This was a week marked by enthusiasm by our various critics: Bill Raden praised Sacred Fools' production of Edward Einhorn's 2010 adaptation of Philip K. Dick sci-fi book Do Androids Dream of Sleep?, which is this week's Pick. Pauline Adamek was smitten with Hayworth Theatre's production of the musical bare. Jenny Lower had very positive things to say about Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes, about the first internationally lauded African-American classical singer, being performed at Burbank's Colony Theatre. Deborah Klugman praised Joyce Carol Oates' Tone Clusters at Theatricum Botanicum. And Paul Birchall found the 2010 musical The Burnt Part Boys, now at Third Street Theater, to be captivating. For all the latest new theater reviews, and comprehensive theater listings, see below.
Annoyance with capricious authority has been around for a while — at least since Prometheus Bound, a 5th century B.C. play that may or may not have been written by Aeschylus. There's some dispute about that. There's no dispute that Joel Agee wrote the translation currently at Getty Villa and presented by CalArts Center for New Performance. The same theme of authority on the rocks shows up in comedic form in Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! at Actors' Co-op in Hollywood. Both plays are reviewed in this week's theater feature.
Also of note: L.A. Stage Alliance's 2013 Ovation Awards nominees have been announced.
NEW REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 19, 2013:
GO AH, WILDERNESS!
Eugene O'Neill's idyllic American comedy, about a young man, his young love, and his coming-of-age. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 13. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org. See theater feature.
GO: BARE A closeted gay couple in a Catholic boarding school struggle with their secret love affair. Peter (a superb Payson Lewis) wants to come out to his mom and the world, but Jason (an equally outstanding Jonah Platt) refuses, dreading the fallout. Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo's contemporary rock opera is uplifting despite its sorrowful elements, and the courage of the writers — and the talented cast — to plumb the complexities of adolescence, including bullying, cutting, teen pregnancy and burgeoning sexuality, grants us a fantastic musical journey. The writers also forge an intricate, effective parallel between our heroes' clandestine love affair and the star-crossed lovers of Romeo and Juliet by having the school kids rehearse the play throughout. Lindsay Pearce as Ivy, the girl who comes between the guys, is a standout, her pure, strong voice conveying her vulnerability. The songs vary in style from rock anthems to wistful ballads, powerfully performed by a top-notch cast and band, including Alex Seller, who alternates effortlessly between shredding on electric guitar and plucking delicate melodies on acoustic guitar. A muddy sound mix sometimes obscures the incisive lyrics, but this is an affecting show that is not to be missed. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Westlake; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; through Sept. 22. (310) 213-6955, ¬thehayworth.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO: BREATH AND IMAGINATION: THE STORY OF ROLAND HAYES
Daniel Beaty's West Coast premiere revives the lost-to-history account of Roland Hayes, a son of former slaves and the first internationally lauded African-American classical singer. Raised in the South on hard work and spirituals, Hayes (Elijah Rock) overcomes early tragedy to perform in Chattanooga's black churches. When an instructor intervenes to provide professional training, Hayes confronts the objections of his sassily beatific mother, Angel Mo (Karan Kendrick), who believes her son is destined for life as a preacher. Condensing Hayes' life story inevitably leads to some whiplash plot twists and hurried catharsis, but Rock and Kendrick's chemistry under Saundra McClain's direction sustains and clarifies the play's themes. Accompanist Kevin Ashworth tackles a grab-bag of supporting roles, perhaps most jarringly as Hayes' father, when his pale skin imbues the endearment “boy” with inadvertent menace. But his presence offers a pleasing, if farcical, dimension. Shaun Motley's handsome, sweeping wooden set stands in for Georgia fields and concert halls alike. Most stirring is Rock's lustrous timbre as the mature Hayes: Harmonizing with Kendrick through earthy spirituals, he soars through von Gluck's “O Del Mio Dolce Ardor” before dipping into a soul-trembling version of “Were You There?” The superb music direction is by Rahn Coleman. Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 13. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org. (Jenny Lower)
GO: THE BURNT PART BOYS
With a hardscrabble Appalachian setting and a score that engagingly echoes the melodies of Copland, Bernstein and Sondheim, this captivating 2010 musical (book by Mariana Elder, music by Chris Miller, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen) is both a sensitive meditation on grief and a heartfelt coming-of-age tale. Ten years after their dads perished in an accident at an isolated mine, a group of teenagers embark on a pilgrimage to visit the spot. Along the way, they are forced to confront their own mortality, their memories of their family and their goals for the future. Director Richard Israel's intimate and beautifully atmospheric production crackles with youthful energy, and, as the characters embark on their rural journey, the piece takes on the feel of a ghost story of loss and redemption. Under Gregory Nabours' crisp musical direction, the bluegrassy songs are executed with heart and gusto. The ensemble is populated by a cast of mostly young performers with unexpectedly subtle vocal chops and strong emotional range. A powerful turn is offered by Daniel David Stewart as Pete, the angry teen whose impulsive actions force his older brother (an equally powerful Aaron Scheff) to pursue him into the wild. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., Beverly Grove; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Oct. 20. (323) 655-9232, thirdstreettheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
PICK OF THE WEEK: DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?
Any adaptation of a novel is a compromise of approximation whose objective should be to faithfully capture the spirit and ideas of the prose in a dramatically compelling way. Which is why Philip K. Dick fans, who have repeatedly suffered the indignity of having their favorite sci-fi author plundered by dumbed-down Hollywood blockbusters, will cheer adapter Edward Einhorn's 2010, high-fidelity transliteration of Dick's wryly ironic, psychedelic, 1968 hall of mirrors. The time is a war-ravaged future in which the question of what it means to be human has been vastly complicated by a band of renegade androids passing themselves off as flesh-and-blood (it's the source material for Blade Runner). Freelance assassin Rick Deckard (Eric Curtis Johnson), a man who relies on a mood device to feel anything at all, is charged with weeding the imposters from the populace via administering “empathy tests” and summary execution. Suffice it to say that nothing is what it seems. Jaime Robledo's inventively cinematic staging (on DeAnne Millais' computer-detritus set) and an unusually fine ensemble (including Lynn Odell, Corey Klemow, Marz Richards and Rafael Goldstein) capture all the nuanced terms of Dick's allegory. But the real discovery of the evening is Kimberly Atkinson and her subtly delineated dual turn as the doppelgangers Rachael Rosen and Pris Stratton. Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, E. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through Oct. 19. (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org (Bill Raden)
THE DREAM OF THE BURNING BOY
It's to scenic designer Erin Walley's credit that she festoons the guidance counselor's office at the high school where David West Read's play is set with a poster that reads, “Face Your Problems, Don't Facebook Them!!” In the wake of the sudden death of popular student Dane (Matthias Chrans), the decoration's tone perfectly captures not only the characters' reaction to Dane's passing–slightly flip with an underlying sincerity–but also what each of them must ultimately do. This starts with Dane's English teacher Larry (Jeff Hayenga), who was the last to speak with him, and includes Dane's sister Rachel (a manically intense Jayne McLendon), his girlfriend Chelsea (Joslyn Kramer), his friend Kyle (Zach Palmer), and his mother Andrea (a scene-stealing Melissa Kite). As the characters come to terms with the tragedy, the hidden ways in which they are connected slowly come to light, nudged along by Steve (Tyler Ritter), the young guidance counselor who was Larry's student not so long ago. Director Edward Edwards deftly balances the comedy and tragedy in the piece, playing its emotional intensity palpably and engagingly.Hayenga and Ritter play well off each other with an odd-couple vibe,and Palmer's high school boyishness is eminently believable. But while cast and director give it their all, the script, despite clever jokes and a tonally spot-on rendition of the high school experience, feels thin, with a number of storylines and characters that could stand to be fleshed out and further explored. Malibu Playhouse, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 13.(310) 589-1998, malibuplayhouse.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
THE END OF IT
Breaking up is hard to do, particularly if you're embedded in a 20-year marriage. That's the not terribly surprising message of Paul Coates' play, illustrated by three couples: one straight (Kelly Coffield Park and playwright Coates), one gay (David Youse and William Franklin Barker) and one lesbian (Ferrell Marshall and Wendy Radford). The three couples appear sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously, suggesting that they are almost interchangeable as they deal with such issues as anger, grief, blame, resentment, loss of desire, fear of aging and abandonment. Coates' script is intelligent, perceptive and sometimes funny, but almost fatally restrained. Only Park is given the opportunity to tap into the raw emotions inherent in the situation. Director Nick DeGruccio marshals his fine actors through a nearly impeccable production, on François-Pierre Couture's blandly elegant set, but no amount of direction can provide the excitement the text fails to supply. End L.A. and Scott Disharoon at Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Fairfax; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Oct. 20. (323) 960-4418, plays411.com/theend. (Neal Weaver)
GO: PROMETHEUS BOUND
A new production of the classic Greek tragedy by the CalArts Center for New Performance. The set features the use of a twenty-three-foot, five-ton revolving metal wheel, to which the protagonist, Prometheus, is permanently bound. Mondays, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 28. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 310-440-7300, www.getty.edu. See theater feature.
GO: TONE CLUSTERS
As a storyteller, Joyce Carol Oates frequently traverses aberrant corridors of the human psyche. That's readily apparent in this 1990 (since updated to 2003) one-act, about a middle-aged couple, Frank and Emily Gulick (Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James), whose son has been accused of the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old neighbor. The couple's nightmare compounds a thousandfold as they are interviewed live on TV and interrogated about an event too horrendous for them to accept. They're bombarded with questions as they squirm, deny basic facts and search desperately within themselves for an alternative explanation for the obvious. Some of the queries mimic the sensationalized reporting of tabloid TV, while others are stultifyingly theoretical and pedantic and humiliatingly above their heads. Oates intended the piece as a cacophonous expression of a society out of sync with humanity rather than a realistic portrait of two tormented people, but the production's strength is in fact the wonderful craftsmanship of both performers (James is particularly spot-on), and the nuanced complexity of the emotions they depict. As the offstage inquisitor, Jeff Wiesen's voice sounded canned rather than live, perhaps an effort by director Mike Peebler to conform to Oates' original concept. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., Sept. 19 & 26, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 12, 8 p.m. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com. (Deborah Klugman)
WHAT KIND OF GOD?
A life spent immersed in Catholic school and culture erupts into crippling disillusionment for 17-year-old Aaron (Brett Donaldson) when he can no longer deny his homosexuality. Unable to cope, and wracked with doubts about the faith and his calling to the priesthood, he turns to his mentor, Father Bart (Robert Keasler), who reveals that he is gay. As it turns out, the loathsome Bishop Michael (playwright Steve Julian) has returned to the parish where ghosts of his past sexual predations lurk, and has picked Father Bart to chair a committee looking into sexual abuse. The resultant events inexorably expose secrets and unravel the lives of those involved. This could have been an engaging drama about a topical subject had Julian gone beyond the superficial. Offered instead is an unwieldy, melodramatic tale about homosexuality in the priesthood, teen sexuality, family bonds and the underbelly of church life and politics, which is neither surprising nor of much interest. Aaron's progressive, shrill meltdown approaches parody after a while, and cast performances are only satisfactory under Aaron Lyons' direction. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 20. (323) 960-7787, whatkindofgodtheplay.com. (Lovell Estell III)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE
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