GO  ALL MY SONS If even a thread of a silver lining can be found in the BP gulf oil-spill madness, it might just be that the appalling incident has breathed new life into Arthur Miller's powerful tragedy about the twin evils of reckless capitalism and false sanctimony. Director Kiff Scholl's powerful and well-acted production never overtly channels the spill — but the parallels between the cabal of greedy oil-company CEOs and the dark heart of corruption that lie at the center of the family in Miller's play are apparent. The play concerns seemingly genial war-parts manufacturer Joe (Mark Belnick), whose family life is splintering ostensibly over the fact that his beloved but emotionally fragile wife, Kate (CaroleAnne Johnson), is unwilling to give up believing that their son Larry, dead in a war plane crash, is still alive. Meanwhile Joe's other son Chris (Nicholas S. Williams) is plotting to marry beautiful Annie (Lauren Dobbins Webb), the daughter of Joe's former partner, who's serving a prison term for sending faulty plane parts to the front. Of course, the real truth of how those faulty parts got to the front is far more horrible — and ultimately tragic to all concerned. Staged in a theater so small it often seems to creak at the seams of the play's aching themes of rage, disgust and greed, Scholl's sturdy production is unflinching, with the intimacy only adding to its beauty. The ensemble's vivid and psychologically nuanced characters lead to the feeling that we “know” we “know” these people, like friends — from Belnick's backslappin', bonhomie bloat-spouting Joe, whose “big man” attitude is quickly abraded into weasel-eyed oiliness, to Johnson's beautifully fragile but increasingly darkly complicit Kate. Webb's sweet, then fierce turn as Annie becomes surprisingly complex as she ultimately wields a weapon that puts the final nail in the villain's coffin — while Williams' shift from dorky rich-boy idealist to ferocious avatar of justice is strikingly powerful. Raven Playhouse, 5223 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through July 25. (323) 960-4420. (Paul Birchall)

AMADEUS Written as Theophilus (from the Greek) on his birth certificate, Mozart's middle name can be interpreted as either “lover of God” or “loved by God.” Antonio Salieri clearly believed the latter, and his jealousy of Mozart fuels the drama in Peter Shaffer's 1979 award-winning play. As court composer, Salieri (Peter Swander) has the favor of Emperor Joseph II (David Robert May) and admires Mozart's music — until he meets the young prodigy. Mozart's (Patrick Stafford) sexuality and vulgarity drive the devout Catholic wild, and as Salieri can't reconcile the philistine with the ethereal music he creates, he becomes determined to destroy Mozart. In that quest, Swander often speaks of passion, yet it rarely feels as if his character possesses the passion his words suggest. Part of this may have been director August Viverito's desire for a slow build, even though it does eventually pay off in Act 2. Stafford's Mozart, on the contrary, is id perfectly personified, with occasional glimpses of the genius hiding behind the schoolboy pranks. Danielle Doyen, who plays his wife, Constanze, pairs well with Stafford, and like the rest of the cast, is capable. However, her 1980s, Madonna-style outfits, along with Mozart's gold pants and the emperor's raspberry zoot suit, are questionable choices by designer Shon LeBlanc. While for Salieri “a note of music is either right or it's wrong,” for me the show had a pleasant melody but not one that stuck with me for long. The Production Company at the Chandler Studio Theatre Center, 12443 Chandler Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 31. (800) 838-3006, theprodco.com (Mayank Keshaviah)

CHiPS THE MUSICAL Those masters of the mashed-up musical parody, the Troubadour Theater, have always played by their own comedic rules. Rule No. 1, invoked repeatedly in this uneven send-up of NBC's kitschy, late-'70s police drama, is to follow the laughs wherever they lead. And if that means repeatedly tossing out the script when it isn't hitting on all cylinders — as is the case with writers Rick Batalla and Henry Phillips' roughly tuned lampoon — and substituting it with the Troubies' trademark repertoire of quick-draw ad libs, self-mocking asides, audience-harassing gibes and an escalating onstage hugger-muggery, so be it. Batalla and director Matt Walker fill the famously skintight CHP uniforms (courtesy of costumer Sharon McGunigle) of swaggering freeway heroes Ponch and John as they ride down a marauding gang of lesbian ecoterrorists led by “synthetic albino” KG (Beth Kennedy). Meanwhile, the new political realities are shaking up the station, as sexist supervising sergeant “Getrear” (Mike Sulprizio) is sent off for sensitivity training and replaced with the sexy, Pam Grier–like ballbuster, Carmel (Michelle Anne Johnson). The 14 loony production numbers (under Eric Heinly's musical direction), neatly skewer the original series' generic, funk-flavored, adult-contemporary score along with its absurdly insipid storylines — talk about shooting fish in a barrel! — and even produce the occasional gem, like Caroline Gross' hilarious, must-be-seen, aerial-birthing flashback dance. Troubadour Theater Company at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through July 25. 818-955-8101. (Bill Raden)


THE FANTASTICKS It's mostly forgotten, and seldom acknowledged by the producers, but Tom Jones'/Harvey Schmidt's musical was loosely adapted from a once-popular play called The Romanticks, by Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac. The sweetly sentimental first act examines the sappy idealism of young lovers, Matt (Michael David) and Louisa (Madison Mitchell), but Act II turns darker, as they encounter bitter experience and disillusion. Though the original Off-Broadway production gave full value to the pain, most renditions since, including this one, have soft-pedaled and conventionalized it, making the piece seem lighter than originally intended. This version, by a new young company called The Tribe, suffers from some clunky staging in the limited space, but their youth and freshness offer some compensation. Director Christopher Chase elicits engaging performances from his cast. David and Mitchell are fine in the earlier scenes but don't plumb the depths of the later ones. Christopher Carbo is a laid-back El Gallo, Tony Oliver and Alissa-Nicole Koblentz score comic points as the manipulative parents, and Darryl Maximilian Robertson and Stacy Lynn Baker are effective as hammy roving players. Setareh Khatibi deserves special mention as the ever-engaged, confetti-dispensing Mute. The Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 7:30, through July 11. Produced by The Tribe. (661) 547-1173, theTRIBEproductions.org/tickets. (Neal Weaver)

GO  KING LEAR: THE MADMEN The old loon hasn't looked so good in some time. Bart DeLorenzo's staging for Antaeus Company's Classicsfest 2010 comes with two casts — “The Fools” and “The Madmen.” I saw the “The Madmen” and must reserve comment on the uberconcept until checking out “The Fools” this coming week. No need to reserve any enthusiasm for Harry Groener's title character. Though his silver beard still doesn't help Groener look a stitch older than 60 (Lear is supposed to be 80-plus), his gives a magnetic interpretation filled with surprises. But first, he renders the words sparklingly, with clarity and sensitivity. When his Fool (JD Cullum, also great — nimble and smart without being a smart-ass) grills him with riddles, Groener's Lear listens and responds with a childlike innocence that is a cloak for growing despondency. And it's that sojourn toward spiritual oblivion that Groener carves with such intrigue, step by step, with alternate bursts of rage and defeat. He's magnificent and ably matched by Allegra Fulton's richly textured Goneril, who conjures memories of Estelle Parsons, mingled with the late, local actress Pamela Gordon. Gregory Itzin's Kent is grand, as is Nick Cagle's Oswald. Less so some of the supporting players, who render comparatively callow and shallow renditions compared to the masters at the helm. DeLorenzo stages a modernist interpretation that starts with Napoleanic military chic (costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg) — all those boots stretching up to the thigh — and evolves to contemporary desert warfare attire. No, this is not an imposition or a gimmick. It fits snugly into the play's expedition into the surreal, in a work about aging and senility, the blessings and curses of time. DeLorenzo's staging suggests that what is unfolding is the history of our times, through ellipses of power and its abuses. He's on firm terra ether. Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; in rep with “The Fools”; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; through August 8. (818) 506-1983. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  OPUS Because classical music can be such a sublime art form, one tends to regard those musicians as inhabiting a more celestial sphere than the rest of us. Playwright and classically trained violist Michael Hollinger confutes that notion with this percipient drama, which examines the political and emotional fracas within a string quartet. In Hollinger's canny script, the tensions generated among members of a prominent musical group have been exacerbated by an affair between two of them: Elliot (Christian Lebano), a domineering egotist with little tolerance for opposition; and Dorian (Daniel Blinkoff), a supersensitive artist with a history of emotional problems. When Dorian up and quits prior to a prestigious gig at the White House, he is replaced by Grace (Jia Doughman), a conscientious novice with tremendous talent and the inner aplomb to withstand Elliot's needling and increasingly truculent demands. Directed by Simon Levy, the drama begins with a studied manner before launching into full dynamism, as the particulars of the players' dilemmas and entanglements come into focus. In a solid ensemble, Doughman is noteworthy for her character's impeccable truth; likewise Cooper Thornton is highly effective as Alan, the down-to-earth second violinist who reacts with growing consternation and dismay to snowballing events. The performers mime their concerts in admirable sync (sound design is by Peter Bayne, with input from musical advisers Roy Tanabe and Larry Sonderling). Complemented by designer Ken Booth's lighting, Frederica Nascimento's backdrop, with its cubes in autumnal colors, seems reflective of the quartet's rich but cloistered world. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 25. (323) 663-1525. (Deborah Klugman)


GO  PRAYING SMALL Clifford Morts' intelligent drama about one man's struggle with alcoholism speaks compellingly of love, loss, the quest for self-forgiveness. An alcoholic named Sam (Morts) with a good job and a loving wife (Tara Lynn Orr) loses both. Filled with rage but unwilling to seek help, he's finally picked up by the police — and only then does he begin his long, slow climb back to sobriety and self-respect. Relayed in nonlinear flashback, the play rivets our attention through the depth and breadth of the central character, an intrepid, introspective Everyman with a strong sense of irony, who references Thomas Wolfe and repeatedly mulls why it is that one can't go home again. There's humor here, too. The likable Morts delivers a dynamic performance, supported by a strong ensemble that includes Rob Arbogast as Sam's former drinking buddy, a sad fellow who sinks to the dregs of existence and never finds his way out. Designer Lacey Alzec's black, minimalist set comes off as unduly oppressive, while Coby Chasman-Beck's lighting effectively underscores the play's various shifts. Victor Warren directs. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 .p.m.; through July 18. (818) 508-7101, ext. 7. (Deborah Klugman)

SORORITY QUEEN IN A MOBILE HOME Michael DiGaetano and Kevin A. Mahoney's pair of monologues twirl on and around Scenic Consultant James Spencer's bifurcated set of a Bakersfield trailer-home and a local-occupancy hotel. These are lived in respectively by a former sorority queen, Grace (Amanda Weier), and her ex-, now down-and-out husband, Dennis (Colin Walker). Act 1 belongs to Grace, who pretty much explains the story of her life, with a brief interlude for a scene with her dotty real estate agent “friend,” Judith (Caitlin Renée Campbell), who's trying to persuade her to sell the trailer in order to purchase a local home. There's also a nerd Boy Scout (Conor Lane) drop-in to this gentle comedy as though from a Christopher Durang farce. Judith has fantasies of being a country singing star in Las Vegas, and she's saving her pennies. Under Paul Kampf's direction, the play accrues almost no momentum because of Weier's show-and-tell interpretation. She broadcasts every attitude and opinion of this frustrated hausfrau, resulting in a parade of the obvious. Weier was terrific and stylish in this theater's earlier production of Light Up the Sky, so this would appear to be an issue of guidance rather than talent. Her former Hubby takes focus for Act 2, retelling the same events from his perspective. Walker's performance is comparatively understated and wry, but his account is almost identical to Judith's, so even the Rashomon structure feels pointless. His conflict with friend Woody (Tom Burrus) brings the production to life, but it's late in the game, in a play about being late in the game. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; through July 15. (323) 882-6912. (Steven Leigh Morris)

TWELFTH NIGHT Shakespeare isn't usually the hottest ticket in town (that honor currently belongs to In the Heights), but that's more the fault of buttoned-up high school standards that refuse literature teachers the freedom to explore and explain the rampant bustier-and-trouser unbuttoning in the First Folio. Director Jeff Soroka continues modern theater's attempt to unclothe the plays in Theatre Unleashed's production of the comedy that, typical of Shakespeare, derives its plot from mistaken identity. Sprawled drunkenly between two of his harem at the start of the show, Shawn Cahill's Orsino is one of the most animalistic incarnations of a Shakespearean character in recent memory — the audience smells before it sees him. Yet he rises both to the heightened language and demystifies it with a bold physicality; Darci Dixon, as Viola, has a fine command of the language, but her energy is so contained and her reactions so muted, she seems to be performing for the camera as opposed to the stage. Fortunately, the show's jesters — Thomas W. Ashworth as Feste, Paul Bond as Sir Toby Belch, and Jim Martyka as Sir Andrew Aguecheek — are respectively as witty, bawdy and stupid as intended; and Noah James Butler's excellent turn as the fraught Malvolio provides the prissy tautness to Cahill's alpha-male dispassion. Though Soroka's eye is on upping the sexual ante with his staging, unintentionally comical modern-dancing belly dancers and a boring, throwaway final scene (ah, Shakespeare's ever-problematic wrap-ups) leave the audience answering the eternal conjugal question, so often inspired by the Bard, with the reply: “No, that wasn't so good for me.” The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through July 31. (818) 849-4039 (Rebecca Haithcoat)

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