Photo by Ron Sossi Writes Paul Birchall of Sean O'Casey's play at the Odyssey, “This staging of O'Casey's play artfully mixes blarney and despair in almost equal measure.” Mayank Keshaviah enjoyed Itamar Moses' Completeness at SCR, writing “While the plot initially seems destined for Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus territory, it quickly and surprisingly veers away, back and away once more as Moses plays to and and subverts such stereotypes.” And Jason Alexander in The Prisoner of Second Avenue inspired accolades from Deborah Klugman: “From the moment the lights come up, Alexander is on, generating

laugh after laugh even as he mines the pathos behind his character's

ceaseless tirades — like Jackie Gleason at his best.”

Circle X Theatre Company and Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A. are staging a festival of two plays by Tom Jacobson at their Atwater Village Theatre — The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) and House of the Rising Son. See Stage feature on Wednesday. 

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NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication April 28, 2011


Photo courtesy of DOMA Theatre Company

Damn Broadway — when they get it right, they get it really right. Sam Mendes' 1998 revival of the musical Cabaret, which scooped up a slew of awards for its raunchy reworking, featured Alan Cumming's now-famous hypersexual turn as the M.C. The musical, which is set in Berlin on the brink of the Nazis' rise to power, fixes its dark gaze on the dingy Kit Kat Klub, where young English cabaret performer Sally Bowles meets Cliff Bradshaw, a broke American novelist; the M.C.'s sardonic eye roves over the action as it builds to its inevitable end. While director Marco Gomez smartly tries to avoid comparisons by reverting to the original version and employing cross-gender casting, Mendes' revival's riskiness still looms large enough to make DOMA Theatre Company's latest production feel underfed. Even so, a competent cast, Michael Mullen's fantastically flashy costumes and the sheer strength of the musical itself make for an agreeable evening. Renee Cohen, shouldering the weight of the M.C., belts and struts with smirking panache; Caitlin Ary (a dead ringer for January Jones), who's a little shallow acting-wise, certainly digs deep enough to sing the role of Bowles. But, from transforming the Klub girls into a flock of iridescent black swans to outfitting Rory Alexander's Bradshaw in sharp suits that belie his financial straits, Mullen's the big star of the production. And although the young cast has a difficult time maintaining a balance between the Klub's lurid, grinning delusion and the very real clouds quickly rolling into Berlin, it's hard not to catch chills as the M.C. wishes you one final, solemn Auf Wiedersehen. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 22. (323) 960-5773. (Rebecca Haithcoat)


Photo by Ben Horak

Einstein once said, “Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.” But perhaps computer science and microbiology can be. At least according to Itamar Moses, whose latest world premiere explores the probability of two graduate students heuristically finding love. Elliot (Karl Miller) and Molly (Mandy Siegfried) bump into each other in the computer lab, only to discover that their departments are but a floor apart and their temperaments even closer. Elliot offers his algorithmic skills to help Molly with her experiments on protein interactions, and before long a mathematical solution to a biological problem creates a whole lot of chemistry. Of course the bug in the software is that Elliot has coincidentally just broken up with fellow CS grad student Lauren (Brooke Bloom), while Molly hasn't quite ended things with biology professor Don (Johnathan McClain). Hurt feelings of exes aside, cross-pollination may be the key to Elliot and Molly finally finding love … until their logical sides begin to iteratively analyze what exactly they have together. While the plot initially seems destined for Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus territory, it quickly and surprisingly veers away, back and away once more as Moses plays to and and subverts such stereotypes. In doing so, he strikes a fine balance between geeking out with the science and remaining dramatically compelling. Director Pam MacKinnon expertly maintains that balance by ensuring the spot-on comic timing of the actors, who navigate uncomfortable emotional exchanges in refreshingly hilarious ways. Even the costume and set changes are beautifully orchestrated, the latter courtesy of Christopher Barreca's metallic matrix, whose magically mechanized movements bring to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; some variations, call for schedule; thru May 8. (714) 708-5555, (Mayank Keshaviah)


Photo by Ron Sossi

In director Allan Miller's emotionally deft production of Sean O'Casey's powerful Irish drama, “The whole world's in a state of total chassis.” And whatever you make of such a statement, this staging of O'Casey's play artfully mixes blarney and despair in almost equal measure. Set in a squalid Dublin tenement, circa 1920, O'Casey's play focuses on one of the great tragic figures of the theater: amiable, gloating, lying loafer “Captain” Jack Boyle (John Apicella), as lovable as he is overweening. Instead of finding a useful job to please his frustrated wife, Juno (Kitty Swink), Captain Jack boozes it up with his wastrel best pal, “Joxer” Daly (Armin Shimerman). Jack is delighted when he learns he has inherited a small fortune — but outside their tenement, alarming dangers lurk that destroy his daughter Mary (Jeanne Syquia) and son Johnny (Josh Zuckerman). Miller's staging of this most character-driven of plays commendably showcases personality, and the acting work is both vivid and convincing. In Apicella's blustery turn as “the Paycock,” Jack's not just a lazy, genial sod, he's “King Baby,” a strutting alpha male, whose sense of entitlement is noticeably at odds with the squalor of his reality. An equal pleasure is Swink's tightly wound, brittle Juno: In this tough, melancholy performance, the long-suffering, hard-bitten wife clearly knows that she has turned into a hag as a result of picking up after her hubby's irresponsible fecklessness. Jack's true mate, of course, is his reprehensible boon companion Joxer Daly, played with irresistible rattiness by Shimerman, whose oily bonhomie is matched only by the character's spite when Jack's back is turned. The shabby furniture of Chuck Erven's set in Act 1 turns into slightly fancier furniture in Act 2 (when the family's fortunes look to be made). There's even a working stove downstage, where Juno cooks up a delicious-smelling Irish sausage, which (no insult to the cast of this engaging and moving drama) inevitably steals the scene in which it appears. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 477-2055, (Paul Birchall)


Photo courtesy of El Portal Theatre

In a poignant and peerless performance, Jason Alexander wrests timeless relevance from Neil Simon's 1971 period comedy. Middle-aged Mel (Alexander) and his loving and accommodating wife, Edna (Gina Hecht), live in a Manhattan high-rise with paper-thin walls and faulty plumbing. Mel is a kvetch without equal whose outrage at noisy neighbors, smelly garbage, a defective air conditioner and various other urban ills reaches full bombast after the couple's apartment is burgled of everything — even their liquor and their Valium. The situation turns even more dire after Mel confesses to Edna that he's lost his job, and his native excitability gives way to a full-fledged breakdown. Directed by Glenn Casale — with set, lighting and sound by Stephen Gifford, Jared A. Sayeg and Philip G. Allen respectively — this is a handsome production of what is neither one of Simon's best nor wittiest scripts. But from the moment the lights come up, Alexander is on, generating laugh after laugh even as he mines the pathos behind his character's ceaseless tirades — like Jackie Gleason at his best. In Act 2, a family powwow convened between Mel's three flaky sisters (Annie Korzen, Deedee Rescher and Carol Ita White) and his brother, Harry (Ron Orbach), detours the story back into the realm of shtick. While everyone is entertaining, Orbach is excellent; as with Alexander's performance, his blustery blowhard displays that combination of depth and timing that is the mark of consummate skill. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., Wed. & Sat., 2 p.m., Tues., May 3, 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 15. (818) 508-4200, (Deborah Klugman)

NEW REVIEW QUICK AND IN MY ARMS/THE ENDLESS NIGHT Publicized as “an evening in limbo,” Peter J. Roth's one-act couplet explores the boundaries of reality and fantasy and our often elusive perceptions about them. In The Endless Night, solidly directed by Daniel Armas, the line between the real and the unreal dims beyond recognition, as we are pulled into the dream world of a deranged woman (Kimi Buser), who drifts between two different lives with two different men (Dario Torres, Matt Calloway), and is powerless to distinguish one from the other. In this piece, Roth shrewdly mixes sprightly humor with the subtly macabre for a riveting story, augmented by fine performances. Quick and in My Arms is a dubious meditation on love and death involving a young man named Lazarus (Gus Krieger), who discovers, after a seemingly routine health checkup, that he has no vital signs and is dead. Thestartling revelation produces some genuinely humorous moments and exchanges with a priest (Timothy Portnoy) and a waiter (Sean Frye), and about 10 minutes of dramatic interest. Instead of broaching something substantive, Roth offers a nearly hourlong, frivolous ditty with a head-scratching, melodramatic ending. Cast performances are equally unimpressive under Buser's direction, the only exception being Erin Miller Williams, who plays Laz's wife, Molly. Great Scott Theatre/Met Theatre Complex, 1089 N. Oxford St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 30. (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW SHOE STORY After Nike released its Air Jordan basketball shoe in 1985 at the

then-astronomical price of $115 a pair, a subsequent spate of violent muggings in which ghetto teens were murdered for their shoes became a rallying cry for those who felt the crimes were emblematic of the Reagan era's runaway materialism. Playwright Ben Snyder revisits those headlines in an “urban fairy tale” that begs the question, Does a news story slant carry the metaphoric weight needed to hold down a full-length stage drama? Based on the evidence of director Maureen Huskey's slick but indecisive staging, the answer appears to be, well, no. The play features Justin Alston as O.G.Mar, self-appointed street mentor to hapless Foot Locker clerk PeeWee (Norm Johnson). After PeeWee is dumped by a gold-digging girlfriend (Nikki Brown), O.G. spins him a sad story of a shoe store in the 1980s (Sibyl Wickersheimer's cleverly exploded storefront/NYC bus shelter set) in which a similar clerk's inability to discriminate between matters of the heart and styling kicks for the feet ultimately leads to tragedy. Rather than allowing such slender satire to run its own course, Huskey strains the proceedings with excessively broad physical shtick and superfluous documentary video (by Bryan Maier and Anthony Puente) as if to underscore that the play is meant to be both funny and socially relevant. The gambit backfires when Act 2 takes an abrupt left turn into muddled melodrama and the otherwise rock-solid ensemble is left scrambling to get a foothold on the suddenly much darker register. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 22. (323) 856-8611, (Bill Raden)


Photo by Foxx

If choice of text were the sole determinant of a revival's success, then director Sam Nickens' rediscovery of Peter S. Feibleman's all-but-forgotten curio of a 1962 Southern Gothic might be considered a coup. Written in the quirky key of vintage Inge, Feibleman's tale of a hardscrabble black family in early-1950s New Orleans is a surprisingly fresh and unsentimental treatment of the self-deceiving hypocrisy of respectability. The high-minded, widowed matriarch, Mama Morris (Regina Randolph), is so in thrall to the memory of her criminally inclined eldest son as a World War II battlefield martyr that she has made an altar of the government telegram announcing his death in action. Eight years later, however, the strain of living up to that legacy has produced a household where nothing is what it seems. Son Clarence (Damien Burke) is apparently the home's honest and hardworking breadwinner. Cille (DaShawn Barnes) is the plain, migraine-plagued daughter whose frail health appears to be dooming her to spinsterhood. The emotionally arrested Dan (Richard John Reliford) is seemingly engaged to the ostensibly demure belle Adelaide (Barika A. Croom). But when a Korean War draft notice for Clarence punctures the family's carefully guarded fictions, self-knowledge rushes in to exact a terrible toll. Despite outstanding performances by the women, Nickens' lax and uneven staging (on lighting designer Chris Covics' ramshackle kitchen-sink set) never gets beyond the play's surface melodrama to plumb its far more tantalizing gallery of psychological grotesques. An Upward Bound Production. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.;Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 22. (323) 960-7740, (Bill Raden)


Photo by William Adashek

Rampant alcohol abuse, closeted homosexuality and shrill Southern belles nervously walking the line between hysterical rage and catatonic collapse: This is Tennessee Williams territory and the folks at Impro Theatre traverse the Southern Gothic terrain with hilarious authenticity. No, it's not The Glass Menagerie or A Streetcar Named Desire, it's a spontaneously authored, full-length play crafted to capture the

style, mood and thematic leanings of a given playwright. Last Saturday, that playwright was Williams (in rotating rep, William Shakespeare and Stephen Sondheim also get the improv treatment), and a boozy family saga emerged after audience members agreed upon two simple items to launch the story: a family heirloom (a vase with horses on it) and an animal (a Chihuahua). The particulars of the play are not important, because the troupe never

replicates the same show. What is notable is their collective knack for creating characters and scenarios we recognize in an instant as quintessentially Williams. The vase is introduced as a wedding gift for an excitable June (Kari Coleman), who initially squeals with joy over the

charmingly upbeat journey of the horses. By play's end, however, the horses race in a hopelessly circular trajectory that serves as a metaphor for the futility of marriage. Darnell (Stephen Kearn), June's teen brother, dreams of escaping on horseback from his sexual longings for his art teacher (Brian Lohmann, who also directs with a clear grasp of the requisite atmospheric touches) and his overbearing, hard-drinking father. Lisa Fredrickson's

quick-witted portrayal of a matriarch bearing an uncanny resemblance to Amanda Wingfield was a delight. Textual mining and fast thinking marry with ease in the ensemble's hands. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.; W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 29. (310) 477-2055, (Amy Lyons)

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