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Land of the Tigers
Photo by Jon Beauregard

Noises On
Cool Cats and Hot Actors

Act 1 of the Burglars of Hamm's hilarious and thought provoking comedy, Land of the Tigers, outlandishly crosses Cats with Planet of the Apes. In a whimsical world where felines walk upright and speak English (but thankfully don't caterwaul “Memory”) a veritable Kingdom of Tigers prance around in feathered wigs and top coats, while debating important matters (to cats, anyway) in the Tigressional Congress.  Amongst this group, the great warrior Sabertooth (Hugo Armstrong) goes into lustful cat heat for sultry she-tiger Sheba (Devin Sidell), which outrages Sheba's fierce brother Fang Stalkington (Tim Sheridan), who has already fathered several litters with the young beauty (remember, this is the Tiger World, we're talking about).  Full of bizarre cat mating dances, and scenes in which characters shift instantly from conversing into snarling Tiger-style, the Burglars' comedy is staged by Matt Almos with acrobatic dexterity, a tongue-in-cheek tone, and perfect comic timing. The reasons for slight touches of campiness become evident in Act Two, however, which follows the cast of dimwitted and absurdly self important actors as they are increasingly brainwashed by their tyrannical, ego tripping director (a fabulous Dean Gregory), whose eyes glitter with madness). Although the concept possesses slight echoes of Noises Off, the Burglars cunningly explore a totally different avenue, elegantly satirizing the sense of collective delusion that frequently befalls performers in a mediocre show.   The acting work is particularly sprightly, and it's delightful how the bumbling tiger actors of Act 1 are subsequently revealed as the optimistic, dedicated, yet benighted ensemble of Act 2. The end result, more than calculatedly dippy comedy about cats, is an often compelling meditation on the creation of theater itself, and how the audience will never glimpse the many dramas within a play's production.  Sacred Fools theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8, p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 3. (310) 281-8337.  A Burglars of Hamm, Sacred Fools Co-Production.
–Paul Birchall

Here's this week's  COVER STORY on the rise of the new, dark L.A. musical

COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for April 3 – 9, 2009

(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in “Continuing Performances” below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)

Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, 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

OPENING THIS WEEK

<3 Multimedia collaboration by Brimmer Street Theatre Company. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens April 4; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 9, www.restartyourheart.com...

ANY1MAN George Peters II's solo portrait of the many faces of the modern black man. Alexia Robinson Studio, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; opens April 9; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 842-4755.

DESPERATE WRITERS: THE FINAL DRAFT Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber's comedy about a pair of struggling scriptwriters at the end of their rope. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; opens April 4; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 10. (800) 838-3006.

LUMINOUS BIRCH: AND THE SPLENDOR OF THE COLORLESS LIGHT OF EMPTINESS Randy Sean Schulman's transcendent love story, mixing live theater and silent film. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; opens April 3; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru May 10. (323) 655-7679.

MAMMA MIA! The songs of ABBA tell the story of a bride-to-be who

invites all three of her possible dads to her wedding. Pantages

Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 &

8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru April 19. (213) 365-3500.

MAURITIUS Sisters bicker over an inherited stamp collection, by

Theresa Rebeck. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena;

Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru

April 26. (626) 356-PLAY.

MCGUIRE Cotter Smith performs sportscaster Dick Enberg's one-man

tribute to basketball coach Al McGuire. El Portal Theatre, 5269

Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Through April 11, 8 p.m.; Sun.,

April 12, 3 p.m.. (818) 508-0281.

SEX, DREAMS & SELF-CONTROL Nashville musician Kevin Thornton's stories and songs about growing up gay. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; opens April 3; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 969-2530.

SOS Caden Mason/Big Art Group combines surveillance, cinema and live performance to explore themes of “rebirth, sacrifice and ritual in a supersaturated, hyper-acquisitive society.”. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; April 8-11, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 12, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE

EVERYBODY SAY “CHEESE!” Garry Marshall's Bronx tale of a 1960s middle-aged housewife newly inspired by women's lib. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., April 11, 4 p.m.; thru April 11. (818) 955-8101.

NEW REVIEW GO GOLDFISH  is the central metaphor in John Kolvenbach's

eloquently written drama about a pair college students trying to pry

free from dependent parents. The deepest flaw in the playwriting is

that the characters understand and are too articulate about their life

problems. This is particularly true of Leo (Conor O'Farrell), a

ne'r-do-well gambler who waxes poetically about his dissolute life and

his introverted son  Albert (Tasso Feldman) — Leo being the Goldfish

who would eat himself to death without child Albert setting proper

controls on feeding. Albert carefully engineers his escape from

privation to attend an Ivy League school. His shyness allows him to

constantly study undisturbed until he captures the attention of

beautiful but unstable coed Lucy (Kate Rylie), who pulls him into a

joyous romance. Enter Margaret (Joan McMurtrey) — rich, stately,

beautiful and alcoholic, whose corrosive humor usually hides her pain,

but not her adoration for her daughter Lucy. While all the performances

are excellent, McMurtrey possesses the grandeur of Marian Seldes.

Director Loretta Greco honors the script with a high velocity

production that keeps the audience riveted. Stark, but realistic moving

set pieces by Myung Hee Cho are aided by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's

lighting and Michael Hooker's sound — all propelling the story without

calling attention to themselves.  South Coast Repertory 655 Town Center

Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri.; 7:45 p.m.; Sat.Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.;

thru April 5. (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org . (Tom Provenzano)

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF The Broadway hit about a Jewish milkman and his daughters, book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru April 26. (805) 667-2900.

LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters – including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather (about Lena Horne) or Ella (about Ella Fitzgerald).The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. (SLM) Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through May 24. (310) 208-54545.

NEW REVIEW GO THE PROJECTIONIST is the most taut play by Michael Sargent

I've seen, and this  structural discipline really allows his keen

observations and piercing wit to come blazing through. Designer Chris

Covics has transformed the lobby of the Kirk Douglas Theater into the

lobby of the dilapidated Art Movie Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in

1983 (the Douglas' ante-lobby becomes the movie-house's projection

room.) We're perched on bleachers, spying not only on the end of an era

for a B-movie “art” house, but the end of hope for the young

projectionist , Randy Shaw. Hamish Linklater is just superb as the

twitchy, flinching, bewildered drug addict whose UCLA grad school

film-making ambitions lie discarded with all the used pop-corn buckets

and candy wrappers. In the body of his work, Sargent turns the abject

failure of his central characters into high art, and Randy's failure

embeds itself into the play with the arrival of his grad school peer

Ian (Christian Leffler), who's just swinging by this seventh level of

hell – that Randy pretty much runs entirely by himself – to see a

flick. When Ian offers Randy a job, the scene is the punk equivalent

from Death of a Salesman, when Willy Loman's next door neighbor,

Charlie, offers the unemployed salesman a lifeline, and he, too, snubs

his would-be savior – only Willy is more polite about it. A hint of

romanticism walks in the door with the arrival of young Kim Refro

(Brittany Slattery) looking for a job — “I feel like the bait in a

zombie movie.” Kim obviously takes a shine to the awkward young

manager, though he's not technically the manager. The real manager

(Barry Del Sherman) hasn't shown up for a week; and when he does, it's

with a knife and floozy (Tara Chocol Joyce) in tow, along with

aspirations of armed robbery. There are very strong suggestions that

the Art Theater is actually part of a Russian Mafia porn operation, and

Randy's moment in impetuous, addiction-inspired glory in the midst of

gun-battle seals Sargent's Oscar-Wild-ish view on the possibilities of

human redemption. Grand performances also by Lauren Campedelli, Hugh

Dane, Don Oscar Smith and Maynor Alvarado. Bart DeLorenzo's atmospheric

staging is as spot-on as Ann Closs-Farley's costumes, Anne Militello's

lighting and John Ballinger's sound design, all of which combine to

cement a past that you can't run fast enough from.  It's a weird

combination, leaving the theater with a grin on your face, while also

feeling the strong need to take a shower.  Douglas Plus at the Kirk

Douglas Theater, call for schedule; through April 4. (213) 638-2772.

(Steven Leigh Morris)

Hamish Linklater and Brittany Slattery in The Projectionist Photo by Craig Schwartz

SOS Caden Mason/Big Art Group combines surveillance, cinema and live

performance to explore themes of “rebirth, sacrifice and ritual in a

supersaturated, hyper-acquisitive society.”. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St.,

L.A.; Through April 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 12, 3 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. (Schedule varies, call for info.). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (818) 240-0910.

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU George S. Kaufman Moss Hart's 1936 comedy about an eccentric New York family. West Valley Playhouse, 7242 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 26. (818) 884-1907.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS

ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

BILL W. AND DR. BOB Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey's story of Alcoholics Anonymous. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 31. (323) 960-7827.

GO BRUISING FOR BESOS In Spanish besos means kisses but getting them in Yolanda Villamontes' (writer/performer Adelina Anthony) family should come with combat pay. With a philandering father who alternately abuses and romances her emotionally fragile mother, Yolanda develops a distorted view of love that clouds her relationships, most especially that with her mom. Now as an adult on a sojourn from L.A. to visit her sick mother in San Antonio, Yolanda is marooned with a busted radiator on a Texas highway and flashes back to memories of her hardscrabble childhood, her budding attraction to women, and the struggle for her and her mom to accept one another. Anthony's solo performance chronicles a tale of dysfunction with uproarious humor and heartfelt gravity, deftly balancing both and delivering a riveting work. Under Rose Marcario's sturdy direction, Anthony effortlessly embodies a host of characters, from Yolanda's' strutting father and precocious siblings to her sexually confused high school peer, from a fiery Puerto Rican lover to a mother aching from a love-hate relationship. Designer Robert Selander's set, centered on a Ford Mustang grill and car hood made of bleached bones, and John Pedrone's evocative lighting design, combine well with Anthony's journey of self-discovery. (MH) The Davidson/Valenti Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 19. (323) 860-7300.

DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the “white trash” clan in Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores<0x2019> dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3). Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 954-9795.

NEW REVIEW GO THE DEVIL WITH BOOBS Director Tom Quaintance and his cast work theatrical magic with this superb staging of Dario Fo's bawdy satire (in a finely tuned translation by Jon Laskin). Fo is as much a prankster and polemicist as he is a playwright, all of these aspects are richly displayed here. The action takes place in a town in Northern Italy where fraud, corruption and vice run amok. However, the staunchly upright Judge Alfonso de Tristano (Michael Winters) is a light amidst the darkness, a, man so pure he recoils at the sight of a pair of tits. This situation is intolerable to Master Devil Francipante (the stellar and dangerously funny Phillip William Brock) and his apprentice (Herschel Sparber), so they conspire to possess the judge's body and spirit. Unfortunately, the plan backfires and the judge's buxom housekeeper (Katherine Griffith) winds up playing host to the devil, which causes an eruption of comedy, naughty bits, and mayhem. Quaintance provides fluid, intelligent direction, but the cast is flawlessly funny. Even the musical ditties scattered throughout are nicely done (one such number by Brock had me laughing so hard I thought I'd pass out). Cristina Wright's period costumes and puppets are a riot, and Adam Rowe's set piece (composed almost exclusively of doors), adds just the right touch. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m, Sun. 3 p.m. thru. May 16. (323) 882- 6912. (Lovell Estell III)

GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here – one (Gabrielle Wagner), a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion from her own recent divorce and now “temporarily” based in Studio City. These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without “representation.” They might even remain married, the musical implies. Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the Mediator – i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision, based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his home, where he ex-bride continues to live — only to find his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, “We Stuck It Out,” there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 26. (323) 960-1056.

ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.

GROUNDLINGS, IN THE STUDY, WITH THE CANDLESTICK All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Rash. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru April 25. (323) 934-9700.

THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, “from OMG to LOL.”. ComedySportz, 8033 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.

HOME SIEGE HOME The Ghost Road Company reinterprets Aeschylus' Oresteia as a trilogy. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 461-3673.

GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.

NEW REVIEW PICK OF THE WEEK LAND OF THE TIGERS Act 1 of the Burglars of Hamm's hilarious and thought provoking comedy outlandishly crosses Cats with Planet of the Apes. In a whimsical world where felines walk upright and speak English (but thankfully don't caterwaul “Memory”) a veritable Kingdom of Tigers prance around in feathered wigs and top coats, while debating important matters (to cats, anyway) in the Tigressional Congress. Amongst this group, the great warrior Sabertooth (Hugo Armstrong) goes into lustful cat heat for sultry she-tiger Sheba (Devin Sidell), which outrages Sheba's fierce brother Fang Stalkington (Tim Sheridan), who has already fathered several litters with the young beauty (remember, this is the Tiger World, we're talking about). Full of bizarre cat mating dances, and scenes in which characters shift instantly from conversing into snarling Tiger-style, the Burglars' comedy is staged by Matt Almos with acrobatic dexterity, a tongue-in-cheek tone, and perfect comic timing. The reasons for slight touches of campiness become evident in Act Two, however, which follows the cast of dimwitted and absurdly self important actors as they are increasingly brainwashed by their tyrannical, ego tripping director (a fabulous Dean Gregory, whose eyes glitter with madness). Although the concept possesses slight echoes of Noises Off, the Burglars cunningly explore a totally different avenue, elegantly satirizing the sense of collective delusion that frequently befalls performers in a mediocre show. The acting work is particularly sprightly, and it's delightful how the bumbling tiger actors of Act 1 are subsequently revealed as the optimistic, dedicated, yet benighted ensemble of Act 2. The end result, more than calculatedly dippy comedy about cats, is an often compelling meditation on the creation of theater itself, and how the audience will never glimpse the many dramas within a play's production. Sacred Fools theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8, p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 3. (310) 281-8337. A Burglars of Hamm, Sacred Fools Co-Production. (Paul Birchall)


Clown Show for Bruno Photo by Stacey Bode

GO PHOTOGRAPH 51 This West Coast premiere of Anna Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play, Photograph 51, concerns Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting, the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel Billet), and her graduate assistant Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris) than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, “Dr. Wilkins, I don't do jokes. I do science.” Her confidence and professionalism leads to an uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick (Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space, turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert, whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit, and deep pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped crack the Pyrex ceiling reminds us of the need to reexamine “his”tory, and should not be missed. (MK)The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 3. (323) 663-1525.

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.

NEW REVIEW GO THE PRODIGAL FATHER Those worried that Larry Dean Harris' breezy drama about a gay playwright and his bigoted, Alzheimer's-addled father might have something to do with terminal brain disease can rest easy. The soul-destroying illness is little more than the thinnest of medical MacGuffins in a story whose true subject is the sometimes-paradoxical ways in which codes of masculinity are transmitted and reified in male bonds. For Bible Belt-bred, stage scribe Jamey Sanders (Allain Rochel), that means the same hyper-macho traits so reviled in Earl (Max Gail), Jamey's estranged, Korean War-veteran bear of a father, are precisely what attracts him to Nick (Joe Rose), his older, construction-worker bear of a lover. When the memory-challenged Earl unexpectedly flees his Tennessee convalescent home and lands on the gay couple's Chicago doorstep, Jamey must resolve long-deferred Oedipal issues if he is to both hold onto Nick and effect the story's bizarre reconciliation while Earl still has half a mind. Along the way, Harris offers the unseemly narrative novelty of employing Earl's spells of dementia as dramatic flashbacks to some metaphorically murky coon hunts from Jamey's childhood. Nevertheless, brisk direction by Michael Matthews and strong performances from a veteran cast (Josette DiCarlo is particularly fine doubling as the boys' flamboyantly flirty friend and Jamey's deceased mother) make it an entertaining ride. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 957-1884. (Bill Raden)


The Prodigal Father Photo courtesy of Celebration Theatre/Playwrights 6

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 May 2. (310) 281-8337.

SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES … LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 226-6148.

SIN: A CARDINAL DEPOSED The 2002 deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law had all the elements of great theater: small heroes, a giant villain, and a troublesome morality that raised more questions than it answered. But while all the pieces are there, they still need to be shaped, and playwright Michael Murphy simply trims the transcripts and presents a fictionally synthesized laywer (Steven Culp) and his inquisition of the publicly disgraced (but Vatican-condoned) Cardinal (Joe Spano). It's smart and interesting, but wearisomely literal. This leaves director Paul Mazursky little to do but stage it as a stiff tableaux — the Catholic Church's last ethically superior supper — centered on the deposition table. At that table, the Cardinal is flanked by his lawyer (Carl Bressler) and his fictionalized opponent. Add to this trio two actors who read the letters of witnesses, truth seekers, and church officials (Edita Brychta and Jack Maxwell, both great at shifting through a dozen accents) and a molestation victim (Christian Campbell) who oversees it all in silence. While the cast is quite good, that all are reading from scripts adds to the inertia, leaving us restless enough to wish that Murphy had dug beneath the surface and unearthed questions he only gestures towards, such as the coexistence of good and evil in priests whose six days of benevolence will never balance their afternoons of selfish harm. (AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 960-4442.

SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy “with a distinctly African-American sensibility.”. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 14. (323) 960-7745.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre creates full-length plays on the fly, all in the style of playwright Tennessee Williams. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 26. (800) 838-3006.

13 BY SHANLEY FESTIVAL Seven full-length plays and six one-acts by John Patrick Shanley. (Weekly schedule alternates; call for info.). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 960-7827.

THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS

BEST WISHES Bill Barker's story of a family's final goodbyes to their mother and their rural Kansas home. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 745-8527.


GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker – the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called “Norman Bates Modern.” When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Family tone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked “drunk crazy uncle” stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 2. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.

BLACK ANGELS OVER TUSKEGEE The Black Gents of Hollywood present Layon Gray's world-premiere drama about African-American fighter pilots. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 7:45 p.m.; thru May 2. (818) 754-5725.

NEW REVIEW GO CAPTAIN DAN DIXON VERSUS THE MOTH SLUTS FROM THE FIFTH

DIMINSION “You are powerful women –you don't have to use sex as a

weapon!” pleads the mutant-brained Dr. Canigulus (Denise Devin) to the

alien Vulvulans (“Moth Sluts,” for short) who have invaded The Magellan

spaceship.  The Magellan has a conservative crew; onboard is a priest

(Christopher Aguilar) who prays that their quest serves God's will. 

Still, Captain Dan Dixon (Matthew Sklar) and the rest of his men can't

resist the Vulvulans — green, pasties-clad go-go dancers with

pneumatic exoskeletons.  Led by Empress Syphla (Amanda Marquardt) with

the pint-sized Luna (Jonica Patella) as her brute muscle, the ladies

quickly hypnotize the crew, but for what villainous purpose? 

Playwright Sklar and director Zombie Joe know the heart of their show

beats near near Syphla's gyrating curves, but they've generously gone

on and given us a show with sharp comic timing and even a half-serious

philosophical theme.  Though the Vulvulans are technically pestilence,

if they look and act like people, would the preemptive extermination

Dr. Canigulus demands be genocide?  Sure, this is more entertainment

than theater, but Zombie Joe and his non-existent sets always remind me

what I love best about L.A.'s small stages: the scrappy fun of putting

up a great show with just a couple costumes and imagination.  ZJU

Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8:30 p.m.,

Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 4. (818) 202-4120. (Amy Nicholson)


Dan Dixon Photo Courtesy of Zombie Joe's Underground

GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes, and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about feelings that he can't pronounce the word “love.” His frustrated wife, Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter. Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative, borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 2. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.

GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who recently helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera at the Hayworth, has scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's liberties they take on the story in now way diminish the quality of the production. Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy count, first seen rising from his grave to put the bite on the lovely Mina (Mara Marini), upon his arrival in England. When Lucy Seward (Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a mysterious illness, her mother, Lily (Karesa McElheny), who runs an asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R. Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This one's all about atmosphere. Desma Murphy's alluring set design is cleverly accented by an enormous backdrop of an incubus sitting on a sleeping woman, inspired by Henry Fuseli's painting “The Nightmare.” Luke Moyer's lighting schema is perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an arsenal of haunted house special effects here, including lots of rolling fog and wolf howls, but they never come across as cheesy or overdone; and there are a few scary moments during this 90-minute show, amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 26. (818) 508-7101.

GLOVES REQUIRED “Poetic indulgence” by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 202-4120.

NEW REVIEW GO THE LETTERS in John W. Lowell's new play refer to the explicitly lascivious correspondence of a musician in Soviet Russia, which The Director (Norman Shaw) of a Ministry of Information is trying to locate. It takes a short while for us to realize this in John W. Lowell's two-character drama, because at the outset, it appears that the Director has called in his subordinate, Anna (Julie Fletcher) for a promotion, which – knowing the corpse-strewn wasteland of the Soviet bureaucracy – she's very reluctant to accept. She'd rather keep her head low. But The Director will hear none of that (“We're not interested in what you want”), and soon the widowed Anna finds herself entrapped by defending a colleague/lover who's implicated in a breach of security by the gossip of an alcoholic bureaucrat whose dubious words The Director now takes as gospel – or he pretends to. Lowell's cat-and-mouse game of paranoia and entrapment is old stuff, and, under Anne McNaughton's staging, it unfolds at a pace a little too measured for a new play in 2009, even as Anna transforms nicely from servility to defiance. The world of the play is rendered with such verisimilitude, with Dean Cameron's costumes, and his set that features none-too subtle portraits of Lenin and Stalin gazing down on the action, that one is inclined to heave a sigh or relief that we're not in Soviet Russia, though I very much doubt this is Lowell's point. There are two small keys to the lockbox of this play's meaning: One is The Director's insistence that the alcoholic witness' testimony is reliable, despite the appalling lack of corroborating evidence. This is the embodiment of the nastiest aspect of despotism: an “investigation” fueled by a foregone conclusion, which in the recent past has been every bit as American as it was Soviet. The other key is the power of accusation embedded in gossip – in the accusation rather than the investigation of it lies the truth. These are eternal, universal verities that lead directly to the horrors of tyranny. The quality, the detail and the nuance of both performances are among this production's strengths. Both roles are filled with torrents of language that's not so easy to render plausibly, and yet both Shaw and Fletcher accomplish just that. NewPlace Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 19. (Steven Leigh Morris)


The Letters Photo by John Demita

MACBETH Forget radically deconstructed concept productions or contemporary political reinterpretations, director Sean Branney delivers no such surprises in his traditional and somewhat generic staging of Shakespeare's Scottish noir. With the text more-or-less intact — even the oft-cut first witches' scene remains — Branney's most brazen liberty is to goose the testosterone with the kind of onstage swashbuckling (choreographed by Brian Danner) that Shakespeare had intended be played offstage. Otherwise, this bard is strictly by the book. The good news is Andrew Leman's muscular, articulate turn as brave Macbeth. Leman's performance is nobility personified; which is to say his regal demeanor is only occasionally ruffled by the underlying corruption of a “vaulting ambition” that will turn Macbeth, after Richard III, into Shakespeare's most notorious regicidal maniac. As the play's invidious femme fatale, McKerrin Kelly compliments Leman with a Lady Macbeth who makes even icy ruthlessness seem sexy. Other standouts include Daniel Kaemon's dashing Malcolm, and Mike Dalager and Danny Barclay, whose pair of scurvy-chic Murderers looks like they stepped out of a Guns N' Roses video. For the rest of the cast, costume designer Christy M. Hauptman eschews highland tartan for robes of a more indeterminate, medieval kind. That nonspecificity is continued in the raised stone altar and henge-like monoliths of Arthur MacBride's set, whose suggestion of Neolithic pagan ritual may be a clever design for Macbeth . . . not, however, for this one, which never otherwise hints at such themes. (BR) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26; (818) 846-5323.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE John Lahr updates Richard Condon's political thriller. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.

PICNIC William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winner about a hunky drifter in a small Kansas town. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (626) 355-4318.

TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: BEGINNINGS Seven late-night vignettes by Theatre Unleashed. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 18. (818) 849-4039.

THE WAY OF THE WORLD William Congreve's Restoration comedy, updated to modern-day L.A. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 849-4039.

CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS

GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation – overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current “we are the world” emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Molière's 1670 comedy – a satire of snobbery and social climbing – will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that — though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy — perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. The Bourgeois Gentleman was first presented the year after Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing “tears of a clown” masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks – despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression – every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 8. (310) 319-9939.

BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Staged with a warm cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily, though, a more aloof ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional isolation where the polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro) and perfect-on-paper boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold shadow across all dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny roomate Larry (Aaron Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a wrenching and infuriating Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like pathological self-punishment. Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story — the scene breaks twinkle with sentimental music — however his cast isn't up to it and hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob from a strange man rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the weather.) Comperatore's combustible Pale has four times the spark of the rest of the ensemble — when he bursts into the scene, we see the gulf between what Wilson's play could be and what this staging actually is. (AN) Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 25. (310) 397-3244.

CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.

DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion and talent – both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer – 33 years on the job – who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member — a well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4 songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative, itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel – part performance, part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. (DK) Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 18. (310) 358-9936.

JUMPING THE MEDIAN: AN EVENING OF 4 UNEXPECTED ONE ACTS Playwright Steve Connell's collection of four one act plays may bill itself as “unexpected,” but for the most part the vignettes are sadly prosaic, mining familiar romantic tropes and themes. Strongest of the set is the promisingly stark “Us And Them,” in which a bubbly young couple (Tyler Moore and Sara Sido) move into their new home, which was previously owned by a miserable, older couple (In-Q and Elizabeth Maxwell). Imaginatively staged by co-directors Connell and Emily Weisberg, the set is divided into two quadrants, showing both couples in the same house at different times – and the piece artfully hints at the haunting (if not necessarily logical) idea that the young loving couple must inevitably turn into the older miserable couple. Sadly, the other vignettes are not able to rise to the same emotionally nuanced level. “Jumping the Median” is a plodding, overwritten opus about the long, long, long courtship of a young couple (Ida Darvish and Connell), who endlessly woo each other at that hoariest of one act play locales, the iconic park bench. In “Love Thy Neighbors,” whose choppy dialogue and clumsily cartoonish tone has the sloppy and random feel of having been written in haste, a suburban mom (Sara Sido) welcomes the neighbors for dinner – and the neighbors somewhat inexplicably turn out to be literal characters out of ancient Greek drama. Connell is a slam poet of some national reputation, so it's natural that he and Weisberg's crisp staging has a dark, streetwise edge. It's just a pity the writing itself devolves so frequently into dull cliché. (PB) The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 18. https://www.plays411.com/jumpingthemedian.

LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump — this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships — especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that “real Americans” need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 3. (310) 822-8392.

MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through May 30. (866) 468-3399 or https://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.

MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's comedy of manners, marriage proposals, and matrimony. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055.

PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso trade shots at a Paris bar, in Steve Martin's play. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (562) 494-1014.

GO THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES The central character in Molière's comedy, here translated and adapted by Frédérique Michel & Charles Duncombe could be and often is a punching bag. But not here. Arnolphe is another in a stream of Molière's aging, patronizing nitwits (like Orgon on Tartuffe) who presume that they can control the devotions and passions of young women in their care. In Tartuffe, when Orgon's daughter protests his insistence that she break her wedding plans to her beloved suitor in order to marry the clergyman he prefers, Orgon figures her rebellion is just a impetuous, child-like phase. In The School for Wives, there's a similar mind-set to Arnolphe (Bo Roberts), who has tried to sculpt his young ward, Agnes (Jessica Madison), into his future wife. He's known her since she was 4, and he's strategically kept her closeted, as though in a convent, hoping thereby to shape her obedience and gratitude. Just as he's about to wed her, in stumbles young Horace (Dave Mack) from the street below her window, and the youthful pair are smitten with eachother, soon conniving against the old bachelor. Horace, not realizing that Arnolphe is the man keeping Agnes as his imprisoned ward, keeps confiding in the older man about his and Agnes' schemes, fueling Arnolphe's exasperation and fury. Perhaps it's the use of director Michel's tender, Baroque sound-tracks, or the gentle understatement of Roberts' performance and Arnolphe, but the play emerges less as a clown show, and more as a wistful almost elegiac rumination on aging and folly. Arnolphe tried to create a brainless wife as though from a petri dish, an object he can own, and the more she rejects him, the more enamored he becomes of her, until his heart breaks. The pathos is underscored by the obvious intelligence of Madison's Agnes – an intelligence that Arnolphe is blind to. The production's reflective tone supersedes Michel's very stylized, choreographic staging (this company's trademark). The ennui is further supported by a similarly low-key portrayal by David E. Frank as Arnolphe's blithe friend and confidante, Chrysalde. In In fact, when lisping, idiot servants (Cynthia Mance and Ken Rudnicki) keep running in circles and crashing into each other, Michel's one attempt at Commedia physicality is at odds with the production rather than a complement to it. Company costumer Josephine Poinsot (surprising she doesn't work more) provides luscious period vestments and gowns, and Duncombe's delightful production design, includes a gurgling fountain, a tub of white roses, and abstract hints of some elegant, Parisian court. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley entrance); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 319-9939.

THE SECRET GARDEN Musical take on Frances Hidgon Burnett's children's novel, music by Lucy Simon, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 11. (310) 828-7519.

SURVIVED Iraq War veteran is laid to rest, in Tom Burmester's drama. Part of Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's “War Cycle.”. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 25. (800) 595-4849.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy predates Neil Strauss' The Game by 400 years, during which audiences have yet to decide whether he's confirming or slyly eviscerating gender roles. (In this only recently post-Guantanamo climate, breaking Kate with starvation and sleeplessness and temporal disorientation seems less comic.) This staging seems more concerned with mounting a handsome production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stooges-style slapstick while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The set's minimal props and checkerboard floor underscore the sense of rootlessness – with characters standing by without much to do in a scene, the large ensemble looks like game pieces waiting to move. The cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those that choose naturalism fare best, particularly Geoffrey Owen's intelligent Tranio and Stehlin's shrew-taming Petruchio, who has the easy confidence of Clark Gable. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 26. (310) 477-2055. A Circus Theatricals. production.

TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY There are some good ideas in absurdist playwright Will Eno's metaphysical satire of the vapid, spectacle-driven infotainment that is local TV news. Unfortunately, stretching what is at best a one-gag comedy sketch into 80 intermissionless minutes isn't one of them. The pity is that it should have been a joke worth telling. When a mysterious, cosmic calamity extinguishes all starlight, including the sun's, and thereby plunges the earth into perpetual darkness, a hapless and incredibly inept local news team is left grappling with how to provide live TV coverage of the biggest story in history when there is literally nothing to see. As a deadpan studio anchor (Christopher Spencer) juggles remote feeds from field reporters Stephanie Dorian, Jeff McGinness, and Paul Knox, the realization of having nothing meaningful to communicate soon takes its toll. Unable to report on the outside world, the crew's malaprop-mangled ad libbing slowly turns inward on the terror and emptiness of their own existence. And while an able cast (Spencer and Dorian are particularly fine) nails the insipid banalities and portentous posturing of their characters, the material's comic potential too soon evaporates. Director Eric Hamme fails to find either the rhythms or the timing needed to extend the laughs, while Gisela Valenzuela's bleak, all-black minimalist set and an overbearing sound design by Matari 2600 only add to the crushing boredom. (BR) Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 18. (866) 811-4111.

THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS

FAMILY PLANNING Chalk Repertory Theatre presents Julia Edwards' site-specific play, about the effects of infertility on marriage, at four Los Angeles homes. (Resv. required.). Private Residences, Sherman Oaks, Hollywood, Pasadena, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 26. (800) 838-3006.

REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT Army wife awaiting her husband's return from overseas loses herself in fantasy, in José Rivera's play. Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach; Fri., April 10, 8 p.m.. (562) 437-1689.

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