The much-celebrated Broadway musical, born at Berkeley Rep and now at the Ahmanson, American Idiot, featuring the music of punk band Green Day, is less than it's cracked up to be, says Rebecca Haithcoat.
Lovell Estell's review of what he describes as a solid revival of a musical about the work-place, and based on Studs Terkel's Working, is this week's Pick of the Week. Click here for all the latest New Theater Reviews, or you can find them after the jump.
Check out this week's Stage feature on Richard Montoya's American Night, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Here is a list of all the 2012 L.A. Weekly Theater Awards nominees; ceremony on April 2 at the Avalon, hosted by Lost Moon Radio; further information on whether you are a nominee can be found here. Nominees, please RSVP at (310) 574-7208. Tickets for guests and the public can be found at laweekly.com/theaterawards.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication March 22, 2012
Television sets on silent broadcast Britney Spears' breakdown and George Bush's smiling platitudes. Music blares as bottles are slammed together during a toast, spilling beer on the floor of one guy's basement digs. One of the first lines is "I jerked off into oblivion last night." The Broadway adaptation of punk band Green Day's concept album is like a rebellious teenager -- tortured, whiny and ultimately unlikable because he never gives you a chance to get to know him. You can't fault Idiot for its characters' choices. Unlike Rent, which reflected the political activist energy of the early '90s, Idiot is about a group of apolitical kids who came after and grew up realizing the rich minority rules politics. But book co-writer/director Michael Mayer fails to allow the audience to empathize with their disaffection. So the point is to demonstrate the barrier between them and the world, and their sense of isolation. Great. But don't wrap by tidily resolving a drug addiction, a broken family and a war veteran's physical loss. As one lyric goes, "I don't care if you don't care." Nods to terrific production elements and choreography. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through April 22. (213) 972-4400, centertheatregroup.org (Rebecca Haithcoat)
First-time playwright Leonard Manzella based this affecting drama on his experience as a psychotherapist working in the California prison system. Tom (John Nielson) is a recovering alcoholic assigned to run therapy sessions for the mentally ill. The group, an assortment of schizophrenics and psychotic killers, is caged in "therapeutic modules" the size of phone booths. Suspended two years prior for his role in an inmate's suicide, Tom carries his own baggage, a point maliciously driven home to him by the ward's mean-tempered security guard, Officer Caine (an excellent Matt Kirkwood). Writing about appalling conditions in California prisons, including the abuse of power, Manzella nonetheless is less concerned with political statements than he is with the commonality of human passions, within prison walls and without. A solid supporting ensemble invests the gritty dialogue and the inmates' heinous narratives with persuasive life; especially notable is Jemal McNeil as the split-personality convict whose higher self reaches out for help, with tragic results. As Tom, however, Neilson plays too much of his character's disaffection and not enough of his torment. Even less probing is Arlene Santana's performance as a young therapist who betrays her own ideals. Jon Lawrence Rivera directs. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 1. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/218558. (Deborah Klugman)
GO DIARY OF A MADMAN
A lacerating satire of the self-abnegating and dog-whipped Russian soul under the Czarist boot heel, Nikolai Gogol's 1834 short-prose masterpiece about a petty bureaucrat's dizzying plunge into the lowest depths of madness isn't exactly the stage-friendliest of texts. Which makes Ilia Volok's fevered and fascinating one-man turn as Gogol's delusional protagonist, Poprishchin, all the more remarkable. Gogol's tale essentially begins where the antihero of Dostoyevsky's later Notes From Underground leaves off -- at a point where excruciating abasement and resentment have nowhere to go except into full-blown psychosis. In this case, it first manifests in the lowly clerk's megalomaniacal obsession for the bourgeois daughter of his bureau chief, an inkling of the irrational that is all too quickly confirmed when Poprishchin shadows the unwitting woman and carries on a two-way conversation with her dog for information about its master's feelings. From there, Gogol's slippery slope becomes so lubricated by dignity-destroying scenes of degradation and delusions of grandeur that Poprishchin's fate becomes a foregone conclusion. Volok delineates the delirium with a fierce yet finely modulated intensity, while director Eugene Lazarev's use of costuming to visually underscore Poprishchin's unraveling mind is a grace note to his otherwise spare but engaging production. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 31. (323) 960-7770, plays411.com/madman. (Bill Raden)
IF WE ARE WOMEN Joanna McClelland Glass's 1993 kitchen-sink feminist dramedy about three generations of women questioning their life choices is as dull as dishwater. Featuring some truly abysmal acting from most of the cast of four, the overly long two-and-a-half-hour play's dreary ramblings and wry but inane observations include boring truisms such as "Handsome is in the eye of the beholder" and "Motherhood is a farce." Some friction lies in scenes where the three middle-aged women berate the selfish Polly (Annie Mackay) for squandering her opportunity for a college education they never saw. As Polly opines, "You think you're wise and experienced, but you're just old and cynical." One brief and instructional scene has the three older women sharing old-fashioned home remedies like tennis players trade volleys. In one revelatory monologue, about 45 minutes in, the Jewish mother-in-law (a decent Marcia Loring) describes why she stayed close with her daughter-in-law after the woman divorced her son. The rest is rubbish. Group Repertory Theatre at the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; in rep, call for schedule; through April 1. (818) 763-5990, thegrouprep.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO THE ILLUSION
"The art of the illusion is the art of love," explains cave-dwelling magician Alcandre (Deborah Strang) after she unveils to Pridamant (Nick Ullett) visions of his long-lost son (Graham Hamilton). Love and illusion naturally take center stage in Tony Kushner's lyrical adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century comedy. What makes those themes resonant, however, are Kushner's lush and luscious turns of phrase, reminding us once more of his ability to masterfully manipulate the language. A beneficiary of such language, Hamilton plays the rakish young lover for laughs in a successfully over-the-top manner, guided by the steady hand of director Casey Stangl. In a series of visions conjured by Alcandre, Hamilton woos his lady love (Devon Sorvari), is aided by her cagey maidservant (Abby Craden), clashes swords and egos with his rival (Freddy Douglas), and humors his purple prose-spewing master, Matamore (a perfectly prolix Alan Blumenfeld). In each vision, the character names change but the roles remain similar, except for that of the versatile Jeff Doba, who plays Alcandre's mute minion with expressiveness but showcases a biting incisiveness as the brutally eloquent father to Sorvari's Isabelle. Like the cast, the show's design is solid, though Jeremy Pivnick's eerie lighting and Monica Lisa Sabedra's clever coiffures stand out. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; in rep, call for schedule; through May 19. (626) 356-3100, ext. 1, anoisewithin.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO SPRING AWAKENING
It's amazing that writer Frank Wedekind had the courage and perception to write about adolescent sexual awakening in 1893, at a time when neither science nor society could even acknowledge the existence of erotic feelings in children. It's also amazing that Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) turned Wedekind's play into a successful rock musical. In its own way, it's faithful to its source -- till the play's last scene. There the adaptors seem to have lost their nerve and sacrificed Wedekind's surreal, darkly sardonic ending for upbeat lyric sentimentality. Director-producer Kate Sullivan has given the piece an exuberant and lavish production, well-cast and meticulously staged. As Melchior, Matt Vairo captures the quintessence of the young romantic hero, fatally at odds with the society around him. Chase Williamson's Moritz is intense and manic, exuding desperation from every pore. Lindsay Pearce's Wendla is a quivering mass of confused feelings she has not been allowed to understand, and the rest of the cast is top-notch. Stephen Gifford provides the huge and handsome set, Jessica Lively's costumes blend contemporary and period styles, and Brandon Baruch's lighting adds glitz and atmosphere. Musical director-conductor Rachael Lawrence leads the seven-piece band with panache. Over the Moon Productions at Theatre of Arts/Egyptian Arena Stage, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perf April 5); through April 22. (310) 903-6150, brownpapertickets.com. (Neal Weaver)
WHY WE HAVE A BODY
Playwright Claire Chafee's 1993 drama centers on the relationship between a pair of dysfunctional sisters -- free-spirited deadbeat Mary (director Tanna Frederick), who wanders the country robbing convenience stores, and her sibling Lili (Alex Sedrowski), a lesbian private investigator with trouble committing to her beautiful paleontologist gal pal (Cathy Arden). Their mother (Barbara Bain) fled the scene years ago, either by dying or by just ditching her brats to pursue her own desires -- but she appears in mystical interludes to offer wise words, which are mostly ignored by her daughters. The main fault lies with the text itself, a steadfastly humorless collection of pretentiously hammy exchanges that make no sense except to promulgate contrived metaphors. Frederick's production boasts some bright spots -- a full jazz band provides wonderful background music, and it's always a pleasure to watch Bain, who assays her bizarre character with a quirky twinkle in her eye -- but most of the show's staging is heavy-handed, underscoring a mood of self indulgence. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 28. (310) 392- 7327, edgemarcenter.org. (Paul Birchall)
PICK OF THE WEEK: WORKING
period of high unemployment and assaults on unions and public service
pensions, this revival of Working, a musical homage to the proletariat,
couldn't be timelier (an "Occupy" banner hangs above the stage). The
inspired book is adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso from Studs
Terkel's original nonfiction tome, and songs are by Craig Carnelia,
Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Schwartz and James Taylor.
Nancy Dobbs Owens' choreography is nicely complemented by a band -- with
George Derieux on guitar and John Harvey on drums, led by musical
director Richard Berent on keyboard -- that spins through the 17 musical
selections with flawless precision. Working is about the men and women who fight the good fight every day to
provide for themselves and their families, braving the elements,
corporate greed run amok, changing times, asshole bosses and a public
that too often shows absolutely no appreciation for them. The
ironworker, teacher, waitress, cleaning woman, fireman, cashier, sex
worker, office clerk, mill workers and even a housewife all share
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stories of struggle, triumph, joy and sadness. It's a sprawling quilt of
tales from the American working class, brought colorfully to life by
director August Viverito and an outstanding cast. The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington