Lewis Carroll meets Charles Dickens in Daniel Rover Singer's play on the literati at South Pasadena's Fremont Centre Theatre, called A Perfect Likeness. Our critic Deborah Klugman enjoyed it so much, it's this week's Pick.
Warm-hearted reviews also for Barrymore (Good People Theater Company at Greenway Arts Alliance), which is also this week's stage feature; Tom Dudzick's Miracle on South Division Street at Burbank's Colony Theatre; and Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's parody of musicals: and The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) (Chromolume Theatre at the Attic).
See below for all the latest new theater reviews and region-wide stage listings.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication November 13, 2013:
William Luce's two-man show about John Barrymore trying to revive his moribund acting career in 1942. Good People Theater Company at Greenway Arts Alliance. See theater feature.
BREAKING AND ENTERING
You'll enjoy this twist on the curmudgeonly writer-meets-idealistic student trope more if you approach it as less a work of naturalism than a playful dive into the macabre. Colin Mitchell, creator of theater website L.A. Bitter Lemons, has written a screwball horror story that's a backhanded paean to J.D. Salinger. While it's steeped in fondness and black humor as it deconstructs our fascination with author mystique, the characters lack the flesh and blood to give what cleverness there is staying power, or the audience enough reason to care. An ambitious postgrad (Katherine Canipe) invades her idol's (Matthew Sklar) house during a power outage and refuses to leave until he writes the prologue to her novel, setting in motion events she claims her manuscript has predicted. Director Sebastian Muñoz has the actors declaim to the audience rather than interact. We skate along the surface of these characters, who are updated versions of essentially stock types. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through Nov. 29. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Jenny Lower)
IT'S THE BIZ
It's 1983 in Michael Grossman's show-business melodrama, and an aspiring young screenwriter Marty (Paul Mischeshin) is hired to be the assistant to honorable talent agent Wally (Kelly Gullett). If the idea of an honorable agent sounds oxymoronic — well, not to worry, these things are relative. As he learns the ropes, Marty's assistance in putting out his boss's fires with a petulant actor (Hunter Smit), a flaky writer (Jeff Sable) and Wally's former business partner (Dyan Kane) quickly make him realize that tinsel can still be dreary, even if it glitters. Grossman's script is a plodding, artificially strung-out device that's top-heavy with showbiz clichés and disappointingly banal dialogue. Director Paul Morgan Fredrix's trudging production, full of halting, shuffling blocking and odd pauses, does the well-intentioned performers no favors. Still, Mischeshin's boyishly awkward Marty is an amusing dead ringer for Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent, though Albany's wheeling-dealing Wally is perhaps too inscrutable and businesslike to engender much passion, either positive or negative. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 24. (323) 960-4443, plays411.com/itsthebiz. (Paul Birchall)
GO: MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET
When playwright Tom Dudzick was growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., in the 1950s, one local landmark was a 20-foot shrine for the Blessed Virgin, beside a small barbershop. According to local legend, the shrine was erected by the barber after the Blessed Mother appeared in his shop one Christmas Eve. Dudzick latched onto the story and used it as the basis for this fictionalized account. The barber's daughter, Clara Nowak (Ellen Crawford), is still, 65 years later, the keeper of the shrine. A devout Catholic (she's appalled by the notion that Jesus might actually have been Jewish), she has turned her three grown children into shills to attract visitors — and contributions — to the shrine. But they're growing restive. Garbage collector Jimmy (Brian Ibsen) secretly has a Jewish girlfriend. Ketchup bottler Beverly (Meghan Andrews) is more interested in bowling. Would-be actress Ruth (Karianne Flaathen) is creating a one-woman show based on the inside story behind the family legend. But her revelations transform the legend — and the family. Dudzick has written a slick, funny comedy, Brian Shnipper directs it with panache and the skillful actors expertly mine the comic possibilities. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (no perfs Nov. 28-Dec. 1); through Dec. 16. (818) 558-7000, colonytheatre.org. (Neal Weaver)
GO: THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (THE MUSICAL!)
Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogarts's amusing creation is actually an anti-musical musical parsed out into five acts, all of which parody the styles and works of famous composers and lyricists of the genre, all with the same mundane theme: “I can't pay the rent.” Four actors play all the roles. Corn is in the style of Rodgers & Hammerstein, with references to Oklahoma, South Pacific and others. Jidder (Eduardo Enrikez) will force June (Jean Altadel) to marry him if she can't pay rent, but her true love, Big Willy (Jason Peter Kennedy), saves the day. A Little Complex is a nod to Stephen Sondheim and casts Jitter as an unhinged, frustrated artist and landlord, with bad intentions toward the equally neurotic Jeune. Dear Abby is pure Jerry Herman (Mame, Hello Dolly), where Mr. Jitters forgets the rent and goes gloriously drag queen, while Aunt Abby (Christina Morrell) plays matchmaker. Aspects of Junita is a poke at Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, with Jitter as the masked madman/impresario and Junita as his romantic interest. Speakeasy is a bawdy take on Kander & Ebb's Chicago and Cabaret. All five segments are a hoot. Kristin Towers-Rowles' direction is excellent, as are the cast performances, but the real star is musical director Richard Berent and his dazzling piano. Chromolume Theater at the Attic Theatre & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 8. (323) 510-2688, crtheatre.com. (Lovell Estell III)
PICK OF THE WEEK: A PERFECT LIKENESS
Charles Dodgson, more popularly known as Lewis Carroll, was a fascinating study in contrasts: a conservative, reticent, religiously devout lecturer in mathematics whose incredible imagination bred Alice in Wonderland and other wildly fantastical novels and poems. In writer-director Daniel Rover Singer's 90-minute two-hander A Perfect Likeness, the prim Dodgson (Daniel J. Roberts) spends an afternoon with an even more celebrated literary icon, Charles Dickens (Bruce Ladd), struggling to reconcile his prior adoration for the universally acclaimed older writer with an appalled response to Dickens' rough language, bald earthiness and frank skepticism. Singer's script lends equal weight to both characters, but from the opening curtain Roberts seizes the limelight, with a pitch-perfect portrayal of a personage who might easily have been reduced to caricature. Ladd, a bit too stagily flamboyant at first, gains firmer footing as each character's secrets spill out and the encounter grows more intimate. Aficionados of either writer will appreciate the scenario's biographical detail, but this isn't a biopic and you don't have to be interested in 19th-century British literature to appreciate the play's odd-couple jousting and emotional poignancy. A scene in which Dodgson goes into a trance to reveal his nagging torments is optimally underscored by designer Will Hastings' lighting. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 22. (626) 441-5977, fremontcentretheatre.com (Deborah Klugman)
12 ANGRY MEN The most effective moment in Sheldon Epps' stately revival of Reginald Rose's hoary civics lesson of a 1950s courthouse crowd-pleaser may be when Brian L. Gale's crisp lights first come up on Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's purposefully ponderous set. Though supposedly a jurors room in Manhattan's Criminal Courts building, Kerley Schwartz's chilling modernist assemblage of heavy cast-concrete piers and steel security grilles cannily embodies the crushing institutional weight of America's racially flawed penal system. That note is emphatically underlined by Epps' half-white, half-black casting and some script tinkering that exaggerates the racist Juror 10 (Bradford Tatum) into a foul-mouthed member of the Aryan Nation. And while Jason George (in the Juror 8 role created by Henry Fonda) capably yet again persuades a recalcitrant (and nicely restrained) ensemble to set aside personal prejudice for pure reason, Epps' decision to set such a naturalistic play in the present while preserving its all-male casting creates an awkward anachronism. Though the biracial ensemble successfully refocuses the drama on race, the spectacle of a Manhattan (where the text says the play is set) or L.A. (where it's being performed) jury so glaringly bereft of women (or Latinos or Asian-Americans) pushes the conceit beyond the pale. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 1. (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org. (Bill Raden)
WHY I DIED, A COMEDY!
Katie Rubin's energetic solo piece presents a typical tale of the struggling actor who, yearning for success, ventures on a journey of spiritual discovery and then cobbles together a string of experiences and calls it a show. The result is a meandering yarn featuring miscellaneous miracles and offering little insight with no clear resolution. Rubin switches between direct audience address and conversations with imagined, random characters, adopting various accents throughout as some kind of showcase of her abilities. She emulates a Jimmy Durante type to depict her gruff manager, Stan, a pep-talking bully who badgers her to build a funny show, urging her, “Keep it simple — tell a fucking story!” Keyed up and wildly gesticulating, Rubin divulges her episode of deep depression, which prompts an investigation of Sufi mysticism. As an exasperated Stan laments toward the end of the show, his accent mysteriously absent, “I just don't understand what you're doing here.” Neither do we. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 23. (323) 960-7780, katierubin.com. (Pauline Adamek)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE