Joshua (Derek Shaun) saw his father lynched when he was a child, causing his mother to send him away from the hood for his own protection. Now, 21 years later, he has returned, intent on reviving and reforming his local black community. Though he’s supported staunchly by his wife, Tamar (Theresa Deveaux), and friends, Joshua faces an uphill battle. He’s opposed by Ms. Chide (Bernadette McAllister), a corrupt neighborhood political operator who sees any attempt at reform as a threat to her own position. She also knows a dark secret about Joshua’s family. This 1990 play was writer William A. Parker’s first, and, despite its obvious sincerity and some vivid local color, it’s marked by many shortcomings that afflict first-time playwrights: Idealistic debate sometimes gives way to preachiness, many short scenes meander, and too much exposition is required to set up the complicated back story. Director Sam Nickens has cast the piece well, and he achieves some scenes of high passion, but he fails to achieve real dramatic thrust. In addition to the actors mentioned above, there are fine performances by Willie Warner, Brian Marshall and Marvin Gay, among others. Upward Bound Productions at the DORIE THEATER AT THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 960-7862. (Neal Weaver)

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S JULIUS CAESAR This stripped-down, bare-bones, modern-dress production is brisk and well-spoken. All the performances are respectable, and the scenes of Caesar’s murder and funeral are exciting and finely played. But director/actor/fight choreographer Charles Pasternak dominates as Marc Antony because Shakespeare gave him the showiest role, and he has the authority, charisma and technical proficiency to own the stage when he walks onto it. He projects the thoughts as well as the words, and lands every idea. Jack Leahy’s Brutus and Gus Krieger’s Cassius are well played, but they lack Pasternak’s mental and verbal clarity. Bryant Romo’s Caesar is expertly spoken, but he plays the role as a conventional leading man, with little concern for Caesar’s foibles and physical afflictions (he seems unscathed after his epileptic fit). Part of the problem is in the editing. To allow the play to be performed by just eight actors, many of the minor characters (Lucius and Lepidus, among others) have been cut, and with them many of the more intimately human scenes are lost. The play becomes more rhetorical, and political subtleties are blunted. (There’s no hint of the jealous triumvirate, or the rivalry among its members.) The Porters of Hellsgate at THE WHITMORE-LINDLEY THEATRE, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., thru Dec. 30; then Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., Jan. 5-14. (310) 497-2884. (Neal Weaver)

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