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Theater Reviews: Man of La Mancha, My Thing of Love

End of the line for the wealthy Ms. Salt
Susan Simpson

THEATER PICK  CONCRETE FOLK VARIATIONS, CHAPTER ONE: DEATH OF A SUGAR DADDY Los Angeles, 1947, and the last thing you want to be is communist or homosexual. And for the city’s lesbian community, persecution looms with the hushed-up murder of a 70-year-old millionairess who had kept the LAPD in her purse. Such is the setting for writer-director-designer Susan Simpson’s noir serial puppet show. Reluctantly, gray-haired ex-beat cop Loretta Salt — half wood, half clay, all tough broad — investigates, her face etched by wrinkles and her taciturn nature balanced by a puppeteer who clues us in that when Loretta rubs her neck, she’s thinking about her dad. Simpson’s set is the size of a car windshield, and the episodes unfold in half increments (Chapter 1.5 debuts March 21). But this tone-perfect first installment hooks our attention with a killer mystery, moody narration and fascinating historicity that occasionally tips into whimsy — for example, when Salt and the victim’s girlfriend take the Red Car past the old Lincoln Heights bird farm, an ostrich is wheeled across the stage. The Manual Archives, 3320 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 667-0156. (Amy Nicholson)

Susan Simpson

End of the line for the wealthy Ms. Salt

Andrew Rothenberg

Tracers

 
EYE MOUTH GRAFFITI BODYSHOP & 20 PLAYS IN 20 MINUTES And the Beat goes on. The poetry in Ron Allen’s choreo-poem about the ultimate short circuit in the city’s grid (violence, erotic provocation, spiritual ennui and poetry) is electrically charged and often more declarative than evocative (“Skin is a coffin ... Chance is the road to Nirvana ... Ten-cent orgasms of telemarketing heroes”). The experience feels assailed by a street-corner poet, whose words are enacted by an ensemble of 12, a feeling that’s as invigorating and discomfiting as standing in the cold breeze of an alleyway. Jemal McNeil’s sharp direction and Drew D’Andrea’s sassy choreography expand the words into relationships and movement that’s both ritualized and saucy — largely played out around a stage-center shrine that embodies the city’s detritus. The performances, by dancers Brixey Blankenship, Victoria Brown, Aaron Davis and Kalen Salima and actors Justin Alston, Phillip C. Curry, David Ibrahim, Jo D. Jonz, Lynn Odell, Marja-Lewis Ryan and Wendi West, are first-rate. Nonetheless, it’s hard work to keep fathoming lines such as “Take the air from the lip of heavy want/Take this raw weight on my tongue/This sweet tobacco of indulgence ...,” only to watch the ensemble gunned down by rifle fire. This poem’s despondency is more assumed than earned — assumed from the brutal experience of the streets and the love of language — yet 90 minutes of assumption, in place of debate, becomes more blistering than inviting, despite the oozing sensuality of the music and dance. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 
HENRY IV, PART ONE Shakespeare’s history plays sometimes seem like pageants, with one or two star performers presiding over a mere spectacle, full of alarums and excursions. But in more able hands, they’re revealed as huge ensemble pieces, with every role a gem, given an actor who can fill it. Here, we’re presented with the ailing King Henry (Robertson Dean), his seemingly scapegrace son Prince Hal (Freddy Douglas), and Hal’s disreputable mentor and sidekick, the fat knight Falstaff (co-director Geoff Elliott). And Hal, determined to restore honor to his name, becomes the mortal rival of the willful, tempestuous Harry Hotspur (J. Todd Adams). Directors Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott give the piece a traditional and admirably straightforward production, garnished with Michael C. Smith’s handsome set, Soojin Lee’s lavish costumes, and rousing battle scenes excellently choreographed by Kenneth R. Merckx. Elliott gives us a flamboyant and funny Falstaff, but never taps into the earthy, cynical wisdom that Stacy Keach and John Goodman found in the role. Douglas provides a stalwart Hal, with admirable support from a large cast. Yet Adams’ passionate and athletic Hotspur comes close to dominating the production. One wishes for greater verbal clarity, particularly in the early scenes, but it is, overall, an exciting production. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in rep, call for schedule; thru May 18. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1, or www.ANoiseWithin.org. (Neal Weaver)

 
GO  THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT Though frayed at the edges in both the writing and the production, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ contemporary NYC trial of Judas (Robert Mollohan, still in biblical garb) — set in the “Hope Street” purgatorial subway station, with the stairwells of Danny Cistone’s set clearly marked “Uptown” and “Downtown” — offers an invigorating meditation on the paradoxical essences of forgiveness and revenge built into the core of our cultural mythology. Even with its comic approach, Guirgis’ play isn’t as glib as the works of Christopher Durang — another Catholic comedic playwright confounded by his theology. Yet Guirgis’ argumentation doesn’t come close to that of the literary masters in that realm of debate — Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Mikhail Bulgakov. This play falls somewhere between a historical pageant, a trial and a farce (Don Rickles is called in for questioning, just for the joke). There are really nice lead performances by Danny Nucci’s ingratiating prosecuting attorney, Katy Jacoby’s defense attorney with personal crises, and Max Middleton’s impatient judge. Some supporting performers are difficult to hear, and when the play turns “meaningful,” via earnest speeches near the end, it completely unravels, at least in this production. Still, it’s smart and funny enough to deserve its audience. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 30. (323) 960-7827. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 

 
MAN OF LA MANCHA The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts “celebrates military veterans by developing and producing their original works, as well as examining existing works from a military perspective.” In keeping with that philosophy, the first scene of this Dale Wasserman musical is set in the mental ward of a veterans’ hospital, where author Miguel Cervantes is a patient. The play becomes grand improvisation involving only Cervantes/Quixote (Eric Tucker) and another patient, the Sergeant Major (Stephan Wolfert), known collectively as Deux Bites. Limiting the cast to two actor-singers (plus guitarist/musical director Ali Nikou) tends initially to make the piece seem like a stunt, with each of them juggling multiple roles and donning a wild array of hats, skirts, tatty wigs and accents. It’s clever, inventive and anti-illusory: Wolfert sports a full beard, giving his Aldonza a decidedly rakish air. Costumes and props are improvised, and the Don’s armor consists of hockey shin guards, a plastic tablecloth cape, and a gilded bedpan for a helmet. Both actors are versatile and capable, and, once we get used to their approach, they deliver an engaging and sometimes hilarious version of the play. Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sun.-Mon., 7 p.m.; thru April 21. Free, resv. required. (323) 533-2847 or stefanwolfert@gmail.com. (Neal Weaver)

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GO  MY THING OF LOVE The language of Alexandra Gersten’s caustically funny and equally painful examination of a crumbling marriage navigates perfectly between heightened lyric fancy and earthy reality. We begin with an ordinary breakfast routine between spouses that soon begins to simmer, then quickly boils over into a full-blown war over infidelity that defines Gersten’s fascinating play. Johanna McKay offers a virtuoso performance as Elly, a frumpy housewife who throws down the gauntlet over her husband’s affair. As husband Jack, Josh Randall keeps pace with McKay, making their epic battle as exciting and moving as the best of Edward Albee’s early work. Kelly (Heather Fox) — the gorgeous, simple yet unapologetic object of Jack’s straying — is so comically brittle that the intensity of this production continues to grow. Only a bizarre set piece, in which a loony guidance counselor (played with caricatured frenzy by John Schumacher) comes to castigate Elly about her parenting, rings false. Fortunately, this scene fades from memory in Darin Anthony’s otherwise exquisite staging. Sherry Linnell’s witty costume design is best exemplified by Elly’s ugly, slobby sweats. Tom Buderwitz’s naturalistic home interiors are set against a too-slick set of walls that detract from the über-reality of much of the play’s action. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (added perf Thurs., March 27, 8 p.m.); thru April 5. (800) 838-3006. A Syzygy Theatre Group production. (Tom Provenzano)

 
GO  NO CHILD ... Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., call for schedule; thru April 13. (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org. Click here for Stage feature.

 
GO  SILVER FOR GOLD: THE ODYSSEY OF EDIE SEDGWICK The beatification of Andy Warhol protégée Edie Sedgwick began in the 1980s with the Stein-Plimpton biography, Edie, and took off with songs such as Adult Net’s “Edie” and films like the posthumously released Ciao! Manhattan. David J, formerly of the bands Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, attempts to sketch the terrible arc of Sedgwick’s Icaran flight and fall without resorting to the narrative slogging that typifies pop hagiography. He mostly succeeds, by writing and directing what is essentially a one-woman show starring Monique Jenkinson, whose manic, writhing Sedgwick crystallizes moments from her tormented childhood and a later fashion-frenzied life fueled by drugs and vodka. There’s no “I did this, then went there, and the next day I met Paul America.” Instead, it’s 75 minutes of choreography, live music, expressionistic silhouettes and lots of stage fog. Steven Oliver Price plays the show’s other character, Norich — a horse-headed invalid who rolls across the stage in a wheelchair to somber effect, representing Sedgwick’s dreamy adoration of horses. David J’s vocals lead a tight band whose songs tell a story that is funny and affecting without begging for sympathy for their subject. But did he really have to have Sedgwick say, “The biggest scars are the ones inside ... the kind you can’t see”? Lloyd Reece’s crepuscular light plot and Ego Plum’s clear sound design are especially effective. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 16. (323) 960-7846. (Steven Mikulan)

 

 
GO  SPONTANEOUS FANTASIA With a title that proffers a less-than-subtle nod to another innovative work of animation, artist and composer J. Walt Adamczyk blends computer technology, visual imagery and music into a head-spinning good time. Armed with self-designed software, a computer touchpad, color controls and a joystick, Adamczyk sketches abstract images and shapes in real time that are projected on a domed planetarium ceiling as we just lie back and enjoy. Accompanied by his own and others’ compositions, Adamczyk takes us on a trip — sans LSD — through playfully psychedelic virtual worlds. “Autocasm 2007” starts with color-shifting, almost 3-D tubular shapes that Adamczyk has us swoop around as if on a helicopter ride, so as to view their many angles and textures. In “Nocturnes,” Adamczyk’s doodle of one line morphs, kaleidoscope-like, into multiples of itself to shape-shift from apparent deep-sea creatures to a plethora of ethereal compositions. “Autocasm: Gardens of Thuban” starts with a sunrise, as pod-shaped objects pop out of a desolate landscape and create a cosmic forest that, as Adamczyk moves the joystick for us to zoom over his cosmic creations, reminds one of those 1950s artist renderings of what other planets looked like once our rocket ships had landed. Glendale City College Planetarium, 1500 N. Verdugo Rd., Glendale; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 6:30 p.m.; thru June 28. (626) 688-0778. (Martín Hernández)

 
GO  TRACERS When considering director Leon Shanglebee’s powerful revival of the famous 1980 Odyssey Theater Ensemble play conceived by John DiFusco, one is tempted to draw parallels between the play’s Vietnam War setting and our own generation’s ill-advised war of American adventurism. Yet, such comparisons are ultimately misleading, for Shanglebee, in his angry, adrenaline-steeped production, is less interested in politics than in crafting kaleidoscopic portraits of a group of men under unbearably adverse circumstances. DiFusco’s drama can be called an impressionistic tragedy: In a series of scattershot vignettes, it tells the story of a group of young men, shipped off to Vietnam as cannon fodder. These include young Dinky Dau (Rommel Jamison), who bides his time between missions playing pointless card games and shooting up heroin, and intellectual soldier Professor (Christian Levatino), whose friendship with the platoon medic (Brian Barth) ends with an unexpected death. Shanglebee’s taut and feverish staging elegantly contrasts the boredom of squalid camp life with the horrendous terror that comes with abruptly facing death. With an ensemble of performers who are uncommonly believable playing young soldiers, the stage all but teems with testosterone and aggression. Jamison is particularly striking — his Dinky Dau’s boisterous good humor comes across as being just a hairsbreadth from hysteria — and moving turns are also offered by Levatino’s sensitive Professor and by James Thomas Gilbert’s Brooklyn-accented platoon rookie, Baby San. Little Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru April 6. A Gangbusters Theater Production. (Paul Birchall)


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