This week, Deborah Klugman was smitten with Kate Polebaum's new play about 1950 suburbia gone awry, D is for Dog. Also, weekly critics filed strong reviews this week for As You Like It: The Musical, in Plummer Park; Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane at Studio/Stage; and 1776, at the Glendale Centre Theatre
Check out this week's stage feature on two alfresco productions of The Merry Wives of Winsor — Independent Shakespeare Company in Griffith Park, and Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon
Look below the jump for all the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS (scheduled for publication July 14, 2011):
NEW REVIEW GO AS YOU LIKE IT: THE MUSICAL Even in L.A., summer weekends feel special, precious because there are so few of them. The sun lingers longer, and we welcome his warm company, letting him usher us lazily into the early evening with a gin and tonic, or a scoop of lemon sorbet. The last thing we want is to dash off to a dark, meat-locker-cold theatre. Thank goodness The Classical Theatre Lab is on the same page of our beach read. Adapting Shakespeare's rom-com As You Like It into a even more lighthearted romp-slash-musical, director Tony Tanner has done the near-impossible — make a “Shakespeare in the Park” series the general public will want to attend for the play as much as the picnic opportunity. With virtually no set (the “stage” is a courtyard in the middle of Plummer Park), Tanner's able cast zips through a lean 90-minute version of the story: Exiled to the forest, Rosalind (a saucy, strong-voiced Jessica Pennington) takes on the guise of a boy for protection. Paul D. Masterson's Orlando, who races off in pursuit of Rosalind, buys her masculine identity as well as her offer to profess his love for Rosalind to him as practice. The adaptation tosses in modern references (as to why Orlando hasn't shown up, Rosalind sings, “As least he can't say he got stuck on the freeway or missed his connecting flight at LAX”) and toys with Shakespeare's homoerotic overtones in Orlando's Brokeback Mountain-esque ballad. Daniel Mahler's costumes don't quite match the lyrics: As Rachele Gueli's Celia and Rosalind sing that they'd “quit karate and lockup my skateboard,” skinny jeans and Vans would be more appropriate than '40s-style dresses and heels. Small quibble. Spend a slice of your evening here — they even wrap in time for you to catch the sunset. The Great Hall Courtyard in Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd. w. Hlywd.; Sat.-Sun., 6 p.m.; thru July 31. Kings Road Park, 1000 N. Kings Road; Sat., 8/6 and 8/13, 4 p.m.; Sun., 8/7, 11:30 a.m.; Sun., 8/14, 4 p.m. FREE, but reservations recommended: 323-960-5691. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
NEW REVIEW GO D IS FOR DOG begins with deceptive simplicity, as a (seemingly) entertaining parody of the mindless and stultifying conformity of the 1950s. Playwright Kate Polebaum's script focuses on the Rogers family, a robotic quartet consisting of a devoted couple, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers (Guy Birtwhistle and Nina Silver), and their enthusiastically complaisant kids (played by adults), Dick and Jane (Michael Scott Allen and Taylor Coffman). Each morning, a smiling Mrs. Rogers pirouettes through the kitchen to display its glories, and at each breakfast the family pays a jingled tribute to Maxwell House and Aunt Jemima. Only Mr. Rogers, a scientist who works for the omnipotent Conservation Company, is aware of the ominous forces threatening their home. He maintains a protective silence so as not to alarm his loved ones — until strange phone calls start to intrude on their innocence. Director Sean T. Cawelti and tech director Tyler Stamets marshal a panoply of talent to relay what metamorphoses into a riveting sci-fi tale that, like the best of that genre, comes off as frighteningly prescient. The spot-on ensemble include Coffman's strangely aberrant child and Birtwhistle's caring Dad, a beacon of humanity amidst the bizarre landscape that envelops him. What makes this production so distinctive, however, is its staging – a coalescence of elements that includes flawlessly calibrated sound (John Nobori) and original music (Nobori and Ben Phelps), artful lighting (Haylee Freeman) and stunning graphics (Matthew T. Hill). The menacing life-size puppets are spooky enough to haunt one's nightmares for a very long time. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 4 p.m. thru Aug. 7 (323) 463-3900. studio-stage.com. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW GO ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE Joe Orton's final plays (before he was bludgeoned to death at 34 by his professionally jealous lover) were farces that crowned him master of the form. So much so that his first full-length play, Entertaining Mr. Sloane (the story of a gorgeous young layabout who sets out to hustle a frumpy woman and her dapper brother) is often presented in arch farcical tones, though its dark and violent overtones mirror the playwright's life and early death. In this very satisfying production, director Stan Zimmerman underscores Orton's scathing wit by meeting the play's dramatic potential, by rendering the humor blacker by the moment. Most remarkable is Olivia D'Abo, who discards her natural beauty in favor of frowziness as Kath, a 40-ish woman desperate for affection, especially from 20-year-old Sloane. D'Abo provides the necessary humor but which comes tightly woven into a fully developed character. Kath's brother Ed is brought to hilarious yet sad life by Ian Buchanan as a tough-guy businessman secretly as hot for Sloane as his sister is. Their ancient Da, in a delightfully tragic performance by Robin Gammell, is the only one whose lack of libido allows him to see through the boy's tricks. As the title character, Emrhys Cooper lacks the experience of his veteran co-stars, but his coy easiness on stage and physical attractiveness makes him the consummate object of their attention. The look of the production is perfectly pitched by set dresser Joel Daavid and costume designer Kevin King, who successfully balance the drabness of Kath's world with the kind of poshness that Ed and Sloane are also able to inhabit. The Actors Company, 916-A N. Formosa Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.; thru July 24. plays411.com. (323) 960-7863. (Tom Provenzano)
NEW REVIEW IT'S GOOD 2 BE CRAZY Meet Merryl (Lindsay Seim) and Joel (Nick Warnock). Actually, you've met them already. They're two of the thousands of young L.A. couples with big dreams and boring realities. Merryl's a valet parker aching to be a singer. Joel is a benefits clerk claiming to be saving for law school. In truth, they're stuck. Until Joel calls Merryl's bluff: he'll support her for a year if she'll actually, you know, write some songs and record a demo. Joanclair Richter's sitcom soap opera is set entirely in the couple's apartment where every few months, she checks in to gauge Merryl's wavering creativity and Joel's increasing frustration. To the play's credit, the lovebirds have their flaws: she's pouty, self-obsessed and passive-aggressive; he's a doting lunkhead happy to have the focus off his own dull life. But there's little momentum in watching two 20-something non-artists talk about art and director Lynne Moses can't inject energy in a play mostly spent conversing on the couch. In the final scene, there's a frisson of drama with the entrance of Doug (Max Decker, sleazily great), a record executive who tests how much Merryl really wants a contract. But the play's blessing and its curse is over-familiarity. Any Hollywood transplant can identify with Merryl and Joel, but they could also just call up their real-life counterparts and take them out to a much-needed dinner. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 14. (323) -960-5774. plays411.com/goodcrazy (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW A MEMORY OF TWO MONDAYS Very few writers are able to maintain a high level of quality across their works, and Arthur Miller is no exception. The giant of the American stage graced us with Death of the Salesman, The Crucible, and All My Sons (which received a bang-up revival here last year), but his 1955 one-act about a bookish young man who works in a Manhattan auto parts warehouse during the early years of the Great Depression (like Miller himself did) is revived infrequently for a reason. Strictly speaking, it has no plot. It focuses on character and characters — 14 of them. And while some argue that it's more Chekhovian than Miller's classics, Chekhov at least had four acts to develop his characters. At a scant 75 minutes filled with much hustle and bustle, the slice-of-life drama is a nostalgia play, and like After The Fall, may have been too close to Miller's own experience to transcend biography into credible drama. That said, director Amelia Mulkey and her ample cast give it their all, creating some dynamic moments on stage. Richard Leighton's unabashedly demonstrative Gus, Nick Cimiluca's Irish “good boy” Kenneth, and Julia McIlvaine's feisty Patricia stand out in particular. The Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Rd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru August 14. (310) 397-4322. ruskingrouptheatre.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
NEW REVIEW OF MICE AND MEN John Steinbeck's saga about a pair of itinerant, depression era ranch hands in search of a place under the sun, and the tragic derailing of that dream, is nearly 75-years old yet retains its power as a compelling parable about moral ambiguity and human frailties. Director Scott Travers' otherwise respectable staging suffers from the lack of polished, disciplined performances from the two principle actors. As the childlike Lennie, Paulo De Sousa's large, hulking presence is well suited to the role, but his performance consistently wavers between being fully convincing and a gross caricature. There are many times when he comes off as a grinning, hyper-giddy lunatic rather than the slow-witted, gentle giant, whose penchant for touching and caressing soft things leads to a tragic, accidental murder. As Lennie's cynical caretaker, fellow roamer and only friend, George, Ronnie Gunter turns in an adequate performance, but his overheated hard edge too often eclipses the emotional complexities of his character. Chase Green is outstanding as Curley, the boss's always angry, sawed off son, as is Benjamin Corns as the affable Slim, and Mandy Brown as Curley's flirtatious wife. Jessica Hayes' rustic, bunkhouse beds and props are well done. The Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 West Magnolia Blvd. Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 6. comeseetheplay.com (Lovell Estell III)
NEW REVIEW REVISITING WILDFIRE Anyone for an orgy of 1980s nostalgia? In playwright Kari Floren's drama of midlife crisis, it's time to whip out the cocaine and the old Lou Reed albums. There are two kinds of dramas about midlife crises: One in which the characters spot their advancing maturity and fight it, and one in which the characters baste themselves in the memories of bygone excesses and droop about like bloated fish. Sadly, Floren's play is of the latter idiom. Not having heard from her lifelong best pal Theresa (Jamie Rose) for months, Ohio housewife Pam (Denise Crosby) jets into New York to surprise her on her birthday. What Pam discovers, though, is that her pal is in a slough of deep despondency that can only be cured with plenty of booze and by replaying, repeatedly, some horrible song about ponies. Pam, it turns out, has her own crises to resolve – and soon the two friends are recalling the good old days, while snorting coke and dancing to Lou Reed. In many respects, the situations play like an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, except one in which the sharp wit, eye for detail, and imagination have been leeched. The dialogue plods, and the characterizations are so weak, there's no hint of why these people stay in the same room, let alone what they could have seen in each other back in the blow-fueled day. The problem is not necessarily director Eve Brandstein's competent, if sluggish staging, it's the drabness of Floren's script, which marries self absorbed characters to perfunctory revelations and easily resolved plot points. Crosby possesses good comic and emotional timing and is clearly better than the material she has been given, while Rose makes as much as she can with a shrill role that is nothing but quirks. A guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd, W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Sun., 2p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)
NEW REVIEW GO 1776 Plays and movies based on history have never been slaves to fact, but Peter Stone's book, dealing with the tempestuous wheeling and dealing surrounding the creation and passage of the Declaration of Independence, is more faithful than most. It's not entirely accurate: Martha Jefferson never went to Philadelphia (cities were regarded as unhealthy places), and John Dickinson was a man of stature, not the right-wing fanatic depicted here. But the portraits of the founding fathers are probably more accurate than in some history books. Sherman Edwards' songs lean more on musical comedy tradition. This production is blessed with a brace of strong performers. Peter Husman finds both strength and comedy in the passionate, irascible John Adams, and Victoria Strong scores as his outspoken wife Abigail. Jeff Drushal provides a stalwart, laconic Thomas Jefferson, and Michaelia Lee is effervescent as his wife Martha. John Butz captures the wit, practicality, and vanity of wily Benjamin Franklin, Joey Zangardi lends a touch of foppish elegance to the ardent defender of slavery Edward Rutledge, and Jason W. Webb is an intransigent but conscientious John Dickinson. Director Todd Nielsen has mounted a strong, clear and eloquent production, while Steven Applegate provides crisp musical direction. Angela Wood supplies the gorgeous costumes. Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 13. (818) 244-8481. glendalecentretheatre.com (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW THE SOLID GOLD CADILLACA satire about corporate greed never seems to go out of style. The jokes in George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann's comedy feel just as timely today as they probably did when the hit play was first staged on Broadway in 1953. Their lively wordplay requires a certain acting style and velocity to work – crucial elements that, regrettably, are absent in this production. A middle-aged former actress named Mrs. Partridge (the fine Georgan George) owns a modest ten shares in the powerful corporation, General Products When she attends the annual stockholder's meeting at their New York offices, her naïve and tremulous queries regarding the four company heads' fat salaries and pay raises set off a chain of unintended consequences. The four actors playing the corrupt businessmen give lackluster performances, though the production brightens up after Mrs. Partridge visits Washington on behalf of the company, and meets the company's millionaire, widower founder (well played by Michael Bruce). Bruce's frazzled demeanor and propensity for breaking into exercise routines during a beleaguered day at the office bring some giggles back to the play. Given a more rigorous treatment, this is probably a very funny play. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madra Blvd., Sierra Madre: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 30. (626) 355-4218. sierramadreplayhouse.org (Pauline Adamek)
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