Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House (last winter at South Coast Repertory) and Demeter in the City (last summer at REDCAT) are mere shadows of Eurydice, her reconception of the Orpheus myth that’s being given an achingly beautiful production by Circle X Theatre Company. For this play alone, Ruhl deserves the MacArthur Fellowship that she received earlier this year: Speaking about the different tongues in the lands of the living and the dead, the play itself employs a theatrical language that’s two parts opera, one part vaudeville and one part psychological realism, a blend that invites the theater form to be singular and unique. On her wedding day to Orpheus (Tim Wright) — who speaks only in the language of music — Eurydice (Kelly Brady, playing a smart, silly goose-in-wonderland) — conversing only in the language of books — wanders to the penthouse apartment of the Lord of the Underworld (Jeff Ricketts) to retrieve a letter sent her by her late Father (John Getz, perfectly tender-hearted) from the land down under. Much of the play concerns her arrival in Hades after an accident, where she reunites with her dad, whom she mistakes for a porter. Eventually, she learns his “language” and comes to re-understand her origins. When Orpheus storms the gates of hell to retrieve his bride, an ultimately tragic love triangle emerges in which Eurydice feels emotionally wrenched between her father and her groom. The play is ultimately about growing up, and old, and saying goodbye to people and worlds we love. One does have to wonder why the production design are so strikingly similar to the Yale Rep production earlier this year. Director John Langs’ artful staging features Robbin E. Broad’s ravishing sound design and Brian Sidney Bembridge’s tiled set of aqua and greens that turns hell into a cool, slippery place that steals memories more through erosion than fire. Circle X Theatre Company at [INSIDE] THE FORD, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (no perfs Dec. 24 & 31); thru Jan. 6. (323) 461-3673.
—Steven Leigh Morris
GO OUR LADY OF 121st STREET It’s no great day in Harlem when the body of a venerated nun is stolen from an uptown funeral home in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2002 play. This disappearing act convenes encounters between authorities, neighborhood characters and the merely curious. The purloined “penguin” presents no detective mystery, though, merely an organizing principle that sets the stage for this double-cast production of 10 scenes involving residents who mostly bitch about the claustrophobic endgame they call life in their corner of Manhattan. The chief figures are Balthazar (Scott Anthony Leet), an alcoholic cop investigating Sister Rose’s disappearance; Rooftop (Hansford Prince), a smooth-talking homeboy who left for Los Angeles years ago to become a successful radio DJ; and Inez (Leshay Tomlinson), his bitter ex-wife who stayed behind. People meet in church, the funeral home or a nearby bar — they’re all equally sacrosanct and profane locales in Guirgis’ universe. Director Gloria Gifford displays a sensitive ear for the playwright’s scraped-from-the-asphalt dialogue and has assembled talented actors similarly in tune with the material. However, Gifford’s decision to pipe in pop music during scene blackouts softens Guirgis’ story, which at times seems headed toward the forbidding property owned by Hubert Selby Jr. In a play without a real plot, the characters’ monologues about their pasts make good listening, but ultimately we don’t — or can’t — care that their childhood chums fell down elevator shafts or had bricks bounced off their heads. Like Balthazar and Rooftop, the audience is living in the moment, and when that moment is sentimentalized by pop tunes, all that follows looks suspiciously like an acting showcase. Jamaica Moon Productions at the MATRIX THEATRE, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (800) 595-4849. (Steven Mikulan)
GO WHAT THE RABBI SAW Superbly executed physical comedy distinguishes Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore’s farce about pre-wedding complications. Director Ross Kramer has assembled a terrific cast with a knack for slapstick — the hair-pulling cat fight in bridal clothes is priceless. The gags come off without a hitch, and Kramer’s fight choreography is flawless. When the bride’s sister (Stephanie Chapman) gets her dress caught in the groom’s (Travis Goodman) zipper, it sets off a chain of riotous mishaps. The lovers try to hide their state of undress from the rabbi (Corey Pepper) and the bride’s mother (Kerry Michaels), but that becomes impossible once the bride (Sarah Zimmitti) confesses to having an affair with the best man (Mike Uribes), whose pants are similarly caught in the bride’s dress. As the wedding coordinator (Guy Perry) nears meltdown, the bride’s father (Adam Gregor) starts making moves on the wedding singer (Dre Slaman). Alex Sol and Stephanie Chapman’s set includes the requisite slamming doors, and the hiding in the closet bits are particularly well choreographed by Kramer. The comic timing is pitch perfect throughout, and Chapman, Uribes and Slaman are the standouts among an excellent cast. Dreamworks Ensemble at THE SPACE, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 16 (added perfs Dec. 3, 10 & 16, 2 p.m.). (323) 661-2585. (Sandra Ross)