DAVID SEFTON STEPS DOWN
David Sefton receiving the L.A. Weekly's Queen of the Angels Award on March 29, for tenacity in sustaining the region's most enduring International Theatre Festival. He resigned yesterday. Photo by Tim Norris
UCLA's Dean of Arts and Architecture, Christopher Waterman, announced yesterday that David Sefton has resigned as artistic director of UCLA Live, effective immediately. Waterman will act as interim artistic director until a replacement can be found. Sefton, who was hired in 2000 to put UCLA on the international arts map, did exactly that, importing an eccentric combination of mainstream and fringe programming in UCLA Live's centerpiece, its annual International Theatre Festival, and turning UCLA into the West Coast equivalent of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But it's clear that there was trouble in paradise. Stage Raw reported on May 7 that UCLA had dropped all theater from its UCLA Live programming (keeping intact its music, dance, spoken word and lecture series.) The chagrined Sefton then described the decision as "risk aversion" on the part of the administration, during a fiscal crisis that is slamming State funding. Waterman, meanwhile, said that the issue had to do with poor box office showings for the Theatre Festival during the recession. Sefton countered that the box office revenue was always an incremental part of the Festival's revenue, and that the programming was mainly supported by private donors. Added Sefton, the administration was not willing to gamble on fundraising after a program had been announced, which had been Sefton's modus operandi. He said on May 7 that he was considering going to donors to start funding in advance for a 2011-2012 festival, in order to avoid the risk that was putting his program in jeopardy. Less than three weeks later, he resigned.
JOHN STEPPLING IS BACK IN TOWN as artistic director of a playwrights collective called Gunfighter Nation. His son, Lex Steppling, is associate artistic director. Their group is presenting "The Alamo Project" -- readings of short plays about the Alamo - at the Odyssey Theater, May 28 & 29, 8 p.m. $20. Plays by Guy Zimmerman, Wesley Walker, Sharon Yablon, Jeptha Storm, Harvey Perr, Kevin O Sullivan, Rita Valencia, Sissy Boyd, Leon Martell, John Steppling and Lex Steplling. (310) 477-2055. More info here
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for May 28-June 3, 2010
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.
OPENING THIS WEEK
BORN TO BE ALIVE "Diminutive actress/writer/burlesque artist/stand-up comic/fashion model/activist" Selene Luna stars in the story of her life. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; opens May 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 860-7302.
CARMEN MIRANDA: THE LADY IN THE TUTTI FRUTTI HAT World premiere of Sam Mossler's new musical about the Brazilian film icon. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens May 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27, plays411.com/carmen. (323) 960-7740.
THE CHERRY ORCHARD Oasis Theater Company presents Chekhov's classic, produced as an interactive theater piece at a private home. Private Residence, 1417 Ridge Way, L.A.; opens May 28; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 20, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.
A CHORUS LINE The Broadway blockbuster, book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban, music by Marvin Hamlisch. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens June 1; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 365-3500.
AN EVENING WITH ELANOR, THE TOUR WHORE Rich Fulcher's one-(wo)man show. See GoLA., $15. The Cinefamily, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; June 2-4, 8 p.m.. (323) 655-2510.
THE MAIDS Written by Jean Genet. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens May 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru June 24. (818) 508-3003.
ROAD TO SAIGON The stories of the actresses who have played the powerhouse role of Kim in "Miss Saigon.". David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 625-7000.
SOUTH PACIFIC The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, presented by Lincoln Center Theater. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens June 2; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru July 17. (213) 628-2772.
SKYLIGHT The reunion of two lovers, by David Hare. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens May 29; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 20. (866) 811-4111.
SODA POP 1950s musical comedy spoof by The Knightsbridge Theatre's Youth Company. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens May 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 667-0955.
TRACERS "The surreal journey of six enlisted men through the Vietnam experience and its after-effects," conceived by John DiFusco. L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; opens May 29; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 27, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.
TWO FIGURES The Ahimsa Collective presents Matthew Chester's play developed from hundreds of sexual fantasy submissions. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; opens May 28; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru June 20. (310) 396-3680.
URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.. (818) 202-4120.
THE WICKED WILDE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL The Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company presents a five-week summer theater festival of gender-bent classics. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; opens May 29; Thurs.-Sun..; thru June 27, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.
THE WOMEN OF JUAREZ Grupo de Teatro Sinergia presents Ruben Amavizca-Murua's story of murder and corruption. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; opens May 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 6. (213) 382-8133.
YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL Twelve plays by American teenagers. Schedule at youngplaywrights.com. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens June 3; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27, . (323) 661-9827.
YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN Based on the "Peanuts" comic strip; book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. Open Stage West, 14366 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; opens May 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 6, 2 p.m.; thru June 19...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
GO BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHAD ZOO In Rajiv Joseph's comedy, the eponymous Tiger (a pleasingly droll and gruff portrayal by Kevin Tighe, padding around in gray sweats with a shock of silver hair and matching beard) has an appetite. Once he ate two children. "It wasn't cruel," he explains. "It was lunch." And though such high-toned sitcom banter offers a reprieve from any sanctimonious artiness and self-importance, the glibness does wear thin. With crackling dialogue laced with subtext, the play begins as the beast is being guarded by two American GIs, Tom and Kev (Glenn Davis and Brad Fleischer), in 2003 Baghdad. When Tom sticks a piece of meat inside Tiger's cage, his entire hand winds up being severed by the beast's teeth. (How easy it is to lose a part of oneself.) Kev shoots the Tiger with a pure-gold handgun Tom looted during a raid of the Husseins' palace. That gun, and a gold toilet seat he pilfered during the same raid, hold the key to Tom's future back in the U.S., or so he believes. The problem is, it doesn't belong to him. It was once owned by Sadam Hussein's son Uday (Hrach Titizian), who also appears as a ghost, sometimes alongside the ghost of the now-slain Tiger. That gun, that gold, and the barbarism surrounding it, belong to Iraq, so believes Musa (Arian Moayed), a local topiary artist once hired by Uday to sculpt zoo animals out of greenery, and who now works as a translator for the Americans. The play's beauty lies in how it unfolds with the structure of a novel. That structure is breathtaking in Act 1. Focus shifts, scene by scene, from one character to the next, while literary images -- a severed hand, a withering topiary garden of statues, a gun and a toilet seat made from gold -- form a delicate binding. This structure reaches its pinnacle at the end of Act 1. In Act 2, it begins to go in circles. Joseph's view doesn't quite settle at all. It continues to float, like his ghosts, so that his visions of God and Iraq and what we've done there are more like whispers than a conviction -- even the conviction of a feeling. (Steven Leigh Morris). Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (213) 628-2772.
CABARET The onstage and backstage action at Berlin's raunchy and satirical Kit Kat Klub in 1931. Macgowan Little Theater, 340 Royce Drive, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., May 29, 2 p.m.; Sat., June 5, 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 825-2101.
CRIMES OF THE HEART Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy about three Mississippi sisters whom no one and nothing can keep down. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru June 6. (714) 708-5555.
GO DEMENTIA Anyone who survived the deadly HIV plague years of the '80s, when the best and brightest of the arts community were wiped out by the disease, can't help but be moved by the pathos of playwright Evelina Fernández's AIDS melodrama. While the play's urgency might have diminished somewhat in the intervening years of antiretroviral successes, director Jos Luis Valenzuela's restaging of the Latino Theater Company's acclaimed, 2002 production has lost none of its rousing panache or theatrical luster. Sal López reprises his tour de force performance as Moises, a flamboyant theater director drifting in and out of consciousness on his deathbed in 1995. He spends his lucid moments planning his final exit scene in a party to be attended by his close associates, which include his lifelong friend, gay hairdresser, Martin (the excellent Danny de la Paz), best straight friend/writing partner, Eddie (Geoffrey Rivas), and Eddie's wife, Alice (Lucy Rodriguez). Moises' less-coherent spells are spent in phantasmagoric dialogues with his conscience and drag-queen alter ego, Lupe (Ralph Cole Jr. in a showstopping performance), who belts out disco dance hits in between haranguing Moises about coming clean with his ex-wife, Raquel (Fernández), circumstances surrounding their 15-year-old breakup. A first-rate production design, including Francois-Pierre Couture's evocative lights, Nikki Delhomme's Mackie-inspired gowns and Christopher Ash's expressionist-surrealist set, underscores Fernández's Eros-trumps-conventional-morality theme with elegance and eloquence. A Latino Theater Company Production. (Bill Raden). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (213) 489-0994.
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES Audience-participation musical for children and their families, music by Phil Orem, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz and David Wechter. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 851-7977.
IT AIN'T ALL CONFETTI Rip Taylor bares it all in his one-man play. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 30. (818) 508-0281.
GO LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE Ilene Beckerman's book, on which Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron based their "intimate collection of stories," is the kind you'd grab from the display near the register at a Barnes and Nobles, to serve as a dressy envelope for a birthday check to your goddaughter or an upgraded Mother's Day card. But if the recipient read it instead of tossing in onto a pile of similarly gifted minibooks, she'd find a classy little number, a J. Peterman catalog minus the pretentiousness. With sparse text and barebones sketches, Beckerman records her history through the clothes she and her female relatives wore. Director Jenny Sullivan constructs the stage version in much the same way: The star-studded ensemble wears black (there's an ode to the color, every woman's old faithful) while sitting in a straight line; and Carol Kane, who reads as Beckerman, handles the main prop, a "closet" full of the book's renderings situated on wire clothes hangers. But this is Nora Ephron, and chumminess quickly trumps austerity. The scenes themselves are ruminations on relationships thinly veiled as (mostly) funny riffs on clothes -- Tracee Ellis Ross almost runs away with the show every time the spotlight's hers but particularly so with "The Shirt." Kane, who must be one of the most endearing actors ever, dances her monologues' transitions so delicately and adroitly you can only marvel. There are a couple of moments ("The Bathrobe," "Brides") during which all but those with a particularly voracious emotional appetite will find themselves choking on the syrup. Fortunately, though, the Ephron sisters have nimbly stitched together the scenes so that there's far more head nodding than eye rolling. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 208-5454.
GO 1951-2006 Writer-director Donald Freed's romance about a military veteran, Dave (Michael Matthys), who, in 1951, finds himself confined to a wheelchair in a grubby fourth-floor New York City walk-up, and the woman, Meg (Debra De Liso), who moves in across the hall. Francois-Pierre Couture's set shows the hallway with its grimy tile floor and slats emerging through the edges of the cement walls, offering an intersection of realism and surrealism that will play itself out in the drama -- nicely aided by Christopher Ash's lighting schema. If you recall Bernard Slade's comedy, Same Time, Next Year about an adulterous affair that is sliced into scenes occurring at regular intervals through the decades -- as the culture ages along with the characters -- that's pretty much the template here. Sound designer John Zalewski serves up a soundscape of scene transitions that will stir any number of associations in people who have lived through them -- the McCarthy hearings, news reports of the unfolding details of the JFK assassination, Nixon's resignation, Ronald Reagan's speech celebrating the continuity of our political process as the Carter administration handed over the reins of power. Dave is a Jewish anarchist who, in one scene, draws the attention of the FBI (Christopher Fairbanks), when he harbors a Black Panther Party member accused of shooting a police officer. Dave's is a sort of attraction of opposites to Meg, a lapsed Irish Catholic. The drama has far more literary and political resonance than dramatic momentum, largely because -- with the exception of the FBI raid, when the characters must decide something in the moment -- director Freed isn't entirely successful in drawing out the emotional tugs and pulls that lie beneath his very intelligent, often snappy and largely reflective dialogue, which says that this politically charged and appealingly smart couple have a deeply abiding love; I just got the sense that they were very friendly neighbors who enjoyed talking about politics. When Meg turns 86, a couple of hours after we saw her as a late-20-something, it's more than evident that time is the protagonist here, and we're seeing the aging of the progressive wing. I just wish that the romance were as persuasive as the history is poignant. Produced by Latino Theater Company. (Steven Leigh Morris). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 13. (213) 489-0994.
GO PALOMINO The title of writer-performer-director David Cale's solo performance about -- among other people -- a horse-drawn carriage driver in Manhattan may refer to the breed of horse that the womanizing driver, named Kieren, is steering. But the story he unfurls could just as easily be called Cougars The 30-year-old Irish protagonist begins with a reference to his 1940s "come fly with me" fedora, boasting that it all starts with the hat. The man he's filling in for will later hear that reference in a written memoir penned by Kieren, and describe the author as an "asshole." And he's sort of right, but that certainly doesn't make Kieren's story any less engaging. Kieren tells of being approached by a woman named Marsha, who has a business proposition, for giving a "good time" to some female friends of hers, and he certainly gives them a ride. Cale is an unprepossessing yet hypnotic storyteller with a bald pate and slender build that belies the physical attraction his clients see in him. Yet when he leaves Kieren behind, and retells the story from the points of view of the various women whom Kieren seduces, with all their potent observations of his charisma, his sexual style, as well as his romantic inadequacies, the event isn't so much about any one character as it is about a world that's conjured in slices, and how the story is a slow reveal of an ever-more expansive world. This is, in some way, a one-man variation of Brian Friel's Faith Healer, somehow blended into Lady Chatterley's Lover. The piece constantly evokes the knot of romance and lust and commerce that are infinitely fascinating and impossible to untangle. Jason H. Thompson's projections are just perfect in their subtlety, offering a sense of place by being literary rather than literal, which matches many of the subtly embedded images in Cale's story. One recurring motif is a bird -- one in a painting that's gifted to Kieren, which he later tries to sell; another is a pigeon, captured in Thompson's projection in flight. Not only does the literary/visual image have inexplicable beauty, but it's an emblem for the state of being embodied in all of Cale's characters, and an image for how we all push through life, on a wing and prayer so to speak, with the help and hindrance of the winds. Center Theatre Group. (Steven Leigh Morris). Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru June 6. (213) 628-2772.
THE VAULT Latino Theater Company presents a cabaret-style show for the 21st century. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru June 12. (213) 489-0994.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
THE BALLAD OF EMMETT TILL Shirley Jo Finney directs a vivacious five-person ensemble in Ifa Bayeza's choreopoem based on the life and death of the 14-year-old black child from Chicago, brutally murdered during a 1955 working vacation in Mississippi, for the "crime" of whistling at a white, female shopkeeper. His funeral, and the open casket demanded by his mother, became a flashpoint for the nascent civil rights movement. Despite the performances' visceral intensity, its lingering, emotionally exploitive depiction of the murder helps boils the history down to a black-and-white sketch of good versus evil. It provokes righteous self-satisfaction more than our introspection. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 3. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 663-1525.
NEW REVIEW BEHIND THE GATES
Photo by Ed Krieger
Annika Marks delivers a mesmerizing performance as an angry
American teenager whose exposure to an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in
Israel revolutionizes her life. A crack baby who grows into a problem
child, the 17 year old punkish Bethany (Marks) harbors venomous rage
towards her adoptive middle-class parents. Unable to cope, they ship
her off to an Israeli boarding school for girls where they hope she'll
absorb some modesty and discipline. One day, wandering the Jerusalem
streets, Bethany encounters a rabbi (Oren Rehany) from the
fundamentalist Haredi community, who invites her home for Shabbas
dinner. The susceptible girl is struck by the seeming harmony within
his family; later, she undergoes a ritualistic conversion and joins
their sect. All this emerges at the top of playwright Wendy Graf's
discrepant drama: The central character turns out to be not
Bethany but her mother Susan (Keliher Walsh), whose psyche radically
transforms as she searches for her lost daughter within the
strangulating confines of the Haredi ghetto. Directed by David
Gautraux, the play deals with the spell that ancient Jerusalem casts on
some people; most fascinating is the glimpse it offers into a cultish
anti-feminist society -- measuring its values against the strengths and
weaknesses of our own. Unfortunately, these thematic virtues are
undermined by a soap operatic element that plays out around Susan's
marital problems and her personal insecurities. Walsh offers a
sensitive portrayal, but other performances are weaker and less
nuanced. Ultimately, the narrative never recoups its initial power;
despite Walsh's efforts. Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica
Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 960-
5772. (Deborah Klugman)
BROOKLYN USA A true story based on real events of Murder Incorporated, the enforcement arm of America's crime syndicate. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (323) 469-3113.
CANNIBALS From the endless material regarding the dreams and disappointments of stardom comes this comedy by veteran TV scribe R.J. Colleary about trying to survive in Hollywood. "I act, therefore, I am," is the motto of the United State of Actresses -- a quartet of 40-something thespians who gather weekly to salve their delicate egos and share stories about dwindling job prospects. Mo (Amy K. Murray) is a plus-size mother of three; Elizabeth (Jackie Debatin) is a half-glam, owner-operator of a school for child actors; Linda (Caryn Richman) is a married woman who can't give up the dream; the mouthy Carole (Dale Dickey) keeps finely tuned on antidepressants. The toxic admixture of personalities is good for laughs but doesn't quite offset the play's lack of action, leading to tedious stretches. A ray of light emerges when a "notable" director (Ray Abruzzo) taps the gals for a documentary, but the project is threatened when he brings his accomplished wife (the stellar Robin Riker) along, and investors insist on the participation of a younger actress (Brittany Ross). The saccharine finale holds no surprises. The cast is uniformly fine under Kathleen Rubin's direction. (Lovell Estell III). Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 6. (323) 960-7745.
CHASING MONSTERS Company of Angels presents Gabriel Rivas Gomez's drama about a dysfunctional family forced to confront deep, intergenerational wounds. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 13, companyofangels.org...
DEITY CLUTCH Gus Krieger's tale of twelve disparate individuals must confront a deadly mystery before the encroching darkness consumes them all. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 30...
THE DEVIL'S EYE Even among avowed Bergman-philes, the late Swedish auteur's 1960 film, The Devil's Eye, is considered a middling effort, a footnote, really, to a financing deal for Virgin Spring (1960), which required him to deliver a comedy in addition to the austere, medieval morality tale he wanted to make. While the movie is deceptively theatrical, it must have been an act of sheer hubris that led director Michael Moon to separate even a minor Bergman script (translated by Moon and Anna Lerbom) from the eloquence of the maestro's cinematic mise-en-scne for the Demon Theater's inaugural production. The result is an occasionally amusing though oddly flat, pseudo-Shavian story about the confrontation between innocence and worldliness. Tormented by the impending marriage of a chaste minister's daughter (Lerbom), Satan (a Broderick Crawford-like Craig Patton) sends Don Juan (Dave Buzzotta) and his manservant, Pablo (Omar Leyva), back to Earth to claim the country maiden's virginity. Juan sets about seducing the girl by using sophisticated wiles, as Pablo makes a more direct assault on the marital fidelity of the minister's disaffected wife (Jolene Adams). While virtue eventually triumphs, albeit in ironic ways, it is no thanks to Moon's anemic staging and an almost cripplingly indifferent production design (Lerbom's bedroomless, bedroom-farce set, Matt Richter's problem-plagued lights). Inspired comic turns by John Combs as the simpleminded father and Ebb Miller as a mincing, Edward Everett Horton-esque demon aren't enough to salvage this fundamentally misguided endeavor. A Demon Theater Production. (Bill Raden). Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 5. (323) 960-7863.
NEW REVIEW DISILLUSIONED: CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL MAGICIAN
Photo by Tiffany Johnson
Matt Marcy has been entertaining people with his trademark blend
of comedy and magic for decades. He showcases his skills in this
90-minute production that features some amazing feats. Marcy's charm
and wit is matched by his self-effacing humor. If you think you've seen
card tricks, you're in for a few surprises. Early on he performs what
he calls "the world's simplest card trick," that will leave you
scratching your head in wonder. Ditto for the trick he performs at
show's end with a sword he fashions from a balloon, then uses it to cut
an apple in half and spear a card from a deck thrown into the air --
which happens to be the exact one selected by an audience member
minutes into the show. He also gives us a brief, sketchy account of his
life, touching upon his childhood in Santa Monica, high school crushes
and antics, and his early years as an amateur magician. Marcy and
director Nicole Blaine aren't nearly as effective here, as many of
these narrative digressive segments are gratuitously silly; they also
rely too heavily on video media. But these shortcomings pale in
comparison to Marcy's mind-blowing sleights of hand. Jules Hartley is
equally engaging as Marcy's assistant. Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San
Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 19. (800)
838-3006. http://www.Disillusionedshow.com (Lovell Estell III)
E.O.: AN HISTORIAL FARCE OF TRULY ELIZABETHAN PROPORTIONS World premiere of Michael Sadler's new comedy. Tre Stage Theatre, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29, plays411.com/eo...
NEW REVIEW FORBIDDEN ZONE: LIVE IN THE 6TH DIMENSION
Photo by Anousha Hutton
"What was banal can, with the passage of time, become
fantastic," Susan Sontag famously noted. At least such is the hope of
adaptor Michael Holmes and director Scott Leggett in their anarchic
musical tribute to film director Richard Elfman and composer Danny
Elfman's failed, 1980 Dadaist sci-fi fantasy, Forbidden Zone.
A crude, lewd and urgently outré attempt at a John Waters-like
burlesque of middleclass mores, the movie stands as an exercise in
clownish impudence; its story of a Venice Beach family's adventure in a
bizarre, Alice in Wonderland dimension they enter via a portal in their
basement, is almost beside the point. Holmes happily excises some of
Elfman's more gratuitous racial and anti-Semitic caricatures while
contributing judicious narrative tweaks, primarily in expanding the
character of Satan (a leering Marz Richards) into a lipsticked,
vamping, Tim Curry-esque narrator/emcee. Leggett and his talented
production-design team provide the polish, including the glam dazzle of
Wes Crain's costumes and Kat Bardot's makeup, and the cartoon razzle of
Tifanie McQueen's scatological set. The pleasure comes courtesy of
musical director Ryan Johnson and his 14-piece band, Natasha Norman's
Max Fleischer-inspired choreography, and an enthusiastic cast that
sings and dances the collection of mainly early-20th century pop tunes
only lip-synched in the movie (Bryan Krasner's rendition of the Yiddish
Theater classic, "Giter Brider Itzik," is a standout). The problem is
in Holmes' cultist fidelity to his source, which carries over into
Elfman's sneering contempt for his characters, thus robbing the show of
the heart and pathos it so desperately needs. Sacred Fools Theater, 660
N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., June 13, 7 p.m.;
Sun., June 20, 7 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337. (Bill Raden)
GO FOUR PLACES The family outing on display in Joel Drake Johnson's unsettling comedy resembles a gathering of ornery, wounded jackals. Siblings Warren (Tim Bagley) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart) motor to their parents' Chicago home to take their diminutive, gray-haired mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) out for a what is presumably a pleasant lunch. At first blush, this seems innocent enough, but something about Ellen's painful, labored smile as she hugs the wheel, and Warren's cold, mummified expression, suggest that something is amiss. It isn't long before the moral underbelly of this clan emerges along with some ugly revelations. Mom's harmless exterior drips away with each rum and Coke she knocks back (and every trip to the bathroom, where she pees blood), and there emerges a subtly vicious female, a practiced manipulator who delights in tormenting her children with reminders of their lacerating miseries and failures. But an even darker secret surfaces concerning Peggy's alcoholic, invalid husband (who never appears onstage but is a towering presence, nevertheless), and rumors that she is abusing, and even attempting to murder him. The manner in which Drake tells this story -- blending humor and stark ugliness, while exploring themes of sibling rivalry, marital infidelity and even euthanasia -- is thoroughly engaging and held in sharp balance by director Robin Larsen. The characters are fully fleshed out, both in the writing and the performances, as disturbing for their and their vulnerabilities as for their anger. Rounding out a superb cast is Lisa Rothschiller. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 13. (323) 422-6361.
GROUNDLINGS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT In a departure from the Groundlings' trademark irreverent, take-no-prisoner sketch comedy that made laughing as involuntary as breathing, this new show, directed by Karen Maruyama, is distinctly low-key and only funny in patches. The evening's biggest disappointment were the two improv segments that bracket the show, where comedians do routines based on audience suggestions. The absence of ease, craft and imagination was palpable. These failings were apparent in other sketch routines as well. "Caltech" has a crew of seismic scientists engaging in silly wisecracking and a overwrought spate of physical comedy and demolition derby with their chairs. "Next Step" finds Charlotte Newhouse and Scott Beehner as teenagers trying to get their sexual desires in sync, but there isn't much wit. A husband becomes vexed trying to relate to his wife in "I'm Listening," which is equally unfunny. "Concert Footage" is a pleasant surprise. After a Taylor Swift concert, Damon Jones playing a P.R. guy interviews and coolly insults members of the audience. Michael Naughton is still one of the funniest guys around, and his talents are evident in "Mirror Image," where a special software program allows you a glimpse of what you'll look like in the future, and "Animal Stars," where he is one of a pair of animal trainers. (Lovell Estell III). Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 10. (323) 934-9700.
THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.
HARLOW GOLD: EAST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. The Bordello, 901 E. First St., L.A.; Sun., 10 p.m.. (213) 687-3766.
GO HOLY GHOST The ghosts in Jon Tuttle's play -- in a glorious production at Theatre of NOTE, directed by Michael Rothhaar, are the German suicides in an American POW camp in South Carolina near the end of World War II. Among the issues here is how the Germans are not all Germans, one is Serbian (a heartbreaking and tender performance by Rick Steadman) and a couple are Jews who were swept into the German army and have hidden their identity for all too obvious reasons. The surreal story is seen through the eyes of a main character, a newcomer to the scene, a U.S. Army officer named Bergen (Dan Wingard), who registered as a noncombatant due to his principles of nonviolence. He also happens to be Jewish, which goes down only a little better in South Carolina than it might in Nazi-occupied Berlin. And so begins Tuttle's scintillating mash-up and spinning of stereotypes that form a vicious brand of comedy. Almost nobody is quite what they seem, or how they've been labeled -- and Tuttle drives home that point with irresistible humor. The German POWs are guarded by African Americans (who have their own internal seethings), some of whom don't quite understand the epithet schwarze hurled at them. As though this is a competition for who is lowest on the totem pole. Acting as public information officer, Bergen tries to stage a play with the non-English-speaking Germans -- a play about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves. (Irony doesn't come any more blistering than that.) The Serbian with a perfectly executed, excruciatingly inept dialect is cast as Honest Abe. Before the big show, he makes a break for freedom -- with fake beard glued on. The only English he knows are the lines from the stupid play, which he uses to bed some hayseed's daughter (Rebecca Sigl) before showing up in a redneck bar, chased by the private (Rich PierreLouis) who was supposed to be guarding him. What ensues is a kind of Huckleberry Finn morality play, with everything but the morals. The ensemble is as terrific as the play, with standout performances by Doug Burch, Carl J. Johnson, and a gloriously patronizing portrayal by Brad C. Light as the German translator (an S.S. officer in disguise), Light doubles perfectly and metaphorically into the local sheriff. (Steven Leigh Morris). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 856-8611.
IT'S A MUSICAL WORLD Bob Baker's marionette revue that first opened in 1978. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 11. (213) 250-9995.
GO JAWBONE OF AN ASS The title is lifted from an Old Testament passage and is fitting for Nan Schmid's sparkling satire about faith run amok in the heartland. Paige Marie (Schmid) is a hard-core, Bible-thumping Christian who lives in a world of the thoroughly devoted. When not wearing out her knees in supplication and prayer, she enjoys cooking all types of goodies for the locals. The picture isn't perfect, however, because her hubbie, Roy, has gone missing; he has a sexual "condition" that compels him to "flog the old bishop" in public, and he has been fooling around with Nam's loose-panty friend, Cora Ann (Eliza Coyle). To the rescue comes the venerable Dr. Admore (a knee-slapping turn by Michael Miccoll), Christian counselor, author, solid American and "savior of the hour," whose prescription for Paige's dilemma is to enter the Pillsbury bake-off and indulge in some risque cross-dressing. When a body turns up late in Act 2, the proverbial wrath of God brings righteous judgment along with some hilarious revelations. It's all good, enjoyable fun (even if you believe God is a Republican and lives in a red state). Jim Anzide provides sharp direction, and the three-person cast is a riot. (Lovell Estell III). The Lillian Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 962-0046.
KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.
THE KING OF THE DESERT Solo performer Rene Rivera delivers an energetic performance in this quasi-biographical work about a Mexican-American boy from the barrio who defies low cultural expectations to become a professional actor. Written by Stacey Martino, the piece derives its title from tales of Rivera's father, about their people's rich cultural heritage -- stories that filtered into the boy's imagination to become part of his identity, along with the more raw experiences of violence, racial prejudice and domestic strife that shaped his everyday life. Eventually the narrative travels to New York (later Hollywood), where Rivera's alter ego awakens to a broader landscape that includes women, drugs and alcohol. Directed by Valentino Ferreira, the densely layered chronicle moves at a swift pace that later becomes hypersonic, with few quiet moments to set off the increasing number of melodramatic highlights that culminate in a rather conventional declaration of personal pride and acceptance. Throughout, Rivera undertakes all roles with professional adeptness and the vocal power of a trained actor. What's missing, paradoxically, is the sense of a vital connection between this performer and the experiences he is relaying -- a disconnect that detracts from the play's emotional punch. Constrained by limited resources, designer Tony Sanders' lighting fails to underscore the numerous transitions of time and place, and set designer Danuta Tomzynski's backdrop is also something of a cluttered distraction; this piece might more effectively play on a barer stage. A CoActive Content Production. (Deborah Klugman). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru June 11. (323) 960-5774.
GO L.A. NOIR UNSCRIPTED After years of perfecting their sharply honed craft of improvising parodies of highbrow masters such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Stephen Sondheim, Impro Theatre decides to slack off a bit with this less demanding satire of film noir. A lot of wordy, mixed metaphors, some cheesy suspense music, a few light gobos representing the shadows of Venetian blinds and voil: Sam Spade and gang of hard-boiled cynics are ready to roll. Well the gambit worked, the easy clichs and furtive looks of the genre flow out of these improvisers so fast and with such surety that they barely have time to listen to each other before letting the next hilarious banality fly. Actually this opening night the folks did get a bit sloppy in their listening -- especially to names -- but their caricatures and situations were so fun that no one was keeping track of improv rules. Company artistic director Dan O'Connor is in his element as the bitter detective, Edi Patterson looks perfectly askance as the sardonic beauty, and Lisa Fredrickson is delightful as an over-the-hill movie star; you may never see them in these specific characters, but you will see them at their comic best. (Tom Provenzano). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 13, plays411.com/lanoirunscripted. (323) 401-9793.
GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop jukebox musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 20. (323) 960-4412.
THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv, directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
NEW REVIEW MAN VERSES MOON In a theater, a
playwright-director named Federico Lorca (Adrian Kaley) is trying to
work actors through an interpretation of a play that looks very much
like Lorca's Blood Wedding, while being warned that soldiers
are poised to arrest him as a dissident. This theater is no haven. And
writer-director Dan Oliverio's collage of Lorca's play, his poems,
classical mythology and homegrown surrealism sends Lorca and his
company into netherworlds and moonscapes. The "theater" itself is
claustrophobic and barren - compared to when the set's "walls" roll
away to reveal a dreamscape of cascading sheets and kalaeidoscopic
lighting. Designer Chris Covics employs rigs and pulleys and actors to
move drapery and flats into some scintillating compositions. And Dan
Mailley's costumes - grounded in the 1930s but also taking off into
flights of fancy - front-load the event with exotic appeal. This is
conspicuously a labor of love on Oliverio's part, an homage to Lorca,
and the various agonies he suffered - including what's generally
believed to be his execution at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
But the portrait and the purpose get lost in the collision of texts and
styles, so that the result is less an understanding than a feeling: one
of lunacy (to borrow from the play's dominant image of the moon) that's
nonetheless locked in one of the prisons of 1930s Spain. The event
presumes a depth of knowledge that would be better teased out in the
piece itself. The kind of romantic/surreal horrors that Lorca wrote
about are no strangers to our century. What's so odd about this
production is that they appear to belong to place and time far away and
long ago. Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 26. (323) 466-7781. (Steven Leigh Morris)
NEW REVIEW GO MORE LIES ABOUT JERZY
Photo by Enci
This West Coast premiere of David Holmes' fascinating drama,
about whether truth lies in facts or in fiction, hangs on the title
performance of Jack Stehlin as Jerzy Lesnewski - obviously based on the
late Polish novelist-screenwriter Jerzy Kosinski, and the scandals
surrounding what he eventually claimed was his fictional Holocaust
memoir, The Painted Bird. Either by omission or by design,
Kosinski neglected to clarify at the outset that the memoir was
anything but autobiography - until, according to Holmes, Poles from his
past (Jordan Lund and Cameron Meyer) showed up in New York, peeved that
the famous author was discrediting the very people who had protected
young Jewish Jerzy from the Nazis. Aside from a swirl of wives and
mistresses (Meyer and Kristin Malko) orbiting the womanizing author,
the play drives along the investigation by journalist Arthur Bausley
(Adam Stein) - once a fan and eventually an investigator - clearly
troubled by Jerzy's continuing penchant to play fast and loose with the
facts. They won't ask if he's lying, Arthur goads him, they're only
going to ask why is he lying. Holmes plays just as nimbly with
the facts as Kozinski did, which would be an affront if Holmes were
really out to discredit his protagonist as The Village Voice did in 1982. (That discrediting is a central issue in the play, which anachronistically unfolds between 1972 and 1974.) In the Voice,
Geoffrey Stokes and Eliot Fremont-Smith published an article accusing
the five-time best-selling author not only of having denied
co-authorship or editor credit to the English "translators," who may
have actually written The Painted Bird, based on Kozinski writings in Polish, they claimed that Kozinski also plagiarized his short story (made into film), Being There, from a 1932 Polish bestseller, The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma
- which few people outside Poland knew about. Holmes' Jerzy has a
potent defense and an almost tragic downfall - made all the more so by
Stehlin's gregarious, petulant and charismatic interpretation, which
has just the right tinge of Polish dialect. Argues Jerzy: Truth does
not lie in facts but in symbols and myths and legends - an argument he
could have lifted from W. B. Yeats, who said much the same. Holmes'
journalist tries to psychoanalyze why Jerzy would make stuff up so
habitually - perhaps a war trauma or something - and Jerzy ridicules
that process as petty psychoanalysis. The degree to which Jerzy may be
right is the degree to which this play gets very interesting, veering
away from its dangerous trajectory of celebrity bashing. David Trainer
directs an efficient production with enough momentum to compensate for
its tangled relationships. But it's the play, and Stehlin, that are
stage center. And speaking of truth, they probably shouldn't clink
those plastic champagne tumblers when toasting. That rings even less
true than many of Jerzy's excuses. Circus Theatricals at the Hayworth,
2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26.
(323) 960-7788. (Steven Leigh Morris)
MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 12. (323) 960-7714.
NUNS AGAINST PORN Robert Coles' comedy about three nuns and a porn crew who book the same mountain cabin. Underground Theater, 1312 N. Wilton Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat..; thru May 29. (323) 467-0036.
OJALA Jennifer Barry's play about a young, Mexican nanny (Claudia Duran) in 1960s Los Angeles helping a young affluent white woman (Lindsay Lane) care for her accidental child is best when it gets away from its cliché beats and delves into the fragile relationship between its two protagonists. A standout performance from Duran urges the play toward this, and Elizabeth Otero de Espinoza's direction favors the scenes of intimacy between employer and employee. But the plot definitely works against this, pushing the story toward disappointing melodrama. And Barry steps conveniently around the language-barrier issue, which could have helped layer the class tension supposedly at the center of this piece. The play's most beautiful moment is an interstitial that features three Mexican maids engaged in their repetitive domestic labor while one of them sings a doleful song in Spanish. If only the rest of the play could have been consistently as conscious of its theme. (Luis Reyes). Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru June 6. (323) 263-7684.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY Actors Co-op dusts off the still-kicky Philip Barry script, on which the famous 1940 Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart film vehicle was based, to close its "American Classic" series. Feisty socialite Tracy Lord (the stunning Tara Battani) is set on a second marriage, to the newly monied George Kittredge (Daniel J. Roberts), but the nuptials are threatened by both the reappearance of her old-monied, ex-husband (Greg Martin) and the arrival of a no-monied tabloid reporter (Stephen Van Dorn). There are heaps of good performances here under Douglas Clayton's direction; and Alison Freeman does double duty as Dinah Lord, Tracy's tomboy of a little sister, while also serving as the production's dialect coach. Nice details here: Gary Clemmer's (Sandy Lord) blasé> inflections are even funnier when fueled by coffee; Martin's droll flippancy is as carefree as a trust-fund baby's spending habit. Yet this is the sparkling Battani's show, and she runs away with it. Considering Barry wrote the play specifically for Hepburn, that's no small task. Battani snaps and crackles and pops even when the show's pace gets soggy: There's a tendency to act between the lines instead of on the lines, which just doesn't sit well with the play's crackerjack dialogue. But with a few more performances to grease its engine, this production could clip along jauntily. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 462-8460.
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.
SACRIFICE A look at what happens when the lives of two couples, who come from opposite ends of the cultural world, collide, with some wicked interference. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 876-1501.
NEW REVIEW GO SECOND
Photo courtesy of Filament Theatre Company
In an earlier NYC staging, Joe LaRue staged Neal Utterback's
trifurcated theatrical composite, swirling around the theme of
redemption, as a comparatively traditional production. He juxtaposed
scenes of the play's three locations on a single stage. For its Los
Angeles premiere, however, LaRue takes the play in a far more
conceptual, site-specific production. During a blizzard in NYC that
suggest the end of the world, two thugs (Chad Christopher Kline and
Jason Bonduris) hold an apartment resident (Marco Neves) at gunpoint
tied to a chair while awaiting orders for what to do with him (shades
of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and Mamet's American Buffalo.)
Meanwhile, at a different location, a prostitute (Kristin D'Andrea)
listens to the troubling, perhaps deluded, confession of a client
(Hilarid Saavedra). And in the third setting, lesbian lovers (Tane
Kawasaki and Carla Nassy) work through their interpersonal troubles.
Through the street-wise sometimes soap-operatic realism, the stories
come laced with mysticism and eventually interconnect, particularly
after the play suggests that one of the characters might be the
Messiah. LaRue sets the three scenes in three separate rooms of a
private residence. The audience is similarly split - privy to one-third
of the play in front of live actors. Video monitors in each stage
transmit the action to the two audiences in the two different rooms.
This tech underscores the themes of detachment rife in Utterback's
play, perhaps in strokes that are too detached. The videography
consists of one camera swinging back and forth between characters
engaged in sometimes very intense conflict. This is obviously a
decision - this company is way too smart to come up with such a plan by
accident - but I found myself yearning for these scenes to have at
least two camera angles and an editor, if only to keep up with the
intensity of Utterback's dialogue. Watching a video that careens back
and forth between the lesbians' personal fallings out may have you
gripping the side of your chair, but only for balance. The actors play
the hostage scene with riveting intensity; the confessional is tenderly
performed with an accent on the underlying intrigue; the lesbian scene
is somewhat banal, but that's in the writing. The strength of
physically separating the settings stems from the three scenes being
written in markedly different styles, and the segregation of them masks
what might otherwise be a problem of unity. It's also a fascinating way
to take in any story, but particularly this one. Filament Theatre
Company at 1367 LaVeta Terrace, Los Angeles; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru
May 29. http://filamenttheatreco.com (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE Michael John LaChiusa's dynamic 2005 musical, based on short stories by Rynosuke Akutagawa, examines the nature of truth. The title refers to our proclivity for seeing only what we want to see -- and failing to report it honestly. The piece consists of four scenes. Two, set in medieval Japan, deal with the tormented relationship between two lovers, played by Lesli Margherita and Doug Carpenter. The third, "R Shomon," is set on the night of the New York premiere of Akira Kurosawa's classic film Rashomon and retells its tale in a modern setting. A brash, handsome Thief (Carpenter) sets out to seduce the brassy, sexy Wife (Margherita) away from her Husband (Perry Ojeda). By morning, the Husband is dead, and the three participants deliver wildly conflicting accounts of what happened. The dead Husband's story is told via a Medium (Suzan Solomon). A shifty, unreliable passerby (Jason Graae) provides a fourth version. The fourth scene, "Glory Day," gives Graae a chance to shine but seems to belong to a different play. LaChiusa's stirring score mingles jazz with Japanese inflections. Director Daniel Henning delivers a taut, sexy production, with impeccable music direction by David O, and all five actors provide passionate conviction. The Blank Theatre Company, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 23. (323) 661-9827, TheBlank.com. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 661-9827.
SERIAL KILLERS - THE PLAYOFF! Eight serials face off, with a time limit of five minutes each, and only two will be chosen, by your vote, to continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru June 26. (310) 281-8337.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS AND SOMETIMES. . . LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 6, 7:30 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 769-5566.
SIT 'N' SPIN Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity; www.sitnspin.org., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m., THis week (March 18): Eddie Pepitone, Marc Evan Jackson, David Chrisman, Melinda Hill, Jane Brucker and a special musical guest.. (323) 960-5519.
SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS Tennessee Williams' story of a community of Southern California outsiders. Fiesta Hall, 1200 N. Vista St., West Hollywood; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru June 12. (800) 838-8006.
NEW REVIEW GO SUPERNOVA
Photo by Joel Daavid
Mabel (Bonnie Hunt), a naive Des Moines housewife, calls a
graveyard shift salesman named Joe in Los Angeles (Timothy McNeil), to
order an expensive watch for her son's 18th birthday. She can't yet go
through with the purchase -- her loutish husband (Tony Gatto) says the
boy (Edward Tournier) doesn't deserve it, and once we meet him, we
agree. But these two strangers both have a black hole of loneliness and
she keeps calling Joe back until both allow themselves a sharp sliver
of hope that they might still redeem the mess they've made of their
lives. McNeil's play flags under slow plotting, but he has a merciless,
intuitive ear for how bullies manipulate their prey. In nearly every
scene, Gatto, Tournier and a sales boss played by Micah Cohen
(alternating the role with James Pippi) destroy these two secret
sweethearts, as well as Mabel's divorcée neighbor Gina Garrison, who's
insecure enough to start her own secret affair with the teen. These
three villains are so terribly good, it's a miracle that a rattled
audience member hasn't slashed the actors' tires during intermission.
And when Mabel and Joe cling to each other on the phone, we're happy
they're happy. Director Lindsay Allbaugh's fantastic ensemble sells us
on each individual scene, even if the play as a whole doesn't add up to
more then some well-acted catharses. Kelly Elizabeth and Joe Wiebe join
in for the furious climax as two fellow high schoolers who bear witness
to what even the adamantly optimistic Mabel admits is the world's worst
birthday party. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 20. (323)
962-0046. (Amy Nicholson)
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.
WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.
WILD MAN Playwright/actor/director Matthew Maguire grapples with mortality as he explores the wildest moments of his own life. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri., May 28, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org...
A WOMAN'S RITE An exploration into the multifaceted emotional lives of women and their relationships, written by the women of the Lyric Theatre family. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru May 30. (323) 939-9220.
GO THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE In its many incarnations, Gloria Naylor's episodic novel about struggle and triumph among a disparate group of African-American women in a dilapidated urban project anywhere in the country, circa 1975, offers moving, character-driven drama, comedy and social commentary. Tim Acito's musical adaptation captures much of Naylor's storytelling brilliance through his series of mostly solo songs. These explore the women's individual lives in a structure that resembles Studs Terkel's musical, Working. The stories ultimately meet, as the women turn to one another both in anger and for support. Acito eschews the temptation to pigeonhole the music into 1975 black genres, instead allowing such rhythms to infuse his more classical 20th-century musical-theater styles. The result is a stirring hybrid of emotionally charged and simply fun songs that give the extraordinary cast of singer-actors exciting material to perform. Musical director Gregory Nabours works expertly with the strong cast, as he does with his skilled musicians, to create a production of immense scale in this tiny venue. Scenic designer Kurt Boetcher offers just enough set to suggest the slum conditions but stays out of the way of the actorsm and it's all nicely supported by Naila Aladdin Sanders' delightful costume design. (Tom Provenzano). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (323) 957-1884.
YOUR PUNY WEAPONS CANNOT HURT ME! A collection of six 10-minute plays, by various playwrights. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru May 29. (323) 856-8611.
ZOMBIENCE! An Improvised Zombie Musical Directed by Patrick Bristow and Jayne Entwistle. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru June 10...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
AUNT DAN AND LEMON Wallace Shawn's play about A reclusive young woman named Lemon, who promises to tell the audience "everything about my life," including reading about Nazi atrocities and the influences by her parents' eccentric friend "Aunt Dan.". Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru May 28. (818) 500-7200.
BARELY A BEAR A children's play about a bear cub raised by humans and a girl raised by bears who team up to save the forest from developers. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru June 26. (877) 620-7673.
NEW REVIEW BOOM
Photo by Anthony Masters
An underground lab, a central fishtank and an adjoining control
booth with a timpani (meticulously designed by Kurt Boetcher) provide
the setting for Julia Duffy's silent entrance in the Los Angeles
premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play. Duffy arrives filled with a
sense of exasperated sarcasm as she peeks at the audience then begins
manipulating computers, operating switches and pounding on the drum. It
soon becomes apparent she is a godlike figure controlling the actions
of a young biologist (Nick Cernoch) and the woman (Megan Goodchild) he
lures to his lab through a sexual encounter ad. She is quite naturally
surprised when he announces his homosexuality, and doubtful as he
predicts a worldwide catastrophe. Duffy then prevents any escape from
this lunatic situation. The mood and situation quickly darken as the
non-sexual relationship deteriorates, but there is always a sense of
sly comedy, and irony ultimately wins out in what is essentially an
unsatisfying 90-minute sketch in the vein of The Twilight Zone.
Still, the appeal and skills of the three actors under Dámaso
Rodriguez' airtight direction create such an enjoyable theatrical
evening, one might even forgives the script's many, probably purposeful
holes. Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie
Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Drive, Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun. 7:30 p.m.; thru June 20. (626) 792-7116. www.furioustheatre.org
GO COPENHAGEN Though playwright Michael Frayn's virtues as a historian have been hotly debated in the decade since his speculative historical whodunit played on Broadway, no one can deny his instincts as a crack storyteller. After all, dramatic stakes don't come higher than moral responsibility for the development of the atomic bomb. Frayn's thesis is that the Allies' mistaken belief that the Nazis were actively engaged in a bomb program -- a conviction that culminated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- can be traced to a fateful 1941 meeting in occupied Copenhagen between German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Skip Pipo), author of the uncertainty principle and head of the Nazi uranium program, and his former mentor, Dutch theoretical physicist Niels Bohr (David Ross Paterson), the father of quantum mechanics and contributor to the Manhattan Project. The circumstances of that meeting, and the conflicting memories of exactly what was said or was understood by the two principals, are argued and reenacted from the perspective of some otherworldly realm. Bohr's wife, Margrethe (Sarah Lilly), who was present but out of earshot of the disputed conversation, serves as a kind of prosecuting catalyst to the action. The good news is that the intimacy of director August Viverito's pared parlor staging (Viverito is also credited for production design) does away with the ostentatious redundancy of the Broadway production's grand tribunal set; this allows the play's human dimensions -- and riveting, nuanced performances by a terrific ensemble -- to take center stage. (Bill Raden). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 786-1045.
NEW REVIEW DEN OF THIEVES Stephen Adly
Guirgis' comedy is a loony fairy-tale, which whimsically combines
addiction support groups and 12-step programs with benevolent thieves
who use their ill-gotten gains to support libraries and book-mobiles in
impoverished neighborhoods. Hyper Puerto Rican would-be wise-guy Flaco
(Eric Ritter) plans to rob a local night-club of $750,000, and enlists
his former girl-friend Maggie (Jessica Lightfoot), an accomplished
fellatrix named Boochie (Victoria Truscott), and Paul (Sean Hill), a
supposedly reformed safe-cracker who is addicted to addictions (he
belongs to more than a dozen support groups for everything from thieves
to over-eaters). What they don't realize is that the club is run by
Mafioso Big Tuna (Jason Adkins), his son Little Tuna (Josh Cormier),
and trigger-happy henchman Sal (Carlos J. Castillo). The incompetent
would-be thieves are apprehended by the Tunas, tied to chairs,
force-fed donuts, and face mob-style execution. Guirgis' play contains
some funny stuff, but it's haphazardly constructed, and director James
Madeiros made the curious decision to add music to the mix. The songs,
written and performed by James Babb, are pleasant enough, but they're
stylistically at odds with the play, and tend to stop the action in its
tracks. The result is slap-dash but amusing. Avery Schreiber Theatre,
11050 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru May
29. A New Acro Theatre Company production.
http://www.neoacrotheatre.com (Neal Weaver)
IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.
MADAGASCAR J.T. Rogers' story of three Americans -- at three different times -- who find themselves alone, in the same hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. With Rogers' White People. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 26...
GO MY SISTER IN THIS HOUSE In 1933 France, two submissive churchgoing maids named Christine and Lea Papin brutally murdered their employer and her daughter, a crime that riveted the country and set off a firestorm of debate about the conditions of the working poor. Director Michael Unger's signed and spoken production of Wendy Kesselman's handsomely staged drama speculates around that event. Stockpiled with the minutiae of the maids' daily routine, it explores the increasingly bizarre psychological dynamics between the perpetrators -- the fastidiously capable Christine (Deanne Bray, voiced by Darrin Revitz) and her clumsier, dependent sister, Lea (Amber Zion, voiced by Lindsay Evans), as well as their relationship with their mean "Madame" (Casey Kramer) and her docile daughter, Isabelle (Jennifer Losi). Performed without an intermission, the plot's unhurried rhythm reflects the excruciatingly slow pace of life in the setting's time and place. Bray and Zion are lovely and expressive in communicating the sisters' bond, forged ever more tightly in response to Madame's nitpicking cruelty, though Christine's dark side could be underscored more emphatically. Kramer's villainess is so fulsomely drawn as to border on caricature; this apparent directorial choice, made to emphasize the melodrama, is handled by this performer with considerable skill. And Losi projects an effective foil as the petulant Isabelle, whose impulses toward kindness are ultimately annihilated by her mother. Tom Buderwitz's set, Leigh Allen's lighting and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes create an ambience of musty money contrasting aptly with this dark, disturbing tale. (Deborah Klugman). Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 30...
THE RAINMAKER The N. Richard Nash romantic comedy following a rural farm family during a drought. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (626) 256-3809.
ROCKIN' WITH THE AGES II Musical revue of over-60ers about comedienne/bad girl Valorie Paradise-Lant, who teams up with dynamic singer Susan La Croix until they end up behind bars. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Wed.-Thurs., Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 5. (818) 990-2324.
SAVED BY THE PARODY Musical parody of 1990s TV sitcom Saved by the Bell, written and directed by Ren Casey. Presented by Renegade Zombie. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 10:45 p.m.; thru May 29, renegadezombie.com. (866) 811‐4111.
SPLENDID MISERY Robert Riemer's heated love story set in a Queens apartment on the hottest day of the year. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 202-4120.
SUGAR HAPPENS A-lee Lulee Productions presents this one-girl show by Sherry Coben and starring Rachel Bailit comedy, based on Bailit's life about a nice Jewish girl's life choices and where they take her. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 20. 800-838-3006.
THE SUNSHINE BOYS Neil Simon's comedy about wo aging ex-vaudeville stars who reluctantly re-team for a "History of Comedy" special. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 p.m.; thru May 29. (818) 500-7200.
GO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WAY Based on a little-known incident in L.A. history, this thriller explores the collision of reality and fantasy as two actors juggle various roles to entrap homosexuals for "social vagrancy" in the public restrooms of 1914 Long Beach. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 6. (626) 683-6883.
TREASURE ISLAND from the audience participate, playing the crew on the ship in this version of the classic pirate tale. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (626) 256-3809.
NEW REVIEW U.S.S. PINAFORE In addition to
directing this production, Jon Mullich also did the adaptation of
Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore to the
Starship Enterprise. This obviously includes restringing the lyrics and
even song titles, so that "He Is an Englishman" becomes "He is an
Earthling Man." The concept is a mashup of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest
- with accompanying jokes on both - all played upon designer Tony
Potter's terrific starship brig set. The transference of Gilbert and
Sullivan's social satire into a few quips on our pop culture feels like
a reduction of scale, but nothing compared to the reduction served up
in the tinny soundtrack. Delivering the goods with confident glee, this
excellent ensemble deserves better. In fact, this would be a sinking
ship were it not for the ensemble's charisma and the first rank
performances and voices of some key players, including James Jaeger's
physically nimble, sonorously voiced Dick Deadeye - imagine French
Stewart as a lizard man. Jesse Merlin's Captain Corcoran is also
magnificent, the embodiment of swagger, with facial muscles locked into
a smirk and a voice that that just keeps going. Ashley Cuellar's
musical chops are similarly apparent as the Captain's daughter,
Josephine. Her stage presence is perfectly adequate, but her voice hits
the moon. Crown City Theater, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 27. (800) 838-3006. (Steven
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
ABSINTHE, OPIUM MAGIC: 1920s SHANGHAI The Grand Guignolers take a 1920s luxury cruise to Shanghai, the most debaucherous city of its era. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (310) 838-4264.
GO THE ARSONISTS In Max Frisch's trenchant work of surreal irony, which may be better known by its alternate (and perhaps more whimsically satisfying) title, Biedermann and the Firebugs, decent people invite evil into their homes, try to befriend it, ignore its obvious nature -- and, by doing nothing, are ultimately complicit in its wicked goals. When Frisch wrote the dark comedy in 1958, he was clearly attempting to craft a metaphor for the rise of Nazis amongst the otherwise sensible German population one to two decades prior. Alistair Beaton's new translation amplifies certain of the text's thematic undercurrents of moral blindness to put us in mind of the paranoia and impotence suffusing the so-called War on Terror. Mild-mannered hair-tonic dealer Biedermann (Norbert Weisser) has been told to be on the lookout for a band of diabolical arsonists sweeping through the neighborhood, setting houses ablaze. Yet, this doesn't stop him from inviting into his home a brutish goon named Schmitz (John Achorn), who shows up on his doorstep asking for food and lodging. We quickly deduce that Schmitz has a certain pyromaniacal bent -- and even Biedermann and his primly brittle, suburban wife (Beth Hogan) start to twig that something is wrong when Schmitz and his seemingly psychotic pal, Eisenring (Ron Bottitta), move huge barrels of fuel and bomb detonators into their home's attic. Yet, Biedermann, complacent in his "it can't happen to me" attitude, refuses to see what's happening right in front of him. The performances, as well as the flames, crackle in Ron Sossi's slyly sardonic staging -- performances that combine perfect comic timing with dense, rich personalities. Weisser's nervous (and increasingly delusional) Biedermann and Hogan's uptight wife are hilarious -- but the true scene-stealers are Achorn's rubber-faced, diabolical Schmitz and Bottitta's ghoulish Eisenring, who are simultaneously so chillingly funny and matter of fact, you almost want to invite them to dinner yourself, despite the potentially blazing ramifications. Set designer Birgitte Moos' beautiful two-level set (1950s-style living room and attic) is ingenious, while Sean Kozma's eerie sound design adds a beautifully sinister atmosphere to the goings-on. (Paul Birchall). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., June 9, 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru June 20. (310) 477-2055.
BACKSTREET: THE MUSICAL Playhouse Jewish Heritage Series presents this family of Backstreet Ladies in a house of Jewish "working girls" in the New York ghetto, circa 1905. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 20. (310) 394-9779.
THE CLEAN HOUSE Sara Ruhl's theatrical and comedic play abut class and the nature of love. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru June 16. (310) 477-2055.
HARLOW GOLD: WEST "Sexy, witty and gritty" cabaret created by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips., $10-$25. Harvelle's, 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs.. (310) 395-1676.
THE ICE BREAKER David Rambo's play about a young geologist who sparks intellectual and romantic chemistry with her reclusive mentor. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sun., 2 & 6 p.m.; thru June 6. (310) 364-0535.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's early experiment in Victorian melodrama; part satire, part comedy of manners and part intellectual farce. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 645-5156.
JESSE BOY Plenty of writers have trodden down the thickets of dysfunction, which apparently overrun the rural South (my own little Southern hometown must be the lone exception). Certainly, there are families with histories of secrets buried so deep you'd need a backhoe to unearth them. But to cram a play to bursting with every last and most lurid of them, as does Robert Mollohan, playwright and star of this world premiere, feels like little more than shock value for the sake of shock value. Richie (Mollohan), an Elvis impersonator/car salesman and Abigayle (Jaimi Paige), his girlfriend/former lady of the night, live in a state of vague dissatisfaction dotted with bouts of uneasy peace. The tension in their trailer home is pulled rubberband-tight by Abigayle's live-in mentally handicapped brother, Jesse (the excellent Zach Book), Jesse's physically handicapped stripper/babysitter Mary-Lou (Kathleen Nicole Parker), and Richie's homeless uncle, Red (Chris Mulkey). The performances are, across the board, as impressive and nuanced as the range of Southern accents the cast employs. But as the second act hurriedly pulls tricks out of its hat and as the build to the predictable climax barrels toward the audience, the characters' emotional evolutions get lost. Richie's chance for at least a moment of sympathy is especially squandered -- if you're going to stack every card in the deck against a character, you have to give the audience a reason to care much earlier than the last 15 minutes of the play. Karen Landry directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 397-3244.
GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece which is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but run down country house in upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger) are in the twilight of their careers, but regret nothing about a life spent on the road performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiance Jimmy (David Garver) to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior -- and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration underscoring the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive, yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 399-3666.
LONDON'S SCARS The preshow announcement in the style of the London Underground's famous "mind the gap" admonition takes us to Thurloe Square, the site of a recent bus bombing in the world premiere of Richard Martin Hirsch's latest work. The bombing is discussed by psychologists Bronwyn (Imelda Corcoran) and Margaret (Ann Noble); the former is an art therapist and becomes saddled with Mary (Meredith Bishop), a young woman who witnessed the tragedy and is consequently a person of interest to MI5 field agent Dowd (Rob Nagle). In their sessions, Mary is initially reticent, responding only with book quotations. As Bronwyn uses art to delve into Mary's psyche, however, Mary opens up, revealing her occupation as a call girl and her association with Habib (Ammar Ramzi), the Pakistani man thought to be responsible for the bombing. Hirsch's ear for the British idiom, especially London slang, is undeniable, and his characters are fascinating -- especially the tortured souls of Mary and Habib. However the simmering tension Hirsch strives to build into "explosive" (sorry) moments unfortunately lacks the requisite danger and menace to keep us in anticipation. Director Darin Anthony employs creative staging of the numerous flashbacks and movements in space and time, aided by Christie Wright's nimble lighting, Stephen Gifford's flexible set, and Bill Froggatt's soundscape of London calling. The solid cast is punctuated by standouts Nagle, notable for his chameleonic shifts in playing two other minor characters as well, and Bishop, whose tortured intensity is palpable. A Coffeehouse Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27. (310) 477-2055.
GO THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Figaro (Troy Dunn) and Suzanne (Janae Burris) are about to be wed. Figaro is valet to the Count (David E. Frank), while Suzanne is chambermaid to the Countess (Cynthia Mance). At play's start, Suzanne watches Figaro measuring the proportions for a bed that's to be installed in their new quarters - within earshot of the Count. A bit of a dolt, Figaro doesn't realize (until Suzanne fills him in) that the closeness of the quarters to their respective employers is actually in the service of the Count's lechery. And so begins a series of traps to ward off the indignity of the Count's attempted restoration of an old right called primae noctis, in which the master of the house is entitled to deflower a bride from a lower class before her wedding. Following the plot's intricacies is like trying to follow the motions of moths around a lamp, though it does sort itself out, not unlike the ribbons and bows in Josephine Poisot's period costumes. And the new translation transfers the subtleties of French idiom very smoothly into English -- with the added delight of actors occasionally lip synching from excerpts of Mozart's opera. The technique on display in Michel's production isn't yet pristine, but on opening night, it was close enough to make its point. The shenanigans unfold on Duncombe's production design of burgundy and blue, accented by two suspended chandeliers. The set's symmetry and elegance works in pleasing juxtaposition against the mayhem of interlopers hurling themselves out of windows, or pretending to. The solid ensemble works in tight conformity to the style: Frank's lecherous count is a comic standout of barely concealed slime, offset by the grace of Mance's weary, dignified Countess. And Maria Chirstina Benthall offers vivacious delight as the libidinous niece of the gardner. (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru June 20. (310) 319-9939.
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MEASURE FOR PLEASURE Powdered wigs, cleavage and dildos, oh my! They abound in David Grimm's 18th century farce for the 21st century about a young transvestite prostitute. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (866) 811-4111.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM William Shakespeare's comedy about the adventures of four young Athenian lovers. Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 372-4477.
GO SARAH, SARAH In playwright Daniel Goldfarb's family drama, the generation gap is not so much a gap as it is a gaping crevasse. In 1961, fearsome Jewish mama Sarah Grosberg (played by Cheryl David with battle-ax aplomb) invites the mousy fiance (Robyn Cohen) of her beloved son, Artie (Patrick J. Rafferty), for tea and strudel, ostensibly so the two ladies can get to know each other but really so the possessive mamutchka can talk the girl out of marrying her son. As the intimidating matriarch tears into the younger girl like a glutton gnawing on kugel, it falls to Sarah's kindly housekeeper (Bart Braverman) to save the day with an unexpected revelation about his boss. Years later, Sarah's granddaughter Jennifer (also played by David, in such a different, breezy, open turn that she's almost unrecognizable) journeys to China to adopt an orphan, who turns out to be ill and possibly mentally handicapped. Goldfarb's play is mainly set dressing for David's splendid tour de force twin performances as the steely matriarch and her neurotic, insecure granddaughter, turns that are beautifully nuanced and complex. As Sarah, David depicts an immediately familiar type, who's as much a creature of her era as is the more immature-seeming, emotionally drifting Jennifer. Director Howard Teichman's deceptively simple production adroitly captures the mood and feel of two eras, exemplified by different body languages and physical behavior. Braverman is also deft in his two characters -- he excels as Jennifer's supportive yet pessimistic father in the play's second half. (Paul Birchall). Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 27...
SPOOF AND SATIRE In the pantheon of wicked nuns where one finds such diabolical Brides of Christ as Sister Aloysius in Doubt and the unnamed Sister of Late Nite Catechism, all homage must be paid to Sister Mary Ignatius, the truly horrific nightmare nun of Christopher Durang's ferocious satire, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. In director Jeremy Aluma's intermittently droll and ultimately workmanlike production, the role of the archetypal terrifying schoolteacher nun is assayed with delicious venom by Joanna Churgin, whose eyes, glowering beneath her wimple, crackle with madness. The play's basically staged as a lecture in which Sister Mary "teaches" us many of the tenets of her particularly unforgiving brand of Catholicism -- including her beliefs that murder and homosexuality are equally mortal sins, and her less-than-comforting assurance that God hears every prayer -- "Sometimes He just says 'no.'" Midway through the lecture, however, several of Sister Mary's former students show up, first to present a cheesy Nativity play but then to confront the nun with the troubled lives they blame her for. Although some of the cast's supporting turns are marred by stiffness, Churgin's perfectly committed turn as Sister Mary anchors Aluma's intimate staging; she seems absolutely reasonable with her horrific opinions, until the piece arrives at its totally unhinged finale. Unfortunately, Aluma's stodgily paced production of An Actor's Nightmare, Durang's traditional companion piece to Sister Mary, fares less well, lacking the energy and ferocity of the first comedy. A mild-mannered accountant (Johnny Arena) unexpectedly discovers himself part of a play whose dialogue he doesn't know, and which appears to be an ungodly mix of Shakespeare, Noël Coward and Samuel Beckett. The play's theatrical in-jokes mostly fall flat in this mix of heavy-handed blocking and pedestrian line readings. Arena acquits himself well during the play's keynote midsection monologue, during which he appears to lose his mind. (Paul Birchall). Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 29. (310) 828-7519.