FILM is this week's Pick of the Week.
Photo by Darrett Sanders
The Absurdists' convention
Local playwright Patrick McGowan's new play, Film, has no right to be as good as it is. The central character is the late theater director Alan Schneider (Bill Robens) -- known for staging some of the best plays by Absurdist authors, including Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, and introducing almost all of Samuel Beckett's plays to the American stage. Film has no right to be so good because Schneider, in this play, is an insufferable, flailing bully. The play is Schneider's nightmare -- an Absurdist nightmare, naturally -- a comedy and inexplicably scintillating entertainment about artistic failure. This biographical story, set in 1965 New York, features Schneider trying to make a film from a screenplay by Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward), who has come to New York to work with Schneider. Joining them to star in the slogging, portentous film, also named Film (now regarded by some historians as a "masterpiece") is Beckett's favorite comedian, Buster Keaton (Carl J. Johnson), long past his prime, spiritually at ease with his station in life, and willing to play along with the clueless intellectuals and a film crew whose patience gets sorely tested. Ward's Beckett is a delightfully rueful, awkward and solitary figure, aching in vain (of course) for the affections of the star-struck yet savvy prop mistress (the lovely Deana Barone). Johnson's Keaton (Mandi Moss handily plays the comedian in his younger days) has a pleasingly bemused perspective on Schneider's temper tantrums. Framing the story are slivers of Waiting for Godot in both French and English, and, in another nod to Beckett, a vaudeville in front of a curtain, featuring a kind of Mutt and Jeff routine, here played out by Schneider and the source of his envy, director Mike Nichols (who grabbed the job directing the movie of Virginia Woolf), portrayed here as a figure of rare competence by Trevor H. Olsen. Despite his production being slightly too long, director Trevor Biship knows exactly what he's doing, astutely staging the action (with supplementary archived film clips of Keaton in his prime) on Sarah Palmrose's emblematic set of a stage within a stage within a stage, each with its own curtain, and together depicting the multiple, clashing realities inside Schneider's tormented brain. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 21. (323) 856-8611.
--Steven Leigh Morris
The weekend's other NEW THEATER REVIEWS are all embedded within the coming weekend's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS; to access, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for February 20-26, 2009
(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deobrah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
AMERICAN GUILT Nick Mills' nonlinear romance-thriller. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (847) 800-1762.
BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY John Patrick Shanley's memory play about an Irish-American family. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-7745.
BLACK WOMEN: STATE OF THE UNION Cavalcade of theater, poetry and video about contemporary black womanhood. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 883-1717.
BOHEMIAN COWBOY Raymond King Shurtz's solo show about the disappearance of his father in the Nevada desert. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (323) 960-7744.
BRUISING FOR BESOS Solo performance about domestic violence, by Adelina Anthony. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 860-7300.
CAMPING Enrico Mario Falconi's poetic drama about a group of mountain hikers. (In Italian, with a pre-show synposis in English.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Feb. 26-28, 8 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
ELLA Jeffrey Hatcher's musical biography of Ella Fitzgerald, starring Tina Fabrique. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens Feb. 21; Sat., Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 22. (949) 497-2787.
50 HOUR DRIVE-BY FESTIVAL That's like 3,000 minutes. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Feb. 21, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 2 p.m.; Mon., Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m.. (818) 202-4120.
FORKING! Daniel Heath's play, in which you, the audience, get to choose your own adventure. FYI: The full title is "Fork Off Down Your Own Forking Adventure Which You've Forked.". Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 962-0046.
HAMLET, THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE OF DENMARK Shakespeare's tragedy set to the music of Prince. National Guard Armory, 854 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., March 14, 2 p.m.; thru March 14. (562) 985-5526.
THE ILLUSTRATED BRADBURY Tobias Andersen's (non-tattooed) solo performance piece, inspired by Ray Bradbury's story
THE ISLAND South African prison drama by John Kani, Winston Ntshona and Athol Fugard. Lucy Florence Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 293-1356.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT Moises Kaufman's dramatization of the Matthew Shepard murder. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 465-0800.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Roger Corman's carnivorous-plant musical, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (818) 508-3003.
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Charles Ludlam's gothic horror farce. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 20. (323) 969-1707.
NOSE TALES The Zombie Joe Underground sniffs out "five lovable fools.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 26; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 19. (818) 202-4120.
OUR LEADING LADY Charles Busch's comedy about the thespians at Lincoln's assassination. Neighborhood Playhouse, 415 Paseo Del Mar, Palos Verdes Peninsula; opens Feb. 20; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (310) 378-9353.
RENT Young artists struggle to avoid AIDS, in Jonathan Larson's musical. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 26; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (213) 365-3500.
ROMEO AND JULIET Young lovers get all emo. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 26; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (800) 838-3006.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Tribute to the early years of SNL. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; opens Feb. 25; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 465-0800.
SIN, A CARDINAL DEPOSED Prosecutor demands answers from a cardinal about sexual abuse in his archdiocese, by Michael Murphy, based on actual court transcripts. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 26; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 2. (323) 960-4442.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055.
TARTUFFE Moliere's indictment of hypocrisy, transplanted to the San Fernando Valley. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; opens Feb. 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (626) 683-6883.
THE THREEPENNY OPERA Saucy satire by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens Feb. 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (562) 436-4610.
A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD Based on the kids' books by Arnold Lobel, music by Robert Reale, book and lyrics by Willie Reale. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Feb. 21; Sat., Feb. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; thru March 1. (714) 708-5555.
YENTA: STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH Annie Korzen critiques life. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 21; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 460-4443.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
GO CANDIDA If Kathleen F. Conlin's staging of George Bernard Shaw's romantic comedy isn't perfect, it's sure close. One "fine morning in October, 1894," a self-satisfied local pastor Morell (Mark Deakins), who also happens to be a socialist, finds himself competing with a callow, 18-year-old "nervous disease" poet named Marchbanks (Johnathan McClain) for the affections of the pastor's wife, Candida (Willow Geer). Let your ideas compete with mine, then let her choose, the twitchy/arrogant young man challenges his senior. By the time Shaw's comedy has spun to is final, playful scene, everybody has lost something, and everybody has won something, and everybody, except Candida perhaps, has been charged and convicted of presumptuousness and hypocrisy. The themes haven't aged a day, the dialects are pitch perfect, yet this production hangs on the rare, meticulous brilliance of McClain's Marchbanks. His performance is a tour-de-force of physical comedy, a compendium of tics and an unceasing, and ceaselessly entertaining dance of belligerent attacks and coy withdrawals, each rolling atop the next with split-second timing. Deakins' pastor is a glorious counter presence, a handsome rock of vigorous pomposity, an emblem of privilege too sure of his so-called magnanimous ideas, and ideals. The joy is in watching them crumble, and watching him struggle with his own dignity. Grand turns also by Kate Hillinshead's love-smitten secretary, by Matthew Henerson's as Candida's blustery father, and Gabriel Diani's foundling-turned-aristocrat. In the title role, the elegant and beautiful Geer is slightly mannered in Act 1, but finds her confidence soon after. Michael C. Smith's drawing-room set comes packed with fastidious detail, as do Sherry Linnell's costumes. (SLM) Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Feb. 14 & 21, 3 p.m. and Feb. 26 & March 5, 8 p.m.); through March 8. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15.
THE FULL MONTY Steelworkers turn strippers, music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Terrance McNally. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Manhattan Beach & N. Redondo Beach blvds., Manhattan Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 372-4477.
GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's farce about a city dweller's move to a farm house. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (562) 494-1014.
GO BACK FOR MURDER Yet another Agatha Christie murder mystery. West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (818) 884-1907.
LUISA FERNANDA Moreno Torroba's 1932 zarzuela, set during the 1868 uprising against the queen of Spain. (In Spanish with English supertitles.). Ricardo Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St., L.A.; Through Feb. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 21, 3 & 8 p.m.. (323) 960-1057.
MAN OF LA MANCHA Dale Wasserman's adaptation of Don Quixote, music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 825-2101.
MINSKY' S The raid of Minsky's Burlesque house on New York's Lower East Side in 1925 - initiated when dancer Mary Dawson of Pennsylvania removed her top and then allowed her bare breasts to sway -- was the basis of William Friedkin's 1968 movie, The Night They Raided Minsky's. Historically, the whole thing was a publicity stunt by club owner Billy Minsky in order to draw crowds to his club, which presented a genre of entertainment that was on the ropes at the time -- wedged between moribund vaudeville and burgeoning Broadway. From a business standpoint, it was pretty good stunt that propelled a whole audience to the club when Minsky moved it uptown later that year. Bob Martin, Charles Strouse and Susan Birkenhead's new musical, Minsky's, at the Ahmanson (original book by Evan Hunter) bears as little resemblance to the film (it makes no claim to be a film adaptation) as it does to the historical record. The time has been flung forward a decade from the Roaring '20s to Depression-Era '30s, presumably to ramp up its relevance to our own hard times - which are echoed in lyrics sung by chorus girls: "Everyone wants an escape now/The country's in terrible shape now/Every time another bank fails/We go and polish our nails." This is the story of Billy Minsky (Christopher Fitzgerald), and his love-hate affair with the daughter (Katharine Leonard) of the prim city councilman (George Wendt), who's on a morality crusade to shut down all the burlesque houses in town. Minsky's is a clever, romantic musical that ambles along in no particular direction on the power of its charm, until it tries to fool us into believing that its pedestrian ambitions contain some higher purpose. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; Through March 1. (213) 628-2772.
NOISES OFF Michael Frayn's backstage comedy. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru March 8. (714) 708-5555.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a scarred recluse and the diva he adores. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.. (213) 365-3500.
GO PIPPIN I know we're on the cusp of a Depression and that theater audiences ache for frivolity and distraction, but this one really vexes, largely because it's so damnably seductive. First, Roger O. Hirson's book and Stehen Schwartz's music and lyrics combine into what has been one of the most produced musicals in colleges and high schools in the past 30 years. Add to that Jeff Calhoun's hyper-theatrical staging and choreography of a topflight ensemble in a style designed to accommodate the hearing-impaired actors of co-presenter Deaf West Theater, and you've got a extremely glossy carny show in which the central role is bifurcated between the hangdog charm of deaf actor Tyrone Giordano, and his voiced alter-ego, Michael Arden. The pair share the stage with a huge ensemble, one revealing through the physicality the agony of bliss of Charlamegne's son, Pippin, as he searches for the purpose of life, while the other gives voice to those expressions through a dextrous vocal interpretation and Schwartz's somewhat sappy songs rendered here with effervescent beauty. This is the latest in a series of Candide riffs (much searching for purpose these days), in which Pippin fights in a war, learns about sex as well as domesticity, commits patricide, serves as king, screws up by being benevolent to the peasants and dismantling the army while an Enemy Beyond encroaches. Silly boy. Shut up, go home and till your garden. Let smarter people take care of the empire. Your adopted son will dream and make the same mistakes. Pardon me, but this is crap posing as wisdom, truisms posing as truth, especially at a moment in our history when doing nothing but tending our garden has landed us collectively in the biggest sand trap in American history. I couldn't join the standing ovation on press night. I just couldn't, I was so pissed off - politically, philosophically. If this were just diversion, I'd have risen to my feet. I love diversion as much as anybody. But I felt in this production a creepy, reactionary underpinning that's even out of touch with our new government's position on everybody taking responsibility to pull each other up, collectively. And for this shimmering magic act to close out by cautioning us about the seductive qualities of veneer is a fraud of the first rank. The show is so well done, see it for yourself, and see if you're as annoyed as me. (SLM) Deaf West Theatre and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; (Jan. 31 perf at 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 17 perf at 7:30 p.m.; no perfs Feb. 18-20); through March 15. (213) 628-2772. http://centertheatregroup.org
RABBIT HOLE David Lindsay-Abaire's story of a family turned upside-down. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 589-1998.
GO STORMY WEATHER Mirrors mirrors on the walls. That's what you're seeing all over the stage in James Noone's set as Lena Horne (Leslie Uggams), now aging in the 1980s, observes her younger self (Nikki Crawford) through the travails of a difficult life. Her torments include having to surrender custody of her one, infant son, Teddy, to her estranged husband (Phil Attmore), as she chooses to leave New York to accept an offer by MGM Studios in Hollywood. For a light-skinned African-American chanteuse swimming upstream towards stardom in post WWII America, the cross currents she encounters include the kind of stock bigotry (lobbying not to play maids in the movies) and gossip surrounding her secret, tempestuous marriage to Jewish arranger, Lennie Hayton (Robert Torti). Another mirror image includes the resentful adult Teddy (Joran Barbour) and Horne's father, Teddy, Sr. (Cleavant Derricks). Ensnared in Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunt of the '50s, and thereby shunned by the Hollywood studios, Horne finds employment in France (of course) and on Broadway. The despondency caused by waking up one day and realizing that she's lost all the men in her life, including Teddy from kidney disease, raises the question of how one endures life's tempests. (As Linda says in Death of a Salesman, "Life is a casting off.") Such are the metaphysics of Sharleen Cooper Cohen's musical, suggested from the Horne' biography, Lena Horne, Entertainer, and punctuated by over two dozen classic jazz-pop hits, including "Come Rain or Come Shine," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Hooray for Hollywood," "When You're Smiling," and the eponymous "Stormy Weather" -- all accompanied by a 12-person orchestra perfectly conducted by musical director Linda Twine, and beautifully sung by members of the large ensemble. In her adaptation, Cohen frames Horne's journey down memory pain via conversations with her life friend and rival, Kay Thompson (Dee Hoty). Though Horne's snyde attitude towards this "friend," once attached to the Hollywood studio that betrayed her, creates a brittle and nicely unsentimental repartee, their conversations -- being locked in the past tense -- bog things down dramatically, making the musical feel longer than it otherwise might. Michael Bush's staging compensates for this drawback with sheen, partly because the songs are often so nicely tethered to Randy Skinner's sleek choreography, must mostly because of Crawford's knockout voice and sexy charisma, and the tender-sassy interpretations by Uggams. (SLM) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 1. (626) 356-7529.
SURVIVING SEX is a pretty good, facile sitcom by David Landsberg about the plight of romantic nebbish accountant Stan (Jeff Marlowe), trying to steer his battered life-raft through the cross currents of his own docility and inertia, and the presumed desire of the women in his life for real man who knows how to degrade them. That isn't really the life they want, but it's the romantic performance they want from their fellas. Nice guys finish last. Woody Allen has handled all this with more astuteness and aplomb, nonetheless Landsberg has crafted some witty, satirical riffs on the double-standards set by women that emerge from Stan's mouth in hilarious, furious crescendos. Marlowe is an accomplished comic whose droll reactions to the mayhem surrounding him produce some intoxicating moments. This is the kind of guy who financially supports his girlfriend -- foxy, aspiring actress, Denise (Amy Handelman). Stan then has to endure watching her rehearse in his own living room a sizzling love scene with her stud, scene partner (Steve Coombs). After Denise dumps him, Stan finds himself manacled to the kitchen table with new date (Dana Green) who's trying out her dominatrix fantasies. There's a pleasing performance by Mandy June Turpin, as the wife of Stan's best friend, Larry (Peter Story) -- particularly when she has to handle her hubbie's announcement that he's in love with Stan. The farce trips over itself, under Susan Morgenstern's otherwise fine direction, with strains of plausibility, such as Stan opening his front door with his trousers wrapped around his ankles, just so Larry can check to see how his date is going. When looking to have some sex toys delivered, Stan checks the phone book. Does anyone under 40 even use a phone book anymore? (SLM) Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 1. (818) 955-8101.
GO TAKING OVER You'd think from the way he walks across the aisle in front of the stage that Danny Hoch has a lumbering gait, until he springs onto the raised stage for his one-man-show as though his shoes had launchers in their heels. It's worth seeing him perform if only for that Puck-like nimbleness that he uses to portray a series of men and women from a Brooklyn neighborhood that's in the throes of being gentrified. This nimbleness reaches into verbal dexterity as well as the physical, hypnotic renditions of rapid-fire local cadences. Hoch's characters include an ex-con trying to hustle a job from an indie film crew setting up on the streets. He finally offers to move boxes for free just to show his mom, who's watching from a nearby brownstone window, that he's needed. The parodies are broad, vicious and tender at the same time, as in the case of an African-American woman who sits on her stoop keeping an eye on the local kids in her control central, and a Dominican taxi dispatcher who verbally reams in Spanish (translations provided on screen) the Puerto Rican and Mexican cabbies under his charge. His tenderly spoken assault is a display of bigotry, a comedy act that would get him thrown out of an office building in most American cities were he to unleash his torrent from a different post. One character includes Hoch himself, responding to letters of complaint that all the white guys in his show are assholes: Leading that list is Stewart Gottberg, the investor-owner of a new luxury high rise assuring his prospective clients that the residents of the "buffer" building next door -- apparently mandated by some "affordable housing" legislation that actually ushers in gentrification - won't be using their spa or swimming pool. Hoch, as himself, also recites with muted irony viewer complaints that his show has no message. What do you want us to do - stop progress? they ask. Perhaps his show is just a showcase dancing around a plight. He claims that the blood of a fallen gang-member is more "authentic" than an organic artichoke being sold in the Whole Foods store now occupying the site where the gang-member died. But since he starting touring his show about gentrification, an elephant has walked across his stage, and his determination to ignore it places what should be the hippest event in town way behind the curve. Since the economic meltdown, loans on construction of the luxury highrises he finds to be such a symbol of numbing, sterile consumerism have themselves been mostly frozen, while the new president is appealing to us to reconsider former habits of debt-based conspicuous consumption and narcissistic isolation that have driven our county into its current thornpatch. For the first time in 15 years, rents are actually dropping. This is the paradox of creating a topical show in an era when the topics change even more quickly than Hoch's turn-on-a-dime impersonations. Tony Taccone directs. (SLM) Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m. (added perf Feb. 22, 1 p.m. replaces 6:30 perf); through February 22. (213) 628-2772 or http://centertheatregroup.org.
NEW REVIEW TIME STANDS STILL is Donald Margulies' newest work, being given its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. It would be nice to see our institutional theaters dip a bit deeper into the lake of American playwrights (perhaps lesser-known ones) so that, as with the National Theatre of Great Britain for example, the theaters can take credit for promoting new voices, rather than just riding on the coattails of the established ones, but that's not the world we live in. It is, nonetheless, a relief and a pleasure to see such thoughtful and well-crafted new writing on the stage. Margulies is a compassionate observer of human behavior, and his play concerns a photo journalist (Anna Gunn), just returned to her Brooklyn digs from a German hospital after being struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She barks at her life partner who's a reporter (David Harbour) over his concerned reluctance to offer her a cup of coffee in public; her pithy attack seems on the surface to be over nothing but a cup of coffee. The play is actually about all that lies underneath -- the morality of her career as a photo-journalist that feeds on the miseries on the world, and spews it back in the form of coffee-table books. One of Margulies' sourer points is the service such journalists provides to liberal consumers who use bad news in the press to fuel their outrage over injustice, and to assuage their guilt over doing nothing about it. But would the world really be better without such journalists, and without those images? Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 15. (310) 208-5454. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? "R-rated" production of Edward Albee's drama. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (805) 667-2900.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN IN LOW-RISE JEANS WITH HIGH-CLASS ISSUES Matt Morillo's comedy about "being young, female, and living in the big city.". Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 8. (323) 465-0800.
GO BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS: A NOT-SO ROMANTIC COMEDY OF BAD MANNERS Rob Mersola's extravagant farce extracts its laughs from its characters' miseries and sexual misadventures: self-loathing, murderous competitiveness, anonymous erotic encounters. Mersola is a clever writer, who exploits the tried-and-true farce structure to engineer a funny final scene in which all the characters are brought together to have their lies, deceptions and shenanigans unmasked. A skillful cast meticulously mines the laughs in this crowd-pleasing date show. (NW). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7829.
GO BATTLE HYMN In a fit of passion and adoration, young Martha (Suzy Jane Hunt), has a fling with a pretty (and pretty oblivious) school chum, Henry (Bill Heck), as he's about to join the Union army during the Civil War (despite the couple's Kentucky home). Finding herself pregnant and alone, Martha eventually learns that Henry finds other men more attractive than her. After being spurned by her minister father (William Salyers), who banishes her to relatives far away, Jim Leonard's lovely new play, a variation on Voltaire's Candide, follows Martha as she traverses the country and the century, finding herself in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of Love, still pregnant, still waiting for "the right time" to bring her infant into the world. Leonard's play is more emotionally moving that intellectually rigorous - a compendium of symbols that add up to a century of clashes between America's founding principles and the betrayals of those principles that show up through history - from slavery to gay rights to religious hypocrisy. This land is our land? Hardly. And yet the prevailing symbol is that of birth, and re-birth, of ourselves. Leonard's structure has a few problems. Dwelling on the Civil War era through Act 1, and then racing through time in Act 2, its surrealism would be less jarring if the play's motion were more carefully proportioned. He's been given a first rank production with John Langs' quasi-cinematic staging, featuring some moving musical backdrops composed by Michael A. Levine. Bryan Sidney Bembridge's set and lighting have just the right amount of visual animation, without too much glib winking. Hunt simply charms as Martha, with a wide-eyed conviction that's largely blind to the betrayals that lurk around every corner; John Short and Robert Manning, Jr. complete the finely textured ensemble. (SLM) [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 7. (323) 461-3673. A Circle X Production.
BENCHES, SKETCHES OF THE 1930S Two one-acts: Black, Bold & Beautiful, the story of opera singer Marian Anderson, and Let Me In, about
Gone With the Wind's Hattie McDaniel. KSLG Playhouse Theater Players, 600 Moulton Ave., L.A.; Sat., 6 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 227-5410.
BILL W. AND DR. BOB The story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7827.
NEW REVIEWBLUES FOR CENTRAL AVENUE Willard Manus's play with music is a spirited glimpse at downtown L.A. of yore and folklore, of Central Avenue's storied era of jazz clubs and nightspots where the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and others were frequent headliners. The action unfolds in and around the famous Dunbar Hotel, where Lowell Smith (Wallace Demarrià), fresh from a stint in the army with plans on starting a record label, discovers the singing prowess of the lovely Roberta Youngblood (Christian Omari) during a night out on the Avenue. She grudgingly allows the aspiring businessman to guide her career, but when her prodigious talents attract the attention of a Hollywood mogul (Charles Anteby), jealousy and racial fault lines emerge, changing the lives of those involved. The story is not overly engaging, and Manus and director Ken Crosby do less than an artful job of telling it. Some of Manus's characters are only slightly deeper than caricatures, and his writing often lacks polish. Crosby's clunky direction make a play that clocks in at ninety minutes feel like three hours. These problems are somewhat mitigated by good acting, Lou Briggs serves up snappy music and splendid accompaniment on the piano, and stylish dancing by Barkia A. Croom and Jackie Marriot, proves that choreographer Anne Mesa has done her homework. The Little Company Hollywood Civic Light Opera at Write Act Theatre, 6125 Yucca Ave., Hollywood; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m., through March 7. (323) 469-3113. (Lovell Estell III)
Blues for Central Avenue Photo by Ellen Freyer
BRIDEZILLA STRIKES BACK! WE TV personality Cynthia Silver's one-woman show about the unreal world of reality television. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-7774.
DADDY'S DYIN' WHO'S GOT THE WILL More than 20 years after its Los Angeles debut, Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas is still good for laughs. Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan with an African-American cast. Family patriarch Buford Turnover (Sy Richardson) has one foot in the grave, and his children can't wait to get their hands on his will. Sara Lee (Regan Carrington) is a luckless-in-love spinster who dutifully tends to the old man. Her sister Lurlene (Michele Harrell) is a religious zealot, while Evalita (Taji Coleman), a trampy, six time divorcee, shows up with a pot smoking, long-haired "hippie" (Matt Skaja). Orville (Hardia Madden), is the sole male heir with a ton of emotional baggage, who constantly berates his overweight wife (Pam Trotter). Then there's the spirited elder Mama Willis (Baadja-Lynne), whose sharp tongue and iron will keeps the brood in line. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores dialogue is blisteringly caustic and funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. The production is double cast. (LE3) Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd. LA.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 7. (323) 954-9795.
NEW REVIEW GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner), a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City. These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without "representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies. Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision, based in his lawyer's misinformation, to remove all furniture from his home, where his ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out," there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody hard work. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-1056. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Divorce! The Musical Photo by Craig Schwartz
ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK FILM Local playwright Patrick McGowan's new play has no right to be as good as it is. The central character is the late theater director Alan Schneider (Bill Robens) -- known for staging some of the best plays by Absurdist authors, including Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, and introducing almost all of Samuel Beckett's plays to the American stage. Film has no right to be so good because Schneider, in this play, is an insufferable, flailing bully. The play is Schneider's nightmare -- an Absurdist nightmare, naturally -- a comedy and inexplicably scintillating entertainment about artistic failure. This biographical story, set in 1965 New York, features Schneider trying to make a film from a screenplay by Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward), who has come to New York to work with Schneider. Joining them to star in the slogging, portentous film, also named Film (now regarded by some historians as a "masterpiece") is Beckett's favorite comedian, Buster Keaton (Carl J. Johnson), long past his prime, spiritually at ease with his station in life, and willing to play along with the clueless intellectuals and a film crew whose patience gets sorely tested. Ward's Beckett is a delightfully rueful, awkward and solitary figure, aching in vain (of course) for the affections of the star-struck yet savvy prop mistress (the lovely Deana Barone). Johnson's Keaton (Mandi Moss handily plays the comedian in his younger days) has a pleasingly bemused perspective on Schneider's insane temper tantrums. Framing the story are slivers of Waiting for Godot in both French and English, and, in another nod to Beckett, a vaudeville in front of a curtain, featuring a kind of Mutt and Jeff routine, here played out by Schneider and the source of his envy, director Mike Nichols (who grabbed the job directing the movie of Virginia Woolf), portrayed here as a figure of rare competence by Trevor H. Olsen. Despite his production being slightly too long, director Trevor Biship knows exactly what he's doing, astutely staging the action with supplementary archived film clips on Sarah Palmrose's emblematic set of a stage within a stage within a stage, each with its own curtain, and together depicting the multiple, clashing realities inside Schneider's tormented brain. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 21. (323) 856-8611. (Steven Leigh Morris)
FLIGHT: THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH Garth Wingfield's bio-drama about the famous American aviator is more like a overstated, cautionary tale about the perils of being a celebrity. Rather than presenting a structured story with a plot or dramatic arc, the writer gives us a montage of scenes that come across like a collection of news headlines and interviews. Gerald Downey does a fine turn as the Everyman pilot, whose 1927 flight from New York to Paris gave him instant acclaim. And then there's the matter of the kidnapping of baby Charles, and Lindy's foot-in-mouth debacle as a Nazi sympathizer, all of which occurred in the span of 14 years, turning Lindbergh from hero to heel. Wingfield doesn't probe these events in depth, doesn't provide a meaningful context or perspective, which is too bad because we miss a true sense of Lindbergh and his life. (He was also an author, scientist and environmentalist.) Instead, the picture here is of a likable but cranky "aw-shucks," fellow slyly exploited by a bevy of rapacious reporters (played by Eric Charles Jorgenson), who is badly in need of a P.R. man. The acting is spotty at best, but Robin Roy is passable as Anne Lindbergh. James Carey provides good direction. (LE3)Attic Theater & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 14. (323) 525-0600.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
GEM OF THE OCEAN August Wilson's ten-play chronicle of the 20th century African-American experience is one of the great achievements in dramatic literature. Gem of the Ocean, the first play in the cycle, is probably the playwright's most symbolic and provocative. The setting is 1904, Pittsburgh, a time when many blacks were no better off than they were during chattel slavery. But the home of 287 year old Aunt Ester (alternate Carlease Burke), is a place of rest, refuge and mystery for a colorful group of residents and regulars. Eli (Jeris Lee Poindexter) is a boarder/handyman with an angel's heart; Black Mary(Tené Carter Miller) is a long-suffering maid and washerwoman; and her brother Cesar (Rocky Gardiner), a badge-heavy cop with a Napoleon Complex whose primary function is to control the "colored" people of the city. Then there's the rabble-rousing, garrulous Solly Two Kings (a star turn by Adolphus Ward), a former Union scout who helped runaway slaves. When a troubled stranger, Citizen Barlow(Keith Arthur Bolden), steals into the house seeking Ester's magical soul-cleansing powers, it sets off a chain of events that forever alters the lives of all those involved. Gem is a play where grand themes like the connection between past and present, the nature of freedom and spiritual redemption are explored, but you don't get that sense here, at least not in a dynamic fashion. With the exception of Ward, the performances lack the necessary polish and emotional resonance Director Ben Bradley who did brilliant work in Fountain's production of Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, is not at his best here, as the pacing at times is far from crisp - though I did see it late in the run. Rounding out the cast is Stephen Marshall. (LE3)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (323)-663-1525.
THE GRADUATE College grad gets his freak on, adapted by Terry Johnson, from the 1967 film and the Charles Webb novel. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 460-4443.
GO A GRAND GUIGNOL CHILDREN'S SHOW "Not for children" says the program's subhead -- and they're not kidding. Tapping the same root used by Shockheaded Peter, writer-director Debbie McMahon takes the scariest fairy tales in the world, and draws both their violence and latent eroticism through a vivacious and rude entertainment that's part-French vaudeville and part-British Punch and Judy puppet show. Not meaning to be overly literal, but there was some vagueness as to the era: The production is framed as a touring show, circa 1930, while, at the same time, being a birthday party for Monsieur Guignol, who turns 200 this year. So Puppets Punch and Guignol perch in their wooden booth looking down on their human replicas, as four fairy tales are played with song and dance, with Chris Bell's set (sheet backdrops, mostly) and puppets, Jeanne Simpson's charmingly goofy choreography and Matt Richter's deliberately rambling lighting design. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cross between a snuff tale and pedophile's wet dream, as Ms. Hood (Hannah Chodos) removes her red bonnet (revealing pigtails, of course) before stripping down for the Wolf (Gary Karp), languishing in the bed of Grandma (Vanessa Forster), whom he's just eaten. (There may have been a reference to her being eaten out; at least that joke was made about somebody.) The ensuing carnage shows poor Little Red with an alarmed facial expression, as her bloodied intestines are strewn from her midsection around the stage. "The Ugly Ducking" is a lovely and considerably more benign costume parade about family and tribes. "Rapunzel" is an R-rated production with finger puppets, while "Hansel and Gretel" turns into an impressively disturbing saga of cannibalism, coming from the same country that put a millions of people into ovens. Though the sophomoric Punch/Guignol repartee grows tiring, and the dramatic beats within the fairy tales need paring, there's no denying how the lurid morbidity of the event sneaks up on you. And when the witch, opening her oven, tells Hansel and Gretel, "You thought the famine hasn't come to my house!" the tingles up the spine run hot and cold. (SLM) Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. ; through February 20. (323) 871-1912 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
NEW REVIEW GRAND MOTEL The real star of Michael Sargent's new farce is the set - Chris Covics' stunningly realistic back yard of a Palm Springs men-only nudist motel, replete with lawn chairs and lawn, swimming pool containing little rubber duckies, the motel's stacco walls and a sliding door to the room facing the pool. Early in Act 1, aging "degenerate southern playwright" Cornelius Coffin (Dennis Christopher) staggers from that room into the 95 degree heat at 10 a.m., dressed in a white shroud, like Tennessee Williams or "like the men wear in Morocco." As though jolted by a surge of electricity, he flails backwards upon entering the heat, shielding his eyes from the glare and staggering back into his room to retrieve his sunglasses. It's one in a series of funny, small jokes, nicely staged by the author. Coffin is hiding from the East Coast premiere of his latest play, or at least hiding from the reviews that are due out any moment. There's a suicide pact he makes with a male model (Andy Hopper) who insists he has a girlfriend, while Coffin's so called friend, Maria St. Juiced (Shannon Holt), arrives by scaling an eight-foot wall. Holt offers a performances of nicely timed tics and wiggles that reveal her character's idiosyncratic insanity. Another wall-hopper is the local, prancing male escort (Nick Soper). The motel's co-owners (Craig Johnson and Erik Hanson) are struggling to keep the place afloat, though we hear that the competition across the street, another male nudist motel called The Deep End, is fully booked. Nice comedic cameos also by Bruce Adel and Nathaniel Stanton as an aging couple , respectively named Low Hangers and Papa Smurf, who come to P.S. to reinvigorate their otherwise flaccid love life. There is a plot about things not being what they seem, but this is essentially a comedy of manners. Sargent's structure is so languid that once the jokes about the atmosphere tumble away, the play is left wearing mere threads, not unlike its characters. Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 28. (323) 466-7781. (Steven Leigh Morris)
HANGIN' OUT: THAT NAKED MUSICAL Conceiver-creator Robert Schrock is trying to summon lightning to strike twice on much the same concept - stark naked performers gamely crooning and dancing through songs - that took his Naked Boys Singing from a West Hollywood hit to an off-Broadway hit. Here, 19 writers and musical director Gerard Sternbach, on keyboard, serve up a pastiche of almost two dozen ballads and up-tempo musical comedy standards on themes of nakedness, sexual awakening, sexual arousal, body image and self-esteem. These are performed by three men (Eric B. Anthony, Marco Infante and Brent Keast) and three women (Heather Capps, Carole Foreman and Lana Harper) entirely in the buff, singing and prancing like nudists on a tropical beach to Ken Roht's choreography on and around small wooden blocks on a stage mostly defined by a lush upstage curtain. Like the remake of some very successful movie, it pales slightly when compared to the original, perhaps because it's trying to reinvent that earlier wheel. With a few notable exceptions ("Patron Saint" and "Work of Art") the songs just don't have the wit and vigor of Naked Boys. . It's slightly paradoxical that the company, with varying body types and ages, some buff, some less so, are so comfortable in their skin, and so charming, that the impact of their nudity eventually wears off, exposing not their flaws, but the those of the musical itself. They are certainly all profiles in courage. (SLM) Macha Theatre, 1107 Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 15. (323) 960-4443.
HEART ON A WIRE Tongue in Chic*ana (Ramona Pilar Gonzales, Selene Santiago and Michelle Zamora) look for love in three vingnettes with puppet interludes. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (323) 263-7684.
THE HIGH High school drama, "from OMG to LOL.". COMEDYSPORTZ, 733 N. Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 856-4796.
GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.
I DON'T USUALLY DO THIS Veronica Kelly and Katie McCune's satire about dating in Los Angeles. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24. (323) 465-4446.
THE INCREASED DIFFICULTY OF CONCENTRATION Vaclav Havel's absurdist sex games. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7788.
IXNAY Deceased Japanese-American says no way to reincarnation as a Japanese-American, in Paul Kikuchi's play. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (213) 625-7000.
NEW REVIEW GO THE JAZZ AGE The title phrase, coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the desperate frivolity of the post WWI era, captures the spirit if not the style of Allan Knee's fascinating, melodramatic fantasy of life. The play shows the intersecting lives of Fitzgerald (Luke Macfarlane), his troubled southern belle wife Zelda (Heather Prete), and literary rival Ernest Hemingway (Jeremy Gabriel). Fitzgerald is at the apex of his career when he tries to woo the reluctant, soon-to-be poster boy for machismo into his world. Opposites in style, but with both being enthusiastic expats in Paris, the hard-drinking womanizers bond, spar and occasionally hint at urges toward homoeroticism through more than a decade of rocky friendship. With their live performance of exhilarating period (and some original) music, Ian Whitcomb and his Bungalow Boys punctuate much of the play. Director Michael Matthews and the fine cast follow Knee's heavy-handed writing with fierce dramatics that effectively play like the most overarching characterizations of 1940s plays by Tennessee Williams - with Prete's powerful Zelda resembling Blanche. Kurt Boetcher's set evocatively transforms The Blank's tiny space, pairing masculine wood frames with panels of effete Tiffany's blue. 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Bvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 661-9827. The Blank Theatre. (Tom Provenzano)
The Jazz Age Photo courtesy of Blank Theatre Company
LET THE EAGLE SOAR Merchandise Productions presents sketch comedy with a dash of video, music and dance. I.O. WEST, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 19. (323) 962-7560.
GO LIGHT UP THE SKY Moss Hart's sharp, hard-boiled 1946 farce is the quintessential backstage tale of the mid-20th century. His characters are often based on real people: fast-talking producer Sidney Black (Benjamin Burdick) and his sassy ice-skater wife, Frances (Andrea Syglowski), are almost certainly meant to suggest Mr. and Mrs. Billy Rose. The characters are types, but Hart transmutes them into archtypes, readily recognizable to those too young to remember the era they represent. We meet them in a hotel in Boston, where they're preparing for the out-of-town opening of a show they hope will go off "like a roman candle in the tired face of show business." There's the self-dramatizing star Irene (Laura Flanagan), her dim-bulb husband (Richard Michael Knolla), and her earthy, disenchanted mother (Barbara Schofield). The pretentious, over-emotional director (Colin Campbell) is said to cry at card-tricks, and the callow young playwright (Dominic Spillane) must undergo his theatrical baptism by fire. Hart's script crackles with wit and wise-cracks, and, under the clever direction of Bjorn Johnson, the laughter is near-constant on Victoria Profitt's art-deco set. Burdick is a dynamo of verbal pyrotechnics, and he's evenly matched by most of the cast, who make the most of Hart's cynical/sentimental Valentine to show business. (NW) Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 7. (323) 882-6912.
LOVE BITES - VOLUME 8.0 Eight new plays debut in Elephant Theatre Company's annual short-form festival. Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 14. (323) 960-4410.
GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp, not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star (Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman. Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave (both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR Tennessee Williams' comedic drama about a woman awaiting matrimony. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 939-9220.
NEW REVIEW GO MAGNUM OPUS THEATRE: LOVE WRITTEN IN THE STARS The fury of reading through piles of crappy screenplays for exploitive wages has to be what motivated this vicious comedy series. As playwright Jon Robin Baitz once said, L.A. theater offers a response to the "toxicity of living in a company town," and Magnum Opus Theatre is a very strong response to just that. In director Joe Jordan's crisp as toast style, a company of nine performs this excruciating screenplay with unfettered mockery, with Your Host Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe, a.k.a. "Thursty" (Brandon Clark, in red dinner jacket and the droll pomposity of Alistaire Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre) reading all the stage directions, including misspellings. This is the story of a chubby girl named Amber (Franci Montgomery, who is not chubby at all, which is part of the joke), abused like Cinderella by her beer-swilling aunt (CJ Merriman), who curses her, slaps her and calls her a pig -- a Punch and Judy show by any other name. Amber has a fantasy lover, the ghost of a Hollywood actor (Michael Lanahan) accidentally slain during the filming of a gangster gun battle. Through plot convolutions to tedious to enumerate, Amber winds up in Hollywood, in a movie about her travails, for which she receives an Academy Award. As the plot slid into its final trajectory, the crowd shouted out "noooooh", as it became cognizant of where this was heading. Any play can be ridiculed simply by employing theatrical devices used here: Whenever "Thursty" reads: "Jeff gives her a passionate kiss," Lanahan uses his fingers to withdraw a sloppy kiss from his mouth, which he then palms off to Montgomery's hand, who then slips the "kiss" into her blouse. But even this wildly presentation brand of theatrical ridicule can't disguise the artlessness of the dialogue and stage directions. What emerges through the event's cruelty, besides the mercifully unnamed screenwriter's ineptitude, is a portrait of the writer, for whom Amber is an obvious standin. As the lampoon wears itself out, we're left with something underneath that's gone beyond parody to the pathetic - the reasons that somebody would have written such a story in the first place, and the hollow, generic fantasies that serve as balm for her feelings of isolation. Watching this show is like watching well trained runners pushing somebody out of a wheelchair. That's a comic bit from old sketch TV shows, but 90 minutes of it leaves you feeling that the company's comic fury is so strong, and its skills so sharp, the joke has been propelled beyond its target to a very dark place indeed. Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A.; Fri., 11 p.m.; through Feb. 27. (310) 281-8337. (Steven Leigh Morris)
THE MAKING OF A MULATTO Born in France to a Black father from North Carolina and a white French mother, writer-performer Juliette Fairley should have a compelling tale to tell. Unfortunately, Fairley delivers a slapdash one-woman outing that merely scratches the surface of the equally challenging struggles her parents' romance and marriage, and her own growing up a mixed race child in a prejudiced America. Under Bill Becker's shaky direction, the show has disjointed pacing due to Fairley's underdeveloped characters and storyline, and a running time just shy of 30 minutes. We do learn that as a child, Fairley's mother and her family endured hardship under the Nazi occupation of Paris and that Fairley's father joined the U.S. Air Force to be a pilot, but his race precluded him from fulfilling that dream. Yet Fairley gives short shrift to her parents' relationship and to how it endured under American racism once the airman and his wife retuned from his European stint. Fairley would do well to take sufficient time and expand this heartfelt work-in-progress and do justice to her family's assuredly intriguing legacy. Sunset Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m. on Feb.22, March 22, April 5 & 19, and May 3. (323) 957-4652. (Martín Hernández) .
GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer) and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more roll-with-the-punches pal. (DK) Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through March 8. (800) 595-4849. Note: Roles alternate.
THE MIRACLE WORKER The Helen Keller story, by William Gibson. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 15. (323) 965-9996.
GO MISSIONARY POSITION Steven Fales' earlier monodrama, the autobiographical Confessions of a Mormon Boy, told the tale of Fales' futile attempts to escape his homosexuality, his doomed marriage, his excommunication from the Mormon Church, a brief career as a male prostitute, drug addiction, rehabilitation, and his theatrical career as "a gay Mormon chorus boy." It was, in its way, an epic tale, but this, the second installment of his Mormon Boy Trilogy, is more like a comic footnote. It examines the two years he spent as a Mormon missionary in Portugal. Sexually frustrated, still in denial about his homosexuality and desperately trying to maintain his Mormon beliefs, he took refuge in hard work, unconsummated crushes, fantasies, and rationalizations. Though he clearly considers the beliefs and rituals of the Church of Latter Day Saints absurd, Fales knows Mormonism from the inside. Born into a sixth generation Mormon family, he was indoctrinated from birth, and despite his antagonism toward that Church (particularly in the wake of its vast and possibly illegal financial support for the campaign to pass Proposition 8), he retains a kind of rueful, bemused affection for its follies. An attractive, engaging performer, and an able raconteur, he can be very funny. Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (323) 957-1884 or www.tix.com. (Neal Weaver)
Missionary Position Photo by Efrain Schunior
GO MODEL BEHAVIOR "A play played at right angles" might be an apt description of Richard Alger's reimagination of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Masterfully choreographed and directed by Tina Kronis, an ensemble of eleven performers, in their own words, "shreds" the story into a movement-based, bare-bones series of scenes punctuated by musical numbers. The action follows London lawyer Mr. Utterson (Jake Eberle) investigating strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Jekyll (Jacob Sidney), and the misanthropic Mr. Hyde, who is first discovered by Utterson's acquaintance, Mr. Enfield (Jonathan Green). Utterson is aided by reports from Jekyll's butler, Mr. Poole (Mark Skeens), and his domestic staff, as well as by Dr. Lanyon (David LM McIntyre), to whom Jekyll reveals his split personality. The performers, dressed in period attire but barefoot, remind one of the ensembles behind avant-garde works of the 1960s like The Serpent or modern incarnations like The Wooster Group. Christopher Kuhl's dynamic lighting, which compensates for the almost non-existent set, emphasizes Kronis' precise direction and 90-degree choreography. The cast shines in its exacting execution of Kronis' minimalist vision, proving Mr. Utterson's observation that "never is a reflection more thoroughly itself than when it is nothing." (MK) 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., downtown; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m. Sun., 3 p.m. (note: added perf Feb. 12., 8 p.m.; no perfs Feb. 14. ); through February 22. (213) 745-6516. A Theatre Movement Bazaar Production.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
GO POOR, POOR LEAR In her one woman Shakespeare show-within-a-show, Nina Sallinen nearly triples her age to play a 90-year-old Finnish diva, returning to the stage after decades away to perform King Lear wit just a hat, a doll, and a flower to represent the king's three ill-fated daughters. The aged actress is seemingly in constant motion, thrilled to back in the spotlight, but her overactive mouth, her limbs and, on occasion, her mind are betraying her. When her stubborn legs and distracted brain cause her to freeze up on stage, it's as electric as her shock of white hair that shakes loose in wild directions. A solo performance of King Lear is a vanity piece, however cleverly slummed up with nice touches like the hairdryer Sallinen clicks on so that she can deliver the king's "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" speech into its tinny gale. But what's really at stake for the ancient drama queen is that her estranged daughters -- and the evening's guests of honor -- have instead gone to the movies, spinning her into a manic depression where she acknowledges the parallels between her characters and herself. A shattered second act soliloquy over-explains what we've enjoyed intuiting, but when Sallinen's actress drops her facade and asks the audience to see her for who she really is, the moment is so kinetic that we forget we're still looking at a fictional creation. (AN) The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 1. (818) 430-4835.
POPE JOAN Christopher Moore's musical (he wrote the book, lyrics and music), here directed and choreographed by Bo Crowell, is a largely tedious historical epic about a naive female child, tenderly played by Whitney Avalon, driven from England to a French monarch's bed. Through an intricate web of fortune and alliances, not to mention her uncanny skill to raise the dead, she is elected Pope. It takes until the middle of Act 2 for her actually to make it into pontiff's garb, which is when her callowness comes to the surface; her insistence on feeding the peasants while she's surrounded by power-mongering clerics is not so far removed from politics in Washington right now. The effect of all this lumbering narrative, which includes dreadful, archaic dialogue, is that the one striking visual symbol of the central character, stripped and with a crucifix resting on her naked back, isn't really the essence of much that's actually being dramatized. (SLM). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 960-4412.
RESIGNATION DAY Terry Southern wrote Easy Rider, Barbarella, Doctor Strangelove and a host of other classic movies along with searing and clever articles and stories steeped in a Hippie intellectualism, from an eara in which Abbie Hoffman and Lenny Bruce were prophets. He is certainly a man whose life makes for interesting theater, and despite some missteps, playwright Charles Pike has written a generally interesting semi-biographical work. However, two distinct plays emerge out of Pike's "day in the life" approach to his subject. One is a deep and disturbing, darkly comedic portrait of a mad genius of the '60s (a suitably sardonic Chairman Barnes) disintegrating into professional seclusion. The other is a punch-line-laden, vaudevillian romp packed with iconic characters (including William Burroughs played with rich dryness by Roy Allen). The collisions of these two tracks keep either from melding into a singular stage experience. The cast is mostly good, despite some sloppy timing (possibly the result of a jittery opening night). But David LM McIntyre's loose staging does dull some potentially sharp and funny moments. The play is set on the day of Richard Nixon's resignation, a day of joy for Terry and his gaggle, who spend the second act spouting wry liberal vitriol, perhaps tacitly lamenting that their enemy-- and essentially their purpose-- is gone. (LR) Sacred Fools Theater, 660 Heliotrope, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 21. (310) 281-8337.
REVERB Leslye Headland's sobering dramedy gives new meaning to the term "dysfunctional relationship." Dorian (Wes Whitehead) is a struggling musician in L.A's rock music world on the verge of the "break" that will propel him to stardom. But his self-absorption and personality quirks often put him at odds with band mates, Hank (Brandon Scott) and Shane (Patrick Graves). However, the squabbles with his fellow musicians pale in comparison to the volatile complexities that inform Dorian's relationship with his ex-girlfriend, June (Melissa Stephens). Both are ensnared in a grotesque attraction for each other fueled by lust, gratuitous physical brutality and shared, lacerating pain. When Dorian's bible-thumping sister, Lydia (Laila Ayad), informs him that his father is dying, Dorian is ultimately forced into a harrowing confrontation with his own demons. First-class performances and Headland's smart direction don't quite compensate for a script, that's cleverly written but is often too wordy and static. The characters are compelling and well sketched, yet the playwright doesn't delve perceptively enough into their personalities to make their emotional and psychological fault lines truly convincing. (LE3) Working Stage Theatre, 1516 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Feb. 22. (323) 630-3016. An Iama Theatre Company production.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 281-8337.
SOUTHERN GIRLS By Sheri Bailey and Duran Temple. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1. (323) 960-7822.
NEW REVIEW STRIP In writer-director George Damian's self-described play about eight dancers at a gentlemen's club, the boundary between reality, dreams and theater is as narrow as a G-string. It's an LA curio: the product of a town where actresses work as strippers only to get cast as wanna be actresses working as strippers in a play that features a dozen actual pole dances -- during which the audience is encouraged to whoop and throw money. How meta. The plot and acting are functional, perhaps even fun for fans of trainwreck B-movies; here, the dancing reigns supreme. Sets range from awe-inspiring athleticism where the performers do the splits ten feet off the ground upside down and supported by the mere crook of an elbow before drizzling down the pole like honey; to physical comedy, as the newbie or strung out strippers twirl madly in seemingly constant peril of shattering an ankle bound in 6-inch clear stilettos. (The play's sponsors include a waxing company and a shoe store on Hollywood Blvd.) The story comes with a dose of pathos, but it's no victim's lament -- just unapologetic titillation dotted with stripper trivia and wisdom where the happy-enough ending is the once-innocent Midwest ingenue whirling with whiplash speed around the pole with a smile. The Hayworth Studio Upstairs, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 21. (323) 960-7784. (Amy Nicholson)
THREE SISTERS A new company named Chalk Repertory, consisting largely of alums from the U.C. San Diego Theatre and Dance Department, have rolled in Hollywood with a production of Chekhov's century old masterwork about miserable marriages, unrequited loves and stifled ambitions (in a colloquial adaptation by Susan Coyne). Here it's set quasi-atmospherically within the ornate confines of the newly and beautifully remodeled Masonic Lodge of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The audience sits on two sides of the elongated rectangular stage, at the head of which is a separated playing area used for a banquet scene or, later in the play, an area depicting the woods (set and projection design by Tom Ontiveros). This means that the action floats all over the room, presenting a challenge to lighting desgners Rebecca Bonebrake and Ontiveros, who are working with only four lighting instruments in the sky, plus some floor-lights, and the glow emanating from the room's grand chandeliers and some art nouveau floor lamps that punctuate the sprawling playing area. The result is a number of scenes played in murky shadows, blurring the dramatic focus of this tender, difficult play. Larissa Kokernot's staging mixes Slavic and Japanese influences, with the over-educated Prozorov family (that would be Masha, Irena, Olga and their brother, Andrei) - stranded in the provinces and yearning for a more cultured life -- all played by Asian-American actors, the women sometimes dressed in silky kimono-like attire. Kokernot's laconic staging avoids the pitfalls of strained farce with a languor that allows Chekhov's innate humor to bubble out, gently, between the ruminations and glances. The biggest drawback, however, is that the actors playing the Pozorovs careen between overplaying and underplaying so that the play's core feels both overly and underly mannered. Some of the supporting cast, however, provides a sense of what this all could be, were its potential matched by the sparks of talent on the stage: Tony Amendola's crusty/kind layabout doctor Chebutykin, for example, or Teri Reeves' vixen Natasha, who grows increasingly, viciously confident as her power accrues. Adam J. Smith's love-struck Baron Tuzenbach possesses an earnest and endearing clarity of purpose, while Corey Brill's schoolteacher, Kulygin, presents a soft-spoken clown, suffering the quiet of agony of watching his wife fall in love with the visiting battery commander, Vershinin (Ricardo Antonio Chavira, in a strong and generously dignified portrayal). Owiso Odera is particularly grand as the seething and often rude army captain Solyony, prone to vicious verbal outbursts followed by inevitable remorse and embarrassment. (SLM) Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Masonic Lodge, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through February 22. (866) 468-3399. A Chalk Repertory production.
TILTED FRAME Multimedia improv comedy, directed by Patrick Bristow and Matthew Quinn. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 960-7753.
NEW REVIEW THE TODD AND MOLLY SHOW The talented Todd Heughens and Molly O'Leary certainly have a blast on stage together in their two-person, sketch comedy offering that inlcudes some music. However, most of their pieces belabor punchlines, giving this revue the choppy rhythm of a work in development, rather than a sharp, witty cavalcade of laughs. Intermittent video pieces that share the same sluggish pacing don't enliven the downtime between sketches as much as they should. Director-choreographer Karl Warden has this duo following tried-and-true dance moves well, but like the whole show, none of the steps is really inspired. Now there are clear high points, such as their penultimate go as an aging lounge act couple that--between complaining about their tranny son and lesbian daughter--break into hilarious versions of contemporary club favorites. But what really salvages the night is how absolutely likeable these performers are, how much we applaud their desire to fight middle age ennui with the sheer power of jazz hands and fart jokes. Heh Heh. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs., 8 p.m; through February 26. www.plays411.net/thetoddandmollyshow (Luis Reyes)
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Family tone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 14. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.
GO THE DINING ROOM A.R. Gurney's engaging, bittersweet 1982 play details life in a dining room -- or, rather, several dining rooms -- inhabited by a multitude of characters. Short, overlapping vignettes transpire around a dining room table: a birthday party, illicit meetings, student projects, and, of course, family gatherings. Most of the bits present snapshots of family dynamics stressing the universality of what happens around a table, despite the WASPy leanings of the material. With minimal costume changes, the actors use vocal mannerisms to carve out distinct characters, often with physical transformations to suggest age and vitality. Particularly memorable vignettes include an architect trying to convince a psychiatrist to tear down the walls of the dining room to make an office, two teenagers drinking gin mixed with vodka and Fresca, a Thanksgiving dinner interrupted by a mentally failing matriarch and a student filming an old-fashioned aunt for an anthropology class. The events take place on Vandy Scoates expansive, well-appointed set, and the six actors (Matthew Ashford, Mimi Cozzens, Robert Briscoe Evans, James Greene, Tracy Powell and Amanda Tepe) all demonstrate colorful versatility. Kay Cole's fluid direction is most in evidence when vignettes overlap one another without distracting the audience from the dialogue. (SR) Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. thru Feb. 15. (818) 765-8732. An Interact Theatre Company production.
A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR Bunyan Bay prepares for its summer fair, book and lyrics by Phil Olson. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.
DRACULA Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's erotic take on Bram Stoker's vampire tale. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 22. (818) 508-7101.
HUNTER GATHERERS Though it poses as a Buñuelian comedy of manners, San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's broad suburban satire is to the Surrealist master's dissections of bourgeois hypocrisy what a baseball bat is to a surgeon's scalpel. Nachtrieb's comic meat is the venerable dinner party gone-bad. Pam (Sara Hennessy) and Richard (Doug Newell) play host to high-school chums Wendy (Vonessa Martin) and Tom (Steven Schub) to observe the couples' mutual, twelfth wedding anniversary. That there is little to celebrate becomes quickly apparent. The priapic, ex-jock Richard is an insatiable carnivore with a literal blood lust (the play opens with him slaughtering a lamb on the living room floor for the evening roast) that disgusts the sexually repressed Pam. The concupiscent, maternally frustrated Wendy loves flesh (especially, as it turns out, Richard's), much to the dismay of the salad-eating, sexually impotent Tom. If such unlikely marital mismatches and simmering sexual yearnings are the stuff of comic dynamite, Nachtrieb never finds the fuse. Blame an overdeveloped taste for the obvious. Nachtrieb's characters are too immediately transparent and one-note; they muster neither the dignity to feed a farce nor the dimensionality to sustain the most superficial of sitcoms. Director Dámaso Rodriguez's puzzling inability to stage the surfeit of visual and physical gags allows the audience to get so far ahead of the punch lines the laughter never quite catches up. (BR) Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 356-PLAY. A Furious Theatre Company production. (
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES provides a platform for audience members to interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as recreated by the ensemble in a series of monologues. The show's efforts to dismantle the fourth wall yield tame results at best. One problem involves timeliness. The night I attended, the lineup (which varies from night to night) included Christine Jorgenson, Billy Carter, David Koresh, Julia Phillips, Elia Kazan and Marge Schott. None of these people are in the limelight today and - with the exception of Kazan -- their public lives, once deemed provocative, no longer seem controversial or even relevant. (How much more volcanic the show might have been had we been able to challenge Karl Rove or Eliot Spitzer, or the current media queen bee, Sarah Palin.). Another drawback is relying on the audience for conflict: Even primed with pre-show champagne, my fellow theater-goers' questions, though earnestly exhorted, induced only scant dramatic dustup. And the monologues themselves , developed collaboratively by creator-producer Kristin Stone, director Michael Cohn and the individual performers, were uneven in quality. Three performances succeeded: Adam LeBow's intense Kazan, Mary McDonald's bitingly comic Schott, and Leonora Gershman, on target as Hollywood bad girl, Julia Phillips. But Stone's flirty Jorgenson, Bryan Safi's sloppily inebriated Carter and David Shofner's non-compelling Koresh all lacked persuasiveness, and some of the too-familiar liberties taken with audience members were just embarrassing. (DK) Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 1. (866) 811-4111.
IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.
LA RONDE Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (818) 500-7200.
A LOVELY PLACE FOR A PICNIC Ladislav Smocek's antiwar play, reset in the jungles of Vietnam by Pavel Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru March 24. (866) 811-4111.
MISCONCEPTIONS Seven short plays by Art Shulman. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.
MODERN LOVE Anthony Mora's play is centered on a male obsession: Screenwriter-producer-director Jack (Rico Simonini) becomes convinced that studio receptionist Sharon (Laura McLauchlin) is the actual, living embodiment of the character he has created. He rashly attempts to cast her as the lead in his film, without consulting the studio or his co-producer. Despite the play's title, it's more about power than about love. Ruthless producer Carla (Ann Convery) and Jack mercilessly demonstrate to a young writer (Michelle Draper) how powerless she is, and she's soon superseded by Jack. Nymphet star Jillian (Aubrie Weinholt) uses her box-office clout to bully and humiliate those around her. Pushy Sharon uses her neediness as a weapon, and Jack's tenuous authority is undermined when he indulges in personal feelings. Eccentric preacher/con-man (Richard Rossi) seeks to save Jack's soul--and promote his own idea for a TV show. There may be a coherent play here somewhere, but at present Mora's script takes off in all directions, sometimes at the expense of logic and credibility. Director Chelsea Sutton faithfully deploys her able cast in service of the play. (NW) Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Feb. 21. (818) 558-5702 or email@example.com.
MURDER ON THE BOUNDING MAIN On an ocean liner crossing from New York to Southampton, England, malicious arch-conservative radio gossip columnist Mason Armstrong is shot down during a midnight promenade on deck. The suspects include a dim-witted movie star (Brian Ames), who spends his days shooting albatross; his manager (Richard Leppig), who's rumored to be having what in truth would be an improbable affair with the star, a blonde chanteuse named Bernadette (Maureen Ganz). Then there's a fourth-rate comedian named Rudy Tudy (Barry Schwam), who spouts endless, bad one-liners; a mysterious widow (Rosina Pinchot); and Armstrong's formidable, red-baiting assistant (understudy Christine Soldate). The ship's captain (Richard Large) enlists the aid of honeymooning detective Mordecai Pierce (writer-actor Jack Chansler) and his new bride, Teresa (Joanna Houghton), to help solve the crime. Chansler's script is set in 1953, but it would have seemed dated even then, and it's hard to care about his tissue paper characters. Even Detective Pierce is a sexist homophobe. The only remotely sympathetic figures are the detective's wife, and the elderly widow who's still mourning the death of her screenwriter husband, driven to suicide by the Hollywood blacklist. There's little or no suspense (who cares whodunit?), and even less probability. (NW) The Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2:30, through Feb. 21. (626) 256-3809 https://sierramadreplayhouse.org.
OLD BROADS CAN'T DUNK Senior-citizen basketball league gets a new coach, in Art Shulman's comedy. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (818) 288-7312.
GO A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Playwright Martin McDonagh -- a four time Tony nominee is known for his rhythmic, ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with past grievances that neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't even involve them. Here, a part time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney), are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered how she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say, flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the killer that could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story; the focus is on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spins itself into an obsession with fairness where characters glower," Now I have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull down set converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as Higgin's thighs are thick. (AN) Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 838-3006.
NEW REVIEW CALL ME MISTER FRY As a teacher, Jack Fry was once written up by an L.A. Unified bureaucrat for flourishing an elongated pink balloon in his classroom. The fifth grade instructor was accused of violating the district "zero tolerance for violence" policy; his job threatened, he ultimately escaped with a reprimand. The anecdote furnishes a highlight in Fry's solo piece based on his teaching experiences in South L.A., where beleaguered teachers cope daily with troubled kids on the one hand and administrative idiocy on the other. Much of this autobiographical chronicle focuses on Fry's relationship with two particular students to whom he reached out - Anthony, the disruptive offspring of two deaf-mute parents; and Jasmine, a needy child whose single mother could never find time to show up at school. The writer-performer also includes confidences about his own troubled romance and his personal struggles for self-fulfillment. Any veteran of an urban public school system (as I am) is sure to empathize, and Fry's wry self-deprecatory manner offers an engaging plus. His bristling references to "No Child Left Behind" also score points. Having said that, the story sometimes comes off disjointed; the script needs pruning, shaping and polishing, while the various characters Fry depicts could be more crisply delineated. Jeff Michalski directs. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 899-2985. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW THE TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS Playwright Jonathan Tolins's drama of ethics is part moral debate and part family tragedy, in which righteousness comes into direct conflict with pragmatism. On Manhattan's Upper West Side, a young married couple -- Suzanne (Gretchen Koerner) and her husband Rob (Bryan Okes Fuller) -- are delighted when they learn Suzanne is pregnant, and Rob convinces her to allow the fetus to undergo an experimental genetics test. The test comes back positive - positive for probable homosexuality, that is. Much to the shock of Suzanne's charming, artistic gay younger brother David (Eli Kranski), the couple seriously considers aborting the infant, rather than raise a gay son - a choice that is tacitly backed by David's seemingly kind and liberal parents (Penny Peyser and Mark L. Taylor). The debate between David and his bewildered and increasingly hostile family shifts from being a simple meditation on "right to life" issues to a confrontation in which David feels he has to justify his own existence. Although director T. K. Kolman's straightforward production aptly conveys the subtext of hostility and mutual incomprehension lurking beneath the apparently happy family's relations, the staging often lacks nuance and comes across as stodgy. Many exchanges consist of loud roaring and arm waving histrionics, a problem exacerbated by the padded talkiness of Tolins' dialogue. Kranski adds some haunting dimension as the hurt, appalled gay son, and so does Koerner, as the guilt- racked older sister. Chandler Studio Theater, 12443 Chandler Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 14. The Production Company. (Paul Birchall)
NEW REVIEW GO WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Too often, fine actors with disabilities are barred from playing the roles their talents merit, so Blue Zone Theatre was founded to offer them opportunities that don't exist elsewhere. The result, in this case, is an eloquent and powerful production of Edward Albee's modern classic. It's undeniably disconcerting at first, to discover that three out of the four actors are visibly disabled. But we soon get past that, and this production is in many ways superior to the overly cozy one at the Doolittle Theatre a few years ago, with John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson, directed by Albee himself. These actors play from the gut, and the small theatre enables them to be subtle. There are tricky moments, as when the ditsy young wife Honey (Teal Sherer), seated in her wheelchair, declares, "I love to dance. I dance like the wind." But she makes it work, doing "interpretive" wheeling and zooming round the stage. Ann Colby Stocking, who's given us excellent work in the past, is an impassioned and brassy Martha, Jack Patterson keeps the fires raging beneath George's seeming submissiveness, Sherer finds ample comedy as the brandy-swilling Honey, and Paul Haitkin captures Nick's smug arrogance as well as his vulnerability. Noho Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 1. (323) 960-7711. (Neal Weaver)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALL THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH COMMUNITIES
GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing - will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing "tears of a clown" masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; indef. (310) 319-9939.
BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's story of a woman dealing with the death of her gay best friend. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (310) 397-3244.
CHERRY POPPIN' PLAY FESTIVAL Lose your virginity to drama queens at these three weekends of new plays. QUEEN MARY, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; opens Feb. 20; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 8. (562) 435-3511.
CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY James M. Cain's noir thriller, adapted by Kathrine Bates. (In rep with
I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE Romance vignettes, book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, music by Jimmy Roberts. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (310) 929-8129.
THE IMMIGRANT Mark Harelik's story of his Russian grandparents. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 1, (No perf Feb. 22.). (323) 960-4418.
INTIMATE APPAREL Lynn Nottage's story of an illiterate African-American seamstress. (In the
Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (562) 494-1014.
LAUGH-OUT Tribute to
LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 822-8392.
LOST IN YONKERS Neil Simon's story of two brothers sent to live with their overbearing grandmother and kooky aunt. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 22. (562) 944-9801.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 28. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue, and hilarious, yet believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's other plays, at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a run down Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly kitten-like Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that, although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. (PB) Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (310) 477-2055.
THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE Dramatization of court records in the 1968 case of Catholic priests convicted of burning draft documents, by Daniel Berrigan. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 838-4264.
UNBROKEN CIRCLES Greg Phillips' story of country-music clan the Moss Family Singers. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 1. (310) 477-2055.
VIOLET SHARP The world-famous Charles Lindbergh kidnapping case spawned a web of mystery. One person to become haplessly entangled in the tragedy was Violet Sharp (Meredith Bishop). A 27-year old domestic in the Lindbergh household, Violet's defiant attitude and evasive answers to routine police questioning aroused their suspicion. Playwright William Cameron structures his melodrama around the obsessive pursuit of Violet's confession by police inspector Harry Walsh (David Hunt Stafford). Hunt and other authorities persuaded themselves of Violet's complicity, despite flimsy evidence and the unwavering endorsement she received from the Lindberghs themselves. The play scores points for its observations about women and class and the dangerous proclivities of some men to distort facts for the sake of their own compulsive desire for closure. But the production, under David Coleman's direction, leaves much to be desired. While she nails a couple of moments near the end, Bishop's housemaid comes off more sullen than sassy (in contrast to the historical accounts), while Hunt's driven cop gives off bombast but no heat. Amy Lloyd does respectable triple duty as a tongue-wagging sister, a secretary and a nurse. Many supporting performances are overly dramatic or under rehearsed - or both. Random blocking, gratuitous videography, Jeff Rack's drab set, and Jeremy Pivnick's indifferent lighting underscore the more pivotal problems with the acting and direction. (DK) Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; (in rep, call for schedule); thru March 12. (310) 364-0535.
SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
BETRAYED L.A. Theatre Works presents a reading of George Packer's story of three young Iraqi translators, based on his New Yorker article, to be recorded for radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Through Feb. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 21, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 2 p.m.. (310) 827-0889.
A CELEBRATION OF BLACK HISTORY: A JOURNEY IN FOUR PARTS Honoring African-American history, every Saturday in February. Presented by Ebony Repertory Theatre. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 964-9766.
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ETHEL MERMAN'S BROADWAY Rita McKenzie stars as the Broadway belter. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Sun., Feb. 22, 3 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.
ORESTES Multimedia ensemble Ghost Road Company takes on the classic myth. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri., Feb. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 21, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 22, 3 p.m.. (310) 440-7300.
TINY VAUDEVILLE 826LA hosts this once-a-month variety show benefiting children's writing and tutoring programs. The Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; Last Monday of every month, 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28, www.826la.org/store-tickets/. (323) 413-8200.
VERONICA Workshop production of John Patrick Shanley's world-premiere romantic comedy. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (800) 595-4849.