Our critic Lovell Estell was entranced by Vickilyn Reynolds' performance in a show based on the life of Hattie McDaniel, Hattie -- What I Need You To Know. For all the latest New Theater Reviews, and comprehensive stage listings, see below.
This week's Stage Feature takes a look a three shows that survived the holidays and have returned in 2013 after strong showings in 2012 -- two plays by Horton Foote in Foote Notes and Ingmar Bergman's rarely produced adaptation of A Doll's House, entitled Nora, at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. They all look a bit quaint -- though Foote Notes, deceptively so.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication January 10, 2013:
GO DUNGEONS & GROUNDLINGS Continuing its ever-changing schedule of newly devised comedy scenes, the Groundlings' troupe of jokesters entertains tourists and locals alike. The current lineup consists of six men and two women who all bounce off each other nicely. This show is one of their funniest presentations to date despite using the same trusty formula of a dozen short and sweet, scripted comedy scenes interspersed with four improvised sketches that rely on suggestions from the audience. Jim Cashman is a stand-out in all his scenes, especially "Reunion," in which he plays a blunderer who manages to insult all his former pals at a high school reunion because he's not up on their latest news as broadcast on Facebook. Laurel Coppock also shines in a scene, playing opposite Ryan Gaul, in which a romantic date is derailed when her compulsive OCD rituals become increasingly bizarre. The humor depends largely on awkwardness, such as a sketch where two patrons become unnerved by the touchy-feely and blissed-out wait staff at a new-age vegetarian restaurant. Some of the humor and language is R-rated, and there are some big laughs to be had. Unfortunately, the comedy is limited to white-bread subject matter (perhaps thanks to its all-white cast). Groundlings Theater, 7303 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through Jan. 26. (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO THE GOD PARTICLE COMPLEX For those who take their theoretical physics seriously, writers Chris Bell and Joshua Zeller's deliriously whacked-out, big-science apocalypse satire may be this week's ticket to avoid. For those of us who have whiled away an afternoon watching the Science Channel or wasted a childhood glued to one of the Star Trek franchises, however, Bell and Zeller's daffily deft homage to particle-physics exotics and familiar sci-fi tropes of all stripes is a late-night delight. Set in the cathedral-like bowels of the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Switzerland, the one-act follows a pair of hapless, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-ish research physicists (Scott Harris and Andrew Erskine Wheeler) as they wait for news of whether the fabled Higgs boson -- the so-called "god particle" predicted by the Standard Model of physics -- will be confirmed by the $9 billion contraption and place them on the Nobel dais. Fate intervenes in the form of a Visitor from the 23rd century (JR Reed, in an outlandish Spandex bodysuit), who unwittingly sets into motion a slapstick collapse of space-time that rockets the proceedings into the stratosphere of farce. Director Debbie McMahon's lunatic choreography and wicked stage invention, along with an inspired deus ex machina cameo, only slather icing on the cake. The Annex at Artworks Theatre, 6581 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., 10 p.m.; through Feb. 9. (323) 871-1912, brownpapertickets.com/event/297800. (Bill Raden)
GO HANSEL AND GRETEL Avoiding junk food and getting through tough times together are the upbeat messages in this defanged, radically revised adaptation of the Grimms' classic. Tall lanky Hansel (Joey Jennings) and his petite sister, Gretel (Caitlin Gallogly), are unhappy at home because their out-of-work woodcutter father (Anthony Gruppuso) hasn't the money to feed them. So they take off, and along the way encounter a frustrated, stage-struck witch (understudy Bonnie Kalisher at the performance reviewed), piqued because the play in progress is about them and not about her. Her plan is to capture the children and stuff them with sweets to make them lazy and uninteresting, and then seize the spotlight for herself. But she's foiled by an enterprising bird (Barbara Mallory) who comes to the captives' rescue. Geared to youngsters, both Lloyd J. Schwartz's book and the music and lyrics by Hope and Laurence Juber have unsophisticated charm and even a measure of wit. Jennings' boisterous boy and Gallogly's sweetly admonishing sister present an appealing foil. The ensemble enjoy themselves, and their energy is contagious. As usual, it is the audience-participation segments, as well as the spontaneous commentary from the little ones in the audience, that garner the most laughs. Elliot Schwartz directs. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Hlywd.; Sat., 1 p.m.; through March 2. (818) 761-2203, theatrewest.org. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: HATTIE ... WHAT I NEED TO KNOW
Before there was a Sidney Poitier, a Denzel Washington, a Morgan Freeman or a Halle Berry, there was Hattie McDaniel. In the engaging bio-musical Hattie ... What I Need to Know, Vickilyn Reynolds honors the life of this extraordinary entertainer, who in 1940 became the first African-American to win an Oscar with her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Fittingly, the show opens with a video of that historic evening, after which Reynolds (who bears a noticeable resemblance to McDaniel) appears onstage and, for two hours, does a beguiling job of bringing McDaniel to life. Reynolds' script covers a lot of ground and could use some tightening, and at times her loose, conversational style distracts and meanders.Still, she and director Byron Nora succeed in making McDaniel's story an entertaining experience, recounting her early days singing in a gospel choir; difficulties with her overprotective parents; a string of unhappy marriages; struggles with racism in and outside of Hollywood; and her slow, determined rise to success, which ultimately placed her in the friendly company of stars like Clark Gable, Mae West, Bing Crosby and Marlene Dietrich. As interesting as this all is, the real payoff is hearing Reynolds sing the selection of jazz, blues and gospel songs with commanding artistry and passion. Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Feb. 3. (800)-838-3006, theatreasylum-la.com (Lovell Estell III)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE:
Chapter Two: Written by Neil Simon, directed by Andrew Barnicle. Starting Jan. 12, Sat., Jan. 12, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 20, 7 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Freud's Last Session: Judd Hirsch and Tom Cavanagh star as Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in Mark St. Germain's philosophical debate. Starting Jan. 16, Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 10. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.thebroadstage.com.
GO Hansel and Gretel: Book by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music and lyrics by Hope and Laurence Juber. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through March 2, (818) 761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, www.theatrewest.org. See New Reviews.
The Morini Strad: Two weeks before Willy Holtzman's The Morini Strad was set to open at Burbank's 270-seat Colony Theatre, the theater went public with a grim announcement that the 37-year-old company needed $49,000 to open Holtzman's play, and $500,000 by the end of the year in order to prevent the indefinite suspension of programming. The theater reported that, since 2008, its subscriber base has slipped from 3,800 to 3,000 and, since 2010, the theater has seen a 20 percent drop in single-ticket sales. The $49,000 came in, and artistic director Barbara Beckley sounds hopeful that the half-million dollars "to clear our financial obligations and produce our last two shows and stabilize us into the future" is on the near horizon. And so the show went on. But the audience for a Sunday matinee performance of The Morini Strad was, again, a sea of silver hair. Ticket prices for this show range from $20 to $42, with a limited number of $15 tickets for students and groups. Those non-discounted tickets aren't cheap, but they're not terrible. The bigger problem in drawing younger audience might be the play itself. The Morini Strad is a thin, morose work straining to be inspirational and profound. Aging, dying violist Erica Morini (the fine Mariette Hartley), a former child prodigy, is the owner of a rare but damaged Stradivarius violin. Before she dies, she wants it repaired, and the play concerns her relationship with a younger artisan, Brian Skarstad (David Nevell) -- a violin builder and repairer -- who can restore it to its former glory and value. She's a diva who runs on attitude and entitlement, the violinist answer to Terrence McNally's Maria Callas in Master Class; he's a dull man with a wife, two kids who need dentures and a dog that needs de-worming. She baits him and tests his loyalty and his patience against the backdrop of the same motif from a Tchaikovsky violin concerto played repeatedly over the sound system and by a real child violin prodigy (Geneva Lewis). What is life for? What is art for? Why did Erica give her life for art? What did it get her in the end? Why can't Brian do the same? Should he give up his restoration business to build violins? We're invited to address these questions, if we care to. Stephen Gifford's set and Jared A. Sayeg's lighting design create the opulent veneer of Erica's Fifth Avenue digs blending into Brian's workshop, but Stephanie Vlahos' production more or less wheezes along its 95-minute, predictable trajectory. Despite this tepid production, which obviously arrives at a moment of crisis for the Colony, this theater has the legacy and the talent to warrant continued support. It fully deserves the stabilization to which Beckley refers. But part of that stabilization needs to include productions that will attract people in their 20s and 30s at prices they can afford -- even at the cost of aggravating the theater's diminishing subscriber base. It may be callous to say, but at this point for the Colony, little else really matters. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Jan. 13. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
GO Nothing to Hide: A telling admission in Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães' magic show Nothing to Hide is that shows such as this should be antiquated by now. One of them comes right out and says it: We already live in an era of technological magic, so how can card tricks possibly compete? Apps on an Android phone tell us in the blink of an eye which roads are clogged and which are open, or how many parking spaces are available on Hollywood Boulevard, or the best Italian or Chinese restaurant nearby. If your Houdini Siberian Husky breaks out the back window, a "Tagg" GPS dog tracker will send you timed reports with a map showing the dog's location. In such an age, what could possibly motivate people to fight crosstown traffic in order to sit in the dark, among strangers, and watch two men playing with pieces of paper -- an entertainment from another century? It's like going to a carnie show, without even the macabre glee that carnie shows used to offer. And yet, under Neil Patrick Harris' direction, the show flows like silk. (Steven Leigh Morris). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4:30 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Peter Pan: Cathy Rigby stars as The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. Starting Jan. 15, Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-365-3500, www.broadwayla.org.
GO Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS: This spoof of the Burl Ives-narrated, animated holiday classic is in clown troupe Troubadour Theater Company's solid, witty, raunchy and scatological hands. As Sam the Snowman (Paul C. Vogt) pointed out to a child before the show began, "You're gonna grow up real fast tonight." The Troubies now have a long tradition of finding almost no reason to match some classic movie or stage work with music in the style of some pop or rock band, except for the play on words of the resulting title. Here, it's The Doors, and so the plot gets twisted into knots around its own testicles in order to justify "Light My Fire." In truth, the musical style of The Doors is so disconnected from the story of Rudolph, one can only watch in amazement as the troupe attempts to cram the square peg into the round hole. Yes, there are splinters. Some improvised lines land, some don't. The point, under Matt Walker's yeoman direction, lies in the effort, even when the totality doesn't quite equal the sum of its parts. The band is terrific; Sharon McGunigle's lurid costumes set the ditzy tone; and in addition to Steven Booth's endearing Rudolph, there are some terrific cameos: Mike Suprezo's Yukon Cornelius, Beth Kennedy's Blitzen, Walker's Donner and Rick Batella's Santa Claus, among many others. (Steven Leigh Morris). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Jan. 13. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank, 818-955-8101, www.falcontheatre.com.
'Tis a Pity She's a Whore: Presented by London theater troupe Cheek by Jowl. Fri., Jan. 11, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 12, 2 & 8 p.m. UCLA Freud Playhouse, 245 Charles E Young Drive E, Los Angeles, 310-825-2101.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD, AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
GO 86'd: What would you do for a hefty slice of $5 million? Some answers come along with laughs in this dark comedy by Jon Polito and Darryl Armbruster. At an all-night Big Apple diner (masterfully designed by Danny Cistone), Dame Fortune smiles when one of the oddball regulars (Alan Ehrlich) gleefully announces he's won the lottery, displays the ticket, then dies of a heart attack. The shock and public-spirited concern from the patrons and staff soon is swapped for something more befitting the situation -- greed. Sucked into the ensuing vortex of devious dealings are waitress Angela (Jamie Kerezsi), Nick (Lou Volpe), proprietor Willie the baker (Michael Edward Thomas), Ray (Lucan Melkonian), his gal Kim (Julianna Bolles) and Mamie (the hilarious Susan Fisher), who liberally shrieks obscenities while fastidiously shredding napkins at the counter. Toss in some street toughs, a violent, degenerate gambler (Matt McVay) and a crooked cop (Ed Dyer, in a performance bordering on caricature), and the avarice turns drolly murderous. Watching these scoundrels stumble from one desperate, idiotic scheme and mishap to another is a kick, and director Ronnie Marmo keeps the comic chaos finely tuned. Notwithstanding its predictable plot twists, the show is thoroughly entertaining. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19, plays411.com. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5068, www.theatre68.com.
GO Avenue Q: How can you not like a musical puppet show that looks a little like Sesame Street but sounds more like South Park? Director Richard Israel's charming local production of the Tony Award-winning musical proves that the show plays brilliantly on a small, intimate stage. After all, Avenue Q is at its heart a puppet show, and what's the point if you're so far back in the house you can't see the puppets? Utilizing a fast-paced staging that's rich with youthful energy, as well as angst, the show boasts some hilarious and surprisingly subtle performers, who also manipulate their puppet characters with style and acrobatic skill. Admittedly, the show is essentially a straightforward staging of the Broadway script -- a nice introduction to the work, but if you've already seen the play, it's not certain that this production adds much to it. Still, it's easy to enjoy Chris Kauffman's amusingly ironic turn as mousy puppet Princeton, and Danielle Judovits' beautifully vulnerable Kate Monster -- and it's fun to experience the lively renditions of peppy ditties on topics as diverse as masturbation, racism and puppet sex. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3, (323) 802-4990, domatheatre.com. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, www.themettheatre.com.
GO Bad Apples: On the face of it, Circle X Theatre Company's new musical based on the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (book by Jim Leonard, lyrics and music by Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley) sounds like a horrible idea, leading inevitably to a musical that threatens to reduce an international tragedy to camp, or to treat it with portentous, operatic grandeur. Bad Apples does neither, under John Langs' direction. Its musical-theater ancestors are Cabaret and Chicago -- musicals that reach into the darkest crevices of human behavior with sardonic wit and a coating of sexuality. The play's larger point about the thin veneer of civilization comes from a study by Stanford University's Philip George Zimbardo, in which 24 clinically sane participants played roles of prisoner and guard. The two-week study was canceled after only six days, due to the escalating sadistic trauma to the "prisoners" from the sadism inflicted by the participants "playing" their guards. All of this comes accompanied by a three-piece band, by songs of inexorable longing and desire and ambition sung in country ballads and rock ditties. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 2. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
GO Bob Baker's Nutcracker: If you're a parent or grandparent of little ones and/or you love marionettes, you might consider patronizing Bob Baker's The Nutcracker, a presentation from Baker's five-decades-old puppet-theater company. Geared to the preschool set, it's a loose adaptation of the classic Nutcracker tale staged in a spacious room, with high ceilings, ornate chandeliers and shimmery accoutrements. The star feature is a host of rainbow-hued marionettes, gorgeously costumed and representing the story's full spectrum of family, toys and fairies. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Jan. 27, $20. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
GO A Bright New Boise: Ever wonder what transpires in the heart and mind of a fundamentalist zealot? Samuel D. Hunter ventures into that murky terrain in his dark, droll and ultimately explosive work A Bright New Boise, set in a soulless big-box store in Boise, Idaho. Just arrived from a small town, new hire Will (Matthew Elkins) comes across as a gentle guy and docile worker, although his authorship of a Christian e-novel does set him oddly apart from the average Joe. Will's motive for procuring this particular dead-end job is to introduce himself for the first time to another store employee: his biological son, Alex (Erik Odom). Raised in foster homes, Alex is looked after by his foster brother, Leroy (a razor-sharp Trevor Peterson), a snaky, irreverent rule-breaker determined to protect the unstable boy from the psychological predator he deems Will to be. Funny, compassionate and disturbing all at once, Hunter's quintessentially American scenario portrays an individual trapped in an emotional and cultural wasteland, his life configured by uncaring impersonal forces, his spirit hobbled by unnamed guilt. Elkins' performance -- so palpable and so genuine he might be the guy standing next to you in the supermarket line -- captures it all. Betsy Zajko is on the mark as a no-nonsense, anti-union store manager with a compassionate streak and a relenting heart, while Heather L. Tyler, as Will's coequally isolated co-worker, compounds the pathos. Designer David Mauer's set aptly reflects the unvarnished bleakness of these characters' lives. John Perrin Flynn directs. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 13, 3 p.m.; Mon., Jan. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 27, 3 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27, $29.99. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
Dirty Filthy Love Story: There are two stars in Rob Mersola's new comedy, Dirty Filthy Love Story. The first is David Mauer and Hazel Kuang's set. In a coup de theatre, the entire back wall of what looks like a cardboard-cutout living room drops forward and slams to the ground, revealing the home to be the garbage-bag, stacked-boxes and strewn-clothes rat's nest of the play's hoarder-protagonist, Ashley (Jennifer Pollono). The other star is Joshua Bitton's understated performance as the mentally challenged garbage man Hal, hired by Ashley's next-door neighbor Benny (Burl Moseley) to clean the trash from her side yard so he can sell his home. The sexually charged romance between Hal and Ashley grows increasingly macabre, homicidal and strained, and the play's main joke really turns on the passionate, nihilistic attraction between them. Pollono and Moseley were too screechy at the performance reviewed, under Elina de Santos' absorbing, sitcom-style direction. And I couldn't understand why, in one scene, Benny would fail to defend himself against the lovers, who have targeted him for death. After all, they've already struck him with a frying pan that's now sitting in front of him on the couch. But when he regains consciousness, rather than pick up the weapon, he merely rants about his plight. Such details can be worked out. This is a world premiere, after all. Mainly, though, the play is about its premise and nothing more. With transitional songs referring to a world under siege by garbage, this is a work that could actually be about something. Either it needs to be as thin as farce, or reconsidered more deeply. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Jan. 12. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
GO Dungeons & Groundlings: All-new sketch and improv, directed by Deanna Oliver. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Jan. 26. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com. See New Reviews.
Focus Group Play: Carrie Barrett's comedy is set in a focus group assembled by a manufacturer to research attitudes toward its new products, a group of Meal Replacement Bars. But things don't go quite as planned. The group's pretty blonde moderator (Jen Drohan) desperately tries to keep chaos at bay and gather meaningful reactions from the obstreperous members of the group: Mandy (Celia Finkelstein) is a garrulous, needy young woman, who wants to be a stand-up comic, and whose talent for digression disrupts any reasonable discussion. Marta (Caro Zeller) is a no-nonsense Latina with an unexpected knowledge of geometry. Debbie (Darcy Shean) is a model who specializes in demonstrating household appliances. Jim (Brian Hamill), the only male in the group, is a family man with a touch of paranoia. Pamela (Alissa Ford) is an opinionated firebrand, who spearheads a rebellion against the company's hypocrisy and preposterous advertising claims. Though Barrett's mostly funny script bogs down occasionally, director Eric Hunicutt keeps the pace brisk and the laughs coming. In a top-notch cast, Drohan shines as a young woman trying to maintain her dignity despite impossible odds. (Neal Weaver). Starting Jan. 12, Sat., Jan. 12, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
GO Foote Notes: A Young Lady of Property & The Land of the Astronauts: Subtlety and skill are on ample display in this duo of Horton Foote one-acts, directed by Scott Paulin. "A Woman of Property," set in Foote's Harrison, Texas, in 1925, revolves around a high-spirited, 15-year-old named Wilma (Juliette Goglia), whose mom has died and whose dad is about to remarry and sell the family home. In an outstanding turn, Goglia's performance captures both the innocence of the play's time and place and the spirit of confused rebellious adolescence that transcends it. In "The Land of the Astronauts," set in 1983, the modern world looms closer to Harrison. The plot concerns a young family nearly torn apart when the father (Aaron McPherson), overcome by a sense of futility, goes off the deep end and pursues his fantasy of being an astronaut. Laetitia Leon is spot-on as his warm, lovely wife, Lorena, who doesn't quite understand but knows how to comfort her man and get him back on track. Supporting performances help weave the sense of community that is the hallmark of Foote's work: among them Talyan Wright, beguiling and utterly professional as Lorena's young daughter, and Matt Little as the helpful young deputy obviously vulnerable to Lorena's charm. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9, $25, $20 seniors & students. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org. See Theater feature.
GO The God Particle Complex: Chris Bell and Joshua Zeller's "tragic one-act science farce about high energy particle physics, time travel, and the abrupt end of our universe." Saturdays, 10 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9, brownpapertickets.com/event/297800. Artworks Performance Space, 6585 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-871-1912. See New Reviews
The Good Negro: Tracey Scott Wilson's story of the civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1962. Starting Jan. 15, Tue., Jan. 15, 8 p.m.; Wed., Jan. 16, 8 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, (323) 960-7774, plays411.com/goodnegro. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
The Grand Irrationality: World-premiere British comedy by Jemma Kennedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 3, (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/grand. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Hattie ... What I Need You to Know: Vickilyn Reynolds' portrait of the African-American Academy Award winner. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com. See New Reviews.
How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: It would take a cultural philosopher to adequately explain why zombies have so profoundly resonated with audiences at this historical moment. One does not, however, need to be a Gilles Deleuze to understand its baroque potential for satire. Which is to say that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the genre rules laid down by George Romero will find a lot to like in director Patrick Bristow's amiable, Americanized version of this improv-derived British fringe import by Ben Muir, Jess Napthine, David Ash and Lee Cooper. Bristow is zombiologist Dr. Bobert Dougash. Jayne Entwistle, Mario Vernazza and Chris Sheets are his seminar's panel of conspicuously underqualified experts, who take very seriously the ludicrous prospect of surviving a fictional, species-exterminating epidemic. Bristow expertly leads the crew through some clever wordplay routines worthy of Abbott & Costello, padded out with some genial barbs directed at audience targets of opportunity. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Met Someone!: Written and performed by Cheryl Francis Harrington. Starting Jan. 17, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 21, (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/284287. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, www.workingstage.com.
I'm Dop3!: Afia Fields' solo performance begins with a quote from Marilyn Monroe: "Dogs never bite me. Just humans." The statement is telling in that it's a nod to both the cruel comments Fields, a burn victim, has heard all her life and to her steadfast ambition to become a star, despite her circumstances. When Fields was 3, a space-heater fire in her Baltimore home took the lives of her cousin and baby brother and left her in a coma with third-degree burns all over her body. In relating her journey of healing in the wake of such tragedy, Fields employs song and dance as well as graphic photos of her surgeries. She and director Debra DeLiso cleverly use the photos to implicate the audience: Will we choose to listen to her describe her pain, or will our eyes fixate -- consciously or unconsciously -- on the harrowing visual evidence of it? While the piece still needs some dramatic development, there's something about witnessing courage in action that is powerful and inspiring, and Field's ability to make it "through the fire" (as Chaka Khan once put it) speaks to just how dope she really is. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19, $30, (443) 928-5941, saiproarts.org. Elephant Studio Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO In the Red and Brown Water: Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney sets this music-, dance- and myth-infused work in the "distant present," weaving his story around talented young athlete Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick), who risks her future to care for her ailing mother. The play charts a downhill course for this lovely, open-hearted person: Her mother dies, the prized scholarship goes to someone else and Oya is trapped in the barrio, plagued with passion for an unfaithful lover (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and for the same fulfillment as every other woman in her circumscribed community -- a child. It's no accident that Oya's barrenness parallels the predicament in Federico Garcia Lorca's Yerma, or that she bears the name of a Yoruba goddess. McCraney pulls together a confluence of elements -- although predominantly Yoruba -- to present a visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America. Kilpatrick's portrayal embraces every bit of her feisty, soulful character, made more compelling by the intimate performance space. Brown's slick, calibrated womanizer is an aptly fashioned foil and the remaining ensemble is strong. But designer Frederica Nascimento's set, with its pale walls and light wood backdrop, is too tidy and sterile to reflect the play's darkness. Shirley Jo Finney directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 24. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
Phaedra's Lust: Seneca the Younger's classic, adapted and directed by Steven Sabel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 9. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
Pick of the Vine: The Kiss by Mark Harvey Levine, directed by Stephanie Coltrin; A Name by Mark Cornell, directed by Bill Wolski; The True Cost of Heavenly Birth Insurance by Bill Johnson, directed by James Rice; The Divine Visitation of Joe Pickelsimer by Micah McCoy, directed by James Rice; A Fine Romance by Ben Jolivet, directed by Stephanie Coltrin; The Eiffel Truth by Susan Apker, directed by Holly Baker-Kreiswirth; Disconnections by Peter Kennedy, directed by Stephanie Coltrin; One for the Chipper by Adam Seidel, directed by James Rice. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 6, 8 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 16. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
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). Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thedragonfly.com.
Snowangel: Back at the dawn of the '60s, and just before he wisely defected to a far more lucrative career as a Hollywood scribe, Lewis John Carlino specialized in a kind of strained stage blend of vintage lyrical realism and postwar European avant garde. This musty, 1963 one-act about a liaison between a street-hardened prostitute and her introspective john is no exception. Evan McNamara is the relationship-embittered art history professor (named John) who pays $300 for an in-call with the emotional-baggage-laden Ida Darvish, in which the pair will enact an idealized version of the professor's train wreck of a marriage. The prostitute, however, has both her own ideas and deep emotional wounds in need of salving. John Coppola directs with affecting understatement, and both Darvish and McNamara succeed in making the wildly implausible seem possible, but only somebody whose experience of prostitutes and johns comes exclusively from the movies could mistake Carlino's script as having anything to do with Earthlings. (Bill Raden). Sat., Jan. 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 13, 3 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 26, 8 p.m., plays411.com. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-988-1175.
West Side Terri: Terri Mowrey's re-enacts West Side Story in her one-woman show. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 12. Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. Fourth Place, Los Angeles, 213-687-4278, www.artsharela.org.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground: ZJU Theatre Group
stages Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella. Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 22,
8:30 p.m.; Fri., March 1, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Feb. 8. Zombie
Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood,
Golden Girls Live on Stage: Reunion and Christmas Episodes - A Parody:
Performed at a gay bar, this show is ideal for people who are ardent
fans of sitcom The Golden Girls -- and who also may have had a few
drinks. Four male performers in drag enact a "lost episode" in which
Dorothy's husband has died and the three other Girls fly in from Miami
to lend her support. On one recent evening, a few performers were slow
on their lines. While the riffs and gags didn't seem especially funny,
the audience laughed heartily. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2 p.m.;
Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24,
brownpapertickets.com/event/297806. Oil Can Harry's, 11502 Ventura
Blvd., Studio City, 818-760-9749, www.oilcanharrysla.com.
One November Yankee: "Art imitates life imitates art" observes
one of the characters in writer-director Joshua Ravetch's ambitious,
idea-packed new play. The two don't so much "imitate" each other as
merely "intersect" in Ravetch's trio of tales about art's mystical power
to provide healing catharsis. Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit play three
pairs of conflicted, middle-aged siblings in four scenes anchored by the
towering wreck of set designer Dana Moran Williams' crumpled Piper Cub.
In one scene, the plane serves as installation artist Hamlin's
sculptural metaphor for "civilization in ruins." In another, it is the
still-smoking air disaster that has sidelined Swit and her fatally
injured brother in the wilderness. In a third, it is the chance
discovery by sibling backpackers that finally brings closure to a
traumatizing family tragedy. Hamlin and Swit are fine, but not even
these venerable TV veterans can breathe life into Ravetch's forced,
pedestrian dialogue and patently contrived situations. (Bill Raden).
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 12. NoHo Arts Center,
11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-763-0086, www.thenohoartscenter.com.
GO Sherlock's Last Case: In Charles Marowitz's
comedy-thriller, Dr. Watson (Bert Emmett), fed up with Sherlock Holmes'
condescension and superiority, launches a diabolical plot to take
revenge. He invents Damian, fictitious son of Holmes' former nemesis,
the late Dr. Moriarty, and uses this imaginary figure as a decoy to lure
Holmes (Chris Winfield, who also designed the handsome Victorian set)
to the cellar of an abandoned building and do him in. Marowitz embraces
all the conventions of the Conan Doyle stories -- the all-wise,
all-knowing Holmes who uses his powers of observation and deduction to
solve crimes that stymie Inspector Lestrade (Patrick Burke), the loyal
housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Hersha Parady), the myopic, bumbling of Dr.
Watson and, inevitably, a mysterious woman, Lisa (Allison King), who
sets the plot a-boiling. The play's essentially an orchestration of
clever gimmicks, but the gimmicks are clever, and they're deployed with
considerable finesse. Winfield's Holmes is vain, urbane and insufferably
smug, while Watson's very real loyalty and awe are undermined by
abiding resentment. Parady's Mrs. Hudson is bossy, emotional and
snobbish, with an excessive belief in her own charms. Director Larry
Eisenberg presides over a production that is more than adequate but less
than brilliant. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2
p.m. Continues through Jan. 13. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre,
10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
GO Nora: Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of A Doll's
House restructures Henrik Ibsen's fierce family drama, stripping the
play to its emotional essence, a goal that's underscored by director
Dana Jackson's spartan but evocative production. On a simple set
consisting of some chairs, a Christmas tree in the back and, later, a
bed, Jackson's staging puts its emphasis where the play's money is -- on
the subtext driving the car crash that is the marriage of Nora and
Torvald Helmer. Brad Greenquist's brutally curt and entitled Torvald
comes across as the sort of business executive who sees a trophy wife as
being merely part of his resume, while Jeanette Driver's Nora, with
surface-level bubbliness belying an interior desperation and, yes,
horror, is subtle and touching. Add to this Martha Hackett's wan,
hard-used Mrs. Linde and Scott Conte's self-loathingly desperate
Krogstad, and the production boasts some incredibly nuanced
characterizations. Although the decision (by Bergman, not Jackson) to
add a dramatic, pace-interrupting sex scene to the final act jars, the
clarity and power of the show's performances make this a textbook
dynamic production of the tragic drama. (Paul Birchall). Sundays, 3
p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Pacific
The Rainmaker: Written by N. Richard Nash, directed by Jack
Heller. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues
through March 24. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa
Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
GO Theatre in the Dark: This collection of
vignettes is performed entirely in the dark. No, really -- upon arrival,
you'll notice a solitary candle burning at stage center, which after
the preshow announcements is blown out, plunging us into 90 minutes of
inky darkness, only very occasionally alleviated by a momentary flash or
murky ghost light. Lord help you if you have claustrophobia! If not,
however, the collection of one-act sketches is an unexpectedly vivid
series of ghost stories, radio-style dramas and other mysterious
theatrical episodes that emphasize virtually all senses but sight.
Incidents range in tone from Anna Nicholas' macabre "Our Dark
Connection," in which seemingly random members of the audience are
dragged out of their seats and into the black by an unseen monster, to
Friedrich Durrenmatt's compellingly disturbing "The Tunnel," a narrated
tale of a man who discovers he's on a train to oblivion (both are
directed with maximum eeriness by Ron Sossi). "One of the Lost" is
Ernest Kearney's spooky tale of the ghostly final transmission of a
Russian cosmonaut on a secret space mission. John Zalewski's sound
design is incredibly evocative -- and Sossi and his co-directors
artfully manipulate all the senses within the live performance to craft a
set of dramas that utilize darkness almost as a character. (Paul
Birchall). Like its sister show Dark, More Dark, the second half of the
Odyssey's Theatre in the Dark festival, represents truth in advertising.
Save for the odd ghostly hospital monitor or the emergence of one pale,
glowing blue eye, this collection of 15 short, moody vignettes offers
up nearly 90 minutes of theater in the dark, laced with an immersive
soundtrack of things to go bump in the night. Clever, deftly
choreographed and technically impressive, the production efficiently
transports its audience as far afield as the drizzly London of a randy
radio play ("Forbidden Fire") or a fairy-laden British forest (an
excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream), but the true setting of many of
its episodes is the liminal space between consciousness and
unconsciousness, life and death, or sanity's thin border, a strange
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netherworld well calibrated for unleashing the imagination. (Mindy
Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through
Feb. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles,