Tony Abatemarco's family drama Beautified, at Hollywood's Skylight Theatre, is our Pick of the Week. Recommendations include Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw at Hollywood's Underground Theatre; and Catherine Butterfield's The Sleeper at North Hollywood's Theatre Tribe. Click here for all the latest New Theater Reviews, or after the jump.

Also, check out this week's Stage feature on Vanessa Claire Stewart's portrait of Buster Keaton, Stoneface: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton, playing at Sacred Fools Theatre and featuring French Stewart.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 31, 2012:

AFTERSHOCKS Playwright Doug Haverty's whimsical dramedy has

all the elements of a winning sitcom pitch: Two starstruck, middle-aged

housewives from Cleveland leave their dull lives and deadbeat husbands

for a mobile home in Los Angeles and a new life on the outermost

periphery of Hollywood glamour as movie extras. Many high jinks and much

heartbreak ensue — call it I Love Lucy meets Alice Doesn't Live Here

Anymore. When Haverty allows the play to relax into the quotidian

domestic frictions between the flighty Daphne (the fine Dorrie Braun)

and her buttoned-down, sensible best friend, Olive (a solid Julia

Silverman), he has a winning and affecting essay on the resilience of

lifelong friendship. When he introduces an improbable secret love child

(played by Summer Harlow) subplot, however, even the appealing chemistry

of Braun and Silverman cannot overcome the contrived sentimentality.

J.C. Gafford's tone-deaf direction and clumsy blocking (on Janai

President's awkward trailer-park set) only add insult to injury. Lyric

Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June

16. (323) 960-1055, (Bill Raden)


Tony Abatemarco's

simply beautiful dramedy, is both a love letter to his brother, the

play's subject, and a poignant tribute to a long-term, platonic

relationship between a man and a woman. In 1969, recently relocated from

Long Island, groovy Mike (Rob Brownstein) takes a chance and opens his

own beauty parlor in Framingham, Mass. The first customer to walk in is

uptight socialite Candy (Karen Austin), and while they don't immediately

hit it off, they soon become fast friends. Candy frequently clashes

with Mike's salon assistant, Sally (Joanna Strapp), who openly

disapproves of Sally's casual thievery. Direct audience address charts

the leaps from one decade to the next, as do the salon's name changes

and shifting decor, which keeps pace with each era's most outrageous

fashions. Abatemarco lets his story gently reveal itself through

character interaction and dialogue. Director Jenny Sullivan does a great

job coaxing genuine performances from her first-rate cast of three,

while fabulous costumes (Allison Leach) and prop detail (set and

lighting by Jeff McLaughlin) add plenty of amusing color. Cate Caplin's

choreography for an unexpected fantasy dance sequence toward the end

concisely conveys everything you need to know about Candy's allure and

Mike's unrealized desire. Beautified is a gorgeous play. Skylight

Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2

p.m.; through July 1 | (702) 582-8587, (Pauline Adamek)


Credit: April Rocha

Credit: April Rocha

In this three-person production by

playwright-performers Ron Marasco and Brian Shuff — a third performer

appears on a rotating basis, and on the evening reviewed, it was Roxane

Hart — the theme is grief and loss. You don't have to have endured a

personal tragedy that rends your soul with grief to enjoy this seated,

table-read performance piece, but it probably would help. Director

Marasco's nicely intimate, if occasionally mawkish and overly lecturing

production, explores the stages of grief and some unpredictable

reactions of the bereaved, and effectively articulates how sorrow is

ultimately the price one pays for being in love in the first place.

Heavy stuff, admittedly, and one must be of a certain state of mind to

appreciate it. Still, the performances, particularly the gravel-voiced

Marasco's drolly ironic depiction of a bereaved mother and Hart's

frantic turn as a frustrated woman cleaning up her dead brother's

affairs, are warm and recognizably archetypal. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S.

Sepulveda Blvd, W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (310) 477-2055, (Paul Birchall)

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC With a stage adorned with designer Adam Flemming's handsome, towering bamboo trees, you know immediately that this is no orthodox production of one of Stephen Sondheim's most popular musicals. Director Tim Dang sets the show in an unnamed location referred to in the program as “the most European of Asian cities,” but that description doesn't offset the nagging impression that it's been cumbersomely shoehorned onto Hugh Wheeler's libretto about the amorous mismatches among a quartet of lovers in late-19th century Sweden. Jessica Olson's costumes are alluring, and musical director Caroline Su helms an impressive string-and-piano ensemble, but the singing of Sondheim's songs is glaringly inconsistent. Jon Jon Briones, as lawyer Fredrik Egerman, tries his best, but the strain in his voice is often apparent. Melody Butiu is a very good Desiree Armfeldt, until she tanks with the signature piece “Send in the Clowns.” Seminarian Henrik Egerman, as played by Glenn Fernandez, is outstanding, as is Maegan McConnell as Petra. East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; through June 10. (213) 625-7000, (Lovell Estell III)


Two Faces of Buster Keaton: French Stewart and Joe Fria; Credit: Nancy Savan

Two Faces of Buster Keaton: French Stewart and Joe Fria; Credit: Nancy Savan

Set in the wake of 9/11, Catherine Butterfield's lacerating comedy weaves a tale of adultery into a ramifying portrait of American narcissism and paranoia. Swept up in the national frenzy, impressionable housewife Gretchen (Mandy Levin) attends an anthrax-awareness seminar. As she's leaving, she meets a handsome younger man (Ben Mathes), who sparks her lust as her self-absorbed husband (Pete Gardner) hasn't done for ages. The affair, with approval from her unsentimental therapist (Heather Robinson), proceeds swimmingly until Gretchen discovers her credit cards missing and begins to suspect her progressive-minded paramour of theft, subversion and terrorist sympathies. Director Stuart Rogers mounts a crisp, well-paced production, with an ensemble that mines the play's ironies to create a droll snapshot of clueless Americana. Gardner is hilarious as a tight-lipped, self-centered male, obsessed with Wall Street pursuits. Mathes oozes charm as Gretchen's insightful lover, while Corie Vickers adds spice as her vixenish sister. Levin, depicting a “good girl” ill-equipped for an amoral world, holds it all together well. Kudos to set designer Jeff McLaughlin for his wry backdrop of skewed ascending white columns. Are they missiles or minarets or phalluses? It's not clear, but it works great whichever way. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 30. (800) 838-3006, (Deborah Klugman)


Two Faces of Buster Keaton: French Stewart and Joe Fria; Credit: Shaela Cook

Two Faces of Buster Keaton: French Stewart and Joe Fria; Credit: Shaela Cook

Vanessa Claire Stewart's world-premiere portrait of the silent-film comedian (French Stewart), directed by Jaime Robledo. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 30. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, See Stage Feature.


Credit: Dara Osborne

Credit: Dara Osborne

Given the monstrosities of our age, it's hard to regard a 19th-century ghost story as anything more than quaint, even if it is sourced in Henry James. Add to this consideration the dense literary timbre of Jeffrey Hatcher's script, and you've got an uphill battle for audience attention. Happily, this production, artfully directed by Dan Spurgeon, with accomplished performances by Amelia Gotham and Nich Kauffman, triumphs over those expectations. Shouldering most of the narration, Gotham portrays a governess hired to supervise the care of two orphans at a remote estate. Initially self-possessed, she begins to lose her bearings after sighting the specters of the dead former governess and her lover, while observing the strange behavior of her wards, whom she believes to be possessed by these spirits. Gotham's onstage transformation to madness is superb. The versatile Kauffman, capable of communicating a ton of meaning with a single squint, portrays all the other characters: the commanding master who hires Gotham, the uneducated housekeeper, a comic figure, the scary phantom and the disturbed 10-year-old Miles, at times a threatening presence. Any dramatized horror story needs creative lighting, and designer Dave Sousa, embellishing Tyler Travis' engaging black-and-white set, stylishly obliges. Underground Theater, 1312 Wilton Place, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 9. (Deborah Klugman)


Credit: John Flynn

Credit: John Flynn

You can't win 'em all — and that applies not only to Sonny Burl, the antihero of this West Coast premiere, but also to Rogue Machine. The company, which received numerous L.A. Weekly Theater Awards nods for a couple productions in 2011, starts this season off with a dud. Superstar country singer Sonny (Jeff Kober, a dead ringer for Jeff Bridges) returns for a final hometown show at the county fair bearing news for the wife he deserted, the daughter he never knew and his alcoholic brother. Playwright Mark Roberts deserves much of the blame for a script riddled with empty clichés, like, “That's all life is, one long test,” cheap tugs at the audience's heartstrings and see-'em-coming-from-a-mile-away twists. But, with the exception of Tucker Smallwood, director Mark L. Taylor's cast lacks charm, making the characters either wooden or brittle. On the bright side, Adam Flemming's projection of a big ol' country sky on the back wall is an inventive way to dress a stage. Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 8. (855) 585-5185. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

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