Weekend Theater Reviews
BIG DEATH & LITTLE DEATH Strobe lights, a crashingly loud live death metal band, apocalyptic musings and a second act full of false endings make Mickey Birnbaums episodic play both intriguing and interminable. Dad (Jeff LeBeau) has returned from the first Gulf War a psychic wreck, which puts him in sync with his dysfunctional Valley family. Mom (Rhonda Aldrich) is his unfaithful wife, daughter Kristi (Jeanne Syquia) keeps a scrapbook full of car-accident photos Dad supplies her from his civilian job, and son Gary (Sean Wing) smokes, snorts and drops drugs as he decides between going to college or destroying the universe (seriously). The teens are the storys black-hole center, and their lives play out against obsessions with pain and death metal. As a scenarist, Birnbaum displays an imaginative palette for situations, but his suburban fable shows little focus and its metaphors literally get trapped in the family homes crawlspace. Disjointed speculations about time, space and mortality receive short shrift in favor of stoner humor. The evening invariably unfolds as a series of interchangeable and mostly expendable scenes. The prevailing tone is one of emphatic wonderment, which makes us wonder what this production would have been like if director Larry Biederman had dialed down the performances for a few of the scenes. His design team, though, provides a thoroughly convincing milieu of desolation, from Claire Bennetts set (car-wreck debris and tract-house innards) to John Eckerts foreboding light plot to David B. Marlings jarring sound design. Road Theatre Company at the LANKERSHIM ARTS CENTER, 5108 N. Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 21. (866) 811-4111. (Steven Mikulan)
THE GAZILLIONAIRE SHOW Dressed in a white tux with gold lapels and matching shoes, former Cirque du Soleil clown Voki Kalfayan hosts his cabaret, which invites us into a kind of parallel universe that contains little structure and even less point, though it does flirt with notions of money and sex. What would you do for a dollar? Kalfayan asked as part of his on-the-fly riffs with the audience. He did get one woman to give him a kiss. Who said money cant buy you love? During many of his too-many audience interactive segments, ostensibly with the aim of pushing boundaries of protocol, Kalfayan spent considerable time fawning over a young man sitting near the front, rubbing fingers through his hair, massaging his shoulders, etc., while offering mock apologies for being so brazen. Theres a nice running gag by a mock TV newscaster named Christopher Christopher whose video connection keeps dropping, while sidekick Pretty Penny (Anais Thomassian) portrays a squeaky-voiced rag doll secretly in love with our host. Fine backup by the Fish Circus band, but beware of the trombonist who strips down to a gold jock strap and performs impromptu lap dances on unwary patrons. Little of this lit my fire, though a few folk seemed to having a fine time. A few drinks before the show would probably help make some sense of this. M BAR, 1253 Vine St., Hlywd.; Fri., May 25, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 2, 10 p.m. (323) 856-0036. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GEMINI As oddball characters go, only some in Albert Innauratos comedy are memorable. Its a day before Francis (Mark Strano) 21st birthday, and friends Randy (Justin Schaefers) and Judith (Amber Krzys) drop in from their highbrow colleges for the occasion. Francis is in the midst of an identity crisis of sorts, and it doesnt help that his gruff, boisterous Dad (a fine turn by Peter Onorati) and his equally clamant girlfriend, Lucille (Mindy Sterling), show up. This scenario makes for many barbs, verbal one-upmanship, shtick and slapstick the showstoppers being Francis neighbors, the foul-mouthed, lusty Bunny (a hilarious Stephanie Faracy), and her son Herschel (Joel Michaely), who seems to suffer from a multitude of personality disorders. When they arent trading insults or meddling in each others business, theyre amusing us with their bad table manners. Not much really transpires; Innaurato mines these characters for a lot of laughs, and what plot there is involves Francis conflict over being gay and his attraction to Randy. Unfortunately, the gags and nonsense become annoying in Act 2, where the absence of a viable drama makes itself felt. Stan Zimmerman keeps the physical comedy well modulated with fine performances. And Kurt Boetchers red brick duplex mockup, complete with picket fence, is beautifully crafted. CELEBRATION THEATRE, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 17. (323) 957-1884 (Lovell Estell III)
YELLOW FACE The central character in David Henry Hwangs new farce is David Henry Hwang (played by Hoon Lee) facing an identity crisis after presiding over a casting blunder in his 1993 drama, Face Value. In that debacle, Hwang's character advocates for a Caucasian-appearing actor to play the Asian-American leading role in the plays Boston tryout on the grounds that the actor has Chinese ancestry. (All of this comes on the heels of Hwangs very loud protests against British producer Cameron Mackintosh using Caucasian star Jonathan Pryce in a Eurasian role in Miss Saigons Broadway debut.) To avoid appearing as a hypocrite, Hwangs double trumpets his young stars Asian credentials, which turn out to be nonexistent. However, the fabrication gives the young man (played here by Peter Scanavino) both a community he loves and a larger sense of purpose. This is a blazingly candid and almost self-deprecating work in which Hwangs portrait of himself underscores his personal contradictions, his professional failures and a moral core that melts in the heat of ambition. That portrait is also carved by this country, which has historically demonized Asians, and continues to do so. This too is on the stage, and helps explain Hwangs self-depicted desperation to save his skin. Yet that very urgency undercuts the authority, if not the integrity, of his evolving views on identity politics. For this reason, Yellow Face is actually not about identity politics at all, but about narcissism, about the flower that grows by the river bank and leans toward the water to gaze upon its own reflection. As such, its a beautiful and truthful slice of theatrical philosophy about illusion and delusion in the form of a personal documentary. Its directed both gently and obviously by Leigh Silverman. But like Hwangs actor in Face Value, this play is quite different from what it claims to be. Center Theatre Group and The Public Theater in association with East West Players at the MARK TAPER FORUM, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru July 1. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.