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Theater Reviews: Stick Fly, Voice Lessons, Lydia

Stick Fly
I.C. Rapoport

ANY1MAN Composed of six monologues, this solo show by co-writer/performer George A. Peters II aims to portray various aspects of the black man’s experience. In the initial sequence Peters depicts Adam outside the Garden of Eden; a distorted recording of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” warbles in the background while Peters’ bewildered outcast discourses on God’s decision to cast himself and a guileful Eve into exile. Next, Peters fast-forwards to urban America, transforming into the splenetic son of an equally splenetic single mother, who demeans him as his absent father’s seed. Other characters include a gay man rejected by his parents, a little boy afraid of the dark and a homeless panhandler with a scathing tongue. Directed by Hezekiah Lewis, Peters displays intuition and insight, zeroing in on the fear and anger that frequently motivate human behavior. While strong on nuance, the piece comes up short on storytelling: Although charged with emotion, it spins out too few details about the particular events in his characters’ lives. Developing the individual narratives would give the work more breadth, moving it from the realm of showcasing into the sphere of playwriting. B. Fontenot is credited as co-writer. Alexia Robinson Studio, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 19. (818) 842-4755. (Deborah Klugman)

THE BIG RANDOM Just minutes into Dana Yeaton’s road drama, you have the unmistakable, justified feeling that the evening will be a long one. Claire (Madison Flock) is a gangly teenager with an oddly charming demeanor; she’s been confined to a mental institution because she is a “cutter.” She is heavily medicated and seemingly trapped in an inner world of lurid, violent fantasies until a sudden visit by her estranged godfather, Roland (Eric Charles Jorgenson), whom she slyly cons into helping her to escape. At this juncture, the story starts to take off but never quite leaves the ground. The pair head north to Canada, stop to eat, stop to sleep, are stopped by a policeman, camp out in the woods, see the sights, and eventually wind up at a church, where something spiritual occurs — a heavenly grace that feels more like a convenience for the playwright than a convincing transformation. That Yeaton fails to tell much of a story here is just part of the problem. Despite his neatly written script, he hardly scratches the surface of Claire’s pathology (one that is shared by many young girls), and leaves too many unaswered questions. Teenager Flock turns in a fine performance under Sam Roberts’ direction. Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 10. (323) 960-7776. (Lovell Estell III)

GOTHMAS Kerr Seth Lordygan and Laura Lee Bahr’s goth (or really, nu metal) musical opens on Halloween, when depressive Helena (Bahr) slits her wrists. The debut production itself would benefit from its own cruel cuts. At its black, festering, wonderful heart, Gothmas is a love triangle between self-absorbed best frenemy roommates — hetero Helena, gay Garth (Lordygan) and their selfish bisexual hustler lover, Joe (Kadyr Gutierrez, who capitalizes on the duo’s need for freakdom by suggesting they share him). Clocking in at three hours, the bleak charm of this 12-member ensemble’s behemoth would be better served if every element were chopped in half. There’s a fantastic piece buried in here, especially once director Justin T. Bowler doubles the cast’s narcissism and hysteria, which would help the play find consistent footing between songs that ache with betrayal and those that sting with unrepentant, grim glee (and once Joel Rieck’s choreography eases away from the literal — when Helena sings she’s got “nothing to lose, nothing to grab,” the entire cast clutches at the air). This run is worth seeing, however, as a midnight cult fave-in-process, with some inspired axe murders. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 17. (323) 960-7712. (Amy Nicholson)

GO  GROUNDLINGS, IN THE STUDY, WITH THE CANDLESTICK If you want a “clue” as to the subtle new direction L.A.’s premier venerable comedy troop has taken with this new show, you have only to take note of these fast-paced, if ever-so-slightly disturbing sketches, which are often hilarious, even as they crackle with undercurrents of irony and unease. If previous seasons of The Groundlings have felt perhaps overly influenced by shows such as Saturday Night Live and MadTV — shows for which the stage company is admittedly the farm team — these vignettes, crisply directed by Jim Rash, possess echoes of the character-driven comedy of Catherine Tate or of the Little Britain series. The result is a series of gags that boasts a coterie of unusually vivid grotesques — even though we’re sometimes tempted to withdraw from what inevitably turns into a Freaks Parade. The striking standouts include a hateful, brittle, borderline abusive elementary school math teacher (Annie Sertich), who whizzes past class algebra questions with sadistic intensity because she’s not being allowed to go on the singles cruise she wants; to the towering, creepy, dirty old dad (Kevin Kirkpatrick), who introduces his sex-kitten girlfriend (Edi Patterson) to his appalled son (Nat Faxon). Other particularly hilarious skits include one that features a pair of slackers (Mikey Day and Andrew Friedman), who don 3-D glasses to enjoy the a frighteningly realistic three-dimensional sword and sorcery epic — and a spooky skit in which a pair of psychotic high school–age Christian fundamentalists (Kirkpatrick and Sertich, again) warn of dire consequences if they don’t wind up being elected co-class presidents. Some of the skits peter out long before they should, while a few go on for much longer than they ought. However, the unusual quirkiness of the production suggests an intriguing and fresh new direction for the group that should continue to be explored. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through April 25. (323) 934-4747; through April 25. (Paul Birchall)

 

LUMINOUS BIRCH: AND THE SPLENDOR OF THE COLORLESS LIGHT OF EMPTINESS Ever since the days of Artaud, the seemingly irreconcilable ontological differences between the live stage and the motion picture have led to an uneasy truce that can be expressed roughly as, “render unto cinema the things which are cinema’s . . . and let theater do the rest.” Writer-director Randy Sean Schulman is having none of that. In this deeply personal, solo-performance work (co-directed by Jane McEneaney), Schulman attempts an audacious shotgun marriage of the two media by interacting with a screening of his own fully realized, wide-screen version of a Mack Sennett–styled silent film. Sort of a cryptic, Hegelian meditation on time, mortality and the transcendent power of love, the piece opens onscreen with the Chaplinesque castaway, Luminous Birch (Schulman), separated from his true love, Tangerine (Delcie Adams), by a sea mishap. Birch, who literally climbs out of the onscreen pantomime into the theater, can only impotently prowl the stage, as Tangerine is harried by the nefarious Absurd Conquistador (Roy Johns) in the movie. Unfortunately, despite lush production values (John Burton’s set, Cameron Lowe’s cinematography and Ingrid Ferrin’s costumes are all outstanding), even Schulman’s seductive stage alchemy can’t mix oil and water. The filmed spectacle so overshadows its live counterpart that the formal tensions upon which Schulman relies to make sense of the proceedings are all but lost. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through May 10. (323) 655-7679. (Bill Raden)

LYDIA This L.A. premiere of Octavio Solis’ poetical drama features many of the same actors as when the play premiered at the Denver Theater Center. And staying with a production for so long is one possible explanation for the dynamic and richly textured performances by Stephanie Beatriz in the title role — a feisty teenage maid hired from Mexico by a dubiously assimilated Latino-American family in mid-1970s El Paso, Texas. Her mirror image, like the opposing reflections across the border of the U.S. and Mexico, or life and death, is the teenage daughter, Ceci (Onahoua Rodriguez, equally enhralling), of a bitter short order cook, Claudio (Daniel Zacapa, in a perfectly modulated interpretation of brutal machismo and sensitive stoicism) and his vivacious wife, Rosa (Catalina Maynard). Ceci suffers brain damage from an auto accident, which left her writhing and twitching, speaking with what one character calls a “vegetable tongue.” But when Solis and director Juliette Carrillo spin out some magic realism, Ceci rises like a dancer and speaks with hidden knowledge in waves, too many waves, of thick poetry. Initially, juxtaposed against the gentle strains of a guitar and her family going about their daily rites in slow motion, the effect has a transcendent beauty, but eventually that etherial device simply imposes on the more rudimentary quality of investigating the mystery of what led to the terrible car crash. The answer to that mystery involves a pair of brothers, one a sensitive poet (ouch) the other a fighter (Carlo Albán and Tony Sancho), and a cousin (Max Arciniega) who, early on, shows up in an INS uniform — a sliver of foreshadowing that’s every bit as bludgeoning as the many mirror images are delicate. This is a hefty play that’s ultimately, without any intended irony, the kind of telenovela (with some dream sequences) that the characters watch in their living room. It’s reaching for epic, but it’s mostly long — the difference being in the quality of the secrets unearthed. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through May 17. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  OUR MOTHER’S BRIEF AFFAIR Playwright Richard Greenberg uses words very carefully, not only to a carve a tone of erudition and lyricism but also in order to avoid redundancy. So when the line, “She was an average situational liar but not at all a maker of fables,” is repeated in different scenes of his family drama/mystery, one can infer added significance. The slippery divide between making fables and simply making stuff up lies at the heart of this 10th Greenberg play to be premiered by SCR. The play is bifurcated, each section mirroring the other. The first part is a kind of memory play, mostly narrated by each of the characters directly to the audience and almost entirely spoken in the past tense. It’s a prose-poem, really, concerning the last deluded days in the life of a New York City matriarch, Anna (Jenny O’Hara), who’s in the mood to be making confessions to her gay obit-writer son, Seth (Ayre Gross), and lesbian daughter Abby (Marin Hinkle) — in for death-watch duties from Laguna Beach. Under Pam MacKinnon’s pleasingly blithe staging, which drifts seamlessly between Beckettian and Wildean humors, the characters are all parked comfortably on and around park benches in some metaphoric autumn of Sybil Wickersheimer’s set. Besides, Anna’s death may not be imminent but just another scare; this is the kind of gnarly Jewish comedienne who can even invent her own demise. She tells of a “brief affair” she had, and the play feels like an exploration of quaint family behaviors that somehow reflect on the human condition. Then a bomb drops, which places the subject of her affair (Matthew Arkin) on the stage of world horrors. It’s a tricky, tone-shattering device meant to shift the scale of the play’s concerns from the domestic to the mythic — which seems right in a play that’s about how and why myths are invented. It sits right conceptually, less so emotionally. When we’re catapulted into Greenberg’s world of larger issues, it feels something like being jerked into a hot-air balloon, from a comedy about behaviors to one about the psychology of ethics. The play is supposed to get larger from its broader sense of scale, but it actually deflates ever so slightly from the puncture of Greenberg’s pristine domestic universe, though this may be more an issue of mechanics than concept. The ideas are so rich, and the language so beautiful, the play’s rude awakening certainly doesn’t diminish the credence of the event, and the ensemble is perfect. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through May 3. (714) 708-5555. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 

GO  STICK FLY Lydia R. Diamond’s scintillating comedy Stick Fly is set in the elegant and expensive summer home (gorgeously designed by John Iacovelli) of Dr. Joseph Levay (John Wesley), in an elite African-American enclave of Martha’s Vineyard. The family is arriving for the weekend, and son Flip (Terrell Tilford), a successful plastic surgeon, is bringing his white fiancée Kimber (Avery Clyde) to meet the family. Writer son Kent (Chris Butler) also brings his bride-to-be, Taylor (Michole Briana White), who comes from a lower rung on the social ladder. At first all is banter, horseplay and fun, but gradually fracture lines appear. Despite their wealth and privilege, the Levays are not immune to the stresses and prejudices of snobbery, race and class, conflicts between fathers and sons, and brotherly rivalries. Mom hasn’t turned up for the family gathering, and secrets about sexual hanky-panky lurk beneath the surface, waiting to erupt. Meanwhile, young substitute maid–housekeeper Cheryl (Tinashe Kajese) is seriously upset about something. Diamond’s play combines complex characters, provocative situations and literate, funny dialogue in this delicious comedy of contemporary manners. Director Shirley Joe Finney reveals a sharp eye for social nuance, and melds her dream cast into a brilliantly seamless ensemble. They are all terrific. Matrix Theatre Company, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m., through May 31. (323) 960-7740. (Neal Weaver)

Imagine what Tristan Tzara, co-creator of Dadaism, would have done had he access to the Internet, cell phones, instant messaging and video projection. In the midst of World War I, Dada protested bourgeois culture and intellectual conformity, a mindset shared in this collaboratively developed play by a young man who texts his screed against the post-9/11 world to his blog during his brother’s wedding reception. Each of the 20-somethings waiting for the happy couple to arrive has his own neurosis centering (mostly) on some aspect of love (the title of the piece if you tilt your left ear downward to look at it). Unfortunately, due to the lack of through-line and character depth, the play ends up as episodes, as though from a teen reality show. Director Jenny Byrd employs creative blocking and gets a good effort from the cast, but even their best can’t compensate for the dearth of substance in the text. The extensive use of digital projection and multimedia is interesting at times but somewhat ham-fisted in the attempts to mimic the “ADD lifestyle” of the millennial generation. One exception is a projection of the L.A. skyline, which realistically creates a rooftop view of the city. Aside from that great view, most of the event had me wondering WTF? Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 9. www.restartyourheart.com A Brimmer Street Theatre Co. Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 

GO  VOICE LESSONS Justin Tanner’s very funny sitcom shoots darts at a trio of characters who are tied to the dart board by their transparent lunacies and hubris, which makes it an exercise in almost pointless cruelty. (Bart DeLorenzo’s broad staging may have contributed to the sense of this Punch & Judy Show masquerading as a satire.) In earlier plays like Pot Mom, Tanner revealed the unseen side of a stereotype. His skills at structure, one-liners and caricature are so sharply honed, his persistent challenging is finding something worth saying. Tanner’s parody is directed at the vicious and deluded vanity of a hopelessly talentless and aging pop singer, Virginia (Laurie Metcalf), trying to claw her way to TV fame. Can a target get any easier? She cements her ambitions to a voice teacher, Nate (French Stewart), whose initial mask of respectability and ethics slithers down the greasy pole of his own personal desperation. Portraying Nate’s zaftig live-in girlfriend, Maile Flanagan further inflates the farce, setting up a catfight over the forlorn and increasingly sleazy teacher. For all its petulant ambitions, the evening is wildly entertaining thanks to the cast’s irrepressible talents. It’s hard to see how this play would survive without these actors. With a deep and slightly nasal voice, and deadpan responses that should be copyrighted for the mountain of silent thoughts they reveal, Stewart provides the perfect foil for Metcalf’s meticulously executed tornado of psychosis, and Flanagan’s lovely cameo. DeLorenzo deserves credit for the comedy’s sculpted timing, and Gary Guidinger’s set and lighting depict with realistic detail the frayed fortress of Nate’s living room. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 17. (323) 960-7711. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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