Stage FEATURE on Merry Wives of Windsor in Topanga Canyon and Griffith Park

Credit: Brian Helm

Credit: Brian Helm

On a care-free, car-free Carmageddon weekend, all of our critics got to their shows. Among the favorites, Lovell Estell III's warm appraisal of Marja-Lewis Ryan's Dysnomia, about the Greek goddess of disruption; Pauline Adamek's cheerful take on Troubadour Theater Company's mashup of Shakespeare's tragedy and Fleetwood Mac ditties, Fleetwood Macbeth; and Bill Raden's mixed appraisal of Othello, as presented by The Production Company.

Read below the jump for the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS

NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication July 21, 2011:

NEW REVIEW BIKINI BEACH BACCHAE Pretty ballsy to re-imagine Euripides Greek tragedy The Bacchae as a fun-n-flirty 1960s surf movie. After all, the play ends with a mother proudly presenting the head of her son to his grandfather, convinced she's killed a mountain lion. How do you flip that into a lighthearted conclusion? Well, you don't, or at least director Paul Miailovich's adaptation doesn't. The concept isn't a bad one — figuring Dionysus (Vance Roi Reyes), the god of ecstasy and ritual madness, as a hippie cult leader preaching free love and reefer madness, is actually fitting. Transforming Beverly Hills housewives into Bacchantes (Dionysus' band of female followers) also works: Money can't satiate kept women forever, and the play's many dance breaks, during which they whip their hair and hips, are easily the evening's most charming moments. What's missing is a script to support the concept. The leap from modern-day speech to the original text never makes a smooth landing, and the play ends up feeling as if two entirely different scripts were cut-and-pasted together. The glaring misstep, however, is the reworked ending. The head-on-a-platter gag is too bawdy to be paired with the original text, which Ellen Karsten's Agaue plays too straight. The big joke of the night doesn't just fall flat; it flies right over the audience's head. The Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Dr. Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 7 (323) 667-0955. (Rebecca Haithcoat)


Credit: Marja-Lewis Ryan

Credit: Marja-Lewis Ryan

The play's title refers to a Greek Goddess associated with disruption, which is just what befalls the family on display in Marja-Lewis Ryan's fine dramedy. Henry and Mary's (Heidi Sulzman and Trevor H. Olsen) longtime marriage has yielded good jobs, a comfortable suburban life and two attractive children. But angst and boredom have taken over Mary's life, and she can't shake the feeling that something is missing, until she has a casual chat with a friend's lesbian daughter (Ryan). It's obvious at this point what the missing “something,” is in Mary's life, and she eventually decides to out herself to friends and family, resulting in moments of hilarity and disquieting expressiveness. Henry implodes into rage and steadfast denial; her friend Carol (Jessie Warner), nearly has a panic attack; Mary's troubled teenage son John (Ryan Stathos), mirroring his father, becomes a cauldron of rage and resentment; precocious daughter Jodi (the outstanding Isabella Palmieri), handles the situation with seasoned, adult aplomb. Ryan's play is all about being true to oneself, and she makes the point without being shallow or preachy with a script that strikes just the right balance between darkness and light, and is also refreshingly forthright. Cast performances are equally fine under Anthony Frisina's direction. It all unfurls neatly on Michael Fitzgerald's serviceable, kitchen set design that appears lived-in. Rounding out the cast is Monroe Makowsky as Carol's husband, Scott. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. thru Aug 21. (323) 469-9988. plays411/dysnomia (Lovell Estell III)

NEW REVIEW FICTION Longtime married couple Linda (Courtney Sara Bell) and Michael (Darren T. Mangler) are fiction writers – he a popular author, she a college professor acclaimed for her intrepid and well-crafted first novel. Friends and lovers, they relish their intimate companionship but keep their journals private. That changes when Linda is diagnosed with a terminal illness; she then proposes they read each other's diaries, a kind of parting emblem of their friendship and trust. Michael consents, albeit uneasily, as his personal writings reveal a lingering obsession with a woman named Abby (Carolyn Curtis) that he has never disclosed to his wife. Playwright Steven Dietz' insightful script weaves the familiar dramatic motifs of adultery and betrayal into ruminations on artistic integrity and the disconnect between what we recall, what we invent and what may have actually transpired in our lives.Unfortunately, the script's richness remains unexplored in a production that rises little above workshop quality. It's impossible to believe that these two people have been married for 20 years, or that one of them is now confronting death. As directed by Joshua Morrison, an unconvincing Bell (who appears far too young for her role) adopts a flippant world-wise manner and never lets go. Mangler fares better as a remorseful adulterer and overly self-analytical narcissist, but falls well short of mastering his character's complexity. Curtis brings a contained and stable maturity to her intelligent “other woman.” Theatre Unleashed at The Underground Theatre, 1312-14 N. Wilton Pl., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, thru July 31. (Deborah Klugman) 


Credit: Chelsea Sutton

Credit: Chelsea Sutton

Troubadour Theatre Company is back with one of their trademark mash ups, a rock 'n' roll adaptation of Macbeth as reinterpreted and scored by select hits from Fleetwood Mac. In the spooky opening number, a coven of eight sexy witches (plus hilarious Beth Kennedy as an old crone) dance about in fishnet stockings, corsets and rags and deliver some Busby Berkeley worthy synchronized dance moves. We next move to a bubble wrap battlefield for an ensemble performance of “Say You Love Me.” Rob Nagle channels Sean Connery as King Duncan and keeps the show from getting derailed by too many ad-libs and pop culture references from the jokey cast. Brandon Breault is very funny as a Goth named Seyton (pronounced like Satan) who glides on and off stage on wheelie shoes. He collaborates with the evil Lady M. (the brilliant, brassy Lisa Valenzuela, especially when she belts out “Dreams” and “Rhiannon”). Songs such as “World Turning” suit the banquet scene where Macbeth (Morgan Rusler in excellent form) hallucinates the ghostly presence of Banquo (Matt Walker). The witches give fantastic renditions of “Gold Dust Woman” and “Break the Chain” while a show highlight is a wistful rendition of “Landslide”. All songs are backed by a competent live four-piece band. Much of Shakespeare's text remains intact, especially Macbeth's most famous soliloquy. The Troubadour Theatre Company at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Friday., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 14. (818) 955-8101. (Pauline Adamek)


Credit: Tim Davis

Credit: Tim Davis

With some intentionally ambiguous plays, you must never expect all the truth to be revealed. And so it is with poet playwrights Ron Allen and Jo D. Jonz's imaginative, if overly surreal tour de force. Using exchanges written in a heated blank verse that moodily meshes hip hop with def poetry jam, the work appears to take place within the head of its narrator, a man who might be a poet or who might be a madman. The character of Poet (Jonz, who also directs) wanders about on a Siddhartha-like journey, travelling within a metaphorical terrain known as “The Biosphere,” as he finds himself interacting with dueling figures – a motherly preacher (Nancy Solomons), who appears to represent the artistic side of his brain, and a Cruella De Ville-like villainess (Sharon Fane), who rules the more practical, negative side. There's also a sexy nymphet (Tiffany Rebecca Royale, complete in Foxy Brown wig) who represents his sexual desires and a woman named “Cannabis” (Garz Chan), who, wearing a diaphanous green shmatta, dances around the stage to symbolize the main character's love for the Delicious Herb (which he smokes constantly for medicinal reasons, of course). Although performer-director Jonz's production often demonstrates skillful stagecraft, particularly evident in Darcel Leonard's tight, beautifully dream-like choreography and Dana Ric's effectively moody video sequences, the disjointed babble of the non sequitur writing inevitably wears thin. and occasionally, the work's earnestness comes across as ridiculous. In one scene, for instance, a woman comes out wearing a sort of silver fig-shaped bedpan and shrieks, “I am the queen of the Vaginas!” In the drama's central narrator role, Jonz offers a fierce, energetic turn that is acrobatic, versatile, and powerful – even when we're not entirely sure what the heck he's up to. Electric Lodge Theater, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 20. (Paul Birchall)


Credit: Brian Helm

Credit: Brian Helm

Arguments have raged for centuries over the enigma that is Iago, Shakespeare's most renowned portrait of incarnate evil. Why, exactly, does the villainous ensign turn his considerable creative energies to engineering the fall of his noble general? Director-adaptor Tiger Reel advances a new theory in this provocative modern-dress production — Iago's malevolence is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a bit of bravura, pre-show pantomime, Reel stages an Abu Ghraib-esque army torture scene in which Othello (a sturdy Victor Dickerson) oversees a blasé Iago (the marvelous Jim Hanna) “interrogating” a prisoner on the same platform that will later serve as the fateful marriage bed for Othello and Desdemona (Abbie Cobb). Though the comparison between 16th century Venice and our more recent military unpleasantness might sound somewhat strained, Reel bolsters his case by pruning back some of Othello's more ennobling early speeches to create one of the bleakest portrayals of the Moor in recent memory. The cuts tend to hamstring Dickerson, who comes off as something of a highly-strung U.S. Marine martinet, but they also turn the play over to Iago and hand Hanna the role of a lifetime. The actor imbues the character with an enervating sense of sociopathic world-weariness that reads both as comic exasperation in his scenes with Roderigo (Sean Spann) and the whiff of a humanizing conscience in his soliloquies. While Reel's argument is finally more facile than convincing, his elegant, futuristic production design and Matt Richter's expressive lights make swallowing it a not-unpalatable experience. The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. through Aug. 20. (800) 838-3006, (Bill Raden)


Credit: Maia Rosenfeld

Credit: Maia Rosenfeld

A wife and mother dies on September 11, not felled by Bin Laden but by breast cancer. Four years later, this period piece — its setting circa 2005 made obvious by the thick laptops and dumbphones — picks up with the husband Artie (Ray Abruzzo) and daughter Robbie (Maxie Solters) still reeling. Partially because of playwright D. Tucker Smith's intriguing premise of sadness overshadowed by national tragedy, but also because of the host of distractions welded onto the drama, the drama's weight drags its momentum to a crawl. Robbie, now 14, is acting out for reasons her dad only thinks he can't understand. (He likens his daughter to a Sunday crossword.) At his workplace, a second tier department store suffering from the flight of disloyal online shoppers, CEO Artie becomes fascinated by a philosophical Armenian janitor (Stephanie Terronez), who sleeps on the store's patio furniture at night. Meanwhile, two customers, a 23-year-old naif (Alex Pierce) and a cynical vet (Marc Aden Gray) lock horns in a battle for turf. Their skirmishes with each other and with Artie draw blood. But Smith is stuck on creating a Glengarry Glen Grief, and the play's diffuse themes and scattered showers of exposition work against the good ideas buried in the material. As co-directors, Smith and Anjali Bhimani try to add impact with melodramatic movie-of-the-week music, another flourish that should be left behind if this premiere-with-potential retools for a second try. Open fist theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., July 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 24, 2 p.m.; Thurs., July 28, 8 p.m.; Fri., July 29, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 6, 2 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 10, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 20, 2 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 27, 8 p.m. (323) 882-6912. (Amy Nicholson)


Credit: courtesy Second City Hollywood

Credit: courtesy Second City Hollywood

Given the ubiquity of the TV franchise which has brought us The Real

Housewives of every city short of Tujunga, it's inevitable that the

improv comedy world would put its own spin on the theme. Here, writer

Jamie King brings us updated variations on eight of Shakespeare's

heroines, though it's a bit of a stretch to call them housewives.

Celebrity-seeking Lady Macbeth (Katie Neff) is the mother of Hermia

(Katy Foley) and Helena (Angela Quintana) from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Along with Desdemona (Emily Peck), Juliet (Devan Liljedahl) and Kate

the Shrew (Liz Osborne) they're involved in preparing a highly

competitive fashion show, featuring designs by Ophelia (Adalgiza

Chemountd), who's nursing a secret crush on Jared Leto. Her harried

assistant is Viola (Donna Lazar). All the men in their lives are played

by a very busy David Alfano. The incoherent plot is a mish-mash of

celebrity gossip, pop culture references, faux TMZ clips (video by

Andrew Thomas), and cat-fights. Ray Chao's direction, like the script,

relies heavily on the heavy-handed and the obvious, but a young and

friendly audience was whooping it up. The Second City Hollywood, 6560

Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. Thurs., 8 p.m., thru July 28. (Neal Weaver)

NEW REVIEW SHREK THE MUSICAL It doesn't take a Bruno Bettelheim to psychoanalyze this over-calculated and under-inspired musical adaptation of DreamWork's 2001 animated blockbuster. Only a corporate boardroom — and the bottom line — could have cooked up a Broadway-scale fairy tale so spectacularly lacking in heart or soul or stage magic. Lyricist-librettist David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori contribute 22 mostly unmemorable tunes to a book that has its tongue buried so deeply in its cheek that it generates all the pathos and sincerity of a Saturday Night Live sketch. Eric Petersen dons the familiar green bugle ears and pounds of awkward prosthetics (by makeup designer Naomi Donne) to achieve a fair simulation of the titular movie ogre on a quest to rescue a princess. Alan Mingo, Jr. lends his considerable vocal and clowning talents to the role of Shrek's wisecracking sidekick, Donkey. Haven Burton brings a fine voice but less certain dancing or comedy ability to distressed damsel Princess Fiona. And the deftly droll David F.M. Vaughn milks the most out of Shrek's one-note-sight-gag nemesis, Lord Farquaad. Directors Jason Moore and Rob Ashford's slickly oiled staging keeps the pace and the intricate cartoon scenery (designed by Tim Hatley) moving. But if winking irreverence is their keynote, only two numbers even approach the slyly inverted wickedness of William Steig's original children's book — the spoof ballad “Morning Person,” in which Princess Fiona unwittingly leaves a path of destruction while celebrating the morning, and “I Think I Got You Beat,” a kid-pleasing romantic duet between Shrek and Fiona about flatulence and belching. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m., Fri, 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6 p.m., through July 31. (800) 982-ARTS. L.A., (Bill Raden)


Credit: courtesy Write Act Repertory

Credit: courtesy Write Act Repertory

When Pat Benatar sang “Love is a Battlefield,” it's doubtful she had anything in mind quite as literal as playwright Yasmine Rana's meditation on war, war correspondents and the women who love them. Covering three conflict zones in six scenes, Rana is less interested in the particular political dimensions of specific wars than she is in the existential price paid by those whose war trauma is appropriated and commodified by ambition-driven journalists. In Rana's play, reporting on wars is the moral equivalent of battlefield scavenging. She thus gives us the predatory American reporter, Peter (Scott Blair), whose lucrative book deal signals both his pull-out from the Siege of Sarajevo and his abandonment of the story source with whom he's been having a steamy extramarital affair, the blocked Bosnian writer Dahlia (Liana Johnston). We later meet Peter's forlorn and alienated wife, Susan (Melanie Cruz), who sees herself as an early casualty of Peter's penchant for relating to people as mere spectacles. The exploited Dahlia proves no exception as she turn exploiter by writing the story of Ash (the fine Cyrus Khamneipur), a former member of Kabul's religious police, and his love affair with a prostitute (played by a riveting Sharmila Devar) subsequently executed by the Taliban. While Rana's language rarely rises above the pedestrian, her compelling thesis is all but lost in director Ken Crosby's indifferent production and Jonathan Harrison's haphazard set and lights. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru July 30. (323) 469-3113. (Bill Raden)

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