In this week's Pick of the Week, critic Lovell Estell says that Jon Polito and Darryl Armbruster's dark comedy 86'd, about “a vortex of devious dealings” at a diner, poses the question of what anybody would do for a slice of $5 million. Also, big holiday nods to A Noise Within's new adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and to The Gayest Christmas Carol Ever at the Avery Schreiber Theatre. For all the latest new theater reviews, see below.
Jon Robin Baitz's Pulitzer Prize finalist Other Desert Cities opened at the Taper on Sunday. I felt both impressed and detached from the play, and Robert Egan's staging of it, featuring Robert Foxworth and JoBeth Williams. See this week's stage feature for the review.
Do take a seat: In related theater news, as part of its fundraising campaign for its new home at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, City Garage theater company is selling its vintage (1930s) seats, with platforms used in its former digs — 50 seats for $2,000. Email email@example.com for more information.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication December 11, 2012
PICK OF THE WEEK: 86'D What would you do for a hefty slice of $5 million? Some answers come along with laughs in this dark comedy by Jon Polito and Darryl Armbruster. At an all-night Big Apple diner (masterfully designed by Danny Cistone), Dame Fortune smiles when one of the oddball regulars (Alan Ehrlich) gleefully announces he's won the lottery, displays the ticket, then dies of a heart attack. The shock and public-spirited concern from the patrons and staff soon is swapped for something more befitting the situation — greed. Sucked into the ensuing vortex of devious dealings are waitress Angela (Jamie Kerezsi), Nick (Lou Volpe), proprietor Willie the baker (Michael Edward Thomas), Ray (Lucan Melkonian), his gal Kim (Julianna Bolles) and Mamie (the hilarious Susan Fisher), who liberally shrieks obscenities while fastidiously shredding napkins at the counter. Toss in some street toughs, a violent, degenerate gambler (Matt McVay) and a crooked cop (Ed Dyer, in a performance bordering on caricature), and the avarice turns drolly murderous. Watching these scoundrels stumble from one desperate, idiotic scheme and mishap to another is a kick, and director Ronnie Marmo keeps the comic chaos finely tuned. Notwithstanding its predictable plot twists, the show is thoroughly entertaining. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Suite D., Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (323) 960-5068, plays411.net (Lovell Estell III )
BOB'S HOLIDAY OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Seventeen years in, this wonderfully demented L.A. theater tradition always plays out roughly the same. On a cold night in Neuterberg, Iowa, small-town, small-time insurance salesman Bob Finhead (Rob Elk, co-writer of the piece with Joe Keyes) calls together a few of his favorite friends and clients to celebrate the holidays. Flamboyantly closeted town mayor Roy (David Bauman) and his hard-drinking AA sponsor, Sheriff Joe (Keyes), always stop by, as do Roy's wife/Bob's mistress Margie (Andrea Hutchman), the permanently stoned Marty (Cody Chappel), and La Voris (Linda Miller) and La Donna (Maile Flanagan) Johnson, a pair of boozy Fox News junkies embodying the most outlandish contradictions of red-state morality. Beleaguered Bob fantasizes about leaving them all behind for the bright lights of Des Moines, where he can live out his dream of becoming a professional inventor. Happy chaos takes the place of actual plot, making good use of the ensemble's excellent collective timing. Though this year's cast might not be the production's absolute strongest, this crazy stew of sight gags, throwaway one-liners and set pieces gives plenty of opportunities for many of its performers to shine, including two Ann Randolph cameos, in her dual role as Carol the neurasthenic folksinger and Brandy the town slut/beautician. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (310) 204-444, plays411.com/bobs. (Mindy Farabee)
GO A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Fantastical stagecraft is the indisputable star of co-director Geoff Elliott's adaptation of Dickens' holiday classic. Its magic appears as soon as the lights come up and Scrooge (Elliott) hobbles across the broad proscenium, a dark silhouette with top hat and cane, against a crepuscular sky. Under Andrew Ellis' technical direction, that opening heralds many fabulous visuals, drawn from lighting designer Ken Booth's lush, kaleidoscopic panoramas, Jeanine A. Ringer's whimsical set designs and Angela Balogh-Calin's imaginative costumes. Picture, for example, a giant-sized Christmas Present (Alan Blumenthal) in a long, regal robe studded with fruit, or Christmas Past (Deborah Strang) as a playful female spirit, with her own black topper and ornate, multilayered, white chiffon dress. When Marley's ghost (Mitchell Edmonds) thunderously appears, his humongous chains are suspended from the rear of the auditorium to the stage. Designer Ego Plum's fanciful sound design is part of the enchantment as well. The story, narrated in literary fashion by Robertson Dean, gets somewhat lost in the spectacle. Elliott's clownish Scrooge comes across as more intensely irritable than downright mean, and evokes our sympathy rather early in the story. Blumenthal and Rafael Goldstein as Scrooge's nephew are notable among a solid ensemble. Julie Elliott-Rodriguez co-directs. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; in rep, call for schdule; through Dec. 23. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org. (Deborah Klugman)
GO THE GAYEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER
That this campy romp falls apart in Act 2 and still gets a “Go” says plenty about Joe Marshall's knack for comedic dialogue and director Paul Storiale's casting. Rod (the terrific Adam Loyd) is the loud, proud, disaster-penning playwright (sample titles: Okahomo!, The Wizard of Odd) for a small, gay WeHo theater company. When the producers decide they can't survive another shitshow, they bring in another playwright, which blows up in their faces, before hiring a lesbian director to direct Rod's original script because Rod has been hospitalized after a light in the theated falls onto his head and Ñ well, listen, the plot is engaging for about the first half-hour before you realize maybe Marshall based the pot-addled tech-director character (a charming Josh Patton) on himself. Luckily, the actors almost all have terrific comedic timing, and the dialogue is pointed, fearless and funny Ñ Rod's script is described as “the birth of Christ that goes into some gay shit with Brokeback Mountain cowboys as shepherds” and Barbara Ann Howard's hilarious narcoleptic/racist mother refers to her cabbie as having “rolled right out of bed Ñ he had a pillowcase wrapped around his head.” Sure, the plot is dangling as tenuously as the light that crashes onto Rod, but we haven't laughed out loud so often in a theater all year. Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 30. (818) 766-9100, averyschreibertheatre.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
I'M DOP3! Afia Fields' solo performance begins with a quote from Marilyn Monroe: “Dogs never bite me. Just humans.” The statement is telling in that it's a nod to both the cruel comments Fields, a burn victim, has heard all her life and to her steadfast ambition to become a star, despite her circumstances. When Fields was 3, a space-heater fire in her Baltimore home took the lives of her cousin and baby brother and left her in a coma with third-degree burns all over her body. In relating her journey of healing in the wake of such tragedy, Fields employs song and dance as well as graphic photos of her surgeries. She and director Debra DeLiso cleverly use the photos to implicate the audience: Will we choose to listen to her describe her pain, or will our eyes fixate Ñ consciously or unconsciously Ñ on the harrowing visual evidence of it? While the piece still needs some dramatic development, there's something about witnessing courage in action that is powerful and inspiring, and Field's ability to make it “through the fire” (as Chaka Khan once put it) speaks to just how dope she really is. Elephant Studio Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (no perfs Dec. 28-29); thru Jan. 19. (443) 928-5941, saiproarts.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
In HEAT In Hollywood HO HO HO!
Despite an evening that leaves its star naked save for a strategically placed baseball cap, David Trudell's one-man show never quite dispels the impression that he's holding something back. Under Michael Kearns' direction, the affable New York transplant delves into funny-serious fare about coming out to his chain-smoking mother and a Hodgkin's lymphoma scare as a young man. But after an early thematic peak, the 40-something Trudell comes in for a slow landing. These cocktail-party anecdotes (like his one-night stand with an infantilist) lack substance beyond their fleeting shock value; they unfold onstage like setups awaiting a punchline. This weakness is most apparent in the third-act sketch, where the diverting, if bewildering, narrative feels forced to a close with a false revelation. And what of the intrepid grandmother, the sympathetic father, the caretaker ex? Trudell hints at unexplored byways. You can't help wishing for a little more character, and a little less butt crack. Katselas Theatre Company at Skylight Theatre, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 23. (702) 582-8587, katselastheatre.com. (Jenny Lower)
GO OTHER DESERT CITIES
Written by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Robert Egan. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 6. Mark Taper Forum,
135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772. See stage feature.
SIDDOWN!!! CONVERSATIONS WITH THE MOB
Everyone loves a good mob story, but writer-director Sam Henry Kass' trio of slight one-act plays amounts to little more than three sets of goombahs blustering at each other over inconsequentialities. In “What's It All Mean, Hah?” an inept professional robber (Cris D'Annunzio) tries to convince his malevolent mob overboss (Jason Paul Field) to let him do one last job, incompetence notwithstanding. Field's performance is nicely menacing, while D'Annunzio's motor-mouthed weasel reminds us of those guys who are inevitably their own worst enemy. However, Kass mystifyingly opts to stress a brooding atmosphere over the work's comic elements, and the piece devolves into repetitive chit-chat. Oddly enough, a similar dramatic situation recurs in “Dice & Cards,” in which another mob boss (Ray Mancini) berates an underling (Leo Mancini) for ruining a mob card game. The comedy here is better orchestrated but the acting itself is rough and awkwardly uneven. Best sketch of the set is “Lefty and Squinty,” a mob version of Abbot and Costello's “Who's on First,” in which a pair of dingbat mob goofs (drolly smirking Jeff Adler and a nicely twitchy Field) cheer on their mob boss at his racketeering trial. Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 23. (310) 397-3244, ruskingrouptheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
Back at the dawn of the '60s, and just before he wisely defected to a far more lucrative career as a Hollywood scribe, Lewis John Carlino specialized in a kind of strained stage blend of vintage lyrical realism and postwar European avant garde. This musty, 1963 one-act about a liaison between a street-hardened prostitute and her introspective john is no exception. Evan McNamara is the relationship-embittered art history professor (named John) who pays $300 for an in-call with the emotional-baggage-laden Ida Darvish, in which the pair will enact an idealized version of the professor's train wreck of a marriage. The prostitute, however, has both her own ideas and deep emotional wounds in need of salving. John Coppola directs with affecting understatement, and both Darvish and McNamara succeed in making the wildly implausible seem possible, but only somebody whose experience of prostitutes and johns comes exclusively from the movies could mistake Carlino's script as having anything to do with Earthlings. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., Dec. 15, Jan. 12, 19 & 26, 8 p.m., Sun., Jan. 13, 3 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 26. (323) 988-1175, plays411.com. (Bill Raden)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER LARGER REGIONWIDE:
GO Anything Goes: New York's Roundabout Theater offers Los Angeles a glorious Christmas present in this spectacular revival of Cole Porter's signature musical comedy, staged in a broad 1930s sophisticated style but with a remarkably contemporary moral take that toys with religion, sex and organized crime. The convoluted story of shipboard romance, penned by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse and then retooled by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (and again in the 1980s by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman), follows the antics of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, in a nearly flawless performance by Rachel York — her two literally show-stopping numbers, “Anything Goes” and “Blow Gabriel, Blow!,” earn her the standing ovation she receives in her curtain call. She is equaled in song, dance and over-the-top acting by Erich Bergen as the lovesick Billy, who stows away and will do anything to keep his socialite lady-love, Hope (Alex Finke), from marrying English Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Edward Staudenmeyer). The cast is filled with genuine professionals who make the musical numbers by Kathleen Marshall flow with effortless joy — her breezy staging of the clever book tells the story with a minimal interruption of the classic Broadway numbers for which the show exists. (Tom Provenzano). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 6. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens!: When it comes to improv-derived satire, the precise alchemy that distinguishes the sizzling hot from the hopelessly hypothermic is anyone's guess. Suffice it to say that whatever blend of revealing caricature, pinpoint parody and lunatic incongruity is required for spontaneous comic combustion, it is mostly missing from this decidedly lukewarm holiday offering by Second City. It's certainly not for lack of talent. Improv veteran Ron West provides an able anchor as a flintily loutish Scrooge, and Larry Joe Campbell scores whenever he walks onstage, particularly as a Bluto Blutarsky-like Ghost of Christmas Present and a Rat Pack-ish crooner ad-libbing R-rated spins on Yuletide carols. Director Marc Warzecha and a top-notch production design (featuring Tom Buderwitz's antique proscenium set) lend the proceedings a well-oiled polish. But this parodic survey of hoary Christmas tropes (by writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort) rarely finds the perverse twists or subversive edges that might translate the overly familiar into satisfying belly laughs. (Bill Raden). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 6 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
GO A Christmas Carol: A new adaptation of the Dickens classic, by Geoff Elliott. Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 16, noon; Fri., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 22, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 23, 2 p.m. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org. See New Reviews.
Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash!: Sinatra stylings by Jason Graae, Heather Lee, Beth Malone, and Luca Ellis. Conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson. Starting Dec. 16, Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 31. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-508-4200, www.elportaltheatre.com.
GO Coney Island Christmas: Donald Margulies' sweetly goofy Coney Island Christmas, based on Grace Paley's short story The Loudest Voice, is an unmitigated delight. The tale begins in Los Angeles, where young Clara (Grace Kaufman) is sick in bed. Her grandmother, Shirley Abramowitz (feisty Angela Paton), takes her on a visit to Shirley's childhood in Coney Island, circa 1935. Young Shirley (Isabelle Acres) lives with her traditional Jewish parents (Arye Gross and Annabelle Gurwitch). When English teacher Mr. Hilton (John Sloan) casts Shirley as Jesus in the grade-school Christmas play, she's overjoyed — but her mother is appalled and forbids her to appear. With her father's collusion, Shirley defies Mama's orders, leading to the funniest Nativity play ever. Margulies deftly combines all the familiar icons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, from the Pilgrims and Squanto (Julian Evens) to Mary (Kira Sternbach) and Joseph (Andrew Walke), shepherds, angels, wise men, Santa, Miss Liberty, Mr. Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Present, Tiny Tim and Jesus himself on a carousel horse. Director Bart DeLorenzo gives the piece a lovingly hilarious production, full of holiday memories. Ann Closs-Farley's witty costumes, including a glorious Thanksgiving turkey, are a triumph, and Takeshi Kata's sets cleverly evoke 1930s Brooklyn. (Neal Weaver). Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 16, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 22, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 23, 2 & 7 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 24, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 26, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 27, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 28, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 29, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 30, 2 & 7 p.m., $70. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Cymbeline: Shakespeare's “mock-epic” romance, courtesy Fiasco Theater. Fri., Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 16, 2 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 22, 2 & 7:30 p.m. Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica, 310-434-3414, www.thebroadstage.com.
Down Around Brown Town: Jukebox musical celebrating the sounds of R&B legend James Brown. Created, directed, and choreographed by Frit and Frat Fuller. (In the Monroe Forum Theatre.). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Jan. 6, $25, (866) 811-4111. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.elportaltheatre.com.
Hansel and Gretel: Book by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music and lyrics by Hope and Laurence Juber. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through March 2, (818) 761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, www.theatrewest.org.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas: The Musical: Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16. Norris Center for the Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Palos Verdes Peninsula, 310-544-0403, www.norriscenter.com.
The Morini Strad: Two weeks before Willy Holtzman's The Morini Strad was set to open at Burbank's 270-seat Colony Theatre, the theater went public with a grim announcement that the 37-year-old company needed $49,000 to open Holtzman's play, and $500,000 by the end of the year in order to prevent the indefinite suspension of programming. The theater reported that, since 2008, its subscriber base has slipped from 3,800 to 3,000 and, since 2010, the theater has seen a 20 percent drop in single-ticket sales. The $49,000 came in, and artistic director Barbara Beckley sounds hopeful that the half-million dollars “to clear our financial obligations and produce our last two shows and stabilize us into the future” is on the near horizon. And so the show went on. But the audience for a Sunday matinee performance of The Morini Strad was, again, a sea of silver hair. Ticket prices for this show range from $20 to $42, with a limited number of $15 tickets for students and groups. Those non-discounted tickets aren't cheap, but they're not terrible. The bigger problem in drawing younger audience might be the play itself. The Morini Strad is a thin, morose work straining to be inspirational and profound. Aging, dying violist Erica Morini (the fine Mariette Hartley), a former child prodigy, is the owner of a rare but damaged Stradivarius violin. Before she dies, she wants it repaired, and the play concerns her relationship with a younger artisan, Brian Skarstad (David Nevell) — a violin builder and repairer — who can restore it to its former glory and value. She's a diva who runs on attitude and entitlement, the violinist answer to Terrence McNally's Maria Callas in Master Class; he's a dull man with a wife, two kids who need dentures and a dog that needs de-worming. She baits him and tests his loyalty and his patience against the backdrop of the same motif from a Tchaikovsky violin concerto played repeatedly over the sound system and by a real child violin prodigy (Geneva Lewis). What is life for? What is art for? Why did Erica give her life for art? What did it get her in the end? Why can't Brian do the same? Should he give up his restoration business to build violins? We're invited to address these questions, if we care to. Stephen Gifford's set and Jared A. Sayeg's lighting design create the opulent veneer of Erica's Fifth Avenue digs blending into Brian's workshop, but Stephanie Vlahos' production more or less wheezes along its 95-minute, predictable trajectory. Despite this tepid production, which obviously arrives at a moment of crisis for the Colony, this theater has the legacy and the talent to warrant continued support. It fully deserves the stabilization to which Beckley refers. But part of that stabilization needs to include productions that will attract people in their 20s and 30s at prices they can afford — even at the cost of aggravating the theater's diminishing subscriber base. It may be callous to say, but at this point for the Colony, little else really matters. (Steven Leigh Morris). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
GO Nothing to Hide: See Stage feature. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7, 8 & 10:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 6. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
GO Other Desert Cities: Written by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Robert Egan. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Jan. 6. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org. See Stage feature
Plaid Tidings: Written and directed by Stuart Ross. Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS: The Troubadour Theater Company re-imagines the story of “the most famous reindeer of all” with a Jim Morrison soundtrack. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Jan. 13. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank, 818-955-8101, www.falcontheatre.com.
A Snow White Christmas: “Family-friendly magic, dancing and contemporary music, from Katy Perry's 'Firework' to Huey Lewis and the News' 'Power of Love' to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'.” Tuesdays-Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m., 3 & 7 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Winter Wonderettes: Creator-director Roger Bean's holiday revue. Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
7 Eight 9: Joe Luis Cedillo's dark comedy, presented by Company of Strangers. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Studio Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, 323-463-3900, www.studio-stage.com.
PICK OF THE WEEK: 86'd: Written by Jon Polito and Darryl Armbruster, directed by Ronnie Marmo. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22, plays411.com. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5068, www.theatre68.com. See New Reviews.
Angels Fall: Lanford Wilson's 1982 drama takes place on an Indian reservation in New Mexico, where six people gather anxiously in a Catholic church after authorities warn about a possible nuclear mishap. The play's most urgent conflict concerns the kind, moral parish priest (Carl J. Johnson), distressed because his foster son (Gabe Fonseca), a Native American doctor, is leaving the impoverished reservation to pursue a more lucrative career elsewhere. Less dramatically compelling plotlines track the tribulations of a loquacious, middle-aged professor (Stewart Skelton) burned out by academe, and those of a wealthy widow (Penny Peyser) catering to the whims of her youthful lover (Michael Sanchez). Directed by Alex Egan, the production's weakest link is Fonseca's simplistic rendering of the troubled young physician, a man torn between temptation and duty. Then again, all the performances appear at best under-rehearsed, with even the usually excellent Johnson seeming distanced from the good father's emotional core. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22, (800) 838-3006, theprodco.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles.
GO Avenue Q: How can you not like a musical puppet show that looks a little like Sesame Street but sounds more like South Park? Director Richard Israel's charming local production of the Tony Award-winning musical proves that the show plays brilliantly on a small, intimate stage. After all, Avenue Q is at its heart a puppet show, and what's the point if you're so far back in the house you can't see the puppets? Utilizing a fast-paced staging that's rich with youthful energy, as well as angst, the show boasts some hilarious and surprisingly subtle performers, who also manipulate their puppet characters with style and acrobatic skill. Admittedly, the show is essentially a straightforward staging of the Broadway script — a nice introduction to the work, but if you've already seen the play, it's not certain that this production adds much to it. Still, it's easy to enjoy Chris Kauffman's amusingly ironic turn as mousy puppet Princeton, and Danielle Judovits' beautifully vulnerable Kate Monster — and it's fun to experience the lively renditions of peppy ditties on topics as diverse as masturbation, racism and puppet sex. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 3, (323) 802-4990, domatheatre.com. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, www.themettheatre.com.
GO Bob Baker's Nutcracker: If you're a parent or grandparent of little ones and/or you love marionettes, you might consider patronizing Bob Baker's The Nutcracker, a presentation from Baker's five-decades-old puppet-theater company. Geared to the preschool set, it's a loose adaptation of the classic Nutcracker tale staged in a spacious room, with high ceilings, ornate chandeliers and shimmery accoutrements. The star feature is a host of rainbow-hued marionettes, gorgeously costumed and representing the story's full spectrum of family, toys and fairies. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Jan. 27, $20. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
The Christmas Present: Guy Picot's dark British comedy “about a hooker, a hotel room, and some holiday magic.” Sun., Dec. 16, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 20, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 22, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 23, 8 p.m. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
The Coarse Acting Show: Michael Green's spoof of amateur theatricals, presented by Sacred Fools Theater Company. See Stage feature. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org. See Stage feature.
Dirty Filthy Love Story: Rob Mersola's comedy about a romance between a hoarder and a trash man. See Stage feature. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through Dec. 29. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. See Stage feature.
Do Like the Kids Do: Louise Munson's serio-comedy laboriously treads the familiar path of dysfunctional family relationships. During one of their infrequent gatherings, siblings Claire (Amy Rosoff) and Patrick (Dean Chekvala) engage in an extended colloquy about family problems, the unhappy state of their lives and an assortment of uninspiring topics. He's a teacher on the cusp of burnout, a chess junkie and martial artist, whose emotional dryness compromises his love life; she's obsessed with death, whines incessantly, is in love with a woman and hates her shitty cafŽ job. That all of this is revealed in a leaden opening scene is just part of the problem here. Munson's script explores little of substance about her characters, and offers even less of a reason to care about their lives or the conditions of their estrangement. In Act 2 a revelation emerges, but by then the play has long since imploded in tedium and arid melodrama. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16, iamatheatre.com. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, 323-851-2603, www.workingstage.com.
GO Doomsday Cabaret: This irreverent rock musical, with book, lyrics and music by Michael Shaw Fisher and direction by Chris Raymond, was inspired by the Mayan calendar, which seems to predict the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012. The setting is a symposium at the San Bernardino Community Center on Dec. 21, and attended by a bizarre group of people who are convinced that the end will come at midnight. Attendees include notorious arsonist Kurt Billie (David Haverty); fundamentalist married couple Nathan and Lorraine Dugan (Joe Fria and Molly Cruse); the Messenger (Mark Bemesderfer), who claims to represent the Hopi people; sex pot Lady Vavoom (Liza Baron), who hopes to be experiencing orgasm when the Rapture strikes; Bee Girl Deedra Witwit (Leigh Wulf), who's obsessed with the mysterious extinction of bee colonies; and web-freak Dale Reed (Jake Regal). A vaguely defined guru (Nick Nassuet) presides over the occasion and coke-head Ed (writer-composer Fisher) serves as Emcee. The humor is anarchic and scattershot, the performers are able, and the music (played by the four-man Doomsday Band) is often rousing. The mostly young audience seemed to find it hilarious. (Neal Weaver). Sat., Dec. 15, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 21, 8 & 11 p.m. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-661-9827, www.theblank.com.
Finding Barb: Barbara Heller has taken her personal quest for her spiritual path and turned it into an earnest and sweet musical. The show's pretty songs — beautifully sung — are composed by Avi Avliav, who performs live on electric piano, conveying sensitivity and flair. (Two songs are credited to co-composer Katie Thompson.) Heller, who wrote the book and lyrics and also stars, dominates the stage with her confessional, acting out episodes from her life alongside co-star David Scales. Scales plays every male Barb encounters, including her father, doctor, rabbis and various boyfriends. Heller's younger sister is shown on video as a hand puppet, dispensing sage advice. Unafraid to play dorky, sometimes childish and ever hopeful, Heller brings a fearless approach to her story that proves endearing. Director Eve Minemar has selected a bare-bones staging approach that complements Heller's courageous, unvarnished performance. While somewhat appealing, this tale is not all that compelling. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10, findingbarbshow.com. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, 323-851-2603, www.workingstage.com.
GO Foote Notes: A Young Lady of Property & The Land of the Astronauts: Subtlety and skill are on ample display in this duo of Horton Foote one-acts, directed by Scott Paulin. “A Woman of Property,” set in Foote's Harrison, Texas, in 1925, revolves around a high-spirited, 15-year-old named Wilma (Juliette Goglia), whose mom has died and whose dad is about to remarry and sell the family home. In an outstanding turn, Goglia's performance captures both the innocence of the play's time and place and the spirit of confused rebellious adolescence that transcends it. In “The Land of the Astronauts,” set in 1983, the modern world looms closer to Harrison. The plot concerns a young family nearly torn apart when the father (Aaron McPherson), overcome by a sense of futility, goes off the deep end and pursues his fantasy of being an astronaut. Laetitia Leon is spot-on as his warm, lovely wife, Lorena, who doesn't quite understand but knows how to comfort her man and get him back on track. Supporting performances help weave the sense of community that is the hallmark of Foote's work: among them Talyan Wright, beguiling and utterly professional as Lorena's young daughter, and Matt Little as the helpful young deputy obviously vulnerable to Lorena's charm. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org.
Groundlings Holiday Show: Like most evenings of sketch comedy, this one offers a mixed bag, with some sketches proving truly hilarious and others only so-so — but the seven versatile performers are skillful enough to ensure that even the weaker items garner plentiful laughter. Among the best: At an office party, a teetotaling spinster (Annie Sertich) is persuaded to sample the Christmas punch and turns into a sexually predatory dancing menace. A bemused host (Jim Rash) finds himself saddled with a guest (Tony Cavalero) who's experiencing a seasonal emotional meltdown and wallowing in noisy self-loathing. And a lecherous Cirque de Soleil performer (Alex Staggs) gets sexually aggressive with his audience. The protean Rash (who acts in TV's Community and won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants) is a highlight of the evening whenever he appears, and the entire cast is skillful at utilizing wigs to achieve startling physical transformations. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 26, $20. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.
How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: It would take a cultural philosopher to adequately explain why zombies have so profoundly resonated with audiences at this historical moment. One does not, however, need to be a Gilles Deleuze to understand its baroque potential for satire. Which is to say that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the genre rules laid down by George Romero will find a lot to like in director Patrick Bristow's amiable, Americanized version of this improv-derived British fringe import by Ben Muir, Jess Napthine, David Ash and Lee Cooper. Bristow is zombiologist Dr. Bobert Dougash. Jayne Entwistle, Mario Vernazza and Chris Sheets are his seminar's panel of conspicuously underqualified experts, who take very seriously the ludicrous prospect of surviving a fictional, species-exterminating epidemic. Bristow expertly leads the crew through some clever wordplay routines worthy of Abbott & Costello, padded out with some genial barbs directed at audience targets of opportunity. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I'm Dop3!: Written and performed by Afia Fields. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 19, $30, (443) 928-5941, saiproarts.org. Elephant Studio Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. See New Reviews.
In HEAT In Hollywood HO HO HO: Written by David Trudell, directed by Michael Kearns. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23, (702) 582-8587, katselastheatre.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. See New Reviews.
In the Heights: Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Presented by Teatro Nuevos Horizontes. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22, www.tnhcompany.com. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., Los Angeles, 323-263-7684, www.casa0101.org.
GO In the Red and Brown Water: Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney sets this music-, dance- and myth-infused work in the “distant present,” weaving his story around talented young athlete Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick), who risks her future to care for her ailing mother. The play charts a downhill course for this lovely, open-hearted person: Her mother dies, the prized scholarship goes to someone else and Oya is trapped in the barrio, plagued with passion for an unfaithful lover (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and for the same fulfillment as every other woman in her circumscribed community — a child. It's no accident that Oya's barrenness parallels the predicament in Federico Garcia Lorca's Yerma, or that she bears the name of a Yoruba goddess. McCraney pulls together a confluence of elements — although predominantly Yoruba — to present a visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America. Kilpatrick's portrayal embraces every bit of her feisty, soulful character, made more compelling by the intimate performance space. Brown's slick, calibrated womanizer is an aptly fashioned foil and the remaining ensemble is strong. But designer Frederica Nascimento's set, with its pale walls and light wood backdrop, is too tidy and sterile to reflect the play's darkness. Shirley Jo Finney directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Sundays; Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 24. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
GO Justin Love: The tiny Celebration Theater can barely contain the energy and talent bursting from every aspect of this world-premiere musical that both blasts and lionizes Hollywood through through the tale of an action-movie superstar coming out of the closet. Structurally the piece follows the classic 20th-century Broadway musical form, with the book by David Elzer (who, full disclosure, is a publicist with whom the Weekly works often) and Patricia Cotter skillfully recounting the story of fresh-faced Midwestern newbie Chris (Tyler Ledon) whose apprenticeship with Cruella-like publicist Buck (Alet Taylor) leads him to a secret affair with super-hot star Justin (Adam Huss). Sharp performances by these stars, along with an equally fine ensemble — every one of whom can really sing and act — make Michael Matthews' expert direction even stronger. But what makes this truly special is an extremely smart (not just clever) package of music and lyrics by Lori Scarlett and David Manning (beautifully realized by music director John Ballinger) that recalls the style of William Finn's Falsettos series of musicals from the 1990s. There is still some trimming and tuning in store for this piece as it grows from its present digs to a larger space, as it is likely to do. Even within the limits of this theater, the multi-use set by Stephen Gifford, with inventive use of projections by Jason H. Thompson, give the production its sense of largeness. (Tom Provenzano). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16, plays411.com. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com.
La Zizanie au Consulat: Euro-Theatre's new satirical play set in the French Consulate of Los Angeles. In French with English subtitles. Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 16, 3 & 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 18, 8 p.m., $20-$25, (424) 256-8976, euro-theatre.com. Assistance League Playhouse, 1367 N. St. Andrews, Los Angeles, www.assistanceleague.net.
GO The Magic Bullet Theory: Terry Tocantins and Alex Zola's The Magic Bullet Theory is the second play to be produced locally this year focusing on the 1963 JFK assassination. Dennis Richard's Oswald: The Actual Interrogation was performed in January and February at Write-Act Repertory, also in Hollywood. Though strategically ambiguous, Richmond Shepard's staging of Richard's play appeared at least in part to support the lone-gunman theory (the conclusion drawn by the Warren Commission): that a single ricocheting bullet (from one of three shots) killed the president of the United States and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally, both of whom were riding in the sedan with their wives as part of a parade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. With the exception of a couple of flashbacks, Oswald arrived at its view through an extended interrogation scene between the accused Lee Harvey Oswald and a mild-mannered Dallas Police Department captain, Will Fritz — a scene cobbled together from Fritz's hand-scribbled notes. That production also posited the suggestion that Oswald had been framed. The tone of that production combined the noir melodrama of Dragnet and Law and Order, honoring the almost theological conviction of baby boomers that those three shots heard around the world in November 1963 represented the beginning of the end of innocence for the United States. The Magic Bullet Theory, however, written and produced by post-baby boomers, defies all such reverence, and with that defiance carries a healthy skepticism that any era of American history, or any other history for that matter, was innocent. Its larger point is its derision for the controversial single- or “magic” bullet theory. As directed by JJ Mayes, it presents a sketch-comedy conspiracy, irreverently choreographed by Natasha Norman, that unambiguously leaves the Warren Commission report in tatters. In fact, one scene dramatizes the single-bullet theory with an actor holding a bullet, which carries a tail of red string, from the assassin's rifle to and through the passengers (actors posing dutifully in a cardboard cutout of the open sedan). The scene demonstrates the trajectory of the bullet, which would have almost had to reverse directions in midair to support the single-bullet theory, in the meantime slicing through 15 layers of clothing, about 15 inches of tissue and a necktie knot, taking out a chunk of rib and shattering a radius bone. (This point of view also could be found in Oliver Stone's movie JFK as well as its parody on Seinfeld.) The play replaces that theory with a highly speculative suggestion that the assassination was a botched conspiracy, headed by The Texan (Rick Steadman) — Lyndon Baines Johnson goes unnamed — employing a couple of “Yale-Fuck” killers (Pete Caslavka and Monica Greene), as well as Oswald (Michael Holmes), plus Charles Harrelson (Tocantins), who, with Oswald by his side, fires shots before placing the murdering rifle into dimwit Oswald's hands, thereby also supporting the notion that Oswald was framed. Life may be stranger than fiction, but this fiction hangs on the most tenuous of threads: that the Texas contingent and the CIA were so peeved by President Kennedy's soft handling of Cuba, they just wanted to scare him, to let him know what they could do if he didn't stand up to Castro. In flashback, we see The Texan order the parade slowed to 10 miles an hour so the hired guns could fire and miss, sending a message, Mafia-style. But something went terribly, terribly wrong. Imagine the JFK assassination replayed by Monty Python. The Brit sketch-comedy troupe infuriated millions of Catholics with its version of the Crucifixion in Life of Brian. (The crowd whistles to the lyric “Always look on the bright side of life” as the Savior hangs and nods in rhythm.) The Magic Bullet Theory is a comparatively local sacrilege — a couple of thugs dance in slo-mo, mock anguish whenever they see somebody killed. The production dances gleefully with nihilism, finding its footing somewhere between bravery and childishness. (Steven Leigh Morris). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15, $25, plays411.com/magicbullet. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-1445, www.matrixtheatre.com.
Making It Out Alive: An Evening of 2 One-Act Comedies: On the theme of “survival”: Chasing Trail With Melody Bush by Jennifer Plante, directed by Lou Frederick; Cautionary Tales written and performed by Simon Petrie. Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m., $20. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, 323-525-0202, www.acmecomedy.com.
GO A Mulholland Christmas Carol: Ten years after its debut, writer Bill Robens' hilarious holiday offering remains as satirically razor-sharp and relevant as ever. A live hoedown band serves up the musical landscape for a plot melding the basics of the Scrooge story with a historically based narrative about ruthless financiers who divert water from an agricultural community — destroying the livelihood of the locals — to an emergent Los Angeles. Christopher Neiman plays the petulant plutocrat, William Mulholland, who disdains the poor and can't spare a cup of water for a thirsty kid. Sporting a terrific-sounding brogue, Trevor H. Olsen invokes the younger Mulholland, who starts out kind and conscientious but turns corrupt and miserly along the way. A splendid ensemble — teamwork at its finest — sings, dances and acts through an endlessly diverse series of roles and riffs, illuminating class warfare and the cluelessness of the rich and selfish with incisive skill. Let not my admiration for the material's social and political critique discourage anyone; this is comic entertainment at its best. Notable production elements include Lindsay Martin's choreography and Kimberly Freed's eye-catching period costumes. Gene Michael Barrera is a standout as Poquito Pablito, the comedy's counterpart of Tiny Tim. Alina Phelan directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 23, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
GO Point Break Live!: Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thedragonfly.com.
Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin: It takes singer Sophie B. Hawkins a song or two to perfect Janis Joplin's gravelly growl, but she gets there just in time and maintains the requisite throaty cackle of the bad-girl icon throughout. Though Hawkins' girl-next-door prettiness needs a bit more roughing up to achieve a true Joplin metamorphosis, her singing carries the show. But writer-director Gigi Gaston's thin storyline tells us nothing new about Joplin and veers into caricature territory far too often. Fans of the Joplin songbook likely will enjoy the covers, but those expecting any glimpses beyond the streetwise flower-girl public persona Joplin perfected before her untimely death will feel shortchanged. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, 323-654-0680, www.machatheatre.org/home.html.
GO The Santaland Diaries: The season brings with it enough Christmas- and holiday-themed fare to set your teeth on edge from sugar overload. Fortunately for the cynics among us, the Blank Theatre has brought back its not-safe-for-children, one-man hit show for the fourth year running. Based on comedian David Sedaris' sardonic radio segments on NPR's Morning Edition, the show charts the protagonist's increasingly bizarre experience as a costumed elf at Macy's department store. Sedaris' tale takes us from the laborious interview process and training to the hell that is frenzied parents and excited kids during the most intense shopping period of the year. Paolo Andino climbs back into the elf suit for a second time, and it's still a perfect fit. Cute, sly and bouncing with verve, Andino carefully modulates the tone, delivering a comedic monologue that is never too sarcastic or snarky. He also glides from raconteur to warbler in the show's handful of brief musical interludes. But it's his gift for impressions that really makes this show sing. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16, plays411.com. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-4446, www.stellaadler-la.com.
Scrooged Up!: David Duman's holiday comedy, set in the 1930s WPA-era theatre scene. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
Seasons Greetings! A Disaster in Four Acts!: SparkleBlob's “multidimensional musical puppet adventure involving faith, freight and fruitcake.” Fri., Dec. 14, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 7 & 9 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 16, 3 & 7 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 21, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 22, 7 & 9 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 23, 3 & 7 p.m., sparkleblob.org. Automata, 504 Chung King Court, Los Angeles, 213-819-6855, www.automata-la.org.
Slipped Disc: Bertolt Brecht, in defining his vision of “epic theater,” coined the term Verfremdungseffekt, or “alienation effect,” which implied that in order to be effective, theater should keep an audience from fully losing itself in the story being told. Playwright Ingrid Lausund, also German, seems to have embraced Brecht's vision, but she and Green Card Theatre perhaps take the concept of alienation further than the master had intended. Set in a nondescript office, this play consists of a series of vignettes that attempt to satirize the cutthroat environment of corporate culture. There is little plot, character development or story to speak of, all of which hinder audience engagement. Add to that a preponderance of earsplittingly loud shrieks, howls and buzzer sounds, and the audience is only further alienated, but in a way that ironically subverts Brecht's vision. Director Christopher Basile and the cast give it their all, but if there were anything engaging or impactful in Lausund's original, the effekt has sadly been lost in translation. (Mayank Keshaviah). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-351-3507, www.sonofsemele.org.
Snowangel: Written by Lewis John Carlino, directed by John Coppola. Sat., Dec. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 13, 3 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 26, 8 p.m., plays411.com. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-988-1175. See New Reviews.
GO Their Eyes Saw Rain: Playwright West Liang also stars in his astonishingly intense ensemble drama, set in a fictitious small country town. The specter of tragedy hangs over the townspeople of Castle, emblematized by an ever-present decay caused by months of relentless rain. Or is that really the cause? Stern and unyielding, Terrance (Liang) bullies his two younger brothers Joanus (Kavin Panmeechao) and Billy (Marc Pelina) into community service, dropping books off at the homes of their neighbors and assisting where they can. With this goodwill mission, Terrance (as active reformer) struggles to fill their recently deceased father's shoes, even as the mental illness that took him begins to crowd Terrance's consciousness. Meanwhile a blossoming romance between Joanus and a young, single mother, Peach (Samantha Klein), provokes an eruption from her wannabe sheriff boyfriend, Jake (James Thomas Gilbert). Director Justin Huen's staging and direction are beautifully rendered. Performances from the cast of eight are all good, especially the precision and detail of Liang's somewhat one-note paranoid paternal figure. A brief scene where the true extent of Terrance's psychosis is revealed is breathtaking in its intensity, courtesy of Gregory Niebel's teeth-rattlingly powerful performance. Their Eyes Saw Rain may have an all too predictable and tragic trajectory, but it's a trip worth taking. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16, Company of Angels at the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., Third Floor, Los Angeles, 323-489-3703, www.companyofangels.org.
Vincent: The Next Arena presents Jean-Michel Richaud as Vincent van Gogh. Written by Leonard Nimoy, directed by Paul Stein. Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16, (323) 417-2170, thenextarena.com. VS Theatre (formerly the Black Dahlia Theatre), 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
ASTROGLYDE XX: ZJU's nine original mini-plays “embracing truth,
terror and titillation.” Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16.
Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North
Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
A Christmas Carol: Three actors — Kate Danley, David
Allen Jones, and Frank Simons — tell the Charles Dickens story.
Directed by Kevin Cochran. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.
Continues through Dec. 16. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank,
GO A Down & Dirty Christmas: Zombie Joe's
Underground Theatre doesn't always present Grand Guignol and horror
fare; it also serves up kids shows (currently playing on Sundays is The
Tortoise and the Hare) as well as this Christmas-themed romp featuring
garter gals and sinful sirens brimming with nubile exuberance. A sextet
of cutie pies bedecked with lingerie, glitter and tattoos angelically
sings a carol a cappella before some spicy, Latin-flavored dance music
kicks in and the girls go wild. In what is essentially a 55-minute show
of Christmas sketches, a lesbian version of Dickens' old chestnut A
Christmas Carol is the loose storyline that stitches it all together. An
uber-cute showgirl/assistant hits the road after her buxom Madame
director bosses her around once too often. Madame's “spirit guide”
appears in the shape of a snail puppet, guiding her through Christmases
past, present and future in an attempt to encourage the stern Madame to
mellow out. As Madame's holiday revue takes shape, a young male MC steps
in, amusingly camping it up big-time until he gloriously appears in
drag. Director Vanessa Cate's entertaining show beautifully mixes
standards such as “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?” and “Santa Baby”
with a haunting Joni Mitchell tune and references to the beloved Peanuts
comic strip. It's candy-cane eye candy. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, 11
p.m. Continues through Dec. 21. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850
Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
GO The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever!: Joe
Marshall's comedy about a struggling gay theater company's annual
holiday show. Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec.
29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 30, 8 p.m. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050
Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-766-9100. See New Reviews.
Golden Girls Live on Stage: Reunion and Christmas Episodes – A Parody:
Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30,
brownpapertickets.com/event/297806. Oil Can Harry's, 11502 Ventura
Blvd., Studio City, 818-760-9749, www.oilcanharrysla.com.
It's a Wonderful Life: Theatre Unleashed's play-within-a-play,
based on Frank Capra's film, set in a struggling 1940s radio station.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Missing Piece
Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 818-563-1100, www.themissingpiecetheatre.com.
Liquid Radio Players Do Christmas: The comedy troupe improvises a
Christmas-themed 1940s radio show. Sun., Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m., $20, (626)
355-4318. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra
One November Yankee: “Art imitates life imitates art” observes one
of the characters in writer-director Joshua Ravetch's ambitious,
idea-packed new play. The two don't so much “imitate” each other as
merely “intersect” in Ravetch's trio of tales about art's mystical power
to provide healing catharsis. Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit play three
pairs of conflicted, middle-aged siblings in four scenes anchored by the
towering wreck of set designer Dana Moran Williams' crumpled Piper Cub.
In one scene, the plane serves as installation artist Hamlin's
sculptural metaphor for “civilization in ruins.” In another, it is the
still-smoking air disaster that has sidelined Swit and her fatally
injured brother in the wilderness. In a third, it is the chance
discovery by sibling backpackers that finally brings closure to a
traumatizing family tragedy. Hamlin and Swit are fine, but not even
these venerable TV veterans can breathe life into Ravetch's forced,
pedestrian dialogue and patently contrived situations. (Bill Raden).
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Jan. 5.
NoHo Arts Center, 11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-763-0086, www.thenohoartscenter.com.
Santasia: A Holiday Comedy: Produced by Loser Kids
Productions. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues
through Dec. 24, (800) 838-3006, santasia.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500
Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
She F*&%ing Hates Me: A Love Story: To successfully pull off a
romantic comedy, you need the following: crackling chemistry between the
lovers, whip-smart dialogue and a compelling or unexplored relationship
dilemma. Writer-director Scarlett Ridgway Savage, unfortunately, scored
only one of the above — and even the sparks between Ted Arabian and
Kady Douglas are snuffed out under the weight of Savage's overlong,
overstuffed play. Ava, her daughter Suzanne and her granddaughter Molly
have all come together before Molly heads to college. Ava's deceased
husband's best friend, Ted, shows up unexpectedly, and family secrets
start to unfold. Yet there's so much exhaustive backstory to the love
triangle that not only Molly's secret but her entire plotline feels
extraneous (as do both Suzanne's and Molly's friend Brandon's). Instead
of attempting to sexify the story with unnecessary reveals, Savage
should place more confidence in an audience's interest in a sweet
rom-com about a couple in their twilight years. (Rebecca Haithcoat).
Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Zombie Joe's Underground
Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Sherlock's Last Case: Written by Charles Marowitz, directed by Larry
Eisenberg. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues
through Jan. 13. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank
Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.
The Tortoise and the Hare Make a Holiday Wish: Presented by the
Limecat Family Theatre Company. Sundays, 1 & 3 p.m. Continues
through Dec. 23. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim
Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
GO Bald Soprano: A Christmas Anti-Play: Even after
60 years and counting, Eugene Ionesco's classic absurdist farce The Bald
Soprano is still one of France's most popular and frequently produced
plays. And as director Frederique Michel demonstrates in this
steadfastly enjoyable revival, it's still good for a load of laughs. The
opening tableau reveals a middle-aged Parisian couple, the Smiths (Jeff
Atik, David E. Frank in drag, skillfully blending impertinence and
camp), relaxing at home. She decorates the Christmas tree and discusses
banal details about dinner, while he responds with outbursts of guttural
gibberish from behind a newspaper. Things turn even more bizarre with
the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Bo Roberts, Cynthia Mance) — who
initially don't seem to even know each other — and a loquacious Fire
Chief (Mitchell Colley). The evening gradually segues into a frenetic
outbreak of meaningless chatter, jarring non sequiturs, grade-school
storytelling and oddball silliness, all of which Michel and her cast
(which includes Lena Kay as a ditzy maid) serve up with impeccable
comedic skill and elan. Ionesco satirizes middle-class manners and
banality, and at the same time constructs a dramatic environment where
logic, language and reality are wittily disassociated, and therein is
the fun and laughs in the piece. Cast performances under Michel's
direction are first-rate. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8
p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23,
brownpapertickets.com/event/289020. City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts
Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, 310-453-9939, www.citygarage.org.
Bob's Holiday Office Party: Written by Joe Keyes and Rob Elk,
directed by Matt Roth. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.
Continues through Dec. 22, plays411.com/bobs. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W.
A Child Left Behind: Written and performed by Alan Aymie.
Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 20. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000
Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.
Enchanted April: Written by Matthew Barber, directed by
Gail Bernardi. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues
through Dec. 16. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal
Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, 310-454-1970, www.theatrepalisades.org.
A Fried Meat Christmas: Keith Stevenson's holiday sequel to 2012's
Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road. Fri., Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec.
15, 10 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 16, 5 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec.
21, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 22, 10 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 23, 5 p.m. Pacific
Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
The Last Romance: It's a pity that a play nominally devoted to
taking chances manages so few of its own. This capable production of
Joe DiPietro's geriatric love story retreads familiar plot devices,
dredging up exhausted clichés — those kids these days and their rap
music! — that may comfort but offer little to challenge or excite. An
affable Italian-American octogenarian (Howard Storm) living with his
caretaker sister (Dorothy Sinclair) falls for the AARP hottie (Mariko
Van Kampen) at the local dog park. Storm's self-deprecating humor is
pitch-perfect, but the underwritten women struggle to not come across as
shrill or grating. Older folks deserve a play that speaks to their
concerns, but this script treads water on themes better dealt with in
Moonstruck. Michèle Young's costumes artfully telegraph character, but
the honeyed operatic interludes of Matthew Ian Welch, as young Ralph,
are easily the most transporting. Directed by James Paradise. (Jenny
Lower). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through
Dec. 18. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly
Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
Mrs. Mannerly: Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by Robert
Mackenzie. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 15, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec.
14. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly
Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
GO Nora: Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of A Doll's
House restructures Henrik Ibsen's fierce family drama, stripping the
play to its emotional essence, a goal that's underscored by director
Dana Jackson's spartan but evocative production. On a simple set
consisting of some chairs, a Christmas tree in the back and, later, a
bed, Jackson's staging puts its emphasis where the play's money is — on
the subtext driving the car crash that is the marriage of Nora and
Torvald Helmer. Brad Greenquist's brutally curt and entitled Torvald
comes across as the sort of business executive who sees a trophy wife as
being merely part of his resume, while Jeanette Driver's Nora, with
surface-level bubbliness belying an interior desperation and, yes,
horror, is subtle and touching. Add to this Martha Hackett's wan,
hard-used Mrs. Linde and Scott Conte's self-loathingly desperate
Krogstad, and the production boasts some incredibly nuanced
characterizations. Although the decision (by Bergman, not Jackson) to
add a dramatic, pace-interrupting sex scene to the final act jars, the
clarity and power of the show's performances make this a textbook
dynamic production of the tragic drama. (Paul Birchall). Sundays, 3
p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Jan. 27. Pacific
Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
Present Laughter: Noel Coward's comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8
p.m. Continues through Dec. 15. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San
Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
The Rainmaker: Written by N. Richard Nash, directed by Jack
Heller. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m.;
Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March
24. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica,
SIDDOWN!!! Conversations With the Mob: Three short plays
by Sam Henry Kass on the theme of organized crime. Fridays, Saturdays, 8
p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23. Ruskin Group Theater,
GO Silent: That Los Angeles now is
considered the homeless capital of the United States makes the West
Coast premiere of Irish playwright Pat Kinevane's one-man show all the
more apt. His flair for speaking on behalf of society's throwaways was
showcased in the Odyssey Theatre's 2011 production of Forgotten, about
geriatrics in a nursing home; in Silent, it sparkles with unsettling
intensity and physicality. First seen as arms and legs protruding from
under a shabby blanket, homeless Dubliner Tino McGoldrig calls the dark
expanse of a back alley home, collects bottle tops (“hobo chic”) for
money and has a disturbing obsession with silent-film star Rudolph
Valentino. Channeling a raft of scary characters, Kinevane constructs a
harrowing and sometimes morbidly humorous narrative about Tino's broken
life, as the character speaks passionately of a gay brother harassed
into suicide; an emotionally arid home life; a failed marriage and
parenthood; bouts with depression, alcoholism and social service
agencies; and the constant, feverish effort to maintain a drop of sanity
and a hope for better things tomorrow. Kinevane's at his best when he
evokes the elusive, sexually charged screen presence of Valentino (in
one segment, the blanket is fashioned into the famous cape the actor
wore in The Sheik). Jim Culleton provides smart, perceptive direction,
while Denis Clohessy's music and sound are subtly unnerving. (Lovell
Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues
through Dec. 16. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles,
Smoke and Mirrors: Written by and starring Albie Selznick.
Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 31, 8 p.m. Continues
through Dec. 31, (800) 595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, www.promenadeplayhouse.com.
GO Theatre in the Dark: This collection of
vignettes is performed entirely in the dark. No, really — upon arrival,
you'll notice a solitary candle burning at stage center, which after
the preshow announcements is blown out, plunging us into 90 minutes of
inky darkness, only very occasionally alleviated by a momentary flash or
murky ghost light. Lord help you if you have claustrophobia! If not,
however, the collection of one-act sketches is an unexpectedly vivid
series of ghost stories, radio-style dramas and other mysterious
theatrical episodes that emphasize virtually all senses but sight.
Incidents range in tone from Anna Nicholas' macabre “Our Dark
Connection,” in which seemingly random members of the audience are
dragged out of their seats and into the black by an unseen monster, to
Friedrich Durrenmatt's compellingly disturbing “The Tunnel,” a narrated
tale of a man who discovers he's on a train to oblivion (both are
directed with maximum eeriness by Ron Sossi). “One of the Lost” is
Ernest Kearney's spooky tale of the ghostly final transmission of a
Russian cosmonaut on a secret space mission. John Zalewski's sound
design is incredibly evocative — and Sossi and his co-directors
artfully manipulate all the senses within the live performance to craft a
set of dramas that utilize darkness almost as a character. (Paul
Birchall). Like its sister show Dark, More Dark, the second half of the
Odyssey's Theatre in the Dark festival, represents truth in advertising.
Save for the odd ghostly hospital monitor or the emergence of one pale,
glowing blue eye, this collection of 15 short, moody vignettes offers
up nearly 90 minutes of theater in the dark, laced with an immersive
soundtrack of things to go bump in the night. Clever, deftly
choreographed and technically impressive, the production efficiently
transports its audience as far afield as the drizzly London of a randy
radio play (“Forbidden Fire”) or a fairy-laden British forest (an
excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream), but the true setting of many of
its episodes is the liminal space between consciousness and
unconsciousness, life and death, or sanity's thin border, a strange
netherworld well calibrated for unleashing the imagination. (Mindy
Farabee). Thursdays-Sundays; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
Continues through Feb. 9. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los
Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Tom, Dick and Harry Meet Mary: John Stark's comedy about a nun's
failed attempts at online dating. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7
p.m. Continues through Dec. 23. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda
Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.