BITCH Susan Rubins dark comedy abandons logic, probability and common sense to provide a zany roller-coaster ride combining voodoo, kinky sex, weapons of mass destruction, sibling rivalry and Washington intrigues. Katherine (Bhama Roget) and her brother Dick (Nick Mennell), hostile partners in a Manhattan public-relations firm, take on a mysterious client named Claire Toussaint (Portia Realer) an exotic black woman who seems to be accompanied by invisible drummers. Claires peddling a nonlethal war-avoidance serum, which she claims will put an end to warfare. Workaholic Katherine runs the firm and carries on an affair with Dodi Kalfayan (Ismail Bashey), representative of an unidentified Arab state, while hedonistic Dick pursues a torrid, sadistic affair with the giddy receptionist (Mara Marini). In order to sell the serum to the U.S. government, Katherine allows herself to be seduced by a lesbian senator (Liz Davies). When things spin wildly out of control, it takes an intervention by the spirit of voodoo queen Marie Leveau to sort things out. Director Mark Bringelsons slick and speedy production mingles frantic action, video, nudity and simulated sex on Desma Murphys handsome and flexible set, while Roget, Mennell and Marini lend unlikely conviction to wildly giddy characters. Indecent Exposure Theater Company at BOOTLEG, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 7. (213) 389-3856. (Neal Weaver)
CALIGULA To philosopher and playwright Albert Camus, debauched emperor Caligula (a wonderfully nasal and arch Jeremy Guskin) wasnt a madman but an existentialist. The death of his beloved sister Drusilla exposed life as trivial a cynicism he meant to pass on to his disloyal subjects by murdering and raping their families, and rubbing their noses in it. In the smart but tedious speeches that form Camus stiff play (in Chris Covics dry staging, theres not even a bare breast to be seen), Caligula comes across as a brilliant Enron exec: greedy to own the moon and masterful with cruel logic. (On stealing openly from the populace, he argues its no worse than taxing vital necessities.) The cowed Romans are too busy whining about the moral breakdown of society to pull a rebellion together. And while the political parallels are alive, the airless scenes arent. Covics cant rouse the rest of the ensemble to more anger than a break room of disgruntled employees. Still, Guskins playful performance shows why Camus who rejected existentialism remained fascinated with the despot: You hate him, but at least he dared to think for himself. UNKNOWN THEATER, 1110 N. Seward St., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru June 30. (323) 466-7781 or www.unknowntheater.com. (Amy Nicholson)
HAMLET Hamish Linklater brings a rueful sincerity to his portrayal of the not-so-great Dane. Linklaters slender frame and studied grace of movement lend a suave, charismatic understatement. Its a beautifully spoken performance that hovers between the truth that emanates from ones bones, and affect, as in Hamlets occasional, rare bursts of jollity. Director Daniel Sullivan frames the action with Bruegel the Elders Dulle Griet painted onto a scenic backdrop. This hints at the plays pre-Elizabethan origins, and at this productions promise to show the relentless, almost ghoulish transformations of mortals into ghosts in the cellar, as lunacy and death pick off the characters one by one. Hamlet hears the call of the Underworld from the get-go, which is why hes so out of joint with life (and its artifices), until the entire world he occupies slowly catches up to his dour appraisals. Unfortunately, this promise in Ralph Funicellos portrait-of-the-damned set remains largely unfulfilled in the production itself, which is more generic than striking notwithstanding Dakin Matthews sparklingly clear and funny windbag Polonius, and perfectly serviceable portrayals by Linda Gehringer and Robert Foxworth as Gertrude and Claudius. Brooke Bloom was doing just fine tender, smart and intriguing until her Ophelia went mad and drowned in a river of clichés. And some of the supporting actors offered no support at all. But the promise of what this all could have been still lingers, and you cant go wrong even just listening to this play. SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru July 1. (714) 708-5555 or www.southcoastrepertory.com. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.
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PICK THE [INSIDE] PERFORMANCES With 95 percent of theater in Los Angeles created and attended by Caucasians now a statistical minority of the citys population the Ford Theatre is among a number of arts institutions feeling the pinch, so to speak. The latest in a decades-long sequence of efforts to reach across the ethnic divide, this performance/comedy/spoken-word series promoting Latino/Asian/Pacific Islander artists consists mostly of Saturday afternoon readings, with complimentary wine provided by Bodega de Cordova wine bar, live music and talk-back sessions. The one variation from the Saturday-afternoon schedule is Sunday, June 10, when Prince Gomolvilas and Brandon Patton present their storytelling, song-singing, bingo-playing comic performance, Jukebox Stories. Later in the month are works by Luis J. Rodriguez (Notes of a Bald Critic,poems and vignettes concerning recovery from drinking and drug abuse), Melinda Corazon Foley (Second Chances, about regaining what was lost)and Michael John Garcés play Customs, about a journalist returning to a violent country. July features works by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Walter Wong and Augusto Federico Amador. August closes the series with comedy troupes, Chicano Secret Service and Opening Peoples Minds, and playwrights Oliver Mayer and Philip W. Chung. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Sat., 1 p.m.; Sun., June 10, 1 p.m.; thru Aug. 25. (323) 461-3673. For complete schedule, visit www.fordtheatres.org/en/events/theatre.asp. (Steven Leigh Morris)
JERSEY BOYS This megahit musical chronicle of the Age of Harmony, with a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, traces the rise, fall and Vegas afterlife of singer Frankie Valli and his group, the Four Seasons. The story is powered by the groups most memorable songs (Sherry, Big Girls Dont Cry, etc.), written by Bob Crewe (lyrics) and Bob Gaudio (music). As a pop fable, the show strikes a judicious balance between feel-good family fun and dysfunctional-family train wreck. Fittingly, the story unfolds in four seasons, beginning in the late 1950s, when two young Italian-American singers, Tommy DeVito (Deven May) and Nick Massi (Michael Ingersoll) invite a third teen from their Newark neighborhood, Frankie Valli (Christopher Kale Jones), to form a trio which reaches critical mass with the addition of Gaudio (Erich Bergen). At first the show is narrated by Tommy, a minor hoodlum determined to keep the Four Seasons (who went by many names before their final incarnation) together at all costs. But his spendthrift lifestyle and underworld ties ultimately fracture the Four Seasons. This touring version of director Des McAnuffs production hits all the right notes, although it remains a kind of Lion King version of American success when a little more darkness would have gone a long way. Jones turns in a fine performance as Valli, both as an actor and singer, right down to the crooners unforgettable falsetto. Center Theatre Group at the AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; schedule varies, call for info; thru Aug. 5. (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org. (Steven Mikulan)
RHINOCEROS The comedically regimented choreography in director Frederique Michels staging of Eugene Ionescos 1958 farce (translated by Derek Prouse) handily complements the Absurdist Romanian authors portrayal of a towns entire population transforming into the eponymous pachyderms. Even if Bo Roberts overly bombastic Jean a living suit-and-tie blathering about rectitude and responsibility overstates Ionescos dig at sanctimonious drones, at least the play is boldly interpreted. In manner and acting approach, Troy Dunns lead character, Berenger, is out on his own, a soft-spoken method actor in a world of stark puppets. Hes a stand-in for Ionesco and us as the townsfolk benignly capitulate to thick-skinned, dull-witted conformity. Ionesco wrote this after having observed the French embrace of the Nazis, and all of the lunatic rationalizations of that embrace passing for logic. Michel shrewdly keeps Nazis and other rabid defenders of homeland security at arms length in a production thats simply about the cost of being different. Though much of Ionescos satire is now pedantic and overwritten, the core idea, like this production, contains a horror that borders on tragedy, like the arts, or what used to be called free thinking, slowly shutting down in the body politic, organ by organ. CITY GARAGE, 1340 ½ Fourth St. (West Alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru July 15. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.
SATISFY ME Everybody cheats in Johnny Garcias new dramedy that has postcollegiate neuroses written all over it in a good way. Garcia writes the way his characters would actually talk. Although fliers boast that Victor Williams (of TVs The King of Queens) stars, there is no single star in this production. The play begins when Woody (Williams) visits his college friend, Jack (Garcia), to ask for advice, since Woodys fiancée, Gwen (Kate Guyton), has informed Woody that if she marries him, she will need to cheat on him every few months. A clunky and poorly paced flashback to the conversation between Woody and Gwen gets the show off to a rocky start. Things soon pick up, however, and the ensuing love hexagon is so engrossing that its a shame to break for intermission. Also, Samantha Quan turns in a refreshingly nuanced performance as a sexy, young assistant. Director Andrew Borba treats the majority of the flashbacks and simultaneously occurring scenes with dexterity, and sound designer Barry Neelys choice of music accentuates the mood and drives the piece forward. Aside from the perplexing, massive pair of breasts painted on one wall, set designer Stephen Giffords set is simple and functional. Satisfy Me is a sincere and edgy piece that dares to ask whether infidelity could actually benefit a relationship. Lillian Theater at ELEPHANT STAGEWORKS, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 17. (323) 960-7789. (Stephanie Lysaght)