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Theater Reviews: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, Bachelorette

Sondi Kroeger Foley and Michael John Walters in A Brief History of Penguins and Promiscuity

GO BACHELORETTE Writer-director Leslye Headland's fast-paced dark comedy is the second part of her seven-play series — each segment dealing with one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The theme for this particular entry is "Gluttony," but judging from all the boozing, boinking and hate-filled malice on display, the topic could just as easily have been Lust, Wrath or Pride. On the night before her wedding, sweet but dim bride-to-be Becky (Stefanie Black) has the poor judgment to let Regan (Laila Ayad), her unaccountably embittered and jealous maid of honor, spend the night in the wedding suite, while she spends the night with her future hubby. Regan invites Becky's two former high school rivals to party hearty with her. Much champagne is guzzled, cocaine is snorted off coffee tables, the wedding dress is spitefully shredded, and men are picked up at random from a nearby bar. Along the way, the women learn some harsh truths about themselves and how they truly feel about each other. Headland's ear for taut, brittle dialogue makes for some cruel, but scathingly funny, exchanges — and the performances nicely balance the characters' personal weaknesses with unexpectedly sympathetic vulnerabilities. As the self-medicating, manipulative maid of honor, Ayad creates an antiheroine who's both hateful and oddly tragic. Black's doelike Becky is also unusually touching, as is Adam Shapiro, as one of the women's golden-hearted one-night stand. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. www.iamatheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)

Sondi Kroeger Foley and Michael John Walters in A Brief History of Penguins and Promiscuity
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Robert W. Arbogast

Roger Ainslie, J.R. Mangels and Andrea Lockhart in Departures
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Michael Lamont

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story: How to make a killing
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF PENGUINS AND PROMISCUITY Seven years ago in a Parisian hotel, linguist Julia (Sondi Kroeger Foley) conceived a son. On the anniversary of the blessed impregnation, the potential fathers have assembled to duke it out over young Ernest's parentage: Julia's tweedy husband, Albert (Jonah Hamilton Keel); his best friend King (Michael John Walters), a warty and hook-nosed Antarctic biologist; and Roquefort (Travis Clark), the French waiter from downstairs. "It's like a slutty Brigadoon," moans the cuckolded Albert. The reason behind the straight-laced Julia's lapse in judgment was a vial of pheromonally potent penguin musk belonging to King, and even now, when she catches a whiff, her unappealing ex-lovers transform into a strapping beefcake (Ryan McCann) — a funny flourish that keeps Walters, Clark and McCann flinging themselves behind a convenient sofa. James McLindon's lampoon of a British sex farce boasts plenty of bawdy puns and a set that demands stage designer Leonard Ogden cover every square foot with those titular beady-eyed ice birds. It could motor along quite well if it were crisper and more sure-footed, yet despite smart turns by Keel and Clark, director Kevin Cochran allows the frenzy to lapse into stridency — and, worse yet, niceness. GTC BURBANK, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; perfs Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 9. (818) 238-9998. (Amy Nicholson)

GO THE CAVALIER JEW Writer-performer Jon Ross is Jewish and highly observant, but that doesn't make him an observant Jew. Though he has tremendous affection for the joys of Yiddish, with its colorful vocabulary and irreverent attitude, he has an inborn distrust of all organized religion. He favors rational examination, but, he says, most religions react to that "the way Dracula reacts to a silver crucifix." He celebrates Catskill comedians, derived from Yiddish tummlers, and he bases the title of his piece on the fact that while attending the University of Virginia, he was a mascot for the Virginia Cavaliers. Much of his spiel is centered on the tale of his brother Ricky, who was his childhood hero. Ricky's life described an improbable arc that led from adolescent basketball star to marijuana dealer, to becoming a certified accountant, a lawyer and a highly successful businessman. When a heroin addiction put the kibosh on his business career, he set out to learn Hebrew, and embraced a rigid Orthodox Judaism, trying, as Ross suggests, to "out-Jew Dad." He moved to Israel, married a woman who speaks only Hebrew and distanced himself from his family. Ross is a very funny man, but here he's more thoughtful storyteller than standup comedian. THE FANATIC SALON, 3815 Sawtelle Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 16. (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com. (Neal Weaver)

 

GO DEPARTURES"Be ahead of all partings," says poet Rainer Maria Rilke, "as if they were behind you." This sage advice captures the spirit of these collaboratively written and captivating vignettes about comings and goings, beginnings and endings. All seven pieces are seamlessly and artfully interwoven so that the end product is a long one-act that's shrewdly directed by Bob Morrisey and skillfully composed and condensed by James Mellon. The backdrop is a busy airport terminal where 12 travelers await their flights. There is a cantankerous man in a wheelchair (Danny Murphy) and a kindly porter (Curtis J) who helps him; a busybody woman (Melanie Ewbanks) and her infant daughter; a seductive flight attendant (Effie Hortis); a pilot (Roger Ainslie), who suffers from — of all things — a fear of flying; a gay couple (Jonathan Zenz and Michael Craig Shapiro), on their way to China to adopt a baby girl; a neurotic bride (Andrea Lockhart) in a wedding dress; and a grandfather (Morrisey), on his way to Iraq to save his grandson from a battlefield death. All of these passengers briefly interact and share their pain, sadness, hope and joy with each other, then depart, but not before they demonstrate that a place as mundane as an airport terminal is fertile ground for entertainment. Rounding out a fine cast are Robert Arbogast, J.R. Mangels and Jim Lunsford. NOHO ARTS CENTER, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (818) 508-7101. (Lovell Estell III)

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR According to legend, Queen Elizabeth I was so taken with Falstaff in Henry IV that she ordered Shakespeare to write another play depicting the Fat Knight in love — and she gave him two weeks to do it. The result is as close as the Swan of Avon ever came to being the Elizabethan Neil Simon. The play has always been a crowd pleaser, and so it is here. This production is set in Middle America (Dean Cameron's handsomely painted set suggests the Great Plains). Falstaff (Archie Lee Simpson) is depicted as an aging, impecunious hip-hop artist, in a flashy salmon-colored suit. He sets out to seduce two respectable married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page (Susan Foley and Heather Roop), and gets a triple comeuppance for his pains. Peter Leake contributes the most stylish performance, as Mrs. Ford's maniacally jealous husband, and Saundra McClain shines as the universal go-between Mistress Quickly. Spike Steingasser is the amiable but dim Welsh parson, and Joseph A. Cincotti is the choleric French doctor who's hell-bent on marrying Page's daughter (Victoria Engelmeyer) and her substantial dowry. Director Dennis Gersten gives the piece a brisk, broad, not overly subtle production. Los Angeles Shakespeare Company at the GLOBE THEATRE IN TOPANGA, 1909 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 455-9400 or www.shakespeare-usa.com. (Neal Weaver)

 

THEATER PICK THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY Stephen Dolginoff's 2003 musical strolls down murder's memory lane to the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, the two precocious law students whose thrill-killing of 14-year-old Bobby Franks shocked Jazz Age America. The show opens with a middle-aged Leopold (Stewart W. Calhoun) telling his parole board how he earned a life-plus-99-year sentence. In a bold artistic choice (or possibly from budgetary necessity), librettist and composer-lyricist Dolginoff compresses the 1924 crime into an 85-minute story populated only by the killers. Gone is lawyer Clarence Darrow, whose brilliant trial-summation speech spared the two the death penalty, and gone is the crime's Roaring Twenties Chicago backdrop, which could have provided an ensemble's worth of colorful characters. Instead, we're drawn into an erotically claustrophobic relationship between the needy Leopold and his bullying, Nietzsche-reading lover, Loeb (Alex Schemmer). Calhoun and Schemmer have just the right chemistry to make this asymmetrical relationship believable — and strangely endearing at times. Dolginoff's songs, guided by pianist Michael Paternostro, tend to be spare but affecting declarations, veering, at times, between Sondheim and Simon & Garfunkel territory. "Nothing Like a Fire," sung by both as a warehouse they've torched on a whim goes up in flames, captures this musical's ebulliently dark mood. Director Nick DeGruccio knows the difference between thrill and shock, and keeps the evening from lapsing into Grand Guignol. He is aided by Steven Young's moody lighting plot and Tom Buderwitz's set, which is dominated by spiraling platforms that rise above a blood-spattered cyclorama. Havok Theatre Co. at the HUDSON BACKSTAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd. (enter on Hudson Ave.); Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru March 2. (323) 960-4429. (Steven Mikulan)

 

THE TIME MACHINE It's a safe bet that writer-director Phil Abatecola and producer-lead performer Julian Bane are big fans of this H.G. Wells science-fiction classic and have always wanted to stage it. Popularized by the 1960 movie starring Rod Taylor, Wells' Victorian novel was a cautionary tale about violence and class warfare, and the propensity of the human race to engineer its own destruction. The story tells of a Time Traveler (Bane) propelled hundreds of thousands of years into the future; there he attempts to liberate a defenseless community of young people called the Eloi from their carnivorous oppressors, the Morlocks. This adaptation appropriates chunks of the film's dialogue and features a model of the time machine that resembles the one in the film. Besides this impressively constructed prop, the production's pluses include a proficient set design (uncredited) that incorporates portable backdrops for wilderness exteriors. (The changes are smoothly executed.) The most notable production elements are designer Marie Brabant's costumes and Joseph Slawinski's striking sound design, which, in tandem with the strobe lighting (no designer credited), create a futuristic ambiance. The performances are another matter, however. Despite earnest efforts, none rise to a professional level. The drawing-room scenes (in which the Time Traveler recounts his adventures to his upper-class colleagues) are stagy, while the more wild and woolly sequences where the Morlocks assault the traveler are well-choreographed but as verbally caricatural as a comic strip. WOMEN'S CLUB OF HOLLYWOOD, 1749 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; perfs Fri. & Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (310) 473-4422 or www.­timemachinetheplay.com. (Deborah Klugman)

GO VICTORY Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 9. (323) 663-1525 or www.fountaintheatre.com. See Stage feature.

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