Faeries and shadows and mortals being fools grab this week's Pick -- yes, anotherMidsummer Night's Dream
, but the Actors Gang version is unusually fine, says critic Deborah Klugman. Also good words for a 1950s sci-fi comedy,Captain Dixon vs. The Moth Sluts From the Fifth Dimension
at Zombie Joe's Underground, and for Steven Cragg's picaresque one-man showI Am Not Mark Twain
at Rogue Machine. See below for all the latest new theater reviews and comprehensive theater listings.
This week's theater feature takes a look at a pair of old-style sketch comedies -- one at The Groundlings and El Grande de Coca Cola at Ruskin Group Theatre -- and tracks their origins to vaudeville.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 22, 2013:
A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY
It almost sounds like the setup to a Borscht Belt joke: A Freudian (Nicole Monet), a gay Reichian (Graham Kurtz), two Stalinists (Laura Crow, Mark Jacobson), a Trotskyite (standout Miles Warner), an artist (Erin Anderson) and an actress (Teya Patt) walk into a room. The Trotskyite says, "History repeats itself; first it's tragedy, then it's farce." The punch line to Tony Kushner's 1985 meditation on the irrational forces that negate humankind's march of progress is that the room is in 1932 Berlin, the tragedy is Hitler's rise to power and the farce is fascism's seeming recapitulation in our times. Director Jeremy Lelliott's lush revival has wisely replaced an original thread of Reagan-era editorializing with a series of militaristic dance numbers by choreographer Carly Wielstein. And while that pushes the piece closer to a sort of pedantic half-Cabaret, Lelliott's naturalistic pitch is unable to obviate the play's nagging and tedious tendentiousness. Coeurage Theatre at Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Sept. 15. (323) 944-2165, coeurage.org. (Bill Raden)
GO: CAPTAIN DIXON vs. THE MOTH SLUTS FROM THE FIFTH DIMENSION
A nicely acted, crisply directed and neatly written piece of 1950s sci-fi comedy, featuring nearly naked, green-painted, go-go-dancing space aliens -- what's not to love?! Playwright Matthew Sklar stars as Captain Dan Dixon in his creature-feature retro romp through space. Panels of switches, buttons and analog meters signify the interior of a spacecraft as he and his crew of seven rockets into the fifth dimension, causing a purring, whirring sextet of moth-like minxes to materialize. Clad in teeny, gold-lamé hot pants, white go-go boots and pasties, the jiggling, shimmying erotic powers of the Vulvulans gradually infect the brains of almost all on board. The only person apparently immune is Dr. Canigulus (incisively portrayed by Jonica Patella), the ship's brainiac -- thanks to her massive, mutant cerebellum. It's up to her to decipher the true intentions of these insectile invaders. Sebastian Muñoz directs his cast of 14 extremely well; all have fun with the rapid-fire '50s lingo, playing the trashy, B-movie sexploitation tone straight without overly camping it up. Jeri Batzdorff and Corey Zicari (also a blond-wigged moth slut) created skimpy costumes for the babes and Star Trek-inspired suits for the crew. R. Benjamin Warren devised the clever props. Gloria Baraquio is great as Urania, the ship's android and captain's concubine, unhappily ousted by statuesque moth leader Empress Syphla (a sexy and sinister Katherine Canipe). Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Sept. 14. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO:EL GRANDE DE COCA COLA
Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman and John Neville-Andrews's parody of a Mexican variety show. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; runs indefinitely. (310) 397-3244. ruskingrouptheatre.com. See theater feature.
GO: GROUNDLINGS ONLINE UNIVERSITY
GO: I AM NOT MARK TWAIN
I doubt that anyone has ever thought that Steven Cragg was Mark Twain, but it provides him with a useful gimmick to galvanize his one-man show. He appears costumed and bewigged in a deliberately seedy simulacrum of the outfit worn by Hal Holbrook in his Mark Twain solo show. Cragg's disclaimer, he says, is to prevent lawsuits by Holbrook, the Mark Twain Society or anyone else who might want to sue. His show is a pugnacious, funny, anarchic attack on political correctness wherever it crops up. (He confides that he hates Betty White, among others.) The somewhat rump-sprung plot concerns his attempt to reconnect -- and have sex -- with an ex-girlfriend. He's in Los Angeles and she's in a neighboring state, but to throw his wife off the scent he chooses to go there via New York City, Vermont, Canada and the Midwest, so his tale turns into a zany picaresque. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get-go, and he has a talent for finding comedy in almost anything: The fact that he's playing on a raked stage leads to a protracted riff, complete with pratfalls. But be warned: Sit in the front row and you may find yourself under verbal assault. Rogue Machine at Theater/Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 29. (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
PICK OF THE WEEK: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Developed through workshops under Tim Robbins' direction, this inspired production of Shakespeare's fantasia snaps and crackles with the comedic shenanigans of a dynamic ensemble. Visual spectacle, so often integral when this piece is produced, here takes a back seat; instead, the performers merrily cavort across a setless stage, relying on costumes, original music (by composer David Robbins), sound and their own imaginations to underscore the magic of Shakespeare's text. Fourteen players double and sometimes triple up on their roles. For example, Will McFadden plays an ardent Lysander, an addled Snug -- one of the journeymen players -- and a mincing fairy, gliding from one part to another with effortless ease. Standouts include Molly O'Neill as a ruefully endearing Helena and Adam Jefferis, whose clownish Demetrius seems to engage the world from some blithe state of arrested development. The laughs are collectively spun as well: When Titania (Sabra Williams) purrs and pets her ass, the underling fairies nod their approval, then turn away with waggish distaste. Amidst the antics it is Bob Turton, who deservedly gleans the most laughs as fatuous Bottom. Despite the clowning, the beauty of Shakespeare's language is never lost, while his benevolent cast on human frailty stays crystal clear. Actors Gang, Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Wed., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.); through Aug. 28. (310) 838-4264, theactorsgang.com (Deborah Klugman)
NAKED AND CRAZY/DEFENDING MEDUSA Part of the Loft Ensemble's first Solo Fest, these one-acts are a mixed bag of the humorous and poignant, themed around women's life issues and transitions. Naked and Crazy is a pair of hourlong segments by two performers. The charming Meghan Gambling opens with a coming-of-age yarn highlighted by memories of a clumsy first kiss, sexual escapades on a gravestone, shoplifting lessons from Grandma and losing her virginity to a man's bike. Gambling has a gift for impersonations, and she also plays a mean guitar and sings well. Sascha Alexander tells of an eating disorder and her unhealthy obsession with "thin." The script is sometimes digressive but she does garner laughs with her frequent musings about weight, fighting food urges, discussions with her long-suffering therapist, pole-dancing lessons and a hilarious ditty about a visit to the gym sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things." In Defending Medusa, Christina Joy Howard details what growing up was like as the daughter of a demanding -- and frequently demeaning -- Vietnamese mother and American father, and her quest to find her inner "goddess." It's framed as a "once-upon-a-time fairy tale," and is propelled by great writing and Howard's furiously energetic, heartfelt performance. Adam Chambers directs. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., dwntwn., Sun. Aug. 25, 9 p.m., (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com. (Lovell Estell III)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:
Citizen Twain: Val Kilmer's homage to the humor and deeply multi-faceted personality of great American storyteller Mark Twain. Written by and starring Kilmer. Every performance concludes with a talkback about the play, and Kilmer removing his extensive makeup on stage for the audience to see. Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 & 8 p.m.; Tue., Aug. 27, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
GO: Merlin: The Untold Adventures: Begat of a demon, gifted with second sight and shape-shifting powers, the druid Merlin provides much of the momentum of the Arthurian legend. In the process of retelling the fabled wizard's backstory, playwright-director Ellen Geer has concocted a high fantasy with a strong antiwar flavor. The work's emphasis on meshing threads of pagan philosophy and Christian references -- with a side trip to mythical Atlantis thrown in for good measure -- can cause matters to become a little thematically and dramatically muddled. Yet Geer's brisk and buoyant direction makes excellent use of her atmospheric venue, incorporating a moody electronic ambiance alongside some elegant pageantry, thoughtful fight choreography and enchanting choral interludes. Lead Melora Marshall at times overplays her Merlin with a borderline cartoonish physicality, but it is a performance overall grounded in the epic earnestness and warm humor of Geer's text. (Mindy Farabee). Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A summer standard, this is the Theatricum's signature production of Shakespeare's wondrous enchanted forest tale of love, fairies, and the power of nature. Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
Rapture, Blister, Burn: The West Coast premiere of this new comedy, in which feminism's foibles are challenged among three generations of women. The ladies share their raucous and refreshing approaches to navigating work, love and family. Written by Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Peter DuBois. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Red: John Logan's Tony Award-winning drama about an aging Mark Rothko and his studio assistant. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 5, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 12, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, 562-436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org.
The Royal Family: The work's the thing in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's gentle 1927 spoof of the Barrymore dynasty, which forms the centerpiece of Theatricum Botanicum's 40th-anniversary season. The venerable, oak-nestled venue's own founding family fills in as the board-treading Cavendish clan. Artistic director Ellen Geer slings Downton Abbey-worthy zingers as dowager Fanny, while sister Melora Marshall and daughter Willow Geer carry the torch as the next generations of theatrical luminaries. All three women nail the benign entitlement and cozy security that comes from knowing you're an institution, but the dated material may be more thrilling for its cast than the audience. More compelling than the distant Barrymores is the play's exploration of pursuing the creative life at the cost of domestic and personal stability. Director Susan Angelo wisely avoids interfering with her cast's marvelous instincts, but a tighter rein would keep us from sharing Marshall's bewilderment when the madcap pace proves too frenetic. (Jenny Lower). Sun., Aug. 25, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 31, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 4 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
A Short Stay at Carranor: A new drama about the enduring power of true love and the harsh realities of what it takes to make relationships work. Written by William Blinn, directed by John Gallogly. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
Taiwu Children's Ancient Ballads Troupe: The Paiwan tribe of the Taiwu village of southern Taiwan will perform ancient tales, rituals, and songs that have been passed down in the tribe for generations. Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m. Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, 213-680-3700, www.jaccc.org.
GO: The Taming of the Shrew: The slapstick, or batacchio, which originated in the commedia dell'arte of 16th-century Italy, is a wooden device used to create a loud, smacking sound. So it seems fitting that in staging Shakespeare's contemporaneous tale of a headstrong woman who finally meets her match, director Ellen Geer plays its physical comedy to the hilt, incorporating slide whistles, drums and other noisemaking devices to punctuate the onstage pratfalls, fisticuffs and acrobatics. The choice is mostly effective, but it's Geer's vivacious staging of the battle between Katharina (a hilariously histrionic Willow Geer) and Petruchio (a charmingly macho Aaron Hendry) that makes the show. Their terrifically torrential tango is complemented by Petruchio's servant, Grumio (Melora Marshall), who delivers perfectly pitched Shakespearean asides and wordplay, showcasing both sides of the "wise fool." The remaining cast members, clad in Val Miller's gorgeous period costumes, admirably execute their roles as well. The play's conclusion, with its seeming support for the patriarchy (or is it to be merely taken as farce?) is a bit jarring. Nonetheless, this wonderful, sylvan hideaway, where 40 years ago its namesake founder created a haven for artists, retains its rustic charm and remains an excellent setting for a night of Shakespeare. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
The Baby: With its atmosphere of gleeful perversity, playwright-director Dan Spurgeon's adaptation of Abe Polsky's 1970s cult movie is so weird it will almost have your eyes a-bugging and your jaw a-gaping -- but that's frankly due to the strangeness of the source material itself. Mousy, spinsterly-seeming social worker Mrs. Gentry (Jana Wimer) arrives to inspect the home of single mom Mama (drag artist Frank Blocker), who is raising Baby (Torrey Halverson), a grown, exceedingly attractive young man in his early 20s, who sleeps in a crib, wails like an infant and pee-pees in his diaper with gleeful abandon. Mama, who has many secrets (not including the fact that she's played by a burly dude with a deep voice) loathes the nosy Mrs. Gentry, but the eagle-eyed social worker eventually reveals a few creepy secrets of her own. No one would call this cheeseball material anything more than trivial, but Spurgeon's often hilarious production boasts crisp comic timing and a delicious campiness. Wimer, resplendent in her hideous, beige, 9 to 5-esque officewear, offers a wonderfully deadpan performance, which is engagingly offset by Blocker's leering, bug-eyed turn as Mama. However, the standout is Halverson's unsettling infant -- he's the poster boy for the piece's atmosphere of escalating unwholesomeness. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31, www.thevisceralcompany.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.
Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies: For 11 years, Kabin Thomas was a popular and respected professor of music at the University of Arkansas, until he was fired in 2006, ostensibly for his frequent use of profanity in his lectures. Kabin, an African-American, also apparently offended Southern sensibilities when he displayed a photo of a lynching during a lecture on Billie Holliday and the song "Strange Fruit." His story is the subject of Joni Ravenna's drama, with the affable, burly Ernest Harden Jr. doing the honors as Thomas, portraying the character as equal parts inspired academic and street-corner rabble rouser. Subject matter isn't the problem here so much as lax structure and writing. Ravenna's script is primarily formatted as a series of casual lectures, sans questions, and the instructor tends to ramble. That's especially true in Act 1, while in Act 2, narrative gaps and the lack of coherency becomes a problem: The play chronicles Thomas' new life in Los Angeles, as well as his struggle with personal demons. Under T.J. Castronovo's direction, Harden's performance is satisfactory but not impressive. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15, plays411.com/beethoven. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, 323-957-1152, www.themettheatre.com.
Bob Baker's It's a Musical World!: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater continues its 53rd season with a day at the circus, a stop at an enchanted toy shop, and a visit to a teddy bear's picnic. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Breakthrough: A new rock/rap musical about overcoming addictions. The story follows the lives of a group of young adults in downtown L.A. who are struggling with alcohol, sex and drug addictions. Written and directed by Dana Morris, choreographed by Steven Nielsen. Fri., Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 2:30 p.m. Art Share L.A., 801 E. Fourth Place, Los Angeles, 213-687-4278, www.artsharela.org.
A Bright Room Called Day: A new production of award-winning playwright Tony Kushner's examination of Berlin's reaction to Hitler's rise in power in 1932. Directed by Coeurage Theatre Company's Artistic Director, Jeremy Lelliott. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-5830. See new reviews.
Burlesque of Hollywood: A showcase of nine different burlesque acts. Sat., Aug. 24, 11 p.m. MBar Supper Club, 1253 N. Vine, Los Angeles, 323-856-0036.
GO: Eat the Runt: Playwright Avery Crozier and director Tom Beyer return to Theater of NOTE for more laughs with their raucous satire, which takes a flamethrower to social proprieties, workplace decorum and some sacred PC cows. The format hasn't changed since it was performed in 2010: The audience determines which role the seven performers are to play by drawing names right before the performance. It's a slick gimmick. The mise en scene is an upscale art museum during a job interview for a candidate named Merritt, who has flown all the way in from California. It isn't long before it becomes apparent that the interviewee is no ordinary job applicant. Her (or his) face time with staff members morphs into bouts of sexual harassment, racist caricaturizing, office backstabbing, gossip and even a brief discussion on anal sex and hemorrhoids. Things really turn crazy when another candidate pops up claiming that she or he is the real Merritt, causing a lot of confusion -- and laughs -- with a coup de grace involving religious ecstasy, speaking in tongues and a sacred foreskin. This is solid ensemble work, with the funniest performances, in the performance reviewed, turned in by Chris Neiman as a jittery, coked-out curator and Tricia Munford as Merritt 2. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 24. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
Heart Song: A middle-aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith is convinced to join a flamenco class for "out of shape" women which forever changes her life. Written by Stephen Sachs. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-30/stage/fried-octopus-bootleg/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
GO: I Am Not Mark Twain: Steven Cragg's award-winning solo show, about the story of a man's cross-country trip to have sex with an ex-girlfriend, during which he embodies the essence of Mark Twain. Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 29. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. See New Reviews.
Just Imagine: Although the wow factor is missing, aficionados of John Lennon probably will appreciate this tribute to the iconic musician, which juxtaposes renditions of his most famous songs with a narrative of his life. Lennon impersonator and lead singer Tim Piper addresses the audience in a confiding manner as he relates events in Lennon's life -- his troubled boyhood in Liverpool culminating in the death of his mother, up through The Beatles, his marriage to Yoko Ono and his transformation into a family man and spokesman for the counterculture antiwar movement. There are no surprises in writer-director Steve Altman's script, and watching and listening to Piper, an American donning a Liverpool accent, failed to persuade me that I was hearing the real McCoy. That said, Piper's backup band, Working Class Hero, performs well and provides an opportunity for those who wish to reimagine the legend to do so. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.
GO: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: Judas on trial! Yes, in playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama, the man who double-crossed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver is tried for his treachery, with the case being heard in a magical courtroom somewhere in Purgatory. Fiery defense attorney Fabiana (Sarah Ruth Ryan), a recently deceased modern gal, seeks to get Judas (a nicely brooding Robert Walters) released from hell and takes it to the celestial court. Oily, vaguely sinister Prosecutor Yusef (Robert Paterno) summons a variety of witnesses to testify against Judas' redemption, but in the end, guilt or innocence actually resides in a desperate, and beautifully tragic, interaction between Judas and Jesus. Guirgis' text provides an often engaging exploration of all sides of the drama's theological issues, but the real pleasures are found in director Josh T. Ryan's vibrant, fast-paced production (a redo of the same producer's spring staging of the same play, at Victory Theatre). Lively and wonderfully multidimensional performances leaven the potentially dry aspects of the religious debate. Ruth Ryan's ferocious defense attorney and Paterno's increasingly haunted prosecutor are particularly adroit acting turns, but it's the impeccable comic timing and emotionally sophisticated work by Robin Michelle McClamb's wonderfully dotty yet theologically rigid Mother Teresa, Marc Erickson's terrifying Satan and Walters' inscrutable Judas that anchor the show. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 24. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Nickel and Dimed: In her book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich detailed her sojourn into the world of the working poor, illuminating (as no recounting of statistics ever could) the struggle, heartache and resilience of this often forgotten and/or disrespected class of Americans. A journalist and college instructor, Ehrenreich shed her middle-class trappings and traveled the country, working for minimum wage (and less) as waitress, housekeeper, caregiver and low-level retail clerk. Joan Holden's stage adaptation dramatizes Ehrenreich's experiences in a series of vignettes that are moderately entertaining and, from a progressive standpoint, politically and culturally on target -- but lacking bracing energy or dramatic punch. The character of Barbara frequently steps away from the action to comment, and while performer Zachary Barton emanates the intelligence and compassion the role calls for, her discursive manner slows the dynamic. Kathleen Ingle stands out depicting a number of kind-hearted, blue-collar women. Richard Kilroy directs. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Open House: An audacious real estate salesman needs to sell an overpriced house during an off season. Enter a seductive, mysterious woman new to California who senses that something wrong has happened in the house, in writer Shem Bitterman's third dramatic production at the Skylight Theater. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-01/stage/shem-bitterman-open-house/full/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
GO: Point Break Live!: Creating a raucous, rocked-out party atmosphere by blasting preshow music (think "Welcome to the Jungle" at ear-splitting volume), the hilarious spoof show Point Break Live! offers super-soaked excitement in a grungy Hollywood nightclub setting. What do we mean by "soaked"? Let's just say you'd be wise to take them up on the $2 ponchos for sale before the show. The low-tech, seat-of-the-pants, interactive presentation of an abbreviated version of Kathryn Bigelow's slightly corny 1991 cop surf drama is further camped up by a fun-loving cast. The actor playing the central role of Johnny Utah -- memorably portrayed onscreen by Keanu Reeves in his "Woah, dude" stoner phase -- is recruited from among the dozen or so audience members who audition on the spot and are rated by the audience. The rookie performer then goes on to utter dialogue aided by cue cards. (Too bad opening night's guy was virtually illiterate and inexplicably prone to channeling Forrest Gump.) Utah's volatile detective partner, Pappas, is well played by Tom Fugedi, though he would benefit from a bit more crazy Gary Busey and a bit less Chris Farley in his performance. Tobias Jelinek is excellent as the bizarrely spiritual crime boss/surfer guru Bodhi. The plastic ponchos offer protection from the barrage of water spray, blood splatters and -- uh -- other bodily fluids. Stupid fun. Booze available. (Pauline Adamek). Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-466-6111, www.thedragonfly.com.
Revelation: Playwright Samuel Brett Williams' comedy takes place during The Rapture -- you know, the day when God summons up to Heaven all the righteous souls, leaving behind the lustful, the angry, the greedy and the just plain doofy. Into this last category falls young Brandon (appealingly Everyman-esque Marco Naggar), a likable shlep who wakes up in a doomsday Manhattan where airplanes fall pilotless from the skies, cars smash driverless into walls and faces erupt with pus-filled boils. Joining up with his sultry next-door neighbor Rebecca (Zibby Allen, nicely ironic) for a crosscountry road trip in search of a way into Heaven, Brandon endures all sorts of biblical misadventures in an insane world. Many of the play's calculatedly wacky comic strip-like incidents become repetitive, but the ferocious pacing of director Lindsay Allbaugh's quick-witted staging keeps the story sailing straight along. Plus, Williams' writing is nicely black-humored, and the performances are sprightly, hitting a perfect note of creepy quirkiness. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Something to Crow About: The Bob Baker Marionettes' musical "Day on the Farm." Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
GO: Spumoni!: Like the titular Italian dessert, this compilation of three one-act comedies features three different flavors. In the solo piece "Booby Prize," writer-performer Lizzie Czerner brings a Tracey Ullman-like flamboyance to the tale of a woman cursed and blessed with a very buxom figure, which brings her both ridicule and lascivious short-term attention but no long-term relationships -- until she discovers that there's a place in the world for busty women with low self-esteem. Rebekah Walendzak directs. "Daddy Didn't Die, Did He?" is set at the funeral of a Southern patriarch, and features writer-actors Will Matthews and Casey Christensen playing a gaggle of predatory, mercenary characters, including the deceased's scatterbrained widow, his three competitive children, his Southern-belle housekeeper and a frantic funeral director. The actors juggle multiple roles with speed and versatility, aided by director Jeffrey Addiss. Another solo piece, Keaton Talmadge's "Define: dif-fer-ent," is about a straight woman who's thoroughly disconcerted to find herself attracted to a lesbian -- until she discovers that gay relations can be as disillusioning as straight ones. Talmadge (who inherited her first name from grandfather Buster Keaton) is a hip, skillful and attractive performer, ably shepherded by director Kelleia Sheerin. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 21, plays411.com/spumoni. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-0383, www.complexhollywood.com.
Tom Rubin: Success Guru: A one-man comedy by Tom Rubin that skewers and mocks a self-help seminar. Fridays, 9 p.m. Continues through Aug. 30. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-0383, www.complexhollywood.com.
What Doesn't Kill You: An Evening of One-Act Plays: You'll Just Love My Dad, a drama about an estranged father and his daughters, written by Stephanie Jones and Peter Schuyler, with direction by Stephanie Jones; and It Feels Like Her, about a daughter's wish, her drunken mother, and their ultimate twist of fate, written by Bree Pavey and directed by John Sperry Sisk. Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
GO: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Based on Mark Twain's 1876 novel, the story is set in St. Petersburg, Missouri, a town on the bank of the Mississippi River. Tom is a young boy full of mischief but with a good heart. Adapted to be fun for all ages by Laura Eason. Directed by Aaron Lyons. Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. & 2:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 7. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.
Auto Parts: A theater piece consisting of four interrelated "parts" which are presented in an order selected by the audience before each show; the narrative line is never the same twice. Written and directed by Steve Stajich. Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 3 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, 626-441-5977, www.fremontcentretheatre.com.
GO: Blistered Hands and Bloody Mouths: Stage horror can be many things. In the hands of a master, it can tap the unspoken nightmares of an audience to power an allegory about life's dystopian realities. Then there's the kind presented here by playwright-actor Sam LaFrance -- a Grand Guignol thrill ride of ratcheting grotesquerie, viscerally shocking switchbacks and plunging moral depravity that has no higher ambition than to provoke screams and laughter. Don't worry too much about plot -- everything you need to know about the lowlifes who inhabit LaFrance's twisted Southern Gothic world is summed up by Valorie Hubbard (who also directs) in her priceless, opening rictus of terror at the news that Ray (LaFrance) has somehow escaped from death row and is planning a return. Ray's imminent homecoming isn't good news, particularly for his ex, Millie (Anastasia Charalambous), an unnaturally cool blonde who has been plotting her own escape back to her native London. If LaFrance springs his suspense on the early side and then tries to tie off too many psychological loose ends, the result is still an entertaining -- and literally jaw-dropping -- blend of spilled blood and the blackest of comedy. (Bill Raden). Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com
Captain Dan Dixon vs. The Moth Sluts from the Fifth Dimension: Matthew Sklar's retro sci-fi about a spaceship crew's astonishing encounter with sexy, insectile, go-go-dancing aliens, genetically driven to wield sinister erotic powers against the space explorers. Directed by Sebastian Muñoz. Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 14. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. See New Reviews.
Dancing on the Edge: Denise Devin's theatrical dance production that explores beauty, laughter, tears and love within a sexy mosaic of movement. Directed by Denise Devin, featuring choreography by Donna Noelle Ibale, Randall Morris, Carrie Nedrow, Jade Waters-Burch and Cody Whitley. Saturdays, 11 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 21. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Fool For Love: Sam Shepard's drama about Eddie, a rodeo stuntman, and May, his lost love, whom he has found living at a motel in the Mojave Desert. Directed by Gloria Gifford. Starting Aug. 24, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.
Greeks 6 - Trojans 5: Drawing on the traditions of ancient Greek comedy (masks, songs, a giant phallus) Chuck Faerber's mildly amusing farce is a zany rendition of the siege of Troy by a crack team of dimwits. Ten years into the Trojan war, the Greeks are still anxious to retrieve their abducted Helen from the impenetrable fortress city of Troy. A scheme involving a massive wooden horse is set into motion. Unfortunately, its hapless crew lacks a clue. Faerber has concocted a very silly if overlong doo-wop musical play full of daffy characters, such as Smegma (George Alvarez), a psycho killer; Mucilage (a very funny Matt Shea), an anxiety-crippled private who sees the horse gig as his ticket out of latrine detail; and Sgt. Acacia (Cheryl Bricker) a no-nonsense Amazonian leader swayed by lust. David Zurak is good as military leader Agamemnon, who adopts the disguise of Sargassus, a soothsayer delivering directives from the capricious gods. John Marzilli is very funny as tough-talking commander Megamanus and David Ghilardi is great in two roles. Perfs are strong; the laughs, insufficient. (Pauline Adamek). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8, plays411.com/greeks. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
In The Next Room or the vibrator play: Sarah Ruhl's Pulitzer- and Tony-celebrated comedy, about the invention of the vibrator. Directed by August Viverit. Starting Aug. 24, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 28. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 877-620-7673, www.secretrose.com.
Murder in Disguise: An interactive murder mystery presented by SanZman Productions Renaissance Murder Mystery Players. When a distinguished judge is murdered, the evidence points to a prominent lawyer. The audience ultimately must decide if the attorney is guilty. Sun., Aug. 25, 7 p.m. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.
One Day Play: A full length play will be written, rehearsed, and performed in one day. Writers include Kerr Seth Lordygan, Caroline Marshall and Marnie Olson. Sun., Aug. 25, 7 & 9 p.m. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
Ready for the Storm: Written, directed, produced by and starring Randall Gray, founder of -- wait for it -- Stages of Gray Theatre, this world-premiere jukebox musical invites comparisons to another outsized vanity project: Tommy Wiseau's so-bad-it's-good film The Room. However, this misguided effort is unlikely to achieve similar cult status. When successful musician Bobby (Mike Callahan) and actress Jenn (Debbie Kagy) quarrel on their wedding day, Jenn threatens to walk. There the plot ceases, and their insufferable waffling proceeds against a karaoke soundtrack of ballads, pop songs and Broadway hits heavily weighted toward Wildhorn and Cuden's Jekyll & Hyde. No specificity shapes the set, inexplicably adorned with cast publicity stills, or the characters -- "Mom" (Lisa LaBella) never merits a first name, even from the man (Gray) who claims to love her. Despite earnest performances and decent vocals from the young stars (Kagy's voice is better than the script deserves), nothing short of a total rewrite can salvage this show. (Jenny Lower). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 14, stagesofgray.com. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.
GO: Smoke and Mirrors: If you've forgotten the childlike joy and sublime wonderment of seeing magic performed, Albie Selznick's theatrical show is an enchanting reminder. The accomplished actor-magician puts on a bewildering tour de force that has more "how did he do that" flashes than can be counted. The show also has a personal element, as Selznick recounts his long path to becoming a master magician, starting when he lost his father at the age of 9 and used magic to escape reality, and then as a means of challenging and overcoming his fears. He knows how to work the crowd, and uses members of the audience in a number of his routines. Toward show's end, he swallows some razors (kids, don't try this), then regurgitates them on a long string, and wows with a demonstration of fire eating and juggling some wicked-looking knives. Other amazing moments are the eerie conjuring of doves out of nowhere and a mind-blowing exhibition of midair suspension. Like all good magicians, Selznick has highly capable assistants -- Brandy, Kyle, Tina and Daniel -- who dazzle with their own magic in a stylish preshow. Paul Millet directs. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Stages Musical Theatre Festival: Eight new musicals presented in concert readings, hosted by the New Musicals Initiative, presented in two locations: the Lonny Chapman Theatre and the Academy for New Musical Theatre. Go to anmt.org to view the full schedule and purchase tickets. Fri., Aug. 23; Sat., Aug. 24; Sun., Aug. 25. 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: El Grande de Coca-Cola: This comic extravaganza, written by Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman and John Neville-Andrews and first produced in 1971, went on to become an international hit. Now the Ruskin Group brings it back, and to insure it retains its original comic glory, two of the original creators have returned: Shearman provides the direction and musical direction, and House reprises his role as the irrepressible emcee Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, presenter of "Parada de las Estrellas." But the Parade of Stars turns out to be just a gaggle of his enthusiastic but inept friends and relations, who gamely attempt to perform every act in the popular repertoire, including tango, hip-hop, magic, sharp-shooting, wire-walking, the high trapeze, Shakespearean recitation (in Spanish) and slow-motion combat. Inevitably, their efforts prove hilariously disastrous. It's a tribute to the inventiveness of the ensemble (House, Nina Brissey, David Lago, Lila Dupree, Aaron Jackson and Paul Denk) that the variations on this one joke never grow stale or repetitious. They are all skilled and exuberant comedians, but a special word must be said for Jackson, who brings a devil-may-care physical recklessness and a wistful, eager-beaver charm even to his slapstick. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. See theater feature.
GO: Garbo's Cuban Lover: Odalys Nanin's dramedy focuses on the enigmatic poet, novelist and playwright Mercedes de Acosta and her notable lovers from the Silver Screen, which included divas Greta Garbo, Nazimova and Marlene Dietrich. Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, 323-654-0680, www.machatheatre.org/home.html.
Hook: The 30 Minute Musical: Director/adaptor Brooke Seguin's musical (with music by Seguin, Dan Wessels and James Lent) is an upbeat, if slight, production that boasts an ensemble of talented, energetic young performers who demonstrate engaging vocal skills and a high degree of onstage charisma. That's the good news: The bad news is that the play they've all gotten together to perform is a 30-minute adaptation of the tedious 1990s Spielberg gobbler Hook -- source material so mediocre it rarely offers opportunities for either sprightliness or camp. Seguin's droll production condenses the story into a crisp paced half-hour and peppers it with quick-witted, if easy, rhyming song numbers. Tom Lenk offers a spot-on imitation of the twitchy Robin Williams, in full midlife-crisis Peter Pan mode, while Daisy Eagan steals the show in her quirky turn as a seemingly nymphomaniacal Julia Roberts/Tinkerbell. However, even with the cast's best efforts, the material is so forgettable, almost all memory of the show evaporates like fairy dust after we've left the theater. (Paul Birchall). Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 8 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/435493. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 323-655-9232.
Kitchen Witches: Performing comedy isn't rocket science. It's actually much more difficult, both to define and to send into orbit. Call it an aerodynamic balance of characterization, situation and timing É and about six weeks of rehearsal. So when director Ryanne Laratonda was forced to recast her two leads the day before opening, it probably was a mathematical certainty that, 36 hours later, this second performance of playwright Caroline Smith's 2003 cable-access cooking show satire would be the stage equivalent of the Challenger disaster. That's not to say that the efforts of replacement stars (and courageous troupers) Madeleine Drake and Adriana Bate won't eventually cohere into something more than a cold stumble-through. It's more that it's a pointless injustice to actors, audience and play alike to open a production with its stars still on book and having not yet discovered any rhythms or nuances that might add up to laughs. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Last of the Knotts: A semi-autobiographical comi-tragedy solo show, written and performed by poet/hipster Doug Knott and produced by Meadowbrook Entertainment. Sun., Aug. 25, 6 p.m. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.
GO: The Rainmaker: A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others -- her family and society -- have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots -- the kind of experience where you might say, "Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?" The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
Tanglin' Hearts: This feel-good country musical moves the plot of Shakespeare's As You Like It to Texas, adding some J.R. Ewing-like antics and Lone Star state line-dance musical numbers. Writer Zora Margolis and composer Peter Spelman craft the tale of a Texas mogul (Kevin Michael Moran) who seeks to steal acres of ranchland, sending rivals fleeing for the woods of Arden -- uh, Austin. In director Allison Bibicoff's clunky, sometimes maladroit staging, the play's plot may amusingly echo Shakespeare's story, but the modern book's weak dialogue and the awkwardly tinny musical score make for a tepidly involving production. With aimless hoofing and hesitant gestures further sabotaging the flatly clunky dance numbers, the performers sometimes look downright uncomfortable. Admittedly the singers croon nicely -- but even with the casting of always engaging baritone Sean Smith in a central role, the piece possesses a strangely sad, inert mood. Along with the stodgy pacing and the unexpectedly dense, convoluted book, the results are inevitably offputting. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
A View From the Bridge: Many consider Arthur Miller's dramas moral tragedies, but you also can think of them as mysteries, as their narratives contain events whose true meaning only becomes clear at the end. Longshoreman Eddie (Vince Melocchi) is a salt-of-the-earth type who thinks he's doing a good deed when he lets a pair of his wife's distant cousins, both illegal immigrants from the old country, move in with his family. He soon has reason to rue this decision, though, as his lovely niece, Catherine (Lisa Cirincione), falls in love with the more handsome of the two cousins, Rodolpho (Jeff Lorch) -- and Eddie is destroyed by his own inexplicably over-the-top jealousy. This is a mostly powerful, admirably straightforward production by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, which stumbles slightly during the clumsy, frenetically staged final sequence. The production is anchored by Melocchi's nicely gruff Eddie, whose turn suggests a character swept along by passions he lacks the articulacy to express. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.