Theater Reviews: Shel Silverstein Uncensored, Songs From an Unmade Bed
GO ADAM BAUM AND THE JEW MOVIE See Theater feature. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (no perfs July 4 weekend); thru July 20. (323) 960-4442 or www.plays411.com/jewmovie.
GO DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Bert Royal’s “Peanuts”-inspired comedy reunites some familiar folks from the popular comic strip for some high school fun and misadventure. C.B. (Joseph Porter) is filled with doubt and dread after the death of his famous beagle, and begins to puzzle over whether or not there is a heaven. His identity-challenged sister (Andrea Bowen) offers more ridicule than sympathy or insight, so who better to ask than Van (Jaden Leigh, who even looks like Linus), who unfortunately has smoked his famous security blanket and frequently hits the bong. C.B.’s high school crew includes seductive meanies Tricia (Christine Lakin) and Marcy (Lauren Robyne), and bully boy Matt (Nick Ballard), who, despite his tough-guy, hip-hop demeanor, is deathly afraid of germs. And just when things become over-the-top goofy, a dark cloud settles over the crowd when Schroeder (Wyatt Fenner) embroils the friends in a dustup over sexual preferences. True to the spirit of the cartoon, Royal’s script skillfully delves into some weighty issues, such as self-love and loathing, identity crisis, sexual politics and bigotry. Even more remarkable is the wonderful balance maintained between the whimsy and the social commentary. Royal poignantly captures the angst, folly and raging hormones that surge through teenagers. Even an ugly event toward the end of the play is glossed over with a dose of scintillating humor. Nick DeGruccio’s exceptionally fine direction leads to sharp, well-modulated performances. Tom Buderwitz’s set design, consisting of a barrage of poster, cartoon and album cutouts, also deserves praise. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m. (no perf July 4); thru July 6. (323) 960-7774. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE IMPOSTOR “In Mexico, one starts from the beginning every day,” explains Cesar (Luis Avalos), a poor history professor, to his wife (Blanca Araceli) and two adult children (Lorenzo Callender and Elizabeth Duran), whom he uprooted from Mexico City to carve out a new life in a rural village. He’s more right than he knows. When a Harvard researcher (Gerard Marzilli) blows into town asking about Cesar Rubio, the lost hero of the Mexican Revolution, the unemployed scholar passes himself off as the great man, on a whim. Rodolfo Usigli’s conscientious 1937 drama follows as the forces of politics — good and sinister — capitalize on his sudden fame, rebranding his modesty as “unexplained magnetism,” and elevating the man considered a loser by his family into a viable candidate for governor. Usigli asks if the decent are doomed to mediocrity; the only difference between the ignored and the triumphant is the public’s need to believe. Despite his lie, Cesar will still be the government’s most minor hypocrite. Translated and staged by Avalos, the 70-year-old play investigates a timeless theme, though the production is held back by rushed dialogue and an overstated third act. Still, when Cesar stands up to death threats from his crooked rival, Navarro (Armando Di Lorenzo), the audience feels the ache from the disillusion of Cesar’s idealistic son, so disgusted by his father’s fib that he refuses to recognize the man’s genuine strength. The New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 22. (213) 489-0994, Ext. 107. An Americas Theatre Arts Foundation production. (Amy Nicholson)
RETURN Writer-lyricist Sonia Levitin’s musical (written with composer Kevin Anderson) about the exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel is a work with so much heart, it seems almost churlish to find fault with director Donald McKayle’s halting and at times overearnest staging. The play tells the story of a tribe of African Jews living a hard life in the mountains of Ethiopia for the past 2,000 years. The first scene, in which a pair of elderly African “yentas” meet to debate a possible engagement, is hysterical. After a chance meeting with a pair of American Jewish tourists, beautiful village maiden Desta (Terry Norman), her older brother, Joas (Jermel Nakia), and their younger sister, Almaz (Marcella Lewis), decide to make the journey across the border to claim Israeli citizenship as part of the “Law of Return.” Along the way, they’re forced to heart-rending sacrifices. The topic of the evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews makes for intrinsically engrossing subject matter. Sadly, though, Levitin’s book could use a severe pruning to cut a number of extraneous incidents, while McKayle’s ponderous blocking has the performers standing around doing nothing for extended sequences. Still, scattered amid flatly presented patches are some vibrant musical numbers that amalgamate The Lion King and Fiddler on the Roof in an ambitiously subtle mix of African rhythm and Hebrew melodies. In her character’s farewell to her native village, Norman’s “How Can I Say Goodbye” is quite powerful. Other wonderful singing turns come from Nakia’s Joas, and also from Paula Bellamy-Franklin, playing an old village grandmother who makes the long journey. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru June 29; perfs resume July 10-20. (310) 392-7327. (Paul Birchall)
SHAME Who’d have guessed that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter would be a ripe fruit for an adaptation into a rock opera? Yet Mark Governor’s creation for an ensemble of 10 uses the saga of Puritan guilt as a valid exploration of “The Interior of a Heart” (one of the song titles). The story’s righteous cruelty and persecution, often tethered to hypocrisy, are threads of the American psyche that extend from our Puritan heritage, and may partly explain contemporary gulfs of incomprehension between the United States and the rest of the world. Governor’s focus, however, is on intimate relations, pondering in song why people must hate, while the larger ramifications are mere spinoffs. Katrina Lenk plays outcast adulteress Hester Prynne, stuck in 1645 Boston, with dour elegance and a quavering soprano that sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell’s. The secret of her lover’s identity drives the plot, while her diabolical husband (Danny Shorago, in a performance that suggests a Hell’s Angel in 300 years to come) devotes his energies to making her life, and that of the man he suspects of having cuckolded him, a living hell. Condensed into a musical-theater frame, Hawthorne’s story emerges as overly melodramatic and sentimental, until Hester’s daughter (Laura Darrell) spurns her own mother, causing our lead characters to start to define morality in terms larger than their own persecution. Mark Luna’s gentle, self-tortured Rev. Dimmesdale holds his own vocally, under director-choreographer Janet Roston’s snappy staging, largely defined by Leah Piehl’s costumes, which transform the era’s work boots into tall, lacy, fetishy things you can find in your local galleria. Even the buttons and laces of the neck-high blouses get replaced by rubbery attire for some fleshy dances by some sprites in the woods. The production wavers between soulful insight and wearying cheesiness, and isn’t helped by the tinny sound of the synthesized accompaniments. This is all worth repairing. KING KING, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru July 16. (323) 960-5775 or www.plays411.com/shame. A Los Angeles Rock Opera Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO SHEL SILVERSTEIN UNCENSORED Adapted from An Adult Evening With Shel Silverstein, 11 sketches and songs by the late poet/folksinger and longtime cartoonist for Playboy, this is an insightful and pointed look at the darkness in the human psyche — though it’s also a throwback to the satire of decades past. Five appealing actors hit just the right notes of whimsy and farce, under Dan Bonnell’s direction. Daniel Zacapa has wonderfully piercing concern for his flighty wife (Sarah Brooke) and her growing proclivities toward kleptomania. Her latest escapade was to sit at an uncleaned restaurant table and deposit an unfinished bowl of oatmeal into her bag. Beneath their bickering over linguistic distinctions — whether or not she is a “bag lady” or is becoming one — is a sketch of a marriage that’s unraveling for reasons neither has a grip on. The fraying relationship is timeless, while the “bag lady” reference is older than the picture frame she grabbed from the garbage and also stuffed into her bag. “Best Daddy” is a Monty Python–like skit in which the cruelest father in the world (Tony Pasqualini) gives his daughter (squeaky voiced Colleen Kane) a pony for her birthday, or says he does. She sees the pony dead and covered by a sheet. He shot it after it bit him. Just kidding. It’s not really a pony, but what is it? And so the sketch probes into ever darker caves. Martha Gehman tortures her husband through a game of “Life Boat” — goading him to throw one of the family members overboard during an imagined typhoon. It’s a hideous exercise that reduces hubby James MacDonald to a beautifully performed quivering blob. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Call for changes in schedule: (310) 477-2055. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SOMEDAY The problems faced by childless people who long for a family form the overarching theme of Cornerstone Theater’s community-workshop-based production. Written by Julie Marie Myatt and directed by Michael John Garcés, the piece highlights two stories: that of Sam (Shishir Kurup) and Anne (Bhani Turpin), a childless middle-aged couple who opt for surrogacy after their in-vitro efforts fail; and the tale of Ruth (Diana Elizabeth Jordan), a single disabled woman who, after rescuing a newborn in an alley, decides she wants a baby of her own. Their sagas are intercut with chronicles of other adopting couples and single moms, as well as prochoice testimonials from women who have decided on abortion because of rape, abuse, a disintegrating marriage or extreme youth, among other reasons. One of the piece’s stronger aspects is the light in which it portrays the medical establishment, as illustrated by Peter Howard’s colorful performance as a self-centered doctor who, despite his protestations to the contrary, appears to get off on playing God. There are poignant and amusing moments, especially from Kurup, in a layered performance as a wry and ultimately conflicted father-to-be. Turpin and Jordan also effectively depict their characters’ emotional dilemma. (The uneven ensemble is a mix of professional and nonprofessional performers, which is part of this company’s mission.) The piece, with its embrace of many issues, never quite disguises its educational purpose — not necessarily a bad thing, but here, it distracts from the potentially visceral drama. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 22. (213) 613-1700, Ext. 33, or www.cornerstonetheater.org. A Cornerstone Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman)
GO SONGS FROM AN UNMADE BED This lively gay-themed song cycle, with lyrics by Mark Campbell and music by 18 different composers, is more substantial than it initially seems. Since each song is a separate vignette offering a different view of the world, there’s no chance for it to develop the dramatic momentum of a play, yet each song is a miniature drama. The themes range from the celebratory (“To Sing,” by Peter Foley) to the cheerily elegiac (“I Miss New York,” by Peter Golub), from the passing of youth (“Oh, to Be Stupid Again,” by Duncan Sheik) to wittily described sexual contretemps (Steven Lutvak’s “Exit Right,” about the pitfalls of sex with an actor). Campbell’s lyrics are always clever, and the music — more art songs than pop anthems — offers a consistent style, despite multiple composers. Singer-actor Dave Barrus brings an excellent voice, genuine musicality, subtlety and easy charm, neatly capturing the rueful insouciance of the songs. Patrick Pearson directs with unobtrusive finesse, and the onstage musicians (music director Jake Anthony on piano and Stephen Green on cello) provide unbuttoned humor as well as impeccable expertise. Kurt Boetcher’s pastel-tinted set, in nursery colors, belies the occasionally darker subtexts, but it’s buoyantly pretty. Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Aug. 10. (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.tix.com. (Neal Weaver)
STORIES FROM THE BIBLE This sharp 45-minute romp through the Old and New testaments delivers on style and craft, less so on substance. However, as nine strong performers in skintight black roll out two-dozen passages from the good book in a flurry of dance and movement, the feat itself is quite enough to captivate. Directors Denise Devin, Mark Hein, Jana Wimer and Zombie Joe have their ensemble in a perpetual flow, rolling seamlessly from one beat to the next, no one actor playing the same character twice; each performer clutches one of costume designer Wimer’s simple, double-sided pieces of cloth, which serve as all manner of clothing, desert settings and even a magnificent Tower of Babel. And Micky Hart’s spare, otherworldly music accents the action well. Edited by Hein straight from The NIV Study Bible, the script is lopsided in places — some beats are too quick and others drag — and a baptism scene in the middle seems to go on forever. But, if not thought-provoking, the ultimate effect is certainly spellbinding. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru June 21. (818) 202-4120. (Luis Reyes)
GO A VERY BRADY MUSICAL This affectionate spoof of The Brady Bunch is truly a family affair. Sherwood Schwartz, creator of the original series, serves here as executive producer while his son Lloyd J. Schwartz directs. The book was written by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, who, with her husband, Laurence Juber, wrote the peppy music and lyrics. Everything that’s endearing about the TV show is here: Mike (John Cygan) wanders off into tangled aphorisms, the kids constantly “go ask Alice” (Kathy Garrick) for advice, and Marcia (Erin Holt) habitually brushes her golden locks. Through a misunderstanding, the children think Mike and Carol (Barbara Mallory) are getting a divorce, so they secretly try to raise money to send them to therapy. As a result, Greg (Elliot Kevin Schwartz) gets arrested for bank robbery, Marcia for prostitution, and so on. But it’s all straightened out in typical Brady style. The other offspring are well played by Justin Meloni, Laura Marion, Adam Conger, and Kelly Stables, who has expertly captured Cindy’s near-impenetrable lisp. The multifunctional candy-colored set by Daniel Keogh, Joseph M. Altadonna and Richard De Siato includes a ministairway so that the six kids can strike the iconic pose from the TV-show opening. Kudos as well for choreographer Paul Denniston and costume designer Diana Marion. Theater West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 20. In association with Redwood Productions. (323) 851-7977. (Sandra Ross)
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