Michelle Hilyard and Darrett Sanders in Have You Seen Alice: Photo by Jonathan Klein
Jacqueline Wright's play, Have You Seen Alice? at Theatre of NOTE is this week's Pick of the Week. Our critics also recommend Jerker at Space 916 and The Romance of Magno Rubio For all the latest New Theater Reviews, go to the jump.
Also check out the current Stage features on the Ovation Awards (this coming Monday night) and Gregory Moss' House of Gold at Ensemble Studio Theatre -- L.A. (Atwater Village Theatre) and this week's feature of Brett Neveau's 4 Murders
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication November 10, 2011
The sudden and early death of a patriarch, years earlier, has sent a family living in rural New England plummeting into dysfunction. When we first meet oldest son Warren (Marco Naggar), he's doing hard time for an as-yet-undisclosed crime. His sweet, teenage sister Frances (Tara Windley) dutifully visits him every weekend and suffers his hostile verbal attacks. Meanwhile, their hard-drinking mom, Mary (Ann Colby Stocking), keeps Frances on a tight rein, mercilessly bullying her every time she speaks of her college dreams. Daisy Foote's melancholy domestic saga spans a year, chopping back and forth in time and place with ease, but the story arc is relentlessly repetitive and marred by a narrow focus -- Mary is a mean drunk, her sister Sara (Tracie Lockwood) is a jilted woman with a vindictive streak and no one is getting free of this oppressive small town anytime soon. Elina de Santos directs her sympathetic cast well and the set designed by Mark Guirguis is a convincing old country kitchen, complete with a functioning stovetop and clanging furnace. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 22. 323-930-0747, roguemachinetheatre.com. (Pauline Adamek)
THE GOD OF ISAAC How essential are religious values to self-definition, and how do they connect us to those we love? These questions contour James Sherman's comedy, but the answers are never provided. Isaac (Adam Korson) is a non-practicing Jew whose quest for the meaning of Jewishness begins when his gorgeous shiksa wife (Corryn Cummins) makes an anti-Semitic remark related to a planned neo-Nazi march in the heavily Jewish suburb of Skokie, Ill. Isaac's journey is at times engaging, but Sherman's script is laden with the familiar litany of ethnic stereotypes and clichés, from the pestering mother (Karen Kalensky), who poses as an audience member and frequently interrupts the show with commentary and intrusive banter, to the workaholic dad, to an angry mob of JDL demonstrators, to a wise, overly solicitous rabbi (played with aplomb by Peter Van Norden). Funny, yes, at times it is, but this journey lacks substance or honesty, given the heady subject matter. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; through Nov. 20. (323) 860-6620, westcoastjewishtheatre.org (Lovell Estell III)
HARBOR Tommy (Matthew Lillard) and Jules (Mary Thornton Brown) married young and stupid -- and divorced not much later. In the 10 years since, Tommy has married an ex-Dallas Cowboys cheerleader (Zibby Allen) while Jules started dating a scientist (Grinnell Morris) and, along with their now-teenage son Justin (Matthew Gardner), evolved into the kind of snob who snickers when the waiter mispronounces "gnocchi." They collide after the death of Jules' dad (Bob Rummick) and it's clear Jules isn't over the split. Around Tommy she's combustible -- though their fights are curtailed by writer-director Jon Cellini's decision to strike her with convenient panic attacks. As theater, it's slim, but the characters are strong, particularly the slap-happy ex played by Lillard, who, when riled up, makes his face so red with anger it matches the walls. The character who truly cuts through the drama is Jules' sister, DeeDee (Luka Lyman), who stares down these grown-ups squabbling like teens. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; through Dec. 3. (818) 841-4404, harbortheplay.info. (Amy Nicholson)
PICK OF THE WEEK: HAVE YOU SEEN ALICE?
Watching a Jacqueline Wright play is like biting into a cookie full of arsenic. Her subject is the paradoxical, near-poisonous nature of love. And yet the pain roiling her astringent poetry's emotional truths comes sweetened with such mordant wit and vivid, indelible stage imagery as to turn the unpalatable into a delectable feast. Happily, Wright's latest play -- perhaps her most intensely personal yet -- is no exception. Its title is strictly ironic. The fact is that nobody has seen this Alice (Michelle Hilyard, in a mesmerizing, knife-edged performance), for the simple reason that Wright's haunting portrait of a woman in the throes of a nervous breakdown is a view from inside her heroine's head. Certainly her husband (the fine Tristan James Butler) is clueless as to the reason for her increasingly bizarre behavior and strange disappearances. As Alice retreats from a loveless marriage and a meaningless job into a surreal, albeit harrowing fantasy world, her insecurities and paranoia take on the epic heroism denied her by real life. Director Adrian A. Cruz imparts a fierce energy to Wright's language in a tight and endlessly inventive staging (enabled by Martin Carrillo's intricate sound, Dan Mailley's elegant set and Brandon Baruch's sculpted lights), while Darrett Sanders' swaggering Leatherman nearly walks off with the show. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m., thru Dec. 17 (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com (Bill Raden)
GO JERKER, OR THE HELPING HAND
When Robert Chesley's ground-breaking play was first produced in 1986 at Celebration Theatre, it was roundly condemned in certain quarters. But despite the sensationalistic publicity, it was a serious and deeply moving play about the worst days of the AIDS crisis, when the only safe sex seemed to be phone sex. And that meant masturbation, which was merely suggested in earlier productions. In this 25th-anniversary rendition, actor-director Glenn Kessler has updated the two-character piece, adding an ensemble of five actors (Corey Adam Affron, Gregory Barnett, Ben Cuevas, Parnell Damone and Sammy Murrian) and treating the sex extremely graphically. Although something is gained visually, the cost is high. The ensemble interludes are literal and distracting; the human drama is diluted and the lyricism is lost. Kessler and Gregory Allen play the two phone sex pals, J.R. and Bert. Kessler stretches the envelope with his rampant exhibitionism, inviting a voyeuristic response rather than a sympathetic one. Allen is more discreet. This play is a valid historical document, but the frank production may put off some. Space 916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 20. brownpapertickets.com. (Neal Weaver)
LADY LIBERTY L.A.'s relative small-town amiableness blinds you to the fact that chatting up the grocery checker or smiling at strangers is considered weird in New York City. Laura Richardson's world-premiere play, set in Manhattan, reminds you of that, but also notes human connections are possible anywhere if the conditions are right. After a traumatizing experience, Violet (Deana Barone) moves into a dump of an apartment, hoping to live as just another nameless face. Building manager Rhea (Judith Scarpone), however, is too Italian and too nosy to let Violet settle into such a quiet nonexistence. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and push each other toward overcoming their fears. It's an often charming dramedy, primarily thanks to the historical-figure-quoting, jingle-singing, overeager-mothering Scarpone. But the story suffers from being the same song, slightly different tune -- at this point, a neighbor becoming your best friend is a mandatory plotline for a New York-set sitcom. Actors Art Theatre, 6128 Wilshire Blvd., No. 110; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 20; (818) 988-5070. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
When Luke (James Wolk), a deeply religious aspiring actor, is seriously injured in a car accident, his friends, his Christian fundamentalist family and his much older atheist lover, Adam (playwright Geoffrey Nauffts), all converge in a hospital waiting room. With much wit and pathos, this flashback-driven script delves into the complicated nature of faith and the way any belief system can't help but constrain as well as comfort. The writing turns clunky now and again, however, straining to make not terribly incisive points. This is less of an an issue in Act 2 as the focus shifts from odd-couple banter toward more character exploration. On Broadway, Next Fall earned a Tony nomination for Best Play. This West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse retains some of its original elements, including Sheryl Kaller's assured direction, which guides her accomplished cast flawlessly through the many tight transitions between past and present -- a feat replicated impressively by Wilson Chin's ingenious scenic design. 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues-Fri, 8 p.m.; Sat. 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 4. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Mindy Farabee)
GO THE ROMANCE OF MAGNO RUBIO (ANG ROMANSA NI MAGNO RUBIO)
In Shakespeare's time, verse and music were commonly employed in plays, lighting and set pieces were largely absent, and the charisma of the players and skill of the director were paramount. The same attributes characterize this production of Lonnie Carter's play about a lovestruck Filipino migrant worker named Magno Rubio, even though the setting is 1930s California. Rubio (a terrifically earnest JonJon Briones) inhabits a labor camp with his fellow Manongs Prudencio (a vocally gifted Antoine Diel), Atoy (a boyishly charming Eymard Cabling), Claro (Erick Esteban) and Nick (Giovanni Ortega). Because Rubio barely knows English, the more educated Nick helps him write letters to Clarabelle (Elizabeth Rainey), a devious, gold-digging Arkansas woman for whom Rubio falls after seeing her picture in a lonely-hearts newspaper ad. Rubio's story -- and, really, that of so many migrants -- is told with a captivating honesty, as scenes seamlessly glide from one to the next courtesy of director Bernardo Bernardo's impeccable timing. Guitarist Vincent Reyes and choreographer Peter de Guzman help bring out the piece's theatricality by incorporating Kundiman (traditional Filipino love songs) and eskrima (martial arts using rattan sticks). Rani de Leon and Gerry Linsangan conjure an authentic storm with their respective sound and lighting. The entire ensemble is fantastic, their movements crisp and energetic, their expressions full of vivacity and their vocals beautifully harmonic. The show, at its core, has the bawdy, wonderful, put-it-all-out-there-ness of a well-done Shakespeare play. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m. (English); Sat., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. (Tagalog); Sun., 3 p.m. (English); dark Nov. 24; through Dec. 11. (323) 461-3673, FordTheatres.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
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An embittered and aging tranny named Kemp (Marco Barricelli) comes to visit an old aunt (Olympia Dukakis) on the basis of a letter she sent him saying that she's dying. He's her only living relative, and so Kemp, who has the social grace of a tarantula, gives up his minor position in a minor savings and loan to sit vigil in her dusty attic-like room through her death. The twist is that to Kemp's profound frustration and despite his offers to guide her through the pearly gates, she just won't die. Writer-director Morris Panych's 1995 two-hander grapples not so much with mortality as with the curse of being marginal. Who doesn't feel unplugged from the world, or about to be? The play is almost entirely Kemp's soliloquy; Dukakis' Grace has about a dozen lines. The production hangs on Dukakis' striking body-language responses to Barricelli's gruff attitude and words. That visceral dynamic is electric, almost blowing out the fuse of this low voltage script. Among the play's few mysteries is how many morbid jokes at Grace's expense Kemp can get away with: As she's eating her pudding in bed, "Don't eat too much, you won't fit in the box." Blackout. As she's applying mascara: "Why are you putting on makeup? Why don't you let the mortician do that." Ken MacDonald's cluttered, tilted storybook set features a door-frame skewed at odds with the wall it's attached to and other surreal
touches that might explain Kemp's unreal comic belligerence and insensitivity. Can such a man possibly feel empathy? Of course he can. If he couldn't, we'd have a searing variation on Samuel Becket's Endgame. Instead, we get the sentimental sensibility of Driving Miss Daisy and On Golden Pond -- a schematic and beautifully staged diversion from the darkness it keeps dancing around. A production of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, presented by Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; | Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org (Steven Leigh Morris)