GO  ATTACK OF THE ROTTING CORPSES Zombie Joe's short, fun offering is a chaotic mix of Night of the Living Dead and Hotel, with just a smattering of old-school SNL. The mise-en-scene is a swanky Caribbean condominium called 50 Peachtree, where “luxury living is the way we live life.” But the residents here are more like escapees from the puzzle house: Liz (Spy Kitten) is a cauldron of lustful excess who prances around in a skimpy bikini, Cindy (Oriko Ikeda) is a full-blown neurotic with an obnoxious pooch and Blane (Lauren Salandra) is a chatty handyman with repressed lesbian tendencies. Their hilarious antics and their staccato, ribald banter provide the lion's share of laughs. The blood starts flowing and the bodies pile up after a bacterium is released into the water supply, turning everyone into flesh-eating zombies. Stealing the show are Rod Switzer's Vic, who is afflicted with terminal satyriasis and works the front desk in a state of manic frenzy, and Denise Devin as his co-worker Mack, who is the most “normal” of the bunch. As usual, director Zombie Joe ratchets up the gore meter with an array of colorful carnage. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., thru Nov. 6. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)

GO  THE AUTUMN GARDEN Lillian Hellman was in her mid-40s when she wrote this astute comedy about the pitfalls and perils of middle age and the accompanying sense of loss that filters through our lives. A kind of Chekhovian group portrait, it takes place in 1949 in a genteel boarding house on the Gulf of Mexico coast. The establishment caters exclusively to the longtime friends of its sweet-natured, spinsterish proprietress, Constance (Lily Knight), still pining for beau Nick (Stephen Caffrey), who left her high and dry 20 years ago for his still current wife, Nina (Jane Kaczmarek). Nick is now an artist of some renown, and his return for a brief visit stirs excitement, especially for Constance's friend Rose (Faye Grant), a simpering Southern coquette whose marriage is on the rocks. The play's secondary motif — the masquerade of ignorance surrounding homosexuality in the mid-20th-century South — emerges in the engagement between Constance's French niece, Sophie (Zoe Perry), and Frederick (Joe Delafield), the son of Constance's prim and proper friend Carrie (Jeanie Hackett). Directed by Larry Biederman, the production begins somewhat stiffly before gathering steam as the multiple plotlines unwind, then coalesce, and the intimacies — especially between the married couples — are finessed. As Constance, Knight's touching vulnerability draws you in. Perry is excellent as the shrewd, long-suffering Sophie; so is Anne Gee Byrd as Carrie's mother, a deliciously sardonic grand dame who minces no words. As the story's villainous roué, Caffrey's skill is unimpeachable, but his drunken predator is so unappealing that it's hard to see how he might ever have charmed anyone. (The production is double-cast.) Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 506-1983. antaeus.org (Deborah Klugman)

GO  DIVING NORMAL A 2006 New York Fringe Festival favorite, playwright Ashlin Halfnight's tale of an unlikely romantic triangle between a trio of Manhattan misfits might be more aptly titled Three Compelling Characters in Search of a Play. Which is not to say that director Neil H. Weiss' production doesn't pack its share of panache and charm. In fact, it's difficult to recall when a script so deeply flawed boasted such uniformly flawless and engaging performances. Graphic novelist Fulton (Philipp Karner)lives a Manichaean fantasy of his own making. His delusional dualism, in which people are either good or evil, is straight from the pages of the superhero comics with which he makes his living. Not surprisingly, his sole friend is his neighbor with Asperger's syndrome, Gordon (the marvelous Scotty Crowe), whose guilelessness and comically over-literal and inappropriate truth-telling sustains Fulton's black-and-white worldview. All that is upended when Fulton's high school dream girl, Dana (Carly Pope), steps out of his past and onto his doorstep fresh from a mugging, the details of which don't quite add up. Dismissing Gordon's Cassandra-like misgivings, Fulton plunges blindly into romance only to discover too late that his idealized damsel in distress is decidedly damaged goods. And though Fulton's characterization lacks the complex edges for the role of dramatic fulcrum assigned him, a superb cast, along with set designer Jeff McLaughlin's ingenious lights and Leeahd Goldberg's emblematic, shapeshifting posters, comes tantalizingly close to compensating for the manifold deficits of their text. SFS Theater, 5636 Melrose Ave., Hlywd.; Wed. & Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 960-5521 or divingnormal.com. (Bill Raden)

FAIRIES WITH CHILDREN: THE YES ON HATE EPISODE From the lair of Gay Headquarters where a poster proclaims their three-point global takeover (Step One: Convert the Youth), a new plot is hatched. Ex-couple and agents Alan (Marco Tazioli) and Peter (Guy Windsor) must move to Pomona and pose as a straight couple to infiltrate and corrupt the conservatives. Warned by their squad leader that Cher and Madonna are too flashy for suburban wives, Peter decides to drag up as America's best bad wife, Peggy Bundy, costume complete with Alan's Al, a talking dog, an activist Kelly (Erin Muir) and a twinky Bud (Charles Romaine) who bones his mom on the sly. (At least this Al loves his shoes.) Director Sean Riley has nailed the details down to the front door, but hesitancy clouds the comedy — although Tazioli's great at thrusting his hand down his pants. More sitcom than satire, John Trapper's script hasn't figured out its point beyond giving Windsor a glorious red bouffant. And with the Bundys leading the local anti-gay movement (the better to attract like minds), their mission is murky. They're supposed to lure in bigots and … keep agreeing with them? Plus, the closeted right-wing senator next door (Eric Adams) and his “assistant” (Dexter de Sah) are meant to argue the opposite point: that it's bad to witch-hunt against oneself. At least their Tea Partier friend Sandy (actual Married … With Children alum Donna Pieroni) embraces her message and, fittingly, her softshoe number “Good Morning Fox and Friends” brings down the cul-de-sac. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, fairieswithchildren.com. (Amy Nicholson)


GO  THE GOOD PRISONER It's not difficult to draw parallels between the pre-war reminiscences in Kit Steinkellner's world premiere, set in an unspecified time and place somewhat like the United States, and recorded recollections of life in pre-Nazi Germany. White vans loom outside houses, foreshadowing the apparitions the victims will become when they're forced to surrender. Families splinter when one decides if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Neighbors revert to a “survival of the first” mode, dialing the authorities upon suspicion that someone might be about to drop a dime on them. While the opening scene, in which Paige Lindsey White's guard viciously sneers and straddles the silent, pallid Prisoner (Emmalinda MacLean), sets off an inward alarm (“Not more torture porn,” you groan), Steinkellner smartly leaves most of the terror to your imagination. She and director Louise Hung also rely on the audience to be smart; scenes past, present and outside time seem to be shuffled and played as they land, entrusting you to arrange the action mentally. Still, in less capable hands, this could be the kind of cringe-worthy play marked by sequential confusion. But the exceptional ensemble gives up only enough to ensure that you continue to follow the bread trail they leave as they wind you further and further into this tangled forest. What you find when you reach the last crumb is nothing so horrific as the Holocaust, but something that still reminds you that the heart and mind are often at odds; one's just more convincing than the other, and predicting which will win is a losing game. Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 10, 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 396-3680. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

GO  HEAD: THE MUSICAL Composer-lyricist Kevin Fry's delightfully campy horror musical, based on Roger Corman's 1962 gore-fest The Brain That Wouldn't Die, is not only enjoyable on the level of midnight-theater excess, it's a quick-witted show by any standard. Its catchy score and clever, bloodthirsty lyrics are in the style of Little Shop of Horrors. And how can you not love a musical that features a severed head warbling songs of love and hatred? Beautiful, virginal Jan (Stephanie Ann Saunders) is administering fellatio to her boyfriend, Bill (Charles St. Michael), in the front seat of their car as they speed through the woods — an ill-advised, foolhardy act they soon have reason to regret as, in the ensuing car crash, Jan's head is chopped off. Not to worry, though: Bill, it turns out, is a mad scientist and has invented a formula that will keep Jan's head alive until he can find a new body onto which to transplant it. While Bill runs off to scour the strip clubs for a suitable albeit unwilling donor, Jan is left hooked up to a table, singing the blues. If the sight of a severed head dangling by its jaws from a man's manhood isn't enough to make you howl, then the image of Saunders' strangely seductive Jan, her head on a table, singing a love song to the hideous Franken-monster (Chance Havens) Bill keeps locked in the closet, will do the trick. In director L. Flint Esquerra's taut production, the ensemble assay their silly characters with glee and conviction. Fry's musical style strives for '50s doo-wop, but his comic instincts are comparatively timeless, evident in lyrics such as, “He will find you a new hottie/Chop off her head and give you her body!” Under music director Robert Shaw's helm, the ensemble's vocal work is top-notch, with droll performances that are equal parts operatic and cheesy. In addition to Saunders' perky yet monstrous Jan, particularly sprightly turns are offered by St. Michael's spooky, intense mad scientist and by Becca Battoe and Fiona Bates, playing ill-fated women of ill repute, one of whom comes to grief at Bill's hands. St. Michael, in particular, has a memorably evocative falsetto: perfectly in tune, but edged with a fierce madness that puts one in mind of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford St., Hlywd; Fri., 9 p.m., Sat., 8 and 10:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 960-5770. (Paul Birchall)


LOVE AND OTHER ALLERGIES Written by Michelle Kholos Brooks, this medley of one-acts serves as a showcase for both the writer and the 12-member acting ensemble, with mixed results. “Preschool,” directed by D. Ewing Woodruff, displays the keenest satiric edge (think Jules Feiffer) and the most well-calibrated performances; in it, the mother (Beth Nintzel) of a 4-year-old finds herself in conference with officious school administrators (Jeff Blumberg and Katharine Phillips Moser, both razor-sharp), where she's chillingly informed that her macaroni-and-cheese-disdaining child does not fit in. “Allergic to Walnuts,” directed by Steve Oreste, is the most endearing segment. Infused with absurdity along the lines of Beckett or Ionesco, it involves an elderly duo (Robert Stephen Ryan and Rosemary Stevens), each an odd and reclusive character, as they timorously discuss their developing romance. “Bars,” directed by Ryan, features the evening's most notable performance: Leila Arias as Rosie, a bubbly, clueless gal who visits an incarcerated-for-life serial killer (Kurt A. Boesen) with the aim of having him as a boyfriend and perhaps the father of her child. The script, resembling an overwritten comedy sketch, overreaches, but Arias' charm and skill allow her to transcend the cliché. “Cab,” directed by Oreste, derives its off-and-on humor from the cultural clash between a Middle Eastern cab driver (Avner Garbi) and a professional American woman (Lisa Glass) with an overblown sense of entitlement. The shtick-laden “Allergy Shot,” directed by Garbi, is set in a medical clinic and concerns the encounter between a young actress (Cassandra Sanchez-Navarro) and an older woman (Eve Sigall) who insists on offering the young woman unsolicited advice about her career. Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (323) 960-5772; Plays411.com/allergies (Deborah Klugman)

THE PUB PLAYS: WAR Celebrated Irish novelist Roddy Doyle sets his play on the battlefield of a large, packed Dublin pub where rival teams of locals scuffle it out during a rowdy and riotous quiz night. As the empty bottles of Guinness pile up, the increasingly intoxicated participants trade wit, useless trivia and abuse, vying to claim bragging rights and an electric kettle. Doyle's play is ostensibly an energetic comedy, but flashpoint tempers, ferocious shouting matches, strident accusations of cheating, vulgar gestures and various colorful insults (“fookin' eejit!”) wear you down after a while. Add the interspersed flashbacks to the casually abusive home life of the most volatile character, George (Tim Cummings), and suddenly all that bellowing isn't so funny, especially when his gentle wife, Briget (Kacey Camp), is cowering in the corner. Of course this is Doyle's point, but he makes it with a tightly clenched fist, pounding away. Alice Ryan is good as the cute barmaid who keeps the lecherous lads at bay with her arsenal of comebacks. Passable Irish accents from the hardworking cast of 16. Theatre Banshee, 3435 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; in repertory with The Field, Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec 12. theatrebanshee.org (Pauline Adamek)

GO  VON BACH Owen Hammer's zany farce tells the tale of Dr. Von Bach (think Dr. Frankenstein), whose adventures are being told in the 100th remake — “not counting the porn versions” — of his story. Fanatical screenwriter Minna (Maia Peters) is hell-bent on creating a definitive version, surpassing the legendary 1940 film, but they can't find an actor with sufficient charisma. She and studio exec Hillary (Kristina Hayes) decide to produce a computer-generated clone of the actor, Krupa, who played the role in 1940. But Krupa's grandson Connor (Jason Frost) claims to own the rights to grandpa's image. Eventually, the real Von Bach (Zoran Radanovich) returns to life, enraged that all the films and tales have presented him as a mad doctor, when he just wanted to serve humanity. This external story is merely a pretext for showing hilarious clips from the 1921, 1940, 1964 and 1993 films, plus the Andy Warhol version, the Abbott and Costello variant and the 1999 sci-fi rendition, not to mention Von Bach: The Musical. These delicious clips, directed by playwright Hammer and director Scott Rognlien, and featuring a cast of 24, become a nutty, slapstick history of the movies. Before the dust clears, Von Bach finds himself shilling for a drug to cure Twitching Ear Syndrome. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. Produced by the Next Arena. (323) 805-9355. (Neal Weaver)

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