Lovell Estell III found Tony Gatto's performance to be a highlight of this week's, Pick of the Week, Tennessee Williams Baby Doll at the Lillian.
Recommendations also for Pat Kinevane's solo performance about four aged characters, Forgotten, at the Odyssey Theatre, and Stephanie Liss' play about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, On Holy Ground at the Met. For the latest New Reviews, go the jump.
Also check out some thoughts on A Noise Within's new Pasadena digs.
New Theater Reviews: Scheduled for Publication November 24, 2011
In the opening sequence of William M. Hoffman's 1985 AIDS play, directed by John Farmanesh-Bocca, the ensemble dons Ronald Reagan masks and dances about the stage. It's an unsettling image — perhaps the most notable aspect in a melodrama that packed a punch in the 1980s but now treads overly familiar ground. The story revolves around two gay lovers, Saul (Mark Shunock) and Rich (Charles Pasternak), who split up after Rich starts playing around with a younger guy, Chet (Patrick Stafford). After Rich contracts HIV, Chet deserts him. The steadfast Saul takes him back again — nobly suffering Rich's rage, which the dying man indiscriminately visits on family and friends. Near the end there's an affecting moment when Pasternak's despondent invalid breaks down in his brother's (Roy Abramsohn) arms. Overall, however, the performers' rendering of the passion, the pain and the panic surrounding HIV comes off as too simulated to be compelling. Presented by the New American Theatre at the McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (310) 701-0788, newamericantheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: BABY DOLL:
In this first-rate staging of Tennessee Williams' rarely produced drama, Tony Gatto turns in a stellar performance as Archie Lee Meighan, the owner of a broken-down cotton gin in Tiger Tail, Miss., whose luscious 19-year-old bride, Baby Doll (Lulu Brud), refuses to consummate their marriage until she reaches her 20th birthday. Having lost his furniture to a loan company, and desperate for money and his wife's sexual indulgences, Archie burns down the cotton gin of a competitor, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro (Ronnie Marmo), but is soon trapped in an unyielding snare of lust, avarice and revenge. Joel Daavid's direction deftly balances the play's humorous and dour underpinnings (the use of the ensemble as a type of Greek chorus is especially effective), and he draws excellent performances from the cast. Gatto is a platter of rage, redneck buffoonery and arrogance, while Brud's ever-beckoning sensuality is as polished as Marmo's understated menace. Daavid's design of the mutlilevel set slyly evokes rural simplicity and deprivation. Jaques Lynn Colton is a hoot as an addle-brained aunt. Elephant Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (323) 960-4420, elephanttheatrecompany.com (Lovell Estell III)
DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS
Pitch-dark Greek tragedy themes are comfortably transposed to a rural New England setting in Eugene O'Neill's sordid classic American drama. Three farmer sons hold no love for their craggy, brutal patriarch, absent while they toil on the farm. Using 30 coins stolen from their father, the youngest pays off his half-brothers to gain complete shares of the property, enabling the elder pair to seek gold in California. But Pa's new young wife is a wily one, scheming to inherit the farm by producing an heir. Under Dámaso Rodriguez's superb direction, the performances are all excellent, playing up the intense, high drama and never dissolving into melodramatic drivel. The non-naturalistic dialogue shimmers with its undercurrent of greed, lust and duplicity and certain exchanges are startling in their ferocity. Jason Dechert and Monette Magrath burn up the stage with their incandescent sexual passion. Designer John Iacovelli's cut-open farmstead set reflects the rawness of the play's themes while Julie Keen's costumes add grit and authenticity. And the plaintive strains of a live fiddle player (Endre Balogh), onstage and throughout the auditorium, add a haunting quality. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Sat., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 20, 2 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 1, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 2, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 3, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 11, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 17, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 18, 2 p.m. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org (Pauline Adamek)
ELEKTRA I've seen many stagings of Aeschylus' tragedy, but never one where Orestes' first words to his sister Elektra are, “You smell like shit.” You can't accuse director and translator Joel Raffee of being slavish to the source material: Orestes (Chris White) is a drawling cowboy, Aegisthus (James Edward Shippy) wears Air Jordans, the chorus (LoraBeth Barr and Laura Nunez) is dressed like Marilyn Monroe, and murderous mom Clytemnestra (also White) sports a British accent, gold leotard, thigh-highs and a beard. If it's meant to be a comedy, Raffee hasn't told his strikingly muscular leading lady Elizabeth Miller, whose grief-stricken Elektra spends the play shackled to a post screaming and thrashing her chains like a hybrid of Marley's ghost and Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. The chaos distracts from Aeschylus' questions about vengeance — Clytemnestra and Elektra's debate over the slain Agamemnon's original guilt is particularly bungled — but if audiences get confused, the program's comic book preface explains everything. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., #105, dwntn.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 11. (213) 680-0392, stokastik.org, loftensemble.com (Amy Nicholson)
GO FORGOTTEN: Written and performed by Pat Kinevane. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 4. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. See Stage Feature.
GO ON HOLY GROUND Religion or politics should never be discussed in polite circles, so they say, but Stephanie Liss' world-premiere play does both, focusing on the Israeli-Palestine conflict as seen through the eyes of three interconnected women. Henrietta Szold (Salome Jens), who proposed a binational state in Palestine and was a co-founder of Hadassah, the Woman's Zionist Organization of America, provides historical perspective in Act 1. In the second act, two mothers, one Jewish (Lisa Richards) and the other a Jihadist (Abbe Rowlins), share a loss. Separated by just a fence, their ideologies stretch the distance between them into an insurmountable length. Though Liss' script needs a good trimming, especially in Act 1, she fleshes out a complicated political situation. Meanwhile, director L. Flint Esquerra's cast takes what could be a dry textbook and gives it a throbbing heart. Jens has the difficult job of sustaining attention while never leaving her chair, and though she seemed at first to be reading lines from the book sitting on her lap, she's talented enough to eventually sweep the audience up. But the real power of the script comes from the story of the two mothers, as Richards and Rowlins both find the cores of their characters. Rowlins sheds light on the surprisingly convincing motivation of a devout Jihadist, and while Liss' script attempts to focus more on a discussion of the maternal instinct, it's far more interesting to consider that religious zealotry trumps all inherent tendencies. The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 18; (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
This musical, written and directed by Michael Leoni with songs and lyrics credited to several composers, is unlikely to make the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce sing with joy. Teens Hayden (Keli Price) and his girlfriend Luka (Rachael Page) flee abusive families to hit Hollywood and Vine, where they quickly wind up in thrall to a diabolical pimp, who puts them to work on the streets — work that can inevitably lead to a tight schedule of doing drugs, turning tricks and becoming snaggle-toothed crack whores before you know it. For all the commendable attempts to engender a social conscience through this tale of hardship and youth, the plot itself strangely hews to the tropes of a 1970s exploitation movie, while also being hampered by a torpid pace, oddly awkward blocking and glum, identical-sounding musical numbers. Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (323) 960-7745, plays411.net/playground. (Paul Birchall)
POSING STRAP PIRATES Playwright Michael Van Duzer pays affectionate homage to the gay pulp novels and physique magazines of the 1950s and '60s. Nubile young Buck Toye (David Robert May) is aboard the ship Dorian Gray when it's captured by pirate captain Rake Matelot (flamboyantly hammy Kerr Seth Lordygan). Matelot immediately falls in love/lust with Buck, while Buck is equally smitten with cabin-boy Beau Ideal (Jeffrey Patrick Olson). Eventually they all strip down to the mandatory posing straps. This should amuse lovers of gay camp, but others may find it heavy-handed and predictable. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m., through Dec. 10. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Neal Weaver)
THE SECOND COMING: A ONE-WOMAN COMEDY OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS Imagine Erma Bombeck collaborating with Judy Chicago on a rewrite of Genesis and you'll have an idea of the whimsical feminist flavors in solo-performer Sherry Glaser's genial revision of the Judeo-Christian creation myth. According to the Gospel of Glaser, the Great Mother Goddess — call her Ma — has returned after a 5,000-year nap to set the biblical record straight: Her husband, God, did not create the cosmos alone. Ma's unlikely choice of a prophet is Miguel (Glaser in a moustache and soul patch), a 42-year-old waiter, who, aided by a bottle of tequila, physically transforms into Ma (Glaser in a spandex body suit), to spread Her word. Glaser, who is built like the Venus of Willendorf, certainly fills the bill. Yet while her Yiddish-spouting, Jewish-mother divinity is always amusing, the evening lacks the sharp edges needed for laugh-out-loud comedy. Gail Feldman directs. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (818) 762-2282, tworoadsgallery.com. (Bill Raden)