Ghetto Klown
Ghetto Klown
Carol Rosegg

Reviews of The Leopard and Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant, and more . . .

John Leguizamo opened his one-man show, "Ghetto Klown" on Sunday. See review later this week, along with the extended feature on Bayside High School Musical, at Victory Theatre Center -- one of two new local productions now playing based on popular TV series.(I Love Lucy, Live on Stage opened at Greenway Court Theatre over the weekend.)

Recommended reviews this week for John F. Goff's portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Yabon Yablonsky's solo show, The Leopard; as well as Phil Olson's latest in a series of "Don't Hug Me" musicals: Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant. See all the latest New Theater Reviews, after the jump

Check out the current stage feature on Shake Sakhrani's comedy, A Widow of No Importance, at East West Players.

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NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication October 6, 2011


Reviews of The Leopard and Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant, and more . . .
Courtesy The Renegade Gang

Ren Casey's musical parody of the '90s sitcom Saved by the Bell. The Renegade Gang at the Victory Theatre, 3326 Victory Blvd., Burbank; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 26. (818) 841-4404, baysidehighschoolmusical.com, thevictorytheatrecenter.org. See Stage feature

GO DON'T HUG ME, I'M PREGNANT This latest addition to Phil Olson's goofy Don't Hug Me musicals offers its share of wholesome humor (think Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In on steroids). And like all the others, the play is set in Bunyan County, Minnesota, where the proprietors of the local bar, Gunner and Clara (Patrick Foley and Rebekah Dunn), await the arrival of their first child and are throwing a shower of sorts. Clara is about ready to pop, but hubby has his mind on other things, like the opening of duck hunting season, and downing beer with the establishment's resident fool and foil, Kanute (Bert Emmett). They are later joined by friends Aarvid and Bernice (Greg Barnett and Natalie Lander), who have their own romantic thing going. Because of a vicious snowstorm, Clara has to have the kid in the kitchen, an awkwardly protracted finale that takes up most of Act. 2. Not much really goes on here, and there are times when it occasions a lot of gratuitous "filler" nonsense and gags. The comic tinder is largely provided by Phil Olson's outrageously funny song lyrics, Paul Olson's zany musical score, and Stan Mazin's choreography. Ditties like the hip-hop inspired "Bun in the Oven," and "If Men Had Babies, We'd All Be Extinct," make the evening memorable, as does Chris Winfield's attractive bar mock-up. Doug Engalia directs. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlwd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, (323) 822-7898, web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/855905. (Lovell Estell III)

DREAMS IN VARIATION Noel Coward observed that a good musical book needs to be strong enough to stand on its own, without the music. Director-writer Kristen Boule seems to have ignored Coward's dictum, and the result is a generic juke-box musical. There's an impressive array of 21 songs, culled from hit shows by Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Alan Menken, Tim Rice and Elton John, and Steven Schwarz, among others. But Boule seems to think that writing a musical is rather like building a bookcase: so long as you provide an appropriate slot for each song, the job is done. Consequently, her characters are thin, and her plot hit-and-miss. She centers her script on four characters. Joey (Ben Pronsky) is an aspiring film-maker, Kailee (Lena Coleman) wants to sing and act, Rosalie (Kate Bowman) is a widow whose beloved husband left her grief-stricken but very rich and bored. And lost-child Eve (Darby Walker) wants to be a singer, but she's also seeking a place to belong. Some able actors, including Marcia Rodd, Corby Sullivan, Jermanne Perry, Tiffany Roberts, and Emily Amezcua, give it their all, musical director George DeRieux expertly leads the seven-man combo, and choreographers Steven Nielsen and Stephanie Simpson generate some real excitement, but the ultimate result disappoints. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru October 16. (323) 960-7740 or plays411.com/dreamsinvariation (Neal Weaver)


Reviews of The Leopard and Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant, and more . . .
Ed Krieger

Two old geezers with thick accents, one Jewish, the other Irish, are long time pals who enjoy their morning breakfast ritual on a New York City park bench. When Sam (Howard Storm) confesses to Jimmy (Clement E. Blake) that his retirement fund is all tapped out, Jimmy wastes no time offering him a lifeline and inviting him to move in to his rent-controlled apartment. The octogenarian pair of widowers prove perfect companions, sharing groceries and heading off to dances together. But when Sam meets a bubbly Carol (Kathrine Henryk), the delicate balance of the friendship is slightly upset. Written by Pat Harrington, Howard Storm and the late Michael Rhodes, this is a sweet play about aging and the joys and heartbreaks of enduring friendships. As we listen to them share their oft-told life stories and fond reminiscences about their deceased wives or humorously discuss the concept of reincarnation, the gentle humor evokes cozy 1950s sitcoms. This is the kind of play where you wonder which of the three is going to kick the bucket. But when the inevitable happens, the scenes that follow are touching nonetheless. Under Tim Byron Owen's direction, Storm is good as the likable and easygoing Sam. Henryk is great as the dynamic new flame, and Blake's Jimmy stands out as a sometimes-grouch. Theatre 40 at the Rueben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr. (on the Beverly Hills High School campus); Beverly Hills; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org. (Pauline Adamek)


Reviews of The Leopard and Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant, and more . . .
William Gilinsky

Ernest Hemingway remains an icon in American literature and culture -- at least as famous for his machismo exploits and brash lifestyle as for his prize-winning novels and short stories. In his youth his talent made him a star, but his death from a self-inflicted shotgun wound at age 61 followed decades marred by mental problems, alcoholism and chronic physical pain. Directed by T.J. Castronovo, John F. Goff's rendering of playwright Yabo Yablonsky solo biopic draws an astute portrait of this complex and troubled figure. As he downs the bottle of rum successfully hidden from his wife, Goff's maverick-in-decline ruminates on personal matters that include his aging body, his talents (or lack thereof) as a lover, and his fading memory, exacerbated by his recent subjection to shock therapy as a cure for his depression. His musings also extend back to his life in Europe; at one point he talks about the anti-Semitism of the French and, more subtly, the British. In describing his experiences of war, he tells how he reveled in wielding a gun until the shame of targeting another person with death was brought home to him. Throughout, the personality on display at intervals reveals the boy inside the man; other times, he pontificates, only to draw back with self-disparaging reference to the bullshit machine responsible for his ubiquitous public image. Designers Jeff Rack's tasteful set and Ana Castronovo's costuming aptly complement this skillful performance. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 9, (323) 960-7784, plays411.com/theleopard. Deborah Klugman)

SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR Luigi Pirandello's playfully pioneering, 1921 foray into metatheater has rightly earned its permanent place on the syllabus of any comprehensive university survey of modern stage literature. It is arguably the first play expressly and exclusively about the nature of the theatrical, and the intellectual forebear to contemporary deconstructionists the likes of The Wooster Group and Richard Foreman. But does relevance in the classroom automatically make for an engaging and compelling evening of theater? Judging by director Stuart Calof's desultory and indifferent production, the answer would have to be no. Calof begins on a promising note by staging the play's fourth-wall-breaking prologue in the Knightsbridge lobby. Once the house formally opens, however, his invention all but abandons him. That's when Pirandello's titular characters (who include David Stifel, Christina Zamora, Samuel Isaacs & Elizabeth Yocam) burst in on a "rehearsal" of another play (usually by Pirandello but here inexplicably substituted with Hamlet) and demand that the director (Rene Guerrero) bring them to full realization by staging their unwritten drama. Part of the trouble is that while Pirandello's play-within-a-play conceit is modern, its language is steeped in a risibly melodramatic verismo whose glaringly dated artifice is allowed to stand uninterrogated. The rest of the problem is a slapdash production design (John DeLeonardis & Joseph P. Stachura's set; J.C. Gifford's lights), ameliorated only by Kelly Grahm's period costumes. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 p.m., Sun., 6 p.m.; 323.667.0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com. (Bill Raden)


Reviews of The Leopard and Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant, and more . . .
Steve Jarrard

After the first of many long-simmering tensions spills over, Libby (nicely played by Pamela Daly) announces to her two daughters she and their father had stopped the movie Terms of Endearment midway through. "Neither one of us was enjoyin' it. I remember likin' it so much the first time," she says. Playwright Jon Courie uses the reference as both illumination of his influences and casual foreshadowing, and because he smartly places it so near the top of the action, we prepare and forgive him in advance for any sappiness that might follow. Plenty does, but an inexplicably unlikable protagonist and director Steve Jarrad's unfortunate casting mar what is a promising tearjerker. Ashley (Meg Wallace), running from the triple threat of a floundering career, failing relationship with her lesbian lover, and a physical setback, leaves New York City in an attempt to find solace at her family's home on the coast of North Carolina. Once there, however, she seems more intent on counterproductively nursing her still-raw childhood wounds than allowing them to heal. Though she lashes out "mean as a copperhead" at everyone, including her sweetly dim sister Sissy (the charming Christine Haeberman), she reserves her most venomous strikes for her father, the blue collar Bo (Robin Nuyen): He never approved of her being a lesbian, he loved Sissy more, he was always working, he didn't encourage her career. But the complaints begin to fall on deaf ears, as Bo repeatedly attempts to prove his love, however clumsily. As opposed to Wallace's dead-eyed delivery and one-note performance, the excellent Nuyen is so nuanced that he easily becomes the most sympathetic character onstage. You'll use your tissues for him. Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru October 16. (323) 860-6569, collaborativeartistsensemble.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)


Reviews of The Leopard and Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant, and more . . .
Agnes Magyari

Stephen Metcalfe's play starts off like a slow-moving, genteel, domestic comedy, in which Dakin (Brian Kerwin) bickers with his wife Macy (Leslie Hicks) over her vegetarian cooking, and she complains about his spending too much time writing his blog. Nothing much seems to be at stake till their old friend and next door neighbor Carl (Edward Edwards) announces that he's selling his house and moving to Seattle. Dakin is immediately beset with fears that the new owner will rebuild and block his cherished view--a subject on which he quickly becomes fanatical and obsessive. His pugnacious wrong-headedness becomes so violent that he antagonizes Macy, Carl, his lawyer daughter Ellen (Austin Highsmith), and Dan (Jeffrey Stubblefield), the new owner of the property, who does indeed rebuild, block out the view, and drive Dakin round the bend. A violent ending seems inevitable. Then, only at the end, Metcalfe reveals that he's sounding a "save the planet" alarm, and speaking out against destruction of natural resources. But Dakin has been so irrational and cantankerous that he's hardly qualified to serve as raissoneur. Though the play is intelligently written, and director Dave Florek and his actors, including Lane Compton, give the piece a fine and faithful production, they can't overcome the play's muddled intentions: plot and message stubbornly refuse to mesh. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)


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