This week's Pick goes to Inkwell Theatre Company at the Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood, and their production of Fairy Tale Theatre, 18 & Over, which Mayank Keshaviah describes as having "go-for-broke vivacity and edginess reminiscent of Monty Python."
Also, good notices for Indedpendent Shakespeare Company's revival of its own Hamlet in Atwater Village, Open Fist Theatre's revival of Ken Ludwig's stage farce Moon Over Buffalo and Crique du Soleil's pageant about insects, Ovo performing under the Big Top next to the Santa Monica Pier.
Click here for all the latest New Theater Reviews, or go to the jump. Also check out this coming week's stage features on playwright Tanya Saracho, whose Mexican adapatation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard opens this weekend at the Fountain Theatre, and a review of Our Town at the Broad Stage, in Santa Monica. These will be up tonight, comprehensive theater listings will be posted tomorrow.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, Scheduled for publication January 26, 2012
PICK OF THE WEEK: FAIRY TALE THEATRE, 18 & OVER
J. Michael Feldman defines a whole new type of "triple threat" by writing, puppeteering and acting in Fairy Tale Theatre: 18 & Over, this 90-minute barrel of monkey-filled laughs. But it's not just monkeys who populate this world; it's polar bears, squirrels, spiders, bees and other such mainstays of fairy-tale fare. The adult-themed stories ― like "The Bi-Polar Bear and Co-Dependent Eskimo," "The Monkeys and Their Pet" and "The Cloud Who Was Into Some Weird Shit" ― are filled with a hilariously caustic wit that's often self-referential, but not in an annoyingly hipster-ish way. Even Feldman's preshow announcement gets laughs, demonstrating his clear knack for comedy and setting the tone for the evening. His fellow players ― puppeteers Jess McKay, Matt Cook and Tina Huang, as well as castmates Courtney Pauroso and Eileen Mulanee ― are true chameleons who transform their voices, expressions and body language to endow a litany of animals with human traits. The actors truly throw themselves into the characters, lampooning highly relatable issues in outrageously funny ways. Contributing to their brilliant execution are director Annie McVey's daring choices and Stephen Rowan's colorful menagerie of props and costumes. With a go-for-broke vivacity and edginess reminiscent of Monty Python, Feldman and his crew spin comedic gold Inkwell Theater at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 11. 323-852-1445, inkwelltheater.com (Mayank Keshaviah)
Over the 10 years of its existence, the Independent Shakespeare Company has developed a reliable house style: brisk, athletic, no-nonsense productions, with a contemporary sensibility, a Brechtian objectivity and a talent for unlocking the plays' comic potential. All of these virtues are present in this, its fifth rendering of Hamlet, with David Melville once again putting his stamp on the title role. Melville, like Hamlet himself, has an antic disposition, and an anarchic and subversive wit that prevents his ever sinking into conventionality. (Never have the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scenes or the advice to the players yielded so many solid laughs.) Director Melissa Chalsma gives us a fine, exciting, fast-moving, no-period production, with a strong supporting cast that delivers the cleverly edited text with energy and clarity. Sean Pritchett is a smoothly confident Claudius and Luis Galindo smartly responds to the challenge of three demanding roles: the Ghost, the Player King and the Gravedigger. Thomas Ehas renders Polonius as a dignified booby, and Mary Guilliams is a spunky Ophelia. Erwin Tuazon shines as an irresistibly comic Rosencrantz and an unexpectedly subtle Osric, while Andre Martin is a stalwart Laertes. Independent Shakespeare Co. Studio at Atwater Crossing, 3191 Casitas Ave., Suite 168, Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.; through Feb. 19. (no perfs Feb. 4-5) (818) 710-6306, iscla.org. (Neal Weaver)
HUNGER: IN BED WITH ROY COHN
The eponymous and infamous aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy flails in purgatory in Joan Beber's vaudeville/fantasia. Barry Pearl plays the title role seamlessly as a kind of Costello to Cheryl Davi's Abbott, Dora Cohn, i.e., his mom, to whom he here remains connected at the navel. Amidst the fitfully amusing songs and dance (sleekly choreographed by Kay Cole), historical figures wander through: young Ronald Reagan (a mercilessly gormless impression by David Sessions), Barbara Walters (Liza de Weerd), Cohn's lithe younger self (who slithers in and out of the bed that forms the centerpiece of John Iacovelli's marble-hued set), Cohn's barely secret lover G. David Shine (Tom Galup) and Purgatory's Latina maid, Lizette (the sultry Presciliana Esparolini). Cohn's agony, however, is reserved for the indignantly stoic portrayal of Julius Rosenberg (a striking portrayal of rectitude by Jon Levenson), whom Cohn sent to the electric chair when he was a federal prosecutor. Waiting for judgment, Cohn is a little boy trying to be a big one. That core idea isn't half as interesting as the kaleidoscopic swirl of history, so well performed and cleanly staged by Jules Aaron. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 11. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO MOON OVER BUFFALO
Ken Ludwig's zany farce centers on an acting couple on tour in Buffalo in 1953 with a repertory of Cyrano de Bergerac and Noël Coward's Private Lives. It's one of those dizzying, door-slamming affairs (James Spencer and Zachary Guiler's handsome set features five of them) with countless entrances and exits, which makes for great fun. David Ross Paterson and Wendy Phillips deliver fine performances as long-married thespians Charlotte and George Hay, whose floundering careers get a boost when happenstance sends the legendary Frank Capra to view their matinee while searching for talent for an upcoming production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Tossed into the comic mix is George's affair with troupe member Eileen (Laetitia Leon), a cantankerous mother-in-law (Norma Campell) who despises George, a rekindled romance between the Hays' daughter Rosalind (Kate Costick) and the troupe's assistant Paul (Benjamin Burdick) and an unlikely case of mistaken identity. Complementing Ludwig's well-written script are excellent performances and savvy direction by Bjorn Johnson. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd.; Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 10. openfist.org. (Lovell Estell III)
NO GOOD DEED
It would be tempting to place all the blame on director Dámaso Rodriguez for the cluttered, overblown and sententious chaos that is playwright Matt Pelfrey's inchoate meditation on the act of heroism in the age of mechanical reproduction. But Pelfrey's pedestrian and attenuated tale of a wimpy, comic book-obsessed high school outcast (Nick Cernoch) accidentally thrust into self-destructive media celebrity packs neither the poetic punch of a riveting stage narrative nor the insight needed to nail down its intended examination of the hero as a social construct. Instead, the script wildly ricochets from graphic-novel homage (featuring Ben Matsuya's convincing superhero art) to brittle satire to after-school melodrama to ponderous, adolescent action-fantasy. Faced with a hopeless tonal tangle, Rodriguez throws money at the production but only exacerbates its problems with upstaging video projections (Jason H. Thompson), actor-drowning sound (Doug Newell) and what is perhaps the ugliest set in designer John Iacovelli's long and otherwise distinguished career. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Feb. 26. (323) 461-3673, fordtheatres.org. (Bill Raden)
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GO OVO Yes, the vermin have finally arrived in Santa Monica. Now, before you shudder, please be aware we're talking about the charming new Cirque du Soleil show about the world of insects. This latest Cirque show may hew to many of the standard elements of the company's tried formula of whimsy married to traditional circus production numbers, but only an entomophobe would cavil with the lovely (and often multilimbed) costumes, joyful clowning and dazzling acrobatics that make you gape. These are not those bugs that suck blood or burrow into your ears ― they're happy, family-friendly insects that leap about in Spandex, dance from trapezes and ride unicycles on high wires on their chins. Writer-director-choreographer Deborah Colker's production delivers the goods, with the insectoid theme underscoring the idea that the performers appear to be able to accomplish physical feats that they'd have to be at least half grasshopper to do. A group of Chinese acrobats, dressed as red ants, juggle gigantic plastic kiwi fruits (and each other) with only their feet. A pair of gymnasts embody mating butterflies, fluttering up and down a pair of scarves in a manner that doesn't seem human. And a group of acrobats, dressed in golden flea-like carapaces, perform deft feats on a trapeze. A wonderful circus that's ideal for adult and larvae alike. Under the Big Top at the Santa Monica Pier, 1550 Pacific Coast Hwy., Santa Monica; through March 20. For performance schedule, see cirquedusoleil.com. (Paul Birchall)
THE WATER'S EDGE
Even without its awkwardly-implanted parallel to the Oresteia, Theresa Rebeck's family drama is a hollow disappointment. It begins, like any afternoon soap opera, when a middle-aged narcissist named Richard (Albie Selznick), returns to his wife Helen (Nicole Farmer) after a 17-year absence. Now a wealthy man, Richard aims to reclaim both his children's love and the propertythey and their mother inhabit. Callously, he proposes that his former spouse go live elsewhere. So clueless is this guy that he brings his current girlfriend (Lauren Birriel) along, stoking Helen's already flaming resentments. While it furnishes tidbits of humor and insight, Rebeck's script is mostly dull bromidic fare; additionally, the plot's abrupt detour into Greek tragedy borders on the ludicrous. Despite these limitations, the play does provide opportunities for the actors to create compelling characters. After all, playing a jerk can be fun, and portraying a betrayed woman, given its underlying passions, can be cathartic. But Selznick's Richard remains a drab and enervated villain, and on opening night the performances of both Farmer and Paris Perrault as her indignant daughter were hemmed in by their dialogue. As the bewildered outsider, Birriel is on target. The bestreason to see the show may be Patrick Rieger's performance as the couple's psychologically damaged son Nate ― a portrayal that escalates from uncertain simmer to riveting boil in what is nonetheless a severely problematic second act. Designers Desma Murphy's set and David Marling's sound combine to create the seductive ambiance of a secluded homestead whose borders harbor unspeaable secrets. Sam Anderson directs. Road Theatre Company, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.; thru March 10. (866) 811-4111, RoadTheatre.org. (Deborah Klugman)