GO  CHICO'S ANGELS: CHICAS IN CHAINS Somewhere in an alternate TV universe, where it is always the 1970s and the posh Charles Townsend Agency still services L.A.'s moneyed class with its elite staff of glamorously gowned, undercover crime fighters, there exists a parallel detective agency well east of the L.A. River. Only this trio of blowsy, somewhat earthier Angels, comes with cha cha heels on their gumshoes, a decidedly bitchy attitude, and a virtue that can be summed up in one word — cheap. They are, of course, those sleuthing, Latina femme fatales, Chico's Angels, better known by their adoring cult of fans as Kay Sedia (co-writer Oscar Quintero), Frieda Laye (Danny Casillas), and Chita Parol (Ray Garcia). And, in director/co-writer Kurt Koehler's razor-sharp restaging of the third installment of their madcap adventures, the intrepid posse of drag parodists again prove that there is virtually nothing they won't do to get their man or to milk a laugh. Their weapons include an arsenal of fashion faux pas (courtesy of costumer Shaun Wunder and wigmaker Janet Walker), a comic pidgin as broad as Whittier Blvd., and a machine-gun delivery of ribald ad libs and double entendre malapropisms that leaves nothing to the prurient imagination. The plot has the girls going undercover in a lily-white prep school to ferret out a murder witness (the fine Beth Leckbee) who also moonlights as a high school hooker. The point, however, isn't the mystery but in the inimitable way the blundering girls vamp their way through the evening's wealth of pornographic puns and satirically skewered musical numbers. Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 969-2530 or chicosangels.com. (Bill Raden)

CIRCLE DANCE Strained relations between husband and wife, and rancor between father and son are the central motifs in Def Kirland's tepid family melodrama. Sonny (Kirkland) is a former NFL football hero whose son Steve (Christopher Poehls) is now being sought out by recruiters. But Steve is undecided if he wants to be a professional athlete. His irresolution disturbs his mother Mary (Laura Lee), who worries that Steve isn't weighing his choices carefully, and also that Sonny is neglecting his fatherly duty by not displaying enough interest. Humdrum at first, the drama escalates in the second half, when Steve discovers his father's adultery, and further revelations precipitate a crisis. As writer, Kirkland — who drew the play's title from a Bonnie Raitt song about heartbreak — aims, classically, at a portrait of a disintegrating family and a flawed individual who learns his lessons too late. The problem lies in the presentation of familiar conflicts without giving the characters dimension or adding fresh twists to the story. Exuding presence, Kirkland's demeanor nonetheless suggests someone who has wandered in from some crime drama, and he seems miscast in his own play. After Laura obsesses over pot roast throughout Act I, Lee acquits herself respectably as a betrayed wife. As daughter Emma, Courtney Schleinkofer handles her stereotypical role with charm and skill. One question: If this is present day, as the program indicates, where are the cell phones and laptops? Jeff McLaughlin designed the attractive set and Rick Andosca directs. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 960-7776. pr4plays@plays411.com (Deborah Klugman)

CAMPAIGN Some day, someone somewhere may finally write the great American electioneering farce that this amiable if creaking musical satire by Samuel Warren Joseph and Jon Detherage strives so hard to be. But in art, as in politics, timing is everything. And in these shell-shocked, post-George W. Bush years, Joseph and Detherage's transposition of 1990s-vintage sex scandals to their caricature of a problem-plagued, contemporary gubernatorial campaign seems like nostalgia for a nobler, more innocent age. Although ostensibly set in 2008, Joseph's book is overgrown with hoary, anachronistic weeds carried over from its source, his own 15-year-old play. The show's uninspired campaign-headquarters set (by lighting/set designer Dave Carleen) frames a culture of landlines, fax machines and 24-hour cable news networks, but one devoid of the websites, blogs, text messaging and tweets that are a modern campaign's communication lifeblood. Despite Joseph and Detherage's obvious delight in skewering their Bill & Hillary-like candidate couple — the witless, philandering congressman, Glenn Mann (Brian Byers), and his smarter, albeit deceived wife (Barbara Keegan) — the musical's heart is less in its satire than in the boilerplate romance that develops between its compromised-idealist protagonists, campaign manager Steve (Travis Dixon) and Mann's press secretary/mistress, Brenda (Jean Altadel). And while Dixon and Altadel boast voices far superior to Joseph and Detherage's mostly undistinguished, pop-derived songbook, the lovers' hopeful, redemptive plotline feels like a discordant, tonal artifact from an antique musical romance. Director T.J. Castronovo delivers some memorable comic flourishes, but his staging falls shy of the spark or spectacle needed to carry this critic's vote. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (323) 960-7612 or plays411.com/campaign. (Bill Raden)


CHURCHILL Edmund L. Shaff, who plays the doughty British prime minister in Andrew Edlin's solo drama, has an appropriately jowly face, and when he turns mischievous, the resemblance to Churchill is almost uncanny. Edlin's play is set in London, on April 4, 1955, when the old lion was trying to make up his mind whether or not to finally retire. Edlin's literate, informative script sketches Churchill's long, colorful career and incorporates his glorious wartime speeches, and his salty wit and wisdom. Churchill tells of his fears that his successor might lack the strength to stand up to the Soviets, his admiration and respect for FDR, General Patton, Harry S. Truman, his abiding love for his parents, and his shocking, unexpected electoral defeat in 1945. Director James Horan gives Edlin's script an interesting production, if only he'd edited it a bit: With intermission, it runs 2 hours and 45 minutes —already long for a one-person show, it taxed Shaff's voice causing problems for the otherwise skillful and splendidly persuasive actor. Whitmore/Lindley Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., thru Nov. 7. Produced by Portrait of Churchill Productions. (800) 595-4849 or tix.com (Neal Weaver)

GO  HELLO You may not find logic in this quirky tale about love, marriage and the enigma of sexual attraction but you'll recognize a lot of human truth. Riddled with irony and dark dry humor, writer-director-performer Stefan Marks' take on the Mars-Venus conundrum revolves around the coming together and splitting apart — not necessarily in that order — of two misfit individuals: Clark (Marks), a nerdy statistician for whom human bonding is basically a mystery; and Alice (Beth Patrik), an insecure and painfully candid writer of children's books who understands what love is about but can't make a successful connection any more easily than Clark can. The more conventionally-charted of the duo, Alice searches for true love through Internet dating, while Clark — an incontestably weird personality — makes random phone calls to households where he inquires about the age and sex of the residents. Eventually, these star-crossed lovers meet in a dream, later in a real life supermarket — or do they? In fact, we're never actually sure how much of this strange courtship and marriage is mere imaginative conjuring. That's less important, however, than what the play says about the way we lie to ourselves. Directing oneself can be foolhardy, but that's not so in this case. Framed by a black backdrop, with white paper panels to emphasize their purposefully maladroit entrances and exits, Marks and Patrik execute a comedic and accomplished pas de deux. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (888) 210-0183. (Deborah Klugman)

A LIGHT IN THE SHADOWS Chiaroscuro is the Italian term for an artist's use of light and shadow in a piece to create contrast and three-dimensional volume. When absent, the piece looks flat and lifeless, the way European art often appeared in pre-Renaissance times. Sadly, the latter description is also an apt one for A.F. Cronin's play about the New York art world in modern times. In it, well-known artist Adam Gardner (Roy Werner) is in a mid-career slump until his flamboyantly conniving agent Matieu (Rich Skidmore) discovers Adam's sketches, which he leaks to prominent art patron Erika (Mary Buckley). The two of them concoct a plan to sell the sketches and inspire Adam to create more via a new figure model, a bratty art student named Phoebe (Brenna Rhea). Chock-full of eye-rollingly painful lines, the script feels as bland as an after school special—a perception not ameliorated by Cronin's direction, which clearly needed a third-party perspective. The result is a lack of chemistry between actors, jokes that fall flat, and all-too-frequent blackouts between scenes that only highlight their lack of depth and character development. Rhea is the sole cast member who demonstrates any energy on stage, but even she is limited by lines that lean too heavily on stereotypical lingo that makes her sound more like 13 than 18. In retrospect, perhaps the shadows should have remained unlit. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 458-3377. theatreforasmallspace.com A Theatre for a Small Space Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)

THE MAIDEN'S PRAYER At 6, Paul (Adam Howard) was fascinated by his neighbor Taylor (James Elden) and his bright blond hair. Paul didn't yet know the word for gay. (He's now an expert.) His draw was even simpler: Taylor's a human magnet. Which explains how two decades later, Paul's stuck on the porch at Taylor's wedding while the bride Cynthia (Stephanie Marquis) and her sister Libby (Sarah Kelly) fight over who loved him first. Cynthia's an iron-willed princess. Libby's a mess, the type who cavalierly apologizes for her self-absorption, and director Dan Fishbach encourages Kelly to deliver her to scream her lines. Nicky Silver's dramedy thrusts them together to explore the power struggles that come from neediness, and his script is a tricky mishmash of a sitcom that evolves into soap opera. Fishbach takes both at face value, and the result is schizophrenic: a melodrama that's constantly being punctured by forced jokes and a pointless fifth wheel character (Isaac Laskin as a series of Paul's conquests) — all delivered by characters who we're primed to think of as cartoons. As Taylor, the center spoke, Elden needs to find and flaunt the magnetism that puts the play in motion. Only Marquis as the sugary, steely Cynthia navigates the balancing act: Like the play itself, she's chirpy, charming and full of unexplored depths. Actor's Workout Studio, 4747 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 506-3903. (Amy Nicholson)


GO  MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG It's hard to believe that this Stephen Sondheim musical gem was laughed out of town when it premiered in New York in 1981. It's an engaging, cautionary tale about the unexpected perils that often accompany professional success, and Richard Israel's revival is first rate. The book is by George Furth, and follows two decades in the lives of three friends, all of whom aspire to succeed in show business. The action starts in reverse order, beginning in 1976 and ending in 1957, and opens at a soiree for successful composer and movie producer Franklin Shepard (an excellent Christopher Maikish standing in for Brent Schindele). It isn't long before things turns ugly, when writer Mary Flynn (Leslie Spencer), tells him off in a drunken rage. Later, in an emotionally powerful moment, he gets the same treatment on a radio show from his longtime collaborator and lyricist Charley (Matt Bauer), who sings a scintillating ditty called Franklin “Shepard, Inc.” Furth's book (adapted from a 1934 play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart) nimbly tracks their lives, friendships, successes and failures, and culminates in a final scene where the three are gathered on a rooftop, starry-eyed and optimistic, searching the sky for Sputnik — an apt symbol of their outsized ambitions.. As with all of Sondheim's work, the music is the thing, and Musical Director Johanna Kent's live six-piece band is as stellar as that nighttime sky. The 14-member ensemble hit just about all the notes perfectly. Israel's staging isn't flashy — a discretion that makes his production all the more effective. Actors' Co-op at the Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 462-8460. (Lovell Estell III)

SKELETON STORIES Delondra Williams' spooky play draws from the rich mythology that surrounds the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). A young girl on the brink of puberty (played to bratty perfection by Nina Harada) descends into the underworld searching for her deceased mother, Corazon (Lorianne Hill). Guided by various spirits, such as a sinister yellow dog with a skeletal head (Rick Steadman), the sassy and intrepid Maya encounters an assortment of gods and spirits, as well as the insatiable dead, who relate their stories. Masks, puppets, tricksy props, video effects, plus Mark McClain Wilson's particularly chilling and atmospheric sound design, fill in the gaps left by Williams' occasionally incoherent plot. Is Maya praying to Santa Muerte to liberate her mom, or are her incantations inciting more excruciating torment at the hands of a cheerfully malevolent devil named Jeffy (Keith Allan)? When mother and daughter unite, their simple and beautiful pas de deux, choreographed by Nancy Dobbs Owen, suffuses the reunion with tenderness. Flashes of humor in the dialogue blend well with the play's more ominous and violent sequences. Maya's journey is perilous, but the stories she hears prepare her for the transformation she is facing. Theatre of NOTE. 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; (added perfs Thurs, 10/28, 8 p.m.; & Sun, 10/31, 2 p.m.); thru Nov. 6. (323) 856-8611. theatreofnote.com (Pauline Adamek)

SULTAN'S BATTERY “What if God was one of us?” singer Joan Osborne asked, and playwright Kathy Rucker answers in this world premiere. Ray (Liam Toner) is a high-strung American tourist (he does jumping jacks to calm his anxiety) made more so by his mission, toting his father's prized statue of the Virgin Mary to a pageant in India. Meanwhile, the gods are debating their relevance, and thus begins a commingling of the mystical and the mortal. Some befitting production and thoughtful observations are appreciated: The stage is sparsely populated at all times, ironic considering the sardine-crammed country India is; the dialogue is spiked with remarks that cleverly turn conventional religious commentary on its head, such as a god who “no longer believes in the believer.” And the sharp contrast between cultural philosophies is as consistent as the train clock that looms over the set is inconsistent — Mira (Geeta Malik) launches into a lengthy explanation of when the train will arrive, finally giving a precise time, and an exasperated Ray huffs, “Why didn't you just SAY that?!” Yet this poignancy ends up getting swallowed by a script that's far too roomy, and actors whose response times are far too protracted. By the time Rucker's message meanders in, the leisurely pace of India has so lulled the audience, it barely realizes the play is over. Co-directed by Cody Goulder and Marisa Rojas. Fresh Baked Theatre Company, Whitmore-Lindley Theater, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. brownpapertickets.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)


THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG Director Lonny Price's dynamic production of Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Simon, and Carole Bayer Sager's musical about love and artistic collaboration opens with a haunting montage of mostly forgotten images from the 1970s — beautiful young Cher in an Indian headdress, still hunky John Travolta doing the disco dance, and the shark from Jaws. It's a sequence that cunningly fixes the show's steeped-in-amber status as a disco-era period-piece. To its credit, Price's evocation of attitudes and music of the time give the production a strangely melancholic, nostalgic air that has nothing to do with the characters, the narrative, or even the music. The musical is a highly fictionalized account of the romance and productive professional partnership of Hamlisch and lyricist Sager, as amped up with Simon's banter and one-liners. In the role of the composer Vernon, Jason Alexander is totally winning — admittedly, much of his performance is in full on neurotic bluster-mode of The Producers, but his comic timing is impeccable. As Vernon's muse and love, Sonia, Stephanie J. Block's character may seem a little too limned from an early draft of Annie Hall, but her voice is amazing and when she sings the showstopper “If You Remember Me,” in which the heartfelt emotion of the performance is greater than the parameters of the song itself. Yet, notwithstanding the skillful cast, the plain truth is, They're Playing Our Song is an awful musical. The songs are mostly horrid — like listening to the theme from The Love Boat 11 times in a row — while the book is annoyingly top heavy with reflexive, twitchy one liners and laborious, EST-y therapy speak. Price's decision to stage it as an historical artifact makes sense, but this great production of a dullard piece ultimately leaves one feeling somehow saddened. John Iacovelli's record album turntable set is charming, while Kate Bergh's goofy costumes (particularly for Block) sets the piece nicely in its era. Freud Theatre, UCLA's McGowan Hall, Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 825-2101. A Reprise Theatre Company production (Paul Birchall)

VALENTINO VALENTINA It takes audacity to present a page one “script polish” of Shakespeare's classic “Twelfth Night,” but that is precisely what playwright Carlo Allen does in a modern language adaptation of the Bard's comedy of mistaken identity and gender confusion. Allen further attempts to update the play by setting it amongst Los Angeles's illegal immigrant community. Sister Valentina (Iris Gilad) and brother Valentino (Michael Onofri) are separated during a car crash while trying to cross the border, and each assumes the other is dead. Valentina takes on her brother's identity and goes to work for hunky construction executive Ernesto (Neto de Paulo Pimenta), who sends her to woo gorgeous Cleaning Lady Company Impresario (no, I am not making that up) Olivia (Stephanie Sanchez). Olivia falls for the boy-girl in drag. Meanwhile, Olivia's boozy Uncle Gordo (Leo Weltman) and his buddies play a hideous prank on Olivia's sexually repressed major domo Rodrigue (Spike Mayer). Sadly, in director Odalys Nanin's lackluster production, the results of these attempts to modernize the classic are uneven at best, with the goings on executed with disappointingly plodding pacing and an oddly unfocused sense of comic timing. The show ultimately possesses the heaviness and stiff execution of a journeyman Shakespeare production, but little of the beauty of the poetry, which, obviously, has been jettisoned to make way for Allen's mostly wooden dialogue. The performances range widely, with the standouts being Weltman's deliciously broad and gleefully gluttonous Gordo and Gilad's droll turn as a hyper-macho drag-king. Some of the other awkwardly inexperienced performers, though, are unable to bring much vigor or humor to the tepidly involving dialogue or situations. This is a show that needs to go big and go fast to make its impact — but much of the show is stodgy and oddly glum, while also being clumsily conceptualized, making it a disappointment in almost all dimensions. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7, through October 17. (323) 960-7712. (Paul Birchall)


THE WIGGLE ROOM is the room in a downtown L.A. hotel — much like Alexandria Hotel that houses the black box theater where Oliver Mayer's new play unfolds. In that room is stored the memorabilia of a family that may be two families intertwined, and this question forms the emotional crux for three beautiful sisters (Giselle Forte, Lynn Freedman, and Ruth Livier). They may or may not have inheritance rights to the decrepit former hotel/current apartment building where they're now squatting. This becomes an issue for the current owner, Luke (John Kaisner) and his older brother, Phil (Andres Hamrick), who looks and acts like the local Mafioso. Phil even arrives with an almost silent, rotund bodyguard (Daniel Muñoz) in tow. The brothers have their own rivalry going, swirling around the pending decision on whether it's wiser to remodel the hotel they inherited from their father, or to demolish it and and turn it into something more profitable, such as a parking lot. This raises any number of questions, not only about the purpose and quality of life, but the purpose and quality of memory, and how those purposes and qualities intersect. What's supposed to be the dramatic hook is that these transactions unfold in September, 2008, when the Dow Jones indicator dropped 700 points. Mayer's play is a bit in the style of Lanford Wilson — a huge ensemble of eccentrics styled in kitchen realism intermingled with poetical ruminations. And there is a certain beauty to that. It does, however, wear thin. The “crash” is depicted with a couple of characters watching the numbers plummet on TV, which is not particularly dramatic or theatrical. The stock market woes lead to some discussion but they ultimately seem to have scant effect on the decisions being made in the play. It's a sweet blowback on the hotel owners' theory that life and lives are for speculating on, but the play's structure is less about the consequences of those decisions as on the eventual disclosure of interlocking family ties that bind. And those two plays are still competing for attention, under Don Boughton laizzes-faire direction of a large ensemble that's partly double cast. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 883-1717. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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