Theater FEATURE on Happy Ending and Water


Photo by Chris Bennion

The structure of Lynn Nottage's powerful drama is like that of so many play 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 by 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 (Russel G. Jones), comes 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 “ruined” (reproductively) by 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 eye 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 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) that 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. 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. Co-produced with Intiman Theatre. (Steven Leigh Morris)

For a list of productions slated for review this weekend, press the More tab directly below:

Productions slated for review this weekend:

THE BIRTHDAY BOYS Aaron Kozak's play about captured American soldiers in Iraq. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (800) 838-3006.

BREAK THE WHIP A tale of Virginia's Jamestown Colony, written and directed by Tim Robbins. 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.

DEAR HARVEY The Beat Project presents Patricia Loughrey's biography of Harvey Milk, with original music by Thomas Hodges. Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 2, (323) 960-7782.

DON GIOVANNI TONIGHT, DON CARLO TOMORROW Dennis Miles' ensemble piece set backstage at a Midwest opera house. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 281-8337.

MYSTERIOUS SKIN Alien-abduction drama by Prince Gomolvilas, based on the novel by Scott Heim. 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.

OF GRAPES AND NUTS SeaGlass Theatre presents Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth's Steinbeck parody. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (818) 841-5421.

PARADISE PARK Written by Charles L. Mee. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (310) 319-9939.

PIECES OF ME An evening with Loretta Devine and her original poetry and songs. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 3, (323) 960-7780.

LA RAZON BLINDADA(The Armored Reason) Written and directed by Aristides Vargas. (Presented in Spanish with English supertitles). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (800) 838-3006.

RUINED Lynn Nottage's 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner set in the war-torn Congo. 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.

TRUE WEST Sam Shepard's story of sibling rivalry. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 939-9220.

THE WEB World premiere by Michael John Garcés. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-4418.

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