Just when you feel you’d rather throw yourself out a tenth-floor window than sit through another autobiographical one-woman show about the performer’s professional and romantic travails, along comes Lusia Strus, reinvigorating the meaning of “character” in the term character actress. Strus was a years-long smoker and drinker, which has set her vocal range somewhere near baritone. This, combined with her ferocious sarcasm and pinpoint timing, sets the otherwise bare stage for the interweaving story of two marriages: that of her parents — Polish Ukrainian immigrants to Chicago — and that of her own. Each is a product of its location in time and culture, of its own particular addictions, and each functions and/or collapses on its own terms. Her stories are world-weary and world-wise sojourns through love and death, bitingly smart and peppered with Strus’ fitful zeal for life. “Soooo tired,” is a recurring motif in the mouths of many of Strus’ characters, refugees from Urkranian shtetls and Las Vegas diners. “First, I lost hope. Then I lost faith,” she says, describing her breaking heart. Bitter without being embittered, funny without being glib, sweet without being maudlin, Strus’ performance captures a heart smothered in the dried glue of having been repaired so often, yet still beating with compassion. ELEPHANT ASYLUM THEATRE, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 960-4424.
—Steven Leigh Morris
DRUMS IN THE NIGHT There’s a lot going on in this early Bertolt Brecht satire, written shortly after the collapse of the 1918 Spartacus uprising in Berlin. Anna (Angela Berliner) is the daughter of a vulgar industrialist (Andrew E. Wheeler) who wants her to forget all about her missing sweetheart, Kragler (Jarreth Merz), who’s presumed to have died during the Great War, and to marry the father’s business partner, Murk (Chris Schultz). Just when she assents to becoming Murk’s wife, and just when a left-wing rebellion breaks out, Kragler returns. The story, in which Berlin’s brief revolution merely simmers in the background, is not entirely about the ambivalent Anna’s dilemma, but also how her indecision affects Kragler, who withdraws into the shadowy, besotted slums before joining the revolt. The best thing about director Jon Kellam’s production is its look — which is never a good sign in a political work. (Sibyl Wickersheimer’s coldly utilitarian set and Jenny Bloom’s morose lighting create an appropriately apocalyptic tone.) The problem is that we have to continually remind ourselves of how new Brecht’s lampooning of businessmen, patriotism and war was when Drums first appeared in 1922. We’re inured to its barbs today, and Kellam has to jazz things up by pumping in Frank Sinatra over loudspeakers and by having cast members jump onto chairs during line deliveries. Still, this is as ferocious a production of this once-outrageous play (translated by Finegan Kruckemeyer) as you’re likely to see, and there are some gripping performances, especially by Merz as the troubled and troubling Kragler, and by Schultz as his social-climbing nemesis, Murk. Actors’ Gang at the IVY SUBSTATION THEATER, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. schedule varies; thru Jan. 27 (no perfs Nov. 23-24 & Dec. 21-31). (310) 838-4264. (Steven Mikulan)
TELEMONGOL The TV execs programming the Asia Home of Language Entertainment network (yes, AHOLE) are divided over their goal: empowerment or mental junk food? They — and these dozen-plus mini shows — decide to split the difference. The sprightly but insubstantial bits created by a collective of Asian-American theater companies (Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, Cold Tofu Improv, OPM and 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors) fall back on gags about snobbish Korean moms, snobbish Chinese moms and a pecking order that shuns the uneducated, as well as the Filipinos. (Says a convict facing life imprisonment, “I killed my parents by not getting into Harvard.”) But these scholastic mothers and fathers would be proud of the fast-paced comedy’s smarter moments: Marco’s grandson Larry Polo tries to sell Italy’s miscredited achievement, pasta, back to the Chinese; the restricted immigration of the Chinese Exclusion Act prods two lonely ore miners to explore Brokeback Gold Mountain. The closing sketch, “The Very North Korean Holiday Hour,” boasts the blackest, sharpest humor when Kim Jong Il invents Hanaramakwanzamus — a blending of traditions that turns candlelight, fasting and his benevolence into a celebration, which he caps off with a televised execution cheered along by Osama bin Laden and Marilyn Monroe. GTC BURBANK, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Sat., Nov. 11, 8 p.m.; perfs Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 17 (no perf Nov. 23). (323) 993-7245. (Amy Nicholson)