GO  ASSISTANCE In playwright Leslye Headland’s droll workplace comedy, the Caligulan corporate boss for whom all workers leap through hoops is never actually seen onstage. Instead, Headland’s opus focuses on the Great Man’s procession of ill-fated young assistants, who are virtually forced to crawl through a sea of muck in their attempt to get a whack at a cubicle office. In a Manhattan corporation, rumpled young assistant Nick (Adam Shapiro) is brilliant at his chosen avocation of bootlicking, flattering and call rolling — so brilliant that he just might wind up being an assistant till his dying day. When senior assistant Vince (Graham Sibley) is promoted (and turns effortlessly into an oily skank), Nick develops some romantic chemistry with Vince’s replacement, Nora (Katie Lowes), who may be just too sensitive for the elevated level of sharkishness required. Meanwhile, all need be wary of the perky ice princess, new hire Jenny (Amy Rosoff). Headland’s skill for scathingly taut dialogue emerges crisply in director Annie McVey’s production. With its ferocious pacing and intense mood, the show captures the resigned hatefulness of those who define themselves by their masters. Shapiro’s cardigan-wearing “big bro” assistant, who knows how to work the system like a virtuoso, particularly shines. Lowes’ ultimately fragile Nora and Rosoff’s she-devil of ambition are similarly believable and funny. Working Stage Theatre, 1516 Gardner St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (866) 811-4111 or www.iamatheatre.com. An Iama Theatre Company Production. (Paul Birchall)

Jean-Louis Darville

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Maia Rosenfeld

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Coffee Will Make You Black

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The Concept of Remainders

 CELL PHONE FUNERAL While frivolous gay boy Zackery (Gabriel Loup) is out cruising L.A. in his SUV, he’s so distracted by the cute number in the next car that he inadvertently runs over Patrick (Miles Nevin, seen only in a huge photo cutout). Patrick’s East Coast family, including his alcoholic mother (Trudy Forbes), his straight brother (JP Hubbell) and his pill-popping aunt (Meredith Thomas), head west to plan his last rites. Since they haven’t seen him in years, and know nothing of his life, they must use his cell phone to broadcast funeral invitations to everybody on his calling list. The result is a very odd service, held at the Six Feet Under Spa, with its aggressively fey proprietor (Mauricio Sanchez). Mourners include a Latino trick (Carlitos DeSouto), a superflamboyant drag queen (Aaron Barrera) wearing enough sequins, glitter and rhinestones to stock a Vegas spectacular, and a gay priest (Hubbell), among others. An oddball gay guardian angel (Akiva David) keeps the pot boiling. John Patrick Trapper’s haphazard script features a welter of broad stereotypes, gay clichés and ribald one-liners, and director Julie Nunis provides a cheerfully slapdash production. But the piece has found its audience, who seemed to find much of it hilarious. The Actor’s Playpen, 1514 Gardner St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru May 17. Plays411.com or Goldstarevents.com. Note: Several roles are double cast. May 9 perf to benefit AIDS Project L.A.; WideStance Productions. (Neal Weaver)

 GO  THE CONCEPT OF REMAINDERS In its world premiere, Richard Martin Hirsh’s examination of midlife crises features two couples who become very close. Mac (Dan Gilvezan) and Mary (Suzanne Ford) live a comfortable suburban life, but on the eve of another birthday, Mac is restless. For his present, Mary offers to let Mac sleep with anyone he wants to for a period of 10 days, and though Mac is reluctant to accept, he does so under the condition that Mary be allowed the same privilege. Mac’s fantasy centers on Sophie (Meredith Bishop), the fetching young wife of Elliot (Bradley Fisher), a good friend who has his own midlife issues. Thrown into this pas de quatre is Faith (Salli Saffioti), a sassy, no-nonsense cocktail waitress whom Mac attempts to seduce. As fantasies are explored, so are the dangers of risking what is familiar and comfortable. Mark L. Taylor’s direction gets the most from his actors, whose nonverbal reactions provide as much of the comedy as the dialogue, which starts out bright and witty, but at times becomes philosophically heavy-handed. However, the ensemble is captivating and gives strong performances across the board. Keith Mitchell’s set design is innovative and efficient, and Kelly Graham’s costumes look great on a cast that slips in and out of them with aplomb. Chandler Studio Theatre Center, 12443 Chandler Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 17. (800) 838-3006. Presented by the Production Company. (Mayank Keshaviah)

 COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK Adolescent Stevie (Diona Reasonover) doesn’t know if she’s a virgin or not — or even what a virgin is. This special innocence will cling to her over the next few years as she makes and loses new girlfriends, none of whom can understand why she hasn’t slept with a boy by the time she’s 17. Stevie’s conflicting quest for coolness, friendship and love forms the play’s center, but Michael A. Shepperd’s comedy drama, adapted from April Sinclair’s 1994 novel of the same name, is also a celebratory mural of black Chicago neighborhood life in the late 1960s. Stevie’s world rests on her family, embodied by Mama (Cecelia Antoinette), her best friend Carla (Charlene Modeste), and the young men who attract and repel her (Deon Lucas, Theodore Perkins and Damani Singleton). Director Nataki Garrett is thoroughly attuned to the book’s time and milieu, and his robust ensemble, led by the likable Reasonover and supported by Colette Divine in several powerhouse characterizations, creates an electric evening. The show does run somewhat long and has room for improvement, as, on opening night, a couple of actors either occasionally stumbled or delivered unfocused line readings. More structurally problematic, Act 2 becomes a little too schematic in tying in the turbulent awakening of black pride with the characters’ lives. Still, if I were to never review another play, I’d consider myself lucky to have seen this production. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 25. (323) 957-1884. (Steven Mikulan)


 FLAVIO MEDIUM DE LOS MUERTOS Around found-object shrines and a set laced with silks, Mike Okarma portrays an Argentinean channeler of ghosts named Flavio, which gives the slender performer an opportunity to showcase an array of eccentrics. These range from a Brooklyn matriarch and a Liberace-like actor to a bipolar child. The dead arrive in a steady procession and have no contact with each other. This leaves little point of view on the purpose of life, or death, other than the generically romantic caution of living our dreams because life is short. Okarma’s delineations among his characters are clear, and his dialects are meticulous, but a larger, more insightful reason for this show to exist clouds the obvious fun Okarma is having with the exercise. Keir O’Donnell directs. Underground Theater, 1323 N. Wilton Pl., Hlywd.; Mon., April 28, 8 p.m. (323) 919-8415. (Steven Leigh Morris) 

THEATER PICK  KLÜB In Mitch Watson’s brilliant existential satire Klüb — a revival of the Actors’ Gang’s 1992 production — a group of thespians at a rundown venue auditions their hearts out. Spoiled, squabbling egotists, they desperately compete for the approval of their director (Michael Schlitt) — an omnipotent unseen presence whose voice thunders from the back of the theater, awarding points for performances he approves of, and deducting from those he doesn’t. As suspense builds, the players become more ruthless. For years, moppet-haired Annie (Beth Tapper) — a send-up of the Broadway icon — has concealed her sex-and-alcohol-stained past; now it’s exposed by Noni (Hannah Chodos), her faithless longtime stage assistant. Suspicion of wrongdoing also hovers around the obsequious and oily Woodnard brothers (Michael Neimand and Joseph Grimm) and the company’s puffed-up Shakespearean actor, Richard (Nathan Kornelis). Directed by Schlitt, the production has nary a false note. The spot-on ensemble play their manic roles to the hilt but never lose touch with the human element beneath. With its No Exit motif and carnival trappings, the play furnishes luminous commentary on the obsessive narcissism that impels, and ultimately imprisons, so many performers — onstage and elsewhere. Complementing the garishly irrepressible characters are designer François-Pierre Couture’s anarchical set and Sarah Brown’s colorful costumes. Actors’ Gang Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 838-4264. (Deborah Klugman) 

Phil Eisen

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NO EXIT is more artifice and attitude than a persuasive cauldron among three new residents of Purgatory — all of whom have done rotten things in life and whose hell is now designated to be one another’s eternal, infernal company. I’m told there were tech problems the night I attended, but the core of the problems lies with the acting and with the drawbacks to Matthew Hannon’s puppet-string concept. Jean-Paul Sartre’s French classic was always a talky existentialist primer hanging on the subtle interactions and reversals among lesbian predator Inez (Annabel Turrado); pretty, cruel Estelle (Nichole A. Jouibert); and chicken-hearted journalist Cradeau (Matthew Hannon). From the get-go, with the arrival of the Valet (Bobby Gold), all glares with chiseled bare chest popping through suspenders, it seems we’re in another revival of Cabaret but without the music. The hostility of Inez, in short red skirt, fishnets and garters, to everything and everybody starts overtly and floats there for 90 minutes. Baby doll Estelle is all in white, also with fishnets, but with lacy frills, pumps and teensy skirt, like a pedophile’s wet dream. She moves with little jerks, a puppet on a string, which may be the impediment to anything plausible coming out of her mouth. I don’t know, the Wooster Group can make this kind of thing work. Hannon’s Cradeau fares best, but this isn’t a one-man show. The problem isn’t the tech, which is very elaborate, with Megan Fraher’s costume, Annabel Turrado’s stylistic makeup and Garomino Guzman’s set, which includes a door frame rimmed with the chalky handprints of desperate souls trying to grasp their way out — a feeling I started to empathize with. The problem lies in the hollowness of the human interaction. And accompanying some of the long speeches with pop songs is anything but a viable substitute. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru May 27. (800) 595-4849. A M.A.N. Power Entertainment Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)


 PERSONALITY CRISIS Thirty-year-old writer and musician Trixie (Megan Lee Ethridge) knows herself: She’s boring. Her boyfriend, Gary (Michael Hampton), persuades her (for the sake of her career and that of their sneering, droning punk band) to create the persona of B.J. McCool, a transsexual teenage hustler who’s been swapping blowjobs for cash since his daddy done made him in the eighth grade. B.J.’s memoir is embraced by everyone from Dr. Phil to Madonna; less enthralled by her tales of incest and masturbating into soup pots is Trixie’s egotistic thesis adviser, Professor Big Thunder (Nick Denning), now mining his poor childhood on the reservation for his fourth autobiography, though his dim-bulb girlfriend, Kelly (Kerri Reed), is a fan. Playwright-director Rick Mitchell’s ripped-from-the-headlines send-up of literary pretensions is about truth but rings false with contrived dialogue and plot twists. It’s fun watching Gary bait Big Thunder into spouting poetic twaddle about doing peyote on the prairie, but after Trixie persuades Kelly to play B.J. at an awards show, the story devolves into soap-opera betrayals that only skim past Mitchell’s questions about identity. Left entirely unexplored is the larger theme of why our lurid therapy culture mistakes shock honesty for art and loves little more than other people’s misery. There are several loud numbers by B.J., Gary and Trixie’s band, the Mimetic Pygmies, who, as their profile rises, pen choruses like “Gender is a notion that we both mock/I’m just a little girl with a big fat cock.” Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m.; thru April 27. (818) 754-5756. An Urban Ensemble Production. (Amy Nicholson)

 TROUT STANLEY As domestic relationships go, the one at the center of Claudia Dey’s dark comedy is strange indeed. The Ducharme twins, Sugar and Grace, share an isolated but comfortable house in rural British Columbia, with little else for distraction but the forest and its creatures. They define their relationship as a “marriage,” and in many respects it resembles one. Sugar (Jessica Wright) is a servile, meek sort with a trainload of personal baggage. She constantly dotes on her sister Grace (understudy Angelina Leaf), who supports the house as a garbage worker. From the outset, it’s extremely difficult to grasp the substance of this pairing, because the playwright is more invested in the spiritual and metaphysical than in the narrative or dramatic. At times, her writing is rapturously beautiful, but there is much about it that’s obscure. Things get even more complicated when Trout Stanley (Danny Junod), a tattered, beaten-down stranger, pops into their house, and he gradually becomes the object of their eccentric desires. If there’s a grounded point to the ensuing tension, I couldn’t find it. Kerrie Kean directs. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 11. (818) 325-2024. A White Buffalo Theatre Company Production. (Lovell Estell III)

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