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Theater Reviews: The Confusion of My Illusion, The Psychic, Sweet Sue

Lascivious Something at [Inside] the Ford
PHOTO BY DAWID JAWORSKI

THE BLUE ROOM "I think men talk to women so they can sleep with them," Jay McInerney wrote in Brightness Falls, "and women sleep with men so they can talk with them." In director Elina de Santos' production of The Blue Room, David Hare's version of this sexual merry-go-round, what should be a hypnotic swirl offers instead the slight chill of dead energy between actors Christina Dow and Christian S. Anderson. That could be perceived as a fault, but you hope it's a conscious choice — a variation on a theme, the opposite tactic taken in Closer, fellow Brit Patrick Marber's highly flammable play that debuted just a year before Hare's. Or maybe we've run around this particular playground so often, we're bored with it: This is, after all, an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play, Reigen. As beds rotate, the handful of characters Dow and Anderson each play blur into their aptly named singulars ("The Woman," "The Man"). Here and there a line emerges like a cry of exhilaration, or fear, from the speed; it's hard to tell the difference sometimes. "I'm fuckin' a married woman!" shouts Anderson as a jittery student (duration of copulation: 0 minutes). The almost impenetrable barrier between the sexes is fortified most noticeably by class, which makes the decision to break the theatrical fourth wall — and by whom — the most thought-provoking moment of the production. Original music by Arthur Loves Plastic is noteworthy. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 2. (310) 477-2055. Presented by Solocat Productions. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

BUFFALO HOLE Robert Reichel Jr.'s Gothic saga offers an unlikely blend of Sam Shepard, absurdist black comedy, Grand Guignol and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hard-drinking ex-Marine Patton Strong (Peter Gannon), who won a Congressional Medal of Honor during Desert Shield, suffered verbal abuse from his father and treats his own sons, Braggert (writer Reichel) and Jessop (Eric Bloom), much the same. He raises dogs for sale — or for eating, earning animal-loving Braggert's vicious enmity. When Patton wins the lottery, Braggert takes him prisoner, strings him up by his feet, steals his winnings and amputates his ear and some toes. Intending to kill his old man, he summons the scattered family, including sissy Jessop and sister Sara (Maury Morgan) to say farewell. Their 60-year-old mother, Eva (Suzanne Voss), turns up mysteriously pregnant, claiming immaculate conception. If it sometimes seems that Reichel has assembled as many improbable elements as possible, neglecting to shape them into a credible, coherent whole, Zeke Rettman provides impeccable direction while an able cast acts the piece with demented zest on Danny Cistone's cluttered, ramshackle house-trailer set. Arena Stage at Theatre of Arts, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through May 1. (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/buffalohole. Produced by Living Edge Theatreworks and the Red Bark Corp. (Neal Weaver)

GO  THE CONFUSION OF MY ILLUSION Gender-bending performer and transgender activist Kelly Mantle grew up in a small Oklahoma town, where he learned that even the most egregious trespass of community mores can be forgiven if committed "in the name of Jesus." Mixing politics, fantasy and personal reminiscence, Mantle's entertaining show presents sketches and original songs that lay out what it takes to survive — with one's sanity intact — in an unforgiving xenophobic world. As directed by Jon Imparato, the opening segment features Mantle as Eve: Perched on a faintly glimmering staircase, in floral wreath and gauzy garment, he hails the social revolution to come (while clarifying for right-wing Christian zealots how "in the beginning" it really was Adam and Steve). Subsequent segments include a video of the performer interviewed as his mom; his typecasting experiences as an actor in Hollywood (not another trannie-prostitute role!); and his real-live (!) meeting with George W. Bush — on an occasion honoring his uncle, Mickey Mantle — in which he weighs the yeas and nays of an impassioned confrontation. Along with the music and the humor are thoughtful ruminations about what it's like to live as both man and woman, and exactly what inside human beings propels some of us into fantasies of victimhood. Backup vocalists Lawrencia Dandridge and Miss Barbie Q add icing to the camp; video director Andy Putschoegl's videography, incorporating designer Allison Moon's psychedelic images, expands the spectacle. Davidson/Valentini Theatre, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 11. (323) 860-7300. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  LASCIVIOUS SOMETHING "Things often burst," intones a radio newscaster in the premiere of playwright Sheila Callaghan's simmering symbolist melodrama. That line could refer to the dream of a more equitable, progressive society that exploded with the 1980 presidential election of Ronald Reagan, the play's historical backdrop. It could represent one of the bottles of new wine in the cellars of former activist–turned-winemaker August (Silas Weir Mitchell). Or it could hint at the decadent, Dionysian fantasy August is living out with his sensual young Greek wife, Daphne (the fine Olivia Henry), on their isolated Mediterranean-island retreat. That his solipsistic existence is built on the somewhat shaky foundation of a carefully buried past is suggested both by the cache of discarded wine bottles revealed just beneath the surface of designer Sibyl Wickersheimer's cutaway hilltop set and in the ease with which August's fragile complacency is shattered by the appearance of ex–compatriot/true love Liza (a feverish Alina Phelan), who is intent on rekindling their former passion. Callaghan, whose previous work might be described as post-feminist punk incursions into the poetic turf of early Sam Shepard, here employs a more linear narrative line to push her personal-is-political agenda. Mitchell delivers a forceful performance as an erstwhile idealist wrenched from his refuge of illusions by a crushing self-knowledge. But the real fireworks are in the two women's predatory tug o' war that plays like a Western showdown. Director Paul Willis expertly torques the proceedings to their high-tension dénouement, while Tom Ontiveros' subtle lights and John Zalewski's rumbling sound effectively accent Callaghan's incisive language. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 1. (323) 461-3673. A Circle X Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden)

 

GO  NO-NO BOY Grief and bitterness are the unspoken but constantly present co-stars of playwright Ken Narasaki's compelling drama, adapted from John Okada's classic Asian-American novel. At the end of World War II, second-generation Japanese-American Seattle teen Ichiro (Robert Wu) is finally released from U.S. prison, where he has served time for refusing to participate in the draft. Ichiro's refusal to join the U.S. Army has nothing to do with cowardice. Rather, his choice is the result of being torn between his beloved American upbringing and his Japanese cultural roots. When he returns home, however, he finds wreckage and bitterness where he once had friends and family. His Japan-loyal mother (Sharon Omi), who drove Ichiro to make his choice, lives in denial and has nearly lost her mind, supported by Ichiro's stoic, sad-faced father (Sab Shimono). Ichiro's former best friend Kenji (Greg Watanabe), despite coming home from the war horribly crippled, is more accepting of his buddy's choice. Assisted by Narasaki's deft dialogue, exchanges that belie the depth of fury and bitterness over the American dream turned sour, the play presents characters whose piercing suffering becomes eloquent. Director Alberto Isaac's deftly subtle production never overplays its emotional hand, opting instead for an understated melancholy that is both elegant and searing. Few dramas have as effectively depicted the sense of being torn between two cultures in a time of war — along with the unique Japanese-American tragedy arising from being simultaneously victorious and defeated. Wu's devastating boy-next-door turn as Ichiro depicts a figure desperately torn between his American upbringing and his Japanese cultural roots — and who discovers that both bring little but sorrow. Other ferociously moving turns are offered by Shimono's pained but undemonstrative father and Omi's brittle, hate-filled mother. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 18. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/91917. Timescape Arts Group. (Paul Birchall)

THE PSYCHIC Adam (Jeffrey Cannata) isn't a psychic. He's just a broke, self-centered writer who scrawled a cardboard sign and a stack of penciled business cards in the hope of making rent. But he knows what disasters will befall his clients: the wife (Dana Green), her murderous husband (Cyrus Alexander), his faithless mistress (Bridget Flanery) and her mobster boyfriend (Richard Horvitz). How? They're living clichés — and to playwright Sam Bobrick, the cliché's the thing. Director Susan Morgenstern stages this trifle for broad comedy and she's given a great boost from Horvitz, whose turn as the mafioso Johnny Bubbles is a pistol whip to the funny bone. By the second act, when the corpses mount, a detective (Phil Proctor) starts sniffing around Adam's office and Horvitz yelps, "It's like we're in a bad production of Guys and Dolls," we're catching on that Bobrick is poking fun at lazy genres. But the jab is too late and too blunted. Still, an energetic cast keeps the zings flying fast enough that it's possible to enjoy the murder-mystery as featherweight froth, instead of as a satire that takes aim at such fluff. Falcon Theater, 252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through April 18. (818) 955-8101. (Amy Nicholson)

THE ROSE BOWL QUEENS This Rose Bowl isn't in Pasadena. It's a bowling alley in St. Jerome, Texas, presided over by widowed owner Rose McPhee (Asunta Fleming), which serves as a home away from home for its regulars. The Queens are the gals (Judy Nazemetz, Leann Donovan and Terri Homburg-Olsen) who make up the Friday-night bowling team, along with their male counter-parts (Jon Powell, Meyer De Leeuw, Kevin High and Kyle Nudo). Sleazy building inspector Manny Lacuzzo (Paul Zegler) has amorous designs on Rose, and threatens to close down the Bowl unless she succumbs to his dubious powers of seduction. Her loyal customers pitch in to fix the building-code violations, and get the goods on the blackmailing Lacuzzo, enabling Rose to team up with her longtime beau (Powell). This folksy musical, with book, music and lyrics by Barbara Hart and Cheryl Gimbel, and music direction by Mary Ekler, combines a gaggle of mostly country songs and deliberately lame jokes, with good-hearted but naïve dramaturgy. Director-choreographer Kay Cole has assembled a lively, colorful cast, and marshals them with panache. Much of the material is predictable, cornball stuff, but it's largely redeemed by enthusiasm and down-home charm. Joel Daavid's set and Sherrell Martin's costumes add Texas flavor. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 11. (323) 960-7712, plays411.com/queens. (Neal Weaver)

 

GO  SWEET SUE A.R. Gurney's stock in trade is as an erudite chronicler of Wasp culture and romantic conundrums. Here, he is not at his witty, engaging best, but director Ernest Figueroa and a stalwart cast make this problematic play worth a viewing. Sweet Sue is a variation on that old standby, the May-December romance. The action unfolds in the spacious Philadelphia home of Sue Weatherall, a middle-of-the-road artist who has a fling with Jake, a college buddy and roommate of her son Ted. Because Jake is rooming at her house for the summer, he agrees to do some nude modeling for Sue, which, to no one's surprise, gradually turns into a romantic fixation. That not much occurs in this highly talky play is not the problem. The two characters are played by four actors, two Sues and two Jakes. The artifice allows for dual perspectives and approaches, but this double representation becomes confusing, especially when all four actors are onstage, and when the author splices time segments, which he often does. What's more, notwithstanding some humorous moments, there really isn't a lot here that forcibly engages. The romance predictably fizzles, and one is left with a sense of "Yeah, and ..." The upside is the fine acting: Figueroa's cast members (Laurie Morgan, Janet Wood, Sean McGee and Brandon Irons) work well together. Wood is especially artful in her portrayal of the older, mature Susan. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 19009 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 25. (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com. (Lovell Estell III)

GO  THE WAKE "There must be a blind spot," says Ellen (Heidi Schreck), a freelance journalist and political junkie, as she examines her worldview at the start of this world premiere by Lisa Kron. The examination begins during Thanksgiving following the contentious 2000 presidential election and continues with the doings of the Bush administration as its backdrop. Surrounded by her schoolteacher boyfriend, Danny (Carson Elrod), his sister Kayla (Andrea Frankle) and her partner Laurie (Danielle Skraastad), as well as good friend Judy (Deirdre O'Connell), who has just returned from aid work in Guinea, Ellen is the prototypical East Village latte liberal. She claims that "the best thing about me is that I understand what's irritating about me," yet the love affair she begins with Amy (Emily Donahoe), a filmmaker she meets at a conference in Boston, reveals quite the opposite. Much of this revelation comes out in heart-to-hearts with Judy, who begins work in D.C. and takes in Tessa (Miriam F. Glover), a young black girl from Judy's native Kentucky, to try to better her life through education. Kron's smart dialogue is enhanced by director Leigh Silverman's orchestration of the overlapping between close friends who are comfortable with each other, though in some of the two-character scenes the pacing drags a bit. The show's design is delightful in its details, including David Korins' authentic yuppie bric-a-brac, Meg Neville's urban-hipster outfits and Alexander V. Nichols' projection frame-wrap of the proscenium. The talented cast is engaging, with standouts including Elrod, whose humor and nice-guy ethos make us feel for Danny, and O'Connell, whose mannerisms and physicality embody the unpleasantly honest nature of Judy's admonition that we Americans too often take for granted our own worth. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through April 18. (213) 628-2772. A Berkeley Rep co-production, centertheatregroup.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)


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