High praise this week for “Robert Reimer's nutcase of a play,” Hosea Nova: A Jealous and Violent Man (this week's Pick of the Week) at Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood, and for writer-performer Johnny O'Callaghan's Who's Your Daddy, at the Victory Theatre Center, in Burbank.

For all the latest New Theater Reviews, go to the jump. Also check out this week's stage features on Charlayne Woodard's The Night Watcher at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and Stephen Sondheim's latest book, Look, I Made a Hat.    

Ben Bradley Killer Convicted “All of us in the Fountain family are pleased and relieved by the verdict and grateful that the trial phase of this horrific nightmare is over,” wrote Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs in a statement. Jose Fructuoso was convicted in the fatal stabbing of the Ben Bradley, the Fountain's beloved producer, director and director of audience development, on January 1, 2010.

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, Scheduled for publication Dec. 1, 2011

THE ANIMAL WITHIN In Ralph Tropf's mild farce, an amoral sex kitten torpedoes a marriage after she sleeps with both husband and wife. Poised and proper Sylvia (Carrie Madsen) has always been too conventional to acknowledge her attraction to women — but she can't resist Melody (Howland Wilson), a beguiling flirt who, while interviewing for a housekeeping job, shrewdly susses out Sylvia's true desires. Once hired, Melody promptly seduces Sylvia's husband (Nathan Bouldin); normally a principled fellow, he's now torn between marital duty and the flattering blandishments of this crafty coquette. Directed by Lynn Stevenson, the piece — particularly the scenes between the women — comes splattered with tacky innuendo. The simpering maneuvers of Wilson's vamp don't translate into sexy, and as her smitten target, Madsen warbles with one note. The comedy percolates after Bouldin's beleaguered adulterer steals center stage with a quirkiness that is genuine and appealing. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Jan. 15. (323) 960-7738, plays411.com/animalwithin. (Deborah Klugman)


Credit: Lily Lim

Credit: Lily Lim

In a packed house of John Hughes fans old enough to have seen The Breakfast Club in theaters, or at least on VHS, the line “When you grow up, your heart dies” gets a self-conscious chuckle. But these cardiac corpses shrugged off the insult to hoist their Long Duk Dongs (a cocktail with no sake, oddly) and sway to Simple Minds. The Hughes musical revue lacks the art or atmosphere of For the Record's Coen brothers show — Hughes chose music for the moment, not for the ages — and in the Molly Ringwald stretch, the cast stays in the same costumes, as if admitting that one princess, jock, dweebie or wastoid isn't much different from another. The kids can sing, but the musical theater gloss coddles Bowie's “Young Americans” and even smooths the growl off “Rebel Yell.” After the angst, the night perks up when the Griswolds from Hughes' National Lampoon's Vacation series marshal their Christmas cheer, cramming a fully trimmed tree and a phalanx of lights into the small space. Alas, Yello's “Oh Yeah” is overlooked. Show at Barre, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Wed. 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun. 8 p.m.; through Dec. 30. (323) 661-6163, ext. 20, showatbarre.com. (Amy Nicholson)


Credit: Zombie Joe

Credit: Zombie Joe

“You can find her in the Lunatic Choir,” says the gray-haired, almost skeletal-faced Jon (Josh Patton), directing Hosea Nova (Sebastian Munoz) to the object of his desire, Theresa Ann (Vanessa Cate). Sure, Jon unintentionally raised her from the dead, and she's blind, but the snarling, lizard-tongued, half-blind Hosea has bigger problems than an undead, unseeing lover, as she's less of a godly saint than a lusty siren. Robert Riemer's nutcase of a play is stacked with kooky characters (it is set in an insane asylum), but what elevates it beyond just another collection of crackpot cuckoos nursing wild imaginings is director Zombie Joe's damn near elegant staging. Gluing together a motley crew of wild-eyed women (Tina Preston's nest of hair and tongue stained candy-red from spitting up blood are especially bonkers), he almost transforms them into royal sisters sitting for a portrait. Utilizing ZJU's sometimes cozy, sometimes creepy shoebox of a theater, he has Theresa's fingers crawl up a wall to reach Hosea, who's perched in the pocket of space above the stage. Lighting a nude love scene by an actual candle is another small, yet striking, touch. The actors have a tendency to screech, and in the small theater it's distracting to the point of irritating. But when the Lunatic Choir's cacophony morphs into “Hey Jude,” it's worth it.  Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 10. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Whatever else can be said about Frank Capra's paean to small-town life, these days it's hard not to appreciate the film's celebration of community-minded compassion triumphing over greed. This adaptation makes a good-faith attempt to replicate the sentimental holiday classic but loses more than a little in the translation, such as when key vignettes from the film suddenly are reduced to stagy narrative exposition. Speeding through George Bailey's life story sacrifices much of the tale's texture, and often results in awkward pacing. Tackling the role of America's most famous Everyman, Scott Harris competes admirably with the ghost of Jimmy Stewart, flavoring his performance with just a hint of those legendary inflections without resorting to a Stewart impression. Performances elsewhere are uneven, but the Norman Rockwell-esque quality of Bedford Falls is well-evoked by Don Bergmann's set, and lit with a Christmas-card sensibility by Kristen Cox's design. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 22, 8 p.m.; through Dec. 23. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Mindy Farabee)
PRISON IS WHERE I LEARNED TO FLY With stronger direction from Debra De Liso and some judicious script trimming, Rochelle Duffy's autobiographical one-act play would be much better. The narrative begins as a series of letters shared between Duffy and her incarcerated brother, Patrick (a solidly convincing John Marzilli), but then drifts into a back-and-forth, hodgepodge chronicle about growing up in a staunch Catholic family with 17 siblings, Christmas fun, many births and a plague of various afflictions, sapping the play of dramatic vitality (the large cast is especially confusing). The core of the piece is Patrick's downward spiral into addiction and crime after being molested by the friendly parish priest, which, with meticulous focus, would have made for better drama. Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (626) 356-7529. (Lovell Estell III)


Credit: Luis Reyes

Credit: Luis Reyes

The first clue that director-playwright Luis Reyes' solo-performer portrait of the late U.N. ambassador and U.S. special envoy is less than a hagiography is the cutting irony of its comic-book title. Why Holbrooke (played with fierce self-assurance by co-director Bruno Oliver) failed so miserably as a self-appointed world savior and was ultimately frustrated in his grand aspiration to become secretary of state is its wryly barbed point. With broad strokes and insinuating juxtapositions, Reyes (a former L.A. Weekly theater critic) and Oliver sketch an abrasive, egotistical and blindly ambitious State Department insider whose weakness for moral compromise to advance his political career makes him something of a latter-day Franz von Papen, who was the chancellor of Germany before Hitler. The workshop production is at its best when it playfully parses Holbrooke's own words to expose their Orwellian self-contradictions. With fine-tuning and deeper excavation of its latent ironies, it could be a trenchantly persuasive evening of political theater. ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (818) 202- 4120, ZombieJoes.com. (Bill Raden)

WHO'S YOUR DADDY? In this stand-up act with heart, writer-performer Johnny O'Callaghan takes us on a harrowing, emotional roller coaster as he relates the story of his efforts to adopt a 3-year-old Tutsi in fractious, civil war-torn Uganda. Humorous (though more smiles than laughs), brutally honest and contemptuous of the blatant avarice and corruption, O'Callaghan tells his often heartbreakingly true tale with vivid intensity, describing the sights, sounds and smells of this exotic land, into which he stumbles when on a suicidal bent. At an orphanage he likens to a “dog pound,” he bonds immediately with a little boy and then recalls a spookily prophetic dream. Convinced he is meant to be the toddler's daddy, O'Callaghan moves heaven and earth and greases many palms to make it happen. Although nicely directed by Tom Ormeny, the stakes aren't as high as they should be throughout. Despite the numerous obstacles, the play moves inexorably toward a happy resolution. In his emotional and well-calibrated performance, O'Callaghan doesn't have to dig deep for tears to flow. He frequently breaks through the fourth wall, at times disconcertingly glaring at the audience, but elicits audience adulation by the end of his horrifying yet ultimately uplifting tale. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (818) 841-4404, victorytheatrecenter.org (Pauline Adamek)

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