A BED AND A BAR The music. The slang. The characters’ and audience members’ prowess with cell phones — there’s nothing like a comedy about young love to keep the monocled theater critic tethered to contemporary America. However, while Carlos Javier Castillo’s play has flashes of zippy dialogue (press materials tout him as “the Mexican Mamet”) and some wry observations on modern relationships, after a while those relationships start to look a lot like the kind we’re used to seeing onstage. Two couples meet separately at a bar for one-night stands but find themselves falling into the long haul. At this point (roughly when the male characters’ over-the-top comments about pussy, bitches and hos get stale), the story itself falls for traditional, purple badinage about commitment and loneliness, and loses its comedic bling. Gloria Gifford lightly directs a double-cast, shoestring production (actors at the “bar” pour their own drinks out of a bottle), but moves things swiftly across set designers Neita and Dayton’s spartan set, which is inexplicably bookended downstage by a crucifix and a flashlight. On the night I attended, Shaun Baker’s performance as smooth-talking club prowler Christian was easily the show’s biggest charm; that evening’s bill also included Chad Doreck, Anaisabel Mercado, Kimberly Demarse and Joseph Eid as a fifth-wheel character who seems to represent the latest in male dandyism but whose skinny leather tie, cassette tapes and use of pay phones was oddly anachronistic. GGC Theater, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 1. (800) 595-4849. (Steven Mikulan)
GO SOLOMANIA!: The Watts Towers Project Roger Guenveur Smith’s solo show gathers inspiration from Simon Rodia, the unassuming Italian immigrant who spent 33 years single-handedly building the Watts Towers from found art, then deeded them to a neighbor for $1,000 and walked away. (“I wanted to do something great,” he said.) Rodia’s story represents but one narrative thread in this often opaque and rambling yet mesmerizing piece. Framed by outsized slides of the structures’ architectural detail, as well as Caruso’s mellifluously symbolic rendition of “O Solo Mio,” Smith presents a kind of cultural collage that juxtaposes “salvaged,” sometimes shadowy, memories of family and friends with historic events and personalities: the shooting death of a cousin; the assassination of Bobby Kennedy; the Watts riots (which left the towers unscathed); the untimely death of his friend, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; and the violent clubbing of Dodger catcher John Roseboro by Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, which prompted the 6-year-old Roger to angrily tear up his baseball cards. A spoken-word artist who riffs on language, Smith also adopts an oddly spastic slow-motion gait to accentuate the work’s dreamlike elements. His tumbleweeding, rampageous style is equal parts confusing and illuminating. Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; in rep, call for schedule; thru June 11. (213) 628-2772. (Deborah Klugman)
Del Shores may well be the Molière of L.A. Over decades, the writer-director-producer has stuck with, and by, a repertory of actors in his own comedies who frequently home in on hypocrites who cloak their power abuses, and homophobia, in the garb of the church. Trials and Tribulations (2003) concerns a wise hausfrau, Willadean (Beth Grant), stuck in a Texas trailer home. She teaches herself one new word a day — “pulverize, solidarity” — words that feed her battered self-respect. Through the visitations of a black neighbor, La Sonia (Octavia Spencer), and a slutty, over-the-hill cocktail waitress, Rayleen (Dale Dickey), Willadean slowly untangles the fibers of love, neediness and loathing that keep her attached to her increasingly abusive husband, J.D. (David Steen). (J.D. quotes the Bible to justify his thrashings of Willadean, and his opposition to her friends and her “liberation” — a part-time job at Wal-Mart.) Though the portrait of spousal abuse appears lifted from any rural domestic-abuse file, it floats in a pool of tart satirical jokes (extended riffs on crushed Lays potato chips baked into a casserole, and “cherry dump delight”) that land with unexpected poignancy. “Lord, she does not look good in the light of day,” remarks Willadean about her approaching competition, Rayleen — with the telling coda, “bless her heart.” A blues singer (understudy Pam Trotter) croons gospel and other ditties that work in counterpoint to the otherwise-stock melodrama, while gilding the comedy’s theological frame. The clutter of Robert Steinberg’s harrowing set provokes some painful humor, but the play’s essence comes from its perfect cast, so that it unfolds with chiseled nuance, and the authenticity of wizened faces and gentle smiles. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave.; in rep, call for schedule; thru June 17. (800) 595-4849.
—Steven Leigh Morris