BARRYMORE William Luce's (The Belle of Amherst) 1996 two-character play studies the rakish actor John Barrymore (Jack Betts). In 1941, Barrymore's best days are behind him. Having settled into a desperate routine of drinking and caricaturing himself, he decides to revive his successful 1920 production of Shakespeare's Richard III. In a rented theater, he runs lines with fellow actor Frank (Darin Dahms). But Barrymore can neither remember his lines nor concentrate. He just wants to find the whiskey Frank has hidden. Barrymore reminisces about his beloved grandmother, Louisa Drew; his mother, who died when he was very young; and his dissolute father, Maurice. He waxes cynical about his four wives, his rivalry with brother Lionel and his resentment of sister Ethel's attempts to lure him away from Hollywood and back to the theater. Performing snippets of Shakespeare while he swans about in his Richard costumes, Barrymore strikes picturesque attitudes, until Frank finally rebels and tells him some home truths. Betts has enormous authority, under the slick direction of Carlyle King, and at moments he conjures up an uncanny resemblance to Barrymore, all scurrilous, boozy charm. Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 14. (323) 960-7863, plays411.com/barrymore. (Neal Weaver)
HERALDS Setting: A bustling office with phones ringing off the hook, constant interruptions announcing yet another sale, barely lidded excitement; a newspaper. Wait, a newspaper? Yes, down to the inevitable transfer to news online and a tryst sparked by a woman's arousal over the executive editor's “power,” Jon Cellini's play feels a little dated. After all, dailies have already transitioned through a couple of stages of grief over the imminent demise of the “way they were,” and have settled into grimacing acceptance of the uncertain future. To give Cellini credit, he does nod to the obsoleteness of his subject matter when a character comments on how “we philosophize after our expired lives — ironic considering this show, right?” Still, he uses the now-tired controversy over a cartoon about creationism as a launching pad for a discussion on the dangers of the religious right advocating censorship. Though he's spliced this humdrum dilemma with visits from a Socrates who watches TMZ, a Galileo who scoffs at LeBron James and a Goebbels who blames Saturday Night Live for America's “weak” men, Cellini also rests on tired stereotypes such as a Godfather-esque queenpin of a church secretary (Maia Danziger). Director Stuart Rogers smooths the busy show to a nice flow, but he allows too much slack in the pace precisely when it's in dire need of tautness. The play's not bad, but all the good stuff is buried in the back pages. It would be remiss not to mention the able-bodied cast, especially the restrained, excellent performance of Heather Robinson as Gert. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 18. (800) 838-3006. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
HOT A handful of well-written plays have forged gripping dramatic material from an apocalyptic scenario: Alan Bowne's somewhat dated AIDS-era drama Beirut and Henry Murray's Treefall, recently staged here at Theatre/Theater, artfully probed the complexities and bonds of human relationships in a ruined world. Here, playwright Daniel Keleher is more interested in laughs and low farce. In the midst of a murderous pandemic, Jones (Gregory Myhre) and Benny (James Jordan) seem to be doing fine, ensconced in a ruddy apartment with plenty to drink, engaging in loads of pointless frat-boy banter. The play's pulse is felt when Horn (fine performance by Shawn Colten), whose job entails disposing of the dead, drops in and agrees to procure a woman for Benny, which he soon after does, dragging her onstage in a sack. From here, under Mel Shapiro's lax direction, it only gets worse. Act 2 opens with Benny decked out in a tux with his equally spruced-up comatose lover, and Jones tending to his near-dead fiancée in a wheelchair. There is a feeble attempt at gravitas made toward the end involving the sudden appearance of a vaccine, and the morality of euthanasia, but by then, one is past all caring. Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 11. (323) 969-1707. (Lovell Estell III)
GO HYPERBOLE: ORIGINS It's not easy to wrap sentences around this fantastical storytelling spectacle created by a collaboration of artists under Sean T. Calwelti's direction, and presented by Rogue Artists Ensemble. The launching point is the mid–20th century and a laboratory whose apparatus is the “origin” machine, a fanciful contraption reminiscent of sci-fi circa the 1940s and 1950s. The machine is operated by a conscientious engineer and his somewhat airheaded assistant, who, like Icarus, dreams of strapping on wings and taking flight. Each time the machine is activated, it precipitates an oblique and fanciful tale about the origin of something: music, fire, sin, love/lava (jealousy), the chicken and the egg, the rabbit in the moon — and creation itself. Each narrative is presented with wordless mime, elaborated on by a profusion of lighting, sound, videography, puppetry, masks and music. As impressive as these technical elements are, they never outrun the stories themselves, each of which offers a quirky fable about some aspect of the human condition. The superb production values (overseen by tech director Daniel Geesing) include designer Katie Polebaum's expressive masks, so many of which capture the essence of a singular sentiment or passion, as well as Kerry Hennessy's imaginative costumes and John Noburi's indispensably animating audio design. A terrific seven-person ensemble displays amazing versatility in presenting this plethora of parables and yarns. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Dec. 12. (323) 461-3673. (Deborah Klugman)
INTO THE WOODS Stephen Sondheim's magical musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and explores the consequences of the various characters' wishes and quests. Lucid by Proxy give it a stripped-down treatment in a vast downtown warehouse, dispensing with the usual lavish staging, period costuming and live orchestral music, instead placing the focus on the vocal gymnastics of the large ensemble cast, who warble to a prerecorded score (by Musical Theatre International). It's a gamble that, for the most part, pays off. The spooky raised-stage set (Jeanine A. Nicholas) and elegant costuming (Kerri Norris) are hip and contemporary; now it's all about Little Red Riding's hoodie (played sweetly if gluttonously by Shannon Nelson) while Cinderella's ugly stepsisters (supremely bitchy Sarah Orr and Jessie Withers) strut around like rejects from The Hills. The intricate book (by James Lapine) weaves an ingenious plot that unites the Grimms' most familiar tales with an original story involving a baker and his wife (David Pevsner and Valerie Rachelle) and their desire to have a child. Jessica Pennington is magnificent as the old crone who instigates their quest. The good show would be kid-friendly if it didn't clock in at close to three hours, somewhat tortured by the almost superfluous (though psychologically darker) sluggish Act 2. Lucid by Proxy at Big Art Labs, 651 Clover St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., added perf Sun., Nov. 14, 7 p.m.; through Nov. 20. (800) 838-3006. (Pauline Adamek)
GO LEMON DURANG PIE The poison pen is pretty damned funny in Christopher Durang's pair of one-acts that poke fun at playwrights Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, David Mamet and Peter Shaffer. In “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” mother Amanda (Lisa Richards) is a steel magnolia headed for extinction. Her good manners aren't enough to rule over today's split-level ranch houses where one tremulous son (Brian Foyster) obsesses over glass cocktail stirrers while the other (Kenny Johnston, channeling Marlon Brando) spends nights hooking up with sailors and bringing home the wrong sort of girl for his brother to court. This night, he's toted home the butch Ginny (Alejandra Cejudo), causing Mom to cry, “There hasn't been a lesbian in this house since your grandmother died!” The cast has a ball. The chaos cranks up after intermission with “A Stye of the Eye,” a Southern Gothic that stews a toxic brew of theatrical clichés about heartland folk, long beset upon by carpetbagging playwrights who think the backwoods are a perfect setting for tales of murder, incest and insanity. As one character notes, all a hack's gotta do is mix nonsense symbolism with jazz or country music and let audiences think what they want — advice Durang takes to the extreme in a climax where a horny sister clashes cymbals (get it) as her fellow rednecks shriek, “There's maggots in the American flag!” Jack Heller directs both comedies with verve, and Catherine Carlen is hilarious as the devilish idiot Ma. L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hlywd. (Amy Nicholson) Note: As this review was going to press, the producers announced that the production was closing, due to extenuating circumstances.
LUCIA MAD To anyone who's had the dubious honor of being personally acquainted with an artistic genius, it will come as no surprise to learn that James Joyce, the English-language father of the modern novel, also sired a hopelessly insane daughter, Lucia. Given the epic levels of obsession, ambition and self-involvement required to produce a monumental work of art, the artist understandably has little quality time left over to devote to anything so mundane as parenting. What makes Don Nigro's sad literary footnote of a drama particularly fascinating, at least to the playwright, is that the story of Lucia (Meg Wallace) includes not one but two portraits of the artist — that of Joyce (Ian Patrick Williams) and of his one-time amanuensis and inventor of the modern drama, Samuel Beckett (Robert Ross in a show-stealing performance). According to Nigro, it was Lucia's unrequited infatuation with the future author of Waiting for Godot that eventually bumped the sensitive, volatile girl from the neurotic borderline into the bottomless abyss of full-blown schizophrenia. But a footnote, no matter how alluring, does not a full-length play make. So Nigro pads out the Lucia-Beckett nonrelationship with a series of arch and overly redundant absurdist vaudevilles. Clever as they are, under Steve Jarrard's direction, which underscores farce over nuance, Nigro's brittle comedy routines exhaust themselves long before intermission. Fine support from Pamela Daly as the long-suffering Nora Joyce, along with an effective production design (Jarrard's set; Dan McNamara's nicely etched lights). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 5 p.m.; through Nov. 21. (323) 860-6569, plays411.com/luciamad. (Bill Raden)
100% HAPPY 88% OF THE TIME Barrington Moore Jr. wrote a treatise called Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery and Upon Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them. Beth Lapides' cabaret show is a sweet-natured and understandably facile fly-by over the depths probed by Moore. It features composer Mitch Kaplan on keyboards (the original music is written and performed by the pair, except for music by Howie B and Peter Matz), and blends some pointed satire of Hollywood culture (“The absence of yes over time equals no”) and focuses on Lapides trying to carve meaning from the crisis of her unexpected eviction from L.A., due to a home sale by the owner, and her relocation to Palm Springs. The attempt to convert formulas for sanity, contentment and even happiness gets projected onto charts where she relocates the traditional focal points of unhappiness, happiness and merely being “fine” — which is equated with purgatory. Change creates anxiety and crisis, yet crisis is necessary for discovery, self-discovery and new perspectives. It's a sweet lecture with some songs, both new age and a new-age parody at the same time. Lapides is an amiable performer with an unexceptional voice. But the voice is not the point. The show was created to both entertain and to sort out a coping mechanism for life's anxieties. The lessons aren't exactly earth-shattering, but the show is engaging nonetheless. Improv Comedy Lab, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Wed., Nov. 10, 8:30 p.m. (sold out), Wed., Nov. 24, 8:30 p.m., Wed., Dec. 1, 8 & 15, 8:30 p.m. bethlapides.com. (323) 651-2583. (Steven Leigh Morris)