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GO  AMERICAN TALES For these one-act musicals, writer-adapter Ken Stone and composer Jan Powell turn to great names in American literature: Mark Twain’s rollicking The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton and Herman Melville’s enigmatic Bartleby the Scrivener. In Twain’s tale, set in the early days of the telephone, feckless Alonzo (Daniel Blinkoff) attempts to call his aunt in Baltimore but somehow reaches Rosannah (Devon Sovari), in San Francisco. The two fall in love via long distance, but their romantic idyll is disrupted by her treacherous rejected suitor, Burley (Rafael Sbarge). The piece is a delicious, highly stylized comic trifle, with lilting songs that evoke and mock the music of the 1890s. Bartleby centers on the mild-mannered copy clerk (Sbarge), who refuses to either work or be fired for intransigence, replying simply, “I would prefer not to.” The adapters cleverly expand Melville’s brief tale, and Sbarge and Peter Van Norden, as his bemused employer, perform it skillfully. Kay Cole and Thor Steingraber direct with wit and dispatch on set designer Laura Fine Hawkes’ fragmented map of the U.S., and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg supplies handsome period costumes, with fine musical direction by Steven Ladd Jones and Billy Thompson. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 17. (866) 811-4111 or www.antaeus.org. An Antaeus Company production. (Neal Weaver)

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In on It

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American Tales

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Dupe

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My Antonia

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Touched in the Head of Elizabeth Otero

DUPE Alex Austin’s melodrama centers on a photography collector determined to barter possession of a priceless photograph in exchange for a day — or a night — with a famous celebrity. In a coffeehouse, the normally timid Leonard (Gerard Marzilli) boldly approaches a woman who closely resembles a celebrated singer-songwriter named Carol Fitch (Gina Yates). The stranger insists she’s someone else, but Leonard doggedly persists. Wanting to pique her interest, he tells her about the $5 million photo he has acquired; commissioned in the 1930s by Vogue, its model was a beautiful Folies Bergère dancer named June (Danielle Van Beest, alternating with Lonni Silverman), whose notebooks Leonard also happens to have. As fascinated by the dead woman as he is with his reluctant companion, he recounts her decades-old tale, a secondary dramatic thread played out in intermittent flashbacks and culminating in her rape by a desperate admirer. The play’s main tension turns on the is-she-or-isn’t-she issue of his companion’s identity, and whether she will make Leonard a happy man or wrest the photo from him in a craftier way. More interesting as a portrayal of idol obsession than a drama, the piece stumbles on its convoluted plot twists. Though he could use more nuance, Marzilli turns in a satisfactory performance under Bill Garrett’s direction. But neither Yates nor the markedly lovely Van Beest exhibit much range. Designer David Goldstein’s artfully composed set is a major plus. Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 19. (866) 811-4111. (Deborah Klugman)

 

HERPES TONIGHT! Solo performer Corey Moosa’s identity is forged by two things: pop culture and his herpes diagnosis. He swirls them together here, renaming herpes as Star Trek’s “Orion Slave Girl”; cold sores become “the Incredible Hulk,” and HPV is “Oscar the Grouch.” The ex who infected him is “Kelly Ripa,” while his first love is “Kathie Lee Gifford,” and his best pals are “Billy Crystal” and “George Clooney.” With such distancing jocularity, the kitsch factor is high, the empathy and honesty nearly nonexistent. Moosa and co-writer Brian Shoaf are obsessed with easy jokes; Moosa alludes to feeling guilty for pursuing the disease by going commando with “Kelly,” flushed with hormones and invulnerability, but this particular scene’s really about him clutching Ripa’s 8×10 and moaning “Oh Kelly, I want you so bad.” Bopping between sincerity and standup, director Jose Zayas can’t overcome the production’s offhand casualness, although the moments when Moosa confronts the stigma of herpes via our culture of silence, misinformation and media hype (in the 1980s, a Time magazine cover called herpes “Today’s Scarlet Letter”) are more engaging than his slide show of faux-movie titles, like Herpes and the Hendersons. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 12. (No perf. July 4). (323) 960-7776. An Immediate Theater Company production. (Amy Nicholson)

 

THEATER PICK  IN ON IT Call it inspiration or simple serendipity, but here, the right text, a sympathetic director (Michael Van Duzer) and performers with all the right chops come together to conjure stage magic. This pitch-perfect production of playwright Daniel MacIvor’s enchanting 2001 metadramatic sleight of hand is such magic. A bare stage, two actors — and what actors! — and more than half a dozen full-blooded characters are all that MacIvor requires for a jigsaw meditation on love, loss and the penitential nature of art. His narrative conceit is best described as a play within a play encircling a play. A playwright (Josh Gordon) creating scenes for a new work tries them out with an actor (Blake Anthony). Mordantly funny scenes about an Ivan Ilyich–esque man’s awakening to the callowness of his family and the emptiness of his bourgeois existence are acted, interrupted and argued. While the roles are traded and then re-imagined by the two men, an unexpected connection emerges as the disintegrating relationship between the doomed performer-lovers finally completes the circle. Van Duzer realizes both MacIvor’s nuanced ironies and his biting comedy with no little help from his dynamic acting tag team. The square-jawed Gordon, whose angular features somehow heighten his expressive charisma (particularly when he does a drag turn as an unfaithful wife), boasts a commanding range. That virtuosity is matched by Anthony, who ups the ante with a natural charm and true comic flair. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Sat., July 5 & Fri.-Sat., July 11 & 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 6, 3 p.m. (800) 838-3006. (Bill Raden)

 

GO  MY ANTONIA Playwright Scott Schwartz’s compelling adaptation of the Willa Cather novel clocks in at nearly three hours, but the work’s elegant sprawl allows us to become fully immersed in Cather’s powerful and nuanced elegy to the nature of memory. Set in 1910, the story’s point of view is provided by middle-aged lawyer James Burden (Kevin Kilner), who, on a cross-country train journey, ponders his long-lost youth. His mind drifts back to events narrated in flashback. As a young man, Jim (played by Michael Redfield) falls in love with Antonia (Shiva Rose), a beautiful Eastern European immigrant whose family moves to Nebraska’s wide prairies in search of a better life. Jim’s attempts to help Antonia and her family never quite work out, and Antonia can be said to drift from one disaster to the next. Although director Schwartz’s production occasionally suffers from lackadaisical pacing, the work’s intimacy and a strong ensemble craft an experience that’s as passionate and as personal as the memory of young love. Redfield’s turn as the innocent version of Burden’s older, sadder self is particularly powerful — while Rose’s beautifully inscrutable Antonia subtly shifts from naive waif to brittle, middle-aged peasant woman. Nice turns are also offered by Julia Motyka, seductive and playful as the “other woman” in Jim’s life, and by Karen Landry and Robert Lesser, as Jim’s salt-of-the-earth guardians. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 3. (310) 822-8392. Pacific Resident Theatre in association with Rubicon Theatre Company and Michael Jackowiz. (Paul Birchall)

 

TOUCHED IN THE HEAD OF ELIZABETH OTERO These 16 sketches and videos, all written and directed by Elizabeth Otero, are a mixed bag. With the exception of Otero and Eric Lopez, the eight performers seemed under-rehearsed, and most of the sketches and videos are either underdeveloped or drag on too long. (Even the blackouts between skits are too long — especially noticeable on a night when the curtain was delayed 20 minutes.) Otero has some great concepts, but much of her dialogue lacks the punch to bring these ideas to life. The two funniest skits are both set at Edward Olmos Elementary School. “Sex Ed with Dolores Torres, Substitute PE Teacher” spoofs minority students’ low expectations in a swirl of misinformation about contraception. “Verna’s Burning Motivation” spoofs motivational speakers who advocate bizarre solutions to problems — arson, for example. Several of the videos, particularly “Dirty Harry Potter” and “McCain’s War,” start off amusingly but, again, grind on way too long, diluting the humor. Lopez deserves praise for his performance in “Jesus Was a Cool Vato,” but he’s used to little effect in other sketches. The Complex Theater, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 12. (No perf. July 4.) (323) 465-8303. (Sandra Ross)

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