The Playwrights Horizons production of Melissa James Gibson's domestic comedy, This, opened on Sunday at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (presented by Center Theatre Group). In an excellent production, it's an absorbing soap opera with a metaphysical reach it can't quite grasp. See extended Theater feature
Check out this week's capsule NEW THEATER REVIEWS after the jump: Lovell Estell III says Come Together: A Beatles Cabaret, at the Attic, is much improved from when he first saw it. Tom Provenzano also enjoyed Orson Welles' play, Moby Dick Rehearsed, about an acting troupe reluctantly staging a stage production of Moby Dick.
Also check out the weekly STAGE FEATURE feature on two solo shows, Joe Hernandez-Kolski's Awake, and Jed Mills' Choices.
Want to see a show, check out this week's COMPREHENSIVE STAGE LISTINGS, organized by Openings This week, Larger Theaters, and by geography.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication August 12, 2011
THE BIG WOOGIE
L.A. is the city of noir. Contrasted with sunshine and palm trees, the shadows seem even darker. Local writer Ray Ramos has penned and co-directed (with Stan Matasavage) these four sordid one-acts, each a tale of murder, betrayal and sometimes romance. In the circus melodrama that opens the show, a sexy palm reader (Cassie Moloney) incites her clown boyfriend (Gordon Alatorre) to violence, screeching, “You crazy, stupid fucking clown!” without a smear of irony. Then the show skips back to a slapstick bit set in the 1920s where actress Louise Brooks (Amanda Jones, cute and perkier than the public perception of the original) tries to cover up the accidental murder of Howard Hawks (Jim Pierce) by a nervous New York writer (David Lengel) channeling Harold Lloyd. The show closer and inspiration for the title is a weary bit of Vegas intrigue with a key prop inspired by Pulp Fiction's golden briefcase — it's salvaged only by the perfect casting of Dina-Nicki Rassias as a dangerous dame. But the best-written piece comes just after intermission: a simple, claustrophobic thriller about an isolated invalid (Candice Martin) who turns on her favorite spooky radio program only to hear announcer Orson Welles describe her life right down to her name, handicap, flavor of tea she's sipping … and the intruder who just broke in downstairs. Between skits, Ramos slinks out in a trench coat and fedora to give an epilogue to his own play before introducing the next act, killing time as the stagehands flip and bend Yuki Nakamura's smart but unwieldy set into submission by doing Bogart impressions and recommending the audience rent The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. Ramos tries to talk with a wiseguy patter, but tellingly gets more laughs when he drops the act and merely sighs about one of his own characters, “What an asshole.” Despite being one man's passion project, the evening seems oddly uncommitted to its theme — the cast takes its curtain bow to Grease's “You're the One That I Want.” Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 21. (855) 235-2867, fla.vor.us/bigwoogieproductions. (Amy Nicholson)
GO COME TOGETHER: A BEATLES CABARET
Having seen this show some time ago, it's good to report that a number of rough edges have been smoothened, so that this cabaret-style tribute to the music of the Beatles returns in fine form. This go-round, instead of a bland backdrop, the stage is festooned with a colorful collage of posters from the group's albums and individual concerts. Also, in this version there are four actors (two men, two women) instead of six, which makes for a smoother run and less distraction. Some new songs have been added, but the bulk of the selections are the Beatles' popular love songs, which Marc Ginsburg, Betsy Hammer, Victoria Summer and John Szura sing with nary a missed note under James Carey's direction. What really makes this show is the laid-back, cabaret atmosphere, which was completely absent before. Also added are a few well-timed gags. The instrumental soundtrack has undergone a few tweaks as well — it's a tad more conventional, but it makes for easy listening. Some highlights are “If I Fell,” flawlessly rendered by Ginsburg; “Hello” and “Come Together” performed by the group; and “We Can Work it Out,” sung by Szura. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Mid-City; Fri.-Sat, 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 28. attictheatre.org. (Lovell Estell III)
Imagine the cast of the sitcom Cheers as mostly ex-Marines. Now fast-forward 20 years, replace the Boston bar with a Glendale restaurant, and you'll have a pretty good feel for this world premiere by Chuck Faerber, whose clever title refers to both the function these men served in the military and the section of Mo-Par's where they park their keisters. Among them are Eddie (Alan Woolf), the elder statesmen who fought in Korea and is obsessed with the lottery; Carl (Bart Braverman), who served in Vietnam and has prostate problems; and Tim (Shelly Kurtz), the perennial jokester who lost his wife to cancer too soon. Doting on this shiftless trio is veteran waitress Joyelle (Marion Ramsey), whose no-nonsense exterior barely hides the paralyzing fear she feels for her son serving in Iraq. To pass the time, the three musketeers fawn over the antics of Mackie (Paul Haitkin), an actor between jobs who is entertaining precisely because he is young, dumb and full of … patriotic bravo. There are a few plot points, such as Mackie's enlisting in the Navy and Joyelle confronting her worst fears, but the play is really a character piece, and a funny one at times. It even features some merry melodies, courtesy of Teo (Michael Uribes), the Filipino musician who sleeps in a booth with his synthesizer. Yet despite director Richard Kuhlman's impressive maneuvering of 14 actors in and out of scenes, the dearth of true drama leaves one wanting. Sure, there are some crackling fireworks along the way — especially in the tense political moments between Braverman and Haitkin. However, the tension is undercut when all the loose ends are neatly tied up at the conclusion, just like in your favorite sitcom. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 27.(323) 960-5521, plays411.com/countermen. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GENIUS FROM A BLUE COLLAR NEIGHBORHOOD
With its reliance on the traditional tropes of the solo show genre, this autobiographical tale of a Midwestern heroine (writer-performer Maria Menozzi) who dreams of moving to the Big Apple and becoming a star runs the risk of being dismissed as somewhat trivial. However, it would be a mistake to do that, for the stock elements of Menozzi's show are unexpectedly leavened by undercurrents of pathos and wise melancholy — a rarity in this kind of one-person effort. As she enters the stage, Menozzi, a clearly warm and laid-back figure, meets the eyes of almost every member of the audience, treating us less as passive viewers than as trusted friends and confidents. Her narrative, which unfolds gently in director Che'Rae Adams' intimate production, recounts memories of a blissfully happy Michigan childhood as the beloved daughter of working-class parents. While punctuating her stories with a series of Bruce Springsteen-like folk song numbers, Menozzi describes her brief sojourn in Manhattan before she returned home to Michigan after an illness and decided to go “straight” into careers in teaching and counseling. An interesting aspect of Menozzi's story is the underlying theme of forgiveness for decisions made and life paths chosen. Yet the details she presents do not necessarily make for compelling stagecraft — it's hard to sustain much excitement during the description of Menozzi's flubbing a word during a spelling bee when she was 13, for instance. Additionally, her commendable message of midlife acceptance would be a lot more engaging if her story were not treated so guardedly — we sense there is a lot of drama near, but the material Menozzi opts to share with us only hints at it. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica; Fri., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 2. (818) 623-7018, mariamenozzi.com. (Paul Birchall)
IT MUST BE HIM
What does a formerly successful TV writer do when he hits his 50s and can't sell a script? He writes a mildly amusing musical play about his woes. Although the medley of original songs (composed by Larry Grossman and Ryan Cunningham) doesn't appear until the last third of this 80-minute play, Kenny Solms' autobiographical comedy is mostly fun and frothy, and populated by just about every gay male stereotype you can name. Louie (David Pevsner) is all washed up. He's middle-aged, with a hot young boyfriend (Nick Cobey) who's leeching off him, a slacker assistant (Andy Fitzgerald), an irate agent (Stephen Marshall), a sassy, uncooperative Latina maid (Veronica Alicino) and an antsy bookie who needs to get paid (Jim Shipley). And if Louie can't sell his screenplay, he's going to lose his $2 million mansion. Problem is, Louie's script is an unconvincing romantic comedy. Pressured by the others, Louis deftly switches a character name and suddenly his show becomes a pornographic gay musical before his agent shuts it down. Solms keeps the mood light by injecting ghostly appearances from Louie's adorable Jewish parents (Michael Edelstein and Beth Lane) and high school girlfriend (Morgan Smith Feldman) into his tormented scenes of angst. While the show has an uneven and nightmarish mise en abyme quality (this time a screenplay within a play), there are plenty of sitcom gags, puns, one-liners and spiky banter. Director Brian Drillinger wrestles with a pastiche of styles, emphasizing broad comedy tinged with hysteria, while Stephan Smith Collins gives showstopping turns in various clichéd roles. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 4. (310) 399-3666, edgemarcenter.org. (Pauline Adamek)
LIFE ON THIS COUCH Remember the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie was grasping for column ideas and threw out socks missing their mates as a possible analogy? More than a whiff of that reaching clings to Laura Richardson's living room couch-centered new comedy in Open Fist's First Look Festival. The play begins with promise: Desiree (the likable Stephanie Erb) shows up at the apartment of her sister, Cece (Katy Tyszkiewicz), with a big bag and little explanation of how long she plans to stay. The dialogue is humorous, a thinly veiled tiptoeing around the real question you want to ask but can't of family houseguests: “How long are you going to interrupt my present with our past?” Director Benjamin Burdick controls the pace, making a rapid-fire duel over Cece's eating habits much funnier than the subject matter warrants. But while Richardson writes wacky but not unbelievable characters (as Cece's boyfriend, Conor Lane's sweetly goofy Skeez is a stoner Starbucks barista in acupuncture school) and captures their family dynamic, the story gets lost and never finds its way out. Too many storylines — a flighty mother for whom Cece harbors irrational anger, a dying aunt, Cece's serious OCD, Desiree's carload of unresolved problems — clutter up the stage, but the real problem is the lack of any one strong enough to carry the show. An unfunny dream sequence is supposed to absolve Desiree of her past, but the real groan comes after the weak comparison of Cece's couch to people. The sisters manage an unsatisfying resolution that ostensibly explains Cece's outrageous bitchiness, but more than a few quickie clean-ups are needed to salvage this Couch. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., Aug. 12 & 19, Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 14 & Sept. 4, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 20, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 25 & Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 31 & Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 10, 2 p.m. (323) 882-6912, openfist.org. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO MOBY DICK REHEARSED
In 1955, Orson Welles' obsession with the extraordinary resulted in this fascinating play, starring himself as a 19th-century actor-producer who puts aside a production of King Lear to assay his adaptation of Melville's masterwork. Gathering his actors who have learned their parts by rote, he asks them to rehearse by improvising staging, using anything at hand to represent the whale ship Pequod on its dangerous mission to catch the great white whale. Director Aliah Whitmore's vision, beautifully realized by production designer Jacob Whitmore and lighting designer Grant Dunn, creates a vivid visual impression of 1860 artists. A fine cast, most notable James Whitmore Jr. as the pertinacious whale hunter Captain Ahab and Dustin Seavey as the gentle narrator/sailor Ishmael, breathe humanity into Melville's strenuous prose. The otherwise extraordinary production's only flaw is that the performers too easily fulfill the difficult task of physical improvisation, denying the illusion that this is the first time this play is being given life. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Mid-City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (323) 939-9220. (Tom Provenzano)
GO ROMEO AND JULIET: MONSTERS IN LOVE
This family-friendly spectacle transforms Shakespeare's tragedy about lovers into a musical romp in which slapstick prevails and the doleful denouement turns into a cautionary “this-coulda-happened-but-fortunately-didn't” ending. As is often the case with family entertainment, it's the theatrical embellishments that shine. Adapted and directed by Cynthia Ettinger, the production's premise is that the audience is watching a troupe of Transylvanian monsters perform their interpretation of the play — staged outdoors in a park setting. The Friar (the likable and effective Donna Jo Throndale) narrates with merry panache. Dressed in an embroidered emerald-green robe, she acts as intermediary with the audience as well as perpetrator of the upbeat finale. The rest of the ensemble — company veterans and a few youthful interns — merrily dance and cavort their way through the storyline, to a mix of mostly rap and rock rhythms, in tandem with the uncredited, droll sound design. The monster theme doesn't quite play, and I've seen cleverer parodies, even for kids, but the execution is entirely polished and the show is as fun as intended. Designer Lynne Marie Martens' mélange of colorful costumes and the performers' delightfully diverse makeup (uncredited, as is Christiane Georgi's animated choreography) add considerably to the mirth. The Actors Gang, Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat.- Sun., 11 a.m.; through Aug. 28. (310) 836-1040. theactorsgang.com. (Deborah Klugman)
In a heritage museum of the not-too-distant future, one can easily imagine an exhibit — located somewhere between the working blacksmith shop and the demonstration of the manual typewriter — of an antique curio known as the “West End Mystery.” A kindly docent might explain how mystery novelists such as Agatha Christie married the genre's red herrings and drawing-room conventions to a fusty Edwardian dramaturgy in comedy-thriller puzzlers represented by director Bruce Gray's staging of Dame Agatha's Spider's Web — a one-dimensional work of pure surface whose success or failure rides on the ability of an ensemble to misdirect an audience from its creaking plot mechanics through the amusing mannerisms the actors lend its eccentric, English-gentry archetypes. The docent might point out such genre hallmarks as the picture-perfect realism of the country manor set (designer Jeff G. Rack); a murky mix of motives including drug trafficking, hidden treasure and a child-custody dispute; a colorful, subterfuge-prone heroine (Julie Lancaster); her quick-minded guardian (David Hunt Stafford); a doddering family friend (Philip Persons); a keen-eyed detective inspector (Richard Hoyt Miller); and, oh yes, a corpse (Umberto Pecorino). Before shuffling his indifferent charges on to the automatic-record-changer phonograph display, the docent might wryly note how the otherwise workmanlike production only leaps to life whenever Amy Tolsky takes to the stage as meddling gardener Mildred Peake, in a delightfully quirky performance worthy of Elsa Lanchester. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Drive (on the Beverly Hills High School campus), Beverly Hills; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org. (Bill Raden)