BEST/WORST First, take David (Ben Parrillo), a salesman who wants a new account at work, then add his wife, Angela (Casey Siegenfeld). Next, take Kevin (Jay Huguley), the salesman’s boss, and stir in his wife, Miriam (Heather Long). Cram them all into a beach cottage for a week. Add rain. Patricia Cotter’s new comedy is a perfect recipe for emotional disaster and a quite wonderful play. Shing Yin Khor’s set, which includes a living room and kitchen, is charmingly unkempt and accented with nautical wares. Thanks to director Michael Angelo Stuno, the pacing is oiled as a sitcom — this is the play to see with that friend who hates theater. Performances are strong across the board, but Huguley’s Kevin is particularly well cast as David’s annoyingly successful, workaholic boss, with his smooth bronzed skin, glistening black hair and paper-white teeth. Kevin’s infantile, macho reaction when losing a board game is among the show’s funniest moments. Although Act 2 is not quite as tight as Act 1, the production as a whole is a thoroughly satisfying portrait of a group of people grappling with their own respective senses of failure. Apartment A at the ELECTRIC LODGE, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 9. (310) 823-0710. (Stephanie Lysaght)
DOCKERS Set on the waterfront of Dublin in 1962, Martin Lynch’s play looks at dock workers challenging a corrupt union. Shop steward John Graham (Dan Harper) wants better treatment for the laborers, which puts him in conflict with crooked union officials (Michael Harrity and Jim Krestalude) who want to maintain the status quo. Graham wants to open the union to new men and change how jobs are distributed: Foreman Jimmy Sweeney (Noah Wagner) abuses his power by playing favorites when assigning jobs to the men who crowd the docks — where there’s not enough work to go around. Although some of the accents are a bit spotty, Sean Branney’s concise direction keeps the action moving at a brisk clip on Arthur MacBride’s versatile set. As Buckets McGuinness, Barry Lynch puts in an amusing performance as a loud-mouthed drunk. THE BANSHEE (formerly the Gene Bua Theatre), 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 3. (818) 846-5323. (Sandra Ross)
FAREWELL TO MANZANAR When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, more than 120,000 people of Japanese origin ended up in “relocation centers” for the duration of World War II. Seven-year-old Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her family were sent to the Manzanar internment camp in Central California’s arid Owens Valley, a far cry from her idyllic home in Long Beach. Based on Houston’s 1973 titular memoir, co-written with her husband, James D. Houston, this adaptation by Cynthia Gates Fujiwaka is a bittersweet tale that deals superficially with the racial, political and personal dynamics of that insidious U.S. policy. Through narration by Jeanne (Page Leong), we learn how her family coped with their imprisonment, with her mother (Leslie Ishii) desperately trying to create a home out of a tar-paper barrack while her father (Leong, aided by Lynn Jeffries’ evocatively designed puppet) wallows in drink and self-pity. Under director Christopher Liam Moore’s crisp direction, Leong is highly credible as both the younger and adult Jeanne, whose psychological scars are somewhat alleviated on a cathartic sojourn to the camp long after its closing. Accomplished as Leong is, the casting choice of using a non–Japanese-American actress for such an ethnically grounded role will raise eyebrows, if not hackles. Cornerstone Theater at the NATIONAL CENTER FOR THE PRESERVATION OF DEMOCRACY, 111 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 23-26) ; thru Dec. 3. (213) 625-0414. (Martín Hernández)
GROUNDLINGS FOR $1,000, ALEX L.A.’s most famous sketch-comedy institution is in top form with some wonderful cameo performances, living cartoons that are like exercises for plays (or TV shows) in development, even if the individual parts are better than their sum. Insane family rituals, MySpace, interactive video games and the NSA form the sharpest barbs of the social satire, parodies on the familiar — twisted into comedic contortions — that explode with small bursts of recognition. High school sophomores (Edi Patterson and Mikey Day) try to have an innocuous phone conversation when they discover a pair of NSA wiretappers (Tim Brennen and Larry Dorf in voice-over) on the line, engaging the teens in casual repartee that’s motivated by a blend of the Feds’ benign curiosity and ennui, though the kid’s remark, “the party’s going to be the bomb” sets off an alarm. Which party? Sunni? Shiite? Steven Pierce serves up an insanely intense rendition of an offstage then onstage dad goading his son (Day) through an aggressively mediocre musical-theater performance at a Boy Scout talent show. Later, Dorf’s portrayal of a demented dad is a marvel of muted grotesqueness, constantly pulling his emotionally pummeled son (Mitch Silpa) into secret yet overheard lectures during a dinner in which the old man tries to impress his new girlfriend (Patterson) on the heels of his divorce. The improvisations reveal acting prowess but wobble in content between languor and very funny one-liners. Excellent performances also by Jordan Black and Michael Naughton. Karen Maruyama directs the very slick show. THE GROUNDLINGS THEATRE, 7303 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Nov. 25. (323) 934-4747, Ext. 37. (Steven Leigh Morris)
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD George Romero’s 1968 horror flick featuring flesh-eating zombies has its fans. The story, adapted here by Leon Shanglebee into a stage play lasting slightly over an hour, revolves around seven people trapped in a Pennsylvania farmhouse, desperately trying to save themselves from the cannibalistic ghouls. Directed by Christian Levantino, the production’s greatest strength is lead performer Mancini Graves, who cultivates just the right amount of camp as the manly, cut-to-the-chase hero, Ben. Sierra Fisk as Barbara, the helpless blonde too petrified to assist, is also amusing. Once the action moves beyond this duo, however, the piece shifts downhill, propelled by less grounded performances, especially by Trent Hopkins, overly bombastic as Ben’s antagonistic opponent. The technical elements (sound and lighting designers Michael Flowers and Fontaine and Alex Knudson, respectively, with special effects by John Casella) are hardly mind-blowing, while the fiends themselves reminded me of the monster games my friends and I played when I was a kid. STELLA ADLER THEATRE, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 3 (added perf Nov. 25, 2 p.m.; no perfs Nov. 23 & 26). (323) 960-1056. (Deborah Klugman)
TAKING ORDERS, MAKING CHANGE Jaci Denning is a charming writer-performer with energy and wit, but not quite enough heft or material to carry a full solo evening. Her conceit is to be both a waitress in a Melrose Italian eatery and the array of characters with whom she comes in contact. The cast of crazies includes an overly eager woman on a blind date, a middle-American tourist with her family, a drunken sorority girl, a celebrity, etc. While each of the women is written with very specific characteristics, Denning’s performance of each is surprisingly similar, most sharing a vocal quality that lives somewhere between Minneapolis and Valley Girl. With no credited director, visual production values are limited, but there is some fine use of sound — especially the opening moments of 1960s Italian pop music that could be used throughout to stronger effect. ELEPHANT ASYLUM THEATRE, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 30. (323) 960-7726. (Tom Provenzano)
WISHFUL DRINKING Those who were beguiled by Carrie Fisher’s actress-interrupted memoir, Postcards From the Edge, will find themselves wondering where the author’s tight line delivery and nimble shifts of thought went in this one-woman show. Fisher moves awkwardly onstage and, on opening night, her lack of concentration led to a number of booted lines. (It didn’t help that the script was scrolling on a balcony monitor for her benefit.) One would think that even if Fisher isn’t a natural standup performer, as an actor she could at least play one. Perhaps worse, though, she resists the temptation to settle into any extended anecdotes or even that reliable catnip of recovery show-and-tell, the Day I Hit Bottom confession. Instead, her show becomes a quickly reviewed résumé of her life’s more embarrassing moments, punctuated by a few aphoristic observations. GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; schedule varies, call for info; thru Dec. 24. (310) 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.com. (Steven Mikulan) See Stage feature next week.