In Jeffrey Hartgraves’ comedy, it’s always cocktail hour in the afterlife lounge shared by Truman Capote (Kevin Remington), Quentin Crisp (Leon Acord), Oscar Wilde (Jesse Merlin) and Tennessee Williams (Curt Bonnem). Witty aphorisms fly fast and furious, as each writer tries for the perfect bon mot to top the others. Into this literary hothouse stumbles Gryphon Tott (Levi Damione), who can’t believe he’s dead. He’s further perplexed by the denizens of the lounge because he’s heterosexual. The other writers explain that he’s a gay icon, which has brought him to their cozy setting. They add that the door though which he entered occasionally opens, but the four literary heavy heavyweights have no desire to move on. Judy Garland and Bette Davis (both played by Amanda Abel) make a brief appearance, and leave just as suddenly. William Shakespeare (Alex Egan) stays around for a while longer to much hectoring from the lounge habitués. Tott’s status as a gay icon unfolds slowly — he borrowed background scenery from a gay writer, bringing up the question of plagiarism. The cast is superb under the fast-moving direction of John Pabros Clark, and the pacing and timing are remarkable.

Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 9, www.carvedinstonetheplay.com. (310) 473-5483. (Sandra Ross)

GO THE HOSTAGE In 1959 Dublin, a young British soldier is held captive by the Irish Republican Army while an equally young IRA volunteer awaits execution for killing a policeman. Should the British carry out the Irishman’s sentence, the IRA will do the same to the Englishman. Playwright Brendan Behan, himself a former IRA member, took this dire premise and molded a sly political satire that reveals on both sides of the Anglo-Irish conflict, there is plenty of guilt and hypocrisy, which tend to be drowned in swigs of Guinness or shots of Jameson. Pat (John McKenna) is an ex-IRA soldier who with his “wife” Meg (Jenn Pennington) runs the establishment whose denizens include assorted whores (male and female), a daft ex-IRA leader (Barry Lynch) and other sundry lumpenproletariat. When a steely IRA officer (Mark Colson) hides a British conscript (Patrick Joseph Rieger) in the house, tensions and hilarity ensue, as assorted characters begin to question the rationale for the soldier’s fate, especially a young girl (Amanda Deibert), who falls for him. Director McKerrin Kelly and company have culled text from the original Irish version and the subsequent English one to craft a boisterous production filled with songs and jigs, characters chatting with the audience and a provocative finale.

The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 16. (818) 846-5323. (Martín Hernández)

GO KILL ME DEADLY Few literary figures seem as blatantly ripe for satire as the gumshoe detective. Playwright Bill Robens ably answers the call, with an entertaining spoof about an obtuse private dick named Charlie Nichols (Dean Lemont) and his obsession for a witless scarlet-clad siren named Mona (Kirsten Vangsness). Called in to forestall the murder of a wealthy dowager, Lady Clairmont (the comically skillful Kathleen Mary Carthy), he’s soon embroiled with the usual parade of tough-guy gangsters, dumb cops and seductive debutantes. Obstacles confront Charlie everywhere — his client soon ends up dead — but none prove as treacherous as his buxom, doe-eyed lady love, whose predilection for homicide he myopically ignores. Savvily staged by director Kiff Scholl (with fight choreography by Caleb Terray and videography by Darrett Sanders), the script successfully parodies the genre’s multiple clichés and evocative parlance, even as it lacks the razor-sharp edge of a top-notch farce. (The show goes on a bit too long.) Still the adroit supporting ensemble makes the most of the piece’s convoluted subplots — among them Nicholas S. Williams as Lady Clairmont’s effete son Clive, Phinneas Kiyomura as an eyewitness to her murder and Ezra Buzzington as her suspiciously implicated butler. As the hero, Lemont demonstrates facileness. With her pouty lips and batting eyelids, Vangsness’ outrageous Mona becomes the show’s star.

Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Aug 1. (323) 856-8611. (Deborah Klugman)

GO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM In a forest of fairies, skater boy Lysander (a nicely slacker-y Rett Nadol) runs off with his sweet fiancée, Hermia (Rachel Emmers, whose Valley Girl–like accents add comedic luster). However, mischievous fairy Puck (Joey Pata) casts a spell on Lysander so he falls for Hermia’s pal Helena (drolly neurotic Adeye Sahran). Meanwhile, fairy-queen Titania (Amanda Arbues) is enchanted into falling in love with a boorish Bottom (Kenneth De Abrew, playing the well-known character as an East Asian Oliver Hardy), who has been turned into a donkey for the day. Director Stephan Wolfert’s charming staging of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy fantasia is a co-production between the Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, the U.S. Veterans’ Artists Alliance and Shakespeare Santa Monica. The show’s ensemble is a mix of professional actors and military veterans — and one or two of whom are both at the same time, since the vocations are not mutually exclusive. One might expect the presence of veterans to give the show a somehow therapeutic undercurrent, but, in fact, the show is just good comedy, boasting some polished clowning. If it weren’t for the program bios, which mention the performer veterans’ time served and military branch (alongside the usual list of turns in standards like Noises Off and Blithe Spirit) the idea that the briskly staged and thoroughly enjoyable show has a connection to the armed forces probably wouldn’t occur to us. Staged in a makeshift theater space atop a musical band shell behind a West L.A. library, the show’s delightfully daffy mood and intimacy combined with the picniclike atmosphere offer a laid-back, unpretentious spectacle that’s perfect for summer — and for Midsummer. While some performers may wrestle with the verse or fall prey to weak diction, the show’s energy and innocently romantic comic timing craft a production that’s hard to resist. West L.A. Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; through Aug. 9. Free. (Paul Birchall)


Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Sept. 6. (213) 972-4400. See Stage feature.

During the American Revolution, George Washington opposed arming African-Americans, “lest they turn our weapons against ourselves.” This attitude prevailed in the American military until after World War II. The Navy allowed black seaman to serve only as noncombatant cooks and day laborers, and at Port Chicago, near San Francisco, they were deployed as stevedores, loading volatile explosives onto transport ships. Neither white officers nor black workers received training in handling explosives, safety rules were ignored, workers were driven to meet dangerous, impossible quotas, and workers were told the ammo “couldn’t possibly explode.” But on July 17, 1944, it did explode, killing 320 men and injuring 390. Fifty black seamen, ably represented here by actors J. Teddy Garces, Eric Bivens-Bush, Pedro Coiscou and Durant Fowler, refused to return to ammo-loading duties under the same terrible conditions, and were falsely accused of conspiracy/mutiny. White officers fabricated evidence in a kangaroo court, where the attorney for the defense (the excellent Maury Sterling) was hamstrung at every turn. Because the issues were so completely black and white, playwright Paul Leaf can’t avoid melodrama. His brief Act 1 is a setup for effective trial scenes in Act 2. An uneven production is graced with some solid performances.

Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 15. (310) 397-3244. (Neal Weaver)

Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli’s one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He’s a bundle of idiosyncrasies — tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs’ eye, it’s clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, “The Raven,” which he’ll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites “The Tell-Tale Heart” while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is — pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov’s one-act, one-man show: “On the Harmfulness of Tobacco,” also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov’s character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he’s leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It’s an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he’s depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of “The Raven” is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show’s title.

Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 2. (323) 666-4268. (Steven Leigh Morris)


GO SEARCH AND DESTROY Howard Korder’s play begins like a mildly absurdist comedy about a feckless, dunderhead Florida ice-show promoter, Martin Merkheim (Brian Ridings), who owes $47,000 in back taxes. When he becomes obsessed with late-night TV self-help guru Dr. Waxling (Joseph Dunn), he decides he must make a movie of the doctor’s novel, Daniel Strong, as part of his self-empowerment campaign. But the doctor (who has marketing problems) is unimpressed by Martin’s high ideals and wants cold, hard cash. And the play turns darker. In his pursuit of money, Martin becomes involved with a receptionist (Meagan English) who wants to write gory horror flicks, a shady businessman (Adam Hunter Howard), a couple of drug dealers (Dan Fishbach and Anthony Duran), and a strung-out coke head (Thom Guillou), who is political consultant to a conservative senator. The pursuit of self-improvement leads only to sleaziness, corruption and self-destruction. Korder’s script ricochets between picaresque comedy, morality play, melodrama and a play of ideas; it’s fun to watch, and director Joshua Adler has assembled a terrific cast. Ridings makes Martin’s bumbling desperation believable, Fishbach and Guillou contribute sharp comic vignettes, while Howard and Dunn lend a more sinister touch.

The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (323) 960-7776. (Neal Weaver)

WIFE SWAPPERS “It’s nice to have new blood. We get sick of the same asses and tits all the time,” says Jake (Jonathan Palmer) as he and his wife, Loretta (Mary Scheer), welcome the much younger Paul (Cody Chappel) and Karen (Chloe Taylor), to their American flag–festooned Orange County home for a swingers party. While Karen is uncomfortable, Paul seems eager to explore, throwing himself into a world straight out of the “free love” 1970s, complete with wooden hot tub. To try to get in the mood, Karen looks for liquid courage, but in the first of many ironies, Loretta informs her that alcohol is “against the rules” and generally frowned upon by these staunch Republicans . . . who nonetheless freely imbibe on the sly. Soon the group is joined by old friends Gina (Melissa Denton), her husband, Mac (Michael Halpin), and Shirl (Jodi Carlisle). All is fun and games until Paul’s friend Roy (Todd Lowe) arrives unexpectedly and goes too far, leading to a quick dissolution of the party. Justin Tanner, who wrote and directed the piece, pens snappy banter that cleverly juxtaposes disparate elements to mine their comic potential, but his overt commentary on the hypocrisy of these Christ-and-country-loving patriots who love to fuck each other’s wives, is awkward at times. Among the cast, Denton stands out with her sexually explicit motor mouth, though the rest also play their roles with aplomb. The Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 8. (323) 653-6886. (Mayank Keshaviah)

YOU LOOK GOOD ON PAPER “In my 20s, I knew who I was — because I was a slut,” chirps solo performer Juliette Marshall with the brazen self-deprecation the blond beauty has wielded for a decade of monologues about her quest for love. In her first, she readied herself for the right love. In her second, she married him. Now, 10 years later, they’re divorced (“He was controlling and I was co-dependent — we were so happy”) and Marshall is trying to shape her story into an evening of torch songs and standup. “You Look Good on Paper,” is the number about her travails in matchmaking; “When Did I Become a Cougar?” questions if she should accept a young bartender’s offer of passion. Drummer Denise “Delish” Frasier and musical director–pianist Mitch Kaplan keep time as Marshall tangos with a handsome stranger and then tries her hand at a dark ditty in which she asks a doctor if she could be mentally ill. (His assessment: “adjustment disorder.”) Marshall is earnest about trying to make sense of her past and grab the reins of her future, but she and director Clifford Bell seem to be too close to the material to make it about anything bigger than cocktail chatter translated to the stage. Fittingly, she ends one song with “I don’t know how to end this song . . . yet.”

Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through August. (323) 651-2583. (Amy Nicholson)

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