved local insurance agent Bob Finhead (Elk) puts on the hog for his friends and customers as they all arrive for his annual Christmas party. And what a crew they are: recovering alkie cop Joe (Keyes), whose vow of temperance lasts about 30 seconds; the bigoted, trashy Johnson sisters (Linda Miller, Melissa Denton, resplendent in fishnet stockings and the world’s tackiest Christmas sweaters); drunken town slut Brandy (Johanna McKay, whose shambling, nymphomaniacal turn has to be seen to be believed) stops by, as does the mayor’s wife (Jeanette Schwaba-Vigne), who is having an affair with Bob that’s so secret everyone in town knows about it except for the mayor himself. Conflict arises when former local geek–turned-tycoon Elwin (David Anthony Higgens) shows up to make Bob a deal that could change his life — though at a terrible cost. Director Matt Roth helms this year’s production, bringing an assured eye for gags and a flair for comic timing. Many of the show’s funniest drunken antics appear to be improvised, though it’s impossible to imagine that the show varies too much from night to night. Occasionally, the chaotic atmosphere tends to get the better of some of the staging: Characters talk over each other or merely roar, making it hard to keep track of who’s doing what awful boozy thing to whom. However, the show puts its humor where its mouth is — with gags as frantic and as funny as they are jaw-dropping. Particularly hilarious turns are offered by Keyes’ dorky cop, by McKay’s slatternly boozer, and by Schwaba-Vigne’s comically unbalanced wife of the mayor. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through December 20. plays411.com/bobs. (Paul Birchall)

GO  A CHRISTMAS CAROL It takes a village to tell Charles Dickens’ morality play, or at least, that’s the impression left by director Ernest A. Figueroa. Twenty-five actors crowd his intimate stage, and Figueroa divvies up Dickens’ lines between them. The great ghost story here rings perilously like a recitation. Allowing Bob Cratchit (Doug Haverty) to mouth off about Scrooge’s (Chris Winfield) inner life makes the humble accountant seem too big for his threadbare britches. (Liz Nankin’s and Maro K. Parian’s costumes are fantastic.) Though Richard Helleson and David De Berry’s musical numbers could use more practice, this production has the smart stroke of turning the three spirits into Bunraku puppets; the third and last, the Ghost of Christmas Future, is frightening, as is Marley lurch into Scrooge’s chamber with two puppeteers brandishing his long chains on a stick. Jim Carrey’s 3-D movie of Carol is this season’s best channeler of Dickens’ wit, invention and spark. But if you like your tradition live, this production is fine enough. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; through December 20, thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878. (Amy Nicholson)

GO  FROSTY THE SNOW MANILOW Take one measure of maudlin, ’70s TV holiday kitsch; add a dozen, inappropriate pop melodies from the same decade’s premier adult-contemporary hit maker; fold in generous helpings of sardonically retooled lyrics and camped-up choreography; season to taste with puerile puns, off-color double entendres and relentlessly self-mocking ad libs; and half-bake for an hour with an ensemble of crack clowning parodists. This, in a roasted chestnut shell, is the winning recipe for the Troubadour Theater Company’s annual, off-kilter Christmas confections. To their die-hard fans, it is immaterial that this year’s musically mashed-up targets are the treacly 1969 cartoon special, Frosty the Snowman, or the sentimental mewling of the Barry Manilow songbook. With top chef/director Matt Walker again at the controls of the comedy Cuisinart, all that matters is that the resulting purée is flavored with his peerless timing and mischievously wry sensibility. Paul C. Vogt fills designer Sharon McGunigle’s appropriately ludicrous Frosty costume as the magically animated snowman who hates kids but is nonetheless resigned to being saved from melting by the cloyingly effusive schoolgirl, Karen (Christine Lakin). Walker is the evil magician, Hinkle, who throws plot complications and one-liners in their path. Standouts include Beth Kennedy, who literally stops the show to perform insult standup as the Winter Warlock (think Juliette Lewis on stilts); Rick Batalla as the Station Master with Vegas ambitions; Jack McGee as the cantankerous narrator and a jive-talking Santa; and the always remarkable musical director, Eric Heinly, and his Troubadour band. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m. (No perfs Dec. 24, 25, 31, or Jan. 1); through January 17. (818) 955-8101. A Troubadour Theater Company prduction. (Bill Raden)

 

GO  THE GLASS MENDACITY Devotees of Tennessee Williams will surely delight in this send-up of the playwright’s best-known dramas. Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth have blended characters and motifs from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire into one big, irreverent stew of laughs. Gathered together at the Belle Reeve plantation are Mitch (Ken Johnson, who doubles as a narrator), Amanda (Stephanie Strand), Maggie (Renee Scott), Brick (a dummy named Eliot Barrymore), Stanley (Joe Dalo) and Blanche (Catherine Cronin, who traveled by way of a certain streetcar). The occasion is Big Daddy’s (a hilarious Quincy Miller) arrival from the hospital and a celebration of his birthday. As in Cat, the cigar-smoking patriarch has cancer but is told he is suffering only from a “spastic colon.” And we must not forget dear Laura Dubois (Strand), who limps and vomits her way throughout, while fixated on her menagerie of animals made of ice cubes. From this disparate collection of Williams’ familiars, the writers weave a quirky narrative involving lust, insanity, infidelity, sibling rivalry, intrigue and lots of mendacity. It probably helps if you have some knowledge of Williams’ plays, (in one scene Stanley calls out “Starland,” instead of Stella). Andrew Crusse provides the solid direction. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.; L.A.; Thur-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; through January 30. (323) 969-1707. arktheatre.org. An Ark Theatre Company Production (Lovell Estell III)

LA POSADA MAGICA Playwright Octovio Solis’ holiday musical was a staple at South Coast Rep for 15 years, but budget cuts have forced the producers to transfer the show to the Odyssey Theater, where the unabashed, sweet sentimentality of director Diane Rodriguez’s folksy staging fits genially on the intimate new stage. It’s a bilingual Christmas tale steeped within the Latino custom of the Posada, in which neighbors dress in robes and travel around their community singing Christmas carols in honor of Joseph and Mary’s journey around Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It may also be a cultural theme that this is a Christmas tale whose themes of joy and hope are also mingled with a haunting melancholy. Left alone in her family home on Christmas Eve, Latina teenager Gracie (Tiffany Ellen Solano), who’s grieving over the recent death of her baby brother, has no patience when a traveling Posada passes by, offering to light a candle in her honor. Gracie reluctantly allows herself to be drawn along with the carolers but unkindly sets about ruining the evening for the others — until she has the opportunity to prove her own faith. With a gentle, Mariachi-like score by Marcos Loya (who also performs in the orchestra), Solis’ musical is warm and heartfelt — and the Posada chorus is so likable, they quickly make friends with the audience. Yet the mix of sadness and sentimentality frequently tips into the overly mournful — this is a world in which Death and Santa walk awkwardly side by side, and much of the show might be too downbeat for the kids, even as it keeps with the philosophy that Christmas isn’t a negation of the year’s sadness but rather an awareness that tragedy and joy are both parts of life. In addition, Rodriguez’s production is also unfortunately hampered by pacing lapses, which further undercut much sense of holiday merriment. The show is double-cast. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 24. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)

MRS. CAGE (Katelyn Ann Clark) is a traditional housewife who treasures the sanctity of marriage. She sniffs disapprovingly when questioned about her divorced daughter, a lawyer. She spends time meticulously pressing her husband’s shirts. She shops daily for groceries. After witnessing a fatal shooting in a store parking lot, Mrs. Cage arrives at the police station, murder weapon in hand and undertakes to be questioned as an eyewitness by a seasoned detective, Lieutenant Angel (David Ross Paterson). A weary professional with sharp gut instincts, Angel handles her with firm courtesy, but it’s clear he’s suspicious. Playwright Nancy’s Barr’s 70-minute two-character one-act is a potentially powerful portrait in alienation, but under Barbara Bain’s direction, Clark’s prim and mannered delivery doesn’t exploit the script’s plentiful opportunities. Most of her considerable dialogue is directed outward toward the audience, instead of toward the lieutenant, depicted by Paterson with consummate skill. The result is that what might have been a fascinating dramatic gambol between two complex characters (the detective has his own issues) unfolds with prosaic predictability. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; throgh December 20. (818) 761-2166. (Deborah Klugman)

 

PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO When U.S. Army Captain Catherine Siler (Kirsten Potter) stumbles into “Bumfuck” — a New Mexico Indian reservation — she’s already tripping, exhausted from crossing the desert, dehydrated and addicted to her now-terminated prescription meds for pain and stress. That’s before she drinks a peyote-laced beverage given to her by one of the natives, for dehydration. So in Richard Montoya’s mess of a new play, which contains the germ of a beautiful idea, there are dreams, and then there are dreams. I tracked at least four plays, each in different styles, and for a 90-minute experience without intermission, that’s the dramaturgical definition of a cake just been put in the oven, with ingredients still bumping up against each other. Lisa Peterson directs. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through January 24. (213) 972-628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.

PEEP THIS A quintet of vivacious female comedians (Sydney Benner, Tiffany Phillips, Kari Lee Cartwright, Tia Marrie and Fredericka Meek) otherwise known as BoomChickBoom serves up a bevy of sketches and monologues that have their moments but are weighed down by the proportion of misfires. Chris MacKenzie directs the troupe in an brief evening interspersed with two lackluster videos. Nothing is lackluster about these women’s energy, however. They show a keen sense of animation, as well as droll humor that is best channeled into skits toward the end of the bill, such as “Fairy God Brutha” — a meeting between Ike Turner (Phillips) in Purgatory, and Chris Brown (Meek). Turner’s walking on eggshells from fear of being zapped by a lightning bolt every time he transgresses an omnipotent PC deity by referring to women as bitches or whores. It’s a temptation he struggles with nobly. “Method Acting” is a lovely spoof of Robert De Niro — an entire class (the company) that restricts itself to the actor’s style, with all the accompanying eccentricities, which include vocal patterns and singular lack of eye contact with other actors. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Tuesday, 8 p.m.; through December 15. (818) 578-6114. (Steven Leigh Morris)

A VERY MERRY HAPPY KOSHER CHRISTMAS Set in 1978, playwright Mark Troy’s musty comedy employs a plethora of zany characters to compensate for its stale gags and banal humor. Two slow-witted thieves — Tony (Jeremy Luke) and Carlo (Joey Russo) — stage a robbery at the New York Public Library. The patrons include a young Jewish nurse named Hava (Shelly Hacco), her Muslim fiancé, Mohammad (Abhi Trivedi), and her father, a rabbi (James Engel), who reveals himself to the young couple after stripping off the Santa Claus beard he’d been wearing while stalking them. The rabbi proceeds to rail against their engagement, not only demeaning Mohammad personally but also attacking his faith. At one point the two men launch into a “My God is better than your God” face-off — an embarrassment, for this Jewish critic. Meanwhile, we learn that “mastermind” Tony has a purpose: to obtain money to buy a Chinese baby on the black market for his uncommitted girlfriend, thus securing her love. With 18 characters in all, the rest of the plot unwinds just as mindlessly. The play’s few genuine laughs are overshadowed by the nudge-nudge ethnic stereotypes, reflecting outdated social attitudes. It’s regrettable that designer Danny Cistone’s handsome set and professional lighting skills were so foolishly squandered. Ronnie Marmo directs. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (No perfs Christmas weekend); through January 3. (323) 467-6688. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  WOMEN BEHIND BARS Before the late playwright Tom Eyen went mainstream by writing the book and lyrics for Dreamgirls, he made his name as Off-Broadway’s most notable purveyor of avant-garde raunch, with such plays as this one, and the nudity-laden The Dirtiest Show In Town. Here, Eyen has created a broad and bawdy takeoff on the B movies and exploitation flicks of the 1940s, but his script owes most to the 1950 John Cromwell women’s prison film Caged. Local drag diva Momma plays the corrupt, sadistic Matron as a larger-than-life figure, part Hope Emerson, part Joan Crawford, and part Wicked Witch of the West. As the ingénue-ish Mary-Eleanor, Jessica Goldapple segues deftly from dewy-eyed heroine to tough, hardened chick. Ted Monte plays her hapless husband, who visits her in prison only to be stripped and gang-raped by the other inmates, including Mary K. DeVault, who scores as a blond airhead; Tara Karsian who’s effective as the tough lesbian Gloria; and Arianna Ortiz as flamboyant Puerto Rican Guadalupe. Director Kurt Koehler, stepping in as an emergency replacement, reduced both cast and audience to helpless laughter. The piece goes on past the point of diminishing returns, but for most of its length it’s a raucous crowd-pleaser. Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through December 20. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com (Neal Weaver)

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