An intense one-act about a showdown between a schoolteacher and a parent, Gidion's Knot, presented by Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse's Carrie Hamilton Theatre, is this week's Pick of the Week. Appreciative reviews also for The Lion in Winter at Sierra Madre Playhouse; Look Homeward, Angel at The Secret Rose in North Hollywood; and Sunny Afternoon at Hollywood's Theatre Asylum. See below for all the latest new theater reviews and comprehensive theater listings.
This week's stage feature takes a look at two plays in Hollywood about group therapy — A Good Grief at The Lounge and Lone-Anon at Rogue Machine.
On Monday, the Weekly threw an intimate bash honoring the 25th anniversary of my tenure at the paper. I'm grateful to my colleagues at the paper for recognizing the value of such things, and also grateful to the theater community for all the generous postings and emails on my behalf. Never before have I felt so privileged, and so lucky. –SLM
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication November 7, 2013
THE BLACK SUITS There are many reasons why boys get together to form rock bands. But perhaps the most universal was given by Richard Hell when he famously explained, “I wanted to get laid.” Unfortunately, nobody in Joe Iconis and Robert Emmett Maddock's vapid garage-band musical stands a chance in that department, at least not based on Iconis' undistinguished and anodyne, retro pop-inflected score. Iconis and Maddock's book retreads an overly familiar tale of four high school misfits (Coby Getzug, Jimmy Brewer, Will Roland and Harrison Chad) who form a group to escape the mundanity of their suburban Long Island existence and compete in a local battle of the bands. As the story's predictable clash of artistic temperaments and generic teen angst plays out, neither John Simpkins' bland staging nor Charlie Rosen's curiously gutless music direction are able to evoke the sense of transgressive rebellion or raw sexual energy present in even the most inchoate of three-chord teenage garage rock. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through Nov. 24. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: GIDION'S KNOT
Aaron Francis' bold scenic design has the audience seated in school desks for Gidion's Knot, getting you into the right frame of mind for Johnna Adams' intense one-act showdown between a fifth-grade teacher and a parent. Corryn (Vonessa Martin) shows up for a teacher-parent conference, having been summoned a few days earlier by Miss Clark (Paula Cale Lisbe) after she inexplicably suspended Corryn's son, Gidion. The 11-year-old child has since committed suicide, so Miss Clark assumed the meeting wasn't going to happen, and she's ill prepared when Corryn shows up anyway, wanting answers. The bereft mother becomes increasingly incensed by the teacher's evasive behavior.Throughout the play, certain details are clawed into the open, such as Miss Clark's scant two years of experience as a teacher — something that Corryn, a graduate professor of literature, pounces on — as well as some unexpected common ground. Adams' short (barely 80-minute) play is a well-crafted and powerful experience, tackling heavy subject matter including bullying, suicide and schoolyard homophobia. A scathing indictment of the incompetency of school officials, Adams' script is confrontational and thought-provoking. Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse/Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 24. (626) 356-PLAY, furioustheatre.org (Pauline Adamek)
A GOOD GRIEF at Lounge Theatre. See stage feature.
THE LATE, LATE SHOW
It's probably not surprising that a show about a vampire that opened on Halloween night features great costumes and is quite the visual spectacle. A fantasia spanning three acts and three vastly different time periods in the life of 300-year-old former slave Porphyrion (creator and performer Paul Outlaw), the piece is a playground for visual exploration, and director Asher Hartman and scenic and lighting designer François-Pierre Couture take full advantage. They transform the theater into three separate eye-catching performance spaces: a Los Angeles speakeasy in 1947, a gay L.A. fetish club in the year 2157, and a North Carolina plantation in 1855. Inhabiting those spaces, with his smooth, beguiling manner and seductive singing voice is Outlaw: crooning at the speakeasy (accompanied by a live band that really grooves), lording over his fawning minions Victor (Derek Chariton) and Killer (Casey James Holmberg) in the club, and struggling to survive the torture of slavery on the plantation. In each act, Porphyrion sports vastly different looks, courtesy of costume designers Angi Bell Ursetta and Brian Getnick, whose imaginative tricks with fabrics and color is a treat to behold. But while the spectacle makes a strong visual statement, it's often difficult to discern how it serves the exploration of “race, sexual identity, violence and their intertwined roles in American history and culture,” since the storytelling never fully gels into a coherent dramatic through line. So though Outlaw tells us in the third act, “Remember these, my words,” it's his earlier statement that seems to have a more lasting impact: “When it comes to costumes, I wrote the book, tore out the pages, and set it on fire.” An OutlawPlay Production at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; through November 23. (213) 389-3856, outlawplay.wix.com/latelateshow (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO: THE LION IN WINTER
James Goldman's smart 1968 drama re-imagines a nightmarish home-for-the-holidays reunion for the dysfunctional family of 12th century monarch Henry II and his estranged wife, Eleanor (historically, a brilliant duo whose early political conquests rocked their generation) . Thirty years into the marriage, relations have soured, with Eleanor (Diane Hurley) under indefinite house arrest for plotting Henry (John Rafter Lee)'s overthrow, but furloughed on this holiday occasion to take part in determining his heir. The ostensible candidates are their sons: macho Richard (Adam Burch), clever Geoffrey (Clay Bunker) and oafish John (James Weeks) all angling for the crown and willing to betray and/or slay either or both parents to get it. The play's driving dynamic and witty dialogue is best displayed in the ruthless sparring between the spouses, in which razor-sharp take-downs flourish in tandem with a lingering mutual respect and, for Eleanor, a yet undiminished passion. A studied prologue and uneven performances hamper this production at its outset; once Hurley's tart-tongued matriarch enters the fray, however, the drama start to cook. Lee successfully captures the king's monarchial will, sensual appetites and outsized personality, but falls short when expressing his vulnerability in key moments. As Geoffrey, who has little to say but much to think about, Bunker is on target, as is Weeks as the boorish John, despised by all except his Dad. Alison Lani misses the mark in her depiction of Alais, Henry's young mistress, as petulant and controlling. Michael Cooper directs. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. through Nov. 16. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org. (Deborah Klugman)
GO: LONE-ANON at Rogue Machine. See stage feature.
GO: LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL
Ketti Frings' 1958 adaptation of Thomas Wolfe's autobiographical novel tells the story of young writer-to-be Eugene Gant (Grant Tambellini) and his embattled efforts to break free of his grasping, controlling mother, Eliza (Alison Blanchard), and his savagely dysfunctional family, and acquire an education. Frings' script won a Pulitzer Prize in its day, but in some respects time hasn't been kind to it, particularly in the early scenes, which seem weak, unfocused and dated. But once the lesser characters have been introduced, the power of the story takes over, as is the case in director T.L. Kolman's production. Tambellini nicely captures Eugene's raw vulnerability and coltish charm, and Blanchard provides an etched-in-acid portrait of Eliza, whose grasping nature makes her sacrifice the needs of her family to her money-making schemes, and who never lets reality intrude on her chosen beliefs. Geoffrey Wade scores as Eliza's alcoholic, domineering-but-ineffectual stone-cutter husband, and A.J. Jones plays Eugene's tubercular elder brother and mentor, Ben. His performance has its merits, but he coughs enough for a carload of Camilles and foreshadows too strongly and too soon his impending death. August Viverito designed the handsome black-and-white set. The Production Company at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 14. (800) 838-3006, theprodco.com. (Neal Weaver)
A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF BEES Elena Hartwell's drama tells the story of five people and their bonds with one another: the recently deceased Cashman (Ian Patrick Williams), a small-town bakery owner and Vietnam War veteran; his Amerasian son, Robert (Christian T. Chan); Lissa (Meg Wallace); her lover, Callum (Brian Pollack); and Rud (Jean Gilpin), a beekeeper and Cashman's longtime lover. The play is structured as a series of switches between past and present, and the action starts when Robert visits his father's bakery seeking information about him after years of estrangement. Gradually the truth emerges about Cashman's troubled relationship with Robert's mother and his complicated ties with Rud and Lissa, while Robert's visit turns into an extended stay and a sexual dalliance with Lissa. Unfortunately, this tale amounts to little more than soap-opera kindling. Hartwell's script is desperately in need of a rewrite, as it lacks focus and has too many hollow, vexatious scenes. What's truly engaging are Rud's numerous monologues about bees and the history of beekeeping. Performances are passable under Steve Jarrard's direction. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 17. (323)-860-6569, plays411.com/bees. (Lovell Estell III)
GO: SUNNY AFTERNOON One needn't be a fan of conspiracy theories or the NFL to appreciate Sunny Afternoon, but a more-than-passing familiarity with both could offer grounding for the macho power games of playwright Christian Levatino's taut and inspired take on the JFK assassination. Sunny Afternoon wonders what exactly went down over the course of the two days that Lee Harvey Oswald spent in custody of the Dallas police, before his appointment with the business end of Jack Ruby's revolver. Was Oswald just a pawn in a shadowy larger game? How do the priorities of ordinary people become political footballs? Why is Coca-Cola so dang refreshing? Much of the humor of Levatino's tersely funny script springs from the well-delineated personalities featured in its large, finely polished ensemble, in particular Darrett Sanders' assured performance as the shrewd but outfoxed homicide captain William Fritz, trying to conduct an honest investigation amidst the machinations. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 1. (323) 962-1632, theatreasylum-la.com. (Mindy Farabee)
TITUS ANDRONICUS: A VAUDEVILLE
Director Alex Alves discovers a potentially innovative angle for his presentation of Shakespeare's tale of murder, rape and the cannibalistic devouring of human flesh-filled meat pies: He depicts the Bard's tale of two clans' increasingly vicious and monstrous tit-for-tat power struggle as a sort of circus show. The atrocities are performed as stylized acrobatic acts, with flashing fire paper, magic tricks and stagey dances, and the performers are caparisoned like clowns. Emperor Saturninus (Sam Marin) is portrayed as a dopey, Fatty Arbuckle-like doofus, while the venomous Queen Tamora (Marilia Colturato) vamps deliciously as a femme fatale snake charmer. Tamora's two sons are made up like Tweedledum and Tweedledee — and Titus (Lisa Jai) wears a ringmaster/s jacket. The circus-like atmosphere is intermittently creative — though many of Alves's ideas, such as red ribbons for blood or rag dolls for corpses, have been seen before and upstage the Shakespeare, which is itself indifferently performed. Stella Adler Lab Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 17. (323) 455-3111, 'brownpapertickets.com/event/498138. (Paul Birchall)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE