Fionnuala Kenny's Elvis's Toenail takes us back to 1961 Dublin. Critic Neal Weaver found himself entranced by the classical strain between people and church. The production at Burbank's Sidwalk Studio Theatre is this week's Pick.
Nods also for Marina Carr's moody drama By the Bog of Cats at Burbank's Theatre Banshee, and Boni B. Alvarez's Dallas Non-Stop, presented by Playwrights Arena at Atwater Village Theatre. For or the latest new theater reviews and stage listings, see below.
Queer Latina Karen Anzoategui's ¡Ser! — accompanied by the band Cava, and presented by Latino Theatre Company at LATC — is a lively, lovely solo-performance about finding home. See theater feature for the review, along with a new work by a new company to watch: a Working Theater.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication November 21, 2013:
ASPIRIN AND ELEPHANTS
This is the 25th anniversary of the first production of playwright Jerry Meyer's angsty family play, and if the plot and situations seem as though they're steeped in the attitude of the 1990s, at least Chris DeCarlo's crisp staging keeps things moving at a good clip. While cruising the Norwegian fjords, middle-aged Jewish dad Steve (Kip Gilman) recovers from a heart attack that has left him feeling unmanned and depressed, even though he's doted upon by his lovely wife (Wendy Michaels). Meanwhile, their daughters are having marital problems: Steph (Amanda Maddox) and her careerist brute of a hubby, Scott (Todd Cattell), are at loggerheads, while Liz (Ryan Driscoll) frets that she earns more money than her aspiring screenwriter husband, Arnie (Michael Marinaccio). Murphy interestingly sublimates the characters' underlying angst and relationship frustrations behind sitcomlike one-liners; the barbs hint at the anger that lurks beneath. Gilman's jokey but indefinably sad Steve is engaging, and so is Michaels' fiercely devoted wife. DeCarlo's staging is serviceably pleasant, but the ultimate message of the piece is still quite trivial. The Other Space at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Jan. 26. (310) 394-9779, ext. 2, santamonicaplayhouse.com. (Paul Birchall)
GO: BY THE BOG OF CATS
Euripides' Medea was a barbarian witch who helped her husband, Jason, claim the Golden Fleece, only to slay her children after he threw her over for a younger woman. Irish playwright Marina Carr's moody drama isn't a strict retelling but it conjures the essence and psychological complexities of the proto-feminist text. In this version, Hester Swane (Kacey Camp) is a tinker, or Celtic gypsy, loath to flee the 9-mile-square Bog of Cats, where she was born, once her mollycoddled former lover (Joseph Patrick O'Malley) leaves her and their young daughter (Talyan Wright) to wed a prim, propertied daddy's girl (Erin Barnes). Camp captures the fierce loyalty and deep woundedness that drive Hester's devastating choices, starting with her girlhood abandonment by her mother. Director Sean Branney elicits fine performances from his ensemble: Casey Kramer is especially good as the Catwoman, a blind Tiresian seer swaddled in feline pelts and mouse skulls. The fatalism of Greek tragedy is well suited to the backdrop of the Irish midlands, with their mystical superstitions and mire of personal histories. Arthur MacBride's simple set evokes the harsh, brittle landscape with economy. This makes for harrowing, satisfying theater. Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 8. (818) 846-5323, theatrebanshee.org. (Jenny Lower)
GO: DALLAS NON-STOP
Young and naive, Girlie (Sandy Yu) has moved from her Philippines village to the city to train at a regional call center for a major American airline. Obsessed with the TV soap Dallas, Girlie fantasizes about moving there to live a dream life. But her single-minded pursuit and ultimate triumph have a price. Christopher Scott Murillo's simple set design of two long platforms flanked by projection screens effectively indicates both an airport runway and the tropical setting (Manila, which we don't learn until 30 minutes into the play). Playwright Boni B. Alvarez maintains a playful tone with flashes of melodrama in this bittersweet but brutally honest story, and the characters are endearing and well delineated. There are lots of laughs when Alvarez briefly amps up the office politics to resemble heated scenes from Dallas, with the mostly Filipino cast hilariously breaking out their best Texas accents and postures. The rest of the time they converse with a thick, sing-song accent (and snippets of Tagalog), which at times is difficult to decipher. Still, Jon Lawrence Rivera elicits great performances from his cast of six, orchestrating the shifting moods extremely well. Kennedy Kabasares is fun as competitive office mate Rodrigo and Anne Yatco shines as Girlie's best friend, but it's Yu who steals the show, despite her sometimes overly effusive performance. Playwrights' Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m. (except Nov. 18 & Dec. 2, 6 p.m.); through Dec. 9. (323) 644-1929, playwrightsarena.org. (Pauline Adamek)
DANTALIAN'S GREAT AND TRAGICAL AND TRUTHFUL EPIC OF MAN'S VANITY AND OH-SO-GRUESOME DEMISE (VOLUME 5)
PICK OF THE WEEK: ELVIS'S TOENAIL
Irish playwright Fionnuala Kenny's Elvis's Toenail is set in Dublin in 1961, when the Catholic Church still maintained its stranglehold on Irish society — but the first signs of resistance and rebellion were beginning to appear. Rita (played with touching simplicity and conviction by Lenne Klingaman) is pregnant but unmarried. She desperately wants to keep her baby, but both her family and the church want to force her to take refuge in the local convent, where the baby would be taken away and put up for adoption. Since church pressure prevents most businesses from hiring the pregnant but unwed, Rita must change her name and go into hiding, working as a seamstress in a dressmaking establishment run by the sympathetic Mrs. Kelly (Laurie Wendorf). Kelly and her staff band together to help Rita elude the clutches of the pompously fanatical Father Ambrose (Gary Bell). Kenny's play is dramaturgically a bit naive, with scenes that don't climax and too much reliance on voice-overs and offstage voices, but she has created a compelling tale and vivid characters. Directors Joe Banno and Sal Romeo have assembled a fine cast, including Marnie Crossen, Wendorf, McKerrin Kelly, Bell and Katie Savoy. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (no perfs. Thanksgiving weekend); through Dec. 8; . (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/498154 (Neal Weaver)
The New York City park (starkly realized by Geronimo Guzman's staid set design) in Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's drama has seen many people come and go, as signified by the mishmash of names scrawled on a faded wall in the handball court. But change is afoot — a redevelopment committee headed by penthouse yuppies Christopher (Spencer Weitzel), his wife, Laurie (Isabel Davila), and business partner Orlando (David Santana) have other “greener” ideas for the park, which angers Javier (Matias Ponce), whose desire to preserve the past and to become city handball champ makes him resentful of the newcomers and bitterly opposed to their ambitious undertaking. Adding to the volatile situation is the pervasive influence of Panama (Jeffrey DeSerrano), a thug and neighborhood shot caller who has a significant stake in the project. The topical issue of gentrification and its social impact briefly emerges but unfortunately is not explored in depth. Compensating for a dearth of action is Rosenfeld's formidable knack for engaging and humorous dialogue, matched with interesting characters (park regulars Paul Julianelli and Luis Kelly-Duarte are a real kick). Brenda Banda's cast members turn in spirited performances. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 15 (323)-620-5881, urbantheatremovement.com. (Lovell Estell III)
THE NISEI WIDOWS CLUB
Writer Betty Tokudani's cliché-ridden comedy centers on four elderly women whose curmudgeonly cluelessness we are supposed to find endearing. Vain, stylish Tomi (Jeanne Sakata) is mourning her middle-aged son, a mama's boy who for years gobbled her high-cholesterol food, then died young of a heart attack. Her friends strive to be sympathetic but struggle to handle Tomi's drama-queen antics. Their efforts to distract her transport the quartet to a yoga class and later to Hawaii, where they study hula — each time under the tutelage of a hunky instructor (Tui Asau, playing two roles), for whom they all swoon. Under Amy Hill's direction, the production never strays far from the script's stale sitcom format, with its broad riffs and tired jokes. As Hana, the group's hippest member, Emily Kuroda delivers a relatively subtle and satisfying comic performance. Takayo Fischer as chief organizer salvages her role by staying simple and straightforward. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 8. (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org. (Deborah Klugman)
Writer-performer Karen Anzoategui's show about seeking home, while being flung between L.A. and Buenos Aires. Latino Theater Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn. | Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Dec. 8. | thelatc.org See theater feature.
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE: