Pycho-sexual spectacles got nods from our critics this week, including Illyrian Players' Lord Blackberry's Apocalypse and our Pick of the Week, Tender Napalm. Nice reviews also for Doma Theatre Company's Dreamgirls at the MET, Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice at A Noise Within, Latino Theatre Company's Melacholia at LATC and a bio musical about Janis Joplin, One Night With Janis. For all the latest New Theater Reviews, see below.
This week's Theater Feature looks at the latest work by one of our treasured playwrights –Donald Freed — that mixes a theatrical dynasty with American politics and Macbeth.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: scheduled for publication March 20, 2013
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
The X-Men-like team of Broadway creatives who conceived the 2002 mega-hit Hairspray — songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and director Jack O'Brien — are far less successful in their latest time travel mission, an attempt to turn Steven Spielberg's film about nomadic, real-life con artist Frank Abgnale, Jr.'s 1960s adventures into a musical. In this two-year-old Broadway production making a tour stop at the Pantages, what's especially disappointing are the songs, which in Hairspray were a memorable mix of character progression and early rock energy. Here, as soon as a tune begins, you know exactly where it's going. There's the flight song, the baseball song, the hospital song, the Southern song, all stuffed with requisite references to the stated theme. Star book writer Terrence McNally is no help, and while Stephen Anthony is an appealing presence as Abagnale, Merritt David Janes as his Javert, Carl Hanratty, starts out too flustered for us to believe he's a crack FBI agent. Perhaps the show's greatest sin, however, is overindulging Broadway's obsession with mimicking styles of the past, making you feel like pop culture has taken one too many trips back to the Mad Men era. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat. 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through March 24. (800) 982-2787, hollywoodpantages.com. (Zachary Pincus-Roth)
GO DREAMGIRLS Director Marco Gomez's mostly straightforward but pleasingly intimate staging of Tom Eyer and Henry Krieger's now classic Motown rock musical engagingly captures the ferocious ambition, passion and inevitable disappointments of the story of the rise of a girl band — a tale whose incidents eerily echo the narrative of The Supremes. Within the comparatively tiny environs of a 99-seat theater, Gomez's production packs far more glitter than you'd actually expect to get into the space: The gorgeous Dreamgirls, resplendent in Michael Mullen's gorgeous 1970s diva gowns, sashay angelically in front of shimmery tinsel curtains. The show boasts many fierce performances, from Welton Thomas Pitchford's nicely creepy, soulless agent Curtis, to Jennifer Colby Talton as the deliciously icy Deena. As Effie, the sultry-voiced, but un-fan-friendly lead singer ousted from her group, Constance Jewell Lopez possesses a haunting voice and vulnerability, particularly during the production's nicely evocative show-stopper, “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.” Although some performers' voices wear a little ragged by the end — and Rae Toledo's occasionally clunky choreography is sometimes a little awkward during the larger production numbers — the pleasures of the show itself, under Chris Raymond's assured musical direction, are strong enough to sustain interest. DOMA Theatre Company at The MET Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m. Through April 14. (323) 802-4990, domatheatre.com. (Paul Birchall)
Playwright Sarah Ruhl's melancholy and slightly surreal drama is a whimsical take on the classic Greek myth of Orpheus, the divinely inspired musician who defied nature and descended into Hades to retrieve his slain wife. This exciting modern interpretation shifts the emphasis throughout the story from Orpheus (an impassioned, romantic Graham Sibley) to Eurydice (a beautiful naïf, Jules Wilcox). Quickly establishing the besotted state of the young betrothed lovers with adoring banter, Ruhl's dialogue is full of wistful and playful exchanges while permitting the occasional poetic flourish. Jeanine A. Ringer's dreamy blue underwater set evokes first a beach and then a drippy and damp underworld, while a wandering minstrel on violin (Endre Balogh) approximates the haunting melodies of Orpheus' lyre that bewitch the denizens of Hades. Performances are mostly good, with Ryan Vincent Anderson charmingly menacing as the predatory and seductive “Nasty Interesting Man” and, later, Lord of the Underworld. Unfortunately, the trio of women playing the stones (famously moved by the exquisitely mournful music of Orpheus) comes across as shrill and lacking in gravitas. Nevertheless, Geoff Elliott's direction adroitly realizes his conceptual vision, right down to the presence of water and rain, both real and projected (projections by Brian Gale). A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Sat., March 16, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 23, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 14, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., April 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 27, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 28, 2 p.m.; Thu., May 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 10, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 18, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 19, 2 p.m. 626-356-3100, anoisewithin.org. (Pauline Adamek)
GO LORD BLACKBERRY'S APOCALYPSE
Miniature doppelgangers and counter-gender casting are among the novelties offered in this psychosexual drama written and directed by Caitlin Bower, which begins as a critique of cult religions but evolves into something even darker and more complex. Fraying manager Dan (Thaddeus Shafer) employs a motley crew at his faltering puppet factory, which becomes a bunker when — assuming the grandiose persona Lord Blackberry — he declares it the last haven against a forthcoming armageddon. The key to saving humanity, the Lord assures his new acolytes, lies in ritually reenacting his sister's rescue from the predations of a pervert at a long-ago birthday party. The play recovers from a clumsy exposition to inch forward and inward, peeling away layers until we come to the root of Blackberry's pathology. The puppets serve as useful stand-ins for Blackberry's unwillingness to confront his own demons. The show's mood and themes could benefit from ruthless abridgment into a one-act, but the story's depth, led by Shafer's tortured, riveting performance, overcomes the structural problems. Illyrian Players founder Carly D. Weckstein sneaks up on the audience with her delicate portrayal of Nicky, the androgynous object of Dan's desire. As devoted assistant Simor, Kelsey Ritter captures the troubling efficiency of the servant who outstrips his master. The Illyrian Players @ The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through March 24. illyrianplayers.com. (Jenny Lower)
This ensemble piece from the Latino Theater Lab serves as a disquieting reminder that the fortunate survivors of war quite often become its most heart-rending victims. Directed by Jose Luis Valenzuéla, Melancholia tells the story of Mario, an idealistic young man from East Los Angeles who thought a stint in the Marines would pay his way through college, but who returns from Iraq an emotional and psychological basket case. The story is principally told from the vantage point of Mario's fractured psyche (three actors accent this division: Sam Golzari, Xavi Moreno and Ramiro Segovia) through surrealistic flashbacks alternating between past and present, fantasy and reality — starting with a homecoming party on New Year's Eve that slowly transforms into a nightmarish recounting of Mario's life before and after his tour of duty. The contrast between the fun-loving, gung-ho youth who enlists hoping for a better life and the tormented, broken man who returns after losing his best friend — and his own soul — is striking. Death and mystery haunt the stage in the chilling figures of a veiled female clad in black and two impish characters (Fidel Gomez, Alexis de la Rocha). Valenzuela skillfully blends elements of music and choreography into this timely play, and his sizable ensemble performs efficiently in multiple roles. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St. Dwntwn. Thu.-Sat., 8 pm., Sun. at 3 p.m.; through April 7. Dark on Easter Sunday, March 31. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Lovell Estell III)
MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION
George Bernard Shaw made his case for women's lib in this 1894 play, involving the contentious struggle between an assertive young feminist and her brothel-managing mom. Educated at Cambridge, Vivie (Rebecca Mozo) exemplifies a new breed of woman who loves her work and is lukewarm to the attentions of various men. Raised at boarding schools and by governesses, she knows little about the background of her mother (Anne Gee Byrd), who eluded poverty by becoming a successful madam. Shaw's insight and ironic wit have survived the decades, but the production is too static, especially in Act I. Directed by Robin Larsen, the performers often struggle to sound authentically British, and their portrayals, while sometimes on target, are uneven. Byrd, an exception, is altogether compelling as a sly woman of the world wounded to the core by her daughter's rebuff. Neither Francois-Pierre Couture's humdrum set nor Jeremy Pivnick's underused lighting add dimension to the story. Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sat.- Sun. 2:00 p.m.; through Apr. 21; (818) 506-1983; antaeus.org. (Deborah Klugman)
ON THE SPECTRUM
Young Mac (Dan Shaked) is in the process of applying to law school when his mother (Jeannie Hacket) informs him they are about to lose the
family home. What for anyone would qualify as a stressful event becomes for Mac both a deeply unsettling confrontation with the idea of change and an opportunity to prove that all those years of intense therapy for his high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome have given him what it takes to cut it in a neurotypical world. Across town, Iris (a wondrous Virginia
Newcomb) never leaves her Queens apartment, spending her days fashioning an elaborate website she's dubbed The Other World. Locked into the more extreme end of the autism scale, she has no interest in meeting society on its own terms. When she hires Mac to design her graphics, the two must negotiate not only the strange territory of human attraction, but also the larger question of whether falling “on the spectrum” is an identity or a disability. Ultimately, the play — by and large witty and poignant — falls prey to a reductively feel-good ending. What's flawless is the luminous collaboration between scenic designer John Iacovelli and video designer Jeff Teeter, with agile strokes of light
and sound by R. Christopher Stokes and Peter Bayne, respectively. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 28. 323-663-1525, fountaintheatre.com. (Mindy Farabee)
GO ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN
The seductive appeal of this musical hagiography by writer-director Randy Johnson is no mystery. Nineteen-sixties rock acts have proved effective boomer bait for fundraising PBS stations for years. That the trend should have morphed into the tribute-concert stage musical merely speaks to graying subscriber demographics and the perennial weakness of the elderly for mythologizing their youth. To Johnson's credit, though his Janis portrait is decidedly soft-focused, it is anchored by both a compelling staging concept and the sheer talent of its stars. Gravel-voiced Mary Bridget Davies belts her way through the iconic Joplin catalogue, delivering convincing approximations of the singer's vocal and stage mannerisms along with the world-weary, homespun aphorisms Joplin habitually ad libbed over song breaks. Onto these monologues, Johnson overlays both biographical tidbits and the show's argument that the white middle-class Joplin deserves a place in the blues canon alongside the black women singers that influenced her. The stage incarnation of those legends — Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin — are provided by the versatile gospel singer Sabrina Elayne Carten, and are one of the evening's most winning elements. Another is the precision fidelity of music supervisor Ross Seligman and his band. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through April 11. (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: TENDER NAPALM
is hardly the first play to conceptualize the ebbs and flows of romantic love as a martial art. Unlike August Strindberg's Dance of Death or Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (this play's direct ancestors), British playwright Philip Ridley's mesmerizing tour de force of the histrionic imagination pushes stage poetics to an ontological extreme to seal off any but the barest hints of offstage reality for its nameless pair of lover-combatants. Director Edward Edwards' choice of venues — a converted studio in a deserted warehouse district on the wrong side of the Downtown Arts District — both sets the scene and lends the evening the shady decorum of an outlaw cockfight. Inside, Graham Hamilton and Jaimi Paige face off on a boxing-ring stage for a non-stop, 100-minute, violently erotic bout of incendiary fabulation. And this match adheres to the rules set down by Albee's George and Martha, which means all blows are strictly below the belt.It's a blood sport of solipsistic one-upmanship where the only way to keep score is by each torturously re-opened wound revealed in the actors' faces. To that end, Hamilton and Paige give as good as they get, both expertly wielding Ridley's rhapsodic, razor-edged monologues and giving profound meaning to the expression “acting is reacting.” Six 01 Studio, 601 S. Anderson St., Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 31. (323) 960-7776, tendernapalm.com or plays411.com/tendernapalm. (Bill Raden)
Skylight Theatre Company, Rogue Machine, and York Theatre Royal present
Donald Freed's new play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
Continues through April 21, 702-582-8587, ktcla.com. Skylight Theater,
1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.
See Theater Feature.
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE
Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway musical, based on Disney's animated movie. Starting March 26, Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 31, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through April 7. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.
Musical tribute to the songs of Betty Hutton. Sundays, 3 p.m.;
Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through
April 28. NOHO ARTS CENTER – 11136 Magnolia Blvd in North Hollywood.
(800) 595-4849, www.nuttinbuthutton.com
GO:The Rainmaker: A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others — her family and society — have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots — the kind of experience where you might say, “Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?” The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through May 19. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
GO: Smoke and Mirrors: If you've forgotten the childlike joy and sublime wonderment of seeing magic performed, Albie Selznick's theatrical show is an enchanting reminder. The accomplished actor-magician puts on a bewildering tour de force that has more “how did he do that” flashes than can be counted. The show also has a personal element, as Selznick recounts his long path to becoming a master magician, starting when he lost his father at the age of 9 and used magic to escape reality, and then as a means of challenging and overcoming his fears. He knows how to work the crowd, and uses members of the audience in a number of his routines. Toward show's end, he swallows some razors (kids, don't try this), then regurgitates them on a long string, and wows with a demonstration of fire eating and juggling some wicked-looking knives. Other amazing moments are the eerie conjuring of doves out of nowhere and a mind-blowing exhibition of midair suspension. Like all good magicians, Selznick has highly capable assistants — Brandy, Kyle, Tina and Daniel — who dazzle with their own magic in a stylish preshow. Paul Millet directs. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 28, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.