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GO  AS YOU LIKE IT Directors Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall set this evergreen Shakespearean comedy in the years after the American Civil War, but, fortunately, they apply the concept with a light, tactful hand. It serves to plant the action in a recognizable time and place, and allows inclusion of period songs (“Aura Lee,” “Old Dog Tray” and “Turkey in the Straw”), but there’s no attempt to brand the characters as Rebels or Yankees. Theatricum Botanicum’s wooded, outdoor amphitheater is an ideal setting, with the occasional squirrel or hummingbird adding atmosphere. The production is brisk, colorful and athletic, highlighting comedy rather than lyricism. Willow Geer provides an energetic and exuberant (albeit occasionally shrill) Rosalind, Mike Peebler is a sturdy, manly Orlando, and Samara Frame is a giggly but loyal Celia. The old servant Adam undergoes a sex change, as acted with appealing simplicity by Marshall, while Earnestine Phillips (in male drag) brings an earthy touch to the melancholy Jaques. Some lesser roles are perfunctorily performed, but David Pintado and Natalie Jones make a lively Silvius and Phoebe. Ameena Maria Khawaja’s musical direction, Peebler’s exciting fight choreography and Shon LeBlanc’s handsome costumes add to the fun. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3 p.m., thru Sept. 28 (no perf Sept. 14). (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com. (Neal Weaver)

Ben Rothman

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Showgirls

Ed Krieger

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The Last Seder

Ian Flanders

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As You Like It

 
GO  THE LAST SEDER Structured around the Passover ritual, Jennifer Maisel’s satisfying family drama smoothly transcends its ethnic trappings. Marvin (Joseph Ruskin) suffers from rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s; caring for him has become too much for his loving wife, Lily (Jenny O’Hara), who plans to sell their house and use the proceeds to pay for a nursing facility. The idea distresses their four daughters, who have arrived home for one last, contentious holiday gathering — each packing emotional baggage and each in varying stages of denial about the deterioration of their cherished father. Already-simmering passions become more inflamed when it comes to light that Lily has found much-needed solace with the widower next door (Nick Ullett). Alzheimer’s is a worthy dramatic theme, albeit thoroughly mined in recent years. Maisel, however, skillfully maneuvers the drama beyond the tolls of the illness; in her conflicted characters, she also illuminates the contemporary woman’s struggle for love and identity. (Tossing in a couple of gentile lovers — and one gay marriage — also keeps the material updated.) Unfortunately, the piece becomes protractedly schmaltzy toward the end, but no matter: Director Joseph Megel pilots a strong ensemble, with notable performances that include O’Hara’s pivotal shoot-from-the-hip matriarch and Elisa Donovan as her confrontational daughter, whose plea for support to a stranger at a subway station aptly launches the play. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru July 27. (323) 655-7679, Ext. 100. An Ensemble Studio Theatre–L.A. and Greenway Arts Alliance production. (Deborah Klugman)

 
MY OLD FRIENDS Seven senior citizens rusticate in an old folks’ home under the supervision of a tyrannical nurse (here, an uncredited offstage voice), until an upstart widower (Tom Ormeny) arrives to stir things up. This musical by Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs is meant to be charming and life-affirming; it certainly has many such moments, but, ultimately, it’s a rather embarrassing outing. The characters are in their 60s or 70s, and their dialogue and a good many quirky musical numbers show them to be extremely weak-willed and dangerously close to imbecilic. Most disconcerting are several chorus-line-type numbers that erase any sense of dignity. Director Maria Gobetti knows how to bring actors to enjoyable life, which she does throughout the show, but she can’t avoid the pitfalls of the tedious script and many talky songs. A few real songs do showcase some extraordinary talent, especially that of Pat Hodges, whose African-American tenant, Mrs. Cooper, belts out the blues. Actress Betsy Randle also gets a chance with an interesting torchy number — if you discount some truly corny lyrics. Musical director Scott Harlan keeps the music bouncy, along with keyboardist Serge Bueso, providing the best moments of the show.  Victory Theatre Center, 3326 Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 10. (818) 841-5421. (Tom Provenzano)

 

GO  OUTBURSTS In his intellectually challenging solo show, writer-performer Gordon James speed-depicts 17 vivid characters in an hour and 15 minutes.  Sometimes switching from role to role in midgesture, James is, at one moment, a sexy Brooklyn hoochie vowing to seduce audience members with her sultry wiles. The next, he’s a drunken old nut case on the subway threatening harm to a couple necking across the train aisle. In director Maurice Jamal’s brisk and intimate staging, James’ underlying concept is that the actor becomes “possessed” by 17 “ghosts,” all of whom express themselves through Beat poetry (clearly the lingua franca of the afterlife). Although the result occasionally threatens to devolve into Sybil Goes to the Open Mike, the poetry allows these vignettes to be executed in a compressed language, which creates great emotional intensity and heightened realism. A scene in which James turns into a sexy gal who coldly announces she simply doesn’t love her boyfriend as much as he loves her is powerful — and so is a more sweetly sentimental moment in which James plays a little boy offering unconditional love to his mother. While we wish that some of the characters were given a stronger narrative context, it’s hard not to be impressed by the show’s raw energy and passion. Flight Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru July 12. (323) 960-7714. (Paul Birchall)

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THEATER PICK  SHOWGIRLS: THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE. EVER! It’s been ridiculed by audiences and critics, lampooned by drag queens and sock puppets. And now the Upright Citizens Brigade has staged a more scholarly spoof of Showgirls, director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe “I’m a tit man” Eszterhas’ Vegas-stripper ode to All About Eve, that’s half interpretive dance with dialogue, half Inside the Actors Studio–style interview. Of course, the questions creators Jackie Clarke and John Flynn ask Eszterhas (a beer-swigging John Reynolds wearing an open bathrobe) are mostly rhetorical: “Why rape a woman who’s fully willing to have sex with you?” And, of course, Eszterhas’ answers mostly end with “pussy.” Lennon Parham’s Eve Harrington/Nomi Malone doesn’t have the frizzy hair or deadly acrylics of Elizabeth Berkley, but she does have the demented eyes of Karen Black. And all your favorite scenes are re-created, from Nomi’s arrival in Vegas to the ass-kicking revenge she exacts upon her friend’s rapist to the big lap dance that’s cleverly choreographed to the soundtrack of Saved by the Bell, the kiddie show that made Berkley a TV star. Even if you’ve followed every one of the film’s funny reincarnations, like the cinematic version of a Phish phanatic, you’ll no doubt learn some new tidbits: Berkley was paid a mere $100,000 for her part, while Eszterhas got a cool $2 million. (If there were any justice out there, a bra would be burning Eszterhas.) For the final show, the real Rena Riffel reprises her role as naive stripper Penny. Tell a gay friend. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; Fri., June 27, 8 p.m. $8. (323) 908-8702. (Siran Babayan)

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My Old Friends

GO  SISSY By the time 12-year-old Latino homo Sissy holds a dance-off with his sneering older sister — she and her girls break it down to the Sylvers’ “Hot Line”; Sissy and his boys dust off and remix classic Jackson 5 moves for “Blame It On the Boogie” — Ricardo A. Bracho’s play has settled into a raucously charming groove of digestible Marxist theory, redemptive Negro pop culture and odes to the uncharted complexities of Latino identities. The story — a day-in-the life tale set in Culver City, 1978, on Sissy’s 12th birthday — whisks us through scenes of sibling rivalry, parent-child conflict, cholo bullies, tranny whores dropping wisdom and show-stopping musical sequences set to the gamut of ’70s black music. (Ameenah Kaplan’s inspired choreography is largely era-correct.) Bracho wittily threads the Marxist politics of Sissy’s parents through the boy’s struggles to hone not just his queer sexuality but also his Latino identity, when the absence of large-scale Latino representation made black culture the default setting for nonwhite identification. Running throughout is a sometimes prickly harmonizing between black and brown folk that’s at odds with contemporary media-stoked tensions. Xavier Moreno is generally excellent as Sissy, though the sheer volume of words packed into some of his monologues had him rushing through them, swallowing some of the jokes. He’s matched in skill by the rest of the cast, who all play multiple roles. Director Armando Molina’s inventiveness in having props also play multiple roles (a bunk bed doubles as a city bus, a clothesline demarcates city borders) folds neatly into the play’s thesis that multiple identities are housed in every person or thing. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 13. (323) 883-1717. A Company of Angels production. (Ernest Hardy)

TRAILERVILLE Hannah Logan’s tangled redneck gothic boasts a number of firsts: It is the first production for a first-time playwright; the inaugural work of the Ground Up Theatre Company; and the first time at the helm for director Eileen Galindo. Unfortunately, these firsts factor into a fatal algebra of inexperience that makes for a prosaic, overly schematic yet dramatically shapeless adaptation of Logan’s own short stories. Set amid the moral decay of the mid-’70s Bible Belt, the fictional Lakeview Mobile Home Park is host to an all-too-familiar potpourri of Dixified dysfunctionalism: shit-kicking ex-cons, unwed-mother alcoholics, overeaters, incest victims and intolerant preachers. Whether any of these walking wounded will achieve eventual redemption and break the intergenerational chain of victimizer-victim seems to depend on their willingness to embrace Logan’s New Age gospel of self-actualization and unconditional love. If you fail to recognize the epigrammatic wisdom of Adult Children of Alcoholics and its 12 steps beneath the play’s theological veneer, have no fear; the playwright obliges with a phantasmagoric character named “Higher Power” (Kathleen Ingle), who mysteriously drifts through the scenes. Logan is nothing if not forthright. Which is not to say the evening is totally bereft of pleasures. These are mostly provided by an unusually talented and seasoned double-cast ensemble (the fine Peter Allas and P.J. Marshall are standouts), whose game effort almost manages to transcend the script’s considerable flaws. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., July 27, 2 p.m.; thru July 27. (323) 572-5044. A Ground Up Theatre Company production. (Bill Raden)

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