After a too-long hiatus, Kyle T. Wilson has resuscitated his thoughtful blog on arts, culture and politics, Frank's Wild Lunch,
with a response to L.A. Times critic Charles McNulty's Critic's Notebook last week, in which McNulty interviewed the artistic leaders of several local small theaters. Wilson questions the presumption of L.A.'s status as a cultural capital being dependent on its prompt stagings of hit plays trumpeted in other cities. Wilson has a follow-up post here on the issue of good local playwrights being hard to find. And for a slightly different response, check out Colin Mitchell's Bitter Lemons.
The larger point being that Frank's Wild Lunch is as welcome (back) to the scene as is the L.A. Times' respectful attention to L.A.'s small theater scene. It was a good week for smart, critical discourse.
Click here for the latest New Theater Reviews, or you can find them after the jump. Also, check out this week's Stage Feature on our theater's admirable literacy, focusing on two productions at Rogue Machine, House and The New Electric Ballroom, plus Steve Yockey's just closed Very Still and Hard to See, in Michael Matthews' perfect staging for The Production Company at the Lex.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication July 12, 2012
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE
If playwright John Van Druten's setup seems familiar -- pretty, lonely witch with a streak of mischief longs for mortal companionship, so she casts a love spell on her handsome, unsuspecting neighbor -- it's because the popular television show Bewitched was partly based on it. Director Terri Eddings' production slogs, but it's less the fault of her or her cast's execution than of the play itself; this 1950 work has no business being performed in 2012. At the end of the night, a cast member issued a call for donations, and I couldn't help but think a much better way to extend your theater's life is to change your programming mindset. Instead of spending your budget on a busy set that ultimately doesn't matter, produce a play that relies on its exciting or relevant message for its surprises. Instead of another subpar play whose age shows in stale jokes and predictable outcomes, create an original work. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 12. (323) 667-0955. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but it's certainly not the performance of Rafael Goldstein as the revenge-bent prince. This briskly paced, two-hour production belongs almost entirely to Goldstein, whose jangled, dangerous Hamlet is not to be believed when he tells Gertrude, "I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft." This endlessly tense, hand-wringing Hamlet is, in fact, crazier than a shithouse rat, a man entirely driven by the impossible task of "setting time right." Goldstein's commitment to craft is a marvel, his mining of the text an eye opener, even for a critic who has studied the play and seen it performed countless times. Maya Erskine's Ophelia is likewise riveting, but the rest of the ensemble is uneven. Denise Devin directs with total commitment to meaning, context and speedy but thorough forwarding of action. Michael Maio's menacing music aptly underscores Goldstein's threatening characterization. The Grim Reaper-based ghost of Hamlet's father is a conceptually laughable blemish on an otherwise interesting production. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 12. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Amy Lyons)
Daniel MacIvor's one-man show about a man's reluctant participation in group therapy, performed by Donnie Smith at Rogue Machine. See Stage feature.
THE IRISH CURSE You might perhaps be excused for thinking that "the Irish curse" refers to something mythic, like the wail of the Banshee -- but playwright Martin Casella's comedy reveals the term is actually a euphemism for a condition that might rather make a man weep: possessing a less-than-modest penis. Casella's play takes place in a seedy Manhattan church basement, where several gentlemen get together for a weekly Irish Curse support group. As they follow the 12 Steps for Shlong Acceptance, four veteran group members offer counseling to a newbie, who has yet to reveal to his fiance the small horror that has befallen her. Casella's an assured writer, and the piece gets a great deal of mileage from what is essentially a one-joke concept. However, the play's attempts to inject tragic emotion into the characters' plight rings false and unintentionally campy. Director Andrew Barnicle's fast-paced staging boasts appealing performances by an ensemble whose affable bonhomie and organic acting work actually promote sympathy for their ultimately rather trivial plight. Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Aug. 26. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
PICK OF THE WEEK: JEKYLL & HYDE Frank Wildhorn's musicals are generally hit-and-miss affairs that have been both panned and praised over the years. But for this strong revival of Jekyll & Hyde, under the skillful direction of Marco Gomez, praise is in order. Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, with book and lyrics by veteran songwriter Leslie Bricusse, the play tells of a well-intentioned Victorian doctor whose quest for a cure for evil unwittingly creates a malevolent alter ego.Chris Kerrigan does the honors as Jekyll/Hyde, tackling a demanding role with tireless verve and skill, while turning in a performance that is just shy of flawless. Amber Gildersleeve and Cassandra Nuss are the doctor's ill-fated love interests, both possessing lovely voices, but the nod clearly goes to the electrifying Nuss, whose vocal range and dexterity are remarkable. The production is well served by musical director Chris Raymond's handling of Wildhorn's musical score, which boasts nearly 30 songs. Gomez and choreographer Angela Todaro are quite effective working with a sizable cast and very limited space; the scene changes are handled with almost military precision, and all performances are uniformly high-caliber. Brandy Jacobs' scenic design consisting of illustrated sliding panels is attractive and serviceable, as are her striking costumes.Doma Theatre Company at the Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.;
through July 29, domatheatre.com (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM Enda Walsh's play about three sisters and an interloping fishmonger in a rural Irish village. Presented by Rogue Machine. See Stage feature.
OY Hlne Cixous' overly instructive play is set in 1995 in the Paris kitchen of two elderly Jewish siblings. Nearing 90, Selma (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) is a stern, controlling woman who rudely dominates her warm, lively, absent-minded sister, Jenny (Jeanette Horn). The pair have just returned from Osnabrck, their native city in Germany, where they'd been invited to speak as witnesses to Hitler's rise to power. As they slice tomatoes and bicker over garlic, they launch into a mix of anecdotes and social commentary about the past. Unfortunately, this dialogue (which seems mostly aimed at deconstructing historical sacred cows, as the playwright sees them) never coalesces into a compelling dramatic narrative or creates much of an in-depth portrait of these women. O'Donnell is skilled and subtle but a bit one-note; Horn, whose character emanates vulnerability and openness, is delightful to watch. A prologue consisting of historical newsreels is tedious and serves little purpose. Georges Bigot directs. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs., Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 28. (310) 838-4264, theactorsgang.com. (Deborah Klugman)
SIX CHARACTERS LOOKING FOR AN AUTHOR The good news here is playwright David Harrower's 2001, cobweb-clearing streamline of a perennial classroom classic. Luigi Pirandello's pioneering 1921 play about a play virtually blazed the trail of metatheatrical exploration that continues to define the avant theater of our day. In performance, however, time has not proved kind. In an era of online hardcore porn, the play's verismo of incest, suicide and Oedipal rage, which shocked our great-grandparents, now seems positively picturesque. So any attempt to strip the encrusted sepia from Pirandello's boldly probing treatise on the ontology of dramatic representation deserves heartfelt applause. Less deserving is Douglas Matranga's abysmally uninspired, leaden and half-baked staging. Matranga's bizarre casting conceit of recruiting ticket buyers to "play" the two children of the titular six characters is only one of the insults that finally transform the under-rehearsed evening from the proverbial actor's nightmare to the audience's. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through July 21. (310) 656-8070, plays411.com. (Bill Raden)
THE THREE SISTERS
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Director Moze Halperin has mounted an eccentric concept production of Chekhov's play. When it begins, the principal characters are enclosed in curtained cubicles, like oversized telephone booths -- symbolizing their emotional isolation? All four acts are staged in the Prozorov dining room, which is strangely equipped with four TV sets, one continuously playing an abstract loop. The elderly male doctor Chebutykin is played by a buxom young woman (Tiffany Tejeda) wearing an absurd white handlebar mustache. She's continually addressed as a man but appears variously clad in a man's suit, a sequined cocktail dress and a pink frock with marabou trim -- and later she strips off the mustache and most of her clothes to appear in men's boxer shorts. Despite some worthy performances, Chekhov is robbed of his physical and historical context, as well as his stock in trade Ñ the playing out of desperate lives quietly, amid the detritus of everyday life. Downtown Repertory Theater Company at Pico House, 424 Main St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 15. downtownrep.com. (Neal Weaver)
12TH NIGHT For its summer Shakespeare Festival in La Calcfshakes.com. (Pauline Adamek)ada Flintridge, Vanguard Rep offers a high-altitude, open-air theatrical experience in its concrete amphitheater (cushions essential). The cast races barefoot through the central sandpit set and competes with chirping crickets while the audience is dive-bombed by massive grasshoppers and inquisitive June bugs. Ingeniously, Vanguard Rep pares down the Elizabethan text to its essentials (poetry intact) to deliver an uninterrupted 80-minute show. Playing in rep with Juliet & Her Romeo is 12th Night -- another one of the Bard's rather familiar and lightweight comedy romances centering on unrequited love, mistaken identities and a lost twin. A subplot sees a trio of drunken pranksters scheming to embarrass the pompous buffoon Malvolio (Michael Faulkner). Corey Sorenson gives a flamboyant performance as Duke Orsino, while Jen Faith Brown as his initial object of desire, Countess Olivia, overdoes her giggling rapture. Original songs sung a capella by the fool character Feste (Matthew Bohrer) are delightful. La Caada Flintridge Shakespeare Festival, Byrnes Amphitheater, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, 440 St. Katherine, La Caada Flintridge; in rep with Juliet & Her Romeo: Thurs.-Sun., 8:30 p.m.; through Aug. 5. (818) 745-3327,
GO VERY STILL AND HARD TO SEE Steve Yockey's new Faustian play presented by The Production Company at the Lex. See Stage feature.