A string of recommends comes with this week's theater reviews: Bash'd, A Gay Rap Opera at Celebration Theatre, Blackbird at Rogue Machine, Blood Wedding at the Odyssey, Broadsword at the Back Dahlia, Closet Land at NoHo Stages, Fun Family Festival of Tragedy at Bootleg, and Iceberg Ahead at the Mosaic Lizard Theatre, and The Word Begins at Theatre/Theater
An intriguing pair of plays about the sexual divide between middle-agers and youth comes in Oscar Wilde's Salome, at Zombie Joe's Underground, and Barrie, Back to Back at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. For more on that matchup, see Stage feature.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication June 30, 2011
SCROLL DOWN for this coming week's OPENINGS.
NEW REVIEW GO BASH'D, A GAY RAP OPERA
Since this musical, created by Canadian writers Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow and composer Aaron Macri, was inspired by the spike in hate crimes in Alberta, Canada, during the national debate on equal marriage for gays and lesbians, it's particularly appropriate that it was announced, just before curtain, that New York had just legalized gay marriage. This production, skillfully directed and choreographed by Ameenah Kaplan, moves at lightning speed. Two militant gay rappers, Feminem (Sean Bradford) and T-bag (Chris Ferro), come tearing onstage, spitting clever, rousing and defiant lyrics, with pounding hip-hop moves. After hilariously skewering various straight and gay targets, they set out to tell the tale of urban Jack (Bradford) and suburban Dillon (Ferro). When naïve Dillon arrives in the city, Jack becomes his mentor, and their relationship develops into love and marriage. But their happiness is marred when Jack is attacked and seriously injured by gay bashers, provoking Dillon to becoming a vigilante straight-basher, with disastrous consequences. The two actors, moving at driving speed, portray a kaleidoscopic array of characters, including fag hags, right-wing zealots and anxious or disapproving parents. DJ Jedi provides flawless musical direction from behind the turntables on Evan Bartoletti's evocative abstract set. Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 23. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW GO BLACKBIRD
Privacy glass surrounds the break room of a pharmaceutical plant. The people inside need the protection. A young woman (Corryn Cummins) has arrived to confront the 55-year-old man (Sam Anderson) who slept with her when she was 12. A decade and a half later, he's moved on: After he was released from prison, he changed his name and settled into a stable life in middle management. She can't. But David Harrower's shifty drama goes bolder than the expected revenge arc as the pair recognize they still think of themselves not as victim and perp but as ex-girlfriend and ex-boyfriend. The lean, mean intermissionless production is built of clipped, overlapping dialogue, and director Robin Larsen is still helping the cast find their rhythm in the intense real-time conversation. Compact yet dense, Harrower's script is layered with questions about attraction, second chances and life-altering actions. It's tricky and daring and in peril of incensing those upset by the man's claim that the girl pursued him — and that he was no “sick bastard,” but a 40-year-old man in love. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's miserablist set captures the paranoid mood, as do the unnamed actors pacing the halls outside the room to make the couple increasingly jumpy, these bright blobs circling the showdown like sharks who smell blood. Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5031 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., July 11, 4 p.m.; Mon., July 18, 5 p.m.; thru July 25. (323) 422-6361, theatretheater.net. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW GO BLOOD WEDDING In Federico Garcia Lorca's classic tragedy of passion, love brings anything but joy — it's a source of rage, insanity and violence. A handsome young Bridegroom (Willie Fortes) seeks to marry a beautiful Bride (Nikki McKenzie) over the mild objections of his Mother (Sharon Omi), who recalls that the Bride once dated a man whose family is her family's enemy. The Bride is more than happy to marry the Bridegroom — but her unresolved past with her ex-lover, the hot, manly Leonardo (Joshua Zar), ultimately brings sorrow to everyone at the wedding. Making good use of the subtext lurking within Tanya Ronder's febrile and intense translation, director Jon Lawrence Rivera's exceptional production of Lorca's drama crackles with emotional tension and undercurrents of unease. Rivera casts the production with mostly actors from the Asian-American community, giving the piece a folkloric mood — a feeling that's enhanced by his ritualized choreographic blocking and by John H. Binkley's beautifully rendered, moon-shaped platform set design. The performances swing powerfully between emotional extremes, frequently achieving near-operatic heights of intense feeling. McKenzie's desperate, miserable turn as the Bride — driven by lustful forces beyond her control and horrified by it — frequently astonishes, as does Omi's brutal shift from prissy mom to flinty, embittered monster. Also engaging is Zar's James Dean-like turn as the virile Leonardo, which is counterbalanced by Fortes' sweeter but intentionally more boyish turn as the Bridegroom. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 pm.; thru Aug. 14. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)
NEW REVIEW GO BROADSWORD The play's title refers to a middling heavy metal band from Rahway, N.J., whose members have gathered in the basement of the home of a colleague after attending a memorial service for him. Sixteen years after their last gig, Vick (Blake Robbins), Nicky (Kenneth Allan Williams) and Tony (Tim Venable), along with Becca (Heather Sher), a metal groupie, have no clue what happened to fellow band member Ritchie, who simply vanished one day and is presumed dead. The recriminations, rage, guilt and jealousy that gradually surface during this “after party” paint an edgy portrait of terribly unhappy people, and of once lofty aspirations that were stifled by mediocrity. The mood turns even darker with the entrance of an eccentric musicologist (Morlan Higgins), who developed a long-standing association with Ritchie — the only member of the band with real talent — and tells the incredulous group that his disappearance is the result of occult forces. The introduction of this supernatural conceit and its consequences comes across as a tad corny but doesn't appreciably detract from Marco Ramirez's otherwise excellently written script. Kurt Boecher's junked-up, derelict basement mock-up perfectly captures the play's distinct aura of menace, made all the more so by Leigh Allen's eerie lighting schema. Mark St. Amant has drawn strong performances from this cast, which includes a chilling turn by Armin Shimerman as the enigmatic Man in White. Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 31. (323)-525-0070. (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW GO CLOSET LAND
Indian born, American educated film maker Radha Bharadwaj's film about psychological and physical torture translates frighteningly to the small theater setting, where the starkness of limited production values forces focus on the two actors who portray an hour of cruelty and agony. Wayne Stribling Jr and Victoria Rabitcheff navigate the treacherous torrents of physical and emotional pain in the characters of ruthless inquisitor and bewildered suspect in a series of scenes following the violent arrest of a kiddy-book author, accused of trying to indoctrinate children against the never identified state. The title, representing childhood horror deep within the psyche of the accused, continually grows in meaning, metaphorically and literally, as the interrogation intensifies. Director John McCormick skillfully keeps the tension rising relentlessly for the full hour of this one-act, with breaks of gentleness only long enough to make the next twist of ugliness more intense. The director's sound design in perfect sync with this emotional odyssey. Dave Sousa's ability to create mood and areas with lighting are extraordinary — especially given the limited equipment and space available. The Visceral Company at NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 23. thevisceralcompany.com. (Tom Provenzano)
NEW REVIEW A DEATH IN COLOMBIA
Shem Bitterman has always seemed something of a conundrum — a prolific playwright whose considerable output is perched precariously between the personal and the political. Invariably, Bitterman uses the latter like a blowtorch to burn through the complacency of characters willfully blinded to their complicity in whatever headline happens to occupy center stage. His latest offering is no exception. A plot-twisted political thriller in the mold of Costa-Gavras' 1982 muckraker Missing, the play marries an improbable woman-in-peril storyline to an even more outlandish melodramatic conceit lifted from one of the lesser Robert Ludlum novels. It proves to be a shotgun wedding. Elaborating further would spoil the intricately constructed suspense that Bitterman and director Steve Zuckerman have taken such pains to set up. Suffice it to say that when the radical-activist husband of American expat Lisa (Roxanne Hart) disappears somewhere deep in Colombia's drug-war-conflagrated interior, a proverbial mysterious stranger (Joe Regalbuto) forces his way into her Bogotá apartment (designer Jeff McLaughlin's uninspired living-room set) and violently strips away her illusions along with her apolitical naiveté. Hart is terrific as a woman rudely awakened to the fact that she is sinking in a moral quicksand of her own making, Regalbuto less so in the thankless role of a psychotic cipher ungrounded to any recognizable emotional center. Ultimately, however, the play feels irreconcilably split between the awkwardness of its genre demands and the more thoughtful exposé of a woman on the verge of self-knowledge that it aspires to be. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 31. (702) 582-8587), ktctickets.com. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW GO FUN FAMILY FESTIVAL OF TRAGEDY Creating theater that can delight both preschoolers and seniors — and everyone in between — is tough to do, but this talented ensemble of artists manages just that with this enormously funny Shakespeare parody, Titus the Clownicus. One of four such under-an-hour pieces written by Angela Berliner, it's a toss of character, theme and plot elements from Shakespeare's second-tier gore fest Titus Andronicus, with song and dance, puppetry, soap bubbles, fabulously colorful costumes (by Ann Closs Farley) and imaginative props. Served up with sophistication and panache under Justin Zsebe's direction, with a set designed by Francois-Pierre Couture, this suitable-for-children scenario begins when General Titus (Michael Dunn) of the Red Nose clowns defeats the Green Nose faction and captures their Queen Tamora (Jessica Hanna), a smoldering backstabber who charms the king Sillyninus (Brian Allman), then instigates dastardly plots against Titus and his family. Though Berliner transmutes the horrors of the original — Tamora's sons attack Titus' daughter Laughinia (Laura Castle) with gooey peanut butter — her burlesque preserves the moral of the story, that lust for power begets evil. (Also, unlike the original, the play ends on an up note.) The show plays in rep with the equally original Hamlet, Prince of Puddles (“Frailty, thy name is Mommie,” declares a weepy Hamlet, played by Brian Kimmet); King O'Leary, set in the Old West; and Macbeth and the Monster, in which Shakespeare's tragedy about a Scottish king becomes a scary bedtime story spun out by a single mom (Berliner). Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., noon and 2 p.m.; call for schedule; thru July 31. lenfantterrible.org. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW GO ICEBERG AHEAD! While the story deals with a seafaring issue, don't expect things to get too deep in actor/writer/set designer/director Jay Parker's side-splitting farce. Bawdy jokes, exaggerated performances and a plot rife with mistaken identities, double entendres and slapstick buffoonery make for a show that is just plain silly and damn proud of it. After the Montroses, wealthy Manhattan theater patrons, go down with the Titanic, Broadway impresario David Rickman (Jose Garcia) desperately needs a new meal ticket to keep his theater afloat. Aided by his haughty leading lady, Lydia Felby (Lindsey Warm) — and a vintage red wine — Rickman manipulates the Montroses' daughter, Emily (Bryana Pickford), a novice dipsomaniac, into backing a show on her parents' tragic fate. Soon Emily and her maid, Conception (Maia Villa), get confused with Irish actor Billy O'Sullivan (Parker) and his son, Danny (Cameron Parker) — don't ask why — while Lydia tries to get Rickman's psycho sister, Agnes (Victoria June), to an asylum run by the aptly named Dr. Twist (Ruben Aguilar). Parker serves as straight man to these loonies with a deadpan delivery that complements his impudent text. June's Agnes, who talks to Shakespeare and vice versa, and Parker's Danny, with a novel way of keeping his dad off the booze, bring a bit of sympathy amidst the madness. Mosaic Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats. Sat. & Sun., 2 p.m.; indefinitely. (626) 457-5293. (Note: some roles double-cast.) (Martín Hernández)
NEW REVIEW GO THE WORD BEGINS
A theatrical machine gun might be an apt description of this two-man show written and performed by Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews: rapid-fire, dangerous, powerful, and unpredictable. Though a West coast premiere, the piece was originally developed at the Ojai Playwright's Conference, so it might be just as accurate to say 'the word returns'. What that “word” is, however, varies over the course of a compact but energetic 75 minutes that touch on politics, race, religion, love, and hope. Ensconced in Sarah Ryung Clement's wide-open “graffiti-scape” with minimal set pieces and props, the duo launches on a mission to “take back the word.” Beginning with childhood dreams and notions of heroism, Connell and Andrews seamlessly pick up each other's poetic threads as they segue into various dialectics about what's going on, Marvin Gaye style. Yet they're just as much Barry White (albeit a raunchier version of him) in riffing on Hallmark cards and relationships, or suggesting that the solution to racism is to “fuck until everyone is beige.” Interspersed in their mash up of theatre, spoken-word, and stand-up comedy are Corwin Evans' video montages that succinctly showcase iconic images to powerfully bring home the duo's message. At times, like a machine gun, the piece sends its ammunition in all directions, losing focus and landing astray of the mark. However Connell and Andrews' palpable energy overcomes the occasional meandering, keeping the audience engaged throughout. Director Robert Egan's taut pacing and full use of the stage likewise contributes to the dynamism of a piece that reminds us, “Until you imagine a better world, you cannot have it.” Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; except Sat. July 2, 11:30 p.m.; thru July 24. 855-585-5185. roguemachinetheatre.com. A Rogue Machine, Hip-Hop Theater Festival, and Prana Theatre Group Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
OPENING THIS WEEK
The Confounding Brothers: Join Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as they tell the story of our country's founding. Sat., July 2, 11:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. International Printing Museum, 315 W. Torrance Blvd., Carson, (310) 515-7166, printmusuem.org.
D Is for Dog: All isn't as ideal as it seems for 1950s family Mr. and Mrs. Rogers and their children, Dick and Jane, in Rogue Artist Ensemble's production “mixing puppetry, live actors, original music and video projection.” Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. Thru Aug. 7. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 463-3900,.
Donna/Madonna: Rizzo 39 Productions presents John Paul Karliak's solo show. Starting July 6, Tues., Wed., 8 p.m.; Mon., Aug. 1, 8 p.m. Thru Aug. 10. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 960-4420, plays411.com/donnamadonna.
I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett: Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, arrangements by Vince di Mura. Starting July 5, Tues.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., 2 p.m. Thru Aug. 21. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com.
Independence Weekend Fast & Loose: “Eight playwrights + eight directors + 24 actors x 24 hours = eight world-premiere short plays.” Sat., July 2, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 3, 8 p.m. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.
Kowalski: Marlon Brando auditions for A Streetcar Named Desire, in Gregg Ostrin's world-premiere play. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. Thru Aug. 7. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, tworoadsgallery.com.
Meet Me @ Metro II: Watts Village Theater Company presents site-specific performances along L.A.'s Metrorail. Starting July 2, Sat., Sun., 11 a.m. Thru July 10. Watts Towers Art Center, 1727 E. 107th St., L.A., (213) 847-4646, wattsvillagetheatercompany.org.
Peer Gynt: Henrik Ibsen's classic drama, adapted and directed by David Schweizer. Starting July 6, Tues., Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Thru July 24. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, (858) 550-1010.
Richard III: Outdoor staging of Shakespeare's history play. Sat., July 2, 9, 16 & 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 3 & 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 24 & 31, Aug., 7, 14, 28, 3:30 p.m.; more dates at theatricum.com.. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723.
The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's comedy, presented as part of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival in Kingsmen Park. Fri., July 1, 8 & 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 2, 9 & 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 3, 10 & 17, 8 p.m. California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks, (805) 493-3455, kingsmenshakespeare.org.