NEW REVIEW GO LOVELAND
Photo by Leland Auslender
What a rare experience it is, when a character that's as maniacal, sexually overheated and as transparently off the rails as a sketch comedy goofball from SNL or a Groundlings show can be the centerpiece of a such a deeply moving play. Lying beneath its clowning hijinx, Ann Randolph's solo performance concerns the fleeting essences of memory and home, of a character grappling with sanity, with mortality, and with the erosion of life leading to beauty. All you have to do is imagine the landscape below the aircraft on which the despondent Franny Potz (Randolph) is returning “home” to Ohio from California, and you can imagine the wrinkles in the desert, like those carved by the snaking Colorado River, like the wrinkles on the face of almost anybody who has endured a life worth living. Franny comes up with these images – hard to imagine from somebody who can't look at you without her tongue involuntarily swirling around her lower lip and her eyes boggling out, and who prides herself on singing from Handel's “The Messiah” dead off-key. There's a “businessman” sitting next to her, he's a bit of an asshole but you can understand his skepticism with this loon by his side. The major accomplishment in Randolph's 90-minute show is to slowly transfer our empathy from him to her. And this is done through re-enactments of Franny's friendship with her crusty mother, perhaps the only friend she has, and of how with limited financial resources, Franny ushered the older woman into a care facility on the heels of a stroke. The piece careens from the ribald humor of Franny's sexual fantasy with the aircraft's pilot to the heartbreak of Franny seeing her mother in the “home,” and the older woman failing to recognize her own daughter – until memory snaps back with the re-functioning of some decayed synapse. The piece combines child-like, even infantile, humor with profundities about time's inexorable march over all of us. This unorthodox blend results in a performance that's silly and tender in the same breath. Its wisdom and beauty are almost indescribable. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006. (Steven Leigh Morris)
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for October 8 – 14, 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
ANNA IN THE TROPICS Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic drama by Nilo Cruz. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Oct. 8; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (626) 256-3809.
ANTON'S UNCLES Theatre Movement Bazaar's men-only take on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 9; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (213) 389-3856.
BILL & TED'S BURLESQUELLENT ADVENTURE The Mezz, Second Floor of the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri., Oct. 8, 8:30 p.m.. (323) 382-2615.
BLITHE SPIRIT Noel Coward's séance comedy. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Oct. 9, schedule varies; call for info. (818) 240-0910.
BRIAR ROSE The Whitmore Eclectic Theater Company presents Kelly Tager's dark spin on the Sleeping Beauty. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31…
THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO The Road Theatre Company presents Marisa Wegrzyn's comedy. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 8; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (866) 811-4111.
CHIMERA “Music, modern dance, puppetry, clowning, and video art,” courtesy The Mrs. Hobbs Experiment. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Oct. 8, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
THE COLOR PUPRLE The 2005 musical based on Alice Walker's novel. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Fri., Oct. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 9, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 10, 2 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.
DAY AFTER DAY Musical tracing the life and career of Doris Day. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sun., Oct. 10, 7 p.m.. (626) 256-3809.
FDR Ed Asner stars as 32nd American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; opens Oct. 13; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (626) 356-PLAY.
FUTURA World-premiere play by Jordan Harrision, set in a (near) future without ink and paper. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; opens Oct. 9; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (626) 683-6883.
GOD'S FAVORITE Neil Simon's comedy, based on the Book of Job. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; opens Oct. 8; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, actorsco-op.org. (323) 462-8460.
HEDDA GABLER Henrik Ibsen's classic. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; opens Oct. 8; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 512-6030.
HEIRESS, '69 Manson murder victim Abigail Folger speaks at her killer's parole hearing, by Venessa Verdugo. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens Oct. 8; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, plays411.com/heiress69. (323) 463-3900.
I LOVED LUCY Lucille Ball biography by Lee Tannen, based on his best-selling memoir. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; opens Oct. 9; Sat., Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (949) 497-2787.
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.; opens Oct. 9; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.
K2 Patrick Meyers' story of two stranded mountain climbers., (800) 838-3006. Underground Theatre, 1314 N. Wilton Place, L.A.; opens Oct. 9; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, K2LA.org…
Lost Moon Radio “Dry sketch comedy and wet rock 'n' roll.”. Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., L.A.; Oct. 14-15, 8:30 p.m.; Oct. 21-23, 8:30 p.m., lostmoonradio.com. (323) 931-4636.
MAKING PARADISE: THE WEST HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL World premiere by Cornerstone Theater Company in collaboration with the City of West Hollywood. Book by Tom Jacobson, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, lyrics by Shishir Kurup. Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (213) 250-1685.
SEVEN AT W. 70TH Vignettes on the seven deadly by Elaine Osio. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; opens Oct. 13; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 28. (310) 512-6030.
SORT OF A LOVE STORY Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna on romance. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 14; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 508-0281.
TALES TO DIE FOR The Visceral Company's stories of the macabre. Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo Ave., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 8; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, thevisceralcompany.com…
TERRE HAUTE Edmund White's imagining of conversations between Timothy McVeigh and Gore Vidal. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 9; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, theblank.com. (323) 661-9827.
TWELFTH NIGHT Musical version of Shakespeare's comedy by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Oct. 8; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (818) 202-4120.
TWO SMALL BODIES Neal Bell's murder mystery. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Oct. 8; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23. (323) 960-5774.
WHAT HAPPENED IN MAYVILLE? Small-town drama by Joy Howard, story by Adam Chambers. LoLa Downtown, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; opens Oct. 8; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, loftensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS, REGIONWIDE
GO THE GLASS MENAGERIE Director Gordon Edelstein's dynamic, iconoclastic revival of Tennessee Williams' revered, 1944 memory play arrives at the Mark Taper Forum trailing a tempest of controversy. Edelstein's greatest liberty — and, to traditionalists, his most brazen and polarizing sacrilege — is to reconceive the narrative from the point of view of an older, more worldly Tom Wingfield (a riveting Patch Darragh) in the act of writing the play. Tom's famous “tricks in my pocket” opening monologue is now delivered at the typewriter, haltingly, the words captured in the moment of inspiration on Michael Yeargan's austerely appointed, wallpaper-scrim, one-room set that doubles for the Wingfields' St. Louis tenement apartment. The conceit may not be strictly Williams, but by foregrounding the action with this potent reminder of the autobiographical dimensions lurking behind the drama, Edelstein succeeds in repainting the bittersweet Wingfield family portrait as a fascinating portrait of the artist in which Williams' alter ego, Tom, shares center stage. As such, Judith Ivey's matriarch, Amanda, is nothing short of a triumph. In Ivey's hands, the smothering, narcissistic, faded Southern belle is energized with heretofore unrealized notes of wit and charm — just the sort of overpowering personality capable of crushing a fragile, sensitive ego like Laura (the fine Keira Keeley) or igniting the artistic genius of her more resilient son. The payoff to Edelstein's invention comes in the “gentleman caller” scene, whose original pathos is delivered with the additional ironic wink that all three Wingfields are vying for the romantic attentions of the lunkheaded Jim (Ben McKenzie). Jennifer Tipton's moody, low-key lighting and Martin Pakledinaz's outstanding costumes complete what may not be an orthodox Menagerie but one that may just be definitive. (Bill Raden). 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 Oct. 17. (213) 628-2772.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (562) 494-1014.
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play Sarah Ruhl's Victorian tale of “female hysteria.”. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Mon.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (714) 708-5555.
LEAP OF FAITH World-premiere musical based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, music by Alan Menken, book by Janus Cercone with Glenn Slater, and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (213) 628-2772.
GO LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE Ilene Beckerman's book, on which Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron based their “intimate collection of stories,” is the kind you'd grab from the display near the register at a Barnes and Nobles, to serve as a dressy envelope for a birthday check to your goddaughter or an upgraded Mother's Day card. But if the recipient read it instead of tossing in onto a pile of similarly gifted minibooks, she'd find a classy little number, a J. Peterman catalog minus the pretentiousness. With sparse text and barebones sketches, Beckerman records her history through the clothes she and her female relatives wore. Director Jenny Sullivan constructs the stage version in much the same way: The star-studded ensemble wears black (there's an ode to the color, every woman's old faithful) while sitting in a straight line; and Carol Kane, who reads as Beckerman, handles the main prop, a “closet” full of the book's renderings situated on wire clothes hangers. But this is Nora Ephron, and chumminess quickly trumps austerity. The scenes themselves are ruminations on relationships thinly veiled as (mostly) funny riffs on clothes — Tracee Ellis Ross almost runs away with the show every time the spotlight's hers but particularly so with “The Shirt.” Kane, who must be one of the most endearing actors ever, dances her monologues' transitions so delicately and adroitly you can only marvel. There are a couple of moments (“The Bathrobe,” “Brides”) during which all but those with a particularly voracious emotional appetite will find themselves choking on the syrup. Fortunately, though, the Ephron sisters have nimbly stitched together the scenes so that there's far more head nodding than eye rolling. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 208-5454.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare's problem play. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Wed., Oct. 13, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 14, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 13, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 14, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 18, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.
MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's courtship comedy. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (714) 708-5555.
MYSTERIOUS SKIN In Prince Gomolvilas' harrowing drama, a young man is troubled by fractured memories in which he believes he was kidnapped and tortured by aliens as a child. Attempting to piece together his past, Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda) befriends Avalyn (Elizabeth Liang), a geeky young woman gleefully obsessed with tales of alien abduction. The more Brian talks with her, the more he remembers. Meanwhile, another young guy, Neil (David Huynh), moves to New York from sleepy Kansas and dabbles in prostitution, much to the dismay of his best friend, Wendy (Christine Corpuz). When Brian tracks down his childhood friend Neil, he learns that the truth of what happened when they were kids is more horrifying than the disturbing mystery. Director Tim Dang makes good use of designer Alan E. Muraoka's stylized set of chain-link fencing, dominated by a massive, blue full moon that also serves as a projection screen. Dang also keeps us alert with startlingly loud sound effects and elicits fine performances from his mostly young cast. But the play, with its rapid-fire dialogue exchanges, thunders along like a freight train to a grim destination. Perhaps Gomolvilas cleaves too closely to his source material, Scott Heim's presumably autobiographical first novel, because real people don't actually talk like this. Nevertheless, Liang beautifully captures the awkward effusion of adolescence with her portrayal of Avalyn, offering some bright and funny moments within this profoundly tragic tale. (Pauline Adamek). East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (213) 625-7000.
PETER PAN J.M. Barrie's fantasy classic, with “stunning puppets, epic music, dazzling flying sequences and the world's first 360-degree CGI theater set.”. Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Tues.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 1 & 6 p.m.; Sun., 12:30 & 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (714) 556-2787.
GO PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Andrew Lloyd Webber's longest-running Broadway musical in history (now in its 23rd year) is also the world's most lucrative single entertainment project to date, raking in more than $3 billion since it was first staged in London in 1986. Now in its third national tour, presented by the Music Box Company, “Phanty” will sing its swan song on Halloween night at the Pantages. Based on Gaston Leroux's gothic romance, and reminiscent of the fable Beauty and the Beast, the story follows a promising singer Christine (Trista Moldovan) as she falls under the spell of a masked and ghoulish Phantom (Tim Martin Gleason inhabits the role with conviction), who haunts the Paris Opera House. The superb cast also includes Sean MacLaughlin as Christine's suitor Raoul, Kim Stengel playing the pompous diva Carlotta. Moldovan's clear, pure voice only occasionally competes with the lush sounds of the orchestra. Infamous for borrowing several musical phrases from Puccini and even Pink Floyd, Webber's melodies may be as pedestrian as this musical is popular. His composition moves seamlessly from grand opera to romantic duets to rock opera (wailing electric guitar), all of which mesh well with occasional harp and violin solos, and the soaring, tender melodies that create several shivery moments. Harold Prince is still credited for the crisp direction. Energetic conducting by William Waldrop rounds out this first-rate production. (Pauline Adamek). Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (213) 365-3500.
THE RECKONING The setting for Kimba Henderson's sprawling drama is a Louisiana crawfish farm called Rubaiyat. The farm is owned by the Robilliards, a proud, affluent black family headed by L.J. (Alex Morris), an iron-willed patriarch who, as the play opens, is set to return from a stay in the hospital. L.J. is determined that daughter Nathalie (the splendid Toyin Moses), take over the farm, and he'll stop at nothing to see that she does, even if it means breaking up her pending marriage to a young doctor (Dorian Christian Baucum). When a strapping young white man named Nicholas (Jacob Sidney) mysteriously arrives, L.J. encourages him to woo Nathalie. But Rubaiyat has an ugly history filled with angry ghosts, which dates back to the days of slavery, and it is in the telling of that history that Henderson's otherwise intelligently written script becomes a tad cumbersome. By way of flashbacks, some of which are awkwardly inserted, we learn about how a white family, the Burnsides, were cheated out of title to the plantation, and of the taboo, interracial love affair that caused it. The parallels between past and present become apparent, but this obvious contrivance and the facts unveiled do little to bolster the play's story and become distracting. Rubaiyat's dark past collides with the present in Act 2, where the identity and true purpose of Nicholas' appearance come to light. By this time, however, the surprises are slight, and the resolutions unsatisfying. Ben Guillory directs a very good cast, whose solid performances somewhat offset the script's shortcomings. John Paul Luckenbach's two-tier set piece is a knockout. (Lovell Estell III). Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (866) 811-4111.
GO RUINED The structure of Lynn Nottage's powerful drama Ruined is like that of so many plays set in bars and brothels: There's the owner, the employees and the denizens. They tell stories. A fight breaks out, and somebody gets hurt, or killed. It's almost stock, except that here, the bar/brothel is situated in a rural outpost in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo Mama Nadi (Portia) seriously believes that her no-weapons-allowed policy, and her open door to both government and rebel soldiers, will somehow protect her from the civil war's inevitable, inexorable swath of destruction. And Portia's performance is so searing and muscular, you almost believe her. One of her diminutive and slightly oily salesman clients, Christian (Russell G. Jones), arrives with two young women as prospective “employees.” Beautiful Sophie (Condola Rashad) has the eyes and stature of a gazelle, which may have been responsible for how she came to be “ruined” (reproductively) by the bayonets of unspecified marauding soldiers, so she needs to be spared from sexual intercourse. She's obtained a marked limp and every move is accompanied by a silent grimace. Her salable asset is her singing voice, which gives flight to her agony. The other woman is Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), a gravel-voiced waif so beaten down, one of her eyes is virtually sealed shut. The establishment is terrorized by the rebel leader, Jerome Kisembe (Tongayi Chirisa), and his government rival, Commander Osembenga (David St. Louis), who, aside from their political rivalry, appear to be competing in the sweepstakes for self-importance. This is a bar saturated with sexual politics: Salima's husband, Fortune (Carl Cofield), shows up to reclaim his bride from the brothel, after he spurned her following her brutal rape by soldiers. Should she go back to him, and to the village that similarly abandoned her in her moment of degradation and despair? More remarkable than the trajectory of the story are the tones emanating from the production, under Kate Whoriskey's staging. The first comes from the onstage guitarist (Simon Shabantu Kashama) and drummer (Ron McBee), who juxtapose conversations and arguments with the sway and lilt of Dominic Kanza's original music, Nottage's lyrics and Warren Adams' erotic choreography. Then, the performers themselves generate a layer of protective callousness, the armor of a region where life is always ending, or being mutilated. The larger question is whether that cynical veneer can be scratched in order to allow intimacy to invade these hardened hearts. That's not a rhetorical question in this production, but a visceral one. Derek McLane's set of bright, broken colors and mismatching wooden furniture anchors the locale with the thick trunks of palm trees, like the legs of elephants standing around and watching, bemused. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 208-5454.
THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE Marilu Henner stars in Charles Busch's Broadway comedy. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (562) 944-9801.
NEW REVIEW THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG
Photo by Ed Krieger
Lonny Price's dynamic production of Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Simon, and
Carole Bayer Sager's musical about love and artistic collaboration
opens with a haunting montage of mostly forgotten images from the 1970s
— beautiful young Cher in an Indian headdress, still hunky John
Travolta doing the disco dance, and the shark from Jaws. It's a
sequence that cunningly fixes the show's steeped-in-amber status as a
disco-era period-piece. To its credit, Price's evocation of attitudes
and music of the time give the production a strangely melancholic,
nostalgic air that has nothing to do with the characters, the
narrative, or even the music. The musical is a highly fictionalized
account of the romance and productive professional partnership of
Hamlisch and lyricist Sager, as amped up with Simon's banter and
one-liners. In the role of the composer Vernon, Jason Alexander is
totally winning — admittedly, much of his performance is in full on
neurotic bluster-mode of The Producers, but his comic timing is
impeccable. As Vernon's muse and love, Sonia, Stephanie J. Block's
character may seem a little too limned from an early draft of Annie
Hall, but her voice is amazing and when she sings the showstopper “If
You Remember Me,” in which the heartfelt emotion of the performance is
greater than the parameters of the song itself. Yet, notwithstanding
the skillful cast, the plain truth is, They're Playing Our Song is an
awful musical. The songs are mostly horrid — like listening to the
theme from The Love Boat 11 times in a row — while the book is
annoyingly top heavy with reflexive, twitchy one liners and laborious,
EST-y therapy speak. Price's decision to stage it as an historical
artifact makes sense, but this great production of a dullard piece
ultimately leaves one feeling somehow saddened. John Iacovelli's record
album turntable set is charming, while Kate Bergh's goofy costumes
(particularly for Block) sets the piece nicely in its era. Freud
Theatre, UCLA's McGowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2
& 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 825-2101. A
Reprise Theatre Company production (Paul Birchall)
LA VICTIMA Written by El Teatro de La Esperanza. Produced by the Latino Theater Company. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (866) 811-4111.
GO WAITING FOR LEFTY This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document and solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theater audience, and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era — corruption, deprivation, injustice and wars between the haves and have-nots — haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16 wonderfully able actors, who provide the kind of gritty passion and vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union, where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a strike, while the rank-and-file are determined to field their own leader, activist Lefty. Along the way we're introduced to a rich cross-section of Depression-era society, until the meeting erupts in violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the seemingly authentic, uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with nostalgia. (Neal Weaver). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 851-7977.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
BAIL ME OUT Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin Jr.) views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and betrayal. Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal rights he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted. So he's appalled — though not totally surprised — when his longtime buddy Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance Jones), a married man. Launched from this awkward encounter, the drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving homophobia, racism, noxious born-again religion, suicide, murder and abortion. There's no lack of misogyny, either — so viciously spouted by Joe's employee, Troy (Gary Wolf), that Joe appears comparatively enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos. Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution. Its main problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many events and too many contrivances packed into less than two hours. Directed by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and lighting. Carisa Engle as Joe's common-sense wife furnishes welcome respite from the Sturm und Drang elsewhere. And Jones overcomes the inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute while fiercely brawling the next. (Deborah Klugman). Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10, plays411.com/bailmeout. (323) 960-7745.
GO BEAST ON THE MOON Richard Kalinoski's tender play centers on two survivors of the Armenian genocide. Aram Tomasian (Zadran Walli) witnessed the beheading of all his family. Now he's escaped from Turkey to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and set himself up as a photographer. He's obsessed with producing a family to replace the one he lost, and has ordered a 15-year-old picture bride, Seta (Olga Konstantulakis), from an Armenian orphanage. She's profoundly grateful to him for rescuing her via a proxy marriage, but she too is traumatized. She saw her mother crucified, and her sister raped by a Turkish soldier, so she's terrified of sex. And Aram is fanatically determined to duplicate the rigid authoritarianism of his dead father. Kalinoski sensitively calibrates the stages by which a difficult alliance between two oddly matched people becomes a real marriage. Walli brings to his role a boyish charm, which tempers his arrogant rigidity, while Konstantulakis skillfully traces the arc from terrified teenager to strong, resilient woman. John Cirigliano is engaging as both an older gentleman who tells their story, and his younger self — an orphan boy befriended by Seta. Sarah Register provides the authentic-seeming period clothes. (Neal Weaver). Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17…
BOB BAKER'S HALLOWEEN HOOP DE DO More than 100 Halloween-themed puppets, in a show that first played here in 1963. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Oct. 30. (213) 250-9995.
BROOKLYN, USA Crime melodrama by John Bright and Asa Bordages. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, brooklynusa-theplay.org. (323) 469-3113.
NEW REVIEW CAMPAIGN
Photo by Alberto Romeo
Some day, someone somewhere may
finally write the great American electioneering farce that this amiable
if creaking musical satire by Samuel Warren Joseph and Jon Detherage
strives so hard to be. But in art, as in politics, timing is
everything. And in these shell-shocked, post-George W. Bush years,
Joseph and Detherage's transposition of 1990s-vintage sex scandals to
their caricature of a problem-plagued, contemporary gubernatorial
campaign seems like nostalgia for a nobler, more innocent age. Although
ostensibly set in 2008, Joseph's book is overgrown with hoary,
anachronistic weeds carried over from its source, his own 15-year-old
play. The show's uninspired campaign-headquarters set (by lighting/set
designer Dave Carleen) frames a culture of landlines, fax machines and
24-hour cable news networks, but one devoid of the websites, blogs,
text messaging and tweets that are a modern campaign's communication
lifeblood. Despite Joseph and Detherage's obvious delight in skewering
their Bill & Hillary-like candidate couple — the witless,
philandering congressman, Glenn Mann (Brian Byers), and his smarter,
albeit deceived wife (Barbara Keegan) — the musical's heart is less in
its satire than in the boilerplate romance that develops between its
compromised-idealist protagonists, campaign manager Steve (Travis
Dixon) and Mann's press secretary/mistress, Brenda (Jean Altadel). And
while Dixon and Altadel boast voices far superior to Joseph and
Detherage's mostly undistinguished, pop-derived songbook, the lovers'
hopeful, redemptive plotline feels like a discordant, tonal artifact
from an antique musical romance. Director T.J. Castronovo delivers some
memorable comic flourishes, but his staging falls shy of the spark or
spectacle needed to carry this critic's vote. MET Theatre, 1089 N.
Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7.
(323) 960-7612 or plays411.com/campaign. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW GO CHICO'S ANGELS: CHICAS IN CHAINS
Photo by Mike Pingel
in an alternate TV universe, where it is always the 1970s and the posh
Charles Townsend Agency still services L.A.'s moneyed class with its
elite staff of glamorously gowned, undercover crime fighters, there
exists a parallel detective agency well east of the L.A. River. Only
this trio of blowsy, somewhat earthier Angels, comes with cha cha heels
on their gumshoes, a decidedly bitchy attitude, and a virtue that can
be summed up in one word — cheap. They are, of course, those
sleuthing, Latina femme fatales, Chico's Angels, better known by their
adoring cult of fans as Kay Sedia (co-writer Oscar Quintero), Frieda
Laye (Danny Casillas), and Chita Parol (Ray Garcia). And, in
director/co-writer Kurt Koehler's razor-sharp restaging of the third
installment of their madcap adventures, the intrepid posse of drag
parodists again prove that there is virtually nothing they won't do to
get their man or to milk a laugh. Their weapons include an arsenal of
fashion faux pas (courtesy of costumer Shaun Wunder and wigmaker Janet
Walker), a comic pidgin as broad as Whittier Blvd., and a machine-gun
delivery of ribald ad libs and double entendre malapropisms that leaves
nothing to the prurient imagination. The plot has the girls going
undercover in a lily-white prep school to ferret out a murder witness
(the fine Beth Leckbee) who also moonlights as a high school hooker.
The point, however, isn't the mystery but in the inimitable way the
blundering girls vamp their way through the evening's wealth of
pornographic puns and satirically skewered musical numbers. Cavern Club
Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Thurs., 8
p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 969-2530 or chicosangels.com. (Bill Raden)
CIRCLE DANCE Strained relations between husband and wife, and rancor
between father and son are the central motifs in Def Kirland's tepid
family melodrama. Sonny (Kirkland) is a former NFL football hero whose
son Steve (Christopher Poehls) is now being sought out by recruiters.
But Steve is undecided if he wants to be a professional athlete. His
irresolution disturbs his mother Mary (Laura Lee), who worries that
Steve isn't weighing his choices carefully, and also that Sonny is
neglecting his fatherly duty by not displaying enough interest.
Humdrum at first, the drama escalates in the second half, when Steve
discovers his father's adultery, and further revelations precipitate a
crisis. As writer, Kirkland — who drew the play's title from a Bonnie
Raitt song about heartbreak — aims, classically, at a portrait of a
disintegrating family and a flawed individual who learns his lessons
too late. The problem lies in the presentation of familiar conflicts
without giving the characters dimension or adding fresh twists to the
story. Exuding presence, Kirkland's demeanor nonetheless suggests
someone who has wandered in from some crime drama, and he seems miscast
in his own play. After Laura obsesses over pot roast throughout Act
I, Lee acquits herself respectably as a betrayed wife. As daughter
Emma, Courtney Schleinkofer handles her stereotypical role with charm
and skill. One question: If this is present day, as the program
indicates, where are the cell phones and laptops? Jeff McLaughlin
designed the attractive set and Rick Andosca directs. Skylight Theater,
1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7
p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 960-7776. firstname.lastname@example.org (Deborah Klugman)
COMEDY DEATH-RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
DANCING WITH CRAZIES Written and performed by Amy Milano. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 4, plays411.com/dancingwithcrazies. (323) 960-7785.
DAVID: THE MUSICAL When reviewing the premiere of a new musical, one must be ever cognizant of the amount of work that has gone into its creation. Fully scored, booked and staged musicals take an almost astonishing amount of effort and audacity to execute — and this can be all the more upsetting when the outcome is as misbegotten as is this near-incoherent adaptation of the story of the Old Testament's King David, his seduction of the beautiful Bathsheba, and his despair over his wayward sons Absalom and Amnon. Or, at least, that appears to be what the musical is about: Director Adam T. Rosencrance's production is in modern dress, which is not necessarily an unimaginative idea, but the presentation of the story is utterly without context — the Biblical incidents are merely strung together with little dramatic development, psychological subtext or convincing emotion. One moment, Dane Bowman's oddly wooden David is crowned king, the next he's seducing Sara Collins' almost comically Valley girl-ike Bathsheba. Other performers take on multiple roles — but the character changes are disjointed and without explanation, often accomplished merely by an actor donning a new jacket or shirt, and not changing his actual personality. Thus, we start to wonder why David's servant Caleb (Austin Grehan) is suddenly one of the assassins plotting his demise, or why David's son Amnon (J. D. Driscill) shows up as a spear-carrying soldier in the Hittite army. The score, credited to Costanza, Tim Murner, Rich Lyle and Michelle Holmes, is a workmanlike mix of heavy-metal rock anthems and hard country ballads ably rendered by the rock band Pullman Standard, but the numbers are all lyric-driven, and the singing is miserably drowned out by the hyperamplified sound system. More dismaying than the lack of coherence, though, is the lack of Goliath, who is barely mentioned in the play and whose absence seems like a painfully missed dramatic opportunity — like trying to tell the story of World War II without a Nazi. Some of the show's early production flaws may iron themselves out over the course of the run — one of the main actors was still lugging his script about like a Torah throughout the entire performance, for example. (Paul Birchall). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (800) 838-3006.
DETAINED IN THE DESERT Josefina Lopez's satirical drama. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 263-7684.
DON GIOVANNI TONIGHT, DON CARLO TOMORROW Fans of Robert Altman may take a kindlier view of playwright Dennis Miles' sprawling minimally plotted comedy than this critic, who found his spoof of a company of opera singers to be a meandering letdown. The action unfolds backstage in a concert hall and concerns the neurotic obsessions and carryings-on among the various players. A jealous feud between singers Maria (Jennifer Kenyon) and Claudia (Kimberly Atkinson) comes to an end when the bombastic company manager (Joseph Back) fires Claudia for miming her lyrics instead of singing them. A voluptuous tease (Marianne Davis) parades her body nonstop for her lover (Pete Caslavka) and, when he's not around, for anyone else. An existentially minded player (Gregory Sims) obsesses to one and all about aging and death; a bearded stage veteran (Greg Wall) bursts into an impassioned non sequitur monologue about a man unjustly incarcerated in a 19th-century prison for 30 years. Under Kiff Scholl's direction, each role is skillfully played, with Wall's speech — perhaps the meatiest juncture in the script — an emotional highlight. Overall, however, the story lines are so skimpy, the characters so thin and the humor so tame that there's just so much the performers can do to compel our attention. The production aims for a Breughel-like canvas effect, with most of the large ensemble onstage all the time, pretending to some activity. Terence McFadden's set is artful in its shabby disarray, but its cluttered busyness only compounds the challenge to find a focus. (Deborah Klugman). Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 281-8337.
DYING IS EASY, COMEDY IS HARD Nick Ullett's solo show., $15. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 852-1445.
ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 960-7787.
FLASH FESTIVAL Presented by Chalk Repertory Theatre. Full schedule at ChalkRep.com. Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 663-6577.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER Henrik Ibsen sequel by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q). Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 828-7519.
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.
HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES All-ages adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat., noon.; thru Oct. 30. (213) 389-3856.
HATS, NUDES AND IMMORTALITY Coeurage Theatre Company's remake of Charles Mee's Self Portrait. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, coeuragetheatre.com/rsvp…
HEAD: THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE World-premiere rock musical by Ivo Shandor. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (323) 960-5770.
NEW REVIEW GO HELLO
Photo by Mark Bennington
may not find logic in this quirky tale about love, marriage and the
enigma of sexual attraction but you'll recognize a lot of human truth.
Riddled with irony and dark dry humor, writer-director-performer Stefan
Marks' take on the Mars-Venus conundrum revolves around the coming
together and splitting apart — not necessarily in that order — of two
misfit individuals: Clark (Marks), a nerdy statistician for whom human
bonding is basically a mystery; and Alice (Beth Patrik), an insecure
and painfully candid writer of children's books who understands what
love is about but can't make a successful connection any more easily
than Clark can. The more conventionally-charted of the duo, Alice
searches for true love through Internet dating, while Clark — an
incontestably weird personality — makes random phone calls to
households where he inquires about the age and sex of the residents.
Eventually, these star-crossed lovers meet in a dream, later in a real
life supermarket — or do they? In fact, we're never actually sure how
much of this strange courtship and marriage is mere imaginative
conjuring. That's less important, however, than what the play says
about the way we lie to ourselves. Directing oneself can be foolhardy,
but that's not so in this case. Framed by a black backdrop, with white
paper panels to emphasize their purposefully maladroit entrances and
exits, Marks and Patrik execute a comedic and accomplished pas de deux.
Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru
Oct. 30. (888) 210-0183. (Deborah Klugman)
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 Nov. 14. (323) 655-7679.
JUNGMADEL, HITLER'S LITTLE GIRLS Laurel Long's story of the Hitler Youth's youngest girl division. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 595-4849.
GO LA RAZON 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.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (213) 745-6516. SEE THEATER FEATURE
KEEP IT CLEAN COMEDY Hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.
MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman. Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer first describes — then graphically illustrates — how she abandoned her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An unexpected pregnancy alters her life — though not her smug irreverence leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's bitter, hollow message. (Deborah Klugman)., $20. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (323) 666-4268.
NEW REVIEW GO MERRILY WE ROLL
ALONG It's hard to believe that this Stephen Sondheim musical gem was
laughed out of town when it premiered in New York in 1981. It's an
engaging, cautionary tale about the unexpected perils that often
accompany professional success, and Richard Israel's revival is first
rate. The book is by George Furth, and follows two decades in the lives
of three friends, all of whom aspire to succeed in show business. The
action starts in reverse order, beginning in 1976 and ending in 1957,
and opens at a soiree for successful composer and movie producer
Franklin Shepard (an excellent Christopher Maikish standing in for
Brent Schindele). It isn't long before things turns ugly, when writer
Mary Flynn (Leslie Spencer), tells him off in a drunken rage. Later, in
an emotionally powerful moment, he gets the same treatment on a radio
show from his longtime collaborator and lyricist Charley (Matt Bauer),
who sings a scintillating ditty called Franklin “Shepard, Inc.” Furth's
book (adapted from a 1934 play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart) nimbly
tracks their lives, friendships, successes and failures, and culminates
in a final scene where the three are gathered on a rooftop, starry-eyed
and optimistic, searching the sky for Sputnik — an apt symbol of their
outsized ambitions.. As with all of Sondheim's work, the music is the
thing, and Musical Director Johanna Kent's live six-piece band is as
stellar as that nighttime sky. The 14-member ensemble hit just about
all the notes perfectly. Israel's staging isn't flashy — a discretion
that makes his production all the more effective. Actors' Co-op at the
Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun,
2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 462-8460. (Lovell Estell III)
NEIGHBORS Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' racially charged play. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 24, plays411.com/neighbors. (323) 852-1445.
100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Written and performed by Beth Lapides. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 10, bethlapides.com. (323) 651-2583.
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.
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 Oct. 16. (310) 281-8337.
NEW REVIEW SKELETON STORIES
Photo by Paulina Merekiova
Williams' spooky play draws from the rich mythology that surrounds the
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). A young girl on the brink of
puberty (played to bratty perfection by Nina Harada) descends into the
underworld searching for her deceased mother, Corazon (Lorianne Hill).
Guided by various spirits, such as a sinister yellow dog with a
skeletal head (Rick Steadman), the sassy and intrepid Maya encounters
an assortment of gods and spirits, as well as the insatiable dead, who
relate their stories. Masks, puppets, tricksy props, video effects,
plus Mark McClain Wilson's particularly chilling and atmospheric sound
design, fill in the gaps left by Williams' occasionally incoherent
plot. Is Maya praying to Santa Muerte to liberate her mom, or are her
incantations inciting more excruciating torment at the hands of a
cheerfully malevolent devil named Jeffy (Keith Allan)? When mother and
daughter unite, their simple and beautiful pas de deux, choreographed
by Nancy Dobbs Owen, suffuses the reunion with tenderness. Flashes of
humor in the dialogue blend well with the play's more ominous and
violent sequences. Maya's journey is perilous, but the stories she
hears prepare her for the transformation she is facing. Theatre of
NOTE. 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7
p.m.; (added perfs Thurs, 10/28, 8 p.m.; & Sun, 10/31, 2 p.m.);
thru Nov. 6. (323) 856-8611. theatreofnote.com (Pauline Adamek)
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE An entirely satisfying adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's 1969, postmodernist, antiwar novel may simply be a dramatic impossibility. George Roy Hill's 1972 film version comes close in its rendering of the book's dark, ironic fatalism and some of its chaotic narrative sweep. Where both Hill and this 1996 stage adaptation by Steppenwolf writer Eric Simonson fall short, however, is in capturing the elusive, playful poignancy of a story that is less about war than it is about memory and reconciling the trauma of the lived experience. In the case of both Vonnegut the author/narrator (Raymond Donahey) and his fictional, time-tripping everyman, Billy Pilgrim — a role split between Don Schlossman, A.J. Diamond and Owen Sholar as, respectively, Old Billy, Young Billy and Boy Billy — the experience in question is their survival of the militarily pointless Allied firebombing of Dresden at the end of WWII. How each struggles to give meaning to an atrocity that beggars human imagination — Vonnegut by writing his novel; Billy by retreating into solipsistic, sci-fi fantasy — drives the action of both novel and play. Director Tiger Reel (who is also credited with the show's minimalist set and evocative sound design) composes some lovely stage images, but when it comes to leading his uneven ensemble (including the novelist's daughter, Lily Vonnegut) through Simonson's purposefully disjunctive, albeit unwieldy, smash-cut scenes, the director seems little more than a traffic cop. Clever illumination by designer Matt Richter unfortunately also sheds unwelcome light on costumer Becca Fuchs' period malapropisms. An Action! Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, action-theatre.com. (213) 393-5638.
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<0x00B9>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<0x00B9>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<0x00B9>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 Oct. 31. (323) 957-1884.
NEW REVIEW VALENTINO VALENTINA
Photo by Odalys Nanin
takes audacity to present a page one “script polish” of Shakespeare's
classic “Twelfth Night,” but that is precisely what playwright Carlo
Allen does in a modern language adaptation of the Bard's comedy of
mistaken identity and gender confusion. Allen further attempts to
update the play by setting it amongst Los Angeles's illegal immigrant
community. Sister Valentina (Iris Gilad) and brother Valentino
(Michael Onofri) are separated during a car crash while trying to cross
the border, and each assumes the other is dead. Valentina takes on her
brother's identity and goes to work for hunky construction executive
Ernesto (Neto de Paulo Pimenta), who sends her to woo gorgeous Cleaning
Lady Company Impresario (no, I am not making that up) Olivia (Stephanie
Sanchez). Olivia falls for the boy-girl in drag. Meanwhile, Olivia's
boozy Uncle Gordo (Leo Weltman) and his buddies play a hideous prank on
Olivia's sexually repressed major domo Rodrigue (Spike Mayer). Sadly,
in director Odalys Nanin's lackluster production, the results of these
attempts to modernize the classic are uneven at best, with the goings
on executed with disappointingly plodding pacing and an oddly unfocused
sense of comic timing. The show ultimately possesses the heaviness and
stiff execution of a journeyman Shakespeare production, but little of
the beauty of the poetry, which, obviously, has been jettisoned to make
way for Allen's mostly wooden dialogue. The performances range
widely, with the standouts being Weltman's deliciously broad and
gleefully gluttonous Gordo and Gilad's droll turn as a hyper-macho
drag-king. Some of the other awkwardly inexperienced performers,
though, are unable to bring much vigor or humor to the tepidly
involving dialogue or situations. This is a show that needs to go big
and go fast to make its impact — but much of the show is stodgy and
oddly glum, while also being clumsily conceptualized, making it a
disappointment in almost all dimensions. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings
Road, West Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7,
through October 17. (323) 960-7712. (Paul Birchall)
WATER In writer-director Marios Stilianakis' drama, at Hollywood's Lounge Theatre, a U.S. Army soldier, Bill (David Bennett), and an Iraqi insurgent, Ali (Bobby Naderi), find themselves in adjacent prison cells in Baghdad. A kind of cosmic joke is being played on both of them, perhaps by their captors or perhaps just by their playwright. There's a dumbwaiter rig by each of their pillows — a tube extending to the ceiling. Next to the tube is a button labeled “water.” When one of them presses it, a small, plastic water bottle drops out of the tube — but in the other man's cell. This is obviously a formula for a kind of sadistic dependence. Furthermore, their sacks of possessions, containing vestiges of memory from a place called home, have been swapped. And so the pair engage in a series of exchanges: a true story for a sacred scarf, or a pair of sunglasses for a bottle of water. Their captors, meanwhile, have left the building, not unlike God. Or, to be more hopeful, God lies within each of them. The metaphysical conceit requires a suspension of disbelief, which is hard to achieve in such a realistic setting. It's a distant cousin to The Arabian Nights, in which a bride must tell her husband a new story every night in order to avoid being killed and replaced by a new bride. Even Stilianakis' conceit of imprisoned characters telling stories in exchange for obtaining sacred relics from their past might be persuasive, were the stories structured to build suspense, or delivered in a style more compelling than having the actors gaze blankly into the audience as they recite their respective horrors against a projected photographic backdrop. Watching the two of them is a bit like watching Mel Gibson and Alfred Molina in Clash of the Titans — but with more introspective confessions than clashing. As textured as these actors may be, it's still a path to lethargy. Through the stories comes to us — and to them — the revelation that each was involved in a battle and each is responsible for the death of the other's brother. (Ali has survived the death of his entire family of nine.) And their personal culpability is what leads to the intended, shifting dynamics between friendship and volatility, which are not yet palpable. Technical details defy plausibility. Bill's combat boots look spanking new, as if they'd just been purchased from the military-supply shop down the street. Though both describe charging through bloodbaths, there isn't a trace of blood or dirt or even wear on either of their costumes. The prison cells similarly appear to have been newly constructed and painted, creating quite a facility to be dumped — and abandoned — in. This is a problem in a work that aims to reveal larger truths through details. Says Ali, “It's not the big stuff, it's the personal stuff that has us locked up here.” He removes a Penthouse magazine from Bill's bag, accusing him of betraying his girlfriend's love. Bill argues that “thoughts” of his girlfriend are sometimes not enough. Ali replies that all he has are thoughts and memories rather than pornographic diversions; it is the cerebral that keeps him going. This is a fascinating philosophical divide. All that's needed is dramatic tension. And that's a big need. (Steven Leigh Morris). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-7711.
GO THE WEB This paranoid fantasy by Michael John Garcés tells a wildly baroque tale of identity theft. New Yorker Chris Quinones (Ian Forester) discovers, while trolling the Internet, that there is another Chris Quinones out there, whose story and vital statistics are almost identical to his own. Suddenly he's being harassed and questioned by two mysterious men, Kepesh (Edgar Landa, who choreographed the brutal fight scenes) and Warner (Justin Huen, who doubles effectively as a super-sadistic Paraguayan thug), who apparently think he's the other Chris. They're also hassling his best friend (Tony Sancho) and his girlfriend (Betsy Reisz). Meanwhile, his apartment is invaded by Arrowsmith (Stan Kelly), who claims to be working for the FBI, NYPD and CIA. Arrowsmith saddles Chris with a mysterious wounded femme fatale (Amanda Zarr) and a very large gun, and Chris finds himself renditioned to Paraguay, in the midst of a drug war. Nothing is what it seems, and contradictions breed like rabbits. For a while it seems Garcés is simply indulging in obfuscation for its own sake, but eventually things start to add up. Director Alyson Roux has assembled a top-notch, energetic cast, which she deploys with speed and precision. All tech credits are excellent. (Neal Weaver). Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-4418.
WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week — really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser — you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.
THE WIGGLE ROOM is the room in a downtown L.A. hotel — much like
Alexandria Hotel that houses the black box theater where Oliver Mayer's
new play unfolds. In that room is stored the memorabilia of a family
that may be two families intertwined, and this question forms the
emotional crux for three beautiful sisters (Giselle Forte, Lynn
Freedman, and Ruth Livier). They may or may not have inheritance rights
to the decrepit former hotel/current apartment building where they're
now squatting. This becomes an issue for the current owner, Luke (John
Kaisner) and his older brother, Phil (Andres Hamrick), who looks and
acts like the local Mafioso. Phil even arrives with an almost silent,
rotund bodyguard (Daniel Muñoz) in tow. The brothers have their own
rivalry going, swirling around the pending decision on whether it's
wiser to remodel the hotel they inherited from their father, or to
demolish it and and turn it into something more profitable, such as a
parking lot. This raises any number of questions, not only about the
purpose and quality of life, but the purpose and quality of memory, and
how those purposes and qualities intersect. What's supposed to be the
dramatic hook is that these transactions unfold in September, 2008,
when the Dow Jones indicator dropped 700 points. Mayer's play is a bit
in the style of Lanford Wilson — a huge ensemble of eccentrics styled
in kitchen realism intermingled with poetical ruminations. And there is
a certain beauty to that. It does, however, wear thin. The “crash” is
depicted with a couple of characters watching the numbers plummet on
TV, which is not particularly dramatic or theatrical. The stock market
woes lead to some discussion but they ultimately seem to have scant
effect on the decisions being made in the play. It's a sweet blowback
on the hotel owners' theory that life and lives are for speculating on,
but the play's structure is less about the consequences of those
decisions as on the eventual disclosure of interlocking family ties
that bind. And those two plays are still competing for attention, under
Don Boughton laizzes-faire direction of a large ensemble that's partly
double cast. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St.,
L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 883-1717.
(Steven Leigh Morris)
GO A WOLF INSIDE THE FENCE “You can't lose your way in a history class. You can only go backwards,” says Linus McBride (Arthur Hanket), a history teacher who seems to be losing his passion, and possibly his marbles. The target of the advice is Marion McNeely (Charlotte Chanler), a troubled transfer student at McBride's public Oregon high school. With dark secrets of his own, Linus cultivates an attachment to Marion. At the same time, Judy cultivates an interest in the girl, with whom she shares more than she would care to admit, while losing interest in her boyfriend, Math teacher Harold Carson (Colin Walker). What develops is an intense series of events as these wounded animals become entwined in each other's lives. Playwright Joseph Fisher weaves a rich tapestry of dark chocolate secrets and twisted desires, pairing it perfectly with a dry champagne wit that sparkles in the mouths of this talented cast. Hanket, particularly, wields Fisher's rapier wit with impeccable comic timing and an understated manner that leads to some devastatingly funny lines. The credit for this must, of course, be shared with director Benjamin Burdick, who strikes a fine balance between the piece's humor and horror. The minimally staged performance is a good reminder that when fancy sets, lighting and other aspects of modern stagecraft are put away, the heart of good drama is compelling characters and a well-crafted text. (Mayank Keshaviah). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (323) 882-6912. SEE THEATER FEATURE
YARD SALE SIGNS What price beauty? In Jennie Webb's comedy, the cost is 90 minutes of female bonding in a dressing room that — metaphor alert — has no walls. As any Cathy comic can tell you, women forge a complicated relationship with their clothes: inspiration, ambition, comfort, judgment, insult. From their hangers, they hiss, “Where are you going to wear me?” “What are you going to do about those thighs?” The closest parallel to the female/fabric struggle these five women and token gay male have is with their mothers, none of whom are present except in continual conversation. Webb's allegories name the ladies “The Focused Woman,” “The Scattered Woman,” “The Selfless Woman” and “The Woman With Children,” the latter of which slowly and physically collapses over the course of the play as though her three kids have torn her limb from limb. Elina de Santos' chirpy direction has fun with the play's sight gags, particularly a giant purse that chucks up a cooler, a clothing rack, four dozen yard sale signs and a U-Haul's worth of boxes. The broad humor and big rants can't earn the closing round of hugs. Instead, our attention is occupied by designer Eva Franco's heaps of colorful original clothing (all for sale after the show) than the characters pawing through it as they pick apart their psyches. Presented by Rogue Machine. (Amy Nicholson). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 960-4424.
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 Oct. 17…
THE YOGAMERICAN DREAM Written by and starring Casey Gates. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 962-0046.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ANAIS: AN EROTIC EVENING WITH ANAIS NIN The famously candid diaries of Anais Nin avoid one weekend in the '50s, when she left L.A. for a weekend in Arizona, purpose unknown. Sonia Maslovskaya's one-woman show — written and directed by Michael Phillips — imagines that Nin secretly visited a sanitarium housing June Miller, the calculating beauty who anchored one end of Nin's love triangle with author Henry Miller. (Nin's own cuckolded husband, Hugo, was a bystander.) The lithe Maslovskaya vamps in vintage dress as she accounts Nin's sexual awakening — and humbling — in 1930s Paris at the hands of the two Millers in imagined conversations with June's therapist, Henry, and later, June herself. Anais is a tale of love dangled just out of reach and a florid, earnest feat of memorization by Maslovskaya, but it's a little too self-conscious to seduce the audience. The one-sided dialogue cripples the play as performed alone: Nin seems less like a besotted, swayed suitor and more like a narcissistic chatterbox. Tellingly, this unflappable eroticist is most taken aback when the therapist says he's never heard of her. (Amy Nicholson). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 15, . (818) 506-9863.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK The Group Rep presents Neil Simon's romantic comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.
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 Oct. 30. (818) 238-9998.
NEW REVIEW CHURCHILL
Photo by Carla Bennett
L. Shaff, who plays the doughty British prime minister in Andrew
Edlin's solo drama, has an appropriately jowly face, and when he turns
mischievous, the resemblance to Churchill is almost uncanny. Edlin's
play is set in London, on April 4, 1955, when the old lion was trying
to make up his mind whether or not to finally retire. Edlin's literate,
informative script sketches Churchill's long, colorful career and
incorporates his glorious wartime speeches, and his salty wit and
wisdom. Churchill tells of his fears that his successor might lack the
strength to stand up to the Soviets, his admiration and respect for
FDR, General Patton, Harry S. Truman, his abiding love for his parents,
and his shocking, unexpected electoral defeat in 1945. Director James
Horan gives Edlin's script an interesting production, if only he'd
edited it a bit: With intermission, it runs 2 hours and 45 minutes
–already long for a one-person show, it taxed Shaff's voice causing
problems for the otherwise skillful and splendidly persuasive actor.
Whitmore/Lindley Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Nov. 7. Produced by Portrait of
Churchill Productions. (800) 595-4849 or tix.com (Neal Weaver)
A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD Susan Claassen is the Hollywood costume designer. Written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 508-0281.
FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Jazz musical with lyrics and music by Louis Jordan, including “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby” and “Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.”. Center Stage Theatre, 8463 Sierra Ave., Fontana; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, centerstagefontana.com. (909) 429-7469.
I'TS JUST 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.
LOVE, SEX, AND VIOLENCE TOO Short plays by Czech-American playwright Helena Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (866) 811-4111.
THE MAIDEN'S PRAYER At 6, Paul (Adam Howard) was fascinated by his
neighbor Taylor (James Elden) and his bright blond hair. Paul didn't
yet know the word for gay. (He's now an expert.) His draw was even
simpler: Taylor's a human magnet. Which explains how two decades later,
Paul's stuck on the porch at Taylor's wedding while the bride Cynthia
(Stephanie Marquis) and her sister Libby (Sarah Kelly) fight over who
loved him first. Cynthia's an iron-willed princess. Libby's a mess, the
type who cavalierly apologizes for her self-absorption, and director
Dan Fishbach encourages Kelly to deliver her to scream her lines. Nicky
Silver's dramedy thrusts them together to explore the power struggles
that come from neediness, and his script is a tricky mishmash of a
sitcom that evolves into soap opera. Fishbach takes both at face value,
and the result is schizophrenic: a melodrama that's constantly being
punctured by forced jokes and a pointless fifth wheel character (Isaac
Laskin as a series of Paul's conquests) — all delivered by characters
who we're primed to think of as cartoons. As Taylor, the center spoke,
Elden needs to find and flaunt the magnetism that puts the play in
motion. Only Marquis as the sugary, steely Cynthia navigates the
balancing act: Like the play itself, she's chirpy, charming and full of
unexplored depths. Actor's Workout Studio, 4747 Lankershim Blvd., N.
Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 506-3903. (Amy
MARTYRDUMB It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where playwrights Kerr Seth Lordygan and Jason Britt's sophomoric cartoon of a madcap terrorism satire first crosses the not-so-fine line between provocative irreverence and repellent offensiveness. Suffice it to say that well before the intermission, the play's collection of crudely lampooned stereotypes racks up enough religious blasphemies to inspire a dozen fatwa denunciations, not to mention the host of homophobic slanders and misogynistic misdemeanors committed in the name of its ill-conceived, taboo-twisted gags. Act I follows the blundering, plastique-packing religious fanatic, Apneo (Patrick Alan), as he seizes the lobby of a business-park office building during a suicide-bombing attempt. Although not an Arab, the name of his nonsensical religious cult, Islamanology — an unsubtle amalgam of Islam and Scientology — leaves little doubt as to the intended target of the writers' ridicule. Despite the blundering and bickering attempts of Apneo's strangely accommodating hostages to talk the bomber out of his mission, the resulting, accidental detonation finds only security guard Nason (Mason Hallberg) surviving into Act 2. That's when Lordygan and Britt shift gears into a broad parody of a CSI-styled police procedural, as the victims reemerge as the bumbling investigators of the scatologically named antiterrorist unit, F.A.R.T., with equally unsavory and catastrophic results. Director Maria Markosov only exacerbates an already witless text devoid of political or religious insight by a mistaken belief that louder and faster somehow equals funnier. A clever set by Marco De Leon and inventive lighting by John Dickey can do little to ameliorate this painful, shrill misfire. (Bill Raden). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (818) 508-3003.
MISS JULIE August Strindberg's classic drama. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30, plays411.com/missjulie. (323) 960-7721.
OBAMALOGUES R.M. Peete's bipartisan monologues on President Barack Obama. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 2 & 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, obamanologues.com. (323) 207-6384.
GO OF GRAPES AND NUTS Humor á la Joad comes to Burbank in this revival of a parodic hybrid between two of John Steinbeck's best-known novels, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Written by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth, the plotline is loosely that of The Grapes of Wrath, following Tom Joad (Ian Vogt) and the Joad family on their trek from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. The primary additions from Of Mice and Men are the characters of Lenny (David Reynolds), Candy (David Ghilardi) and Curly (Kimberly Van Luin). Director Paul Stroili, part of the original 1990 Chicago cast, lets his actors go full bore into an over-the-top campiness that winks heavily at the gritty realism of the source material. The self-made frontier ethos is particularly lampooned in a production that gets mileage from both the sly anachronistic jokes in the script and the gusto with which the cast tackles them. Casey Kramer, as Ma Joad, has some particularly hilarious rants, as does Lauren McCormack, who plays the womanizing preacher Jim Casy. Reynolds portrays dim-witted Lenny with such earnestness that we can't help but like him, and Ghilardi (who plays four roles) and Jen Ray (playing both a bulldozer driver and a waitress) showcase their versatility. Even David George's wooden grape crate of a set is comical, providing an appropriate backdrop to a show that puts the “funny” in the “bone” dry Dust Bowl. (Mayank Keshaviah). Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 841-5421.
THE SECRET OF FIFTY, FATHERHOOD AND FACEBOOK In his solo performance, writer-star Vince Cefalu wants to tell you his story. Decades ago, after years of buttoning up and curling lips into a smile, Americans' cheeks started aching. In additional to a swath of personal confessions in pop lit and on TV talk shows, a new subgenre of theater sprung up at the same time: personal war stories, “My Turn” essays and “It Happened to Me” segments. But as the market became saturated with such, only the most spectacular train wrecks, like James Frey's heavily decorated 2003 addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces, caused us to press our faces against the windows as we drove past. That being said, we do love an I'm-still-standing story, no matter how humble. The story doesn't have to be gasp-worthy to have traction, but it does need to be more than a personal catharsis and big-picture advice such as, “Loving unconditionally is the secret.” Certainly, Cefalu is sincere, and he, like many, has had more than his share of struggles. Ultimately, though, arranging this handful of monologues into a single piece, as director Lori Tubert has done, makes for a patchwork quilt of a show, in which a couple of swatches just don't mesh: There's a porn bit that's seat-squirmingly awkward, and a Facebook rant that begins with the Jerry Seinfeld-patented “What's the deal with Facebook?” One key is to carve personal reflections into a work that will have resonance beyond closest friends and family, and that's a missing key in Cefalu's project. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (866) 811-4111.
SNOWBOUND The Red Brick Road Theatre Company presents James C. Ferguson's cabin comedy. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, theatermania.com. (818) 392-7526.
GO STATE OF THE UNION When politics-as-usual gets you down, humor and fantasy can help, which may explain the Pulitzer Prize for this 1945 romantic comedy about an honest man who considers running for president, then realizes the compromises he'll have to make to win. Writers Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse's play debuted after WWII, when the United States was flexing newly acquired muscles on the world stage and organized labor was still a force to be reckoned with. When it begins, the Republican powers-that-be are searching for an outsider (some things don't change) to challenge Truman in 1948. A savvy political operative named Conover (James Gleason) is testing the waters with a business executive, Grant Matthews (Don Fischer) and his popular public persona. Anxious to brush Matthews' affair with a glamorous female publisher (Tracy Powell) under the rug, Conover calls on Matthews' estranged wife Mary (D.J. Harner) to join the campaign. Mary's initial reluctance metamorphoses into enthusiasm after messages from the common folk come flooding in, and she becomes the voice of democratic idealism railing against Conover's special interests. Though the piece supposedly revolves around Matthews and his choices, in this production it is Harner's charismatic housewife who garners the spotlight, transforming this stolid message-vehicle into lively human drama. Fischer, a bit stiff, appears every inch a captain of industry but is less convincing as a man of integrity. Elizabeth Herron scores as Lulubelle, the discerning wife of a corrupt judge. Designer Joel Daavid's handsome set frames the action, and Meagan Evers' costumes (the men's ties are a treat!) enliven it. Anita Khanzadian directs. Presented by Interact Theatre Company. (Deborah Klugman). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, interactla.org. (877) 369-9112.
STILTZ! THE MUSICAL Music and lyrics by Deborah Johnson. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (323) 822-7898.
SULTAN'S BATTERY “What if God was one of us?” singer Joan Osborne
asked, and playwright Kathy Rucker answers in this world premiere. Ray
(Liam Toner) is a high-strung American tourist (he does jumping jacks
to calm his anxiety) made more so by his mission, toting his father's
prized statue of the Virgin Mary to a pageant in India. Meanwhile, the
gods are debating their relevance, and thus begins a commingling of the
mystical and the mortal. Some befitting production and thoughtful
observations are appreciated: The stage is sparsely populated at all
times, ironic considering the sardine-crammed country India is; the
dialogue is spiked with remarks that cleverly turn conventional
religious commentary on its head, such as a god who “no longer believes
in the believer.” And the sharp contrast between cultural philosophies
is as consistent as the train clock that looms over the set is
inconsistent — Mira (Geeta Malik) launches into a lengthy explanation
of when the train will arrive, finally giving a precise time, and an
exasperated Ray huffs, “Why didn't you just SAY that?!” Yet this
poignancy ends up getting swallowed by a script that's far too roomy,
and actors whose response times are far too protracted. By the time
Rucker's message meanders in, the leisurely pace of India has so lulled
the audience, it barely realizes the play is over. Co-directed by Cody
Goulder and Marisa Rojas. Fresh Baked Theatre Company, Whitmore-Lindley
Theater, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. brownpapertickets.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)
GO TITUS ANDRONICUS In his odd, entertaining production, director Steven Sabel gives Shakespeare's sadistic tale of vengeance and bloodlust a True Blood twist, reimagining the play as a gothic story of warfare between two vampire clans. Conquered Goth queen Tamora (Jennifer Blanck, beautifully icy) marries the Roman emperor Saturninus (Jordan Maxwell), who offers her a “blood gift,” following which she avenges herself against her great rival Titus (Tom Newman). Tamora's thug sons (Mike Eastman and Nick Zaharopoulos) rape Titus' daughter Lavinia (Christina Fleming), and then chop off her hands and tongue. In response, Titus kidnaps the boys and throws a party, feeding the sons' flesh to an unwitting Tamora as hors d'ouevres. The vampire concept at first sounds as though it could be rather silly, but the eccentric notion ultimately adds a mythic dimension to the play's sequences of unbridled cruelty and operatic emotion. The atmosphere of myth is underscored by blocking that often consists of Kabuki-like gestures and emotional expressions of operatic, heightened reality — these are predatory characters who are driven by their root emotions of hatred and rage. In the end, here's a production of Titus that gives the audience exactly what it wants: terrifying horrors, staged with an unabashed love of Grand Guignol. Lavinia has been dragged off to be raped, and returns dangling meat-tipped stumps where her hands were and vomiting blood every time she tries to speak. Sabel's pruning of Shakespeare's text can sometimes seem as ferocious as the Moor's slicing off of Titus' arm, but the staging's fierce energy is both harrowing and effective. Particularly powerful turns are offered by Blanck, by Kyle Goldsberry's evil Moor, and Fleming's hapless, tragically destined Lavinia. (Paul Birchall). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 16. (818) 202-4120.
URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 202-4120.
VIA DELAROSA Written by David Hare. Performed by David Bryan Jackson. Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7, brownpapertickets.com/event/124240. (800) 838-3006.
THE WIZARD OF OZ Presented by June Chandler's Fairy Tale Theatre. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat..; thru Nov. 13. (626) 256-3809.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO BECKY'S NEW CAR “When a woman says she wants a new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a new car, she really wants a new life.” In Steven Dietz's smart if tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life comes prancing into Becky's dealership, when slightly spacey billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife, is inexplicably attracted to the earthy “real world” Becky, whose own moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth. Dietz's play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael Rothhaar's whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The play's genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such, the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball comedies — a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels' bubbly Becky repeatedly invites opinions from audience members — some of whom are roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change moment — balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself swept away by Greenquist's charismatic Walter. Although the contrivances of the play's final third are too preposterous to sustain even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty, sympathetic performances — including Rogers as Becky's goofy son and by Suzanne Ford's graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walter's affections. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 822-8392.
BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's comedy of matrimony. (In the Studio Theatre.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (562) 494-1014.
BREAK THE WHIP The epic sprawl of Tim Robbins' staging of his new play, Break the Whip, may be justified by the scale of its ambitions. He is, after all, dramatizing creation myths — three, to be precise: that of the Powhatan tribes that once flourished along the eastern seaboard of what's now the United States; a Christian creation myth as held by English settlers of the Jamestown colony in the early 17th century; and a creation myth from Angola, as embraced by the first slaves brought to the Jamestown colony. Each of these myths is depicted in a shadow-puppet playlet designed by Johnny Burton, and interspersed throughout the main drama that unfolds in the years between 1609 and 1621, in Jamestown where the three cultures converge. The drama entails a series of fragile political negotiations and liaisons among the cultures for food, security and some crude vestiges of civilization. Each actor dons a commedia mask so that, even when the English settlers are cannibalizing their own spouses, or burying them in pieces wrapped in cloth, the stylistic treatment contains echoes of an Italian clown show. In one scene, a squatty English buffoon (Stephen M. Porter) rages by “beating” his indentured servant (Chris Schultz) with fey humor — merely swaying his torso so that his limp arm barely scrapes the victim, ostensibly because he hasn't the energy to employ more severity than that. In another scene, an African slave woman (Giselle Jones) gets whipped for having an affair with that same servant. Nothing fey there. We see the lashes as red cloth taped to her back. Upon seeing this, other characters — her fellow slaves and members of the local tribe — recoil in horror. Stylistically, these are mixed messages. Are we supposed to be emotionally estranged — for the comedy — or engaged by the horror? One scene is in the style of a Monty Python sketch; the other, lifted from the TV epic Roots, but in harlequin attire. Add to this Robbins' very political decision to give voice to each culture in its native tongue, with English-language supertitles of the Algonquian and Kimbundu languages simultaneously projected onto a screen above the stage. That choice does inspire respect for the fastidious research it must have entailed, the cost being yet one more layer of emotional distraction: huge swaths of text delivered to English speakers on a suspended screen, as though this were an opera with music overtaking the primacy of language. It isn't; the music here is accompaniment rather than an engine. Roping us back in is the story's sentimental heart, a story of elopement whereby the beaten African slave and her forbidden English lover join a band of rebels to find refuge with the deeply skeptical natives, who are in the midst of their own internal strife. The performance by Scott Harris as a slightly bewildered, very thoughtful and ultimately compassionate tribal leader grows increasingly endearing. Perhaps the sentimentality is needed to counter the mix of styles and the diversions, but the result is an inverted rendition of the traditional storybook histories of the Americas that get taught in schools, against which Robbins is reacting. (Steven Leigh Morris). Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 838-4264.
ELIZABETH SHAKESPEARE AND THE ASTUTE DETECTIVE Alan Ross' world premiere about who really wrote the Bard's plays. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (310) 394-9779.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Shirley Jackson's horror story, adapted by F. Andrew Leslie. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 454-1970.
HISTORY OF THE DEVIL The devil's parole hearing, by Clive Barker. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (866) 811-4111.
LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS The 1969 Neil Simon comedy. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, wcjt.org. (323) 821-2449.
NEW REVIEW A LIGHT IN THE SHADOWS
Photo by Rich Skidmore
is the Italian term for an artist's use of light and shadow in a piece
to create contrast and three-dimensional volume. When absent, the piece
looks flat and lifeless, the way European art often appeared in
pre-Renaissance times. Sadly, the latter description is also an apt one
for A.F. Cronin's play about the New York art world in modern times. In
it, well-known artist Adam Gardner (Roy Werner) is in a mid-career
slump until his flamboyantly conniving agent Matieu (Rich Skidmore)
discovers Adam's sketches, which he leaks to prominent art patron Erika
(Mary Buckley). The two of them concoct a plan to sell the sketches and
inspire Adam to create more via a new figure model, a bratty art
student named Phoebe (Brenna Rhea). Chock-full of eye-rollingly painful
lines, the script feels as bland as an after school special–a
perception not ameliorated by Cronin's direction, which clearly needed
a third-party perspective. The result is a lack of chemistry between
actors, jokes that fall flat, and all-too-frequent blackouts between
scenes that only highlight their lack of depth and character
development. Rhea is the sole cast member who demonstrates any energy
on stage, but even she is limited by lines that lean too heavily on
stereotypical lingo that makes her sound more like 13 than 18. In
retrospect, perhaps the shadows should have remained unlit. Miles
Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 458-3377. theatreforasmallspace.com A Theatre for a Small Space Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
NEW REVIEW GO LOVELAND
Photo by Leland Auslender
What a rare experience it is, when a character that's as
maniacal, sexually overheated and as transparently off the rails as a
sketch comedy goofball from SNL or a Groundlings show can be the
centerpiece of a such a deeply moving play. Lying beneath its clowning
hijinx, Ann Randolph's solo performance concerns the fleeting essences
of memory and home, of a character grappling with sanity, with
mortality, and with the erosion of life leading to beauty. All you have
to do is imagine the landscape below the aircraft on which the
despondent Franny Potz (Randolph) is returning “home” to Ohio from
California, and you can imagine the wrinkles in the desert, like those
carved by the snaking Colorado River, like the wrinkles on the face of
almost anybody who has endured a life worth living. Franny comes up
with these images – hard to imagine from somebody who can't look at you
without her tongue involuntarily swirling around her lower lip and her
eyes boggling out, and who prides herself on singing from Handel's “The
Messiah” dead off-key. There's a “businessman” sitting next to her,
he's a bit of an asshole but you can understand his skepticism with
this loon by his side. The major accomplishment in Randolph's 90-minute
show is to slowly transfer our empathy from him to her. And this is
done through re-enactments of Franny's friendship with her crusty
mother, perhaps the only friend she has, and of how with limited
financial resources, Franny ushered the older woman into a care
facility on the heels of a stroke. The piece careens from the ribald
humor of Franny's sexual fantasy with the aircraft's pilot to the
heartbreak of Franny seeing her mother in the “home,” and the older
woman failing to recognize her own daughter – until memory snaps back
with the re-functioning of some decayed synapse. The piece combines
child-like, even infantile, humor with profundities about time's
inexorable march over all of us. This unorthodox blend results in a
performance that's silly and tender in the same breath. Its wisdom and
beauty are almost indescribable. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth
St., Santa Monica; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, brownpapertickets.com.
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 distract