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ALEXANDROS Aging Abuelos (Maria Cellario), matriarch of a Cuban immigrant family in Miami, has determined she is to die on her 75th birthday. She gathers her children Tio (Chaz Mena) and Maritza (Saundra Santiago) to witness her death. All three harbor secrets that frustrate Maritza’s recalcitrant 15-year-old daughter, Marty (Katharine Luckinbill), who just wants to live a normal life. Into the mix comes a seemingly innocent gardener from Iowa (Kevin Symons), who is party to Tio’s secret life. The five characters engage in their lies, trying to avoid reality until the death of Abuelos’ dog, Alexandros, sets off an emotional journey to the truth. Melinda Lopez writes fascinating dialogue and has some fine stories to tell, but her play constantly shifts from realism to broad farce to melodrama — each style is interesting, but the mix is frustrating. Nevertheless, David Ellenstein’s direction brings sharp if disjointed life to the changing genres. All of the actors are superb, particularly Santiago, with her powerful voice and fluid physicality. The technical aspects are equally accomplished, with Marty Burnett’s colorful, crisp set design partnered with Paulie Jenkins’ fine lighting. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 29. (Tom Provenzano)

 

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Sanctuary

Jeff Parker

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In Heat

 

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Lucia Mad

GO  CARNY TRASH A burly man named Aye Jaye, with a garish jacket and handlebar moustache, stands surrounded by “pickled punks” (jars containing human fetuses preserved in formaldehyde) and three milk bottles — one perched precariously on the caps of the two-jar base. Jaye spins yarns from his life in the carny, a life he inherited from his parents in the Midwest. The bottles, arranged in that delicate balance, were the only items left standing after a tornado ripped through the town they were performing in, he explains. That’s all you need to know to understand the life of the carny. Jaye has a rich background in the art of con art. His lecture-demonstration paints a vivid portrait of Americana, mid-20th-century, a rare blend of garishness and romanticism, a study in how Minnesota farmers were dazzled and tricked before there was TV. The act includes an assistant named Charity (all funds go to Charity) who contorts herself inside a box around an array of blades slicing through it. For a buck, you can climb up on the stage and witness that Charity’s act is for real. You’ll learn where the expression “making the nut” comes from, and words like “geek” (a person doing unnatural acts). Jaye recalls a geek being interviewed for work: “If you bite the heads off of seven chickens a week, you’ll be kept in all the wine you can handle.” The geek thought it over for a minute before replying, “So what’s the catch?” Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; indef. (323) 666-4268. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO  FINALLY Stephen Belber’s haunting Rashomon-styled drama is powered by Morlan Higgins’ strong, emotionally nuanced performance. He plays four characters: a washed up semipro football player; a damaged, miserable wife; a dog with a penchant for Byron and Tennyson; and a football coach. These people are linked by a common thread of guilt, violence and betrayal. The play shifts back and forth in time, and, through worlds of the living and the dead, we learn about the pathetic destiny shared by these characters, the malevolent impact that their relationships have had on them, and their respective perceptions and rationales for their actions. The subject matter is sordid and grim, but the craftiness of Belber’s script allows for some welcome moments of gallows humor, which Higgins masterfully exploits. Perhaps the most jarring irony among many is that the most sensitive and accessible monologue is that of a hapless dog betrayed by circumstance and bald cruelty. Matt Shakman’s staging is simple but forceful, as the tale unfolds against the visual backdrop of an urban area, witnessed as an aerial view; and it’s played out on a slightly cluttered, waterlogged stage. Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (added perfs July 1 & 2; no perf July 4); thru July 6. (800) 838-3006. (Lovell Estell III)

 

IN HEAT Playwright Malcolm Danare’s glib comic vignettes follow a time-honored formula of pairing a flamboyant character with a “straight man,” who has little to do but react to the oddball’s antics. In “Carbs,” the eccentric figure is shrill, self-absorbed actress Olivia (Rebecca Klinger), who takes out her frustrations over botching an important audition on her long-suffering, well-meaning husband, Sidney (Robin Thomas). In “Genes and Chromosomes,” sultry beauty Sophie (Shana Sosin) goes to extreme lengths to convince short, bald fellow party guest Fred (Kyle T. Heffner) that she is, in fact, into him. And in “Perfect Timing,” mild-mannered Paul (Jon Lindstrom) goes on a blind date with outlandish New Age vegan Faith (Mary Mara). Danare’s plays are relationship-driven character portraits, but too many of the pieces suffer from weak narrative trajectories, aching to be fleshed out. Director James Eckhouse’s staging, while vigorous and fast-paced, seldom makes the characters’ psychological underpinnings seem believable. Many of the characters are so grotesque and bizarre, their chemistry with their partners simply doesn’t work — we can’t figure out why the “stable” characters don’t just walk out of the room on them. Still, Klinger offers a funny turn as the harpylike actress, complete with Mrs. Roper–style housedress, while Mara’s dithery vegan is both daffy and vulnerable. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru July 20. (323) 960-7724. Ohwhymee Productions. (Paul Birchall)

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GO  LUCIA MAD
hangs on Jill Taylor’s haunting portrayal of Lucia Joyce — James Joyce’s daughter, who, in Don Nigro’s 1993 play, slips into madness largely from her unrequited, bald passion for her father’s secretary, young Samuel Beckett (Chris Batstone). Craig Flemming’s staging, nicely marbled with touches of surrealism, has no Irish accent in earshot — which expands Nigro’s theme of love and lovelessness from the very specific characters, self-exiled in Paris, to a place far beyond the literary circuit. Joyce’s wife, Nora (Danielle Dauphinee), seethes with brittle contempt for Mr. Beckett, and the manner in which he breaks Lucia’s heart. If there is no love, as Beckett insists (while engaged in a tortuous search for the perfect phrases to express the realities of life and impending death), then how can one go insane from longing — as Lucia does in this play? Batstone’s Beckett comes off as an earnest, sensitive fellow who just can’t stomach Lucia’s brazen advances and has to weedle out of a very funny ploy she concocts to get him to propose to her. Beckett is above love, and Lucia so beneath it, it crushes her. Staged in an old hotel ballroom, Batstone’s production employs scattershot lighting across multiple locales, often from actors switching desk lamps on and off in unison. This also creates looming shadows splayed across the walls, which is perfectly in keeping with the themes of longing and ghostly presences. Rory Cowan’s James Joyce is too young to embody the authority of the literary master. The madness in Taylor’s blazing redhead Lucia seems at first to be a flamboyant affect, until it becomes apparent how that very affect could well be one of her many manipulations. When she actually goes mad, her performance settles into an intense stoicism that gets to the very break of heartbreak. Hotel Lafayette, Executive Ballroom, 528 E. Broadway Ave., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Sun., June 22, 4 p.m.); www.alivetheatre.org. An Alive Theatre production. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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Ian Flanders

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Macbeth

MACBETH With coyotes harmonizing alongside the Weird Sisters and Birnam (okay, Topanga) Wood choking the stage, Theatricum Botanicum’s outdoor atmosphere compensates for a serviceable Shakespeare. Directors Ellen Geer and Chad Jason Scheppner marshal an army of creeping witches and sword-slinging soldiers, most of whom pose too much and talk too fast, helmed by a miscast Jim LeFave as a diffident Macbeth whose political ambitions feel akin to Michael Dukakis in a tank. He’s pressed but not pushed by Melora Marshall’s Lady Macbeth, a lithe villainess good at scheming but better when she flings herself to the ground in fits of specious humility — a deft comic touch. Giggles sprang at stabbings and beheadings — out of place in a production that lacks grand horror and outrage, despite strong performances including Mike Peebler’s Malcolm, Michael McFall’s Banquo and Aaron Hendry as the vengeful but guilt-stricken Macduff. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep, call for schedule; thru Sept. 28. (310) 455-3723. (Amy Nicholson)

 

MULATTO’S DILEMMA Juliette Fairley wrote and stars in this crudely crafted melodrama about a penniless mixed-race woman named Annique. Ostensibly based on Edith Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth (though I didn’t quite see the connection), it takes place in the 1920s. Up from the South, the orphaned Annique knocks at the door of her white mom’s wealthy brother (Pierre DuLat), but is turned away by his greedy and flagrantly racist wife (Anadel Baughn). Down to her last dollar, she’s hired as an ad writer by an abrasive black businesswoman (Tina King). “I’m saving her from prostitution!” this character declares, taking her to New York, where she attracts many men. Fed up with American racism, she heads for Paris and hooks up with other wealthy relatives, who pressure her to marry money — which, despite the temptation, she refuses to do. The story goes on in this vein, recalling a preteenage girl’s soap-opera fantasy. The script, heavy on first-person narrative, is intercut with scenes involving two or three characters, whose ham-fisted dialogue thuds. A slipshod set goes hand-in-hand with the material. Had this mercifully brief 40 minute play been tongue-in-cheek, it might at least have been entertaining. Jeremy Levitt directs. Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., W. Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 28; (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman)

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GO  SANCTUARY Righteous indignation gets a full-bodied and -bloodied airing in David Williamson’s intense drama about a lefty ideologue, John Alderston (Mick Thyer),* who comes crashing into the luxury Australian apartment of renowned and now retired international journalist Robert “Bob” King (David Ross Paterson). Alderston has come to fact-check his biography of the former Time magazine correspondent — that’s the purported reason. The real reason has more to do with fury at and vengeance for King’s failure, during his rise to fame and wealth, to report on four genocides (the Kurds in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was our ally, and incidents in Timor, Ecuador and Guatemala). Was King really placating editors and enriching himself from a docile American public when we were training torturers in Guatemala and Ecuador and subverting democracies there in favor of dictators? Is that the purpose of a “free” press? Williamson’s erudite and worldly play puts King on trial, and his self-defense is an intellectually dazzling commentary on the art of compromise and survival in an arena where nations really do eat their young. Alderston’s indignation is surpassed only by his hypocrisy: On that score, Williamson lays it on a bit thick, as he does the psychoanalysis of the furious idealist. Do all of life’s travails have to be laid at the feet of mum and dad and their emotional unavailability? That said, the performances dance on a high-tension wire, thanks to Paterson’s rat-smart portrayal of King and Thyer's self-righteous yet brittle Alderston. The event unfolds in the intimate upstairs confines within Mortise & Tenon furniture store, an environment that further intensifies the verisimilitude. Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon.-Tues., 8 p.m.; thru July 22. (323) 533-2847. (Steven Leigh Morris)

 
A THOUSAND WORDS is an impressive undertaking in which nine pieces of visual art by local artists inspire nine pieces of theatrical art by local playwrights. The evening’s highlights include: Sharon Yablon’s “Look Up,” about a family — lost in an illusion of itself — buying a house in a gated community from a quirky realtor (a captivating performance by Tina Preston); Rachel Jendrzejewski’s “Kiss to the Bluejays,” which depicts four disparate people desperately clinging to hope; Coleman Hough’s strangely compelling “Dressed for Dinner,” a kind of latter day Waiting for Godot; and Heidi Darchuk’s “(K)nots,” a wonderland of tattoos come to life, featuring the standout Caroline Duncan as a peculiar pirate. However noble this experiment may be, the effort suffers from the translucence of its conceit: The short plays are often strangled by the self-consciousness from reflecting the nine pieces of art. And, being such a bold commitment to showcase an array of artists, perhaps the show could have benefited from a unified curatorial voice shaping the overall effect. But enough sparks of inspiration keep A Thousand Words continually engaging. Art Share, 801 E. 4th Pl., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 29. (213) 625-1766. A Padua Playwrights production. (Luis Reyes)

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