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Weekend Theater Reviews

Joe Turner's Come and Gone (Photo by Ed Krieger)

 GO  CHEKHOV AND MARIA Playwright Jovanka Bach paints a bittersweet portrait of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (Ron Bottitta) and his sister, Maria (Gillian Brashear), near the end of the dramatist’s life and at the height of his popularity. This throws into question Maria’s worth to her famous brother — at least in her own mind — especially since, at the age of 42, he has surreptitiously married Olga Knipper, a notorious coquette of the Moscow Art Theater. Maria feels that this marriage has left her abandoned in her older age. In Bach’s vision, the siblings seem like characters straight out of Uncle Vanya, tortured by the machinations of their own lost desires, and in the midst of a passive struggle to halt the inexorable advancement of obsolescence. Brashear’s portrayal of the aggressively self-sacrificing sibling hits poignant beats but loses ground somewhat in moments of both levity and sincerity. However, she plays well against Bottitta, who balances the Russian scribe’s worsening fits of consumption with a rambunctious jocularity. Director John Stark’s straightforward staging of his late wife’s play serves the nature of the piece well, but some distracting sound cues and confusing staging muddy a few aspects of the production. Nonetheless, the subject is fascinating and the play is deceptively remarkable, a bit like Chekhov’s own writings. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 9. (310) 477-2055. (Luis Reyes)

 GO  JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE Set in Pittsburgh in 1911, the action in the second of August Wilson’s 10-play “Pittsburgh Cycle” unfolds in a comfortably appointed boardinghouse owned by Seth Holley (the feisty Gregg Daniel) and his amiable wife, Bertha (Lorey Hayes). The tenants are a colorful bunch: There’s Jeremy (Andre Jackson), a womanizing road worker; and Bynum (the outstanding Adolphus Ward), a shaman/healer with mysterious powers who defines a man’s soul as a “song,” an inner guiding music. The house is something of a way station for blacks migrating to the North, and when the mysterious Herald Loomis (Bernard K. Addison)— a hulking, intimidating man filled with volcanic rage and bitterness — shows up with his daughter looking for his wife, aptly named Martha Pentacost (Adenrele Ojo), the shackles of the past collide with destiny and the supernatural. Like many of Wilson’s plays, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is rife with symbolism, the salient interplay of past and present, and razor-sharp dialogue. It takes a special director and cast to meld all these elements, and Ben Bradley does just that. Travis Gale Lewis has designed a beautiful set that evokes the time and place, splendidly complemented by Naila Aladdin-Sanders’ meticulously designed period costumes. Fountain Theater, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 7. (323) 663-1525. (Lovell Estell III)

 GO  TALK RADIO “You’re a prick in the conscience of the country,” chirps a caller to shock jock Barry Champlain (Christian Levatino). Insult? Maybe — not that Barry would mind. He’s spent the last decade-plus fielding the irate, the lonely, the rambling masses yearning to break free on his regionally popular, anything-goes daily talk show. And tomorrow, his caustic, literate, King Solomon-with-a-brewski act (one minute, he’s sounding off on the economy and the Indians; the next, telling a teary pregnant teen that, hey, it took two to tango) goes national. Which is a silver cloud with a very black lining, as more listeners means more suits wringing their hands over Barry’s knee-jerk inability to make nice, and his character-assassin’s eye for the sourness in everyone. Eric Bogosian’s 1987 one-act (here confidently staged by Leon Shanglebee and his very fine ensemble) has the longevity and resonance of Sidney Lumet’s Network, and shares its ominous curiosity about media control, desperate exhibitionism and the dangerous distraction of fluff — demons that have only gotten stronger in these Dancing With the Stars days. In this incisive production, what lingers beyond Barry’s frustration is Bogosian’s whisper that the public can’t even place hope in our straight-talking iconoclasts, who themselves may have been commissioned and sculpted by hucksters looking to make a buck. Gangbusters Theater Company at Theater 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 960-7861. (Amy Nicholson)


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