GIL CATES DIES: The Geffen Playhouse's founder and producing director, and Academy Awards producer, was found in a UCLA parking lot Monday night, having died of natural causes.
A Noise Within opened its new Pasadena digs with a production of Twelfth Night — this week's Pick of the Week. Good notices also in for House of Gold, Gregory Moss' play now at Ensemble Studio Theater — L.A. (at the Atwater Village Theatre);
Antaeus Company's rendition of Peace in Our Time, and a racially-mixed ensemble production of All My Sons at the Matrix. Find all the latest New Theater Reviews after the jump.
Also check out the current stage features, an interview with four gymnast-dancers in Cirque du Soleil's Iris at the Kodak; and a review of Henry Murray's Monkey Adored at Rogue Machine. This week's feature looks at awards in general, and the Ovations in particular.
BILLER FAMILY FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES “BEST” AWARDS: A newcomer to the local theater endowment scene, the Bill Family Foundation announced the recipients of its first “Best” awards ($7,500 to $10,000) for small theater in Los Angeles. Recipients were: 24th Street Theatre, Circle X Theatre Company, Cornerstone Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre — L.A., TeAda Productions and The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. “Recipients were selected based upon their ability to express their distinct approaches to creating an artistic product and making that work accessible to the community.”
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: Scheduled for publication November 3, 2011
GO ALL MY SONS
A racially mixed cast, under Cameron Watson's direction, delivers a riveting production of Arthur Miller's Ibsenesque tragedy. The play puts the squeeze on Joe Keller (Alex Morris), who's black, as he slowly reckons with his long-ago decision to foist the blame for faulty aircraft machine heads, assembled in his factory for use in World War II, onto his Asian-American colleague/neighbor. We watch Keller's amiable jocularity wear thinner as the children (Linda Park and James Hiroyuki Liao) of Keller's scapegoat show up on his porch — the girl hoping to marry Keller's son (A.K. Murtadha). Compounding matters is how the now-grown beauty was once the girlfriend of Keller's other, missing-in-action son, who Keller's Caucasian wife (a breathtakingly subtle, harrowing performance by Anne Gee Byrd) believes beyond belief is still alive, years after he disappeared. The casting policy aims to throw light on race relations in the U.S., but does so tinkeringly. The image of the Asian neighbor wrongfully incarcerated awakens memories of the Japanese internment camps, yet Marcy Froelich's era-specific costumes lock the Kellers' mixed-race marriage into a reality that would have been culturally explosive in post-WWII America. The acting is top-flight, a rare and excellent rendition of the play. Watson needs to be less specific as to the era, in order to allow his attempts at opening up the text to emerge as a bold idea rather than a tentative experiment. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (323) 852-1445, matrixtheatre.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)
DUSK RINGS A BELL
Stephen Belber's elegiac drama zeroes in on Molly (Thea Gill) and Ray (Josh Randall), who as teenagers spent a blissful afternoon on a beach many years ago. She was anticipating a glorious future, he aspired to become a brain surgeon. When they meet again, in the present, their dreams have been crushed and left by the wayside. She's had a failed marriage and settled for a job in public relations, and he's spent 10 years in prison because of a lethal gay-bashing incident; though he didn't participate, he was prosecuted for failing to stop the beating. Director Daniel Henning's exemplary production, on Kurt Boetcher's handsome beach-front set, and fine performances by Gill and Randall can't quite redeem Belber's thoughtful but tenuous play about might-have-beens. The Blank's Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 13. (323) 66-9827, theblank.com. (Neal Weaver)
This is the second in a trio of plays by Evelina Fernández chronicling the lives of a Latino family. Happiness and harmony are only shadows for this clan: Carlos (Geoffrey Rivas) is a viciously abusive husband and father who often leaves for days at a time, and his wife, Elena (Dyana Ortelli), constantly struggles with her withering self-respect. Their eldest daughter, Gina, is filled with simmering resentments and frequently clashes with her brothers Johnny (Keith McDonald) and Bobby (Dru Davis), while Betty (Olivia Delgado) largely inhabits a dream world where she has phone conversations with the newly elected JFK. Add infidelity, a surprise pregnancy and a dash of romantic intrigue, and it equals a melodrama that's fit for just about any age. Musical director Ben Taylor's slate of oldies impressively evokes the period, while cast performances are uniformly good under José Luis Valenzuela's direction. Raquel Barreto's 1960s costumes are striking. Rounding out the cast are Sam Golzari and Sal López. Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 1, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 13. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Lovell Estell III)
GO HOUSE OF GOLD
There are at least three reasons to check out Ensemble Studio Theatre's staging of Gregory Moss' newish play at Atwater Village Theater. In no particular sequence, one is Jacqueline Wright's gorgeously grotesque, manic and spastic performance of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old child-beauty pageant princess who was found murdered in the basement of the Boulder, Colorado family home in 1996. Another is Drew Christie's video animation that allows filmed and stage action to bleed into each other, which introduces the third: Gates McFadden's dynamic absurdist staging of the play's two intersecting stories: that of Ramsey's abduction from her monstrous parents (Tony Pasqualini and Denise Crosby) in a broad yet chilling style that blends Eugene Ionesco with Christopher Durang; and the saga of her fat, nerdy loudmouth pal, Jasper (Alex Davis), bullied by a quartet of anatomically chiseled “Apollonian Boys” (Chris Arvan, Josh Heine, Matt Little and Eric Schulman), who box and toss mimed basketballs with choreographed grace, when not beating the annoying kid to a pulp. Kurt Boetcher's set offers the actors a primary-colored hallucinogenic playpen of set pieces, that includes a electrical car used by the killer (Graham Sibley) rolling in and out of the theater's hallway, high beams blinding us from a distance. The play traffics in familiar images of bullying and the creepiness of beauty pageants in general, and kiddie pageants in particular. The production's novelty, however, comes from the intensity of the performances, and how the production laces in the play's horror and absurdity with such visual acuity. Ensemble Studio Theatre – L.A. at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Atwater Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 4. (323) 644-1929, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org (Steven Leigh Morris)
MACBETH: SHAKESPEARE'S NATURAL BORN KILLERS It's anyone's guess what director Steven Sabel could have been thinking in framing the Bard's Scottish play with Oliver Stone's overblown, 1994 thrill-kill satire. It's the kind of generic tug-of-war that all but hangs Sabel's valiant ensemble out to dry. In one scene, Macbeth (Christopher Karbo) is the courageous man of action corrupted by overweening ambition; in the next, he's a bug-eyed lunatic being fed Thorazine by a psych-ward orderly (Joseph Paul Rapozo). Lady Macbeth (Annie Freeman), in her fuchsia Spandex, seems less Shakespeare's femme-fatale queen than she does a groupie trying to coax a backstage pass from a Guns N' Roses roadie. In fact, beyond appending a pair of visually arresting bookends to this bare-stage production with Sarah Kay Morris' '90s grunge/club costumes, Sabel finds so little correspondence between Stone's sociopathic serial murderers and Shakespeare's calculating regicides as to render the evening a head-scratching non sequitur. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 27. (213) 237-9933, archwayla.com. (Bill Raden)
GO PEACE IN OUR TIME
Noel Coward wore many hats: playwright, actor, songwriter, witty man about town. He also was a dedicated patriot who served in the British secret service during World War II. Reminiscent of the 1940s films that pitted French Resistance fighters against the Nazis, this 1947 drama pays tribute to the resilience of the British working class, positing a scenario in which the Germans occupy Britain and people are driven to mobilize to rout the conqueror. The story, rendered by an accomplished ensemble under Casey Stangl's direction, unfolds in a family-owned London pub run by Fred and Nora Shattock (Steve Hofvendahl and Eve Gordon), whose son is presumed dead. Besides other couples who have lost their children, the bar's clientele include journalists and cabaret performers, and a supercilious theater critic (Bill Brochtrup) who advocates acquiescing to the regime. Dense with melodrama, especially near its climax, the play grapples with issues of challenging authority that remain timely and important. Barry Creyton's adaptation integrates some of Coward's songs into the script, an unsatisfying device that slows the narrative. Designer Tom Buderwitz's superbly detailed set and Jessica Olson's meticulous costumes complement the performances, nailing with pitch-perfect precision the ambiance of the era. (Note: The production is double-cast.) Antaeus Theater at Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Dec. 11. (818) 506-1983, antaeus.org. (Deborah Klugman)
GO TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
A good man is easy to find in Harper Lee's moralistic novel adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel. This production captures nicely the magic of the coming-of-age journey of Scout (Zoe Rae Calamar), a feisty tomboy longing to understand why her aloof, over-the-hill father, Atticus Finch (an effectively chilly Greg Martin), doesn't play football or shoot guns like other dads. Atticus has traded sporting for lawyering, and he's defending accused rapist Tom Robinson (a chillingly childlike Montelle Harvey), a black man whose guilt is assured by the setting: 1935 Alabama. As Scout begins to glimpse her father's greatness, she also recognizes the demonizing gossip about her shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley (Scott Wordham), as dehumanizing bunk. Director Gary Lee Reed, who also designed the lovely set, keeps the essential tug-of-war between Scout and Atticus at the forefront of the drama, while carefully crafting the courtroom scene as a painfully unwinnable plea for justice that results in a naiveté-shattering growth spurt for Scout. Actor David Atkinson is sometimes a scene stealer as the wonderfully greasy lawyer lazily lying his way through a slam-dunk conviction of Tom. Tannis Hanson likewise transfixes as an anxiety-ridden Mayella Ewell, the abused white teenager who is Tom's accuser. Actors Co-op at the Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 20. (323) 462-8460, actorsco-op.org. (Amy Lyons)
PICK OF THE WEEK: TWELFTH NIGHT
In our ADD-afflicted society, a Shakespeare production that holds an audience rapt is no small feat. A Noise Within's latest — its first in its sparkling new, not-a-nosebleed-seat-in-the-house facility — does just that, sexing up one of the Bard's most popular comedies and giving it a sprightly staging. With the action set in 1940s-ish Cuba, Angela Balogh Calin's crumpled linen suits and fluffy underskirts complement Doug Newell's simmering Latin sounds and Ken Booth's sometimes misty, sometimes white-hot lighting. Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's staging tows the fine line between campy and charming — the self-indulgent, wallowing Orsino (a dashing Robertson Dean) is rolled onto the stage in a claw-footed bathtub for his first scene. No surprise that the night belongs to the boys: Shakespeare's gender-bending play has only a few females, and here they either chew the scenery or have trouble holding their own with the men. Jeremy Rabb's Sir Andrew is all rubbery limbs and honest idiocy, Anthony Mark Barrow keeps a firm grasp on the fool Feste and Steve Weingartner shines in a small role. But artistic director Geoff Elliott's Malvolio, the one disturbing blight on Shakespeare's otherwise light romp, is a wonder. Adopting an eccentric speech pattern and a stiff social presence, which brilliantly both cover and reveal the character's secret ambition, Elliott seems like he's been prepping for this role for years. Consider it his housewarming present to himself. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; in rep thru Dec. 16 (call for schedule). (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org (Rebecca Haithcoat)
WICKED LIT: PRODUCTION B The Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery is a suitably ghoulish location for this theatrical presentation of six adaptations of horror literature, now in its second year. Horror stories by Charles Dickens, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and others are staged nightly in two separate productions throughout the burial grounds and gloomy marble crypts. Production B combined Robert Louis Stevenson's “The Body Snatcher,” M.R. James' “Casting the Runes” and an updated version of Mark Twain's humorous “A Ghost Story.” The drawn-out evening has audiences gathering in a dimly lit courtyard before breaking up into six groups to perambulate the vast grounds. In many ways the evening is well-orchestrated, with little bleed-through from one performance into another. But as some plays are far shorter than others, that means a lot of hanging around stamping your feet as you wait for a concurrent play to conclude. The team goes all out with lightning, rain and gruesome makeup effects, but the scares are mild. Mountain View Mausoleum Cemetery, 2400 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena; Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m.; in rep with Production A (call for schedule); through Nov. 6. (818) 242-7910, wickedlit.org. (Pauline Adamek)