Our critics enjoyed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Actors Co-op, Awake and Sing at Group Repertory Theatre and Cirque du Soleil's Totem. This week's Pick of the Week goes to David Grieg's adaptation of August Strindberg's The Creditors, presented by New American Theatre and the Odyssey Theatre. See below for the latest new theater reviews and region-wide stage listings.
Falling — Deanna Jent's play about the impact of an autistic young man on his parents' marriage — is the subject of this week's theater feature. The play has modest ambitions, being a bit of a soap opera, but the production by Rogue Machine is top tier.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication October 24, 2013:
GO: AWAKE AND SING
The legendary 1935 production of this Clifford Odets play has been credited with establishing the Group Theatre's reputation, electrifying the Broadway of its time, and changing the very nature of American acting for generations. It has become a high-water mark against which any subsequent production is measured. This rendition, directed by Larry Eisenberg, is a solid and respectable effort, if not an overly exciting one. The play's most remarkable achievement is the creation of Bessie Berger (Michele Bernath), the quintessential Jewish mother — tough, manipulative, willing to stoop to anything to preserve her family. She marries her pregnant daughter (Christine Joelle) off to an unsuspecting schlemiel (Marcos Cohen), dominates her ineffectual husband (Patrick Burke), sabotages the love life of son Ralph (Troy Whitaker) and connives to rob him of the $3,000 left to him by his militant grandfather Jacob (Stan Mazin), all in the context of Depression-era life in New York City. She's opposed only by Jacob and her bitter war-veteran boarder Moe Axelrod (Daniel Kaemon, in a striking performance). Bernath admirably captures Bessie's lethal determination, though doesn't win much sympathy for her. But all the actors acquit themselves honorably. The Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Ave., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 3. (818) 763-5990, thegrouprep.com. (Neal Weaver)
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE CREDITORS
A despondent young artist, Adolf (Burt Grinstead), laments his problematic marriage, pouring his heart out to a new acquaintance, Gustav (Jack Stehlin), at a Swedish seaside resort. But as Gustav pries secrets from the weak-willed husband, smoothly poisoning him against his divorcée wife, Tekla (Heather Anne Prete), we observe tantalizing clues, revealing that this friendly fellow somehow knows too much. Incisively directed by David Trainer, playwright David Grieg's new version of August Strindberg's turn-of-the-century psychological thriller is a talky play that draws you in with its hypnotic spell. Grinstead is good as the crippled artist, whose crutches and poorly functioning legs are emblematic of his stunted emotionality and ready manipulation. Prete is great as the gallivanting wife, as she willfully misunderstands her husband when he confronts her with trumped-up accusations.Stehlin is phenomenal as the older man harboring dark motives, though his vindictive agenda is revealed before the play's devastating if melodramatic conclusion. The character itemizes his justification in a blistering tirade and your sympathies waver toward him — just for a moment.. Bitterly cynical but engrossing, The Creditors is strictly for those who enjoy an intellectual argument spiked with misogyny and cyanide. New American Theatre and the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (added perfs Oct. 30, Nov. 7, 13 & 21, Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; pay-what-you-can) (310) 477-2055, ext. 2, odysseytheatre.com (Pauline Adamek)
GO: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Mark Twain wrote, “Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” So it is in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella of dual personalities and scientific overreach. This adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher uses a cast of six actors, and is set in the dark alleyways of Victorian London, cleverly depicted in Ellen Lenbergs' set design of skewed lightposts and brick walls. In a portrayal infused with a convincing mix of arrogance and vulnerability, Stephen Van Dorn does the honors as Dr. Henry Jekyll, the ambitious physician who desires to find a door to the mind and “isolate the beast in man's nature.” Isaac Wade and Mark Bramhall are equally effective as the murderous Edward Hyde (oddly, in this adaptation, throughout the performance, two actors switch off playing the character). Director Mary Jo Duprey opts for a less terrifying presentation of Hyde (see the film version with Spencer Tracy as hokey, hairy beast), which brings the psychic split into sharper relief. Hyde even has a love interest, Elizabeth Jelkes (Greyson Chadwick), which further underscores an elemental humanity. This philosophical retelling of this old tale is well done, and features a fine ensemble. Pablo Santiago's lighting schema is exceptional. Actor's Co-op Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through Nov. 17. (323) 462-8460, ext. 300, ActorsCo-op.org. (Lovell Estell III)
FALLING Rogue Machine presents the West Coast premiere of Deanna Jent'sl family about an autistic young man, and the impact of his malady on his parents' marriage. Rogue Machine. See theater feature.
THE LIGHT BULB
If there were a genuine laugh anywhere in playwright Joshua Ravetch's stale new satire of cutthroat corporate culture and the moral bankruptcy of the advertising world, director James Mellon's stylish staging and sterling ensemble most certainly would have found it. However, despite its embarrassment of production riches (including Kevin Bailey's austere set, Luke Moyer's accomplished lighting and Connie Tibbetts-Milner's droll costuming), Ravetch's incongruous mix of glibness and sledgehammered melodrama makes Mad Men seem like Molière by comparison. Jon Acosta leads an acid-tongued, backbiting marketing department that is facing cutbacks under its icy new sociopath of an incoming chief (an adept Karesa McElheny). To save their jobs, the team must launch a newly invented perpetual light bulb in a big way. But not even standouts like Irene Roseen or William Rose-Hines can finally sell the tired bill of retreaded tropes and genre clichés that Ravetch tries to pass off as farce. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (818) 763-0086, thenohoartscenter.com. (Bill Raden)
This one-act celebrates the prolific works of 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi — commonly known as Rumi. A sampling of Rumi's sacred poetry is delivered as choral readings, employing dance, gesture and song to supplement his magical (though nonrhyming) verse. Conceived by Amir Khalighi, the selected poetry examines various facets of love, emotions, nature, truth and beauty, delving into the essence of human existence. Running just 40 minutes, it's a swift but somewhat sensual immersion into the soul of one of history's most romantic poets. The sentiments expressed feel as fresh and relevant today as when they were composed almost eight centuries ago. The declamatory skills of the ensemble of nine are generally mediocre, with no truly revelatory performance from any individual. A stronger sound design and more thoughtful musical accompaniment would have elevated the experience. Zombie Joe's Underground, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 27. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO: TOTEM A digitally enhanced marsh forms the backdrop for Cirque du Soleil's latest big-top spectacular, a whimsical look at evolution that's more art than science. Directed by Robert Lepage (who also helmed Kà in Las Vegas), the show traces humanity's evolution from our simian ancestors to modern man. At opening, performers leapfrog around a turtle's carapace — a nod to the tortoise's significance in several creation myths — before whizzing onto the parallel bars and flinging themselves out of prehistoric muck onto land. Humanity takes flight then, soaring through the air via suspended rings, somersaulting onto springy planks no wider than a balance beam and dangling from a fixed trapeze. Some of the top acts include a masterful unicycle precision team and a mesmerizing foot juggling duo wearing Lycra bodysuits studded with 3,500 crystals apiece. (Kym Barrett designed the costumes, a mosaic of seasonal themes and cultures from Bollywood to the Mayans.) Carl Fillion's versatile set and Pedro Pires' projections integrate beautifully, evoking landscapes both terrestrial and celestial. Occasionally we take a break from the action to observe a Darwinian doppelganger pondering earth's mysteries. Creationists might grumble but this production bursts with wonder at mankind's feats. Cirque du Soleil, Port of Los Angeles, Berth 46, 3011 S. Miner St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 4:30 & 8 p.m. (no 4:30 p.m. performance Nov. 8); Sun., 1 & 4:30 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 24, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 30, 8 p.m.; through Nov. 10. '. (Jenny Lower)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE:
Tickets & info: 323-871-1150 or thevisceralcompany.com. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Nov. 3. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.