Jessica Abrams comedy about Hollywood, The Laughing Cow,
traffics in stereotypes but is nonetheless so delightful, says reviewer Rebecca Haithcoat, it grabs this week's Pick of the Week. Here are all the latest New Theater Reviews, or you can find them after the jump.
Also, check out this week's stage feature on Cyrano, Stephen Sachs' contemporary adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, based on the travails of a deaf poet, co presented by Deaf West and the Fountain Theatre — along with Pasadena Playhouse's latest rendition of The Heiress, starring Heather Tom, Richard Chamberlain and Julia Duffy.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 3, 2012
Just when you're wondering why they don't write good ol' political stage melodramas anymore, along comes playwright Chuck Rose's plot-heavy, long-winded and fusty tale of a California gubernatorial campaign gone bad. From the moment the lights come up on Dennis Jackson's tasteful campaign-headquarters set and its photoshopped picture of liberal hopeful Sandy Mitchell (Thomas Vincent Kelly) sitting at the right hand of Bill Clinton, the notion that there's something rotten in the soul of the too-good-to-be-true reform candidate is firmly established. Unfortunately, so is the disingenuousness of act one, in which Rose oversells Mitchell as the reincarnation of Upton Sinclair. Director Jack Stehlin gets sterling performances from his ensemble (which includes Robert Cicchini, Marc Jablon and Jordan Lund), but even the best acting is no substitute for a blue pencil; Rose's digressive and redundant script easily could lose 30 minutes. The play's mundane, TV-grade language, on the other hand, makes The Best Man sound like Beckett. New American Theatre at the McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 2. (310) 701-0788, newamericantheatre.com. (Bill Raden)
CONCEALING JUDY HOLLIDAY
“It's a tragedy with comic elements,” responds Judy Holliday (playwright Wendy Johnson) when second husband Gerry Mulligan asks, “What's your story?” The description is equally apt for this memory play about the Oscar-winning comedic actress that has Holliday bedridden with cancer, reliving her life in fits and starts. Her hallucinations, emceed by Tallulah Bankhead (a spunky Sarah Zinsser), include episodes from her professional career and more personal ones with her husbands, her lover and her mother, Helen Tuvim (Marilyn Fox, whose “pill-popping” scene is memorably funny). The most compelling of the recollections, however, is the hearing run by Sen. Richard Arens (Kevin Quinn, who also plays Mulligan) to investigate Holliday's potential communist leanings. Johnson, with her Lucille Ball looks and chirpy timbre, sounds just like Holliday and plays her with wide-eyed innocence. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos innovatively stages the action, but the story drags toward the end, as her death is drawn out, and overall lacks the weight of tragedy. Pacific Resident Theatre, 705½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 27. (310) 822-8392, PacificResidentTheatre.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY It's been said that the greatest asset any writer can have is a good story to tell. And self-styled Oxy-Mormon Steven Fales has a helluva story. Born and raised in the Mormon Church, he served as a missionary in Portugal for two years and tried hard to be a good Mormon. But he was increasingly aware of his homosexual nature, and had his first gay experience during his missionary training. Knowing that homosexuality is anathema to his church, he submitted to sessions with a fatuous counselor on how to “go straight,” and was persuaded that marriage to a good Mormon woman would cure him. He duly married and fathered two children, but his sexual nature didn't change, and eventually it led to his excommunication, loss of his job and divorce. He fled to New York City to pursue his dream of a musical comedy career. When that failed to earn enough to pay child support, he became a male escort and turned for a time to drugs. His tale is saved from sensationalism by his passionate sincerity, and he tells it with wit and humanity. His performance is highly entertaining and a brave exercise in self-revelation. Presented by MB Productions and Hudson Theatricals at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; in rep as part of Fales' The Mormon Boy Trilogy: Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; through May 26. (323) 960-4420, plays411.com/mormonboy. (Neal Weaver)
A new play by Stephen Sachs, about a deaf poet, inspired by Edmond Rostand's play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Presented by Deaf West and The Fountain theatres, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 10. (323) 663-1525, FountainTheatre.com See Stage feature.
GO FINDING THE BURNETT HEART
Although coming out is integral to the story, that's not what makes Paul Elliott's drama so involving. It takes place in a small bedroom shared by an intelligent, upbeat teenager named Tyler (Joel Johnstone) and his mean-spirited, homophobic granddad, James (James Handy), temporarily boarding with his son's family. Tyler's a kid any mom would be proud of, and Grace (Colleen McGrann), the exacting family matriarch, is proud, until she learns he's gay. His father, Robert (Jeff L. Williams), determined to spare his child the cruel disdain he suffered in his own youth from James, lends him solace and support. Powered by smart, keen dialogue, the play delivers an incisive exploration of father-son relationships and a damning portrait of bigotry and Christian fundamentalist dogma. As written, the roles of Tyler and James are expertly crafted; Handy's work is solid, while Johnstone gives a dynamic and endearing performance that powers this production. But McGrann's hand-wringing fanatic tilts toward excess melodrama, while Williams' Robert is somewhat wooden. Directed by Jeremy Aldridge, the staging at this venue is problematic, with actors positioned with their backs to part of the audience in key scenes and a lengthy crucial dialogue between Tyler and James in act two inadequately lit. Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 27. (323) 960-7792 , plays411.com. (Deborah Klugman)
THE GRIMM WORLD
An evil queen orders a huntsman to kill a maiden and serve her heart and lungs in a feast. A diabolical stepmother chops off the toes of her favorite daughter so she can fit her bloody foot into a magic slipper. The Brothers Grimm knew that no imagination is more cruel than a child's — and playwrights Adam Neubauer and Samantha Levenshus' amusing if narratively standard mash-up of the “Cinderella,” “Snow White” and “Hansel & Gretel” stories engagingly navigates that thin boundary separating wholesome family fare from something rather more twisted. Director Sabastian Munoz's fast-paced and energetic production is quirky enough to satiate the desires of the Zombie Joe Underground's home audience, while still being sweet and charming enough to not traumatize the nephews and nieces they've brought out for a night at the theater. Ultimately, though, the production is hampered by its own script, whose facile, generically plotted narrative is no more ferociously creative than the generic kiddy-show norm. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd, N. Hlywd.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; through June 8. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com. (Paul Birchall)
GO THE HEIRESS
Richard Chamberlain, Heather Tom and Julia Duffy star in the play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, suggested by the Henry James novel Washington Square. Directed by Dámaso Rodriguez. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m.; mats Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 20. (626) -356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org. See Stage feature.
THE IMAGINARY LIFE OF THE STREET SWEEPER
There are too few opportunities to see unabashedly political works at the theater these days, plays that take on the brutality of the class system and stage violent strikes and talk sincerely about revolution. Director Emmanuel Degleage has taken a stab at reviving such consciousness with his translation of French playwright Armand Gatti's earnest 1962 pomo drama about the dying moments of an impoverished garbage man. Bleeding from a head wound from a police baton, August G. lies on a public hospital bed wondering if his life was of any consequence as he recalls the fate of neighbors, family, lovers and friends. Employing a diverse, 31-piece cast in a fractured narrative that plays fast and loose with time and space requires precise orchestration and mastery of a complicated, philosophically inflected tone. Though the actors bring a great deal of energy to the task and pull off some well-executed fight choreography, only star Sarafin Falcon's August G. fully rises to the challenge. Casa 0101, 2102 E. First St., Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through May 13. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org. (Mindy Farabee)
GO THE LAST DAY
Inspired by her father's crucial but clandestine involvement in the U.S.' evacuation of Saigon as it was taken over by the Viet Cong (signaling the failure of the Vietnam War), a young woman struggles to capture accurately his personal story as well as bridge their emotional distance. Piecing together father Bruce Howard's fraught and patchy memoirs and audio recordings into a play, writer-actor Christina Joy Howard adopts an unusual approach by revealing the creative process to the audience. In addition to (scripted) conversations between her and the cast, we observe reality TV-style “video confessionals” while the actors rehearse. Christina plays herself (the writer) as well as her own mother in scenes that flashback to the '60s and later the fall of Saigon in 1975. Director Tiger Reel scores unhurried scene changes with a jukebox arrangement of mostly Brit-pop hits from the era, projecting snapshots of Christina's youthful parents and raw TV news footage on a massive and mobile screen. Unfortunately, the panic and desperation of the evacuation is vivid on newsreel but insufficiently present onstage. Despite overzealous character acting from some of the ensemble, the leads (Christina and Noah Benjamin, playing both himself and Bruce Howard) give excellent performances. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., No. 105, dwntwn.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 20. (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com. (Pauline Adamek)
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE LAUGHING COW
do you do when someone hands you information that makes you look at the
world a little differently?” There's almost a Jerry Maguire feel to
Jessica Abrams' funny world premiere The Laughing Cow, set in a
family-friendly Hollywood studio (read: Walt Disney, where Abrams once
worked). A lawyer (Kenny Kelleher) writes a truth-telling pamphlet that
ultimately gets him fired but also moves his assistant (Danielle Hoover)
to confront the state of denial she's been living in. She dreams of
becoming a television writer but is so scared of being accountable that
she hides behind an anonymous blog. The script could stand to be
trimmed and the subject matter is a little clichéd — yes, this is
another eat-or-be-eaten Hollywood story. But there are nice touches: The
set-change music is the whir of a photocopy machine, on which the
too-smart-for-their-jobs women regularly take out their frustrations.
And Abrams has a knack for humorous dialogue, which, for the most part,
director Lindsay Frame's cast plays up without becoming hammy
(especially John-Michael Carlton, Ryan Kolbe and Josh Fingerhut). The
play may not make you look at the world of Hollywood any differently,
but, like the product it churns out, it certainly entertains. Meta
Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;
through May 20, newleafendeavors.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)
SUKIE AND SUE: THEIR STORY With an endless supply of pot, good jobs and nice digs, nurses Sukie (Lindsey Broad) and Sue's (Rae Foster) ostensibly happy lives are disrupted when an unexpected houseguest arrives. Boasting a full mane of red hair, an adorable face and standing just under a foot tall, the new arrival causes an assortment of supernatural events like flashing lights, cryptic messages and even the “zapping” and disappearance of Sue's drug-dealing beau, Kelly (Nick Ballard) — pretty impressive for a doll. The script by Michael John LaChiusa (a well-known composer, here in rare straight-play mode) furnishes its share of humorous moments, but the chuckles come in spurts, not waves. For a substantial part of this 90-minute show, Sukie and Sue smoke it up, party and have casual sex — but even that gets dull after a while. Surprisingly, LaChiusa's catchiest writing is reserved for an exorcising priest (Eddie Driscoll). Performances are satisfactory under Kirsten Sanderson's direction. Blank Theatre Company, 2nd Stage, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June. 3. (323) 661-9827, TheBlank.com, (Lovell Estell III)