ANGELOS/DATING STORIES The setting for Tony Perzow's comedy, Angelos, is a New York City barber shop peopled with a colorful group of regulars These include the owner Angelo (William Knight); Uncle Mo (Jack Kandel); the friendly Mafia associate, Barry (Perzow); a bookie named Kelly the Scalp (Jerome St. Jerome); a street hustler, Jimmy the Book (Stephen Schwartz); a manicurist, Bocha (Tina Saddington); and Mirror (Robert Fisher), so named because of his shoe-shining prowess. Their laidback lives are thrown into comic disarray when a young orthodox Jew (Frank Salinas) drops in, pulls out a gun, and demands their valuables. The reason is love: He wants to start a new life with his gal. The ending is predictable but still tugs at the heartstrings. If you can ignore the clunky physical comedy under R.S. Bailey's direction, there is much to laugh about in Perzow's writing. Opening the bill is Perzow's Dating Stories, where three couples struggle through an evening out. Here, the writing is as soporific as the production. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun, 5 p.m.; (310) 807-4842. (Lovell Estell III)

GO  ARCADIA When sophisticated, rapid-fire dialogue is whizzing about the stage, mathematical and scientific principles are being dissected in the language of those who dissect them professionally, and the past is bleeding into the present, the question is not if, but when, your head will start to spin. Set in an English estate in both 1809 and present day, Tom Stoppard's exploration of the seeming dichotomies of chaos and order, science and art, head and heart, might err on the side of the cerebral — thrillingly yet too bewilderingly — if it weren't so ripe with the great equalizers: humor and sex. Director Barbara Schofield notes that the play's themes are all based on passion, and her staging arches its back toward reflecting such. Just as you begin to follow one of Stoppard's intricate, essential arguments down the intellectual rabbit hole, Schofield yanks you back by the gut. The logical Valentine (Paul Romero) casually posits the supremacy of science to Bernard (a combustible Benjamin Burdick), who preaches poetry in response; the scene immediately following, between T.J. Marchbank's smoldering Septimus and Kendra Chell's commanding Lady Croom, so pulses with lust restrained by the thinnest of threads, that when Septimus burns a letter, you feel helpless to stem the flush spreading throughout your own body. The cast is uniformly good, though the frequent shouting matches repeatedly reach a decibel level that quickly overwhelms such an intimate theater. Regardless that they skip so nimbly through the fascinating maze Stoppard's constructed is a relief, and reason enough to go. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 31. (626) 355-4318 (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GO  BEYOND This musical extravaganza, conceived and directed by Aurelien Roulin, is described as a cross between French cabaret and Cirque du Soleil, but what it's really reminiscent of is the old Folies Bergère, or Las Vegas without the bared bosoms. Like the Folies, it features banks of stairs that the showgirls can saunter down in their minimal costumes, adorned with maximum feathers and glitz, and sometimes escorted by lads in loincloths. Also like the old French show, there's audience participation, in which two sheepish men from the audience are led onstage and decked out in preposterous drag. The show has 17 performers, six choreographers, a stilt-walker, a unicyclist, a bit of boogie-woogie, and exotic numbers evoking many nations: Japan, Africa, France and India, represented by “The Forbidden Temple,” a Bollywood-style spectacle, choreographed by Kavita Rao. A mix of Edith Piaf songs is stylishly delivered by Ripley Rader, a couple of mildly erotic aerial sequences are performed by scantily clad Roulin and Sunny Soriano, and there's an impressive toe-dancing contortionist, Ganchimeg Oyunchimeg. But the greatest excitement is unleashed when the dancers cut loose, particularly in the frenzied cancan finale. In short, there's plenty of flash, flesh and fantasy, suitably toned down for a family audience. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through August 1. (818) 508-4200, (866) 811-4111, ­ (Neal Weaver)

GO  THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING Better to die a man than be born a woman — even a princess. Inspired by Mark Twain's short story about a girl raised as a boy in order to claim the crown, Jan O'Connor's brisk comedy embraces the sexism of its setting to great effect. Manhood means never apologizing, commands the Duke of Lesser Flugel (Warren Davis) to his daughter Basil (Riley Rose Critchlow), as he stuffs socks down her trousers. But if men are rocks, women are water, appearing to yield to their betters while impressing their will through patience and subtlety. When Basil is sent to his uncle King Heimlich's (Ross Gottstein) court as the rightful male heir, s/he's smashed by the wiles of the very femme Princess Clotilda (Whitton Frank), who with her nimbus of red curls is as ripe and soft as a tomato. The cast and casting are spot-on, as is Richard Tatum's direction, which allows us to peek at the layers underneath this superficially simple society. In less detailed hands, it'd simply be a funny, feminist trifle, but while Tatum plays up the humor, he also grasps the pathos in a tomboy forced to shun her own biology and to see her mother (Adriana Bate) as a cowed creature she deigns to visit every six years. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (323) 230-7261. Presented by Absolute Theatre and Full Circle Theatrics (Amy Nicholson)


I AM A TREE The title might make you think that writer-actor Dulcy Rogers' solo show is the autobiography of an Ent, one of the talking tree creatures from the Lord of the Rings series. However, the performer's opus is instead the elegiac tale of young Claire (Rogers) attempting to learn more about the mother she barely knew — a high spirited creative type who lost her sanity years ago and has spent most of her life in a mental institution, leaving Claire to be raised by her coldly distant scientist father. Claire's search for information leads her to contact her three estranged aunts, a trio of flamboyant eccentrics, who regale her with the memory of their mother, which in turn prompts the daughter to make some unexpected discoveries about herself. Rogers' monologue frequently bogs down in cerebral metaphors and symbols, which leave the impression that the work is more involving as a literary read than as a performance piece. However, director Bob Koherr's intimate staging is unexpectedly effective at evoking the atmosphere of a children's story — including the three wise aunts who seem right out of A Wrinkle in Time and a portrait of contemporary Manhattan that's both enchanting and timeless. The problem is that the writing opts for arch coolness over any passionate feeling that might involve us in the story. Rogers plays all the characters with commendable versatility, but she's unable to enliven the monologue's drier elements. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 17. (323) 962-0046. (Paul Birchall)

MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman. Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer first describes — then graphically illustrates — how she abandoned her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An unexpected pregnancy alters her life — though not her smug irreverence leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's bitter, hollow message. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry–West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (323) 666-4268. (Deborah Klugman)

OKLAHOMA! With its spectacular 1943 Broadway debut, Rodgers and Hammerstein's immortal classic redefined the book musical. By seamlessly weaving its deceptively sunny songbook into a comic-romantic libretto stitched with dark threads of violence and sexual yearning, the show's complex fabric of tension-teasing counterpoints (driven by the Americana vitality of Agnes de Mille's folk-derived choreography) set new benchmarks for sophistication and box-office success. That storied history may come as a surprise to anyone whose introduction to Oklahoma! comes via director Robert Marra's clumsy and dismally one-dimensional staging. The tone is set the moment Derrick McDaniel's serviceable lights come up on Craig Pavilionis' non-sequitur jumble of strewn hay and bulky, adobe-looking set pieces, and costumes whose provenance looks more mid-'90s Super Thrift than something “designed” by Ann McMahan. Individual performances range from passable (Travis Dixon's Curly, Jean Altadel's Laurey) to overly broad (Maura Smith's Aunt Eller, Jillian Gomez's Ado Annie) to utterly forgettable (Matt Dorio's Ali Hakim, James Petrillo's Andrew Carnes). While choreographer Tania Possick pulls off a creditable echo of de Mille in the rousingly acrobatic “box social” dance number, the lush, emotional grandeur of Rodgers' score mostly eludes the grasp of musical director Greg Haake's tinny-sounding live band and the ensemble's uneven vocal abilities. The one exception is Jay Rincon's menacing Jud Fry and the brooding sympathy he brings to his solo on “Lonely Room.” MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru July 18. (323) 960-7735. A Musical Theatre of Los Angeles production. (Bill Raden)


GO  PRISCILLA'S PERFECT DAY Young Priscilla Periwinkle (Courtney DeCosky) has an annoying but good-hearted little brother Billy (Matt Valle), whose idea of a great time is to belittle his sibling with puerile jokes, such as calling her “Prisilly,” until she's at boiling point. They find themselves at their great aunt's house in Maine for a family vacation with Mom and Dad (Natascha Aldridge and Stephen Simon), like in a parody of Father Knows Best. They also brought along the semi-articulate family pooch, Roscoe (Victor Isaac, in brown fur and floppy ears). Mom really runs things, though Dad is whimsically smug enough to persuade you that he knows what he's doing. And on this first day of the clan's getaway, it starts pouring rain. Priscilla likes to draw with crayons and, lo and behold, she finds crayons with magical properties to transport herself, along with Billy and Roscoe, to a land of her imagining, a bucolic utopia depicted in Chris Winfield and Monica Martin's mural of portable panels. When Billy gets hungry, Priscilla simply draws Billy's favorite pancakes, and they materialize. This could be described as a family musical about the Possibilites of Art (book by Diana Martin, songs by Richard Levinson, who accompanies the actors on a spinet), but that's probably not in the minds of the kiddies packed into the theater on Saturday mornings, who really respond to the the musical's arbitrary but effective element of danger, the Loch Ness Lobster. (For no apparent reason, bright red claws appear intermittently from the wings, like in a parody of Jaws.) There's also an odd local denizen named Mr. Berrymore (Brian Wallis) and a Clam Chorus (Sarah Coker, Ben Freiberger, Kaylena Mann and Martin). The Clams sing/plead for their lives before a clambake. Levinson's songs stick around after the closing curtain, particularly “Pancakes for Roscoe,” which gets reprised in a curtain-call sing-along. A bit slow going at the outset, the musical finds its stride under Jeremy Aldridge's staging, thanks largely to the delightful and accomplished performances, and the magical qualities of those crayons, which enhance the familiar, almost generic family with a streak of wonder. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 a.m.; thru July 17. (818) 700-4878. Produced in association with Catawba Club Productions. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  ST. NICHOLAS Irish playwright Conor McPherson mirthfully paints a theater critic as a bloodsucker in his early mono-drama, which receives a standout revival by director Scott Paulin. Michael McGee does the honors as an anonymous, ego-bitten and self described “well-paid hack” (i.e. drama critic), who becomes a willing procurer for a clan of vampires. “People were afraid of me,” he quips, reflecting on his power to make or break careers, with a pen he joyfully wielded like an envenomed rapier. However, the utter corruption of his existence finds its fullest expression when he falls for an actress he encountered at a performance of Salome. Unbeknownst to the poor fellow, she is a member of a vampire clan, and it isn't long before he is willingly luring unsuspecting victims into their den, where they are plowed with drink, revelry and relieved of their blood, as well as all memories of the encounter. Call it vampire light, void of Stoker but with a touch of Anne Rice. McPherson's tinkering with the vampire myth is a clever literary sleight of hand, but the ease of his narrative and its animated density, the shades of humor and poignancy, and McGee's textured performance make for a terrific outing. SFS Theater, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m., thru July 25. (323) 960-5296. (Lovell Estell III)

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