In this week's paper, our critics are recommending Edward Albee's Seascape, at Theatre West; William Finn's Falsettos at the Third Street Theater; Cirque du Soleil's Iris, at the Kodak, and Kristina Poe's Love Sick at the Elephant Space.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication September 29, 2011. SCROLL DOWN for this coming week's openings.
GO FALSETTOS It's interesting that composer-lyricist William Finn called Act 1 of his show “March of the Falsettos” when it was first produced in 1981. At the time it was a stand-alone piece, before being combined with what's now Act 2, “Falsettoland,” in 1992 to create this Tony Award-winning show. It's interesting because Finn's music is completely the opposite of a march: It bounces, tinkles, overlaps in beautiful polyphony and segues between genres seamlessly. Fortunately, musical director Gregory Nabours and the diligent cast do it justice with crisp diction and brisk pacing. The story is that of Marvin (Jesse Einstein), who tries to be a good father to his son, Jason (Major Curda), while keeping the romance alive with his lover, Whizzer (Richard Hellstern). Complicating his task is his separation from ex-wife Trina (Lani Shipman), who has taken up with their therapist, Mendel (Chip Phillips). This “modern family” and its issues, which were no doubt more edgy and provocative in the '80s and '90s, retain their resonance, even though same-sex couples have become more accepted and the scourge of AIDS has been blunted by better medications and increased awareness. Director Richard Israel sometimes fails to play the material big enough to get the laughs it should, but he really finds its heart in Act 2, and his judicious employment of minimalist set pieces on casters, combined with the pinpoint precision in Lisa D. Katz's lighting, makes for silky smooth transitions. John Todd's choreography, though not completely innovative, is energetic and complements Finn's marvelous music. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 16. 888-718-4253, showclix.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO IrIS This latest offering from Cirque du Soleil is a dazzling homage to the cinematic arts. It will have a permanent home at the Kodak Theatre, which has undergone an extensive renovation to accommodate the show, directed and choreographed by Phillipe Decouflè with an 18-member creative team. The spectacle is part burlesque, part circus, with two huge faces at both ends of the set, designed by Jean Rabasse. Danny Elfman's orchestral score is as diverse as the world of cinema itself, incorporating jazz, rock and even classical violin and cello, while the variety and design of Philippe Guillotel's costumes is mind-boggling. Like all Cirque shows, this one follows a loose narrative. Here, it's about an aspiring composer in search of his true love, a journey that takes him into a fantastical world. There are plenty of “How did they do that?” moments: aerial flights, acrobatics, movement, music, theatrical hi-jinks and much grand spectacle that's quite, well, Hollywood. What sets Iris apart from the other Cirque shows that have come through town is the variety it offers, as well as the imaginative use of video and special effects to accompany the performers. Highlights include four contortionists whose supernatural dexterity is mystically enhanced in light and shadows on a back wall, a living film strip, a choreographed frame-to-frame “movie” with live performers and a rooftop trampoline act that nods to West Side Story and gangster movies where the tough guys square off (via trampolines) on a hotel roof. Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Dec. 31. (877) 943-IRIS, cirquedusoleil.com/iris. (Lovell Estell III)
GO LOVE SICK
“Hell hath no fury…” Most of us are familiar with Congreve's famous (paraphrased) line regarding a woman scorned. In Kristina Poe's savagely funny and astonishingly perceptive play, distraught heroine Emily (Alexandra Hoover) is on a white-hot rampage. Her husband of 20 years, Jeff (Salvator Xuereb), has left her for a much younger woman, Lexi (Kate Huffman). Woe betide anyone who gets in Emily's gun sights, such as the corpse lying on the filthy bathroom floor beside her at the start of the play. Emily is perplexed by her racy mom's (Melanie Jones) new sexual lease, and intrigued by a seductive stranger (Dominic Rains). As Poe charts Emily's cathartic journey, she milks as much venomous humor as she can from the increasingly extreme situations, such as a twisted episode of group therapy. Her heightened dialogue is spiky and the scenarios are recognizable. David Fofi expertly wrangles his large cast of 11. Joel Daavid and Adam Hunter's set design cunningly transforms from an industrial bathroom to an airport bar with the simple adjustment of a triangular piece of truss. Hoover delivers a pithy performance as the scheming psycho, especially in the play's climax where Emily is confronted by a sobering truth. The writing, tech and performances combine into a hugely entertaining event. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Oct. 29. (877) 369-9112, elephanttheatrecompany.com. (Pauline Adamek)
THE LOVE SONG OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER
The father of the atomic bomb meets biblical demons and T.S. Eliot references in Carson Kreitzer's dark trek through the mind of a guilt-stricken genius. Director Joanne Gordon sometimes has her finger on the pulse of Oppenheimer's (Craig Anton) angst with this moody production, but the story meanders too much and the actors never generate enough collective chemistry, scientific or otherwise, to gel as an ensemble. Toiling away with his Manhattan Project peers, Oppenheimer can't wait to see his life's work come to fruition. But long before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer becomes filled with conflict over the paradoxically destructive nature of what will be his finest creation. Oppenheimer has plenty of reasons to feel panicky. Both his martini-glugging wife, Kitty (Sarah Underwood Saviano), and his emotionally unstable mistress, Jean Tatlock (Anna Steers), have communist ties, and J. Edgar Hoover doesn't like the scientist's political leanings. This pressure-cooker atmosphere is nicely supported by Jeff Eisenmann's stark scenic design, especially an ever-present iron orb that resembles an atom. Interesting design elements aside, the production ultimately lacks cohesion, and the actors are forced to make their way through long monologues without an objective in sight. Oppenheimer famously studied the Bhagavad Gita, and even references to that sacred text fall flat. California Repertory Company at the Queen Mary; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 6 p.m.; through Oct. 15, (562) 985-5526, calrep.org. (Amy Lyons)
In the opening moments of this production, director Carolee Shoemaker positions the ensemble onstage; decked out in their period costumes, they silently mingle, feigning the affected mannerisms and forced gaiety of 17th-century French fops and their lady friends. This effective device captures a sense of this comedy's time and place and serves as an appropriate prelude to a play about a blunt man who cannot abide the empty prattle of his peers. Unfortunately, these initial moments are among the few engaging elements in this stagey revival of Moliere's classic. Once the performers begin to speak, the magic evaporates. Pete Caslavka plays the loquacious title character, Alceste, with valorous resolve, but never comes out from under the weight of the language. As Celimene, the flirty femme fatale who drives him to distraction, Leona Britton is miscast. The other supporting players sometimes elicit laughs from Moliere's wit with their simpering poses, but the slapstick element Shoemaker has woven into her staging wears thin with performances that hover close to careless ― as opposed to razor-sharp caricature. Elisa Richardson provides a notable exception with her fastidious portrait of Eliante, Alceste's fluttery, love-smitten cousin. While spare, John DeLeonardis' set design nicely complements designer Vicki Conrad's elaborate costumes, by far this show's star attraction. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (in rep, call for schedule); through Oct. 16. (323) 667-0955. knightsbridgetheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
THE 1940'S RADIO HOUR A radio studio circa 1943 is the staging for Walton Jones' musical. Outside, World War II and a Christmas blizzard may rage, but inside, where a bottle of Pepsi still costs a nickel, folks groove to crooners and torch singers. Director Nan McNamara's affectionate tribute to the olden days of popular culture is a mock-up of a wartime radio show, complete with musical numbers, fake commercials and attempts to keep the home fires burning for the boys who are off fighting the war across the world. McNamara describes in the program notes how the play is intended to hearken back to an era when the radio provided the only entertainment for much of the American audience. As a result, the historical trappings of the radio production are often as interesting as the show itself; you can almost imagine gathering around your radio set at home to hear Catherine Gray's beautifully brittle rendition of “Old Black Magic” or Kimi Walker's lusciously throaty “I Got It Bad.” The radio show ambiance is impeccably crafted, with musical director Linda Kerns' live band creating an enchantingly lively mood and Fritz Davis' sound design (complete with Gus Corrado's radioman performing most of the effects live) being quite evocative. Unfortunately, the show is ultimately hampered by the intentionally threadbare nature of the characters, who dance and sing with engaging gusto but display little personality beyond their chorus gang smiles. Although the first half-hour consists of the performers arriving in the studio and preparing for their show, there's little attempt to define them, apart from a most perfunctory subplot involving crooner Johnny Cantone (a nicely oily Michael Downing) attempting to ditch the show to move to Hollywood. The end result is a perfectly sweet and innocuous impersonation of an historical artifact. The impression fades almost immediately upon leaving the theater. Actors Coop, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 3. (323) 462-8460, actorscoop.org. (Paul Birchall)
Retirees Nancy (Arden Teresa Lewis) and Charlie (Alan Schack) have found a quiet beach on which to picnic, paint watercolors and argue over how to play out the rest of their days. She yearns to travel the world; he's determined to take it easy. Just when it appears a stalemate is about to ensue, a pair of giant talking lizards ― Leslie (Paul Gunning) and Sarah (Kristin Wiegard) ― saunter up to make things interesting. Though with Seascape Edward Albee won his second Pulitzer in 1975, few critics would argue this gentler comedy surpasses his blistering Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which was pointedly snubbed by the award's advisory committee in 1963. Peppered with sharp lines and wisdom about what is both lost and gained in a long-term relationship, Seascape is also full of ideas, many familiar ― life is short, people can be brutes, self-awareness is a burden ― as well as a riff on difference and bigotry that probably felt more illuminating in the mid-'70s than today. Performances here are solid under Charlie Mount's smart direction, which nevertheless doesn't overcome the occasional dissonance. Lewis combines exuberance, humor and serious longing with dexterity, but displays a childlike energy at odds with Nancy's Anatole France references. Schack's Charlie, languid with resignation at the opening, skillfully reveals the fear driving his emotional shutdown, but comes off as subdued when the play begs for a little slapstick. Less encumbered by Albee's intellectualizing, the lizards ultimately get the better deal. Gunning brings a delightful preening self-seriousness to his role, and Wiegand delivers both wonder and grief well. The production values are notably high, with rocky dunes executed impeccably by set designer Jeff G. Rack and thoughtfully lit by Yancey Dunham. Director Mount also created and judiciously doles out a vaguely haunting sound design, and Gunning's reptile costumes bring the right touch of storybook to the absurdism. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 16. (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org. (Mindy Farabee)
Every city has a “South Street” story ― tales of once-blighted neighborhoods in which cheap rents and seedy bars nurtured an '80s cultural renaissance whose very success would lead to their slow strangulation by gentrification. And while it's easy to imagine a dramatically rousing and artistically relevant stage musical version (call it Rent), composer-lyricist Richard Addrisi and librettist Craig Carlisle's saccharine spin on South Philadelphia's legendary nightclub district is not it. If there's a protagonist to be found in the show, it might be the firehouse-turned-bar Sammy's Place (handsomely rendered on Andy Walmsley's forced-perspective set). The saloon becomes ground zero for the street's resurgence with the arrival of dancer Cloe (Maria Eberline) who somehow inspires heart-of-gold owner Sammy Silverstein (Tom Shelton) and his stripper wife, Sybil (Valerie Perri), to inaugurate an annual, non-exotic dance contest called the Full Moon Festival. Its success transforms Sammy's ― and the neighborhood ― into a trendy drinking destination but separates Cloe from her true love, musician Johnny (Brent Schindele), who moves to the coast and rock stardom. Unfortunately, Carlisle's decidedly maudlin, feel-good book (which strains the term “Runyonesque” to its breaking point) rarely lends the show's mostly forgettable musical numbers dramatic coherence. And neither Addrisi's stale, adult-contemporary score nor his poetry-challenged lyrics (“When you say cheese, you can turn a frown upside down…”) hint at the musical vibrancy of the era they purport to represent. Under such handicaps, it's little wonder that director Roger Castellano and an otherwise capable ensemble muster all the urgency and urban credibility of Sesame Street. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 4 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Oct. 16. (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org. (Bill Raden)
OPENING THIS WEEK
Addition by Subtraction World premiere of R.J. Colleary's play about “one man's struggle to find his purpose in the world.” Starting Oct. 1, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Nov. 6. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A., (323) 960-7788, plays411.com/abs.
Beat Yale Cabaret Hollywood's radio-style presentation of “conspiratorial lore and poetry from the Beat Generation of the 1950s,” by Paavo Hall, Jon Howard and Walt Klappert. Sat., Oct. 1, 8 p.m. Cafe Metropol, 923 E. Third St., L.A., (213) 613-1537, roccoinla.com.
Big Bad Armo Show World Domination: Armenian sketch comedy, written by Lory Tatoulian. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Thru Oct. 9. Dance Conservatory of Pasadena, 496 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, itsmyseat.com.
Bob Baker's Halloween Hoop-Dee-Do More than 100 Halloween-themed puppets, in a show that first played here in 1963. Starting Oct. 1, Sat., Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m. Thru Nov. 6. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A., (213) 250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com.
Dead of Night The Visceral Company presents six short plays based on stories by Stephen King. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Thru Nov. 6. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 752-7568, thevisceralcompany.com.
Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant World-premiere musical comedy about a snowed-in mom-to-be. Book, music and lyrics by Phil Olson. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Nov. 20. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (323) 822-7898, web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/855905.
Double Falsehood“A found play by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher,” adapted by Lewis Theobald. Starting Oct. 1, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Nov. 6. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-8043, coeurage.org.
4X4: Latina/o New Works Performance works by Marcos Najera and Karen Anzoategui, and dance works by Christine Suarez and Marina Magalhães. Fri., Sept. 30, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 1, 8:30 p.m. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica, (310) 315-1459, highwaysperformance.org.
Four Clowns Antics of four clown archetypes: the sad clown, the mischievous clown, the angry clown and the nervous clown, conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma. Fri., 11 p.m. Thru Oct. 28. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A., (562) 508-1788, FourClowns.org.
Ghetto Klown John Leguizamo's one-man Broadway show. Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Ricardo Montalban Theater, 1615 Vine St., L.A., (323) 463-0089.
The God of Isaac James Sherman's comedy about a Jewish-American journalist exploring his ethnicity. Starting Oct. 1, Sat., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 27, 3 p.m. Thru Nov. 20. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 860-6620, westcoastjewishtheatre.org.
How the World Began World premiere of Catherine Trieschmann's evolutionary debate. Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat., Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.
Hyper-Chondriac Brian Frazer's solo comedy, based on his memoir Hyper-Chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down. Starting Oct. 1, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Nov. 6. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A., (323) 960-7785, plays411.com/hyperchondriac.
I Love Lucy Live on Stage Rick Sparks directs this “filming” of two episodes of the 1950s sitcom. Starting Oct. 1, Sat., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m. Thru Dec. 30. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (800) 595-4849), ilovelucylive.com.
The Missile Man of Peenemunde SPQR Stage Company presents Bill Sterritt's Space Age rocket tale. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Thru Oct. 23. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 463-3900, studio-stage.com.
Pescador Michael Erger's dark comedy about a female professor desperate for sperm. Starting Oct. 2, Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Oct. 23. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
Pulling Leather Ted Ryan's world premiere about a pro bronco rider. Starting Oct. 1, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Oct. 30. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (323) 822-7898, web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/869535.
Shrek: The Musical DreamWorks' 2001 animated movie gone Broadway. Starting Oct. 4, Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787, scfta.org.
Six Characters in Search of an Author Luigi Pirandello's Absurdist classic. (In rep with Le Misanthrope.) Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Thru Oct. 16. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Drive, L.A., (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Lee Meriwether stars in this children's musical, book by Scott Martin, lyrics by Rob Meurer, music by Richard Brent. Starting Oct. 1, Sat., 1 p.m. Thru Feb. 25. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.
subTEXT MESSAGES Sketch comedy written by Todd Milliner, executive producer of TV Land's Hot in Cleveland. Fri., Sat., 10:30 p.m. Thru Oct. 22. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 957-1884, andthensomecomedy.com.
Way to Heaven Juan Mayorga's true story of a fake Nazi village constructed at a concentration camp to mislead Red Cross inspectors in 1944 Germany. Starting Oct. 1, Sat., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru Dec. 18. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.