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Theater Reviews: Lost Angeles, Point Break, This Lime Tree Bower

{mosimage} THE CHICAGO CONSPIRACY TRIAL Director Frank Condon brings back the courtroom docudrama (co-written by Condon and Ron Sossi) that put this theater on the map almost 30 years ago. This political equivalent of The Jerry Springer Show depicts the kangaroo court that tried defendants Bobby Seale (Darius Ever Truly), Jerry Rubin (David Mauer), Tom Hayden (John Pollono) and Abbie Hoffman (Andy Hirsch), among others, for conspiring to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention, during which a conflagration of anti–Vietnam war protesters and Mayor Richard Daley’s (James Manley Green) thuggish Chicago Police Department devolved into a riot. The event is utterly compelling and dispiriting, a clash within an infirm justice system containing prosecutors and defendants who are equally righteous and belligerent soldiers. On stage is a sliver of American history, an antecedent to modern times, in which outrage trumps common sense, wisdom and the most fundamental tenets of the U.S. Constitution. That this drama was lifted from transcripts renders the farce even more upsetting — an upset bolstered by the excellent performances. ODYSSEY THEATRE ENSEMBLE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Sun. perfs Oct. 21, Nov. 25 & Dec. 16, 7 p.m. only; added perfs Wed., Nov. 7, 14, 28 & Dec. 5, 8 p.m.; no perf Nov. 22); thru Dec. 16. (310) 477-2055. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature next week.

{mosimage} DARK PLAY OR STORIES FOR BOYS Playwright Carlos Murillo tells us that his play refers to dangerous games, where some players know they’re playing, while others are involved without their knowledge. Fourteen-year-old Nick (Stewart W. Calhoun) takes this concept to the Internet. Though he looks innocent and angelic, Nick is a perverse master-manipulator. In a chat room he discovers Adam (Adam Haas Hunter), a straight, naive 16-year old, who announces that he’s looking for love, and describes the girl he wants. Nick assumes the identity of the imaginary Rachel (Danielle K. Jones), designed to fit Adam’s specifications. Soon Adam is in love with Rachel — but Nick feels left out. He inserts himself into the scenario as Rachel’s brother, and manages to meet and seduce the hapless Adam. The game grows crueler, more complex and more perilous, till both boys are entrapped in it. Murillo’s play is strange, haunting and clever, and director Michael Michetti gives it a stunning, beautifully acted production. Calhoun and Hunter are terrific, while Jones, Jonathan McClain and Bethany Pagliolo dexterously play all the other figures, real or imaginary, in their lives. Donna Marquet’s handsome, severely minimal set is filled with TV screens that reveal Austin Switser’s impeccably integrated video designs. THEATER AT BOSTON COURT, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (626) 683-6883) (Neal Weaver)

{mosimage} THE FASTEST CLOCK IN THE UNIVERSE British playwright Philip Ridley’s venomous comedy finds Captain Tock (Christopher Snell) bustling about, lighting Cougar Glass’ (Justin Shilton) cigarettes (“I love it when you breathe deeply,” the crowlike old man swoons) and preparing for his vain inamorato’s 19th birthday party by plucking his gray hairs lest they fink his actual age. The couple and their frightening hunchback neighbor (Francesca Casale) live upstairs from a mink-skinning factory, and Foxtrot Darling (Nick Endres) is the newest victim lured into their lair. The needy teen is reeling from his older brother’s death, and predatory Cougar hopes that vodka, porn and the deceased’s cologne will turn loss into lust. Ridley’s first act is suffocatingly cruel; the introduction of Sherbet Gravel (the excellent Tuffet Schmelzle) — a bubbly mom-to-be who rules with a gingham fist — stirs up the air as she slips a Groucho mask on the birthday boy’s perfect face and barks “Get in a party mood for fuck’s sake!” Ridley’s sharp insights on aging and approval seeking are well staged by director Lynn Ann Bernatowicz, who lets the barbs fly and the tension linger as each partygoer projects their wants onto a person who doesn’t measure up. Neither Ridley nor Bernatowicz know how to resolve the play’s violent pressure, but there’s wicked fun in watching Shilton’s heartless pretty boy grunt, “Life’s too short to have feelings for people.” CELEBRATION THEATRE, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com. (Amy Nicholson)

JOURNEY TO DOLLYWOOD In playwright Jessie McCormack’s sprightly, Southern-fried dramedy, the author plays the role of Jolene, a hard-bitten young waitress who is toiling her life away at a cheesy motel diner somewhere on a Southern interstate. Trapped in a dead-end relationship with Manny (Erick Van Wyck), her oafish, dim-bulb boyfriend, and forced to tend to her hateful, ailing trailer-trash mama, Jolene finds solace in an obsessive passion for the music of Dolly Parton. She dreams of someday making a pilgrimage to Dollywood, which — more than just being The Breastiest Place on Earth — is also Jolene’s own personal Mecca. When a handsome young musician (Henry Gummer) is stranded at the diner while his car is being repaired, he becomes the unintended repository of Jolene’s desperate emotional needs. McCormack’s play’s plot-lite story line falters with an awkward and strangely irresolute finale, but the piece goes a long way on the charm of its snappy dialogue and flashes of genuinely moving pathos. Director Rod McLachlan’s intimate production finds the likable inner core to folks with truck-stop-size emotional weaknesses. McCormack’s dryly ironic yet vulnerable Jolene is winning — so are Van Wyck’s abrasive, but sweetly damaged boyfriend, Manny, and Melissa Greenspan as Jolene’s diner co-worker (and romantic rival). Listen for the audio cameo provided for the play by none other than the divine Miss Parton herself. MATRIX THEATRE, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.: Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 3. (323) 960-4418. (Paul Birchall)

{mosimage}THIS LIME TREE BOWER Irish playwright Conor McPherson uses a vivid vernacular to write about aimless men who drink too much, sleep with the wrong women and puzzle over how to straighten out their lives. His third play, a triptych of intertwined monologues, evolves in a sleepy seaside town where brothers Joe (Sean Wing) and Frank (David Agranov) and their sister’s fiancé Ray (Cyrus Alexander) reside. Joe, still in school, has developed a crush on a slicker, more sophisticated classmate. Ray, a philosophy instructor in his 30s, self-destructs by getting blind drunk and bedding his students. Lacking inspiration to do anything else, 22-year-old Frank helps run the family chip shop, meanwhile plotting to burgle the local bookie to whom his dad, depressed and floundering since his wife’s death, is heavily in debt. All three possess a zest for life and a disingenuous charm while struggling with alcoholism, angst and adolescence, among other things. Under Alan Miller’s direction, however, much of what should have involved us in a visceral way doesn’t. The performers are positioned in separate crannies of the stage (set and lighting design by Hans Pfleiderer), each with his own chair and bowl of pretzels. Though Miller occasionally has them interact, the performers spin their tales from their isolation. They do so casually, as if at a party or a pub, yet with few of the crescendos that would give these involving stories the emotional strength they deserve. Alexander’s promiscuous professor — so potentially complex — comes off as merely clownish, despite his affecting a tentative manner, and Wing seems too cosmopolitan for the role. ODYSSEY THEATRE ENSEMBLE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 11 (added perfs Oct. 17 & 24, 8 p.m.; Sun. perfs Nov. 4, 7 p.m.). (310) 477-2055. (Deborah Klugman)

{mosimage} LOST ANGELES This world premiere comedy by Caroline Treadwell deals with the lives of 10 Angeleno Gen-Xers who are trying to find meaning in their lives. We first meet Anna (Ruth Livier) and her best friend, Marin (Porter Kelly), who is convinced that Anna’s date Julian (Kevin Hoffer), a mild-mannered biochemist, is a “stalker.” In addition to “worrying about” Anna, Marin has to deal with her overly emotional boyfriend, Charlie (Daniel Billet), the rude barista at Starbucks (Adam Donshik), and her friend Beth (Ashleigh Sumner), who is on a lesbian blind date with a woman named Celine (Kristen Ariza) she met on MySpace. Interspersed with these stories are scenes of Anna’s ex-boyfriend, Tom (Seamus Dever), who, in conversations with his Mexican caddy Hernan (Alejandro Cardenas), reveals his plan to get back together with Anna. What begins as a series of Starbucks jokes, riffs on pop culture and tempest-in-a-teacup drama turns into a funny and sometimes sweet examination of finding oneself, “or somebody better.” Joe Camareno’s directing is excellent in its quick transitions, bold use of simultaneous action and physicality. Although Treadwell’s play has some great comic moments, it could stand some editing to tighten up the story. Billet, Dever, Donshik and Hoffer give memorable and often hilarious performances. American Studio Theater in association with PlayGrounds Ink! at THE LILLIAN THEATRE, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (added perfs some Thurs., 8 p.m.; call for schedule); thru Nov. 18. (323) 960-7774. (Mayank Keshaviah)

POINT BREAK Jaime Keeling’s merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeve’s role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. The city’s banks are being hit by a gang of robbers known as the Ex Presidents, surfers who always wear the masks of former chief executives while making their withdrawals (in this version Ms. Condi Rice makes an appearance). In his quest to capture the bad guys, Johnny Utah is assisted by the blustery Pappas (George Spielvogel), and a cartwheeling cue-card girl who makes sure the lines are delivered on time and who also doubles as a stunt girl. In the end, Utah gets his man, but not before a Grand Guignol scene of blood and guts that’s so hideously over the top you can’t stop laughing. The stage is a squared-off area next to the bar, and if you sit too close you will be sprayed with water or some other fluids, so be warned. It’s damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and Spielvogel. Charlie O’s in the ALEXANDRIA HOTEL, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; indef. (866) 811-4111 (Lovell Estell III)

{mosimage}THE QUALITY OF LIFE would lose absolutely nothing if it transferred directly to TV. This is not a compliment, but a comment on Jane Anderson’s cinematic yet slightly stilted direction of her own play (commissioned by this theater) that tosses theatricality into the charred remains of the Northern California forest in which most of the drama unfolds. This clash of couples feels like a revisit to Anderson’s far more successful The Baby Dance, but with different issues. That play revealed the social disparity and the gulfs of incomprehension when a wealthy urban couple visits a poverty-stricken family in order to purchase the latter’s baby, once it’s born. Here, Bill and Dinah (Scott Bakula and JoBeth Williams) travel from their Midwest abode to visit their cousins, Neil and Jeannette (Dennis Boutsikaris and Laurie Metcalf), now living in a tent after a forest fire vaporized their home. The visiting couple consists of an emotionally distant, goal-oriented scientist with a repulsive streak of evangelical zealotry, and his good-natured, inquisitive and all-but-abandoned wife. (The destiny of this marriage is no surprise.) Into the woods, they meet the professor and his wife — aging hippies surrounded by their mangled and meaningless “stuff” — the remains of a computer, twisted CDs, etc. The ensuing culture clash is both predictable and generic: The Midwest couple is grieving the murder of their child. The hippies are preparing for Neil’s imminent death from a ravenous cancer. Into this very schematic and melodramatic duality, Anderson tosses in an array of social issues, all given cursory speeches, some of which are met with applause. Neil smokes medical marijuana, for example, which Bill can’t endure. (He sits by himself in the car during Neil’s treatments. Bill is such a blowhard that the play’s point is proselytized rather than discussed.) Next we move on to the issue of euthanasia, and then to suicide. The play goes into contortions in order to push the audience’s emotional buttons — in so doing it grapples meaningfully with almost nothing. It’s more like a soap opera with “life and death” issues attached like Christmas tree ornaments, dangling in a netherworld between social satire and tragedy. Yet the characters aren’t broad enough for the former and not rich enough for the latter. The actors are terrific in a play that needs either more development, more reflection or more inspiration. GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 18; (310) 208-5454. (Steven Leigh Morris)

{mosimage}PICK  THE WRECK OF THE UNFATHOMABLE  On a bare stage, playwright/director Christopher Kelley tosses The Tempest into the air like a salad, and when it lands on the stage, a 17th century Shakespearean fantasia of political rivalries, of mystical powers being surrendered, of castaways being set free into a wide-open and presumably new world have all been rearranged with 21st century resonances. Not that this has anything to do with modern dress or references to the war in Iraq. The closest you’ll find to a topical line reaches for the universal: “You talk like a madman/Of course I do, I’m in government!” Surly Prospero, here named Prior (Carl J. Johnson, with ruddy cheeks and twinkling eyes) conjures a storm that wrecks the ship, Unfathomable , bringing to the shores of this uncharted isle its perennially drunk Captain Avram (a gorgeously mellifluous Darrett Sanders), his Bellman and Bursar (respectively Scott McKinley and Spencer I. Robinson), plus Governor John Hancock (Stewart Skelton, in maritime attire, as though having marched in gleefully from HMS Pinafore ), who usurped Prior’s power back in — wherever it was. The Governor, almost as stupid as he is pompous, becomes convinced of the merit of hauling heavy stones down to shore for the fortunes to be found in the pewter he thinks they contain. (Pewter is an almost worthless blend of tin and copper that’s not found in any rock.) Prior owns a former boy who’s sprouted breasts, which has morphed him/her into a blend of opposites, Caliban and Ariel, here named Arla (saucily played by Rebecca Rhae Larsen). Lovestruck Arla rages against Prospero for drowning her courtier, a selfish idiot, Hormon (David Wilcox), who shows up not drowned. Might have been better were he under the sea, then he couldn’t have accidentally burned down the salvaged shipwreck that’s supposed to set them free. All of which is more than a string of rambunctiously staged and tartly written jokes on the folly of greed and of values gone awry. It is of course an allegory for a world that’s grown considerably smaller since 1611, when The Tempest  was first produced. This ship of fools can’t set sail for lands beyond. Some greedy moron set the boat afire. These people must now live with each other, and Kelley’s sumptuously written play-closing chorale is a desperate prayer for a new world that floats, like a gull, mere inches above an ocean of despair. THEATRE OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlwyd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 17. (323) 856-8611. (Steven Leigh Morris)


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