NEW THEATER REVIEWS
Stage FEATURE on Randy Newman's Harps and Angels, and NET's L.A. Micro-fest
pervasive culture of violence and embrace his weapon of choice: words.” Sunday, Dec. 5, 8:30 p.m.Highways, 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica, 1⁄2 lock north of Olympic Blvd.
Tickets here or (310) 315-1459
DROP On Decembe 4, 7 p.m. to midnight, Cal State University, Northridge's Performance Ensemble presents a performance art piece, The Town of Bathe, which “considers the microcosm of a rainstorm as pieces of assemblage. Composer Michael Deragon creates live water compositions moving the audience towards thunderous upheavals and slippery condensations of sound. Mutli-media installation artist Emily Auble creates a stimulating visual experience with her multifaceted video projections.” At X Repertory Theater Company, 1581 Industrial St., downtown. (213) 536-4331. More info here
A SACRED FOOLS HOLIDAY AT HOME “Ever wanted to sit around the fireplace, sing carols, drink hot cocoa, and celebrate friendship, family life, and love? … Maybe sort of, but not the singing part? Well, you don't have to sing, just come and watch the show!” One night only, Friday, Dec. 10, 11 p.. at Sacred Fools Theatre Company, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood. Tickete here or or 310-281-8337. (“There will be singing, dancing, live
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2010
Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.
OPENING THIS WEEK
BELOW THE BELT Richard Dresser's play about the perils of middle management. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Dec. 1-4, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 3 p.m., whitmoreeclectic.com. (818) 826-3609.
THE BLUE ROOM David Hare's 1998 play, based on La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Dec. 2; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, brownpapertickets.com/event/135312. (323) 666-2296.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL An all-new musical adaptation of the Dickens holiday tale. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Nov. 26; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 19, 7 p.m.; Dec. 21-23, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (626) 256-3809.
CINDERELLA Lythgoe Family Productions presents the classic fairy tale, starring Leave It to Beaver's Jerry Mathers. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 27; Sat., Nov. 27, 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 28, 11 a.m., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 30, 7 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 508-0281.
COLD LANG SYNE Gregory Blair's New Year's Eve college reunion turned murder. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 31, (No perf Dec. 24.) plays411.com/coldlangsyne. (323) 960-4412.
THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGUES Secrets of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer et al, by Jeff Goode. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; opens Nov. 30; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 21, chancetheater.com. (714) 777-3033.
THE FIX-UP SHOW Susan Olsen joins host J. Keith van Straaten in helping a single find a date. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Wed., Dec. 1, 8 p.m.. (646) 450-4FIX.
HAMLET Presented by UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Department of Theater MFA Program in Acting. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs., Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 12, 3 p.m., thelatc.org. (866) 811-4111.
THE HOLIDAY GEM Holiday musical revue, presented by One More Productions. Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove; opens Nov. 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (714) 741-9550.
INSPECTING CAROL Daniel Sullivan's holiday comedy about a Midwestern regional theater company and their attempt to mount A Christmas Carol. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 2, (No perf Dec. 24.) thegrouprep.com.. (818) 700-4878.
JASON GRAAE: PERFECT HERMANY brownpapertickets.com. Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center Theater, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert; Sat., Nov. 27, 7 p.m.
LEGS AND ALL “Boy-in-the-attic meets girl-in-a-box,” created and performed by Summer Shapiro and Peter Musante. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Nov. 26-Dec. 1, 8 p.m., latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
THE LITTLE NEBBISH Eliza Gale's satire about “lust, greed, murder and revenge set in a Norwalk telemarketing agency.”. Berubian's Theater, 5388 N. Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; opens Nov. 29; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (323) 850-7827.
MURDERERS Jeffrey Hatcher's quirky whodunit. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Dec. 1; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 364-0535.
NEXT TO NORMAL Alice Ripley reprises her Broadway role as a bipolar mom in this contemporary musical, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 28; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2, centertheatregroup.org/normal. (213) 628-2772.
PLAID TIDINGS Stuart Ross' Forever Plaid Christmas special. Lewis Family Playhouse, 12505 Cultural Center Dr., Rancho Cucamonga; Sat., Nov. 27, 2 & 7:30 p.m.. (877) 858-8422.
THE SANTALAND DIARIES The Blank Theatre Company presents David Sedaris' solo play, performed by Nicholas Brendon. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 661-9827.
STAR STAGE LEFT Staged reading of Bruce King's satirical comedy. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs., Dec. 2, 7 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
SWEET MAMA STRING BEAN: A CELEBRATION OF BLUES WOMAN ETHEL WATERS ValLimar Jansen and Frank Jansen's “two-person, one-woman show” about African-American performer Ethel Waters. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens Nov. 26; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 31, fremontcentretheatre.com. (866) 811-4111.
TOM MURRIN: THE ALIEN COMIC Murrin's story of his life, from teenage magician to Jesuit schoolboy to Los Angeles trial lawyer to Calcutta street performer to East Village performance artist. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 29, 8 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 30, 8 p.m.. (323) 666-4268.
UCLA NEW PLAY FESTIVAL New works by MFA playwrights: Babel Belly by Craig Jessen, Lost Cause by Alex Maggio, Swell Season by Ayla Harrison., Free. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Dec. 2-4, 7 p.m., thelatc.org. (866) 811-4111.
WEST SIDE STORY It's Jets versus Sharks in Broadway's musical take on Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 30; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Thurs., 2 & 8 p.m.; Fri., 2 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (800) 982-ARTS.
THE WOOSTER GROUP: VIEUX CARRE Multimedia staging of Tennessee Williams' memory play about a young writer in a New Orleans boarding house. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; opens Dec. 1; Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (213) 237-2800.
YO HO HO! A PIRATES CHRISTMAS Pirates invade the North Pole, book by James J. Mellon, music and lyrics by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 26; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 11, noon; Sat., Dec. 18, noon; Dec. 21-23, 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 23, (No perfs Dec. 10 & 17).. (818) 508-7101.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
NEW REVIEW CALLIGRAPHY
Photo by Ed Krieger
prosceniums don't always favor the stories they frame. The cultural
arena in Velina Hasu Houston's new play may be transnational, but her
drama involving mothers and daughters and the problems of aging and
Alzheimer's is surely an intimate one – and perhaps better told that
way. The conflict revolves around the newly widowed Noriko (Emily
Kuroda) a former Japanese war bride who resides in the U.S., and her
embittered controlling sister Natsuko (Jeanne Sakata), who lives in
Japan. Each has a daughter: Hiromi (Melody Butiu), responsibly
concerned when her mother Noriko becomes disoriented; and Sayuri (Fran
de Leon), a fast-living gal who resents Natsuko's demands for devoted
caretaking after the older woman breaks both legs. Staged by director
Jon Lawrence Rivera, the play spotlights the unraveling family mores in
Japan that have furnished younger women more choices but have also left
elderly people vulnerable, much as they are here. The action,
punctuated by Bob Blackburn's ceremonious sound design and Nathan
Wang's original music, plays out on designer Ann Sheffield's stark and
lusterless set — its expansiveness diminishes an already sparse
emotional dynamic. Another serious glitch involves the flashback
sequences in which Kuroda implausibly portrays her character as a young
woman romanced by her future husband (Kevin Daniels). Nor do we sense
much familial chemistry elsewhere. Only Sakata's acerbic dragon lady is
consistently persuasive; the scenes between the two estranged sisters
(when they finally do meet after decades of separation) are the most
compelling in this essentially toneless production. Playwrights Arena
at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown; Thur.-Sat.,
8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 12. (866) 411-4111 or thelatc.com.
NEW REVIEW GO CHARLES
DICKENS' GREAT EXPECTATIONS Neil Bartlett's translation, in conjunction
with Geoff Elliott (who nimbly performs two idiosyncratic roles) and
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's staging of it, strips Charles Dickens'
sprawling novel down to its two central threads. The stage result is
less textured than the page result, but that may be a necessity of the
theater. Brought here into sharp focus are two plots, one personal and
the other social. The first contains the ironies accompanying the
change of fortune after young Pip (nicely played by Jason Dechert,
bewildered as a youth, then with a growing if muted arrogance as an
adult) steals food for escaped convict Magwitch (the excellent Daniel
Reichert). Magwitch will repay the young man with a kind of bounty that
will leave him utterly perplexed – sending his morals crashing into his
class consciousness. The interweaving story concerns the morbid and
ancient Miss Havisham (Deborah Strang, glorious, as always) and her
perverse, revengeful plot to break Pip's heart through the pawn of her
beautiful niece, Estella (Jaimi Paige). In this production, that plot
is really the emotional heartbeat, thanks to the chemistry between the
actors. The crisply staged production features innumerable eccentrics
who float through this dual spine structure. The result is far less
picaresque than the novel, yet for all the strengthening of the two
main cross-beams, the drama is, ironically, more ambivalent in its
conclusions. Even Dickens' feed-bad, feel-good blend of despondency and
sentimentality is here muted, when you'd think that such a structural
paring down would result in a clearer view. Nonetheless, I found that
ambivalence oddly appealing. A few over-wrought performances tempers
this otherwise robust production. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd.,
Glendale; in rep; call for schedule; thru Dec. 10. (818) 240-0910.
(Steven Leigh Morris)
CRIMES OF THE HEART is a play that's been widely performed ever since it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1981. But for only the second time in its history, it is presented with an Asian cast, and it's the first time in which the three Southern sisters are specifically hapa (of mixed Asian descent). While this may strike traditionalists as incongruous, a few minutes into the first scene, the ethnicity of the actresses falls away and their Southern personas take over. This melting away of ethnicity into the quirky ethos of playwight Beth Henley's Southern gothic humor is a testament to the talents of Elizabeth Liang (a perfectly put-upon Lenny), Kimiko Gelman (a fabulously flighty Meg) and Maya Erskine (a beautifully batty Babe), not to mention their dialect coach Anne Schilling. But if the gold standard of interpreting a classic is an invitation to see the play through a new lens, director Leslie Ishii's production falls short. If the production's freshly minted Asian currency gets “whitewashed” into the regional idiosyncrasies of Mississippi, it says little new about the play, and even less about the assimilation of cultures. Rather, its reason for being would appear to be casting opportunities for these excellent actors, and this well-staged exercise becomes just an exercise for those who wish to be entertained once again by the tender absurdity of the McGrath sisters. For those who have deeper hungers, however, it's a missed opportunity to utilize this company's talent. (Mayank Keshaviah). David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (213) 625-7000.
NEW REVIEW GO HARPS AND ANGELS
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Among the reasons for Newman's appeal to theater producers is the character-driven essence of so many of his songs, creating a kind of bridge made of rope between pop and musical theater. Yet his most piquant, probing and soulful songs are not those that made him famous. When he's at his best, Newman conjures and compresses just a handful of perfectly crafted lines spoken by characters who may be too delicate, too multifaceted and too filled with internal contradictions for a culture bent on reduction. After hearing the title cut from Newman's recent album Harps and Angels, musical theater scholar Jack Viertel pitched the Mark Taper Forum a revue, named after that album. The smart and absorbing result, directed by Jerry Zaks (musical staging by Warren Carlyle), is a huge relief for the potholes it avoids. The game ensemble (Ryder Bach, Storm Large, Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean, Katey Sagal and Matthew Saldivar) hits more moments of authenticity and of Newman's looming perspective than in prior Newman revues, thanks in large part to Zaks' empathy for the songs' narrator-subjects, the cast's restraint and intelligence, and the terrific eight-piece orchestra (conducted by pianist Michael Roth; orchestrations by Roth and David O). Viertel has arranged a Newman potpourri with somewhat vague and arbitrary thematic linkages between the songs, some of which are character-driven, some parodies, and some political-historical lectures. It may not be possible to take so much material and carve it into probing themes on the stage — which is exactly what the albums themselves accomplish. In trying to be an homage and ensnare so much, the individual songs come through clearer than the sum of them, while the most disturbing ditties, with the darkest insights into our collective pathologies (“Wedding in Cherokee County” and “Rednecks”) haven't been included. Perhaps they would be too grating against the production's glitz. That glitz, reflected in Brian Gale's flashy lighting design, shines out oddly against the ruminative, brooding essence of Newman's music — even his parodies and comedies. Newman is a closer cousin to Jacques Brel and Loudon Wainwright than to, say, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Much of the sound points to the former, much of the look points to the latter.Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 22. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Interactive kids' musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Ben Lanzarone. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.
THE LION IN WINTER James Goldman's historical drama, set circa Christmastime 1183. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (562) 494-1014.
GO MAESTRO: THE ART OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN From the first piano notes and hauntingly beautiful singing in his one-man bio show, writer-performer Hershey Felder grips the audience in the palm of his hand and never lets go. Beginning by analyzing one of the most famous melodies of West Side Story, “Somewhere,” Felder points out the tritone and minor sevenths in a brief, fascinating tutorial on how that composition was created. He then crawls inside Bernstein's skin, as well as adopting various other personae, taking us through the legendary conductor-composer's eventful life. At 100 minutes without intermission, this musically infused evening, directed and austerely staged by Joel Zwick, rolls through Bernstein's fascination with music from early childhood, his quest for accomplished teachers and mentors, and touches on his creative struggles, his successes and career disappointments as well as his private family life. Felder glosses over certain details (merely hinting at an early seduction by an older mentor), but later gives some heartbreaking insight into Bernstein's homosexuality and how that exploration destroyed his marriage and, more profoundly, crushed his own conflicted spirit. This is a captivating performance of a fascinating life, vividly and emotionally related. (Pauline Adamek). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 208-5454.
Peter Pan J.M. Barrie's flight of fantasy, complete with “the world's first 360-degree CGI theater set.”, $40-$125. Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., 12 & 4:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 22, 1 & 6 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 23, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 12 & 4:30 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 28, 7 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 29, 1 & 6 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 1, 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 2, noon.; thru Dec. 5. (714) 556-2787.
NEW REVIEW GO UPTOWN DOWNTOWN
Photo by Jim Cox
As Mel Brooks wrote in The Producers,
“If you've got it, flaunt it!” Some living legends delude themselves
and cause fans to quietly cringe, but not this one: Leslie Uggams has
still got it. Slender and glinting in sequined black pants, she
shimmies and sings her way though the highlights of a lifetime spent
onstage. Though she remained somewhat physically restrained during her
opening night performance, she made up for it with a vocal dynamism
that would shame those less than half her age. When you begin your
career at age 6, perform 29 shows a week at the Apollo from the ages of
9 to 16, and graduate to the comparatively cushy (oh, just eight shows
per week) world of Broadway, a voice like that's a requirement. Plenty
of jazz standards kept the well-heeled crowd tapping their toes, and
Uggams struttin' her stuff. Showcasing her staggering range, the
delicate strokes with which she touched Gershwin's “Summertime” were no
less powerful than her lusty belting of Ellington's “It Don't Mean a
Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).” The spoken transitions were a
little stiff, and felt forced; naturally, this Broadway baby seemed
most at home when singing. It's better to show than tell anyway; and
mimicking the vocal styles of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and
Dinah Washington (all of whom she's sung with), she showed why she's
still working over 60 years since she began. Don Rebic leads a
sophisticated, happy orchestra that equals Uggams' mastery. Pasadena
Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8
p.m; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (626) 356-7529. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
AFTER SCHOOL GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Heather Morgan. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.
ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
BOB BAKER'S NUTCRACKER The marionette characters of Bob Baker Marionette Theater's take on the holiday favorite include the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugarplum Fairies, the Mouse King, and 100 more. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 16. (213) 250-9995.
CAUGHT IN A MIRACLE: A PERFORMANCE OF CONTEMPORARY MAGIC An evening of illusion by Magic Castle regular David Gabbay. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 4, plays411.com/magic. (323) 960-7782.
DIARIES OF A K-TOWN DIVE . . Susan Park's one-woman show set in a hole-in-the-wall bar in L.A.'s Koreatown. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 960-1054.
DOUG LOVES MOVIES Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
DRUNK TALK Lance Whinery's interactive pub comedy. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-6111.
ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, elevatortheplay.com. (323) 654-0680.
FAIRIES WITH CHILDREN: THE YES ON HATE EPISODE From the lair of Gay Headquarters where a poster proclaims their three-point global takeover (Step One: Convert the Youth), a new plot is hatched. Ex-couple and agents Alan (Marco Tazioli) and Peter (Guy Windsor) must move to Pomona and pose as a straight couple to infiltrate and corrupt the conservatives. Warned by their squad leader that Cher and Madonna are too flashy for suburban wives, Peter decides to drag up as America's best bad wife, Peggy Bundy, costume complete with Alan's Al, a talking dog, an activist Kelly (Erin Muir) and a twinky Bud (Charles Romaine) who bones his mom on the sly. (At least this Al loves his shoes.) Director Sean Riley has nailed the details down to the front door, but hesitancy clouds the comedy — although Tazioli's great at thrusting his hand down his pants. More sitcom than satire, John Trapper's script hasn't figured out its point beyond giving Windsor a glorious red bouffant. And with the Bundys leading the local anti-gay movement (the better to attract like minds), their mission is murky. They're supposed to lure in bigots and … keep agreeing with them? Plus, the closeted right-wing senator next door (Eric Adams) and his “assistant” (Dexter de Sah) are meant to argue the opposite point: that it's bad to witch-hunt against oneself. At least their Tea Partier friend Sandy (actual Married … With Children alum Donna Pieroni) embraces her message and, fittingly, her softshoe number “Good Morning Fox and Friends” brings down the cul-de-sac. (Amy Nicholson). Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, fairieswithchildren.com…
FOR WHOM THE SOUTHERN BELLE TOLLS/A STYE IN THE EYE Two one-act parodies by Christopher Durang. Davidson Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (323) 860-7300.
GAYS R US $14. THE IMPROV, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; First Thursday of every month, 8 p.m.. (323) 651-2583.
GROUNDLINGS WILDCARD SHOWS Which Groundlings show will you get on Thursday night? It's completely random:: Chest Voice, S#!t My Folks Don't Know, Mitch & Edi or Straight to Video. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 2. (323) 934-9700.
HOT A handful of well-written plays have forged gripping dramatic material from an apocalyptic scenario: Alan Bowne's somewhat dated AIDS-era drama Beirut and Henry Murray's Treefall, recently staged here at Theatre/Theater, artfully probed the complexities and bonds of human relationships in a ruined world. Here, playwright Daniel Keleher is more interested in laughs and low farce. In the midst of a murderous pandemic, Jones (Gregory Myhre) and Benny (James Jordan) seem to be doing fine, ensconced in a ruddy apartment with plenty to drink, engaging in loads of pointless frat-boy banter. The play's pulse is felt when Horn (fine performance by Shawn Colten), whose job entails disposing of the dead, drops in and agrees to procure a woman for Benny, which he soon after does, dragging her onstage in a sack. From here, under Mel Shapiro's lax direction, it only gets worse. Act 2 opens with Benny decked out in a tux with his equally spruced-up comatose lover, and Jones tending to his near-dead fiancée in a wheelchair. There is a feeble attempt at gravitas made toward the end involving the sudden appearance of a vaccine, and the morality of euthanasia, but by then, one is past all caring. (Lovell Estell III). The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 969-1707.
GO HYPERBOLE: ORIGINS It's not easy to wrap sentences around this fantastical storytelling spectacle created by a collaboration of artists under Sean T. Calwelti's direction. The launching point is the mid-20th century and a laboratory whose apparatus is the “origin” machine, a fanciful contraption reminiscent of sci-fi circa the 1940s and 1950s. The machine is operated by a conscientious engineer and his somewhat airheaded assistant, who, like Icarus, dreams of strapping on wings and taking flight. Each time the machine is activated, it precipitates an oblique and fanciful tale about the origin of something: music, fire, sin, love/lava (jealousy), the chicken and the egg, the rabbit in the moon — and creation itself. Each narrative is presented with wordless mime, elaborated on by a profusion of lighting, sound, videography, puppetry, masks and music. As impressive as these technical elements are, they never outrun the stories themselves, each of which offers a quirky fable about some aspect of the human condition. The superb production values (overseen by tech director Daniel Geesing) include designer Katie Polebaum's expressive masks, so many of which capture the essence of a singular sentiment or passion, as well as Kerry Hennessy's imaginative costumes and John Noburi's indispensably animating audio design. A terrific seven-person ensemble displays amazing versatility in presenting this plethora of parables and yarns. (Deborah Klugman). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 461-3673.
INTO THE WOODS Stephen Sondheim's magical musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and explores the consequences of the various characters' wishes and quests. Lucid by Proxy give it a stripped-down treatment in a vast downtown warehouse, dispensing with the usual lavish staging, period costuming and live orchestral music, instead placing the focus on the vocal gymnastics of the large ensemble cast, who warble to a prerecorded score (by Musical Theatre International). It's a gamble that, for the most part, pays off. The spooky raised-stage set (Jeanine A. Nicholas) and elegant costuming (Kerri Norris) are hip and contemporary; now it's all about Little Red Riding's hoodie (played sweetly if gluttonously by Shannon Nelson) while Cinderella's ugly stepsisters (supremely bitchy Sarah Orr and Jessie Withers) strut around like rejects from The Hills. The intricate book (by James Lapine) weaves an ingenious plot that unites the Grimms' most familiar tales with an original story involving a baker and his wife (David Pevsner and Valerie Rachelle) and their desire to have a child. Jessica Pennington is magnificent as the old crone who instigates their quest. The good show would be kid-friendly if it didn't clock in at close to three hours, somewhat tortured by the almost superfluous (though psychologically darker) sluggish Act 2. (Pauline Adamek). Big Art Labs, 651 Clover St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (800) 838-3006.
INTRINGULIS LAByrinth Theater Company presents Carlo Alban's story of his family's move from Ecuador to America. (In rep with The Little Flower of East Orange.). Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Through Dec. 2; Through Dec. 8, labtheater.org…
GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he “never has to make another decision,” while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures — taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estell III). Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 2. (323) 655-7679.
KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy Hosted by JC Coccoli., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.
GO LA RAZÓN BLINDADA (The Armored Reason) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play — one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival — not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah Klugman). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (213) 745-6516.
THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT Urban Theatre Movement and Company of Angels presents Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama set in purgatory. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, urbantheatremovement.com. (562) 508-1788.
LAUGHING WITH MY MOUTH WIDE OPEN Gwendoline Yeo's cultural journey from Singapore to America. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, brownpapertickets.com/event/120935. (800) 838-3006.
GO THE LIMITATIONS OF GENETIC TECHNOLOGY Former L.A. Weekly critic and playwright Luis Arturo Reyes' darkly cerebral satire opens with a snazzy set of video mock-commercials touting the benefits of a megalithic corporation's genetic engineering program, and concluding with the ironic motto, “Our product is people!” Set in the near future, the play posits a world in which genetic technology has allowed almost every dream to come true. The population now has the ability to be beautiful and perhaps immortal. Yet even as people have their livers swapped out after a brisk night's boozing, and teenagers capriciously get themselves genetically implanted with elf ears and a tail to fit the fashion, more complicated issues are afoot. When, at a company party, a holographic image of eternally boyish corporate CEO York (Kyle Nudo) announces his suicide, the corporation is thrown into chaos. Reyes' drama is unabashed science geek chic — intelligent, imaginative and full of wit — but the sometimes awkward technical jargon and dense, philosophy-filled exchanges take a long time to spark much emotional momentum. Midway through, though, comes the desire by the new company president (Jeffrey Wylie) and his marketing executive wife (Harmony Goodman) to create a young baby android. With the couple's growing affection for a creature they at first consider a science experiment, the play reaches an incredibly moving tragedy. Director David Watkins Jr.'s intimate production occasionally suffers from energy lapses, but designer Steven Calcote's videoscreen and chrome set quite effectively creates a futuristic mood. In his turn as the indefinably spooky, Peter Pan-like company CEO, Nudo engagingly balances scientific detachment with childlike innocence. Sarah Lilly, as his world-weary wife, offers a splendidly nuanced turn that's equally mischievous and sad. Wylie and Goodman, as the corporate parents “testing” the cloned baby, are appealing as their characters nicely evolve from cold businesspeople into a loving dad and mom. (Paul Birchall). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, brownpapertickets.com/event/131828. (323) 856-8611.
THE LITTLE FLOWER OF EAST ORANGE Midway through the first act of Stephen Adly Guirgis' dysfunctional family drama, a seven-hours-sober Danny (Michael Friedman) stands on the side of the road, determined to hitch a ride. Smoking black-tar heroin and sucking on a gin-infused Slurpee, his stray cat girlfriend, Nadine (Kate Huffman), states the obvious: “There are no cars.” Finally, he concedes. Guirgis' script is as full of promise and as weighted down as lead character Danny. He's a rising star of a writer who's been derailed by drugs, alcohol, conflicted love for his co-dependent mother (Melanie Jones) and debilitating anger toward her deaf father (Timothy McNeil). In rehab for just a week, Danny learns his mother's gone missing in New York City. His bitter sister, Justina (Marisa O'Brien), sick of being the grown-up in the family, greets his arrival with a subtle guilt trip. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten like old toys; hallucinations that appeared during the first act end up being so irrelevant you wonder if they were figments of your imagination. Still, you're rooting for Danny, played by Friedman with a sweetly open acknowledgement of his own wobbly existence, and for the action to stop turning onto streets with no outlets. Near the end, however, Danny shrugs, “I spent my whole life standing on the precipice, waiting for someone to knock me off so I could start living,” and Guirgis succinctly sums up the problem with his play. David Fofi directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, elephanttheatrecompany.com. (877) 369-9112.
MACBETH Warrior Poet theater company was founded on a shared interest
in martial arts and the stories of soldiers. (Vets get in free.) Which
means the fights in this Macbeth are great, sword-clanging, near-miss
brawls and the highlights of this handsome and hungry staging.
Unfortunately, the line readings are delivered like wild punches, which
is a considerable impediment. They're strong, if not accurate. Still,
you can't say director Anton Ray lacks ambition: Not only does he
include scenes most productions skip, he adds new ones, worms in The
Lord's Prayer, and even plays-out Macbeth's banquet breakdown twice,
with and without Banquo's ghost (Vonzell Carter). There's even more
death in the deaths. We see Macbeth (Michael McIntyre) stab Duncan
(Ray), see Lady Macbeth (Murielle Zuker) take her life, and when the
minions murder Lady MacDuff (a forceful Joanna Kelly), the lights dim
over a necrophiliac gang rape. McIntyre's Macbeth gets better as he
gets cockier and the large ensemble looks great stomping around in
designer Kat Marquete's leather and chiffon costumes, their clothes
heavy with buckles as Lady Macbeth races around the stage in boots that
look like architectural marvels. As the tragedy powers forward, the
Weird Sisters (Abica Dubay, Meghan Lewis and Whitton Frank) lounge
around the castle like evil vapors — and in this over-the-top staging,
they even get the last word. Mission Control, 11920 West Jefferson, W.
L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m; Sat., 2&8 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Dec. 4. (661)
219-4577. (Amy Nicholson)
MOM/BARRAGE Two one-act plays by Peter Basch and Ellen Sandler, presented by Ark Theatre Company. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 969-1707.
ON EMOTION “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson is apropos for both the Son of Semele Ensemble and for its latest offering from Mick Gordon and neuropsychologist Paul Broks. Their collaboration centers on a question voiced early on by cognitive behavioral therapist Stephen (Michael Nehring), who asks, “Are we just puppets of our emotions?” The subject of the question and his experiment is Anna (Melina Bielefelt), a disturbed artist who has been befriended by Stephen's daughter Lucy (Sami Klein), who herself is experimenting with older men. It is also no coincidence that Anna makes puppets; her latest creation is an astronaut puppet for Stephen's autistic son Mark (Alex Smith), who is obsessed with stars and Star Trek. Mark, sadly, does not repay her in kind, as his inadvertent experiments with his eidetic memory bring to light uncomfortable truths. Director Matthew McCray utilizes Adam Flemming's clever video design, Sarah Krainin's awesome “starry floor” and Ian Garret's lighting to full effect in the transitions between scenes, which are nicely choreographed. However, the script's lack of stakes and character empathy make McCray's job difficult within the scenes, which are filled with tepid emotions that feel manufactured. But while the result of this theatrical experiment is not wholly successful, the ensemble is to be commended for embodying the words of Erasmus Darwin: “A fool is a man who never tried an experiment in his life.” (Mayank Keshaviah). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Mon., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12…
100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Barrington Moore Jr. wrote a treatise called Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery and Upon Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them. Beth Lapides' cabaret show is a sweet-natured and understandably facile fly-by over the depths probed by Moore. It features composer Mitch Kaplan on keyboards (the original music is written and performed by the pair, except for music by Howie B and Peter Matz), and blends some pointed satire of Hollywood culture (“The absence of yes over time equals no”) and focuses on Lapides trying to carve meaning from the crisis of her unexpected eviction from L.A., due to a home sale by the owner, and her relocation to Palm Springs. The attempt to convert formulas for sanity, contentment and even happiness gets projected onto charts where she relocates the traditional focal points of unhappiness, happiness and merely being “fine” — which is equated with purgatory. Change creates anxiety and crisis, yet crisis is necessary for discovery, self-discovery and new perspectives. It's a sweet lecture with some songs, both new age and a new-age parody at the same time. Lapides is an amiable performer with an unexceptional voice. But the voice is not the point. The show was created to both entertain and to sort out a coping mechanism for life's anxieties. The lessons aren't exactly earth-shattering, but the show is engaging nonetheless. (Steven Leigh Morris). Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 15. (323) 651-2583.
OUR BEDS ARE CROWDED: SEVEN SHORT PLAYS ABOUT LOVE, FEAR AND SEX Christie Perfetti's seven interconnecting stories “dealing with the 'ghosts' of relationships.”. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Mon.-Tues., 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 21. (323) 469-3113.
PASTA: A POP UPS PUPPET MUSICAL Jacob Stein and Jason Rabinowitz, a.k.a. the Pop Ups, take kids on a rock & roll search for the best pasta sauce ever. Mimoda Studio Theatre, 5774 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri., Nov. 26, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 27, noon; Sun., Nov. 28, 3:30 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/137184. (323) 937-0488.
GO PHANTOM LUCK In John Steppling's ruminative comedy, four large playing cards form the backdrop to the otherwise sparsely decorated set (by Richard Hyatt), where two aging gamblers, Jerry and Anson (James Storm and George Gerdes) talk, sometimes to each other but mostly to themselves, or to us, or to the ghosts that float around them, respectively Johnny and Josepha (Mark Rolston and Kadina De Elejalde). Jerry opens with an explanation of “odds” — everybody here tries to unearth the mystery of what's gone so terribly wrong. Meanwhile, Anson — a man similarly alone in the world — is dying of a terminal disease. With almost nothing to lose, they plan a heist — no, not a con, which would require some intelligence, but a robbery at gunpoint, at a gaming table, in order to secure something for their future. And this is the entirety of the plot, which unfolds with nary a scene, but mostly through monologues — co-directed by Steppling and Wes Walker — with the arch isolation of men living like snails, ensconced within their shells, and their memories, and their old jokes, and their fading hopes. The question residing at the heart of the comedy is whether these men bear any resemblance to the rest of us. The answer is yes, which is what distinguishes the humanity of Steppling's play from the mere humor of, say, David Mamet's American Buffalo. There are as many reflections on the essences of love as on luck and aging. Storm's Jerry has an appealing crustiness and rich timbre to his voice; Gerdes' shrugging, thin-voiced Anson works in counterpoint — they are the Mutt and Jeff of the California-Nevada desert, with more on their minds than in their brains. Kadina De Elejalde haunts Anson with visions of life after death. She's a beauty from El Salvador with thick mascara and eternal verities to spare. Rolston's ghost Johnny circles around Jerry. He's a peacock gambler, just hanging around to watch, with a slicked-hair, '30s-noir style and echoes of Christopher Walken. Compared to Anson's compassionate ghost, Johnny is largely fueled by his contempt and disgust for how low his ward, Jerry, has fallen — a contempt entirely justified by Jerry's once expensive and now crumpled suit. Johnny is, perhaps, the vision of how Jerry once imagined himself. The contrast is striking. This is a beautiful, smart, funny, absurdist and humane text, well rendered by the ensemble, and well worth a hearing. (Steven Leigh Morris). Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (323) 933-6944.
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
RENDITION IN DAMASCUS
Photo by Kiff Scholl
John Christian Plummer's character-driven moral drama is almost undone
by the sheer randomness of its plot, which somehow encompasses
disparate figures such as a maniacal Protestant minister with a
butcher's knife, a philandering husband who might be possessed by the
devil, and a professional torturer working for the U.S. government.
Minister Sarah (Courtney Rackley) finds her faith sorely tested when
her professor husband Hal (Pete Caslavka) confesses that he has been
having an affair with Sarah's church secretary, Missy (understudy
Laurel Reese on the night reviewed, sweetly perky). Worse, Hal's excuse
for his errant behavior is that he has started to hear voices in his
head: Someone claiming to be none other than “A Satan” told him to
cheat on his wife. While Sarah storms off to Misty's house, intending
to do her great bodily harm, Hal gets a visit from his brother Schuyler
(David Stanbra), who just got back from Iraq where he tortured a
hapless suspected terrorist to death. Complications ensue when His
Infernal Majesty (Satan) again takes over Hal's body Exorcist-style.
Plummer's play does not lack for potentially intriguing themes, but
they're poorly tied together and the thought processes are sometimes
choppy – a play that equates in moral importance the notion of a man
torturing someone to death and a rather prosaic, tawdry love affair
requires more logical underpinnings than this work possesses. Still,
director Kiff Scholl's crisply staged, intimate production boasts some
nicely committed acting work, particularly in the turns by Caslavka's
creepy, possibly possessed Hal and by Rackley's brittle Sarah, whose
character's emotional decomposition is shattering. Working Stage
Theatre, 1516 Gardner Avenue, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec.
3. (323) 960-7719. (Paul Birchall)
GO ROCCOPELLA Embellished with funky MTV-inspired videos, writer/solo performer George Spielvogel's goofy, good-natured comedy sports an array of ditzy characters who share a zest for musical performance. Not that any of these would-be songsters actually sing well or play an instrument. Teenage Rocco, alone in his bedroom, dreams of being a musical mastermind without, he admits, possessing any musical talent. His sister Sylvia likes to picture herself as a rock 'n' roll diva. His grandpa recollects songs he once crooned to his dead wife. An interloper — a boorish Texas cowboy — stumbles into Rocco's bedroom on his way to a karaoke bar; his dance instructor, Mr. Russle, displays a distinctive mincing style, counseling the absent Rocco (he's in the yard cleaning up dog poop) to develop his own. Co-directed by Spielvogel and Thomas Blake, the show, which runs less an hour, features minimal set and lighting, a minor note given Spielvogel's suitably daffy wigs and costumes and his amiable comic manner. The entertaining and invariably salacious videos (by Michael Regalbuto) serve as extensions of each sketch. (Deborah Klugman). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 466-6111.
ROCK 'N' ROLL In his virtuoso stage collages of literary erudition and clever, philosophical legerdemain, playwright Tom Stoppard has long established himself as the idol of hip literature majors and student playwrights eager to flex their fledgling intellects. Part of that attraction undoubtedly can be attributed to the fact that Stoppard's plays typically are drawn from the library rather than life experience, opting for intellectual ingenuity over psychological depth. So it is a pleasant surprise to find his 2006 meditation on the personal costs of the '60s cultural and political upheavals reaching beyond inspired pedantry for something decidedly more autobiographical, poignant and personal. Spanning the period between the Soviet Union's 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to the collapse of Eastern European communism 20 years later, the play follows Jan (Benjamin Burdick), a Czech graduate student studying at Cambridge and immersed in the rock-fueled social movements that were roiling British society. When he finds himself trapped in Prague by the Soviet occupation, Jan is reluctantly drawn out of his apathy into the role of political dissident. Back in England, a similar metamorphosis affects Jan's hard-line Stalinist mentor, Cambridge don Max (Will Kepper), whose pro-materialist dogma keeps him at odds with upheavals in his personal life. Whatever pathos might be offered by Stoppard's text, however, never materializes in Barbara Schofield's indifferent and unfocused staging. Though Beth Robbins is magnificent as Max's cancer-riddled wife, and projections by Liam Carl Design provide a colorful accent to James Spencer's and Kis Knekt's otherwise undistinguished set, little else in the production musters the cathartic energy of its titular music. (Bill Raden). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 18. (323) 882-6912.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (310) 281-8337.
SIT 'N' SPIN Storytelling by Jill Soloway, Maggie Rowe, Jaclyn Lafer and assorted guests of varying hilarity; www.sitnspin.org., free. COMEDY CENTRAL STAGE, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Every other Thursday, 8 p.m.. (323) 960-5519.
SPIDER BABYTHE MUSICAL Based on Jack Hill's classic horror film, book and music by Enrique Acosta, lyrics by Enrique Acosta, Lorien Patton and Helen Acosta. Lyric-Hyperion Theater Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 5, SpiderBabyTheMusical.com. (800) 838-3006.
THE STORIES OF CESAR CHAVEZ Fred Blanco's bilingual portrayal of labor leader Cesar Chavez. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Tues., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 281-8337.
SUMMER IN HELL Miles Brandman's tale of two young cousins' secrets at a family estate. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, brimmerstreet.org. (213) 290-2782.
NEW REVIEW GO THE SUNSET LIMITED
Photo by John Flynn
Perrin Flynn's topnotch staging of Cormac McCarthy's 1996 two-character
play shows that the author is a gifted dramatist as well as being a
superb novelist. A life and death struggle emerges in the dingy
apartment of an ex-con named Black (Tucker Smallwood), who has just
rescued White (Ron Bottitta), from a suicide leap off a subway
platform. That their names are racial signifiers is just one of the
dynamics McCarthy uses to mine the ironies in this simple scenario.
Black is poor, uneducated and a committed man of faith, an inner city
Good Samaritan whose redemption came in prison and who unwaveringly
believes in the value of life and God's grace, while White is a
hyper-rationalist, successful university professor and defiant atheist
who is weighted down with crushing despair and hopelessness. It's a
high-stakes intervention where both men state their cases with
unbridled passion and eloquence engendering a back and forth shift of
empathies, and one never gets the sense of an immutable moral center or
merely listening to lectures. McCarthy, who is noted for his sparse
dialogue and powerful imagery, exhibits an uncanny ear for ghetto
argot, but just as nimbly utilizes the idiom of the academic. When at
the end, White erupts and expresses a weltanschauung of the darkest
hue, one is reminded of Nietzsche's remark about staring into the
abyss. Complementing Flynn's fine direction are the equally superb
performances. Rogue Machine at Theatre, Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd. L.A.;
Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 960-4424,
roguemachinetheatre.com (Lovell Estell III)
GO TAKE ME OUT Baseball star Darren Leming (Ary Katz), the central figure in Richard Greenberg's provocative 2002 comedy-drama, is a paragon of talend, skill and virtue. Half black and half white, he has become baseball's golden boy, admired and adored by teammates and fans until he impulsively decides to come out as gay, and the press runs with the story. He thinks that because he's young and rich and famous and talented and handsome, he's immune to negative consequences. But like a rock dropped into a pond, his revelation produces ever- widening ripples that undermine his world. Bigotry and religious fanaticism rear their heads, as irate fans accuse him of desecrating the sacred sport. As for his teammates, it's a loss of innocence: They're forced to confront the homoeroticism that underlies their comfortable locker-room intimacy. Most deeply affected is newly recruited relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Garrett Matheson), a naive, dim, barely literate orphan from the deep South, where racism and homophobia were bred in his bones. He's ultimately both victim and aggressor, driven by feelings he doesn't understand, to an act of ambiguous but lethal violence. Greenberg probes issues of sexual identity, moral ambiguity, personal responsibility and baseball, in pungent, idiosyncratic dialogue laced with subversive wit. Director Michael Matthews has assembled an almost perfect cast on Kurt Boetcher's intimate in-the-round set, and he explores the play's complexities with finely focused exuberance. Katz skillfully charts Leming's transformation from Apollonian serenity to a man forced to acknowledge his failings and vulnerability. Tom Costello brings comic chops and rich conviction to the shortstop Kippy, the play's narrator, who's shattered when his sentimental do-good-ism produces disastrous results. And there's a deliciously deft comedy performance by Thomas James O'Leary as Leming's fey, gay financial manager, who regards his boss as a hero and finds a wondrous epiphany in the world of baseball. His aria comparing baseball to democracy is as penetrating as it is funny. They receive solid backup from the sterling cast. Tim Swiss' lighting design and Veronica J. Lancaster's sound are integral to the action. This is Celebration Theatre's most ambitious and impressive production in years. (Neal Weaver). Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 957-1884.
TERRE HAUTE It is one of the odder ancillary anecdotes of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that, shortly before his execution, Timothy McVeigh — murderer and mastermind of the attack which killed 168 people — struck up a peculiar, intimate correspondence with renowned author and social gadfly, Gore Vidal. The two men never met in person, but the idea of what might have happened if they had provides the intriguing premise of playwright Edmund White's 2001 drama, in which McVeigh's fictional surrogate summons Vidal's to a prison death row for a final series of interviews. This is the play that caused Vidal to famously quip about White, “He's a filthy low writer.” Yet, White's drama is so inconsequential in presentation, mired in stodgy dramatics and plodding, superficially didactic dialogue, it's hard to understand why Vidal would be so riled. White's Vidal surrogate, named “James” (Mike Farrell), arrives at the prison to interview McVeigh surrogate “Harrison” (James Parrack). James has written articles to about Harrison and even defended his actions on TV interviews; Harrison is suitably grateful and wants James to write his life story and bear witness to his imminent execution. White's play hints at the idea that James's attraction to Harrison's fierce ideals is due, in part, to the fact that Harrison strongly resembles James's long dead boyhood lover. Yet, director Kirsten Sanderson's stiff, haltingly and glumly humorless production all but misses the inherent irony and bizarre spectacle of mutual incomprehension between a flamboyant, elderly queen and an uber-serious, philosophically deluded mass murderer. As the Vidal character, Farrell captures the famous author's well known mischievous sparkle and adroit articulacy, but Parrack's Harrison is a one dimensional and unexplored stick figure in an orange jumpsuit. The play's main weakness lies in the pair's relationship being trivialized as the creepy lambada between a sophisticated elder and his rough trade flirtation. (Paul Birchall). The Blank's Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (323) 661-9827.
THE TRAGEDY OF ROMEO AND JULIET The Merry War Theatre Group sets Shakespeare's play in the upscale Verona Hotel & Casino. American Legion Hollywood, 2035 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; Through Dec. 12, 8 p.m., merrywar-theatregroup.com. (323) 851-3030.
GO THE TRAIN DRIVER South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have dealt with the havoc wrought in his country by apartheid, but his more recent works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to encompass the guilt and grief that were the legacy of his homeland's decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us, unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area of the city, Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing the train driver could have done to save them, but he is consumed with guilt over his role in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate his guilt. Elderly, impoverished grave digger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is sympathetic, but also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster. Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned, barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's desolate, gravel-covered shanty set to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow — anger over being forced to kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death — is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the grave digger that captures attention every moment he's onstage. Fugard has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless — but the play cunningly concludes with a tragic coda suggesting that, to the underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals. (Paul Birchall). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 663-1525.
GO WATSON In the opening scene of writer-director Jaime Robledo's new play, the corpulent title character (Scott Legett) wanders into London's 221-B Baker Street, having been advised by a gypsy to “go back to where it all began, before it was too late.” The sleuth, Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria), whose adventures Watson has followed and documented, died some time ago — or so Watson believes. But nothing is quite what it seems. It would be beside the point to recount the plot. Let's just say it concerns Queen Victoria, Sigmund Freud (both played by the gut-bustingly droll French Stewart), double agents and secret intel involving a competition for the possession of Cyprus between the Ottoman Empire, led by Abduhl Hamid; and the Russians, represented by Czar Alexander III. (Both of these are played by puppets.) In order to fathom what the hell is going on, the coked-up Holmes and his somewhat reluctant sidekick Watson — whose adventures are placing his own marriage to Mary Watson (CJ Merriman) at risk — embark on an odyssey by train and boat and horse and air balloon from Victoria Station to Budapest to the top of a minaret in some unspecified Muslim country. Oh, yes, they're pursued by the villainous Professor James Moriarty (Henry Dittman), who may or may not be a figment of Holmes' cocaine-induced paranoia. In case this sounds too cinematic for the stage, consider how the walls of scene designer Erin Brewster's London flat fold away and open up to flights of theatrical devices. The visual wonder is complemented by Andrew Amani's balletic fight choreography and fueled, aurally, by Ryan Johnson's recorded original score, performed on cello, viola and violins. Fria has an odd body shape, a robust and athletic build with contrapuntally sloping shoulders. His Holmes is a neurotic cousin to Buster Keaton — fleet-footed with quick and precise comic instincts. It's a gorgeous performance, surpassed only by one tour de force riff in which Dittman portrays five characters at Victoria Station (a husband, his wife, a train conductor, an urchin beggar and a policeman) almost simultaneously, by literally changing hats. This delightful and at times inspired production contains moments of comic mastery stemming from the traditions of Vaudeville. (Steven Leigh Morris). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 16. (310) 281-8337.
GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies, once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer: change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its “disease-of-the-week” dimension surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellow is a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores' precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 5…
THE ZOMBIE HOLIDAY SPECIAL The show must go on at the Wallace Famil's annual holiday TV special, despite the zombie plague. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 15, (No perfs De. 25 & Jan. 1.) plays411.com/zombieholiday. (323) 960-7612.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
THE ANIMALS AND ME Vinnie Torrente's play about “the rights of all mankind, as seen through the eyes of animals.”. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, plays411.com/theanimals. (323) 960-7726.
GO THE AUTUMN GARDEN Lillian Hellman was in her mid-40s when she wrote this astute comedy about the pitfalls and perils of middle age and the accompanying sense of loss that filters through our lives. A kind of Chekhovian group portrait, it takes place in 1949 in a genteel boarding house on the Gulf of Mexico coast. The establishment caters exclusively to the longtime friends of its sweet-natured spinsterish proprietress, Constance (Lily Knight), still pining for beau Nick (Stephen Caffrey), who left her high and dry for his still current wife, Nina (Jane Kaczmarek), 20 years ago. Nick is now an artist of some renown, and his return for a brief visit stirs excitement, especially for Constance's friend Rose (Faye Grant), a simpering Southern coquette whose marriage is on the rocks. The play's secondary motif — the masquerade of ignorance surrounding homosexuality in the mid-20th-century South — emerges in the engagement between Constance's French niece, Sophie (Zoe Perry), and Frederick (Joe Delafield), the son of Constance's prim and proper friend Mary (Jeanie Hackett). Directed by Larry Biederman, the production begins somewhat stiffly before gathering steam as the multiple plotlines unwind, then coalesce, and the intimacies — especially between the married couples — are finessed. As Constance, Knight's touching vulnerability draws you in. Perry is excellent as the shrewd, long-suffering Sophie; so is Anne Gee Byrd as Mary's mother, a deliciously sardonic grand dame who minces no words. As the story's villain, Caffrey's skill is unimpeachable, but his drunken predator is so unappealing that it's hard to see how he might ever have charmed anyone. (The production is double-cast.) Antaeus.org (Deborah Klugman)., antaeus.org. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, antaeus.org. (818) 506-1983.
BOBBY AND MATT Kevin Cochran's story of two unlikely friends, one a brigadier general, the other a renowned gay writer. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (818) 528-6622.
GO THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO Marisa Wegrzyn's kitchen-sink comedy kicks off the Road Theatre Company's 20th season. Filled with colorful, mostly female characters, Wegrzyn's wacky slice-of-life snapshot is set in the small town of Baraboo in snowy, freezing Wisconsin. The loose plot concerns in-laws who feel no constraints expressing their sentiments. Beneath the prickly conversation lies a festering mystery: What really happened to Val's husband, Frank? He was pronounced dead, although no corpse was found. Frank's brother, Donal (Carl J. Johnson), and cop sister, Gail (the hilarious Rebecca Jordan), harbor suspicions that their sister-in-law, Val (Janet Chamberlain), did away with Frank, seeing as she's pretty handy with a meat cleaver. Val's grown daughter, Midge (Nina Sallinen), seems to be dabbling in nefarious activities, supplying local teen meth chemists with prescription meds. But it's Midge's interference with her uncle Donal's family life that causes her strife. Director Mark St. Amant beautifully stages his cast with a sure but subtle hand, eliciting superb performances and spot-on comic timing. Jeff McLaughlin's homely set is impressively realistic — right down to a working sink — and neatly fills the small space. (Pauline Adamek). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (866) 811-4111.
A CHICAGO CHRISTMAS CAROL Musical take on the Dickens classic, re-set in Chicago circa 1908. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 745-8527.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS William Shakespeare's farce, by the Porters of Hellsgate. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (818) 506-0600.
GAM3RS Brian Bielawski's one-man “computer-gaming-geek” show, co-written and directed by Walter G. Meyer. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, gam3rsthewebsite.com. (858) 224-2553.
HERALDS Setting: A bustling office with phones ringing off the hook, constant interruptions announcing yet another sale, barely lidded excitement; a newspaper. Wait, a newspaper? Yes, down to the inevitable transfer to news online and a tryst sparked by a woman's arousal over the executive editor's “power,” Jon Cellini's play feels a little dated. After all, dailies have already transitioned through a couple of stages of grief over the imminent demise of the “way they were,” and have settled into grimacing acceptance of the uncertain future. To give Cellini credit, he does nod to the obsoleteness of his subject matter when a character comments on how “we philosophize after our expired lives — ironic considering this show, right?” Still, he uses the now-tired controversy over a cartoon about creationism as a launching pad for a discussion on the dangers of the religious right advocating censorship. Though he's spliced this humdrum dilemma with visits from a Socrates who watches TMZ, a Galileo who scoffs at LeBron James and a Goebbels who blames Saturday Night Live for America's “weak” men, Cellini also rests on tired stereotypes such as a Godfather-esque queenpin of a church secretary (Maia Danziger). Director Stuart Rogers smooths the busy show to a nice flow, but he allows too much slack in the pace precisely when it's in dire need of tautness. The play's not bad, but all the good stuff is buried in the back pages. It would be remiss not to mention the able-bodied cast, especially the restrained, excellent performance of Heather Robinson as Gert. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, brownpapertickets.com/event/136062. (800) 838-3006.
IT'S JUST SEX Sex Jeff Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.
THE MANY MURDERS OF WALLACE T. WALKER Zombie Joe's Underground's latest comedy-thriller, wherein a newbie detective must solve a birthday-party murder. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 4. (818) 202-4120.
NEW REVIEW GO THE PUB PLAYS: THE FIELD
Photo by David Robinson
Sean Branney's direction, John B. Keane's beautifully modulated drama
is set in an rural County Kerry pub, where locals gather to see who
will end up owning the field that old Maggie Butler is selling. Will an
outsider swoop in and snatch it, or will a swaggering local farmer have
his way? Barry Lynch brings a formidable menace to his role as the
intimidating farmer, “The Bull” McCabe. This is a man with a massive
sense of entitlement and a bulldozing force of will. Having leased the
land from the old widow for years in order to graze his cattle and gain
access to the river, McCabe's had his heart set on owning the “handsome
parcel of land” for decades, as did his fathe
r before him. Keane's
chilling drama is an incisive commentary on the local folk, presenting
copious drinking, snarky small town gossip, incessant childbearing and
domestic violence as part of the fabric of everyday life. One scene in
Act 2, when McCabe's loyal son Tadgh (Travis Hammer) dares to ask why
his parents haven't spoken for 18 years, will make your blood run cold.
Excellent performances from all. Theatre Banshee, 3435 Magnolia Blvd.,
Burbank. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2p.m.; thru Dec 12. theatrebanshee.org/ (Pauline Adamek)
THE PUB PLAYS: WAR Celebrated Irish novelist Roddy Doyle sets his play on the battlefield of a large, packed Dublin pub where rival teams of locals scuffle it out during a rowdy and riotous quiz night. As the empty bottles of Guinness pile up, the increasingly intoxicated participants trade wit, useless trivia and abuse, vying to claim bragging rights and an electric kettle. Doyle's play is ostensibly an energetic comedy, but flashpoint tempers, ferocious shouting matches, strident accusations of cheating, vulgar gestures and various colorful insults (“fookin' eejit!”) wear you down after a while. Add the interspersed flashbacks to the casually abusive home life of the most volatile character, George (Tim Cummings), and suddenly all that bellowing isn't so funny, especially when his gentle wife, Briget (Kacey Camp), is cowering in the corner. Of course this is Doyle's point, but he makes it with a tightly clenched fist, pounding away. Alice Ryan is good as the cute barmaid who keeps the lecherous lads at bay with her arsenal of comebacks. Passable Irish accents from the hardworking cast of 16. In repertory with John B. Keane's drama The Field. (Pauline Adamek). The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (818) 846-5323.
SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTSCHE KABARETT Zombie Joe's Underground's Berlin-style cabaret. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Dec. 17. (818) 202-4120.
THE SECRET GARDEN The kids' lit classic turned musical, book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Lucy Simon. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 26, 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19, chancetheater.com. (714) 777-3033.
SONG MAN DANCE MAN Jon Peterson's one-man tribute to classic showmen such as Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 28, brownpapertickets.com/event/130655. (877) 620-7673.
25 PPH (PLAYS PER HOUR) Theatre Unleashed's ensemble portrays more than 50 characters in 25 original short plays, all in one hour. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 4, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
URNED HAPPINESS Lean Dog-Mean Dog Productions presents Ernest Kearney's comedy about “a cremated cadaver, a murdered clown, and a confused polka band.”. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (800) 838-3006.
YES SVETLANA, THERE IS A GRANDFATHER FROST Without a single pedantic word, Jeff Goode's comedy rebuts the commonplace impression that Soviet times are ancient history. His thoughtful play about the essence of truth is set in the newspaper office of a large Soviet city, where a plan is afoot by the authorities to raid an “unauthorized” Christmas-tree lighting ceremony. The newspaper gets a prefab story, describing specific injuries that haven't yet occurred but are being carefully plotted. Journalist Tserkov (Morry Schoor) wants the story to run early, to warn the protesters. But his editor, Madame Editrix (Erika Godwin), will have no part of such faux heroics. If you're so concerned about the truth, she chides him, why does it have to come with your byline? Truth quietly whispered is just as true as truth that's printed or broadcast. Despite a cumbersome stretch in Act 2, the play's delightful plot twists spin out a view of bureaucracy and complicity in the hoaxes of an era that point directly to us, which is the point. I don't know why director Gideon Potter chose to have the actors speak in English in a Russian accent, which only suggests that the play is about them and not us. And they couldn't find any Russian speakers in Glendale or Hollywood to give the company the correct pronunciation of devushka? Devushka (Lisa Younger) is the seemingly na<0x00EF>ve yet sly secretary. The wistfully wry ensemble also includes Tyler Rhoades, as a cad journalist, and thugs well-played by Ken Lyle and Bub Rusch. There were some technical difficulties at the performance reviewed. That aside, the comedy really deserves a more taut staging to match its scintillating ironies. (Steven Leigh Morris). Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (800) 838-3006.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH COMMUNITIES
AIN'T WE GOT FUN Vaudeville-style songs and skits, written by Ben Hensley and Michael Montiel, directed and choreographed by Lindsay Martin. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 656-8070.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND A Kentwood Kids production of Lewis Carroll's classic. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (310) 645-5156.
ANNIE Kentwood Players present the little orphan musical, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11, kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.
BACKSTREET: THE MUSICAL Jewish immigrant musical, book, music and lyrics by Chris DeCarlo, Evelyn Rudie an Matthew Wrather. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 394-9779.
GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a star identified in the program only as “The Crooner.” James Thompson's authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting, a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter, numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie. Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as “That's Life,” “New York, New York” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” you'd swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 18, edgemarcenter.org. (310) 392-7327.
NEW REVIEW GO THE NIGHT OF THE TRIBADES
Photo courtesy of Cal Rep
speaking, biographies of even immortal artists rarely produce
compelling dramas. Whatever mysterious alchemy transmutes raw
experience into refined art is simply too interior and remote from the
dramatic, social arena to ever satisfactorily be laid bare on the
stage. Swedish playwright Per Olov Enquist's delightfully sardonic,
1975 take on the marital woes of Scandinavian literary giant August
Strindberg (in Ross Shideler's spry, 1976 translation) may be the
notable exception. Drawn from a period when Strindberg (John Prosky)
was an adherent of what might be charitably termed “Darwinian male
chauvinism,” the play opens on the read-through rehearsal of
Strindberg's short, 1889 one-act, “The Stronger,” the writer's
self-flattering portrayal of the affair between his wife, the actress
Siri von Essen (Sarah Underwood), and her lover, Marie Caroline David
(Linda Castro), which ultimately scuttled the Strindbergs' already
foundering marriage. In a stroke of sadistic pique, Strindberg has cast
the real-life lovers to play their fictionalized counterparts. The
results only recapitulate the hapless playwright's emasculating trauma,
and play as if the author of The Dance of Death had written an episode of Fawlty Towers.
Director Thomas P. Cooke's mercurial production and a superb cast
(including Craig Anton's hilariously vapid ham actor, Shiwe) capture
all of Enquist's mordant wit, while a peerless production design team
(Catherine Baumgardner's museum-grade period costumes; Jeffery
Eisenmann's antique, backstage set; Ronan Kilkelly's expressionistic
lights) lends the proceedings a literate gloss. Royal Theater aboard
the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.;
Sat., 2 & 8 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 23-27); through December 11. (562)
985-5526 or calrep.org. (Bill Raden)
NIGHTSONG FOR THE BOATMAN Perhaps playwright Jovanka Bach was
attempting an update of Euripides' Alcestis: in both plays, a selfish
man tries to elude death by persuading someone else to die in his
place. Poet/college professor Harry Appleman (John Di Fusco) gambles
for his soul with Murlie (Alexander Wells), the thuggish boatman who
ferries the dead across the river Styx. He loses the game, but wants to
welsh on the deal. Harry is so obnoxious and arrogant, it's hard to
care what happens to him. He hasn't written anything substantive in
years, but feels his identity as an artist absolves him from all
responsibility. A spoiled, drunken, irresponsible egomaniac, he seduces
his students, treats his mistress (Nicole Gabriella Scipione) shabbily,
and abandons his wife (Donna Luisa Guinan) and daughter (Amanda
Landis). In the incoherent, contrived and ultimately silly second act,
Harry continues to seek someone else to die his death. The piece is
awkwardly written, with many short scenes that just seem to stop rather
than reaching any climax, separated by clumsy scene changes. Director
John Stark does little to bolster the pretentious script, but the
capable actors (including Michael Byrne, Geoffrey Hillback, and J.
Lawrence Landis) struggle manfully to make sense of a preposterous
plot, and designer Jaret Sacrey provides a handsome set. Odyssey
Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2
p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 477-2055. (Neal Weaver)
GO PARADISE PARK A profoundly despondent fellow (Kenneth Rudnicki) wanders into an amusement park for distraction from his agony. Inside, he slips into a fantasia of scenes — including his own romance with a young woman (Reha Zemani) from the Midwest, igniting a bundle of neuroses that keeps them estranged; a ventriloquist/philosopher (Ann Stocking) and his bifurcated dummy (David E. Frank); a tourist couple (Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance) at the end of the tether that's barely holding their marriage together; their irate young daughter (KC Wright) who yearns, in vain, for an effete Cuban (Tim Orona); a psychotic pizza-delivery boy (Jeff Attik); a wandering violinist (Lena Kouyoumdjian); a circus clown (Troy Dunn) and, in a directorial flourish, a guy in a chicken costume. Charles Mee's comedy is like a sonnet with a couple of repeated motifs: distraction, love and the general feeling of being cast adrift in cultural waters that are partly enchanting, partly evaporating, and partly polluted by the refuse of our ancestors, of our families, of our determination to follow impulses we barely comprehend, and to wind up unutterably lost. He's one of this company's favorite scribes, and mine, for the way in which, with the literary touch of a feather, he conjures primal truths of what keeps us at odds with ourselves and with each other, keeps us yearning for the unattainable. And though there's obviously psychology at work, the driving energies of the language and of the drama are subconscious, cultural and historical currents. Production designer Charles Duncombe anchors his platform set with a wading pool stage center, in which sits an alligator, and he decorates it above with strings of festival lights on a string. Josephine Poinsot's costumes are thoroughly whimsical with primary colors and a feel for an America of the late 1950s — with the possible of exception of the married couple's matching shorts and T-shirts that read, “Kiss my ass, I'm on vacation.” Director Frederique Michel stages the poetical riffs of text in her typically arch style, and it serves the play almost perfectly, except for the pizza-delivery scene, where the choreography distracts from the psychosis that lies at the core. Even so, I found the evening to be indescribably affecting, tapping emotions that lurk beneath the machinery of reason. This is the last production to be staged at this back-alley venue in Santa Monica, where the company has been putting on plays for 15 years. The ventriloquist's lines couldn't have been more ironic and true: “Then, because the theater is the art form that deals above all others in human relationships, then theater is the art, par excellence, in which we discover what it is to be human and what is possible for humans to be … that theater, properly conceived, is not an escape either but a flight to reality, a rehearsal for life itself, a rehearsal of these human relationships of which the most essential, the relationship that defines most vividly who we are and that makes our lives possible, is love.” (Steven Leigh Morris). City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (310) 319-9939.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER Musical revue of songs by Stephen Sondheim. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 454-1970.
NEW REVIEW THE
WILD PARTY It could be argued that the 1920s were the true beginning of
the sex and drugs ethos of open pleasure-seeking by the Lost
Generation, who were perhaps more accurately described by the French
equivalent Génération au Feu, or Generation in Flames. Such flamboyance
and Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem of the same title inspired
Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's musical tribute to the Jazz
Age and its decadence. Set in the New York apartment of promiscuous
vaudeville dancer Queenie (Krista Sutton) and her comedian husband
Burrs (Casey Zeman), the story centers on a cocaine-and-gin fueled
party thrown by the couple for a coterie of characters that run the
social, racial and sexual gamut. While the period is rich in source
material (as demonstrated in HBO's Boardwalk Empire), this revival
limps out of the gate with uninspired, crisp-as-oatmeal choreography,
muddled singing, and musical direction that lacks pizzazz, as well as a
consistent tempo. Director Julia Holland nicely stages the living
mise-en-scène but nonetheless fails to harness the big Broadway feel
and big performances that are vital to carrying an episodic vehicle
with little to no plot. Bright spots include Deborah LaGorce-Kramer's
intricate costumes and a convincingly catatonic morphine addict in
Sally (a barely blinking Bonnie Frank), but absent the necessary
bravado and bravura, this incarnation might be more aptly titled The
Mild Party. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (310) 589-1998. malibustagecompany.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
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