Nods this week for Philip Dawkins The Homosexuals (Celebration Theatre at Atwater Village Theatre), Pierre Corneille's The Liar (Antaeus Company), and Lina Gallegos' Wild in Witchita (LATC). But it's a Halloween-season horror-play, six tales spun from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, called Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite (at the Lex), that nabs this week's Pick of the Week. For all the latest new theater reviews and regional listings, see below.
Jason Grote's gentle comedy Civilization, about spiritual slippage in our culture, is the topic of this week's theater feature.
NEW THEATER REVIEW: scheduled for publication October 17, 2013
BOTTOM OF THE WORLD Lucy Thurber's incohesive melodrama appears to have been written without the playwright's clear understanding of what she wanted to say. Abigail (Stephanie O'Neill), who's been traumatized by her sister's death, can't relate to friends or lovers, and prefers communicating with her dead sibling Kate, a former writer. Perched in a tree, Kate's ghost (Natalie Burney) peppers sophomoric truisms into her “reading” of her last novel, about two country boys (Jeremy Mascia and Steve Madar) whose love lives upend their friendship. The re-enactment of this fictional story alternates with Abigail's. Meanwhile another subplot brews around the soon-to-be-divorced parents of Abigail's best friend. Keeping track of the goings-on isn't easy because some actors double up on their roles (the playwright's choice). If there's a thematic thread that binds these stories together, it's eluded me. Ric Zimmerman's lighting design and Naomi Kasahara's set create an interesting ambience on the tiny proscenium, which director Sabina Ptasznik utilizes efficiently; however, opting to mime a number of the props (dishes and so on) is an unprofessional distraction. O'Neill and Burtney hobble the production with one-dimensional performances but other portrayals, including Mascia's lovelorn swain, Madar's jealous bridegroom, and Michael Edelstein's middle-aged cuckold are more substantial. Rosemary Stevens' dotty matrons (she plays two) lighten up the evening but there's still more interesting subtext to be mined. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through November 3. (616) 745-3665, thevagrancy.com. (Deborah Klugman)
GO: CIVILIZATION Jason's Grote's gentle comedy at Son of Semele Ensemble. See theater feature.
GO: THE HOMOSEXUALS Philip Dawkins' comedy revolves around Evan (boyishly cute blond Brian Dare), who arrives in town as a naive, newly out greenhorn but soon joins a mildly incestuous circle of gay friends, including four guys and one girl, Tam (Kelly Schumann), a history teacher and sassy, self-defined fag hag. Collin (Matt Crabtree) falls for Evan on sight, and they become lovers. Michael (Kurt Quinn) is the nice-but-nebbishy guy who can't get laid. Mark (David Fraioli) is a slightly saturnine art teacher and gay activist, whose attempt to seduce Evan ends in a fight. British Mark (Ben Patterson) is buff, black and British, and his attempt to seduce Evan ends in stalemate, perhaps because both men are tops — though that might be negotiable. Peter (Butch Klein) is a musical comedy queen, who becomes Collin's successor as Evan's lover. Each of the six scenes is interesting and entertaining, but there's little real action and the narrative arc is weak — a fact emphasized by the playing of the scenes in reverse order, à la Merrily We Roll Along. But the piece is largely redeemed by director Michael Matthews' fine production and excellent performances from all the actors. Celebration Theatre at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 1. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
It has been observed that in a society where most aspects of health and safety are under some form of regulatory oversight, any fertile clown is free to parent a child regardless of suitability or competence. Playwright Susan Josephs' (who has written for L.A. Weekly) speculative satire considers the opposite extreme — what if prospective procreators were screened with the rigor of, say, the Harvard admissions committee before being granted a state child-rearing license? Marrieds Marshall McCabe and Jacqueline King arrive at their parenting interview (on Vincent Richards' inventive set) letter-perfect on the law but harboring some dark secrets from the government and each other. His includes a torrid past with interviewer Melissa Sullivan. It's a situation rife with slow-burning comic complications, and under Diana Wyenn's expert direction, the ensemble effectively mines Josephs' trenchant human absurdities and clever dramatic ironies. Unfortunately, the play's libertarian-flavored, dystopian premise exhausts itself, along with the laughs, far too long before the final curtain. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., E. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Oct. 27. theinterviewplay.com. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: LOVECRAFT: NIGHTMARE SUITE
Just in time for Halloween, director Dan Spurgeon's adaptation of six of H.P Lovecraft's tales, Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, gathers a ghoulish sampling of the dank hallways, forbidding places and supernatural creatures for which the author was known.In the segment “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” archeologists Mark Souza and Daniel Jimenez visit a cemetery and unwittingly unearth something that should have been left buried. Devereau Chumrau is impressive as the narrator of “The Cats of Ulthar,” about demonic felines. The story is effectively embellished by skilled puppetry and shadow mime.One of Lovecraft's best stories, “The Outsider,” explores themes of alienation and loneliness. Maya Eshet stars as a woman whose quest for human contact ends in a terrifying confrontation. Nicole Fabbri's character's stay at a rooming house places her in the company of a doctor with a chilling knack for cheating death in “Cool Air.” An overload of creepy sound effects nearly derails “Nyarlathotep,” as Daniel Jimenez invokes the horrifying power of an ancient deity. David Sousa's eerie lighting and John Burton's grotesque assortment of puppets and decrepit parlor-room set design (where on a wall hangs a vintage pic of the author) create an appropriately unsettling atmosphere. The Visceral Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 3. thevisceralcompany.com (Lovell Estell III)
i>GO: THE LIAR The anglophone update of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century comedy of manners Le Menteur is a spun confection of verbal sleight of hand, romantic trickery and dramatic derring-do. The real star is David Ives' script, a “translaptation” from the French into pentameter couplets, brought to vivid life by Antaeus' cast (there are two alternating casts, per the company's custom) under Casey Stangl's direction. Compulsive untruth teller Dorante (Graham Hamilton in the performance reviewed) rolls into Paris and quickly ensnares Cliton (Brian Slaten), a guileless manservant, before falling swollen head over insouciant heels in love with Clarice (Kate Maher), whom he mistakes for her tart-tongued friend Lucrece (Ann Noble). Unbeknownst to him, Clarice also is secretly betrothed to Dorante's friend Alcippe (Joe Delafield), and dizzying dramatic contortions ensue. The exuberant cast led by Hamilton pirouettes through the verse, teasing out the comic potential from each witticism and double entendre, though they're somewhat hampered by the length — come the second act, we've got a hangover brewing from the sugar rush. Angela Balogh Calin's costumes seem inspired by a goth prom: though aesthetically intriguing, their connection to the play's themes isn't obvious. Pine makes an amusingly complicit dupe, while Noble's appealing spunk parries with Hamilton's bravado. Antaeus Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 1. (818) 506-5436, antaeus.org. (Jenny Lower)
PISTOLS & PRAYERS HBO Def Poetry Jam vet Ise Lyfe's provocative multimedia show, which blends spoken word, hip-hop and theater, was cut short after a sensational first act because of technical difficulties. A shame, because I, like the rest of the audience, was looking forward to the second act. Act I was driven by a selection of moody, introspective prose works and poems that survey the terrain of American culture and the black experience, starting with a moving tribute to God and the Ancestors. Lyfe is equal parts poet and street savvy philosophe who has a knack for telling it like it is. In the segment “They Like everything about us, but us,” he takes a blowtorch to political correctness and race relations, riffing on the hidden antagonisms between and among ethnic groups. “LOL” is a knee-slapping funny exploration of our enduring obsession with the almighty acronym. Greenway Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District; Wed., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 27. greenwayartsalliance.com. (Lovell Estell III)
SILENT WITNESSES After surviving internment in a Nazi death camp as a child, Stephanie Satie found that her grim experiences were eclipsed by survivors who lived through camps as adults, because they were viewed as higher up in the “hierarchy of suffering.” The cultural revolution of 1970s prompted an era of self-exploration and brought three other child-survivors to her therapy door. The quartet of women regularly met to relate their “forbidden” stories, which had been buried for years. Satie was moved to recount everyone's tales in her solo show. While Satie mostly narrates her own saga, she frequently adopts different accents for the other three women when it's their time in the spotlight, delineating between each one with a twist of a scarf or donning a beret. There's some poetry in the vivid and harrowing descriptions but, strangely, the drawn-out show is resolutely unsentimental. The oft-repeated phrase “I never told this to anyone” lends gravitas to these private reminiscences, but the resulting one-act narrated drama curiously fails to resonate on an emotional level. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (800) 838-3006, silent
witnesses.brownpapertickets.com. (Pauline Adamek)
GO: WILD IN WICHITA Like the recent film Enough Said, Lina Gallegos' award-winning play explores courtship and love from a mature perspective: that of two septuagenarians in a Kansas nursing home. Carmela (Denise Blasor) and Joaquin (Sal Lopez) have been put in this home “temporarily” by their respective children, Raul (Alberto de Diego) and Lillian (Crissy Guerrero), and at the outset the elder two mix like aceite y agua. Carmela is Puerto Rican, educated and buttoned-up. Joaquin is Mexican, working-class and a bit of a rascal. But they both love music, food and each other's company, though Carmela does her best to resist Joaquin's advances. His attempts to convince her to “rage, rage against the dying of the light” are beautiful to watch, because it reminds us that the young don't hold a monopoly on vitality. Blasor, who also directs, skillfully plays Carmela's mannerly façade, revealing just enough to hint at her deep insecurities. Lopez, who has some of the best lines in the show, delivers much humor through his charming, easy manner. Guerrero and de Diego give fine performances as well. Carolina Ortiz's minimalist backdrop, combined with John A. Garofalo's lighting, evokes the windswept, wide open spaces of the Midwest, and Blasor's use of songs and movement during transitions reflects the poetic quality of this heartwarming work. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 3. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE
See theater feature.
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.