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Theater Reviews: The Drawer Boy, Hollywood Hellhouse, Max Maven

THE BATTLE OF WOUNDED ME Comic Heather Le Roy talks a good game when she’s deep into a caricature of one of her many Alabama relatives, or of the people she’s encountered working behind bars in Boston, New York and L.A. — where’s she’s also done duty as a limo driver. The conceit of this slender, hour-plus show, directed by Jeff Weatherford, is a road trip home Le Roy takes with her boyfriend to meet her down-home, hard-drinking mom, aunts and uncles. Le Roy, who comes from an old plantation family with a bit of Cherokee blood, is an engaging comedian whose manic personality grows on you after a while. But her mood is nearly always frenetic and we seldom catch her and her people in calmer, reflective moments. Without pauses or even punctuation, her delivery and its lack of pacing lead to our confusion as to just whom she is portraying during some segments. There are also moments from her past that cry out for deeper focus — we suspect she came to Los Angeles to break into the entertainment industry, so why not delve into that? If Le Roy is holding back on her stories for a sequel, she needs to reconsider this choice — here and now is when we want to learn all about her. HUDSON GUILD THEATER, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 19. (323) 960-1056. (Steven Mikulan)

BEHIND THE WHEEL “I’ve crashed every car I’ve owned,” proclaims Andrew Koenig, a comedian best known for his 25 episodes as Boner Stabone on the ’80s sitcom Growing Pains. (“You’ve seen all my films,” he says with a wink.) Pre-fame, Koenig was a boyish, bubbly and insecure kid from the San Fernando Valley; the only change we see after he’s immersed in success is that when he crashed his college friend’s Porsche on Mulholland, he could pay for it. That crash, among others, hints at insight into a teen struck by good luck, who’s now fumbling through his own growing pains with more cash then responsibility. Except for one last-minute metaphor about slowing down, Koenig avoids depth, and director John Judy lets him. Instead, as Koenig nervously rushes through his fender benders and one battering six-flip spin off a desert highway — bouncing back from each with damage only to his car and his wallet — the audience is forced to find its giggles in incidental details: He compares his deferred physical maturity in high school to those hairy Goliaths on Welcome Back, Kotter and feigns jealousy over the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, who acted in three fewer episodes of Growing Pains than Koenig but was getting nominated for Oscars while Koenig was driving a 14-year-old Jeep Cherokee. But overall, Koenig’s more comfortable divulging how said Jeep died than steering us through the bumpy personal terrain of his life, which he speeds across like an uneasy tour guide. UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; Fri., Oct. 12, 8 p.m. (323) 908-8702. (Amy Nicholson)

{mosimage}CANNED PEACHES IN SYRUP Playwright Alex Jones’ bleak post-apocalyptic comedy imagines an environmental wasteland populated by nomadic bands of foragers who tend to either be vegetarians or cannibals. The conversations in both camps are dominated by scatological references and gross-out observations. The story has a Romeo and Juliet theme, but this production, directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, is held up more by the strength of its over-the-top performances than anything the play has to say. FURIOUS THEATRE COMPANY at PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 10. (800) 595-4TIX or www.furioustheatre.org. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.

THE DRAWER BOY Michael Healy’s moving play, based on the true adventures of a Canadian acting troupe, uses storytelling as its central theatrical conceit, and theme. In 1972, some Toronto actors created a docudrama after living and working with family farmers. Morgan (Marty Lodge) is an embittered middle-aged farmer who has been taking care of his childhood best friend, Angus (Bob Morrisey), since the latter lost his short-term memory, brain-damaged during their army stint in London as the WWII blitz raged. Miles (J. R. Mangles) is the young actor who comes to stay and learn about farming. At first Morgan patronizes the young man, but when Miles overhears him retelling the war story to Angus and takes it to his troupe, the lives of all three are dramatically altered. Chris Brown directs Healy’s often weighty script (leavened with flashes of bright humor) with a kind of meticulousness that perfectly draws out every moment of frivolity and gravitas. However, he does have a very gifted cast to work with — the characterizations are vivid, and elevated in style with a hitch or two more theatricality than one usually finds in psychological realism. The physical production elements are superb, particularly Craig Siebels’ simple farmhouse set. NOHO ARTS CENTER, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (818) 508-7101. (Tom Provenzano)

HOLLYWOOD HELL HOUSE 2007 Just like in an old-fashioned spook house, audience members travel from room to room while viewing all sorts of scary creatures. But because this script is a compilation of previous works by the Abundant Life Christian Center, the focus is on evangelical horrors: raves, gay people, premarital sex. At the rave, a girl reluctantly takes a pill and is immediately gang-raped, causing her to commit suicide the same night. A school shooting scene is particularly effective because the actors remain expressionless throughout, including the girl who refuses to renounce her faith to save her life. An unrepentant AIDS patient shares a room with two women who are undergoing abortions — botched by the looks of it (watch out for the stage blood). Compiler Maggie Rowe has retained the heavy-handed didacticism of the original works, while director Jaclyn Lafer has lightened it up, tongue firmly in cheek, with the large cast delivering their message of Christian salvation in complete deadpan. Tours run every 15 minutes, and each group is escorted by a Demon. Ours was particularly quick on his feet, improvising when a he discovered a few of his props were missing. ACAPULCO, 385 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. & every 15 minutes until 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 27. (323) 960-7822 or www.­hollywoodhellhouse.com. (Sandra Ross)

PICK INNOCENT WHEN YOU DREAM When we first meet Dan (Sab Shimono), a third-generation war veteran, he’s an old man, sneaking out of his home for the aged to drink at a bar that once belonged to Grace (Sharon Omi), the woman he loved and lost. When he’s felled by a sudden debilitating stroke, it’s up to Dan’s son, Merv (playwright Ken Narasaki), and peppery activist daughter, Joy (Emily Kuroda), to decide whether to keep him on life support, despite his shattered condition. Here, the playwright takes us inside Dan’s head, reliving his first encounter with Grace at a Japanese internment camp during World War II; his service in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Japanese-American fighting unit that became the most decorated outfit in U.S. Army history; and his experiences with the hatreds, prejudices and resentments (including his own) of postwar America. Narasaki’s script doesn’t confine its concerns to the injustices perpetrated against one American ethnicity; rather, it’s an eloquent, moving and lingering glance at an intersection of history and memory that has universal application. Director Alberto Isaac delivers a nuanced production with splendid performances by Shimono, Omi and Kuroda, and strong support by John Miyasaki, Mike Hagiwara and the rest of the cast. Designer Mina Kinukawa provides the simple, elegant set, and John J. Flynn’s impressionistic video designs conjure an era gone by with haunting artistry. Timescape Arts Group at ELECTRIC LODGE, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m., thru Oct. 28. (800) 838-3006 or www.BrownPaperTickets.com. (Neal Weaver)

JIM MORRISON SWIMMING TO THE MOON Few larger-than-life stars of Rock’s Golden Age had personalities more inscrutable than The Doors legendary frontman, Jim Morrison. Still, it’s hard to believe that Morrison had much in common with the one-dimensional character depicted in playwright Gary Flaxman’s dreary metaphysical bio-drama. The play takes place in 1968, in the Afterlife, as Morrison (Damon Shalit), newly resurrected after dying of an overdose in a Paris hotel room, meets up with Al (Abner Genece), a burly, intimidating angel. Al declares that Morrison must stand trial, either to be allowed to become part of the Heavenly Consciousness or to return to Earth and be recycled eternally (an option one can’t help but think that Wayne Newton opted for). Flaxman’s script is suffused with a commendable affection — indeed, a reverence — for Morrison. Yet, the play is also long-winded and static to point of being one lengthy drone — a problem that’s exacerbated by director Judy Rose’s humorless and anemically paced staging. Shalit channels Morrison’s demeanor and body language, but his monotone line readings are strangely lacking in energy and affect. Some of the supporting performers — Corryn Cummins as a moon-eyed Summer of Love rock groupie, and Steven Shaw, as a thoroughly vile U.S. senator — pick up the slack, but the play leaves little impression of Morrison’s genius. 44th St. Productions LLC at the ART/WORKS THEATRE, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (323) 960-4412. (Paul Birchall)

MAX MAVEN THINKING IN PERSON Sporting a goatee and a haircut chiseled into a receded serpent’s tooth in the front, Max Maven cuts a figure that could have been carved by Edgar Allen Poe. He wears all black — some critic once commented on his “Japanese” attire, he points out, when in fact his jacket is from China, his shirt from Taiwan and his trousers from upstate New York. He scoffs at the error; in much of his solo performance — a magic and mind-reading act — Maven wields his intelligence, erudition and powers of memory over the audience with a blend of self-deprecation and haughtiness. Early in the show, to prove that he’s not going to tamper with a coin in a Styrofoam cup, a clear plastic box with a padlock appears. “I’ve been in this business 32 years, and I finally get a prop,” he remarks in a languorous voice that’s a dead ringer for that of Jim Schweda — the same rich tonality of utterances that almost crumble at the ends of sentences as though from a professor suffering the weight of too much knowledge. If the KUSC classical music host hadn’t been on the air during the time Maven said he was performing in France and Japan, I’d swear Schweda was moonlighting as a stand-up magician. “Remember Paul Erdös, the Hungarian mathematician,” Maven intones, one of many “remember” questions that invoke a range of historical figures from a Kabuki actor to a member of the Algonquin circle. The references leave the audience confounded, and leave Maven with an expression of stunned condescension: Oh, God, this part went so much better in Europe, he seems to be thinking. He tells a story of how an art critic once approached Picasso at an exhibition, complaining about the paintings’ abstractions, and how they don’t capture reality. The critic showed Picasso a photograph in his wallet: “This is my wife,” the critic said, “and this is exactly what she looks like,” to which Picasso replied, “She’s very small.” And so Maven aims to challenge our assumptions of what we think we know with the mystery of what we can’t know. It’s more than a ruse to amaze with trickery, it’s a magic act woven into slivers of metaphysics. Maven is blindfolded while an audience member sketches an image on cardboard. With the image firmly hidden, Maven replicates it. Blindfolded, he reads the serial number from a $10 bill provided by the audience. I’m a poor judge of how impressed I should be that, in 20 seconds, Maven could identify the missing card from a full deck of playing cards. I was merely amazed by how he could remember the names of all five volunteers for a demonstration. I’m dazzled by anything beyond that. Amit Itelman directs with keen attention to the crescendos of suspense, in conjunction with the uncredited lighting. Steve Allen Theater at the CENTER FOR INQUIRY–WEST, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 3. (800) 595-4TIX. (Steven Leigh Morris)

{mosimage}  SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT — THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMON (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) Gregory Itzin seizes the stage as unrelentingly earnest Louis de Rougemont, a 19th-century Swiss adventurer who tells of how he set sail from England at the age of 17 on a pearl-diving expedition to Australia. A consummate storyteller, our hero relives his travels on the stage, telling of how he survives inclement weather, flying wombats and isolation and then marries an aboriginal woman and, with her, builds a family. With heavy heart he leaves his adopted world to return to England 35 years later, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, where the public has become addicted to a new brand of media: magazines. This gives him the opportunity to publish his incredible life story, which becomes an immediate sensation with the public, and a point of attack for the skeptical National Geographic Society. Playwright Donald Margulies pens a tale (in its world premiere) that at first seems like harmless, wondrous storytelling. But as the play moves on, it begins to untie the knotty distinction between a flight of fancy and a lie. Margulies surreptitiously foils expectations, leaving the audience at once thrilled and betrayed by the plot’s convolutions. And that double-cross is exactly his point. Director Bart Delorenzo keeps the pace quick and energetic, as do Melody Butiu and Michael Daniel Cassady, who serve as the entire dramatis personae in de Rougemont’s rich tapestry of supporting characters, bounding bound across Keith E. Mitchell’s deceptively minimal set. SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tues.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; mat. Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 14. (714) 708-5555. (Luis Reyes)

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