Tom Sawyer coming of age, and all that represents about America, is depicted in an entertaining stage adaptation at Sierra Madre Playhouse — The Adventures of Tom Sawyer — that's this week's Pick. Also receiving nods this week are Blistered Hands and Bloody Mouths at Zombie Joe's Underground, and Spumoni!, and evening of one-acts at the Complex. See below for all the latest new reviews and comprehensive theater listings.
The Radar L.A. festival of innovative Pacific Rim performance, last here in 2011, is back, from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1. It includes international and Los Angeles-based artists: Locally, choreographer David Roussève; theater ensemble Los Angeles Poverty Department (working in collaboration with Dutch ensemble Wunderbaum); writer and performer Luis Alfaro; writer-performers Roger Guenveur Smith and Trieu Tran; puppetry artist Janie Geiser in a collaboration with writer Erik Ehn; physical theater ensemble Theatre Movement Bazaar; writer Dennis Cooper in a collaboration with French director Gisèle Vienne; and the CalArts Center for New Performance. International entries include Argentine director Lola Arias with a company of Chilean actors recalling their family history during the Pinochet regime; Argentine ensemble Timbre 4; Colombian director Manuel Orjuela staging Rodrigo García's You Should Have Stayed Home, Morons; New Zealand-based director and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio and his company MAU performing Stones in Her Mouth; puppeteer Basil Twist's Dogugaeshi; and theater company Complicite performing Shun-kin, its collaboration with Japan's Setagaya Public Theatre. For more information, visit www.redcat.org.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication August 16, 2013:
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER This polished and entertaining adaptation of Mark Twain's coming-of-age classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a rare case of family entertainment done well. Skillfully directed by Aaron Lyons from a streamlined narrative by Laura Eason, the story tracks the transformation of title character Tom (Mike Rosenbaum) from mischievous kid to thoughtful youth, a metamorphosis that takes place after he confronts the villainous Injun Joe (Brandon Karrer) and saves an innocent man from hanging.Infused with a wistful (but not weepy) ambience brought on by effective music and sound (music coordinators Jeff Doba and Jennifer Zahlit), the production benefits from a versatile ensemble, adept at communicating the human truth within their characters despite the piece's larger-than-life style of storytelling. Among these are Sierra Campbell-Unsoeld as a tender, temperamental Becky; Jason Thomas as Tom's seasoned buddy, Huck Finn; and Karrer, who does triple duty as strict schoolmaster, sanctimonious preacher and dastardly bad guy. Katie Hotchkiss as a schoolmarmish Aunt Polly and Cameron Miller as Tom's more decorous brother wield nuance nicely. As Tom, however, Rosenbaum needs to rein in some of his goofy mannerisms, which don't always ring true. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.; through Sept. 7. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org (Deborah Klugman)
BEETHOVEN AND MISFORTUNE COOKIES For 11 years, Kabin Thomas was a popular and respected professor of music at the University of Arkansas, until he was fired in 2006, ostensibly for his frequent use of profanity in his lectures. Kabin, an African-American, also apparently offended Southern sensibilities when he displayed a photo of a lynching during a lecture on Billie Holliday and the song “Strange Fruit.” His story is the subject of Joni Ravenna's drama, with the affable, burly Ernest Harden Jr. doing the honors as Thomas, portraying the character as equal parts inspired academic and street-corner rabble rouser. Subject matter isn't the problem here so much as lax structure and writing. Ravenna's script is primarily formatted as a series of casual lectures, sans questions, and the instructor tends to ramble. That's especially true in Act 1, while in Act 2, narrative gaps and the lack of coherency becomes a problem: The play chronicles Thomas' new life in Los Angeles, as well as his struggle with personal demons. Under T.J. Castronovo's direction, Harden's performance is satisfactory but not impressive. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Sept. 15. (323) 960-5773, plays411.com/beethoven. (Lovell Estell III)
GO: BLISTERED HANDS AND BLOODY MOUTHS
Stage horror can be many things. In the hands of a master, it can tap the unspoken nightmares of an audience to power an allegory about life's dystopian realities. Then there's the kind presented here by playwright-actor Sam LaFrance — a Grand Guignol thrill ride of ratcheting grotesquerie, viscerally shocking switchbacks and plunging moral depravity that has no higher ambition than to provoke screams and laughter. Don't worry too much about plot — everything you need to know about the lowlifes who inhabit LaFrance's twisted Southern Gothic world is summed up by Valorie Hubbard (who also directs) in her priceless, opening rictus of terror at the news that Ray (LaFrance) has somehow escaped from death row and is planning a return. Ray's imminent homecoming isn't good news, particularly for his ex, Millie (Anastasia Charalambous), an unnaturally cool blonde who has been plotting her own escape back to her native London. If LaFrance springs his suspense on the early side and then tries to tie off too many psychological loose ends, the result is still an entertaining — and literally jaw-dropping — blend of spilled blood and the blackest of comedy. Zombie Joe's Underground, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 25. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Bill Raden)
A new take on Adam and Eve, written by Susan Rubin, directed by Mark Bringelson. This time around, Adam and Eve work at a hospital morgue that has lost power in a massive electrical outage. Starting Aug. 10, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, bootlegtheater.org. See theater feature.
GREEKS 6 — TROJANS 5
Drawing on the traditions of ancient Greek comedy (masks, songs, a giant phallus) Chuck Faerber's mildly amusing farce is a zany rendition of the siege of Troy by a crack team of dimwits. Ten years into the Trojan war, the Greeks are still anxious to retrieve their abducted Helen from the impenetrable fortress city of Troy. A scheme involving a massive wooden horse is set into motion. Unfortunately, its hapless crew lacks a clue. Faerber has concocted a very silly if overlong doo-wop musical play full of daffy characters, such as Smegma (George Alvarez), a psycho killer; Mucilage (a very funny Matt Shea), an anxiety-crippled private who sees the horse gig as his ticket out of latrine detail; and Sgt. Acacia (Cheryl Bricker) a no-nonsense Amazonian leader swayed by lust. David Zurak is good as military leader Agamemnon, who adopts the disguise of Sargassus, a soothsayer delivering directives from the capricious gods. John Marzilli is very funny as tough-talking commander Megamanus and David Ghilardi is great in two roles. Perfs are strong; the laughs, insufficient. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; call for schedule; through Sept. 8. (323) 960-7774, plays411.com/greeks. (Pauline Adamek)
HOOK: THE 30-MINUTE MUSICAL Director/adaptor Brooke Seguin's musical (with music by Seguin, Dan Wessels and James Lent) is an upbeat, if slight, production that boasts an ensemble of talented, energetic young performers who demonstrate engaging vocal skills and a high degree of onstage charisma. That's the good news: The bad news is that the play they've all gotten together to perform is a 30-minute adaptation of the tedious 1990s Spielberg gobbler Hook — source material so mediocre it rarely offers opportunities for either sprightliness or camp. Seguin's droll production condenses the story into a crisp paced half-hour and peppers it with quick-witted, if easy, rhyming song numbers. Tom Lenk offers a spot-on imitation of the twitchy Robin Williams, in full midlife-crisis Peter Pan mode, while Daisy Eagan steals the show in her quirky turn as a seemingly nymphomaniacal Julia Roberts/Tinkerbell. However, even with the cast's best efforts, the material is so forgettable, almost all memory of the show evaporates like fairy dust after we've left the theater. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., Beverly Grove; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 25. (323) 655-9232, brownpapertickets.com/event/435493. (Paul Birchall)
READY FOR THE STORM Written, directed, produced by and starring Randall Gray, founder of — wait for it — Stages of Gray Theatre, this world-premiere jukebox musical invites comparisons to another outsized vanity project: Tommy Wiseau's so-bad-it's-good film The Room. However, this misguided effort is unlikely to achieve similar cult status. When successful musician Bobby (Mike Callahan) and actress Jenn (Debbie Kagy) quarrel on their wedding day, Jenn threatens to walk. There the plot ceases, and their insufferable waffling proceeds against a karaoke soundtrack of ballads, pop songs and Broadway hits heavily weighted toward Wildhorn and Cuden's Jekyll & Hyde. No specificity shapes the set, inexplicably adorned with cast publicity stills, or the characters — “Mom” (Lisa LaBella) never merits a first name, even from the man (Gray) who claims to love her. Despite earnest performances and decent vocals from the young stars (Kagy's voice is better than the script deserves), nothing short of a total rewrite can salvage this show. Stages of Gray Theatre Company, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 14. (909) 461-7375, stagesofgray.com. (Jenny Lower)
GO: SPUMONI! Like the titular Italian dessert, this compilation of three one-act comedies features three different flavors. In the solo piece “Booby Prize,” writer-performer Lizzie Czerner brings a Tracey Ullman-like flamboyance to the tale of a woman cursed and blessed with a very buxom figure, which brings her both ridicule and lascivious short-term attention but no long-term relationships — until she discovers that there's a place in the world for busty women with low self-esteem. Rebekah Walendzak directs. “Daddy Didn't Die, Did He?” is set at the funeral of a Southern patriarch, and features writer-actors Will Matthews and Casey Christensen playing a gaggle of predatory, mercenary characters, including the deceased's scatterbrained widow, his three competitive children, his Southern-belle housekeeper and a frantic funeral director. The actors juggle multiple roles with speed and versatility, aided by director Jeffrey Addiss. Another solo piece, Keaton Talmadge's “Define: dif-fer-ent,” is about a straight woman who's thoroughly disconcerted to find herself attracted to a lesbian — until she discovers that gay relations can be as disillusioning as straight ones. Talmadge (who inherited her first name from grandfather Buster Keaton) is a hip, skillful and attractive performer, ably shepherded by director Kelleia Sheerin. RANT/L.A. Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m., through Sept. 21. (No perfs. Aug. 30-31.) (323) 960-1054, plays411.com/spumoni. (Neal Weaver)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:
PICK OF THE WEEK: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Based on Mark Twain's 1876 novel, the story is set in St. Petersburg, Missouri, a town on the bank of the Mississippi River. Tom is a young boy full of mischief but with a good heart. Adapted to be fun for all ages by Laura Eason. Directed by Aaron Lyons. Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. & 2:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 7. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org. See New Reviews.
Citizen Twain: Val Kilmer's homage to the humor and deeply multi-faceted personality of great American storyteller Mark Twain. Written by and starring Kilmer. Every performance concludes with a talkback about the play, and Kilmer removing his extensive makeup on stage for the audience to see. Wed., Aug. 21, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 22, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 & 8 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. See theater feature.
The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom: Obsessed by the fantasy families of TV shows she devotedly watched while growing up, “6-foot-2, observant Jew and lesbian mom of two” Judy Gold apparently has spent most of her adult life pitching uninterested network executives a sitcom about her unremarkable life. Instead, we have a play called The Judy Show that has nominally been transferred to the stage from a stand-up comedy club. That is to say, the 85-minute show remains an extended stand-up piece. There's an added scenic element of seven television screens of varying size positioned upstage displaying everything from baby photos and brief home movies to images from the iconic TV family sitcoms to which Gold makes frequent reference, plus an upright piano on which she occasionally bashes out a show's theme. She traces her experiences at Jewish summer camp, high school, Rutgers and, later, her career as a stand-up comedian and her family life. The jokes fall flat and Gold's story doesn't bear sharing. (Pauline Adamek). Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Letters from Zora: The untold story of Zora Neale Hurston: writer, anthropologist, voodoo priestess, and Renaissance woman determined to live and die by her own mind. Written by Gabrielle Pina, directed by Anita Dashielle-Sparks with live music composed by Ron McCurdy. Fri., Aug. 16, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 17, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 18, 2 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
GO: Merlin: The Untold Adventures: Begat of a demon, gifted with second sight and shape-shifting powers, the druid Merlin provides much of the momentum of the Arthurian legend. In the process of retelling the fabled wizard's backstory, playwright-director Ellen Geer has concocted a high fantasy with a strong antiwar flavor. The work's emphasis on meshing threads of pagan philosophy and Christian references — with a side trip to mythical Atlantis thrown in for good measure — can cause matters to become a little thematically and dramatically muddled. Yet Geer's brisk and buoyant direction makes excellent use of her atmospheric venue, incorporating a moody electronic ambiance alongside some elegant pageantry, thoughtful fight choreography and enchanting choral interludes. Lead Melora Marshall at times overplays her Merlin with a borderline cartoonish physicality, but it is a performance overall grounded in the epic earnestness and warm humor of Geer's text. (Mindy Farabee). Sat., Aug. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 18, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A summer standard, this is the Theatricum's signature production of Shakespeare's wondrous enchanted forest tale of love, fairies, and the power of nature. Thu., Aug. 22, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
A Parallelogram: Bruce Norris' dark comedy examines main character Bee's ability to look into the future. Given this gift, she questions if she should reinvent destiny or accept that life is basically unalterable. See Stage feature: https://www.laweekly.com/2013-07-25/stage/a-parallelogram-bruce-norris/full/. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772.
Rapture, Blister, Burn: The West Coast premiere of this new comedy, in which feminism's foibles are challenged among three generations of women. The ladies share their raucous and refreshing approaches to navigating work, love and family. Written by Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Peter DuBois. Starting Aug. 21, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 22. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
The Royal Family: The work's the thing in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's gentle 1927 spoof of the Barrymore dynasty, which forms the centerpiece of Theatricum Botanicum's 40th-anniversary season. The venerable, oak-nestled venue's own founding family fills in as the board-treading Cavendish clan. Artistic director Ellen Geer slings Downton Abbey-worthy zingers as dowager Fanny, while sister Melora Marshall and daughter Willow Geer carry the torch as the next generations of theatrical luminaries. All three women nail the benign entitlement and cozy security that comes from knowing you're an institution, but the dated material may be more thrilling for its cast than the audience. More compelling than the distant Barrymores is the play's exploration of pursuing the creative life at the cost of domestic and personal stability. Director Susan Angelo wisely avoids interfering with her cast's marvelous instincts, but a tighter rein would keep us from sharing Marshall's bewilderment when the madcap pace proves too frenetic. (Jenny Lower). Sat., Aug. 17, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 18, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 31, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 7, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 4 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 4 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
GO: The Taming of the Shrew: The slapstick, or batacchio, which originated in the commedia dell'arte of 16th-century Italy, is a wooden device used to create a loud, smacking sound. So it seems fitting that in staging Shakespeare's contemporaneous tale of a headstrong woman who finally meets her match, director Ellen Geer plays its physical comedy to the hilt, incorporating slide whistles, drums and other noisemaking devices to punctuate the onstage pratfalls, fisticuffs and acrobatics. The choice is mostly effective, but it's Geer's vivacious staging of the battle between Katharina (a hilariously histrionic Willow Geer) and Petruchio (a charmingly macho Aaron Hendry) that makes the show. Their terrifically torrential tango is complemented by Petruchio's servant, Grumio (Melora Marshall), who delivers perfectly pitched Shakespearean asides and wordplay, showcasing both sides of the “wise fool.” The remaining cast members, clad in Val Miller's gorgeous period costumes, admirably execute their roles as well. The play's conclusion, with its seeming support for the patriarchy (or is it to be merely taken as farce?) is a bit jarring. Nonetheless, this wonderful, sylvan hideaway, where 40 years ago its namesake founder created a haven for artists, retains its rustic charm and remains an excellent setting for a night of Shakespeare. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fri., Aug. 16, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
The Baby: With its atmosphere of gleeful perversity, playwright-director Dan Spurgeon's adaptation of Abe Polsky's 1970s cult movie is so weird it will almost have your eyes a-bugging and your jaw a-gaping — but that's frankly due to the strangeness of the source material itself. Mousy, spinsterly-seeming social worker Mrs. Gentry (Jana Wimer) arrives to inspect the home of single mom Mama (drag artist Frank Blocker), who is raising Baby (Torrey Halverson), a grown, exceedingly attractive young man in his early 20s, who sleeps in a crib, wails like an infant and pee-pees in his diaper with gleeful abandon. Mama, who has many secrets (not including the fact that she's played by a burly dude with a deep voice) loathes the nosy Mrs. Gentry, but the eagle-eyed social worker eventually reveals a few creepy secrets of her own. No one would call this cheeseball material anything more than trivial, but Spurgeon's often hilarious production boasts crisp comic timing and a delicious campiness. Wimer, resplendent in her hideous, beige, 9 to 5-esque officewear, offers a wonderfully deadpan performance, which is engagingly offset by Blocker's leering, bug-eyed turn as Mama. However, the standout is Halverson's unsettling infant — he's the poster boy for the piece's atmosphere of escalating unwholesomeness. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31, www.thevisceralcompany.com. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.
GO: Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies: The true story of Kabin Thomas, a musician and Professor of Music at the University of Arkansas, who loses his job after educating his students about the song “Strange Fruit,” and then goes to Hollywood to participate in reality TV. Written by Joni Ravenna, directed by T.J. Castronovo. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, 323-957-1152, www.themettheatre.com. See New Reviews.
Bob Baker's It's a Musical World!: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater continues its 53rd season with a day at the circus, a stop at an enchanted toy shop, and a visit to a teddy bear's picnic. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Breakthrough: A new rock/rap musical about overcoming addictions. The story follows the lives of a group of young adults in downtown L.A. who are struggling with alcohol, sex and drug addictions. Written and directed by Dana Morris, choreographed by Steven Nielsen. Fri., Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 17, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 18, 2:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 2:30 p.m. Art Share L.A., 801 E. Fourth Place, Los Angeles, 213-687-4278, www.artsharela.org.
A Bright Room Called Day: A new production of award-winning playwright Tony Kushner's examination of Berlin's reaction to Hitler's rise in power in 1932. Directed by Coeurage Theatre Company's Artistic Director, Jeremy Lelliott. Starting Aug. 17, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-5830.
GO: Eat the Runt: Playwright Avery Crozier and director Tom Beyer return to Theater of NOTE for more laughs with their raucous satire, which takes a flamethrower to social proprieties, workplace decorum and some sacred PC cows. The format hasn't changed since it was performed in 2010: The audience determines which role the seven performers are to play by drawing names right before the performance. It's a slick gimmick. The mise en scene is an upscale art museum during a job interview for a candidate named Merritt, who has flown all the way in from California. It isn't long before it becomes apparent that the interviewee is no ordinary job applicant. Her (or his) face time with staff members morphs into bouts of sexual harassment, racist caricaturizing, office backstabbing, gossip and even a brief discussion on anal sex and hemorrhoids. Things really turn crazy when another candidate pops up claiming that she or he is the real Merritt, causing a lot of confusion — and laughs — with a coup de grace involving religious ecstasy, speaking in tongues and a sacred foreskin. This is solid ensemble work, with the funniest performances, in the performance reviewed, turned in by Chris Neiman as a jittery, coked-out curator and Tricia Munford as Merritt 2. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 24. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
GO:eve2: A new take on Adam and Eve, written by Susan Rubin, directed by Mark Bringelson. This time around, Adam and Eve work at a hospital morgue that has lost power in a massive electrical outage. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.org. See theater feature.
Fate: A theatrical dance production from Luminosity Dance Troupe about classical Greek mythology set to modern day chaos. Fri., Aug. 16, 8:30 p.m. Los Globos, 3040 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-666-6669.
GO: Garbo's Cuban Lover: Odalys Nanin's dramedy focuses on the enigmatic poet, novelist and playwright Mercedes de Acosta and her notable lovers from the Silver Screen, which included divas Greta Garbo, Nazimova and Marlene Dietrich. Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, 323-654-0680, www.machatheatre.org/home.html.
Greeks 6 – Trojans 5: A whacky retelling of the Trojan Horse story, with music composed by the playwright, Chuck Faerber. Directed by Rick Kuhlman,. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com. See New Reviews.
Heart Song: A middle-aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith is convinced to join a flamenco class for “out of shape” women which forever changes her life. Written by Stephen Sachs. See Stage feature: https://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-30/stage/fried-octopus-bootleg/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
I Am Not Mark Twain: Steven Cragg's award-winning solo show, about the story of a man's cross-country trip to have sex with an ex-girlfriend, during which he embodies the essence of Mark Twain. Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 29. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.
Just Imagine: Although the wow factor is missing, aficionados of John Lennon probably will appreciate this tribute to the iconic musician, which juxtaposes renditions of his most famous songs with a narrative of his life. Lennon impersonator and lead singer Tim Piper addresses the audience in a confiding manner as he relates events in Lennon's life — his troubled boyhood in Liverpool culminating in the death of his mother, up through The Beatles, his marriage to Yoko Ono and his transformation into a family man and spokesman for the counterculture antiwar movement. There are no surprises in writer-director Steve Altman's script, and watching and listening to Piper, an American donning a Liverpool accent, failed to persuade me that I was hearing the real McCoy. That said, Piper's backup band, Working Class Hero, performs well and provides an opportunity for those who wish to reimagine the legend to do so. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-213-6955, www.thehayworth.com.
GO: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: Judas on trial! Yes, in playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' courtroom drama, the man who double-crossed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver is tried for his treachery, with the case being heard in a magical courtroom somewhere in Purgatory. Fiery defense attorney Fabiana (Sarah Ruth Ryan), a recently deceased modern gal, seeks to get Judas (a nicely brooding Robert Walters) released from hell and takes it to the celestial court. Oily, vaguely sinister Prosecutor Yusef (Robert Paterno) summons a variety of witnesses to testify against Judas' redemption, but in the end, guilt or innocence actually resides in a desperate, and beautifully tragic, interaction between Judas and Jesus. Guirgis' text provides an often engaging exploration of all sides of the drama's theological issues, but the real pleasures are found in director Josh T. Ryan's vibrant, fast-paced production (a redo of the same producer's spring staging of the same play, at Victory Theatre). Lively and wonderfully multidimensional performances leaven the potentially dry aspects of the religious debate. Ruth Ryan's ferocious defense attorney and Paterno's increasingly haunted prosecutor are particularly adroit acting turns, but it's the impeccable comic timing and emotionally sophisticated work by Robin Michelle McClamb's wonderfully dotty yet theologically rigid Mother Teresa, Marc Erickson's terrifying Satan and Walters' inscrutable Judas that anchor the show. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 24. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Nickel and Dimed: In her book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich detailed her sojourn into the world of the working poor, illuminating (as no recounting of statistics ever could) the struggle, heartache and resilience of this often forgotten and/or disrespected class of Americans. A journalist and college instructor, Ehrenreich shed her middle-class trappings and traveled the country, working for minimum wage (and less) as waitress, housekeeper, caregiver and low-level retail clerk. Joan Holden's stage adaptation dramatizes Ehrenreich's experiences in a series of vignettes that are moderately entertaining and, from a progressive standpoint, politically and culturally on target — but lacking bracing energy or dramatic punch. The character of Barbara frequently steps away from the action to comment, and while performer Zachary Barton emanates the intelligence and compassion the role calls for, her discursive manner slows the dynamic. Kathleen Ingle stands out depicting a number of kind-hearted, blue-collar women. Richard Kilroy directs. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Nine: There are two potential audiences for Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's 1982 musical fantasia woven from Federico's Fellini's 8 1/2. The first is those evangelical cineastes that can't get enough of the auteur's highly personal baroque surrealism. The second is those who can appreciate Yeston's solid collection of reflective ballads, sizzling torch songs and clever music-hall numbers in spite of Kopit's problematically attenuated book. Unfortunately, neither will find much to like in director Marco Gomez's uninspired and decidedly un-Felliniesque revival (on Amanda Lawson's drab cinderblock set). As the story's sexually charged but woman-troubled film director, David Michael Treviño proves an unusually low-voltage romantic lead. It's a drawback that retards whatever sparks might have flown among the admittedly uneven, nearly all-female ensemble. As Luisa, Melissa Anjose nails the signature tunes “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Be on Your Own,” but it is Toni Smith who shows all the right stuff in a standout turn as Claudia. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, 323-957-1152, www.themettheatre.com.
GO: One Night in Miami: Although rooted in a historic event, Kemp Powers' period piece about a meeting between Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Malcolm X and Cassius Clay is less about these gentlemen per se than it is about the struggle of African-American men in general to deal with the ubiquitous racism that continually challenges their manhood. The play takes place in a motel room following Clay's victory over Sonny Liston in 1964. At 22, fresh off his triumph, the young boxer (Matt Jones) is both less scarred and less knowing than the others. He's also a recent convert to Islam, which raises the eyebrows of Cooke (Ty Jones) and Brown (Kevin Daniels) — both alcohol-imbibing, womanizing, pork chop-loving hedonists. Well directed by Carl Cofield, the play heats up around the philosophical divide between Malcolm (Jason Delane) an ideologue and devout Muslim who scorns the White Establishment, and Cooke, a musician and player in the music business who's successfully worked the system for his own gain. (Sadly and ironically, both these men would be dead within a year.) Powers' perspicacious script gives the performers plenty to work with, and they make the most of it, bouncing off each other with savvy, skill and humor. Delane is excellent as an understated Malcolm, struggling to master not only his passions but his well-founded fear that his life is in danger. A charismatic Jones augments an intense portrayal with his gifted singing voice. Giovanni Adams and Jason E. Kelley add menace and levity as Malcolm's bodyguards. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. See theater feature.
GO: Open House: An audacious real estate salesman needs to sell an overpriced house during an off season. Enter a seductive, mysterious woman new to California who senses that something wrong has happened in the house, in writer Shem Bitterman's third dramatic production at the Skylight Theater. See Stage feature: https://www.laweekly.com/2013-08-01/stage/shem-bitterman-open-house/full/. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
Pack Up the Moon: Directed by Amy K. Harmon, this not-ready-for-prime-time production concerns a married gay couple, Andre (David Jette) and Carter (Brad Harris), whose relationship sours after the death of their adopted infant son. Distraught over their empty nest, the fragile Carter persuades his flaky cousin, T-Anne (Emilia Richeson), to become a surrogate for the couple's second child. Tension between Andre, the biological father, and T-Anne segues into physical attraction once she is carrying his baby. Christina Cigala's soap-operatic script is an uphill challenge; the play's first half is especially uninvolving as a result of the lack of visible chemistry between the spouses and the noisy and/or unshaded performances from the three primary performers. Richeson is a potentially watchable presence whose ditzy mother-to-be would fit nicely into some screwball comedy. But this is serious drama, in which her character's clamorous shtick becomes a distraction. The problem seems directorial. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 17. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-469-9988.
Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers: A radical retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic, written by Michael Lluberes. Fri., Aug. 16, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 18, 2 p.m. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-661-9827, www.theblank.com.
Pieces (of ass): A series of original “Pieces,” delivered by a cast of twelve of the country's most dynamic and beautiful performers, exploring what defines an attractive woman, from the perks and privileges to the problems and pressures. Fri., Aug. 16, 11 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 20, 11 p.m. Beacher's Madhouse at The Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-785-3036, www.thompsonhotels.com.
GO: Point Break Live!: Creating a raucous, rocked-out party atmosphere by blasting preshow music (think “Welcome to the Jungle” at ear-splitting volume), the hilarious spoof show Point Break Live! offers super-soaked excitement in a grungy Hollywood nightclub setting. What do we mean by “soaked”? Let's just say you'd be wise to take them up on the $2 ponchos for sale before the show. The low-tech, seat-of-the-pants, interactive presentation of an abbreviated version of Kathryn Bigelow's slightly corny 1991 cop surf drama is further camped up by a fun-loving cast. The actor playing the central role of Johnny Utah — memorably portrayed onscreen by Keanu Reeves in his “Woah, dude” stoner phase — is recruited from among the dozen or so audience members who audition on the spot and are rated by the audience. The rookie performer then goes on to utter dialogue aided by cue cards. (Too bad opening night's guy was virtually illiterate and inexplicably prone to channeling Forrest Gump.) Utah's volatile detective partner, Pappas, is well played by Tom Fugedi, though he would benefit from a bit more crazy Gary Busey and a bit less Chris Farley in his performance. Tobias Jelinek is excellent as the bizarrely spiritual crime boss/surfer guru Bodhi. The plastic ponchos offer protection from the barrage of water spray, blood splatters and — uh — other bodily fluids. Stupid fun. Booze available. (Pauline Adamek). Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 29. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-466-6111, www.thedragonfly.com.
GO: Rebecca's Gamble: Issues of science, medical ethics and criminal law propel Art Shulman and Robert Begam's provocative courtroom drama. Director Rick Walters has transformed this small venue into a courtroom interior surrounded by audience members, some of whom render a verdict at play's end. The site-specific setting is used to good effect. The accused, Dr. Rebecca Adler (Diane Linder), is charged with murder for her part in the cryonic disposal of her terminally ill patient. Counsel for the defense is Joe Purcell (Randy Vasquez), while the state is represented by Scott Novak (Jerry Weil), with Judge Dale Fox (Henry Holden) presiding. The format follows the procedures of a real court proceeding: Witnesses are called, testimony is given, cross-examination is allowed and a verdict is rendered. There are even a number of emotional outbursts, which are a bit overworked. The compelling thing about this thoughtfully written script is that it explores in detail some topical scientific, ethical and legal subjects that are easily grasped. Cast performances, on balance, are quite good, notwithstanding a few glaring instances of botched lines. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 1. Theatrecraft Playhouse, 7505 1/2 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-876-1100.
Revelation: Playwright Samuel Brett Williams' comedy takes place during The Rapture — you know, the day when God summons up to Heaven all the righteous souls, leaving behind the lustful, the angry, the greedy and the just plain doofy. Into this last category falls young Brandon (appealingly Everyman-esque Marco Naggar), a likable shlep who wakes up in a doomsday Manhattan where airplanes fall pilotless from the skies, cars smash driverless into walls and faces erupt with pus-filled boils. Joining up with his sultry next-door neighbor Rebecca (Zibby Allen, nicely ironic) for a crosscountry road trip in search of a way into Heaven, Brandon endures all sorts of biblical misadventures in an insane world. Many of the play's calculatedly wacky comic strip-like incidents become repetitive, but the ferocious pacing of director Lindsay Allbaugh's quick-witted staging keeps the story sailing straight along. Plus, Williams' writing is nicely black-humored, and the performances are sprightly, hitting a perfect note of creepy quirkiness. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Something to Crow About: The Bob Baker Marionettes' musical “Day on the Farm.” Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
GO: Spumoni!: An evening of three short comedies chosen from the Hollywood Fringe Festival: The Booby Prize, written and performed by Lizzie Czerner and directed by Rebekah Walendzak and Jeffrey Wylie; Daddy Didn't Die, Did He?, written and performed by Casey Christensen and Will Matthews, directed by Jeffrey Addiss; and Define: Dif-fer-ent, written and performed by Keaton Talmadge, directed by Kelleia Sheerin. Presented by The Complex in association with RANT/L.A. Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 21. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-0383, www.complexhollywood.com. See New Reviews.
Tom Rubin: Success Guru: A one-man comedy by Tom Rubin that skewers and mocks a self-help seminar. Fridays, 9 p.m. Continues through Aug. 30. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-465-0383, www.complexhollywood.com.
What Doesn't Kill You: An Evening of One-Act Plays: You'll Just Love My Dad, a drama about an estranged father and his daughters, written by Stephanie Jones and Peter Schuyler, with direction by Stephanie Jones; and It Feels Like Her, about a daughter's wish, her drunken mother, and their ultimate twist of fate, written by Bree Pavey and directed by John Sperry Sisk. Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 15. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
GO: Blistered Hands and Bloody Mouths: Sam LaFrance's new play about a young woman living with her crazed alcoholic landlady in Texas. Madness ensues when she tries to get back to her hometown in London, but her psychopathic ex-lover breaks out of prison to confront her about leaving him. Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. See New Reviews.
Brendan: Ronan Noone's middling seriocomedy treads the familiar narrative of the newly arrived immigrant seeking to assimilate into American society. Brendan (Patrick Quinlan) is a hale and hearty Irish lad living in Boston, but his shy, reserved demeanor isn't helpful when it comes to finding that special lady. Adding to his problems is the constant presence of his mother's ghost (Kathleen M. Darcy), whose advice and hectoring furnish some of the play's funniest moments. Eventually he takes up with a prostitute (Catia Ojeda), who also doubles as his driving instructor, and he at last finds a deeper relationship with the beautiful Rose (Devereau Chumrau). Parceled into more than 30 scene/segments — some of which are way overwritten — this sentimental tale, which is blended with a substantial bit of melodrama, would have been better if the relationships that are at the heart of the story were more substantial. McKerrin Kelly directs a good cast. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 818-846-5323, www.theatrebanshee.org.
Captain Dan Dixon vs. The Moth Sluts from the Fifth Dimension: Matthew Sklar's retro sci-fi about a spaceship crew's astonishing encounter with sexy, insectile, go-go-dancing aliens, genetically driven to wield sinister erotic powers against the space explorers. Directed by Sebastian Muñoz. Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 14. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Dancing on the Edge: Denise Devin's theatrical dance production that explores beauty, laughter, tears and love within a sexy mosaic of movement. Directed by Denise Devin, featuring choreography by Donna Noelle Ibale, Randall Morris, Carrie Nedrow, Jade Waters-Burch and Cody Whitley. Saturdays, 11 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 15, 7 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 7 p.m. Continues through Sept. 21. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. See theater feature.
GO: Hurricane Season 2013 – 10th Annual Festival Competition of Short Plays: Carrying On, The Road to Paradise, Supermom: Now in its 10th year, Hurricane Season is a competition of short new plays. Block Two (reviewed here) continues over this weekend, with Block Three running Aug. 9-18. The audience favorites of the festival will receive awards in an Aug. 23 ceremony, and a jury will give monetary prizes to the top three best-written plays. In The Road to Paradise, by Caroline Marshall, Ryan McDonough plays a terminal patient with gallows humor. His fiancee (Rachel Kanouse) — a frequent visitor to his hospital bed — at first cannot account for his renewed lusty vigor and impassioned speeches. Marshall's dialogue is occasionally too theatrical when it needs to be natural, but this is a sweet, half-hour one-acter. Less successful is Dean Farell Bruggeman's decidedly unfunny satire Supermom, about a stay-at-home mom (dreadfully acted by playwright Caroline Marshall) who slaves for her ungrateful family. She is set on her true mission of saving the world by a sassy, colorful, African-American spirit guide, “Mother Earth.” This clichŽd caricature is only partially rescued by the casting of Gabriel Green in drag. Harry M. Bagdasian's Carrying On is the best of the bunch. Its bittersweet tale of a developmentally challenged young man (Elliott Davis) anxious to break away from an oppressive, small-town home life is well plotted and nicely staged. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
Hurricane Season 2013 – 10th Annual Festival Competition of Short Plays: Lucky Lou, A Serious Person, You & Me and She & I: In Jonathan Cook's Lucky Lou, a couple with fertility issues seeks the aid of a person with mystical powers. In John Doble's A Serious Person, a man meets an assertive, dominant woman through a dating service. Meanwhile, a female robot assistant stirs the pot and creates tension between a man and wife, in John Levine's You & Me and She & I. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, 818-508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
The Island: Nobody writes a sweetly wistful, romantic ballad like the composer-lyricist team of Jonathan Price and Chana Wise. It is a talent that was put to poignant use in last year's electronica sci-fi musical Earthbound (with a book by Adam Hahn). In this contemporary, tongue-in-cheek musical riff on The Tempest, it gets off to a promising start before encountering what proves to be the intractable stumbling block of the evening — namely, Price's own underwritten and uninspired book. Gone are any traces of Shakespeare's poetic introspection, psychological complexity or sense of peril. In their place is the most skeletal of plots, serving a rather scatological, expletive-numbed satire of modern-day celebrity and sexual mores. The best songs go to Prospera (a rousing Lindsey Mixon) and her ditzily screwball sprite Ariel (the fine Ashley Fuller). Whenever they take the stage, the evening soars; the other two-thirds of the show tends to tailspin under Jeanette Farr's indifferent direction. (Bill Raden). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.
Ready for the Storm: A jukebox musical with a pop soundtrack, about the youthful relationship between Bobby, a singer, and Jenn, an actress. Written, directed and produced by Randall Gray. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 14. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com. See New Reviews.
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. Continues through Aug. 25, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Thank You, Minerva: This musical comedy about the Roman goddess Minerva's (Rachel Berman) travels through American history is in love with the U.S.A. — arguably too much so. The show's 11 scenes each follow the same formula: Minerva is sent by Jupiter (John McCool Bowers) and Juno (Julia Shear Kushner) to assist a songwriter as he or she works on a well-known American holiday song — for Veterans Day, for instance, it's Lee Greenwood writing “God Bless the U.S.A.” The show has a talented ensemble, making the best of what they're given (the actors in multiple roles, Rachel Howe, Jonathan Byram and Jackson Smith, are especially valiant), but it isn't enough to save the show from a formulaic format. Even more troubling is writer-producer Alan Stillson's bizarre commitment to whitewashing America's past and present, instead presenting a highly idealistic version in which all problems are solved through music. It's patriotic, yes, but at times feels like propaganda. (Kevin O'Keeffe). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18, stillsonworks.com. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 877-620-7673, www.secretrose.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
GO: El Grande de Coca-Cola: This comic extravaganza, written by Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman and John Neville-Andrews and first produced in 1971, went on to become an international hit. Now the Ruskin Group brings it back, and to insure it retains its original comic glory, two of the original creators have returned: Shearman provides the direction and musical direction, and House reprises his role as the irrepressible emcee Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, presenter of “Parada de las Estrellas.” But the Parade of Stars turns out to be just a gaggle of his enthusiastic but inept friends and relations, who gamely attempt to perform every act in the popular repertoire, including tango, hip-hop, magic, sharp-shooting, wire-walking, the high trapeze, Shakespearean recitation (in Spanish) and slow-motion combat. Inevitably, their efforts prove hilariously disastrous. It's a tribute to the inventiveness of the ensemble (House, Nina Brissey, David Lago, Lila Dupree, Aaron Jackson and Paul Denk) that the variations on this one joke never grow stale or repetitious. They are all skilled and exuberant comedians, but a special word must be said for Jackson, who brings a devil-may-care physical recklessness and a wistful, eager-beaver charm even to his slapstick. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport, Santa Monica, 310-397-3244, www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.
The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln: Workshop performances of this one-person play, written by award-winning playwright Tom Dugan, about a private visit with America's most haunted first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mondays-Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 21. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
Hook: The 30 Minute Musical (yes Steven Speilberg's Peter Pan film): 30 Minute Musicals presents their 9th original musical work parodying the Steven Spielberg classic, Hook. Sat., Aug. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 8 p.m. Third Street Theatre, 8115 W. Third St., Los Angeles, 323-655-9232. See New Reviews.
Kitchen Witches: Performing comedy isn't rocket science. It's actually much more difficult, both to define and to send into orbit. Call it an aerodynamic balance of characterization, situation and timing É and about six weeks of rehearsal. So when director Ryanne Laratonda was forced to recast her two leads the day before opening, it probably was a mathematical certainty that, 36 hours later, this second performance of playwright Caroline Smith's 2003 cable-access cooking show satire would be the stage equivalent of the Challenger disaster. That's not to say that the efforts of replacement stars (and courageous troupers) Madeleine Drake and Adriana Bate won't eventually cohere into something more than a cold stumble-through. It's more that it's a pointless injustice to actors, audience and play alike to open a production with its stars still on book and having not yet discovered any rhythms or nuances that might add up to laughs. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 25, 2 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 31. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
GO: Lady Windermere's Fan: Inaugurating a new outdoor summer performance series at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, the site-specific specialists at Chalk Rep take Oscar Wilde's quintessential comedy of manners, Lady Windermere's Fan, out of the drawing room and onto the terraces and landscaped gardens of the English Baroque landmark. Apart from providing an atmospheric backdrop for Wilde's epigrammatic assault on late-Victorian bourgeois respectability, director Jennifer Chang's environmental, modern-dress (courtesy of costumer Halei Parker) staging lends an engaging, naturalistic buffer to the brittleness of the play's 19th-century melodramatic tropes while rooting the wealth of its Wildean bon mots in a soil of contemporary psychological truth. Tess Lina's society-crashing parvenu, the mysterious Mrs. Erlynne, comes underscored with an affecting note of maternal regret. Brian Slaten's hunky cynical roue, Lord Darlington, now not only has the best lines but imbues them with the poignant ache of disappointed romantic yearning. And Owiso Odera and Amielynn Abellera transfuse the problematical archetypes of Lord and Lady Windemere with fresh authenticity, making of them something more than mere moral-absolutist counterparts to the worldly, realistic Darlington and Mrs. Erlynne. The rest of the ensemble fills out Wilde's cast of nitwitted blue bloods with comic aplomb, fashioning this Windemere as a satisfying mix of froth and earnest heart. (Bill Raden). Saturdays, Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through Aug. 18. William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA, 2520 Cimarron St., Los Angeles, 323-731-8529, www.clarklibrary.ucla.edu.
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. Continues through Aug. 31. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
Rounding Third: A lighthearted look at fatherhood and baseball, written by Richard Dresser. Fri., Aug. 16, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 17, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 21, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 22, 8 p.m. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
Tanglin' Hearts: This feel-good country musical moves the plot of Shakespeare's As You Like It to Texas, adding some J.R. Ewing-like antics and Lone Star state line-dance musical numbers. Writer Zora Margolis and composer Peter Spelman craft the tale of a Texas mogul (Kevin Michael Moran) who seeks to steal acres of ranchland, sending rivals fleeing for the woods of Arden — uh, Austin. In director Allison Bibicoff's clunky, sometimes maladroit staging, the play's plot may amusingly echo Shakespeare's story, but the modern book's weak dialogue and the awkwardly tinny musical score make for a tepidly involving production. With aimless hoofing and hesitant gestures further sabotaging the flatly clunky dance numbers, the performers sometimes look downright uncomfortable. Admittedly the singers croon nicely — but even with the casting of always engaging baritone Sean Smith in a central role, the piece possesses a strangely sad, inert mood. Along with the stodgy pacing and the unexpectedly dense, convoluted book, the results are inevitably offputting. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
A View From the Bridge: Many consider Arthur Miller's dramas moral tragedies, but you also can think of them as mysteries, as their narratives contain events whose true meaning only becomes clear at the end. Longshoreman Eddie (Vince Melocchi) is a salt-of-the-earth type who thinks he's doing a good deed when he lets a pair of his wife's distant cousins, both illegal immigrants from the old country, move in with his family. He soon has reason to rue this decision, though, as his lovely niece, Catherine (Lisa Cirincione), falls in love with the more handsome of the two cousins, Rodolpho (Jeff Lorch) — and Eddie is destroyed by his own inexplicably over-the-top jealousy. This is a mostly powerful, admirably straightforward production by co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, which stumbles slightly during the clumsy, frenetically staged final sequence. The production is anchored by Melocchi's nicely gruff Eddie, whose turn suggests a character swept along by passions he lacks the articulacy to express. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 25. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.