Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
John Highsmith

Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews

Enthusiastic reviews this week for Shakespeare: Deborah Klugman has some good things to say about Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and Amy Lyons was also taken with A Midsummer Night's Dream at Theatricum Botanicum, but the Pick of the Week goes to Carrie Barrett's Focus Group Play, reviewed by Neal Weaver, and presented by Katselas Theatre Company at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz. Click here for all the latest New Theatre Reviews, or you can find them after the jump.

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Also check out this week's Theater feature on The Gronholm Method at Burbank's Falcon Theatre, and No Love at Studio City's Eclectic Company Theatre.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 6, 2012


Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
Long Beach Playhouse

In pre-19th century plays, the language, culture and norms are far enough removed from their modern equivalents that only proper adaptation and direction foster true understanding. With Middleton and Rowley's Jacobean tragedy, Dave Barton, who handles both, does a serviceable job in terms of comprehensibility, but the effect is at best uneven and at times languorous in terms of dramatic impact. Beatrice (Terri Mowrey) does not want to marry the man to whom she is promised, so she pays her father's servant DeFlores (Rick Kopps), who loves her, to do him in. Complications naturally ensue in an exploration of love, sex, betrayal and revenge, which, by convention, features a large cast and subplots stretched over five acts. Barton, to his credit, makes them feel compact, yet his use of modern music during transitions, not to mention a "Thriller"-style dance sequence, muddies the tone of the piece. Kopps' DeFlores has moments of true menace, such as his ravaging of Beatrice, and Isabella (Aly Fainbarg) and Lollio (Jeffrey Kieviet) bring energy to the comic subplot, but the adaptation's "amplification" of the violence and sexuality of the era is far less potent than its potential. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Sept. 29. (562) 494-1014, lbplayhouse.org (Mayank Keshaviah)


Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
Thomas Mikusz

In this go-round of this legendary romantic musical by Tom Jones (music) and Harvey Schmidt (book), director Charlie Mount's workmanlike staging of the story of a naive young man (Joe Jennings, winningly sensitive) who falls for his sweetheart (operatically styled Molly Reynolds), loses her, and wins her back after being knocked about a

bit by the world, is unevenly cast: Although there are some strong individual turns, most notably by Jennings and Britton, other performers lack the vocal chops and breath control to assay the challenging material. Elsewhere, Mount's production overall possesses a stiff heaviness and less-than-vigorous pacing, which deflates the play's innate sweetness. An interesting note is that the production is perhaps unintentionally stolen by the  performance of Lee Meriwether in the famous role of the "mute" character. As Meriwether's inscrutable face watches every onstage moment, we suddenly arrive at the provocative, mildly disturbing realization that her "character" may just be that of the young girl, seen many years later from the vantage point of someone trying to remember her glory days. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 7. (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org. (Paul Birchall)


Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
John Highsmith

Carrie Barrett's comedy, presented as part of the Katselas Theatre Company's LAbWORKS 2012, is set in a focus group assembled by a manufacturer to research attitudes toward its new products, a group of Meal Replacement Bars. But things don't go quite as planned.The group's pretty blonde moderator (Jen Drohan) desperately tries to keep chaos at bay and gather meaningful reactions from the obstreperous members of the group: Mandy (Celia Finkelstein) is a garrulous, needy young woman, who wants to be a stand-up comic, and whose talent for digression disrupts any reasonable discussion. Marta (Caro Zeller) is a no-nonsense Latina with an unexpected knowledge of geometry. Debbie (Darcy Shean) is a model who specializes in demonstrating household appliances. Jim (Brian Hamill), the only male in the group, is a family man with a touch of paranoia. Pamela (Alissa Ford) is an opinionated firebrand, who spearheads a rebellion against the company's hypocrisy and preposterous advertising claims.Though Barrett's mostly funny script bogs down occasionally, director Eric Hunicutt keeps the pace brisk and the laughs coming. In a top-notch cast, Drohan shines as a young woman trying to maintain her dignity despite impossible odds. The Skylight Theatre Complex, 1816-1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz | schedule varies; through Oct. 7. (702) 582-8587, katselastheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)

Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
Ian Flanders

Lovers, rude mechanicals, fairies and royals romp with rich characterization in Theatricum Botanicum's summer mainstay. After several years running, the family-friendly production continues to draw crowds, perhaps owing to the seamless transformation of the Topanga Canyon stage to an Athenian wood, and the thoughtful vision of directors Melora Marshall and Willow Geer, who mine the text for every possible magical moment. The cohesive ensemble includes standout turns by Gerald C. Rivers as a particularly boorish, braying Bottom; and Willow Geer, whose long run as Helena still feels fresh. Thefairies veer into overstated territory at times, trilling and whirring to the detriment of the dialogue, forcing their fluttering physicality, and rushing essential bits of narrative. The mechanicals feel gleefully authentic in their homespun cluelessness, and the lovers are a polished foursome of physical comedy and chemistry. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; schedule varies; through Sept. 20. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com. (Amy Lyons)


Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
John Glugolecki

In Shakespeare's battle-of-the-sexes comedy, a mean-spirited villain accuses the play's virginal ingénue, Hero (Teena Pugliese), of being promiscuous, whereupon a wave of misogyny sweeps the stage. Whore! cry the men. Call me a paranoid feminist progressive; I couldn't help comparing this 400-year-old emotional gangbang scenario to the Republican anti-woman witch hunt now trending in the headlines. Parallels aside, this is an agreeably staged production in which some of the more persuasive work springs from the minor roles. Perhaps piling his plate too high, director Joseph Stachura undertakes to play Benedick, a confirmed bachelor engaged in an ongoing feud with Beatrice (Shari Shattuck), a fiercely independent gal determined to defer to no man. Neither performance is sufficiently probing, unfortunately. Far more entertaining is the nuanced ensemble work (with especially funny shtick from Marti Hale) in the scenes involving the playful efforts of Beatrice and Benedick's friends to bring these two dueling but mutually

obsessed personalities together. Also engaging are the sequences with Hero and her women friends, played by Laurine Price and Beth Whitney. Pugliese is charming, as well as affecting at her crucial moment, and there's solid work from Caleb Mayo's gullible suitor and Alistair

Mckenzie's discerning friar. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Sept. 30. (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com (Deborah Klugman)


Focus Group Play, Much Ado About Nothing at Knightsbridge Theatre, and All the Latest New Theater Reviews
David Nott

Andrew Osborne's contemporary spin on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde. Eclectic Company Theatre, Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Studio City. See Stage feature.

SIMPATICO Even a great playwright is entitled to his occasional off-day. For Sam Shepard, it obviously came in 1994 with the premiere of this murky and tepidly tongue in-cheek riff on the conventions of hard-boiled pulp fiction. Sal Landi plays Vinnie, a chronic fabricator and lowlife con man sidelined when a long-ago horse-racing swindle backfired and cost him "my Buick, my wife," in that order. Now, after 15 years of blackmailing hush money from his onetime partner, Carter (Corbin Timbrook), Vinnie emerges from out of the past with a shoebox of incriminating evidence in a quixotic attempt to extort back a life and a wife (the fine Lisa London), which were never really his. Both Landi's skillfully chiseled portrait of dissolute self-delusion and Rick Dano's delightfully sly turn as Simms, the butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth, would-be victim, effectively deliver the play's ironic bathos. But too much of Shepard's symbolic landscape is inexplicably sacrificed to director Barry Sattels' untidy, production value-impaired staging. Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through

Oct. 6. (424) 242-9285. (Bill Raden)


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