A Christmas Carol at Sierra Madre Playhouse crawls inside the head of Scrooge, and nabs this week's Pick of the Week. Our critics also liked a “turbo-charged” A Christmas Carol at Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood. For the latest new theater reviews and regional stage listings, see below.
This week's stage feature looks at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson going to bat for Lewis Carroll, in Sherlock Through the Looking Glass, presented by Porters of Hellgate and the Odyssey Theatre.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication December 5, 2013
PICK OF THE WEEK: A CHRISTMAS CAROL What made Ebenezer Scrooge such a miserable old coot? Adapter-director Christina Harris elaborates on this aspect of Dickens' cautionary tale in Sierra Madre Playhouse's amiable musical production of A Christmas Carol, embellished with songs and upbeat ensemble dancing. Scott Harris portrays the tight-fisted miser as less an icy capitalist than a bad-tempered old man with chronic indigestion (my take). The classic narrative involving Jacob Marley (Karl Maschek) and the ghosts (Kelly Kitko, Hector S. Quintana and Tim Stafford as Christmases Past, Present and Future, respectively) unwinds with enough technical flair and professional skill to preserve one's attention, despite the story's umpteenth retelling. The disciplined ensemble includes teens and children, with the youngsters performing adeptly and — speaking of the 8- and 10-year-olds — remarkably on cue, surely a directorial coup. Anthony Bravo's soft-spoken Bob Cratchit and his family, including an endearing Amelia Grace as Tiny Tim, furnish an apt contrast with the story's fantastical characters, all underscored by Jeremy Pivnick's lighting, John Zalewski's sound and Liz Peterson's lively costumes. Still, some of the backstory and drawing room scenes need pruning, and not all the group vocals are quite on the mark. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 7 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., Dec. 18-19, & Mon., Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org (Deborah Klugman)
GO: A CHRISTMAS CAROL
The Yuletide Lords of Misrule at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre are presiding over a “turbocharged,” nontraditional version of the Dickens classic, which means you can expect a lot of fun and laughs. The opening scene sets the impious tone with an offering of familiar carols performed with sardonic menace by the cadaverous-looking “Steampunk Chorus” (outfitted in a loud mix of raunchy dance-hall garb), led by whiz guitarist Annalee Scott. The basics of the story are all here, but director Denise Devin has spiced the production with a few surprising twists, once again working theatrical magic with her customary no-frills staging, deftly marshaling a sizable ensemble in this limited performance space. Sebastian Muñoz does the honors as Scrooge, and Devin turns in sprightly performances as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, while Zombie Joe makes a memorably scary appearance as the tormented ghost of Jacob Marley. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (818) 202-4120, ZombieJoes.homestead.com. (Lovell Estell III)
DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY CHRISTMAS
This farce by Paul Storiale kicks off with the Logans, Joanne (Elyse Ashton) and Dean (Rob Schaumann), planning to sell their house, ship Grandpa Logan off to a nursing home and move to Florida. They've invited their three misfit children home for one last family Christmas. Just when the kids are due to arrive, they discover that Grandpa has died in his sleep; they decide to conceal the fact in order to not spoil the holidays. Predictably, endless complications and mishaps ensue, involving daughter Christine (Kara Hume) and her Jewish fiancé (Matthew Clay); son Adam (Alex Polcyn) — who may or may not be gay — and his nympho girlfriend (Sara Swain); actor son Braden (Brian Spengel), who has spent his whole life being ignored; and bossy neighbor Mrs. Braskett (Barbera Howard). Storiale's script is broadly written, obvious and short on logic and credibility, but it proved amusing enough to please friendly opening-nighters. Brickhouse Theatre, 10950 Peachgrove Ave., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. Dec. 8, 5 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 15, 3 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (818) 302-3448, christmasfarce.com. (Neal Weaver)
Originally upper-class and also half Jewish, the real woman ultimately canonized as St. Teresa of Avila rose to prominence in 16th-century Spain during the time of the Inquisition. A nun given to rapturous episodes featuring personal visits from Jesus Christ, Teresa sparred openly with Church authorities over her pious determination to separate wealth and politics from the religious orders. Though Coco Blignaut's God's Gypsy traces much of this intriguing character's trajectory, the play doesn't operate as straight-up biography, opting for an emphasis on her spirituality while, despite an almost three-hour running time (including intermission), skimping on hard facts and useful historical context. As a result, the play quickly begins to suffer from the same overwrought quality that frustrated contemporaries spied in Teresa herself, an aspect not ameliorated by the production's penchant for mannered acting. Instead, standouts here include composer-musician Lili Haydn's romantic score and the handsome, atmospheric set design by Joel Daavid, who pulled double duty as director. Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Jan 12. (866) 811-411, godsgypsy.com. (Mindy Farabee)
Larry Cedar's solo show consists of three monologues by George Orwell, presented vivaciously in director Thomas Bigley's engagingly intimate production. In an excerpt from Orwell's essay “Down and Out in London and Paris,” Cedar portrays the author, who finds himself slaving in a filthy Parisian restaurant kitchen. This shifts into a monologue derived from Animal Farm, in which Old Major, the grand old Lenin-esque pig, urges his fellow farm animals to revolt. The largest portion of the bill, though, Cedar reserves for a sort of compression of 1984, with poor old Winston Smith describing his dystopic world and his star-crossed romance with the rebellious Julia. With his lanky frame and emotionally subtle voice, Cedar is a brilliant storyteller and Orwell's words come to life through his dryly ironic narration. However, clocking in at well under an hour, the piece's brevity and straightforward simplicity ultimately work against it, and the material feels more like an academic exercise than a dramatic effort. Forty-five more minutes of revolting pigs surely would help somewhat. Porters of Hellgate at the Odyssey Theater, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 15. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
SHERLOCK THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS Gus Krieger's fantasia about Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Lewis Carroll. Porters of Hellgate and the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., WLA. See stage feature.
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE: